A message from the Queen to the ‘remarkable mother’ for her seven serving sons.
This Sunday is ‘Mother’s Day’ – a day where we all give extra thanks and gratitude to our mums! It’s a special day where we can show our appreciation and honour to the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers generally in society.
Andrew Simms our archivist here at Bodmin Keep, has uncovered a fascinating story of a most famous mother paying tribute and acknowledging another mother.
The most famous mother in this case was Queen Victoria, a devoted mother herself to 9 children, family orientated yet widowed, had heard of a mother who lived in St Breward on Bodmin Moor that had seven sons, all of whom had given their life to serving Queen and Country. Six of her sons had joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI), and one had joined the Marines and then a further 2 daughters had themselves married soldiers.
When hearing of this remarkable family, Queen Victoria was struck by the depth of their service and felt compelled to write to the mother; a Mrs Keveth, to praise her as, “A remarkable woman who gave birth to seven sons and two daughters, and all with exemplary character!”
The Queen was so moved by this mother and her honourable service to sovereign and country that she wanted a personal photograph of Mrs Keveth with her seven sons, she also gifted her £10 (around £900 in today’s money!) along with a framed image of herself.
Within the archives, Andrew has discovered that we also have several interesting documents relating to this story. He has found; two poems, two newspaper cuttings, a line drawing of the seven sons and their mother for The Graphic, a photograph of four of the sons, a photograph of Elijah Keveth and perhaps the most intriguing, he has found five letters from Sir Arthur Bigge, Private Secretary to The Queen to Colonel Knox, Commander of 32nd Regiment, Regimental District, Bodmin.
Andrew has transcribed the letters, newspaper articles and poems below.
Transcriptions of Letters to Colonel Knox from Sir Arthur Bigge regarding Mrs Keveth
1. From Balmoral to Colonel Knox 16.6.1896
Private June 16, 1896
Dear Colonel Knox,
The Queen is greatly interested in the case of Mrs Keveth. I shall write again about it but am anxious you should know that it meets with the greatest sympathy from Her Majesty. I hope to write something which you may, if you think fit publish.
Meanwhile The Queen is considering in what way to notice Mrs K.
Yours very truly
The Queen is delighted with the photograph and asks whether a group of the 7 sons could be taken. If (decipher) this would not be possible: but separate photographs (decipher) be obtainable.
2. From Balmoral to Colonel Knox 22.6.1896
June 22, 1896
Dear Colonel Knox,
The Queen has decided to give Mrs Keveth £10 and a framed print of Her Majesty. These will be sent to you either at (decipher) or at Bodmin.
Am I correct in in referring to the 7 sons as all bearing good character, probity. I may be within the truth if I use the word “exemplary”?
(Cutting the Socialists’ letter is a lamentable product ini)
I shall be at Windsor Castle on the morning of the 24th
Yours very truly
It would be perhaps better not to make known HM’s gifts to Mrs K until you receive my official letter.
27 June 1896
Dear Colonel Knox
The Queen has been much interested in the case of Mrs Keveth living at Garrow, St Breward, as reported to me in your letter of the 9th inst:
Her Majesty considers that the fact of seven sons of one family serving in the Army and all with exemplary characters, reflects infinite credit on themselves and on the parents who have brought them up.
The Queen desires that you will congratulate Mrs Keveth, give her the £10 and framed print of Her Majesty which I send herewith, and tell her how glad the Queen is to think of this fine example of good and honourable service to their Sovereign and Country from the sons of a single Cornish home.
Her Majesty has kept the photograph of Mrs Keveth which you sent me and would be glad to have one of the seven brothers in a group, but if this cannot be obtained, of Each separately. Will you kindly arrange this and send me the account.
Yours very truly
Colonel Charles Knox
Commander 32nd Regiment
July 17, 1896
Dear Colonel Knox
The Queen will be pleased to accept from the Officers Depot Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry the picture of Mrs Keveth Sons’ in accordance with the wish which they have been kind enough to express through you.
The first of the inscriptions you propose could do very well. (decipher)
To Her Majesty Queen Victoria Empress of India from Her dutiful servants the Officers Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. July ‘96.
To include that the name of the Sons could also be inscribed on the picture
Yours very truly
5. Letter from Sir Arthur Bigge from the Excelsior Hotel Regina 2 April 1897
Excelsior Hotel Regina,
2 April 1897
The Cornish Cough
Seven Sons in the Army
The Queens Presentation to Mrs Keveth
From the Western Morning News 1898
The presentation to Mrs Keveth, of St Breward, who has seven sons in the army, was made at the Military Depot, Bodmin, on Saturday. The troops under Major Harvey, were arranged in line, the Depot Band, under Bandmaster Elford, playing meanwhile. Colonel Knox, commanding the Regimental District, who was in front at a small table, made the presentation, consisting of an autograph photo of the Queen in an elegant frame and a cheque from Her Majesty for £10. Mrs Keveth, who is an upright and robust looking woman of the Cornish country type, walked up through the square and received the gifts of the Queen and the congratulatory remarks of the Colonel but was too much affected to make a reply. There was a goodly number of civilians present at the ceremony, which ended with the Band playing “God Save the Queen.”
Six of Mrs Keveth’s sons are in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and one is in the Marines. Mrs Keveth’s two daughters are also married to soldiers.
The Queen’s presentation to Mrs Keveth, which was made by Colonel Knox on the parade ground at Bodmin, on Saturday, has attracted considerable attention in the great metropolitan Journals the “Daily Telegraph” on Saturday gave the correspondence which has passed between Colonel Knox and Sir Arthur Bigge, private secretary to the Queen, in well displayed type, and what is more the “Daily Telegraph” thinks the event worthy of a lengthy first leader in the same issue. The leader observes:- “The sustained interest which the Sovereign preserves in her army and navy is very well known. Quick to perceive and rejoiced to recognise that spirit in her people which is the secret of national strength – better than vast numbers, and richer than exhaustless wealth for the protection of the Empire – she has heard of this striking instance of the English mother who bears and dedicates to the service of the Crown and the Standard, her seven sons. Her Majesty has felt the nobleness, the pathos, the splendid significance of such a fact, and, in her own Royal manner, has taken notice of it after a fashion which will delight the army, please and touch the nation at large, and simply make of good old Mrs. Keveth the happiest and proudest woman in Cornwall – nay we may venture to say, in the Realm itself. The gracious communication adds that her Majesty has kept the photograph of Mrs. Keveth which had been forwarded to her, and particularly desires to receive in addition – if it be practicable – a group of the seven soldier-brothers; and, if this be not obtainable, then of each gallant fellow separately. The Royal message requests this, and puts the Palace at charges to accomplishment of it; so that henceforward, among the treasures of Windsor Castle will be included pictures of the British matron, who was in her own loyal self an excellent recruiting sergeant: and of the seven stalwart boys whom she brought up to fear God and serve the Queen in this our strong and fearless England, where the Home supports the Palace, and the Palace loves and thanks the Home. We touch here, indeed – simple as the occurrence really is – the secret of the power and security of the realm. The British Empire is not the Empire of the Throne merely, or of the upper classes, or of the militant profession, or of those who hold appointments and derive salaries under its immense sway.”
As the Queen’s gift and portrait was handed to the old lady, she was quite overcome, and tears of joy ran down her cheeks as the onlookers vehemently cheered her.
Poem 1 – Seven Soldier Sons
One earth and home they call their own
The self same loyal hand
The stalwart seven in honour reared
A steady Cornish band
Seven champions of British right
To fight and to be free
Seven brave defenders of their Queen
Sprung from one parent free
Seven soldier sons abashed yet proud
The Cornish (decipher) Stood
And told the tale to Colonel Knox
and he in kindly mood
the story sent to (decipher) it travels
A stately castle rears
And sits a Queen whose kindness
Shows her peoples smiles and fears
Victoria even loves the brave
The tale with pride she (decipher)
And soon her (decipher) (decipher)
responds in gracious deed and (decipher)
Seven gallant soldiers in the rank
which fight for Queen and land
in heart and honour soldiers too
it is a second (decipher)
Unto that humble Cornish cot
a message swiftly comes
there is a sound of martial feet
A stirring call of drums
and soldiers pass in proud review
(decipher) (decipher) as forward led
The mother of the gallant seven
to hear the message read
Congratulations from the throne
a Royal gift of gold
Proud is the Queen that in her realm
The story should be told
That on her loyal Cornish (decipher)
One mother brave has reared
Seven sons that service to adore
By all true hearts (decipher)
Upon that mother too, The Queen
her (decipher) self bestowed
Thus royally she pays the debt
her patriotism owes
A portrait of the seven she craves
with those kind words she gave
that she in Windsor’s Castle halls
may look upon the brave
Methinks that many eyes were dim
which saw that touching scene
when that proud cornish mother
took the presents of her Queen
few were the words, the smiles
that on her homely features glowed
more eloquent by far than word
her pride and rapture showed
Oh kindly thought, oh, regal deed
The bar of rank hath flown
the woman to the woman speaks
for nature holds her own
That hand made rough and hard by toil
one moment grasps another
The sceptred hand which sways our land
As mother unto mother
God save the Queen the music plays
Dismiss, ring loud and clear
Now soldiers’ hands are grasping has
and soldiers voices cheer
Seven soldier sons whose actions
all can bear true searching eye
there in the pride and glory of their
Queen and country lie
Poem 2 – Seven Soldier Sons
Gods blessing on you Mother
To whom this day as been
Covered above every other
By (decipher) of our Queen
Would wide in wards of fire
your household story news
Proud woman of the empire
With seven soldier sons
Long may you see their flash
In (decipher) fair services
whose care it was to vanish
(decipher) to the crown
those noble hearts you gave us
Are precious gifts indeed
In which we call to save us in England’s hour of need