An Important Early Victorian Stained Pine Chest; ‘Toy Music H.R.H Princess Beatrice’ c.1860

Origin: English
Period: Early Victorian
Provenance: Marilyn Rose, Isle of Wight
Date: c.1860
Height: 15.5”
Width: 31.5”
Depth: 20.5”

Of Royal interest and in utterly original condition, the stained and painted pine chest sign written to the top in black ‘Toy Music H.R.H Princess Beatrice’, the whole being dovetail jointed and opening to reveal a vacant partitioned interior, one section for toys the other for musical instruments, the whole of large size and surviving as an important piece of British Royal family history from the early Victorian period.

The chest is in un-meddled with order, crucially without any overpainting to the sign writing or original finish of the chest as a whole. The top and the front have a split each as photographed and the webbing strap to the interior has snapped, though this was already a later replacement. There are remnants of a paper label to the top.

It is possible that this box had been gifted to servants in the Royal Household on the Isle of Wight. Mementos are then passed down through the generations and occasionally find their way to auction, or to an antiques shop. The Queen spent a huge amount of time at Osborne House, her holiday home there, which is where this chest was found. The property, which dates back to the 1700s, was once home to Sir William Carter Hoffmeister (1857-1944), Queen Victoria’s physician on the Isle of Wight. Other items found in the same abode included Queen Victoria’s voluminous nightie and Princess Beatrice’s bloomers, plus a folder of letters connected to the royal household.

Princess Beatrice (1857–1944) was born on 14 April 1857 at Buckingham Palace, London. She was the fifth daughter and youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Her mother’s favourite, she spent much of her life as the queen’s companion at Osborne House, so beginning her strong associations with the Isle of Wight. Beatrice's childhood coincided with Queen Victoria's grief following the death of her husband on 14 December 1861.

Albert and Queen Victoria chose the names Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore: Mary after Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, the last surviving child of King George III of the United Kingdom; Victoria after the Queen; and Feodore after Feodora, Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, the Queen's older half-sister. She was baptised in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace on 16 June 1857. Her godparents were the Duchess of Kent (maternal grandmother); the Princess Royal (eldest sister); and the Prince Frederick of Prussia (her future brother-in-law).

From birth, Beatrice became a favoured child. The elder favourite daughter of Prince Albert, the Princess Royal, was about to take up residence in Germany with her new husband, Frederick ("Fritz") of Prussia. At the same time, the newly arrived Beatrice showed promise. Albert wrote to Augusta, Fritz's mother, that "Baby practises her scales like a good prima donna before a performance and has a good voice!" This box would have been part of these early years holding Although Queen Victoria was known to dislike most babies, she liked Beatrice, whom she considered attractive. This provided Beatrice with an advantage over her elder siblings. Queen Victoria once remarked that Beatrice was "a pretty, plump and flourishing child ... with fine large blue eyes, pretty little mouth and very fine skin". Her long, golden hair was the focus of paintings commissioned by Queen Victoria, who enjoyed giving Beatrice her bath, in marked contrast to her bathing preferences for her other children. Beatrice showed intelligence, which further endeared her to the Prince Consort, who was amused by her childhood precociousness.

He wrote to Baron Stockmar that Beatrice was "the most amusing baby we have had." Despite sharing the rigorous education programme designed by Prince Albert and his close adviser, Baron Stockmar, Beatrice had a more relaxed infancy than her siblings because of her relationship with her parents.[9] By four years of age, the youngest, and the acknowledged last royal child, Beatrice was not forced to share her parents' attention the way her siblings had, and her amusing ways provided comfort to her faltering father.

As her elder sisters married and left their mother, the Queen came to rely on the company of her youngest daughter, whom she called "Baby" for most of her childhood. Beatrice was brought up to stay with her mother always and she soon resigned herself to her fate. The Queen was so set against her youngest daughter marrying that she refused to discuss the possibility. Nevertheless, many suitors were put forward, including Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial, the son of the exiled Emperor Napoleon III of France, and Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, the widower of Beatrice's older sister Alice. She was attracted to the Prince Imperial and there was talk of a possible marriage, but he was killed in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.

Beatrice fell in love with Prince Henry of Battenberg, the son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine and Julia von Hauke and brother-in-law of her niece Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. After a year of persuasion, the Queen, whose consent was required pursuant to the Royal Marriages Act, finally agreed to the marriage, which took place at Whippingham on the Isle of Wight on 23 July 1885. Queen Victoria consented on condition that Beatrice and Henry make their home with her and that Beatrice continue her duties as the Queen's unofficial secretary. The Prince and Princess had four children, but 10 years into their marriage, on 20 January 1896, Prince Henry died of malaria while fighting in the Anglo-Asante War. Beatrice remained at her mother's side until Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901. Beatrice devoted the next 30 years to editing Queen Victoria's journals as her designated literary executor and continued to make public appearances. She died aged 87 in 1944.

In the knowledge of all the above, this chest is a museum worthy piece and provides a fascinating and tangible link to the Royal family and the early life of one of its most cherished members.