Thursday, March 7, 2013

An Intimate Glimpse of Queen Victoria's Household: Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard

Life in a palace may sound romantic and exciting, but in Victoria's household, boredom seemed to be the prevalent emotion. Kate Hubbard gives us a view of the household as six of Victoria's intimates described it in diaries and letters. The members of the household range from Sarah Lyttleton, who started as a lady in waiting and moved on to become superintendent of the royal nursery, to Sir James Reid, who became Victoria's personal physician after Albert's death.

My favorite character was Sarah Lyttleton. She was very sensible and rather retiring. She preferred her own room, a glass of wine and a book, to sitting in the royal salon where, according to her, the conversation was generally banal. Charlotte Canning was another favorite. Rather different from Sarah, she was very beautiful and while she was also bored by the stuffy atmosphere of the court, she tolerated the boredom better than Sarah.

The men were less interesting until after she became Empress of India when she added Indian servants to the household. Abdul Karim was an Indian Muslim who created a number of minor scandals. He was clearly a conman who after stealing and selling one of her brooches, made up a story that he picked it up and it was an Indian custom to keep something he found and say nothing about it. This ruse got him off the hook with Victoria, but angered the rest of the household. At the end of her life, Victoria became very attached to this rogue, possibly because of her disappointment in her children and the fact that her early life had been so reserved.

I enjoyed the book. The picture of people living with a demanding, sometimes petulant monarch, was very realistic. Although it was an honor to serve the Queen, it took a serious toll on families and the courtiers health. The book is rather long and since most of the commentary, at least in the early part of the book, is about how boring life is, it makes the reader yawn also.

If you're interested in Victorian England and particularly how the court functioned, the is an excellent book. I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.