KING’S NURSE POOR
Foster Mother of George V Living in Dire Poverty.
LONGS FOR HER OLD HOME
Hopes Sovereign She Mothered Will Provide for Her.
SACRIFICED HER OWN BABE
Daughter Died While She Was in Attendance on Great Britain’s Future Ruler.
Is Living in Poverty.
Special Dispatch to The Star.
PITTSBURG. Pa., September 10. Mrs Ann Roberts, foster-mother of George V, King of England, has been discovered in poverty here. Mrs. Roberts lost one of her own babes through her attendance upon the infant prince. The royal physicians and retainers would not inform her of own child’s Illness for fear the milk with which she was nourishing the future King of England might become feverish and do him harm. Mrs. Roberts at the suggestion of friends, is writing the English sovereign of her condition and asking some recognition at his hands for what she did for him as an infant. Mrs. Roberts Is the mother of Capt. Henry A. Roberts of the Volunteers of America. She is a native of Wales. She has been living for the past several years with her brother, Richard W. Edmunds of Nunnery Hill, North Side. She was a member of the royal household of Great Britain for ten months and three days. Her own child died in the night without her knowing that she had even been ill. Mrs. Roberts is the only woman in the world who ever nursed the King of England, including his own mother.
Husband a Tradesman.
Mrs. Roberts went from Bethesda, North Wales, when quite a young girl to seek service in London. She was eventually married there. Her husband was a respectable tradesman, residing close to Buckingham Palace. They were happy and prospered. Among their friends were some of the most influential Welsh people in London. Among these was a Mrs. Jones, then of 20 Hills street. Knightsbridge, also a Welsh woman. Mrs. Jones was a great favorite with the late Queen Victoria, under whom she held authority to select and engage all the domestics for the royal nursery. Mrs. Roberts was then a comely young matron, of splendid physique, and in the enjoyment of perfect health and a robust constitution, which had been developed while romping as a girl over the rock-bound and heather-clad hills of her native Wales.
Mrs. Roberts was at that time about to become a mother. She knew, as did all Britain, that the then Princess Alexandra had similar expectations. Mrs Roberts had a dream in which it appeared to her that she had been selected to nurse the expected child of royalty. Within a day or two thereafter, not then knowing the full extent of Mrs. Jones’ authority, Mrs. Roberts called on her and related her strange dream, and told her also of her seemingly impossible ambition. The surprise of Mrs. Roberts may be imagined when Mrs. Jones informed her that if it was her wish she would then and there appoint her to the position, provided, of course, that the royal physicians approved of her choice.
Passed by Royal Physician.
After the birth of her child, a beautiful girl baby. Mrs. Roberts was ordered by a royal messenger to call on Dr. Farr, one of the royal physicians, in Harley street. Mayfair, who, after a thorough examination and many questions as to family history, pronounced Mrs. Roberts to be in every way fitting to become the foster mother of a royal prince. Mrs. Roberts then applied for permission to spend a few days at her old home in Bethesda, in order that she might see her brothers and sisters and visit the graves of her parents. She had intended to leave for Wales the last day of May, 1865, but becoming uneasy lest her services might suddenly be called for, she hesitated, changed her mind, and finally abandoned the trip.
“It was well that I did so,” said Mrs. Roberts, relating the strange story of her entrance upon royal service, “for on the night of June couriers were sent to Bethesda to fetch me at once. Mounted messengers scoured the hills around my old home all of that night in search of me. My people in Wales, who knew nothing of my appointment, were thrown into consternation and terror. Royal couriers implied nothing but terror to them. They probably concluded that their poor Ann had committed some terrible crime.
“All of this time I had remained in London, and the city bulletins had informed me of the state of affairs I reported for duty at 10 o’clock on the morning of June and began immediately to nurse and to mother the little baby prince, George. I had left my own child in the care of an older sister, who was to manage the household and dairy business for my husband while I was away. A few days after my departure my own baby was taken ill. It pined for its mother, but I was not acquainted with the fact. One of the doctors of the royal household called to see her each day. The child died on the eighth day without my even knowing that she had been ill.
Blow a Cruel One.
“I will never forget the hour that I was told that my beautiful child was dead. The cruel news brought me to my knees on the floor of the royal nursery. The splendor of my surroundings appeared to me as so much dross. It seemed to me that I had been turned into a block of cold marble. The loss of my own beautiful child had that effect upon me regarding the little prince that I soon grew almost to believe that he was truly my own child. I was kept in this position just about one year. When my services were no longer required King Edward, then Prince of Wales, sent for me from the nursery to tell me that I had not only won his own esteem, but that of his beautiful Alexandra, and that I was also esteemed and respected by the royal household.
“When I arrived in my own home once more, after nearly a whole year of absence, it was to find that fortune had withdrawn her smiles and that my husband’s business had been ruined. A cattle disease, then raging, had killed nearly all of our good cows, and every penny that we had saved during our time of prospering had been expended in a vain attempt to stem the disastrous flood. On the very afternoon that I arrived a butcher delegated from the cattle commissioners also arrived to kill the last two remaining cows of what had been an excellent dairy. These appalling conditions at home caused me to decide at once to take up nursing as a profession. I immediately arranged to lay out the money I earned In the royal service in a course of nursing and midwifery. In due time I won my diploma in both branches, and nursed among the noble and the great of Great Britain for thirty-five years.”
Nursed Many Notables.
Mrs. Roberts’ old friend, Mrs. Jones, was again able to help her by securing for her the appointment to nurse and foster the first born of the Princess Christian, at Cumberland Lodge. Windsor. Windsor. The popularity of Mrs. Roberts was at once securely established through her connection with the royal nursery. In the years that followed she nursed the Duchess of Abercorn. the Duchess of Iniskillen, the Countess Lutzow, Lady Vivian (now Lady Swansea), the Lady Church and many other among the noble dames of Britain. She has served at Windsor Castle, where to Welsh people of a few centuries ago entrance was far easier than exit; at Marlborough House, Balmoral Castle. Buckingham Palace, Osbourne, Osbourne, Sandringham and Cumberland Lodge in the discharge of her professional duties.
After this long tenure of service Mrs. Roberts at last became so deaf that she did not feel longer competent for the work and declined to take on any new cases. She was then appointed to the Royal Maternities Charities Society, an institution organised by the then Princess Alexandra, now the beloved Dowager Queen of England, and controlled by her and a committee of London ladies. This position Mrs. Roberts held for several years, when, owing to her advanced age and the dangers and hardships of obeying calls In the poorer districts of London at all hours of the night, she resigned of her own accord, the secretary saying to her that she was leaving with an exceptional record of success and that her name should always remain on the roll call of the society. It is a source of great pleasure to Mrs. Roberts now to know that her name remains living and green in the heart of the field wherein she laboured so long and so diligently.
Longs for Native Land.
“Your United States is a great country,” continued Mrs. Roberts, “but, after all, you will not blame me when I say that I prefer my native land, and it seems to me that there should be a place for me over there. I cannot feel as my brother does here. He has been here for many years: his children have grown up here, and his family and all of his ties are here. But my heart is over there, where now reigns the young prince whom I nursed. Were I over there now I would be entitled to the old folks’ pension, but don’t you think she who nursed the reigning king is entitled to something more than such a pittance? You have possibly read how truly noble and generous the young King of Spain is acting toward his old nurse. He provides for her every comfort, and she is made much of by court and people. Do you think my Prince George would do less for his old nurse? I refuse to believe it.”
Mrs. Roberts wears a heavy gold brooch that was personally presented to her by the then Princess Alexandra upon the occasion of her leaving the royal nursery. The princess told hereupon that occasion that she would be privileged to refer to the little prince, now king as “my boy.” King Edward, then Prince of Wales, presented her at the same time with a heavy gold watch, which she also now has. There is an Inscription on the inside of the back cover which reads: “To Mrs. Roberts, in remembrance of H. R. H. Prince George.”
Has Brooch From Victoria.
She also has another brooch, presented to her by the late Queen Victoria upon the christening of Prince George. On being called to Osborne on another occasion Mrs. Roberts was presented by the queen with two beautiful photographs, with her signature, one of herself and one of the deceased prince consort, informing her at the same time that they were the best photos ever taken of both. These Mrs. Roberts left with a relative on the other side. She says that as poor as she is their weight in gold would not buy them. She did not care to subject them to the hazards of travel. Mrs. Roberts states that when Sir Arthur Bigge is appointed keeper of the privy purse she intends to appeal to him for a statement of her case to the king. She believes that Sir Dighton Probyn, who held this position under the late lamented King Edward, would never allow her protests and supplications to reach his royal master. Mrs. Roberts believes that if her petitions had been presented some action would have been taken on her case long ago. She claims to have some of Sir Probyn’s official letters now in her possession, possession, in which he is alleged to state that nothing could be done for her. Mrs. Roberts gives it as her belief that these are solely the words of a mercenary. She says that King Edward had ever a kind and grateful heart, and was always good to old servitors.
Faith in Lloyd George.
“I have served in Sir Arthur Bigge’s family,” Mrs. Roberts states. “He knows me, and I am sure he will desire to help me. The Right Hon. Lloyd George would also interfere in my behalf if I appealed to him. The greatest Welshman of us all would not suffer an old country woman who has served the same crown for which he labors so energetically to be utterly disregarded. There is only one burden to my poor old soul: I want to go back to spend my few remaining years in my native land, and to be allowed to go to my long rest in that sacred old .spot where my father sleeps.”
Mrs. Roberts was treated with every consideration by the royal household. She was several times invited upon the royal carpet. She enjoyed many pleasant chats with the late Queen Victoria. Sometimes, upon receiving Welsh newspapers, newspapers, the queen would send for her from the nursery and request her to read selections from them and to translate them. She would ask Mrs. Roberts to pronounce some Welsh words and sayings, and she would utter them after her, doing it far better. Mrs. Roberts says, than some of the young Welsh Americans whom she has met since being in this country.
Mrs. Roberts saw the queen in her grief for her beloved prince consort. On one occasion she invited Mrs. Roberts to visit the grand mausoleum wherein rests his remains. She gave Mrs. Roberts the golden key which opens the door thereto, and sent her head dresser to accompany her, graciously saying that she would meet her there at a certain time. Mrs. Roberts says she will never forget the hour she spent there with the widowed queen and the mortal remains of the consort and husband whom she had loved so deeply.
Has Met Other Royalties.
“I have been formally presented to the Empress Frederick, mother of the present Emperor of Germany, and also the Grand Duchess of Hess.” continued Mrs. Roberts. Roberts. “and I have many times attended the different ladies of the family to their balls and parties. These royal ladies know very well how to show little marks of esteem to favorite servants. I have had them more than once hand their fans to me to hold while their own ladies in waiting would be at their elbows, and, to their credit be it said. I never saw any of these ladies in waiting evince any sign of displeasure at such marked favors.
“All of Victoria’s children, with the possible exception of Princess Beatrice, were very affable and chatty with servants and dependents. The Princess Beatrice (the youngest) was brought up under somewhat different surroundings from the others. Her good father was taken sick while she was yet a child in arms, and she grew up to be the daily companion of her sorrowing mother. This, I always thought, was the reason for her being more reserved and distant than the other children.
“When I was nursing the Duchess of Abercorn the Princess Alexandra came in person to call on her friend, and was surprised and pleased to find me in attendance. It was our first meeting since my departure from her service. She greeted me warmly and shook hands with me, as would any good woman, and made inquiries as to how I was getting along. I was also all impatience to ask questions regarding the little prince and was tempted to tell her how much I should like to see him. I knew he was by this time quite a boy, big enough to romp and play with his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor.
Paid Visit by Prince.
“On leaving the princess called for me and told me that, if such was my wish, she would arrange with the Canon Dalton, then tutor to the princes, for him to accompany them on an afternoon visit to me in a day or two. They came, and I had my hands full for that afternoon. They romped and blew soap bubbles, as would any pair of ordinary healthy boys, and both had a splendid time, untrammelled by court etiquette and unwatched by tutors.
“The late Prince Albert Victor once asked his royal mother why Prince George was ‘my boy’ any more than himself. He was answered that he would be told when he became a man, and that he was to understand that Mrs. Roberts was his dear friend also, and that she had been very good to him. “When Prince George was elected chancellor of the University of Wales, at Bangor, he caused his private secretary, Sir Arthur Bigge, to send me a letter of invitation to attend the celebration. I had at that time a very important and serious case of nursing on my hands, and so sent my son to represent me. I have always regretted that I was unable to attend, for I lost there an opportunity of meeting the boy whom I love so well.
Welsh Expect Great Things.
“Have you ever stopped to think that the Welsh people have a right to expect great things from the new king? There never was a better time than the present to agitate the question of securing the representation of Wales on the national flag. I firmly believe that he suckled my own love of kin and country with his sustenance. One of the royal doctors told me at one time, when speaking of the honor connected with my distinction, that he never was quite sure which one of us was the most honored. ‘But.’ said he, with a twinkle in his eye, “let us hope that your boy will prove a good and wise man, and that he will inherit the good traits of his Welsh foster mother.’
“The doctor was an old man at that time, and a wise and good one, but at that time it was not for him or myself to see that Prince George, who was the second in ‘advance right’ claim, would ascend the throne. But since the death of his elder brother I have often found myself repeating the old doctor’s words, ‘Let us hope that he will be a good man and a wise one.’
“Often, while holding him in my arms, and thinking of the beautiful child I had sacrificed for him, I would wonder over the possibility of his succeeding to the throne, and would pray God to bless him with a kind and loving heart, so that, when the time came, if fate ordained it so, he would prove a tower of strength and a blessing, not only to his own subjects, subjects, but to the wide, wide world. His, wise and great father, and his saintly grandmother have already given us proof what England’s monarchs can do for the welfare of the world, and I feel like prophesying that King George will follow in their footsteps, with the good of mankind in its entirety as the motive principle of his actions. May God bless him.”
Evening Star [Washing DC] 11 September 1910: p. 3
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Roberts is a good deal more charitable to her former employers than Mrs Daffodil would have been. Gold brooches and watches, no matter how heavy or suitably inscribed, are, indeed, dross, when it comes to the death of Mrs Robert’s daughter and the doctors’ odious decision (based on the mistaken belief in “maternal influence”) not to tell Mrs Roberts that the tiny infant was ill and pining for her mother. It is possible that the child was ill with a disease untreatable at the time, such as diphtheria, even had her mother been able to nourish her, but at least Mrs Roberts would have been there to hold the child in her last moments. For the Royal physicians, the phrase “special place in Hell” springs to mind.
In the interests of space, Mrs Daffodil will omit her trenchant remarks on the “favour” shown to Mrs Roberts by the ladies who condescended to hand her their fans to hold.
Captain Henry Roberts, Mrs Roberts’s son was incensed at the headlines about Mrs. Roberts living in poverty and issued a corrective statement:
“I was absolutely dumbfounded at receiving a clipping from some Rochester papers saying that Mrs. Ann Roberts, royal nurse, was found here in poverty…As to her being in poverty, she has always paid her own expenses, and has jewels and other gifts to her from royalty. Immediatley upon her arrival here she deposited a good sum of money and jewels in my care until she needs them. In fact, she wants us to purchase some property and make a permant home here, but we decline to do that, as she is very fond of old England and often speaks of returning there after a while.”
He stated that he gave the true version of the story to an editor who interviewed his mother, but that “distortions of the facts have since appeared in several papers.” Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester NY] 8 July 1910: p. 15
Still, Mrs Roberts’s story did come to the eye of the proper authorities and her story has something of a happy ending:
A few weeks ago Mrs. Roberts sailed again for England, and upon her arrival at London she was called upon by a representative of King George, who stated, that he had been sent to learn what could be done for her comfort. She informed him that it was her desire to have a little home of her own among the hills of her own native Wales, in Carnavonshire, and preferably on the Penrhyn estate. Lord Penrhyn was instructed to find a cottage for this purpose and to have it fitted up with all the necessary comforts and she was also told that a substantial annuity was to be settled on her. Word has already been received by her relatives in this country that Mrs. Roberts is comfortably provided for for her remaining years. Bennington [VT] Banner 13 December 1910: p. 2
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.