John Brown (servant)

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John Brown (December 8, 1826 – March 27, 1883) was a Scottish personal servant and favourite of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom for many years. He was appreciated by many (including the Queen) for his competence and companionship, and resented by others for his influence and informal manner. The exact nature of his relationship with Victoria was the subject of great speculation by contemporaries, and continues to be controversial today.


Early life

Brown was born in Crathie, Aberdeenshire, to John Brown and Margaret Leys, and went to work as an outdoor servant (in Scots ghillie or gillie) at Balmoral Castle which Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased in 1853.

Relationship with Victoria

After Albert died in 1861, Brown became Victoria's personal servant. She was so grateful for his service (and his manner toward her, which was much less formal than that of her other servants, though extremely protective of her) that she awarded him medals and had portrait paintings and statues made of him.

Victoria's children and ministers resented the high regard she had for Brown, and, inevitably, stories circulated that there was something improper about 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."

The diaries of Lewis Harcourt contain a report that one of the Queen's chaplains, Rev. Norman Macleod, made a deathbed confession repenting of his action in presiding over Queen Victoria's marriage to John Brown. Debate continues over what credence to give this report. It should be emphasised that Harcourt did not receive the confession directly (he was nine at the time that 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, the then Home Secretary. The elder Harcourt served as Home Secretary in the final three years of Brown's life. While it is true that some widowed monarchs (including Louis XIV of France and Queen Regent Maria Christina of Spain) 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...'

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