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Censoring Queen Victoria How Two Gentlemen Edited a Queen and Created an Icon by Yvonne M. Ward

Censoring Queen Victoria How Two Gentlemen Edited a Queen and Created an Icon

Biography / Autobiography   History   

Sue Baker's view...

Queen Victoria’s correspondence filled rooms, in all, 460 volumes of letters. It was a mammoth task to edit this down to 3 volumes and two men were chosen for the job, Viscount Esher who did all the overseeing and liason with the King and Arthur Benson who did most of the work. Through Yvonne Ward’s investigation we learn how these two men largely shaped our view of the Queen, their omissions, economy with the “actualite”, actual distortion of the letters to change emphasis, aimed at saving the face of then living persons and any avoiding any upset to the Royal Family. An intriguing history, following the twists and turns of the two men at work, learning the truth of the letters and what was published, we find a very different view of Queen Victoria emerges from the one they wished us to see.

Like for Like Reading

The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter, Lucinda Hawksley

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household, Kate Hubbard

Who is Sue Baker

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Upon Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 it was decided that, rather than an official biography, there should be a selection of her letters published. Lord Esher, a closet homosexual, and Edward VII’s fixer (he would have done well in House of Cards), who was well aware of his master’s aversion to publicity, was chosen to mastermind the project. Arthur Benson (brother of E F), and also a homosexual, was hired to do the spadework of reading, sorting, selecting and transcribing letters from the vast archive. The author’s contention that the resulting picture of the queen is skewed by the editors’ lack of understanding of her as a woman is an interesting one, but, however you look at it, this is a brilliant piece of literary detective work, based on unprecedented access to the original archives.
~ Julia Hamilton


Censoring Queen Victoria How Two Gentlemen Edited a Queen and Created an Icon by Yvonne M. Ward

When Queen Victoria died, two gentlemen embarked on a monumental task: sorting through and making sense of her vast written legacy. For the first time, a British monarch's letters - carefully edited of course - were going to be published. The men chosen for the job were complex and peculiar characters. Viscount Esher, the consummate royal confidant, was blessed with charm, but he hid a secret obsession with Eton schoolboys and preyed upon his own son. Arthur Benson, schoolmaster and author, was plagued by depression, and he never felt at ease among the blue-blooded swells of the royal court. Together with King Edward VII, these men would decide how Victoria would be remembered. In their hands hundreds of volumes of the Queen's correspondence were whittled down to a mere three, and their decisions - and distortions - would influence perceptions of Victoria for generations to come. Based on unprecedented access to the royal archives at Windsor Castle, Censoring Queen Victoria is a rare and fascinating piece of historical detective work, revealing aspects of the Queen-Empress that we were never meant to see.


'Original and important, this book represents a major contribution to our understanding of the modern British monarchy.'
Sir David Cannadine

'Hats off to Yvonne Ward... who has exposed the gentlemanly networks that tried to hide the truth about Queen Victoria'.'
Robert Lacey

'A revelation... Yvonne Ward gives us a completely new perspective on how Queen Victoria's image, following her death, was moulded & manipulated.'
John Murray, publisher

'Yvonne Ward's groundbreaking book is a gripping read - a fascinating account of how Edwardian courtiers doctored the evidence to create a politically correct image of Queen Victoria.'
Jane Ridley, author of Bertie: A Life of Edward VII

'Yvonne Ward has done a sterling job of delving into history to find out how the reputation which the queen guarded so fiercely during her lifetime continued to be manipulated and reshaped even after her death - as well as how many myths continue to persist even today.'
Lucinda Hawksley, author of The Mystery of Princess Louise

'Enlightening... earnest, thorough.'
Publishers Weekly

'Rich in intrigue.'
Kirkus Reviews

'Ward argues convincingly that Esher and Benson's radical pruning of Queen Victoria's early correspondence has had a profound effect on her posthumous reputation... a timeless reminder of how important it is for biographers to find the time, space and will to battle back to the primary sources.'

'Four stars - Yvonne Ward tells a complicated story clearly and simply, which is the reverse of the normal academic procedure.'
Mail on Sunday

'Does a great deal to show the real person behind our received image.'
We Love This Book

'Yvonne Ward's exposure of the motives and the men behind this skilful piece of powerfully persuasive and permanent Edwardian political spin is astonishing'
The Times

'Fascinating, not only for the intrigue surrounding the editing, but also for the myriad issues on which the author shines a light: from public schools to prime ministers; from Irish Famine to the arcana of court life...a fine piece of research.'
Australian Book Review

'Original and engaging'

'Remarkable and clever'
New York Times

BBC History Magazine

'An unusual and fascinating book... Yvonne Ward has the perceptiveness to present in a new light what at first sight might seem a well-trodden subject, deploying her own knowledge and archival research to make a fascinating read by re-editing the editors'
Literary Review

About the Author

Yvonne Ward is a historian with a doctorate from La Trobe University. Her publications include the lead essay in a special edition of The Court Historian, published to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. This is her first book. She lives in Victoria, Australia.

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Book Info

Publication date

5th March 2015


Yvonne M. Ward

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Oneworld Publications


224 pages


Biography / Autobiography

Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900



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