It’s rare for the public to be given access to the Royal Archives. They are housed in the forbidding Round Tower at Windsor Castle, and direct contact with them is normally reserved for erudite academics adept at buttering up the Keeper. With about two million documents relating to 700 years of the British monarchy, it is quite the trove.
To celebrate the centenary of the creation of the archive, a few pieces have been put on display. Treasures from the Royal Archives (until 25 January 2015) is a bijou blend of the cheerful and the solemn. A young Princess Elizabeth captures her parents’ coronation in 1937, writing that she thought it ‘very, very wonderful’ and that she expected ‘the Abbey did too’. With childish enthusiasm, she details the most exciting part of the day: ‘sandwiches, stuffed rolls, lemonade’. A book of condolence letters to Queen Victoria makes for more subdued reading, opened to show a message from Abraham Lincoln. A love letter from Albert to Victoria speaks of happier times.
Private documents from more distant monarchs are housed in the archive, although these tend to be rarer. A charming letter from a seven-year-old Bonnie Prince Charlie (above) reassures his father that he is behaving himself during exile in Rome.
The treasures on display have been thoughtfully curated, but the offering does feel a little lean. Could a few more delights not have been plucked out? The Round Tower’s bounty is substantial; but, alas, we are only afforded a mere glimpse inside.