Relationships between royals and commoners don’t happen very often. In 1936 England’s King Edward VIII’s affiliation with a commoner forced him to lose the crown when he wanted to marry the famously divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Since his time, things have loosened up a bit. Prince Charles married the late Diana Spencer and is now married to Camilla Parker Bowles. England’s beloved Prince William married Kate. All of these relationships, perhaps aside from Charles and Diana, sprung from shared passions. As I wrote in my last article about Queen Elizabeth, “The Queen’s Private Passion” (https://karibovee.com/2016/08/04/the-queens-private-passion/), we all know about QEII’s passion for all things equine, particularly the horse itself. This passion has led Her Majesty, too, to engage in an on-going, unlikely relationship with a commoner—who is also an American.
An avid thoroughbred racehorse breeder, the Queen wants only the best for her four-legged friends. In the late 1970’s, the longest reigning monarch of all time reached out to a cowboy from California who had fostered the reputation of being “the man who listens to horses.”
Like his fellow horseman Pat Parelli—also a cowboy from California whose had an audience with the Queen, Monty Roberts decided as a young man that violent means for training performance animals was not the answer. Roberts studied horses in the wild and learned how they communicated with one another. He noted their body language, how they set boundaries, showed fear and expressed annoyance, relaxation or affection, and then developed gestures to mimic those behaviors. Robert’s method came to be known as “Join Up.” Impressed with his philosophy and training methods, the Queen hired him to help train her racehorses.
Robert’s relationship with the Queen has remained steadfast since the 1980’s. With the Queen’s encouragement, he wrote a book entitled, “The Man Who Listens to Horses.” Published in 1996, the book became a phenomenon. Documentaries were made and more books were published. In 1998 he became one of several natural horsemen who served as inspirations for the movie “The Horse Whisperer” starring Robert Redford.
In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed Roberts with an honorary Membership of the Royal Victorian Order—an order of people who have served Her Royal Majesty in a personal way—for his contributions to the racing establishment. He has served the Queen and her horses for a quarter of a century.
The relationship between the QEII and Roberts was much more widely accepted in the late twentieth century than the relationship held between her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, and one of her Indian servants. In fact, Victoria’s friendship with 24-year-old Abdul Karim, who was 42 years her junior, was viewed as more akin to a scandal.
After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, Victoria missed the companionship of a man. Albert provided support, ideas, and indispensable advice to the Queen from the time they courted, until his death. Queen Victoria later found solace in John Brown, a servant she also had a deep and lasting platonic relationship with after Albert’s death. In Karim, Queen Victoria was once again able to find the same comfort after John died.
Brought to England in 1887 as a personal servant to Queen Victoria for the Golden Jubilee, Karim immediately endeared himself to Her Magesty with his gentle nature and advanced intellect. She gave him the title of “ Munshi”, the Urdu word for “clerk” or “teacher”. Within one year, he had become one of her most trusted confidants and she promoted him to a status well beyond servant.
Although the Queen benefited intellectually and spiritually from Karim’s advice and companionship, the rest of the royal household did not see his value. Many of Victoria’s other staff and servants thought him well beneath them and resented the closeness between Karim and the Queen. The fact that she showered him with gifts, honors, and a large land grant in India didn’t help matters.
I found this relationship so interesting that I have infused it into my second Annie Oakley mystery novel. Like the unusual relationship between QEII and Monty Roberts and Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim respectively, Annie Oakley found herself in an unlikely friendship with royalty of another kind. Chief Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux Chief and warrior, who was also a principal player in Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, became smitten with Miss Oakley, when he first saw her perform in 1884. The great Sioux Chief felt that Annie was “gifted” by a supernatural force that enabled her to shootequally accurate with both hands. Because of this, and their close rapport, the Chief symbolically “adopted” her and named her Watanya Cecilia, the Sioux name for “Little Sure Shot” – a moniker that stuck with her throughout her career.
I think that unlikely relationships are always the most interesting to read and write about. The single factor in each one that bonds each of the people in them together is a profound respect that crosses social, racial, and religious boundaries. It is truly remarkable and heartwarming for Her Royal Majesty QEII to reach out to a cowboy fromCalifornia; for Queen Victoria to take in an Indian servant as a confidant, and a for a famed Indian warrior to be so touched by a young white girl’s special talent, that he wants to make her his daughter. It reminds us that no matter what a person’s title or status in society, we are all human beings who have a desire to share our passions and interests. I think it is a good lesson for all of us.