The Queen Victoria and John Brown scandal

  • Queen Victoria (QV) had a high sex drive which was wearing Prince Albert (PA) out, so she started a torrid affair with her ghillie John Brown (JB) that continued after the death of PA in 1861, seemingly believing that his spirit had passed into JB
  • QV actually secretly married JB
  • QV had a secret child by JB, (various rumours persist that she may have had two or even three!) Recently a historian relative of JB has claimed a child really had existed and was brought up in secret by JB's family with his true identity never divulged!

This was a very great scandal at the time made worse by the fact that QV was not well liked by her people or those in her Court and Government and it is difficult to prove because her son Edward, The Prince of Wales (PW), later King Edward VII, after her death removed or destroyed all the written records and any of her letters relating to JB and also many of the monuments, statues and so on that she had caused to be erected at various times in honour of JB. (His very lifelike statue that lived in the hall of Balmoral Castle was taken far away beyond the gardens and well into the woods out of sight!)

The evidence of all this:
  • QV was buried holding a lock of JB's hair and wearing his Mother's ring, (their "wedding band") together with other "secret items" placed in her coffin; definitely also included was  PA's dressing gown and her alabaster cast of his hand, JB's handkerchief, his photograph and his letters to her
  • She had tokens of their relationship commissioned and created including the erection of several monuments to him including a realistic life-sized statue and an oil painting and she also had a private cottage sized shelter built at Loch Orde where they often went alone, possibly so that they could have privacy for any dalliances
  • She later had a large, secluded house (Baile-Na-Coille) built on the Balmoral estate for his use upon retirement which was completed in 1883, but unfortunately he died on the 27th March that same year
  • After PA's death they slept in adjoining, connecting rooms, in complete defiance of Royal procedures and the basic propriety of the times and JB did not bother with the usual royal protocols, calling QV "woman" and even chiding her in public
  • JB behaved with QV's royal children as if they were his own, chastising them and even physically hitting the young PW, (doubtless another reason for his hatred of JB!)
  • She did whatever JB asked of her, taking his advice and opinion on most matters over that of her royal advisors and even her government ministers
  • The discovery in royal papers at Windsor Castle of an actual wedding certificate between QV & JB by the historian Sir Stephen Runciman, (it was supposedly immediately burned by the late Queen Mother when she was shown it!)
  • JB's personal diary was supposedly immediately spirited away upon his death by QV's Chief Secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby

The proof:
Well there is no definitive proof unless their bodies were to be exhumed to examine the contents of the coffin of QV and the DNA of the supposed offspring were to be compared with theirs, giving a positive match, or another copy of the supposed wedding certificate is found or more of QV's letters or JB's diary turn up, which leads me on to the topic of love tokens as I can shed light on this definitively, because I own one of them!

John Brown's House:

This still exists today on the Balmoral estate and seemingly can even be rented for holiday stays!
It is a two storey house designed by architects Mills & Shephard of Dundee and built in the Tyrolean style in 1882 to initial designs by a William Smith but probably completed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson in 1883 and now is in the listed buildings records.

QV's intent was that the house would be for JB upon his retirement so that he would live close by to her when she was in residence at Balmoral and she commissioned as it's main internal feature a special double mantle fire surround in a very rare, heavily veined pink marble featuring large grey "lands" with grey slate side pillars and black slate structuring.
If he lived there at all though, it cannot have been for long though because he died the year the house was completed.


Baile-Na-Coille from the rear

 photo Baile-NaCoilerear1LR_zpse69b88cd.jpg

The house was seemingly left unoccupied for 40 years after JB's death until 1923 when it was updated and refitted, during which time the fire surround was removed, (it is very imposing but probably considered a bit dated by then, featuring as it did Victorian "mourning" style near black slate and sculpted marble in a classic and elaborate form). It ended up down in Kent installed in an old cottage in Peasmarsh near the Pevensey levels which was itself refurbished in the 1970's for new owners, an American couple who had the fireplace removed again in order to uncover the original inglenook fireplace that it was covering, from whence it was moved to a Sussex architectural salvage yard. It was here that I first saw and fell in love with it roughly in mid 1983 I think. I was looking for a marble fire surround because the large Victorian terraced house I had recently purchased had been "renovated", meaning all it's beautiful original marble fire surrounds had been removed and smashed up! So it was ideal but far to expensive for me at the time so I set about restoring the property as a family home without it. Some time, I think during the following winter, at a visit to the salvage yard once more seeking a couple of (cheaper) fire surrounds, it was rediscovered lying outside in the snow in an incomplete and partially broken state. Seemingly it had been bought but whilst being moved, one of the pink marble mantles had broken along the quartz boundaries in the marble and the buyers had backed out of the purchase. After a bit of haggling it was bought, together with a basic painted slate fireplace surround, to be installed in the house as and when and both were put into storage awaiting restoration. It was only whilst actually paying for these that I was told the story that this fireplace had been QV's retirement present to JB, (who I had never even heard of at the time!) Well it never was restored due to life's events but some years later I laid it out on the floor to see if anything could be done with it and only then did I notice the unique feature that distinguishes the piece and gives life to the whole story of the relationship between JB and QV; it has mirror image beautifully carved relief's on each of the outer sides of the heavy slate side scrolls of a stylised English Tudor Rose pierced right though the middle by a Scottish Fern! Detail of the relief carved into the side scroll on the fire surround

 photo JBsfireplace1LLR_zps6ee0822a.jpg

One can take several meanings from this but I cannot find any comparable feature of this nature anywhere in heraldry and so conclude that it was a visible token of QV's love for JB, intended really only for his eyes. (A single rose bloom is be taken to mean "I love you" and the fern "a secret bond of love") It also has scallops which are mirrored in the memorial fountain that QV created in JB's memory The Fountain in memory of John Brown


The fireplace was put back into storage, where it remains disassembled, all this being many years before the famous BBC film "Mrs Brown" was made, featuring Billy Connolly as JB and Judi Dench as QV and first shown December 1998.