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Vic U Safeguards Queen Victoria’s Treasures—and Returned One to London

May 16, 2024
Sketches by Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, placed on either side of a silver mug Victoria frequently used as a young princess, are seen on display at Victoria University in 1936. (Photo from Victoria University Archives)

Sketches by Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, placed on either side of a silver mug Victoria frequently used as a young princess, are seen on display at Victoria University in 1936. (Photo from Victoria University Archives)

By Joe Howell 
 
How could “an old flag and a cup used by a little girl almost two centuries ago” be two of the “most touching and remarkable gifts ever received by the University of Toronto,” as U of T Magazine once put it
 
When they previously belonged to Queen Victoria!
 
The namesake of Victoria University was queen of Britain from 1837 until her death in 1901, a reign surpassed only by Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne. As the first university in the British Empire to be named after “Victoria the Good,” Vic U has received some truly special gifts from Buckingham Palace over its 187-year history. 
 
Last year, we brought you the tale of how a “lost” statue of the queen was rediscovered hiding in plain sight. For this Victoria Day long weekend, we’re back with stories about some of the other artifacts from Queen V that have graced our beautiful campus.
 
Queen Victoria’s royal standard 

Hanging over High Table on the west wall of Burwash Dining Hall is a four-sectioned flag framed in walnut.

Hanging over High Table on the west wall of Burwash Dining Hall is a four-sectioned flag framed in walnut. It’s no ordinary piece of fabric, to put it lightly. 
 
“The Royal Standard is the one which was flown for many years over Osborne Castle, Isle of Wight, whenever the good Queen was at her favourite residence,” said a 1921 article in The Mail and Empire, then a Toronto-based newspaper. “It was dropped to half-mast at her death and, when the time came for the last embarkation, it was draped over the royal coffin where it remained during the voyage to the mainland.”

The flag was kept by one of Victoria’s former ladies-in-waiting until King George V “desired that it should be presented to Victoria College,” continued the article, “in recognition of that institution’s primacy as a namesake of his grandmother and its pioneer position among universities in this Province.” 
 
Hundreds of students, graduates and faculty members turned out for the standard’s unveiling at Burwash, wrote The Globe in an article dated Oct. 14, 1921.

Princess Victoria’s favourite mug

This sterling silver beaker bearing the monogram of Victoria was made in London in 1827, when the princess was about eight years old—and 10 years from ascending the throne. In addition to the monogram, it bears a 1700s-style decoration of flowers, scrolls and geometric designs. The Mail and Empire described it in 1921 as “a silver mug which she most constantly used when a child.” 

 
The relic from her childhood was also a gift to Vic U from King George V. Why so many gifts from Victoria’s grandson? According to the same newspaper, this bounty of treasures bestowed to Vic U was also “partly in recognition of the college’s war record” during the First World War. 
 
While this beaker has been displayed on campus before, it is currently stored for safekeeping, says Vic U art curator Gerrie Loveys. With so many artifacts and paintings in the university’s care, only a small portion can be presented publicly at one time. (You might say the cup runneth over.)

Sketchbooks by Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort

The sketches, done by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort—her husband Prince Albert—are reportedly from the couple’s early married life. “All the sketches but one were done by the Queen herself,” noted The Globe at the time of King George’s gift. 
 
A memorandum from Victoria University’s Board of Regents records receiving these “autographed books” on Jan. 11, 1921. Following their last confirmed display at Vic U in 1936, they were returned to England at the request of Buckingham Palace, says Loveys.

While you can no longer see Victoria’s drawings at Vic U, a 1979 article in The New York Times reviewing a book illustrated with her art offers a vivid description: “The overall impression takes us as far away as possible from the image of England’s leaden matriarch,” says the reviewer, describing Queen Victoria’s sketches as “light, bright and cheerful.” 
 
“Bright colors, bright faces, bright occasions. This is the work of a woman who was determined to see nothing but the bright side of life. Significantly, when Albert died, the sketchbooks remained empty for several years.” 
 


Alumni can see Queen Victoria’s royal standard at the Burwash dinner on Saturday, June 1, as part of Alumni Reunion 2024. Learn more or register here.

Maintaining our campus—and the treasures it safeguards—is possible through philanthropy. To support Defy Gravity: The Campaign for Victoria University, visit Defy Gravity at Vic.

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