John Brown (8 December 1826 – 27 March 1883) was a Scottish personal
attendant and favourite of
1 Early life 2 Relationship with Queen Victoria 3 Honours 4 In popular culture 5 References 6 External links
Brown was born on 8 December 1826 at Crathienaird, Crathie and Braemar
Aberdeenshire, to Margaret Leys and John Brown , and went to
work as an outdoor servant (in Scots ghillie or gillie) at Balmoral
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Prince Albert's untimely death in 1861 was a shock from which Queen Victoria never fully recovered. John Brown became a good friend and supported the Queen. Victoria gave him gifts and created two medals for him, the Faithful Servant Medal and the Devoted Service Medal. She also commissioned a portrait of him. Victoria's children and ministers resented the high regard she had for Brown, and inevitably, stories circulated that there was something improper in their relationship. The Queen's daughters joked that Brown was "Mama's lover", while Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby, wrote in his diary that Brown and Victoria slept in adjoining rooms "contrary to etiquette and even decency". Victoria herself dismissed the chatter as "ill-natured gossip in the higher classes".
A young John Brown as sketched by Queen Victoria
The diaries of Lewis Harcourt contain a report that one of the Queen's chaplains, Rev. Norman Macleod, made a deathbed confession repenting his action in presiding over Queen Victoria's marriage to John Brown. Debate continues over this report. It should be emphasised that Harcourt did not receive the confession directly (he was nine when Macleod died) but that it passed (if it did) from Macleod's sister to the wife of Henry Ponsonby, the Queen's private secretary, and thence to Harcourt's father Sir William Harcourt, then Home Secretary. Harcourt served as Home Secretary in the final three years of Brown's life. While it is true that some widowed monarchs have contracted private marriages with their servants, there is little evidence that Victoria married Brown. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of the depth of Victoria and Brown's relationship comes from the pen of the Queen herself. A recently discovered letter written by Victoria shortly after Brown's death, to Viscount Cranbrook, reveals the true extent of the loss:
"Perhaps never in history was there so strong and true an attachment, so warm and loving a friendship between the sovereign and servant ... Strength of character as well as power of frame – the most fearless uprightness, kindness, sense of justice, honesty, independence and unselfishness combined with a tender, warm heart ... made him one of the most remarkable men. The Queen feels that life for the second time is become most trying and sad to bear deprived of all she so needs ... the blow has fallen too heavily not to be very heavily felt..."
The phrase "life for the second time" relates to the death of her
husband Prince Albert. The historian who discovered the letter
believed that it suggested that Victoria, in her mind, equated Brown's
death with Albert's, and that she therefore viewed him as more than a
servant. Whether Brown and Victoria were actual lovers, however,
is not known.
John Brown died, aged 56, at
"This stone is erected in affectionate and grateful remembrance of
John Brown the devoted and faithful personal attendant and beloved
Those who believe that the Queen saw Brown as little more than a servant point to the fact that after his death she became similarly attached to an Indian servant, Abdul Karim, one of two who had come to work for her in late June 1887. She called him the Munshi, and he came to be resented even more than John Brown: unlike Brown, whose loyalty was without question, there was evidence that Karim exploited his position for personal gain and prestige. Tony Rennell's book Last Days of Glory: The Death of Queen Victoria reveals that Victoria had entrusted detailed instructions about her burial to her doctor, Sir James Reid (Brown died in 1883: the Queen's wish was for him to attend to her). These included a list of the keepsakes and mementoes, photographs and trinkets to be placed in the coffin with her: along with Albert's dressing gown and a plaster cast of his hand, the Queen was buried with a lock of Brown's hair, his photograph, Brown's mother's wedding ring, given to her by Brown, along with several of his letters. The photograph, wrapped in white tissue paper, was placed in her left hand, with flowers arranged to hide it from view. She wore the ring on the third finger of her right hand.
Statue of John Brown in the grounds of Balmoral
The statues and private memorials that Victoria had created for Brown
were destroyed at the order of her son, Edward VII, with whom Brown
had often clashed and who resented Brown for his influence.
Victoria Devoted Service Medal (gold medal, which bears on the reverse, To John Brown, Esq., in recognition of his presence of mind and devotion at Buckingham Palace, February 29, 1872.) Faithful Servant Medal (silver medal, with bar denoting ten additional years of service)
Design and manufacture of both medals were commissioned by Queen Victoria.
Silver medal (Servant medal?), showing the head of Louis III, Grand Duke of Hesse
In popular culture
The 1997 film
^ "Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950," database, FamilySearch
(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XYXQ-M21 : 2 January
2015), John Brown, 08 Dec 1826; citing CRATHIE AND BRAEMAR, ABERDEEN,
SCOTLAND, reference ; FHL microfilm 993,177
^ gravestone of John Brown in Crathie Kirkyard, Aberdeenshire
^ Scottish Tartans Authority
^ Scotland, Royal Deeside. "John Brown, faithful servant to Queen
Victoria". Royal Deeside, Scotland.
^ Baird, Julia (29 August 2014). "A Queen's Forbidden Love". The New
^ a b Thornton, Michael (25 February 2012). "Victoria's secret? New
Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Brown (servant).
WorldCat Identities VIAF: 40296454 LCCN: nr00036430 ISNI: 0000 0000 4643 1