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Serving Victoria
Cover of Serving Victoria
Serving Victoria
Life in the Royal Household
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During her sixty-three-year reign, Queen Victoria gathered around herself a household dedicated to her service. For some, royal employment was the defining experience of their lives; for others it came as an unwelcome duty or as a prelude to greater things. Serving Victoria follows the lives of six members of her household, from the governess to the royal children, from her maid of  honor to her chaplain and her personal physician.

Drawing on their letters and diaries—many hitherto unpublished—Serving Victoria offers a unique insight into the Victorian court, with all its frustrations and absurdities, as well as the Queen herself, sitting squarely at its center. Seen through the eyes of her household as she traveled among Windsor, Osborne, and Balmoral, and to the French and Belgian courts, Victoria emerges as more vulnerable, more emotional, more selfish, more comical, than the austere figure depicted in her famous portraits. We see a woman who was prone to fits of giggles, who wept easily and often, who gobbled her food and shrank from confrontation but insisted on controlling the lives of those around her. We witness her extraordinary and debilitating grief at the death of her husband, Albert, and her sympathy toward the tragedies that afflicted her household.

Witty, astute, and moving, Serving Victoria is a perfect foil to the pomp and circumstance—and prudery and conservatism—associated with Victoria's reign, and gives an unforgettable glimpse of what it meant to serve the Queen.

During her sixty-three-year reign, Queen Victoria gathered around herself a household dedicated to her service. For some, royal employment was the defining experience of their lives; for others it came as an unwelcome duty or as a prelude to greater things. Serving Victoria follows the lives of six members of her household, from the governess to the royal children, from her maid of  honor to her chaplain and her personal physician.

Drawing on their letters and diaries—many hitherto unpublished—Serving Victoria offers a unique insight into the Victorian court, with all its frustrations and absurdities, as well as the Queen herself, sitting squarely at its center. Seen through the eyes of her household as she traveled among Windsor, Osborne, and Balmoral, and to the French and Belgian courts, Victoria emerges as more vulnerable, more emotional, more selfish, more comical, than the austere figure depicted in her famous portraits. We see a woman who was prone to fits of giggles, who wept easily and often, who gobbled her food and shrank from confrontation but insisted on controlling the lives of those around her. We witness her extraordinary and debilitating grief at the death of her husband, Albert, and her sympathy toward the tragedies that afflicted her household.

Witty, astute, and moving, Serving Victoria is a perfect foil to the pomp and circumstance—and prudery and conservatism—associated with Victoria's reign, and gives an unforgettable glimpse of what it meant to serve the Queen.

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About the Author-
  • After leaving Oxford University, Kate Hubbard worked variously as a researcher, a teacher, a book reviewer and a publisher's reader and a freelance editor. She currently works for the Royal Literary Fund. She is the author of the acclaimed historical biography Serving Victoria and lives in London and Dorset.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 18, 2013
    Drawing on letters and diaries, Hubbard (Queen Victoria) follows six courtiers who served Queen Victoria during her 63-year reign as they chafe under the constraints of court life, dine and travel with the Queen, and even indulge in the occasional joke at her expense. Kindly Sarah Lyttelton, supervisor of the nursery, witnessed a monarch who compulsively controlled those around her and even saw children as an impediment to her life with Prince Albert. Beautiful, intelligent Charlotte Canning, lady of the bedchamber and an accomplished watercolorist whose work Victoria appropriated for her souvenir albums, found court life a welcome respite from her humiliating marriage. Spirited feminist Mary Ponsonby, maid-of-honor, found the Victorian court to be “ludicrously bourgeois and exceedingly dull,” while her modest husband Henry masterfully played the Queen’s complex and contradictory character to his advantage. Later in life, Victoria was outraged when her easygoing, gregarious doctor, James Reid, decided to marry; and sympathetic chaplain Randall Davidson also angered her when he counseled against publication of her inappropriate memoir of her deceased servant, John Brown. Although hardly controversial, this is an engrossing and fresh view of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and day-to-day life at the Victorian court. 16 pages of illus. and photos. Agent: Georgia Garrett, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (U.K.)

  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2013

    "Lady of the bedchamber," "Superintendent of the nursery," "Maid-of-Honour," and "Resident Medical Attendant" were some of the positions in Queen Victoria's court household. As impressive as these titles might sound, those ladies and gentlemen of the lesser aristocracy who filled them did so largely out of a sense of duty. Life in the royal household is described as "miserable," made up of "stiff dinners, ditch water and cold bedrooms." One of the queen's doctors became such a "hopeless" alcoholic he was persuaded to resign. A lady of the bedchamber, Lady Jane Ely, desperate to leave after years of devoted service and with her health broken, was roundly told that "Lady Ely's health and well being were of little consequence beside those of the Queen." She could not be spared, though it was "killing her." It is a testament to Hubbard's talent that she manages to convey why Victoria's household remained devoted to a monarch they all recognized as a selfish woman who did very little work. VERDICT Readers interested in the Victorian era and the British royal family will enjoy this well-written and remarkably interesting account of the "woeful dullness" and "loneliness" of life inside Victoria's court.--Elizabeth Mellett, Brookline P.L., MA

    Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    "A testament to Hubbard's talent....Readers interested in the Victorian era and the British royal family will enjoy this well-written and remarkably inte4resting account of the 'woeful dullness' and 'loneliness' of life inside Victoria's court."

  • The Observer (London)

    "Kate Hubbard's entertaining book, drawing on the vast pile of correspondence from ladies in waiting, maids of honour and others, paints a picture of court life that is compellingly vivid."

  • Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times (London)

    "Well-written....Fascinating....Both eye opening and thoroughly engaging."

  • Ben Wilson, Daily Telegraph (London)

    "Compelling....The rhythm of court life at Windsor or Balmoral is the backdrop to a rich human drama, a story of people existing in uneasy intimacy with the royal family."

  • Val Hennessy, Daily Mail (London)

    "[Hubbard has] plundered a rich vein of fascinating and often new information."

  • Kirkus Reviews

    "A touching portrait of Victoria offstage and unguarded."

  • Booklist

    "Fascinating."

  • Daily Beast

    "The appeal in Hubbard's story is the excitement in an otherwise dull existence. Call it the sensuality of the stiffness....The emotional complexity is as entertaining as (and more astute than) most upstairs-downstairs soaps, even those written by Julian Fellowes."

  • Wall Street Journal

    "A vivid, entertaining and often comical portrait....Ms. Hubbard has achieved a real feat in writing so compellingly about life in the 'airless bell jar,' as she describes the court."

  • The New Yorker

    "Entertaining....Hubbard draws on a wealth of correspondence and diaries to weave an amusing 'Upstairs, Upstairs' drama."

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Life in the Royal Household
Kate Hubbard
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