As the second-longest reigning monarch in history, much is known about the life of Queen Victoria, her stoic demeanour, her marriage to Prince Albert and their shared interest in the arts to name a few.
However, in 2017 the release of a film titled Victoria and Abdul brought another side of the monarch to light — a close connection she forged with a young Indian man called Abdul Karim in the final years of her life.
The film, which stars Judi Dench as the monarch and Ali Fazal as her confidant, is based on a book written by historian Shrabani Basu of the same name. It explores how the pair came to be in each other’s lives, how their relationship endured over the years and the obstacles they faced from disapproving members of the royal household.
Here is the true story of Queen Victoria’s friendship with Abdul Karim:
Where did Karim grow up?
Karim, whose full name was Mohammed Abdul Karim, was born in India in 1863, Basu stated in her book. Growing up in a Muslim household, he was the second of six children, with one older brother and four younger sisters. His father worked as a hospital assistant for a regiment in the British army.
As a child, Karim was tutored in Persian and Urdu, going on to work as a clerk at a jail in Agra, where his father was also employed.
The prison ran a rehabilitation programme for inmates, where they were trained in the art of carpet wearing. In 1886, some were granted the opportunity to travel across the globe to London, where their skills were displayed at an exhibition. The prisoners who went on the trip were chosen with the help of Karim.
Queen Victoria, then in her late sixties, visited the exhibition. Afterwards, the monarch, who was also Empress of India, told the jail’s superintendent that she wished to employ two Indian servants, as recorded in a note to Lord Landsdowne included in Basu’s book. The two servants would work for her during her Golden Jubilee year, marking 50 years since her accession to the throne.