So far we have written several pieces about Romany gypsies as their stories have popped up during our research and for anyone who reads our latest book, A Right Royal Scandal, you will find out more about our interest in this community.
In this, the first of two posts (our second being on Thursday), we’re going to wander slightly out of our usual Georgian era to take a look at a specific gypsy family and their connection to Princess Victoria, just a few months before she became queen.
Given the length of this post we will be running the second part on Thursday. In today’s post we will simply recount Princess Victoria’s journal entries from exactly 180 years ago this week and on Thursday we will piece together more about the family she encountered and their Georgian origins.
Still today, gypsy communities can often have a ‘bad press’ or are people to be mocked for living a different lifestyle to most people and for speaking their own language, one unique to their community. This would undoubtedly have been the same in young Princess Victoria’s day, however, her own view was very different, she took the time to learn about the gypsy community and to spend time with them.
Whilst reading her journal it becomes very clear that these gypsies held a very special place in her heart. They were travellers who had set up camp near Claremont from December 1836 to early January 1837. She records her every meeting with the family and even drew pictures of them.
Wednesday 7th December
We met the same two Gipsies as the other day accompanied by another very pretty one, who, the young one of the other day told us, was her sister-in-law, & was in daily expectation of her confinement; the old woman, she told us the other day, was her mother; her own name, she said was Cooper. They are encamped on the Portsmouth road now, where we walk every day
Sunday 11th December
At 2 we went out with dear Lehzen & Victoire & came home at ½ p.3. We saw our Gipsy friends peeping out of their frail abode of canvass. They certainly are a “Hard-faring race”.
Thursday 15th December
Since Monday, or rather more Tuesday, the Gipsy encampments have been enlarged by 2 tents. As we were walking along the road near to the Tents, the woman who said she was called Cooper, & who is generally the spokeswoman of the party, stepped across the road from the tents, & as we turned & stopped, came up to us with a whole swarm of children, six I think. It was a singular, & yet a pretty & picturesc sight. She herself with nothing on her head, her raven hair hanging untidily about her fine countenance, & a dingy dark green cloak hung on one side of her shoulders, while the set of little brats swarming round her, with dark disheveled hair & dark dresses, all little things & all beautiful children. She spoke to Lehzen & said they were the children of her two brothers, & “I am aunt to all these”. She said her name was Sarah & she then proceeded to name all the children of which I remember only 5. Dinah, Job, Britannia, Emmeline, & I think Helen. Britannia is a beautiful little large black eyed thing, with a dirty face which was wiped to be shown off. Sarah, then pointed to her own boy, called George, her only child, who was carrying another little nephew named Nelson, on his back. The pretty sister-in-law is not mother of these children, for she is only 20 & has none as yet. We had not proceeded far before we met the old Mother Gipsy, the pretty sister-in-law, & two other sisters-in-law, each with a baby in her arms, one of whom is very pretty; they are the mothers of the children, “Aunt Sarah” was displaying to us. – The Gipsies are a curious, peculiar & very hardy race, unlike any other!
Saturday 17th December
As we passed the Encampment, the old Gipsy woman came out accompanied by Dinah & Emmeline, & produced from under her cloak the poor little baby, an uncommonly fine though small child for a day old only! – At a ¼ p.2 dear Lehzen, Victoire & I went out & came home at ½ p.3. One of the other Gipsy daughters-in-law was walking on the other side of the road, she is also very pretty though not the prettiest of the two new ones. Played on the piano. – Wrote my journal. – Read to Lehzen out of the Irish History. – Read in or rather looked over, (for I have read it through before) “The Gipsies’ advocate” by James Crabb. – It is a very pretty, pious little book, & is full of very curious, & some very touching anecdotes of these poor people. They have originally no religion, but many have been reformed by kind Clergymen & other people. – There are societies formed for reforming them. Their conjugal, filial, & paternal affection is very great, as also their kindness & attention to their sick, old, or infirm. Their morals too are almost always very pure, with the exception of an addiction to petty thefts & fortune-telling.
Saturday, 24th December – Xmas Eve
I awoke after 7 and got up at 8. After 9 we breakfasted. At a little after 10 we left Kensington with dearest Lehzen, Lady Conroy, and – Dashy! and reached Claremont at a ¼ to 12. Played and sung. At 2 dearest Lehzen, Victoire and I went out and came home at 20 minutes p.3. No one was stirring about the Gipsy encampment except George, which I was sorry for, as I was anxious to know how our poor friends were after this bitterly cold night.
Sunday, 25th December- Xmas Day
I awoke after 7 and got up at 8. At 9 we all breakfasted. Mamma, Lehzen, and I read prayers. Arranged my new drawings. At a little before 2 dearest Lehzen, Victoire and I went out and came home at 3. As we were approaching the camp, we met Rea coming from it, who had been sent there by Mamma to enquire into the story of these poor wanderers. He told us (what I was quite sure of before) that all was quite true, that the poor young woman and baby were doing very well, though very weak and miserable and that what they wanted chiefly was fuel and nourishment. Mamma has ordered broth and fuel to be sent tonight, as also 2 blankets; and several of our people have sent old flannel things for them. Mamma has ordered that the broth and fuel is to be sent each day til the woman is recovered. Lehzen sent them by our footmen a little worsted knit jacket for the poor baby, and when we drove by, Aunt Sarah, the old woman and the Husband all looked out and bowed most gratefully. Rea gave them directly a sovereign. I cannot say how happy I am, that these poor creatures are assisted, for they are such a nice set of Gipsies, so quiet, so affectionate to one another, so discreet, not at all forward or importunate, and so grateful; so unlike the gossiping, fortune-telling race-gipsies; and this is such a peculiar and touching case. Their being assisted makes me quite merry and happy today, for yesterday night when I was safe and happy at home in that cold night and today when it snowed so and everything looked white, I felt quite unhappy and grieved to think that our poor gipsy friends should perish and shiver for want; and now today I shall go to bed happy, knowing they are better off and more comfortable. – Arranged drawings. Wrote my journal. At 6 we dined. Sir Robert and Lady Gardiner and Victoire and Emily Gardiner dined here. Sang and also Mamma a little. Stayed up till 10. I heard that the poor Gipsies were in ecstasies at what they received, which consisted of broth and wood (which as I before said they are to receive every day till the poor young woman is recovered) and the bundle of things, the blankets not being quite ready. I went to bed with a light heart, knowing these poor good people were better off and would not feel the cold quite so much.
Monday, 26th December
… I heard that the Gipsy mother and little baby were better and very thankful for the blankets &c.,&c. they had got, and felt very comfortable with a large fire in spite of the deep snow and great cold. The baby is to be called Francis and was to have been christened on Sunday only they came too late.
Wednesday, 28th December
At 12 dearest Lehzen, Victoire, and I went out and came home at 2. Everything covered with deep snow, and we were compelled to walk in the middle of the road, and very slippy rough walking it was. Aunt Sarah came out of the encampment looking very handsome with the poor little baby in her arms, as also the old woman with nothing on her head, and were very grateful for the blankets &c. we had sent them. Whatever may be the faults of this singular and wandering people and of these in particular, ingratitude and want of affection for one another are not amongst them, for they are most grateful I must say.
Thursday, 29th December
At 12 we went out with dear Lehzen and came home at 2. Everything still looked very white and the ground rather slippery but not so much so as yesterday. It snowed part of the time we were walking. I saw Aunt Sarah and the least pretty of the two sisters-in-law, who has returned, in a shop in Esher. How I do wish I could do something for their spiritual and mental benefit and for the education of their children and in particular for the poor little baby who I have known since its birth, in the admirable manner Mr. Crabb in his Gipsies’ Advocate” so strongly urges; he beseeches and urges those who have kind hearts and Christian feelings to think of these poor wanderers, who have many good qualities and who have many good people amongst them. He says, and alas! I too well know, its truth, from experience, that whenever any poor Gipsies are encamped anywhere and crimes and robberies &c. occur, it is invariably laid to their account, which is shocking; and if they are always looked upon as vagabonds, how can they become good people? I trust in Heaven that the day may come when I may do something for these poor people, and for this particular family! I am sure, that the little kindness which they have experienced from us will have a good and lasting effect on them!
Friday, 30th December
After 12 we dear Lehzen and I went out and came home at 20 minutes to 12. When we passed the encampment the old woman came out and told Lehzen that she had called twice at the lodge yesterday and today and had got no soup. Poor thing! there have been some misunderstandings and confusions I am sorry to say. But they have got blankets, old clothes and some money and I trust and really think they are as comfortable as poor Gipsies generally are. She further said that the young woman & baby were going on well; that they were all Coopers and the young woman, who was her daughter-in-law, was called Eliza Lee before her marriage; and that her own daughter Sarah had no husband, which she said looking down sadly, and that little George was Sarah’s only child. She has a singular clever but withered countenance herself, with not one grey hair, and is very respectful and well-bred in her manner.
Thursday, 5th January
At a little after 12 dear Lehzen and I went out and came home at 20 minutes p.1. When we approached the spot where the Gipsy encampment was, all, all was gone, vanished, and the only trace left of them was their litter of straw! So sudden and mysterious are their arrivals and departures, that one day they may appear settled for a long while in their tents and the next morning there may be no vestige of them left. Poor people, I am so glad we have done them good; they were such a nice set of Gipsies. I am quite certain that they had settled their departure when they came out to see us last Sunday, and were therefore not so sorry when we said we should see them no more, which was too true! I hope I shall see them one day again and then be able to do more real good for them. We met in walking homewards a Gipsy and a boy both on horseback; the man was remarkably handsome and independent looking; had a grey hat, trousers and gaiters on, a green jacket and a bright red handkerchief tied loosely round his neck; he looked quite Italian like; the boy had a black beaver hat on with a pipe in his mouth. I should think they were some relations of our friends; probably of the same clan, the Coopers.
Sunday, 8th January
At 12 dear Lehzen and I went out and came home at 10 minutes p.1. It is today a week that we took leave of our poor good friends the Gipsies and I am quite sorry when I pass the spot so long enlivened by their little camp, and behold it empty and deserted and with almost no trace to be seen of their ever having been there. They had been there more than a month, for they encamped there about 5 days after we arrived here and have been there ever since until last Wednesday or Thursday. To my feeling, the chief ornament of the Portsmouth road is gone since their departure. But this is their life; they are happy and grateful and we have done them some good. The place and spot may be forgotten, but the Gipsy family Cooper will never be obliterated from my memory!
I forgot to mention that one of the nice qualities of my Gipsy friends was, their cleanliness; for they were to be seen almost every day drying their washed things, not only their linen, but their handkerchiefs, cloaks &c. I am sorry I did not see the pretty young woman who was confined, again; I should so have liked to have seen her. What a hardy race they must be, when I consider how this young woman and poor innocent little babe bore the late very severe cold; I really think the wood and blankets we sent them kept them alive. She seemed a very strong person, as they all are, for she used generally to go every day before her confinement to the village which was full a mile and a half from their camp, and back again, and the last time I met her, the morning of the day before her confinement, how pretty and well she was looking only a little tired; I saw her even about the camp (at a distance) in the afternoon too.
Tuesday, 14th February
I quite forgot to mention that when on Sunday I walked for the last time on my favourite nice Portsmouth road, that I still beheld the litter of straw which was the only vestige of our poor good Gipsy friends who will never never be forgotten. Aunt Sarah, Eliza Cooper, old Mary Cooper, the poor dear little baby, the host of children, and the two other sisters-in-law, are quite present in my mind; I can see and hear them!
If you have enjoyed reading this, please click on this link to find out more about this fascinating gypsy family.