How Royals Lived 100 Years Ago
A century before Prince William and Kate and their issues with the paparazzi, there was Queen Victoria. Unknown to many, the Queen of England led a slightly scandalous life (in Victorian eyes) in her later years—in 1887, she struck an unlikely and very close friendship with the young clerk, Abdul Karim. Abdul, a Muslim Indian from Agra, soon becomes the Queen’s favorite, as well as her spiritual advisor, teacher, and devoted friend.
The friendship, of course, ruffled the conservative feathers of the Queen’s court and the Royal Household, especially in matters of race and class. The Royal Family destroyed almost all evidence of Abdul’s existence after Queen Victoria’s death, and it was only in 2005 when writer Shrabani Basu uncovered some clues that led to discovering Adbul’s journal and the authoring of a book about their extraordinary friendship.
This book led to the making of the movie Victoria & Abdul, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, and Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim. The movie humorously explores questions of race, religion, and power during the Victorian era (apparently, the Queen was ahead of her time). The production design by the late Alan Macdonald is visually splendid and incredibly accurate, giving viewers a glimpse of how the blue blood lived, loved, and loathed 130 years ago.
They had elaborate, long tea parties.
Legend has it that Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, Anne, the Duchess of Bedford, introduced afternoon tea. Victorians usually had a huge breakfast, and just a little bit of lunch. To stave off hunger before dinner, the Duchess would ask her servants to fetch her cakes and some tea. She used to have tea alone, but soon friends joined in to partake of the tea and to gossip, thus the Victorian tea party was born. In more elaborate tea parties, aside from the sandwiches, cakes, chocolates, candied fruits, nuts, and yes—jellies—were served.
They held extravagant banquets.
In the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887 (replicated magnificently in the early minutes of the film, and it was here where she first encountered Abdul), fifty (!) European kings, queens, princes, and princesses were invited to a huge banquet at Buckingham Palace with several dozen footmen in attendance. The typical dishes served during this type of royal banquet would be sole filet, roast beef, vanilla meringues, cheese, and roast fowls. Fancy!
They were mystified by Indian culture.
Queen Victoria’s fascination with Abdul extended to Indian culture and art as a whole. In 1890, she commissioned Bhai Ram Singh, a Sikh architect, to build the Durbar Room (above) at Osborne House in the Isle of Wight. The room is embellished with a highly ornate plaster Indian ceiling, figurines of the elephant god Ganesh, and a replica of the Peacock Throne.
The Queen's library was daintier than the usual Victorian library.
Queen Victoria did much of her correspondence (usually with Abdul in waiting) in this library; and this one had a more feminine touch—rose chintz curtains and soft, yellow walls—than the classic, upper-class Victorian-era library, which usually had heavy wood paneling on all the walls, and possibly decorated with niches filled with important busts of the old philosophers like Plato. Aside from a desk, there would be a center table where all the currently-read or important books would be on display.
They loved Scotland.
And this was regardless of the weather. Queen Victoria called Balmoral Castle, her estate in Scotland, “a paradise in the highlands.” The property was purchased by Prince Albert for Victoria, and remains a favorite holiday home for all royals to this day, in spite of the unpredictable, blustery Scottish weather.
Their gardens were splendid and otherworldly.
Victorians had this strange philosophy over design and everything in general: “man’s conquest over the elements.” This meant that Victorian gardens were structured, with many hardscape features.
Trees and shrubs were trimmed immaculately to delineate property lines and form paths. There were often many unnecessary decorations, structures, or follies throughout a Victorian garden, such as fountains, sundials, gazebos, or even entire (unused) cottages.
The movie Victoria & Abdul is now showing at Ayala Cinemas: Alabang Town Center, Bonifacio High Street, Greenbelt 3, The 30th, Ayala Center Cebu, and UP Town Center
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