I recently bought a book.
Not an unknown event, but unusually I bought it for the title alone – The Queen, Her Lover and the Most Notorious Spy in History.
The book can be summarised like this:
After the end of communism in Russia the author, Roland Perry, was researching a book on the Cambridge Spies, including Anthony Blunt’s mission to Germany to recover letters between Queen Victoria and her daughter Vicky – the wife of Kaiser Friedrich III – held in Kronberg in Germany.
During the course of his research, Perry met with several former senior KGB officials in Moscow who told him of compromising material in the letters that had been photographed by Blunt and passed to Moscow, before the originals were deposited in the Royal archive.
One of the claimed revelations was that Queen Victoria had had both a sexual relationship and an illegitimate child at the age of 15, with John, the 13th Lord Elphinstone.
Now, we know that after her death Queen Victoria’s journals and letters were severely filleted by her daughter Beatrice, so severely that only around a third of the original material remains, and once she’d transcribed and edited the journals Beatrice burned the originals,
We also know that that Victoria wrote around 4000 letters to her daughter over her lifetime, so, given the severe filleting, it was more than possible that the letters contained information previously unknown to historians, and possibly embarrassing to the monarchy, which was busily trying to distance itself from Edward the VIII’s infatuation with the Nazis.
So, if you believe the story of the sexual relationship and illegitimate child, it’s possible that the letters referred to these events.
Certainly John Elphinstone was a member of William IV’s court between 1835 and 1837, was showered with honours and promoted to the Privy Council in 1836, and then shunted off to be Governor of the Madras Presidency in 1837, the year of Victoria’s accession.
If you were a conspiracy theorist, one might almost think that his silence was being bought, and then shunted off to India to ensure his continued silence.
Possibly so, but then we have this from the Monmouthshire Merlin of 8 July 1837
Which shows that the relationship between Victoria and John Elphinstone was public knowledge, and that there was an expectation that he would be recalled from Madras, now that Victoria was queen.
The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of the same date, follows its coverage of William IV’s funeral with a similar and longer article about Queen Victoria’s future husband and how the Royal Marriage act – which essentially states that all marriages by members of the Royal family require the approval of the reigning monarch – does not preclude Victoria marrying Elphinstone.
So, not only was the relationship publicly known, there was a widespread expectation that, now that Victoria was queen, that Elphinstone would be recalled and that she would, in due course, marry him – something that was even the subject of satirical commentary at the time.
And her relationship with Elphinstone continued to be remembered even as late as 1886, as can be seen in this piece from the Northern Star in Lismore. (As newspapers of the time tended to often reprint contents from other newspapers, especially overseas ones, without attribution, the article may well appear elsewhere).
So, while we don’t know, and will probably never know, if Victoria and Elphinstone ever actually had a sexual relationship, let alone a child together, what we can say is that there was some sort of public relationship, and one sufficiently strong that there was an expectation that she would marry Elphinstone once she was mistress in her own house.
The interesting thing about all of this is the way that Elphinstone has been written out of the conventional narrative of Queen Victoria’s early years and accession, despite the fact that it was clearly well known and discussed at the time.
One wonders, doesn’t one?