Title

‘The sceptre of her pow'r’: Nymphs, Nobility, and Nomenclature in Early Victorian Science

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

3-2014

Abstract

Only weeks following Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne on 20 June 1837, a controversy brewed over the naming of the ‘vegetable wonder’ known today as Victoria amazonica (Sowerby). This gargantuan lily was encountered by the Royal Geographical Society's explorer Robert Schomburgk in British Guyana on New Year's Day, 1837. Following Schomburgk's wishes, metropolitan naturalists sought Victoria's pleasure in naming the flower after her, but the involvement of multiple agents and obfuscation of their actions resulted in two royal names for the lily: Victoria regina (Gray) and Victoria regia (Lindley). To resolve the duplicity in names, the protagonists, John Edward Gray and John Lindley, made priority claims for their respective names, ultimately founding their authorities on conventions aligned with gentlemanly manners and deference to nobility. This article will analyse the controversy, hitherto unexamined by historians, and argue for its significance in repositioning Queen Victoria – and nobility generally – as central agents in the making of authority in early Victorian science.