"Queen Victoria's Family: A Century of Photographs 1840-1940" is a treasure trove of over three hundred pictures, the majority from Charlotte Zeepvat's personal hoard. The author's introduction traces the relationship of family and photography. The young Queen, newly married to Prince Albert, took a keen interest in the imaging process pioneered by Louis Daguerre. William Henry Fox Talbot was soon to patent the Calotype method that produced the first negatives making it possible for multiple images to be created from a single exposure. Henry Collen used this process to take the first known photographs of the Queen in 1844 or '45. A decade on, the Calotype was surpassed by the novel technique of André Diserda. Ms Zeepvat explains how Diserda's means of taking several different exposures on a single plate to produce a sheet of small images popularised and commercialised royal photography as the first carte-de-vistes were followed by the cabinet photograph and the postcard. This book is testimony to frequent close encounters of court and camera. Ms Zeepvat's readers observe the development of the family from the infancy of Vicky and Bertie, the future Kaiserin Friedrich and King Edward VII to the babyhood of Daisy and Tino, the present Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and the exiled King Constantine II of the Hellenes. Page after page, even the most avid royal history enthusiast will come across something unseen in any previous publication.
Ms Zeepvat's introduction emphasizes the network of royal relationships depicted in the photographs that follow. The personalities in each picture are identified in the accompanying text, which often includes detailed descriptions, apt character sketches, and the most telling of anecdotes. The author keeps the personalities in the photographs in the context of a widespread family by including a full index and three double pages of genealogical data. It is perhaps pernickety of me, but I regret Ms Zeepvat's equally pernickety decision to exclude the names of siblings born after 1940. For example, Queen Sofia of Spain and King Constantine of the Hellenes are included but their younger sister Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark is not. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and his youngest sister, Princess Christina, are omitted from the branch that includes their older siblings. The younger sisters of Queen Margrethe of Denmark are likewise pruned from the family tree. These omissions seem likely to mislead readers unfamiliar with every branch of Queen Victoria's family. Anyone who wishes to know more of the genealogy of the personalities in Ms Zeepvat's book would make a wise purchase in "Queen Victoria's Descendants" by Marlene A. Eilers where they will find a wealth of data and other riches.
Ms Zeepvat shows us Queen Victoria's family amid the white lace and promises of engagements and weddings and, such is her eye for the minutiae of royalty, we peep into little-known relationships that never reached the altar. The reader glimpses both the formality and the hurly-burly of royal life in what Ms Zeepvat presents as a working family peopled with writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians, nurses, sportsmen and soldiers as well as the 'full-time' royal. The sections on illness and death and the Great War are poignant in their depiction of the royal haemophiliacs, sufferers of porphyria, and the young victims of a bloodstained Europe in which Victoria's family was cruelly divided. The pages dealing with the years of l'entre deux guerres portray the healing of some of the wounds of war with the marriages of the Russian Grand Duchesses Kira Kirillovna and Maria Kirillovna to German princes, a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria and a descendant of her half-sister. Around the same time, we witness four Greek princesses marry into German dynasties, three of which were also part of the Queen's family, raising a new generation before the outbreak of war would tear Victoria's family apart for the second time in the twentieth century and have unanticipated repercussions long after 1940 when their brother married the future Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.
"Queen Victoria's Family" is an essential addition to any collection of books on royalty in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and even that statement falls short of defining its worth. This is a book with an appeal beyond royal history. Although Ms Zeepvat's account of photographic history is brief, the book will fascinate anyone with an interest in this area. The combination of stability and change in fashion will catch the eye of the specialist in this developing field of history. It is fascinating to observe the bonnets and crinolines of Victoria and her older daughters give way to the elegant simplicity of the cloche hats and loose day dresses worn by Lady Patricia Ramsay and Queen Helen of Romania in the twenties and thirties. In contrast, children's clothing changed little in the course of the century. The kilt which Queen Victoria's family helped popularize remains in vogue throughout the book, worn by Princes Arthur and Leopold in 1861 and by Prince Arthur's grandson, Alexander Ramsay, in the late twenties Similarly, the sailor suits worn by Princes Moritz and Heinrich of Hesse-Cassel in the early thirties mirror that worn by Bertie, Prince of Wales in 1846. It is only when we reach the end of the thirties that the photographs indicate a shift toward informality. In 1937, Princes Ludwig and Alexander of Hesse-Darmstadt, photographed shortly before their deaths in an aeroplane crash, wear casual jumpers and shorts to drive their model cars. This enthralling collection is polished off with an equally informal image of a prince with a happier future. Royal photographs do not come much more cheerful than that of the future King Harald V Norway as a toothy toddler, well wrapped against the cold, grinning into the lens beneath his outsize bobble-hat.
"Queen Victoria's Family" is the most comprehensive volume of its kind I have come across. It is not only a book to buy for yourself but makes an ideal gift. Treat yourself to this treasure. And treat a friend!