The May Queen by Alfred Tennyson: A Family Affair

Last month I was lucky enough to come across the sale of an 1861 US edition of The May Queen by Alfred Tennyson illustrated by E.V.B. London Samson & Low Ludgate Hill Edition. It was expensive enough but I called my local second hand bookshop and spoke to the seller who confirmed it was still available. Needless to say, I ran all the way to claim it! It is in beautiful condition, all pages in tact no tears only some minor foxing to the pages which are those yellowish/orange discoloration spots you find on the pages.

I did a quick search to find out who the illustrator E.V. B. was and it turns out she was a prominent nineteenth-century illustrator and author; a woman named Eleanor Vere Boyle (1825-1916). I thought, why does that name sound so familiar? Remember, I titled this piece, 'A Family Affair' for a reason. After  some online research, it turns out that Eleanor is related to Alfred Tennyson through marriage.  She married Hon.Richard Cavendish Boyle. She was first cousin to Mary Louisa Boyle who died unmaried and was the aunt of Audrey Boyle who married Alfred and Emily Tennyson's eldest son Hallam Tennyson! (The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson 1821-1850 by Alfred Tennyson Baron Tennyson pg. 248n, Footnote) 

To learn more about Eleanor Vere Boyle (1825-1916),  Oxford DNB Artilce

If you would like to learn a bit more about Hallam and Audrey (Boyle) Tennyson who married Hallam when he became a Baron and they were Lord and Lady Tennyson.  You can read my article on their marriage and family,  Harold Courtenay-Tennyson

I wanted to share one last reference to The May Queen that I came across in my copy of, The Letter of Emily Lady Tennyson where Emily Tennyson writes to Margaret Gatty in 1859 saying, "He (Ally) has been so good as to take charge of "The Grandmother," who is to be left at Burlington House prefactory to her introduction into the world in company with "The May Queen." 

I thought this interesting as well. Tennyson himself mentions The May Queen in a letter to William Richardson Dempster on 24 January 1847 he explains, "Of course you have my full permission to publish the May-Queen with any one you choose, nor is it necessary to write to Moxon upon the subject except you wish to be very civil: by the bye did I give you a copy of my book when I was in London? If I did not, I ought to have done: so if you write to Moxon tell him from me to let you have one: that is if you don’t care overloading your portmanteau with two copies of one work: it is true that I am not near to inscribe it to you; but you can cut off the top of the following page and paste it into the book. Most truly yours A. Tennyson.”  (The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson (1821-1850) Volume 1)
 New Year's Eve, illustration from 'The May Queen' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1875 (albumen print), Cameron, Julia Margaret (1815-79) / Private Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library -- THE MAN FEATURED IS LIONEL TENNYSON, YOUNGEST SON OF ALFRED TENNYSON WHO WAS 21 YEARS OLD IN 1875 WHEN MRS. CAMERON TOOK THIS PHOTO. THE WOMAN REPRESENTING THE MAY QUEEN IS EMILY PEACOCK A WOMAN WHO OFTEN MODELED FOR JULIA MARGARET CAMERON. 


Kevin Marsh said…
Hello Kimberly,

What a fantastic piece of history, just imagine how many people have owned and handled your book. Where has it been all of its life? You must get such a thrill every time you pick it up.

All the best

Kevin Marsh
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin,
Yes, it definitely is thrilling and I have wondered who has owned it before me? How many beautiful homes has it occupied? Have any famous hands held it? Thanks for stopping by!
Anonymous said…
What a great find!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Jeanne,
I didn't realize the Tennyson family history when I bought it. I knew about the connection to his wife of course but the rest is wonderful. What a treasure!