Three English Queens

Florence and the women of the British monarchy

Lauri Thorndyke
May 24, 2012

This is an important year for the monarchy in Britain: 2012 marks the 60th year that Queen Elizabeth II has reigned, a record only broken by one other monarch-her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. For those of us with British roots or just a keen interest, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee is truly a moment in history. With all the coverage of events in Britain, it may be easy to forget that for three past English queens, it was Florence that had a unique and lasting influence.


Queen Victoria's love of Italy largely grew out of her love for her husband, Prince Albert. As a young man, Albert was sent on a grand tour of Europe, and he became captivated with the beauty and charm of Italian architecture and scenery. Prince Albert's love of Italy was apparent when designing their first private home, Osborne House. But it was not until after his death that Queen Victoria decided to visit Italy, and eventually Florence.


Queen Victoria's love of the natural beauty of the countryside and local people soon saw her shunning the crowded galleries and tourist spots in the historic centre of Florence, instead choosing to stay in the private villas that dotted the surrounding hills, where the beauty and drama of the Tuscan countryside can be greater appreciated. Her desire to sketch and view the countryside and ordinary Florentine life was hugely popular and did much to spur tourists of the era to explore the Florentine countryside themselves, a trend that continues today.


Queen Mary, wife of King George V, lived in Florence as a young girl of 16 and 17 years old. Her days were spent studying art, visiting museums, enjoying carriage rides, painting and absorbing the views of the Arno. Her appreciation of art and collecting, which was developed during this time, laid the foundation of her future work as queen in the forming and cataloguing of the Royal Collection.


Queen Elizabeth II's mother, also Elizabeth, wife of George VI and the Queen Mother, also spent time in Florence, visiting her grandmother, Mrs. Scott, at her Florentine villa, where she was said to have marvelled at ‘this most beautiful place with orange trees in the garden that can be picked for breakfast.' As an enchanted eight-year-old, the future queen purchased the two winged angels from local antique stalls that adorned the side of her bed in her London home, Clarence House, until her death. These three personal views of Florence by three royal visitors-the reigning Queen Elizabeth II's great-great-grandmother, grandmother and mother, are indeed a fitting Florentine celebration of the Queen's Jubilee.


Events at the British InstituteLearn more at a lecture, entitled Three English Queens, on Wednesday, June 6, 2012, at 6pm, in the Sala Ferragamo in the Harold Acton Library, British Institute of Florence. It will be followed by an informal reception. Free entry. The British Institute will also be holding a Jubilee Tea Party on June 3 in the Harold Acton Library: see our cover story and for details.



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