In November 1852, Queen Victoria recorded in her journal the plans for ‘a monument to the dear late Duke of Wellington, which is to be a College for the education of the orphans of Officers.’ From then onwards she took great interest in the College and its progress. Her Great Seal appears on the College’s Foundation Charter of December 1853.
The Queen’s laying of the College’s foundation stone on 2nd June 1856 was a grand occasion. Victoria, Albert and seven of their children attended, and in the afternoon watched a review of nearly 12,000 troops. The foundation stone can still be seen in Front Quad. In January 1859 the Queen visited again and formally opened the College, touring the building before signing the Rules and Regulations in the Dining Hall (now Waterloo Hall). In her journal she declared the building ‘handsome and admirably arranged,’ and the students ‘promising.’
The Queen announced her intention to give an annual gold medal for good conduct, and regulations for selecting the student ‘of the finest and most noble character in the College’ were drawn up. The Queen’s Medal has been awarded every year since the College opened.
After Prince Albert’s death, Victoria withdrew from public engagements for several years, but as Wellington had been so close to his heart, she declared that it would be ‘under Her special and personal protection and patronage.’ In November 1864, three years to the day since Albert’s last visit, she had a private tour of the College. Benson, the Master, was deeply embarrassed when the Queen witnessed the dormitory sheets being changed and floors being scrubbed, but she was ‘much gratified by all she saw.’
The Queen’s last visit was in May 1900. Aged 80, she arrived by carriage to inspect the Chapel, Library and Hall, and had tea at the Master’s Lodge. The Head of the Blücher wrote that ‘words cannot express the scenes of wild enthusiasm which the visit produced.’ Seven months later he recorded the College’s feeling of sorrow at the death of ‘the most beloved monarch who has ever reigned.’