Death in the Family

I'm reading this book for some PhD research right now called Ladies of the Manor by Pamela Horn (1991).The book discusses the realities faced by aristocratic women in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

The below is from the section dedicated to showing how isolated aristocratic children were from their parents. While it's common knowledge that children in upper class families were raised far more by their nannies and governesses than by their parents, and that parents typically saw their young children once per day during the 'children's viewing hour' (around tea time or in the hour before dinner was announced), I didn't realize quite how estranged some children and parents were, even in the same house.

This story was recounted by Viola Bankes of Kingston lacy, Dorset.

"In 1904, when she was four, her father died at home. Neither she nor her sister, who was about two years her senior, realized what had happened. They only learnt  the truth five years later when a governess inadvertently reveald that he was not in India, as they had believed, but had been dead for a long time." (28).


What surprises me is not so much the lack of direct communication, but rather that the bustle surrounding a funeral could be kept from children. I know they were very young and held under a watchful eye, tucked away in one section of an enormous house, but surely the household must have been required to dress in black and place a wreath on the front door. A funeral would have to be arranged, social calls would have been paid. Considering he died at home, I assume a doctor would have been called, as would those preparing the body for burial.

More sigificantly, as this story illustrates, servants tended to talk more freely amongst themselves and children in general pick up every damn sliver of conversation said in their presence. It's insane that something like this could have been kept a secret for that length of time. More importantly, WHY was it kept a secret? Surely that had to be awkward when the girls talked about "when Daddy came home from India one day."

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