Royal Children and Their Toys: 1900

Mrs Daffodil is certain that the entire Empire joins her in wishing joy to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their new daughter. The infant princess will undoubtedly be showered with toys from well-wishers around the world, which, according to tradition, her elder brother will try to take away.  Mrs Daffodil thought it would be amusing to see what toys the royal children of the past enjoyed.

royal children and their toys

By F. Nevill L. Jackson

The child being father to the man, it is interesting to know the likes and dislikes, and the influences which are creating the minds and wills of the future men and women who will occupy the thrones of Europe, or stand close beside them. It may be said that toys are such unimportant matters that they are unworthy of the attention of the student of life and times; but to the little people chiefly concerned they are very important. Who would underrate the influence of the military surroundings and military toys provided from earliest childhood by the Kaiser for the Crown Prince of Prussia, in assisting the military training which has now begun in earnest? In the nursery he drilled his five brothers and baby sister with the severity of a martinet; though it is said that in disposition he resembles his gentle mother rather than his imperious father.

On his tenth birthday he became a real soldier, being made a lieutenant in his father’s Grenadier Regiment. The toy guns and miniature swords had well prepared him for the important moment when the regiment was drawn up in a hollow square in the Lustgarten. ‘Kronprinz Frederich Wilhelm,’ as he is called by his teachers and school-fellows, walked on to the parade-ground with the Kaiser, surrounded by all the Princes of the Imperial family. The Kaiser made a speech in which he dwelt on the importance of the discipline of the army; the young Prince then advanced with drawn sword, presented himself to the captain of the company, Von Plushow. In the march past that followed, some laughed to see the eager little boy running along to keep up with the huge strides of the big Grenadiers; others thought the sight somewhat pathetic. When the march past was over the young Prince was presented to the other officers as a young comrade; and he went back to his royal home in proud possession of a real sword. Such were the playfellows and the toys of Prince Wilhelm when he was ten years old.

German princes at tennis

There is a photo in this article showing the young Hohenzollerns after a game of tennis. To play tennis is not exactly to play with toys, but we give the photograph as it illustrates a distinct feature in the education of the Kaiser’s family. His first idea is to make good soldiers and sailors out of his children, his second, to make them as English as possible, so far as regards sport, games, and all manner of athletic exercises. Notice the tennis costume—English, and yet somehow one can see that the wearers are not of our nationality. Prince Eitel Fritz has been provided with toy ships, anchors, compasses, and when tired of such costly toys, passed many a happy half-hour with a piece of string in which such intricate knots were tied as would have puzzled Captain Kettle himself, who, we feel sure, was a past master in the art of rope knotting and splicing. Such were the toys meant to encourage the love for the naval career for which the lad is destined.

czar of russia in 1879

Very curious is our photo of that other lord of great armies, the Czar of all the Russians, when a little boy. His costume is that of a sailor, but observe the drum in the background. No less than the Kaiser’s children, those of the Russian Imperial family undergo a military education, and are from earliest years familiarised, through the medium of toys and picture-books, with the working of guns, the uniforms of various regiments, and the military history of their country. The little Czar does not look very happy; one is almost tempted to think that even at the early age when the photograph was taken, he felt a secret disgust of things military— vague foreshadowings, perhaps, of his famous disarmament project.

Our own Royal children are given toy guns and soldiers, flags, drums, and uniforms for the sake of keeping them amused, and for no other reason. We in England are happily not yet such slaves of the sword as to be under the necessity of training our children, whether royal or otherwise, from birth upwards to regard the military profession as the one profession worthy of a man. However, our young princes take quite as much de light in sham armies and battles as their Continental cousins. Little Prince Edward, especially, is great on flags and sabres. He delights in marching gravely about, the flag over his shoulder, the sabre dangling at his side, and every now and again stopping to shout “Hurrah!” as he heard the people shout after the relief of Mafeking…

The old custom of clearing out from nursery cupboards and drawers many of the toys of the past year before Father Christmas unloads his sack of new treasures still obtains in the Royal nurseries of the present generation; and many a hospital ward is brightened, and little sufferers forget for a moment their aches and pains as they play with the toys the chubby fingers of Royal babies have last caressed. This kindly plan might well be emulated by other little people who are lucky enough to have new toys long before the old ones are worn out.

Princess Alice of Albany and her doll

Princess Alice of Albany and her doll

It is an interesting fact that during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays at Osborne, the old toys which once belonged to the Queen’s children are brought down from those top shelves to which they were relegated long ago, and for as long as the holidays last the children of the younger generation are allowed to play with them. This is an anxious time for the nurses, for they are held responsible for the safety of the relics, and extreme care is taken in order to preserve the old toys; for the Queen is very fond of them, remembers each one, and asks for any which may not happen to appear. There is a fortress, which was an especial favourite with the Prince of Wales; it has been played with during the Christmas holidays many a time by the late Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York when they were boys, and is now looked at with intense interest by the baby blue eyes of the Duke of York’s children. The little brass guns of this fortress were mounted in their present position by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, now a grandfather himself, whose clever, eager fingers were always apt at delicate work, from the driving of a screw to the wielding of a violin bow. Some of the mechanical animals, which were much rarer toys in the fifties than they are now, can still be made to work, and the little fat hands are clapped with joy in the Osborne nursery to-day when a woolly dog ambles along the floor with ungainly leaps, and the skin elephant moves his trunk up and down, while the mouth opens and shuts. These give as keen a sense of delight to the third or fourth generation as they did to the little ones in the Windsor nursery long ago. There is a certain bagatelle board which the Queen’s sons played with; it is often brought out for the children in the Christmas holidays.

Princess Margaret of Connaught and her doll.

Princess Margaret of Connaught and her doll.

To go further back still into the past, mention must certainly be made of the hundred and thirty-two dolls belonging to the Queen. These dolls are still preserved, together with a record of them found in a copybook yellow with age. On the inside of the cover is written in the clear text hand of childhood, “List of my dolls,” showing that little Princess Victoria was methodical in the care of her toys, for entries follow in which the name of the doll is given, by whom it was dressed, and the character it represents. The Queen herself dressed no fewer than thirty-two dolls, which, being all of the rag description, [incorrect—they are mostly penny-woodens] would be looked upon with contempt by the little misses of the present day, whose dolls are frequently made and dressed in Paris. Blots of red paint, unmistakeably from the Royal nursery paint-boxes, adorn the cheeks of some of the Court beauties, and it is noteworthy that the people of the great outside world were used as models by the little girl for her dolls. If any Court lady dressed in the extreme of the fashion of the period she was at once noted by Her Majesty’s quick eye, and a place was found for her in the collection; her dress being copied to a nicety, for the Queen was an expert needlewoman. Her Majesty was not one of those who soon outgrow dolls, she was devoted to them and played with them until she was fourteen years old—always loving the small ones best. The small wooden Dutch dolls which can be bought for a penny were largely used in her historical collection. The doll’s house which now stands in the Osborne nurseries for the use of the children of Princess Beatrice is a much grander affair than that which was the toy of the lonely little girl in Kensington Palace; but that is of no consequence, for the charm of a toy is, that its relative beauty and grandeur has nothing to do with the charm it exercises in the mind of its possessor; there is not the slightest doubt about this; as much happiness (perhaps more) was obtained by the past generation of children out of their simple toys as is got out of the elaborately dressed dolls and intricate mechanical toys which fill the nurseries of the present day.

Prince Albert of York and his toy carriage

Prince Albert of York and his toy carriage

The most popular toy with grown up people as with children, with Royal children as with ordinary children, is undeniably the bicycle. We pity people who lived in the days when bicycles were a rarity— indeed, it is almost impossible to imagine so primitive an age. Most of our children have these wonderful toys, and it may be safely affirmed that there is not a single Royal child, provided that the child is old enough to take care of itself, who is not the happy possessor of a bicycle or tricycle. I know for a certainty that the Emperor of Germany’s children may be seen almost every day cycling furiously about the grounds of Potsdam. They are great at cycling, as at all other sports. But it is extremely likely that these young people will have to content themselves with walking and riding in the near future. The Kaiser, it is said, has been converted by the anticyclists to the preposterous theory that bicycling is unhealthy, and all that relates in any way to the health is of extreme importance to His Majesty. A charming photograph accompanying this article shows the Ladies Duff mounted on their tricycles. They are very independent children, and are allowed to ride long distances without any escort.

duff cyclists royal children

The nurseries at Osborne are large rooms, comfortably and simply furnished; their outlook is across the Solent, and splendid views of the beautiful Osborne gardens are obtained. The papering is white, with large bouquets of rosebuds; the floor is carpeted all over; a paper scrap screen stands on one side of the fireplace. Flowered chintz is the covering of the chairs; skin horses, cows, bears, a pump—that joy of every child’s heart—and a few mechanical toys placed out of reach of little fingers, for these are always displayed by the nurses, as they are much used and well-beloved.

We must not omit to mention another Royal playroom, namely, the private sitting-room of Her Majesty the Queen; for here, early in the morning, before State papers have to be looked at, or at that cosy hour of dusk, which is essentially the children’s hour, the floor of the Queen’s sitting-room is often littered with toy dolls, picture-books, and treasured headless pets; for Her Majesty loves to hear the echo of pattering feet and the sound of children’s voices in laughter and play.

Alexander of Battenberg and his toy wheelbarrow

Alexander of Battenberg and his toy wheelbarrow

Perhaps of all the branches of the English Royal Family, the Battenberg is the most unassuming in tis manners, and the simplest in its way of living. The children of very many commoners’ families are brought up with infinitely more state than the Battenbergs, and in luxury that would open the eyes of these princes and princesses. Rare and valuable toys were never seen in the Battenberg nursery; the children have to content themselves with plain story-books, scrap-books, gardening utensils, cheap dolls, and such toys as all of us played with when we were young.

The favourite toys of the little Queen of Holland were always the dainty gardening implements with which she worked for an hour every day when at Het Loo, her simple home near the Hague. The love of things horticultural is almost a natural instinct with the Dutch, the nation of gardeners, and the tiny beds in the piece of ground set apart as the miniature real garden were raked, hoed, and planted by little Queen Wilhelmina herself, unassisted except in the  heavier work of digging

Military toys and military drill have always been the delight of the little King of Spain. When he was seven years old the Royal corps was recruited with the sons of the Duke of Sotomayor, the Countess of Sartago, and the son of General Aquitte de Tejada. A special uniform was made, similar to that of the Infantry Cadets, and the joy of the boys when first this real play soldiering was commenced can be imagined. The drilling was, of course, done in strict privacy, at the royal estate of the Casa de Campo, about ten minutes’ walk from the Palace, The drilling, which was directed by one of the military tutors of Alfonzo XIII., was correct in every detail, and the lessons acquired unconsciously in play will stand the lads in good stead later on.

Julie of Battenberg and her toy horse.

Julie of Battenberg and her toy horse.

The Duchess of Albany has always had the strictest ideas with regard to toys for her children, and has specially directed their minds towards the animal world in choosing their playthings and playfellows. Christmas was a busy time at Claremont, as doubtless it will be in their new home. The pleasure in the toys given away to the children on the estate was always much enhanced by the fact that they were presented by the Duchess of Albany or by the young Duke. Strange to say, the latter’s sister takes more pleasure in her pony than she ever did in her dolls.

A very amusing photograph is that of Prince Arthur of Connaught, in the toy uniform of a grenadier. It was thus he appeared at Princess Beatrice’s wedding. The solemn, almost stern, expression on his fat little face is delightful. He fully appreciates the dignity his uniform imparts.

Prince Arthur of Connaut in toy uniform

In the last photograph illustrating this article little Prince Edward of York is to be seen holding the donkey quiet while the photographer takes an impression of the little toy chaise and its occupants. The photograph gives one the idea that Prince Edward is in charge. It goes without saying, however, that there is invariably a groom in attendance, as in the photograph that heads this article: Donkeys occasionally lose their tempers, and then even so puissant an individual as our future Sovereign might find it beyond his power to keep them from doing mischief.

york and fife children

The Royal Magazine, Volume 4, 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has written several times on royal babies and their royal or imperial Mamas, as in this post on royal cradles, and this one on an amusing, if imaginary, nursery contretemps by Prince Albert. She has also told tales of some spoilt royal children, including the Kaiser’s eldest son, who had a complete collection of child-sized Prussian military uniforms bestowed by his doting parent, who so enjoyed the Rape of Belgium.

The dolls beloved of Queen Victoria still exist in the Royal Collection, but are not usually displayed since they are rather fragile. At least one is exhibited at the Museum of London. Here is an historic look at the dolls and here is an article with many excellent illustrations.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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