The True Story of Victoria and Abdul 

Karim was paired with Mohamed Buxshe, an experienced servant who ran the household of a British general. Compared with Buxshe, Karim was woefully unprepared for his new duties. But before he departed for London, he received a crash course in palace etiquette and the English language, as well as a brand-new wardrobe.

Queen Victoria’s first impression of Karim was recorded in her diaries, where she deemed him “tall with a fine serious countenance.” After their jubilee duties concluded, Karim and Buxshe traveled with the queen to her summer home on the Isle of Wight. There, Karim distinguished himself by surprising the sovereign with one of his favorite recipes. Using spices he had brought from Agra, Karim cooked a chicken curry with dal and pilau.

…The queen was well aware of this animosity towards Karim, and did not tolerate it. Fritz Ponsonby, her assistant private secretary, articulated her unwavering stance in a letter. “The Queen insists on bringing the Munshi forward, and if it were not for our protest, I don’t know where she would stop,” he wrote. “But it is no use, for the Queen says it is ‘race prejudice’ and that we are jealous of the poor Munshi.” Victoria heaped gifts and titles upon Karim partially because she knew the court would not pay him the same respect once she was dead. But she made sure her friend would be comfortable and remembered.

While Karim already enjoyed homes at the royal residences of Windsor, Balmoral and Osborne, Victoria also secured a land grant for him back in Agra. She commissioned multiple portraits of him, and had him written up in the Court Circulars and local gazettes. In her final wishes, she was quite explicit: Karim would be one of the principal mourners at her funeral, an honor afforded only to the monarch’s closest friends and family. Victoria could not control what happened to the Munshi from beyond the grave, but she did everything in her power to mitigate the harsh treatment she presumed her family would inflict upon him.

The queen’s fears were justified. Upon her death on January 22, 1901, Victoria’s children worked swiftly to evict their mother’s favorite adviser. Edward VII sent guards into the cottage Karim shared with his wife, seizing all letters from the queen and burning them on the spot. They instructed Karim to return to India immediately, without fanfare or farewell.

The True Story of Victoria and Abdul | History | Smithsonian

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