Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Albert, in 1840 and they had nine children together. It was a marriage filled with love, and Albert educated the young Queen concerning politics and the duties of her state in life. Albert died of typhoid fever in 1861, and Victoria was grief-stricken for many years after his death. She became reclusive and her advisors tried everything to bring her out of her emotional slump in order to resume her duties. The public needed to see their Queen and the idea of a non-working monarchy did not appeal to them. Victoria spent all of her days at the Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, which was the favorite vacation spot of Victoria and Albert.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - Wikimedia
Queen Victoria meets John Brown
In 1864, the Queen’s private secretary, Henry Ponsonby (Geoffrey Palmer) and Victoria’s son Bertie, the Prince of Wales (David Westhead), conspired to try to assuage some of her grief. They decided to bring Prince Albert’s trusted servant and horseman at Balmoral Castle, over to the Osborne House with the idea of getting Victoria to ride every day to experience the fresh air. John’s younger brother, Archie Brown, was also a servant at Balmoral. The Prince of Wales recalled an incident which had occurred at Balmoral when Albert was still alive. Two of the young princesses were out in a storm when the royal carriage turned over from the wind. The trusted servant saved the girls and brought them safely back to Balmoral. The Queen recalled that incident and knew that Brown was held in high regard by Prince Albert.
Daily Horseback Ride
At first, the new man was ignored by both Victoria (Judi Dench) and the other household servants, but he came in from the stables daily and waited in the gardens with the Queen’s white horse in case the Queen wanted to ride that day. He was told by the Queen not to do so, but he contradicted her and said he would be there when she needed him. One day, she decided to ride her horse and her guide began his daily walk with the Queen astride her horse. His idea of his position was far superior than either the Queen or her attendants had presumed.
Queen Victoria - Wikimedia
John Brown’s Influence Increase
Brown's manner was far different than any of the other servants. He addressed Queen Victoria as “Woman,” which she accepted. At meals with the household staff took his seat at the head of the table even though he was told that the seat belonged to Mr. Carter, the head butler. “Not anymore, it doesn’t,” he replied. Soon, the Queen was taking her horse out daily for the fresh air and exercise, with her guide at her side. The household was happy to note that the color had returned to her cheeks. Everyone referred to her as “Mrs. Brown” behind her back. Brown took it upon himself to advise the Queen on other matters in her life which rankled her advisors and her family, who resented Brown for his arrogance in taking advantage of his position. They also realized that their own influence had been devalued. Victoria said to her son “Sometimes I feel Brown is all I have left of Albert.”
Return to Balmoral
Victoria decided to return to Balmoral with her retinue. At one point, Brown said to the Prince of Wales “I think you should go now; you’ve tired your mother enough.” The country soon became aware of the person who was Queen Victoria’s personal servant. It had certainly grown beyond the normal monarch-servant relationship. The Queen had even had a bust made of her servant, which was on display. At an evening gala, he and Victoria joined in the dancing, obviously enjoying each other’s company. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (Antony Sher) was concerned for the reputation of the monarchy, as there was a rise in negative sentiment toward the Royal family. He also feared for his own position as people spoke bluntly about the circumstances.
Judi Dench - Wikimedia
John Brown Saves the Day
On an outing with the Queen and members of the household, Brown spotted off in the distance a group of snoopers who were getting closer to the Queen. He went after them and forced them to leave, stating that the Queen’s security would never be compromised. An even more serious episode occurred at a public event attended by the Queen. An assassin loomed up unexpectedly in the crowd, carrying a gun and heading for the Royal family. Brown tackled the man, saving the family from a fatal tragedy. The Prince of Wales told the story the next evening, stating that he had warned Brown that an assassin was in the crowd. Queen Victoria decided that a special medal, a “Devoted Service Medal,” would be created and awarded to John Brown.
John Brown is Beaten Up
A group of disenchanted citizens took it upon themselves to beat up John Brown, wounding him seriously. They deliberately poured liquor down his throat to give the appearance that Brown had been drinking heavily. Victoria’s advisors and her family demanded his dismissal on the grounds of drunkenness. John Brown did not tell them the truth of the matter. The Queen was disenchanted with him but did not dismiss him. She said to him “Without you, I cannot find the strength to be who I must be.”
A Plea to Return to Public Duty
Benjamin Disraeli asked John Brown to use his influence to persuade Queen Victoria to return to the performance of her public duties. She was scheduled to give her usual speech from the throne upon the opening of Parliament. She felt betrayed by John Brown when he asked that of her. “I stay here (at Balmoral) because I am happy here; is that such a terrible crime?” she asked.
When her son Bertie, the Prince of Wales, came down with typhoid fever, she thought that her family was speaking of her late husband, Prince Albert, who had died of typhoid fever. She promised that, if Bertie recovered, she would have a Mass of Celebration said at St. George’s. Bertie did recover, and she rode to St. George’s in an open carriage. “It is time for the Queen to be seen by her public,” she said. Her decision to return to public life produced a resurgence in her popularity and in the public’s support of her monarchy.
Billy Connolly - Wikimedia
John Brown has Pneumonia
In 1883, John Brown went out into the woods one cold evening, looking for an intruder who was supposed to be hiding in the brush. He came down with pneumonia which, in those days, was fatal. The Queen only heard about his illness three days later and went to see him. She was distressed at his weakened condition and apologized to him for not displaying her friendship more deeply than she had. John Brown died because of that illness, ending their nineteen-year friendship.
John Brown had kept a diary of those years of service to the Queen. One of the last scenes shows Ponsonby walking off with the diary, with the implication that it would be destroyed. The final credits noted that “John Brown’s diary was never found.”
There have always been rumors that Queen Victoria and John Brown were lovers, even that they had married at one point. It has never been proven precisely that they had married; they had a beautiful friendship, however. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, she had left orders that John Brown’s photograph, a lock of his hair, and his mother’s wedding ring, were to be buried with her. It is up to the viewer to come to your own conclusion about the verity of the rumors.