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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.