On their Majesty’s Service

The Royal Collection of John Hitchings LVO and Diana and Aids, her Enduring Legacy

We have two very special groups of Royal items in our Rare Books & Works on Paper Auction on May 23rd. One is an expansive, wonderful collection, that spans several decades of the working life of John Hitchings LVO (1929-2020) who was King Charles’s Land Agent for the Duchy of Cornwall. The other is a single letter, from Diana, Princess of Wales, but it is an immensely poignant and moving document.


The single letter is extremely special, privately written by the Princess and so full of heartfelt compassion.
It was written to a young man, Michael Nanson, who was dying of Aids, a condition and cause that was very close to Diana’s heart. Michael had contracted HIV/Aids in the early 90s. He had been a gregarious, outgoing flight attendant, and a much-loved only son.
Diana was the consummate correspondent, she diligently wrote thousands of 'Thank you' letters for the constant stream of gifts she received, but we rarely see her more personal letters. Michael’s sister wrote to Diana, telling the Princess of the plight of her beloved brother who was suffering from Aids.
Princess Diana took a particular interest in HIV/Aids, and was instrumental in changing the public's perception of the disease at a time when there was much fear and media hysteria. Diana opened the UK’s first specialist HIV/AIDS unit at London’s Middlesex Hospital in 1987, and notably shook the hands of dying Aids patients without wearing gloves. Her unforgettable gesture was revolutionary in convincing the public there was nothing to be afraid of.
After the Princess's divorce in 1996, The National Aids Trust was one of just six key charities close to her heart that she continued to work with, after severing ties with over 100 others in an attempt to lead a less public life.
Image (left): Diana shaking the hand of an Aids patient in Canada, image credit (right): JH & Queen, Credit : WH Rendell
Princess Diana is now held in such high, almost reverential regard, that it is also easy to forget that when she was alive, she received a lot of criticism in the media, often about her motives for the causes that she championed, and whether she sought the publicity they brought. But we now know that the Princess would privately visit Cancer and Aids patients in hospital, and this letter is a fantastic example of the comfort she sought to give, and of her privately putting into practice, the compassion that she campaigned for so publicly.
Michael Nanson died in June 1994, less than two months after this letter was written.
As much as the letter from Diana is profound and spiritual, the collection of the late John Hitchings LVO, is a joyful celebration of the long career of a dedicated and much respected royal employee, a man who ensured the smooth running of the everyday affairs of the Duchy of Cornwall, and by default, the practical life of the then Prince Charles, the Duke of Cornwall.
The Duchy of Cornwall is a private estate that was established in 1337 and which funds the public, charitable and private activities of the Prince of Wales and his family. The Land Steward is the public face of the Duchy and is responsible for all aspects of Duchy property and land management.
John Hitchings first became a Land Steward for the Duchy of Cornwall in 1959. At that time King Charles, the then Prince of Wales, was still a minor and John initially worked for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip who temporarily represented the Duchy.
John established a Central District office which managed over 75, 000 acres, including large areas of Dartmoor and the South West Foreshore.
During his time at the Duchy, he and his wife Christina attended the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana and he managed many Royal visits. King Charles was described as being very ‘hands-on’ and involved in the running of the Duchy and John had regular contact over the years. John was awarded ‘Member of The Victorian Order’ (MVO) & then ‘Lieutenant of The Victorian Order’ (LVO).
He went on to give decades of trusted, loyal service and was a valued and respected employee of King Charles whilst he was The Prince of Wales, which is reflected in the many years worth of cards, gifts and letters that he received from his Royal Highness.
This fascinating collection spans a remarkable period, from 1977 to 2019, Starting when King Charles was a bachelor, the photographic cards show the progression of much of his life, through his marriage to Princess Diana, the birth and growing-up of his sons, divorce, and then marriage to Camilla, now Queen consort. Along with the many other notes, letters and other royal items, it is so unusually extensive and a very special collection indeed.
Lot 50, Diana, Princess of Wales, A letter from the Princess to a young man dying of AIDS
This assortment of Royal correspondence will be featured in our upcoming Rare Books & Works on Paper auction on Thursday 23rd May


 Latest news 


The news, history and stories behind our art and antiques