Bedchamber crisis

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Satire of the crisis by John Doyle, 31 December 1840

The Bedchamber Crisis occurred on 7 May 1839 after Whig politician Lord Melbourne resigned as Prime Minister after a government bill was passed by a very narrow margin of only five votes in the House of Commons. The distraught young Queen Victoria, whose ardent political sympathies were with the Whigs, first asked the Duke of Wellington, a former Tory prime minister, to form a new government, but he politely declined. She then reluctantly invited Tory leader Robert Peel to form a government. Peel realised that such a government would hold a minority in the House of Commons and would be structurally weak, possibly damaging his future political career.[1]

Peel accepted the invitation on the condition that Queen Victoria dismiss some of her ladies of the bedchamber,[2] many of whom were wives or relatives of leading Whig politicians. The Queen refused the request, considering her ladies as close friends, not as objects of political bargaining. Peel, therefore, refused to become Prime Minister and Melbourne was eventually persuaded to stay on as Prime Minister.

After Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, the Queen relied less on her ladies as companions. In the 1841 general election, Peel's Tories gained a majority and the Queen appointed Peel as the new prime minister, a change of government for which Melbourne had meanwhile been preparing her. Accepting "the wise advice of the democratically minded Prince Albert,"[3] Victoria replaced three of her Whig ladies with Tories.

At the time of the crisis, the inexperienced Victoria was not yet twenty years old and had been on the Throne less than two years. She was dismayed at the thought of losing her first, and so far only, Prime Minister, the avuncular Melbourne, who had been a wise and kindly father-figure to the Queen in the first years of her reign (her own father, the Duke of Kent, had died when she was an infant). Victoria also mistakenly assumed that Peel wanted to replace all of her ladies - her closest friends and companions at court - when in fact Peel wished to replace only six of the twenty-five ladies, but failed to make his intentions clear to the Queen.[3]

Late in life, the Queen regretted her youthful intransigence, writing to her private secretary, Sir Arthur Bigge: "I was very young then, and perhaps I should act differently if it was all to be done again."[3]

The Bedchamber Crisis was depicted in the 2009 film The Young Victoria.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The manoeuvres of the Queen's ante-chamber". The Times (17043) (London). 16 May 1839. p. 4. 
  2. ^ Robert Peel (13 May 1839). "Hansard→ 13 May 1839 → Commons Sitting, Ministerial Explanations". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. col. 984–985. 
  3. ^ a b c Rappaport, Helen (2003). Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 62–64. ISBN 1851093559. Retrieved 18 December 2015.