The Queen accepted every name which Peel proposed to her in the list of the new Ministry; but Peel suddenly came to observe the composition of the Royal household and the names of the ladies of the Bedchamber, as the official phrase goes, who were to be in the closest attendance on the Queen. Among these he noticed the names of the wife of a late Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland under the Whig Party, and the sister of Lord Morpeth, who was Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant in the same Administration. It occurred very naturally to Peel's mind that the chief difficulty of the new Conservative Government would, as a matter of necessity, be in Ireland where the Whigs had long been holding out hopes to O'Connell and his followers - hopes which the very business of a Tory Administration would make it impossible to encourage. Peel, therefore, felt that it would not be possible for him to carry out with facility the policy which he intended to administer in Ireland if the wife and the sister of two Liberal statesmen, now turned out of office, were to be the closest companions of the Sovereign. All this seems very absurd now, and we can hardly wonder if foreign States found it extremely ridiculous that Peel should insist on dictating to the young Sovereign who were to be and who were not to be her closest companions among the ladies of her Court.
Peel, however, held fast to his purpose, and declined to form an administration unless the two ladies in question were withdrawn from the Royal household. To make matters worse Peel, under these difficult and embarrassing conditions, seems to have introduced new difficulties and new embarrassments by failing to convey to the young Sovereign a correct idea of his meaning. The Queen was left under the impression that Peel intended to claim for a new administration the right of dictating the composition of the Royal household. As the story first became known to the public, it went about that Peel had actually asserted the right of a new Prime Minister to clear out the whole staff of the Queen's attendant women, including, no doubt, the laundry women and the kitchenmaids. All Peel wanted to do was to prevail upon her Majesty to make some arrangement by which the wife and sister of two displaced Liberal statesmen should not remain in the closest official companionship with the Queen, on whose young mind Peel fancied that these ladies would work in a manner unfavourable to the policy of the new Conservative Administration. Peel did not then know the Queen; he knew nothing of the respect for the constitution which then and afterwards governed all her public conduct. On the other hand, the Queen was left under the impression that Peel was setting up a new, a preposterous, and a positively offensive claim, which she could not with dignity accept. Had she understood, had Peel made it clear, that his only object was to point out to her that the close companionship of these two ladies might create an unsatisfactory impression on the public mind, and might lead to some idea among the Conservatives that the policy of their leaders was likely to be countermined by petticoat influence, it may be taken for granted that the Queen would have made some satisfactory arrangement.
As it was the whole question became a muddle, and the news of the controversy was received at first with a general burst of laughter, and then with an outbreak of almost extravagant anger against Peel on the part of the whole body of reformers in Great Britain and Ireland. The Queen consulted Lord John Russell on the subject, and Russell advised her very properly and justly on what he understood to be the real state of the facts. The Queen acted on his advice, and made it known that she could not consent to the course which she conceived to be contrary to usage, and which was repugnant to her own feelings. Outside the ranks of the most inveterate Conservatives there was only the one feeling, that the Queen had behaved with propriety, dignity, and with true womanly courage. Peel became intensely unpopular in London and in nearly all parts of the country. One of the amusing stories told at the time is about the reception given by a popular audience to a very innocent line in a play at one of the London theatres. One scene discovered a captive princess in a prison tower, who hears the notes of a dismal bell. She says, according to her text, " I hate that peal, the solemn swell"; and she was going to say more when she was interrupted by a burst of vociferous cheering from boxes, pit, and galleries which stopped the performance for a time. The audience had given a personal meaning to the line by cheering and by uproarious laughter.
In the meanwhile Peel was out of office just as he was about to enter it, and Lord Melbourne and his colleagues were invited to return, just after they had made what seemed to be their parting bow. Lord Melbourne and his colleagues had to resume their places; and at the first meeting of the Cabinet they adopted a minute which of itself shows that for some reason or other Sir Robert Peel's real meaning had been misunderstood. The minute which they adopted declared it reasonable that the great offices of the Court and situations in the Household held by Members of Parliament should be included in the political arrangements made in the change of an administration; "but they are not of opinion that a similar principle should be applied or extended to the offices held by ladies of Her Majesty's Household." Of course the whole dispute became a subject of question and reply, explanation and discussion, in both Houses of Parliament. Peel certainly did not better his position by the rhetorical extravagance of the language in which he defended his course of action. Like many a man habitually reserved and cautious of speech, Peel could, under certain temptations, break into hyperbolical eloquence which might have come with some effect from the mouth of Lord Brougham or Lord Durham, but which seemed absolutely ridiculous when it issued from the lips of a statesman habitually careful in the use of his words and rarely given to three-piled hyperbole. Lord Melbourne for once grew impassioned on the other side, and the whole dispute could hardly have impressed foreign nations with a very profound sense of the dignity of Constitutional Government. The question, was finally settled after the Queen's marriage by an amicable and sensible arrangement suggested by the Prince Consort .At the time of the dispute itself the Queen was still unmarried.