Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household

Written by Kate Hubbard
Review by E.M. Powell

Queen Victoria presided over a vast household of servants, but this is not a book about the drudgery of scullery maids and stable boys. Instead, Hubbard concentrates on the top tier, the ladies and gentlemen (often minor aristocracy) who were closest to the queen. Hubbard’s unusual focus makes for fascinating reading. She follows the lives of six of members of the royal household in detail. Through their diaries, journals and letters, Hubbard shows us the often tedious and claustrophobic life they led.

There are some interesting looking job titles such as Lady of the Bedchamber, but in reality this involved being a constant, uncomplaining companion, watching the queen play skittles and accompanying her on carriage rides. Victoria’s desire to control every aspect of her household is revealed, with a ‘horrid’ set of new rules appearing ‘framed and glazed’ in the lady-in-waiting’s rooms. Such rules dictated how far the ladies were allowed to travel, imposing a regime not dissimilar to a prison. Hubbard also has an eye for detail. We read of the coldness of Balmoral, where even the cushions on the billiard table froze, but Victoria deplored heating, insisting the cold made her ‘brisk’.

Many books have been written about Victoria and her reign. Hubbard brings a fresh, meticulously researched perspective on a woman who was simultaneously all-controlling and emotionally needy. Victoria even left detailed plans for her own funeral, along with a list of objects to be placed in her coffin. Instructions were also left as to who could know about which objects. Her servants of course followed her instructions, loyal to the end. Hubbard has captured the atmosphere and relationships within this unique court beautifully. Recommended.