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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

Queen Victoria and General Tom Thumb

© 2024 National Portrait Gallery

'Tom Thumb' lesser known as Charles Stratton, made his first tour of America at the age of five, with routines that included impersonating characters such as Cupid and Napolen, as well as singing, dancing, and comical banter with another performer. To market the act, Barnum gave Stratton the name General Tom Thumb, naming him after the English Fairytale which featured Tom Thumb. The tour was a huge success and soon expanded, by the 1840s he had been watched by 50 million people.

In January 1844, PT Barnum set across the 'pond' with Tom Thumb. Their first stop was in Liverpool and then on to London. In London, Barnum desperately wanted an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, he set about making all the right connections and entertaining all the right guests.Aristocratic endorsement quickly advanced his popularity. Knight led to Lord and Lord led to Duke until they got a personal invitation from Queen Victoria to Buckingham Palace.

General Tom Thumb was invited to attend The Queen at Buckingham Palace. On Saturday evening, the 23rd of March 1844, according to the Court Circular, he, accompanied by Barnum, “exhibited his clever imitations of Napoleon, &c., which elicited the approbation of her Majesty and the Royal circle.” The "meeting" took place in the Queen's picture gallery where "The General" appeared before the Queen, Prince Albert, the Duchess of Kent, a three year old Prince of Wales and "twenty or thirty of the nobility." According to Barnum, "The Queen ... took Tom Thumb by the hand, and led him about the gallery." "Good evening ladies and gentlemen," was a six-year-old Stratton's introduction to the royal court. It wasn't exactly the protocol Queen Victoria was used to.

© 2024 National Portrait Gallery

With his entertainer's hat on Tom Thumb launched into a routine singing cheeky songs and rattling off impressions. The court were officially in mourning for Prince Albert's father so it was a risky tactic.

But nobody kicked them out. Although Her Majesty was entertained by the small boy, she was concerned for his welfare.

When the evening came to an end, Barnum and his protégé began the process of backing out of the Queen's presence. Thumb, because of his size and the shortness of his legs, found he was losing ground, so he turned around and ran a few steps, then resumed the position of 'backing out,' then turned around and ran, and continued to alternate his methods of getting to the door, until the gallery fairly rang with the merriment of the royal spectators. One of the spectators was not impressed,The Queen's dog started barking and the General was forced to defend himself with his ceremonial sword. A small battle ensued and Queen Victoria was concerned for the wellbeing of Tom Thumb. PT Barnum assured her that the small performer was fine and over the course of his European tours he would continue to visit the Queen. Much hilarity ensued and one of the Queen's attendants came ... [out] with the expressed home of Her Majesty, that the General had sustained no damage -- to which the Lord in Waiting playfully added, that in case of injury to so renowned a personage, he should fear a declaration of war by the United States!

Queen Victoria recorded this encounter in her diary, she wrote -

"After dinner we saw the greatest curiosity, I, or indeed anybody ever saw, viz: a little dwarf, only 25 inches high & 15 lb in weight. No description can give an idea of this little creature, whose real name was Charles Stratton, born they say in 32, which makes him 12 years old. He is American, & gave us his card, with Gen: Tom Thumb, written on it. He made the funniest little bow, putting out his hand & saying: "much obliged Mama". One cannot help feeling very sorry for the poor little thing & wishing he could be properly cared for, for the people who show him off tease him a good deal, I should think. He was made to imitate Napoleon & do all parts of tricks, finally, backing out the whole way out of the Gallery"

She also writes on the 1st April 1844 -

"Saw the little dwarf, in the Yellow Drawingroom, who was very nice, lively, & funny, dancing & singing wonderfully. Vicky & Bertie were with us, also Mama, Ly Dunmore, & her 3 Children, & Ly Lyttelton. Little "Tom Thumb" does not reach up to Vicky's shoulder-"

© Wingspan Productions 2024

Barnum claimed that a young Queen Victoria, thrilled at meeting Gen. Thumb, presented General Tom Thumb and his wife when they were visiting Aberdeen, Scotland with a tiny custom-built carriage, driven by ponies. The carriage, a key marketing device, was driven around London to attract the public. This has not been confirmed officially and was properly a marketing tactic made up by Barnum.

© Wingspan Productions 2024

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