In 1871, when Queen Victoria was in the tenth year of her widowhood, and when even the great British public was becoming increasingly irritated by her continued seclusion at Windsor, Osborne and Balmoral, a young, clever, radical MP named George Otto Trevelyan published a pamphlet which had the effrontery to ask: 'What does she do with it?' Where, Trevelyan wanted to know, was all the money going which the Queen was paid by the Government for the sole purpose of maintaining the duties and dignities of her position as head of state? Instead of being spent as it should have been, on court ceremonial, public appearances and regal display, he believed it was being improperly applied to the creation of a new and essentially private royal fortune. Like everyone else, Trevelyan could only guess at the true extent of the Queen's recently accumulated wealth. 'In the absence of authentic information,' he observed, 'it must not be a matter of wonder that statements which are probably great exaggerations should find belief.' But whatever its extent, Trevelyan had no doubt that the amassing of great personal wealth by the monarch was 'unconstitutional and most objectionable'. As far as both the history and the size of this royal nest-egg were concerned, he believed that 'the people of England have a right to be informed.'
LRB 13 February 1992 | PDF Download