Pre-Release Review: Serving Victoria, Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard

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Serving Victoria: Life in a Royal Household
Kate Hubbard
Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN: 978-0062269911
Hardcover and eBook
Release Date: 30 April, 2013
432 Pages
Social History/ Royals
Pre-Order:  Amazon § Barnes & Noble § Harper Collins
Stars:  5

About the Book:

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Drawing on their letters and diaries—many hitherto unpublished—Serving Victoria offers a unique insight into the Victorian court, with all its frustrations and absurdities, as well as the Queen herself, sitting squarely at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.

Book Review:

In a uniquely positioned perspective, Kate Hubbard utilizes the personal correspondences of six members of the household staff charged with serving the personal needs of Queen Victoria, presenting a brand new view of the royal, throughout her long reign.  From shortly after her ascendance to the throne at 19, details of the mundane of those in service are detailed by their own hand in letters to trusted friends and family.

This provides a whole new perspective on the Queen: one that shares some common ties to some of the “tell all books’ released by former royal household members, but is far less salacious or prurient in nature.  This is a fascinating read, presenting details of events, attitudes and even personal prejudices of the letter-writer in a way that provides an unguarded view, peppered with personal asides.  Although one must understand the attitude toward the crown she who wore it, staffing needs were filled most often through families with loyalties to the Queen and crown, and often, these loyalties resulted in generations from the same family being employed in the Royal Household’s Service consistently.  Once an understanding of that basic fact is to hand, the book becomes a fascinating, if occasionally minutely detailed read.
The book has several voices, although the most distinct changes come after Prince Albert’s death in 1861 after 20+ years of marriage.  Nearly consecutively in this book, the correspondents move from female to male, when Victoria sought out male members of her household for council, sympathy and apparently, male appreciation.

This is a book that develops slowly yet consistently provides information on the time, the Royal Household, and the concerns and interests of the correspondents. While there are no overtly obvious moments of “AHA so now I know her”, the insights and information provided in this book are fascinating and will help to present a fuller picture of the Victorian Court and the Queen.

The book also includes several illustrations that are ‘of the time’ and quite beautiful: from menus to carriage arrangements, castles and notes their inclusion provides the reader with visual representations of much that is spoken of in more general detail.

I received an ARC eProof from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review on I am, Indeed. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility. 

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