Letters to Mother

Philip Frank Eliot was appointed a Canon of Windsor in 1886. Prior to this he had been Vicar of Holy Trinity, Bournemouth. For five years he continued to hold the parish in plurality with his canonry at St George’s and during that time he is said to have spent more time in Bournemouth than in Windsor. This was not unusual behaviour for a canon in the nineteenth century, nevertheless, Eliot’s promotion to Dean in 1891 caused something of a stir amongst his colleagues and was thought largely to have been due to his wife’s position in the Queen’s household – Mary Emma Pitt Rivers had been Queen Victoria’s Maid of Honour from 1870 until her marriage to Eliot in 1883.

The Eliot family’s favour with Queen Victoria and the Royal Family is made clear in letters to and from Philip Eliot that survive in the St George’s Chapel Archives. Prominent among these are the letters that he wrote to his mother, describing in detail the services and social occasions which provided the opportunity for interaction with the Royal Family.

This letter to Mrs Eliot was written not long after her son’s appointment as Dean of Windsor and hints at his difficulties adjusting to his recent elevation.

5 February, 1891: On Tuesday afternoon we got a telegram from Osborne saying that the Queen wished us to go to dine at Osborne on Wednesday and to stay the night. … Dinner was at quarter to nine. Mary had to dress in black as the court is in mourning – and she looked as nice as could be. The Queen came into the drawing-room for a moment before dinner, and kissed Mary and bowed to me. At dinner there were: Princess Louise – Princess Beatrice – the Duchess of Connaught – the Duchess of Albany – the Duke of Connaught – Prince Henry of Battenburg and two or three of the household. I sat next to Princess Beatrice on one side and Lady Waterpark on the other. The dinner was very lively and there was a good deal of conversation. I said “Grace” right this time!

Princess Beatrice talked a good deal to me especially about our going to Windsor. After dinner the Queen first talked to Mary and then came to me. – Nothing could be nicer and kinder than she was, and when I had got over my little speech of thanks “for her kindness and confidence” in appointing me to the Deanery, I did not feel at all nervous, and talked to her for nearly half an hour. [SGC M.885/3]

Only a few months later, Dean Eliot was able to report on the wedding of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig Holstein:

8 July, 1891: As for the Wedding on Monday, it was magnificent as a scene. You must imagine the whole of St George’s filled from end to end with men in magnificent uniforms and ladies in magnificent dresses.

All the ladies who were invited guests were in low dresses. My lady looking as well as any of them.

The Archbishop and I walked side by side at the end of the clerical procession; two boys in surplices holding up the Archbishop’s long red train behind him. The Queen and the German Emperor and Empress and all the other Royalties were on a platform just outside the Communion Rails. …

The Service itself was very reverent and impressive and the music quite perfect. Immediately afterwards I had to go up to the Castle with the Register Books and was ushered into a Room where all the Royal people were, and had to show the Queen and the German Emperor and Empress and all the others where to sign their names.

There was a great fuss for a time about the Archbishop – as he had gone astray and could not be found. The Queen got quite impatient and sent 3 messengers for him before he could be found. [SGC M.885/4]

Later, as the bride and groom left, Eliot tells that the German Emperor “ran after the carriage like a school-boy and threw an old shoe at it!”

Dean Eliot’s confidence can be seen to grow over the years he spends as dean and he is able to report to his mother occasions when he has made The Queen laugh, or provided comfort to a member of the Royal Family in distress. His children were also allowed to take dancing lessons with some of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, and this is a cause of great excitement for the family. The collection of Eliot’s correspondence also includes a number of letters to and from the Royal Family, including Queen Victoria herself. Although always formally expressed, these letters are evidence of the friendly connection between Eliot and the Royals.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.