A Present from Queen Victoria

A gift from Queen Victoria to Lady F Bailhe

Some years ago my distant cousin, the artist and author Ian Pillinger bought a bag of items in a junk shop which “looked interesting”. Being a man of many talents, he started to put the pieces together and discovered a handwritten note on the back of one of the panels which read “Brought back from Florence by Queen Victoria for Lady F. …..…..” with a surname Ian read as “Bailhe.”

Though he thought it was probably a hoax, he sent a photograph of it to me “to see if there was anything in it.”

I puzzled for a bit, grappling with “Bailhe” which didn’t sound like any surname I had previously encountered. After a false alarm in which I found the name Bailhe in a Scottish newspaper, (which proved to be misprint) I woke up to the fact that the name was BAILLIE.

On firmer ground I found a column in the Aberdeen Journal of 11th May 1894 under a heading entitled “The Queen’s Drawing Room” covering a not especially riveting report of the doings of the “Ness Habitation of the Primrose League” over which “The Hon. Mrs Baillie presided.” Mrs Baillie had been “elected President in the room of Lady Frances Baillie.”

I had always thought of Queen Victoria as being a permanent fixture at Windsor Castle after the untimely death of Albert and I was surprised to find that she had made several visits to Florence, the last of which appears to have been, (tantalisingly) in 1893 when she would have been 74 and venerable by current standards. [1]

Lady Frances Anne Baillie was a daughter of Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin. She was a sister of Lady Augusta Stanley who left a famous collection of letters, in which Frances is mentioned. Lady Frances was married to Mr Evan Baillie and they had three children, Victoria, Albert Edward & James.   Portraits of Evan, Frances and the children are listed as part of the Royal Collection though the actual portraits do not appear on line.

Lady Frances’s retirement from the chair of her local the Primrose League was explained; sadly she died in August 1894 and obituaries appear in a whole raft of newspapers:

Morning Post: 18th August 1894: “The Queen heard with much concern yesterday of the death of Lady Frances Baillie after a long illness. (She) was a dear and valued friend of her Majesty and of the Queen’s beloved mother the Duchess of Kent. Lady Frances was the youngest sister of the late Queen’s lady in waiting and friend, Lady Augusta Stanley and was the last of the distinguished sisters and brothers of the late Earl of Elgin.”

Dundee Evening Telegraph 16th August 1894 gives the further information that “Lady Frances Anne Baillie of Dochfour was well known for philanthropic works and was justly honoured in Inverness. HM the Queen on a visit to the Highlands in 1873 stayed a night at Dochfour as did the late Prince of Wales in his only visit to Inverness.”

Evening Standard 17th August 1894: “……..she was a widow of the late E.O.M. Baillie of Dochfour and died at her London residence. She was about 70 years of age.”

This is the splendid result after after Ian’s painstaking restoration. I think it is a prie-dieu…..

“a piece of furniture for use during prayer, consisting of a kneeling surface and a narrow upright front with a rest for the elbows or for books.”

Now that Christianity, has fallen out of fashion, particularly (I would have thought) the “High Church” variety of Victorian times, think of Cardinal Newman and all that, the piece probably became surplus to requirement. But how did it land up in pieces as “junk”?

Family History? You’ll never know who you’ll bump into next on your travels.


  1. Much information can be found via Google: -“Queen Victoria- Florence”..


A version of this article appeared in a past edition of the BAFHS Journal. 

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