Monday, April 22, 2013

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household, by Kate Hubbard. HarperCollins 2012

This book was given to me by the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. The fact that the book was free in no way influenced my review. 

While much has been written about the life of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their royal children, not much has been put out there about the other people around them. Kate Hubbard has gone to original sources- letters and diaries- of the people who worked for her: the people who were neither royalty nor laborers, but those who occupied a stratum in the middle. Her doctors, the children’s governess, her maids of honor and women of the bedchamber, her private secretary all held titles that were considered honors but were in reality onuses. It was nearly impossible to refuse an invitation to serve at court- and serving did, in fact, have some advantages if one were just starting out and in need of some steady cash and introductions to the right people. And once Victoria liked a person, she was loathe to allow them to leave.

Victoria’s quirks made court a strange place. Hers was not a court of brilliant wit and scandals, nor was it one of jewels and balls. Victoria and Albert led a life of royal privilege combined with middle class sensibilities. Victoria dressed in what many considered a dowdy style (even before Albert’s death), she wouldn’t have any conversation around her that could possibly create offense or argument, she considered nursery games to be perfect after dinner activities, liked to have the windows open and no fires burning even in the dead of winter (not just in her quarters, but throughout whatever dwelling she was in), and saw no problem with not allowing her attendants to sit down at the theater rather than standing the whole time behind her seat, holding her things for her. In other words, court life was uncomfortable and boring. Lady in waiting was a very apt term; these women spent the vast majority of their time just waiting to see what they would be doing: walking outside with the Queen, riding with her in the carriage, playing cards. Even if she had no current task for them, they had to …. Wait, making no use of their time. Their time belonged to the Queen. It had to be the most boring job in the world; one woman bemoaned the lack of books. The men, on the other hand, sometimes got overworked. Her doctor, for instance, had to see her at least four times a day, sometimes eight. Her personal secretary had his hands full at all times, with both business dealings and the behind the scenes feather soothings that went along with living in a court where some people were the Queen’s pets and could do no wrong, while taking advantage of her.

The Victorian Era is one I’m very interested in, and Hubbard’s book has added a new dimension to what I know of it. While I knew any court would be a place of constant maneuvering for favor, it never occurred to me that it would be a boring place to be avoided at all costs! 

The above in an affiliate link; if you click through it and buy the book, I will earn a few cents from it.

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