Her Majesty’s Servants

(Notes edited by Alan Underwood and John Radcliffe)


Appeared in Harper’s Weekly on 3rd March 1894, and the Pall Mall Magazine March 1894. Collected in The Jungle Book, 1894, with the title “Servants of the Queen” in the First Engliah Edition and early reprints, but as “Her Majesty’s Servants” in the First American Edition. “Her Majesty’s Servants” was used in most – but not all – printings of the Standard Edition.

The story

In Rawalpindi the Viceroy of India is due to receive a visit from the Amir of Afghanistan, and the story is set in a crowded camp full of men and their animals. The baggage camels are nervous creatures, and tend to stampede, and one wet night the narrator’s tent is knocked over, and he has to take shelter under a gun. Various animals are nearby, mules, a camel, a cavalry charger, a pair of gun bullocks, and an elephant, all part of the army, and all disturbed by the stampede.

They talk together about their work, and about being afraid. The screw-gun mule talks of the need to keep one’s head and do one’s duty in the most precipitous places. The troop horse speaks of trusting one’s rider and holding one’s position among a lot of hairy enemies with knives. The baggage camels explain how they sit down to form a square so that the soldiers can fire across their backs. The bullocks talk of dragging the big guns into battle when the elephants refuse to go on, and quietly grazing while the guns are firing. The elephant, the most intelligent and powerful of them all, explains that after a time he can go no further, because he can ‘see inside his head’ what might happen. But when he trumpets all are afraid. And all fear blood.

That afternoon at the big parade all the animals are there, and all are doing their duty. The Afghans are mightily impressed by the discipline on display. A native officer explains to an Afghan chief that it is based on the fact that all the animals and men alike obey their orders, which come down the chain of authority from the Queen herself.


In March/April 1885 Kipling was covering the encounter between the Viceroy of India, representing the Queen Empress, and the Amir of Afghanistan. There was at that time a long-lasting fear of an expanding Russia with designs on India, and hence of that country gaining too much influence over Afghanistan, which lay between the two Empires. This was, of course, the background to ‘The Great Game’ of spying and counter espionage, one of the themes of Kim.
A formal meeting had been arranged at Rawalpindi between the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, and the Amir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman, which was designed by the British to impress the Afghans and establish relations of mutual respect.

Kipling was reporting on the proceedings for the Civil and Military Gazette. He sent back to Lahore some seventeen articles, on the wait for the Amir and his large retinue, on the events surrounding of the Durbar, the formal meeting, the military review, and the closure of the camp. The wait was very prolonged, the weather almost always wet, for a time nothing much happened, and in the articles there is more than a touch of making bricks without straw. But Kipling adopted a light tone throughout, so that they make quite good reading; several are included in Kipling in India edited by Thomas Pinney where the review with which this story ends is described in great detail in the piece dated April 6th (p.90). The complete series was reprinted in Kipling and Afghanistan by Neil K Moran, where that article can be found on p. 161.

Critical comments

W W Robson (p. xxix) in his introduction to the Oxford World Classics edition, sees this story as enjoyable but slight:

The world of the pack-animals, with the human narrator hearing everything, lacks the secrecy and magic of the jungle. The story is memorable only for the finale, which in its context amounts to a mighty peroration on Kipling’s great theme of obedience-without which you cannot run an empire, conduct an orchestra, control the traffic, perform a surgical operation, etc., etc. Politics apart, this is the verbal music to which the reader, coming to it as the epilogue of the first Jungle Book, cannot but thrill.
“But are the beasts as wise as the men?” said the chief.
“They obey, as the men do. Mule, horse, elephant, or bullock, he obeys his driver, and the driver his sergeant, and the sergeant his lieutenant, and the lieutenant his captain, and the captain his major, and the major his colonel, and the colonel his brigadier commanding three regiments, and the brigadier his general, who obeys the Viceroy, who is the servant of the Empress. Thus it is done.”

“Would it were so in Afghanistan!” said the chief; “for there we obey only our own wills.”

“And for that reason,” said the native officer, twirling his moustache, “your Amir whom you do not obey must come here and take orders from our Viceroy.”




©F A Underwood and John Radcliffe 2008 All rights reserved