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“What Power Have I Left?” Queen Victoria’s Bedchamber Crisis Revisited

  • Charles Beem
Part of the Queenship and Power book series (QAP)

Abstract

The final chapter of this study confronts a sort of monarch entirely different from the female rulers discussed in previous chapters. Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Anne were all mature, experienced women whose careers took place in the context of a politically powerful regal office. During the periods 1553–1603 and 1702–1714, these women had successfully accomplished a gendered transformation of the practical and symbolic authority of English kingship. In particular, the ability of Mary I and Elizabeth I to create a viable model of female sovereignty within male dominant political structures formed a permanent part of the fabric of English political evolution. This became clear following the Glorious Revolution, as a number of factors, discussed in the previous chapter, allowed Queen Anne recognition as an autonomous female ruler despite her married state.

Keywords

Minority Government Royal Court Household Change Glorious Revolution Male Politician 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    See The Nineteenth Century Constitution, ed. A. J. Hanham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969). In the introduction, Hanham wrote, “Queen Victoria made it virtually impossible for Peel to form a government by refusing to change the Whig ladies of her household—a matter of minor importance,” p. 29. Similarly, G.H.L. Le May observed that “The Bedchamber Crisis was much less a constitutional landmark than a contest of personalities.” The Victorian Constitution (London: Duckworth, 1979), p. 43.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Charles Greville, Greville Memoirs, vol. 4, ed. Henry Reeve (London: Longmans, 1896), p. 166. The brackets are Greville’s.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria (New York: Blue Ribbon Press, 1921), p. 115.Google Scholar
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    See Richard Francis Spall, Jr., “The Bedchamber Crisis and the Hastings Scandal,” Canadian Journal of History, 22 (April 1987), pp. 19–39. Spall’s examination of the press war surrounding the Flora Hastings affair, in which one of the Duchess of Kent’s ladies was falsely accused of pregnancy, argued that accusations of immorality leveled at Victoria’s chief ladies extended into and affected the Bedchamber Crisis itself. See also Karen Chase and Michael Levenson, “‘I Never Saw A Man So Frightened’: The Young Queen and the Parliamentary Bedchamber,” Remaking Queen Victoria, ed. Margaret Homans and Adrienne Munich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 200–218. Chase and Levenson, for the first time, subject the Bedchamber Crisis to a gender analysis, calling attention to the contested male and female spaces that constituted the obviously gendered aspects of the Crisis. While both of these studies demonstrate the complexity of the Bedchamber Crisis, they are not concerned with the Crisis’s place or significance in modern British political evolution, or its relationship to the reigns of other female rulers. In her own work on Victoria’s relationship with the evolution of nineteenth-century British culture, Margaret Homans offered a brief gender analysis of the Bedchamber Crisis. Homans identified Victoria’s insistence that the bedchamber constituted a private female sphere distinct from public politics. See Margaret Homans, Royal Representations: Queen Victoria and British Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
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    See Stanley Weintraub, Queen Victoria: An Intimate Memoir (New York: Truman Talley Books, 1987), p. 123. Weintraub saw no gendered distinctions between male and female household officers, discounting Victoria’s assertion that bedchamber ladies were her “own affair,” as he stated, “By custom, however, they were not, and court appointments reflected the power balance in parliament.”Google Scholar
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    See Lynne Vallone, Becoming Victoria (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 62–72. Vallone’s work emphasized the political nature of Victoria’s education, and the Duchess of Kent’s efforts to win support for the curriculum she provided for Victoria.Google Scholar
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    In 1880, more than forty years following the Bedchamber Crisis, Liberal prime minister William Gladstone feared Victoria might dismiss his government. See Frank Hardie, The Political Influence of Queen Victoria (London: Frank Cass, 1963), p. 172.Google Scholar
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    Girlhood of Victoria: A Selection From Her Majesty’s Diaries, ed. Viscount Esher (New York: Longman, Grenn, and Co., 1912) pp. 103–104.Google Scholar
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    See W.M. Torres, Memoirs of Lord Melbourne (London: Ward, Locke and Co., 1890), p. 438. Melbourne noted that Victoria “was disposed to think that the establishment of a queen consort would be sufficient for her.”Google Scholar
  29. 79.
    See Michael Brock, The Great Reform Act (London: Hutchinson, 1973).Google Scholar
  30. 81.
    Lord Brougham, Recollections of a Long life (New York: AMS Press, 1968, orig. pub. 1910), p. 194.Google Scholar
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    The standard study of Peel remains Gash. Recent studies have attempted to qualify Gash’s analysis of Peel as the central figure of the first half of the nineteenth century, see Ian Newbould, “Sir Robert Peel and the Conservative Party, 1832–1841: A Study in Failure?”, English Historical Review, 98 (July 1983), pp. 529–538, Donald Read, Peel and the Victorians (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), and T.A. Jenkins, Sir Robert Peel (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 137.
    Later in her reign, the one exception the mature Victoria made to the exclusion of women from formal political functions were her daughters, some of whom married German monarchs, while her youngest daughter Beatrice served as an unofficial private secretary with access to government documents. See E.F. Benson, Queen Victoria’s Daughters (New York and London: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1938), and Jerrold Packard, Victoria’s Daughters (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charles Beem 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles Beem

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