John Brown

of Crathie

 

Personal Servant to

Queen Victoria

Born 8th December 1826

Died 27th March 1883

'Friend more than Servant, Loyal, Truthful,

Brave

Self less than Duty, even to the Grave'

 

 One of the most fascinating stories about Queen Victoria's personal life was her relationship with her 'personal servant' John Brown. Brown was born on a farm at Crathie in 1826 and was employed at Balmoral at the time of its purchase by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He rose to become Prince Albert's personal ghillie and then Queen Victoria's servant. But after the premature death of Albert in 1861 he became a great support for Queen Victoria who mourned Albert for the rest of her life. Between 1861 and his death in 1883 Brown received many gifts from Victoria and at least two medals specially created for him, one of which also carried an annuity. Brown wore these medals - the Faithful Servant Medal and the Devoted Service medal - with pride. The Queen commissioned a large portrait of him (below) and after his death she had a life sized statue of him erected in the grounds of Balmoral Castle. (It was reputed to be so life-like that superstitious members of the Balmoral staff kept well away from it whenever possible.) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A portrait of

John Brown

commissioned by Queen Victoria

 

Brown appears to have been very 'honest' in offering genuine friendship to the Queen at a time of need but equally telling unwanted truths to the important people surrounding her. Even the Prince of Wales, Prince Edward, was probably on the receiving end of Brown's tongue. Much gossip attached to the unlikely relationship and much animosity generated by those who resented the trust placed in the 'low-born' Brown by the Queen. The Queen refused to desert Brown because of the scandalous talk - which she dismissed as 'ill-natured gossip' - and Brown could not be ordered away because his orders came directly from the Queen. On at least one occasion Brown saved the Queen from harm as when he disarmed an assailant in 1872. Ultimately, Brown's loyalty to the Queen probably cost him his life - he died in February 1883, aged 56, as the result of a chill which could have been avoided had he taken to his sick bed. He was buried in Crathie churchyard.

 

Until her death in 1901 Queen Victoria kept Brown's memory alive. Upon her death, however, Brown's enemies got their revenge. Edward VII attempted to destroy everything that reminded him of Brown, destroying busts and photographs. Fortunately, many of Brown's possessions were in the care of his family. (Brown's statue, then close to the Garden Cottage where Queen Victoria often wrote letters, was moved to a remote corner behind the dairy. The casual visitor to Balmoral is unlikely to come across this statue. One feels this very location is a monument to the pettiness of Edward. Perhaps, one century on from the death of Victoria, it is time for Brown's statue to be re-sited somewhere that would have received the approval of his friend, Queen Victoria.

 

The close relationship that developed between Queen Victoria and John Brown was depicted in the recent film ' Mrs Brown' Brown was played by the Scottish comedian and actor Billy Connolly and Queen Victoria by Dame Judi Dench. Judi Dench received an Oscar nomination for her role. Billy Connolly was so taken by this are that he bought an estate in neighbouring Strathdon and as laird has supported the local Lonach Gathering. It is fitting that one hundred and fifty years on after Queen Victoria gave a boost to the development of Royal Deeside, a new generation should be introduced to its charms from a film about her surprising friendship with John Brown.

 

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Pages on Braemar : Brief History of Braemar and Royal Deeside

Braemar History

Queen Victoria and Balmoral

John Brown of Crathie

Old Churchyards near Braemar

The Clan Farquharson

 

 

 

Pages constructed by Mike Franklin, Braemar, 27th January 2002

Web: Callater Lodge Hotel

e-mail mike@hotel-braemar.co.uk