Wednesday, April 27, 2011

May 9, 1839 --- The Bedchamber Plot

The young Queen's first crisis rages.  Lord Melbourne's Whig government has lost the support of the Commons and the country, and he will soon resign as Prime Minister. The Queen is distraught, fearing she cannot do without her confidante, "dear Lord M." (Right)

Not quite twenty years old and unschooled in party politics, the Queen - poorly advised, perhaps by Melbourne, forces a showdown with the Tories. At issue are the Ladies of the Royal Household; ceremonial posts filled during her brief reign thus far by women of the very best Whig pedigree. When the Tory leader, Sir Robert Peel, arrives at the Palace to discuss the new Government, Victoria flatly declares that she will "not give up any of my Ladies." She recalls, "He asked if I meant to retain all. 'All,' I said."  The papers called it "The Bedchamber Plot."

The Queen takes an immediate dislike to the shy, cold Peel; she writes, "Oh, how different, how dreadfully so, to that frank, open, natural and most kind, warm manner of Lord Melbourne." To Lord M. she writes, "I never saw a man so frightened... Keep yourself in readiness for you may soon be wanted." Melbourne, according to Greville, the omnipresent diarist, quoted Victoria as saying - with perhaps apocryphal melodrama - "They wish to treat me like a girl but I will show them that I am Queen of England."

Even Wellington, the aging Tory demi-god, cannot sway her and the Tories must demur, leaving Melbourne's teetering Whigs to hang on for two more years. The Spectator was displeased: "The Queen has not thrown herself in the breach to protect a popular or respectable Administration, but one which the great majority of her subjects distrust, and many despise ... the disposition to exercise questionable powers does not promise a happy reign."  Regardless, the Queen hosted a gala ball at Buckingham Palace, as if in celebration of her triumphant showdown. She noted waspishly, "Peel and the Duke of Wellington came by looking very much put out."

Tory wags spread the joke, "One has often heard of the country going to the dogs - but never before of a country going to the bitches."

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