Britain’s Queen Victoria, ruler of the most powerful nation in the world in her time, and Queen Emma of Hawai‘i, ali‘i of the most isolated archipelago, formed a friendship that bridged the long distance and the 17-year difference in their ages.
It was a friendship born of grief.
In the Hawaiian Journal of History, researcher Rhoda E.A. Hackler wrote about the queens’ 20-year, off-and-on correspondence.
Queen Victoria lost her husband and the father of their nine children when Prince-Consort Albert was just 42. The following year, the four-year-old son of Queen Emma and her husband, King Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho), died of what was then described as “brain fever.” The child was named Albert, after Victoria’s husband.
Queen Victoria, still deeply mourning her husband’s death, reached out to Emma:
“As a mother you will understand how fully I am able to appreciate the depth of your grief…As a wife, I can sincerely hope that you may be spared the heavier blow which has plunged me into lifelong sorrow, but which makes my heart tenderly alive to all the sorrows of others.”
A year later, Emma wrote to Victoria:
“My heart is very, very heavy while I make known to Your Majesty that God has visited with me with that great trouble which in your kind and consoling letter you said you hoped I might be spared. On the 30th of November my Husband, of whose danger I had never entertained one thought, expired suddenly, almost while in the act of speaking to me, and it was a long while before they could make me believe that what I saw was death and that he had really left me alone for the remainder of my life.”
Victoria’s reply came quickly:
“…My bleeding heart can truly sympathize with you in your terrible desolation! A dear & promising only child & a beloved husband have both been taken from you within two years! Time does not heal the really stricken heart!..”
Two years after the death of Queen Emma’s husband, she traveled to England, raised money for the construction of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Honolulu, and met Queen Victoria.
Victoria penned in her journal:
“Nothing could be nicer or more dignified than her manner…She was dressed in just the same widow’s weeds as I wear.”
Later in Emma’s trip, she was accorded the honor of being asked to spend the night at Windsor Castle.
Over the years, the queens shared personal news, much of it sad. Victoria lost a grandchild to diphtheria; Emma noted that typhoid fever was ravaging the Islands, killing “the young and the strong.”
Always, in this correspondence between royal “dear friends,” there is a sense of gratitude in being able to express profound loss and in being heard and understood.