Revealed: Furious Queen Victoria’s ‘graphic’ letter to Archbishop of Canterbury

·3-min read
Victorian letters
Victorian letters

A furious Queen Victoria planned to admonish the Archbishop of Canterbury over English attempts to "destroy" the Church of Scotland, a newly discovered letter has revealed.

The correspondence, dated November 13, 1866 and hailed as “significant” by experts, was among a cache of letters found last week in a locked box in the home of a descendant of Norman Macloed, a church minister who served as the monarch’s religious counsellor.

Historians believe that the 156-year-old document was intended for Gerald Wellesley, the Dean of Windsor, who was Victoria’s primary advisor on church matters.

Queen could 'no longer remain silent'

An aide wrote that the Queen could “no longer remain silent” about “most serious and indeed alarming” threats to the Church of Scotland, which she believed were being "encouraged" by the archbishop at the time, Charles Longley.

It warned of “shameful” attempts to convert Presbyterian congregations to Episcopalianism, at a time when there was rising concern over the growing influence of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Anglo-Catholic ritualism north of the border.

The letter, sent from Windsor Castle, reveals that Victoria said that she would “not stand the attempts made to destroy the simple and truly Protestant faith of the Church of Scotland".

She also railed against attempts to bring the Church of England “as near the Church of Rome as they possibly can”.

It concludes by stating that the Queen “meditates writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury” or summoning him to Windsor Castle to “speak to him as strongly as she can”, and asks for advice on her next step.

Queen Victoria also railed against attempts to bring the Church of England 'as near the Church of Rome as they possibly can' - W. and D. Downey
Queen Victoria also railed against attempts to bring the Church of England 'as near the Church of Rome as they possibly can' - W. and D. Downey

Sir Tom Devine, emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh, the leading historian, said the letter was striking for the “passionate, graphic and decidedly unroyal language” deployed.

He said at the time, the emergence of the Free Church in 1843, and thousands of Irish Catholic refugees arriving in Scotland due to the Great Famine, posed “immense challenges” to the Church of Scotland.

“The sub-text is that the Church of Scotland practices a purer and more Protestant form of Christianity than Anglicanism and for that reason warrants a powerful defence from the insidious religious influences emanating from south of the Border,” Sir Tom said.

“All this also had political implications because the Church of Scotland was a vital bastion of Scottish identity for a stateless nation in the nineteenth century.”

The letter was sent following a meeting between Victoria and her “valued friend” Dr Macleod, who would later become moderator of the Church of Scotland.

Portrait of the British clergyman Norman Macleod - De Agostini Editorial
Portrait of the British clergyman Norman Macleod - De Agostini Editorial

He had warned the Queen that the episcopalian movement, with the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was attempting to try and convert Presbyterians.

They had some success with the Scottish aristocracy, leading Victoria to raise concerns that there would be “a religion for the rich, and another for the poor, thus alienating people from their superiors.”

The letter warned that any attempt to subvert the Church of Scotland was “contrary to law… and indeed subversive”. It adds: “The Queen considers this movement as most mischievous.”

Stewart Brown, professor of ecclesiastical history at the University of Edinburgh, said that Victoria came to prefer the prayers of the Church of Scotland to the Church of England, through Macleod’s influence.

She would later take communion in a Church of Scotland parish church at Crathie, near Balmoral, a move which caused a scandal at the time.

David Bebbington, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Stirling, said: “This letter of 1866 is indeed significant. The queen was emphatically Protestant and so shared the widespread anti-Catholicism of the time.

“Norman Macleod will have played on her fears in an interview, trying to enlist her general support for the Church of Scotland as a Protestant bastion.

“The letter is characteristically vehement. Wellesley, an emollient figure, is likely to have calmed her and probably nothing further arose from the letter.”

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