The true story of Lady Flora Hastings and the pregnancy scandal that rocked Queen Victoria's early reign
The young queen's popularity took a nosedive following a tragic series of events in early 1839 involving her mother's lady in waiting and Sir John Conroy
**SPOILERS! CONTAINS HISTORICAL DETAILS PORTRAYED AT THE END OF VICTORIA EPISODE ONE**
As the ITV drama Victoria illustrates in episode one, the young Victoria’s rise to popularity was anything but smooth.
And in 1839, following the sad death of Lady Flora Hastings (played by Alice Orr-Ewing) the queen’s popularity took a nosedive.
Who was the real Lady Flora Hastings?
Born in Edinburgh in 1806, Lady Flora Elizabeth Rawdon-Hastings was the daughter and first born child of Sir Francis Rawdon (the one-time Governor General of India) and Lady Flora Mure-Campbell, the 6th Countess of Loudon.
She became Lady-in-waiting to Victoria’s mother, The Duchess of Kent, joining their household at Kensington.
The heiress presumptive wasn’t very fond of Flora, as she supported both her mother and Sir John Conroy’s strict Kensington System, which kept the young queen in waiting cooped up in the house.
Why did Victoria think she was pregnant?
Flora made a trip home to Scotland to visit her family and returned alone in a carriage with Sir John Conroy in January of 1839. The lady-in-waiting had been complaining that she’d been feeling bloated and was in pain during the month preceding and her stomach was swelling noticeably.
She consulted the court physician, Sir James Clark, and was prescribed rhubarb and camphor, which initially seemed to offer some relief.
But Lady Flora’s physique set tongues wagging at court and it wasn’t long before a rumour that she must be with child was spreading. By February 2nd the young Queen was writing about it in her journal, commenting that not even her physician, Sir James, could deny that the situation was highly suspicious.
Victoria became quite convinced that Lady Flora was with child, and assumed that Sir John Conroy MUST be the father.
Did Victoria really force Lady Flora to go through with the medical examination?
Yes, she did indeed.
But it wasn’t on the day of her coronation, as the ITV series suggests. Victoria’s coronation took place on June 28th 1838, while The Flora Hastings Scandal broke in 1839.
Sir James Clark and the Hastings’ family doctor, Sir Charles Clarke carried out the procedure and concluded that there was absolutely no way Flora could be pregnant.
In fact, she was suffering from an advanced cancerous liver tumor and dying.
Did the people really turn on the Queen?
The Hastings family was furious – as were their Tory sympathisers. They were most displeased with the young monarch’s actions and wanted a public apology.
And when that didn’t come, they went to the press, publishing a personal letter from Flora – in which she offered up her version of events – in The Examiner.
What happened when Lady Flora died?
Flora passed away aged just 33 on the 5th of July 1839. She died in London but was buried at her family home, Loudoun Castle in Scotland.
Sir John Conroy and Lord Hastings (Lady Flora’s brother) didn’t let the scandal die with her, launching a campaign to bring the Queen and her physician to justice in the press.
Their campaign wasn’t successful but the scandal haunted Victoria for the rest of her days.