Queen Victoria and the Crimea

Release date: 
Tuesday, 4 January 2005

A display in The Drawings Gallery, Windsor Castle         

30 April 2005 - April 2006

In the 100 years between the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and the outbreak of the First World War, British forces fought in only one European war - the Crimean War of 1854-56.  Improved communication, the advent of photography, the growth of the pictorial press and the presence of war reporters in the Crimea allowed the British public to follow the unfolding events of conflict for the first time. Queen Victoria took a keen personal interest in the welfare of the soldiers and at the conclusion of hostilities she instituted the Victoria Cross, which remains the highest award for gallantry in the British armed forces.

The display, marking the 150th anniversary of the Crimean War, charts the course of the first 'modern' war and public reaction to warfare through material from the Royal Library, Royal Archives and Royal Photograph Collection.  A selection of prints and watercolours, some commissioned by Queen Victoria, record the development of the campaign, whilst Roger Fenton's extraordinary photographs, among the earliest images of war, vividly capture the bleak and windswept terrain of the Crimean camps and battlegrounds above Sebastopol. Among the documents on display are contemporary letters, including correspondence between Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale.

Queen Victoria shared the public's shock at the reports of harsh weather, disease and lack of supplies suffered by the British army.  Extracts of letters from soldiers passed to the Queen provide an insight into life under these terrible conditions. Other documents show the Queen's practical concern for the wounded; she sent beef tea, Windsor soap and other provisions to improve their comfort.  As recorded in her own sketch  on  Buckingham  Palace  notepaper,  on  3  March  1855  the  Queen  visited soldiers at Fort Pitt Military Hospital, Chatham, and later sent the men handkerchiefs and comforters.

Queen Victoria's correspondence shows the support she gave to Florence Nightingale in her work to improve conditions in the military hospitals and her encouragement of charitable enterprises to alleviate the suffering of the injured soldiers and their dependants. A letter, drafted in November 1855, accompanied the gift of a brooch to commemorate  Miss Nightingale's  work  and  to  mark 'the high approbation of your sovereign'.  At Queen Victoria's request, Florence Nightingale prepared a volume entitled Notes on the Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of The British Army (1858) based on her experiences in the Crimea.

As an acknowledgement of the personal sacrifice made in the campaign, medals were struck specifically to mark service in the Crimea and Baltic.  The Queen herself instituted the highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross, and chose the final design and motto, 'For Valour'. On display are a prototype Victoria Cross, a VC awarded for action in the Crimea and a piece of the bronze metal from which the medal is cast. Also shown are watercolours commissioned by Prince Albert, which depict the Queen awarding the first Victoria Crosses to troops in Hyde Park.

Windsor Castle is open daily.  As the Castle is a working royal palace, opening arrangements may change at short notice.  It is advisable to check before planning a visit.  Details of admission and tickets are available from www.royal.gov.uk or 020 7766 7304.

Further press information is available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, telephone: 020 7839 1377, e-mail:press@royalcollection.org.uk Images are also available from the Royal Collection's folder in the Arts section on PA's Picselect at www.picselect.com or through the PA bulletin board.