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Unseen Queen Victoria letters to be sold in Edinburgh

Maria Baskhanova of Bonhams displays a letter written by Queen Victoria. Picture: Getty

Maria Baskhanova of Bonhams displays a letter written by Queen Victoria. Picture: Getty

  • by RORY REYNOLDS
 

THEY are the previously unseen letters which may soften the famously forbidding image of Queen Victoria.

A series of personal items belonging to the former monarch are to be sold at auction in Edinburgh next week, with Bonhams expecting significant interest in the collection.

The 20 letters are part of an archive with an estimated worth of £6,000-8,000 and were addressed to James Forbes, Victoria’s Commissioner at Balmoral and the man responsible for the running of the Deeside castle.

The letters demonstrate her interest in the wellbeing of her staff – and include less than complimentary comments about her aristocratic neighbours on nearby estates.

“I have never invited the Duke of Atholl to come over with his men and I think it wd. be better not to do so this year. It wd. entail the encampment of his men in our grounds wh. wd. be inconvenient,” wrote the Queen, referring to the Duke’s apparent tendency to travel with a substantial entourage.

The collection also includes several items relating to her friendship with servant John Brown, which was the focus of the 1997 historical drama Mrs Brown starring Dame Judi Dench and Billy Connolly.

He served as a companion to the Queen during her period of mourning in the Highlands following the death of her husband, Prince Albert, at just 42.

A bust of Brown is included, as is a heartfelt letter of condolence written by the Queen about the death of Lizzie Brown, the wife of William, John’s brother.

She wrote: “The death of dear excellent Mrs Wm Brown whom I was so very fond of and with whom I had been so intimate is real grief to me & I dare not think of how dreadfully I shall miss her. Her loss is really irreparable. Poor William I do pity so much for he is so helpless & dear Lizzie was everything in the world to him.”

Henry Baggott, books and manuscripts specialist at Bonhams in Edinburgh, said that the letters and other items represent a glimpse of a different side of the Queen.

“They are far more interesting than previous letters. In these she talks to Forbes about staff on the estate or people who have passed away and it shows a softer side that perhaps we have not always seen,” he told The Scotsman.

He added: “It’s hard to say where we expect to see most interest from, but it tends to be from all over. There’s a chance there could be bidders from abroad but given the subject matter, also from those in Britain with an interest in the monarchy.”

All the letters are written on the heavy mourning paper she adopted on the death of Prince Albert and most are signed VR1. They were sent from Windsor, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and Nice, as well as internally at Balmoral itself.

The archive will be auctioned at Bonhams Edinburgh on 21 August as part of the company’s annual Scottish Sale.

 

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