As Victoria (Jenna Coleman) accompanies Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) to a reception, he informs her about the anti-slavery bill currently being passed through the House of Commons and she expresses a desire to help but Melbourne warns her she has to remain impartial. Conroy (Paul Rhys) and the Duchess of Kent (Catherine Fleming) interrupt their conversation and hint Victoria should give her mother the title of Queen Mother but Victoria insists her title of Duchess of Kent is good enough since it was given to her by her husband. Later, the duchess brings the subject up again while Victoria is dressing for her coronation portrait and spitefully points out the crown is too large for her head.
Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Harriet Sutherland (Margaret Clunie) and Emma Portman (Anna Wilson-Jones), add to the Queen’s worries when they warn her Melbourne will have to resign if the bill does not pass. Victoria is relieved when Melbourne arrives at the palace to inform her the bill passed but it soon turns to dismay when she learns he intends to resign as prime minister as he has lost support. Victoria is extremely upset by the news and she immediately runs out into the rain like a petulant child and has to be consoled by her mother.
The following day, Victoria shuts herself in her room and the duchess is advised to send for Melbourne, however he is busy writing a letter recommending she ask the Duke of Wellington (Peter Bowles) to form a government. Victoria is pleased with the suggestion since she has known the duke since childhood but he declines due to his age and suggests Robert Peel (Nigel Lindsay). Victoria is reluctant to do so as she does not know Peel and Conroy infuriates her by suggesting she ask Cumberland (Peter Firth) for advice. Victoria sends for Melbourne but when he fails to appear she visits him instead. Melbourne tells Victoria she has no choice but to ask Peel to form a government and that they must maintain a distance from each other so she can remain impartial. Victoria is further upset when Melbourne tells her she has to replace Harriet and Emma.
Melbourne is out riding when he encounters Peel en route to the palace and he offers some advice on how to deal with Victoria, however Peel is adamant he knows best. When Peel arrives at the palace, Victoria is examining portraits for the new coins being minted and she asks Peel his opinion. Peel makes a poor impression by choosing the portrait Victoria finds the most unflattering and the meeting deteriorates further when he asks her to replace one or two of her Whig ladies. When Victoria refuses, Peel maintains he will not form a government and he returns to Parliament where he informs Wellington and Cumberland the Queen will not see reason. Cumberland implies Victoria has a temper and likens her moods to his father’s descent into madness.
Harriet and Emma both offer to resign their positions but Victoria is adamant she will lose neither and if Peel cannot form a government then so be it. Cumberland and Conroy plot to denounce Victoria’s mental health and Cumberland suggests an arrangement could be made to appoint the duchess as regent with himself as co-regent. Melbourne tries to persuade Victoria to see sense but she takes exception to his words and they quarrel. Melbourne maintains he cannot remain her prime minister under the circumstances and he cannot stand by while she threatens the very constitution he holds so dear. The duchess consoles Victoria by vowing to support her but Victoria accuses her of always siding with Conroy.
As Victoria celebrates her birthday, Melbourne sends her a telescope to “help her see things more clearly” which amuses her but the whole party is spoiled when rats crawl over the cake and the Queen becomes hysterical. Victoria’s reaction is exploited by Cumberland who gleefully implies the Queen is losing her mind and wonders what Wellington would make of it. The following day, Wellington visits Victoria to underline the importance of asking Peel to form a government but Victoria refuses to surrender her ladies.
As Victoria travels in her carriage, she is shouted at by people in the streets and Wellington informs Melbourne that the Queen’s mental stability is being called into question by Cumberland and he is appalled. When Victoria arrives to unveil her coronation portrait, she has trouble pulling the cord but Melbourne, ever gallant, comes to her rescue. Melbourne then informs Victoria he would like to remain as her prime minister which pleases her greatly. Cumberland sourly watches on and Wellington tells him the country likes having a young queen and they need to bide their time so the Tories can form a government in the right way.
At the palace, Victoria and her ladies celebrate Melbourne’s return but he sobers when he is reminded the Queen will need to marry some day and then she will have no need of him.
- The problem with Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting became known as the Bedchamber Crisis and it occurred on 7 May 1839 when Melbourne announced his intention to resign as depicted. Although she was supposed to remain impartial as monarch, Victoria’s sympathies lay with the Whigs and she refused to surrender her ladies when prompted by Peel. Peel refused to form a government and the crisis was averted when Melbourne was persuaded to remain in office.
- The Whigs were a political party who operated from the 1680s to the 1850s and who opposed the notion of absolute monarchy. The Whigs were long standing enemies of the Stuart kings who were Roman Catholic and they took full control of the government in 1715, remaining dominant until George III ascended the throne in 1760.
- The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire with the exception of some colonies like Ceylon and St. Helena. The Jamaica Act 1839 passed a bill to suspend Jamaica’s constitution after riots due to emancipation of slaves. The bill was passed with a majority of just five votes which undermined Melbourne’s tenure.
- When Victoria ascended the throne, the longstanding relationship between Britain and Hanover came to an end as females were not allowed to succeed to the Hanoverian throne. Instead, the Hanoverian throne passed to Victoria’s uncle, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who arrived there on 28 June 1837. Ernest Augustus remained Victoria’s heir until the birth of her first child, however he only visited England once in 1843 when attending the wedding of Princess Augusta of Cambridge.
- Victoria’s grandfather, George III, was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover and he reigned for almost sixty years. The king began to experience bouts of mental illness which gradually grew worse and prompted the need for the passing of the Regency Bill in February 1789 to allow his eldest son to act as regent. Although the king recovered, he became ill again in 1810 after the death of his favourite daughter but this time there would be no recovery. The king was kept in seclusion at Windsor Castle until his death on 29 January 1820.