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The Queen's Footman

by Charles Lacey

Chapter 1

I don't remember my father, the Reverend John Dearborn, well. He died when I was just eleven years old. He was Rector of the parish of Wentworth, just outside Canterbury. He was a tall, rather corpulent man, with a big red nose and red cheeks with broken veins. He liked his food, did my father, and his wine. But he was a kindly man and an indulgent father. John, William and I all learned our letters from him and I do not remember that he ever found it necessary to apply the birch to our backsides.

I was the youngest of five children. John, my eldest brother, was a King's Scholar of Canterbury, who went on to Oxford to read Divinity. He now holds an excellent living in a parish in Wiltshire, not far from Salisbury. Two girls came next: Elizabeth and Caroline. Then my brother William and finally myself. I was baptized Thomas Elliott Dearborn; my middle name was that of my maternal grandmother. Like my father, I was quite tall for my age, but unlike him my build has always been slight.

One afternoon we were sitting at dinner, when my father suddenly made a choking sound, half rose and clutched at his chest. I watched the colour drain away from his face, leaving only his nose red. His lips went from pink to white to blue. "Quickly, William!" cried my mother, "Run as fast as you can for Doctor Wiggins."

William leapt to his feet and rushed out of the house, not pausing even to put on a hat. Ten minutes later he was back with Doctor Wiggins. Doctor, he always called himself, though he was nothing of the kind; in reality he was a mere apothecary. He bled my father, opening a vein in his arm and taking five ounces of blood. I recall once discussing this with Sir William Jenner – ah, now there was a truly competent man – and Sir William gave it as his opinion that blood-letting was as likely to have hastened my poor father's end as prevented it.

Be that as it may, John, William and I carried Father to his bedroom and laid him on his bed. As we laid him down, he stirred slightly and muttered some incoherent words. Then his eyes fixed in his head and his body went limp. Wiggins slid a hand under his shirt, then held his lancet-case to his lips to see if there were any breath. Then he shook his head, and went his way. I did notice, however, that a few days later Mother had a bill for five guineas from the old charlatan. Poor Papa had died of an Apoplexy, and that was that.

We were not a wealthy family. Unlike some livings, which are good enough to allow the Rector to put in a curate at starvation wages and himself reside abroad, the living of Wentworth was sufficient, but not excessive. And of course, we ceased to receive any income from it from the moment of Papa's death.

Mother had a little money of her own, enough to allow her to live in a cottage in the country with Elizabeth and Caroline, at least until they married. John was provided for; the small amount left by our father was enough to see him through Oxford and then into his first living. But William and I had no choice but to find gainful employment.

Though he was slightly younger than was customary, William was taken on as apprentice by our good neighbour, the clockmaker Harcourt Duncombe. He did well in this trade – indeed, even as a child he had been ingenious in making little toys – and eventually both married his master's daughter and took over his business. When the time came for me to furnish a house of my own I ordered a long-case clock from him for the hall, as well as a bracket clock for the dining room. Both are handsome pieces and keep excellent time.

Mother worried greatly over me. Eventually, since she could see no way out of her perplexity, she called upon the Archdeacon to ask his advice, taking me with her. He was a middle-sized man with a round head as bald as an egg.

"Well, my boy," he said, nodding sagely, "what are your accomplishments? What is your education?"

"My father was my tutor, sir," I replied. "He taught me Latin and Divinity, and was preparing me to sit for a Scholarship to the King's School."

"Hmm… " said the Archdeacon, rubbing his chin and then fitting his fingers together in an attempt to look wise, "It seems to me that you are not fitted for any apprenticeship, neither are you at a level of attainment which would enable you to receive a Scholarship, either to the King's or any other good School. However, you are of good address. Perhaps you have better look to go into Service, in a good Household. I will make enquiries… yes, I will make enquiries about the Diocese. I am sure we can find a respectable situation for you."

"Thank you, sir. I am most grateful."

Mother added her thanks to mine, and we came away. The Archdeacon was a pompous fool with no talent save for toadying to his betters, but I will do him the justice to say that he did send a servant with a message a few days later that I was to wait upon him without delay. It so happened that there was a vacancy for a page in the household of the Archbishop. To the Archbishop's Palace I was therefore taken by the Venerable Archdeacon, and cautiously introduced into the presence of His Grace.

I often wonder what would have become of me if my father had not died. The likelihood is that I should have joined my brother John as a King's Scholar, followed him to the University and then joined one of the Professions, possibly the Church, or perhaps the Law. I am certain that my life, had that been the case, would have been far less eventful than it has been. But that was not to be. Needs must, runs the old saw, when the Devil drives, and so I became a page-boy to His Grace, the Right Reverend William Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of England. To be fair, he was a kindly master enough; his demands were reasonable and his household quite agreeable. I shared a bedroom under the eaves with his two footmen, James and Alfred, took my meals in the Servants' Hall and wore a skin-tight uniform of blue and gold with gilt buttons in two closely-packed rows down the front.

My duties were many and various. I fetched and carried, introduced visitors into the Presence, took messages hither and thither, and for the rest of my duties looked decorative. I don't think I flatter myself unduly when I say that this last task came naturally to me. I was quite tall for my age, slender with well-shaped hands, and a head of blond curls which I wore shoulder length.

We travelled quite a lot; the Archbishop divided his time between Canterbury, Lambeth and Oxford. He generally took me with him as I became – indeed, I worked hard to make myself become – all but indispensable to His Grace. A servant with his wits about him, an observant eye and a keen ear, both of the latter tempered by the greatest discretion, can do that, and turn it to his own advantage. I picked up a good many tips – both in wisdom and in money - all of which I stored away carefully. In the course of my duties I met a good many important people. Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister, was one, and I found him perfectly charming. Lord Conyngham, the Lord Chamberlain, was another; one of the most interesting was Edward Blore, the architect who rebuilt Lambeth Palace and took over from John Nash in finishing Buckingham Palace. But Lord Melbourne, now there was a gentleman through and through. A Whig to his finger-tips, he was infallibly courteous and considerate, even to those, such as myself, many ranks below his station. On one occasion he had intended to give me a threepenny bit as a reward for fetching him a glass of port wine. But by mistake he gave me a sovereign. When I pointed out the error, he laughed and said, "keep it, my boy."

The Archbishop and Mrs Howley didn't keep great state, as some Archbishops have done. Their household comprised Mr Leete, the Butler, the two footmen, three or four middle-aged maids and Mrs Hopson, the Cook. As I wrote above, I shared a bedroom with James and Alfred, the footmen. Having a clear conscience and a busy life, I generally slept very soundly. Fortunately I had a bed to myself. Although it was a narrow bed, I was a slender boy, so it was sufficient. James and Alfred had a larger bed for the pair of them. Nowadays, I believe, it is regarded as improper for this to happen, but in the eighteen-twenties it was a commonplace.

They weren't a bad looking pair, those footmen. They were much of a height, though James was rather on the plump side. They were well off in the Archbishop's service; in some households the footmen are kept running about all the day long. But at Lambeth Palace they had a fair degree of leisure, though as the Archbishop did not keep a valet, they had to look after his wardrobe as well as the more usual duties.

But they had a habit which puzzled me very much at first. It was on my second night, or perhaps my third, that I didn't drop off to sleep immediately, but lay wakeful for a while. The room was not completely dark as there was a small window and a full, or nearly full, moon. James arrived, took off his clothes and put on his night-shirt. He then knelt by his bed. I assumed at first that he was praying, then as I heard the sound of running liquid, that he was pissing. While this was happening, Alfred came in and removed his clothes. James then hitched himself up a little and bent over the side of the bed, his backside exposed. Alfred stood behind him, stark naked, his legs straddled. I watched his arse moving in and out. What was going on? Innocent that I then was, I had no idea. There was some heavy breathing and a few gasps from one or the other of them, then Alfred moved backwards and half turned; to my surprise I saw his prick standing clear from his body. James covered himself up and got into the bed; Alfred put on his night-shirt and joined him.

On average, this happened, with slight variations, two or three times each week. Eventually I tackled them about it, choosing a moment when all three of us were together in the Servants' Hall with no-one else by. To my surprise, they both flushed bright red, and Alfred looked extremely angry. "If you tell anyone what you saw," he said in a hacking whisper, "I'll take your head off."

"I will not say anything to anyone," I rejoined, "but tell me what it is you were doing."

"I wasn't doing nothing, so you can just mind your own business."

"You must have been doing something… I saw you."

There was a momentary pause in the conversation during which I looked enquiringly at them both.

"Oh well, If you must know, I was 'aving a bit of Jimmy's bottle. But don't you dare tell anyone, or so help me I'll slice your head off."


"Bottle and Glass. Arse, in plain English."

Just then the bell rang and I had to go to the Archbishop's study, leaving me still puzzled but greatly interested. Later on, James explained the whole thing to me. Like any boy brought up in the country, the process of reproduction had been familiar since I was small. But this was the first intimation I had had that it was possible for one man to shaft another. I was tempted to ask if I could join in, but I feared that if I were to be the one on the receiving end of the shaft, it might be exceedingly painful.

For several nights after this, James and Alfred desisted from this activity, but then I pretended to be fast asleep, and they resumed their nocturnal activities. I have often wondered whether they loved one another. James, I eventually established, was a born pathic, who needed to be buggered on a regular basis. For Alfred, James's arse was a convenient place for him to unload his seed; he would have preferred a woman's cunny if it had been available. But the Archbishop's maids were all middle-aged, thoroughly respectable women and he seldom had an opportunity to get away to meet with the women of the town.

Of the two, I greatly preferred James, or Jimmy as he preferred to be called when off duty. He was a gentle creature with a very good nature. Alfred was very much one for looking after himself; he could be waspish if he imagined a slight. But I discerned something of Jimmy within myself. Admittedly I had had little opportunity to meet young women or girls of my own age, but I found the idea of "a bit of bottle" quite attractive. Jimmy, when I enquired of him the reason for my shaft stiffening from time to time, was kind enough to instruct me (with demonstration upon his own person, which I found almost unbearably exciting) in the art of manustrupation or, as he more concisely termed it, frigging.

But changes were afoot, and echoes of them reached even the quiet purlieus of Lambeth Palace. The Archbishop, of course, sat in the House of Lords and was from time to time commanded to dine with the King. I overheard more than one conversation between His Grace and His Majesty.

At that time the Monarchy was in poor shape and worse reputation. Poor King George III had died insane, and his eldest son, firstly as Prince Regent and then as King George IV, had been a hopeless monarch, interested in nothing but his own disreputable pleasures. But despite his frequent liaisons with women (or perhaps because of them; who can tell?) he had no legitimate children. So when he died from a ruptured blood vessel in his stomach, no doubt caused by his vastly excessive eating and drinking, his younger brother, the Duke of Clarence, ascended the Throne as King William IV. William was neither particularly good nor particularly bad as King but kept things going for seven years. The heir to the Throne after him was George III's grand-daughter, a mere slip of a girl, Victoria, about whom we knew nothing. It was generally supposed that if King William died, there would be a Council of Regency. But it turned out very differently, and indeed very much better than anyone might have expected. The last Regency was still within the memory of many people and was seldom recalled without a shudder.

But now there were great comings and goings at Lambeth Palace as well as at the Palace of Westminster. The Archbishop had waited upon the Prime Minister, who in turn waited upon the Archbishop, in company with Lord Coningsby and another gentleman who bade me announce him as Sir Francis Barnard. I later learned that he was an Equerry in attendance upon the King. Lord Argyll, the Lord Steward, was another frequent visitor. He presided, as I later learned, over the Board of Green Cloth, the council which ran the Royal Household. Though, when they met at Lambeth Palace, I was often in the room, I was able to hear little as they spoke in very low voices. But I picked up the idea that someone, probably someone of great importance, was in very fragile health and might be expected to die fairly soon. Who might this be, I wondered. It had to be someone of considerable consequence to so exercise both Lord Melbourne and the Archbishop. Might it be the King?

I was to find out soon enough; indeed, I was one of the first half-dozen people in the country, nay, in the whole world, to hear the sad news. It was a night in June, 1837. The Archbishop's household was all a-bed, and presumably sleeping, when a thunderous knocking came at the door. As footmen, it was of course our place to answer it. Alfred just turned over and grunted, but Jimmy said, "Tommy, go and answer that, there's a love." I hopped out of bed, hurried into my uniform and ran down to open the door. I recognized the visitor, who had been at the Palace before. It was Lord Coningsby, the Lord Chancellor. He bade me hurry upstairs to wake His Grace. My heart beating fast, I knocked and went into the Archbishop's room and shook him awake. I told him that Lord Coningsby was downstairs, and he said (I heard it quite clearly), "Damn the man." I have subsequently wondered whether he was referring to the Lord Chancellor or the King.

I hurried back to the Lord Chancellor, and said, "His Grace will be here directly, My Lord. Will your Lordship take wine?"

I showed Lord Coningsby into the Library, lighting a lamp from the candle which I had taken from the Hall. I poured a glass of Marsala for His Lordship and retired to my proper place by the door which, fortunately, was in shadow. Presently I heard footsteps on the stairs, and the Archbishop came in, flustered and untidy in his night attire. He said, "Has it happened, then, Coningsby?"

"Yes," replied his Lordship, "at two of the clock this morning. We must make haste to Kensington."

"Come along, Dearborn", said the Archbishop, turning to me. "History will be made this night." I hadn't realised that His Grace had seen that I was there, but I was glad he had. I lit the Archbishop and the Lord Chancellor to the main door, and out to where his Lordship's carriage was waiting. I saw them inside and then jumped up on the box with the coachman. The flap opened at the coachman's feet, and the Lord Chancellor shouted up, "Kensington Palace."

The coachman whipped up his horses, and we fairly bowled along. Though it was still dark, a few early workmen were about; we passed a couple of coffee stalls that were already open and a light showed in a window here and there.

I'd never seen Kensington Palace, but it made Lambeth Palace look like a toy. Canterbury Cathedral was the largest building I had seen till then, but Kensington Palace dwarfed even that noble edifice. His late Majesty, poor mad King George III, had granted apartments there to various members of his family, among them his younger brother the Duke of Kent, whose widow and daughter still occupied it. I jumped off the box and ran to the gatehouse. Acting on the Archbishop's instructions, I called out "The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor to see the Princess Victoria."

The gates were opened at once and the Lord Chancellor's carriage made its way inside. The gate-porter had run ahead of us to waken someone to let us in. A sleepy footman took us through to a huge hall, with a long sweeping staircase leading from it. A maidservant appeared, and I gave her the same message. She ran up the stairs and presently returned to say, "the Princess is sleeping so sweetly that we do not wish to wake her."

The Lord Chancellor looked down his nose at her and said, "We are come to see the Princess on urgent matters of state." She looked frightened at that and ran upstairs again. Presently a stout, middle-aged lady appeared, a dressing-gown hastily thrown over her night attire. "I am the Duchess of York," said she, "you may confide your business to me."

"Ma'am," repeated the Lord Chancellor, "We are come to see The Queen, and the Queen only, on business of state. Be so good as to rouse Her Majesty."

The Duchess started to bluster, but was quelled by a stern look from the Archbishop. He was a kindly man as a rule, but knew how to exercise authority when necessary. She climbed the stairs again and we heard muffled voices. By now I had discerned exactly what was afoot. I looked around the hall, and procured two cushions from the chairs there, which I held in readiness. A young woman, really no more than a girl, appeared, and walked down the stairs, holding onto the Duchess's hand. She was dressed in a white night-shirt, with a quilted dressing-gown over it. Her feet were bare; I remember thinking that they must be cold and wondered whether I could find something warmer for her to stand on. I threw the cushions onto the floor in front of the Archbishop and the Lord Chancellor. The Archbishop threw me a grateful look. While his office necessarily involved a good deal of kneeling, he greatly preferred it not to be on stone, or tiles. They knelt, while the Princess came up to them holding out her hand. Each of them in turn took and kissed it, and then they rose. I gave the Lord Chancellor my arm, as he seemed to be struggling to rise unassisted. The Princess caught my eye, and smiled a swift, secret smile to me. Then she pulled her face straight and said, "Your Grace? My Lord?"

The Archbishop spoke. "It grieves me to tell Your Majesty that your Uncle, the King, breathed his last at twelve minutes past two of the clock this morning."

The Princess replied thoughtfully, "So… I am Queen. I am young, and inexperienced, but I will endeavour to spend my life in service of Almighty God, and of my people." Those were her exact words; I was there, and I heard them.

The Archbishop made the Sign of the Cross, and the Lord Chancellor said, "the Privy Council meets at nine of the clock, at St James's Palace."

"I will be there," replied the Queen. She inclined her head graciously to the Archbishop and the Chancellor, who bowed gravely in return. Then, as the Princess, accompanied by the Duchess, ascended the stairs, they turned around and returned to the carriage. By now it was getting light and they needed no illumination, so I jumped back on the box and we returned to Lambeth. There was no point in returning to my bed, so I remained in attendance upon His Grace, who spent the next couple of hours in writing furiously. At seven, he bade me rouse our coachman, and have the carriage made ready. At eight, we were on our way to the Palace of St James's.

There are many advantages to being a servant boy. If one is lively and keeps one's wits about one, there is much to be seen and heard. And being small, as long as one keeps out from under anyone's feet, one is scarcely noticed. Where a full-grown footman would have been observed, and sent out, I was suffered to remain and watch the proceedings of the Privy Council. It is no exaggeration to say that I was fascinated. Here I was, a mere lad, the orphan son of a commonplace parson, mingling with the greatest in the land. Here were not only the Archbishop and the Lord Chancellor, but the Lord Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary and other great dignitaries. Even then, Englich people had a great conceit of their place in the world. Now, of course, one-sixth of the world's surface is subject to that same little lady, Queen and Empress.

The Queen, for so I must now call Her Majesty, entered the Great Hall at St James's, and the room fell instantly silent. She inclined her head to the assembly, and took her place at the head of a long oaken table. She made a short speech, to say that she would devote her life to service of her country and of her people, and that she looked to the Privy Council for advice and support. Looking around the room, I could see that some of the men were quite elderly; many had served King George IV, even when he was Prince Regent. Some of the oldest undoubtedly had memories of poor King George III, in his sad decline. But one and all they looked at her with a respect that probably surprised themselves.

I noticed that she was not particularly handsome; pretty enough, but with a receding chin. Her voice was high pitched and a little thin and harsh. But she undoubtedly had presence. As Lord Melbourne later remarked, "Five feet high and eighteen years old, and she filled the room."

As our new Queen left the room, I held the door open for her. She passed through it, and then turned back to me. "Who is your employer?" she asked.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, your Majesty," I replied.

"And are you happy in his service?"

"Very happy, your Majesty."

I noticed that she had a slight German inflection to her voice.

"And would you consider entering my service? I shall need a reliable and discreet page."

"Certainly, your Majesty."

The Archbishop looked cross when I gave in my notice, but he could hardly find fault with what was in effect a Royal Command, the more so since Her Majesty was the titular head of the Church in which he held the highest office but one.

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