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Victoria, Empress of Words

The following is an excerpt from a chapter entitled ‘Royal Writers’ found in my book, The British Monarchy Miscellany.

Queen Victoria’s writing output throughout her life belies belief. If one were to add all the words contained in the Bible, in the entire works of William Shakespeare, in 'The Lord of the Rings' and in the entire Harry Potter book series, the total would be equivalent to less than half the words Victoria put to paper throughout her life. It has been estimated that between her journals and letters Victoria wrote down between 1,000 and 2,000 words every few days, adding up to over 10 million words by the time she died in 1901.

Her daily writing practice began in 1832, when at the age of 13 she was given a diary by her mother to record her impressions during a trip to Wales. From that moment forward she never stopped writing and continued keeping a diary her entire life, the last entry dictated to her daughter Princess Beatrice on 13 January 1901, nine days before her death at the age of 81. Her collected diaries today run to 141 volumes, numbering over 43,000 pages--but they still contain less than half the words Victoria originally wrote down in them. On her death she left instructions to her daughter Princess Beatrice to edit the diaries for anything controversial, a task Beatrice carried out with ruthless efficiency and which included destroying most of the original diaries written in Victoria’s hand, to the great consternation of scholars and other members of the Royal Family.

Besides her diaries, Victoria was also one of the most prolific letter-writers of the 19th century, an era when letter-writing was a daily routine for many. After her eldest daughter Vicky married into the German imperial family and left England in 1858, Victoria kept up correspondence with her for over 40 years, writing over 3,700 letters. She similarly kept regular correspondence with all her children and grandchildren after they moved away from home, and also corresponded with other heads of state. When researchers first looked through the Royal Archives in 1904 to select some of Victoria's letters for publication they found 460 volumes of correspondence to choose from. To these must also be added many letters that were kept by the original recipients and are now scattered between state archives and private collections, making an official tally of all the letters Queen Victoria wrote in her lifetime virtually impossible to accomplish.

Her journals however—or rather what was left of them after editing—have been carefully organised over the years and have recently been made available to everyone through an official British Monarchy website, queenvictoriasjournals.org. The website shows photos of every page in the journals, typed transcriptions for each page, as well as some excerpts from the original diaries in Victoria's hand that escaped destruction by Princess Beatrice. The journals, as well as the letters, contain accounts and views from virtually everything that took place in Victoria's life, making Victoria the most self-documented monarch in British history, and perhaps world history as well.

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