Mining the record left by six intimate Victorian servants, Hubbard (Rubies in the Snow, 2007, etc.) discovers a great deal about the British monarch, wife and mother.
Discretion, self-reliance and the stamina to endure staggering periods of immobility and ennui marked the duty of the reliable courtier of stalwart Queen Victoria, who acceded to the throne at age 18 in 1837 and reigned until 1901. In this nuanced study, the author meticulously picks her way through the lives of the women and men carefully chosen to serve as Victoria’s intimates over her long life: ladies of the bedchamber, maids of honor, lords-in-waiting, grooms-in-waiting and equerries, drawn from a low-aristocracy pool and serving the queen in rotation. Lady Sarah Lyttelton, a 50-year-old widowed lady-in-waiting, was new to the game in 1838, charmed by the young and still-single sovereign. She was in charge of keeping an eye on the maids of honor and making sure the new regime was not besmirched by the “doings” of the previous Hanoverians. The “frank and fearless” Victoria married her cousin Albert in 1840, and he proceeded to reorganize the household into a tight system of efficiency; soon the babies arrived like clockwork and Lyttelton was put in charge of the nursery. Charlotte Canning, an ace artist and young wife who became lady of the bedchamber, found her duties essentially companionable and social: accompanying Victoria on her open-air afternoon rides. Dining with the queen meant jawing an infinite parade of platitudes with an injunction on broaching politics. In other chapters, Hubbard highlights maid of honor Mary Ponsonby and her adviser husband, Henry Ponsonby, physician James Reid and Windsor chaplain Randall Davidson, who all endured a stultifying monotony of duty and probity, weddings and funerals, systems of etiquette and middlebrow refinement.
A touching portrait of Victoria offstage and unguarded.