Who was Abdul Karim, when was he Queen Victoria’s servant and why was he known as ‘the Munshi’?


AT the end of her life, Queen Victoria had one very special ally – her Indian man servant known as The Munshi.

Here we look at how they met and why their controversial friendship flourished.

 Queen Victoria with her cherished friend AbdulGetty – Contributor Queen Victoria with her cherished friend Abdul

Who was Queen Victoria’s servant Abdul Karim?

Hafiz Mohammed Abdul Karim was an Indian servant of Queen Victoria.

He was born the son of a hospital assistant near Jhansi in British India in 1863.

In 1887, when he was 24, he was one of two Indians selected to become servants to the Queen – then aged 80 – and went on to serve her for the final 15 years of her life and reign.

Why was Abdul Karim known as ‘the Munshi’?

During his time working for her, Queen Victoria became very fond of the younger man, and gave her the title of “Munshi”, which means ‘clerk’ or ‘teacher’.

Later she appointed him to be her Indian Secretary, and gave him the titles CIE (Companion of Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire) and CVO (Companion of the Victorian Order), as well as a generous gift of land.

 Abdul was packed back to India after Victoria's deathCredit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo Abdul was packed back to India after Victoria’s death

How did the Royal family react to their friendship?

Their close friendship caused friction between the Queen and other members of the Royal household, who felt superior to him.

They weren’t comfortable with how he accompanied her on travels and was seated in the best seats at the opera and at banquets.

Elements of class snobbery and racism have been cited as reasons for their dislike of Abdul – and after her death in 1901, her son Edward VII packed him back to India and instructed for all of their letters to be destroyed.

All traces of Abdul were removed from her diaries – and it was only decades later that his existence was discovered by complete accident.

Upon his return to India, Abdul lived an unassuming life on the estate gifted to him by Queen Victoria until he died aged 46.

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