The portrait of an Indian "wild cat keeper" named Abdullah is among a series of untold stories of royal staff working behind the scenes at Britain’s palaces dating back to the colonial era that are part of a new exhibition which opens in London in March.
‘Untold Lives: A Palace at Work’ opens at Kensington Palace to shine a light on the servants and courtiers who ran royal palaces for centuries. Abdullah, hired to care for royal tigers, is part of a range of portraits and objects that explore the presence of black and South Asian royal servants and attendants at court dating back to the 18th century.
Sebastian Edwards, co-exhibition curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said: “For centuries the palaces have been kept running by a host of people working behind the scenes. While their work has been crucial, their stories remain largely untold, and through our new exhibition we hope to shine a spotlight on some of these fascinating individuals from across the past.
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“In recognising the contribution they made, we hope that all our visitors find new connections with the Palace and their stories, celebrating the lasting legacy which their roles have contributed to these amazing historic places.”
From butlers to cooks, from wetnurses to seamstresses, a host of workers managed life at court and used their skills and expertise to look after the royal family and their homes. The exhibition also attempts to highlight the unexpected origins and identities of some of these people, which have been uncovered by its curators during their research. In an age of great change in the form of colonial expansion, religious wars and a fledgling constitutional monarchy, new figures arrived at court from all over the world.
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“The exhibition will reveal the breadth and diversity of the roles required to keep the palaces running. From the rat-killer, complete with his (or even her) own rat-embroidered uniform, to the ‘Groom of the Stool’, who was responsible for looking after the monarch on the toilet, the court was full of varied roles,” said Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that cares for Britain’s palaces.