Letters of love, loss and longing
In our latest exhibition, love letters offer glimpses into private worlds – from a queen’s treasonous love letter, to the generous wish of a naval hero and the forlorn poetry of a prime minister. Expect secret stories of heartbreak, passion and disappointment as you explore 500 years of letters in this intimate exhibition.
Please be aware that, for the wellbeing of our visitors, staff, volunteers and suppliers, our building is closed, therefore visitors are currently unable to visit our on-site exhibition at Kew.
With Love online
While our doors are closed, you can immerse yourself in the changing expressions of love through history by listening to our podcast series, On the Record: Love. In this mini-series we’re re-reading famous love letters preserved in our archives, and reading between the lines of less obviously romantic records to discover the love-stories of everyday people from the last 500 years. Watch the trailer.
Episode 1: Disappointed and forbidden love
A lovestruck medieval clerk writing out romantic lyrics as he daydreams. A gay man in the 1930s who tears up a letter to his lover to hide it from the police. Two women who defy 18th century conventions to marry in secret…these are some of the characters you’ll meet in this episode, which features three stories of disappointed and forbidden love.
Episode 2: Love divided
In 1588, Queen Elizabeth received a letter from her friend the Earl of Leicester just a few days before he died. She kept the letter by her bed for the next 15 years. In 1919, a Jamaican sailor named James Gillespie was forced to leave Cardiff after the Race Riots. Faced with the prospect of returning to Jamaica without his wife and child, he wrote to the Home Office, asking for help. These letters reveal two very different love stories nevertheless joined together by the theme of love divided.
Episode 3: Sacrifices for love
In 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England to be with the woman he loved. It’s widely considered to be one of the greatest love stories of the 20th century. But is it really? A century earlier, an elderly pauper named Daniel Rush and his wife faced a terrible choice: enter the workhouse and be separated after 49 years of marriage, or try to survive without any income or family for support. Who made the greater sacrifice for love, the king or the pauper? In this episode, we try to answer that question.
Dancing With Love
Have archives ever made you dance with joy? This heartfelt dance film was inspired by records from the exhibition, and produced by our friends at Combination Dance. It was made entirely during lockdown and within the confines of social distancing, presenting both difficulties and creative opportunities. We can certainly say that what the world needs now is ‘love sweet love’. We hope it inspires you to dance or write to your loved ones.