The saga unfolds

Lady Flora Hastings was Lady in waiting to the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria's domineering mother. She had spent Christmas with her family in Scotland and on her return to court had a consultation with Sir James Clark who was the Duchesses's doctor as she had been feeling rather unwell.

The doctor found very little wrong with her and prescribed a tonic, so she continued her life at court, despite feeling quite unwell. Within days Queen Victoria and Louise Lehzen, who had been her governess thought they saw Lady Hastings waist thickening and wondered if she was expecting a child which would account for her feeling so ill.

Queen Victoria at the Time of her Golden Jubilee
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Lady Flora is examined

In February Lady Flora was confronted with the rumour and supposition that she was pregnant and agreed to be examined by  Sir James Clarke and his colleague Sir George Clarke. This was a brave act for an unmarried woman who would have led a fairly sheltered life style where things "below the belt" would scarcely have been mentioned. The subject of child-birth was for married women. However the examination revealed that Lady Hastings was still chaste and that should have been the end of the matter perhaps a better doctor would have investigated why she was feeling so ill and why her abdomen was increasing in size.

Victoria's obstinance to accept the truth

Despite the medical examination showing that Lady Flora was not "with child" her "condition" became the subject of much gossip and it began to filter through to the popular press. The doctors did not help having the cheek to hint that it was possible for a woman to become pregnant; even with her virginity intact.  The first and last recorded case of this was in fact the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus.

The Queen convinced herself that Lady Flora was still pregnant and although the Duchess of Kent dismissed Sir James as her doctor, Victoria continued to employ him.

Public Opinion

The details  of the  "condition" became public. A letter written by Lady Fora to her uncle in which she gave full details of what had befallen her and her position at court, was released to the press and published in "The Examiner".

Two different motivations were seen behind Victoria's obstinate attitude towards Lady Flora one  held in court that Victoria who had an uneasy relationship with her mother was trying to reduce her mothers influence even further. The popular motivation was seen as Victoria's close relationship with Lord Melbourne the Whig Prime Minister whilst Lady Flora came from a Tory family. At Ascot the Queen was hissed at by two  ladies seated in the Grandstand , this was unheard of behaviour.

The death of Lady Flora Hastings


Lady Flora was not pregnant; she was very ill and by the end of June it was clear to everyone including the lady herself that she was dying.

Queen Victoria visited Lady Fora just before she died on 5th July barely six months after she began to feel ill. Lady Flora had asked her family to arrange a post-mortem so that her name could be finally cleared once and for all. The post-mortem revealed that she had died because of a tumour on her liver, which had been the cause of her abdominal swelling.

The Queen's standing in popular opinion fell low the Queen's carriage sent to join the funeral cortege in London was stoned and Lady Flora's funeral in Scotland was almost a silent protest against the Queen. Not quite the start to her reign that Queen Victoria had envisaged.