Sunday, July 10, 2016

Queen Victoria and the Gypsies

, Two Gypsies, Francisco Iturrino
Queen Victoria called the gypsies ‘a cruelly wronged people’ and showed them great sympathy.  This was because a family of gypsies once made a big impression on her when she was only 17 and staying at Claremont House in Surrey.  Here, she became somewhat friendly with the family.  She sent food and baskets to one who gave birth and praised the cleanliness of the newborn.  She also drew them. She especially liked drawing the formidable matriarch, Sarah Cooper. Her sketches have been criticised as idealised and she described this family as ‘superior’ gypsies, because they were not like the 'fortune-telling, gossiping' ones, she thought. However, her attitude was arguably ahead of its time.

The young princess also often read and underlined The Gypsies’ Advocate by James Crabb.  This was dedicated to judges and clergymen in the hope that they would develop a more benevolent attitude to the Romany people.  Crabb helped gypsy children – he looked after some at home and paid for their schooling – and established a committee with suggestions for reform. Crabb became interested in changing opinions about the Romanies when he witnessed a judge saying that he intended to execute horse-stealers, especially gypsies, even after a convicted man pleaded for his life.

Queen Victoria tried to go out of her way to help the Cooper family.  She not only sent them gifts, but she employed one of them, Matty Cooper, as her chief rat-catcher at Windsor Castle.  He used to lay them out on the carpet at the castle, according to his grand-son.  Her chief harpist was also a Romani.

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