Many royalties are known to have patronised the arts but fewer have had real friendships with those they patronised. A very touching friendship is that of Charles Ludwig Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’) and Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Both were extremely clever men (Lewis Carroll was, of course, a great mathematician, and Prince Leopold is often said to be the cleverest of Queen Victoria’s sons) and both suffered an affliction. Lewis Carroll suffered a debilitating stammer and Prince Leopold suffered from the agonising condition of haemophilia which, tragically, blighted and cut short his life.
The two men often met and it is likely that it was Carroll’s experience at Osborne House, when he and the prince hurled themselves into a bush as Queen Victoria’s carriage approached, that led to his amusing description from Alice in Wonderland:
“At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out ‘The Queen! The Queen!’ and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces.”
Prince Leopold’s untimely death did not end Carroll’s relationship with the prince’s family. He made regular visits to the Albany household and became a great favourite with Leopold’s two children, Charles Edward (later Duke of Coburg) and Alice (later Countess of Athlone). In her touching memoirs: For My Grandchildren, Some Reminiscences of Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, the princess writes:
Lewis Carroll was especially kind to Charlie and me, though when I was only five I offended him once when, at a children’s party at Hatfield, he was telling us a story. He was a stammerer and being unable to follow what he was saying I suddenly asked in a loud voice, “Why does he waggle his mouth like that?” I was hastily removed by the lady-in-waiting. Afterwards he wrote that he “liked Charlie but thought Alice would turn out badly.”
Stuart Dodgson Collingwood’s The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll contains another touching account of Carroll’s relationship with the young royalties:
Shortly before the resignation of Dr. Liddell, the Duchess of Albany spent a few days at the Deanery. Mr. Dodgson was asked to meet her
Royal Highness at luncheon, but was unable to go. Princess Alice and the little Duke of Albany, however, paid him a visit, and were initiated in the art of making paper pistols. He promised to send the Princess a copy of a book called “The Fairies,” and the children, having spent a happy half-hour in his rooms, returned to the Deanery. This was one of the days which he “marked with a white stone.” He sent a copy of The Nursery ‘Alice'” to the little Princess Alice, and received a note of thanks from her, and also a letter from her mother, in which she said that the book had taught the Princess to like reading, and to do it out of lesson-time. To the Duke he gave a copy of a book entitled “The Merry Elves.” In his little note of thanks for this gift, the boy said, “Alice and I want you to love us both.” Mr. Dodgson sent Princess Alice a puzzle, promising that if she found it out, he would give her a “golden chair from Wonderland.”