Whilst visiting Harewood House in 1835, the young Princess Victoria was introduced to the Lascelles family, where she made a number of lasting friendships. Most significantly, she developed a close friendship with Lady Emma Portman (nee Lascelles), daughter of the 2nd Earl of Harewood.
Queen Victoria asked Lady Emma Portman (who was 10 years her senior) to become a Lady of the Bedchamber in June 1837, a position that she accepted by letter the very same day and held until 1851. Lady Portman appears frequently in Queen Victoria’s journals, the Queen often remarking upon how she was a ‘remarkably nice, amiable person’ and that she ‘could be more intimate with [Lady Portman] than with any of the others’. Victoria also records the sadness she felt when Lady Portman’s period waiting was out – ‘[Today I] took leave of Lady Portman; which I did with extreme regret, as I’m very fond of her, and shall miss the dear children sadly’.
Queen Victoria had 8 ladies of the bedchamber at any one time, attending her in rotation. They were, for the most part, companions to the Queen, accompanying her on many of the daily courtly rituals and outings; such as dining, playing after dinner games, attending state occasions, entertaining visiting royalty and escorting the Queen to operas and plays.
Victoria’s ambition was that her court would be morally discrete, respectable and a model of virtue to all. However, scandals did happen and Lady Portman was a key individual in the scandal of 1839, she encouraged gossip and the rumour that Lady Flora Hastings, lady in waiting to the Queen’s mother, was unlawfully with child. Despite protesting innocence, Lady Hastings was forced to have a physical examination by royal doctors. They confirmed that she was not pregnant but instead had an advanced tumour and had only months to live. The coverage of these events by the press were damming to the Queen and her ‘fellow conspirators’; Lady Portman was consequently heavily criticised for her involvement..
Despite the Hastings affair (which was soon eclipsed by other court scandals such as the Bedchamber Crisis), Victoria’s affection for Lady Portman remained strong. Upon Lady Portman’s death in 1865, Queen Victoria remarked sadly:
“My excellent Lady Portman also died on the 8th. It shocked me very much, as she seemed so well and happy last summer when she came, once more to attend on me and I envied her, her happiness with her husband! So many friends gone!”