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Student gets letter penned by royalty

It started when Justina Marsh, Oltman Junior High School seventh-grader, was curious about a picture hanging in her bedroom.

It ended with a letter from the queen of England.

Marsh said she wanted to know more about her family's British heritage because her father, Peter, grew up in England.

Her family frequently travels to Great Britain and went there during spring break this year.

As part of Marsh's Humanities Language Arts and Minnesota History class, she decided to find out more about the picture of Peter Varwell giving William of Orange a piggyback ride in 1688 in Torbay, England.

Peter Marsh said Varwell is related to his mother.

During that time in English history, members of parliament wanted a Protestant king. William III was summoned to come to England but his fleet was waylaid and had to land in Torbay. Varwell put the king-to-be on his back and ferried him onto the shore so his feet wouldn't get wet.

Varwell, which is Justina's middle name, "was in the right place at the right time," Justina said.

To greet William so warmly was a "gesture of acceptance," Peter said.

Because of Varwell's assistance to William, the Marsh family of Cottage Grove feels a connection with the King William who also drew up a Bill of Rights for English people that was a forerunner to the United States Bill of Rights. The phrase "cruel and unusual punishment" comes from the English, Peter said.

Justina's American mother, Nanette, helped with a poster about the family for History Day. After downloading English photos from the Internet, she took a picture of Justine with the poster and sent it to the queen.

The family was surprised when Justina got a letter written by a lady-in-waiting on behalf of the queen. She acknowledged Justina's project along with her appreciation that Justina chose English history for her poster.

Though she enjoyed doing the research, Justina has no plans to become a teacher or researcher. She wants to become an engineer like her father, she said.

"I actually know what the picture means, now," Justina said. "It's not just my middle name anymore."

Judy Spooner can be reached at

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600