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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serving Victoria
Rather than a biography of Victoria the Queen, this is a biography of a Court, with all its attendant courtiers and servants. The Victorian court was, in the words of the author, an odd mix of never ending house party and boarding school, of social ennui and regimentation. Above all, Victoria was adamant it would be respectable. So, was serving the Queen a penance or...
Published on 15 Nov 2012 by S Riaz

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good in many parts but over priced¬¡
1st part of book lacked depth and was uninteresting in some chapters too many names made ita confusing read. having a summary section of these people would have helped to refer too.historical documents included were of poor viewing quality on kindle. at other times very insightful and humouress about the thoughts of those who served victoria and the woman herself.2nd...
Published 21 months ago by sarah


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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serving Victoria, 15 Nov 2012
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household (Kindle Edition)
Rather than a biography of Victoria the Queen, this is a biography of a Court, with all its attendant courtiers and servants. The Victorian court was, in the words of the author, an odd mix of never ending house party and boarding school, of social ennui and regimentation. Above all, Victoria was adamant it would be respectable. So, was serving the Queen a penance or an honour? Was the devotion shown sincere? Using letters, diaries and journals, the author does an excellent job of unpicking the real thoughts from the public faces. The first half of this book is dominated by the Queen's ladies. The second half, after the death of Albert, dominated by her gentlemen, as Victoria looked for male support and sympathy in her widowhood.

So, who were those who were both close, and important to, the Queen? In the section which deals with her ladies, we have Lady Sarah Lyttelton, who was a reluctant courtier. Lady Lyttelton came as Lady of the bedchamber to the young Victoria before her marriage. She found the evenings a particular trial of small talk and little entertainment - something many of the later inhabitants at court would agree with. However, Victoria took to the older woman, who regarded her with maternal indulgence. Another important lady was Charlotte Canning, Lady of the Bedchamber, who had to enforce the rules and regulations for the maids of honour.

We read of scandals, wars, domestic trials and household bothers, the dullness of the evenings at Osborne, where Victoria retreated for privacy, sea air and a family home. Her first sight of Albert, "so excessively handsome" and the consuming relationship of Victoria's life. Her delight in Balmoral and her love of fresh air. Indeed, so keen was she on a bracing temperature, that when young Princess Beatrice was asked by her governess what windows were for, she replied, "to let in wind." Victoria was an odd mix of rules and propriety and yet tolerant with her staff, where faithful service excused most sins. One of Victoria's most constant obsessions was with mourning and she was always unwilling to pass up the arranging of a funeral. Her constant plunging the court into mourning and her seclusion, especially after Albert's death (if you are interested in this I highly recommend Magnificent Obsession) led to restive subjects and a hostile press. It took the near death of the Prince of Wales, "poor Bertie" with his "small empty brain", from Typhoid to restore the monarchy in the publics esteem.

When Albert died, leaving her utterly desolate, Victoria turned to a procession of different men in her household for support and sympathy. This book looks at John Brown, the Queen's highland servant; Henry Ponsonby, her private secretary; James Reid, her resident medical attendant; Abdul Karim and Randall Davidson, the Dean of Windsor. Of course, it was her delight in the company of John Brown and Abdul Karim, both disliked in the household, which caused the most controversary (indeed Randall Davidson declared that Victoria was "off her head" when it came to Karim), but the author discusses all the important men in Victoria's court and what they meant to her.

Overall, this is a wonderfully interesting account of Victoria and her world. A woman generally dissatisfied with her children, who looked to her servants and those around her as her family. Who liked to rely on men for advice and even seemed to allow them to bully her in a way she would never have accepted from her children. Without doubt it was Albert who she relied on the most and who never failed her - without him she seemed a lost and lonely woman, whose grief was never ending. Some of the people who served Victoria did so willingly, with love and devotion. Others were more self serving, but generally Victoria had a good, and close, relationship with the members of her court. This is a fascinating addition to the many books on Victoria and I recommend it highly. Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and the illustrations were included.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent --enjoyable read!, 12 Nov 2012
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I am almost finished reading this wonderful book. It is jam packed with new information about the way Victoria's court was run and also gives very good insight into Prince Albert--good and bad. I have only heard the good and none of the bad. When I say bad I am only talking about some personality issues of possible arragance at times. I feel he was basically a good man and an intelligent man that was a very good husband to Victoria who at times could be difficult. I was very inspired by the lady's maid Lady Charlotte Cannon. She seemed perfection itself and was an excellent model of unselfishness and self discipline.Thank you for this wonderful book. It made me feel as if I had been transported in time back to the Victorian Court and it made me gain a better understanding of women's lives at that time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book, 27 Mar 2013
By 
L. Adams "dog lover" (Staffs) - See all my reviews
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Loved this book, I couldn't put it down and read it through in three days. Bits are very funny, but also quite poignant. To think that people devoted their whole lives to Victorias service. If you have interest in Victorian history, this is a must.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Startling for the mundane world it depicts, 16 Mar 2013
I considered myself something of an expert on Victoria and Victorian England and now, having read this book, realise that I had missed a key aspect of that period. To wit the character of the principal lady herself and the way she lived.
Now seen for the first time through the eyes of her household, she appears as a spectacularly low-brow woman, with lower-middle-class pretensions and their concomitant sentimental obsessions. And yet ... the transition from the syphilis and gin that marked Georgian England to the prissy Victorian era is clearly a rational progression. When George III lost the Americas it was the beginning of the end. Somehow, during the reign of Victoria, the rot was halted for at least 100 years and the greatest empire history has ever seen grew and grew.
At its heart lay an array of well-connected folk who served the Queen not unlike the workers clustering around the centre of a hive. Frustrated, bored, often deeply unhappy they were unable to tear themselves away from the flame. They loved being at the centre of things as much as they loved the Queen, despite her many human failings.
The perspective Kat Hubbard brings to the subject illuminates it with a subtle glow. It has taught me to be humble in my assertions about the depth and breadth of what I believe that I know and it has reminded me that historians should look at the individuals concerned as well as the great events of their time for they are inextricably intertwined.
This is an important book that I found difficult to put down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Royals, 15 Mar 2014
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The people serving Queen Victoria must have had at times quite a boring life.I think the Queen behaved rather like a spoilt child at times but other times she appeared quite a kind person.
This is an interesting book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gives a true account, 14 April 2013
By 
K. P. Trott "book heaven" (chard) - See all my reviews
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This is an excellent book which gives a true account of what life was like "below stairs" in the Victorian error . People who are very interested in history especially history of the royal family would find this very interesting to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lives in service, 14 Mar 2013
This is a well told story of the lives of six members of Queen Victoria's household spanning her long reign. At first I thought I would be frustrated by the rather privileged ladies whose worries included not having anyone to hand them out of the carriage, but I got sucked in to the claustrophobic hot house atmosphere of the royal court and began to understand the pressure they were under. This is their story told through letters and diaries and told very well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Serving Victoria, 7 Jan 2013
By 
Wade Hampton (Southampton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household (Kindle Edition)
An excellent book, quite detailed and informative. The reader can really appreciate what it must have been like to to be in the Queen's service and also what a difficult and testing personality she was ! I would certainly recommend this book to all those who, like me, are interested in the Victorian era.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another side to Queen Victoria, 11 Jan 2013
By 
Elaine Simpson-long (Colchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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I seem to have fallen into a period of Victorian/Edwardian history reading at the moment. This was quite by accident and not planned, rather that interesting books covering this period have arrived in one fell swoop. Not complaining, au contraire, this is my favourite area of history so am thoroughly enjoying it.

Bertie by Jane Ridley just before Christmas, then the wonderful programme on the BBC on Queen Victoria's Children which I loved and now, Serving Victoria by Jane Hubbard, the sub title of which is Life in the Royal Household which I finished the other day. It is simply wonderfully readable and totally engrossing and so interesting to read the view of the Queen taken by her household.

I love Queen Victoria, warts and all and what is most disarming about her is her self-knowledge and her admission that she can be headstrong and dictatorial and can get things wrong. Takes a brave man or woman however to tell her so, but those who did found that she usually backed down Serand even apologised for her behaviour. While I think Albert kept her conscious of her faults and her temperament and rages, he also rather squashed the side of her that loved life and as the years passed and her grief lessened its intensity, she began to enjoy herself more. On her own terms of course, she planned what she wanted to do and the household had to jog along behind whether it was suffering tedious boring evenings where no contentious subjects were allowed for discussions at the dining table, to long carriage drives in the cold and the wet, the Queen impervious to the elements, or being constantly on call so that exhaustion set in. The Queen's maids were constantly being sent home in a state of nervous collapse because they were up and down all night keeping an eye on Her Maj and answering her calls. They also slept on the sofa...

Sarah Lyttleton who supervised the nursery and all of the children was in royal service all her life and the excerpts from her diaries and letters are fascinating; Charlotte Canning a lady of the Bedchamber who reluctantly went to India with her husband and longed to return and who, tragically, died just as she was about to embark on her much longer for journey home; Mary Ponsonby a Maid of Honour married to Henry Ponsonby, one of Albert's equerries who loyally served his Queen until his death; Sir James Reid her doctor and many more are featured in this delightful book and they all have their own view of their mistress.

The Queen relied on her household for companionship and comfort and time and time again she stresses her loneliness. We must remember that after Albert's death she said 'There is nobody to call me Victoria now' and she leant heavily on those around her for support. After the portrayal of the Queen on the BBC the other week as a mother who rather disliked her children I feel I must quote from a letter written to Charlotte Canning after the death of her mother 'I have so much to thank God for. Such a husband - such affectionate children that I will not murmur at what I have lost'.

Charlotte described the Queen's letter as 'simple and true' and says that the Queen 'has had credit for qualities not hers and that nobody knew what real softness and feelings she has in some ways'. Lovely to read this.

The charm of this book is seeing another side to Victoria and I find this from Henry Ponsonby on trying to persuade the Queen of a certain point of view, as rather amusing. In response to his wife accusing him of having no opinions and not standing up to the Queen he takes a rather pragmatic view: "She says 2 and 2 make 5. I humbly point out that no doubt she has some good reason for thinking so but I cannot help but think they make 4. She replies that there may be some truth in what I say but she knows they make 5. Thereupon I drop the discussion..."

After a particularly wearing and difficult time her doctor James Reid had to take time off as he was suffering from exhaustion. A letter from Her Majesty greatly distressed at his becoming ill 'from the worry I caused you the last few months and especially the last week which might all have been prevented but for my senselessness and want of thought'.

Her sense of humour. Fritz Ponsonby, son of Henry, gave her a memorandum in which her approval was asked for the Royal Irish Fusiliers to wear a green hackle in their busbies. Instead of busbies she read 'breeches' and wondered 'on what portion of these garments a hackle could be worn'. She laughed so much 'I was afraid she would have a fit'. So much for 'We are Not Amused'.

I so loved this book and, as I always do when I read about the death of the Queen, I become very moved and get a lump in my throat. Sir James sat up with her through the night when she was dying and administered oxygen to her to ease her breathing 'She often smiles when she hears my voice and says she will do anything I like. The whole things is pathetic and gives me a lump in my throat'.

It was Sir James who she entrusted with the task of placing a picture of John Brown in the coffin with her, which he did, covering it up so that the family would not see it, and she asked him for this favour knowing he was loyal and loved her enough to carry out this task.

Odd though it may sound to some, I find Queen Victoria very lovable, she was not perfect, she was full of faults, could be arrogant and obstinate and difficult to deal with, but she was also devoted to her servants, took care of them, overlooked their many faults (it appears that most of the staff at Balmoral spent most of their time totally off their heads) and could totally disarm with her charm and her admission that she knew she was wrong.

I find it rather sweet that she spoke to one of her granddaughters and said that she was looking forward to seeing Grandpa again when she died 'but she was also rather nervous as she knew she had done things he might not like'. One hopes that Albert did not write her one of his reproving letters when she arrived at the Pearly Gates....

A lovely lovely book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Queen and her Courtiers, 5 Jan 2013
What a wonderful idea: the story of the sixty something years when Queen Victoria reigned, told through the experiences of the men and women who served her. The experiences of high-ranking courtiers, who were close enough to see how the queen and her family lived, who were not overawed by the world they found themselves in, and who, of course, left letters and diaries to speak for them. And from those documents Kate Hubbard has built a wonderful story, vividly written, chock full of details, and utterly readable.

Lady Sarah Lytton was a widow with a family to support when she came, reluctantly, to court to become a lady of the bedchamber to a young, unwed Victoria, and later she would rise to become the superintendent of the royal nurseries. Charlotte Canning, a younger woman, with a fine mind and an artistic sensibility became a lady of the bedchamber some years later. Mary Bulteel was a maid of honour before she became the wife of the queen's private secretary. Henry Ponsonby was that private secretary, a job for life, and his path crossed with those of James Reid, physician in ordinary, and Randall Davidson, domestic chaplain.

Six very different characters, with different roles, and so the focus moves. From the life of the queen with her ladies; to her marriage and the raising of her children; to her homes - Windsor for duty, Balmoral for love, and Osborne for recreation - and her travels; to political crises and her varied relationships with her prime ministers; to the extended periods of mourning and seclusion that followed the death of Prince Albert; to her relationships with John Brown and Abdul Karim; to her slow decline, her death and finally to the laying out of her body.

It was all familiar to me, but the perspective made this such a very human story, with the lives of the queen's courtiers set against their clear-sighted views of her life.

The daily life of the court depended upon the Victoria's will, tempered a little by Albert while he lived, but becoming more rigid, more unthinking, and sometimes downright irrational in her later years. It might be sensible for maids of honour, single young women, to be restricted and chaperoned, but it seemed heartless that Lady Lyttleton was begrudgingly given so very little time to see her children and grandchildren, that James Reid was compelled to keep his engagement, late in life, to an eminently suitable lady-in-waiting secret ...

There was always rules, conventions, proprieties that must be kept, and when the queen became a widow, as she grew older and frailer, she became more demanding and completely oblivious to the feelings of those around her. Henry Ponsonby struggled, as her sight failed, to make his writing bigger and clearer, to find heavier paper so that the ink would not show through ...

But, in spite all of this, Victoria was an engaging human figure. She loved her husband, her home at Balmoral, her fresh air. She struggled with life as a widow. She was vulnerable, and sometimes she made bad choices, but she could never admit that she was fallible. I realised that she was a woman who knew no other life, saw very little of the world, and who maybe would have been happier if she had.

I felt as much, sometimes more, for the people around her. But I don't want to say too much. Better to notice all of the details as you read. From details of meals to the Queen's feelings about the prime minister of the day! From drunken servants to appointing bishops! And this is a book that I think will work for anyone who is interested, whether they've read everything or nothing about the period.

This is a book full of engaging characters, fascinating details of their lives, and fresh perspectives on familiar pieces of history.

The only thing it lacks are family trees and chronologies. With the shifting perspectives prime ministers, and princes, come and go, live, marry and die, and changes aren't always noted.

But that's a minor point, I was completely wrapped up in the lives of the Queen and her Court, and the story never lost its grip.

This really is a fascinating book - I could happily go back to the beginning and read it all over again - and one that I can recommend.
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