Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Queen’s Acts “Contrary to Etiquette”


A bodyguard was just what Queen Victoria was in need of, when she decided to eschew the constraints of etiquette, especially in the Scottish Highlands. John Brown fit the bill, but Victoria's children and ministers resented the high regard she had for Brown, after the loss of her husband, Prince Albert. Predictably, rumors that there was something improper in Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, circulated throughout Royal circles . The 15th Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley, noted in his diary, that Brown and Victoria slept in adjoining rooms, “contrary to etiquette and even decency,” while the Queen's own daughters joked that the burly Scotchman was their, “mama's lover.” The Queen dismissed all this chatter as “ill-natured gossip in the higher classes.”

John Brown is a burly, grey-haired Scotchman, who is known as Queen Victoria’s bodyguard. A gentleman seeing from a tavern door, the Queen riding by, and Brown seated at the back of the carriage, was thus spoken to by the host: “There he goes to take of her. Shouldn't like to be the man who tried to touch her when he was by. He's as big as a house, and as strong as a lion. He looks after her, he does, and quite right of him too; he’s paid to do it.” This was not bad as a rude definition of the position and definition of this favored servant. 

The extreme simplicity of the Queen’s life has long made some domestic of this sort necessary. In the Highlands, the Queen loves to roam about in perfect freedom from etiquette and ceremony, and yet it would not do to have her roam quite alone. She is no longer young; there are dangers by flood and field in such a region; and besides there are more fools than a passing stranger in the world. 

Brown exactly supplies the want; he would lay down his life for her, not without requiring two or three in return, and, en attendant, he thinks nothing of carrying her in his arms, and perhaps a Princess or two to follow her, across a fordable stream. When she rides, he takes his place at the head of the pony, and if the pony were too troublesome, he probably would not make much difficulty about carrying him. Brown is not a lacquey—he wears no livery; on the other hand; he is not a gentleman by birth. He has a sort of undeterminate office as Strong Man. He is death on all intruders on the Queen’s privacy. 

Once when he met some reporters whom he suspected of dogging her footsteps for “copy,” he ordered them off the public highway as though he held all the Highlands in fee. It was grossly illegal, but they went. He has saved the Queen in a greater strait. When young, mad O'Connor darted out on her from the shrubbery at Buckingham Palace, pistol in hand, he positively plucked the puny wretch up from the ground as if he had been an offending kitten, and held him out so, clawing the air with his paws, until the Queen had passed out of harm’s way. He is a true clansman in the character of his service; he worships the Queen. He thinks there never was such a Queen, and there never was such a woman in the wide world. 

The Queen treats him with the condescending confidence which often subsists between the very great and the very little in our older society. She knows there can be no mistake about their positions; it is those who are nearer to her who are kept the farthest off. He is “the old servant” who is also the old friend of the family. He has seen most of  “the children’’ grow up. He probably knows a good deal more about family affairs than many a minister of state. To do him justice, he lets nothing out to his more distinguished colleagues of the Cabinet. A true Scotchman, he is as close as the grave. It is rather through the Queen’s own frank avowal, that we may judge of the extent of her confidences to him. – Youth’s Companion, 1879

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia