Queen Victoria: A Personal History

By Christopher Hibbert | Go to book overview

58
THE MUNSHI

'The Munshi occupies very much the same position
as John Brown used to do.'

IN THE SUMMER OF her Golden Jubilee Year of 1887, the Queen acquired the first of her Indian servants. She was delighted with them, and in particular with the stout and agreeable Mohammed Bukhsh and the taller, more handsome and ingratiating 24-year-old Abdul Karim, both of whom kissed her feet when they were presented to her at Windsor. 1 She had them stand behind her chair at breakfast as she ate a boiled egg in a gold eggcup with a gold spoon. 2 In accordance with her detailed instructions, they wore 'dark blue dress' when waiting at breakfast out of doors, with 'any "Pageri" (Turban) and sash they like, only not the Gold Ones'. At dinner they were to be dressed in scarlet and gold in winter, white in summer. Their hands clasped in front of their sashes, they stood motionless, Abdul Karim 'looking so distinguished' with his black beard and dark eyes in striking contrast with the white of his turban. In fact, she was quite sure, he was distinguished in his way, not really a servant at all: his father, she had been told, was a surgeon-general in the Indian Army. She raised him from the rank of khitmagar (waiter) to munshi (secretary), although he was barely literate; and, instead of cooking curries for her as he had done at first, he began to give her lessons in Hindustani. All photographs of him handing dishes to the Queen were destroyed. 3

'I am learning a few words in Hindustani,' she wrote in her journal on 3 August. 'It is a great interest to me for both the language and the people, I have naturally never come into real contact with before.' The Munshi, as he came to be known, was a 'vy strict Master', though 'a

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Queen Victoria: A Personal History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations xi
  • Author's Note and Acknowledgements xv
  • Queen Victoria's Prime Ministers xviii
  • Part One - 1819-1861 1
  • 1 - The Family 3
  • 2 - The Parents 9
  • 3 - The Child 17
  • 4 - Conroy 25
  • 5 - Progresses 30
  • 6 - Uncles 41
  • 7 - The Young Queen 53
  • 8 - Melbourne 60
  • 9 - Coronation 70
  • 10 - The Hastings Affair 76
  • II - A Pleasant Life' 85
  • 12 - A Headstrong Girl 90
  • 13 - German Cousins 98
  • 14 - Prince Albert 107
  • 15 - The Bridegroom 111
  • 16 - Honeymoon 120
  • 17 - Robert Peel 130
  • 18 - The Prince and the Household 137
  • 19 - Royal Quarrels 148
  • 20 - Osborne 157
  • 21 - Travelling 165
  • 22 - Balmoral 175
  • 23 - The Prince of Wales 183
  • 24 - Palmerston 193
  • 25 - Chartists 199
  • 26 - Pam is Out 204
  • 27 - The Great Exhibition 210
  • 28 - Scenes 216
  • 29 - Crimean War 221
  • 30 - Napoleon III 230
  • 31 - The Princess Royal 238
  • 32 - Indian Mutiny 248
  • 33 - The German Grandson 256
  • 34 - Death of the Duchess 264
  • 35 - The Disappointing Heir 268
  • 36 - Death of the Prince 276
  • Part Two - 1861-1901 283
  • 37 - The Grieving Widow 285
  • 38 - Seances and Services 293
  • 39 - Princess Alexandra 298
  • 40 - The Recluse 307
  • 41 - Disraeli 314
  • 42 - John Brown 321
  • 43 - The Royalty Question 331
  • 44 - The Princely Pauper 338
  • 45 - Typhoid Fever 342
  • 46 - Maids-Of-Honour 349
  • 47 - Secretaries and Ministers 353
  • 48 - Regina Et Imperatrix 360
  • 49 - The Half-Mad Firebrand 367
  • 50 - Golden Jubilee 379
  • 51 - Die EnglÄnderin 384
  • 52 - The Daughters 391
  • 53 - The Sons 396
  • 54 - The Grand Children 414
  • 55 - Would-Be Assassins 420
  • 56 - Holidays Abroad 428
  • 57 - Death of Brown 440
  • 58 - The Munshi 446
  • 59 - Diamond Jubilee 455
  • 60 - Life at Court 461
  • 61 - Dinner Parties 468
  • 62 - Books 477
  • 63 - Bookmen 481
  • 64 - Failing Health 484
  • 65 - Death 492
  • 66 - Funeral and Burial 495
  • References 503
  • Sources 523
  • Index 535
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