Women Who Ruled: Queen Victoria, part 4

In 1839 Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister Lord Melbourne told her of his plan to retire from government service. The young, inexperienced queen relied on his counsel and hated to see him go. She asked his fellow Whig the Duke of Wellington who’d been a Tory party prime minister during her uncle’s reign to form a ministry, but he declined. Victoria then turned to the Tory leader Sir Robert Peel. He agreed to serve on one condition: that Victoria expel and replace her ladies-in-waiting.

Peel thought certain ladies, wives of Whig politicians, would weaken his power and influence. Victoria, lonely throughout her whole life, refused at first to give up her companions.  However after she married Albert and could rely on his presence, and after Melbourne had time to prepare her for the transition of power, Victoria relented. Peel was appointed Prime Minister. The entire ordeal became known as the “bedchamber crisis” and in later life Victoria speculated she might have acted differently now. 

After her marriage to Albert, Queen Victoria had evicted her mother, the Duchess of Kent, from the castle, but given her the grand homes of Clarence and Frogmore. Albert mediated between the two, and by 1840 he and the Queen took regular carriage trips to visit the Duchess. On one of these trips in 1840, a young man named Edward Oxford aimed two pistols at the female monarch and squeezed the triggers. Both shots missed.

 Victoria was 21 years old, and four months into her first pregnancy. As onlookers seized Oxford, according to his diary Albert took up Victoria’s hands, looked into her eyes and asked “if the fright had not shaken her, but she laughed.” The couple continued on their journey, to let the Duchess know they were alright and to gather a detail of riders to protect them on the journey home. The Duchess accompanied them to Hyde Park, where a crowd had gathered to cheer for her survival. It wasn’t until she reached her private bedchamber in Buckingham Palace that Victoria permitted herself to cry. 

Edward Oxford confessed to the deed, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He variously claimed to have and have not used bullets in addition to gunpowder. Oxford claimed to have no political objection to the Queen herself or to the institution of the monarchy, he said he simply wanted notoriety. In the sense that I am writing about his crime 177 years later, he succeeded. He lived out his life in mental asylums. 

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