Queen Victoria began her reign with immense popularity, but that popularity was quickly dented with the Bedchamber Crisis.
Lord Melbourne, her Prime Minister from the start, had his leadership undermined and Tory MP Robert Peel looked like the man to replace him as Prime Minister. Victoria had always found Robert Peel unpleasant and cold. Victoria was devastated by the loss of Lord Melbourne as Prime Minister, and she spent days crying. She wrote, “The state of agony, grief and despair into which this placed me may be easier imagined than described! All all my happiness gone! That happy, peaceful life destroyed, that dearest kind Lord Melbourne no more my minister… I sobbed and cried much; could only put on my dressing gown.” On 7 May 1839, Lord Melbourne told he was going to resign and advised her to call on the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel. He told her, “Your Majesty had better express your hope, that none of your Majesty’s Household, except those who are engaged in politics, may be removed. I think you might ask him for that.”
Victoria – not even 20 years old yet – had lost yet another father figure, and she felt the loss all too well. When Robert Peel then asked that she remove some of her ladies-in-waiting who were aligned with the Whigs, she told him that she would only change male members of Parliament who were a part of her household. She shut the door on Robert Peel and cried. When he came back on 9 May, Victoria was even more adamant that she would not change her household. She argued that it had never been before and her ladies were hardly politicians. She also never spoke to them about politics. Robert Peel left empty-handed, and a triumphant Victoria wrote to Lord Melbourne, “Peel had behaved very ill and has insisted on my giving up my Ladies, to which I replied that I never would consent, and I never saw a man so frightened… I was calm but very decided, and I think you would have been pleased to see my composure and great firmness. The Queen of England will not submit to such trickery. Keep yourself in readiness for you may soon be wanted.”
Robert Peel then informed Queen Victoria that if she did not agree to remove some of her ladies (who were married to some of his opponents), he could not form a government. Victoria was all too pleased with the possibility of Lord Melbourne returning to his post. She wrote, “Do not fear that I was calm and composed. They wanted to deprive me of my ladies, and I suppose they would deprive me next of my dressers and my housemaids; they wished to treat me like a girl, but I will show them that I am Queen of England.” On 10 May, Robert Peel resigned, and the public was outraged.
Victoria soon realised that she had made a mistake and she also been under the impression that Robert Peel wanted to change all her ladies. Once Lord Melbourne was back in business, she asked him to find a Tory lady who could be quietly introduced into her household. For the rest of her reign, she was only ever asked to change her Mistress of the Robes, which was the highest-ranking lady. Victoria would remain a Whig supporter. She later wrote of the so-called Bedchamber Crisis, “Yet, I was very hot about it and so were my ladies, as I had been so brought up under Lord Melbourne; but I was very young, only 20, and never should have acted so again – Yes! It was a mistake.”1