It was the 1860 fall fair season, and St. Louis, Missouri was abuzz over a royal visit to the Fifth Annual Fair of the city’s Agricultural and Mechanical Association. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) was just eighteen when he arrived on September 27 with the Duke of Newcastle as part of a tour of Canada and the United States. He had drawn large and appreciative crowds everywhere he went, and newspapers gushed over the young prince’s appearance and demeanor. It was left to individual Americans, at once dazzled by and suspicious of this embodiment of inherited privilege, to offer more realistic impressions.
One such onlooker in St. Louis was Sarah “Sallie” (McElroy) Knott. Married for two years to Missouri’s attorney general J. Proctor Knott, 26-year-old Sallie was still having difficulty adjusting to life away from her family in Bowling Green, Kentucky and being the wife of a “public man” (Knott would later become Governor of Kentucky). But she found a confidante in her journal, in which she recorded her earnest thoughts and sometimes acid takes on the people and events around her.
When a procession of carriages carrying the Prince of Wales and his retinue arrived at the St. Louis Fair, Sallie was there. Like so many of her countrymen and women, she had written in her journal, “I anticipate the pleasure of feasting my Republican eyes with a sight of royalty!” Afterward, she described her experience with the requisite amount of Republican snark. “He sat in a carriage,” she wrote, “with the Duke of New Castle beside him, & drove round the circuit of the grounds, for the gratification of the plebeian crowd of a hundred thousand or more, all eager to see a future King. I stood within three feet of him, & gave him a specimen of American manners in the shape of my best tuck & bob curtsey! of which he was ill-bred enough to take no manner of notice!!” The massed spectators did not prevent Sallie from getting a close look at what Queen Victoria’s genes had wrought: “He was a gawky Dutch-English stripling, sitting with head tucked down like any awkward boy, & picking to pieces a bouquet he held in his hands. He is the possessor of an immense nose – huge feet & hands – bandy legs – blue eyes & quantity of light hair – ruddy complexion, almost fair as a girl’s – upon the whole rather a good face, but nothing uncommon.” She also found the “old Duke” to be nothing special beyond “a portly, good natured looking Englishman.” It was an age before paparazzi, when the strobe of camera flashes was yet to annoy the royal retinas, but Sallie also found the Prince spared of another hazard: the halitosis of over-adoring commoners. “The multitude had sense enough to keep quiet,” she observed, “& so the cortege swept by, undisturbed by sniffing the air, tainted by the huzzahing breath of the ‘great-unwashed’”!
Sallie (McElroy) Knott’s journals (there will be more of her wisdom to come) are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here for a finding aid. For more collections, search TopScholar and KenCat.