Queen Victoria and John Brown

 

Victoria progress Jan 2018

I’ve been reading Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson and writing an occasional post as I’m reading this long book.

One of the things that interests me is Victoria’s relationships with the men around her – such as with Albert, Lord Melbourne, Gladstone and Disraeli. But there is also her relationship with John Brown. Years ago I saw the excellent film Mrs Brown with Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Billy Connolly as John Brown and I was wondering what Wilson would make of their relationship.

She first met John Brown when he was one of the gillies at Balmoral in 1848. He also worked in the stables. In 1864, still grieving for Albert, Victoria found Balmoral a place that brought consolations. In the happy days of her marriage she had taken a great shine to John Brown.

By the end of 1864, Princess Alice, who had noticed that rides in the pony cart at Balmoral were almost the only things which made her mother half cheerful, recommended that they brought Brown to England. She put the idea to Dr Jenner and to Colonel Phipps, Keeper of the Privy Purse. They both agreed that it was an admirable idea. So it was, in December 1864, that John Brown came to Osborne House.

From now onwards, Brown would be he constant companion. At Osborne, he brought in her correspondence at 10 am, and took her for a morning ride. This was repeated in the afternoon. At Balmoral, he stayed with her while she did her correspondence and took it upon himself to post her letters. At Windsor, he would stand guard in the corridor outside her room, ‘fending off’, as one courtier put it, ‘even the highest in the land’.

The very qualities which others found irritating in Brown were ones which made him an ideal companion for Queen Victoria. (page 286)

Brown was humorous, abrasive with pompous courtiers, but above all he treated her like a human being and was devoted to her. But the amount of time he spent with the Queen alarmed the Establishment and the Court – his lack of side, his directness and his breeziness, all of which Victoria liked, offended them:

And of course they suspected him of sleeping with her. Lord Stanley, Foreign Secretary in his father Lord Derby’s Third Cabinet, asked in his journal, ‘Why is the Queen penny wise and pound foolish? Because she looks after the browns and lets the sovereigns take care of themselves.’ (pages 321-2)

Wilson considers that whatever the situation was between them, Victoria’s infatuation with Brown and his unruly behaviour at Court were enough to cause the scandal:

‘It was the talk of all the Household,’ said that notoriously unreliable tittle-tattler Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, ‘that he was “the queen’s stallion” … he was a fine man physically, though coarsely made and had fine eyes (like the late Prince Consort’s, it was said) and the Queen, who had been passionately in love with her husband, got it into her head that somehow the prince’s Spirit had passed into Brown and after four years of widowhood, being very unhappy allowed him all privileges … She used to go away with him to a little house in the hills where, on the pretence that it was for protection and to “look after the dogs”, he had a bedroom next to hers, ladies in waiting being put at the other end of the  building … [There could be] no doubt of his being allowed every conjugal privilege.’ (page 323)

Scawen Blunt’s tittle-tattle was not proven.

Despite having worked on the subject of Queen Victoria for many years Wilson concluded that he felt unable to make up his mind about the nature of the Queen’s relationship with Brown. His instinct is

to believe that it was what it appears in her letters to Vicky: namely an embarrassingly close monarch-and-servant relationship.Brown meant it when he said he would die for her, and the Queen meant it when she called him her ‘treuer’ Brown. If I were forced to say what did or did not happen, I would point out the impossibility of carnal relations between them in her early days of widowhood, when she was plainly fixated on the memory of Albert, and he was plainly no more than her Highland servant. (page 325)

But then Wilson records the words of Lewis Harcourt, who was the son of Gladstone’s Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer quoting from Lady Ponsonby in 1885 – wife of the Queen’s Private Secretary who

… ‘told the Home Secretary a few days ago that Miss Macleod declares that her brother Norman Macleod confessed to her on his deathbed that he had married the Queen to John Brown and … had always bitterly regretted it. Miss Macleod could have no object in inventing such a story, so that one is almost inclined to believe it, improbable as it sounds.  (page 326)

Norman Macleod was the Minister at Crathie, on the edge of the Balmoral estate, where the Royal Family worshipped.

However, the truth about their relationship remains a mystery – there was a file containing all the letters from John Brown to Queen Victoria  but they were destroyed (page 422). After Victoria’s death, her daughter Princess Beatrice copied her diaries and censored them as she did so and Bertie went round rooms at both Windsor and Buckingham Palace ‘destroying as he went‘. ‘Busts and statues of John Brown were smashed. (His statue at Balmoral was removed to a remote corner of the estate.)’ (page 574)

My Week in Books: 3 December 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

Victoria: A Life

I’m still reading Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson (I began reading it last October!) and am now in Part 4. At the end of Part 3 Albert had died (14 December 1861). Part 4 begins with the marriage of Bertie and Princess Alexandra of Denmark on 10 March 1862. Victoria was still suffering to cope with Albert’s death but she, along with the general public, adored the princess.

I’m also reading Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale.  I’m really enjoying this book about Rachel, an artist, found dead in her studio – the secrets of her life are slowly revealed as the book moves backwards and forwards in time. I’ve read just over half the book and currently I’m finding out about her life as a teenager.

Then:

The last book I finished is Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. This was my book in the November/December Classics Club Spin and I’ll be writing more about it later on. It is long, starts very slowly and then gets more interesting, with great characters and some comic and satirical episodes. It’s a study of selfishness and hypocrisy.

Next:

Turning for Home by Barney Norris, which  will be published on 11 January 2018. It looks as though it will be so good – I hope so.

Blurb:

‘Isn’t the life of any person made up out of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them. The whole world makes more sense if you remember that everyone has two lives, their real lives and their dreams, both stories only a tape’s breadth apart from each other, impossibly divided, indivisibly close.’

Every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, distant cousins – it has been a milestone in their lives for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met – and neither, for quite different reasons, does his granddaughter Kate. Neither of them is sure they can face the party. But for both Robert and Kate, it may become the most important gathering of all.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Christmas at Windsor 1860

Victoria: A Life

I’ve been reading Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson and just before Christmas I read the section on Victoria and Albert’s Christmas in 1860:

The last Christmas before tragedy broke up the family was that of 1860, and it was a happy one. Even Albert and Victoria, everlastingly on the lookout for faults in the Prince of Wales, were pleased with their eldest son. He had just fulfilled his first major public engagement on his own – a four-month tour of Canada and the United States. (page 242)

In the United States Bertie had been an instant social success and Victoria acknowledged that he had qualities she would never possess. So Bertie was welcomed to Windsor that Christmas,

… where bright winter sunshine lit up castle windows thick with crystalline hexagons of frost, where the lakes were frozen so thickly that the young could play ice hockey, and where the Prince Consort, always at his happiest during these days of the year, supervised the hanging of giant Christmas trees from the ceiling, festooned with candles and decorations. (page 245)

(Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had popularised the German custom of decorating fir trees at Christmas time, which had originally been introduced into England by Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.)

illustrated-christmas-PP_7611-001
Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle’, from Supplement to the Illustrated London News December 1848.

… the great German Christmas was celebrated, as it happened for the last time. The presents were arranged, each on a separate table for every recipient … the dinner was eaten … cold baron of beef, brawn, game pies, stuffed turkey, wild boar’s head, always the prince’s favourite, with a particular German sauce, which Öhm, the chef at Coburg, had invented – mince pies, bonbons of all kinds. (page 243-4)

In years to come Victoria, ‘in her bleak widowhood’, remembered that last happy Christmas with Albert. It was the last time they enjoyed thick snow together.

She tenderly listed the dates when he had taken her for a ride in a sledge – ‘in Brighton in ’45, in Jan and Feb 47, in 55 … and then for the last time December 27, 1860 at Windsor when Louis was still there. ‘My angel always drove me from a seat behind, sitting astride with his feet in large boots – he wore a fur coat with fur gloves – and he enjoyed it so much’. (page 244)

Of Women by Shami Chakrabarti

A global perspective on gender injustice

Publication date 26 October 2017, Penguin, 229p. 

Review copy from the publishers via NetGalley

My rating: 3 stars

Shami Chakrabarti is passionate, and indeed angry, about the need for gender equality in her book Of Women: in the 21 Century.  She examines the effects of gender injustice on a wide variety of issues in many parts of the world. In parts it reads like a dry academic textbook, packed full of statistics and wide ranging examples of gender injustice on a global scale. It becomes more personal however, when she writes about her own experiences her family and her background.

She covers a broad overview of many issues, rather than an in depth study, including violence against women, abortion, sanitary products, childcare and sex education and topics such as faith, the concept of home and displaced persons, health, wealth, education, representation, opportunity and insecurity in the 21st century. There are so many issues for just one book of just 229 pages and it is depressing reading for the most part, even though she suggests a number of initiatives to improve matters.

However, she remains optimistic, concluding that she believes that ‘far greater equality for women and men is realistically within our reach and well worth the stretch.’ I don’t think it is that easy and will need more than a ‘stretch’.

There is an extensive list (for each chapter heading) of ‘Further Reading and Viewing’ at the end of the book, but I think it would also be helpful to have an index to the wide ranging issues covered in this book.

Shami Chakrabarti is a former director of Liberty (2003-16), is Labour’s Shadow Attorney General, a member of the House of Lords, and the author of On Liberty, a book about human rights violations published in 2014.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Amazon UK

My Week in Books: 15 November 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

Victoria: A Life

I’m still reading Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson and have just finished Part One, ending with the death of William IV at 2.20 on the morning of 20 June 1837. Victoria is woken to the news that she is now Queen.

The Skeleton Road

I’ve also started The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid, the third  of her DCI Karen Pirie novels.  So far I’m finding it a bit slow going with rather a bewildering number of characters introduced one after the other. When a skeleton with a bullet hole in its skull is found at the top of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh Karen and her Historic Cases Unit is called in to identify the body and investigate how long it has been there.

Then:

I’ve just finished The Corpse in the Snowman by Nicholas Blake, first published in 1941 as The Case of the Abominable Snowman. This is a manor house murder mystery  in which it first appears that Elizabeth Restorick has committed suicide. Or was it murder? Nigel Strangeways and Inspector Blount investigate.

Next:

Call the Dying (Lydmouth, #7)

I’m not sure, but Andrew Taylor’s Call the Dying caught my eye this morning when I passed the bookshelves in the hall. It’s set in the 1950s in the grip of a long, hard winter when dark forces are at play – a dead woman calls the dying in a seance, in a town shrouded in intrigue and suspicion. This is the seventh in Taylor’s Lydmouth series. I haven’t read any of the earlier books and I’m hoping that won’t matter.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

First Chapter First Paragraph: 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

At the beginning of this month I read Bernard Cornwell’s Fools and Mortals set in 1595 as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men  are rehearsing Shakespeare’s new play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  And I remembered another book that I’ve been meaning to read for over 10 years – 1599 A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro. That was the year the Globe Theatre was built and that Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, Henry V, As You Like It and Hamlet.

1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

I’m not sure where this book actually begins – there is a Preface, then a Prologue before you get to Chapter 1 on page 27! So here are the opening lines of each.

First:

Preface

In 1599 Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company and waited to see who would succeed their ageing and childless Queen. They also flocked to London’s playhouses, including the newly built Globe.

Then:

Prologue

The weather in London in December 1598 had been frigid – so cold that ten days before New Year the Thames was nearly frozen over at London Bridge. It thawed just before Christmas, and hardy playgoers flocked to the outdoor Rose playhouse in Southwark in record numbers. But the weather turned freezing cold again on St John’s Day, the 27th, and a great snowstorm blanketed London on 28 December.

As the snow fell, a dozen or so armed men gathered in Shoreditch, in London’s northern suburbs.

The armed men then went to another playhouse, the nearby Theatre that had been vacant for two years and proceeded to dismantle the building. They took the frame to a waterfront warehouse near Bridewell Stairs to store it, ready to resurrect it as the Globe.

And at last here are the opening sentences of

Chapter  1 A Battle of Wills

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday 26 December 1598, two days before their fateful rendezvous at the Theatre, the Chamberlain’s men made their way through London’s dark and chilly streets to Whitehall Palace to perform for the Queen. Elizabeth had returned to Whitehall in mid-November in time for her Accession Day celebrations. Whitehall, her only London residence, was also her favourite palace and she spent a quarter of her reign there, especially around Christmas.

The Chamberlain’s Men were at the Palace to play the first night of the Christmas holidays, performing The Second Part of Henry the Fourth.

I think this is a book that will take me quite some time to read – it’s full of detail, not just about Shakespeare, his plays and the theatre, but also about the events of his life and times!

What do you think?  Would you continue reading? 

The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson

Published: Penguin Books (UK), 5 October 2017, 535 pages

Source: review copy from the publishers via NetGalley

My Rating: 2*

Blurb:

What if everything we thought we knew about history was wrong? From Niall Ferguson, the global bestselling author of Empire, The Ascent of Money and Civilization, this is a whole new way of imagining the world.

Most history is hierarchical: it’s about popes, presidents, and prime ministers. But what if that’s simply because they create the historical archives? What if we are missing equally powerful but less visible networks – leaving them to the conspiracy theorists, with their dreams of all-powerful Illuminati?

The twenty-first century has been hailed as the Networked Age. But in The Square and the Tower Niall Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. From the printers and preachers who made the Reformation to the freemasons who led the American Revolution, it was the networkers who disrupted the old order of popes and kings. Far from being novel, our era is the Second Networked Age, with the computer in the role of the printing press. Once we understand this, both the past, and the future, start to look very different indeed.

My thoughts:

Subtitled ‘Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power‘, this is described as ‘a whole new way of imagining the world’ as it’s possible that we’re missing information about networks because it’s not recorded in historical archives. But what I found in this book is rather different, being a run through history in what seemed to me a disjointed way, albeit very detailed, with network diagrams and many footnotes. I found parts of it quite tedious, especially the early section detailing the research on the history of networking. If I hadn’t requested the book from NetGalley I would have not bothered reading any more. Fortunately I found some sections were more interesting (such as on such varied topics as social media, the Illuminati, the Reformation, European Royal families, the Cambridge spies, Al Qaeda, ISIS and Trump to name but a few) and I did finish the book.

Ferguson states that his book seeks to learn about the future mainly by studying the past, in particular by looking at the importance of networks in the past that had been at times very powerful. But by the end of the book I didn’t feel too enlightened in that respect as often the distinction between hierarchies and networks is blurred – there are networks that are hierarchical and hierarchies that are parts of wider networks. As Ferguson acknowledges, the dichotomy between hierarchy and network is an over-simplification.

I requested this book when I saw it on NetGalley because history is a subject that I find fascinating, and the blurb interested me. However, although there are sections that I did find interesting, mainly those written as conventional narrative history, overall I was disappointed. I think it is disjointed with sections that don’t seem to me to have much connection with the main theme, overstretching the analogy. To summarise – I don’t think such theoretical historical analysis is for me.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a review copy.