Prince Arthur is perhaps the least known of all Queen Victoria’s sons. Ennobled as the Duke of Connaught, he grew up to become a vaguely military figure with a Wellingtonian nose and a leonine moustache, and he lent his moniker to the Connaught Hotel, which (so Wikipedia tells me) changed its name from the German-sounding Coburg Hotel during the First World War. Prince Arthur’s tutor, Sir Howard Elphinstone, is an even more obscure figure, barely mentioned even in histories of the court of Queen Victoria. At first sight, neither of these characters seems to offer especially promising material, but Martyn Downer has succeeded with masterly skill in using the story of Elphinstone and Arthur as a window on the Victorian court, providing a riveting and original account of the mid-century monarchy.
Howard Elphinstone belonged to a branch of the Scottish Elphinstone family who made careers as officers in the Russian navy. His father was a snob who married a German Latvian, and spent his life trying to extort money from the Tsar in payment for his grandfather’s service to