I just watched the first episode of the PBS series Victoria. Since I write a lot about mean girl culture, I found the Lady Flora story fascinating, first because it really happened (well, not in terms of the time frame, but I’ll get to that) and second, because Victoria’s diaries are now accessible at http://qvj.chadwyck.com/marketing.do and we get the chance to see what she actually thought about what was happening to her.
Lady Flora was the Duchess of Kent’s (Victoria’s mother’s) Lady in Waiting. The young Victoria disliked Lady Flora, partially because Lady Flora gave her unsolicited advice about how to be a proper queen, and also partially because she hated her mother and her mother’s “advisor,” John Conroy, who had kept her under lock and key and attempted to control her (doesn’t every adolescent girl think this, though, about her mother?) Now, Lady Flora has a kind of pinched expression and disapproves of everything, and you can tell that she would kill to be Queen herself. So you can understand why Victoria dislikes her, and why the plan she comes up with seems so appealing at first.
Sometime after the coronation, Victoria and the other court ladies noticed that Lady Flora’s stomach was swelling and they came to the conclusion (the convenient conclusion, for Victoria) that she was pregnant with John Conroy’s child, because they had rode unaccompanied in a carriage together.
On the show, this all takes place before the coronation. Victoria, seeing this as an opportunity to get rid of her controlling stepfather-figure and her weak mother, bars Lady Flora from court until she succumbs to a medical examination. Lady Flora agrees, though she is appalled, and the show presents this in a series of cuts between Lady Flora’s painful and embarrassing exam, while two older men stare at her spread legs underneath sheets, and the coronation, where Victoria, the star of the show, drinks too much champagne is butt-grabbed by a Russian, only to be rescued by Lord Melborn.
The doctors proclaim Lady Flora “virgo intacta” and we soon find that it is a deadly tumor, not a fetus, responsible for her abdominal swelling. The Press gets hold of the story and holds Victoria accountable for humiliating a dying young woman, and finally Victoria asks forgiveness at Lady Flora’s deathbed (which she does not give, telling her that “only God” can forgive. So good luck with that, Victoria.)
And she is the Queen–she can do anything she wants, or so it seems, but the show makes clear that her options for escaping the manipulations of those around her (even as the Queen! ) are limited, and that the only idea that might work involves throwing another young woman under the bus. If Flora had been pregnant, then success–for Victoria, that is.
Flora was doomed either way.