‘Lost diary’ sheds light on Queen Victoria’s relationship with Indian servant

Sunday, February 27, 2011

LONDON - A new archive of letters, pictures and a ‘lost diary’ belonging to an Indian man who worked as a servant for Queen Victoria has shed light on the relationship the two shared.

Abdul Karim’s relationship with Queen Victoria was one that sent shockwaves through the royal court-and ended up being one of the most scandalous periods of her 64-year reign.

Indeed, such was the ill-feeling that when Victoria died, her son King Edward ordered all records of their relationship, including correspondence and photographs, to be destroyed.

However, the new documents tell the story of how Karim arrived in England in 1887 and quickly gained the affection of a monarch 42 years his senior, report the Telegraph.

They chart the remarkable rise of the clerk from Agra in northern India to one of Victoria’s closest and most influential friends.

In the opening paragraphs of his diary, Karim remarked on the humble nature of his status in the Royal household: “Under the shadow of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, I a humble subject venture in the following pages to lay before the reader a brief summary from the journal of my life at the court of Queen Victoria from the Golden Jubilee of 1887 to the Diamond Jubilee of 1897.”

The queen wrote in her diaries about her two new Indian servants: “The one Mohammed Buksh, very dark with a very smiling expression… and the other, much younger, called Abdul Karim, is much lighter, tall and with a fine, serious countenance. His father is a native doctor at Agra. They both kissed my feet.”

The following letter from Queen Victoria that Karim kept in his journal asking him to stay is significant: that letter was one of many destroyed by her son, King Edward, following his mother’s death. Karim, however, had kept a certified copy:

“General Dennehy has read me your petition… I shall be very sorry to part with you for I like and respect you, but I hope you will remain till the end of this year or the beginning of the next that I may be able to learn enough Hindustani from you to speak a little. I shall gladly recommend you for a post in India which could be suitable for you and hope that you may be able to come and see me from time to time in England.”

And recommend him for a post she did: Queen Victoria made Abdul Karim her official munshi (teacher) as well as Indian Clerk to the Queen. Henceforth Karim travelled everywhere with the Queen, even on her tours of Europe, meeting numerous monarchs and prime ministers along the way.

The Queen allowed him to move his wife over to England, and the couple was given their own cottage on each of her estates. In Balmoral, a special cottage was built just for him, and the Queen called it ‘Karim Cottage’ in his honour.

Still, many in the royal court were unhappy with Karim’s constant presence. He was forever by her side and the Queen, a prolific letter-writer, often sent him several letters a day. He became her most trusted companion.

The courtiers’ resentment came to a head in 1889 when the Queen spent the night with her munshi at Glassalt Shiel, the isolated Scottish cottage she had once shared with John Brown but vowed never again to visit after he died.

Although it appears to have been platonic, he was 26 and she 70, so eyebrows would have been raised.

And when Queen Victoria died in 1901, Karim was given a prominent place in the funeral possession. Yet days later, guards ordered him to hand over every letter she had written to him and was sent back to India. (ANI)

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