eye servant

John Brown (servant)

John Brown (December 8, 1826March 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.

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, and 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 stories circulated that there was something improper about their relationship, but there appeared to be no basis for those stories. After Brown's death, she became similarly attached to an Indian servant, Abdul Karim, one of two who had come to work for her in late June 1887, days after her Golden Jubilee celebrating her first fifty years on the throne. She called him the Munshi, and he came to be hated more fiercely than John Brown had been, and for the same reason: the warm regard she had for him.

Even during Brown's lifetime, there were rumors of an improper relationship. This is recorded in the recently discovered diaries of Lewis Harcourt, a politician of the time. The diaries 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 only 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, it is considered most unlikely that Victoria would have done such a thing. Although rumors make Brown the father of a supposed child with the Queen, or alternately her husband, or alternately a spiritual medium, there is no evidence that the rumors were true. Brown was almost certainly just a man whom she admired, especially in the years after the Prince Consort's death.

However, a passage in an article from Petronella Wyatt for the Daily Mail (September 2 2006) relates that her late father, Woodrow Wyatt, met Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in the 1980s, and that she came frequently to their house for lunch and dinner. On one of those occasions, the conversation turned to Queen Victoria and John Brown. The Queen Mother claimed she found documents in the royal archives at Windsor suggesting they had married. Asked what she had done about the discovery, she said she burned the documents.

Tony Rennell's book Last Days of Glory: The Death of Queen Victoria reveals that Victoria ordered her doctor to place a lock of Brown's hair, his photograph, and a ring worn by Brown's mother and given to her by Brown, in her coffin. This was done.

The statues and private memorials that Victoria had had created for Brown were destroyed or discarded at the order of her son, Edward VII, with whom Brown had often clashed.


John Brown is also credited with inventing a cocktail made up of equal parts of claret wine and Scotch whisky, which was said to be Victoria's favourite tipple.

In popular culture

The 1997 film Mrs. Brown is the fictionalised story of John Brown. Billy Connolly stars as Brown, and Dame Judi Dench as Victoria.

Brown was played by Finlay Currie in the 1950 film The Mudlark. He also appears as a character in the play Victoria Regina.

External links and further reading

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