by Susan Flantzer
© Unofficial Royalty 2018
Lady Flora Hastings was a Lady-in-Waiting to The Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria’s mother, from 1834 – 1839.
Lady Flora Elizabeth Rawdon-Hastings was born on February 11, 1806, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the eldest of the six children of Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings and Flora Mure-Campbell, 6th Countess of Loudoun. Lady Flora’s father served in the Irish House of Commons from 1781 – 1783 and was Governor-General of India from 1813 – 1823. He also served with British forces during the American Revolutionary War and the French Revolutionary Wars.
Lady Flora had five younger siblings:
- The Honorable Francis Rawdon-Hastings (born and died 1807)
- George Rawdon-Hastings, 2nd Marquess of Hastings (1808 – 1844), married Barbara Yelverton, 20th Baroness Grey de Ruthyn, had six children
- Lady Sophia Rawdon-Hastings (1809 – 1859), married John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute and had one child
- Lady Selina Rawdon-Hastings (1810 – 1867), married Charles Henry, no children
- Lady Adelaide Rawdon-Hastings (1812 – 1860), married Sir William Murray, 7th Baronet of Octertyre, no children
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Flora spent her most of her childhood at Loudoun Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland, the family estate of her mother, the 6th Countess of Loudoun in her own right. Then the family stayed for some time in London, where in 1834, Lady Flora was appointed to the position of the lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Kent, the mother of the future Queen Victoria.
Flora was a talented, educated woman who wrote poetry and had a sharp, biting wit. Her talent for stinging remarks caused many people at court to dislike her including Baroness Louise Lehzen, the governess of the future Queen Victoria. As an ally of The Duchess of Kent and her Comptroller Sir John Conroy, Lady Flora participated in their Kensington System, a strict and elaborate set of rules to control and influence Princess Victoria.
After her accession to the throne in June 1837 and her subsequent move to Buckingham Palace, the 18-year-old Queen Victoria, being an unmarried woman, was forced to take her mother and her entire household with her. The Duchess of Kent tried to force Queen Victoria to appoint Lady Flora as one of the maids of honor. Victoria refused to do so, believing that any member of her mother’s household would act as a spy.
Lady Flora spent Christmas 1838 with her mother in Scotland and traveled back to London in a carriage with Sir John Conroy, unchaperoned, which caused some gossip at court. A short time after returning to London, Flora complained of nausea, pain, and swelling in her lower abdomen and back.
She told her complaints to Sir James Clark, Physician-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria. Clark was confused that Flora was still able to do her job if she was really ill. He tried to examine her under her stays but Lady Flora refused. He then asked her if she was secretly married, intimating that she was pregnant, which Flora strongly denied. Clark insisted that Flora confess to save her reputation.
It appeared that Clark was ignorant of any condition other than pregnancy that could cause a distended stomach. He prescribed rhubarb pills and a lotion to rub on her stomach. At that same time, some of the Queen’s ladies and Baroness Lehzen noticed that Lady Flora’s abdomen appeared swollen and rumors of a pregnancy began swirling around the court.
When Lady Tavistock (later Duchess of Bedford), senior Lady of the Bedchamber, came back to court to serve, she found the other ladies all in a to-do over the situation. She decided to inform Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister about the situation. Lord Melbourne advised a wait-and-see policy but he did consult with Sir James Clark who said there were reasons for suspicions that Lady Flora was pregnant.
By February 2, 1839, Queen Victoria was involved. On that day, she wrote in her diary that she and Lehzen believed Lady Flora “is – to use plain words – with child!” Suspicions were that Sir John Conroy was the father.
Eventually, Lady Flora agreed to a doctor’s examination and Sir James Clark enlisted Sir Charles Clarke, a specialist in women’s health, to do the examination. A February 17 examination showed that Flora could not be pregnant because she was still a virgin. Queen Victoria apologized to Lady Flora and hoped that the situation was over but it was not. Despite the fact that the news about Flora’s innocence became public, rumors did not stop, and she still attracted attention with her growing belly. Lady Flora felt that she had to defend herself and published her version of events in the form of a letter which appeared in The Examiner, and blamed “a certain foreign lady” (Lehzen) for spreading the rumors.
In June, it became apparent that Lady Flora, still performing her duties at court, was mortally ill. On June 27, 1839, Queen Victoria visited Flora and was horrified by the changes in her appearance. Lady Flora died on July 5, 1839, at the age of 33. An autopsy carried out according to Lady Flora’s last wishes showed that she died from a cancerous liver tumor. Lady Flora’s body was transported to Loudoun Castle where her funeral was attended by about 500 people. She was buried in the cemetery at Loudoun Kirk near Loudoun Castle in Scotland.
Sir John Conroy and George Rawdon-Hastings, 2nd Marquess of Hastings, Flora’s brother, stirred up a press campaign against both Queen Victoria and Sir James Clark which attacked them for insulting and disgracing Lady Flora with false rumors. Some historians blame Queen Victoria for the heartless attitude and harassment of Flora. What happened to Lady Flora remained with Queen Victoria and she had nightmares about the situation for years. This horrible situation taught the young queen a valuable lesson – never listen to gossip and never humiliate others, especially in public.
In the September 1839 issue of the medical journal The Lancet, Dr. John Fisher Murray wrote an article An Autopsy of a Court Doctor, in which he described a number of other diseases, the symptoms of which were shown in Lady Flora, which Sir James Clark did not take into account upon treating her. Despite the fact that Clark was considered incompetent, he remained in royal service until his retirement in 1860.
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Recommended Book – Serving Queen Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
- Baird, Julia. Victoria The Queen. Random House, 2016.
- Hubbard, Kate. Serving Victoria: Life In The Royal Household. Harper Collins Publishers, 2012.
- “Lady Flora Hastings”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Flora_Hastings. Accessed 13 May 2018.