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Chapter XLV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 4

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This scandalously unchivalrous and disloyal speech was all through vehemently applauded by the audience. The intemperate spirit of party by which it was dictated was not, however, confined to civilians. About the same time the colonel and officers of the 20th Regiment were present at a dinner of the Conservative Association at Ashton-under-Lyne, where similar speeches were delivered. This fact was brought under the notice of the Horse Guards, and on the 3rd of November the Adjutant-General forwarded to Colonel Thomas an extract of " expressions most insulting and disrespectful towards the Queen," which were reported in the Times to have been used by Mr. Roby on that occasion; and the colonel was requested to state whether he had heard that language, and whether he had immediately expressed his disapprobation of those sentiments. He added that it was most painful to Lord Hill to know that officers of the army were present on such an occasion. Colonel Thomas replied rather stiffly that no expression used by Mr. Roby conveyed to his mind the slightest disrespect, much less insult to the Queen, and he flattered himself that his faithful service of upwards of forty-one years might have assured Lord Hill that he would not have been wanting, if such an impression had been conveyed to him. He had been invited, as a member of Parliament, to meet Sir Francis Burdett. A further explanation having been demanded, and proving unsatisfactory, the Commander-in-Chief directed a communication to be sent to Sir Charles Napier, commander of the northern district, in which he said: - " In this state of a case on every account very distressing to him, it remains for Lord Hill but to order that you convey to Colonel Thomas, and to every other officer belonging to the forces now serving under your command who was present upon the above occasion, the expression of his lordship's most pointed and decided displeasure, reminding them that as military servants they are bound to confine themselves to their military duties, and that when they thus venture to connect themselves with any party association, under any circumstances or upon any pretence whatever, they incur a heavy responsibility, and expose themselves to the heaviest blame." Sir Charles Napier was directed to have this letter read to the officers of the regiment, and to forbid any further discussion of the subject.

In proportion to the violence of the manifestations of disloyalty among the Tories, was the fervour of loyalty evinced by Mr. O'Connell and his followers in Ireland. At a meeting at Bandon, on the 5th of December, the great agitator, in the midst of tremendous cheering, the entire assembly rising in response to the concluding appeal, said: - "We must be, we are loyal to our young and lovely Queen. God bless her! We must be, we are attached to the throne, and to the lovely being by whom it is filled. She is going to be married. God bless the Queen! I am a father and a grandfather; and in the face of heaven I pray with as much honesty and fervency for Queen Victoria as I do for any of my own progeny. The moment I heard of the daring and audacious menaces of the Tories towards the Sovereign, I promulgated through the press my feelings of detestation, and my determination on the matter. Oh, if I be not greatly mistaken, I'd get in one day five hundred thousand brave Irishmen to defend the life, the person, and the honour of the beloved young lady by whom England's throne is now filled. Let every man in the vast and multitudinous assembly stretched out before me who is loyal to the Queen, and would defend her to the last, lift up his right hand. There are hearts in those hands. I tell you that if necessity required there would be swords in them."

In the meanwhile, Her Majesty was pleased to communicate to the members of the Privy Council assembled at Buckingham Palace on the 23rd of November, her intention of contracting an alliance with a Prince of the fortunate family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The declaration was made by Her Majesty in the following terms: - " I have caused you to be summoned at the present time in order that I may acquaint you with my resolution in a matter which deeply concerns the welfare of my people and the happiness of my future life. It is my intention to ally myself in marriage with the Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the engagement which I am about to contract, I have not come to this decision without mature consideration, nor without feeling a strong assurance that, with the blessing of Almighty God, it will at once secure my domestic felicity, and serve the interests of my country. I have thought fit to make this resolution known to you at the earliest period, in order that you may be fully apprised of a matter so highly important to me and to my kingdom, and which, I persuade myself, will be most acceptable to all my loving subjects." Upon this announcement the Council humbly requested that Her Majesty's most gracious declaration might be made public, which Her Majesty was pleased to order accordingly.

The approaching marriage of the Queen was anticipated by the nation with satisfaction. We have seen, from the height to which party spirit ran, that " the divinity that doth hedge a king," and should more effectually hedge a queen, was not able to protect Her Majesty from the slanders of frantic partisans; and it was therefore extremely desirable that she should have a husband to stand between her and such unmanly attacks as those of Mr. Bradshaw. An occurrence, however, took place in the early part of the year very painful in its nature, which added much to the unpopularity of the Court. This was the cruel suspicion which was cast upon Lady Flora Hastings by some of the ladies about the Queen, and is supposed to have caused her early death. Lady Flora was the daughter of the Marquis of Hastings, the descendant of a race distinguished by their services to the British Crown. She was one of the ladies in attendance on the Duchess of Kent; and soon after her arrival at Court it was generally surmised, from the appearance of her person, that she had been privately married, the consequence of which was, that in order to clear her character, which was perfectly blameless, she was compelled to submit to the humiliation of a medical examination. The facts of the case were stated by Sir James Clark, who was very much censured for the part he took in the matter. On the 10th of January he was consulted by Lady Flora Hastings, who had that day arrived from Scotland, and he prescribed some remedies for an affection of the stomach, which had the desired effect. But certain symptoms remained which attracted attention. About the 1st of February, therefore, he was sent for by Lord Melbourne, and informed that a communication had been made by Lady Tavistock respecting Lady Flora Hastings, whose appearance had given rise to a suspicion in the palace that she might be privately married. Sir J. Clark admitted that in his opinion the suspicion was countenanced by appearances, but they both agreed that no step should then be taken in the matter. From that time, however, the condition erf her ladyship caused the doctor considerable anxiety. It could be accounted for only by pregnancy or disease. The latter supposition was at variance with the state of her general health, which was subject to very little derangement. Lady Portman, then the lady-in-waiting upon the Queen, soon after questioned Sir James Clark upon the point, and observed that, for the sake of Lady Flora Hastings herself, as well as for the Court, it was necessary that the matter should be cleared up. Sir James Clark having conveyed to Lady Flora this very painful communication, she at once denied that there were any grounds whatever for the suspicion, and named Sir Charles Clarke, who, she said, had known her from childhood, as the physician she would wish to be called in; but she declined, notwithstanding earnest entreaties, to see him that day. " This refusal," says Sir James, " after the reasons which I had given, lessened very considerably the effect upon my mind of her ladyship's denial." He then communicated with the Duchess of Kent, who immediately expressed her entire disbelief of anything injurious to Lady Flora's character. The result, however, of a consultation with Her Royal Highness was, that Sir Charles Clarke was called in; and Lady Flora requested that Lady Portman might be called in also, which was done. Lady Flora's maid was also in attendance. The two doctors then signed the following certificate, dated Buckingham Palace, February 17th, 1839: - " We have examined with great care the state of Lady Flora Hastings, with a view to determine the existence or non-existence of pregnancy; and it is our opinion, although there is an enlargement of the stomach, that there are no grounds for suspicion that pregnancy does exist, or ever did exist."

As an excuse for his own erroneous impression, Sir James Clark says: "If even Sir Charles Clarke did not venture to express a positive opinion until after a careful examination, it will be readily conceded that no other person could have done so without recurring to a similar proceeding; and if anything farther were required to establish the difficulties of this very peculiar case, and the heavy responsibility attaching to a decision on it, there are other facts connected with it which prove, in the most unequivocal manner, both the one and the other - facts which do not throw the slightest shade of doubt on the purity of Lady Flora, nor are matter of blame to any one, but which it is not necessary to bring before the public."

Lady Flora Hastings died on July 5th, and the post- mortem examination established the fact that her death was occasioned by extensive disease, dating its origin at some former and distant period of time; and yet such was the obscurity of the symptoms which accompanied it during life, that its nature became evident only a few weeks before her death. This event, however, excited very strong feelings in the public mind with regard to the treatment she had received. She herself had described Sir James Clark's manner, in communicating the suspicion to her, as "violent and coarse;" and her maid deposed that the conduct of Sir James Clark and Lady Portman was unnecessarily abrupt, indelicate, and unfeeling. These accusations were publicly preferred in a letter from the Marquis of Hastings; but they were denied in the most positive manner by Sir James Clark, who concludes his statement of the case as follows: - " Deeply painful as it has been to me to see my name so long associated with alleged acts and motives at which my very nature revolts, the consciousness of my own rectitude, the friendship of those who from long and intimate acquaintance know me to be incapable of the conduct imputed to me, and a firm reliance on justice being ultimately done to all parties, have supported me under an accumulation of attacks, such as few professional men can have been subjected to."

In the correspondence published on the subject is a letter to the Queen from Lady Flora's mother, the Marchioness of Hastings, which, to insure safe delivery, was entrusted to Lord Melbourne, who was instructed to return the following answer: - " The allowance which Her Majesty is anxious to make for the natural feelings of a mother upon such an occasion, tended to diminish that surprise which could not be otherwise than excited by the tone and substance of your ladyship's letter. Her Majesty commands me to convey to y oui* ladyship the expression of her deep concern at the unfortunate circumstances that have recently taken place. Her Majesty hastened to seize the first opportunity of testifying to Lady Flora Hastings her conviction of the error of the impression that had prevailed, and is still most desirous to do everything in her power to soothe the feelings of Lady Flora and her family." Before this letter was received, Lady Hastings had written to the Premier a very angry letter, complaining that no steps had been taken to repair, as far as reparation was possible, the indignity offered to her daughter in the palace. She said: "The nature and manner of the course pursued in this atrocious conspiracy - for it admits of no other name - are unexampled; and yet Sir James Clark remains Her Majesty's physician. I claim at your hands, my lord, as a mark of public justice, the removal of Sir James Clark." To this Lord Melbourne replied: "The demand which your ladyship's letter makes upon me is so unprecedented and objectionable, that even the respect due to your ladyship's sex, rank, family, and character, would not justify me in more - if, indeed, it authorised so much - than acknowledging that letter, for the sole purpose of acquainting your ladyship that I have received it.

The death of Lady Flora, which was believed to be hastened, if not caused, by the painful ordeal through which she had passed, naturally intensified the public feeling with regard to these transactions at Court.

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