The Important Post of Mistress of the Robes - "The Great Bedchamber Plot" - The Ladies of the Bedchamber - Bedchamber "Women and Ladies in Waiting - Privileges and Salaries -Responsible Duties in a Coronation Year
"Court ladies! Bah! Ornaments, dolls, automatons, useless except for gossip and foolery!" It was thus that the irascible and vindictive Pope, who "committed acts of treachery to men, brutality to women, and ingratitude to both," once referred to the ladies of the Royal entourage.
Maybe the condemnation was deserved to a large extent in the days when the Court was a hotbed of intrigue, and a pretty face counted for more than character and honour. But time has changed all that. Ladies chosen to-day for attendance upon the Queen are indeed ladies of quality; not merely because of their high birth and rank, but also by reason of their sense of honour, dignity, and distinction in society. Naturally, such an office as that of Mistress of the Robes or Lady of the Bedchamber is an object of high ambition amongst the elite. And because of the access these positions give to the person of the Sovereign and his consort, they are, for the most part, filled by "the prime nobility of England."
Thus, the Mistress of the Robes is always a duchess, while the Ladies of the Bedchamber are always peeresses. It has been suggested from time to time that a lady of less exalted rank than a duchess should be appointed Mistress of the Robes. But the precedent has never been departed from, in spite of the
Her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire, who holds the important post of Mistress of the Robes to Queen
Mary. This office must always be held by a duchess
Photo, H. Uhillock & Sons express wishes of queens themselves. In 1841, for instance, Queen Victoria was anxious that the Lady Abercorn of that period-before the second Marquis of Abercorn had been raised to a dukedom-should become her Mistress of the Robes. But Sir Robert Peel, because the lady in question was a marchioness and not a duchess, declined to fall in with her Majesty's wishes. Mr. Gladstone similarly vetoed the suggestion made in 1886 that the 'marchioness of Ailesbury should be Mistress of the Robes.
Here it should be mentioned, by way of explanation, that the Mistress of the Robes is the only lady of the Court who comes into and goes out of office with the Administration. That is to say, the office is a political one, and changes with the Government. This has been so since 1839, in which year occurred what has been facetiously termed "The Great Bedchamber Plot." In that year Sir Robert Peel proposed that the change in the Ministry should include the chief appointments held by ladies of her Majesty's household. The Queen, however, refused her consent to this proposal, as contrary to usage and repugnant to her feelings. The consequence was that Sir Robert Peel declined to form a Ministry, and Lord Melbourne returned to office. And at a Council meeting of the latter's Ministry it was resolved, in elaborate and impressive legislative language, that " for the purpose of giving to the Administration the character of efficiency and stability, and those marks of the constitutional support of the Crown that are requisite to enable it to act usefully to the public service, it is reasonable that the great officers of the Court and situations in the household held by members of Parliament should be included in the political arrangements made on a change of the Administration. But they are not of opinion that a similar principle should be applied or extended to the offices held by ladies in her Majesty's household." And, consequently, since then the settled practice has been for all the ladies of the Court, except the Mistress of the Robes, to receive and continue in their appointments without any regard being paid to the political connections of their husbands, fathers, and brothers.
It is generally* acknowledged that one of the most distinguished Mistresses of the Robes was the Duchess of Buccleuch, who held the office with both dignity and efficiency under Queen Victoria-being appointed in 1885-and also under Queen Alexandra. She was ultimately succeeded by the Duchess of Devonshire, Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary. Other ladies who held the office with distinction during the reign of Queen Victoria were Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, Elizabeth, Duchess of Wellington, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (as Duchess of Manchester), and the Duchess of Richmond. The latter figures in an amusing story, by the way, apropos of the fact that Queen Mary has appointed six young ladies, all daughters of earls, to bear her train at the Coronation, thus following the example of Queen Victoria; Queen Alexandra having been attended by pages at her coronation. Queen Victoria had her eight lady train-bearers dressed in white Satin and silver tissue, with wreaths of silver corn ears and pink rose trimmings. On account of her youth, however, her Majesty left the choice of dress for her train-bearers to the Mistress of the Robes, the Duchess of Richmond. The
The Countess of Shaftesbury, Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Mary, previous to her marriage was Lady Constance Grosvenor, grand'daughter of the first Duke of Westminster. The Ladies of the Bedchamber share the duty of personal attendance upon the Queen throughout the year Photo, Thomson