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Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household Hardcover – 18 Oct 2012
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"Kate Hubbard's entertaining book…is a fine examination of both the bizarre and the banal in the domestic machinery of Victoria's court" (Observer)
"Hubbard would have made a good courtier: her prose is polite, her insight into the tangled relationships of the household impressive. Her achievement is to enter a sealed world, ruled by repetition, and make it compelling (5 stars)" (Telegraph)
"Hubbard can be delightfully waspish about life at court, and has produced from the most unpromising of raw material a book that is both eye-opening and thoroughly engaging" (Sunday Times)
"Entertaining account of the royal household…the change of perspective brought about by taking such figures out of the background and into the spotlight is revelatory" (Country Life)
"Entertaining portrait of Queen Victoria...having plundered a rich vein of fascinating and often new information, Hubbard shows that serving Victoria was no doddle" (Val Hennessey Daily Mail)
A sparkling portrait of the court of Queen Victoria, seen through the lives of her household using never-seen-before diaries and letters.
Shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Biography Award --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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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.
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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