Wednesday, June 29, 2011

July 5, 1839 --- The Death of Lady Hastings

Lady Flora Hastings dies at 32.  Her passing closes an embarrassing palace scandal but leaves the young Queen in the center of controversy.

Early in the year, gossip spread that Lady Flora, maid-of-honor to the Queen's mother, the Duchess of Kent, was "beginning to show." The father, said the tale-bearers, was Sir John Conroy, the Duchess' chief-of-staff. Victoria despised Conroy, "a monster and demon incarnate whose name I forbear to mention." She could easily believe the rumors that he had seduced Lady Flora during a long carriage ride the two had shared from Scotland. She ordered her personal physician, Sir James Clark, to examine the Lady who only reluctantly agreed to the procedure. Not only did they find no pregnancy, the doctors also confirmed that Lady Flora, at 32, was still a virgin.

Lady Flora complained that Sir James had been rough and rude. Now, the influential Hastings family raised a public uproar, demanding to know the source of the falsehood and the Duke of Wellington had to be called in to quiet the scandalous row. But strangely, Lady Flora continued to fill out, taking to her bed in June. Victoria, regretting her earlier suspicions, visited her often, finding her "literally a skeleton, but the body very much swollen like a person who is with child." In the end, "The poor thing died without a struggle." A post-mortem revealed a massive liver tumor and, if only to clear the poor woman's name for history - the doctors declared "the uterus and its appendages presented the usual appearances of the healthy virgin state."

Critical papers suggested the cause of death was more a broken heart. The Morning Post led the attacks, reflecting what it called "a universal feeling of indignation." The Queen's popularity fell to a new low. She had been hissed at Ascot, supposedly by the Duchess of Montrose and Lady Sarah Ingestre. Victoria expressed a wish - unfulfilled - to have them both flogged. Lady Flora's death heightened the Queen's disfavor; stones were thrown at a Royal carriage she sent to the funeral. The diarist Lord Holland described the whole affair as an "ugly offspring of prudery, tittle-tattle and folly."

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