Queen Victoria's 'fondness' of Wakefield's first Bishop revealed

Queen Victoria and a young William Walsham How. New evidence suggests that the Queen had a fondness for the Bishop, who she referred to as a most charming excellent man.
Queen Victoria and a young William Walsham How. New evidence suggests that the Queen had a fondness for the Bishop, who she referred to as a most charming excellent man.

The city’s first Bishop had earned the “fondness” of Queen Victoria, new discoveries show.

William Walsham How drew favour from the Queen, who once wrote in her diaries that he was a “Most charming excellent man.”

Queen Victoria sent the handwritten card to William Walsham How's funeral. It is now on display alongside his effigy in Wakefield Cathedral. Picture: Wakefield Cathedral.

Queen Victoria sent the handwritten card to William Walsham How's funeral. It is now on display alongside his effigy in Wakefield Cathedral. Picture: Wakefield Cathedral.

The new evidence, including a handwritten card of condolence sent to Walsham How’s funeral, demonstrates a close friendship between the reigning monarch and the Bishop of Wakefield.

It comes as Wakefield prepares to celebrate 130 years of city status, and the country marks the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth.

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Gillian Bunn, Wakefield Cathedral’s community Outreach officer, said: “It was the handwritten card that inspired me.

“It was obvious that Queen Victoria had a fondness for our first Bishop and it was then I began to research.

“I discovered he had in fact been asked to write her a hymn to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee that could be sung throughout her Empire.

“It’s exciting to think that the Queen who granted us our city status and made this Cathedral, had such close links with our first Bishop here.

“It brings history alive and makes it so much more inspiring when you can find solid links to the past.”

The card was presented to the Diocese of Wakefield in 1997, to mark the centenary of Walsham How’s death, but has only now been placed on display.

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Handwritten by the Queen, and delivered by a representative, it reads: “A mark of the truest esteem and sincerest regard.”

William Walsham How became the first Bishop of Wakefield in 1888.

Known for his earnest sermons, he had previously worked in Bedford, and it is thought that it was here that he first encountered the Queen.

Walsham How was also commissioned to compose a hymn to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

‘O King of kings, Whose reign of old’ was performed at the anniversary celebrations, and described by Queen Victoria as “a beautiful special hymn.”

It is thought the hymn was performed in churches and homes across the British Empire, which at the time accounted for a quarter of the population of the world.

William How died in August 1897, just weeks after finishing his hymn.

The card, signed by Queen Victoria, is now on display beside Bishop Walsham How’s effigy in Wakefield Cathedral.

A free family drop in session will be held at Wakefield Cathedral this half term. The Queens, Kings and Our city workshop will take place on Thursday, May 30, from 10am to 12pm, and again from 1pm to 3pm.