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The Maiden Queen








When the great event of the coronation was over the Queen was left to
fulfil the heavy demands of business and the concluding gaieties of the
season. It comes upon us with a little pathetic shock, to think of one whom
we have long known chiefly in the chastened light of the devoted unflagging
worker at her high calling, of our lady of sorrows, as a merry
girl--girl-like in her fondness, in spite of her noble nature and the
serious claims she did not neglect, of a racket of perpetual excitement. We
read of her as going everywhere, as the blithest and most indefatigable
dancer in her ball-room, dancing out a pair of slippers before the night
was over; we hear how reluctant she was to leave town, how eager to return
to it.

Inevitably the old and dear friends most interested in her welfare were now
regarding this critical period in the Queen's career with anxious eyes. In
looking back upon it in after life, she has frankly and gravely
acknowledged its pitfalls; "a worse school for a young girl, or one more
detrimental to all natural feeling and affection, cannot well be imagined,
than the position of a queen at eighteen, without experience, and without a
husband to guide and support her. This the Queen can state from painful
experience, and she thanks God that none of her dear daughters are exposed
to such danger."

The King of the Belgians sought to abridge the period of probation by
renewing the project of the worthy marriage to which his niece had been
well inclined two years before. But either from the natural coyness and
the strain of perversity which are the privilege and the danger of
girlhood, or simply because, as she has, stated, "the sudden change from
the secluded life at Kensington to the independence of her position as
Queen Regnant, at the age of eighteen, put all ideas of marriage out of her
head," the bride in prospect demurred. She declared, with the unhesitating
decision of her age, that she had no thought of marriage for years to come.
She objected, with some show of reason, that both she and Prince Albert
were too young, and that it would be better for him to have a little more
time to perfect his English education.

The princely cousin who had won her first girlish affections, and the
tender sweetness of love in the bud, were by no means forgotten. The idea
of marriage never crossed the Queen's mind without his image presenting
itself, she has said, and she never thought of herself as wedded to any
other man. But every woman, be she Queen or beggar-maid, craves to exercise
one species of power at one era of her life. It is her prerogative, and
though the ruth of love may live to regret it, and to grudge every passing
pang inflicted, half wilfully half unwittingly, on the true heart, it may
be questioned whether love would flourish better, whether it would attain
its perfect stature, without the test of the brief check and combat for
mastery.

But if a woman desires to prove her power, a man cannot be expected to
welcome the soft tyranny; the more manly, the more sensitive he is, the
more it vexes and wounds him. Here the circumstances were specially trying,
and while we have ample sympathy with the young Queen--standing out as much
in archness as in imperiousness for a prolonged wooing--we have also
sympathy to spare for the young Prince, with manly dignity and a little
indignant pain, resisting alike girlish volatility and womanly despotism,
asserting what was only right and reasonable, that he could not wait much
longer for her to make up her mind--great queen and dear cousin though she
might be. It was neither just nor generous that he should be kept hanging
on in a condition of mortifying uncertainty, with the risk of his whole
life being spoilt, after it was too late to guard against it, by a final
refusal on her part. That the Queen had in substance made up her mind is
proved by the circumstance that it was by her wish, and in accordance with
her written instructions--of which, however, Prince Albert seems to have
been ignorant--that Baron Stockmar, on quitting England in 1838, joined the
Prince, who had just endured the trial of being separated from his elder
brother, with whom he had been brought up in the closest and most brotherly
relations, so that the two had never been a day apart during the whole of
their previous lives. Prince Albert was to travel in Italy, and Baron
Stockmar and Sir Francis (then Lieutenant) Seymour were appointed his
travelling companions, visiting with him, during what proved a happy tour,
Rome and Naples.

At home, where Baroness Lehzen retained the care of purely personal matters
and played her part in non-political affairs and non-political
correspondence, Lord Melbourne, with his tact and kindness, discharged the
remaining offices of a private secretary. But things did not go altogether
well. Party feeling was stronger than ever. The Queen's household was
mainly of Whig materials, but there were exceptions, and the lady who had
borne the train of the Duchess of Kent at the coronation belonged to a
family which had become Tory in politics.

Lady Flora Hastings was a daughter of the Marquis of Hastings and of Flora,
Countess of Loudoun, in her own right. The Countess of Loudoun in her youth
chose for her husband Earl Moira, one of the plainest-looking and most
gallant officers in the British army. The parting shortly after their
marriage, in order that he might rejoin his regiment on active service, was
the occasion of the popular Scotch song, by Tannahill, "Bonnie Loudoun's
woods and braes." Earl Moira, created Marquis of Hastings, had a
distinguished career as a soldier and statesman, especially as
Governor-General of India. When he was Governor-General of Malta he died
far from Loudoun's woods and braes, and was buried in the little island;
but in compliance with an old promise to his wife, who long survived him,
that their dust should rest together, he directed that after death his
right hand should be cut off, enclosed in a casket, and conveyed to the
family vault beneath the church of Loudoun, where the mortal remains of his
widow would lie.

Lady Flora Hastings was good, clever and accomplished, dearly loved by her
family and friends. But whether she, nevertheless, possessed capabilities
of offending her companions in office at Court; whether her conduct in any
respect rebuked theirs, and provoked dislike, suspicion, and a desire to
find her in the wrong; whether the calamity was sheerly due to that mortal
meanness in human nature, which tempts people not otherwise unworthy to
receive the most unlikely and injurious evil report of their neighbour, on
the merest presumptive evidence, the unhappy sequel remains the same. Lady
Flora had been attacked by an illness which caused so great a change in her
personal appearance, as to lend colour to a whispered charge that she had
been secretly guilty of worse than levity of conduct. The cruel whisper
once breathed, it certainly became the duty of every person in authority
round a young and maiden Queen to guard her Court jealously from the
faintest suspicion of such a reproach. The fault lay with those who uttered
the shameful charge on slight and, as it proved, totally mistaken
inferences.

When the accusation reached the ears of Lady Flora--last of all, no
doubt--the brave daughter of a brave man welcomed such a medical
examination as must prove her innocence beyond dispute. Her name and fame
were triumphantly cleared, but the distress and humiliation she had
suffered accelerated the progress of her malady, and she died shortly
afterwards, passionately lamented by her friends. They sought fruitlessly
to bring punishment on the accusers, which could not be done since there
was no evidence of deliberate insincerity and malice on the part of the
circulators of the scandal. The blame of the disastrous gossip fell on two
of the Whig Ladies of the Bed-chamber; and just before the sad climax, the
other event, which angry Tory eyes magnified to the dignity of a
conspiracy, drew double attention to both catastrophes.

In May, 1839, the Whig Government had been defeated in a crucial measure,
and the ministry under the leadership of Lord Melbourne resigned office.
The Queen sent for the Duke of Wellington, and he recommended that Sir
Robert Peel should be called upon to form a new Cabinet. It was the first
time that the Queen had experienced a change of Ministers, and she was
naturally dismayed at the necessity, and reluctant to part with the friend
who had lent her such aid on her accession, whom she trusted implicitly,
who in the requirements of his office had been in daily communication with
her for the last two years. In her interview with Sir Robert Peel, who in
his shyness and constraint appeared to have far fewer personal
recommendations for a young Queen's counsellor, she told him with a simple
and girlish frankness that she was sorry to have to part with her late
Minister, of whose conduct she entirely approved, but that she bowed to
constitutional usage. [Footnote: Justin Macarthy.] Sir Robert took the
impulsive speech in the straightforward spirit in which it was spoken,
while time was to show such a good understanding and cordial regard
established between the Queen and her future servant, as has rarely been
surpassed in the relations of sovereigns and their advisers. But in the
meanwhile a contretemps, which was more than half a blunder,
occurred. "The negotiations went on very smoothly as to the colleagues Peel
meant to recommend to her Majesty, until he happened to notice the
composition of the royal household, as regarded the ladies most closely in
attendance on the Queen. For example, he found that the wife of Lord
Normanby and the sister of Lord Morpeth were the two ladies in closest
attendance on her Majesty. Now it has to be borne in mind--it was
proclaimed again and again during the negotiations--that the chief
difficulty of the Conservatives would necessarily be in Ireland, where
their policy would be altogether opposed to that of the Whigs. Lord
Normanby had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under the Whigs, and Lord
Morpeth, whom we can all remember as the amiable and accomplished Lord
Carlisle of later time, Irish Secretary. It certainly would not be
satisfactory for Peel to try to work a new Irish policy, whilst the closest
household companions of the Queen were the wife and sister of the displaced
statesmen, who directly represented the policy he had to supersede. Had
this point of view been made clear to the sovereign at first, it is hardly
possible that any serious difficulty could have arisen. The Queen must have
seen the obvious reasonableness of Peel's request, nor is it to be supposed
that the two ladies in question could have desired to hold their places
under such circumstances. But unluckily some misunderstanding took place at
the very beginning of the conversations on this point. Peel only desired to
press for the retirement of the ladies holding the higher offices,
[Footnote: This has been the rule in subsequent changes of Ministry.] he
did not intend to ask for any change affecting a place lower in official
rank than that of Lady of the Bed-chamber. But somehow or other he conveyed
to the mind of the Queen a different idea. She thought he meant to insist
as a matter of principle upon the removal of all her familiar attendants
and household associates. Under this impression she consulted Lord John
Russell, who advised her on what he understood to be the facts. On his
advice the Queen stated in reply, that she could not "consent to a course
which she conceives to be contrary to usage, and is repugnant to her
feelings." Sir Robert Peel held firm to his stipulation, and the chance of
his then forming a Ministry was at an end. Lord Melbourne and his
colleagues had to be recalled, and at a Cabinet meeting they adopted a
minute declaring it "reasonable, that the great offices of the Court, and
situations in the household held by members of Parliament, should be
included in the political arrangements made on a change in the
Administration; but they are not of opinion that a similar principle should
be applied or extended to the offices held by ladies in her Majesty's
household."

As an instance of the garbled impression received, and the unhesitating
exultation manifested by some of the Whig leaders, we quote from Lord
Campbell: "House of Commons, Friday, May 10, 1839. What do you think? Peel
has quarrelled with the Queen, and for the present we are all in again. He
insisted on her removing all her ladies, which she peremptorily refused.
Peel sent his final answer yesterday evening, which she received at dinner,
saying that on consulting his colleagues they could not yield, and that his
commission was at an end. She then sent for Melbourne, who had not seen her
since his resignation. At eleven a meeting of the old Cabinet was called.
To-day Melbourne has been with her, and, Bear Ellis says, agreed to go on
with the government. Reports differ as to the exact conditions. Our people
say that she was willing to give up the wives of Peers; Sir George Clerk
asserts she insisted on keeping all, inter alias the Marchioness of
Normanby. There never was such excitement in London. I came with hundreds
of others to the House of Lords, which met to-day, in the expectation that
something would be said, but all passing off in silence." [Footnote: The
explanation was made later.]

"Brooks's, Saturday, May 11, 1839. The Cabinet is still sitting, and we
know nothing more to-day.... I was several hours at the Queen's ball last
night, a scene never to be forgotten. The Queen was in great spirits, and
danced with more than usual gaiety. She received Peel with great civility;
but after dancing with the Russian Bear, took for her partner Lady
Normanby's son. The Tories looked inconceivably foolish--such whimsical
groups."

Calm onlookers, including Stockmar, condemned Lord Melbourne for the
position, in which he had allowed the young Queen to be placed, and
considered that he had brought discredit on his Government by the
circumstances in which he and his colleagues had resumed office. The
melancholy death of Lady Flora Hastings following on this overthrow of the
ordinary arrangements, intensified the wrath of the Tories, and helped to
arouse a sense of general dissatisfaction and doubt.

In the month of July, 1839, an Act of Parliament was passed which was of
great consequence to the mass of the people. In 1837 Sir Rowland Hill
published his post-office reform pamphlet, and in 1839 the penny-post
scheme was embodied in an Act of Parliament.

What stories clustered round the early miniature "heads" of her Majesty in
the little dull red stamp! These myths ranged from the panic that the
adhesive gum caused cancer in the tongue, to the romance that a desperate
young lady was collecting a huge supply of used stamps for the purpose of
papering a room of untold dimensions. This feat was the single stipulation
on the part of a tyrannical parent, on compliance with which the hapless
maiden would be allowed to marry her faithful lover.





Next: The Betrothal

Previous: The Proroguing Of Parliament The Visit To Guildhall And The Coronation



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