A scandal which shook the royal court, tarnished Queen Victoria's image and humiliated an innocent courtier. Today we look into the scandal of Lady Flora Hastings.
At the beginning of her Reign, Queen Victoria was merely 18. As a young woman she had to learn to grow into her role but of course you only learn from your mistakes; this mistake would be one of Queen Victoria's most notable one. This mistake would show Victoria's immature and unsophisticated approach to court matters.
Lady Flora Hastings was a lady in waiting to Victoria's mother The Duchess Of Kent. As a member of the duchess's household positioned at the far end of Buckingham Palace Flora worked closely with Sir John Conroy. Due to Flora's connections with Conroy, Victoria had her mind made up about her.
In January 1839, Lady Flora travelled back to London from her family home in Scotland. She was accompanied by Sir John Conroy. She had been fatigued for some weeks and in pain, with a swelling of the stomach. On the 10th January she arrived in London, upon her arrival she consulted the court physician to Victoria and the Duchess of Kent, Sir James Clark. He prescribed medicines of rhubarb and camphor, which had no effect. However, as Flora wrote to her uncle, Hamilton Fitzgerald, “by dint of walking and porter I gained a little strength; and as I did so, the swelling subsided to a very remarkable degree.” Sir James Clark requested a thorough medical examination but Lady Flora refused.
By the 2nd February 1839 Queen Victoria had noticed the unusual swelling of Lady Flora's abdomen and consulted Lord Melbourne about it.
She wrote in her diary on the 2nd February 1839 -
'I then said to Lord M. that I believed he was aware of an awkward business which we had had in this house; before I go further, this must be explained, disagreeable and disgraceful as it is; and what I alluded to in my journal some 10 days or more ago, about Lady Flora, and more being known of her, I must now divulge. Lady Flora had not been above 2 days in the house, before Lehzen and I discovered how exceedingly suspicious her figure looked,- more have since observed this, and we have no doubt that she is '
Romours were circulating amongst courtiers, politicians and members of the royal household. Victoria's court came to the conclusion that Lady Flora was in fact with child and that was certain. Flora was pressured into undergoing a medical examination by Dr Clark who told her about the queen's insistence that Flora, shamed as she was, should marry someone suitable and amenable quietly to save the family honour and make her child legitimate. The Duchess of Kent was not included in the discussions held by Victoria and her coterie about Flora's future. Victoria blackmailed Flora into having the examination, she was banned from court until she complied.
Lady Flora finally consented to a medical examination, two male doctors conducted it, with Victoria’s own Lady of the Bedchamber watching. It was proved that she wasn’t pregnant and was a virgin. Instead, she was suffering from an advanced form of liver cancer that produced a large enough tumour to mimic the distended stomach of a pregnant woman. Subsequently Lady Flora called on relatives and friends to clear her name in the newspapers.
A pamphlet in defense of her name was published by relatives. After writing to her uncle on her own behalf and implying that it was Lehzen who began the rumors of her unwed pregnancy, the letter was then published in The Times and The Examinor.
By June 1839 it was apparent Lady Flora was gravelly ill although still performing her court duties. On June 27th Queen Victoria visited Flora and was mortified by the change of her appearance. Writing in her diary 'I found poor lady Flora stretched on a couch looking as thin as anybody can be who is still alive; literally a skeleton, but the body very much swollen like a person who is with child; a searching look in her eyes, a look rather like a person who is dying'
Just past two o’clock in the morning of the 5th of July Lady Flora died at 33 from a liver tumor, which explained her protruding stomach, as was discovered in the post mortem she requested to be done after her death to officialy clear her name.
Lady Flora's body was transported from London to Scotland and was buried in a vault in Loudoun Kirkyard near Loudoun Castle. The memorial also refers to her niece and her mother.
Conroy and Lord Hastings, Lady Flora's brother, stirred up a press campaign against both the Queen and Doctor Clark which attacked them for insulting and disgracing Lady Flora with false rumours and for plotting against her and the entire Hastings family. Published in the Morning Post, their campaign also condemned the queen's "fellow conspirators", Baroness Lehzen and Lady Tavistock, as the guilty parties who had originated the false rumour of pregnancy. The press blamed Victoria and her intimates for the slanderous treatment, hinting it had hastened Flora’s demise.
A statement by Sir James Clarke was released on the 20th November 1839-
THE LATE LADY FLORA HASTINGS. SIR JAMES CLARKE'S
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
[As this case has excited much attention in the medical as well as political world, and as it has already been alluded to in the Journal, we take the earliest opportunity of copying Sir James Clarke's statemens
of the aftair.]
On the 10ch of January last I was consulted by Lady Flora Hastings, who had chat day arrived row Scotland, aad had come into waiting on her Royal Higliness the Duchess of Kent. She had derangement of the bowels, and of the general health, and she complained of pain Jow in the left side. There was also considerable enlargement of the lower part of the abdomen, Under the use of some few very simple remedies the derngement of the bowels and the pain in the side gradually aboted, and ultimately ceased; and Lady Flora complained only of weakness. The size of the abdomen, however, continued undiminished; and
Lady Flora's appearanco became the subject of remark in the palace. About the Ist of February, as nearly as lam able to fix the date, I was sent for by Lord Melbourne; and, on going to him, his Lordsbip in- formed me that a communication had been made to him by Lady Tavis. tock, respecting Lady Flora Hastings, whose appearance had given rise to suspicion in the palace that she miglat be privately married; his Lordship asked my opinion on 1he subject. I stated, in reply, that while I thought such suspicions ought not to be readily listened to, I was, at the same time, bound to admit to him, that the appearance of Lady
Flora in some degree countenanced them.
I added that, without more ample means of observation, I could not venture to give an opinion on the subject; and his Lordship agreed with me that no step should then be taken in the matter. From this time the condition of Lady Flora Hastings caused me considerable anxiety. The only source, besides pregnancy, from which the size and peculiar form of the abdomen could proceed, was disease; but the probability of disease being the sole cause in Lady Flora's case, was diminished by the circumstance that the enlargement was accompanied by very little general derangement of health.