Proud woman of the empire, with seven soldier sons

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!”

Photograph of Four of the Keveth Sons, all who joined the DCLI
Photograph of Four of the Keveth Sons, all who joined the DCLI

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

Letters From The Queen Victoria to Mrs Keveth of Bodmin Moor

 

june16Th_1896, Keveth, Letter, Queen Victoria, DCLI,

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

Arthur Bigge

 

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.

AB

 

June22, 1896, Queen Victoria, Keveth, Mother and 7 sons, DCLI, Bodmin Keep, Archive

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

Arthur Bigge

It would be perhaps better not to make known HM’s gifts to Mrs K until you receive my official letter.

 

3. From Windsor Castle to Colonel Knox 27.6.1896

Mother_seven_sons_article.Letters from windsor castle to Mrs Keveth from Queen Victoria about her 7 serving sons, DCLI

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

Arthur Bigge

Colonel Charles Knox

Commander 32nd Regiment
Regts. District
Bodmin

View the photograph of Mrs Keveth sent to Queen Victoria

4. From Windsor Castle to Colonel Knox 17.7.1896

 

Windsor Castle

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

Arthur Bigge

 

5. Letter from Sir Arthur Bigge from the Excelsior Hotel Regina 2 April 1897

 

Excelsior Hotel Regina,

(decipher).

Sir Arthur Bigge is commanded by The Queen to thank Mrs Keveth for the expression of her loyal (decipher) to Her Majesty contained in her letter to him of 29th March.

2 April 1897

Newspaper articles relating to Mrs Keveth and her 7 serving sons, DCLI, Queen Victoria, Bodmin Keep, Archives

Newspaper Articles

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.

Poems

 Poem 1 – Seven Soldier Sons

I

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

 

II

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

 

III

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)

 

IV

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

 

V

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)

 

VI

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

 

VII

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

 

VIII

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

 

IX

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

 

I

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

 

II

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

 

M.  (decipher)

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