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Sunday, October 10, 2021

Day 59

Anna Marie Russell (nee Stanhope), Duchess of Bedford, was born in 1783; the eldest daughter of 11 children to Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Harrington, and Jane Fleming. In 1808 she married Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock (later 7th Duke of Bedford on the death of his father in October 1839) - the elder brother of John Russell, 1st Earl of Russell, who served twice as Prime Minister (1846-1852; 1865-1866). Anna was a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria and served as Lady of the Bedchamber between 1837 to 1841. In 1839, the then young and unmarried Queen Victoria was implicated in two scandals involving the Queen’s ladies: the ‘Bedchamber Crisis’ and the ‘Hastings Affair’. When Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837 she developed a close relationship with her first Prime Minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1834, 1835-1841), a Whig. When Melbourne resigned in early 1839 after a defeat in Parliament, Queen Victoria invited the Conservative leader Sir Robert Peel to form a government. Peel insisted that the Queen's Whig associated ‘Ladies of the Bedchamber’ be replaced with Tory ones, which was the usual practice. The Queen refused, so Peel declined to form a government and Melbourne returned to office - Victoria would later reconcile with Peel when he became Prime Minister in 1841, influenced by Prince Albert who replaced Melbourne as confidant and advisor. The Hasting’s Affair started when Anna, along with Baroness Lehzen (Victoria’s former governess), accused Lady Flora Hastings (a companion to Victoria and former lady in waiting to the Duchess of Kent, Victoria’s mother; who Victoria suspected of spying) to be with child, after complaints of abdominal pain. Lady Hastings was unmarried and Anna spread the rumour that Sir John Conroy was the father (Victoria’s old controller who she despised). Lady Hastings wrote to her uncle who leaked the accusation to the press, and when she was later diagnosed with cancer and soon afterwards died, Anna, Baroness Lehzen and the Queen herself came under severe public criticism for blemishing the reputation of an innocent woman. Though Anna, Duchess Bedford, is probably best remembered for afternoon tea…