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We Are Not Amused VI

Here is the sixth in a series of 12 posts by guest blogger Dr Nick Hervey sharing his research on a police file on ‘…Insane Persons and others who have come under the cognizance of the Police Force for offences against H.M. Queen Victoria…’

The monitoring of mail sent to the Royal Household did not inevitably lead to some form of social policing, but when it did, the consequences were often serious for the offender. Captain Jonathan Childe of the 12th Lancers, was one person known to those about the Queen. From 1837-40 he attended the opera house when the Queen was present and also many of her levees. Childe believed that the Queen had a peculiar affection for him and for some time refused to accept that she had married Prince Albert. Soon after her marriage in 1840 he began writing offensive letters to her, something he kept up for many years. He also sent threatening letters to Lord Raglan, and these were first scrutinised by the Marquis of Normanby, Secretary of War, in June 1840. Childe was subsequently examined by four eminent alienists, Drs Turner, Monro, Sutherland and Southey. They recommended that he travel abroad, but he ignored this advice, and in September rejoined his regiment in Dublin. Childe claimed that when he heard that his letters had annoyed the Queen, he stopped sending them. However in February 1841 he came back to London and began a campaign to have them returned.

He obtained several interviews with the Home Secretary and threatened that unless the letters were handed over he would publish the whole correspondence. At this point the authorities were closing in, and in May, Childe was seized at his hotel, having bothered Victoria at the Opera House, and after a brief examination at the Home Office, he was placed under Dr Thomas Monro’s care for six weeks in Islington. Following this Childe was transferred to lodgings at Leamington, in Warwickshire, for a further month. Once more he went back to his regiment, in August 1841, and behaved in an exemplary fashion until April 1842, when further injudiciously worded letters to Lord Raglan led to an Army Board incarcerating him at Farnham House, a private asylum in Dublin, with his father's agreement.

Childe remained in Farnham House until October 1851, when at the intervention of Thomas Wakley MP and the Alleged Lunatics' Friends Society (ALFS) he was moved to Hayes Park, an asylum near London. Subsequently the ALFS, set in motion a Commission de Lunatico Inquirendo to place Childe under proper legal protection, as they felt there had been professional collusion in his incarceration, which it did not think seemed entirely necessary.1 The society's views are only partially vindicated by the evidence. Childe was clearly insane, but his feelings for the Queen constituted an encapsulated delusion, as he was quite coherent on other subjects, and it is possible to argue that he posed a limited threat. On the other hand the correspondence to Queen Victoria, much of it in cipher, was disgustingly obscene, and his letters to senior Army officers, against whom he claimed a legitimate grievance, had threatened extreme violence. Childe had been offered treatment and given considerable leeway before his final incarceration in 1842. Nevertheless, there was undoubtedly a large element of collusion between his father and the Home Office in his continued detention. Childe's father did not want him to have legal representation and he criticised Wakley's involvement as bringing further unnecessary public embarrassment to the family. The Lunacy Commissioners clearly found it hard to make a decision. Shaftesbury remarked, “It is a most perplexing and painful case. We had no doubt of the first part of the proposition in the certificate, ‘that he is of unsound mind’, but we must deliberate on the second, ‘and a proper person to be confined’.” In the event they too recommended travel abroad, or local discharge under proper precautions, but Childe rather spuriously turned this down, feeling that his case had not been vindicated.2 Eventually he was placed in Ticehurst Asylum, where he stayed until his death in April 1862. He continued to write letters in cipher to the Queen, and between June 1857 and April 1858 went on hunger strike to gain his freedom, having to be force fed regularly.3

To be continued…