BerksFHS Logo  

Berkshire Family Historian
December 2000

upBerks FHS indexContents

Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, December 2000 Contents

Genealogical sources in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle

Sheila de Bellaigue

Researching Berkshire families often throws up ancestors who may have worked for the Sovereign at Windsor Castle. In many cases the information is given on marriage or burial certificates, but most often the first indication comes from a census return, either of the Castle itself - for those servants who lived in - or those in the surrounding area. For example in the 1881 Census, taken on April 3, Queen Victoria was in residence. Her four Edinburgh grandchildren (children of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh) were staying with her while their parents were in Russia attending the funeral of their maternal grandfather, Tsar Alexander II. The Queen's youngest children, Princess Beatrice and Prince Leopold, were there as was Eugénie, the ex-Empress of the French. All the resident servants are listed from maids and cooks to footmen and a nightwatchman, including a governess, Amalie Heim, and a 'lectrice to the Queen'. But how difficult is it to find personal information about Household staff?

The Royal Archives, held at Windsor Castle, comprise personal and official papers of the Sovereign and some other members of the Royal Family from 1760 to 1952 - from the reign of George III to that of George VI. Papers of earlier monarchs are, for the most part, held at the Public Record Office at Kew. Papers of the present reign are transferred gradually to the Royal Archives when no longer required at Buckingham Palace.

The Royal Household formerly consisted of three Departments, each headed by one of the Great Officers of the Household: the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord Steward and the Master of the Horse. Broadly speaking, the Lord Chamberlain's Department dealt with the ceremonial and social life of the Court; the Lord Steward's Department with domestic and culinary matters; and the Master of the Horse's Department was responsible for the royal stables and for arranging transport for the Sovereign and the Royal Household. Until 1924 the Great Officers were political appointees, changing with changes of government; and until the end of the nineteenth century their departmental records were deposited at the Public Record Office. Thereafter their records have come to the Royal Archives, the repository for all twentieth-century Royal Household departmental records. There are now five Household departments.

The Royal Archives holds an index of Household employees from 1660 to 1901, known as the Household Index. This index is mainly compiled from the records of the Lord Chamberlain's and the Lord Steward's Departments from 1660 to 1837 in the PRO and from various printed sources such as The Court & City Register and The Royal Kalendar. Information from Household records in the Royal Archives is gradually being added. The information in the index is generally limited to the name, post held, the dates of employment (in some cases with details of salaries and pensions) and the relevant PRO, printed or Royal Archives references. The index rarely gives dates of births or deaths, or details of marriages or of other family members.

Mrs. Elizabeth Henderson, 1880. Housekeeper at Windsor Castle 1867-1888 (RPC Royal Household Portraits Vol 53/27c)

For employees before Queen Victoria's reign, the Archives hold a limited number of establishment books and other records of service, although these tend to give little detail other than name and post held. References may occasionally be found in the correspondence of George Ill and George IV. Unfortunately the papers of King William IV do not survive.

From Queen Victoria's reign there is more detail, particularly on the more senior members of the Household. For Ladies in Waiting (ie Ladies and Women of the Bedchamber and Maids of Honour) there are printed lists. But these posts were almost invariably held by wives or daughters of peers, details of whose families can be found in the standard works on the peerage.1

Mary Ann Hull, nee Cripps c. early 1860s. Nurse to Queen Victoria's children 1841-1858 (RPC Royal Household Portraits Vol 54/9d)

There are a number of establishment and pension lists and pay records for other staff. These are not complete for Victorian times, but they are more extensive in the early twentieth century. The information they contain is generally restricted to the employee and rarely includes family details.

Although most pre-1900 departmental records are in the PRO, a certain number of nineteenth-century records from the Lord Chamberlain's and Lord Steward's Departments, including some establishment, salary and pension books, have come into the Royal Archives from other sources. These records contain extensive, but not complete, lists of employees throughout the Royal Household, sometimes supplemented by references in letters and other papers.

Charles Hull c. early 1860s. Messenger to Queen Victoria 1866-69, previously Groom Porter 1861-66 and Footman 1842-61 (RPC Royal Household Portraits Vol. 54/49b)

There are also records from the Master of the Horse's Department from the late eighteenth century onwards. Although not complete they probably represent the best existing source of information on employees of this department. An index of employees up to the end of the nineteenth century has been compiled from these papers.

In addition there are Privy Purse papers, covering the private expenditure of the Sovereign. These include information about privately-employed staff, such as nursery staff, tutors and governesses, and about the staff of the Privy Purse and Treasurer's Department. For most of the twentieth century, this Department's records include the personnel records of the whole Household.

Records of individuals who worked in Windsor Great Park, such as gamekeepers, gate-keepers, farm workers and gardeners, are rarely found in the Archives, as they were generally employed by the Office of Woods, the Office of Works or the Crown Estate Commissioners. The relevant records, including those relating to Windsor Great Park, are preserved at the PRO, principally in the CRES series.2 The private estates of the Sovereign (for example Balmoral, Sandringham and formerly Osborne) are administered under the supervision of the Keeper of the Privy Purse. Records concerning employees on the estates can be found both in the Privy Purse papers and in the estate papers produced by the Estate Offices, also deposited in the Royal Archives.

The Royal Photograph Collection, which is part of the Royal Archives, contains photographs and albums belonging to members of the Royal Family from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to the present day. It includes many photographs of Household employees, some of which were collected by Queen Victoria as a record of her Household. There are also occasional group photographs, although the sitters are not always identified.

Royal Warrant Holders

Unfortunately little information can be found in the Archives about local tradesmen who supplied goods and services to the Sovereign or the Royal Family at Windsor Castle. From the eighteenth century Royal Warrants were issued by each department of the Household to the tradesmen who supplied its particular needs. Until the end of the nineteenth century records of the award of Royal Warrants are mainly found in the PRO. Warrant holders are included in the Household Index, which gives the relevant PRO references. The exceptions are warrant holders in the departments whose records are held in the Royal Archives and not at the PRO: the Master of the Horse's Department and the Privy Purse. There is information about warrant holders in both departments in the Royal Archives, although very little pre-1900 material on Privy Purse warrant holders, apart from bills for private purchases and occasional references in correspondence.

From the reigns of King Edward VII and King George V there are lists of Privy Purse warrant holders and correspondence relating to the warrants; there are also lists and correspondence relating to warrants issued by the Lord Chamberlain and the Master of the Horse. The system of departmental Royal Warrants was reformed in the 1930s and the administration of warrants is now the responsibility of the Lord Chamberlain's Department. There is also a limited amount of information in the Archives about warrants issued by other senior members of the Royal Family.

Bodyguards, guards and police on duty at Royal Palaces

The only two bodies correctly described as 'bodyguards' to the monarch are the Yeoman of the Guard (not to be confused with the Yeomen Warders of the Tower of London) and the Gentlemen at Arms (formerly known as Gentlemen Pensioners). There are a few establishment lists in the Royal Archives which include the names of those serving in these bodies, and there may be occasional references to them in other papers. Their names may also appear in the Household Index, but otherwise records of these bodies are held by the Exon, the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard and the Clerk of the Cheque and Adjutant, Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, at St. James's Palace, London SW1A 1JR.

The Royal Archives do not hold records for servicemen, whether or not they did guard duty at Royal Palaces. Military records can be found at the PRO or sometimes at regimental record offices. Similarly records of police officers on duty will be in the Metropolitan Police records at the PRO or at New Scotland Yard. Occasionally, however, names of police officers do occur in Household records.

Records of the Yeomen Warders at the Tower of London are at the PRO, but it may be possible to obtain information direct from the Tower where one of the Yeoman Warders acts as honorary archivist.

Grace & Favour residences

The Archives hold registers of occupants of Grace & Favour apartments at Hampton Court from about 1840, although they are not complete. The allocation of apartments at Hampton Court and in other royal residences is recorded in the Lord Chamberlain's Annual Reports from 1852. Further information on the apartments and their occupants can be found in the records of the Privy Purse and in the twentieth century in the Lord Chamberlain's Department records. Residents often employed their own staff, but as they did not form part of the Royal Household there are no employment records for them in the Royal Archives.

Presentation at Court and Garden Parties

Records of Drawing Rooms, Courts and Levees, at which ladies and gentlemen were presented to the Sovereign, may be found in the Lord Chamberlain's records at the PRO for the nineteenth century and possibly earlier. Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century newspapers published lists of all those presented, often including details of the dress worn by ladies.3 From 1902 the Royal Archives hold the Lord Chamberlain's Office registers of presentations at Court functions, including Garden Parties which came to replace the presentation par-ties. Formal presentation of ladies at Court ceased in 1958. For Garden Parties since the War (both at Buckingham Palace and at the Palace of Holyroodhouse), lists of invitations have been preserved merely on a sampling basis.

Honours and Awards

The Royal Archives do not hold complete records of honours, although there are extensive records relating to Orders created by monarchs to reward personal service (the Victoria Faithful Service Medal and the Royal Victorian Order). Citations for other honours are rarely found. Lists of recipients of honours at investitures can be found in the London Gazette and also in the Court Circular and other press reports. Photographs of recipients can also sometimes be found in press reports of investitures, both in national and local newspapers.4 Records of awards of Orders of Chivalry are held by the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood at St. James's Palace.

Other sources for names in the Royal Archives

The Royal Archives maintain detailed manual and computerised indexes which include many names of those coming into contact with the Sovereign or members of the Royal Family and referred to in letters, journals or other papers. There are also writer addressee indexes to certain sections in the Archives, so that letters to or from named individuals can be traced.

The Royal Archives receives large numbers of enquiries from family historians from all over the world. Most of these are answered by post, but if there is much relevant material researchers may well be invited to examine the records themselves. Enquiries about records in the Archives should be addressed to the Registrar of the Royal Archives, Windsor Castle, Berkshire SL4 1NJ, and enquiries about photographs to the Curator of the Royal Photograph Collection at the same address. There is a basic research fee of £10 plus VAT (as at Dec 2000). Charges for photocopies and photographs can be supplied on request.

1 George Edward Cockayne, "The Complete Peerage" (St. Catherine's Press 1940) and Burke's Peerage and Baronetage (Burke's Peerage Ltd., 1999, and earlier editions).

2 Jane Roberts, "Royal Landscape: the Gardens and Parks of Windsor" (Yale, 1997). Includes many references to Great Park and Home Park employees.

3 British Library Newspaper Library, Colindale Avenue, Colindale, London NW9 5HE. Tel. 020 7412 7353

4 British Libra ibid

Biographical note

Sheila de Bellaigue is the Registrar of the Royal Archives. She was born in 1945 and read Modern Languages at Oxford. She joined the Royal Archives as Assistant Registrar in 1967; she worked for a short period from 1971 at the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts in London before returning to the Royal Archives in 1977. She became Registrar in 1988.

Web-page produced by DandyLion Services
Please contact the webmaster with any queries
© Berkshire Family History Society 2001

updated 20th June 2001