22. A Scandalous Beginning: Sir John Conroy, Lord Melbourne, and the Lady Flora Hastings Affair
Queen Victoria was just 18 when she assumed the throne in the United Kingdom in 1837. She ruled for more than 63 years and is considered truly one of the great monarchs in history, but her reign did not start without a few hiccups. Looking at her first two years on the throne or so, we examine some of the personal politics that played out through the lenses of a few people in her orbit.
Sir John Conroy, her mother's comptroller (and possibly lover), had been integral to the much-loathed "Kensington System" under which she had been raised. While intended to make her meek and dependent on her mother and Conroy, the opposite happened, and when Victoria was finally liberated by the death of her uncle, King William IV, one of her first acts was to bar him from her presence. He remained her mother's comptroller, however, and would continue to attempt to exert malign influence for a few years to come.
The Whig Prime Minister at the time, Lord Melbourne, took a keen interest in the young Queen, and spent substantial amounts of time educating her on the finer points of politics in the Kingdom. This, of course, set less charitable tongues wagging, particularly given Lord Melbourne's fairly sordid background. Seriously - how did this guy manage to become PM?
In what became a genuine stain on Victoria's early years, the Lady Flora Hastings affair was a culmination of her enduring anger over the Kensington System, and gave John Conroy a last chance to attack the new Queen's judgment. When one of her mother's ladies-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings, developed a swollen belly and other signs of pregnancy, rumors swirled that the unmarried Lady Flora was pregnant with John Conroy's child. Animosity ran deep on all sides, and Victoria ultimately made clear that Lady Flora would not be permitted in her mother's household until she submitted to an invasive examination by the royal physician. Tragically, Lady Flora was not pregnant; her true condition was an advanced cancerous tumor on her liver, and the whole scandal - including Lady Flora's death just months later - left Victoria personally ashamed and publicly damaged.
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