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John Brown


John Brown at Osborne by Jabez Hughes (npg)

John Brown was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and worked on the Balmoral Estate before it was leased to Victoria and Albert. In 1851 John Brown, at Albert’s suggestion, took on the role of leading Queen Victoria’s pony, later became the personal ghillie (shooting guide and gun-loader) for Prince Albert.

After Albert’s death in 1861 the Queen went into deep mourning. Her daughter Alice recommended she took up pony-cart rides again as she had enjoyed them so much at Windsor and Osborne. John Brown was appointed as a full-time servant to the Queen who wrote he was “indefatigable in his attendance and care.”

The relationship became close enough to create gossip amongst the household and resentment from the other servants. Behind her back she was referred to as ‘Mrs Brown.’ Victoria bestowed gifts on him and even had ‘The Devoted Service Medal’ struck for him. The Queen’s children disapproved of the relationship but Victoria dismissed the talk as ill natured gossip of the higher classes.”

John Brown came to Osborne House firstly in 1864, and several times in later years, each time accompanying the Queen.

Brown died at Windsor in 1883.  A distraught Victoria wrote “Perhaps never in history was there so strong and true an attachment, so warm and loving friendship between the sovereign and servant …The Queen feels that life for the second time is become most trying and sad to bear deprived of all she so needs …”

Many of the items such as letters and photographs were destroyed by her children but a seat in the grounds of Osborne and a small portrait in the house remains.

When the Queen died 18 years later she left instructions for several items to be in the coffin with her. A plaster cast of Albert’s hand and his dressing gown were at her side, in addition a lock of John Brown’s hair and a photograph of him was placed in her hand. A gold ring, gifted by Brown was also included. 

John Brown in front of Osborne, 1866 (Wikipedia)

Young John Brown sketched by Victoria (Wikipedia)

In Highland dress (Wikipedia)

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Funded by the

East Cowes Community Partnership