Sons, Servants and Statesmen: The Men in Queen Victoria's Life by John Van der Kiste

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Sons, Servants and Statesmen: The Men in Queen Victoria's Life by John Van der Kiste

Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A superb introduction to Queen Victoria's reign which looks at the influence of the men in her life. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2006
Publisher: The History Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-0750937887

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Like the first Elizabeth more books than are strictly necessary have been written about Queen Victoria, but John Van der Kiste has taken the unusual step of using the men in her life to illuminate some dark corners which might other wise have remained unexplored. Of course the most famous man in her life, husband and Prince Consort Albert isn't 'son, servant or statesman' as promised by the title of the book, but he established a trend. Victoria, often regarded as a difficult woman to please, would always have a man in her life who would, to a greater or lesser extent, dominate her.

Her sons were never to be in this class and most remained somewhat in awe of her throughout her life. After Albert's death from typhoid fever at the relatively young age of forty two Victoria was determined that no one would ever take his place, and certainly not her eldest son, the Prince of Wales. Her relationships with all her sons were difficult to some extent, not least because she persisted in treating them like children whilst expecting them to behave like men.

On the other hand her relationships with her Prime Ministers were generally cordial although some faired better than others. Albert had been expert at hiding his political leanings, but Victoria found the fine line between impartiality and partiality difficult to navigate and occasionally strayed to the wrong side. The swing of the political pendulum was particularly rapid in Victoria's reign and Van der Kiste does an excellent job of distinguishing the political views of the Prime Ministers and bringing out their individual personalities.

Given that she had cordial relationships with her ministers but problems relating to her children it comes as something of a surprise to find that she allowed herself to be dominated by servants. The most famous is, of course, John Brown – Victoria's 'Highland servant' and Van der Kiste gives an excellent over-view of the situation whilst carefully avoiding some of the more lurid speculation about the precise nature of the relationship.

In essence Brown comes across as a good man devoted to his Queen but lacking in some of the finer points of Court etiquette which might have smoothed his path with others. The same could not be said of the Munshi – Abdul Karim - an Indian servant who rose far above his capabilities and who was trusted by Victoria far beyond his trustworthiness. It was perhaps one of the first signs that Victoria was not the woman she had been.

Van der Kiste takes us through the sons, statesmen and servants separately and I did wonder if having Victoria die three times might become tedious but this is handled with flair. The book would be particularly useful to those with little prior knowledge of Victoria's reign as it gives an excellent overview not only of the Queen but also of the ever-changing political situation and the lives of her subjects.

I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

I liked the approach of looking at Victoria through the men in her life and we've recently seen a similar study of the life of the first Elizabeth – Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman

Buy Sons, Servants and Statesmen: The Men in Queen Victoria's Life by John Van der Kiste at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sons, Servants and Statesmen: The Men in Queen Victoria's Life by John Van der Kiste at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Sons, Servants and Statesmen: The Men in Queen Victoria's Life by John Van der Kiste at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sons, Servants and Statesmen: The Men in Queen Victoria's Life by John Van der Kiste at Amazon.com.


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