Such a to-do.
As if enough muck weren't clogging our rakes, a Scottish museum curator Micheil MacDonald has just claimed that Queen Victoria married and bore a child by her servant John Brown.
So yesterday, historians rallied like courtiers to call the theory "all cock-a-hoop," as Berkeley's Sheldon Rothblatt put it, while Columbia's Stephen Koss pointed out that the rumour was rife in her lifetime. In any case, the scandal in our promiscuous era would be the 40-year chastity of Victoria's widowhood-not the fact that coachman Brown used to address his queen as "wumman," or say,"What's this ye've got on today?" when he didn't like her dress, or get the room closest to hers when they traveled.
Strange John Brown: "That coarse animal," as a lord chancellor called him; a "child of nature," said courtier Henry Ponsonby; a Scotsman of "rugged, strong appearance, so like that of Highland cattle," as Edith Sitwell put it.
Victoria herself said it best. He was, she mused to King Leopold, "so unlike an ordinary servant." (Italics hers.)
Brown, a gamekeeper and servant at Balmoral castle, joined Victoria's permanent entourage in 1864-three years after Prince Albert's death-tripling his salary in five years, then being given a house, along with a note from the queen assuring him of "the gtest anxiety to show more &more what you are to me & as time goes on this will be more and more seen & known. Every one hears me say yor are my friend & most confidential attendant." attendant."
Indeed: Messengers were dispatched to heads of state to warn them not to treat Brown as a servant, and President Grevy of France won great favor with the queen by bowing to him. In 1867, when Lord Charles Fitzroy warned her that the mob would have upset her carriage if she had entered Hyde Park with Brown holding the reins, she blasted back that it was all "the result of ill-natured gossip in the higher classes . . . those wicked and idle lies about poor, godd Brown, which appeared in the Scotch provincial papers last year."
The problem was that Brown, according to biographer Hector Bolitho, was an "odd, devoted servant" who was "hated by every member of her family." Edward, prince of Wales, "heartily disliked the gillie" (the Scottish word for servant), according to historian David Duff, and banned him from his estate.
It was the old problem of "You can dress 'em up but you can't take 'em out." When a German ceremonial guard presented arms and began drumming, to Victoria's dismay, she complained to Brown, whereupon he bellowed at them: "Nix boom boom!"
He was known at Balmoral for getting up before royal hunting parties and "creaming off" the best of the game before they arrived. Brown sparked constant rows over protocol with such gestures as telling a group of fiddlers to keep playing when the duke of Edinburgh had told them to stop.
And then there was the drinking. Not that Brown was ever drunk. He was merely "bashful," as it was known in the court. Some attributed his penchant for sentimental tears (much admired by Victoria) to whiskey.
Indeed, Sitwell reports: "Under the stress of strong emotion he had been known to totter in his walk, to causes other than grief." Once, when "he fell to the ground and for some moments remained there," her majesty explained that "she herself had distinctly been aware of a slight earthquake shock."
Worse yet, for those who took orders from the queen, was the fact that he was prone to "bully the queen, to order her about, to reprimand her," as Lytton Strachey records. "And yet, when she received such treatment from John Brown, she positively seemed to enjoy it."
One day a tourist saw him touch her chin and shout: "Hoots, then, wumman. Can ye no hold yerr head up?"
Chins: Biographer Lady Elizabeth Longford had a weakness for the chin theory of the relationship. In "Queen Victoria" she writes: "Queen Victoria had a weakness for good chins perhaps because her own sloped and some of her children's, as she frequently lamented, were totally 'wanting.'" Longford, despite her scorn for rumours of unseemly behavior, also quotes Victoria as unfavorably comparing another man with Brown, because the man was "to me as if he were no sex."
Certainly, Victoria was no stranger to flattery and flirtation. Disraeli courted her with wit, humility and inside political information until Victoria was sending him primroses and one lady of the court commented: "I think he must have spread his butter very thick."
Mrs. Gladstone advised her husband: "Do pet the queen, and for once believe you can, you dear old thing."
But who would have tried to win a queen with Brown's antics, much less succeeded"
As both coachman and companion Brown could turn royal trips into bizzare ordeals, flogging his horses along, dressed in kilts and tropical pith helmet, refusing to stop lest Irish Fenians attempt to assassinate her, calling the princes "boys," and shouting at uncomprehending foreigners in English.
The again, he once saved Victoria from a would-be assassin; and, he rescued her when another coachman drove her into a ditch at night. When the leading horse of her carriage fell, he "saved the day by sitting on its head," says Longford.
One cold day when she told him the cup of tea he'd made was the best she had "ever tasted," said Bolitho, Brown replied, "Well, it should be, ma'am, I put a grand nip o'whiskey in it." She found him, as a Scotch peasant, to be full of poetry, says Longford. And he brought her jars of jam from Scotland.
Well, clearly, in our feminist, liberated age, it may seem that Brown was the ultimate chauvinist, swaggering proud with his crudeness, alternately abusing and revering the exemplar of the pedestaled woman.
We see through all that hair-on-the-chest heroism nowadays, don't we? Those insecure amalgams of Rudolph Valentino and Lady Chatterley's lover? And didn't the noble savage die out with John Garfield?
Anatomy still being destiny back then, Victoria could only be queen of England, while it was Brown who had the chin. So, given the conventional wisdom, she had to be thrall to the whole romantic man-of-action bit; except that history has never quite demonstrated that there was any tiptoeing about the castle.
In fact, could it be that Victoria resisted Brown? That his macho charms meant nothing? That Victoria was the first commando to hit the beachhead of the feminine mystique? CAPTION: Picture 1, Queen Victoria and her personal attendant, John Brown; Illustration, no caption, By Robin Jarreaux-The Washington Post