Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Holmes, Richard Rivington

HOLMES, Sir RICHARD RIVINGTON (1835–1911), librarian of Windsor Castle, born in London on 16 Nov. 1835, was second of five children of John Holmes [q. v.], assistant keeper of manuscripts at the British Museum, by his wife Mary Anne, eldest daughter of Charles Rivington, bookseller, and sister of Francis Rivington [q. v.]. An elder brother, the Rev. Charles Rivington Holmes (d. 1873), was father of Mr. Charles John Holmes, director of the National Portrait Gallery since 1909. Richard was educated at Highgate school (1843-53), where he obtained a foundation scholarship, and after spending a short time in a merchant's office he assisted his father unofficially at the British Museum until the latter's death in April 1854, when he was appointed an assistant in the manuscript department. Here he rapidly acquired a fair knowledge of palaeography, and thanks to these attainments and his skill as a draughtsman he was selected for the post of archaeologist to the Abyssinian expedition of 1868. On the capture of Magdala, Holmes purchased from Abyssinian owners for the British Museum about 400 manuscripts, which had been taken by King Theodore from Christian churches, as well as the gold crown of the sovereigns of Abyssinia and a sixteenth-century chalice, which are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington. The transactions, which were held to condone sacrilegious treatment of objects connected with religious worship, were severely criticised by Gladstone, but Holmes's conduct won the approval of the authorities, and he was awarded the war medal.

In 1870 Queen Victoria appointed Holmes librarian at Windsor Castle in succession to Bernard Bolingbroke Woodward [q. v.]. Though more of an antiquary than a bibliographer, Holmes showed a collector's zeal for the acquisition of books connected with the history of the castle and of the royal family, and he took a special interest in the drawings, miniatures, and etchings at Windsor. Under his supervision the rearrangement of drawings by Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci, and other old masters was completed, and on his advice the collection of royal and historical miniatures was enriched by important purchases. He further took advantage of his personal friendship with Whistler to secure an almost complete set of that artist's etchings, but the collection was sold after Whistler's death. Nominated serjeant-at-arms to Queen Victoria in 1898, he was continued in that office by King Edward VII as well as in that of royal librarian. He was made M.V.O. in 1897, C.V.O. in 1901, and promoted K.C.V.O. in 1905. He retired from the Windsor library in the following year.

Holmes shared with his brothers a natural aptitude for drawing, but received no regular training. While an assistant at the British Museum he executed two series of 'Outhnes for Illumination' (XV. century), and in 1860 he assisted Henry Le Strange [q. v.] and Thomas Gambler Parry [q. v.] in the decoration of Ely cathedral. The influence of Rossetti may be traced in some exceedingly delicate pen drawings, dating from about the same time; the majority of these are now in the possession of Mrs. Robert Barclay. Holmes's artistic talents developed in other directions. He executed five stained glass windows in 1867 and three more in 1889 for Highgate school chapel. At Windsor he devoted his leisure to designing bookbindings for the royal library and to landscape painting in water-colour. He was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy, the Grosvenor and New Galleries, and drew a series of illustrations for Mrs. OUphant's 'Makers of Venice' (1887).

Holmes, who was a zealous volunteer, attained the rank of lieut.-colonel in the first volunteer battalion of the Berkshire regiment, and received the volunteer decoration. Elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries on 22 March 1860, he became vice-president in 1907. In his last years he was a treasurer of the Royal Literary Fund. He died in London on 22 March 1911, and was buried at Upton, Buckinghamshire. He married on 27 Oct. 1880 Evelyn, eldest daughter of Richard Gee, canon of Windsor, and had issue two daughters, of whom the elder predeceased her father in 1904.

A drawing of Holmes made by Heinrich von Angeli in 1877 is in the possession of the widow; an oil portrait by William Gibb (c. 1895) belongs to Mrs. Johnstone of Anne Foord's House, Windsor; a silverpoint drawing was executed by Alphonse Legros about 1902, and a chalk drawing by William Strang, A.R.A. (1907), is in the royal collection at Windsor.

Holmes, who was always a favourite with the royal family, compiled popular and slight biographies of Queen Victoria (4to, 1897; new edit. 1901) and of 'Edward VII; his fife and times' (fol. 1910). Other published works included :

  1. 'Specimens of Bookbinding in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle,' fol. 1893.
  2. 'Naval and Military Trophies,' fol. 9 parts, 1896-7.
  3. 'The Queen's Pictures,' 1897.
  4. 'Windsor,' illustrated by M. Henton, 1908.

[The Times, 23 March 1911; Athenæum, 25 March 1911; the Cholmeleian, May 1911; private information from Mr. C. J. Holmes.]

G. S. W.