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


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


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


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


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.

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