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John Brown (servant)

John Brown (1826 - 1883) was born in Crathie, Scotland, and went to work as a servant (in Scots ghillie or gillie) at Balmoral Castle when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built it (1853 - 1855). After Albert died in 1861, Brown became Victoria's personal servant, and she was so grateful for his service (and his manner toward her, which was much less formal than that of her other servants) that she awarded him medals and had portrait paintings and statues made of him.

Victoria's children and ministers resented the high regard she had for Brown, and stories circulated that there was something improper about it, but there appeared to be no basis for those stories. After Brown's death, she became similarly attached to an Indian servant, Abdul Karim, one of two who had come to work for her in late June 1887, days after her Golden Jubilee celebrating her first fifty years on the throne. Him she called "the Munshi" (or "teacher"), and he came to be hated more fiercely than John Brown had been, and for the same reason: the warm regard she had for him.

The recently discovered diaries of Lewis Harcourt, a politician of the time, may lend credence to the marriage story. The diaries contain a report that one of the Queen's chaplains, Rev'd Norman Macleod, made a deathbed confession to Harcourt repenting of his action in presiding over Queen Victoria's marriage to John Brown. Debate continues over whether the marrige actually happened. Some scholars insist that Victoria would never have married a servant and even doubt that the relationship was even romantic. They doubt the veracity of Harcourt's account and question why a royal chaplain would confess to a politician. Others are equally certain that Victoria was in love with Brown and regard Harcourt's account as confirmation that a marriage actually occured. Supporters of the Brown marriage theory regard Harcourt as a well-placed source with no obvious reason to place a false story in his private diaries. In the final analysis there is no way to be absolutely certain of the truth. (Victoria requested that mementos of both Prince Albert and John Brown be placed in her coffin, a request which horrified her family, who disliked Brown intensely).

In view of Brown's humble birth, the Queen would have been unlikely make a marriage to John Brown public. Over the years, many widowed monarchs (including Louis XIV of France and Queen Regent Maria Christina of Spain) have contracted private marriages with their servants. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that Victoria was only in her early forties and still capable of bearing children at the time her alleged relationship to Brown began. For the Queen to become pregnant with Brown's illegitimate child would have created a far greater scandal than her marriage to a servant.

John Brown is also credited with inventing a cocktail made up of equal parts of claret wine and Scotch whisky, which was said to be Victoria's favourite tipple.

The 1997 film Mrs. Brown is the fictionalized story of John Brown. Billy Connolly stars as Brown, and Dame Judi Dench as Victoria.