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Advice To A Queen

The National Sound Archive section of The British Library holds a number of recordings by Anne and Peter, one of which is the BBC radio play Advice To A Queen featuring Anne as Lady Flora Hastings.

During Marianne’s visit to London in May 2004, we went to the library to listen to this play, as well as Peter’s Toad Of Toad Hall EP. Although Advice To A Queen lasted 1 hours, we became totally wrapped up in the events and wished it could have gone on even longer. We were both blown away by this version of the very sad but true story about Lady Flora, movingly portrayed by Anne. We would love the BBC to rebroadcast the play or release it on CD/audio tape so we could hear it again.

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Advice To A Queen was written by Ian Cullen and first broadcast on Radio 4 on 1 February 1975 in the Saturday-Night Theatre slot.  The play was directed by Christopher Venning and starred:

Trevor Howard as Lord Melbourne
Anne Stallybrass as Lady Flora Hastings
Prunella Scales as Queen Victoria
Rosalie Crutchley as the Duchess of Kent

The story takes places during the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. The young Queen was very popular when she came to the throne but the public’s indignation at Lady Flora’s treatment shook the monarchy and the government.

Lady Flora Hastings, whose family home was Loudoun Castle in Ayrshire, was a Lady of the Bedchamber to the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria’s mother. Despite not being in perfect health, she left her home to return to court and was accompanied on the journey only by a family friend, Sir John Conroy, Comptroller of the Duchess’s household. The Queen heartily disliked Sir John and was not terribly close to her mother either.

Shortly after arriving, Lady Flora’s health deteriorated and her stomach began to swell.  The Queen’s ladies in waiting, always fond of gossip, spread a malicious rumour that she was pregnant by Sir John. Victoria believed the worst and became involved in the rumour mongering. The Queen’s doctor, Sir James Clark, confirmed Lady Flora was expecting despite having given her only a cursory examination. The Queen sought the advice of Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister, to whom she was very close. He did not deal with the matter sufficiently firmly and the scandal escalated.

When told what was being said of her, Lady Flora was horrified by the accusation and fiercely denied she was pregnant, claiming she was still a virgin. The Duchess of Kent sided with Flora against her daughter. She appealed to her brother, Lord Hastings, for help and he came down to London. Eventually Flora underwent a thorough and degrading examination that confirmed she was telling the truth and revealed she was suffering from a liver disorder.

The full story was published in the newspapers, causing the Hastings family great distress, but the public came down heavily in Lady Flora’s favour.  The Queen’s popularity plummeted and she was even hissed at.  The matter was also taken up in parliament, with the Tories coming out against Melbourne and his Whigs.

Lady Flora’s health continued to worsen and she died shortly after at the age of thirty-three.  A book of her poems was published after her death and include these sad lines:

“Grieve not that I die young.  Is it not well
To pass away ere life hath lost its brightness?”

Should anyone be interested in visiting the National Sound Archive, details of the recordings held and instructions on booking appointments, obtaining a pass, etc. can be found via The British Library website at www.bl.uk.

DR, June 2004

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