A rifle gifted by Queen Victoria to her faithful servant John Brown is heading to auction at Bonhams later this year.
The deer-stalking rifle was a Christmas gift to Brown, with whom she was rumoured to have a romantic relationship after the death of her husband Prince Albert.
Made by royal gunmaker Alexander Henry of Edinburgh, the rifle was the very best money could buy. It remains in its original pig-skinned lined brass-mounted oak and leather case, and even features a small plaque bearing the inscription "From V.R to J. Brown Esqr, Christmas 1873".
The rifle serves as a memento from one of history’s most enigmatic royal relationships. Brown originally served an outdoor servant at Balmoral Castle, and became the Queen’s most trusted attendant following the death of Albert in 1861.
Brown provided friendship and support during her period of mourning, and even saved her from an attack when the nephew of an Irish MP rushed at her carriage with a pistol.
The pair became so close that Victoria’s daughters joked Brown was "Mama’s lover", and her eldest son Edward VII grew to despise him, believing he had too much influence on his mother.
Following Brown’s death in 1883, the Queen wrote in a private letter to a friend:
"Perhaps never in history was there so strong and true an attachment, so warm and loving a friendship between the sovereign and servant … Strength of character as well as power of frame – the most fearless uprightness, kindness, sense of justice, honesty, independence and unselfishness combined with a tender, warm heart … made him one of the most remarkable men."
The rifle was later acquired by the American industrialist Clay P. Bedford, who assembled a renowned collection of antique firearms, and was exhibited at the London Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1971.
It is now set to cross the auction block for what’s believed to be the first time in its history, with an estimated value of £40,000 ($56,770).
The Bonhams Modern Sporting Guns sale takes place in London on May 12.