Michael Ledger-Lomas is a lecturer in the history of Christianity in Britain in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King’s College London. He is also a director of “The Bible and Antiquity in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” a five year interdisciplinary research project funded by the European Union and hosted at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH) at Cambridge. In addition to religion and theology in nineteenth-century Britain, his research interests include religious internationalism in the modern world, the history of Protestant Dissent, and religious publishing and the history of the book. Dr. Ledger-Lomas’s dissertation, “The Idea of Germany in Religious, Educational and Cultural Thought in England c.1830–1865” (Cambridge, 2006), won the German Historical Institute’s London Thesis Prize. He is currently working on a religious biography of Queen Victoria and editing a collection entitled The Persistence of the Past in Nineteenth-century Scholarship.
Dr. Ledger-Lomas’s paper for the Uses of “Religion” Conference, entitled “Reading Queen Victoria’s Religion,” considers how reading—and the evidence of Queen Victoria’s reading in particular—might alter our received definitions of Victorian religion. Historians of Christianity are increasingly interested in the idiosyncratic and unorthodox ways in which Christians lived their faith in the past. Yet historians of the Victorian period are still more confident in outlining what Victorian clergy thought Christianity should be than they are in understanding how Victorians lived it in practice. This paper turns our attention to Queen Victoria’s journal, begun in July 1832 and continued until her death in January 1901, which documents in exceptional detail both her public and private religious practices and her extensive reading and thus allows us to consider how the one informed the other. Precisely because Victoria was no one’s idea of an intellectual, her experience—ranging from Christian instruction in early life to religious emancipation in mid life to Christian resignation to the fate of suffering and death in late life—may take us closer to the lived religion of her ordinary Protestant subjects.
The Armstrong Browning Library owns two letters from Queen Victoria. Both letters are addressed to Henrietta Montalba. Henrietta was a British sculptor. She studied at the Royal College of art with Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. In 1882 Princess Louise painted Henrietta Montalba’s portrait. Montalba corresponded with Robert Browning, and the ABL owns seven letters from Robert Browning to Henrietta Montalba. She also sculpted a bust of Browning in 1883.
Letter from Queen Victoria to Henrietta Montalba. 01 September 1886.
In this letter the Queen thanks Henrietta Montalba for the bust she has sculpted of Dr. Mezger, a memento of the time she spent in Amsterdam. Dr. Mezger was a Dutch physician who attended to the Queen’s health with a regimen of massage.
Letter from Queen Victoria to Henrietta Montalba. 20 October 1886.
Queen Victoria sends Henrietta a photograph as a souvenir of their meeting at Gothenburg, Sweden.
Letter from Henrietta Montalba to Queen Victoria. 28 October 1886.
The Armstrong Browning Library also owns a return letter from Henrietta Montalba to Queen Victoria, thanking her for
. . . your kind letter and most charming portrait which I have just received. It occupies no corner in my room, but a most prominent place where my eyes constantly fall on it.
Sarah A Tooley. "The Queen's Favourite Authors." 1898. The Quiver. Vol. 14, no. 5 (April 1898).
This article by Sarah A. Tooley, who wrote on the domestic and personal aspects of the Queen’s life, describes Queen Victoria’s reading habits. Both Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning make the list. Other favorite authors incude Sir Walter Scott, Dean Stanley, Thomas Carlyle, Lord Macauley, Charlotte Brontë, Mrs. Oliphant, Charles Dickens, W. M. Thackeray, Charles Kingsley, Lord Tennyson, and Edwin Arnold.
- Exhibition Text by Ryan Butler