A hunting rifle gifted by Queen Victoria to her loyal servant John Brown has been acquired by National Museums Scotland.
The rifle will go on public display for the first time in a major exhibition this summer, Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland.
A gold plaque fitted into the butt of the.450 double-barrelled hammer rifle records that Queen Victoria presented it to John Brown as a Christmas gift in 1873. It was made that year in Edinburgh by noted Edinburgh gun maker Alexander Henry.
Dr Patrick Watt, curator of the exhibition, at National Museums Scotland, said: ‘This a tremendously significant acquisition for National Museums Scotland. It is a stunning object which shows directly the connection and the affection between Queen Victoria and John Brown.
‘The high-quality design and obvious expense of the gift highlights the position of trust and esteem in which the Queen held her loyal servant.
‘We are delighted to be putting it on display in Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland. In the exhibition, we explore the reality behind the Romantic fascination with Scotland that spread across the world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and so infatuated Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert as they created their Highland idyll at Balmoral.’
John Brown had worked on the Balmoral estate since 1842, and rose in the Queen’s favour to special status as Her Majesty’s Highland Servant. After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, Brown supported Queen Victoria in her grief. Gossip soon spread regarding the Queen’s closeness to Brown and his influence over the royal household.
Brown died unexpectedly in 1883. Devastated by his loss, the Queen wrote to Brown’s brother Hugh, ‘we all have lost the best, the truest heart that ever beat!’
The exhibition will also feature a tartan dress worn by Queen Victoria, the suit of Highland dress uniform worn by Brown in his role as personal servant to the Queen, a memorial tie pin commissioned by the Queen for her staff to wear on the anniversary of Brown’s death and a Gaelic edition of Queen Victoria’s journal detailing her life in the Scottish Highlands.
These will feature among over 300 objects on display drawn from the collections of National Museums Scotland and over 38 lenders from across the UK in Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland.
The exhibition, sponsored by Baillie Gifford Investment Managers, spans the period from the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 to the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. The exhibition explores the efforts made to protect and revive elements of Gaelic culture in the wake of the post-Culloden crisis in Highland society.
During this period, Scotland’s relationship with the European Romantic movement transformed external perceptions of the Highlands and was central to the birth of tourism in Scotland. These developments would in turn influence the relationship between the Hanoverian royal family and Scotland, particularly George IV and, later, Queen Victoria.
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