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Victoria and the Munshi : Abdul Karim’s rapid rise in Victoria’s household made him enemies.
Victoria and the Munshi

When Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901) acquired a motherly affection for a lowly Indian clerk, her servants and her ministers were united in their resentment. But for a lonely widow weary of the flattery of courtiers and fascinated by the ‘jewel’ in Britain’s crown, Abdul Karim was a godsend.

ABDUL Karim arrived in England in June 1887, as a waiter in the Queen’s household for her Golden Jubilee year. It was a rapid promotion for a clerk to the jail in Agra.

A year later, Victoria promoted him again to ‘munshi’, her personal clerk. He taught her Urdu, and they talked all things Indian, from culture to curry.

Karim was no flatterer, and Victoria trusted his integrity. But showing him the Viceroy’s letters and favouring Karim’s Islam over Hinduism alarmed her ministers of state. Among the Queen’s Household, Victoria’s maids of honour grumbled at waiting on another commoner as if he were a prince.

Victoria saw a racial element and declared it unBritish, though Karim himself declined to mix with other Indians or servants in the Household.

There was relief in Windsor when Edward VII released Karim from his service. Karim retired, a proud British subject and a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, to his handsome estates in Agra, granted to him by Victoria.

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Picture: From Wikimedia Commons. Public domain image. View original
The ‘Munshi’, Queen Victoria’s Muslim attendant Abdul Karim (1863-1909), painted by Danish artist Laurits Tuxen in 1887. The Urdu word ‘Munshi’ means a confidential assistant. Karim taught Victoria Urdu.

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