Letter from Lord Grey on Behalf of Prince Albert – Consort to Queen Victoria


The genesis of this project is a primary source document assigned to me, a Graduate student of history at the College of Staten Island, from the Francis and Elizabeth MacDonald Collection. This collection of documents and ancient artifacts is on loan to the College of Staten Island through the generosity of the MacDonald family. In particular, this project pertains to one document which is but a part of the whole. The document in question, as assigned to me, was titled; letter from “lord Grey on behalf of Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria. This being the case, and as the limited research time available dictates, this project aspires to no greater aspiration than to attempt to illuminate the sequence of events which conspired to produce this particular document one hundred and forty eight years ago. Before a detailed explanation of this document can be entertained however, I feel it is incumbent upon me to explain a few facts concerning the collection of which it is a part, and, perhaps more importantly, the individuals who successfully sought to own it.

The collection as a whole was compiled by Francis and Elizabeth MacDonald. As stated previously, this collection consists of both documentary and monumental specimens. Discourse attempting to detail the complete holdings the MacDonalds amassed would be superfluous to the parameters of this project, but an understanding of their desire to acquire a document such as the one which is central to my study is imperative. As Scottish Immigrants, the MacDonalds had an affinity to connections with their native land. The document which is the primary focus of this research project is one such connection, although tenuously so.

Francis MacDonald earned a comfortable living as the New York agent for the Anchor Shipping Line. An added bonus of this position was his constant interaction with intercontinental trade, particularly between Scotland and America, as they were two of the main foci of the Anchor Line. The document in question however, has but a slight connection to Scotland. The document is a letter, written on behalf of Prince Albert, the consort to Queen Victoria, informing a John Gray of his Majesties pleasure regarding both his reading, and presentation of a book while at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Assuredly, at first glance this would appear the slightest of connections to their homeland, but on further investigation, a more complex connection is revealed. Plainly obvious to the reader is the Balmoral/Scottish connection, but an affinity to a recently constructed edifice must have been nebulous at best. Another possibility is that the letter was purchased by the MacDonalds due to the Mention of the famous Scottish scientist James Watt. Perhaps so, but we shall never now know. Another, although less reasonable assumption due to the disparity with dates, is that the MacDonalds, or their agent, were mistaken as to the actual author of the letter.

I personally, after immense confusion, and untold hours of research, satisfied myself as to the authorship of the letter in question. This may appear but a small matter, but I assure you, verifying authorship of the letter to my satisfaction was the most complex, and perplexing operation of this entire project. For many weeks I labored under the misconception that the author was lord Grey. Unfortunately for me, I discovered during my research that the Grey clan was both extensive and prestigious. The son, brother, and father of men who held the title of Earl Grey, the author was invariably styled as General Grey. When the document in question was written, he was Private Secretary to Prince Albert, after whose death, he subsequently became, the first officially recognized Private Secretary to Queen Victoria. Perhaps a prestigious position of note one would think. Unfortunately for me, General Charles Grey’s achievement is overshadowed by many of his clan. It did not help my research that the two generations of Greys which preceded him were the progenitors of a prodigious number of male offspring. Included among their number were a British Prime Minister, numerous members of parliament, Generals, admirals, clergy, a colonial governor and a colonial Prime Minister, as well as politicians and statesmen at almost every level through to the twentieth century.

Never-the-less, having eventually zeroed in on the author, I was eventually able to find some biographical information regarding him. The other principles noted in the letter were considerably easier to research, except for the recipient of the letter, John Gray Esquire. As a commoner, records regarding his existence or considerably scarcer, and subsequently, details of his life are intrinsically more difficult to unearth. The obstacles posed by intercontinental research, while alleviated somewhat by the internet, are still considerable. The primary source document which is the focus of this project mentions five individuals, one book, and one building. The people mentioned are; Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Consort to the Queen, James Watt, scientist and engineer, General Charles Grey, Private Secretary to Prince Albert, and John Grey Esquire, secretary of the Watt club of Greenock. The book mentioned is; Memorials of The Lineage, Early Life, Education, And Development Of The Genius of James Watt. The building mentioned is Balmoral Castle, a royal residence in Scotland. These seven entities then shall form the focus of my project, for while attempting to formulate a better understanding of the people and places mentioned in the document, our perception of the world of the document itself may be enhanced.

The letter was written October 7th 1856, a time when man’s understanding of the world around him, and indeed himself, was undergoing a metamorphosis. Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking On The Origin of Species would be published three years after the letter was written. As the royal court was making its way to Balmoral during August 1856, bones, erroneously identified as belonging to an ancient bear, were being unearthed in a quarry in a glen named Neanderthal. Mankind was about to undergo unheralded scientific and technological advances, but the world of the Royal Court of Queen Victoria lagged behind. Cocooned and encapsulated, the royal court, especially after the death of Prince Albert, was a world of protocol and procedure. The epicenter, and raison d’etre of the royal court was Queen Victoria, a woman who was never meant to be queen, but who came to be given the sobriquet, grandmother of the royal houses of Europe. This briefly is the world of the document which is the focus of this project. Let us delve deeper into the existence of the principles mentioned in it, with the hope it will enable us to achieve a greater perspective of that past world.


Balmoral Castle

Oct[ober]: 7. 1856


I am commanded by

His Royal Highness Prince

Albert to acknowledge the

Receipt of your note of the

4th– inst[ant]- with the accompa-

nying very handsome copy

Of the Memorials of James

Watt, which you have been

[ od]

Page Two

Good enough to read for

Presentation to Her Majesty

Her Majesty cannot but

Admire the manner in

Which this volume is [ b]

[ h], [and] I am commanded to

[ rep] the pleasure with

Which she accepts it for

The Royal Library

I have the honour to be


[sq] very Obe[dien]t ser[ven]t

John Gray Esq[uire] C Gre

External & Internal Criticism:

The document I have been researching is a letter written by General (sometimes referred to as Lt. Gen. Hon.) Charles Grey. He has signed the letter and would be expected to write such a letter as part of his responsibilities as private secretary to Prince Albert. The location and date the letter was written coincided with the actual royal stay at Balmoral during 1856 (Aug .30th-Oct. 15th ). Research uncovered evidence which indicates a copy of this very document was included in the frontispiece of the James Watt book, although to date, despite laying hands on four copies, I have been unable to verify this. Contact with Buckingham Palace produced no evidence of the alleged book reading, but they claimed it could have been a private affair not covered in the court circulars.

The reading of the letter does not specify that an actual reading took place. The precise words are, “Which you have been good enough to read for presentation to her Majesty. Note the letter did not say read at a presentation to her Majesty. The matter is open to conjecture. Regardless, verification of Authorship is provided by comparing the MacDonald letter with the copy of an authenticated letter sent to my by Jane Hogan, the Assistant keeper of archives at Durham University. This is were a large holding of general greys papers are held among the 2nd Earl Greys Collection. When the two letters are compared side-by-side, the similarities become apparent. Most obvious is the length of the cross on the letter t’. The rounded upright of the letter D are also identical In both letters the words to, by, and the, are strikingly similar as is the letter w. While I am no expert on the matter, the writing in both letters appears similar enough to be judged as to have been written by the same hand.