Source: Hansard, 3/XLVII/979-986. Added by Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.
[From her accession in 1837 until 1839 the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, had been the Queen's private secretary and close friend. The Queen was surrounded by Whigs who treated her with consideration; she thought of them as her friends. The Tories assumed that they had a Whig sovereign. When Melbourne resigned in 1839 he advised Victoria to appoint Sir Robert Peel as his successor. Peel felt that he needed some mark of confidence from the Queen and asked her to make some changes in her household: he wanted her to replace the Ladies in Waiting who were related to Whig ministers for Tory ladies. The Queen refused and Peel declined to form a ministry.
Sir Robert Peel's speech to the House of Commons documents the events surrounding this incident, which has become known as the Bedchamber Crisis.]
Mr. Speaker, I have reserved for this place, and for this occasion, the explanations which I feel it my duty to offer with regard to the circumstances which have induced me to relinquish the attempt to form an administration for the conduct of the public service. Sir, I need scarcely say that I disclaim any sanction for any other statements which may have appeared in these circumstances; that for them I am wholly irresponsible; and that they have been made without my authority, and contrary to my wishes, if those wishes could have prevailed.
On the Wednesday evening — that is, the day I saw her Majesty on this particular point — I had the opportunity of conferring with all those whom I proposed to submit to her Majesty as Ministers. I saw them on Wednesday night at my own house about ten o'clock. I then stated to them — and there are four of them now present who heard the communication, and can give their evidence upon it — my right hon. Friend, the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn), the Member for Launceston (Sir H. Hardinge), the Member for Pembroke (Sir James Graham), and my noble Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Lord Stanley); I stated to them, and to the Peers whom I have before named, the course which I meant to pursue with respect to the household. I had very little information with respect to the household, and had very little considered the matter (I am speaking of the female part of it): I really scarcely knew of whom it consisted. I took the "Red Book" into my hands and saw there the different appointments of the household. I said to those who were intended to be my future colleagues, that, with respect to all the subordinate appointments — meaning every appointment, without exception, below the rank of a Lady of the Bedchamber — I should propose to her Majesty no change whatever with respect to those. With respect to the superior class, I stated, that those Ladies who hold their offices of that class, and who were immediate relatives of our political opponents would, I took it for granted, relieve us from any difficulty, by at once relinquishing their offices. But I stated, at the same time, that I did think it of great importance, as conveying an indication of her Majesty's entire support and confidence, that certain offices in the household, of the higher rank, if not voluntarily relinquished by the Ladies holding them, should be subject to some change. Even with respect to the higher offices, namely, the Ladies of the Bedchamber, I did state, however, that there were some instances in which, from the absence of any strong party or political connexion, I thought it would be wholly unnecessary to propose a change. My noble and right hon. Friends will confirm what I assert. This passed on the evening of Wednesday; and I mention it only in complete proof of my intentions, being perfectly willing, as I before observed, to have transferred exclusively to me whatever blame may attach to the imperfect explanation of my views. I saw her Majesty on Thursday, and verbal communications took place on this subject. As I stated before, into the nature of those communications I shall not now enter in the slightest degree. I shall merely read the two letters which passed; one conveying the impressions of her Majesty, and the other my own. The letter which I had the honour or receiving from her Majesty is dated May 10, 1839. I received it at an early hour on Friday morning and it is as follows:
Buckingham Palace, May 10 1839
"The Queen, having considered the proposal made to her yesterday by Sir Robert Peel, to remove the Ladies of her Bedchamber, cannot consent to adopt a course which she conceives to be contrary to usage, and which is repugnant to her feelings".
Immediately — that is, in two or three hours after having received the letter from her Majesty, I addressed to her Majesty a letter, of which this is a copy, dated Whitehall, May 10:
Whitehall, May 10, 1839
"Sir Robert Peel presents his humble duty to your Majesty, and has had the honour of receiving your Majesty's note of this morning.
"In respectfully submitting to your Majesty's pleasure, and humbly returning into your Majesty's hands the important trust which your Majesty had been graciously pleased to commit to him, Sir Robert Peel trusts that your Majesty will permit him to state to your Majesty his impression with respect to the circumstances which have led to the termination of his attempt to form an administration for the conduct of your Majesty's service.
"In the interview with which your Majesty honoured Sir Robert Peel yesterday morning, after he had submitted to your Majesty the names of those whom he proposed to recommend to your Majesty for the principal executive appointments, he mentioned to your Majesty his earnest wish to be enabled, with your Majesty's sanction, so to constitute your Majesty's household that your Majesty's confidential servants might have the advantage of a public demonstration of your Majesty's full support and confidence; and that at the same time, as far as possible consistently with that demonstration, each individual appointment in the household should be entirely acceptable to your Majesty's personal feelings.
"On your Majesty's expressing a desire that the Earl of Liverpool should hold an office in the household, Sir Robert Peel requested your Majesty's permission at once to offer to Lord Liverpool the office of Lord Steward, or any other which he might prefer.
"Sir Robert Peel then observed that he should have every wish to apply a similar principle to the chief appointments which are filled by the Ladies of your Majesty's household; upon which your Majesty was pleased to remark, that you must reserve the whole of those appointments, and that it was your Majesty's pleasure that the whole should continue as at present, without any change.
"The Duke of Wellington, in the interview to which your Majesty subsequently admitted him, understood also that this was your Majesty's determination, and concurred with Sir Robert Peel in opinion that, considering the great difficulties of the present crisis, and the expediency of making every effort in the first instance to conduct the public business of the country with the aid of the present Parliament, it was essential to the success of the commission with which your Majesty had honoured Sir Robert Peel, that he should have that public proof of your Majesty's entire support and confidence, which would be afforded by the permission to make some changes in that part of your Majesty's household, which your Majesty resolved on maintaining entirely without change.
"Having had the opportunity, through your Majesty's gracious consideration of reflecting upon this point, he humbly submits to your Majesty that he is reluctantly compelled, by a sense of public duty, and of the interest of your Majesty's service, to adhere to the opinion which he ventured to express to your Majesty.
"He trusts he may be permitted at the same time to express to your Majesty his grateful acknowledgements for the distinction which your Majesty conferred upon him, by requiring his advice and assistance in the attempt to form and administration, and his earnest prayers that whatever arrangements your Majesty may be enabled to make for that purpose, may be most conducive to your Majesty's personal comfort and happiness, and to the promotion of the public welfare."
These are the letters that passed, and I add nothing to the simple reading of them.
Last modified 26 June 2002