By Fred Archer
Not long ago the gossip columnist of a popular Sunday newspaper “revealed” that the Queen Mother had had a clairvoyant visit her. The story created uproar at Buckingham Palace. The journalist and the clairvoyant were promptly summoned by the Queen’s press secretary and carpeted for the indiscretion. They had to back down, as gracefully as they could, the following Sunday.
Meeting the clairvoyant a day or two later I sympathised. His own, usually lively, larynx was still suffering shock from the sequel to his indiscretion. It had been known for a long time, by those in the know “, that highly placed members of the Royal Family had an interest in Spiritualism.
So why all the fuss? Does disgrace attach itself to anyone who attends a séance?
Well, yes, in a way, if you are royalty. For Her Majesty happens to be the figurehead of the Established Church, sworn to uphold its doctrines. And the Church of England is officially opposed to that upstart religion Spiritualism—witness its suppression of the Archbishops’ Report. The Queen’s advisers could never allow those nearest to her to be publicly connected with mediums and suchlike.
Yet records indicate that the British Royal Family has had contact with Spiritualism through mediums for more than a century. At the time of the Coronation I pieced together records which gave the full story. I have since had testimony that such contacts have not diminished in the reign of the second Elizabeth.
It began with Queen Victoria, matriarch of the House of Windsor. Indeed, the Queen’s experiences started before the event that dates the birth of modern Spiritualism—the rappings heard in the cottage of the Fox family at Hydesville, near New York.
That was in 1848. Two years before then Victoria had held séances at Osborne House, her home in the Isle of Wight. Proof of one visit by a medium exists in permanent, well-nigh indestructible, form. It is a gold watch that bears the inscription:
“Presented by Her Majesty to Miss Georgiana Eagle for her Meritorious and Extraordinary Clairvoyance produced at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, July 15, 1846.”
This thank-offering to mediumship has had a striking history. Georgiana Eagle died before the watch could be presented to her. The Queen later entrusted it to the well-known editor, W. T. Stead—a foremost Spiritualist who died in the sinking of the Titanic. She asked him to give it to whichever medium he considered most worthy of recognition.
Stead consulted two other leading Spiritualists, Sir William Crookes and Alfred Russel Wallace, both eminent scientists. Between them they decided that Etta Wriedt, an American voice medium, should be the recipient. The story of the watch does not end there.
The sequel was confided to me by Nina, Duchess of Hamilton, and I was the first to make it public.
As she grew older Etta Wriedt decided that before her death the Queen’s gift should be returned to Britain. She asked Mackenzie King, then Prime Minister of Canada, who often sat with her, if he would undertake to deliver it. Mackenzie King brought the watch to England and passed it on to the Duchess of Hamilton, who in turn presented it to the London Spiritualist Alliance—now the college of Psychic Science—and there it remains.
The Queen’s testimony to Georgiana Eagle was given, it is worth noting, fifteen years before the death of the Prince Consort. So the charge cannot be levelled against Victoria that she became interested in psychic matters only as a result of the loss of her dearest. Albert had known of the Queen’s séances, and in all likelihood attended them. But her interest became deeper and more intense after his passing. Its full extent cannot be apprehended without some understanding of the status of her personal servant, John Brown.
This Scots’ gillie holds a unique place in Victorian annals.
There has been much speculation about his true position. Brown was the only person Victoria allowed to treat her as a human being rather than a Queen. He could address her when all others had to hold silence until they were spoken to. No one else, when the Queen complained of being pricked while having her shawl pinned, would have answered, “Can ye no hold yerre head up?”
Brown, a Presbyterian, had little affection for a certain Anglican bishop who was popular with the Queen. Once she remarked, “I am sure the dear Bishop will go straight to heaven when he dies.” Weel,” said Brown, “God help him when he meets John Knox.” Victoria was amused. Not so the court. They hated Brown for his influence over the Queen, his biting speech, and the scant respect he showed them. As rumours spread the public began to share this hatred. Not until the day when a Fenian sprang to the window of the Queen’s carriage, and was overpowered by Brown while brandishing a pistol in her face, did the” Great Court favourite” begin to win a measure of public acclaim.
With one class, his fellow servants, he had always been popular. To them he was a good friend, just in authority, who gained them comforts and privileges they had never before possessed. Brown dared to remonstrate with the Queen. When she ordered that a footman, who had just dropped a salver in her presence, should be reduced in rank, startled listeners heard Brown say, “What are ye daein’ to that puir laddie, hiv ye niver drappit onything yersel’?”
If Brown could be brusque with Victoria, he was always ready to see that no one else offended her. The Queen disliked Gladstone, who, unfortunately, talked on social occasions as if he were addressing a public meeting. Dining with the Queen, Gladstone was once perorating at great length to her growing irritation, when a voice rasped in his ear: “ Ye’ve said enough.” The disconcerted Prime Minister said no more.
Victoria might have welcomed the silencing of Mr. Gladstone. But why was Brown’s plain speaking towards herself—and there are many more examples than I have given—tolerated by a Queen before whom princes and prime ministers usually trembled? John Brown was honest, and a man of sound sense—but these by themselves were not the virtues to advance him at Court. Had they been his sole qualifications he would have been found wanting.
What then was the service rendered by this rough Highlander to his Queen, that made her feel towards him “Loving, grateful and everlasting friendship and affection “, and describe herself as “his truest, best and most faithful friend”? From Crawfie to Cronin, no royal servant since has been addressed in such terms.
The explanation is a simple one. John Brown was the medium, the intermediary, the link between Victoria and her beloved Albert during the long years when she stood alone after the Prince Consort’s death. How did Brown come to this position?
After Prince Albert’s passing, the grief-stricken Queen was inconsolable. Only with the greatest difficulty could her ministers persuade her to take any interest in affairs of state. For a long time she refused to appear in public.
It was during this period that Robert James Lees, a young medium still in his teens, began to receive communications purporting to come from Prince Albert. These messages were brought to the notice of Queen Victoria by James Burns, the editor of a well-known psychic newspaper. She decided that two members of the court should secretly, and anonymously, visit the medium.
Lees had the ability to pass quickly into trance without preliminaries. When the two emissaries of the Queen entered his room he greeted them normally. Next moment the voice of the dead Prince Consort was heard through his lips, saying, “You are Lord— and you are the Earl of—” identities which they had to acknowledge.
Then the Prince, still controlling Lees, shook hands with them, giving a secret and advanced Masonic grip which the medium could have had no means of knowing. There was more personal evidence given to be transmitted to the Queen, including facts that only Her Majesty could confirm. Finally, as a clinching proof of identity, he wrote a message and signed it with a name he had never used except when corresponding privately with his wife.
Soon after the Queen’s ambassadors had delivered their report, Lees was summoned to the Palace. There he conducted a series of séances for the Queen. So impressed was Victoria with the results of these that she invited Lees to enter her service, so that he might be available to her at all times. Lees declined the offer. He felt that his work lay in other directions; and he did, in fact, become one of the best-known writers on mysticism of the nineteenth century. When his book, Through the Mists, was published, Queen Victoria ordered six specially bound copies to present to members of her family.
But Lees gave the Queen a message from Albert that there was a man already serving her who could act as a medium and maintain the link that they had established. The man he named was John Brown.
Before he left the Queen, Lees promised that if the time came when Brown was unable to help her he would again give séances to Her Majesty. The contact was, in fact, resumed after Brown’s death, and lasted throughout Victoria’s lifetime. On numerous occasions she offered Lees honours and gifts, all of which he declined. A short time before her own death she sent for Lees again to thank him for all he had done.
It was in 1863 that Lees gave his first séance to Queen Victoria. Brown was then in attendance on the Queen only at her home in Scotland, Balmoral Castle. Soon afterwards he was appointed to be in “constant personal attendance upon Her Majesty on all occasions “.
The tongues began to wag as the strong, inexplicable bond formed between the Queen and John Brown became apparent. People noticed that when something worried her Victoria glanced at the bust of Albert, who had been her constant adviser; then her gaze went to John Brown before she came to a decision.
Those at court, not excluding some of royal blood, were outraged by Brown’s independence and lack of servility and came to hate him and fear his influence. The wiser ones, among whom was the Prime Minister Disraeli, accepted the fact that to keep in favour with Victoria it was safer to pay regard to John Brown. Eventually, as a biographer has written, the “conviction had grown unshakable among many near the Queen that Her Majesty, John Brown and the spirit of Albert formed some mystic kind of triangle “.
The country only began to realise after his death how much it owed to the statesmanship of the Prince Consort, who had worn himself out in its service. Can it be said that the Queen’s actions in later years supported the view that Albert’s guidance was still available to her? Her own journals and other records indicate that it can. Indeed, one historian has commented:
“She did generally act, in fact, as the Prince Consort might have been expected to act when dealing with such a problem . . . on the whole it must be admitted in view of the documentary evidence which anyone may read for himself, that, if some power other than her own brain prompted Victoria in her actions, then it impelled her to act as a great and wise Queen.”
When Brown died the Queen herself was his chief mourner.
A statue of him was erected in the grounds of Balmoral, a two-foot-high plate decorated the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, and busts of him appeared in the Queen’s rooms at all the royal palaces— even as his photographs had decorated them during his lifetime.
The Queen presented every servant with a gold scarf pin in Brown’s memory and she asked that they should be worn on each anniversary of his death. Every Sunday for the rest of her days two salt-cellars, given to her by Brown, appeared on the table wherever she travelled—and until they were there Victoria would not begin the meal.
The conduct of others is perhaps even more significant than that of the Queen. Immediately after Brown’s death his diaries were impounded by Lord Ponsonby, and later destroyed. Soon afterwards the Queen caused consternation by announcing that she intended to publish a biography of John Brown, written by herself. This project was brought to an end by Dr. Randall Davidson, Dean of Windsor and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, who with other church leaders had always opposed the Queen’s interest in Spiritualism. He had a long interview with the Queen and threatened to resign if the book were published.
After the death of Queen Victoria the statue of Brown at Balmoral, the plate on the Royal Mausoleum, all the busts and every other memento of his existence to be found in the royal palaces were destroyed. But the most significant testimony that the Queen could give existed in a form that not even the most impious dared efface. On the grave of her servant Victoria had erected a stone and had graven on it the inscription: “That friend on whose fidelity you count, that friend given you by circumstances over which you have no control, was GOD’S own gift.”
And although whatever accounts of their séances she and John Brown may have written are lost to the world, the opposition of Church and Court did not avail to withhold knowledge of mediumship and spirit communication from Queen Victoria’s descendants.
Queen Alexandra, consort of Edward VII, the son who succeeded Victoria, not only attended séances with mediums but was apparently herself the possessor of psychic gifts. Most of the historic homes of the British Royal Family are said to be haunted. Queen Alexandra had her first personal psychic experience at Windsor Castle. She saw the apparition of a tall woman wearing a black and white dress standing in the doorway of her dressing-room. ‘The Queen later confided to a close friend that she frequently heard the sound of ghostly music and singing at Windsor during the night. It suggests that Alexandra was both clairvoyant and clairaudient.
Edward VIIhad only a short reign. Both he and the Queen received dramatic warnings of his passing. Alexandra had invited a London medium to visit her at Windsor. The séance was held in an ante-room, about a dozen people being present. Some evidential messages had been given and then came two disturbing prophecies. One foretold the early death of the King in the house where he had been born; the other forecast that a great war wouldbreak out a few years later.
Some months later Queen Alexandra was holidaying at the Greek island of Corfu when the news came that King Edward was ‘ not feeling so well as usual “. Ignoring official assurances that there was nothing seriously wrong, the Queen insisted on leaving for London immediately. She arrived at Buckingham Palace—where Edward VII had been born—in time to see the King before he died. That was in 1910. He had reigned only nine years. Four years later the start of the First World War fulfilled the second prophecy.
Shortly before his death King Edward had received a warning through a non-professional medium. The Countess of Fingall recalled that she was sitting next to the King at dinner, on an evening in January 1910, when he told her that he wanted a private word with her later. After dinner he took her to a quiet (corner of the drawing-room. Then he said with deep solemnity: Lady Fingall, your friend Mrs. Jameson has hurt me very badly.” He was referring to Mrs. Willie Jameson, a sister of the soldier who was to become Earl Haig. She often received messagcs through her automatic-writing mediumship from another brother, already passed on, George Haig. “She knows how much I loved my sister Alice,” the King continued, “and she has written to me giving a message which she says is from her, sent through her brother George.” King Edward then repeated the words of the message sent to him: The time is short. You must prepare.”
“Oh, Your Majesty,” stammered Lady Fingall, realising what this meant, “if Mrs. Jameson wrote that she must have felt it to be her duty.
But—did she give you any proof that it was from Princess Alice?”
“Yes,” replied the King. “She said that I was to remember a day when we were on Ben Nevis together and found white heather and divided it.” He could see no possible way in which Mrs. Jameson could have known of that trivial incident. He died four-and-a-half months later.
Both Edward VII and his mother, Queen Victoria, are claimed to have returned—and through Etta Wriedt, one of the most gifted mediums in psychic history, and the woman who was judged most worthy to receive Victoria’s watch, as I have already related. Etta Wriedt was a direct-voice medium; that is to say, the voice of the communicator was heard, not through the medium’s lips, but apparently out of thin air.
It was the Countess of Warwick, an old friend of Edward VII, who first heard his voice through Etta Wriedt. The Countess, a renowned beauty of the Edwardian era, became interested as a result of phenomena that occurred at her home Warwick Castle. Lights were unexplainedly switched on during the night, and at the same time the tramping of feet could be heard. Thick carpets were laid in the rooms and corridors, but the noise went on and the servants became frightened. On one occasion a manservant was struck in the back while going up a staircase. It was in an attempt to solve and put an end to these disturbances that Lady Warwick invited Etta Wriedt to visit her.
Soon after the medium’s arrival, while waiting for her to come downstairs from her room, the Countess idly picked up a séance trumpet that was lying on the floor. Immediately she heard issuing from it a voice—the voice of her old friend King Edward. It spoke in German, a language they both understood; and the medium was not even in the same room at the time.
The King also contacted Queen Alexandra, and through a medium as remarkable in his own way as Etta Wriedt, John Sloan, of Glasgow. He was a working man who would never accept a penny for his services, despite the poverty in which he lived. His mediumship is the basis of a book which is considered to be a classical account of the evidence for survival, On the Edge of the Etheric, by Arthur Findlay.
One day Findlay received a letter from the Honourable Everard Fielding, a leading member of the Society for Psychical Research, saying that a friend who was to visit Glasgow would like to attend one of Sloan’s séances. Findlay agreed to make arrangements, and when the stranger arrived he accompanied him to Sloan’s house. Neither he, the medium, nor any of the other sitters present knew the man, or had any clue to his identity. During the séance a voice spoke to the new visitor, addressing him by name, and announcing it as being Edward VII. The stranger recognised the voice of the dead King.
More names were mentioned, and as natural a conversation followed as might have gone on between two people on earth. At parting the voice said: “I must thank you for all your kindness to my wife, Queen Alexandra. I do not know how she would have got on without you, and you have relieved her of much worry and care.” When asked afterwards if he was satisfied with the séance, the visitor answered, “Most certainly.”
When Findlay asked what his connection might be with Queen Alexandra, he replied: “I am the Controller of her Household.”
When the official returned to London and reported what had taken place to the Queen, she too wished to speak to her husband through Sloan, and a further sitting was arranged. It must have been one of the most impressive groups that ever foregathered in an attempt to contact the dead. Besides Queen Alexandra, those present included Marconi, the radio pioneer; Sir Thomas Lipton, tea millionaire and famous yachtsman; Sir William Barrett and Sir Oliver Lodge, two of the most eminent scientists of the day; and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
The reigning king at this time was, of course, George V, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth. An unusually close bond of affection existed between King George and his mother, Queen Alexandra. King George was convinced he was in touch with his mother after her death. A reader of Psychic News received a spirit message believed to have come from Queen Alexandra and intended for the King. It was sent to him.
This was the reply, written in George V’s own hand, addressed from Buckingham Palace and dated February 16, 1935:
“It was very kind of you to send me such an inspiring message from my dear mother. I fully understand what she has thought fit to convey to me through your instrumentality. I also thank you for the enclosure viz Psychic News, which I shall certainly peruse with pleasure. My mother is constantly with me, watching and guiding my private affairs. I appreciate her message about ‘a dark cloud shadowing the home, but a happy reunion in the land of eternal sunshine’”
That letter has a simple eloquence of its own, accepting as a matter of course the idea of spirit communication. It is proof in itself that George V knew as much of the subject as did his grandmother, Queen Victoria, for it could hardly have been written by a stranger to Spiritualistic beliefs.
King George of Greece, another descendant of Queen Victoria, was an active Spiritualist. At one time he was a regular member of a circle conducted by Estelle Roberts. During the last war, while exiled in Britain, he worked with her healing group. Many patients, unaware of his identity, received treatment by the laying-on of hands from the King of the Hellenes. In these same years he often acted as intermediary in passing on spirit messages to King George VI.
Princess Louise, elder sister of George V, kept in close and regular contact with mediums. After the death of her husband, the Duke of Fife, the Princess maintained communication with him through the mediumship of her companion-secretary, Miss Elisabeth Gordon.
Princess Louise often discussed psychic matters at length with another member of her household staff, Mr. John James. A convinced Spiritualist, James served royalty for more than twenty years. Other members of the Royal Family besides Princess Louise discussed their beliefs with him, and he often passed on messages he had been given for them at séances.
One member of the Royal Family, whose identity I cannot reveal, mentioned that someone named Godsden had promised to communicate with him if she were the first to die. At the next séance he attended James was given a message from a woman named Godsden, who said she had been a nurse. The fact that she had been a nurse was confirmed when James passed the message on, though he himself had been unaware of it.
James possessed the gift of healing that King George of Greece practised; and, indeed, he gave healing to Princess Louise. She reminded him of this when she communicated with him after her death. Miss Mary Francis, dresser-in-waiting to Princess Louise for twenty-five years, identified her voice at the same séance.
During her lifetime the Princess often confirmed evidence received by James concerning her royal relatives when they dealt with matters outside his own knowledge. I have myself been present with James at séances when relatives of Queen Elizabeth have purported to communicate, and he has confirmed the proof of identity they have given.
One of them was the late Duke of Kent, the Queen’s uncle, who was killed in the air during the last war. He was himself making arrangements to go to a séance with a medium known to me when death intervened.
Princess Marina, former Duchess of Kent, is one of the living members of the Royal Family who is no stranger to the séance room. She has sat with a direct-voice medium living at Brighton. When she and the Duke were married a well-known clairvoyant was specially invited to the wedding.
I referred at the beginning of this chapter to the upset caused by a suggestion that the Queen Mother had been visited by a clairvoyant. Whatever the truth of that particular incident, on which I am unable to comment, it can hardly be claimed that Her Majesty has not been in close contact with those who knew something of psychic subjects.
A chair that once belonged to her husband, King George VI, is now in the home of a famous London medium, Lilian Bailey. It is high-backed, ornately carved from solid oak, and she sits in it whenever she gives a séance. How it came there is an interesting story.
The speech-therapist who cured the late King of his stammer, Lionel Logue, was a Spiritualist. George VI told him that he was not as ignorant of the subject as many people believed. They often talked of Spiritualism and Logue passed on messages to the King.
When he died Logue thought it appropriate that the Kings chair—which he had had sent over to Logue’s consulting-room from Buckingham Palace because without it he found it difficult to relax completely—should be given to Mrs. Bailey.
If King George was not ignorant of Spiritualism it does not seem likely that he would keep his knowledge from his wife. But even before her marriage the Queen Mother must have had some acquaintance with psychic matters, for her youngest brother, David Bowes-Lyon, possessed clairvoyant powers, or “second sight” as it is termed in Scotland.
Glamis Castle, historic home of the Earls of Strathmore, is reputed to be haunted. As a boy David often saw the ghosts. He called them “the grey people” and could describe every detail of their costumes.
In later life there was a remarkable example of his “second sight” proving correct. During the First World War the War Office listed his elder brother Michael as having been killed. David protested that the report was wrong and stubbornly refused to wear mourning. He claimed to have twice seen Michael clairvoyantly, looking very ill, with bandaged head, in a big house surrounded by fir trees. His vision proved true; some months later the news came that Michael had been wounded in the head and was a prisoner of war in Germany.
There is one other branch of the psychic that remains to be mentioned—healing. Britain’s best-known Spiritualist healer, Harry Edwards, was asked to give treatment to King George VI, and has had six royal patients in all. He helped Princess Alice through several illnesses, and she took a number of other highly placed personages to visit his sanctuary in Surrey.
There is surely enough in this record to prove that, whatever the Queen’s advisers wish the public to believe, the British Royal Family has been interested in mediumship since the age of Queen Victoria.