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Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household Hardcover – April 30, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (April 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062269917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062269911
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The popularity of the television series Downton Abbey has spawned a spate of recently published books revolving around upper-class households. Setting her sights considerably higher, Hubbard profiles the royal court of Queen Victoria. Instead of opting for an upstairs-downstairs peek, she profiles a half-dozen ladies and gentlemen of the household, midlevel employees who, while not strictly in service, were called upon to provide a variety of services—often indefinitely—to Her Majesty. Utilizing the diaries and letters of Victoria’s maid of honor, two ladies-of-the-bedchamber, her secretary, her physician, and her chaplain, Hubbard has painted a portrait of the duty, dedication, and discretion that were required of the ­middle-class members of a surprisingly dull and decidedly unglamorous court. Despite a lack of scandal and juicy behind-the-scenes gossip, this is a historically fascinating depiction of Victoria’s domestic routine and retinue. --Margaret Flanagan

Review

“A vivid, entertaining and often comical portrait….Ms. Hubbard has achieved a real feat in writing so compellingly about life in the ‘airless bell jar,’ as she describes the court.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Entertaining….Hubbard draws on a wealth of correspondence and diaries to weave an amusing ‘Upstairs, Upstairs’ drama.” (The New Yorker)

“The appeal in Hubbard’s story is the excitement in an otherwise dull existence. Call it the sensuality of the stiffness….The emotional complexity is as entertaining as (and more astute than) most upstairs-downstairs soaps, even those written by Julian Fellowes.” (Daily Beast)

“A testament to Hubbard’s talent….Readers interested in the Victorian era and the British royal family will enjoy this well-written and remarkably inte4resting account of the ‘woeful dullness’ and ‘loneliness’ of life inside Victoria’s court.” (Library Journal)

“Kate Hubbard’s entertaining book, drawing on the vast pile of correspondence from ladies in waiting, maids of honour and others, paints a picture of court life that is compellingly vivid.” (The Observer (London))

“Well-written….Fascinating….Both eye opening and thoroughly engaging.” (Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times (London))

“Compelling....The rhythm of court life at Windsor or Balmoral is the backdrop to a rich human drama, a story of people existing in uneasy intimacy with the royal family.” (Ben Wilson, Daily Telegraph (London))

“[Hubbard has] plundered a rich vein of fascinating and often new information.” (Val Hennessy, Daily Mail (London))

“A touching portrait of Victoria offstage and unguarded.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Fascinating.” (Booklist)

Customer Reviews

Her delight in Balmoral and her love of fresh air.
S Riaz
While thoroughly researched and very well written, with an affected style suitable to its time and place, Serving Victoria is not a book for everyone.
not a natural
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in British history in general and Queen Victoria and her reign in particular.
Ms Winston

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Rather than a biography of Victoria the Queen, this is a biography of a Court, with all its attendant courtiers and servants. The Victorian court was, in the words of the author, an odd mix of never ending house party and boarding school, of social ennui and regimentation. Above all, Victoria was adamant it would be respectable. So, was serving the Queen a penance or an honour? Was the devotion shown sincere? Using letters, diaries and journals, the author does an excellent job of unpicking the real thoughts from the public faces. The first half of this book is dominated by the Queen's ladies. The second half, after the death of Albert, dominated by her gentlemen, as Victoria looked for male support and sympathy in her widowhood.

So, who were those who were both close, and important to, the Queen? In the section which deals with her ladies, we have Lady Sarah Lyttelton, who was a reluctant courtier. Lady Lyttelton came as Lady of the bedchamber to the young Victoria before her marriage. She found the evenings a particular trial of small talk and little entertainment - something many of the later inhabitants at court would agree with. However, Victoria took to the older woman, who regarded her with maternal indulgence. Another important lady was Charlotte Canning, Lady of the Bedchamber, who had to enforce the rules and regulations for the maids of honour.

We read of scandals, wars, domestic trials and household bothers, the dullness of the evenings at Osborne, where Victoria retreated for privacy, sea air and a family home. Her first sight of Albert, "so excessively handsome" and the consuming relationship of Victoria's life. Her delight in Balmoral and her love of fresh air.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Anne M. Hunter VINE VOICE on April 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
4 1/2 stars

The proverb "no man is a hero to his valet" seems to have been true for
Queen Victoria. Kate Hubbard selects six of the Queen's household
staff to illuminate her reign from the perspective of her household.
These were not working class servants, but a "lady of the bedchamber",
"superintendent of the royal nursery", "maid of honor", "private
secretary", "domestic chaplain", and "physician-in-ordinary", mostly
from the lesser aristocracy. There were also dressers, maids, waiting
staff, etc., to do the more menial work. The upperclass attendants she
chronicles were
companions, responsible for being with the Queen day or night, and
waiting endlessly in halls for orders to go for a drive, or play
cards, or make music.

In this book, even those who somehow remained in awe of this extremely ordinary
self-centered, even foolish, woman with her middle class values and
little interest in helping rule Britain, were stupefied by the
deadly boredom and banality of her court and the terrible conditions
and working hours there. It's remarkable that so many of them put up
with all of it for so long. I found it impossible to like any of the
Royals as portrayed here, but I was in awe of the commitment and sacrifice of her
household staff.

The book brings the household to life, and tells the story of
Victoria's reign from a very different point of view, one not
centered on politics or major events, but on her everyday personal
life and her household. As tragic as her life was, it was hard to
remain sympathetic to her wallowing in grief and pettiness.

It's simply written, and flows along easily; I read its 366 pages in a
couple of days. Anyone who is interested in Victorian
English life and history should find this fascinating and very different from the perspectives of her usual biographers.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By K. Franklin VINE VOICE on May 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a fascinating look at life in Queen Victoria's home(s) through the eyes of several of her closest servants. Although servants were not allowed to keep diaries there was no rule against them writing letters - here we have quotes, some of them published for the first time, from the letters of ladies-in-waiting, personal secretaries, personal physicians, and the royal nursery supervisor. This is Queen Vic at her most candid and I have thoroughly enjoyed the politics, the tantrums, the big-hearted concern for servants, the despising of "churchiness", her "nerves" and stubbornness, and the years of mourning for Albert. If you've read about Victoria you already know that she was a complete control freak - every detail of everyone's goings and comings was her business - but it is refreshing to see her good side as well as the tittle-tattle, to to hear it from first-hand witnesses.

Serving the Queen was an arduous, often boring duty. There is not a hint of glamour here - just the honest expressions of those who had to stand around and wait for her next command, freeze in the unheated bedrooms of Victoria's palaces, or try to get her to comply with reasonable medical advice (she never did.)

Loses one star for being overlong - could have used a bit more paring down in my opinion. Otherwise it's a very good read if you love histories.

Recommended!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By not a natural on March 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For those of us who came to understand the expression "in service" while watching Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, the title of Kate Hubbard's fine book, Serving Victoria, may be a bit misleading. After all, Victoria was the Queen, one who occupied that position longer than any of her predecessors, not merely an aristocrat or member of the titled nobility. It comes as no surprise, then, that those who served Victoria occupied many more strata in a division of labor so complex and multifaceted as to be almost impossible to grasp with just a cursory glance.

In contrast to less grand and over-arching venues, those in closest service to the Queen were commonly people of noble birth with titles commensurate with their origins. Some may have welcomed service to Victoria as a means of compensating for limited resources, since noble birth and title did not guarantee great wealth. Others served out of a sense of duty to Queen and country, or for the prestige and valuable social connections that came with proximity to Victoria and her immediate family.

Whatever the reasons for entering high-ranking service, the positions occupied were much more than merely honorific. Whether caring for and educating Victoria's children, providing companionship and entertaining company for the Queen herself, attending to Victoria's medical needs, overseeing the smooth running of the household, or filling other more or less well-defined and important roles, Victoria's demands on those whose duties were most immediate and consequential were quite strenuous.
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More About the Author

Kate Hubbard has been a researcher, teacher, and book reviewer. She currently works as a freelance editor. Serving Victoria is her first book to be published in the United States.

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