June 28th, 1838 – The Coronation of Queen Victoria

Today-In-History

Victoria turned 18 on May 24th, 1837, and a regency was avoided. On June 20th, 1837, William IV died at the age of 71, and Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom. In her diary she wrote, “I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.” Official documents prepared on the first day of her reign described her as Alexandrina Victoria, but the first name was withdrawn at her own wish and not used again.

Victoria to throne 680

Since 1714, Britain had shared a monarch with Hanover in Germany, but under Salic law women were excluded from the Hanoverian succession. While Victoria inherited all the British dominions, Hanover passed instead to her father’s younger brother, her unpopular uncle the Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, who became King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover. He was her heir presumptive until she married and had a child.

At the time of Queen Victoria’s accession, the government was led by the Whig prime minister Lord Melbourne, who at once became a powerful influence on the politically inexperienced Queen, who relied on him for advice. Charles Greville supposed that the widowed and childless Melbourne was “passionately fond of her as he might be of his daughter if he had one”, and Victoria probably saw him as a father figure. Her coronation took place on June 28th, 1838, and she became the first sovereign to take up residence at Buckingham Palace. She inherited the revenues of the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and was granted a civil list of £385,000 per year. Financially prudent, she paid off her father’s debts.

Young VictoriaAt the start of her reign Victoria was popular, but her reputation suffered in an 1839 court intrigue when one of her mother’s ladies-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings, developed an abdominal growth that was widely rumoured to be an out-of-wedlock pregnancy by Sir John Conroy. Victoria believed the rumours. She hated Conroy, and despised “that odious Lady Flora”, because she had conspired with Conroy and the Duchess of Kent in the Kensington System. At first, Lady Flora refused to submit to a naked medical examination, until in mid-February she eventually agreed, and was found to be a virgin. Conroy, the Hastings family and the opposition Tories organised a press campaign implicating the Queen in the spreading of false rumours about Lady Flora. When Lady Flora died in July, the post-mortem revealed a large tumour on her liver that had distended her abdomen. At public appearances, Victoria was hissed and jeered as “Mrs. Melbourne”.

In 1839, Melbourne resigned after Radicals and Tories (both of whom Victoria detested) voted against a Bill to suspend the constitution of Jamaica. The Bill removed political power from plantation owners who were resisting measures associated with the abolition of slavery. The Queen commissioned a Tory, Sir Robert Peel, to form a new ministry. At the time, it was customary for the prime minister to appoint members of the Royal Household, who were usually his political allies and their spouses. Many of the Queen’s ladies of the bedchamber were wives of Whigs, and Peel expected to replace them with wives of Tories. In what became known as the bedchamber crisis, Victoria, advised by Melbourne, objected to their removal. Peel refused to govern under the restrictions imposed by the Queen, and consequently resigned his commission, allowing Melbourne to return to office.


 

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