Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Queen’s Indian Servants, Part 1


First, a little background.

When you think about it, being Queen Victoria was probably a rather lonely prospect. She had been raised to be very aware of who she was—basically, the very top of a large pyramid. No one was her equal, especially after Prince Albert died (“There is no one to call me Victoria now,” she said on his death.) She just didn’t have any BFFs, especially as she grew older, because how can you be BFF with someone who rules substantial portions of the planet? Her children were afraid of her even though they loved her; her half-sister, though also dearly loved, was scarcely in a position to be her chum. She was almost never alone, surrounded by ladies-in-waiting and equerries and other courtiers almost constantly...but while their relationships with her could be affectionate, there was always that certain something that kept them at arms’ length—not only on the Queen’s part, but on theirs.

One exception to this was the Queen’s “Highland Servant”, John Brown. He somehow managed to remain unimpressed by her position, called her “woman” to her face, and seems to have cared deeply for her in his peculiar, brusque way. Interestingly, all those ladies-in-waiting and equerries and her family all seem to have loathed John Brown, just because of the special place he held as her favorite servant and friend. When Brown died in 1883, the Queen was nearly as devastated as she had been after Albert’s death: she had lost her only friend. The fact that she was buried with mementoes not only of Albert, but also of John Brown, says a great deal about the depth of her feelings.

In 1877, Queen Victoria adopted the title “Empress of India.” She was fascinated by India, and in 1886, after attending the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, decided that she wanted to employ some Indian servants in her household in time for her Golden Jubilee coming up the following year. She asked the man in charge of one of the exhibits, a John Tyler, superintendant of the Central Jail in Agra, to recruit her two servants. As a result, in June 1887, Mohammed Abdul Karim and Mohammed Buksh, the former employed by Tyler as a clerk at the jail and the latter a servant of Major-General Thomas Dennehy who was joining the royal household, came into the Queen’s Service. Though she didn’t yet know it, the Queen had found a new friend...and her family and household found someone to hate as much as they had John Brown.

To be continued...

4 comments:

annebingham said...

So that's what the movie was about. I just reserved it from the library! Thanks, Marissa, for rescuing me from a weekend of commentary on John Ford films... Not that I have anything against John Ford films (except the dreary choruses)but sometimes one wants a change from guy films...

annebingham said...

Fun with the Queen's English: The film to which I referred is either Mrs Brown or Her Majesty, Mrs Brown, depending on the web page you're looking at, and there either is or is not a period after Mrs (British English omits the period).

IMDB.com lists the film as Mrs Brown but the (probably US region) DVD pictured has the long title and includes the period after Mrs.

Marissa Doyle said...

I wasn't a huge fan of the film, Anne--I found it over-long and don't get the feeling it really captured the nature of the affection between the Queen and Brown. Come back and let us know what you think of it!

annebingham said...

Finally saw Mrs Brown last night and enjoyed it. I kept wondering how much was fact and how much was dramatic license--did JB really keep a diary? Did the beating really happen?--but it was a pleasant movie for a Sunday evening despite the impatience I felt with the Queen's self-indulgence. I did think the disestablishment question re the "Irish Church" could have used a tad more exposition for those of us in the colonies and as far as I was concerned, the actor playing Disraeli stole every scene he was in.