Victorian Happenings: The Bedchamber Crisis

The Bedchamber crisis occurred in May 1839 after Whig politician Lord Melbourne had resigned as Prime Minister. Queen Victoria invited Tory politician Robert Peel to form a new government. Peel realised that such a government would hold a minority in the House of Commons and would be structurally weak, possibly damaging his future political career.

Peel accepted the invitation on the condition that Queen Victoria dismiss some of her ladies of the bedchamber, many of whom were wives or relatives of leading Whig politicians. The Queen refused the request, considering her ladies as close friends and confidantes, not as objects of political bargaining. Peel, therefore, refused to become Prime Minister and Melbourne was eventually persuaded to stay on as Prime Minister.

The Lady of the Bedchamber is the title of the person holding the official position of personal attendant on a British queen or princess. The position is traditionally held by a female member of a noble family.

In 1839, concerns that Queen Victoria was determined to surround herself with wives of Whig politicians led to the bedchamber crisis, preventing the installation of a Tory government under Robert Peel.

This is a list of those who have served as Lady of the Bedchamber (also styled Gentlewoman of Her Majesty’s Bedchamber) in the British Royal Household under Queen Victoria.

Ladies of the Bedchamber to Victoria, 1837-1901
1837–1838: Louisa Petty-FitzMaurice, Marchioness of Lansdowne
1837–1838: Louisa Lambton, Countess of Durham
1837–1841: Maria Phipps, Marchioness of Normanby

Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford

Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford

1837–1841: Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford
1837–1842: Sarah Lyttelton, Baroness Lyttelton, then Governess (Lady Superintendent) of the Royal Children 1842–1850.
1837–1842: Frances Noel, Countess of Gainsborough
1837–1851: Emma Portman, Baroness Portman
1837–1854: Anne Caulfield, Countess of Charlemont
1838–1840: Blanche Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
1839: Elizabeth Campbell, Marchioness of Breadalbane
1839–1842: Mary Montagu, Countess of Sandwich
1840–1854 & 1863–1865: Carolina Edgcumbe, Countess of Mount Edgcumbe
1841–1845: Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore
1841–1867: Frances Jocelyn, Viscountess Jocelyn (extra 1867-1880)
1842: Susan Broun-Ramsay, Countess of Dalhousie
1842–1843: Charlotte Fitzalan-Howard, Duchess of Norfolk
1842–1855: Charlotte Canning, Countess Canning
1843–1858: Elizabeth Wellesley, Duchess of Wellington
1845–1864: Elizabeth Cuffe, Countess of Desart
1851–1889: Jane Loftus, Marchioness of Ely
1854–1897: Anne Murray, Duchess of Atholl
1854–1900: Jane Spencer, Baroness Churchill
1855–1863: Maria Bosville-Macdonald, Baroness Macdonald
1858–1878: Jane Alexander, Countess of Caledon
1864–1890: Elizabeth Cavendish, Baroness Waterpark
1865–1895: Susanna Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe
1867–1872: Eliza Agar-Ellis, Viscountess Clifden
1872–1874: Blanche Bourke, Countess of Mayo
1873–1901: Eliza Hay, Countess of Erroll
Julia Janet Georginana Duncan

Julia Janet Georginana Duncan

1874–1885: Julia Abercromby, Baroness Abercromby
1878–1901: Ismania FitzRoy, Baroness Southampton
1885–1901: Emily Russell, Baroness Ampthill
1889–1901: Cecilia Dawnay, Viscountess Downe
1890–1901: Louisa McDonnell, Countess of Antrim
1895–1901: Edith Bulwer-Lytton, Countess of Lytton
1897–1901: Anne Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe

After Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, the Queen no longer relied on her ladies as companions. In the 1841 general election, Peel’s Tories gained a majority and Peel replaced Melbourne. Perhaps on the advice of Prince Albert, Victoria made no attempt to block Peel’s request to replace the Whig ladies of the bedchamber with Conservatives.

The Bedchamber Crisis was depicted in the 2009 film The Young Victoria.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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2 Responses to Victorian Happenings: The Bedchamber Crisis

  1. Suzan says:

    I actually enjoyed the movie – the young victoria.

  2. junewilliams7 says:

    I understand Peel’s thinking, but it seems ineffective – she could still retain her friends as friends, and be influenced by them if she wished. Sigh…. politics. Thank you for the explanation, Regina!

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