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Queen Victoria and the Crimean War

Rhian Wong of the Royal Collection explores one of Victoria and Albert’s unprecedented visits to military hospitals to meet British soldiers injured during the Crimean War

The visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Fort Pitt Military Hospital, 3 March 1855©

‘My whole soul and heart are in the Crimea’ wrote Queen Victoria in the midst of the Crimean War (1853-6), in which Britain fought alongside the Ottoman Empire and other countries against Russia following disputes over territorial control and religious freedoms.

Detail from RCIN 913684©

Like the rest of the country, Victoria and Albert followed the Crimean War closely and engaged practically with the war effort, encouraging their older children and household to follow suit. The royal couple sent supplies including food, soap, blankets and reading material to the Crimea, pressed the government to provide adequate care and facilities for wounded soldiers returning from the front, and made unprecedented visits to military hospitals in Britain. This watercolour records one such visit, to the military hospital at Fort Pitt, Chatham, in March 1855.

We can see the royal couple on the right; Victoria is the figure closest to us in a purple dress, black shawl and bonnet. She and Albert (in the top hat), have presumably made their way around the room, accompanied by their young sons Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred. The Queen and her family are talking to a wounded soldier sat on his bed.

Detail from RCIN 913684©

The artist, John Tenniel, put his skills as an illustrator to good use, creating a perspective view of the room which helps us feel present, as if watching events unfold from an unseen doorway. Tenniel used pencil and watercolour to capture every detail of the room, from the name holders above the beds, to the cords for the sash windows and the books on the shelf along the back wall.

The blue uniforms of the soldiers standing and sitting around the room and the visitors’ brightly coloured clothing contrast with the muted and pale colours of the walls, ceiling and the sick, pale men lying in their beds. Queen Victoria later criticised the high windows, small wards, and lack of a dining room in the hospital.

She also took a keen interest in the men she met that day, making her own sketches of those at Brompton Barracks, Chatham which she visited after Fort Pitt. Later that evening, Victoria wrote in her journal of the emotional impact of such experiences, noting that she ‘wished [she] could pay constant visits of this kind to the Hospitals & tend & cheer these noble, brave, patient men!”.

Queen Victoria's journal, 3 March 1855©

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