Sir Howard Elphinstone, dashing miltary hero of the siege of Sevastopol, was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1858, aged just twenty-nine. As he recuperated from injuries he'd received during the campaign, the Queen installed this paragon of military valour at heart of her court at Windsor as guardian to her third and favourite son, Prince Arthur. Victoria wanted a soldier alongside her, as an antidote to the ageing ministers and courtiers who stalked the corridors. Intriguingly, as a young woman, before she was queen, Victoria had been completely smitten with Howard's cousin John, Lord Elphinstone, but he had been deemed an unsuitable match for a monarch. Having lost one military hero, she seemed determined to make sure it didn't happen again...The "Queen's Knight" tells an engrossing story of life at the gilded heart of Queen Victoria's court, via the extraordinary friendship between her and Howard Elphinstone, until his untimely death in 1890. It was at first a place of lavish parties and regular dances, as the miseries of the Crimean war faded and the Empire expanded to its zenith.
The Queen and Prince Albert deliberately recreated Camelot, as an antidote to the dissolute image of previous generations of monarchs, and Elphinstone was the favourite knight at their round table. In the far more sombre days after Albert's death, Elphinstone became increasingly vital to the Queen, as evidenced by an extraordinarily candid and prolific corresponsdence between them, much of which has never before been published. Set in a sweeping global landscape populated by presidents, princes and prime ministers, The Queen's Knight visits Quebec, explores New York and travels down the Nile to explore the courts of Europe, many of which were about to be destroyed forever by war and revolution. Yet despite this broad canvas, it remains essentially a portrait of the close affectionate relationship between Victoria and Elphinstone. It sheds new light on Victoria's extraordinary life in presenting the frail, human being at the heart of a vast Empire.
Martyn Downer grew up surrounded by art and antiques as his father owned a provincial auction house and he spent his school holidays working there as a porter. He started his career in the art business working for an antique jeweller in London's West End before joining Sotheby's as a junior specialist in 1993. Over the following ten years, Martyn sourced jewellery from around the world for Sotheby's auctions in New York, London and Geneva. In that time Sotheby's sold many important single collections of jewellery, notably those of Elton John and Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and - in 1994 - the single most valuable jewel ever sold at auction, a 100.1 carat diamond which fetched $16m. Martyn was Head of Jewellery at Sotheby's in London from 1999 to 2003. He regularly lectures on the subject and contributes articles to art and antiques magazines. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife, who is a painter, and their three young children.