drawings at windsor castle

After Albert - Queen Victoria’s Second Love, John Brown

The idea that Queen Victoria was absolutely inconsolable and locked away in seclusion for the rest of her life after Prince Albert’s death is a myth. It is true the Queen took residence immediately after Albert’s death in her more rural homes of Windsor, Balmoral and Osborne, and refused to appear in public for some years. Concern for her health rose, and in 1864, 3 years after the death of Prince Albert, that it was suggested that the Queens outside attendant at Balmoral, John Brown, be sent to Osborne House encourage the Queen to ride out on her pony. He arrived in December that same year, and some time after his arrival Victoria made his position permanent, presenting him the title of ‘ The Queen’s Highland Servant’.

John Brown was born in 1826, in Crathienaird, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, his father being a tenant farmer. He first came into the queens service in 1848 as a Balmoral gillie to Prince Albert, and within the next 10 years he had become her regular outside attendant, leading her pony out on the highlands and helping the royal party with their needs out on the moors, from lacing Victoria’s tea with whisky to cooking potatoes.

Although Victoria held much affection for her brash highlander, others found him rude and much jealousy surrounded him due to his relationship with the Queen; the Lord Chamberlin called him a ‘Course animal’.

John would address Victoria as ‘wumman’, whilst Victoria looked past her Highlander’s faults, saying that his independence on whisky made him ‘bashful’. Her relative seclusion and easy relationship with John led to much rumour in the 1870s to their relationship, from a secret marriage to a secret child. The name  Mrs Brown was on everyone’s lips. However, the Foreign Secretary himself, the Earl of Derby did record that Victoria and John slept in adjoining rooms, contrary to etiquette and even decency’. Biographer A N Wilson claims they slept together in the same bed but never consummated their relationship. Controversially, Victoria also used John for séances where they, with close courtiers, would attempt to contact the spirit of Prince Albert. These séances would go on in absolute secrecy in small closets, such as the Blue Drawing Room at Windsor Castle (where Prince Albert died) and the Horn Room at Osborne House.

Despite the rumours they faced, Victoria remained unmoving on any removal of John Brown from her side, whilst he continued his loyal and faithful service. On at least one occasion he disarmed an attacker to the Queen (in 1872) and Victoria relied on him more and more, writing -

‘I feel I have here always in the House a good, devoted soul… whose only object and interest is in my service, & God knows how much I want to be taken care of.’

For all their closeness and love, be romantic or otherwise, for one another, a life-long relationship was again not to be for Victoria. In March 1883 he caught a chill but refused to go to bed, continuing his devoted service to Victoria. Thus, on the 27th that same month, John Brown died, age 56, at Windsor Castle. Once again, Victoria found herself devastated at the death of the man she loved. She wrote -

‘It is not only the loss of a servant but of a real friend.’

Whilst her private secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby wrote of Brown -

‘He was the only person who could fight and make the Queen do what she did not wish. He did not always succeed, nor was his advice always the best. But I believe he was honest, and with all his want of education, his roughness, his prejudices and his other faults, he was undoubtedly a most excellent servant to her.’

After John’s death, Victoria commissioned a life-sized statue of her Highland servant, and had it placed in the grounds of Balmoral. She remembered her faithful John until her death in 1901, leaving strict instructions that shy must be buried, among much else, with a lock of his hair, a photograph of him, and wearing a ring given to her by John, that had belonged to his mother.

Although this request had been carried out, upon her death her son the new King Edward VII destroyed much material written by Victoria about Brown, busts and photographs of him, in addition moving Victoria’s statue of John to a less conspicuous site in Balmorals grounds where it remains today. Not only did Edward destroy as much evidence of Brown’s relationship with his mother as possible, Victoria had left her many diaries to her youngest daughter Beatrice to transcribe and edit for publication. This, of course, means much on John Brown, especially if explicit or inappropriate, would have been edited and the originals all burnt.

It seems we will never know the extent of Victoria and John Brown’s relationship, but from what we can piece together Victoria took much comfort, reliance and friendship from John, whilst he was a most loyal and honest servant to her. 

Sources - English Heritage, A N Wilson

Elizabeth Woodville (c. 1437-1492)

Queen of England, Wife of Edward IV, Mother of Elizabeth of York, Maternal grandmother of Henry VIII, Great-grandmother of Edward VI, and Mary I, and Elizabeth I

Art by Katie (tumblr)

Elizabeth Woodville was a widowed mother of two boys when she caught the eye of Edward IV.  The 22-year-old Edward had only been on the throne for three years and he was expected form an international alliance by marrying a European princess.  Instead, Edward secretly married the daughter of a minor English noble and his Luxembourgian wife.  This was only the second time since the Norman Conquest that an English king had married one of his subjects. 

Elizabeth’s family was greatly enriched by her position as queen, but the reign of Edward IV was far from secure and he lost the throne for six months in 1470-1471.  During this period, Elizabeth was forced to seek sanctuary in Westminster Abbey where she eventually gave birth to her son Edward.

When Edward IV died suddenly at age 40 in 1483, Elizabeth became the Dowager Queen and her twelve-year-old son Edward V ascended to the throne.  But this was not to last.  Three months later the tween king was declared illegitimate and deposed by his uncle Richard III.  Edward V and his younger brother Richard were sent to the Tower of London and disappeared after 1483.  Richard III executed Elizabeth’s second son by her first marriage and her brother in June 1483.  Elizabeth and her surviving five daughters sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey until March 1484.

With her two sons by Edward IV presumed dead, Elizabeth allied herself with the Lancastrians.  Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort arranged a marriage for their children Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor.  This marriage would unite the House of York and the House of Lancaster under a single royal couple and put an end to the Wars of the Roses.  In 1485, Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and became last king of England to win his throne on the battlefield.  He cemented his claim five months later by marrying Elizabeth of York.  This was the beginning of the Tudor dynasty that would last until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

In February 1487, Elizabeth Woodville retired to Bermondsey Abbey.  She died in 1492 and is buried at Windsor Castle.  

Design for  the Green Drawing Room, Windsor Castle, 1826

This is one of a series of designs made for George IV’s private apartments at Windsor Castle. This image shows what was the library in Windsor Castle, which is now the Green Drawing Room. The designs were made by furniture makers Nicholas Morel and George Seddon, who went into a partnership in order to decorate George IV’s private apartments. The design shows the principal elevations of the room along with the planned furniture, curtains and wall coverings. 

Just Some Facts and Figures

- According to Buckingham Palace, sustaining the royal family costs Britons 53 pence, or about 81 cents, per person, per year. The total came to about 33.3 million pounds (about $51.1 million) for 2012-2013.

- The Republican group estimated that the figure is, when you factor in security detail and royal visits, actually about 200 million pounds, or $307 million.

- Even factoring this Republican estimate in, the British Tourism Agency has found that the royal family generates close to 500 million pounds, or about $767 million, every year in tourism revenue, drawing visitors to historic royal sites like the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace. Tourism is the third biggest industry in the UK.

- The Crown Estate, a property portfolio owned by The Crown and nominally belonging to the Monarch, although not the private property of the Monarch (as it cannot be sold by him or her), is managed by an independent organisation, and any profit from the Estate is paid every year to to the Treasury for the benefit of all UK taxpayers. In 2012, profits from the Crown Estate were around 240 million pounds (2012)of which the Sovereign is entitled 15% (36 million pounds- note this is the same figure, although in a different year for the 33.3 million mentioned first) for royal obligations and the royal household. Thus, more than 200 million pounds are given to the Treasury. 

- So, UK taxpayers pay around 33.3 to 36 million pounds (depending on the year) for the monarchy, which in turn generates approximately 500 million pounds through tourism etc, and approximately 200 million pounds from The Crown Estate. 

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Long Walk, Windsor Castle.  28 January 2016.  After the previous painting in Romney Marsh, this was so different.  Instead of being in the middle of nowhere, with no one around, I was now in the most central place, looking at Windsor Castle, where the Queen spends much of her time.  I had a commission to paint the castle, which was definitely a labour of love.  Fortunately I chose a sunny day and I was gifted a lovely puddle of water reflecting the Chapel of St George, where Henry the 8th is buried.