We visited Osborne House on the Isle of Wight yesterday. I had a discovery.
In Queen Victoria’s bedroom, I saw her famous bed.
According to Stephen Regan from the Open University, at the end of her life, the Queen was nursed in this bedroom by her personal physician, Dr James Reid.
In Famous beds: Queen Victoria, Stephen Regan described Queen Victoria’s bed cover:
“The bed cover was a jubilee present from China commemorating Queen Victoria’s 60th accession to the throne in 1897. It has the Queen’s cipher in the centre “V & R” surmounted by the imperial crown with shamrocks, thistles and roses scattered over the entire bedspread.”
Famous beds: Queen Victoria, by Stephen Regen, Open University, 1998.
What are the Chinese characters on Queen Victoria’s bed cover?
At the bottom left corner of the bed cover, I saw a Chinese traditional character 萬, which means 10,000.
萬 as 10,000 is a numerical unit in the Chinese counting system. In Simplified Chinese, 萬 is written as 万, pronunciation: wàn.
If you play Mahjong, you would have seen the character 萬 in the number tiles.
Similarly, the Great Wall of China 萬里長城 (or 万里长城）is a long wall of “ten thousand li” in length (meaning “endless”).
Revelation of the four embroidered Chinese characters
I told the English Heritage volunteer that there should be more than one character, and the characters should form a phrase and naturally there should be 4 characters in the Queen’s bed cover, and I believed one in each of four corners.
I wanted more information and the volunteer took out her private guidebook and showed me a letter from the Royal Collection. In that letter, the only information about the bed cover was that the beautiful bed cover with its astonishing embroidery was created by ‘Maison enfant Jesus’ in the city of ‘Ming-po’ in China.
I told the volunteer that the place name possibly was not Ming-po, but more likely to be Ningbo (formerly written as Ningpo).
Ningbo is a seaport city in the northeast of Zhejiang province. In the Qing dynasty, Ningbo was one of the five Chinese treaty ports opened by the Treaty of Nanjing (signed in 1842) between Britain and China.
Celebration of the British Empire
The English Heritage volunteer showed me the other three Chinese characters on the bed cover. From top left, top right, bottom left, and bottom right, the 4 characters are: 慶治萬邦.
In Simplified Chinese today, these characters would become 庆治万邦（Pronunciation: qìng zhì wàn bāng), meaning ‘Celebrate, Rule, 10,000, Countries/states/nations’.
The bed cover from the Chinese emperor Guangxu celebrates Queen Victoria’s rule over a large empire (10,000 is a figurative speech).
One volunteer told me that Osborne House opened to the public since 1904, but no one ever knows the meaning of the characters on the bed cover. I hope I have been of help with my interpretation.
When I first saw the character 萬, my instinct was that the hidden phrase could have been ‘longevity’, as in Chinese, there is also a famous greeting using this character 萬: 萬壽無疆 (or in Simplified Chinese 万寿无疆; pronunciation: wàn shòu wú jiāng).
This expression literally means “10,000 years of age with no boundaries,” a celebration of longevity.
I’m pleased that I was shown all characters and could confirm the meaning of the greeting on the bed cover, a gift from Guangxu Emperor (Qing dynasty of China) to Queen Victoria in 1897.
I also found two pieces of information relevant to this historically significant bed cover.
Maison de Jésus Enfant: Vincentian Postcards, by DePaul Digital Library from DePaul University in Chicago, and Sufferings Of Catholics In China. Letters From Ning Po. from the Tablet Archive. From these sources, you could see that my initial thought was correct. The city in China where the bed cover was said to have been created was Ningbo (Ningbo was written as Ningpo in the past).
Osborne House is worth a visit. There are many interesting displays and I hope the weather is kind to you when you visit.