There are at least 450,000 photographs in the Royal Collection, acquired by British monarchs, their consorts and other members of the royal family from 1842 to the present day. The photographs consist of portraits of royalty from Britain, Europe and beyond; portraits of celebrities and statesmen; architectural, topographical and landscape works from around the world, exterior and interior studies of royal residences, 20th century press photographs, and photographs taken by members of the Royal family.
During the late 1960s, the growing interest in the history of photography prompted the gathering together of photographs previously located in the different royal residences to form the nucleus of the photograph collection. The collection is still growing today. Most of the historical photographs are stored in the Round Tower at Windsor Castle. The Round Tower also houses the Royal Archives where documentary evidence to support many of the photographs in the collection is kept.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert laid the foundations of the collection during the 1840s. Prince Albert, an avid supporter of science and new technology, became an early and important patron of British photography. It is perhaps fitting that the earliest photographs in the Royal Collection are of the Prince, taken by William Constable in 1842 at his Brighton studio.
From the 1850s onwards, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert commissioned work from a number of photographers. These included Roger Fenton who photographed the royal family, Windsor Castle and the Crimean War, and J.J.E. Mayall, whose 1860 portraits of the Queen and Prince Albert became the first photographs of the royal family to be published and made available for sale to the general public. The work of many other photographers, such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Oscar Rejlander, Francis Bedford and Gustave Le Gray, was also collected.
While Prince Albert’s principal interests lay with science and the arts, Queen Victoria was particularly keen to acquire portraits of people from all walks of life. Many of the photographic albums offer a fascinating portrait of society during Queen Victoria’s reign, from British and European royalty to the gardeners, cooks and seamstresses who worked for the Queen. There are also 44 photograph albums titled Portraits of Royal Children produced between 1848 and 1899 and a large number of albums relating to military officers and contemporary military conflicts such as the Afghan Wars and the Boer War.
Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII, was the most celebrated royal photographer of her time. Her photograph albums are unique personal diaries, providing a fascinating insight into the lives of the royal families of Europe from the 1880s to the First World War. With her camera she recorded her friends and family, and the places she visited on her extensive travels, including tours to the Mediterranean and Scandinavia.
The collection also contains 40 albums of photographs by Queen Alexandra’s second daughter, Princess Victoria. Similarly, there are 33 photograph albums recording Queen Mary’s family life, travels and official visits, assembled and captioned by her between 1880 and 1952. Albums presented to King George V recorded a brave new world of modern exploration as well as the horror of the First World War.
Both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth commissioned numerous formal portraits, as well as acquiring many photographs of family and friends by photographers including Marcus Adams, Lisa Sheridan (Studio Lisa), Dorothy Wilding, Karsh, Baron, Cecil Beaton, Lord Snowdon and Lord Lichfield.
Other modern and contemporary photographers whose work is represented in the collection include Herbert Ponting, Frank Hurley, Brian Aris, Arthur Edwards, Mario Testino, HRH The Duke of York, Bryan Adams, Jane Bown, Annie Leibovitz and Rankin.