Inside the Controversial Relationship Between Queen Victoria and Her Servant Karim
The latest Judi Dench film has directed the spotlight once again on the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and her servant, Abdul Karim. For over a century, not much was known about the close relationship the monarch shared with her Indian companion because the royal household tried in vain to erase all memory of it after the Queen died in 1901. It wasn't until 2003 that the issue
1. Karim was one of two servants given as a “gift” to Queen Victoria.
Described by Basu as tall and handsome, Karim was 24 years old when he first met the monarch. He arrived in England and waited tables at the Queen’s golden jubilee in 1887. Karim was referred to the position by
2. The Queen grew fond of Karim because he didn’t treat her as a queen.
Queen Victoria took a liking to Karim because “he spoke to her as a human being and not as the Queen. Everyone else kept their distance from her, even her own
3. He taught her Urdu language and instructed her on Indian affairs.
The Empress of India—who had never even been to India— was very much interested in the culture and asked Karim to teach her Urdu. She once wrote: “Am learning a few words of Hindustani (now Urdu) to speak to my servants. It is a great interest to me, for both the language and the people.” At a late stage in her life, she was still able to learn the language and received Indian royalty in Urdu. Karim, too, received English lessons and pretty soon was able to communicate with the queen directly.
He also introduced chicken curry with dal and pilau, according to Vanity Fair and Victoria biographer A.N. Wilson, and it became part of the palace’s regular menu.
4. The Queen treasured her companion so much that she gifted him with properties.
In 2014, a recently renovated Karim Cottage on the grounds of Balmoral was made available for rent. This was the same property that had served as the Scottish home of the Indian servant; he had already been given private quarters in Windsor and Osborne. She had also granted him land in Agra, India.
5. They had the most intriguing exchange of letters and addressed each other as if they were mother and son.
While the evidence of their relationship was confiscated or destroyed, letters and diaries later discovered proved how close they deemed one another. Basu told the BBC that the letters wrote to Karim were signed "your closest friend" and "your loving mother." At one point, she even begged him not to resign, saying, “I shall be very sorry to part with you for I like and respect you, but I hope you will remain
6. The rest of the royal family and statesmen abhorred him.
The fact that a 20-something Muslim servant who had once waited on the Queen suddenly held so much power and influence threatened the royal court. Private secretary Sir Henry
After the Queen’s death, Karim was deported back to India with his wife. All evidence of their relationship and their personal letters were seized and burned. The properties on royal grounds were taken back from him. With no children of his own to preserve his legacy, Karim kept a diary that detailed his decade with the Queen and this was passed on to relatives until it was brought to public attention by Basu.