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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Political History of England - Vol XI, by 
George Brodrick and J.K. Fotherington

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Title: The Political History of England - Vol XI
       From Addington's Administration to the close of William
              IV.'s Reign (1801-1837)

Author: George Brodrick
        J.K. Fotherington

Release Date: September 30, 2008 [EBook #26727]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Paul Murray, Brownfox and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries)

[Pg i]


Seventy-five years have passed since Lingard completed his History of England, which ends with the Revolution of 1688. During that period historical study has made a great advance. Year after year the mass of materials for a new History of England has increased; new lights have been thrown on events and characters, and old errors have been corrected. Many notable works have been written on various periods of our history; some of them at such length as to appeal almost exclusively to professed historical students. It is believed that the time has come when the advance which has been made in the knowledge of English history as a whole should be laid before the public in a single work of fairly adequate size. Such a book should be founded on independent thought and research, but should at the same time be written with a full knowledge of the works of the best modern historians and with a desire to take advantage of their teaching wherever it appears sound.

The vast number of authorities, printed and in manuscript, on which a History of England should be based, if it is to represent the existing state of knowledge, renders co-operation almost necessary and certainly advisable. The History, of which this volume is an instalment, is an attempt to set forth in a readable form the results at present attained by research. It will consist of twelve volumes by twelve different writers, [Pg ii]each of them chosen as being specially capable of dealing with the period which he undertakes, and the editors, while leaving to each author as free a hand as possible, hope to insure a general similarity in method of treatment, so that the twelve volumes may in their contents, as well as in their outward appearance, form one History.

As its title imports, this History will primarily deal with politics, with the History of England and, after the date of the union with Scotland, Great Britain, as a state or body politic; but as the life of a nation is complex, and its condition at any given time cannot be understood without taking into account the various forces acting upon it, notices of religious matters and of intellectual, social, and economic progress will also find place in these volumes. The footnotes will, so far as is possible, be confined to references to authorities, and references will not be appended to statements which appear to be matters of common knowledge and do not call for support. Each volume will have an Appendix giving some account of the chief authorities, original and secondary, which the author has used. This account will be compiled with a view of helping students rather than of making long lists of books without any notes as to their contents or value. That the History will have faults both of its own and such as will always in some measure attend co-operative work, must be expected, but no pains have been spared to make it, so far as may be, not wholly unworthy of the greatness of its subject.

Each volume, while forming part of a complete History, will also in itself be a separate and complete book, will be sold separately, and will [Pg iii]have its own index, and two or more maps.

The History is divided as follows:—

Vol. I. From the Earliest Times to the Norman Conquest (to 1066). By Thomas Hodgkin, D.C.L., Litt.D., Fellow of University College, London; Fellow of the British Academy. With 2 Maps.

Vol. II. From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John (1066-1216). By George Burton Adams, D.D., Litt.D., Professor of History in Yale University. With 2 Maps.

Vol. III. From the Accession of Henry III. to the Death of Edward III. (1216-1377). By T. F. Tout, M.A., Bishop Fraser Professor of Mediæval and Ecclesiastical History in the University of Manchester; formerly Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. With 3 Maps.

Vol. IV. From the Accession of Richard II. to the Death of Richard III. (1377-1485). By C. W. C. Oman, M.A., LL.D., M.P., Chichele Professor of Modern History in the University of Oxford; Fellow of the British Academy. With 3 Maps.

Vol. V. From the Accession of Henry VII. to the Death of Henry VIII. (1485-1547). By the Right Hon. H. A. L. Fisher, M.A., M.P., President of the Board of Education; Fellow of the British Academy. With 2 Maps.

Vol. VI. From the Accession of Edward VI. to the Death of Elizabeth (1547-1603). By A. F. Pollard, M.A., Litt.D., Fellow of All Souls' College, Oxford, and Professor of English History in the University of London. With 2 Maps.

Vol. VII. From the Accession of James I. to the Restoration (1603-1660). By F. C. Montague, M.A., Astor Professor of History in University College, London; formerly Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. With 3 Maps.[Pg iv]

Vol. VIII. From the Restoration to the Death of William III. (1660-1702). By Sir Richard Lodge, M.A., LL.D., Litt.D., Professor of History in the University of Edinburgh; formerly Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford. With 2 Maps.

Vol. IX. From the Accession of Anne to the Death of George II. (1702-1760). By I. S. Leadam, M.A., formerly Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford. With 8 Maps.

Vol. X. From the Accession of George III. to the Close of Pitt's First Administration (1760-1801). By the Rev. William Hunt, M.A., D.Litt., Trinity College, Oxford. With 3 Maps.

Vol. XI. From Addington's Administration to the Close of William IV.'s Reign (1801-1837). By the Hon. George C. Brodrick, D.C.L., late Warden of Merton College, Oxford, and J. K. Fotheringham, M.A., D.Litt., Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford; Lecturer in Ancient History at King's College, London. With 3 Maps.

Vol. XII. The Reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). By Sir Sidney Low, M.A., Fellow of King's College, London; formerly Scholar of Balliol College, Oxford, and Lloyd C. Sanders, B.A. With 3 Maps.

[Pg v]

The Political History of England


Edited by WILLIAM HUNT, D.Litt., and REGINALD L. POOLE, M.A.






[Pg vii]













[Pg ix]


When the late Warden of Merton undertook the preparation of this volume he invited the assistance of Dr. Fotheringham in the portions dealing with foreign affairs. At the time of the late Warden's death in 1903 three chapters (x., xii. and xviii.) were unwritten, and one (xx.) was left incomplete. It was also found that the volume had to be recast in order to meet the plan of the series. The necessary alterations and additions have been made by Dr. Fotheringham, who has been scrupulous in retaining the expression of the late Warden's views, and, where possible, his words.[Pg xi]




Mar., 1801. The new ministry 1
Condition of Ireland 2
Expedition to Copenhagend 3
Sept. Egypt evacuated by the French 6
French diplomatic successes 6
Bonaparte's concordat with the pope 7
Peace negotiations with France 8
Cornwallis at Amiens 10
25 Mar., 1802. The treaty of Amiens 12
Parliamentary criticism of the treaty 14
July. General election 15
Nov. Colonel Despard's conspiracy 16
Further aggressions of Napoleon 17
His colonial policy 18
Negotiations between Whitworth and the French government 19
18 May, 1803. Renewal of the war with France 22


The Return of Pitt.

23 July, 1803. Emmet's rebellion 23
Pitt's discontent with the ministry 24
Ministerial changes 27
Jan., 1804. The king's illness 29
April. Addington's resignation 31
The exclusion of Fox 32
18 May. Napoleon declared emperor 33
Pitt's ministry 34
The impeachment of Melville 36
July. The third coalition 37
Nelson's pursuit of Villeneuve 39
21 Oct., 1805. The battle of Trafalgar 40
Napoleon marches into Germany 41
Dec. Austerlitz: the peace of Pressburg 42
Collapse of the coalition 43
[Pg xii]23 Jan., 1806. Death of Pitt 43


Grenville and Portland.

Feb., 1806. Formation of the Grenville ministry 45
13 Sept. Death of Fox 46
14 Oct. Jena and Auerstädt 47
General election 48
25 Mar., 1807. Abolition of the slave trade 48
Fall of the whig government 49
The Portland administration 50
General election 50
7 July. The treaty of Tilsit 52
Seizure of the Danish fleet 54
The "continental system" and orders in council 55
Fruitless expeditions 56
12 Oct. Conference of Erfurt 59
Army scandals 60
The Wagram campaign 63
July, 1809. The Walcheren expedition 64
21 Sept. Duel between Canning and Castlereagh 67
Oct. Perceval's administration 68
Capture of the Ionian Isles and Bourbon 69
25. Jubilee of George III. 69


Perceval and Liverpool.

Jan., 1810. Debates on the Walcheren expedition 71
April. The arrest of Burdett 72
Appointment of the "Bullion committee" 73
The king's insanity: regency bill 74
11 May, 1812. Assassination of Perceval 76
1809-11. Social reforms in his ministry 77
July, 1810. Deposition of Louis Bonaparte 78
Opposition in Europe to the continental system 78
Alliances formed by Russia and France 81
Conquest of Java and Sumatra 81
June, 1812. The formation of Liverpool's cabinet 81
1811-12. Distress in town and country 83
Oct., 1812. General election 85
1813. Confirmation of the East India Company's charter 86


The Peninsular War.

1807, 1808. The origin of the war 87
Charles IV. and Ferdinand VII. seek the protection of Napoleon 87
1808. Napoleon's plans for the conquest of Spain 88
[Pg xiii]24 July. Joseph Bonaparte proclaimed King of Spain 89
13 Aug. Landing of Wellesley 90
21. Battle of Vimeiro 91
Oct., 1808.-Jan., 1809. Expedition of Sir John Moore 92
16 Jan. Battle of Coruña 95
Wellesley returns to Portugal 97
27 July. Battle of Talavera 98
Sept., 1810. Bussaco: the lines of Torres Vedras 101
Struggle for the frontier fortresses 103
16 May, 1811. Battle of Albuera 103
Jan.-April, 1812. Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz 105
22 July. Battle of Salamanca 107
1812, 1813. Wellington reorganises the Spanish and Portuguese armies 109
21 June, 1813. Battle of Vitoria 110
Battle of the Pyrenees 113
Siege of St. Sebastian 113
8 Oct. Wellington crosses the Bidassoa 115
Battles round Bayonne 115
Feb., 1814. The investment of Bayonne 117
10 April. Battle of Toulouse 119


The Downfall of Napoleon.

1812. French treaties with Prussia and Austria 122
Alliances made by Russia 123
June. Napoleon's advance into Russia 124
His retreat 125
War between England and the United States 126
Attacks on Canada 129
American successes at sea 131
Feb., 1813. Treaty of Kalisch 134
Austrian diplomacy 135
2, 21 May. Lützen and Bautzen 135
Aug., Oct. Dresden and Leipzig 137
France loses Saxony, Holland, and Switzerland 138
American war continued 138
1 June. Duel of the Shannon and Chesapeake 142
Jan.-Mar., 1814. Campaign in France 143
April. Napoleon deposed: Louis XVIII. recalled 145
24 Dec. Treaty of Ghent 147
July. Visit of Alexander and Frederick William to England 148


Vienna and Waterloo.

30 May, 1814. The first treaty of Paris 149
English blockade of Norwegian ports 150
Union of Sweden and Norway 150
[Pg xiv] Restoration of Ferdinand VII. and Pius VII. 150
Attempts to abolish the slave trade 151
Sept., 1814-June, 1815. Congress of Vienna 152
3 Jan., 1815. Secret treaty between England, France, and Austria 153
1 March. Napoleon's return from Elba 153
Flight of Louis XVIII.: the Acte Additionnel 155
Plans of the allies 156
Defeat and death of Murat 157
June. Wellington at Brussels: his army 158
16. Ligny and Quatre Bras 159
18. Waterloo 160
July. Paris occupied by the allies 163
22 June. Second abdication of Napoleon 165
His surrender to England 165
Restoration of Louis XVIII.: treaty of Vienna 166
Resettlement of Europe 166
20 Nov. Second treaty of Paris: English gains 167
26 Sept. The Holy Alliance 168
Napoleon at St. Helena 169


The First Years of Peace.

1816. Depression and discontent 171
Vansittart's financial policy 173
Union of British and Irish exchequers 174
2 Dec., 1816. Spa Fields riot 175
Prosecution of Hone 177
1818. General election 178
16 Aug., 1819. The "Manchester massacre" 178
Dec. The six acts 180
1817, 1819. Institution of savings banks: currency reform 182
6 Nov., 1817. Death of Princess Charlotte 184
1818. Royal marriages 184
29 Jan., 1820. Death of George III. 185
Royalist reaction in Europe 187
1816. Expedition against the Barbary states 187
1819. Murder of Kotzebue 189
30 Sept., 1818. Conference of Aix-la-Chapelle 189
Spain asks for assistance from the allies 190
The European alliance 190


The Last Years of Lord Liverpool.

1820. The Cato Street conspiracy 192
Dissolution of parliament 193
The "queen's trial" 194
7 Aug., 1821. Her death 196
1822. Changes in the cabinet 199
[Pg xv]12 Aug. Death of Castlereagh 199
Sept. Canning foreign secretary 200
Jan. Peel home secretary 201
1823. Reform of the navigation laws 202
Agricultural discontent 203
1825. Speculative frenzy and financial panic 205
1823-26. Robinson's finance 206
General election of 1826 207
Close of Liverpool's ministry 208


Problems in Southern Europe.

1820. Revolution in Spain: policy of non-intervention 210
July, Aug. Revolutions in the Two Sicilies and Portugal 211
20 Oct. Congress of Troppau 211
Jan., 1821. Congress of Laibach 212
Mar., April. Revolution in Piedmont: Austrian intervention 213
Insurrections in the Morea and Central Greece 214
Aug. "Sanitary cordon" 215
Ultra-royalist parties in France and Spain 215
Loss of Spanish colonies in America 215
1822. Conference at Vienna 216
20 Oct. Congress of Verona 217
Offer of mediation declined 218
7 April, 1823. War between France and Spain 220
12 Oct., 1822. Independence of Brazil 221
July, 1825. Conference at London 222
2 Dec., 1823. The Monroe doctrine 223
1824-25. Conference at St. Petersburg 224
1 Dec., 1825. Death of the Tsar Alexander I. 225


Tory Dissension and Catholic Relief.

April, 1827. Formation of Canning's ministry 227
Additions to the ministry 228
8 Aug. Death of Canning 228
Sept. Goderich's cabinet 229
Dissensions: resignation of Goderich 230
9 Jan., 1828. Wellington accepts office 230
The Eastern question 232
20 Oct., 1827. Navarino 233
1828. Repeal of the test and corporation acts 235
May, June. Changes in the ministry 236
June, July. The Clare election 237
1821. Measures for catholic relief 239
1825. Further measures 241
George IV.'s opposition to catholic relief 244
[Pg xvi]1829. Wellington and Peel adopt catholic relief 245
Mar., April. Debates on the bill 246
13 April. The royal assent 249
21 Mar. Duel between Wellington and Winchilsea 250
Exclusion of O'Connell from Parliament 251


Portugal and Greece.

10 Mar., 1826. Death of John VI. of Portugal 253
2 May. Peter abdicates in favour of his daughter Maria 254
31 July. Miguel proclaimed king by the absolutists 254
Dec. England sends troops to help the Portuguese government 255
3 Mar., 1828. Peter appoints Miguel regent for Maria 258
Dec., 1827. The sultan defies Russia 260
26 April, 1828. Russia makes war on the Turks 263
Negotiations for settlement of Greek question 264
Oct., Nov. French troops expel the Turks from the Morea 265
Terms of settlement agreed on at Poros and London 266
14 Sept. 1829. Peace of Adrianople 267
3 Feb., 1830. Greece independent: throne offered to Prince Leopold 268
France conquers Algiers 269


Prelude of Reform.

1830. Amalgamation of English and Welsh benches 271
Motions for reform 271
26 June. Death of George IV. 272
General election 274
15 Sept. Death of Huskisson 275
Wellington's opposition to reform 277
Fall of his ministry 278
Nov. Grey accepts office 278
His cabinet 279
The regency bill 281
Feb., 1831. Althorp's first budget 283
Public demand for reform 285
Draft of the first reform bill 287
System of representation in the unreformed house 288
Popular excitement: second reading of the bill 291
Dissolution of parliament 292


The Reform.

1831. General election 293
24 June. Second reform bill introduced 294
[Pg xvii]8 Oct. Rejection by the lords 296
Reform bill riots 296
Attempts at compromise in the lords 299
12 Dec. Final reform bill introduced 300
Gradual loss of the king's confidence in the ministry 302
9 May, 1832. Grey resigns 302
Wellington unable to form a ministry 303
The king recalls Grey 304
4 June. Third reading of the bill 304
Scotch and Irish reform bills carried 306
26 Oct. The cholera epidemic 309
1831. The census 311
State of Ireland 312
O'Connell's agitation 312
The "tithe-war" in Ireland 314
Legislation for Ireland 316
The Kildare Place Society 317


Fruits of the Reform.

1832. General election 318
1833. Irish coercion bill 320
Irish Church temporalities bill 322
Ministerial changes 325
Abolition of colonial slavery 326
Factory acts 327
The East India Company act 328
Bank charter act 330
Formation of judicial committee of the privy council 332
Act for the abolition of fines and recoveries 333
1831, 1832, 1833. Althorp's budgets 334


Religious Movements and Poor Law Reform.

1833. The Tractarian movement 336
1832. First meeting of the British Association 338
Foundation of the Catholic Apostolic Church 339
1834. The "new poor law" 340
Creation of a central poor law board 343
Ministerial discord 344
9 July. Grey's resignation 346
Formation of Melbourne's ministry 347
16 Oct. Destruction of the houses of parliament 349
14 Nov. Melbourne's resignation 350
Wellington's provisional government 351
Dec. Peel's cabinet 352
[Pg xviii] The Tamworth manifesto 353


Peel and Melbourne.

Jan., 1835. General election 354
Feb. Abercromby elected speaker 354
The "Lichfield House compact" 356
April. Peel's resignation 356
Melbourne's second ministry 357
Exclusion of Brougham 357
Municipal corporations act 360
Jan., 1836. Cottenham lord chancellor 363
Conflict with the lords on Irish bills 365
Tithe commutation act (English) 365
Reformed marriage law 366
Registration system 366
1835, 1836. Crusade against Orange lodges 367
1836. The paper duties lowered 369
Committee on agricultural distress 370
1836, 1837. Agitation in Ireland 371
1837. Irish municipal bill 372
Church rates 373
Burdett secedes from the whig party 374
20 June. Death of William IV. 375


Foreign Relations under William IV.

July, 1830. The revolution of July 376
Recognition of Louis Philippe by the Powers 377
Sept. Belgian provinces in revolt 379
20 Dec. Protocol of London 381
June, 1831. Election of Leopold as King of the Belgians 383
Aug. War between Belgium and Holland 384
French troops enter Belgium 384
Nov. British and French fleets blockade the Scheldt 386
Nov., 1833. Convention between Holland and Belgium 387
1830. Insurrections in Switzerland, Poland, Italy, etc. 387
1831, 1832. Capture of Warsaw; Polish constitution abolished 388
7 April, 1831. Peter leaves Brazil for Portugal 388
Carlist rebellion in Spain 389
22 April, 1834. The quadruple alliance 389
26 May. Miguel renounces his claims 390
9 Oct., 1831. Capodistrias (Greek president) assassinated 392
1832. Otto of Bavaria becomes King of Greece 392
1831. War between Ibrahim and the Sultan 393
1833. Treaties of Kiutayeh and Unkiar Skelessi 394
8 Sept. Secret convention at Münchengrätz 395


British India.

1801. Annexation of the Karnátik 397
[Pg xix]1803. Assaye and Argáum 399
1805. Resignation of Lord Wellesley 399
10 July, 1806. Mutiny at Vellore 400
Lord Minto's pacific policy 401
1801-10. Treaties with Persia 402
Elphinstone in Afghánistán 403
1813. Lord Moira appointed governor-general 404
The Pindárí war 405
1818. Subjugation of the Pindárís 407
First Burmese war 408
Abolition of satí 410
Extirpation of thagí 411
Defence of Herat 412
Communication with India 413
Burnes's mission to Kábul 413


Literature and Social Progress.

The "Lake school" 416
Scott's novels 418
Minor poets: philosophical works 420
Newspapers and reviews 422
Essayists and historians 425
The arts: painting, sculpture 427
Scientific discoveries 428
University reform 429
Formation of London University 431
Improvements in agriculture 433
Steam navigation 434
The first railways 435
Geographical discovery 436
Philanthropy 436
Canada 437
South Africa 438
Convict settlements in Australia 438
Development of Australia 439
Appendix I. On Authorities 443
II. Administrations, 1801-37 451


(At the End of the Volume.)

  1. Great Britain, showing the parliamentary representation after the reform.
  2. Spain and Portugal, illustrating the Peninsular war.
  3. India.

[Pg 1]



When, early in March, 1801, Pitt resigned office, he was succeeded by Henry Addington, who had been speaker of the house of commons for over eleven years, and who now received the seals of office as first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer on March 14, 1801. He was able to retain the services of the Duke of Portland as home secretary, of Lord Chatham as president of the council, and of Lord Westmorland as lord privy seal. For the rest, his colleagues were, like himself, new to cabinet rank. Lord Hawkesbury (afterwards the second Earl of Liverpool) became foreign secretary, and Lord Hobart, son of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, secretary for war. Loughborough reaped the due reward of his treachery by being excluded from the ministry altogether; with a curious obstinacy he persisted in attending cabinet councils, until a letter from Addington informed him that his presence was not desired. He received some small consolation, however, in his elevation to the Earldom of Rosslyn. Lord Eldon was the new chancellor and was destined to hold the office uninterruptedly, except for the brief ministry of Fox and Grenville, till 1827. Lord St. Vincent became first lord of the admiralty, and Lord Lewisham president of the board of control. Cornwallis had resigned with Pitt, but it was not till June 16 that a successor was found for him as master general of the ordnance. It was then arranged that Chatham should take this office. Portland succeeded Chatham as lord president, and Lord Pelham, whose father had just been created Earl of Chichester, became home secretary instead of Portland. An important change was introduced into the distribution of work between the different secretaries of state, the administration of colonial affairs being transferred from the home to the[Pg 2] war office, so that Hobart and his successors down to 1854 were known as secretaries of state for war and the colonies. Soon afterwards Lewisham succeeded his father as Earl of Dartmouth.

Though the Addington ministry has, not without justice, been derided for its weakness as compared with its immediate predecessor, it is interesting to observe that in it one of the greatest of English judges as well as a future premier, destined to display an unique power of holding his party together, first attained to cabinet rank; and in the following year it was reinforced by Castlereagh, who disputes with Canning the honour of being regarded as the ablest statesman of what was then the younger generation. The weakness of the ministry must therefore be attributed to a lack of experience rather than a lack of talent. It was unfortunate in succeeding a particularly strong administration, but is well able to bear comparison with most of the later ministries of George III. Addington himself was in more thorough sympathy with the king than any premier before or after. Conversation with Addington was, according to the king, like "thinking aloud"; and with a king who, like George III., still regarded himself as responsible for the national policy, hearty co-operation between king and premier was a matter of no slight importance.

In the early days of the new administration Pitt loyally kept his promise of friendly support, and it is to be deplored that Grenville and Canning did not adopt the same course. While the issue of peace and war was pending, domestic legislation inevitably remained in abeyance. In Ireland serious disappointment had been caused by the abandonment of catholic emancipation; but the disappointment was borne quietly, and the Irish Roman catholics doubtless did not foresee to what a distance of time the removal of their disabilities had been postponed. The just and mild rule of the new lord lieutenant, Lord Hardwicke, contributed to the pacification of the country. But in reality the conduct of the movement for emancipation was only passing into new hands; when it reappeared it was no longer led by catholic lords and bishops, but was a peasant movement, headed by the unscrupulous demagogue O'Connell. In these circumstances it is to be regretted that the new administration neglected to carry that one of the half-promised[Pg 3] concessions to the catholics which could not offend the king's conscience, namely, the commutation of tithe. Nothing in the protestant ascendency was so irritating to the catholic peasantry as the necessity of paying tithe to a protestant clergy, and its commutation, while benefiting the clergy themselves, would have removed the occasion of subsequent agitation. The spirit of disloyalty, however, was believed to be by no means extinct either in Ireland or in Great Britain, and two stringent acts were passed to repress it. The first, for the continuance of martial law in Ireland, was supported by almost all the Irish speakers in the house of commons, where it was carried without a division, and was adopted in the house of lords by an overwhelming majority, after an impressive speech from Lord Clare. The second, for the suspension of the habeas corpus act in the whole United Kingdom was framed to remain in force "during the continuance of the war, and for one month after the signing of a definitive treaty of peace".


The only other measure of permanent interest which became law in this session was the so-called "Horne Tooke act," occasioned by the return of Horne Tooke, who was in holy orders, for Old Sarum. Such a return was contrary to custom, but the precedents collected by a committee of the house of commons were inconclusive. It was accordingly enacted that in future clergymen of the established churches should be ineligible for seats in parliament, while Horne Tooke was deemed to have been validly elected, and retained his seat. The house of commons found time, however, for an important and well-sustained debate on India, in which among others Dundas, now no longer in office, showed a thorough knowledge of questions affecting Indian finance and trade.

The naval expedition which had been prepared in the last days of Pitt's administration sailed for Copenhagen on March 12, 1801, under Sir Hyde Parker, with Nelson as second in command. The admiral in chief was of a cautious temper, but was wise enough to allow himself to be guided by Nelson's judgment when planning an engagement, though not as to the general course of the expedition. The fleet consisted of sixteen ships of the line and thirty-four smaller vessels; all these with the exception of one ship of the line reached the Skaw on the 18th. A frigate was sent in advance with instructions to Vansittart,[Pg 4] the British envoy at Copenhagen, to present an ultimatum to the Danish government,[1] demanding a favourable answer to the British demands within forty-eight hours. For three days Parker waited at anchor eighteen miles from Elsinore, and it was only when Vansittart brought an unfavourable reply on the 23rd that he took Nelson into his counsels. He readily adopted Nelson's plan of ignoring the Danish batteries at Kronborg and making a circuit so as to attack Copenhagen at the weak southern end of its defences, but set aside his project of masking Copenhagen and making straight for a Russian squadron of twelve ships of the line which was lying icebound at Revel. The fair weather of the 26th was wasted in irresolution, and it was not till the 30th that the fleet was able to weigh anchor. It passed Kronborg in safety and anchored five miles north of Copenhagen.

Parker placed under Nelson's immediate command twelve ships of the line and twenty-one smaller vessels, by far the greater part of the British fleet. With these he was to pass to the east of a shoal called the Middle Ground and attack the defences of Copenhagen from the south, while Parker with the remainder of the fleet was to make a demonstration against the more formidable northern defences. The wind could not of course favour both attacks simultaneously, and it was agreed that the attack should be made when the wind favoured Nelson. The nights of the 30th and 31st were spent in reconnoitring and laying buoys. On April 1 a north wind brought Nelson's squadron past the Middle Ground, and on the next day a south wind enabled him to attack the Danish fleet, if fleet it may be called. At the north end of the Danish position stood the only permanent battery, the Trekroner, with two hulks or blockships; the rest consisted of seven blockships and eleven floating batteries, drawn up along the shore. An attack on the south end of the line was also exposed to batteries on the island of Amager. Nelson's intention was to close with the whole Danish fleet, but three of his ships of the line were stranded and he was obliged to leave the assault on the northern end entirely to lighter vessels.[Pg 5]


The Danish batteries proved more powerful than had been anticipated, and as time went on and the Danish resistance did not appear to lose in strength, Parker grew doubtful of the result of the battle and gave the order to cease action. The order was apparently not intended to be imperative, but it had the effect of inducing Riou, who commanded the frigate squadron, to sail away to the north. For the rest of the fleet obedience was out of the question. Nelson acknowledged, but refused to repeat the order, and, jocularly placing his glass to his blind eye, declared that he could not see the signal. At length the British cannonade told. Fischer, the Danish commander, had had to shift his flag twice, at the second time to the Trekroner, and all the ships south of that battery had either ceased fire or were practically helpless. The Trekroner, however, was still unsubdued and rendered it impossible for Nelson's squadron to retire, in the only direction which the wind would allow, without severe loss. He accordingly sent a message to the Danish Prince Regent, declaring that he would be compelled to burn the batteries he had taken, without saving their crews, unless firing ceased. If a truce were arranged until he could take his prisoners out of the prizes, he was prepared to land the wounded Danes, and burn or remove the prizes. A truce for twenty-four hours was accordingly arranged, which Nelson employed to remove his own fleet unmolested.

The destruction of the southern batteries left Copenhagen exposed to bombardment, and the Danes, unable to resist, yet afraid to offend the tsar by submission, prolonged the time from day to day till news arrived which removed all occasion for hostility. Unknown to either of the combatants, the Tsar Paul, the life and soul of the northern confederacy, had been murdered on the night of March 23, ten days before the battle, and with his death the league was practically dissolved. When Nelson advanced further into the Baltic, he found no hostile fleet awaiting him, and the new tsar, Alexander, adopting an opposite policy, entered into a compromise on the subject of maritime rights. The battle of the Baltic is considered by some to have been Nelson's masterpiece. It won for him the title of viscount and for his second in command, Rear-Admiral Graves, the gift of the ribbon of the Bath, but the admiralty,[Pg 6] for official reasons, declined to confer any public reward or honour on the officers concerned in it

At the same time, the French occupation of Egypt was drawing towards its inevitable close. Kléber, who was left in command by Bonaparte, perished by the hand of an assassin, and Menou, who succeeded to the command, was not only a weak general, but was prevented from receiving any reinforcements by the naval supremacy of Great Britain in the Mediterranean. On March 21, 1801, the French army was defeated at the battle of Alexandria by the British force sent out under Sir Ralph Abercromby, who was himself mortally wounded on the field. His successor, General Hutchinson, completed his work by taking Cairo, before the arrival of General Baird, who had led a mixed body of British soldiers and sepoys from the Red Sea across the desert to the Nile. The capitulation of Alexandria soon followed. In September the French evacuated Egypt, the remains of their army were conveyed to France in English ships, and Bonaparte's long-cherished dreams of eastern conquest faded away for ever—not from his own imagination, but from the calculations of practical statesmanship.

French arms, and French diplomacy supported by armed force, were more successful elsewhere. The treaty of Lunéville was only the first of a series of treaties, by which France secured to herself a political position commensurate with her military glory. By the treaty of Aranjuez between France and Spain, signed on March 21, Spain ceded Louisiana to France, reserving the right of pre-emption, and undertook to wage war on Portugal in order to detach it from the British alliance. Spain and Portugal were both lukewarm in this war, and on June 6 signed the treaty of Badajoz, by which Portugal agreed to close her ports to England, to pay an indemnity to Spain, and to cede the small district of Olivenza, south of Badajoz. Bonaparte was intensely irritated by this treaty, which deprived him of the hope of exchanging conquests in Portugal for British colonial conquests in any future negotiations; he declared that Spain would have to pay by the sacrifice of her colonies for the conquered French colonies which he still hoped to recover. A French army was despatched to Portugal and enabled Bonaparte to dictate the treaty of Madrid, signed on September 29, whereby Portugal ceded half Guiana to France and undertook, as at Badajoz, to close her ports against England.[Pg 7]


This last condition was equally imposed on the King of the Two Sicilies by the treaty of Florence, concluded on March 28, and before the end of the year France had established friendly relations with the Sultan of Turkey and the new Tsar of Russia. More important still, as consolidating Bonaparte's power at home, was the concordat signed by him and the pope on July 15 recognising Roman Catholicism as the religion of the majority of Frenchmen, and of the consuls, guaranteeing stipends, though on an abjectly mean scale, to the clergy, and placing the entire patronage of the French Church in the hands of the first consul. Never since the French revolution had the Church been thus acknowledged as the auxiliary, or rather as the handmaid, of the state, and probably no one but the first consul could have brought about the reconciliation. After such exertions, even he may have sincerely desired an honourable peace, as the crown of his victories, or at least as a breathing time, to enable him to mature his vast designs for reorganising France. Perhaps he did not yet fully recognise that war was a necessity of his political ascendency, no less than of his own personal character. The French people still clung to republican institutions; and the consulate was a nominal republic, with all effective power vested in the first consul. Time was to show how largely this unique position depended on his unique capacity of conducting wars glorious to French arms; for the present, France was satisfied, and longed for peace.

The English ministry, too, was impelled by strong motives to enter upon the negotiations which resulted in the peace of Amiens. Not only was Great Britain crippled by the loss of nearly all her allies, but the high price of bread had roused grave disaffection,[2] and intensified among British merchants a desire for an unmolested extension of commerce; above all, English statesmen now recognised the consulate, under Bonaparte, as the first stable and non-revolutionary government since the fall of the French monarchy. Both countries, therefore,[Pg 8] were predisposed to entertain pacific overtures, but the very fact that these were in contemplation stirred both sides to further endeavours in order to secure better terms of peace. A French squadron, commanded by Admiral Linois and containing three ships of the line besides smaller boats, was making a movement for the Straits of Gibraltar in order to strengthen the force at Cadiz. Sir James Saumarez with five ships of the line and two smaller vessels engaged Linois off Algeciras on July 5, but the French ships were supported by the land batteries, and one of the British ships, the Hannibal (74), ran aground, and Saumarez was eventually compelled to leave her in the hands of the enemy. This victory was hailed with delight throughout France, but it was fully retrieved a week later. The French squadron had in the meantime been reinforced by one French and five Spanish ships of the line, and on the 12th it made a fresh attempt to reach Cadiz; it was, however, engaged in the Straits by Saumarez with five ships of the line. In the ensuing battle two Spanish ships blew up, and the French Saint Antoine was captured. The remainder succeeded in reaching Cadiz, but Saumarez was able to resume the blockade a few weeks later.

Meanwhile there was no relaxation of French preparations for an invasion of England, or of naval activity on the part of Great Britain. No sooner had Nelson returned from the Baltic than he was, on July 24, placed in command of a "squadron on a particular service," charged with the defence of the coast from Beachy Head to Orfordness. With this he not only blockaded the northern French ports, but assumed the aggressive, and bombarded the vessels therein collected. A more daring attempt to cut out the flotilla moored at Boulogne by a boat attack was repelled with some loss on the night of August 15. But couriers under flags of truce were already passing between London and Paris, and hostilities ceased in the autumn of the year 1801.


The history of the negotiations which ended in the peace of Amiens derives a special interest from the events which followed it. The earliest overtures for peace were made by Hawkesbury on March 21, 1801. At first Bonaparte refused to listen to them, but the destruction of the northern confederacy inclined him to more pacific counsels. On April 14 the British[Pg 9] government stated its demands. They mark a distinct advance on those which had been made in vain at Lille in 1797. France was to evacuate Egypt, and Great Britain Minorca, but Great Britain claimed to retain Malta, Tobago, Martinique, Trinidad, Essequibo, Demerara, Berbice, and Ceylon. She was willing to surrender the Cape of Good Hope on condition that it became a free port, and stipulated that an indemnity should be provided for the Prince of Orange. At the outset, Bonaparte opposed all cessions by France and her allies, but the steady improvement in the fortunes of England in the north and in Egypt at last determined him to grant some of the British demands, and as the evacuation of Egypt became inevitable, he was resolved to gain something in exchange for it before it was too late. The preliminary treaty was accordingly signed by Bonaparte's agent Otto on behalf of France and Hawkesbury on behalf of Great Britain on October 1, the day before the news of the French capitulation in Egypt reached England. Great Britain had already consented to relinquish Malta, provided that it became independent. She now consented to relinquish all her conquests from France, and with the exception of Ceylon and Trinidad all her conquests from the French allies, requiring, however, that the Cape should be recognised as a free port. The French were to evacuate not only Egypt, but the Neapolitan and Roman States. Malta was to be restored to the knights of St. John under the guarantee of a third power. Prisoners of war were to be released on payment of their debts, and the question of the charge for their maintenance was to be settled by the definitive treaty in accordance with the law of nations and established usage.

No mention was made of the Prince of Orange, but Otto gave a verbal assurance that provision would be made to satisfy his claims. He also gave the British government to understand that France would be willing to cede Tobago in consideration of the expenses incurred in the maintenance of French and Dutch prisoners. The omission of all reference to the continental relations of France is conspicuous. In France it was interpreted as indicating that Great Britain renounced her interest in continental politics. The Batavian, Helvetian, Cisalpine, and Ligurian republics, the kingdom of Etruria, and the whole east bank of the Rhine were, however, supposed[Pg 10] to be already protected against French encroachment by the treaty of Lunéville, and Great Britain had no wish to impose terms involving a recognition of these new creations. Again, no mention was made of commercial relations apart from the Newfoundland and St. Lawrence fisheries, for Great Britain was too ready to believe that a separate commercial treaty would be practicable, and was naturally loth to delay the conclusion of peace by a difficult negotiation.


Cornwallis was appointed to negotiate the definitive treaty, and had some hope that he might arrive at an informal understanding with Bonaparte at Paris before he proceeded to Amiens. But he was offended by Bonaparte's manner, and, dreading to be pitted against so subtle a diplomatist as Talleyrand, he left Paris before anything was accomplished, and arrived at Amiens on November 30. There France was represented by Joseph Bonaparte, the first consul's elder brother, and the negotiator of Lunéville. At Amiens, the position of the British government was compromised from the first by its renewed insistence on a point which had been omitted from the preliminary treaty, namely, the compensation of the Prince of Orange. This demand was accompanied by an endeavour to obtain compensation for the King of Sardinia. Joseph Bonaparte, on the other hand, entrenched himself behind the letter of the treaty, and acknowledged no further obligation. Any additional concession to Great Britain could only be purchased by British concessions to France. Other difficulties arose over the question of Malta, the payment for the maintenance of prisoners, and the inclusion of allies as parties to the treaty.

On the first of these questions the French would appear to have aimed throughout at reducing the knights to as impotent a position as possible. The British, on the other hand, ostensibly desiring to see the strength of the order maintained, were chiefly interested in securing its neutrality. At the time of the signature of the preliminary treaty, Russia was the power that seemed to Great Britain the fittest guarantor of the independence of the knights. On the refusal of Russia to accept this position, Naples appeared to be the next best alternative, but it was eventually agreed to substitute for the guarantee of a third power the obviously futile guarantee of all the powers. Neither party foresaw that the impossibility of obtaining such a[Pg 11] guarantee was destined to leave the whole clause about Malta inoperative. After much dispute over the future constitution of the order, France proposed to obviate the chief source of difficulty by the demolition of the forts. This plan commended itself to Cornwallis, but was rejected by the British government. By the end of December it was agreed that a Neapolitan garrison was to occupy the islands provisionally, until the new organisation should be established. Great Britain proposed that this garrison should be maintained at the joint expense of Great Britain and France. It did not occur to the British government to propose any guarantee for the preservation of the property of the order, and this omission ultimately proved material. The question of including allies in the treaty was less complicated. France preferred a number of separate treaties so as to keep the British interest in Europe at a minimum. Great Britain, on the other hand, wished to make France a party to the cessions made by her allies, and successfully insisted on the negotiation of a single comprehensive treaty. Joseph Bonaparte granted this point on December 11, but, as he had not full powers to negotiate with any power except Great Britain, he continued to interpose delays till the end of the year.

In the meantime France had failed in her attempts to meet the British claims on behalf of the Prince of Orange by demands for further privileges and territory in the oceans and colonies. On the whole, the first month's negotiations had contributed much to a settlement, without giving a decided advantage to either side. The lapse of time, however, turned the balance in favour of the negotiator who was the more independent of his country's desire for peace. On January 1, 1802, Hawkesbury wrote to Cornwallis, treating the acquisition of Tobago as unimportant; on the 2nd Addington expressed his readiness to accept a separate arrangement with the Batavian republic for the Prince of Orange. By the 16th Hawkesbury had yielded the claim of Portugal to be a party to the treaty. The refusal of the French to cede Tobago in lieu of payment for the French prisoners, and the difficulty of assessing the payment, opened a way to the evasion of compensation altogether. Cornwallis, preferring to sacrifice this claim rather than re-open the war, suggested to Joseph Bonaparte on the 22nd that the[Pg 12] treaty should provide for commissioners to assess the payment, while it should be secretly provided that they should not be appointed. On the same day, Joseph Bonaparte communicated his brother's consent to a clause engaging France to find a suitable territorial possession in Germany for the Prince of Orange.

If Hawkesbury and Cornwallis imagined that they had made sure of an early peace by these extensive concessions, they were greatly mistaken. Napoleon, flushed with this unexpected success, was encouraged to make further trial of the pliability of the British diplomatists. Two events occurred at this stage of the negotiations which tried the temper of both sides to the uttermost. On January 26, Bonaparte was elected president of the Cisalpine republic, to be styled henceforth the Italian republic. This event seems to have taken the British government by surprise; they thought it a distinct indication that he still contemplated further aggressions in spite of the series of treaties by which he appeared to be securing peace, and were therefore much less inclined than formerly to make concessions. About the same time Bonaparte was not unreasonably enraged at the outrageous attacks made on him in the press conducted in London by French exiles, especially by Jean Peltier, the editor of a paper called L'Ambigu, and he blamed the British government for permitting their publication. He therefore instructed his brother Joseph to raise further difficulties over the garrison and permanent organisation of Malta, as well as over the proposed accession of the sultan to the treaty. Vain attempts were also made by Joseph to retain Otranto for France till the British should have evacuated Malta, and to secure the inclusion of the Ligurian republic in the treaty.


At last on March 8 Napoleon agreed that no important difference remained, and urged his brother to conclude the treaty. A little more time was wasted in providing for a temporary occupation of Malta by Neapolitan troops, and a more marked division of opinion arose as to the compensation for the Prince of Orange. In spite of instructions to the contrary from Hawkesbury, Cornwallis accepted an engagement on the part of France to find a compensation, not defined, for the house of Nassau, instead of charging it on the Dutch government; and the treaty was finally concluded on March 25.[Pg 13] It was signed by Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Batavian republic, while the Porte was admitted as an accessory power. It differed from the preliminary convention in no important respect, except in the illusory safeguards for the claims of the Prince of Orange, the secret arrangement for evading the cost of the French prisoners, and the provisions concerning Malta, pregnant with the seeds of future enmity. These provisions were as follows: Malta was to be restored to the knights of St. John, from whose order both French and British were hereafter to be excluded. The evacuation was to take place within three months of the ratification of the treaty, or sooner if possible. At that date Malta was to be given up, provided the grand master or commissaries of the order were present, and provided the Neapolitan garrison had arrived. Its independence was to be under the guarantee of France, Great Britain, Austria, Spain, Russia, and Prussia. Two thousand Neapolitan troops were to occupy it for one year, and until the order should have raised a force sufficient, in the judgment of the guaranteeing powers, for the defence of the islands.[3]

On October 29, 1801, parliament was opened with a speech from the throne briefly announcing the conclusion of a convention with the northern powers, and of preliminaries of peace with the French republic. General Lauriston, bearing the ratification of the preliminaries by the first consul, had reached London on the 10th, when he was received by the populace with tumultuous demonstrations of joy. Soon afterwards the "feast of the peace" was celebrated in Paris with equal enthusiasm. Short-lived as they proved to be, these pacific sentiments were doubtless genuine on both sides of the channel. The industrial, though not the military, resources of France were exhausted by her prodigious efforts during the last eight years; while England, suffering grievously from distress among the working-classes and financial difficulties, welcomed the prospect of cheaper provisions and easier times, as well as of emerging from the political difficulties originating in the French revolution.

The preliminary treaty, however, did not escape hostile criticism in either house of parliament. It was the subject[Pg 14] of discussion in the lords on November 3, and in the commons on the 3rd and 4th. Its most strenuous assailants were Lord Grenville, who had been foreign secretary under Pitt, and the whigs who had joined Pitt's ministry in 1794, among whom Lords Spencer and Fitzwilliam and above all Windham call for special notice. Windham's powerful and comprehensive speech contained more than one shrewd forecast of the future. For once, Pitt and Fox supported the same measure, and Pitt, dwelling on security as our grand object in the war, specially deprecated any attempt on the part of Great Britain "to settle the affairs of the continent". Fox, in advocating peace, fiercely denounced the war against the French republic, and gloated over the discomfiture of the Bourbons.[4] It was admitted on all sides that France was stronger than ever in a military and political sense. She had already made treaties with Austria, Naples, Spain, and Portugal; other treaties with Russia and Turkey were on the point of being signed; while the still more important concordat with the pope was already ratified. On the other hand, Great Britain had largely increased her colonial possessions, and the chief question now discussed was whether she would be the weaker for abandoning some of these recent conquests. The general feeling of the nation was fitly expressed by Sheridan in the phrase: "This is a peace which all men are glad of, but no man can be proud of". Malmesbury, the negotiator of Lille, was absent from the debates; but he has recorded in his diary his disapproval both of the peace and of the violent opposition to it The king told Malmesbury on November 26 that he considered it an experimental peace, but unavoidable.[5]


The debates on the definitive treaty of Amiens took place on May 13 and 14, 1802, and though vigorously sustained, were to some extent a repetition of those on the preliminaries of peace. The opposition to it was headed by Grenville in the lords and in the commons by Windham, who compared it unfavourably with the preliminaries; and the stipulations with respect to Malta were justly criticised as one of its weakest[Pg 15] points. Strange to say, Pitt took no effective part in the discussion, which ended in overwhelming majorities for the government. As in the previous session, domestic affairs, except in their bearing on foreign policy, received comparatively little attention from parliament. The income tax was repealed, almost in silence, as the first fruits of peace, and Addington, as chancellor of the exchequer, delivered an emphatic eulogy on the sinking fund by means of which he calculated that in forty-five years the national debt, then amounting to £500,000,000, might be entirely paid off. The house of commons showed no want of economical zeal in scrutinising the claims of the king on the civil list, and those of the Prince of Wales on the revenues of the duchy of Cornwall. Nor did it neglect such abuses as the non-residence of the parochial clergy, and the cruel practice of bull-baiting, though it rejected a bill for the suppression of this practice, after a characteristic apology for it from Windham, in which he dwelt upon its superiority to horse-racing. In this session, too, a grant of £10,000 was voted to Jenner for his recent invention of vaccination. In supporting it, Wilberforce stated that the victims of small-pox, in London alone, numbered 4,000 annually.

The parliament, which had now lasted six years, was dissolved by the king in person on June 28, and a general election was held during the month of July. The new house of commons did not differ materially from the old, and even in Ireland the recent national opposition to the union did not lead to the unseating of a single member who had voted for it.[6] Meanwhile the ministry was strengthened by the admission to office of Lord Castlereagh, already distinguished for his share in the negotiations precedent to the union with Ireland. On July 6 he was appointed president of the board of control in succession to Dartmouth, and was admitted to a seat in the cabinet in October. The new parliament did not meet till November 16. During the interval members of both houses, with vast numbers of their countrymen, flocked to Paris, which had been almost closed to English travellers since the early days of the revolution. Fox was presented to Napoleon, as Bonaparte, since the decree which made him consul for life, preferred to be[Pg 16] styled. Napoleon conceived a great admiration for him, and afterwards persuaded himself that, had Fox survived, the friendly relations of England and France would not have been permanently interrupted. On the very day on which parliament assembled, a conspiracy was discovered, which, however insane it may now appear, attracted much attention at the time. A certain Colonel Despard with thirty-six followers, mainly labourers, had plotted to kill the king and seize all the government-buildings, with a view to the establishment of what he called the "constitutional independence of Ireland and Great Britain" and the "equalisation of all civic rights". The conspiracy had no wide ramifications, and the arrest of its leader and his companions brought it to an immediate end. Despard was found guilty of high treason and was executed on February 21, 1803.

When parliament met, the king's speech referred ominously to fresh disturbances in the balance of power on the continent; and votes were passed for large additions to the army and navy, in spite of Fox's declaration that he saw no reason why Napoleon, satisfied with military glory, should not henceforth devote himself to internal improvements in France. Nelson, on the contrary, speaking in the house of lords, while he professed himself a man of peace, insisted on the danger arising from "a restless and unjust ambition on the part of our neighbours," and Sheridan delivered a vigorous speech in a like spirit. On the whole, in January, 1803, the prospects of assured peace and prosperity were much gloomier than they had been in January, 1802, before the treaty of Amiens. The funds were going down, the bank restriction act was renewed, and Despard's conspiracy still agitated the public mind. In the month of February a strong anti-Gallican sentiment was roused by Mackintosh's powerful defence of the royalist Jean Peltier, accused and ultimately convicted of a gross libel on the first consul. On March 8 came the royal message calling out the militia, which heralded the rupture of the peace.

The renewal of the war, fraught with so much glory and misery to both nations, can have taken neither by surprise. The ink was scarcely dry on the treaty of Amiens when fresh causes of discord sprung up between France and Great Britain.[Pg 17] More than one of these, indeed, had arisen between the signature of the preliminary convention and the actual conclusion of peace. During the negotiations, the first consul had, as we have seen, never ceased to protest against the violent attacks upon himself in the English press, while Cornwallis persistently warned his own government against the menacing attitude of France in Italy and elsewhere. The proclamation of the concordat in April, 1802, and the recognition of Napoleon as first consul for life in August, however they may have strengthened his position in France, were no legitimate subjects for resentment in England; but his acceptance of the presidency of the "Italian" republic in January, followed by his annexation of Piedmont in September, revived in all its intensity the British mistrust of his aggressive policy.


The month of October witnessed a renewed aggression on Switzerland. A French army, commanded by Ney, advanced into the interior of the country, and forced the Swiss, who were in the midst of a civil war, to accept the mediation of Napoleon. The new constitution which he framed attempted, by weakening the federal government, to place the direction of Helvetian external relations in the hands of the French first consul. Our government vainly endeavoured to resist this interference by sending agents with money and promises. In Germany the redistribution of territory necessitated by the peace of Lunéville was carried out professedly under the joint mediation of France and Russia, but really at the dictation of Napoleon. The final project, which destroyed all except three of the spiritual principalities and all except six of the free cities, was proposed by France on February 23, 1803, and accepted by the Emperor Francis on April 27.

Against these rearrangements, Great Britain could have nothing to say; their importance is that while the negotiations were pending, Austria, Prussia, and Russia all had a strong motive for standing well with France. Bonaparte's attitude towards Switzerland was, in so far as it was backed by force, an infringement of the treaty of Lunéville, to which, however, Great Britain was not a party. The neutrality of Piedmont had not been safeguarded either at Lunéville or at Amiens; it had already been occupied by France before the treaty was signed, and Napoleon claimed to have as much right to annex[Pg 18] territory in Europe without the consent of Great Britain as Great Britain had to annex territory in India without the consent of France.

Napoleon's schemes of colonial expansion, though equally within the letter of the treaty, were not less disconcerting. The reconquest of San Domingo appeared necessary in order to obtain a base for the effective occupation of the new French possession, Louisiana. The despatch of an expedition for this purpose in December, 1801, had excited grave suspicion, and when two-thirds of the army had died of yellow fever and the remainder had returned home, fresh troops were sent out to take their place. A new naval expedition was prepared in the Dutch port of Helvoetsluis, but it was impossible to persuade British public opinion that its real destination was San Domingo. Finally, on the eve of hostilities, in the spring of 1803 Napoleon, despairing of advance in this direction and disregarding the Spanish right of pre-emption, sold Louisiana to the United States for 80,000,000 francs. Still more embarrassing was Bonaparte's eastern policy. In September, 1802, Colonel Sébastiani was sent as "commercial agent" to the Levant. He was instructed to inspect the condition of ports and arsenals, to assure the sheykhs of French favour, and to report on the military resources of Syria, Egypt, and the north African coast. His report, which was published in the Moniteur of January 30, 1803, set forth the opportunities that France would possess in the event of an immediate return to hostilities, and was naturally interpreted as disclosing an intention to renew the war on the first opportunity. Six thousand French would, he said, be enough to reconquer Egypt; the country was in favour of France. In March, 1803, Decaen left France with open instructions to receive the surrender of the five towns in India restored to France, but with secret orders to invite the alliance of Indian sovereigns opposed to Great Britain. On his appearance at Pondicherri, the British commander prepared to seize him, but he escaped to the Mauritius, which he put in a state of defence, and made a basis for attacks on British commerce which lasted from 1803 to 1811.


Ireland also was visited by political spies, passing as commercial agents. It may not be easy to say how far Emmet's rebellion, to be recorded hereafter, was the result of these visits.[Pg 19] At all events a letter fell into the hands of the British government, addressed by Talleyrand to a French agent at Dublin, called Fauvelet, directing him to obtain answers to a series of questions about the military and naval circumstances of the district, and "to procure a plan of the ports, with the soundings and moorings, and to state the draught of water, and the wind best suited for ingress and egress". The British government naturally complained of these instructions, but Talleyrand persistently maintained that they were of a purely commercial character.[7] It is, of course, true that these preparations in view of a possible recurrence of hostilities, however obvious their intention, were not in themselves hostile acts. Still, they were just grounds for suspicion, and, with our retrospective knowledge of Napoleon's later career, we may seek in vain for the grounds of confidence which had made the conclusion of a treaty possible. Great Britain was guilty of more direct breaches of the peace of Amiens. Russia refused her guarantee for the independence of Malta, and the British government was therefore technically justified in retaining it. No similar justification could, however, be alleged for the retention of Alexandria and the French towns in India. These measures were, as will be seen, defended on broader grounds of public policy. Not the least of the causes of discontent with the new situation was the refusal of Napoleon to follow up the treaty of peace with a commercial treaty. He had even retained French troops in Holland, and thus shown that he meant to close its ports against British commerce. The hope of a renewal of trade with France had been a main cause of the popular desire for peace, and had reconciled the British public to the sacrifices with which the treaty of Amiens had been purchased. It soon became clear that further concessions would be made the price of a commercial treaty, and it was felt in consequence that the sacrifices already made were made in vain.

In September, 1802, Lord Whitworth was sent as ambassador extraordinary to the French Republic. The instructions which he carried with him from Hawkesbury fully reflect the prevailing spirit of mistrust. He was to watch for any new leagues which might prejudice England or disturb Europe;[Pg 20] he was to discover any secret designs that might be formed against the East or West Indies; he was to maintain the closest surveillance over the internal politics of France, but especially over the dispositions of influential personages in the confidence of the first consul, as well as over the financial resources and armaments of the republic.[8] Two months later, he was expressly warned in a secret despatch not in any way to commit His Majesty to a restoration of Malta, even if the provisions made at Amiens for this purpose could be completely executed; and the principle was laid down, from which the British government never swerved, that Great Britain was entitled to compensation for any acquisitions made by France since the treaty was signed. Accordingly, the retention of Malta was justified as a counterpoise to French extensions of territory in Italy, the invasion of Switzerland, and the continued occupation of the Batavian republic.[9] This resolution was naturally confirmed by the publication of Sébastiani's report.


The long negotiations between Whitworth and the French government, during the winter of 1802 and the spring of 1803, only bring into stronger relief the importance of the issues thus raised, and the hopelessness of a pacific solution. Napoleon firmly took his stand throughout on the simple letter of the treaty, which pledged Great Britain, upon certain conditions, to place the knights of St. John in possession of Malta, but did not contemplate the case of further accessions of French territory on the continent. Although the conditions specified were never fully satisfied, it is abundantly clear that the British ministers, having at last grasped the value of Malta, created all the difficulties in their power, and determined to cancel this article of the treaty. They alleged, in self-defence, that the spirit of the treaty had been constantly violated by Napoleon, in repeated acts of hostility to British subjects, in the refusal of all redress for such grievances, and, above all, in that series of aggressions on the continent which he declared to be outside the treaty and beyond the province of Great Britain.[10] None of the compromises laboriously discussed in[Pg 21] the winter of 1802 betoken any desire on the part of either government to retreat from its main position, though it does not follow that either sought to bring about a renewal of the war. Whitworth constantly reported that no formidable armaments were being prepared, and clung for months to a belief that Napoleon, knowing the instability of his own power and the ruinous state of his finances, would ultimately give way. On the other hand, Talleyrand and Joseph Bonaparte never ceased to hope that Great Britain would make concessions which might be accepted.

Such hopes were rudely dispelled by the king's message to parliament on March 8, 1803, complaining of aggressive preparations in the ports of France and Holland, and recommending immediate measures for the security of his dominions. This message, with the consequent embodiment of the militia, startled the whole continent, and was followed five days later by the famous scene in which the first consul addressed Whitworth in phrases little short of insult. During a public audience at the Tuileries on the 13th, Napoleon, after inquiring whether the British ambassador had received any news from home, broke out with the words: "And so you are determined to go to war". The altercation which ensued is best told in Whitworth's own words[11]:—

"'No, first consul,' I replied, 'we are too sensible of the advantages of peace.' 'We have,' said he, 'been fighting these fifteen years.' As he seemed to wait for an answer, I observed only, 'That is already too long'. 'But,' said he, 'you desire to fight for fifteen years more, and you are forcing me to it,' I told him that was very far from his majesty's intentions. He then proceeded to Count Marcoff and the Chevalier Azzara, who were standing together at a little distance from me, and said to them, 'The English are bent on war, but if they are the first to draw the sword, I shall be the last to put it back into the scabbard. They do not respect treaties. They must be covered with black crape.' I suppose he meant the treaties. He then went his round, and was thought by all those to whom he addressed himself to betray great signs of irritation. In a few minutes he came back to me, to my great[Pg 22] annoyance, and resumed the conversation, if such it can be called, by something personally civil to me. He then began again, 'Why these armaments? Against whom these measures of precaution? I have not a single ship of the line in the French ports; but if you wish to arm, I will arm also; if you wish to fight, I will fight also. You may perhaps kill France, but will never intimidate her.' 'We wish,' said I, 'neither the one nor the other. We wish to live on good terms with her.' 'You must respect treaties then,' replied he; 'woe to those who do not respect treaties; they shall answer for it to all Europe.'"

Too much stress has been laid upon this incident, so characteristic of Napoleon's studied impetuosity. Little more than a fortnight later he received the British ambassador with courtesy. Overtures now succeeded overtures, and much was expected on both sides from the influence of the Tsar Alexander, to whom France suggested that Malta might be ceded.[12] At the last moment, a somewhat more conciliatory disposition was shown by the French diplomatists; and the British government was blamed by its opponents, alike for having failed to break off the negotiations earlier on the broadest grounds, and for breaking them off too abruptly on grounds of doubtful validity. But we now see that national enmity, fostered by the press on both sides, rendered friendly relations impossible, and that, even had Napoleon been willing to refrain from aggressions, peace was impossible. On May 12, two months after the king's message, Whitworth, having presented an ultimatum, finally quitted Paris. A few days later an order was issued for the detention of all British subjects then resident in France, and justified on the ground that French seamen (but not passengers) were liable to capture at sea. On June 10 Talleyrand announced the occupation of Hanover and the treatment as enemies of Hanoverian soldiers serving under the King of Great Britain. Meanwhile, on May 16, the rupture of peaceful relations was announced to both houses of parliament; on May 18 war was declared, and in June volunteers were already mustering to resist invasion.


[1] So Vansittart himself, in Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, i., 371. Southey and Captain Mahan have erroneously supposed that Vansittart accompanied the naval expedition and was sent by Parker in the frigate from the Skaw.

[2] Annual Register, xliii. (1801), chapter i. The average price of wheat in 1800 was 112s. 8d. the quarter, whereas the highest annual average in the half century before the war had been 64s. 6d. On March 5, 1801, the price of the quartern loaf stood as high as 1s. 10½d. On July 23 it was still 1s. 8d. The harvest of this year was, however, an excellent one. The price fell rapidly during August, and by November 12 was as low as 10½d.

[3] Cornwallis, Correspondence, iii., 382-487.

[4] In a letter to Charles Carey, dated October 22, Fox went the length of expressing extreme pleasure in the triumph of the French government over the English (Memorials of C. J. Fox, iii., 349).

[5] Malmesbury, Diaries, iv., 60, 62.

[6] Lecky, History Of Ireland, v., 465.

[7] Lanfrey, Napoleon I. (English edition), ii., 202; Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, ii., 164.

[8] Browning, England and Napoleon in 1803, pp. 1-6.

[9] Browning, ibid., pp. 6-10.

[10] See especially Hawkesbury's despatch in Browning, ibid., pp. 65-68, and Whitworth's despatches, ibid., pp. 73-75, 78-85.

[11] Whitworth's despatch of March 14, in Browning, England and Napoleon, p. 116.

[12] Browning, England and Napoleon, p. 218.[Pg 23]



The period following the rupture of the peace of Amiens, though crowded with military events of the highest importance, was inevitably barren in social and political interest. Disappointed in its hopes of returning prosperity, the nation girded itself up with rare unanimity for a renewed contest. In July the income-tax was reinstituted and a bill was actually carried authorising a levy en masse in case of invasion. Pending its enforcement, the navy was vigorously recruited by means of the press-gang; the yeomanry were called out, and a force of infantry volunteers was enrolled, which reached a total of 300,000 in August, and of nearly 400,000 at the beginning of the next session. Pitt himself, as warden of the Cinque Ports, took command of 3,000 volunteers in Kent, and contrasted in parliament the warlike enthusiasm of the country with the alleged apathy of the ministry. On July 23 a rebellion broke out in Ireland, instigated by French agents and headed by a young man named Robert Emmet. The conspiracy was ill planned and in itself insignificant, but the recklessness of the conspirators was equalled by the weakness of the civil and military authorities, who neglected to take any precautions in spite of the plainest warnings. The rebels had intended to attack Dublin Castle and seize the person of the lord lieutenant, who was to be held as a hostage; but they dared not make the attempt, and after parading the streets for a few hours were dispersed by the spontaneous action of a few determined officers with a handful of troops, but not before Lord Kilwarden, the chief justice, and several other persons, had been cruelly murdered by Emmet's followers. Futile as the rising was, it sufficed to show that union was not a sovereign remedy for Irish disaffection[Pg 24].

Meanwhile the relations between the prime minister and his predecessor had been growing less and less cordial. Throughout the year 1801 Pitt was still the friend and informal adviser of the ministry, and it is difficult to overrate the value of his support as a ground of confidence in an administration, personally popular, but known to be deficient in intellectual brilliance. In 1802 he generally stood aloof, and though in June of that year he corrected the draft of the king's speech, he absented himself from parliament, for he was dissatisfied with the measures adopted by government. His dissatisfaction was known to his friends, and in November a movement was set on foot by Canning to induce Addington to withdraw in Pitt's favour; but Pitt, though willing to resume office, refused to allow the ministry to be approached on the subject. He preferred to wait till a general wish for his return to power should be manifested. In December he visited Grenville at Dropmore, and expressed a certain discontent with the government.[13] It was his intention still to treat the ministers with tenderness, but to return to parliament and criticise their policy. It is easy to see that his object at this date was not to drive the government from office, but to give rise to a desire to re-enlist his own talents in the service of the country, and thus prepare the way for a peaceable resumption of the position he had abandoned in the preceding year.


No sooner had rumours of Pitt's willingness to resume office reached Addington in the last days of December, than he opened negotiations with Pitt with a view to effecting this object. Pitt did not receive his overtures very warmly. He doubtless wished to be brought back because he was felt to be indispensable, without any appearance of intrigue. Time was in his favour, and he allowed the negotiations to proceed slowly. As the proposals took shape, it became clear that Addington did not wish to be openly superseded by Pitt, but preferred that they should serve together as secretaries of state under a third person; and Addington even suggested Pitt's brother, the Earl of Chatham, then master-general of the ordnance, as a suitable prime minister. Pitt's reply, communicated to Addington by Dundas, now Viscount Melville, in a letter dated March[Pg 25] 22, 1803, was to the effect that Pitt would not accept any position in the government except that of prime minister, with which was to be coupled the office of chancellor of the exchequer. Addington readily acceded to Pitt's claim to this position, but Grenville refused to serve in a ministry where Addington and Hawkesbury held "any efficient offices of real business," and Addington declined to abandon ministerial office for a speakership of the house of lords, which Pitt proposed to create for him. Finally, on April 10, Pitt at a private conference with Addington proposed as an indispensable condition of his own return to office that Melville, Spencer, Grenville, and Windham should become members of his cabinet. This meant a reconstruction of the whole ministry, and Pitt stipulated that the changes should be made by the king's desire and on the recommendation of the existing ministry.

The situation had become an impossible one. Nothing was more reasonable than that Pitt, the friend and protector of the existing ministry, should assume the direction of affairs now that the nation appeared to be on the brink of war. But Pitt could not honourably desert those former colleagues, who had resigned with him on the catholic question. Two of these, however, Grenville and Windham, though doubtless men of the highest capacity, had bitterly attacked the existing ministry; and it was not to be expected that that ministry, supported as it still was by overwhelming majorities in both houses of parliament, supported as it had hitherto been by Pitt himself, should consent to admit its opponents to a share of office. It is highly improbable that Grenville and Windham would then have co-operated with Addington and Hawkesbury, and their admission to office would have ruined the cohesion of the cabinet, unless it had been accompanied by the retirement of the leading members of the existing ministry which Pitt's previous attitude, together with the actual balance of parties in parliament, rendered it impossible to demand. How difficult it was to induce Grenville and Windham to enter into any combination future years were to prove. For the present the ministry took not merely the wisest, but the only course open to it. Addington, after vainly endeavouring to induce Pitt to modify his terms, laid them before a cabinet council on April 13; they were immediately rejected, though the cabinet declared[Pg 26] itself ready to admit to office Pitt himself and those of his colleagues who had hitherto acted with the Addington ministry. Pitt could hardly have expected any other reply. No ministry could have granted such terms except on the supposition that Pitt was indispensable, and Pitt for the present hardly claimed such a position.[14]

But if Pitt did not consider himself indispensable, his friends did, and both he and others came gradually to adopt their view. The rejection of his terms left him free to adopt the line of policy that he had sketched to Grenville in the previous December. He had not to wait long for an opportunity, but in the opinion of Pitt's friends at least the first provocation came from Addington. Unable to strengthen his ministry by any accession from Pitt and his followers, he had turned to the "old opposition," the whigs who, under the leadership of Fox, had consistently advocated a pacific policy. These had recently supported the ministry against the "new opposition," as the followers of Grenville and Windham were called. But since 1797 Fox and the majority of the "old opposition" had generally absented themselves from parliament, and George Tierney, member for Southwark, had led what was left of their party.[15] He now received and accepted the offer of the treasurership of the navy, one of the most important of the offices below cabinet rank. As a speaker Tierney was a valuable addition to the government which was sadly deficient in debating power; he had, however, been particularly bitter in his attacks on Pitt, with whom he had fought a duel in 1798, and had provoked the sarcastic wit of Canning, in whose well-known parody, "The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-grinder" (1798), the original illustration by Gillray depicted the friend of humanity with the features of Tierney and laid the scene in the borough of Southwark.


The appointment, which Pitt himself does not appear to have resented, was announced on June 1, and Tierney took his place on the treasury bench on the 3rd. On the same evening Colonel Patten moved a series of resolutions condemning, in extravagant terms, the conduct of the ministry in the negotia[Pg 27]tion with France. Pitt seized the opportunity to move the orders of the day. In other words, he proposed that the question should be left undecided. He expressed the opinion that the ministry was not free from blame, but declared himself unable to concur in all the charges against it. He considered further that to drive the existing ministers out of office would only throw the country into confusion, and that it was therefore inadvisable to pursue the question. To this the ministerial speakers replied by demanding a direct censure or a total acquittal, and the consequent division served only to display the weakness of the opposition. The Addington, Fox, and Grenville parties combined to oppose Pitt's motion, which was rejected by 333 votes against 56. Pitt and Fox, and their respective followers then left the house, leaving the ministerial party and the Grenville party to decide the fate of Patten's resolutions, which were negatived by 275 votes against 34. A comparison of the figures of the two divisions, allowing for tellers, gives as the voting strength of Pitt's party 58, of Grenville's 36, of Fox's 22, and of Addington's 277. Of these the Grenville party alone desired to eject the ministers from office, while Fox's party openly professed a preference for Addington over Pitt.

During the remainder of the session Pitt seldom took any part in parliamentary business, and never opposed the ministry on any question of importance. On August 12 parliament was prorogued after a session lasting nearly nine months, and the prime minister embraced the opportunity of making some slight reconstructions in the ministry. Pelham, who was removed from the home office, resigned his place in the cabinet, and was shortly afterwards consoled with the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster, an office which was not yet definitely recognised as political. Charles Philip Yorke, son of the chancellor who died in 1770 and half-brother of the third Earl of Hardwicke, resigned the office of secretary at war and succeeded to the home office on the 17th. It was also considered advisable to strengthen the ministry in the upper house, where Grenville's oratory gave the opposition a decided advantage in debating power, and Hawkesbury was accordingly summoned to the lords on November 16 in his father's barony of Hawkesbury. After this rearrangement the cabinet contained eight[Pg 28] peers and three commoners, no illiberal allowance of commoners according to the ideas of the age. The recess was further marked by a violent war of pamphlets between the followers of Addington and Pitt, which began early in September, and which, although no politician of the first order took any direct part in it, did much to embitter the relations of their respective parties.[16] Not less irritating were the jeux d'esprit with which Canning continued to assail the ministry in the newspaper press.[17] The most famous of these is the couplet:—

Pitt is to Addington
As London is to Paddington.

A more openly abusive poem, entitled "Good Intentions," described the prime minister as "Happy Britain's guardian gander". The following verses refer to the appointment of Addington's brother, John Hiley Addington, to be paymaster-general of the forces, and of his brother-in-law, Charles Bragge, afterwards succeeded by Tierney, to be treasurer of the navy:—

How blest, how firm the statesman stands
(Him no low intrigue can move)
Circled by faithful kindred bands
And propped by fond fraternal love.
When his speeches hobble vilely,
What "Hear him's" burst from Brother Hiley;
When his faltering periods lag,
Hark to the cheers of Brother Bragge.
Each a gentleman at large,
Lodged and fed at public charge,
Paying (with a grace to charm ye)
This the Fleet, and that the Army.[18]

When parliament reassembled on November 22 the opposition was still disunited, and, though Windham severely condemned the inadequacy of the provision made for national defence, he did not venture to divide against the government. But during the Christmas recess a distinct step was made towards the consolidation of the opposition by the reunion of[Pg 29] the two sections of the whig party. Grenville had conceived a chimerical project of replacing the existing administration by one which should include all statesmen possessed of real political talent, whatever their differences in the past might have been. True to this policy, he persuaded Fox in January, 1804, to join him in attempting to expel the Addington administration from office as an essential preliminary to any further action. Sheridan, however, with some of the Prince of Wales's friends, still refused to enter into any combination which might result in the return of Pitt to power. The parliamentary session was resumed on February 1, but the course of events was complicated by a recurrence of the king's malady. Symptoms of this were observed towards the end of January; the disease took a turn for the worse about February 12, and on the 14th it was made known to the public. For a short time the king's life appeared to be in danger; his reason was affected during a longer interval, but the attack was in every way milder than in 1789, and on March 7 Dr. Simmons reported to Addington that "the king was competent to perform any act of government".[19] It is true that for many months the king's health did not allow him to give his full attention to public business, but there was nothing to prevent him from attending to such routine work as was absolutely necessary. There could, however, be no question of a change of ministers till there should be a marked improvement in the king's health.

The king's illness was made the occasion on February 27 of a motion by Sir Robert Lawley for the adjournment of the house of commons. This was parried by Addington with the statement that there was no necessary suspension of such royal functions as it might be necessary for His Majesty to discharge at the present moment.[20] The emphasis here obviously lay on the word "necessary". A still bolder course was adopted shortly afterwards by the lord chancellor. When on March 9 the king's assent to several bills was given by commission, Fitzwilliam raised not unreasonable doubts as to whether the king was capable of resuming the functions of government. Eldon, however, declared that, as the result of a private interview with the king, he had come to the conclusion that the[Pg 30] royal commissioners were warranted in assenting to the bills in question. Whether the chancellor was justified in assuming this responsibility must remain doubtful; at all events Pitt seems to have determined that the time was now ripe for a ministerial crisis. He had on February 27 criticised both the military and naval defences of the country, but he would not directly attack the government till the king's health was in a better condition. At last, on March 15, the first attack was made. Pitt selected the weak point in the administration. St. Vincent's obstinacy in refusing to believe in the possibility of a renewal of hostility and his excessive economy had brought about a marked deterioration in the strength and quality of the fleet. Pitt accordingly moved for an inquiry into the administration of the navy. Fox dissociated himself from Pitt's attacks on the first lord of the admiralty, but supported the motion on the ground that an inquiry would clear St. Vincent's character. On a division the government had a majority of 201 against 130. On the 19th, however, Pitt refused to join the Grenvilles in supporting Fox's motion for the re-committal of the volunteer consolidation bill. On the following day Eldon made overtures to Pitt, and on the 23rd Pitt dined tête-à-tête with the chancellor, but no record has been preserved of the nature of their negotiations.

On the 29th Pitt, in a letter to Melville, explained his position at length. He intended, as soon after the Easter recess as the king's health should permit, to write to the king explaining the dangers which, in his opinion, threatened the crown and people from the continuance of the existing government, and representing the urgent necessity of a speedy change; he would prefer an administration from which no political party should be excluded, but was unwilling, especially in view of the king's state of health, to force any minister upon him; if, therefore, he should be invited by the king to form a ministry from which the partisans of Fox and Grenville were to be excluded, he was prepared to form one from his own followers united with the more capable members of the existing government, excluding Addington himself and St. Vincent; should this measure fail of success, he would "have no hesitation in taking such ground in Parliament as would be most likely to attain the object".[21][Pg 31] As it happened, the parliamentary assault preceded the correspondence with the king. Immediately after the recess the ministry laid before parliament military proposals which Pitt felt bound to resist. On April 16 Pitt, supported by Windham, opposed the third reading of a bill for augmenting the Irish militia, and expressed a preference for the army of reserve. He was defeated by the narrow majority of 128 against 107. On the 23rd Fox proposed to refer the question of national defence to a committee of the whole house. He was supported by Pitt and Windham, and defeated by 256 votes only against 204. The division which sealed the fate of the ministry was taken two days later on a motion that the house should go into committee on a bill for the suspension of the army of reserve. This was opposed by Pitt, who expounded a rival plan for the diminution of the militia and increase of the army of reserve. Fox and Windham demanded for Pitt's scheme a right to consideration, and on a division the motion was carried by no more than 240 against 203. The division of April 16 had convinced Addington that a reconciliation with Pitt was necessary. On Pitt's refusing to confer with him, he agreed to recommend the king to charge Eldon with the task of discovering Pitt's views as to the formation of a new ministry, in case the king wished to learn them.


The king, however, expressed no such wish, and on April 22 Pitt sent an unsealed letter to Eldon to be laid before the king; announcing his dissatisfaction with the ministry and his intention of declaring this dissatisfaction in parliament.[22] It was not till the 27th that Eldon found a suitable opportunity of communicating Pitt's letter to the king. Before that date Addington, who considered that he could no longer remain in office with dignity after the divisions of the 23rd and 25th, had on the 26th informed the king of his intention to resign. The king reluctantly consented to his resignation, which was announced to the cabinet on the 29th. On the following day Eldon called on Pitt with a request from the king for a plan of a new administration. Pitt replied in a letter, setting forth at great length the arguments in favour of a combined administration, and requesting permission to confer with Fox and[Pg 32] Grenville about the construction of the ministry.[23] The letter irritated the king, who demanded a renewed pledge against catholic emancipation, with which Grenville was specially associated in his mind, and refused to admit Pitt to office if he persevered in his purpose of consulting Fox and Grenville. Pitt then declared his adherence to the pledge given in 1801[24] and requested an interview with the king. The interview, which took place on May 7, lasted three hours, and ended in a compromise. The king agreed to admit Grenville and his friends to office, but, while ready to accept the friends of Fox, he refused, as much on personal as on political grounds, to give Fox a place in the cabinet. At the same time he declared himself ready to grant him a diplomatic appointment. At a later date the king went the length of declaring that, rather than accept Fox, he would have incurred the risk of civil war.


Fox readily agreed to his own exclusion, which he had fully expected, and urged his followers to join Pitt, but Grenville and his friends refused to serve without Fox, while the friends of Fox and the more immediate followers of Addington refused to serve without their respective leaders. Addington always considered that Pitt had treated him ungenerously in driving him from office, when it was open to him to return to the head of affairs with the full consent of the existing ministers. More recently it has been the fashion to blame Pitt for bringing too little pressure to bear upon the king and thus losing the support of Fox and Grenville. Neither charge appears to be justified. Through the whole length of the Addington administration Pitt showed himself fully sensitive of what was due to the king, with whom he had worked cordially for eighteen years, to Grenville who had resigned in his cause, and to Addington who had assumed office under his protection. There was no trace of faction in Pitt's attitude towards the ministry. He merely opposed what he believed to be dangerous to the country, and when he was convinced of the necessity of removing Addington from a share in public business, he endeavoured to effect his purpose in such a way as to give the minimum of offence.[Pg 33]

On the other hand, Pitt's intended combination in a supreme crisis of his country's destiny with his life-long antagonist, Fox, was a heroic experiment, perhaps, but still only an experiment. The failure of the ministry of "All the Talents" renders it exceedingly doubtful whether such an alliance would have proved successful, and Fox's lukewarm patriotism would have been dearly purchased at the expense of the alienation of the king, perhaps even of his relapse into insanity. Nor is it certain that the strongest pressure would have induced George III. to accept Fox at this date. Addington was still undefeated and might have remained in office if Pitt had refused to assume the reins of government without Fox. Grenville is undoubtedly more responsible than any one else for the weakness of Pitt's second administration. It was from a sense of loyalty to Grenville that Pitt had suffered the negotiations for his return to office in 1803 to fall through, and now when the two statesmen could return together, and when, if ever, a strong government was needed, either a quixotic sense of honour or a wounded pride induced Grenville not only to stand aloof from the new administration himself, but to do his utmost to prevent others from giving it their support.[25] The new cabinet was quickly formed. Pitt received the seals of office on May 10, and took his seat in parliament after re-election on the 18th, the very day on which Napoleon was declared emperor by the French senate.

This event, long foreseen, was doubtless hastened by the disclosure of the plot formed by Moreau, Pichegru, and Georges Cadoudal against the first consul. There was no proof of Moreau's complicity in designs on Napoleon's life, and the mysterious death of Pichegru in prison left the extent of his complicity among the insoluble problems of history, but there can be no doubt that Cadoudal was justly executed for plotting assassination. Unfortunately some of the under-secretaries in the Addington administration had not only shared the plans of the conspirators so far as they aimed at a rising in France, but had procured for them material assistance. They appear, however, to have been innocent of any attempt on Napoleon's life. Drake, the British envoy at Munich, was, however, deeper in[Pg 34] the plot. The evidence of British complicity naturally received the very worst construction in Paris.[26] Napoleon himself certainly believed in an Anglo-Bourbon conspiracy, organised by the Count of Artois and other French royalists, when he caused the Duke of Enghien to be kidnapped in Baden territory and hurried off to the castle of Vincennes. He was, however, already aware of his prisoner's innocence when on March 21 he had him shot there by torch-light after a mock trial before a military commission. All Europe was shocked by this atrocious assassination, and though Napoleon sometimes attempted to shift the guilt of it upon Talleyrand, he justified it at other times as a measure of self-defence, and left on record his deliberate approval of it, for the consideration of posterity. Two months later he became Emperor of the French.

When Pitt resumed office on May 10, 1804, he was no longer the heaven-born and buoyant young minister of 1783, strong in the confidence of the king and the anticipated confidence of the nation, with a minority of followers in the house of commons, but with the brightest prospects of political success before him. Nor was he the leader of a devoted majority, as when he resigned in 1801 rather than abandon his convictions on the catholic question. He had been compelled to waive these convictions, without fully regaining the confidence of the king, and, while the adherents of Fox retained their deep-seated hatred of a war-policy, the adherents of Addington and Grenville were in no mood to give him a loyal support. Windham and Spencer were no longer at his side, and his ministry was essentially the same as that of Addington, with the substitution of Dudley Ryder, now Lord Harrowby, for Hawkesbury as foreign secretary, Melville for St. Vincent as first lord of the admiralty, Earl Camden for Hobart as secretary for war and the colonies, and the Duke of Montrose for Auckland as president of the board of trade. Hawkesbury was transferred to the home office, vacated by Yorke, and the new chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Lord Mulgrave, was given a seat in the cabinet. Of Pitt's eleven colleagues in the cabinet Castlereagh alone, who remained president of the board of control—a wretched speaker though an able administrator—had a seat in the lower house.[Pg 35]


Military exigencies now engrossed all thoughts, and the king's speech, in proroguing parliament on July 31, foreshadowed a new coalition, for which the murder of the Duke of Enghien had paved the way. The preparations for an invasion of England had been resumed, and Napoleon celebrated his birthday in great state at Boulogne, still postponing his final stroke until he should be crowned, on December 2, at Paris by the helpless pope, brought from Italy for the purpose.[27] A month later he personally addressed another pacific letter to the King of England, who replied in his speech from the throne on January 15, 1805, that he could not entertain overtures except in concert with Russia and the other powers. Meanwhile, Pitt, conscious as he was of failing powers, retained his undaunted courage, and while he was organising a third coalition, did not shrink from a bold measure which could hardly be justified by international law. This was the seizure on October 5, 1804, of three Spanish treasure-ships on the high seas, without a previous declaration of war against Spain, though not without a previous notice that hostilities might be opened at any moment unless Spain ceased to give underhand assistance to France. The excuse was that Spain had long been the obsequious ally of France, and, as the alliance now became open, Pitt's act was sanctioned by a large majority in both houses of parliament in January, 1805. The parliamentary session which opened in this month found Pitt's ministry apparently stronger than it had been at the beginning of the recess. Despairing of any help from Grenville, except in a vigorous prosecution of the war, he had sought a reconciliation with Addington, who became Viscount Sidmouth on January 12 and president of the council on the 14th. Along with Sidmouth his former colleague Hobart, now Earl of Buckinghamshire, returned to office as chancellor of the duchy. To make room for these new allies, Portland had consented to resign the presidency of the council, though he remained a member of the cabinet, while Mulgrave was appointed to the foreign office, in place of Harrowby, who was compelled by ill-health to retire.

But this new accession of strength was soon followed by[Pg 36] a terrible mortification which probably contributed to shorten Pitt's life. Melville, his tried supporter and intimate friend, was charged on the report of a commission with having misapplied public money as treasurer of the navy in Pitt's former ministry. It appeared that he had been culpably careless, and had not prevented the paymaster, Trotter, from engaging in private speculations with the naval balances. Although Trotter's speculations involved no loss to the state they were, nevertheless, a contravention of an act of 1785. Melville had also supplied other departments of government with naval money, but was personally innocent of fraud. There was a divergence of feeling in the cabinet as to the attitude to be adopted towards Melville. Sidmouth, himself a man of the highest integrity, was a friend of St. Vincent, the late first lord of the admiralty, and had not forgiven Melville for his part in the expulsion of himself and St. Vincent from office. He had therefore both public and private grounds to incline him against Melville. On April 8, Samuel Whitbread moved a formal censure on Melville in the house of commons. Pitt, with the approval of Sidmouth and his friends, moved the previous question on Whitbread's motion, and declared his intention of introducing a motion of his own for a select committee to investigate the charges. In spite of the support which Pitt derived from the followers of Sidmouth the votes were equally divided on Whitbread's motion, 216 a side. Abbot, the speaker, gave his casting vote in favour of Whitbread, and the announcement was received by the whig members with unseemly exultation.[28]


The censure was followed by an impeachment before the house of lords, where Melville was acquitted in the following year. Meanwhile, he had resigned office on April 9, the day after the vote of censure, and his place at the admiralty was taken by Sir Charles Middleton, who was raised to the peerage as Lord Barham. The appointment gave umbrage to Sidmouth, to whom Pitt had made promises of promotion for his own followers, and he was with difficulty induced to remain in the cabinet. Pitt was, however, irritated by the hostile votes of Sidmouth's followers, Hiley Addington and Bond, on the question of the impeachment, and regarded this as a reason[Pg 37] for delaying their preferment. Sidmouth now complained of a breach of faith, as Pitt had promised to treat the question as an open one, and he resigned office on July 4. Buckinghamshire resigned next day. Camden was appointed to succeed Sidmouth as lord president, Castlereagh followed Camden as secretary for war and the colonies, retaining his previous position as president of the board of control, and Harrowby, whose health had improved since his resignation in January, took Buckinghamshire's place as chancellor of the duchy. Thus weakened at home, Pitt could derive little consolation from the aspect of continental affairs. On May 26, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy in the cathedral of Milan, and the Ligurian Republic became part of the French empire in the following month. The ascendency of France in Europe might well have appeared impregnable, and it might have been supposed that nothing remained for England but to guard her own coasts and recapture some of the French colonies given up by the treaty of Amiens.

But Pitt's spirit was still unbroken, and by the middle of July he succeeded in rallying three powers, Russia, Austria, and Sweden, into a league to withstand the further encroachments of France. Such a league had been proposed by Gustavus IV. of Sweden, early in 1804, but nothing definite was done till Pitt's ministry entered upon office. Meanwhile, the assassination of the Duke of Enghien had led to a rupture of diplomatic relations between France and Russia, though war was not declared. Negotiations were presently set on foot for a league, which, it was hoped, would be joined by Austria and Prussia in addition to Great Britain, Russia, and Sweden. An interesting feature in the negotiations was the tsar's scheme of a European polity, where the states should be independent and enjoy institutions "founded on the sacred rights of humanity," a foreshadowing, as it would seem, of the Holy Alliance. The discussion of details between Great Britain and Russia began towards the end of 1804. Difficulties, however, arose about the British retention of Malta and the British claim to search neutral ships for deserters. A treaty between the two powers was signed on April 11, 1805; but the tsar long refused his ratification, and it was only given in July, after a formal protest against the retention of Malta.[Pg 38]

The object of this alliance was defined to be the expulsion of French troops from North Germany, the assured independence of the republics of Holland and Switzerland, and the restoration of the King of Sardinia in Piedmont; 500,000 men were to be provided for the war by Russia and such other continental powers as might join the coalition. Great Britain, instead of furnishing troops, was to supply £1,250,000 a year for every 100,000 men engaged in the war. After the close of the war an European congress was to define more closely the law of nations and establish an European federation. At the same time the allies disclaimed the intention of forcing any system of government on France against her will. It will be observed that the number of troops specified was far in excess of what Russia alone could place in the field; such numbers could only be obtained by the adhesion of Austria and of either Prussia or some of the smaller German states to the coalition. So far as Austria was concerned, Napoleon's Italian policy rendered war inevitable. Already in November, 1804, the Austrian court had entered into a secret agreement with Russia to make war on France in the event of further French aggressions in Italy. The coronation of Napoleon as King of Italy and the annexation of Liguria were, however, more than aggressions; they were open violations of the treaty of Lunéville which had guaranteed the independence of the Cisalpine and Ligurian republics. Austria hereupon determined on war, and secretly joined the coalition on August 9, 1805. Sweden, which was not a member of it, concluded separate treaties of alliance both with Great Britain and with Russia. Greater difficulties had to be surmounted in the case of Prussia. Frederick William III. cherished no enthusiasm for European liberty, and vacillated under the influence of Napoleon's offer of Hanover on the one hand and his numerous petty insults on the other. Prussia in consequence remained neutral throughout the most decisive period of the ensuing war.


Long before the coalition was ready Napoleon's mind had recurred to his venturesome project for the invasion of England. An army, the finest that he ever led to victory, which, even after it had been transferred to another scene of action, he still saw fit to call the "army of England," was encamped near Boulogne. It was constantly exercised in the process of em[Pg 39]barking on board flat-bottomed boats or rafts, which were to be convoyed by Villeneuve, admiral of the Toulon fleet, and Gantheaume, admiral of the Brest fleet, for whose appearance the French signalmen vainly scanned the horizon. In the meantime, Nelson had been engaged for two years, without setting foot on shore, in that patient and sleepless watch, ranging over the whole Mediterranean, which must ever rank with the greatest of his matchless exploits. At last, he learned in the spring of 1805, that Villeneuve, following a plan concerted by Napoleon himself, had eluded him by sailing from Toulon towards Cadiz, had there been joined by the Spanish fleet, and was steering for the West Indies. Nelson followed with a much smaller number of ships, and might have forced an action in those waters, but he was misled by false intelligence and missed the enemy, though his dreaded presence was effectual in saving the British islands from any serious attack.

The combined fleets of France and Spain recrossed the Atlantic and in accordance with Napoleon's plans made for Ferrol on the coast of Galicia. After being repulsed with some loss off Cape Finisterre by Sir Robert Calder, who was court-martialled and severely reprimanded for neglecting to follow up his victory, they put in first at Vigo, and then with fifteen allied ships at Coruña. But, instead of venturing to carry out Napoleon's orders by challenging Admiral Cornwallis's fleet off Brest, and making a desperate effort to command the channel, Villeneuve now took advantage of his emperors recommendation to return to Cadiz in event of defeat, and set sail for that port in the middle of August. Nelson, ignorant of his movements, had vainly sought him off the Straits of Gibraltar, and came home to report himself at the admiralty. Arriving at Spithead on August 18, he was in England barely four weeks, most of which he spent in privacy at Merton. During this brief respite he received a general tribute of admiration and affection from his countrymen, which anticipated the verdict of posterity. On September 15 he sailed from Portsmouth, with a presentiment of his own fate, after having described to Sidmouth the general design of his crowning sea fight: he would, he said, break the enemy's line in two places; and he did so. He joined Admiral Collingwood off Cadiz on the 29th, and on October 19 he received news that[Pg 40] Villeneuve, smarting under the prospect of being superseded, had put to sea with the combined fleet. Complicated naval manœuvres followed, but on the 21st the enemy was forced to give battle, a few leagues from Cape Trafalgar, and Nelson caused his immortal signal to be hoisted—"England expects that every man will do his duty".


The French and Spanish fleet comprised thirty-three ships of the line, of which eighteen were French and fifteen Spanish; the British had only twenty-seven, but among these were seven three-deckers as against four on the side of the allies. It had the additional advantage of superior discipline and equipment, to say nothing of the genius of its commander. The British fleet advanced in two divisions, Nelson leading the weather division of twelve, and Collingwood the lee division of fifteen ships. According to Nelson's plan Collingwood was to attack the rear of the enemy's line, while he himself cut off and paralysed the centre and van. Both divisions advanced without regular formation, the ships bearing down with all the speed they could command and without waiting for laggards. Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign, steering E. by N., broke through the allies' line twelve ships from the rear, raking the Santa Ana, Alava's flagship, as he passed her stern, with a broadside which struck down 400 of her men. For some fifteen minutes the Royal Sovereign was alone in action; then others of the division came up and successively penetrated the line of the allies, and engaging ship to ship completely disposed of the enemy's rear, their twelve rear ships being all taken or destroyed.

Meanwhile, Nelson in the Victory, who had reserved to himself the more difficult task of containing twenty-one ships with twelve, held on his course, advancing so as to keep the allied van stationary and yet to prevent the centre from venturing to help the rear. He designed to pass through the end of the line in order to cut the enemy's van off from Cadiz, but, finding an opportunity, changed his course, passed down the line and attacked the centre. He passed through the line of the allied fleet, closely followed by four other ships of his division, and the five British ships concentrated their attacks on the Bucentaure, Villeneuve's flagship, the gigantic Spanish four-decker, the Santísima Trinidad, which was next ahead of[Pg 41] her, and the Redoutable, which supported her. The centre of the allies was crushed and the van cut off from coming to the help of the rear, which was being destroyed by Collingwood.

Before the battle ended, the naval force of France, and with it Napoleon's projects of invasion, were utterly and hopelessly ruined. Eighteen prizes were taken, and, though many of these were lost in a gale, four ships which escaped were afterwards captured, and the remainder lay for the most part shattered hulks at Cadiz. By this battle the supremacy of Great Britain at sea was finally established. Nelson, who, during the ship-to-ship engagement which followed his penetration of the enemy's line, was mortally wounded by a sharp-shooter from the mizzen-top of the Redoutable, died before the battle was over, though he was spared to hear that a complete victory was secure. His death is among the heroic incidents of history, and his last achievement, both in its conception and its results, was the fitting climax of his fame. The plan for the battle which he drew up beforehand for the instruction of his captains, and the changes which he made in it to meet the conditions of the moment are alike worthy of his supreme genius as a naval tactician. His arrangements were carried out by men who had learned to love and trust him, and who were inspired by the fire of his spirit, and hence it was that the allied fleet of France and Spain perished at the "Nelson touch".[29]

Very different were the fortunes of war in central Europe, where Napoleon himself commanded the "army of England". It was not until the end of August that Napoleon knew that Villeneuve would be unable to appear in the Channel, but no sooner did he abandon his project of invasion in despair than he resolved on a campaign scarcely less arduous, and gave orders for a grand march into Germany. Pitt, as we have seen, had successfully negotiated an alliance with Russia and Austria, whose armies were converging upon the plains of Bavaria and were to have been reinforced by a large Prussian contingent. Unhappily, they had not effected a junction when Napoleon crossed the Rhine near Strassburg and the Danube near Donauwörth, while he detached large forces to[Pg 42] check the advance of the Russians and the approach of reinforcements expected from Italy. One of these movements involved an open violation of Prussian territory, but he could rely on the well-tried servility of Frederick William. The first decisive result of his strategy was the surrender of Mack at Ulm, with 30,000 men and 60 pieces of ordnance. This event took place on October 20, the very day before the battle of Trafalgar, and opened the road to Vienna, which the French troops entered on November 13, occupying the great bridge by a ruse more skilful than honourable, during the negotiation of an armistice. Vienna was spared, while Napoleon pressed on to meet the remainder of the Austrian army, which had now been joined by a larger body of Russians near Brünn. The allies numbered about 100,000 men; Napoleon's army was numerically somewhat less, but possessed the same kind of superiority as the British navy at Trafalgar. The result was the crushing victory of Austerlitz on December 2, followed by the peace of Pressburg, between France and Austria, signed on the 26th. The principal articles of this treaty provided for the cession of Venetia, Istria, and Dalmatia to the kingdom of Italy, and the aggrandisement of Bavaria and Würtemberg, whose electors received the royal title as the price of their sympathetic alliance with France. Russia withdrew sullenly, having learned the hollowness of her league with Prussia, which had basely temporised while the fate of Germany was at stake, and whose minister, Haugwitz, suppressing the ultimatum which he was charged to deliver, had openly congratulated the conqueror of Austerlitz.

Great Britain had had no direct share in the conflict in Southern Germany and Moravia; she had, however, joined in two expeditions, the one in Southern, the other in Northern Europe. In spite of a treaty of neutrality between France and the Two Sicilies, ratified on October 8, an Anglo-Russian squadron was permitted to land a force of 10,000 British troops under Sir James Craig, and 14,000 Russians on the shore of the Bay of Naples. These troops effected nothing, and the violation of neutrality was, as we shall see, destined to involve the Neapolitan monarchy in ruin. The expedition to North Germany was planned on a larger scale. Hanover had been occupied by France since June, 1803. Its recovery was at[Pg 43]tempted by an Anglo-Hanoverian force under Cathcart, which was to have been supported by a Russian and Swedish force acting from Stralsund. The co-operation of Prussia was also expected. In order to secure this alliance the British government offered Prussia an extension of territory so as to include Antwerp, Liège, Luxemburg, and Cologne, in the event of victory. In November the expedition landed. In December Prussia had definitely given her protection to the Russian troops in Hanover and offered it to the Hanoverians. Pitt computed that at the beginning of the next campaign nearly 300,000 men would be available in North Germany. But the vacillation of Prussia ruined all. On December 15 Haugwitz signed the treaty of Schönbrunn, by which Prussia was to enter into an offensive and defensive alliance with France and was to receive Hanover in return for Ansbach, Cleves, and Neuchâtel. Frederick William could not yet stoop to such a degree of infamy, and therefore, instead of ratifying the treaty, resolved on January 3, 1806, to propose a compromise, which involved among other provisions the temporary occupation of Hanover by Prussia. In consequence of this determination he sent, on January 7, a request for the withdrawal of the British forces, which were accordingly recalled.[30]


The collapse of his last coalition was the death-blow of Pitt, cheered though he was for the moment by the news of Trafalgar. The fatal consequences of Austerlitz were reported to him at Bath, whence he returned by easy stages to his villa at Putney in January, 1806. His noble spirit was broken at last by the defection of Prussia, and after lingering a while, he died on the 23rd of that month, leaving a name second to none among the greatest statesmen of his country. His sagacious mind grasped the advantage to be gained by freeing trade from unnecessary restrictions, and anticipated catholic emancipation, parliamentary reform, and the abolition of slavery. He gave the nation, in the union with Ireland, the one constructive measure of the first order achieved in his time, and only marred by the weakness of more pliable successors in a lesser age. His dauntless soul, which bore him up against the bitterest disappointments, the desertion of friends, and the[Pg 44] depression of mortal disease, inspired the governing classes of England to endure ten more years of exhausting war, to save Europe (as he foretold) by their example, and to crown his own work at Waterloo. His lofty eloquence, which has been described as a gift independent of statesmanship, was indeed a product of statesmanship, for it consisted in no mere witchery of words, but in a luminous and convincing presentation of essential facts. He may have been inferior to his own father in fiery rhetoric, to Peel in comprehensive grasp of domestic policy, and to Gladstone in the political experience gained by sixty years of political life, but in capacity for command he was inferior to none. If he was not an ideal war minister, he was not a war minister by his own choice; his lot was cast in times which suppressed the exercise of his best powers; and he was matched in the organisation of war, though not in the field, against the greatest organising genius known to history. He must be judged by what he actually did and meditated as a peace minister; his conduct of the war must be compared with that of those able but not gifted men who strove to bend the bow which he left behind him; and we must assuredly conclude that none of his colleagues or rivals was his peer either in powers or in public spirit.


[13] Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii., 242; Lewis, Administrations of Great Britain, p. 225.

[14] Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii., 282-90; Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, ii., 113-31; Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., 20-39.

[15] See vol. x., p. 399.

[16] Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, ii., 145-47; Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., 88-93.

[17] For a list of Canning's squibs, belonging to this period, see Lewis, Administrations, p. 249, note.

[18] It was not fair to hold Addington entirely responsible for the promotion of his brother, who had been a junior lord of the treasury under Pitt. The taunt came with a particularly bad grace from Canning, who had himself been paymaster-general in the last administration.

[19] Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, ii., 250.

[20] Annual Register, xlvi. (1804), p. 34.

[21] Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., 135-44.

[22] See the letter in Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., appendix, pp. i.-iii.

[23] There is preserved a sketch in Pitt's handwriting of a combined administration with Melville, Fox, and Fitzwilliam as secretaries of state, and Grenville as lord president.

[24] Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., appendix, pp. xi., xii.

[25] The best account of Pitt's return to power is to be found in Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., 113-95; appendix, pp. i.-xiii. The story is told in a very spirited manner by Lord Rosebery, Pitt, pp. 238-44.

[26] Rose, Life of Napoleon I., i., 450-53.

[27] Napoleon actually crowned himself, although he had originally intended to be crowned by the pope.

[28] Malmesbury, Diaries, iv., 338.

[29] Nelson's tactics at Trafalgar are explained in a series of remarkable articles in The Times of September 16, 19, 22, 26, 28, 30, and October 19, 1905. For incidents of the battle see Mahan, Life of Nelson, ii., 363 sqq.

[30] Rose, Life of Napoleon I., ii., 53-57, 63-65.[Pg 45]



The immediate effect of Pitt's death was the dissolution of his government. The king turned at first to Hawkesbury, afterwards destined as Earl of Liverpool to hold the office of premier for nearly fifteen years; but he then felt himself unequal to such a burden. He next sent for Grenville, who insisted on the co-operation of Fox, to which the king assented without demur, and the short-lived ministry of "All the Talents" was formed within a few days. It was essentially a whig cabinet, but it included two tories, Sidmouth as lord privy seal, and Lord Ellenborough, the lord chief justice. Grenville himself was first lord of the treasury, Fox foreign secretary, and Erskine lord chancellor. Charles Grey, the future Earl Grey, was first lord of the admiralty. Spencer home secretary, Windham secretary for war and the colonies, and Lord Henry Petty, the future Marquis of Lansdowne, chancellor of the exchequer. Fitzwilliam was lord president, and the Earl of Moira master-general of the ordnance. Ellenborough owed his place in the cabinet to the influence of Sidmouth. The appointment was a departure from the established constitutional practice. Since Lord Mansfield, who had ceased to be an efficient member in 1765, no chief justice had been a member of the cabinet, and it was argued in parliament by the opposition that a seat in the cabinet was inconsistent with the independence which a common law judge ought to maintain. It is also important to observe that Sidmouth when accepting office gave express notice to Grenville and Fox that under all circumstances "he would ever resist the catholic question".[31]

The friendly relations of the king with Fox were creditable[Pg 46] to both of them, and in the last few months of his life Fox showed himself a statesman. Besides the abolition of the slave trade, his grand object was the restoration of peace on a durable basis. There were some grounds for believing that this was possible. France, under an emperor, seemed no longer to represent a new principle in European politics, and was not necessarily a menace to her neighbours; the coalition was fairly beaten on land, while British supremacy had been reasserted on sea, and Napoleon might well wish for peace to enable him to consolidate his position on land and regain the power of using the sea, just as he had done in 1801. Fox lost no time in renewing a pacific correspondence with Talleyrand, afterwards carried on through the agency of Lord Yarmouth, an English traveller detained in France, and Lord Lauderdale, who was sent over as plenipotentiary. The principle of the negotiation was that of uti possidetis, but it failed, as Whitworth's efforts had failed, because the pretensions of France were constantly shifting, and especially because France, anxious to isolate Great Britain, insisted on negotiating separately with Great Britain and Russia, while Fox very properly refused to make peace without our ally. Grey himself, now Lord Howick, afterwards declared that France showed no disposition to grant any terms which could be accepted by Great Britain. On September 13, Fox died, and was buried in Westminster Abbey almost side by side with his great rival.

While he was earnestly striving for peace, there was no cessation of warlike movements or political changes either in Central Europe or in Italy. In June, 1806, Napoleon converted the Batavian Republic into the kingdom of Holland, over which he set his brother Louis. In July the discord of Germany, which had long ceased to be a nation, was consummated by the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine, which separated all the western states from the Holy Roman empire, and united them under the protection and control of France. On August 6, Francis II., who had assumed the title of Emperor of Austria in 1804, formally renounced the title of Roman Emperor, and the Holy Roman Empire became extinct. The King of Prussia, with singular disregard of good faith and national interest, finally accepted on February 15 the bribe of Hanover for adhesion to France, but without the offensive and defensive alliance offered[Pg 47] him in the previous December, and with the additional humiliation of being compelled to close his ports to English ships. He vainly strove to conceal this shameful bargain, and was, as will be seen, punished by the destruction of Prussian commerce. After all, he found himself overreached by Napoleon in duplicity, and was at last provoked into risking a single-handed contest with his imperious ally. He declared war on October 1, and within a fortnight the army of Prussia, inheriting the system and traditions of the great Frederick, was all but annihilated in the twin battles of Jena and Auerstädt fought on October 14.


The British government, though not unwilling to forgive the perfidy of its former confederate, was powerless to strike a blow on his behalf until it was too late. Indeed, the only warlike operation undertaken by Great Britain in Europe during the year was in the extreme south of Italy. Ferdinand, King of the Two Sicilies, had been driven out of his capital to make way for Joseph Bonaparte, who entered Naples on February 15, and the exiled monarch took refuge in the island of Sicily. In accordance with the shortsighted policy of small expeditions, a British force under Sir John Stuart was landed in Calabria to raise the peasantry, and on July 4, defeated the French at the point of the bayonet in the battle of Maida. This action shook the confidence of Europe in the superiority of the French infantry, and saved Sicily from France, but the French troops remained in possession of the Italian mainland. The prestige of Great Britain was raised by the conquest of the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope in January by a naval and military force sent out by Pitt under the command of Sir Home Popham and General, now Sir David, Baird, but was damaged by a futile expedition to South America, undertaken by Popham without orders from the home government. The city of Buenos Ayres was taken, indeed, in June by General Beresford, but it was retaken by the Spaniards in August, and soldiers who could ill be spared from the European conflict now impending were lavished on a chimerical project on the other side of the Atlantic.

The short administration of Grenville, so inactive in its foreign policy, is memorable only for one redeeming measure of home-policy—the abolition of the slave trade. Before Fox's death, the attention of parliament had been divided mainly[Pg 48] between Windham's abortive scheme for a vast standing army, to be raised on the basis of limited service, and the secret inquiry into the conduct of the Princess of Wales. This resulted in her being acquitted of the more scandalous charges against her, but on the advice of the cabinet, she was censured by the king for unseemly levity of behaviour. On October 24 parliament was dissolved. It was a foolish dissolution, for ministerial convenience only, and aimed not merely at strengthening the ministry, but at weakening the tory section within the ministry. The election was not well managed, and the king withheld the subscription of £12,000 with which he was accustomed to assist his ministers for the time being at a general election. Still the ministry obtained a considerable majority.[32] The new parliament met on December 15, and on March 25, 1807, the abolition bill, having passed the house of lords in spite of strong opposition, was carried in the commons by 283 to 16. Thus ended a philanthropic struggle, which began in 1783, when the quakers petitioned against the trade. Three years later Clarkson began his crusade. Two bills in favour of abolition were carried by the house of commons before the close of the eighteenth century, but were thrown out in the house of lords. The same fate befell a bill for a temporary suspension of the slave trade, which passed the commons in 1804 under the spell of Wilberforce's persuasive eloquence; but Pitt's government caused a royal proclamation to be issued, which at least checked the spread of the nefarious traffic in the newly conquered colonies. A larger measure failed to pass the house of commons in 1805, but in 1806 Fox and Grenville succeeded in committing both houses to an open condemnation of the trade. This was followed on March 25, 1807, by an enactment entirely prohibiting the slave trade from and after January 1, 1808, though it was not made felony to engage in it until a further act was carried by Brougham in 1811.


In default of important legislative tasks, the parliament which expired in 1806 devoted much attention to various features of the military system, as well as to proposed reforms in the public accounts. It sanctioned the principle of raising a great part of the war-expenses by special taxes rather than by loan. A property-tax of 10 per cent. was freely voted, and[Pg 49] this was then represented to be its permanent limit. The assessed taxes were increased at the same time by 10 per cent., but with an allowance in favour of poorer taxpayers for every child above the number of two. It is worthy of notice that, while Grenville's ministry was in office, Whitbread brought forward an elaborate plan not only for reforming the poor laws but also for establishing a system of national education. Some changes in the cabinet were necessitated by the death of Fox. Howick became foreign secretary and was succeeded at the admiralty by Thomas Grenville, brother of the prime minister, most famous as a book-collector. Fitzwilliam retired at the same time on the ground of ill-health. He retained his seat in the cabinet, but was succeeded as lord president by Sidmouth, while Fox's nephew, Lord Holland, succeeded Sidmouth as lord privy seal.

The fall of the whig government in March, 1807, was due to a cause similar to that which had brought about the retirement of Pitt in 1801. The Duke of Bedford, who was lord lieutenant of Ireland, had urged the importance of making some concessions to Roman catholics. An Irish act of 1793 had opened commissions in the army as high as the rank of colonel to Roman catholics, and the ministry obtained the reluctant consent of the king to the extension of this concession to Roman catholics throughout his dominions. Without having fully ascertained the king's mind, Howick, on behalf of his colleagues, moved for leave to bring in a bill opening all commissions in the army and navy to Roman catholics. The king at once refused his sanction, and the government, finding that they could not carry their bill, agreed to withdraw it. This decision was announced to the king in a cabinet minute, drawn up at a meeting from which Ellenborough, Erskine, and Sidmouth, who sympathised with the king, were excluded, and from which Fitzwilliam and Spencer were absent owing to ill-health. The minute went on to record their adhesion to the policy embodied in the bill, reserving the right to advise the king on any future occasion in accordance with that policy. Thereupon, Sidmouth, who had already sent in his resignation, Eldon, Portland, and Malmesbury, with the concurrence of the Duke of York and Spencer Perceval, urged the king to make a stand upon his prerogative. He did so, by requiring[Pg 50] the ministers who had signed the minute, to give him a written pledge that they would never press upon him further concessions, direct or indirect, to the Roman catholics. This pledge they properly declined, and accepted the consequence by resignation. Spencer was present at the meeting which arrived at this conclusion and concurred in the decision of his colleagues.[33]

A new administration was formed by Portland, as nominal head, but with Perceval as its real leader and chancellor of the exchequer, Canning as foreign secretary, Hawkesbury as home secretary, and Castlereagh as minister for war and the colonies. Camden, Eldon, Westmorland, and Chatham resumed the offices they had held before the death of Pitt, Mulgrave became first lord of the admiralty, and Earl Bathurst president of the board of trade. In this government, too, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, who had returned in 1805 from a brilliant military career in India, held office outside the cabinet as chief secretary for Ireland. Spencer Perceval was a half-brother of the Earl of Egmont and brother of Lord Arden. He enjoyed a large practice at the bar and had made his mark as a parliamentary debater when filling the offices, first of solicitor-general, and then of attorney-general under Addington. He had held the latter office again under Pitt. Not the least source of his influence was his steady and determined opposition to the Roman catholic claims.


After a short but animated debate on the important constitutional question raised by the circumstances of the change of ministers, parliament was again dissolved on April 27. The king's speech in closing the session was virtually a personal appeal to his people, and a majority was returned in favour of the new ministry. This result may be said to mark the last triumph of George III. in maintaining the principle of personal government. "A just and enlightened toleration" was announced as the substitute for catholic relief. Still, a certain revival of independent popular opinion may be traced in the return of Sir[Pg 51] Francis Burdett and Lord Cochrane for Westminster. It was not until June 22 that parliament assembled, and the engrossing interest of foreign events left but little room for discussions on home-policy. A motion by Whitbread, however, bore fruit in a bill for establishing parochial schools, which Eldon successfully opposed in the house of lords, mainly on the ground that it would take popular education out of the hands of the clergy. The same not unnatural apathy about home affairs prevailed throughout the session of 1808, which began on January 31, and though a large number of acts were placed on the statute book in this and succeeding years, the mass of them, including many relating to Ireland, were essentially of a local or occasional character. An exception must be recognised in the partial success of a motion for the reform of the criminal law, which was proposed by Sir Samuel Romilly, famous for his efforts in the cause of humanity, and which resulted in the abolition of capital punishment for the offence of pocket-picking.

During this critical period, when Great Britain was gradually drifting into a position of isolation, the course of parliamentary history becomes inseparable from the progress of those mighty events on the continent, which Grenville's government would fain have treated as outside the sphere of British interests. For, notwithstanding Windham's schemes for a reconstruction of the army, that government had allowed the naval and military establishments of Great Britain to fall below their former standard. The leading idea of their policy was non-intervention, and at the opening of 1807, there was no longer any thought of sending a force to cope with Napoleon's veterans on the continent When in 1805 a British force was operating in North Germany, it was possible that if Prussia had been faithful to her engagements, the disaster of Austerlitz might at least have been partially retrieved. It was otherwise when, after the collapse of Prussia, France and Russia stood face to face with each other. The drawn battle of Eylau in East Prussia, marked by fearful carnage, was fought on February 8, 1807. This check, breaking the spell of Napoleon's victorious career, had a remarkable effect in raising the spirits of the allies, Russia, Sweden, and Prussia, some remains of whose army were still in the field. These powers now drew closer together, but they received a lukewarm support from[Pg 52] Great Britain, which might have done much to save Europe by timely reinforcements and liberal subsidies. In reply to an urgent appeal from the tsar for a loan of £6,000,000, the Grenville ministry doled out £500,000 to Russia, and a still more pitiful gift to Prussia. No troops were sent to aid Sweden on the Baltic coast, although, when, at Napoleon's instigation, Turkey declared war against Russia, expeditions were despatched to Alexandria and the Dardanelles. The notion of making war on a large scale, in concert with allies, on the continent of Europe, as in the days of Marlborough, and even of Lord Granby, seems to have vanished from the minds of English statesmen, except Castlereagh, who always advocated concentrated action.

The succession of Portland and Canning to Grenville and Howick brought no immediate change in our insular policy and the new government had been in office for above three months before a British force at last appeared in the Swedish island of Rügen. It arrived too late, Danzig surrendered in May, and on June 14 Napoleon obtained a decisive victory over the Russian army and its Prussian contingent at Friedland. Russia now gave a supreme example of that national selfishness, and contempt for the rights of independent states which had dominated the counsels of sovereigns ever since the first partition of Poland. Doubtless the tsar might plead that Great Britain, too, had been wasting her strength in selfish attempts to secure her mastery of the seas, and to open new markets for her trade. He also deeply resented her recent failure to aid him in the hour of his utmost need, while he still cherished the policy of the "armed neutrality," and was eager to prosecute his designs against Turkey. Dazzled and flattered by Napoleon, he welcomed overtures for peace at the expense of Great Britain, and there is no doubt that his imaginative nature indulged in the vision of a regenerated Europe, divided between himself as emperor of the east and Napoleon as emperor of the west. It is therefore far from surprising that he should have held a private interview with Napoleon, on a raft in the Niemen, which led to the treaty of Tilsit on July 7.


This treaty, in which the King of Prussia shared as a helpless partner, contained both public and secret articles, but the distinction was not very material, for the secret articles almost[Pg 53] immediately became known to Canning. The general effect of the whole agreement was the utter humiliation of Prussia, the recognition by that country and Russia of all Napoleon's acquisitions, and their combination with France against the maritime claims and conquests of Great Britain. The western provinces of Prussia were to be incorporated with other German annexations to form the new kingdom of Westphalia; Prussian Poland was to be converted into the duchy of Warsaw under the crown of Saxony, to which a right of passage through Silesia was reserved; and Berlin with other great Prussian fortresses were to remain in the hands of the French until an exorbitant war indemnity should have been paid.[34] At one stroke Prussia was thus reduced to a second-rate power, with a territory little greater than it possessed before the first partition of Poland. The rule of Joseph Bonaparte at Naples, that of Louis in Holland, and the confederation of the Rhine, were solemnly confirmed. Above all, Russia pledged herself to join France in coercing Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal into an adoption of the organised commercial exclusion, known as the "continental system," and hostility to Great Britain in the event of her resistance. If Sweden refused to join this league, Denmark was to be compelled to declare war on her.

No sooner did it receive information of this alliance than the British government despatched a naval armament to Denmark and landed troops, which were soon reinforced by those withdrawn from Rügen. There had been no open rupture with Denmark, though much irritation existed between Denmark and Great Britain with reference to neutral commerce. But there were the best reasons for believing that the Danish fleet, as well as that of Portugal, would be demanded by France and Russia, to be employed against Great Britain, and it was certain that Denmark could not withstand such pressure. The British envoy, Jackson, was accordingly instructed to offer Denmark a treaty of alliance, of which one condition was to be the deposit of her fleet on hire with the British government. The proposal was accompanied by a threat of force, and the crown prince, with a spirit worthy of admiration, refused the terms. In consequence a peremptory[Pg 54] summons to deliver up her ships of war and naval stores was addressed to the governor of Copenhagen by the British commanders, Admiral Gambier and Lord Cathcart, under whom Sir Arthur Wellesley was entrusted with the reserve. The surrender, if made peaceably, was to be in the nature of a deposit, and the fleet was to be restored at the end of the war. The governor returned a temporising reply, and a bombardment of Copenhagen followed (September 2); the fleet was brought to England as prize of war; and Denmark naturally became the enemy of Great Britain.[35] Sweden declined the proffered alliance of France and Russia, and actually invaded Norway, then a part of the Danish kingdom. The result was the loss of Finland and Swedish Pomerania. The king, Gustavus IV., resembled Charles XII. in quixotic temperament, but not in ability; and Sir John Moore, sent to his support with an army of 10,000 men, found it hopeless to co-operate with him. Shortly afterwards, his subjects formed the same opinion, and he was compelled to make way for his uncle, who succeeded as Charles XIII. with Marshal Bernadotte as crown prince. In consequence of this change Sweden became reconciled to Russia, and estranged from Great Britain.

The seizure of the Danish fleet, in time of so-called peace, roused great indignation throughout most of Europe, and, in some degree, strained the conscience of the British parliament itself. The justice and wisdom of it were strenuously challenged in both houses, especially by Grenville, Sidmouth, and Lord Darnley, who moved an address to the crown embodying an impressive protest against it. It was defended, however, by the high authority of the Marquis Wellesley, as well as by Canning and other ministers, on the simple ground of military necessity. Napoleon himself never ceased to denounce it as an international outrage of the highest enormity. This did not prevent his doing his best to justify it and to imitate it by sending Junot's expedition to Portugal, with instructions to seize the Portuguese fleet at Lisbon. It is strange that in the debates on this subject, peace with France was still treated on both sides as a possibility; but Canning declared that neither Russian nor Austrian mediation could have been accepted as[Pg 55] impartial, or as affording the least hope of pacification. However, on September 25, the king addressed a declaration to Europe, in which, after justifying himself in regard to Copenhagen, he professed his readiness to accept conditions of peace "consistent with the maritime rights and political existence of Great Britain".


Still more reasonable attacks, supported by strong petitions, were made by the opposition upon the "orders in council," whereby the British government retaliated against Napoleon's "continental system". This system was founded on a firm belief, shared by the French people, that Great Britain, as mistress of the seas, was the one great obstacle to his imperial ambition, and the most formidable enemy of French aggrandisement, only to be crushed by the ruin of her trade. Prussia had, in conformity with her treaty of February 15, 1806, issued a proclamation on March 28 of that year, closing her ports, which would now include those of Hanover, against British trade. The British government replied by first laying an embargo on Prussian vessels in the harbours of Great Britain and Ireland, and by proclaiming a blockade of the coast of Europe from Brest to the Elbe. This was followed on May 14 by an order in council for seizing all vessels found navigating under Prussian colours. As yet the policy of commercial exclusion had not been carried to any great length, but the Berlin decree issued by Napoleon on November 21 after the battle of Jena proclaimed the whole of the British Isles to be in a state of blockade, prohibited all commerce with them from the ports of France and her dependent states, confiscated all British merchandise in such ports, and declared all British subjects in countries occupied by French troops to be prisoners of war. Howick replied by further orders in council in January, 1807, forbidding neutrals to trade between the ports of France and her allies, or between the ports of nations which should observe the Berlin decree, on pain of the confiscation of the ship and cargo. On the 27th another decree, issued at Warsaw, ordered the seizure in the Hanse Towns of all British goods and colonial produce. The reply of Great Britain was a stricter blockade of the North German coast.

The accession of Russia to Napoleon's commercial policy at Tilsit seemed to have brought the combination against British[Pg 56] trade to its furthest development, and it was answered by new orders in council, treating any port from which the British flag was excluded as if actually blockaded, and further limiting the carriage by neutral vessels of produce from hostile colonies. The Milan decree issued on December 17, and further orders in council published during the same winter, carried to greater extremes, if possible, this intolerable form of commercial warfare, under which neutral commerce was gradually crushed out of existence. Great Britain, owing to her command of the sea, was more independent of this kind of commerce than her rival, and both the decrees and the orders in council inflicted far more damage on France and her allies than on Great Britain. But neither party was able to enforce completely its policy of commercial exclusion. Europe could not dispense with British goods or colonial produce carried in British vessels. The law was deliberately set aside by a regular licensing system, and evaded by wholesale smuggling; neutral ships continued to ply between continental ports, and Napoleon did not disdain to clothe his troops with 50,000 British overcoats during the Eylau campaign. Still, Great Britain was enabled to cripple, if not to destroy, the merchant shipping of all other countries, and the interests of consumers all over Europe were enlisted against the author of the continental system. On the other hand, a heavy blow was dealt to friendly relations between Great Britain and the United States, the chief victim of these belligerent pretensions.[36]


In the meantime, the prestige of Great Britain had been injured by three petty and abortive expeditions projected by the Grenville ministry. The first of these was sent out to complete the conquest of Buenos Ayres, the recapture of which was unknown in England. Sir Samuel Auchmuty, who commanded it, finding himself too late to occupy that city, attacked and took Monte Video by storm with much skill and spirit, on February 3, 1807. Shortly afterwards, he was superseded by General Whitelocke, bringing reinforcements, with orders to recover Buenos Ayres. In this he signally failed, owing to gross tactical errors. The British troops were almost passively[Pg 57] slaughtered in the streets, and Whitelocke agreed to withdraw the remains of his force, and give up Monte Video, on condition of all prisoners being surrendered. On his return home, he was tried by a court-martial and cashiered, being also declared "totally unfit to serve his majesty in any military capacity whatever".

Equally ill-managed was the naval expedition, directed to support Russia, then in close alliance with Great Britain, by coercing the sultan into a rupture with France. Collingwood, who was not consulted, was required to entrust the command of this expedition, which started in February, 1807, to Sir John Duckworth. Everything depended on promptitude, and the admiral found little difficulty in forcing the passage of the Dardanelles, as it was then almost unfortified. Having reached Constantinople, he allowed himself to waste time in fruitless negotiations, contrary to Collingwood's earnest advice, and not only effected nothing but gravely imperilled his return. Instructed by the French minister Sébastiani, the Turks had armed their coasts, and erected batteries along the Dardanelles, through which the British fleet made its way with considerable loss. Instead of being detached from the French alliance, the Porte was thrown into its arms and became more embittered than ever against Russia. It was soon involved in a serious conflict with that country—for the possession of Wallachia and Moldavia—only to be deserted again by France under the compact made at Tilsit. The expedition to Egypt, planned in combination with the expedition to the Dardanelles, ended in a still worse disaster. Though General Fraser, its commander, was able to surprise Alexandria on March 30, he awaited in vain the expected news of Duckworth's success; he proceeded to attack Rosetta with as little generalship as Whitelocke had shown at Buenos Ayres, and encountered a similar repulse. An attempt to besiege the town met with no better fortune: the British troops submitted to a capitulation, evacuated Egypt, and sailed for Sicily in September, 1807. In an imperial manifesto addressed to the French nation at the end of this year, the British failures at Buenos Ayres, Constantinople, and Alexandria were paraded, together with our alleged crime against the rights of nations at Copenhagen.

In the early months of 1808 the continental system was[Pg 58] extended by the establishment of French administration at Rome, and the annexation of the eastern ports of the Papal States to the kingdom of Italy. On February 18 of the same year Austria under French pressure adopted the system. Sweden and Turkey were now the only continental countries left outside it, but the retention of Sicily by the Bourbon king rendered it easy for British commerce to enter Italy through that island. The irritation of neutrals increased as the area of commercial exclusion widened, but the United States were now the only neutral power of any consequence. After April 17 Napoleon took the high-handed step of confiscating all American shipping in his ports. In spite of this aggression, the president and congress of the United States continued to favour France against Great Britain. The story of the commercial warfare between Great Britain and the United States will be related more fully hereafter. For the present, it is sufficient to mention that an act, placing an embargo on foreign vessels in American ports, was passed by congress on December 22, 1807, and another on March 1, 1809, forbidding commercial intercourse with Great Britain and France and the colonies occupied by them.

Meanwhile Great Britain continued to enforce her maritime rights, including that of searching American merchantmen for British-born sailors, and impressing them at the will of British naval officers. These grievances ultimately led to a war between Great Britain and America in 1812. The continental system, however, did not long remain so complete as in the beginning of 1808. Junot's expedition to Portugal had led to a French occupation of that country before the end of 1807. The conquest of Portugal was followed, as we shall see later, by a partial conquest of Spain. This threw the Spaniards back upon the British alliance and afforded an opportunity for the liberation of Portugal, so that from May, 1808, Great Britain once more had a large seaboard open to her commerce. The early success of the Spanish resistance to France, and other events in the peninsula hereafter to be recorded, encouraged Austria to arm again; and on the news of the capitulation of the French army at Baylen in July, she pushed forward her preparations with redoubled energy. A national movement arose simultaneously in North Germany,[Pg 59] but the Prussian government dared not head it so long as Russia remained faithful to the French alliance.


Notwithstanding a peremptory declaration from the tsar after the seizure of the Danish fleet, Russia had nothing to gain by war with Great Britain. She was bound to France by the prospect held forth to her at Tilsit of the conquest of Finland and the partition of Turkey, but she was inwardly desirous of peace with Great Britain. Napoleon, on the other hand, saw in the partition of Turkey an opportunity of striking at India, and had actually given orders for naval preparations to be made in Spain, when all thought of eastern conquest had to be postponed owing to the success of the Spanish patriots. After a conference between Napoleon and the tsar at Erfurt a secret convention was signed on October 12, by which France sanctioned Russian conquests in Finland and the Danubian provinces, and Russia recognised the Bonaparte dynasty in Spain and promised to assist France in a defensive war against Austria. The two powers despatched a joint note to Great Britain inviting her to make peace, on the principle of uti possidetis. Canning replied that he was prepared to negotiate if his allies, especially Sweden and the Spanish patriots, who were at that time in actual possession of almost the entire country, were included in the peace. On November 19 Napoleon expressed his willingness to treat with the British allies, but not with the Spanish "rebels," as he styled them. Alexander took up a similar position, speaking of the Spanish "insurgents," and expressly recognising Joseph as King of Spain. Thus ended these pacific overtures, and on November 3 the official exposé, annually issued in Paris, described Great Britain as "the enemy of the world".

The year 1808 is memorable in English history for the active intervention of Great Britain in the affairs of Spain which developed into the "Peninsular war".[37] This intervention was rendered possible and effective by the organisation of our army system in 1807, which was due to Castlereagh, though he received little credit for it. Under this system, the old constitutional force of the militia was made the basis of the whole military establishment. By the militia balloting bill and[Pg 60] the militia transfer bill, that force, largely composed of substitutes, and bound only to home-service, was practically converted into a recruiting-ground for the regular army, and proved sufficient to make good all the losses incurred during the long campaigns in Portugal and Spain. The army thus raised contained, no doubt, many soldiers of bad character, whose misdeeds, after the furious excitement of an escalade, or under the heart-breaking stress of a retreat, sometimes brought disgrace upon the British name. But these men, side by side with steadier comrades, bore themselves like heroes on many a bloodstained field; they quailed not before the conquering legions of Austerlitz and Wagram; they could "go anywhere or do anything" under trusted leaders; and they restored the military reputation of their country before the eyes of Europe. To have forged such an instrument of war was no mean administrative exploit. To have maintained its efficiency steadily on the whole, though sometimes with a faint-hearted parsimony, and to have loyally supported its commander against the cavils of a factious opposition superior in parliamentary ability, for a period of seven years, must be held to redeem the tory government from the charge of political weakness.


At the beginning of 1809, however, the interest of parliament was less concentrated on Sir Arthur Wellesley's first campaign in Portugal, or even on the convention of Cintra, than on the scandals attaching to the office of commander-in-chief, held by the Duke of York. Though an incapable general, the duke had shown himself, on the whole, an excellent administrator, and in the opinion of the best officers had done much for the discipline and efficiency of the British army. Unfortunately, Mrs. Clarke, his former mistress, had received bribes for using her influence with the duke to procure military appointments. Colonel Wardle, an obscure member of parliament, to whom Mrs. Clarke had temporarily transferred herself after being discarded by the duke, animated by a desire to damage the ministry, came forward with charges directly implicating him in her corrupt practices, and incidentally brought similar accusations against Portland and Eldon. The government foolishly agreed to an inquiry on the Duke of York's behalf, and it was conducted before a committee of the whole house, which sat from January 26 to March 20. In the[Pg 61] course of this inquiry, Sir Arthur Wellesley bore strong testimony in his favour, and the duke addressed a letter to the speaker, declaring his innocence of corruption. Though Wardle and his associates pressed for his dismissal, Perceval ultimately carried a motion acquitting him not only of corruption but of connivance with corruption. The majority, however, was small, and the duke thought it necessary to resign on March 20, whereupon the house of commons decided to proceed no further. A curious sequel of this case was an action against Wardle by an upholsterer, who had furnished a house for Mrs. Clarke by Wardle's orders, in consideration of her services in giving hostile evidence against her former protector. The plaintiff obtained £2,000 damages, and the law-suit was the means of producing a reaction in popular feeling in favour of the duke.

This scandal in high places quickened the zeal of parliament for general purity of administration, and led to a disclosure of some grave abuses. One of these, connected with the disposal of captured Dutch property, dated as far back as 1795. Others were found to exist in the navy department and the distribution of Indian patronage; others related to parliamentary elections. Perceval brought in a bill to check the sale and brokerage of offices, nor did Castlereagh himself escape the charge of having procured the election of Lord Clancarty to parliament by the offer of an Indian writership to a borough-monger. A frank explanation saved him from censure, especially as it appeared that the offer had never taken effect. The charge was renewed, in a different form, against both him and Perceval, and their accusers moved for a trial at bar. But as it turned out that undue influence rather than corruption was their alleged offence, and as the avowed object of the resolution was to force on parliamentary reform, it was negatived by an immense majority. Nevertheless, the object was not wholly defeated.

The removal of the Duke of York from the command of the army was singularly inopportune, for Sir David Dundas had scarcely been appointed as his successor when a juncture arose specially demanding a combination of energy and experience. The British government, already engaged in the Peninsular war, had at last resolved to take a vigorous part in the new and desperate struggle between France and Austria in Southern Germany. The latent spirit of German nationality,[Pg 62] aroused by Napoleon's ruthless treatment of Prussia, and quickened into a flame by sympathy with the uprising in Spain, was embodied in the secret association of the Tugendbund; and Austria, smarting under a sense of her own humiliation, mustered up courage to assume the leadership of a national movement. South Germany, governed by old dynasties, which profited by the French alliance, displayed as yet no symptoms of disaffection to France; but in North Germany the old dynasties had been either humbled or deposed, and the general ferment among the people, needed, as the Austrians believed, only the presence of a regular army to break out into a national revolt against the foreigner. Prussia, it is true, was still unwilling to move, because Russia was hostile; but the Austrian court knew well the lukewarmness of Russia's attachment to France, and hoped that a national upheaval would carry the Prussian government along with it. No one, in fact, had played a more active part in rousing Northern Germany than the Prussian minister, Stein, whom Frederick William, by Napoleon's advice, had called to his councils after Tilsit, and who was now compelled to resign his office and take refuge in Austria.


The British government was aware of the situation in Germany when it received a request in January, 1809, for the despatch of a British force to the mouth of the Elbe. Austria was, however, still nominally at war with Great Britain, and George III., perhaps not unreasonably, refused to give her active military assistance till peace was concluded. Meanwhile a subsidy of £250,000 in bullion was despatched to Trieste, and inquiries were set on foot as to the means of supplying such a military expedition as Austria desired.[38] On March 22, Dundas, who had only been a few days in office as commander-in-chief, reported that 15,000 men could not be spared from home service, and, in consequence, no extensive preparations were made until the muster rolls in June showed that 40,000 troops might safely be employed abroad. This convinced the government that a large force could be sent without interfering with home defence, as Castlereagh had long contended; and throughout June and July the naval and military departments were busy in preparing for what has since left a sinister memory as[Pg 63] the Walcheren expedition. Meanwhile, as if the passion of frittering away resources were irresistible, a smaller force was despatched, as a kind of feint, against the kingdom of Naples. It consisted of 15,000 British troops and a body of Sicilians. Bailing from Palermo early in June it captured the islands of Ischia and Procida and the castle of Scylla, and threw Naples into consternation. But the attack was not pushed, and it was too late to be of any assistance to the Austrians who had already been expelled from the Italian peninsula. At last, in July, the treaty of peace with Austria was signed and the great armament was ready to sail.

But Napoleon had not awaited the deliberations of British statesmen. Hurrying back from Spain, he remained in Paris only long enough to organise a campaign in South Germany, and left the capital to join his armies on April 13. A week earlier, the Archduke Charles, having remodelled the Austrian army, issued a proclamation affirming Austria to be the champion of European liberty. On the 9th Austria declared war against Bavaria, the ally of France, and her troops crossed the Inn. On the 17th, when Napoleon arrived at Donauwörth, he found the archduke in occupation of Ratisbon. His presence turned the tide, and, after three victories, he was once more on the road to Vienna. The most important of these victories was that of Eckmühl, and he regarded the manœuvre by which it was won as the finest in his military career. On May 13 the French entered Vienna, but the Archduke Charles with an army of nearly 200,000 men was facing him on the left bank of the Danube. Napoleon's army crossed and encountered the Austrians on the great plain between Aspern and Essling. He was repulsed and fell back upon Lobau, between which and the Vienna side of the Danube the bridge of boats had been swept away by a rise of the river and by balks of timber floated down by the Austrians. In this dangerous position he remained shut up for several weeks. He finally succeeded in throwing across a light bridge by which his army regained the left bank on the night of July 4. Finding their position turned the Austrians took up their stand on the tableland of Wagram. On July 6 another pitched battle was fought, which, in the number of combatants engaged and in the losses inflicted on both sides, must rank with the later conflicts of Borodino and Leipzig. A[Pg 64] hard won victory rested with the French, but it was not such a victory as that of Austerlitz or Jena, though it secured the neutrality, at least, of Austria for the next four years. Her army retreated into Bohemia, and on July 12 an armistice was signed at Znaim in Moravia, which formed the basis of a peace concluded at Vienna on October 14.


Nothing remained for Great Britain but to abandon the auxiliary enterprise so long planned, but so often delayed, or to carry it through independently, with little hope of a decisive issue. The latter alternative was adopted. The very day on which the news of the armistice arrived witnessed the departure of the greatest single armament ever sent out fully equipped from the shores of Great Britain. The deplorable failure of the Walcheren expedition has obscured both its magnitude and its probable importance had it only proved successful. The command of the fleet was given to Sir Richard Strachan, a competent admiral; that of the army to Chatham, who sat in the cabinet as master-general of the ordnance, an incompetent general, who owed his nomination to royal favour. This was the first blunder; the second was the utter neglect of medical and sanitary precautions against the notoriously unhealthy climate of Walcheren in the autumn months. The armament sailed from the Downs on July 28, in the finest weather and with a display of intense national enthusiasm. It consisted of thirty-five ships of the line, with a swarm of smaller war-vessels and transports, carrying nearly 40,000 troops, two battering-trains, and a complete apparatus of military stores. Its destination, though more than suspected by the enemy, had been officially kept secret at home. Castlereagh must be held largely responsible for the delays and for the unwise choice of a general which marred its success, but he showed true military sagacity in designating the point of attack. Inspired by him, the British government, distrusting the national movement in North Germany, had decided to strike at Antwerp, which Napoleon had supplied with new docks, and which, now that the mouth of the Scheldt had been reopened, threatened to become the commercial rival of London. The town was entirely unprepared, and a blow dealt here seemed the best way of doing as much harm as possible to France and at the same time gaining a national advantage for Great Britain.[Pg 65]

Chatham had received very precise instructions from Castlereagh, the objects prescribed to him being, (1) the capture or destruction of the enemy's ships, either building or afloat at Antwerp or Flushing, or afloat in the Scheldt; (2) the destruction of the arsenals and dockyards at Antwerp, Terneuze, and Flushing; (3) the reduction of the island of Walcheren; (4) the rendering of the Scheldt no longer navigable to ships of war. These objects were named, as far as possible, in the order of their importance, and Chatham was specially directed to land troops at Sandvliet and push on straight to Antwerp, with the view of taking it by a coup de main. Napoleon, who clearly foretold the catastrophe awaiting the British troops in the malarious swamps of Walcheren, afterwards admitted that Antwerp could have been captured by a sudden assault. Chatham obeyed his general orders, but, instead of taking them in the order of importance, gave precedence to the objects which could most easily be accomplished. By prompt action the French fleet, which was moored off Flushing, might have been captured, but it was allowed to escape to Antwerp. By August 2 the British were in complete possession of the mouth of the Scheldt, and had taken Bath opposite Sandvliet, while Antwerp was still almost unprotected. But Chatham concentrated his attention on the siege of Flushing, which surrendered, after three days' bombardment, on August 16, contrary to Napoleon's expectation. Antwerp had meanwhile been put in a state of defence, and was now protected by the enemy's fleet, while French and Dutch troops were pouring down to the Scheldt. After ten days of inactivity, Chatham advanced his headquarters to Bath, found that further advance was impossible, and recommended the government to recall the expedition, leaving 15,000 men to defend the island of Walcheren. This advice was adopted, but the garrison left in Walcheren suffered most severely from fever in that swampy island. Eventually, on December 24, Walcheren was abandoned, the works and naval basins of Flushing having been previously destroyed. The destruction of Flushing was the sole result of this expedition.

The failure of the British to make any serious impression on the French either in the Low Countries or in Spain induced Austria to consent to peace with France. By the peace[Pg 66] of Vienna, signed on October 14, she ceded Salzburg and a part of Upper Austria to Bavaria, West Galicia to the duchy of Warsaw, and a part of Carinthia with Trieste and the Illyrian provinces to France. A small strip of Galicia was ceded to the Russian tsar, who had rendered France some very half-hearted assistance and was further alienated by the extension of the duchy of Warsaw. Austria was enslaved to the will of Napoleon. She had abandoned the Tyrolese peasants whose loyal insurrection against the Bavarians was the most heroic incident in the war, and she now joined the other nations of the continent in excluding the commerce of Great Britain, which had made a powerful diversion in Spain and an imposing though futile diversion on the Scheldt to save her from national annihilation.

While the Walcheren expedition was preparing, two additions were made to the cabinet. Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, brother of the Marquis of Stafford, was admitted in June as secretary at war, and in July Harrowby, who was created an earl, became president of the board of control with a seat in the cabinet. After the fate of the expedition became known, though before its final withdrawal, a serious quarrel took place between Canning and Castlereagh. Personal jealousies had long existed between these two statesmen, both half-Irish, half-English, and of approximately the same age, yet widely different in character. Canning was the most brilliant orator of his day, and no less persuasive in private conversation than in public orations, gifted with an agile brain that leaped readily from one idea or one project to another, but cursed with a bitter wit which lightly aroused enduring enmities, and which, coupled with an excessive vanity, rendered him unpopular with his colleagues, and made it difficult for any one to take him seriously; while his rival, not less able, and much more steady and trustworthy, a skilful manager of men, was scarcely able to pronounce a coherent sentence. Early in April Canning pressed upon the Duke of Portland the transfer of Castlereagh to another office. Private communications followed between various members of the cabinet, and it was understood that Camden, as Castlereagh's friend, should apprise him of the prevailing view, which the king himself had approved under a threat of Canning's resignation. The duke, however, begged[Pg 67] Camden to postpone the disclosure, and others of Castlereagh's friends urged Canning not to insist upon the change pending the completion of the Walcheren expedition.


As the scheme took shape in July Camden was to resign, and thus make possible a shifting of offices, which was to result in the Marquis Wellesley succeeding Castlereagh as secretary for war. At last, on September 6, the duke informed Canning of his own intention to retire on the ground of ill-health, and at the same time disclosed the fact that no steps had been taken to prepare Castlereagh for the proposed change in his position. Thereupon Canning promptly sent in his own resignation, the duke resigned the same day, and Castlereagh, learning what had passed, followed his example two days later.[39] Believing that Canning had been intriguing against him behind his back, under the guise of friendship, he demanded satisfaction on the 19th, and on the 21st[40] the duel was fought, in which Canning received a slight wound. Such events provoked little[Pg 68] censure in those days, and it is pleasant to know that Canning and Castlereagh afterwards acted cordially together as colleagues. Their enmity broke up the government. The Duke of Portland did not long survive his withdrawal from office, and died on October 29; Leveson-Gower insisted on following Canning into retirement.

Perceval was entrusted with the task of forming an administration, but the new ministry was not formed without considerable negotiation. Canning vainly endeavoured to impress first on his colleagues and then on the king his own pretensions to the highest office, while attempts, to which the king gave a reluctant assent, had been made to enlist the co-operation of Grenville and Howick, who succeeded his father as Earl Grey, in 1807, but they failed as all later attempts were destined to fail. The most influential motive governing their conduct was, doubtless, their feeling that they would not as ministers possess the king's confidence. Sidmouth's following had also been approached. Sidmouth himself was considered too obnoxious to some of Pitt's followers to be a safe member of the new cabinet, but Vansittart was offered the chancellorship of the exchequer and Bragge, who had taken the additional surname of Bathurst, the office of secretary at war. They refused, however, to enter the ministry, unless accompanied by Sidmouth himself.

Perceval eventually became prime minister, retaining his former offices; Lord Bathurst, while remaining at the board of trade, presided temporarily at the foreign office, which was offered to the Marquis Wellesley, then serving as British ambassador to the Spanish junta at Seville, and taken over by him in December. Hawkesbury, now Earl of Liverpool, succeeded Castlereagh as secretary for war and the colonies, and was followed at the home office by Richard Ryder, a brother of Harrowby. Harrowby himself gave up the board of control in November to Melville's son, Robert Dundas, who, however, was not made a member of the cabinet. Lord Palmerston, who had been a junior lord of the admiralty under Portland, declined the chancellorship of the exchequer, and though he accepted Leveson-Gower's post as secretary at war, he was by his own desire excluded from the cabinet.


While the close of the year 1809 was darkened by national[Pg 69] disappointment and political anxieties, the honour of British arms had been amply vindicated in the Spanish peninsula, and the brilliant exploit of Lord Cochrane in Basque Roads had recalled the glories of the Nile. Cochrane had already achieved marvels under Collingwood in the Mediterranean, and notably off the Spanish coast, when he was selected to conduct an attack by fireships on the French squadron blockaded under the shelter of the islands of Aix and Oléron. This he carried out on the night of April 11, with a dash and skill worthy of Nelson, and unless checked by Gambier, the admiral in command, who had been raised to the peerage after the seizure of the Danish fleet in 1807, he must have succeeded in destroying the whole of the enemy's ships. Gambier was afterwards acquitted by a court martial of negligence, but the verdict of the public was against him. In the autumn Collingwood reduced the seven Ionian islands, and gained an important advantage by cutting out a considerable detachment of the Toulon fleet in the Bay of Genoa. In the course of the year, too, all the remaining French territory in the West Indies, as well as the Isle of Bourbon in the Indian Ocean, was captured by the British navy. But this unchallenged supremacy on the high seas did not prevent the depredations of French gunboats on British merchantmen in the channel. Indeed after the battle of Trafalgar, the French "sea-wasps" infesting the Channel were more active and destructive than ever.

On October 25, being the forty-ninth anniversary of his accession, the jubilee of George III. was celebrated with hearty and sincere rejoicings. His popularity was not unmerited. He was politically shortsighted, but within his range of vision few saw facts so clearly; he was obstinate and prejudiced, but his obstinacy was redeemed by a moral intrepidity of the highest order, and his prejudices were shared by the mass of his people. Having lived through the seven years' war, the war of the American revolution, and the successive wars of Great Britain against the French monarchy and the French republic, he was now supporting, with indomitable firmness, a war against the all-conquering French empire—the most perilous in which this country was ever engaged. The colonial and Indian dominions of Great Britain, reduced by the loss of the North American colonies, had been greatly extended during[Pg 70] his reign in other quarters of the globe. His subjects regarded him as an Englishman to the core; they knew him to be honest, religious, virtuous, and homely in his life; they justly believed him, in spite of his failings, to be a power for good in the land; and they rewarded him with a respect and affection granted to no other British sovereign of modern times before Queen Victoria. They had good cause to desire the continuance of his life and reason, knowing the character of his heir-apparent, and contrasting the domestic habits of Windsor with the licence of Carlton House.


[31] Colchester, Diary (Feb. 4, 1806), ii., 35, 36.

[32] Holland, Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii., 91-94.

[33] Holland, Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii., 173-205, 270-320; Colchester, Diary, ii., 92-115; Malmesbury, Diaries, iv., 357-72; Walpole, Life of Perceval, i., 223-33; Buckingham, Courts and Cabinets, iv., 117-50. Holland accuses the king of treachery and duplicity, and Lewis (Administrations of Great Britain, p. 294) repeats this charge in milder terms. But the documents quoted do not prove any want of straightforwardness, and the king's conduct was the logical consequence of his action in 1801.

[34] In the following year Napoleon consented to evacuate all the Prussian fortresses except three, on condition that the Prussian army should not exceed a total of 40,000 men.

[35] Annual Register, xlix. (1807), 249-70, 731-38; Rose, in English Historical Review, xi. (1896), 82-92.

[36] Captain Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, ii., 272-357, shows that the policy of the orders in council was essential to British safety.

[37] The course of this war is related continuously in chap. v.

[38] Rose, Life of Napoleon I., ii., 190, note.

[39] The best account of the quarrel, especially in its relation to the composition of the cabinet, is to be found in Walpole's Life of Perceval, vol. i., chap. ix., and vol. ii., chap. i. Lewis, Administrations, pp. 314-15, finds a double ground for Canning's resignation in his failure to obtain the removal of Castlereagh from the war office and in the refusal of the king and cabinet to allow him to succeed Portland as prime minister. It is quite clear, however, that at the time of Canning's resignation no decision had been come to about a successor to Portland. Some correspondence had passed between Canning and Perceval, in which each had refused to serve under the other, but that this correspondence was unknown to the cabinet as a whole is proved by Mulgrave's letters to Lord Lonsdale of September 11 and 15 (Phipps, Memoir of Ward, pp. 210-17); in the former of these he discusses Canning's probable conduct without referring to this correspondence, while in the latter he only knows of such negotiations as subsequent to the resignations of September 6 and 8. So, too, Eldon's letter to his wife of September 11 (Twiss, Life of Eldon, ii., 88-90), places the whole correspondence between Canning and Perceval after Portland's resignation on September 6. The king was not informed of Canning's views as to a successor to Portland till September 13, and the cabinet minute of September 18, advising co-operation with Grenville and Grey, mentions the selection of Canning as prime minister as a course open to the king.

[40] This is the date commonly given. The Annual Register, li. (1809), 239, gives the 22nd, while Perceval refers to the result of the duel in a letter dated the 20th (Colchester, Diary, ii., 209). It is clear, however, that Canning did not receive Castlereagh's challenge till the morning of the 20th (see his letter in Annual Register, loc. cit., 505, also his detailed statement to Camden, ibid., 525), and therefore the duel cannot have taken place till the 21st. Lord Folkestone in a letter dated the 21st refers to the duel as having been fought at "7 o'clock this morning" (Creevey Papers, i., 96).[Pg 71]



The administration of Perceval, covering the period from October, 1809, to May, 1812, coincided with a lull in the continental war save in the Peninsula, though it saw no pause in the progress of French annexation. Nor was it marked by many events of historical interest in domestic affairs. When parliament was opened on January 23, 1810, it was natural that attention should chiefly be devoted to the Walcheren expedition, which the opposition illogically and unscrupulously contrived to use to disparage the operations of Sir Arthur Wellesley, now Viscount Wellington, in Spain. Grenville, who argued with some reason that 40,000 British troops could have been employed to far better purpose in North Germany, would have been on stronger ground if he had complained that for want of them the British army had been unable to occupy Madrid. Castlereagh, indeed, had confessed to Wellesley that he could not spare the necessary reinforcements, after the reserves had been exhausted in Walcheren; but it is by no means certain that Wellesley could have collected provisions enough to feed a much larger force, or specie enough to pay for them. Liverpool was driven in reply to Grenville to magnify the value of the capture of Flushing, as the necessary basis of the naval armaments which Napoleon had intended to launch against England from the Scheldt. The government was also defended by the young Robert Peel, lately elected to parliament. As the calamity was irreparable, a committee of the whole house spent most of its time on a constitutional question, regarding a private memorandum placed before the king by Chatham in his own defence. So irregular a proceeding was[Pg 72] properly condemned, and Chatham resigned the mastership of the ordnance, but the policy of the Walcheren expedition was approved by a vote of the house of commons. Mulgrave received the office Chatham had vacated, and was himself succeeded by Yorke at the admiralty.

Parliament was next occupied by a question of privilege, in which Sir Francis Burdett, member for Westminster, then a favourite of the democracy, played a part resembling that of John Wilkes a generation earlier. Burdett had been for fourteen years a member of parliament, and had been conspicuous from the first for the vehemence of his opposition to the government, and more especially to its supposed infringements of the liberty of the subject. He had more recently taken an active part on behalf of Wardle's attack on the Duke of York and had supported the charges of ministerial corruption in the previous session. On the present occasion one John Gale Jones, president of a debating club, had published in a notice of debate the terms of a resolution which his club had passed, condemning in extravagant language the exclusion of strangers from the house of commons. This was treated as a breach of privilege, and Jones was sent to Newgate by order of the house itself. Burdett, in a violent letter to Cobbett's Register, challenged the right of the house to imprison Jones by its own authority, and, after a fierce debate lasting two nights, was adjudged by the house, on April 5, to have been guilty of a still more scandalous libel. Accordingly, the speaker issued a warrant for his committal to the Tower. Burdett declared his resolution to resist arrest, the populace mustered in his defence, the riot act was read, and he was conveyed to prison by a strong military escort, on whose return more serious riots broke out, and were not quelled without bloodshed. On his release at the end of the session a repetition of these scenes was prevented by the simple expedient of bringing him home by water. During his imprisonment he wrote an offensive letter to the speaker, and his colleague, Lord Cochrane, presented a violently worded petition from his Westminster constituents. In the following year he sued the speaker and the sergeant-at-arms in the court of king's bench, which decided against him on the ground that a power of commitment was necessary for the maintenance of the dignity of the house of[Pg 73] commons, and its decision was confirmed, on appeal, by the court of exchequer chamber and the house of lords.


The most important subject of internal policy discussed in the session of 1810 was the state of the currency. Since 1797 cash payments had been suspended, the issue of banknotes had been nearly doubled, and the price of commodities had risen enormously. Whether these results had in their turn promoted the expansion of foreign commerce and internal industry was vigorously disputed by two rival schools of economists. The one thing certain was the increasing scarcity of specie, and the serious loss incurred in its provision for the service of the army in the Peninsula. Francis Horner, then rising to eminence, obtained the appointment of what became known as the "bullion committee" to inquire into the anomalous conditions thus created, and took a leading part in the preparation of its celebrated report, published on September 20. The committee arrived at the conclusion that the high price of gold was mainly due to excess in the paper-currency, and not, as alleged, to a drain of gold for the continental war. They attributed that excess to "the want of a sufficient check and control in the issues of paper from the Bank of England, and originally to the suspension of cash-payments, which removed the natural and true control". While allowing that paper could not be rendered suddenly convertible into specie without dislocating the entire business of the country, they recommended that an early provision should be made by parliament for terminating the suspension of cash-payments at the end of two years. These conclusions were combated by Castlereagh and Vansittart, who afterwards, in 1811, succeeded in carrying several counter-resolutions, of which the general effect was to explain the admitted rise in the price of gold, for the most part by the exclusion of British trade from the continent, and the consequent export of the precious metals in lieu of British manufactures. The last resolution, while it recognised the wisdom of restoring cash-payments as soon as it could safely be done, affirmed it to be "highly inexpedient and dangerous to fix a definite period for the removal of the restriction on cash-payments prior to the conclusion of a definitive treaty of peace". These counsels prevailed, and[Pg 74] the restriction was not actually removed until Peel's act was passed in July, 1819.

The last domestic event in the inglorious annals of 1810 was the final lapse of the king into mental derangement in the month of November. For more than six years his sight had been failing, but he had suffered no return of insanity since 1804. Now he lost both his sight and his reason. This event, impending for some time, was precipitated by the illness and death of the Princess Amelia, his favourite daughter, and was perhaps aggravated by the Walcheren expedition and the disgrace of the Duke of York. Parliament met on November 1, and was adjourned more than once before a committee was appointed to examine the royal physicians. Acting on their report, the ministers proposed and carried resolutions declaring the king's incapacity, and the right and duty of the two houses to provide for the emergency. It was also determined to define by act of parliament the powers to be exercised in the king's name and behalf. This implied a limitation of the regent's authority, and was resented by the Prince of Wales and his friends. Perceval, however, was able to rely on the precedent of 1788, to which Grenville, for one, had been a party, and, after considerable opposition, the prince was made regent under several temporary restrictions. With certain exceptions, he was precluded from granting any peerage or office tenable for life; the royal property was vested in trustees for the king's benefit, and the personal care of the king was entrusted to the queen, with the advice of a council. In this form, the regency bill was passed on February 4, 1811, after a protest from the other sons of George III. and violent attacks upon Eldon by Grenville and Grey. On the 5th, the regent took the oaths before the privy council, but, in accepting the restrictions, he delicately expressed regret that he should not have been trusted to impose upon himself proper limitations for the exercise of royal patronage. The interregnum thus established was to be provisional only, and was to cease on February 1, 1812, but the queen and her private council, with the concurrence of the privy council, were empowered to annul it at any time, by announcing the king's recovery, when he could resume his powers by proclamation.


The hopes of the opposition had been greatly excited by[Pg 75] the prospect of a regency, and it was generally expected that a change of ministry would be its immediate consequence. Private communications had, in fact, passed between the prince and the whig lords, Grenville and Grey, but they were rendered nugatory by the dictatorial tone assumed by those lords and by the unwillingness of the prince to dispense with the advice of Moira and Sheridan. The two whig lords had by the prince's desire prepared a reply to the address from the houses of parliament, preparatory to the regency bill. Grenville had voted in favour of the restriction on the creation of peers, and it is therefore not surprising that the reply which he and Grey drafted appeared to the prince too weak in its protest against the limitations. He therefore adopted in its stead another reply which Sheridan had composed for him. The two lords thereupon addressed to the prince a remonstrance, which practically claimed for themselves the right of responsible ministers to be the sole advisers of their prince. This remonstrance provoked the ridicule of Sheridan, and certainly did not please the prince, who since the fall of the Grenville ministry had refused to be regarded as a "party man". The regent, accordingly, gave Perceval to understand that he intended to retain his present ministers, but solely on the ground that he was unwilling to do anything which might retard his father's recovery, or distress him when he should come to himself. This reason was probably genuine. The king appeared to be recovering; he had had several interviews with Perceval and Eldon, and had made inquiries as to the prince's intentions. Soon, however, the malady took a turn for the worse, and the physicians came to the conclusion that it was permanent.[41]

Before February, 1812, when the restrictions expired, and a permanent regency bill was passed, the prince drifted further away from his former advisers, and had been pacified by the loyal attitude of Perceval and Eldon. Further overtures were conveyed to the whig lords through a letter from the prince regent to the Duke of York, in which he declared that he had "no predilections to indulge or resentments to gratify," but only a concern for the public good, towards which he desired the co-operation of some of his old whig friends, in[Pg 76]dicating Grenville and Grey. They declined in a letter to the Duke of York, alleging differences on grounds of policy too deep to admit of a coalition. Eldon, on his part, expressed a similar conviction, but the regent never fully forgave what he regarded as their desertion. Wellesley, who was strongly opposed to Perceval's policy of maintaining the catholic disabilities, resigned the secretaryship of foreign affairs, protesting against the feeble support given to his brother in the Peninsula, and was succeeded by Castlereagh. In April Sidmouth became president of the council in place of Camden, who remained in the cabinet without office; and in the next month, on May 11, Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of the house of commons by a man named Bellingham, who had an imaginary grievance against the government.

A very general and sincere tribute of respect was paid by the house to Perceval's memory, for, though his statesmanship was of the second order, he was far more than a tory partisan; he was an excellent debater, and a thoroughly honest politician, and his private character was above all reproach or suspicion. The cabinet was bewildered by his death, and a fresh attempt was made to strengthen it by the simple inclusion of Canning as well as Wellesley. Wellesley stipulated that the catholic question should be left open, and that the war should be prosecuted with the entire resources of the country, while Canning declined co-operation on the ground of the catholic question alone. No agreement being found possible, the house of commons stepped in and addressed the regent, begging him to form a strong and efficient administration, commanding the confidence of all classes. He replied by sending for Wellesley, offering him the premiership and entrusting him with the formation of a comprehensive ministry; but Wellesley soon found that Liverpool and his adherents would not serve under him at all, while Grenville and Grey, who secretly condemned the Peninsular war, would only serve on conditions which he could not grant. Once more, the regent treated directly with these haughty whigs, now including Moira, to whom he committed the task of forming an administration. Grenville and Grey raised difficulties about the appointments in the royal household, which they wished to include in the political changes, and the negotiation was broken off. The regent at last fell[Pg 77] back on Liverpool, a capable and conciliatory minister, who adopted Perceval's colleagues, and a spell of tory administration set in which remained unbroken for no less than fifteen years. Had more tact been shown on all sides, had the whigs been less peremptory in their demands, and had the trivial household question never arisen, the course of the war, if not of European history, might, whether for good or evil, have been profoundly modified.


During the later period of Perceval's administration, from 1811 to 1812, the strife of politics had been mainly concentrated on the regency question, the chance of ministerial changes, and the fortunes of the war in Spain. But it must not be supposed that social questions were neglected, even in the darkest days of the war, however meagre the legislative fruits may appear. Session after session, Romilly pressed forward reforms of the criminal law, the institution of penitential houses in the nature of reformatories, and the abolition of state lotteries. Others laboured, and with greater success, to remedy the delays and reduce the arrears in the court of chancery. Constant efforts were made to expose defalcations in the revenue, to curtail exorbitant salaries, and to put down electioneering corruption. In 1809 Erskine introduced a bill for the prevention of cruelty to animals. In 1810 there were earnest, if somewhat futile, debates on spiritual destitution, the non-residence and poverty of the clergy, and the scarcity of places of worship. Moreover, early in 1811, a premonitory symptom of the repeal movement caused some anxiety in Ireland. It took the form of a scheme for a representative assembly to sit in Dublin, and manage the affairs of the Roman catholic population, under colour of framing petitions to parliament, and seeking redress of grievances. It was, of course, to consist of Roman catholics only, and to include Roman catholic bishops. The Irish government wisely suppressed the scheme, and Perceval justified their action, on the ground that a representative assembly in Dublin, with such aims in view, bordered upon an illicit legislature.

Except for the war in the Spanish peninsula, and the war between Russia and the Porte on the Danube, the year 1810 was marked by undisturbed peace throughout the continent of Europe. France continued to make annexations, but they[Pg 78] were at the expense of her allies, not of her enemies. Her supremacy was signalised in a striking way by the marriage of her parvenu emperor, whose divorce the pope still refused to recognise, with Maria Louisa, daughter of the Emperor of Austria. Though thirteen out of twenty-six cardinals present in Paris declined to attend it, this marriage was a masterstroke of Talleyrand's diplomacy; it secured the benevolent neutrality of Austria for the next three years, and weakened the counsels of the allies during the negotiations of 1814-15. But it went far to estrange the Tsar of Russia, who, though he had courteously declined Napoleon's overtures for the hand of his own sister, was greatly offended on discovering that another matrimonial alliance had been contracted by his would-be brother-in-law before his reply could be received.

It was only within the limits of the French empire that Napoleon's authority had been sufficient to enforce the rigorous exclusion of British goods. His allies, including Sweden, which closed her ports to British products in January, 1810, and declared war on Great Britain in the following November, had adopted the continental system; but administrative weakness, and the obvious interest that every people had in its infraction, rendered its operation partial. Napoleon, determined to enforce the system in spite of every obstacle, met this difficulty by placing in immediate subjection to the French crown the territories where British goods were imported. The first ally to suffer was his own brother, Louis, King of Holland. His refusal to enforce Napoleon's orders against the admission of British goods was followed at once by a forced cession of part of Holland to France and the establishment of French control at the custom houses, and shortly afterwards by the despatch of French troops into Holland and its annexation to France on July 9, 1810. In December the French dominion over the North Sea coast was extended by the annexation of a corner of Germany, including the coast as far as the Danish frontier, and the town of Lübeck on the Baltic. As a result of this annexation, the duchy of Oldenburg, held by a branch of the Russian imperial family, ceased to exist. The act was a conspicuous breach of the treaty of Tilsit, which Napoleon considered himself at liberty to disregard, as Russia had shown by her conduct during the campaign of 1809 that she was no longer[Pg 79] more than a nominal ally of France. At last, on January 12, 1811, Russia asserted her independence in fiscal matters by an order which declared her ports open to all vessels sailing under a neutral flag, and imposed a duty on many French products. Still the course of French annexation crept onwards, and quietly absorbed the republic of Vallais in Switzerland, which had been a great centre of smuggling.


Meanwhile, the restrictions and prohibitions which formed the continental system were made more and more severe. By the Trianon tariff of August, 1810, heavy duties were levied on colonial products, and by the Fontainebleau decree of October 18 all goods of British origin were to be seized and publicly burned. In November a special tribunal was created to try offenders against the continental system. Nevertheless, the fiscal and foreign policy of France at this date alike show how far the continental system had failed in its object, and to what extreme lengths it had become necessary to push it in order to give it a chance of success. The strain of the system on English commerce was immense, but the burden fell far more heavily on the continental nations. Colonial produce rose to enormous prices in France, Germany, and Italy, especially after the introduction of the Trianon tariff, and a subject or ally of the French emperor had to pay ten times as much for his morning cup of coffee as his enemy in London. The German opposition to Napoleon had failed in 1809 mainly through the political apathy of the German nation. Napoleon's fiscal measures were the surest way of bringing that apathy to an end, and converting it into hostility.

The events of December, 1810, and January, 1811, constituted a distinct breach between France and Russia, which could only end in war, unless one party or the other should withdraw from its position. A few months sufficed to show that no such withdrawal would take place; but neither power was prepared for war, and seventeen months elapsed after the breach before hostilities began. The intervening period was spent in negotiation and preparation. Much depended on the alliances that the rival powers might be able to contract. Although Napoleon had bound himself not to restore Poland, he had by the creation and subsequent enlargement of the duchy of Warsaw given it a semblance of national unity, and[Pg 80] had inspired the Poles with the hope of a more complete independence. The Polish troops were among the most devoted in the French army, and the position of their country rendered the support of the Poles a matter of great importance in any war with Russia. It occurred to the Tsar Alexander that he might win their support for himself by a restoration of Poland, under the suzerainty of Russia. He promised Czartoryski the restoration of the eight provinces under a guarantee of autonomy, and undertook to obtain the cession of Galicia. On February 13, 1811, he made a secret offer to Austria of a part of Moldavia in exchange for Galicia. Nothing came of this, but the massing of Russian troops on the Polish frontier in March was met by the hurried advance of French troops through Germany, and war seemed imminent until Russia postponed the struggle by withdrawing her troops.

Meanwhile, other European powers looked forward to selling their alliance on the best possible terms. Sweden and Prussia both approached the stronger power first. Bernadotte, on behalf of Sweden, was prepared for a French alliance if France would favour the Swedish acquisition of Norway. Napoleon, on February 25, not only refused these terms, but ordered Sweden to enforce the continental system under pain of a French occupation of Swedish Pomerania. This threat Sweden ventured to ignore. Prussia, lying directly between the two future belligerents, was in a more dangerous position. Neutrality was impossible, because her neutrality would not be respected. She first offered her alliance to Napoleon in return for a reduction of the payments due to France and a removal of the limit imposed on her army. Napoleon did not reply to this offer at once. Meanwhile the movement of French troops already mentioned and the increase of the French garrisons on the Oder, though primarily intended for the defence of Poland, caused great alarm in Prussia and resulted in preparations to resist a French attack. In July Napoleon finally refused to discuss the Prussian terms. Ever since his marriage he had been inclined more and more to an Austrian alliance. On March 26 of this year Otto, his ambassador at Vienna, had received information that France would support Austria if she would protest against the occupation of Belgrade by the Serbs. Napoleon even assured Otto that he was prepared to undertake[Pg 81] any engagement that Austria desired. Rest was, however, essential to Austria. The military disasters of 1809 had been followed by national bankruptcy, and with the government paper at a discount of 90 per cent. she dared not incur further liabilities.

Russia had an advantage over France in that she was able to free herself from her entanglement in Turkey, while Napoleon could not make peace either with Great Britain or with the Bourbon party in Spain. An armistice with the Porte was concluded on October 15. By that time all pretence of friendly intentions had been abandoned by France and Russia. Prussia, hoping still to save herself from an unconditional alliance with France, now turned to Russia, and Scharnhorst was despatched to seek a Russian alliance. Meanwhile Napoleon sent word to the Prussian court that, if her military preparations were not suspended, he would order Davoût to march on Berlin, and at the same time disclosed his offer of an unconditional alliance against Russia. Prussia, hoping for Russian aid still, put aside the French demands, but the Tsar Alexander expressed a decided preference for a defensive campaign against France, and refused any assistance unless the French should commit an unprovoked aggression on Königsberg. Scharnhorst seems to have seen the wisdom of this policy. He now turned to Austria, but there again a definite alliance was refused. Russia was equally unable to move Austria to join her, so that Russia and Prussia were each isolated in their opposition to Napoleon.

In the months of August and September of this year a British force, commanded by Auchmuty, effected the conquest of Java, the wealthiest of the East Indian islands. The island had been a Dutch colony, and like other Dutch colonies had passed into the hands of France. Sumatra fell into English hands along with Java, so that the supremacy of Great Britain in the East Indies was fully established.


The new ministry which entered on office in June, 1812, differed largely in composition from that which had preceded it. Ryder and Yorke retired at the death of Perceval, Harrowby returned to office, and places in the cabinet were found for Sidmouth's adherents, Buckinghamshire, Vansittart, and Bragge-Bathurst. Sidmouth himself succeeded Ryder as home[Pg 82] secretary, while Harrowby succeeded Sidmouth as president of the council. Earl Bathurst took Liverpool's place as secretary for war and the colonies. Vansittart succeeded Perceval at the exchequer and Bragge-Bathurst in the duchy of Lancaster. Robert Dundas, now Viscount Melville, followed Yorke at the admiralty, and Buckinghamshire took Melville's place at the board of control, which became once more a cabinet office. Eldon, Castlereagh, Westmorland, and Mulgrave retained their former offices, while Camden remained in the cabinet without office. In September Mulgrave was created an earl, and Camden a marquis. The internal history of England during the first two years of Liverpool's premiership has been entirely dwarfed by the interest of external events. For this period comprised not only the Russian expedition—the greatest military tragedy in modern history—the marvellous resurrection of Germany, with the campaigns which culminated in the stupendous battle of Leipzig, and the invasion of France which ended in the abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau, but also the brilliant conclusion of the Peninsular war, and the earlier stages of the war between Great Britain and the United States.

The nation was contented to leave the guidance of home and foreign policy at that critical time to the existing ministers, all honest, experienced, and high-minded statesmen, but none gifted with any signal ability, and inferior both in cleverness and in eloquence to the leaders of the opposition. Napoleon was not far wrong in regarding the British aristocracy, which they represented, as his most inveterate and powerful enemy; but he was grievously deceived in imagining that this aristocracy, in withstanding his colossal ambition, had not the British nation at its back. The electoral body, indeed, to which they owed their parliamentary majority, was but a fraction of the population, and the public opinion which supported them may seem but the voice of a privileged class in these days of household suffrage. But there is little reason to doubt that, if household suffrage had then prevailed, their foreign policy would have received a democratic sanction; nor is it at all certain that some features of their home policy, now generally condemned, were not justified, in the main, by the exigencies of their time.


The "condition of England," as it was then loosely termed,[Pg 83] was the first subject which claimed the attention of Liverpool's government. While Perceval was congratulating parliament on the elasticity of the revenue, a widespread depression of industry was producing formidable disturbances in the midland counties. This depression was the consequence partly of the continental system, crippling the export of British goods to European countries; partly of the revival, in February, 1811, of the American non-intercourse act, closing the vast market of the United States; and partly of the improvements in machinery, especially those in spinning and weaving machines introduced by the inventions of Cartwright and Arkwright. Unhappily, this last cause, being the only one visible to artisans, was regarded by them as the sole cause of their distress. During the autumn and winter of 1811 "Luddite" riots broke out among the stocking-weavers of Nottingham. Their name was derived from a half-witted man who had destroyed two stocking frames many years before. Frame-breaking on a grand scale became the object of an organised conspiracy, which extended its operations from Nottinghamshire into Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. At first frame-breaking was carried on by large bodies of operatives in broad daylight, and when these open proceedings were put down by military force, they were succeeded by nightly outrages, sometimes attended by murder. Early in 1812 a bill was passed making frame-breaking a capital offence.

In spite of this riots grew into local insurrections, and a message from the prince regent on June 27 recommended further action to parliament. It was natural, in that generation to connect all disorderly movements with revolutionary designs, and this belief underlies an alarmist report from a secret committee of the house of lords on the prevailing tumults. Accordingly, Sidmouth obtained new powers for magistrates to search for arms, to disperse tumultuous assemblies, and to exercise jurisdiction beyond their own districts. In November many Luddites were convicted, and sixteen were executed by sentence of a special commission sitting at York. These stern measures were effectual for a time, and popular discontent in the manufacturing districts ceased to assume so acute a form until after the war was ended.

The sufferings of the poor in the rural districts, though[Pg 84] generally endured in silence, were at least equally severe with those of the artisan class, and it is difficult to say whether a good or bad harvest pressed more heavily on agricultural labourers. When the price of wheat rose to 130s. per quarter or upwards, as it did in 1812 and other years of scarcity, the farmers were able to pay comparatively high wages. When the price fell to 75s., as it did in years of plenty like 1813, wages were reduced to starvation-point, but supplemented out of the poor-rates, under the miserable system of indiscriminate out-door relief graduated according to the size of families. In either case, the entire income of a labourer was far below the modern standard, and the prosperity of trade meant to him an increase in the cost of all necessaries except bread. As for their employers, the golden age of farming, which is often identified with the age of the great war, had really ceased long before. Not only did the high price of a farmer's purchases go far to neutralise the high price of his sales, but the excessive fluctuations in all prices, due to the opening and closing of markets according to the fortunes of war, made prudent speculation almost impossible. The frequently recurring depressions were rendered all the more disastrous, because in times of high prices "the margin of cultivation" was unduly extended.


With a view to diminish the violence of these fluctuations, a select committee on the corn-trade was appointed by the house of commons in 1813, and reported in favour of a sliding-scale. When the price of wheat should fall below 90s. per quarter, its exportation was to be permitted; but its importation was to be forbidden, until the price should reach 103s., when it might, indeed, be imported, but under "a very considerable duty". It was assumed, in fact, that the normal price of wheat was above 100s. per quarter, and the price above which importation should be permitted was nearly twice as high as that fixed in 1801, when, moreover, it was to be admitted above 50s. at a duty of 2s. 6d., and above 54s. at a duty of sixpence. It is remarkable that in the debates of 1814 upon the report of this committee, William Huskisson, as well as Sir Henry Parnell, supported its main conclusions, upon the ground that agriculture must be upheld at all costs, and the home-market preferred to foreign markets. Canning and others ably advocated the cause of the consumers, alleging that duties on[Pg 85] corn injured them far more than they could benefit landowners or farmers. Finally, a bill embodying a modified sliding-scale was introduced by the government, and, though lost by a narrow majority in 1814, became law in 1815. Under this act the importation of foreign corn was prohibited, so long as the price of wheat did not rise above 80s. Above that price it might be imported free. Corn from British North America might, however, be imported free so long as the price of wheat exceeded 67s.

The parliamentary debates of 1812 chiefly turned on Spanish affairs, the revocation of the orders in council, the subsequent rupture with the United States which had anticipated this great concession, and the wearisome cabinet intrigues which preceded the accession of Liverpool as prime minister. It is noteworthy that so conservative a house of commons should actually have pledged itself to consider the question of catholic emancipation in the next session, and should have passed an act relieving nonconformists from various disabilities. The next session of this parliament, however, never came, for an unexpected dissolution took place on September 29. This dissolution was attributed, with some reason, to a wish on the part of the government to profit by an abundant harvest, and to the restoration of comparative quiet both in England and in Ireland. A new parliament assembled at the end of November. The prince regent's speech in opening it, though it noticed the suppression of the Luddite disturbances, was inevitably devoted to the great events in Spain and Russia, the conclusion of a treaty with Russia, and the American declaration of war. After the Christmas recess, Castlereagh presented an argumentative message from the prince fully discussing the points at issue between Great Britain and the United States, upon which Canning, though out of office, delivered a vigorous speech in defence of the British position. Eldon, in the house of lords, went further, boldly justifying the right of search, and denying the American contention that original allegiance could be cancelled by naturalisation without the consent of the mother-country. The Princess of Wales, who had long been separated from the prince, was the cause of more parliamentary time being wasted by a complaint which she addressed to the speaker against the proceedings of the privy council. That body had[Pg 86] approved restrictions which her husband had thought fit to place on her intercourse with her daughter, the Princess Charlotte. Parliament, however, took no action in the matter.

Perhaps the most important measure enacted in the session of 1813 was the so-called East India company's act. By this act the charter of the company was renewed with a confirmation of its administrative privileges and its monopoly of the China trade, but subject to material reservations: the India trade was thrown open from April 10, 1814, and the charter itself, thus restricted, was made terminable by three years' notice after April 10, 1831. In this year the naval and military armaments of Great Britain, considered as a whole, perhaps reached their maximum strength, and the national expenditure rose to its highest level, including, as it did, subsidies to foreign powers amounting to about £10,500,000. Of the aggregate expenditure, about two-thirds, £74,000,000, were provided by taxation, an enormous sum relatively to the population and wealth of the country at that period. Patiently as this burden was borne on the whole by the people of Great Britain, we cannot wonder that Vansittart, the chancellor of the exchequer, should have sought to lighten it in some degree by encroaching upon the sinking fund, as founded and regulated by Pitt. The debates on this complicated question, in which Huskisson and Tierney stoutly combated Vansittart's proposal, belong rather to financial history. What strikes a modern student of politics as strange is that Vansittart, tory as he was, should have advocated the relief of living and suffering taxpayers, upon the principle, then undefined, of leaving money "to fructify in the pockets of the people"; while the whig economists of the day stickled for the policy of piling up new debts, if need be, rather than break in upon an empirical scheme for the gradual extinction of old debts.


[41] For the whole crisis see Walpole, Life of Perceval, ii., 157-96, and for Sheridan's share in the transactions, Moore, Life of Sheridan, ii., 382-409.[Pg 87]



Reference has already been made to the conflict maintained for six years by Great Britain against France for the liberation of Spain and Portugal, which has since been known in history as the Peninsular war. It had its origin in two events which occurred during the autumn of 1807 and the spring of 1808. The first was the secret treaty of Fontainebleau concluded between France and Spain at the end of October, 1807; the second was the outbreak of revolutionary movements at Madrid, followed by the intervention of Napoleon in March, April, and May, 1808. The treaty of Fontainebleau was a sequel of the vast combination against Great Britain completed by the peace of Tilsit, under which the continental system was to be enforced over all Europe. Portugal, the ally of this country and an emporium of British commerce, was to be partitioned into principalities allotted by Napoleon, the house of Braganza was to be exiled, and its transmarine possessions were to be divided between France and Spain, then ruled by the worthless Godoy in the name of King Charles IV. Whether or not the subjugation of the whole peninsula was already designed by Napoleon, his troops, ostensibly despatched for the conquest of Portugal under the provisions of the treaty, had treacherously occupied commanding positions in Spain, when the populace of Madrid rose in revolt, and, thronging the little town of Aranjuez, where the court resided, frightened the king into abdication. His unprincipled son, Ferdinand, was proclaimed in March, 1808, but Murat, who now entered Madrid as commander-in-chief of the French troops in that city, secretly favoured the ex-King Charles. In the end, both he and Ferdinand were enticed into seeking the protection of[Pg 88] Napoleon at Bayonne. Instead of mediating or deciding between them, Napoleon soon found means to get rid of both. They were induced or rather compelled to resign their rights, and retire into private life on large pensions; and Napoleon conferred the crown of Spain on his brother Joseph, whose former kingdom of Naples was bestowed on Murat.

In the meantime, sanguinary riots broke out afresh at Madrid, hundreds of French were massacred, and the insurrection, as it was called, though sternly put down by Murat, spread like wildfire into all parts of Spain. A violent explosion of patriotism, resulting in anarchy, followed throughout the whole country. Napoleon was taken by surprise, but the combinations which he matured at Bayonne for the conquest of Spain were as masterly as those by which he had well-nigh subdued the whole continent, except Russia. He established a base of operations in the centre of the country, and organised four campaigns in the north-west, north-east, south-east, and south. Savary, who had succeeded Murat at Madrid, was supposed to act as commander-in-chief, but was really little more than a medium for transmitting orders received from Napoleon at Bayonne. The campaign of Duhesme in Catalonia was facilitated by the treacherous seizure of the citadel of Barcelona in the previous February. It was not long, however, before effective aid was rendered on the coast by the British fleet under Collingwood, and especially by Lord Cochrane in the Impérieuse frigate; the undisciplined bands of Catalonian volunteers were reinforced by regular troops from Majorca and Minorca; the fortress of Gerona made an obstinate resistance; the siege of it was twice raised, and Barcelona, almost isolated, was now held with difficulty.


Marshal Moncey vainly besieged Valencia, while Generals Lefebvre-Desnoëttes and Verdier were equally unsuccessful before Zaragoza. In the plains of Leon, Marshal Bessières gained a decisive victory over a superior force of Spaniards under Cuesta and Blake, at Medina de Rio Seco, on July 14. Having thus secured the province of Leon, and the great route from Bayonne to Madrid, he was advancing on Galicia when his progress was arrested by disaster in another quarter. General Dupont, commanding the southern army, found himself nearly surrounded at Baylen, and solicited an armistice,[Pg 89] followed by a convention, under which, "above eighteen thousand French soldiers laid down their arms before a raw army incapable of resisting half that number, if the latter had been led by an able man".[42] The convention, signed on July 20, stipulated for the transport of the French troops to France, but its stipulations were shamefully violated; some were massacred, others were sent to sicken in the hulks at Cadiz, and comparatively few lived to rejoin their colours. Meanwhile a so-called "assembly of notables," summoned to Bayonne, consisting of ninety-one persons, all nominees of Napoleon, assumed to act for the whole nation, had accepted the nomination of Joseph Bonaparte as king, and proceeded to adopt a constitution. On July 20, the very day of the capitulation of Baylen, Joseph entered Madrid, and on the 24th was proclaimed King of Spain and the Indies. But the military prestige of the grand army received a fatal blow in the catastrophe, of which the immediate effect was the retirement of Joseph behind the Ebro, and the ultimate effects were felt in the later history of the war.

At this moment almost the whole of Portugal was in possession of the French. In November, 1807, under peremptory orders from Napoleon, Junot with a French army and an auxiliary force of Spaniards, but without money or transport, had marched with extraordinary rapidity across the mountains to Alcantara in the valley of the Tagus. He thence pressed forward to Lisbon, hoping to anticipate the embarkation of the royal family for Brazil, which, however, took place just before his arrival and almost under his eyes. With his army terribly reduced by the hardships and privations of his forced march, he overawed Lisbon and issued a proclamation that "the house of Braganza had ceased to reign". A fortnight later a Spanish division occupied Oporto, and meanwhile another Spanish division established itself in the south-east of Portugal, but, as the French stragglers came in and reinforcements approached, Junot felt himself strong enough to cast off all disguise; he suppressed the council of regency, took the government into his own hands, and levied a heavy war contribution. During the early months of 1808 he was employed in reorganising his[Pg 90] own forces, and the resources of Lisbon, where an auxiliary Russian fleet of nine ships was lying practically blockaded. In a military sense, he was successful, but the rapacity of the French, the contagion of the Spanish uprising, the memory of the old alliance with England, and the proximity of English fleets, stirred the blood of the Portuguese nation into ill-concealed hostility. The Spanish commander at Oporto withdrew his troops to Galicia, and the inhabitants declared for independence. Their example was followed in other parts of Portugal. Junot acted with vigour, disarmed the Spanish contingent at Lisbon, and sent columns to quell disturbances on the Spanish frontiers, but he soon realised the necessity of concentration. He therefore resolved to abandon most of the Portuguese fortresses, limiting his efforts to holding Lisbon, and keeping open his line of communication with Spain.


Such was the state of affairs in the Peninsula when Sir Arthur Wellesley landed his army of some 12,000 men on August 13, 1808. He had been specially designated for the command of a British army in Portugal by Castlereagh, then secretary for war and the colonies, who fully appreciated his singular capacity for so difficult a service. Sir John Moore, who had just returned from the Baltic, having found it hopeless to co-operate with Gustavus IV. of Sweden, was sent out soon afterwards to Portugal with a corps of some 10,000 men. Both these eminent soldiers were directed to place themselves under the orders not only of Sir Hew Dalrymple, the governor of Gibraltar, as commander-in-chief, but of Sir Harry Burrard, when he should arrive, as second in command. Wellesley had received general instructions to afford "the Spanish and Portuguese nations every possible aid in throwing off the yoke of France," and was empowered to disembark at the mouth of the Tagus. Having obtained trustworthy information at Coruña and Oporto, he decided rather to begin his campaign from a difficult landing-place south of Oporto at the mouth of the Mondego, and to march thence upon Lisbon. He was opportunely joined by General Spencer from the south of Spain, and chose the coast-road by Torres Vedras. At Roliça he encountered a smaller force under Delaborde, sent in advance by Junot to delay his progress, and routed it after a severe combat. Delaborde, however, retreated with admirable tenacity, and[Pg 91] Wellesley, expecting reinforcements from the coast, pushed forward to Vimeiro, without attempting to check the concentration of Junot's army. There was fought, on August 21, the first important battle of the Peninsular war. The British troops, estimated at 16,778 men (besides about 2,000 Portuguese), outnumbered the French considerably, but the French were much stronger in cavalry, and boldly assumed the offensive, confident in the prestige derived from so many victories in Italy and Germany. Wellesley's position was strong, but the attack on it was skilfully designed and pressed home with resolute courage. It was repelled at every point of the field, and the French, retiring in confusion, might have been cut off from Lisbon. But Burrard, who had just landed and witnessed the battle without interfering, now absolutely refused to sanction a vigorous pursuit.

On the following day he was superseded in turn by Dalrymple. The new commander determined to await the arrival of Moore, whose approach was reported, but who did not disembark his whole force until the 30th. In the meantime, overtures for an armistice were received from Junot, and ultimately resulted in the so-called "convention of Cintra," though it was first drafted at Torres Vedras and was ratified at Lisbon. Under this agreement the French army was to surrender Lisbon intact with other Portuguese fortresses, but was allowed to return to France with its arms and baggage at the expense of the British government. Having dissented from the military decision which had enabled Junot to negotiate, instead of capitulating, Wellesley also dissented from certain terms of the convention. He was, however, party to it as a whole, and afterwards justified its main conditions as securing the evacuation of Portugal at the price of reasonable concessions. This was not the feeling of the British public, which loudly resented the escape of the French army and insisted upon a court of inquiry. The verdict of this court saved the military honour of all three generals, but its members were so divided in opinion on the policy of the convention that no authoritative judgment was pronounced. Napoleon felt no such difficulty in condemning Junot for yielding too much, and the inhabitants of Lisbon were infuriated not only by the loss of their expected vengeance, but also by the shameless plunder of their public and private[Pg 92] property by the departing French. Under a separate convention, the Russian fleet, long blockaded in the Tagus, was surrendered to the British admiral, but without its officers or crews.

The capitulation of Baylen paralysed for a time the aggressive movements of France in Spain. Catalonia remained unconquered, even Bessières retreated, and Joseph, as we have seen, abandoned Madrid. Happily for the French, the Spaniards proved quite incapable of following up their advantages, and though a "supreme junta" was assembled at Aranjuez, it wasted its time in vain wrangling, and did little or nothing for the organisation of national defence. Meanwhile, Napoleon was pouring veteran troops from Germany into the north of Spain, where they repulsed the Spanish levies in several minor engagements. On October 14 he left Erfurt, where he had renewed his alliance with the tsar, and reached Bayonne on November 3. His simple but masterly plan of campaign was already prepared, and was carried out with the utmost promptitude. On November 10-11, one of three Spanish armies was crushed at Espinosa; on the former day another was routed at Gamonal; on the 23rd the third was utterly dispersed at Tudela. Napoleon himself remained for some days at Burgos, awaiting the result of these operations; on December 4, after a feeble resistance, he entered Madrid in triumph, and stayed there seventeen days, which he employed with marvellous activity in maturing fresh designs, both civil and military, for securing his power in Spain.


Already, on October 7, Sir John Moore had taken over the command of the British forces. He probably owed his appointment to George III., who seems on this occasion to have overruled his foreign and war ministers, Canning and Castlereagh. In spite of his unwillingness to offer the appointment to Moore, Castlereagh gave him the most loyal and efficient support during the whole campaign; and this loyalty to Moore was one of the reasons for Canning's desire to remove Castlereagh from the war office, which, as we have seen, led to the famous duel between those two statesmen. It was at first intended that Moore should co-operate with the Spanish armies which were then facing the French on the line of the Ebro. For this purpose he was to have the command of 21,000 troops already in Portugal and of about 12,000 who were being sent[Pg 93] by sea to Coruña under Sir David Baird. Burrard was to remain in Portugal with another 10,000. Nothing had been done before Moore was appointed to the command to provide the troops with their necessary equipment or their commander with the necessary local information. The departure of the troops was therefore slow. By October 18 the greater part of the British troops in Portugal were in motion, but the whole army had not left Lisbon till the 29th. The main body travelled by fairly direct routes to Salamanca, where Moore arrived on November 13, but he was induced by information, which proved to be incorrect, to send his cavalry and guns with a column under Hope, by the more circuitous high road through Elvas and Talavera. When this route was adopted it was anticipated that the different divisions of the British army would be able to unite at, or near, Valladolid. But the advance of the French rendered this impossible, and Hope ultimately joined Moore at Salamanca on December 4.

Baird suffered from even more vexatious delays. Though the greater part of his convoy had arrived at Coruña on October 13, the local junta would not permit them to land without express orders from the central junta at Aranjuez. Consequently the disembarkation did not begin till the 26th and was only finished on November 4. Transport and equipment were difficult to obtain, and on November 22 Baird was still only at Astorga. There exaggerated reports of the French advance induced him to halt, but by Moore's orders he continued his march. On the 28th the news of the defeat of Castaños at Tudela reached Moore at Salamanca. Co-operation with a Spanish army now appeared impossible, and even a junction with Baird seemed too hazardous to attempt. Moore therefore, ordered Baird to retire on Coruña and to proceed to Lisbon by sea, and, while waiting himself at Salamanca for Hope, made preparations for a retreat to Portugal. On December 5, the day after his junction with Hope, Moore determined to continue his advance. He had received news of the enthusiastic preparations for the defence of Madrid but did not know of its fall, and he considered that the Spanish enthusiasm justified some risk on the part of the British troops. He accordingly recalled Baird, whose infantry had retired to Villafranca, though his cavalry were still at Astorga. On the 9th came the[Pg 94] news of the fall of Madrid, but Moore believed that an attack on the French lines of communication might still prove useful, and on the 11th the advance was renewed. Moore himself left Salamanca on the 13th. On the 12th he learned for the first time from some prisoners the true strength of the French army, 250,000 of all arms, and also discovered that the enemy were in complete ignorance of the position of his own army. Next day an intercepted despatch showed him that he might possibly be able to cut off Soult in an isolated position at Saldaña. Having at last effected a junction with Baird's corps on the 19th he reached Sahagun on the 21st, and was on the point of delivering his attack under favourable conditions, though his triumph must have been short-lived.

His real success was of another order. He had anticipated that Napoleon would postpone everything to the opportunity of crushing a British army, and the ultimate object of his march to Sahagun was to draw the French away from Lisbon and Andalusia. He was not disappointed. Napoleon at last divined that Moore was not flying in a south-westerly direction, but carrying out a bold manœuvre in a north-easterly direction. He instantly pushed division after division from various quarters by forced marches upon Moore's reported track, while he himself followed with desperate efforts across the snow-clad mountains between Madrid and the Douro. Apprised of his swift advance, and conscious of his own vast inferiority in numbers, Moore had no choice but to retreat without a moment's delay upon Benevente and Astorga. He was now sufficiently far north to prefer to retire upon Galicia rather than upon Portugal. The retreat began on the 24th and was executed with such rapidity that on January 1, 1809, Napoleon gave up the pursuit at Astorga, leaving it to be continued by Soult. Whether he was influenced by intelligence of fresh armaments on the Danube, or of dangerous plots in Paris, must remain uncertain, but it is highly probable that he saw little honour to be won in a laborious chase of a foe who might prove formidable if brought to bay.

Moore's army, disheartened as it was by the loss of a brilliant chance, and demoralised as it became under the fatigues and hardships of a most harassing retreat, never failed to repel attacks on its rear, where Paget handled the cavalry[Pg 95] of the rear-guard with signal ability, especially in a spirited action near Benevente. In spite of some excesses, tolerable order was maintained until the British force, still 25,000 strong, reached Astorga, and was joined by some 10,000 Spaniards under Romaña. Thenceforward, all sense of discipline was abandoned by so many regiments that Moore described the conduct of his whole army as "infamous beyond belief," though it is certain that some regiments, and notably those of the reserve, should be excepted from this sweeping condemnation. Drunkenness, marauding, and other military crimes grew more and more general as the main body marched "in a drove" through Villafranca to Lugo, where Moore vainly offered battle, and onwards to Betanzos on the sea-coast. There a marvellous rally was effected, stragglers rejoined the ranks in unexpected numbers, the moral of the soldiery was restored as the fearful strain of physical misery was relaxed, and by January 12, 1809, all the divisions of Moore's army were safely posted in or around Coruña. Bad weather had delayed the fleet of transports ordered round from Vigo, but it ran into the harbour on the 14th, and the sick and invalids were sent on board.


Moore was advised to make terms for the embarkation of his entire command, but he was too good a soldier to comply. Those who took part in the battle of Coruña on the 16th, some 15,000 men in all, were no unworthy representatives of the army which started from Lisbon three months earlier. Soult, with a larger force, assumed the offensive, and made a determined attack on the British position in front of the harbour and town of Coruña. He was repulsed at all points, but Moore was mortally, and Baird severely, wounded on the field. Hope, who took command, knowing that Soult would soon be reinforced, wisely persisted in carrying out Moore's intention, evacuated Coruña, and embarked his army for England during the night and the following day. His losses were estimated by Hope at above 700, killed and wounded; those of the enemy were twice as great. Thus victory crowned a campaign which otherwise would have done little to satisfy the popular appetite for tangible success. The original object of supporting the Spanish resistance in the north had been rendered impossible of fulfilment by Napoleon's victories when Moore had barely crossed the Spanish frontier, and in this sense the expedi[Pg 96]tion must be regarded as a failure, though its commander was in no sense responsible for its ill-success. On the other hand, considered as a skilful diversion, the expedition was highly successful. It drew all the best French troops and generals into the north-west corner of Spain, leaving all the other, and far richer, provinces to recover their power of resistance.[43]

The spirit in which Napoleon had entered upon this contest is well illustrated in two sentences of his address to the citizens of Madrid. "The Bourbons," he said, "can no longer reign in Europe," and "No power under the influence of England can exist on the continent". The counter-proclamations of Spanish juntas were more prolix and equally arrogant, but one of them reveals the secret of national strength when it asserts that "a whole people is more powerful than disciplined armies". The British estimate of Napoleon's Spanish policy was tersely expressed by the Marquis Wellesley in the house of lords, "To him force and fraud were alike; force, that would stoop to all the base artifices of fraud; and fraud, that would come armed with all the fierce violence of force".


For three months after the battle of Coruña, the Peninsular war, as regards the action of Great Britain, was all but suspended. Two days before that battle, a formal treaty of peace and alliance between Great Britain and the Spanish junta, which had withdrawn to Seville, was signed at London. Sir John Cradock was in command of the British troops at Lisbon, and took up a defensive position there, with reinforcements from Cadiz, awaiting the approach of Soult, who had captured Oporto by storm, and of Victor, who was in the valley of the Tagus. At the request of the Portuguese, Beresford had been sent out to organise and command their army. Early in 1809 the Spaniards were defeated with great slaughter at Ucles, Ciudad Real, and Medellin; Zaragoza was taken after another siege, and still more obstinate defence; and the national cause seemed more desperate than ever. On April 2, however, Sir Arthur Wellesley, who had returned home after the convention of Cintra, was appointed to the command-in-chief of[Pg 97] our forces in the Peninsula. Before leaving England, he left with the ministers a memorandum on the conduct of the war which, viewed by the light of later events, must be accounted a masterpiece of foresight and sagacity. When it was laid before George III., his natural shrewdness at once discerned its true value, and he desired its author to be informed of the strong impression which it had produced on his mind.

Wellesley, indeed, could not estimate beforehand the vast numerical superiority of the French while the rest of Europe was at peace, or the impotent vacillations of Spanish juntas, or the "mulish obstinacy" of Spanish generals, which so often wrecked his plans and spoiled his victories. Nor could he foresee the advantages which he would derive from the resources of guerilla warfare, the mutual jealousies of the French marshals, and the sudden recall of the best French troops for service in Germany and Russia. But his prescient and practical mind firmly grasped the dominant facts of the position—that Portugal, guarded by the ocean on the west and by mountain ranges on the east, was far more accessible to the British navy than to the French army; that, under British officers, its troops might be trained into an effective force; and that, with it as a basis, Great Britain might ultimately liberate the whole Peninsula. "I have always been of opinion," Wellesley said in this memorandum, "that Portugal might be defended, whatever might be the result of the contest in Spain; and that in the meantime the measures adopted for the defence of Portugal would be highly useful to the Spaniards in their contest with the French." On this simple principle all his detailed recommendations were founded, and he expressed a deliberate belief that, if 30,000 British troops were supported by an equal number of Portuguese regulars, and a reserve of militia was provided, "the French would not be able to overrun Portugal with less than 100,000 men". This forecast was verified, and upon its essential wisdom the fate of the Peninsular war, with all its consequences, may be said to have depended.[44]

Wellesley landed at Lisbon on April 22, and was received with the utmost demonstrations of joy and confidence. He found not only the capital but the whole country in a state of[Pg 98] tumult, if not of anarchy, due to a growing despair of the national cause. His arrival rekindled the embers of patriotism, and on May 5 he reviewed at Coimbra a body of troops consisting of 17,000 British and Germans, with about 8,000 Portuguese. The next day he marched towards the Douro, and on the 14th he effected the passage of that river in the face of the French army occupying Oporto, which the British forthwith recaptured. Soult beat a hasty and disorderly retreat into Galicia. Having driven Soult out of Portugal, the British general was encouraged to undertake a further advance into Spain, where Joseph with Victor and Sébastiani had collected a much larger army to bar the approaches to Madrid than Wellesley, relying on Spanish intelligence, had been led to expect. During June and the first days of July, he moved by Abrantes and the Tagus valley as far as Plasencia, little knowing that Soult was about to sweep round his rear, with 50,000 men, and intercept his communications with Lisbon. On July 10 he held a conference with the Spanish general Cuesta, who insisted on making an aggressive movement with his own troops only, and met with a repulse.


On the 27th, the combined armies of Wellesley and Cuesta, numbering respectively about 20,000 British and 35,000 Spanish, confronted 46,000 French troops, under Victor, in a strong position behind Talavera.[45] The Spanish forces occupied the right and the British the left of this position. Joseph was present, and disregarding the counsels of Jourdan, his proper military adviser, authorised Victor to assume the offensive. He failed in two preliminary attacks on the 27th, but renewed them on the 28th, when a general engagement ensued. The whole brunt of the battle fell upon the British troops, who gallantly withstood a desperate onset, first on their left and then on their centre and right, until the French quitted the field in confusion. The Spaniards, posted in entrenchments nearer Talavera itself, did and suffered comparatively little. Some of their regiments fled disgracefully, but the rest held their ground, and Wellesley in his despatch spoke favourably of their behaviour.[46] Perhaps the part which they played may be roughly estimated by their losses, amounting to 1,200, as compared with 6,268 British[Pg 99] and nearly 9,000 French. Wellesley, after further experience of Spanish co-operation, made up his mind to dispense with it altogether in future.

The victory of Talavera won for Wellesley the rank of viscount, to which he was raised on September 4, with the title of Wellington. Although the victory revived the respect of foreign nations for the prowess of British arms, it was otherwise fruitless, and its sequel was fairly open to criticism. Wellesley found that Soult, with Ney and Mortier, had circumvented him, and that he must retreat through Esdremadura, on the south of the Tagus, upon Badajoz. Cuesta, who had advocated bolder counsels, undertook to guard the rear, and to protect the British wounded at Talavera. But he soon found it necessary to abandon that position. Fifteen hundred of the wounded were left behind, and were humanely treated by the French generals. Wellesley's retreat over the mountains was attended with great hardship and loss, for want of supplies either from Spain or from the coast, and his long encampment in the malarious valley of the Guadiana about Badajoz swelled the number of his sick to a frightful extent. It was not until December, when it got into better cantonments on Portuguese soil, that the British army, triumphant at Talavera, recovered either its health or its moral. Napoleon boasted, in a memorandum to be inserted in the Paris journals, that Wellington had really been beaten in Spain, and that "if affairs there had been properly conducted not an Englishman would have escaped". Without going quite so far as this, the parliamentary opposition in England made the least of the victory and the most of the retreat, which unfortunately coincided in time with the wreck of the Walcheren expedition. Even Wellington's best friends in England began to lose heart, as did many of his own officers. He remained undaunted, and having established his headquarters on the high ground between the Tagus and the Douro, meditated designs which, slowly matured, bore good fruit in later years.

It is difficult to understand the inaction of Wellington for so many months after the Talavera campaign, without taking into account not only the difficulty of obtaining sufficient recruits and stores from England after the waste of both at the mouth of the Scheldt, but the greatly increased strength of the[Pg 100] French in Spain during the long interval between the Wagram campaign and the Russian expedition. At the close of 1809 all the fortresses of Spain had fallen into the enemy's hands, and all her principal armies had been defeated and dispersed in successive battles of which the greatest was that of Ocaña in the month of November. Suchet was master of Aragon and the east of Spain, nor was he dislodged from it until the end of the war; Andalusia was nearly conquered; Cadiz was only saved by the self-reliant courage of the Duc d'Albuquerque, baffling the intrigues and treachery of the supreme junta there assembled; and Napoleon was preparing a fresh army to overrun Portugal, under the command of Masséna. The Perceval ministry, in which Liverpool had taken Castlereagh's post of secretary for war and the colonies, adopting an optimistic tone at home, practically told Wellington that he must shift for himself; and he braced himself up to do so with extraordinary fortitude.

He remained watching the gathering storm from the heights of Guarda, south-west of Almeida, and commanding two great roads from Spain into Portugal, but his thoughts were equally fixed upon the vast and famous lines of Torres Vedras, which he was constructing for the defence of Lisbon. His force, including the Portuguese regulars, did not exceed 50,000 men; that of the French under Ney, Reynier, and Junot consisted of about 70,000, but they were not equally capable of being concentrated on a single point. The Portuguese militia, too, were being gradually disciplined, and the Portuguese civil authorities were being gradually schooled into the new lesson of sweeping their own country bare of all supplies before the coming French invasion. Wellington did not even strike a blow to save Ciudad Rodrigo, which Masséna took on July 10, 1810. But it was no part of his plan that Almeida should capitulate, as it did shortly afterwards, partly owing to the accidental explosion of a magazine, and partly as was suspected, to an act of treachery. Still, Masséna delayed until urged by Napoleon, and deceived by false intelligence, he launched forth, at the beginning of September, on an enterprise which proved fatal to his reputation. Both he and Wellington issued appeals to the Portuguese nation, the contrast between which is significant. The French marshal, echoing the prevail[Pg 101]ing note of his master's proclamation, denounced Great Britain as the enemy of all Europe; Wellington called upon the Portuguese to remember their actual experience of French rapacity and outrage.


The object of Masséna was to reach Coimbra before Wellington. His manœuvres to outflank Wellington's left were skilfully devised, but the British army marched steadily down the valley of the Mondego, carrying with it the population of the district, and took its stand on the ridge of Bussaco, north of Coimbra, barring Masséna's progress. There was fought, on September 27, 1810, a battle as deadly as that of Talavera, and more decisive in its consequences. The French, as usual, were the assailants; the English and the Portuguese stood at bay. Never, in any of their brilliant victories, did French troops show more heroic daring than in this assault under Reynier on the British right, and under Ney on the British left. Both columns forced their way up bare heath-clad slopes, and reached the summit, whence they were only driven back after repeated charges. Their loss in killed and wounded exceeded 4,500, that of the allies was about 1,300. The French generals threw the blame of defeat upon each other, but, in fact, the skill of Masséna converted a defeat into an episode in his victorious advance. On the following day, he again found a way of turning Wellington's left, and, in an intercepted despatch, he naturally treated this as a compensation for the repulse at Bussaco, which he did not disguise. Compelled to retire once more with a vast drove of encumbered, panic-stricken, and famishing Portuguese fugitives, and conscious that no reserves awaited him, Wellington knew, nevertheless, that he was drawing Masséna further and further away from his base, to encounter a terrible surprise. For, so useless had been the French scouts, and so worthless the information received from Portuguese sources, that no adequate conception of the obstacle presented by the lines of Torres Vedras had entered the mind of that experienced strategist.

These elaborate works had been constructed in the course of a year by thousands of Portuguese labourers, directed by Colonel Fletcher of the royal engineers, upon a plan carefully thought out and laid down by Wellington himself. The first and principal chain of fortifications stretched for nearly thirty[Pg 102] miles across the whole promontory between the river Tagus and the sea, about twenty-five miles north of Lisbon. The summits of hills were crowned with forts, their sides were escarped and protected with earthworks, their gorges were blocked with redoubts, a small river at the foot of them was made impassable by dams; in short, the utmost advantage was taken of the defences provided by nature, and these were supplemented by artificial entrenchments. Portuguese garrisons manned the greater part of the batteries, armed with guns from the arsenals of Lisbon; British troops were to occupy the most vulnerable points of attack. There was a second and third range of fortifications behind the first, in case these should be forced, but no such emergency arose. When Masséna had carefully inspected the stupendous barrier reared in front of him, his well-trained eye recognised it as impregnable: he paused for some weeks under semblance of blockading the British forces, while he was really scouring the country for the means of feeding his own; but in November he began to retreat upon Santarem, Almeida, and Ciudad Rodrigo, with a half-starved and dispirited army, greatly reduced in numbers during the campaign.[47]

The year 1811 was perhaps the least interesting, yet the most critical in the history of the Peninsular war. Wellington had not escaped criticism at home for allowing Masséna to remain so long unmolested near Santarem. He described himself in a private letter, written in December, 1810, as "safe for the winter at all events". More he could not have said, knowing, as he did, that Soult was in force before Cadiz, and might at any moment join Masséna. This, in fact, he did; leaving his fields of plunder in Andalusia under the positive orders of Napoleon, he defeated the Spaniards at the Gebora on February 19, and captured Badajoz, as well as Olivenza. In his absence, Sir Thomas Graham, who commanded the British troops at Cadiz, sailed thence with La Peña, the Spanish commander, and a combined force of about 12,000 men, to make a flank march, and attack the French besiegers, under Victor, in the rear. A brisk action followed at Barrosa, in which Graham obtained a complete victory, but the Spanish troops, as usual, remained almost passive; the beaten army was not pursued,[Pg 103] and the siege of Cadiz was not raised. This city was still the seat of the Spanish national government, but the feeble junta had been superseded by a national cortes, fairly representative of the nation, which passed some liberal measures, and dissolved the so-called regency which assumed to represent Ferdinand.


The two great frontier fortresses of Spain, Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, were now in the hands of the French. Masséna had regained the Spanish frontier in March, after frequent combats with the pursuing enemy, and with heavy losses in men and horses, though he saved every gun except one. This retreat involved the evacuation of every place in Portugal except the fortress of Almeida. Wellington's pursuit would have been still more vigorous, but that his Portuguese troops were half-starved, and had lost discipline under intolerable privations. His next design seems to have been the recapture of the fortresses, but he was not without ulterior hopes—all too premature—of afterwards pushing on to Madrid and operating in the eastern provinces of Spain. He first invested Almeida, and, leaving General Spencer to continue the blockade, proceeded to Elvas in order to concert measures with Beresford for the siege of Badajoz. Thence he was suddenly recalled northward to repel a fresh advance of Masséna, strongly reinforced, for the relief of Almeida. The battle which followed at Fuentes d'Oñoro, south-east of Almeida, was among the most hardly contested struggles in the whole Peninsular war. It began on May 3, and, with a day's interval, concluded on the 5th. The British remained masters of the field, and claimed a somewhat doubtful victory, which at least secured the evacuation of Almeida. The garrison of that fortress blew it up by night, and succeeded, by masterly tactics, in joining the main French army with little sacrifice of life.

Wellington returned to Badajoz, only to meet with disappointment. General Cole, acting under Beresford, had retaken Olivenza; but Soult, with a force of 23,000 men, was marching to succour Badajoz, when he was encountered by Beresford at Albuera. Beresford's force was numerically stronger than Soult's, but only 7,000 men were English, the rest being mostly Spanish. Measured by the proportion of losses to men engaged on both sides, this fight on May 16, 1811, must rank among the bloodiest on record. In four hours[Pg 104] nearly 7,000 of the allies and 8,000 French were struck down. The decisive charge of the reserve was inspired and led by Hardinge, afterwards Governor-General of India; the French were routed, and Soult was checked, but little was gained by the victors.[48] The siege of Badajoz, indeed, was renewed, but its progress was slow for want of proper engines and artillery, and it was abandoned, after two futile attempts, on June 11. By this time, Marmont had succeeded Masséna, and was carrying out Napoleon's grand plan for a junction with Soult's army and a fresh irruption into Portugal. With marvellous audacity, Wellington offered battle to both marshals, who, happily ignorant of his weakness, declined it more than once. In truth, he was never more nearly at the end of his resources than when he went into winter quarters at the close of 1811, having failed to prevent Marmont from provisioning Ciudad Rodrigo, and having narrowly escaped being overwhelmed by a much superior force. His army was greatly reduced by sickness, he was very ill-supplied from England, and he received no loyal support from the Portuguese government. Moreover, the French had apparently extended their hold on Spain, both in the eastern and northern provinces, while it was reported that Napoleon himself, not content with dictating orders from afar, would return to complete the conquest of the Peninsula.

At this juncture, he must have been cheered by the arrival of so able a lieutenant as Graham from Cadiz, and by the brilliant success of Hill against a detached body of Marmont's army south of the Tagus. There were other tendencies also secretly working in favour of the British and their allies. Joseph Bonaparte, as King of Spain, openly protested against the extortions which he was enjoined to practise on his subjects, and went so far as to resign his crown at Paris, though he was induced to resume it. Again the broken armies of the Spanish had reappeared in the form of guerilla bands under leaders such as Mina; they could not be dispersed, since they had no cohesion, and were more formidable through their extreme mobility than organised battalions. Above all, the domination of France over Europe was already undermined and tottering invisibly to its fall. The Tsar Alexander had, as we have[Pg 105] seen, been deeply offended by the preference of an Austrian to a Russian princess, as the consort of Napoleon, and still more by his imperious annexation of Oldenburg. Sweden, following the example of Russia, had begun to rebel against the continental system. A series of internal reforms had aroused a national spirit, and stealthily created the basis of a national army in Prussia, and the intense hostility of all North Germany to France was thinly disguised by the unwilling servility of the Prussian court. Napoleon, who seldom laboured under the illusions propagated by his own manifestoes and bulletins, well knew what he was doing when, in August, 1811, he allowed himself to burst into a storm of indignation against the Russian ambassador at the Tuileries. From that moment he clearly premeditated a rupture with Russia, and soon he withdrew 60,000 of his best troops from Spain, to be employed in that fatal enterprise of 1812 which proved to be his doom.


The winter of 1811-12 was spent by Wellington in preparing, with the utmost secrecy, for the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, as the first steps in an offensive campaign. In January, 1812, he struck a sudden blow against the former, and captured it by an assault, attended with great carnage, on the 19th of that month. In this furious conflict, lasting but half an hour, Craufurd, the renowned leader of the light division, fell mortally wounded. Shameful excesses sullied the glory of a splendid exploit. Marmont immediately drew in his troops towards Salamanca, leaving Soult in the valley of the Tagus; and Hill, with his southern army, moved northward. Wellington, who was created an earl in February, transferred the greater part of his troops to Badajoz, and began a regular siege, but with very imperfect materials, no organised corps of sappers and miners, and very few officers skilled in the art of taking fortified towns. He was greatly delayed on the route by the lack of transport, and the vexatious obstinacy of the Portuguese authorities, while time was of the utmost consequence lest any or all of three French armies should come to raise the siege. Hence the extreme rapidity of his final operations.

After the capture of an outlying fort, three breaches were made in the walls, and on the night of April 6, under the cover of thick darkness, two divisions of British troops descended[Pg 106] into the ditch, many carrying ladders or sacks of hay, and advanced to the foot of the glacis. Here they were almost overwhelmed with a hurricane of fiery missiles, and in mounting the breaches they had to face not only hand-grenades, trains of powder, and bursting shells, but a chevaux-de-frise of sabre-blades crowning the summit. None of these attacks was successful; but another division under Picton scaled the castle, and a brigade under Walker effected an entrance elsewhere. After this, the French abandoned the breaches; the resistance waxed fainter, and at six in the morning, Philippon, the governor, with his brave garrison, surrendered unconditionally. The loss of the British and Portuguese in killed and wounded was stated at the enormous figure of 4,885, and it was avenged by atrocities prolonged for two days and nights, worse than had followed the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo. Wellington ordered the provost marshal to execute any soldiers found in the act of plunder, but officers vainly attempted to check their men at the peril of their own lives.


It had been the intention of Wellington to operate next against Soult, and drive him, if possible, from Esdremadura and Andalusia. But, as appears from one of his despatches to Lord Liverpool, he was ill satisfied with the conduct of his allies guarding Ciudad Rodrigo, and returned to resume command in that region. In the same despatch he complains bitterly of the niggardly policy of his government in regard to money and supplies. The same timidity on the part of ministers at home appears in a letter from Liverpool, almost forbidding him to accept the command-in-chief of the Spanish armies, which, however, was conferred upon him later in this year.[49] At present, he decided to march against Marmont in the plains of Leon. This movement was facilitated by the success of Hill in surprising a body of French troops, and seizing the important bridge of Almaraz over the Tagus on May 19, thereby breaking the French lines of communication and isolating Marmont's army for a time. Soon afterwards, Salamanca and its forts were captured by Wellington, but Marmont proved a very formidable opponent, and, having behind him another army under King Joseph, threatened the British[Pg 107] lines of communication. In the series of manœuvres which ensued, Wellington's forces met with more than one reverse, but the French marshal was determined to win a victory on a large scale. Wellington had no wish to risk a battle, unless Salamanca or his own rear should be seriously threatened, and he stood on the defensive, a little south of Salamanca, with Marmont's army encamped in front of him.

Early on July 22, the French seized one of two hills called the Arapiles which formed the key of the position and commanded the road to Ciudad Rodrigo. Marmont then organised complicated evolutions, of which the ultimate object was to envelop the British right and cut off its expected retreat. To accomplish this, he extended his own left so far that it became separated by a gap from his centre. No sooner did Wellington, with a flash of military insight, perceive the advantage thus offered than he flung half of his troops upon the French left wing, and made a vigorous attack with the rest upon the French centre. It was too late for Marmont, himself wounded, to repair the mistake, the centre was driven in, and, as was said, 40,000 men were beaten in forty minutes. General Clausel, who took Marmont's place, showed great ability in the retreat, but the French army could scarcely have escaped destruction had not the Spaniards, who were entrusted with a post on the river Tormes, left the passage open for the flying enemy. Nevertheless, the battle of Salamanca was the greatest and most decisive yet fought by the British in the Peninsula; it established the reputation of our army, and placed Wellington in the first rank of generals. Three weeks later he entered Madrid in triumph, and was received with the wildest popular acclamations. Joseph once more abandoned his capital, joined Suchet in Valencia, and ordered Soult against his will to withdraw from Andalusia and move in the same direction. This concentration relieved Wellington from immediate anxieties, but exposed him to a serious danger of being confronted before long by forces thrice as great as his own. He also needed reinforcements, and was in still greater want of money.

To students of military history it may seem a very doubtful question whether, under such circumstances, it was prudent to advance farther into Spain from his strongholds on the[Pg 108] Portuguese frontier. But Wellington, who had been created a marquis on August 18, judged it necessary to crush if possible the remainder of Marmont's army which had retired northward under Clausel. He therefore left Hill with a detachment to cover Madrid, and marching through Valladolid occupied the town of Burgos. The castle of that place remained in the hands of a French garrison 2,000 strong and had been carefully fortified. Here again we may be permitted to doubt whether, after the experience gained at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, Wellington did wisely in resolving to invest and storm a fortress so formidable, without an adequate siege-train, and with the knowledge that Clausel might rally his forces in time to relieve it. Wellington himself afterwards admitted to Liverpool that he had erred in not taking with him the best of his own troops, and that he did not possess the means of transporting ordnance and military stores from Madrid and Santander, where there was abundance of them. The siege lasted a month, from September 19 to October 18; the garrison offered a most obstinate resistance, inflicting great loss on the besiegers by sorties, and in the end the attack failed. Souham, with Clausel, was closing in upon Wellington from the north, Soult from the south-east; Hill's position at Madrid was untenable, and another retreat became inevitable. It was the last and most trying in Wellington's military career. The army which had behaved nobly at Salamanca broke down under the strain of suffering and depression, like that of Sir John Moore before Coruña. The enemy was driven back in various rear-guard actions, but on the march the sense of discipline vanished and shameful disorders occurred. A scathing reprimand from Wellington, which might have been written by a French critic and which ought never to have been made public, threw all the blame of this disorganisation on the regimental officers, and denied that any scarcity of provisions could be pleaded in excuse of it.


By the middle of November the campaign ended, and Wellington's headquarters were at Ciudad Rodrigo. For the present, Spain was still dominated by the French, but its southern provinces were clear of the invaders, and elsewhere the tide was already on the turn. The Russian war cast its shadow beforehand on the Spanish peninsula; the French[Pg 109] army was constantly weakened in numbers and still more in quality, as conscripts were substituted for veterans, and inferior generals succeeded to high commands; the Portuguese and Spanish contingents of the British army were stronger and better disciplined. Wellington himself, tenacious of his purpose as ever, received heartier support from home, where Liverpool had become prime minister in June, and had been succeeded by Bathurst as secretary for war and the colonies; and though the Marquis Wellesley, no longer in the government, complained that his brother's operations had been crippled by ministerial apathy, the Peninsular war, on the eve of its completion, was adopted with pride and sympathy by the nation.

The last chapter of the Peninsular war opens with the operations culminating in the battle of Vitoria, and closes with the battle of Toulouse. Having accepted the office of generalissimo of the Spanish armies, Wellington repaired to Cadiz during the winter of 1812-13, and formed the lowest estimate of the make-shift government there carried on under the dual control of the cortes and the regency. He failed to obtain a reform of this system, but succeeded in effecting a reorganisation of the Spanish army, to be in future under his own command. He next addressed himself, with the aid of Beresford and the British minister at Lisbon, to amend the monstrous abuses, civil and military, of Portuguese administration. By the beginning of May, 1813, a great improvement was visible in the equipment and moral of the Spanish and Portuguese troops; a vigorous insurrection against the French occupation had broken out in the province of Biscay, endangering the great road into Spain; and an Anglo-Sicilian army of 16,000 men, under Sir John Murray, had repulsed Suchet, hitherto undefeated, at Castalla on the Valencian coast, without, however, completing their victory, or capturing any of the French guns in the narrow defile by which the enemy fled. The want of unity in the command of the French army, and of harmony between its generals, was more felt than ever now that Napoleon's master-mind was engrossed in retrieving the awful ruin of the Russian expedition.

Yet Napoleon's instructions to Joseph show that he had fully grasped the critical nature of the situation. He enjoined Joseph to mass all his forces round Valladolid, and imperatively directed that at all hazards the communications with France should be[Pg 110] maintained. The Spanish guerillas had long rendered communications so insecure that couriers with despatches had to be escorted by bodies of 250 cavalry or 500 infantry; they were now so effectually intercepted that Napoleon's own despatch reached Joseph more than two months late, by way of Barcelona and Valencia. Meanwhile, Joseph was openly accusing Soult, in a letter to his brother, of criminal ambition—a charge to which he laid himself open before in Portugal—and did not hesitate to add, "the Duke of Dalmatia or myself must quit Spain". In England, on the contrary, parties were at last united in the desire to bring the war to a triumphant end, and parliament grudged neither men nor money to aid Wellington's plan of campaign. It was, then, under happier auspices than in former years that he broke up from his cantonments then stationed on the Coa, a little to the north-west of Ciudad Rodrigo, and set forward with 70,000 British and Portuguese troops, besides 20,000 Spaniards, to drive the French out of Spain. So confident was he of success that, as Napier relates, he waved his hand in crossing the frontier on May 22, and exclaimed, "Farewell, Portugal".[50]


He advanced by the valley of the Douro; then, turning to the north-east, he compelled the French to evacuate Burgos, and passed the Ebro on June 13. Graham in command of his left wing there joined him, after forcing his way by immense efforts across the mountains of the Portuguese frontier. Hill, commanding the right wing of his composite but united army, was already with him. A depot for his commissariat and a military hospital were established at Santander, where a British fleet was lying, and whence he could draw his supplies direct from home. The French army, under Joseph and Marshal Jourdan, fell back before him by a forced night march on the 19th and took up its position in front of Vitoria, in the province of Biscay. Here, on the plain of the river Zadorra, was fought on the 21st the greatest battle of the Peninsular war. Wellington had encountered serious physical difficulties in his passage from the valley of the Ebro to that of the Zadorra; but for once his plans had been executed with admirable precision, and all his troops arrived at the appointed time on the field of battle. The French, conscious of their impending expulsion from Spain, were encumbered by[Pg 111] enormous baggage-trains containing the fruits of five years' merciless spoliation "not of a province but of a kingdom," including treasures of art from Madrid and all the provincial capitals, with no less than 5,500,000 dollars in hard cash, besides two years' arrears of pay which Napoleon had sent to fill the military chest of Joseph's army. A vast number of vehicles, loaded with the whole imperial and royal treasure, overspread the plain and choked the great road behind the French position, by which alone such a mass of waggons could find its way into France.

The French army consisted of about 60,000 men, with 150 pieces of cannon, but strong detachments, under Foy and Clausel respectively, had been sent away to guard the roads to Bilbao and Pamplona. The British army numbered nearly 80,000, inclusive of Portuguese and Spanish, with 90 guns. The French were posted on strong ground, and held the bridges across the river. Graham, with the left column of the British, made a circuit in the direction of Bilbao, working round to cut off the French rear on the Bayonne road. Hill, with the right column, forced the pass of Puebla, in the latter direction, carried the ridge above it after much hard fighting, and made good his position on the left flank of the French. Wellington himself, in the centre, under the guidance of a Spanish peasant, pushed a brigade across one of the bridges in his front, weakly guarded, and thus mastered the others; his force then expanded itself on the plain and bore down all opposition. Graham had met with a more obstinate resistance from the French right, under Reille, but at last got possession of the great Bayonne road. Thenceforward a retreat of the French army, partly encircled, became inevitable, but it was conducted at first in good order and with frequent halts at defensible points. The only outlet left open was the mountain road to Pamplona, and this was not only impracticable for heavy traffic but obstructed by an overturned waggon. The orderly retreat was soon converted into a rout; the flying throng made its way across country and over mountains towards Pamplona, leaving all the artillery, military stores, and accumulated spoils as trophies of the British victory.

The value of these was prodigious, but the great mass of booty, except munitions of war, fell into the hands of private[Pg 112] soldiers and camp-followers. Wellington reported to Bathurst that nearly a million sterling in money had been appropriated by the rank and file of the army, and, still worse, that so dazzling a triumph had "totally annihilated all order and discipline".[51] The loss in the battle had been about 5,000, but Wellington stated that on July 8 "we had 12,500 men less under arms than we had on the day before the battle". He supposed the missing 7,500, nearly half of whom were British, to be mostly concealed in the mountain villages.[52] A large number of stragglers afterwards rejoined their colours, but too late to aid in an effectual pursuit of the enemy. The immediate consequence of this great victory was the evacuation by the French of all Spain south of the Ebro. Even Suchet abandoned Valencia and distributed his forces between Tarragona and Tortosa. To his great credit, Wellington addressed to the cortes an earnest protest against wreaking vengeance on the French party in Spain, many of whom might have been driven into acceptance of a foreign yoke "by terror, by distress, or by despair". At the same time, he vigorously followed up his success by chasing and nearly surrounding Clausel's division, while Hill invested Pamplona, and Graham drove Foy across the Bidassoa, in his advance upon the fortress of St. Sebastian.


The fortifications of St. Sebastian were in a very imperfect condition, but the governor, Emmanuel Rey, was nevertheless able to defend the place with success. Wellington, after laying siege to it, sanctioned a premature attempt to scale the breaches which cost Graham's force a loss of more than 500 men. This check was succeeded by another, still more serious, in the historic pass of Roncesvalles. Napoleon, hearing at Dresden of the battle of Vitoria, and instantly fathoming its momentous import, despatched Soult, as "lieutenant of the emperor," to assume command of all the French armies at Bayonne and on the Spanish frontier, still amounting nominally to 114,000 men, besides 66,000 under Suchet in Catalonia. Soult reached Bayonne on July 13, fortified it strongly, and reorganised his troops with amazing energy, inspiriting them with a warlike address in the well-known style of Napoleon's proclamations. On the 25th he set his forces in motion, with the intention of crushing the British right by a sudden irruption, and relieving Pamplona.[Pg 113] He all but achieved his object, for, by well-concerted and well-concealed movements, he actually carried the passes of Roncesvalles and Maya, in spite of a gallant resistance and the French troops were on the point of pouring down the Pyrenees on the Spanish side, when Wellington arrived at full speed from his position before St. Sebastian.

He was opportunely reinforced, and gave battle on the rugged heights in front of Pamplona to a force numerically superior, but for the most part charging uphill. Never, even at Bussaco, did the French show greater ardour and élan in attack, and it was only after a series of bloody hand-to-hand combats on the summits and sides of the mountains that they were compelled to recoil and rolled backward down the ridge. Baffled in his attempt to relieve Pamplona, Soult turned westwards towards St. Sebastian, but was anticipated by Wellington, and faced by three divisions of Hill on his right. A second engagement followed, in which the Portuguese earned the chief honours, and 3,000 prisoners were taken. At last Soult gave orders for a retreat, and in the course of it was all but entrapped in a narrow valley where he could not have escaped the necessity of surrender. It is said that he was warned just in time by the sudden intrusion of three British marauders in uniform; at all events, he instantly changed his line of march, and ultimately led his broken army back to France, but in the utmost confusion, and not without fresh disasters. One of these befell Reille's division in the gorge of Yanzi, and another the French rear-guard under Clausel, which defended itself valiantly, but was driven headlong down the northern side of the Pyrenees from which this series of battles derives its name.

The siege of St. Sebastian was immediately renewed with a far more powerful battering train, but its defences had also been strengthened by the indefatigable governor. The final assault took place on August 31, and rivalled the storming of Badajoz in the murderous ferocity of the melée at the breaches, as well as in the horrors practised on the inhabitants by the victorious assailants, which Wellington and Graham vainly endeavoured to check. So desperate was the defence, and so insuperable appeared the obstacles to an entrance by the breaches, that Graham adopted the heroic expedient of causing his artillery to fire a few feet only over the heads of the forlorn[Pg 114] hope, until a clear opening had been made, and deadly piles of combustibles had been exploded behind the main breach, blowing into the air 300 of the garrison. A hideous conflagration destroyed the greater part of the town. A few days later the castle, to which the governor had retired, yielded to an irresistible cannonade, and he surrendered at discretion with about 1,200 men. Several hundred wounded, including a large number of British prisoners, were found there in the hospitals.

On the 30th, the day before St. Sebastian was stormed, Soult attempted a diversion for its relief by crossing the Bidassoa, and on the following day he engaged a large body of Spaniards at St. Marcial. On this occasion Wellington held the British troops in reserve, and the Spaniards without their aid defeated the French with great slaughter. So ended a well-planned and well-executed effort to reconquer the Spanish frontier. Pamplona was still untaken, and Suchet was still in Catalonia, but no further offensive movement was undertaken by the French against Spain. Both Soult and Wellington had shown remarkable powers of generalship, and there was a moment when Soult might have snatched the prize of victory by raising the siege of Pamplona. But his ultimate success was hopeless, and his failure was complete. Before the fall of St. Sebastian and the battle of St. Marcial, Wellington estimated the French losses at 15,000 men, who could ill be spared in the interval between Napoleon's last gleam of victory at Dresden and on his signal defeat at Leipzig.


But the Peninsular war, in the historical sense, was not yet over. During the summer of 1813 a mixed force of British, Germans, Spaniards, and Sicilians had been carrying on an intermittent war against the French under Suchet in the eastern provinces. Their commander, Sir John Murray, who had allowed the beaten enemy to escape at Castalla, proved equally irresolute in an attempt to capture Tarragona, countermanded the assault, and re-embarked his troops on the approach of Suchet. Soon afterwards he was superseded by Lord William Bentinck, and Suchet after the battle of Vitoria was compelled to retire behind the Ebro. Bentinck renewed the investment of Tarragona, but permitted Suchet without a battle to relieve it, demolish its fortifications, and withdraw its garrison at the end of August. An ill-judged advance of the British general[Pg 115] into Catalonia brought about another misfortune, and, upon the whole, the series of operations conducted against Suchet were by no means glorious to British arms or generalship, however important their effect in preventing a large body of French veterans from reinforcing Soult's army at a critical time in the Western Pyrenees. Wellington himself inclined to complete the deliverance of Spain by clearing the province of Catalonia of the invaders, but the British government, having in view the prospect of crushing Napoleon in Germany, urged him to undertake an immediate invasion of France. Accordingly he moved forward on October 7, leaving Pamplona closely blockaded, threw his army across the Bidassoa on the 8th by a stroke of masterly tactics, forced the strong French lines on the north side of it, and established himself on the enemy's soil. Before entering France he issued the most stringent proclamations against plundering, which he enforced by the sternest measures, and announced that he would not suffer the peaceful inhabitants of France to be punished for the ambition of their ruler. On the 31st the French garrison of Pamplona, despairing of relief, surrendered as prisoners of war.

The prolonged defence of Pamplona gave Soult time to strengthen his position on the Nivelle. The lines which he constructed rivalled those of Torres Vedras, and the several actions by which they were at last forced and turned were among the most desperate of the whole war. The first was fought in the early part of November, and resulted in the occupation by Wellington's army of the great mountain-barrier south of Bayonne, with six miles of entrenchments along the Nivelle, and of the port of St. Jean de Luz. A month later Wellington became anxious to establish his winter-cantonments between the Nive and the Adour, partly for strategical reasons, and partly in order to command a larger and more fertile area for his supplies. On December 9, therefore, Hill with the right wing forded the Nive and drove back the French left upon their camp in front of Bayonne. Then followed three most obstinate combats on the 10th, 11th and 13th, in which Soult took the offensive, with Bayonne as the centre of his operations, and with the advantage of always moving upon interior lines resting upon a strong fortress. In the first of these attacks, he surprised and nearly succeeded in overwhelm[Pg 116]ing the British left, under Hope, now Sir John, before Wellington could bring other divisions to its support. In the second, he fell suddenly on the same troops, exhausted by fatigue, and still more or less isolated, but they were rallied by Hope and Wellington in person, and remained masters of the field. In the third he concentrated his whole strength upon the British right under Hill, aided by a thick mist, and by a flood upon the Nive, which swept away a bridge of boats, and separated Hill from the rest of the army. Nevertheless, that able general, emulating the noble example of Hope in the earlier encounters, succeeded in repelling assault after assault, until Wellington himself appeared with reinforcements of imposing strength, and converted a stubborn defence into a victory.

The loss of the allies since crossing the Nive had exceeded 5,000; that of the French was 6,000, besides 2,400 Germans who deserted to the British during the night of the 9th in obedience to orders from home. Ever since he assumed the command Soult had shown military ability of a rare order. Bayonne, the base of all his operations, was indefensible before he fortified it. A great proportion of his troops were raw conscripts, or demoralised by defeat, before he inspired them with his own courage and vigour. He was practically dependent for subsistence in his own country on the very system of pillage which had roused a patriotic frenzy of resentment in Spain and other lands ravaged by French armies. He now stood at bay in the south of France, as Wellington had so long stood at bay in Portugal, and continued there during the early part of 1814 a defensive campaign not unworthy of comparison with the prodigious exploits of Napoleon himself against the invaders of his eastern provinces.


A respite of two months succeeded the battles on the Nive. During this interval Wellington's difficulty in paying his troops was great, owing to the enormous drain of specie from England into Central Europe. He was further embarrassed by the appearance of the Duke of Angoulême, elder son of Charles, Count of Artois, afterwards Charles X., at his headquarters. The British government was by no means committed to a restoration of the Bourbons, and Wellington deprecated the duke's appearance as at least premature. He therefore insisted upon his remaining incognito and as a non-combatant at St.[Pg 117] Jean de Luz. Soult was in great straits, not only because he was compelled to "make war support war" by exorbitant requisitions upon the French peasantry, but also because the exigencies of Napoleon were such that large drafts of the best troops were drawn from the army of the south. When hostilities were resumed in the middle of February, 1814, the Anglo-Portuguese and Spanish force combined outnumbered the French by nearly five to three, but Soult retained the decisive advantage of having a strong point d'appui in Bayonne at the confluence of the Nive and Adour. Careful preparations were made by Wellington for throwing a large force across the Lower Adour below Bayonne, in concert with a British fleet. Contrary winds and a violent surf delayed the arrival of the British gunboats, but on February 23 Hope sent over a body of his men on a raft of pontoons in the face of the enemy's flotilla, with the aid of a brigade armed with Congreve rockets, which had been first used at Leipzig, and produced the utmost consternation in the French ranks. The gunboats soon followed, but with the loss of one wrecked and others stranded in crossing the bar. By the joint exertions of soldiers and sailors a bridge was then constructed, by which Hope's entire army with artillery passed over the river, and, two days afterwards, began the investment of Bayonne.

Meanwhile, the centre and right wing, under the command of Wellington, had forced a passage across the Upper Adour and threatened Bayonne on the other side. Leaving a garrison of 6,000 men in Bayonne, Soult took his stand at Orthez, with an army of about 40,000 men, on the summit of a formidable ridge. Wellington attacked this ridge on the 27th, with a force of nearly equal strength in three columns so disposed as to converge from points several miles distant from each other. The veterans of the French army, admirably handled, fought with tenacity, and all but succeeded in foiling the attack before Wellington could bring up his reserves. The conscripts, however, were not equally steady, and when Hill, advancing from the extreme right, pressed upon the French left, Soult's orderly retreat became a precipitate flight. The French loss greatly exceeded the British, and was soon afterwards swelled by wholesale desertions; the road to Bordeaux was thrown open, and the royalist reaction against Napoleon, stimulated by[Pg 118] the depredation of the French troops, ripened into a general revolt.

Meanwhile, Napoleon had lost Germany by the battle of Leipzig; early in 1814 the allied armies of Austria, Prussia, and Russia had entered France, and a congress was being held at Châtillon-sur-Seine, to formulate, if possible, terms of peace. The city of Bordeaux was the first to declare itself openly in favour of the Bourbons. Wellington sent a large detachment to preserve order, with strict instructions to Beresford, who commanded it, to remain neutral, in the event of Louis XVIII. being proclaimed, pending the negotiations with Napoleon at Châtillon. But the excitement of the people could not be restrained, and the arrival of the Duke of Angoulême evoked a burst of royalist enthusiasm which anticipated by a few weeks only the abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau. The defection of Bordeaux forced Soult to fall back rapidly on a very formidable position in front of Toulouse. The British army followed in pursuit, encumbered with a great artillery and pontoon train. After a lively action at Tarbes, it arrived in front of Toulouse on March 27, to find the Garonne in flood, and the French army strongly entrenched around the town, with a prospect of being joined by 20,000 or 30,000 veterans, under Suchet, from Catalonia.


The dispositions of Wellington, ending in the battle of Toulouse, on April 10, have not escaped criticism. Hill, with two divisions and a Spanish contingent, threw a bridge across the Garonne below Toulouse, but discovered that he could make no progress in that direction, owing to the impassable state of the roads. Beresford crossed the river with 18,000 men at another point, but a sudden flood broke up the pontoon bridge in his rear, and he remained isolated for no less than four days, exposed to an attack from Soult's whole army. Having missed this rare opportunity, Soult calmly awaited the attack, with a force numerically inferior, but with every advantage of position. On the 10th Wellington's troops advanced in two columns, separated from each other by a perilous interval of two miles. One of these, including Freyre's Spaniards and Picton's division, was fairly driven back after furious attempts to storm the ramparts of the fortified ridge held by the French. Beresford, however, who in this battle combined generalship[Pg 119] with brilliant courage, restored the fortunes of the day by a dashing advance against the redoubts on the French right. Having carried these he swept along the ridge, which became untenable, and Soult withdrew his army within his second line of defences. Two days later, seeing that Hill menaced Toulouse on the other side, and fearing that if defeated again he would lose his only line of retreat along the Carcassonne road, he evacuated Toulouse by that route, leaving his magazines and hospitals in the hands of the British army. By so doing he left to Wellington the honour and prize of victory, but few victories have been so dearly bought, and the loss in killed and wounded was actually greater on the side of the victors than on that of the vanquished.

Toulouse received Wellington on the 12th with open arms, and as news reached him on the same day announcing the proclamation of Louis XVIII. at Paris, he no longer hesitated to assume the white cockade. Soult loyally declined to accept the intelligence until it was officially confirmed, when a military convention was made on the 18th, whereby a boundary line was established between the two armies. Suchet had already withdrawn from Spain, and at last recalled the garrisons from those Spanish fortresses in which Napoleon had so obstinately locked up picked troops which he sorely needed in his dire extremity. But on the 14th, a week after Napoleon's abdication, the famous "sortie from Bayonne" took place, in which each side lost 800 or 900 men, and Hope, wounded in two places, was made prisoner. For this waste of life the governor of Bayonne must be held responsible, since he was informed of the events at Paris by Hope, and instead of awaiting official confirmation, like Soult, chose to risk the issue of a night combat, which must needs be deadly and could not be decisive.

Thus ended the Peninsular war. This war on the British side has seldom been surpassed in the steady adherence to a settled purpose, through years of discouragement and failure, maintained by the general whose name it has made immortal. Neither his strategy nor his tactical skill was always faultless; and afterwards in comparing himself with Soult, he is reported to have said, that he often got into scrapes, but was extricated by the valour of his army, whereas Soult, when he got into a scrape, had no such men to get him out of it. However this[Pg 120] might be, Wellington's foresight in appreciating the place to be filled by the Peninsular war in the overthrow of Napoleon's domination, and his truly heroic constancy in striving to realise his own idea will ever constitute his best claim to greatness. No other man in England or in Europe discerned as he did, that with Portugal independent and guarded by the power of Great Britain on its western coast and its eastern frontier, the permanent conquest of Spain by the French would become impossible. No one else saw beforehand, what Napoleon discovered too late, that a war in Portugal and Spain would drain the life-blood of his invincible hosts, and at length help towards the invasion of France itself. No other general would have shown equal statesmanship in managing Spanish juntas and controlling even Spanish guerillas, or equal forbearance in sparing the French people the evils which a victorious army might have inflicted upon them.


[42] Napier, Peninsular War (3rd edition), i., 123.

[43] For Moore's campaign see Napier, Peninsular War, i., pp. xxi.-xxv., lvii.-lxxvi., 330-44, 431-542, and Oman, Peninsular War, i., 486-602; and compare Moore's Diary, edited by Maurice, ii., 272-398. Sir F. Maurice has not completely answered Professor Oman's criticisms.

[44] Wellington, Dispatches, iv., 261-63 (March 7, 1809).

[45] For the exact figures see Oman, Peninsular War, ii., 645-48.

[46] Wellington, Dispatches, iv., 536 (July 29, 1809).

[47] For Masséna's lines of march see T. J. Andrews in English Historical Review, xvi. (1901), 474-92.

[48] The battle is picturesquely described by Napier, Peninsular War, iii., 536-66. See also ibid., pp. xxxv.-li.

[49] Wellington, Supplementary Dispatches, vii., 318-19.

[50] Napier, Peninsular War (first edition), v., 513.

[51] Wellington, Dispatches, x., 473 (June 29, 1813).

[52] Ibid., x., 519 (July 9, 1813).[Pg 121]



The war between France and Russia, publicly threatened in August, 1811,[53] was long deferred. On Russia's part the adherence to a defensive policy delayed action until France was ready. But there was another reason why the preparations for war were only slowly pushed forward. Even at the court of St. Petersburg there was a French party which retarded such preparations as committing Russia too definitely to an open rupture. On the part of France, also, delay was necessary. Though deliberately provoked by himself, the war was not altogether welcome to Napoleon. It suited him best to have a strong but friendly neighbour in Russia, and victory promised him but the half-hearted friendship of a power to which he could no longer dare to leave much strength. Besides it was necessary to make far more extensive preparations than had been required for any of his previous campaigns. Russia was too poor and too thinly peopled for it to be possible for war to support itself, and immense supplies with correspondingly large transport arrangements were needed for a large army which would have to fight at so vast a distance from its base. It would have been impossible to be ready in time for a summer campaign in 1811; the country was not favourable to transport on a large scale during winter, and the war was therefore postponed till the summer of 1812. The end of May or beginning of June was the date originally selected for the beginning of operations, as it was expected that the difficulty of providing fodder would be greatly reduced when the grass had grown. But the preparations were not sufficiently advanced by that date, and hostilities were only opened on June 24.[Pg 122]

The interval was spent by both powers in securing allies and pacifying enemies. Early in the year 1812 Prussia had made a last attempt to avert a French alliance by inviting Russia to join in a peaceful compromise. After the failure of this negotiation her position was helpless, and resembled that of Poland before its national extinction. Russia could not become her active ally without exposing her own army to destruction at a second Friedland, and Prussia could not fight France alone. Frederick William, therefore, accepted the terms dictated by Napoleon. By a treaty concluded on February 24 he agreed to supply the emperor with 20,000 men to serve as a part of the French army, and was to raise no levies and give no orders without his consent. The king was also to afford a free passage and provide food and forage for the French troops, payment for which was to be arranged afterwards. In return for this a reduction was made in the war indemnity due to France. This was probably as much as Napoleon could have obtained without authorising a dangerous increase in the Prussian army.


Austria was more fortunate, because an Austrian war would have been a serious diversion, not a step towards the invasion of Russia. She was in consequence able to impose her own terms on France. These terms, so far as the nature and extent of the Austrian assistance to France were concerned, had been sketched by Metternich to the British agent, Nugent, as far back as November, 1811, and they were accepted by France in a treaty of March 16, 1812.[54] Austria was to provide an army of 30,000 men to guard Napoleon's flank in Volhynia. In return France guaranteed the integrity of Turkey, and secretly promised a restoration of the Illyrian provinces to Austria in exchange for Galicia, which was to form a part of a reconstituted Poland. Elsewhere Napoleon's negotiations were unsuccessful. In January he fulfilled his threat of occupying Swedish Pomerania, but it had no effect on Swedish policy, and when in March he offered Finland and a part of Norway as the price of an alliance, his terms were rejected and Sweden allied herself with Russia. On April 17 Napoleon made overtures for peace with Great Britain, offering to evacuate Spain and to recognise the house of Braganza in Portugal and the Bourbons in Sicily, if the British[Pg 123] would recognise the "actual dynasty" in Spain and Murat in Naples. The offer was certainly illusory. "Actual dynasty" was an ambiguous phrase, but would naturally mean the Bonapartes. Castlereagh declined to recognise Joseph, but declared his readiness to discuss the proposed basis if "actual dynasty" meant a recognition of Ferdinand VII. in Spain. Napoleon was enabled to say that his offers of peace had been rejected, and made no answer to Castlereagh.

Russia in her turn had to conciliate the Porte, Sweden, Persia, and Great Britain. The Turkish negotiations were prolonged, and it was only in May that the treaty of Bucharest was signed, by which Russia gave up all her conquests except Bessarabia. Sweden had offered Russia her alliance in February. She was prepared to surrender Finland to Russia on condition that Russia should assist her in the conquest of Norway. A joint army was to effect this conquest and then make a descent on North Germany, threatening the rear of the French army of invasion. The adhesion of Great Britain was to be invited. On April 5 an alliance between Russia and Sweden was signed on the terms suggested. This was followed on August 28 by the treaty of Åbo, which was signed in the presence of the British representative, Lord Cathcart. By this treaty Russia was to assist Sweden with 30,000 men and a loan, Sweden undertook to support Russia's claim, when it should be made, for an extension of her frontier to the Vistula. Shortly afterwards it was agreed to postpone the attack on Norway till the following year, and thus at length the Russian army in Finland was set free. The treaties with the Porte and Sweden were too late to liberate troops to oppose Napoleon's advance, but the troops thus liberated greatly endangered his retreat. With Persia no peace could be made. Great Britain was still nominally at war both with Russia and with Sweden. Negotiations with Russia in April came to nothing because the British government refused to take over a loan of £4,000,000, but on July 18 a treaty of alliance between the three powers was signed, in which Great Britain promised pecuniary aid to Russia. A further sign of friendship was given when the tsar handed over the Cronstadt fleet for safekeeping to the British. The formal treaty was, however, only the public recognition of a friendship and mutual confidence which had begun with the[Pg 124] breach between Russia and France. This good understanding was shared by the nominal allies of France, Prussia and Austria. Russia was fully informed of the military and political plans of Austria, and knew that her forces would not fight except under compulsion.

At last, on June 24, Napoleon's grand army began the passage of the Niemen, which formed the boundary between the duchy of Warsaw and the Russian empire. The main body, at least 300,000 strong, was commanded by Napoleon himself. A northern division, including the Prussian contingent, was commanded by Macdonald, and, after advancing to Riga, which it pretended to besiege, remained idle throughout the campaign. The Austrians, under Schwarzenberg, formed a southern division, but they merely manœuvred, and made no serious attempts to impede the movements of the southern Russian army on its return journey from the war on the Danube. Napoleon himself drove the main Russian armies before him in the direction of Moscow. At last Kutuzov, who had taken over the command of the Russians in the course of the retreat, made a stand at Borodino, where on September 7 one of the bloodiest battles on record was fought. The figures are variously given, but the French army probably lost over 30,000 in killed and wounded out of a force of 125,000; and the Russians lost not less than 40,000 out of an army of slightly smaller dimensions. This awful carnage ended, after all, in little more than a trial of strength. The French gained the ground, but the Russians made good their retreat, and six days later Kutuzov retired through the streets of Moscow, taking the better part of the population and all the military stores with him. The French vanguard entered on the 14th, and Napoleon himself next day. A fire, kindled either by accident or by Russian incendiaries, raged from the 14th to the 20th and destroyed three-fourths of the city.


The capture of Moscow was far from being the triumph that the French emperor had anticipated. Deceived by his recollections of Tilsit, he had fully counted upon receiving pacific overtures from Alexander or at least upon his eager acceptance of conciliatory assurances from himself. But as the weeks passed and the vision of negotiation with the Russians proved illusory, retreat became inevitable. On the night of October 18 the French army, now about 115,000 strong, evacuated Moscow.[Pg 125] Kutuzov, who was stronger in cavalry, though perhaps still weaker in infantry, hung upon its rear, and, while avoiding a pitched battle, was able to prevent Napoleon from retreating by any other route than the now devastated line of his advance. It has often been questioned whether Kutuzov did not deliberately refrain from destroying the French army. He certainly informed Sir Robert Wilson on one occasion that he did not wish to drive Napoleon to extremities, lest his supremacy should go to the power that ruled the sea. The remark may have been nothing more than an outburst of ill-temper, but, whatever the motive, there can be no doubt as to the policy adopted. The retreating French army suffered terrible hardships from the cold, for which it was ill prepared. Twice it seemed on the point of falling into the hands of the Russians; at Krasnoe 26,000 prisoners are said to have been captured by Kutuzov's army, while at Borisov the southern army under Chichagov and the army returning from Finland under Wittgenstein joined hands, and disputed the French passage of the Berezina on November 26-29. According to Chambray's calculation, the French army numbered 31,000 combatants before the passage, of whom but 9,000 remained on December 1. All the non-combatants had been left in the hands of the enemy.

This was the last direct attack made by the Russians on the relics of the grand army. But the worst ravages of the Russian winter had yet to come. On December 3 the cold became intense. As the survivors of the expedition dragged themselves homewards through the Polish provinces, they were met by large bodies of reinforcements pouring in from the west; these recruits, comparatively fresh, were at first appalled by the gaunt and famine-stricken aspect of the returning veterans, but soon perished themselves in nearly equal numbers. It is estimated that altogether only 60,000 men recrossed the frontier out of a total of 630,000, and in the estimate of 60,000 is included Macdonald's division, which was exposed to comparatively little hardship. That division with the Prussian contingent began to fall back on December 19. On the 30th, however, the Prussians were reduced to neutrality by the convention of Tauroggen, signed by the Prussian commander, Yorck, with the Russians, without the sanction of his government. Had Russia been in a condition to press onwards at once and carry the war into[Pg 126] French territory, it is possible that Europe might have been spared the misery and bloodshed of the next few years. But, for the moment, her strength and resources were exhausted, nor was it until months had elapsed that other nations, or even France herself, became aware of the magnitude of the catastrophe which had overtaken Napoleon's host. That he was able to rally himself after it, to carry the French people with him, to enforce a new conscription, and to assume the aggressive in the campaign of 1813, must ever remain a supreme proof of his capacity for empire.


In the year 1812 war broke out between Great Britain and the United States. For a time the continental warfare had led to a great increase in American commerce, which was free from the attacks of privateers and from the restrictions which the opposing parties placed on one another. Presently, however, both parties attempted to force the United States into a virtual alliance with themselves. Orders in council on the one side and imperial decrees on the other had, as we have seen, declared a blockade of the ports of the continent of Europe and of Great Britain, and the United States saw their commerce threatened with disabilities approximating to those suffered by the belligerent powers. President Jefferson, who was supported by the republican party, adhered to a policy of strict neutrality, and prepared to suffer any commercial loss rather than be drawn into an European war. The only action which he took was the defence of the river mouths with a view to resisting any offensive movement. The federalist party on the other hand were in favour of energetic action against France, so as to secure English favour and the great commercial privileges which the mistress of the seas could bestow. For a time no hostilities resulted, but constant irritation was caused by the British claim to a right of search and to the impressment of sailors of British nationality found on American ships, while American ships accused of infringing the blockade were seized by either of the European combatants. To some extent the differences between Great Britain and the United States depended on rival views of the law of allegiance. The British maintained the doctrine nemo potest exuere patriam, and regarded all British-born persons, unless absolved from their allegiance by the act of the mother-country, as British subjects. The law of the United States, on the other hand, per[Pg 127]mitted an alien to become a citizen after fourteen years' residence, and previously to 1798 had required a residence of five years only. In this way it often happened that sailors who had received the American citizenship were impressed for service on British ships, and sometimes sailors of actual American birth were impressed. But it was impossible to justify the practice to which the Americans resorted of receiving deserters of British nationality from British ships of war, who were induced by offers of higher pay to transfer themselves to the American service.

Jefferson at first preferred to coerce the European powers by retaliatory legislation. As early as April, 1806, a law had been passed forbidding the importation of certain British wares, but was suspended six weeks after it came into operation. In June, 1807, irritation was intensified by the incident of the Leopard and the Chesapeake. Five men, four of whom were British born and one an American by birth, were known to have deserted from the British sloop Halifax, lying in Hampton roads, and to have taken service on an American frigate, the Chesapeake. After application for their surrender had been made in vain to the magistrates of the town of Norfolk, where the Chesapeake's rendezvous was, and to the officer commanding the rendezvous, Vice-admiral Berkeley sent his flagship, the Leopard, carrying fifty guns, with an order to the British captains on the North American station to search the Chesapeake for deserters from six ships named, including the Halifax, in case she should be encountered on the high seas. The Leopard arrived in Chesapeake bay in time to follow the Chesapeake beyond American waters, and then made a demand to search for deserters. On the captain of the Chesapeake refusing compliance, the Leopard opened fire. The Chesapeake was not in a condition to make any effectual reply, and, after receiving three broadsides, struck her flag. Only one of the deserters from the Halifax, an Englishman, was found on the Chesapeake; but three deserters from the British warship Melampus, which had not been named in Berkeley's order, all Americans by birth, were removed from the Chesapeake, which was now permitted to return to port.[55] Although the British government offered reparation for this action, recalled Berkeley, and dis[Pg 128]avowed the right to search ships of war for deserters, the incident could not fail to make a bad impression on American opinion.

But still Jefferson adhered to a policy of pacific coercion. In December, 1807, the act of April, 1806, was again put into force, and an embargo act, passed by the American congress, now cut off all foreign countries from trade with the United States. But the policy of embargo was disastrous to its promoters. It ruined the commerce and emptied the treasury of the United States. On March 1, 1809, a non-intercourse act, applying only to France, Great Britain, and their dependencies, was substituted for the embargo act.[56] The new act enabled the president to remove the embargo against whichever country should cancel its orders or decrees against American trade. Three days later Jefferson was succeeded by Madison as President of the United States. The change made no difference to the policy of the United States government. But the opposition was now much stronger and more violent than formerly; so much so that Sir James Craig, the Canadian governor, actually despatched a spy, John Henry, to sound the willingness of New England, where the federalist party was the stronger, to secede from the union and join Great Britain against the United States. This venture becomes the less surprising when we observe that in the previous year, 1808, John Quincy Adams, the future president, had predicted such a secession. Nothing, however, came of the attempt. Madison attempted to obtain concessions from the British government, but while the Perceval ministry lasted he met with no success. In May, 1810, the non-intercourse act expired, but a proviso was enacted that, if before March 3, 1811, either Great Britain or France should cancel her decrees against American trade the act should, three months after such revocation, revive against the power that maintained its decrees. Madison was cajoled into believing that Napoleon had recalled his decrees on November 1, 1810, and the non-intercourse act was accordingly revived against Great Britain and her dependencies in February, 1811.


Almost the first act of the Liverpool administration was to cancel the restrictions on American trade. But it was too[Pg 129] late. Five days earlier the United States had declared war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. The explanation of this step must be sought in the party politics of the United States. While the federalists courted British alliance, the younger members of the republican party had conceived a hope of conquering Canada as a result of a victorious war against Great Britain. This was the reply of the national party in the United States to the action of the Canadian governor. Madison knew the impracticability of such a step, but, finding that he could only carry the presidential election of 1812 with the support of this section of his party, he declared war. Great Britain, with her best troops in the Peninsula, was in no condition to use her full strength in America, but the United States were entirely unprepared for war. Their treasury was still empty, and their army and navy were small, while Canada generally was contented and loyal to the British crown. Upper Canada was full of loyalists, who had been expelled from the revolted colonies, and who with their descendants hated the men that had driven them from their homes; lower Canada was half-French and had nothing in common with the United States, while the Roman catholic clergy threw the whole weight of their influence on the British side. General Hull, who commanded the forces employed against Canada, succeeded in crossing the river Detroit in July and threatened the British post of Malden. But an alliance with the Indians enabled the British first to possess themselves of Mackinac, at the junction of lakes Huron and Michigan, and afterwards to imperil Hull's communications through the Michigan territory.

Hull accordingly fell back on Detroit. The British, with 750 men under Major-General Brock, together with 600 Indians, now prepared to attack Hull at that place. Hull, who believed his retreat to be cut off by the Indians, did not await the British attack, but surrendered on August 16 with 2,500 men and thirty-three guns. The effect of the capitulation was to place the British in effectual possession, not merely of Detroit, but of the territory of Michigan, and thus to render any attack on Canada from that quarter extremely difficult. The advantages gained by the British through this success were unfortunately neutralised by the policy pursued by Sir George Prevost, who had succeeded Craig as governor of Canada. Prevost was[Pg 130] of opinion that, when the news of the withdrawal of the orders in council reached Washington, the United States government would be ready to abandon hostilities; and he accordingly concluded a provisional armistice with General Dearborn, the commander-in-chief of the enemy's forces in the northern states. But President Madison, having engaged in war, was anxious to try the effect of another attack on Canada before negotiating for peace, and therefore declined to ratify the armistice. The interval enabled the United States to bring up reinforcements, but their new army failed in an attack on a British post on the Maumee river.

Meanwhile a second attempt was made to invade Upper Canada, this time from the side of Niagara. On October 13, Brigadier-General Wadsworth, acting under the orders of General Van Rensselaer, led an attack on the British position of Queenstown on the Canadian bank of the Niagara river. Brock commanded the defence, but was killed early in the fight. The position was momentarily seized by the enemy, but was presently recaptured by the British, who had in the meantime been reinforced by Major-General Sheaffe, the son of a loyalist, with a force from Fort George, and before the day closed Wadsworth found himself compelled to surrender with 900 men. The remainder of the enemy's forces, consisting of militia, rather than exceed their military obligations by crossing the frontier, chose to leave these men to their fate. In spite of the ignominious surrenders with which the first two expeditions against Canada had terminated, a third attempt was made by Brigadier-General Smyth to force the Canadian frontier; but on November 28 he was repulsed with loss by the British under Bishopp between Chippewa and Fort Erie, above the Niagara Falls, and at the end of the year the Canadian frontier still remained unpierced.


The glory of the British military successes was unfortunately obscured in large measure by American successes on the sea. The maritime war resolved itself into a series of fights between individual frigates. This was the necessary result of the nature of the British force kept in American waters. Ever since the renewal of hostilities with France in 1803 a species of blockade had been maintained along the coast of the United States by British vessels on the watch for deserters or contra[Pg 131]band of war. It was also found necessary to employ ships of war to guard against pirates in the West Indies and to protect British commerce in that quarter against French privateers. For all these purposes speed was of more importance than strength, and the British force in the west contained a disproportionate number of smaller vessels as compared with line of battle ships. The actual numbers of British warships in North American waters at the beginning of 1812 were three ships of the line, twenty-one cruisers and frigates, and fifty-three small craft. The United States navy was still weaker, and amounted merely to seven efficient frigates and nine small craft.[57] There was no question of a contest between fleets, and though the numbers of the British warships enabled them to destroy American trade, they were ship for ship inferior to the American frigates, which were thus enabled to win an empty glory in single-ship encounters. The American frigates were, in fact, superior in every respect to the British ships which nominally belonged to the same class. They were larger and more strongly built, a frigate being as strong as a British seventy-four. Their crews were more numerous, and were recruited entirely from seamen, about one-third of whom would appear to have been of British nationality, while, as has been seen, many of them had been decoyed from British war-vessels by offers of higher pay. The British ships on the other hand were manned largely by landsmen, often impressed from the jails. A false economy had induced the British admiralty to impose narrow limits on the use of ammunition for gunnery practice. The Americans on the other hand were very liberal in this respect, with the result that in the early years of the war they were greatly superior to their enemies in point of marksmanship.

A good example of the disproportion between the British and American frigates is furnished by the fight between the British frigate Guerrière and the American frigate Constitution, on August 19, one of the first naval actions in the war. The Guerrière was armed with twenty-four broadside guns, discharging projectiles with a total weight of 517 pounds; the Constitution with twenty-eight broadside guns, discharging a weight of 768 pounds. The crew of the Guerrière, counting[Pg 132] men only, numbered 244, that of the Constitution with a similar limitation 460. Finally the Guerrière's tonnage amounted to 1,092, as against the Constitution's 1,533. The Guerrière's guns proved very ineffectual from the start, while the marksmanship, not only of the American gunners but of the riflemen in the Constitution's tops, was the wonder of the British. It is stated that none of her shot fell short. After a fight lasting nearly two hours the Guerrière surrendered. The ship was a complete wreck, and she had lost fifteen men killed and six mortally wounded as against seven killed and three mortally wounded on board her opponent.

The effect of the engagement both on British and on American public opinion was altogether out of proportion to its intrinsic importance. The inequality in strength of the opposing frigates was not understood, and any defeat of the mistress of the seas seemed an event of considerable significance. The Americans soon met with other similar successes. On October 18 their sloop Wasp, of eighteen guns, reduced the British sloop Frolic, a weaker vessel, though of similar armament, to a helpless hulk after a ten minutes' cannonade. The moral effect of this victory was not impaired by the fact that the conqueror and her prize were compelled to surrender a few hours later to the British seventy-four Poictiers. On the 25th the United States, of forty-four guns, captured the Macedonian, of thirty-eight, after three hours' fighting, and on December 29 the British thirty-eight-gun frigate Java, with a very inexperienced crew, was captured by the Constitution after a running fight of three hours and a half.[58]


With the retreat of the French army from Russia the main scene of operations on the continent was shifted from Russia to Germany. Great Britain took little part in the actual warfare in Germany, and if she had a larger share in the political negotiations which ultimately determined the distribution of forces, still Austria and not Great Britain was the power whose diplomacy had most effect on the course of events. The upheaval of Europe against Napoleon, however, would have been much less effective if it had not been supported by English[Pg 133] subsidies, and Austria, in the crippled state of her finances, would probably have had to remain inactive if she had not been able to rely on English gold and perhaps still more on English credit.

The campaign of 1813 falls naturally into three parts. During the first, from the beginning of January to the latter part of April the victorious Russians swept over North Germany, and, carrying the Prussian monarchy with them, strengthened a reaction which had already begun against the rule of Napoleon. The second part began with the arrival of Napoleon on the scene of action towards the end of April and lasted to the conclusion of an armistice on June 4. In this period of seven or eight weeks the allies were forced to retire at all points and the war was carried into Prussian territory. The armistice, which terminated on August 10, preceded the opening of the third part of the campaign in which Russia and Prussia were joined by Austria and Sweden, and, after gradually drawing closer round the main French position in Saxony, finally inflicted a crushing defeat upon Napoleon at Leipzig in the middle of October. The campaign was virtually over when Napoleon secured his retreat by the victory of Hanau on October 30; but it is impossible to sever it from the events outside Germany which were directly occasioned by the downfall of Napoleon's German domination. These are the revolt of Holland in November, that of Switzerland in December, and the Austrian attack on Northern Italy in October and November.

In the opening months of the campaign the movements were merely a sequel to those of the previous year. The French retreat was continued from the Niemen to the Vistula, the Elbe, and finally the Saale. The Russians entered Prussia proper a few days after Yorck's capitulation, and the French retired before them. Stein, the Prussian statesman who had received a commission from Russia to administer the Prussian districts occupied by her, ordered the provincial governor to convoke an assembly. Although some indignation was felt at such a step being taken by Russian orders, the assembly met and voted the formation of the Landwehr. In this way Prussia actually began to arm against France, while the Prussian government still professed to maintain the French alliance. A[Pg 134] few days later King Frederick William left Berlin, which was still occupied by the French, for Breslau. Before the end of February he had concluded the treaty of Kalisch with Russia, by which the two powers were to conduct the war against France conjointly, and Russia was not to lay down her arms till Prussia should be restored to a strength equal to that which she had possessed in 1806. On March 2 Cathcart arrived at Kalisch as British ambassador to the Russian court. He actively promoted Russia's alliance with Prussia, from which Great Britain stood apart for the present. He was able to obtain from Prussia a renunciation of her claims on Hanover, but Frederick William was still opposed to any increase of Hanoverian territory. On the 17th Prussia declared war on France. By that time the Russians had entered both Berlin and Breslau, and had freed Hamburg from French dominion, thus reopening Germany to British commerce. The declaration of war by Prussia was accompanied by a convention with Russia providing for the deliverance of Germany and the dissolution of the confederation of the Rhine. This convention embodied Stein's policy. It relied on popular support and it aimed at an unified government, at least in the territories occupied at that date by adherents of France.


But the popular upheaval in Germany was confined to the kingdom of Prussia, and the attempt to spread it elsewhere only provoked distrust in Austria and the South German states; it was not until the conservative elements in Germany were won over by Metternich's policy that the anti-Napoleonic movement became truly national. For the present Austria played the part of mediator. Lord Walpole, who had been sent on a secret errand to Vienna in December, 1812, tried in vain to win Austria to the side of the allies by promising the restoration of the Tyrol, Illyria, and Venetia.[59] Her government would probably have preferred a reconciliation with France, which would have arrested the growth of Russia and left Germany divided, to a unified Germany such as Stein desired; but Metternich, who directed her policy, cherished little hope of the success of his endeavours, though he knew when to employ agents more optimistic than himself. The Austrian[Pg 135] treasury was empty, and it therefore suited Austria to remain neutral as long as possible, while in the event of a doubtful struggle this very neutrality would raise the price of her ultimate alliance. It was in this way that she came at last to exercise a decisive voice in the resettlement of Germany, not to say of Europe. True to this policy, the Austrian court concluded a truce of indefinite duration with Russia at the beginning of the year, and withdrew its forces within its own borders. This was followed by an offer of mediation made to France, which was, however, declined. A renewed offer was declined early in April by both France and Great Britain. The British still distrusted Austria, while France desired to buy her active co-operation and made an offer of Silesia in return for an army of 100,000, should Prussia or Russia open hostilities. Austria did not, however, abandon her project, but notified Prussia and Russia that she would proceed with the task of armed mediation, and steadily busied herself with military preparations.

The vigour of the Prussians in recruiting had surprised Napoleon, but his own vigour was the marvel of Europe. In spite of the losses of the Russian campaign, he was able to take the field at the end of April with an army which at the lowest estimate was 200,000 strong. But his soldiers were for the most part mere boys, and he was sadly deficient in cavalry. The veterans of Austerlitz, of Jena, of Friedland, and of Wagram had been recklessly sacrificed on the plains of Russia. He was victorious at Lützen on May 2, was joined by the King of Saxony, entered Dresden, and thence pushed across the Elbe. On the 21st the victory of Bautzen enabled him to advance to the Oder and occupy Breslau. A renewed offer of Austrian mediation drew from him a declaration in favour of an armistice and a diplomatic congress. On June 4 an armistice was actually concluded at Poischwitz to last until August 1, and a neutral zone was provided to separate the combatants. On June 7 the demands of Austria were presented to Napoleon. They involved the renunciation by France of all territorial possessions, and even of a protectorate in Germany, and the restoration to Prussia and Austria of most of their lost provinces. Napoleon refused these terms, but accepted the mediation of Austria, and arranged for a congress which met at Prague in[Pg 136] the middle of July. The armistice was prolonged till August 10. Both France and Austria were merely striving to gain time while they prepared for war, and there can be no doubt that the allies profited most by the delay. During the interval the news arrived of Wellington's great victory at Vitoria on June 21, and Napoleon, recalled to Mainz, occupied himself in arranging plans for the defence of the Pyrenees.

During the armistice Prussia and Russia not only greatly reinforced their troops, but received valuable assistance from Great Britain, Sweden, and above all Austria. Already, on March 3, Great Britain had by the treaty of Stockholm given her sanction to the seizure of the whole of Norway by Sweden, after a vain attempt to induce Denmark to consent to a peaceable cession of the diocese of Trondhjem. At the same time Great Britain promised Guadeloupe as a personal gift to Bernadotte, and a subsidy of £1,000,000 for the Swedish troops fighting against Napoleon. A new treaty between Russia and Sweden on April 22 guaranteed the cession of Norway. On June 14 and 15 Cathcart, having at last obtained Prussia's consent to an increase in the territories of Hanover, signed treaties at Reichenbach with Prussia and Russia, by which Great Britain undertook to pay a subsidy of two-thirds of a million pounds to the former and a million and a third to the latter power. It was also agreed to issue federative paper notes to an extent not exceeding £5,000,000 to pay the expenses of the armies of the two powers during the year 1813, and Great Britain undertook the responsibility for one-half of these notes. Soon afterwards Austria received a promise of a loan of £500,000 as soon as she should join the allies. Half of this last sum was actually paid within a few days of the resumption of hostilities.


When the armistice expired, French forces were threatening Austria from three sides—from Bavaria, Illyria, and Saxony; and Napoleon's intention seems to have been to amuse the Austrian court with negotiations until he could defeat the Prussian and Russian armies, after which he counted upon overwhelming the Austrians with his entire force. The task of defeating the Prussians was entrusted to his army in Saxony with which Davoût was expected to co-operate from Hamburg, retaken by the French on May 30. Austria, however, declared[Pg 137] war on France the moment the armistice had elapsed, August 12, and the main army of the allies, principally composed of Austrians with large Prussian and Russian contingents, assembled in Bohemia. Napoleon was opposed in Silesia by an army of Prussians and Russians, while Bernadotte, in command of a mixed army, consisting mainly of Swedes, Prussians and Russians, but including 3,000 British troops and 25,000 Hanoverians under Walmoden, operated against him from the north. These three armies were eventually able to join hands, while Davoût's army, the French armies in Italy and Illyria, and 170,000 French troops in various German fortresses were unable to render effective aid in the struggle. On August 26-27 Napoleon himself won the last of his great victories at Dresden over the main army of the allies, while his lieutenants were defeated by the northern army at Grossbeeren on August 23, and again at Dennewitz on September 6, and by the Silesian army at the Katzbach on August 26. The capitulation of Vandamme at Kulm, with some 10,000 men, neutralised Napoleon's victory at Dresden, and his enemies were increased by Austrian diplomacy. The treaty of Teplitz, concluded on September 9, and accepted by Great Britain on October 3, committed the allies to the complete independence of the several German states. On the 10th Bavaria renounced the French alliance, and on October 8, by the treaty of Ried, she engaged to join the allies with 36,000 men, in return for a promise that she should suffer no diminution of territory. On the 7th the northern and Silesian armies had united west of the Elbe; Napoleon, who had quitted Dresden on the 6th and vainly attempted to engage the separate northern army, arrived at Leipzig on the 14th. But it was now too late.

On the 16th the allied armies, which had concentrated on Leipzig, compelled him to stand at bay, and to risk all upon the fortunes of a single battle. This battle, lasting three days, was not only one of the greatest but one of the most decisive recorded in modern history, for it finally crippled the warlike power of Napoleon, and inevitably determined the issue of the campaigns yet to be fought in 1814 and 1815. It would appear that Napoleon had under his command about 250,000 men, and that he lost at least 50,000 in killed and wounded on the field. The allied forces were much larger[Pg 138] numerically, and their losses fully equalled those of the French. But their victory was crushing. One of its immediate results was that Napoleon was forced to abandon Saxony, and with it the French cause in Germany. The French garrisons were reduced one by one. Of the fortresses east of the Rhine, Hamburg, Kehl, Magdeburg, and Wesel alone held out until the conclusion of peace in 1814. The general rising of Central Europe against French domination which followed the battle of Leipzig extended itself to Holland. The French were expelled in the middle of November, and on December 2 the Prince of Orange was proclaimed sovereign prince of the Netherlands. On the 29th the Swiss diet voted the restoration of the old constitution. The confederation of the Rhine was practically dissolved, but in Italy Napoleon's viceroy, Eugène Beauharnais, after falling back before the Austrian army, was able to hold the line of the Adige. On November 9 it was decided to offer peace to Napoleon on condition of the surrender of all French conquests beyond the Rhine, the Alps, and the Pyrenees. These terms represented the policy of Metternich. The Earl of Aberdeen consented to them on behalf of Great Britain and Nesselrode on behalf of Russia, but they were not accepted by Napoleon before the date by which an answer was required, and the war proceeded. On December 31 the Prussians under Blücher crossed the Rhine near Coblenz and opened a new campaign.


Meanwhile the war on the American continent was carried on with varying success, though the balance of fortune was rather on the side of the United States. The operations were in the main of a desultory character, no permanent conquests being made. The first engagement in the year 1813 was at Frenchtown on the Raisin River in Michigan, where Colonel Proctor, commanding 500 regulars and militia, and 600 Indians, defeated an American force of 1,000 under Brigadier-General Winchester, and took 500 prisoners, while many of the remaining Americans fell into the hands of the Indians. The immediate effect of this victory was that General Harrison, who was leading an American force of 2,000 men against Detroit, determined to retrace his steps. Three months later Proctor made a descent upon an American position on the Maumee River in the north of the State of Ohio. After besieg[Pg 139]ing the enemy for a few days he was compelled to retire, but, before he left, an engagement took place on May 5, in which the British forces, with a total loss of less than 100, inflicted severe losses on their opponents and made about 500 prisoners. A subsequent attempt to capture Fort Sandusky, near the head of Lake Erie, was repulsed on August 2; ninety out of 350 British troops were returned as killed, wounded or missing.

The British had hitherto commanded the lakes, but Commodore Perry now occupied himself in building a fleet at Presqu'isle in Pennsylvania on the coast of Lake Erie. Commander Barclay, in command of such ships as the British possessed, was badly supported and encountered the same difficulties in obtaining seamen as had been experienced for the sea-going ships. The ships in the service of the United States were in consequence again the more powerful and the better manned. On September 10 the two squadrons engaged. The British had six vessels with a broadside of 459 lb., while the enemy had nine vessels with a broadside of 928 lb. With such odds the result could not be doubtful, and the whole British squadron was compelled to surrender. This success enabled the enemy to strike with effect at the south-western end of Lower Canada. The British immediately evacuated the whole territory of Michigan with the exception of Mackinac; and Proctor, now raised to the rank of major-general, commenced a retreat in the direction of Lake Ontario. On October 5 he was attacked at Moraviantown on the Thames by Harrison, and the greater part of his forces were captured in an engagement which reflected small credit on British generalship. The remainder of his forces reached Burlington Heights, at the west end of Lake Ontario, but the whole country to the west of the Grand River had to be abandoned to the enemy.

On Lake Ontario the fortune of war was more equally divided. The Americans had been gradually collecting a naval squadron at Sackett's Harbour and had gained command of the lake as early as November, 1812. The command was, however, precarious, since it might be disturbed by the arrival or construction of new warships. One such was building at York, now known as Toronto, the capital of Upper Canada, when, on April 27, 1813, the American squadron under Commodore[Pg 140] Chauncey attacked the town and succeeded in landing a detachment of troops under General Dearborn. The British general, Sheaffe, withdrew his regular forces from the town without awaiting an assault, but not before he had destroyed the ship of which the enemy were in quest. The Americans captured some naval stores, but did not attempt to hold the town; they set an evil precedent, however, by burning the parliament house and other public buildings before evacuating the place. On May 27 Chauncey co-operated again with Dearborn in an attack on Fort George, the capture of which threw the whole line of the Niagara into American hands. On the same day Prevost, whose naval strength had been reinforced, availing himself of Chauncey's absence, made an attack on Sackett's Harbour. The attack, which was renewed on the 29th, was miserably conducted, and ended in failure, though the Americans were compelled to burn the naval stores captured at York. The reinforcements had, however, transferred to the British the command of the lake, which was not challenged again till the end of July. Meanwhile their land forces were not idle. On June 6 the Americans were surprised by Colonel Vincent at Burlington Heights and over 100 prisoners, including two brigadier-generals, were taken. This defeat, combined with the approach of the British naval squadron under Sir James Yeo, induced Dearborn to abandon his other posts on the Canadian side of the Niagara and to concentrate at Fort George, but on the 24th another surprise ended in the surrender of a detachment of more than 500 Americans to a force of fifty British troops and 240 Indians. By the end of July Chauncey's squadron was once more strong enough to put to sea. It raided York on the 31st, but did not venture to join battle with Yeo; though a skirmish on August 10 enabled Yeo to capture two schooners.

Meanwhile on the frontier of Lower Canada the British were everywhere successful. On June 3 two American sloops attacked the British garrison of Isle-aux-noix at the north end of Lake Champlain. Both ships were compelled to surrender. On August 1 a British force raided Plattsburg and destroyed the barracks and military stores. A combined movement on Montreal was now made by the forces of the United States; it was mainly owing to the loyalty of the French Canadians that they were repulsed. General Hampton advancing from the south[Pg 141] with a force 7,000 strong was defeated at the river Chateauguay on October 26, by 900 men belonging to the Canadian militia, commanded by Colonel McDonnell and Colonel de Salaberry. The defeated general withdrew his troops into winter quarters at Plattsburg. Not long after, on December 7, the American general Wilkinson who had sailed down the St. Lawrence to Prescott and was marching towards Cornwall, was defeated with heavy loss by Colonel Morrison at Chrystler's Farm, and made no further attempt on Canada. In the same month General McClure, who commanded at Fort George, retired to the eastern bank of the Niagara before Colonel Murray's advance. His retreat was disgraced by the burning of the town of Newark, where women and children were turned homeless into the cold of a Canadian winter. At the same time the American forces were withdrawn from south-western Canada but still retained Amherstburg at the head of Lake Erie, the sole conquest of the campaign.


The naval warfare of 1813 was less rich in individual encounters than that of 1812. The British captains were better acquainted with the strength of the American ships and did not rashly engage vessels stronger than their own. There was also a marked improvement in British gunnery, and an increase in the strength of the British naval force in American waters. At first the blockade of the American coast had not been strictly maintained further south than New York, but as reinforcements arrived it was made more complete, and after June of this year it was only occasionally that any warship or privateer contrived to elude the blockading vessels. Meanwhile the British constantly raided and harassed the American coast, and had no difficulty in availing themselves of the Chesapeake and Delaware estuaries as naval bases. A new feature of this year's warfare was the appearance of American cruisers, especially privateers, in British waters, and even in the St. George's Channel. To such ships the French ports were a very serviceable naval base. The Americans would appear to have captured more of British commerce than the British captured of theirs, but this was no compensation for the almost complete cessation of their foreign trade. Of single ship actions the destruction of the British Peacock by the American Hornet, commanded by Captain Lawrence, on February 24, the capture of the American Argus by[Pg 142] the British Pelican not far from the Welsh coast on August 14, and the famous duel between the Chesapeake and the Shannon on June 1 were the most important.

The British frigate Shannon (38) was commanded by Captain Broke, who was famous not merely for the attention he paid to gun practice, but for the care he had bestowed on the laying of his ship's ordnance. Ever since the beginning of April the frigates Shannon and Tenedos (38) had been lying off Boston, where they hoped to intercept any American frigate that dared to leave the harbour. Two succeeded in eluding them. The Chesapeake frigate (36) commanded by Lawrence, lay in the harbour; and Broke, having detached the Tenedos in order to tempt her out, sent a challenge to Lawrence on the morning of June 1, but before it could be delivered the Chesapeake had sailed. She steered for the Shannon, who waited for her. The fight began at 5.50 P.M. about six leagues out from Boston; it was brief and bloody. After ten minutes' firing the Chesapeake fell on board the Shannon, and was immediately boarded. In four minutes more every man on board had surrendered. In this short fight the Shannon had lost out of a crew of 352 twenty-four killed and fifty-nine wounded, two of the latter mortally, while the Chesapeake, according to American official figures, had lost out of 386 forty-seven killed and ninety-nine wounded (fourteen of the latter mortally). No fewer than thirty-two British deserters were found on board the Chesapeake. The victory made the best possible impression. The two ships had been of approximately equal strength, the American having a slight superiority of force, and the Chesapeake had been captured in the way in which most turns on individual courage, by boarding. Both captains had distinguished themselves in the fight, and both were severely wounded, Lawrence, as the event proved, fatally.


The abandonment of Germany by the French at the close of 1813 left the outlying provinces and allies of France exposed to invasion. The Austrian general, Nugent, aided by British naval and military forces, captured Trieste on October 31. Dalmatia had been invaded by the Montenegrins as early as September, 1813, and was afterwards attacked by Austrians and British marines, but the town of Cattaro held out till it was taken by the British in January, 1814. On[Pg 143] the 14th of the same month Denmark was compelled by the treaty of Kiel to cede Norway to Sweden in exchange for Swedish Pomerania and Rügen, Sweden undertaking to assist Denmark in procuring a fuller equivalent for Norway at the conclusion of a general peace. A treaty signed between Denmark and Great Britain at the same time and place provided for the restitution to Denmark of all British conquests, with the exception of Heligoland, while Denmark undertook to do all in her power for the abolition of the slave trade. The people of Norway and their governor, Prince Christian of Denmark, refused to submit to the transference of their allegiance, and on February 19 the independence of Norway was proclaimed. At first the Swedish government attempted to obtain the submission of Norway by negotiation only, but so important a diversion of her interest and energies was sufficient to prevent Sweden from joining in the new campaign against France. In Italy on January 11 Napoleon's brother-in-law, Murat, whom he had made King of Naples in 1808, formed an alliance with Austria. The treaty was never confirmed by Great Britain, but the British government subsequently consented to support Murat, if he should loyally exert himself in Italy against Napoleon's forces. Although Murat did actually engage in hostilities against the French, the British were far from satisfied with his operations and considered that his remissness left them a free hand. Accordingly on March 9 a British fleet entered the port of Leghorn and landed 8,000 men, of whom Lord William Bentinck took command. From Leghorn he marched upon Genoa which surrendered to him on April 18.

Meanwhile the main forces of the allies were concentrated for a campaign against Napoleon in Champagne. Of the three armies which had combined at Leipzig the Austro-Russian army under Schwarzenberg made its way through Switzerland, Alsace, and Franche-Comté, while Blücher's army of Prussians and Russians passed through the region which afterwards became the Rhine province and Lorraine. The two armies united in the neighbourhood of Brienne in Champagne. Bernadotte's army did not as a whole take part in the campaign; but a portion of it, consisting of Russians under Wittgenstein and Prussians under Bülow, was engaged in the conquest of Belgium and was able to invade France itself later in the year.[Pg 144] Schwarzenberg's army was accompanied by the Emperors of Russia and Austria, the King of Prussia, and the leading European diplomatists, including Castlereagh. From the outset there was a marked difference between the Austrian and Russian policies. Metternich was content with reducing France to the natural frontiers already offered to her, and aimed merely at compelling Napoleon to recognise the fait accompli in Germany, and to evacuate Italy and Spain. He was therefore in favour of slow advances and of giving Napoleon every opportunity for coming to terms. The tsar, on the other hand, wished to reduce France to her ancient limits, and was anxious to enter Paris as a conqueror. He also excited Austrian jealousy by his scheme of annexing what had been Prussian Poland, and compensating Prussia with Saxony. Castlereagh and the Prussian minister, Hardenberg, supported the tsar's policy towards France, but without sharing his ardour.

On the first arrival of the allies in Champagne the tsar had only induced Metternich to advance by threatening to prosecute the war alone. After they had gained what appeared to be a decisive victory over Napoleon at La Rothière on February 1, negotiations were commenced at Châtillon. Napoleon insisted on continuing the war during the negotiations and interposed every possible delay. The allies first demanded that France should recede within the limits of 1791 and offered a partial restoration of French colonies, but refused to specify the colonies which they were willing to relinquish until France should accept the first condition. To this the French demurred, and on the 9th the tsar impetuously withdrew his minister. From the 10th to the 14th Napoleon inflicted a series of crushing blows upon Blücher's army. Negotiations were now resumed; they lasted till the middle of March, but as Napoleon would not surrender his claim to Belgium and the Rhine provinces they were fruitless, notwithstanding the pacific efforts of Caulaincourt, the French negotiator. On the 21st Napoleon tried in vain to detach Austria from the allies by a private letter to the Emperor Francis, and on March 1 a permanent basis was given to the alliance by the treaty of Chaumont (definitely signed on the 9th), by which the four allied powers bound themselves to conclude no separate peace, and not to lay down their arms till the object of the war should have been obtained by the restriction[Pg 145] of France to her ancient frontiers. Each power was to maintain 150,000 men regularly in the field, and Great Britain was to pay the three other powers a subsidy of £5,000,000 for the current year and a like sum for every subsequent year of warfare. The signatory powers were to maintain their present concert and armaments for twenty years if necessary.


After this treaty on March 4 Blücher united with Wittgenstein and Bülow near Soissons. On the 20th Napoleon was repulsed by Schwarzenberg's army at Arcis-sur-Aube, after which he attempted to cut off its communications by a movement to its rear. In consequence of this movement the allied armies advanced on Paris, while the Austrian emperor fled to Dijon taking Castlereagh and Metternich with him.[60] This left the war to be concluded under the influence of the most vigorous of the allied sovereigns, the Tsar of Russia. Paris capitulated on the 30th and on the next day was occupied by the allies. The tsar now issued "on behalf of all the allied powers" a proclamation in which he declared that they would not treat with Napoleon or his family, but were willing to respect the integrity of France, and to guarantee the constitution that the French people should adopt. This prepared the way for a reaction against Napoleon in France. A provisional government was formed on April 1; on the 3rd the French senate proclaimed the deposition of Napoleon, and on the 6th it published a constitution, and recalled the Bourbons in the person of Louis XVIII., the younger brother of Louis XVI. On the same day Napoleon signed an unconditional abdication at Fontainebleau. On the 11th a treaty was signed between Napoleon and the sovereigns of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, by which he renounced all claim to the crowns of France and Italy, and was assigned the Isle of Elba as an independent principality and a place of residence, together with a liberal revenue charged on the French treasury, which, however, was never paid. The duchy of Parma was secured to the Empress Maria Louisa and was to descend to her son. The treaty was afterwards confirmed by Great Britain, with the exception of the[Pg 146] clauses providing revenues for the fallen emperor and his family. The promise of Elba had been made by the tsar in the absence of Castlereagh and Metternich. It was vigorously opposed by Castlereagh's half-brother, Sir Charles Stewart, but the tsar considered his honour bound to it, and Napoleon sailed from Fréjus for Elba on the 28th.

In America the war was conducted with more vigour in 1814 than in previous years, but with equally small effect on either side. In March the American general, Wilkinson, advancing from Lake Champlain, was repulsed by a small British garrison at La Colle Mill. In July an American army under Brown invaded Upper Canada across the river Niagara. It was attacked by General Riall, near Chippewa, on the 5th, but it repelled the attack and occupied that place. Brown was, however, checked by British regulars and Canadian militia under Sir Gordon Drummond at Lundy's Lane, near Niagara Falls, on the 25th. Both sides claim the victory, but on the reinforcement of the British troops Brown abandoned the invasion. After the close of the Peninsular war some of the best regiments of the Peninsular army, numbering about 14,000 men, were sent to America. But they were not commanded by any of the generals who had made their names illustrious in that war, and did not effect so much as had been expected. On August 19 and 20 General Ross landed with 5,000 men at the mouth of the Patuxent in Chesapeake Bay. On the 24th he defeated a large body of militia under General Winder at Bladensburg, and occupied Washington, where he burned all the public buildings. However deplorable such an act may seem, it is well to note that it was a fair and even merciful reprisal after the action of the Americans at York and Newark. Ross did not attempt to retain the city, but evacuated it on the next day and re-embarked on the 30th. On September 12 he landed near Baltimore, but was immediately killed in an attack on the town. The attack had to be abandoned because it proved impossible to obtain adequate support from the fleet, and the troops returned to the ships on the 15th.

On September 1 Prevost invaded New York State by Lake Champlain. He advanced against Plattsburg, which he bombarded on the 11th, but his flotilla was defeated by an American flotilla during the bombardment, and he felt him[Pg 147]self compelled to retreat into Canada. At the end of the year Sir Edward Pakenham took command of a force operating against New Orleans, but on January 8, 1815, he was defeated and killed by the American forces under the future president, Andrew Jackson. No expedition was ever worse planned than this; the veterans of the Peninsula were mowed down by a withering fire, and, losing confidence in their leaders, forfeited their reputation for invincible courage in attack. The fighting, however, was desperate while it lasted, and was compared by one engaged in it with the storm of Badajoz, and the deadly charges at Waterloo. It was but a small compensation for these failures that the British were able to annex a strip of territory belonging to the State of Maine. On the sea no general engagement took place, nor was there any naval duel so famous as that between the Shannon and the Chesapeake in the previous year. The Americans lost two of their best frigates, but, with crews largely composed of British sailors, captured several British ships of war.


As early as January, 1814, advances had been made towards negotiations for peace, but they were not actually begun till August 6. In the course of a few days a serious difficulty arose, as the British commissioners demanded the delimitation of an Indian territory which should be exempt from territorial acquisitions on the part of either power, and also claimed the military occupation of the lakes for their own government. The Americans thereupon suspended the negotiations, and Castlereagh expressed grave discontent with the conduct of the British negotiators in pressing these points. Late in the year negotiations were resumed, when the British abandoned these claims. The far more comprehensive questions about the rights of neutrals, which had occasioned the war, had ceased to be of practical importance now that peace was restored in Europe. They were therefore, by tacit consent, suffered to drop, and a treaty signed at Ghent on December 24, 1814, ended a war of which the Canadians alone had reason to be proud.

The most dramatic incident in the domestic annals of England in this year was the visit of the allied sovereigns to this country, after their triumphal entry into Paris, and the signature of a convention, to be described hereafter, for the resettlement of Europe. Louis XVIII. left his retreat at Hartwell on[Pg 148] April 20, and reached his capital on May 3 to find it occupied by foreign armies, and to discover that his French escort, composed of Napoleon's old guard, was of doubtful loyalty. On July 8 the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia, having accepted an invitation from the prince regent, which the Emperor of Austria declined, landed at Dover, and were afterwards received with the utmost enthusiasm in London. Their appearance betokened the supposed termination of the greatest, and almost the longest, war recorded in European history, but it was also accepted as a tribute of gratitude for the unique services rendered by Great Britain, the only European power which had never bowed the knee to the French Republic or the French Empire. They attended Ascot races, were feasted at the Guildhall, witnessed a naval review at Portsmouth, and were decorated with honorary degrees at Oxford, where Blücher was the hero of the day with the younger members of the university. There were men of calmer minds and maturer age, who must have remembered the time, but seven years before, when Alexander swore eternal friendship with Napoleon, on the basis of enmity to Great Britain, and Frederick William of Prussia shrunk from no depths of dishonour, first to aggrandise his kingdom and then to save the remnants of it from destruction. Others foresaw that a restoration of the Bourbons portended reaction, in its worst sense, throughout all the continent of Europe. But such memories and forebodings were hushed in the sincere and general rejoicing over the return of peace, marred by no suspicion of the new trials and privations which peace itself was destined to bring with it for the working classes of Great Britain.


[53] See p. 105.

[54] George, Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, p. 33.

[55] James, British Naval History, iv., 470-84.

[56] See above, p. 58.

[57] See Cambridge Modern History, vii., 336, 338.

[58] For details of the naval warfare of this year see James, British Naval History, vi., 115-202.

[59] Rose, Life of Napoleon I., ii., 372.

[60] For the importance of this flight of the Emperor Francis see Rose, Life of Napoleon I., ii., 418, 425. The flight did not take place till after the advance on Paris was begun.[Pg 149]



After the restoration of Louis XVIII. as a constitutional king, the treaty of Paris between France and the allied powers was signed on May 30, 1814. The treaty amounted to a settlement in outline of those territorial questions in Europe in which France was concerned, and aimed mainly at the construction of a strong barrier to resist further encroachments by France on her neighbours. The French boundaries were to coincide generally with the limits of French territory on January 1, 1792, but with certain additions. The principle adopted was that France should retain certain detached pieces of foreign states within her own frontier (such as Mühlhausen, Montbéliard, and the Venaissin), while the line of frontier was extended so as to include certain detached fragments belonging to France before 1792, such as Landau, Mariembourg, and Philippeville, as well as Western Savoy with Chambéry for its capital. She was moreover allowed to regain all her colonies except the Mauritius, St. Lucia, and Tobago. The Spanish portion of San Domingo was restored to the Spanish government. Holland was placed under the sovereignty of the house of Orange, and was to receive an increase of territory; so much of Italy as was not to be ceded to Austria was to consist of independent sovereign states; and Germany was to be formed into a confederation. Finally an European congress was to meet at Vienna in two months' time "to regulate the arrangements necessary for completing the dispositions of the treaty". At the same time secret articles provided that the disposition of territories was to be controlled at Vienna by Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia; that Austria, was to receive Venice and Lombardy as far as the Ticino; and that the former territories of Genoa were to[Pg 150] be annexed to Sardinia, and the late Austrian Netherlands to Holland.

In the midst of the general restoration of legitimate princes difficulties were occasioned by the exceptional cases in which territories were reserved for the new dynasties that had arisen during the Napoleonic wars. France, Spain, and Sicily objected to the retention of the kingdom of Naples by Murat, Spain resented the cession of Parma to the Bonapartes, and Norway was in revolt against the attempt to subjugate it to the king of Sweden and his heir Marshal Bernadotte. The Norwegian government under Prince Christian vainly endeavoured to secure the British recognition of the independence of Norway. The British government, on the contrary, held itself bound to support the claims of Sweden, and on April 29 notified a blockade of the Norwegian ports, which was promptly carried into effect. Meanwhile a new constitution was promulgated in Norway, and Prince Christian was proclaimed king. While the British maintained the blockade Sweden attempted to gain its ends by negotiation. At last, on July 30, the Swedes invaded Norway. After some Swedish successes a convention was signed at Moss on August 14, which recognised the new Norwegian constitution, but provided for a personal union of the crowns of Sweden and Norway. This constitution was accepted by Charles XIII. of Sweden in the following November, and Norway retained almost complete independence, though united to Sweden.


Among the last acts of Napoleon's government had been the release and restoration of Ferdinand VII. of Spain and of Pope Pius VII. Ferdinand, supported by the vast mass of Spanish opinion, declared against the rather unpractical constitution established in his absence, and entered Madrid as an absolute king on May 14. One of his first acts was the revival of the inquisition. There was some apprehension among British representatives lest the two restored Bourbon monarchies should renew the family compact, and also lest they should attempt to assert the Bourbon claims to Naples and Parma. Sir Henry Wellesley, afterwards Lord Cowley, was, however, successful in negotiating a treaty of alliance between Great Britain and Spain, which made provision against any renewal of the family compact, restored the commercial relations of the two countries to the footing on which they had been before 1796, and[Pg 151] promised the future consideration of means to be adopted for the suppression of the slave trade. Spain was in fact too dependent on British credit to be able to adopt a line of her own in politics. But the hold which Great Britain had thus gained over Spain was somewhat weakened by the British attitude towards the slave trade.

It is remarkable how large a space the abolition of the slave trade occupied in the foreign policy of Great Britain, when the liberties of Europe were at stake. During the months preceding the meeting of the congress of Vienna, which had been postponed till September by the tsar, British diplomacy had been engaged in a strenuous effort to obtain the co-operation of such European powers as possessed American colonies in securing this philanthropic object. Sweden had already consented to it, and now Holland also gave her consent. Portugal agreed to relinquish the trade north of the equator, on condition that the other powers consented to impose a similar restriction on themselves. Strong pressure was brought to bear upon France to consent to the immediate abolition of the trade, and Wellington, who had been created a duke in May and who arrived at Paris in August in the capacity of British ambassador, was authorised by Liverpool to offer the cession of Trinidad or the payment of two or three million pounds to obtain this end. By the treaty of Paris only French subjects were allowed to trade in slaves with the French colonies, and French subjects were excluded from trading elsewhere; and the whole trade was to cease within French dominions after five years. Talleyrand, negotiating with Wellington, refused to consent to a general abolition, but, on being pressed to surrender the slave trade north of the equator, consented to abandon it to the north of Cape Formoso. In the following year Napoleon on his return from Elba ordered its immediate suppression, and this was not the least significant act of the Hundred Days. With Spain our diplomatists were less successful. The British government refused to renew its subsidy to Spain for the last half of 1814 except on condition that Spain relinquished the slave trade north of the equator at once, and consented to relinquish that south of the equator in five years' time; while it would not issue a loan except on condition that Spain abolished the whole trade immediately. Even these terms did not prevail with Spain, and the[Pg 152] most that she would grant at the congress was to relinquish the trade at the conclusion of eight years.

Meanwhile Talleyrand was endeavouring to induce Great Britain to combine with France in a joint mediation between Austria and Russia at the congress, in the event of Russia demanding the duchy of Warsaw. Wellington, while expressing himself in favour of an understanding, refused to accept anything which might seem equivalent to a declaration in favour of mediation by the two powers in every case. At the congress itself Great Britain was first represented by Castlereagh, who was succeeded in February, 1815, by Wellington. The two principal difficulties were the questions of Poland and Saxony. The tsar desired to erect the duchy of Warsaw, Prussia's share in the two partitions of Poland in 1793 and 1795, into a constitutional monarchy attached to the Russian crown, while Prussia, though not unwilling to resign her claims to Polish dominion, wished to increase her territory by the incorporation of Saxony in her monarchy. Austria was naturally averse from any increase of strength in the states on her northern borders, and she was also opposed to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Poland which might serve as a centre for political discontent in her own dominions. Even France urged this objection to a constitutional Poland. Great Britain alone was willing to see an independent Poland, but preferred to join France, Prussia, and Austria in demanding its repartition between the two latter powers rather than its annexation to Russia. All through October Austria, Great Britain, and Prussia endeavoured to induce the tsar to withdraw his demand. Early in November he won over the King of Prussia to whom he promised the kingdom of Saxony, proposing to indemnify the Saxon king with a new state on that lower Rhine which France was not allowed to have, but which no other power desired.


It was no longer possible to resist Russia's claims on Poland, but Austria was determined not to allow Prussia to receive the proffered compensation. On December 10 Metternich notified the Prussian minister, Hardenberg, that he would not allow Prussia to annex more than a fifth part of Saxony. Great Britain, France, Bavaria, and the minor German states joined Austria in this action, and thus the attempt to effect a settle[Pg 153]ment of Europe by a concert of the four allied powers broke down. On January 3, 1815, a secret treaty was concluded between Austria, France, and Great Britain in defence of what their diplomatists called "the principles of the peace of Paris". Each of these powers was to be prepared, if necessary, to place an army of 50,000 men in the field. Bavaria joined them in their preparations for war, and many of the troops which occupied Paris in 1815 would have been disbanded or dispersed, but for the prospect of a rupture between the allies themselves. But a compromise was soon arranged, and on February 8 it was agreed that Cracow, the Polish fortress which threatened Austria most, should be an independent republic, and that Prussia should retain enough of Western Poland to round off her dominions, while the remainder of the duchy of Warsaw became a constitutional kingdom under the tsar. Prussia was to be allowed to annex part of Saxony, and was to receive a further compensation on the left bank of the Rhine and in Westphalia. The most thorny questions were now settled, and Castlereagh had left Vienna when the congress was electrified by the news that Napoleon had reappeared in France.

The episode of "the Hundred Days" interrupted, but did not break up, the councils of the congress at Vienna. It cannot be said that Napoleon's escape from Elba took the negotiators altogether by surprise. They were already aware of his correspondence with the neighbouring shores of Italy, and his removal to St Helena or some other distant island had been proposed by the French government, though never discussed at the congress. Sir Neil Campbell, the British commissioner at Elba, had gone so far as to warn his government of Napoleon's suspected "plan," and to indicate, though erroneously, the place of his probable descent upon the Italian coast. Owing to an almost incredible want of precaution, he embarked on February 26 with the least possible disguise, and accompanied by 400 of his guards, on board his brig the Inconstant, eluded the observation of two French ships, and landed near Cannes on March 1. Thence he hastened across the mountains to Grenoble, passing unmolested, and sometimes welcomed, through districts where his life had been threatened but a few months before. The commandant of Grenoble was prepared to resist his further progress, but a heart-stirring appeal from Napoleon induced a regi[Pg 154]ment detached to oppose him to join his standard, and the rest of the garrison was brought over by Colonel Labedoyère, one of the officers who had conspired to bring him back. Thence he proceeded to Lyons, issuing decrees, scattering proclamations, and gathering followers at every stage. He was lavish of promises, not perhaps wholly insincere, that he would adopt constitutional government—already established by the charter of Louis XVIII.—and cease to wage aggressive wars. He relied unduly on the discontent provoked by the blind partisans of the Bourbons, who, it was said, had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. This was true, if the spirit of the restoration were to be measured by the parade of expiatory masses for the execution of royalists under the revolution, the ostentatious patronage of priests, the preference of returned émigrés to well-tried servants of the republic and the empire, or the anticipated expulsion of landowners in possession of "national domains" for the purpose of dividing them among their old proprietors. All this naturally exasperated those who had imbibed the principles of the revolution, but it was more than compensated in the eyes of millions of Frenchmen by the cessation of conscription and the infinite blessings of peace.


The king was amongst the least infatuated of the royalists. On hearing of Napoleon's proclamation, he had the sense to appreciate the danger of such a bid for sovereignty and the magic of such a name, while his courtiers regarded Napoleon's enterprise as the last effort of a madman. He addressed the chamber of deputies in confident and dignified language; the Duke of Angoulême was employed to rouse the royalist party at Bordeaux; the Duke of Bourbon was sent into Brittany, the Count of Artois, with the Duke of Orléans and Marshal Macdonald, visited Lyons, upon the attitude of which everything, for the moment, seemed to depend. Most of the marshals remained faithful to the restored monarchy, and Ney was selected to bar the progress of Napoleon in Burgundy, and has been credited with a vow that he would bring him back in an iron cage. But it was all in vain. The Count of Artois was loyally received by the officials and upper classes at Lyons, but he soon found that Napoleon possessed the hearts of the soldiers and the mass of the people. Ney yielded to urgent appeals from his old chief, signed and read to his troops a pro[Pg 155]clamation drawn up by Napoleon himself, and was followed in his treason by his whole army. As Napoleon approached Paris, all armed opposition to him melted away. On March 19, Louis XVIII., seeing that his cause was hopeless, proclaimed a dissolution of the chambers, and retired once more into exile, fixing his residence at Ghent.

Napoleon re-entered the Tuileries on the 20th, after a journey which he afterwards described as the happiest in his life. But his penetrating mind was not deceived by the manifestations of popular joy. He well knew that he was distrusted by the middle classes, as well as by the aristocracy, and threw himself more and more on the sympathy of the old revolutionists. When he came to fill up the higher offices, he met with a strange reluctance to accept them, and was driven to enlist the services of two regicides, the virtuous republican, Carnot, and the double-dyed traitor Fouché. Feeling the necessity of resting his power on a democratic basis, he promulgated a constitution modelled on the charter of Louis XVIII., and known as the Acte Additionnel, which, however, satisfied no one. The royalists objected to its anti-feudal spirit, the revolutionists and moderates to its express recognition of an hereditary peerage, and its tacit recognition of a dictatorial power. It was by no means with a light heart that Napoleon took leave of Paris on June 7, having appointed a provisional government, to place himself at the head of his army.

Attempts had been made in the southern provinces and La Vendée to organise armed rebellion against the emperor, and met for a time with considerable success. But they were soon quelled by the overwhelming imperialism not only of the regular army, but of vast numbers of disbanded soldiers and half-pay officers, dispersed throughout France, and disgusted with their treatment under the restored monarchy. Even among the bourgeoisie Napoleon had an advantage which he never possessed before. Disguise it as he might, all his former wars had been essentially wars of conquest, and, however patiently they might endure it, the peasantry of France, in thousands upon thousands of humble cottages, groaned under the exaction of crushing taxes—worst of all, the blood-tax of conscription—in order to enable one man, in the name of France, to usurp the empire of the world. Now, however, as in the early days of the revolu[Pg 156]tion, France was put on its defence, and called upon to repel an invasion of its frontiers. For the news of Napoleon's escape, announced by Talleyrand on March 11, instantly stilled the quarrels and rebuked the jealousies which had so nearly proved fatal to any settlement at Vienna. For the moment, the designs of Russia in Poland, the selfish demands of Prussia, and the half-formed coalition between Great Britain, France, and Austria, were thrust into the background. Austria thought it necessary to repudiate decisively the audaciously false assertion of Napoleon that he was returning with the concurrence of his father-in-law, and would shortly be supported by Austrian troops. Metternich, therefore, assumed the lead in drawing up a solemn manifesto, dated March 13, in which Napoleon was virtually declared an outlaw "abandoned to public justice," and the powers which had signed the treaty of Paris in the preceding May bound themselves, in the face of Europe, to carry out all its provisions and defend the king of France, if need be, against his own rebellious subjects.

By a further convention made at the end of March, they engaged to provide forces exceeding 700,000 men in the aggregate, to be concentrated on the Upper Rhine, the Lower Rhine, and the Low Countries, with an immense reserve of Russians to be rapidly moved across Germany from Poland. Wellington having succeeded Castlereagh at Vienna, was appointed to command the British, Hanoverian, and Belgian contingents on the north-east frontier of France; Blücher's headquarters were to be on the Lower Rhine, within easy reach of that frontier; for, whichever side might take the offensive, it was there that the first shock of war might be expected. The recent conclusion of peace with America at Ghent on December 24, 1814, left England free to use her whole military power. Enormous sums were voted by Parliament, with a rare approach to unanimity, for the equipment of a British army, and a sum of £5,000,000 for subsidies to the allied powers. A small section of the opposition led by Whitbread opposed the renewal of war. On April 7 he moved an amendment to the address in reply to the prince regent's message announcing that measures for the security of Europe were being concerted with the allies, but he was only supported by 32 votes against 220. On April 28 his motion for an address[Pg 157] to the prince regent, deprecating war with Napoleon, was defeated by 273 votes against 72. This was Whitbread's last prominent appearance in parliament. On July 6, during a fit of insanity, he died by his own hand. The subsidies to the allies were opposed by Bankes, but were carried on May 26 by 160 votes against 17. There can be no doubt that the majorities in the house of commons correctly expressed the national sentiment. Nobody wished to dictate to France the form of government which she was to adopt, but it was generally felt that Napoleon's character rendered peace with him impossible.


In the end, about 80,000 men were assembled in Belgium under Wellington's orders, but of these not half were British soldiers, including untrained drafts from the militia, who replaced veteran Peninsular regiments still detained in Canada and the United States. Yet Napoleon admitted the British contingent to be equal, man for man, to his own troops, while he estimated these to be worth twice their own number of Dutchmen, Prussians, or other Germans. The first blow in the war was struck by Murat. Already in February, dissatisfied with his ambiguous position, he had levied troops and summoned Louis XVIII. to declare whether he was at war with him. As soon as he heard of Napoleon's return, he invaded the Papal States, and summoned the Italians to rise in the cause of Italian unity and independence. Though disowned by Napoleon, he persevered in this plan, but he was attacked and twice defeated by an Austrian army. On May 22 the British and Austrians took the city of Naples, and Murat fled to France. In October he made an attempt to recover his kingdom, but was captured and shot. It is noteworthy that, on hearing of his fate at St. Helena, Napoleon showed but little sympathy with his brother-in-law.

On the morning of June 12, Napoleon left Paris, saying as he entered his carriage that he went to match himself with Wellington. All his troops were already marshalled on the Belgian frontier, and numbered 124,588 men, with 344 guns. The Imperial Guard alone was 20,954 strong, and the whole army was largely composed of seasoned veterans. The Prussian army consisted of 116,897 men, with 312 guns under Marshal Blücher, whose headquarters were at Namur. Though the[Pg 158] majority of these were veterans, there was a considerable leaven of inferior troops, hastily raised from the Westphalian and Rhine militia. Between this town and Quatre Bras lay the Prussian line of defence, Sombreffe being the centre, with Ligny and St. Amand in front of it, and rather on the south-west. Wellington's headquarters were at Brussels, and, having no certain intelligence of Napoleon's movements, he kept the various divisions of his army within easy distance of that capital until the very eve of the final conflict. Of the 93,717 men under his command, 31,253 were British, two-thirds of whom had never been under fire; 6,387 were of the king's German legion; 15,935 Hanoverians; 29,214 (including 4,300 Nassauers in the service of the Prince of the Netherlands) Dutch and Belgians; 6,808 Brunswickers; 2,880 Nassauers; the engineers, numbering 1,240, were not classified by nationality. He fully expected that Napoleon would move upon Brussels along the route by Mons and Hal, and maintained in later days that such would have been the best strategical course. Napoleon thought otherwise, and resolved to strike in between the Prussian and British armies, crushing the former before the latter could be fully assembled. He very nearly succeeded, and, if all had gone as he hoped, he could scarcely have failed to win one of his greatest victories.


On the evening of the 15th, Wellington was still at Brussels, with the great body of his army, and only a weak force of Dutch and Belgians was at Quatre Bras, some sixteen miles to the south. Blücher, with about three-fourths of his army, was at Sombreffe, a few miles south-east of Quatre Bras. Napoleon himself was at or close by Charleroi, ten or twelve miles south of Quatre Bras; the mass of his army was at Fleurus, south-west of Sombreffe, with Ligny and St. Amand between it and the Prussians; and Marshal Ney, with Reille's corps, was at Frasnes, opposite to and due south of Quatre Bras. On the morning of the 16th, Napoleon arrived from Charleroi at Fleurus, and carefully inspected his enemy's position, but delayed his attack upon Ligny and St Amand until half-past two in the afternoon. The Prussians outnumbered the French, and a murderous conflict ensued among the streets, gardens, and enclosures of these little towns, which lasted until eight or nine o'clock. At last Napoleon ordered his guard to advance, and[Pg 159] the plateau behind Ligny was taken, with a loss to the French of 12,000, and to the Prussians of over 20,000. Blücher himself was unhorsed and severely bruised in a furious charge of cavalry, but the Prussians retired in good order towards Wavre, north of the battlefield.

Had Ney been in a condition to obey an urgent message from Napoleon, and to envelop the Prussian right and rear, this defeat would have been overwhelming in its effect. But while the battle of Ligny was raging, another battle was going on at Quatre Bras, six miles distant, in which the French sustained a serious check. Happily for the British, Ney failed to bring up his divisions for an attack on Quatre Bras until two o'clock in the afternoon, when the Dutch and Belgians under the Prince of Orange were still his only opponents. The news for which Wellington had been waiting did not reach him until just before the memorable ball, given by the Duchess of Richmond at Brussels on the night of the 15th, which he nevertheless attended, hurrying off his troops to Quatre Bras. They arrived just in time to reinforce the Prince of Orange and save the position; but Ney, too, was receiving fresh reinforcements every hour, the Duke of Brunswick was killed, and a fearful stress fell on Picton's division and the Hanoverians, who alone were a match for Ney's splendid infantry and Kellermann's cuirassiers.

These made a charge like that which had borne down the Austrians at Marengo, but the British squares were proof against it, and when a division of guards came up from Nivelles, the French in turn were put on the defensive and retreated to Frasnes. The loss on the British side was 4,500 men; that on the French somewhat less. It is not difficult to imagine what the issue of the battle must have been if D'Erlon's corps had been brought into action. This corps was occupied in marching and countermarching, under contradictory orders from Napoleon and Ney, between the British left and the Prussian right during the whole of this eventful day. Its appearance in the distance just when Napoleon was about to launch his guard against the Prussians at Ligny, caused him to hesitate long, and lose the decisive moment for demolishing his enemy. Its failure to appear at Quatre Bras, and to roll up the wavering Dutch-Belgians, before Picton took up the fighting, enabled Wellington to hold his ground at first, to repulse Ney afterwards, and on[Pg 160] hearing of Blücher's defeat at Ligny, to fall back in good order on Waterloo. Even then, something was due to good fortune. Had Napoleon joined Ney and marched direct on Quatre Bras early on the 17th, it is difficult to see how his advance to Brussels could have been arrested. But whether he was exhausted by his incessant labours since leaving Paris, or whether his marvellous intuition was deserting him, certain it is that he allowed that critical morning to slip by without an effort—and without a reconnaissance. He assumed that Blücher must retire upon Namur as his base of operations, and that Wellington, retiring towards Brussels, would be cut off from his allies. He therefore despatched Marshal Grouchy, with 33,000 men, to follow up the Prussians eastward by the Namur road. His assumption was unfounded. Blücher, loyal to his engagements, retired upon Wavre; Wellington, relying upon Blücher's loyalty, took his stand on the field of Waterloo; and this error on the part of Napoleon determined the fortunes of the campaign.[61]


The British army retreated upon Waterloo almost unmolested. Ney was probably awaiting orders, and Napoleon, believing the Prussians to be at Namur, probably thought he might safely rest himself and his army before crushing Wellington at his leisure. When they realised that Wellington was deliberately moving his army to a position nearer Brussels, they both followed in pursuit along different roads converging at Quatre Bras, and a brisk skirmish took place near Genappe between Ney's cavalry and that of the British rear-guard. Heavy rain came on, and the two armies spent a miserable night, half a mile from each other, close to Mont St. Jean, and south of Waterloo. Napoleon rose before daybreak on the 18th, reconnoitred the British position, and convinced himself that Wellington intended to give battle. He expressed to his staff his satisfaction and confidence of victory, when General Foy, who had experience of the Peninsular war, replied in significant words: "Sire, when the British infantry stand at bay, they are the very devil himself". Why Napoleon did not begin the battle at eight o'clock has been the subject of much discussion. It is said that he waited for Grouchy to join him before the close of the action. But neither he nor Grouchy, though aware[Pg 161] that at least a large force of Prussians had gone to Wavre and not to Namur, suspected that Blücher had promised Wellington to march with his whole army on the morning of the 18th to support the British at Waterloo. It is more likely that he waited for his men to assemble and for the ground to dry and become more practicable for his powerful artillery.[62]

Exception has been taken to the conduct of Wellington in detaching 17,000 men to guard the approach to Brussels at Hal, and, still more, in not recalling them, when he must have ascertained that nothing was to be feared on that side, and when such a reinforcement of his right wing must have been all-important. But it must be remembered that in this force there were only 1,500 English troops, and 2,000 Hanoverian militia. The rest were Dutch and Belgians. At all events, Napoleon left his right flank undefended, though he was already somewhat anxious about the Prussian movements, and Wellington fought the battle of Waterloo with a force numerically inferior to that under Napoleon's command, though it might have been rendered superior by the accession of the Hal contingent. The effective part of this force, numbering in all 67,661 men, consisted of 24,000 British soldiers, 6,000 soldiers of the king's German legion, and about 11,000 Hanoverians. Napoleon's force numbered 72,000 men, and it was stronger both in cavalry and in guns. It represented the flower of the French army; there were few, if any, recruits as raw as those who swelled the ranks of the British regiments; there were thousands upon thousands who had formed part of that Grande Armée which had overawed the continent of Europe. It is fair, however, to record that, while the British rank and file suffered much for want of sufficient food, the French had fared still worse, and that very many of them could have been in no fit condition for the struggle impending over them.

Both armies occupied ground extending from west to east, on opposite ridges, and crossed at right angles by the great highway running north and south from Charleroi to Brussels. In front of the British right were the château and enclosures of Hougoumont which were occupied by the British; nearly in front of the centre were the large farm-house and buildings of[Pg 162] La Haye Sainte. Further to the left were the hamlet of Smohain and the farms Papelotte and La Haye. Wellington had arranged his brigades so as to distribute the older troops as much as possible among the less experienced. Sir Thomas Picton's fifth division formed the left of the line; to his right was Alten's second division, and beyond him to the right was the guards division under Cooke. Further to the right and partly in reserve was Clinton's second division, while Chassé's Dutch division on the extreme right occupied the village of Braine l'Alleud. Somerset's brigade of heavy cavalry and Kruse's Dutch cavalry were posted behind Alten's division, and Ponsonby's "union brigade," consisting of the royal dragoons, Scots greys, and Inniskillings, was stationed in Picton's rear. The whole line lay on the inner slopes of the ridge with the exception of Bylandt's Dutch-Belgian brigade which was posted on the outer slope in front of Picton's division. D'Erlon's corps was opposite the British left, Reille's opposite the British right. Squadrons of cavalry covered the outer flank of either of the two French corps. The magnificent squadrons of French cavalry, 15,000 strong, under Milhaud, Kellermann, and other famous leaders, were in the second line; the imperial guard, as usual, was massed in the rear.


The battle opened about half-past eleven with a furious attack on Hougoumont. It was defended with desperate gallantry, mainly by the British guards, who reopened the old loopholes in the garden-walls, and closed by sheer muscular force the eastern gate of the yard, which had been forced open by the French. In the fruitless siege of Hougoumont, as it may be called, the French left wing thus wasted most of its strength, and incurred enormous loss. Meanwhile, the French right wing under D'Erlon, advanced to attack the British left, which had been assailed for an hour and a half by the fire of a battery with seventy-eight guns. The Dutch and Belgians, who in their exposed position had suffered severely from the French artillery fire, soon gave way; but Picton's division, after a single volley, charged with the bayonet and drove their assailants reeling backward, though Picton himself fell dead on the field. Without orders from Wellington, Lord Uxbridge, in command of the British cavalry, seized the opportunity, and launched the union brigade with other regiments upon the flying masses.[Pg 163] This whirlwind of British horsemen swept all before it, slaughtering many of the French cavalry in passing, taking 3,000 prisoners, sabring the gunners of Ney's battery, and spiking fifteen of the guns. But their ardour carried them too far. By Napoleon's orders a large force of French cuirassiers and lancers fell upon their flank before they could take breath again, and their ranks were frightfully thinned in a disorderly retreat. But their charge had saved the day.

At one o'clock, while the fate of D'Erlon's onslaught was still undecided, Napoleon observed Prussian troops on his right. An intercepted despatch proved these to be Bülow's corps. He instantly sent off a despatch to Grouchy, whom he supposed to be within reach, ordering him to attack Bülow in the rear. Then followed the memorable succession of charges by the whole of the French cavalry upon the squares of the British infantry. Not one of these squares was broken; a great part of the French cavalry was mown down by volleys or cut to pieces by the British cavalry in their precipitate retreat, and the British line remained unmoved, though grievously weakened, behind its protecting ridge. This was the crisis of the fight. Much of the British artillery was dismounted, and Wellington confessed to one of his staff that he longed for the advent of night or Blücher. Napoleon next felt himself compelled to detach Lobau's corps for the purpose of meeting the advancing Prussians. Soon afterwards Ney carried La Haye Sainte by a most determined assault, aided by the failure of ammunition within its defences, and thus captured the key of the British position. But Napoleon saw that his one chance of victory lay in a final coup before the Prussians could wrest it from him. He ordered the imperial guard to the front, leading it himself across the valley, and then handing over the command to Ney. The guard was but the remnant of its original strength, for all its cavalry had been wrecked in wild charges against the British squares, and several battalions of its infantry were kept in reserve to hold back the Prussians and protect the baggage train. Nevertheless, the advance of this superb corps, the heroes of a hundred fights, who had seldom failed to hurl back the tide of battle at the most perilous junctures, was among the most impressive spectacles in the annals of war. They swerved a little to the left, thereby exposing themselves to the fire of the[Pg 164] British footguards and of a battery in excellent condition. The former were lying down for shelter, but when the imperial guard came within sixty paces of them they started up at the word of command from Wellington himself. The footguards poured a deadly fire into the front, and the 52nd regiment into the flank of their columns; as they wavered under the storm of shot a bayonet charge followed, and the imperial guard, hitherto almost invincible, was dissolved into a mob of fugitives scattered over the plain.

It was now past eight o'clock; Bülow's Prussians had long been engaged on the British left, and Blücher, with indomitable energy, was pressing forward with all his other divisions. Wellington first sent Vandeleur's and Vivian's cavalry, still comparatively fresh, to sweep away what remained of the French reserves, and then ordered a general advance. The French retreat speedily became a rout, and a rout to which there is no parallel except that which succeeded the battle of Leipzig. Wellington and Blücher met at La Belle Alliance on the high road, just south of the battlefield, and lately the French headquarters. The British troops were utterly tired out, but the Prussian cavalry never drew rein until they had driven the last Frenchman over the river Sambre in their relentless pursuit. The slaughter had been prodigious, though far short of that at Borodino. The British army lost 13,000 men, the Prussian 7,000, and the French 37,000[63] (including prisoners), besides the whole of their artillery, ammunition, baggage-waggons, and military train. But the battle was one of the most decisive recorded in history, and was the real beginning of a peace which lasted over the whole of Europe for nearly forty years. Grouchy heard the cannonade of Waterloo on his march from Ligny to Wavre, and was strongly urged by Gérard to hasten across country, with his whole force, in the direction of the firing. But he pleaded the letter of Napoleon's instructions, and reached Wavre only to find Blücher gone. After an encounter with a Prussian corps, which had been left behind, he received news of Napoleon's defeat, and ultimately escaped into France.


The march of the allies into France after the battle of Waterloo was not wholly unchecked, but it was far more rapid[Pg 165] than in 1814. The French could not be rallied, and in the first week of July Paris was occupied by Anglo-Prussian troops. The Austrians and Prussians were moving again upon the eastern frontiers of France, but were still far behind. The Prussian general and soldiers were animated by the bitterest spirit of vengeance, and it needed all the firmness of Wellington to prevent the bridge of Jena from being blown up, and a ruinous contribution levied on the citizens of Paris. Napoleon himself was now at Rochefort, having quitted Paris after a second abdication on June 22, but four days after the battle. No other course was open to him. When he started for his last campaign, he was no longer the champion of an united nation, and consciously staked his all on a single throw. When he returned from it, discomfited and without an army, he found the chambers actively hostile to him. Carnot, who had formerly opposed his assumption of the imperial title, was now the only one of his ministers to deprecate his abdication, but Napoleon himself saw no hope of retaining his power, or transmitting it to his son, without a reckless appeal to revolutionary passions. From this he shrank, and he represented himself at St. Helena as having sacrificed personal ambition to patriotism.

The chamber of deputies appointed an executive commission of five, including the infamous Fouché, and from this body the late emperor actually received an order to quit Paris. He retired to Malmaison, where he received a fresh order to set out for Rochefort, which he reached on July 3. On the next day Paris capitulated to the allies, and the necessity for his leaving the shores of France became more urgent. Two frigates were assigned for his escape to America, but a British squadron was lying ready to intercept them. Some of his bolder companions devised a scheme for smuggling him on board a swift merchant ship, but it was foiled by the vigilant watch of the British squadron off the islands of Oléron and Ré. At last he surrendered himself on board the Bellerophon, relying, as he said, on the honour of the British nation, and claiming the generous protection of the prince regent. He was, however, clearly informed that he would be at the disposal of the government. Under an agreement with the allied powers, the ministers decided, and were supported by the nation in deciding, that he could not be detained in England, either[Pg 166] as a guest or as a prisoner, with any regard to public safety or the verdict of Europe at Vienna. The proposal of banishing him to St. Helena, suggested in the previous year, was finally adopted, and he sailed thither in the Northumberland on August 8, vehemently protesting against the bad faith of Great Britain. Louis XVIII. was restored, and the treaty of Vienna, signed on the eve of the Waterloo campaign, was but slightly modified.

The action of Murat had solved the difficulties which the congress had to face in Italy. The kingdom of the Two Sicilies reverted to the Bourbon, Ferdinand; and the Bourbons also acquired a right of reversion in Parma, where the protest of Spain against the rule of Maria Louisa could now be ignored. Genoa was annexed to the kingdom of Sardinia; the pope received back the states of the Church; the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Duke of Modena were restored; while Austria had to be content with Venetia and Lombardy as far as the Ticino. The organisation of Germany occupied the congress until June, and was the least durable part of its work. The basis of it was a confederation of thirty-eight states, represented and in theory controlled by a diet under the presidency of Austria. This diet naturally resolved itself into a mere permanent congress of diplomatists for the purpose of settling the mutual relations of the constituent states. Each state was ordered to adopt a constitutional form of government, but, as no provision was made for enforcing this clause, it remained a dead letter. Prussia regained her provinces on the left bank of the Rhine, with a population exceeding 1,000,000, and was allotted the northern part of Saxony, with a population of 800,000, besides retaining her original share of Poland, with the province of Posen, which had formed part of the duchy of Warsaw. Most of this duchy was annexed by Russia, but Cracow was left a republic. Prussia also gained Swedish Pomerania. Bavaria, Hanover, and Denmark profited more or less by the repartition of Germany. Denmark, however, finally lost Norway, and Sweden paid the price of this acquisition by resigning Finland to Russia. The neutrality of Switzerland was proclaimed and her constitution simplified. The Belgian Netherlands were united to Holland, the two forming together the kingdom of the Netherlands, to which Austria ceded all her claims in the Low Countries.[Pg 167]


The treaty of Vienna left the boundaries of France itself as they had been defined by the first treaty of Paris in 1814. The second treaty of Paris, however, signed on November 20, 1815, was less favourable to France, which had already ceded Western Savoy to Sardinia, and was now required to abandon Landau and other outlying territories beyond the frontier of 1792. She was also compelled to restore all the works of art accumulated during the war.

Great Britain had failed to obtain from the congress any binding regulation on the subject of the slave trade. The most that she could obtain was a solemn denunciation of that trade issued on February 8, which declared it to be "repugnant to the principles of civilisation and of universal morality". The moderation of the British demands, as embodied in these treaties, excited not only the amazement but the contempt of Napoleon, who discussed the subject at St. Helena with great freedom. Well knowing that his paramount object throughout all his wars and negotiations had been to crush Great Britain, and that Great Britain had been the mainstay of all the combinations against him, he could find no explanation of our self-denial except our insular simplicity. Perhaps it might be attributed with greater reason to politic magnanimity; nor, indeed, could Great Britain, as a member of the European council, dictate such terms as Napoleon suggested. Still, the gains of Great Britain were substantial. She retained Ceylon, the Cape of Good Hope, the Isle of France (Mauritius), Trinidad, St. Lucia, Tobago, and, above all, Malta. She also obtained possession of Heligoland and the protectorate of the Ionian Islands, both of which she has since resigned of her own accord. If she afterwards lost the commanding position which she had attained among the allied powers, it was chiefly because the colossal empire which she had defied was effectually shattered, because neither her armies nor her subsidies were any longer needed on the continent of Europe, and perhaps because the energies of her statesmen were no longer braced up by the stress of a struggle for national life.

Even before the allied armies entered Paris Wellington considered it necessary to induce Louis XVIII. to make advances to certain politicians of the revolution so as to inspire national confidence in him, and to anticipate the risk of a "White[Pg 168] Terror," or a continuance of the war. Fouché was accordingly summoned to power, and he had sufficient influence to prevent any national opposition to the Bourbon restoration. Napoleon remained at large for three weeks after his abdication, that is, for eight days after the allied troops had entered Paris, and the fear of a future Bonapartist revolution inclined the British government under Liverpool to entertain favourably the demand of Prussia for the cession of Alsace, Lorraine, and the northern fortresses. When, however, Napoleon had placed himself on board the Bellerophon, the situation changed. A contented France seemed preferable to an impotent France, and Wellington argued that the Bourbon restoration could not last, if French opinion connected it with the loss of Alsace and Lorraine. The tsar took this line from the first, and Wellington won for it the adhesion first of his own government and then of Austria. Prussia had finally to be contented with a provision for the cession of the outlying districts, which the treaty of Paris of 1814 had left to France. The second treaty of Paris, which embodied this stipulation, also provided for an indemnity of £40,000,000 to be paid by France to the allies, and for the temporary occupation of Northern France by the allied armies. On the same day Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia signed a treaty pledging themselves to act together in case fresh revolution and usurpation in France should endanger the repose of other states, and providing for frequent meetings of congresses to preserve the peace of Europe.

In addition to the formal treaties of alliance signed at Chaumont, Vienna, and Paris, an attempt was made by the Tsar Alexander to bind together the European sovereigns in an union based on the principles of Christian brotherhood. A form of treaty was accordingly drawn up which gave expression to these motives, dealt with all Christians as one nation, and committed their sovereigns to mutual affection and reciprocal service. This treaty of the holy alliance was signed on September 26, by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. All European princes except the sultan were invited to adhere to it, and all except the pope and the sultan ultimately either accepted it or expressed their sympathy with its principles. But in England there was hardly a statesman who regarded the treaty seriously, Wellington avowed his distrust of it, the prince regent declined to join[Pg 169] it, and its effective value in promoting the subsequent concert of the powers was less than nothing. Still, however visionary and extravagantly worded, it remains as an unique record embodying the deliberate adoption of the principle of international brotherhood, and the sacrifice of separate national interests for the sake of European peace.


It is remarkable that so little public discussion took place on two questions which have since been so hotly debated—the legal status of Napoleon after he surrendered himself, and the moral right of Great Britain to banish him to St. Helena. One reason for this apparent indifference to the fate of one who had overawed all Europe may be found in the fact that parliament was not sitting when the decision of the government was taken, and that, when it met on February 1, 1816, that decision was virtually irrevocable. We know, however, that the first question was fully considered by the allied powers and the British ministry before his place of exile was fixed, and Great Britain undertook the custody of his person. The view which prevailed was that, after his escape from Elba, he could neither be treated as an independent sovereign nor as a subject of the French king, but must be regarded as a public enemy who had fallen into the hands of one among several allied powers. Accordingly, it was by their joint mandate that he remained the prisoner of Great Britain, and was to be under the joint inspection of commissioners appointed by the other powers. Still the minds of Liverpool, Ellenborough, and Sir William Scott, judge of the court of admiralty, were not altogether easy on the legal aspect of the case, which Eldon reviewed in an elaborate and exhaustive memorandum. His conclusion was that Napoleon's position was quite exceptional, that he could not rightly be made over to France as a French rebel, but was a prisoner of war at the disposal of the British government, both on the broad principles of international law, and under the express terms of his surrender, as reported officially by Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon.

It was thought expedient, however, to pass an act of parliament in the session of 1816 for the purpose of setting at rest any objections which might afterwards be raised. This measure was introduced on March 17 by Lord Castlereagh, who defended it on grounds of national justice and national policy. It met with no opposition in the house of commons, but Lords[Pg 170] Holland and Lauderdale criticised it in the house of lords, not as sanctioning a wrong to Napoleon, but as implicitly admitting the right of other powers to join in arrangements for his custody. Little attention was then bestowed by parliament or the public on the moral aspect of his life-long detention at St. Helena, the restrictions to be there imposed upon his liberty, or the provision to be made for his comfort. Yet these subjects have ever since exercised the minds of myriads both in England and France, and have given birth to a copious literature for more than three generations.


[61] For the movements of June 15, 16, see Chesney, Waterloo Lectures, pp. 70-137; Ropes, The Campaign of Waterloo, pp. 44-196.

[62] Rose, Life of Napoleon I., ii., 494, 495.

[63] Oman in English Historical Review, xix., 693, and xxi., 132.[Pg 171]



When Parliament met on February 1, 1816, after a recess of unusual length, Castlereagh was received with loud acclamations from all parts of the house as the chief actor in the pacification of Europe. There was, of course, a full debate upon the treaties, but the opposition dwelt less upon the arbitrary partition of Europe than upon their alleged tendency to guarantee sovereigns against the assertion of popular rights and upon the manifest intention of the government to "raise the country into a military power". From this moment dates the whig and radical watchword of "Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform". The nation was, in fact, entering upon a period of unprecedented depression and discontent, which lasted through the last four years of George III.'s reign. At the close of 1815, however, the whole horizon was apparently bright. Great Britain had saved Europe by her example, and, however small her army in comparison with those of continental states, she stood foremost among the powers which had crushed the rule of Napoleon. Her national debt, it is true, had reached the prodigious total of £861,039,049, and the interest on it amounted £32,645,618, but the expansion of our national resources had kept pace with it. In spite of the continental system, the orders in council, and the American war, the imports and exports had enormously increased, chiefly by means of an organised contraband traffic; the carrying trade of the world had passed into the hands of British shipowners; British manufactures were largely fostered by warlike expenditure at home and the suspension of many industries abroad; while population, stimulated by a vicious poor law, was rapidly on the increase. In this last element, then considered as a sure[Pg 172] sign of prosperity, really consisted one of the chief national dangers.

So long as the war lasted, low as the rate of wages might be, there was generally employment enough in the fields or in the factories for nearly all the hands willing to labour. When the inflated war prices came to an end, and wheat fell below 80s. or even 70s. a quarter, until it reached 52s. 6d. early in 1816, labourers were turned off and wages cut down still further; bread was not proportionately cheapened, and agrarian outrages sprang up. The continent, impoverished by the war, no longer required British goods for military purposes, and, as its own domestic industries revived, ceased to absorb British products, flung in profusion on its markets. Hence came a reduction of 16 per cent. in the export trade, and of nearly 20 per cent. in the import trade, which resulted in bankruptcies and the dismissal of workpeople. If we add to these causes of distress, the influence of over-speculation, the accession of disbanded soldiers to the ranks of the unemployed, and the substitution of the factory system with machinery for domestic manufactures with hand labour, we can partly understand why Great Britain, never harried by invading armies, should have suffered more than France itself from popular misery and disaffection for several years after the restoration of peace.


The history of these years is mainly a history of social unrest, and attempts to cure social evils by legislation or coercion. Liverpool and his colleagues, with the possible exception of Eldon, were not bigoted tories, and it is sometimes forgotten that among them, together with Sidmouth, Castlereagh, and Vansittart, were Canning, Palmerston, and Peel. One of the first parliamentary struggles was on the proposal of the government to reduce the income tax from 10 to 5 per cent., and to apply this half of it, producing about £7,500,000, towards the expense of maintaining an army of 150,000 men. Since the income tax has become a favourite of democratic economists, as pressing specially upon the rich, we may be surprised to find that its total repeal was successfully advocated by Henry Brougham, the leading democrat of that day—a man whose noble services to progress and to humanity in the earlier part of his career have been obscured by the inordinate vanity and unprincipled egotism which he displayed in the later phases of[Pg 173] his long public life. He had entered parliament in 1810, and rapidly became the most active of the opposition speakers. He now employed without scruple all the arts of agitation, petition-framing, and parliamentary obstruction to achieve his object, and succeeded, by the aid of bankers and country-gentlemen, in defeating the government by a majority of thirty-seven. This vote might be justified, more or less, on the principle laid down by Pitt, that the income tax should be held in reserve as a war tax only, or on the ground that it was equally wasteful and mischievous to keep up so large a peace-establishment, especially if it might be used to bolster up despotism abroad. It was also unfortunate that Castlereagh, ignoring the heroic efforts made by the people of England for more than twenty years, should have deprecated "an ignorant impatience to be relieved from the pressure of taxation". Still, it is remarkable that friends of the people and the ultra-liberal corporation of London, as it then was, should have concentrated their indignant protests against the financial policy of the government, not on the corn laws, or any other indirect tax, but on the income tax.

Public confidence in the economic wisdom of the ministers was further weakened by the gratuitous abandonment of the malt tax, apparently in a fit of petulance, on the ground, explicitly stated, that, if another war tax must be raised, two or three millions more or less would make little difference. By a temporary suspension of the sinking fund, a deficit might be converted into a surplus; Vansittart, however, neglected to take advantage of this simple expedient, and raised £11,500,000 by loan. His waning reputation was almost shattered by this absurd proceeding. Finally, the excessive and irregular expenditure upon the civil list provoked a searching inquiry into its abuses, prefaced by a scathing attack from Brougham upon the character of the prince regent. His character was, in fact, indefensible, and had justly forfeited the respect of the nation. He was a debauchee and gambler, a disobedient son, a cruel husband, a heartless father, an ungrateful and treacherous friend, and a burden to the ministries which had to act in his name and palliate his misdoings. That of Liverpool carried a measure for the better regulation of the civil list, upon which, swollen as it was by the wrongful appropriation of other public funds,[Pg 174] many official salaries had been charged hitherto. For these parliament now made a separate provision. The house of commons, which properly grudged the prince regent the means of reckless luxury and self-indulgence, was unanimous in voting £60,000 for outfit and £60,000 a year to the Princess Charlotte on her marriage, on May 2, to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, looking forward to a reign under which virtue and a sense of public duty would again be the attributes of royalty. In this session, too, it conferred a boon upon Ireland, which earned little gratitude, by the consolidation of the British and Irish exchequers. Ireland was virtually insolvent before this measure was passed. With the union of the exchequers the union of the countries was completed. The administration, discredited by its financial policy, was strengthened in June by the acquisition of Canning, who succeeded Buckinghamshire as president of the board of control. In September, 1814, Wellesley Pole, a brother of the Marquis Wellesley and the Duke of Wellington, had been admitted to the cabinet as master of the mint, so that with Castlereagh, Vansittart, and Bragge-Bathurst, there were now five members of the cabinet in the lower house.


The disturbances which broke out again and again during the years 1816-19 were partly the outcome of sheer destitution among the working classes, and partly of a growing demand for reform, whether constitutional or revolutionary. The statesmen of the regency must not be too severely judged if they often confounded these causes of seditious movements, and failed to distinguish between the moderate and violent sections of reformers. Those who remembered the bloodthirsty orgies of the French revolution, ushered in by quixotic visions of liberty, equality, and fraternity, may perhaps be excused for distrusting the moderate professions of demagogues who deliberately inflamed the passions of ignorant mobs. Moreover, the whigs and moderate reformers, who privately condemned the excesses of their violent followers, made light of these in their public utterances, and reserved all their censures for the repressive policy of the government. Bread riots had begun before the harvest, which proved a total failure. The price of wheat, which was as low as 52s. 6d. a quarter in January, 1816, rose to 103s. 1d. in January, 1817, and to 111s. 6d. in June, 1817. And when rickburning set in as a consequence of agricultural depression,[Pg 175] tumultuary processions as a consequence of enforced idleness in the coal districts, and a revival of Luddism as a consequence of stagnation in the various textile industries, itself due to a glut of British goods on the continent, the reform party, now raising its head, was held responsible by the government for a great part of these disorders.[64] The writings of Cobbett, especially his Weekly Register, certainly had a wide influence in stirring up discontent against existing institutions, but it must be admitted that he condemned the use of physical force, and pointed to parliamentary reform as the legitimate cure for all social evils. Reform, however, in Cobbett's meaning included universal suffrage with annual parliaments, and the Hampden clubs, all over the country, agitated for the same objects in less guarded language. Still, looking back at these democratic agencies by the light of later experience, we can hardly adopt the opinion expressed by a secret committee of the house of commons that their avowed objects were "nothing short of a revolution".

It was on December 2, 1816, that the extreme section of reformers, now for the first time known as radicals, in alliance with a body of socialists called Spenceans, first came into open collision with the forces of the law. A meeting was announced to be held on that day in Spa Fields, Bermondsey, and was to be addressed by "Orator" Hunt, Major Cartwright, the two Watsons, and other demagogues. Hunt was a gentleman of Somerset, and had stood for Bristol in 1812. Though a prominent speaker, he in no sense directed the movement. Burdett and Cochrane, the orthodox leaders of London reformers, were not concerned in this demonstration, which, according to an informer who gave evidence, was to be the signal for an attack upon the Tower and other acts of atrocity. As it was, before Hunt chose to appear, the mob, headed by the younger Watson, broke into gunsmiths' shops, not without bloodshed, and marched through the Royal Exchange, but were courageously met by the lord mayor, with a few assistants, and very soon dispersed. The alarm produced[Pg 176] in the whole nation by this riotous fiasco was quite out of proportion to its real importance, and was reawakened by an insult offered to the prince regent on his return from opening parliament on January 28, 1817. Even Canning, a life-long opponent of reform, did not scruple to magnify these and similar evidences of popular restlessness into proofs of a deep-laid plot against the constitution, and committees of both houses urged the necessity of drastic measures to put down a conspiracy against public order and private property. These measures took the form of bills for the suppression of seditious meetings, and for the suspension until July 1 of the habeas corpus act, which had been uninterruptedly in force since its suspension by Pitt had expired in 1801. This last bill was passed on March 3, and, before the other became law, the so-called march of the Blanketeers took place at Manchester. The march was the ridiculous sequel of a very large meeting got up for the purpose of carrying a petition to London, and presenting it to the prince regent in person. The meeting was dispersed by the soldiers and police, after the riot act had been read, and a straggling crowd of some three hundred who began their pilgrimage, carrying blankets or overcoats, melted away by degrees before they had got far southward.


A far more serious outbreak at Manchester seems to have been clumsily planned soon afterwards, but it ended in nothing, and the enemies of the government freely attributed this and other projects of mob violence to the instigation of an agent-provocateur, well known as "Oliver the Spy". This man was also credited with the authorship of "the Derbyshire insurrection," for which three men were executed and many others transported. Here there can be no doubt that a formidable gang, armed with pikes, terrorised a large district, pressing operatives to join them in overt defiance of the law, and killing one who held back. Being confronted by a Nottinghamshire magistrate named Rolleston, with a small body of soldiers, they fled across the fields, and the bubble of rebellion burst at a touch. Whether they were legally guilty of high treason, for which they were unwisely tried, may perhaps be doubted, but it would certainly be no palliation of their crime if it could be shown, as it never was shown, that Oliver had led them to rely on a jacobin revolution in London. What does appear very[Pg 177] clearly is that Sidmouth was greatly alarmed by the reports of his agents on the disturbed state of the country, but that he was highly conscientious in his instructions and in the use of his own powers. The great majority of those imprisoned for political offences at this time were liberated or acquitted, but the suspension of the habeas corpus act was renewed at the beginning of July.

Moreover, a circular was addressed by Sidmouth to the lords-lieutenant of counties, for the information of the magistrates, intimating that, in the opinion of the law officers, persons charged on oath with seditious libel might be apprehended and held to bail. No act of Sidmouth called forth such an outburst of reprobation as this; yet it is not self-evident that instigations to outrage, being criminal offences, should be treated by magistrates differently from other offences for which bail may be required, with the alternative of imprisonment. On the other hand, it is hardly becoming for a home secretary to interpret the law, and, since the forensic triumphs of Erskine, it had been declared by an act of parliament that in cases of libel, as distinct from all other criminal trials, both the law and the fact were within the province of the jury. At all events, William Cobbett, feeling himself to be at the mercy of informers and the crown, took refuge in America in December, 1817. Hone, an antiquarian bookseller, was thrice prosecuted for blasphemous libels, in which the ministers had been held up to contempt. All these ill-judged, if not vindictive, prosecutions ended in signal failure. Ellenborough, the chief justice, before whom the two last trials were held, strained his judicial authority to procure a conviction of Hone, but the prisoner, with a spirit worthy of a martyr, defied the intimidation of the court, and thrice carried the sympathies of the jury with him. His triple acquittal led to Ellenborough's resignation, and perceptibly shook the prestige of the government.

In the year 1818 there was a temporary improvement in the economic condition of the country. The depression of the preceding year was followed in this year by a rapid increase of revenue. The importance the ministry attached to finance was emphasised by the admission to the cabinet in January of Frederick John Robinson, afterwards prime minister as Lord Goderich, who had been appointed president of the board of[Pg 178] trade and treasurer of the navy. The chancellor of the exchequer and the master of the mint were already members of the cabinet. The suspension of the habeas corpus act having expired, the reform agitation revived, but assumed a less dangerous character, and no serious outbreak occurred. A bill of indemnity was passed to cover any excesses of jurisdiction in arresting suspected persons or in suppressing tumultuous assemblies. A parliamentary inquiry showed both that the disorders of the previous year had been exaggerated, and that, after all, the extraordinary powers of the home office had been used with moderation. Nevertheless, the early part of the session was largely occupied by party debates on these questions, the employment of spies, and apprehensions for libel. Parliament was dissolved in June, and the general election which followed resulted in a gain of several seats to the opposition.[65] The ministry was strengthened in January, 1819, by the appointment of Wellington to be master-general of the ordnance, in succession to Mulgrave, who remained in the cabinet without office.


Before the end of the year 1818, a strike of Manchester cotton-spinners was attended by the usual incidents of brutal violence towards workmen who refused to join in it, but a few shots from the soldiers, one of which killed a rioter, proved effectual in quelling lawlessness. Manchester, however, remained the centre of agitation, and during the summer of 1819 a series of reform meetings held in other great towns culminated in a monster meeting originally convened for August 9, but postponed until the 16th. The history of this meeting ending in the so-called "Manchester" or "Peterloo massacre," has been strongly coloured by party spirit and sympathy with the victims of reckless demagogy no less than of blundering officialism. It is certain that drilling had been going on for some time among the multitudes invited to attend the meeting of the 9th; that its avowed object was to choose a "legislatorial representative," as Birmingham had already done, and that, on its being declared illegal by the municipal authorities, who declined to summon it on their own initiative, its organisers deliberately resolved to hold it a week later, whether it were legal or not.[Pg 179]

The contingents, which poured in by thousands from neighbouring towns, seem to have carried no arms but sticks, and to have conducted themselves peaceably when they arrived at St. Peter's Fields, where Orator Hunt, puffed up with silly vanity, was voted into the chair on a hustings. Unfortunately, instead of attempting to prevent the meeting, the county magistrates decided to let the great masses of people assemble, and then to arrest the leaders in the midst of them. They had at their disposal several companies of infantry, six troops of the 15th hussars, and a body of yeomanry, besides special constables. The chief constable, being ordered to arrest Hunt and his colleagues, declared that he could not do so without military aid, whereupon a small force of yeomanry advanced but soon became wedged up and enclosed by the densely packed crowd. One of the magistrates, fancying the yeomanry to be in imminent danger, of which there is no proof, called upon Colonel L'Estrange, who was in command of the soldiers, to rescue them and disperse the mob. Four troops of the hussars then made a dashing charge, supported by a few of the yeomanry; the people fled in wild confusion before them; some were cut down, more were trampled down, and an eye-witness describes "several mounds of human beings" as lying where they had fallen. Happily, the actual loss of life did not exceed five or six, but a much larger number was more or less wounded, the real havoc and bloodshed were inevitably exaggerated by rumour, and a bitter sense of resentment was implanted in the breasts of myriads, innocent of the slightest complicity with sedition, but impatient of oligarchical rule, and disgusted with so ruthless an interference with the right of public meeting.

It would have been wise if Sidmouth and his colleagues had recognised this widespread feeling, had seen that famine and despair were at the bottom of popular discontent, and had admitted error of judgment, at least, on the part of the Lancashire magistrates. On the contrary, they felt it so necessary to support civil and military authority, at all hazards, that they induced the prince regent to express unqualified approbation of the course taken, and afterwards defended it without reserve in parliament. Even Eldon expressed his opinion privately that it would be hard to justify it, unless the assembly amounted to an act of treason, as he regarded it; whereas Hunt and his[Pg 180] associates were prosecuted (and convicted in the next year) not for treason, but only for a misdemeanour. At all events, the storm of indignation excited by this sad event, and not confined to the working classes, powerfully fomented the reform movement. Large meetings were held over all the manufacturing districts, and a requisition to summon a great Yorkshire meeting was signed by Fitzwilliam, the lord-lieutenant, who attended it in person. For these acts he was properly dismissed, but, in spite of inflammatory speeches, nearly all the meetings passed off quietly and without interference. Nevertheless, the government thought it necessary to hold an autumn session, and strengthen the hands of the executive by fresh measures of repression. These having been passed in December after strenuous opposition, were afterwards known as the six acts, and regarded as the climax of Sidmouth's despotic régime.

Two of the six acts, directed against the possession of arms and military training for unlawful purposes, cannot be considered oppressive under the circumstances then prevailing. Nor can exception be taken on the ground of principle to another for "preventing delay in the administration of justice in cases of misdemeanour," which, indeed, was amended, by Holland, with Eldon's consent, so as to benefit defendants in state prosecutions. Two were designed to curb still further the liberty of the press. One of these made the publication of seditious libels an offence punishable with banishment, and authorised the seizure of all unsold copies. When we consider the extreme virulence of seditious libels in those days, this act does not wear so monstrous an aspect as its radical opponents alleged, but happily it soon became a dead letter, and was repealed in 1830. The other, imposing a stamp-duty on small pamphlets, only placed them on the same footing with newspapers. The last of the new measures—"to prevent more effectually seditious meetings and assemblies"—was practically aimed against all large meetings, unless called by the highest authorities in counties and corporate towns, or, at least, five justices of the peace. It was, therefore, a grave encroachment on the right of public meeting, and the only excuse for it was that it was passed under the fear of a revolutionary movement, and limited in duration to a period of five years.


Nor can it be denied that, as a whole, this restrictive code[Pg 181] was successful. From a modern point of view it may appear less arbitrary than the suspension of the habeas corpus act for a whole year (1817-18), but it was assuredly tainted with a reactionary spirit, and was capable of being worked in a way inconsistent with civil liberty. That it was not so worked, on the whole, and caused less hardship than had been anticipated, was not so much the result of changes in the government itself, as of economic progress in the nation, aided by a healthier growth of public opinion. The violence which marked the early stages of the reform movement has been described as a safety-valve against anarchy; it was, in reality, the chief obstacle to a sound and comprehensive reform bill. While it lasted, the middle classes and liberals of moderate views were estranged from the cause; when it ceased, the demand for a new representative system became irresistible.

Whatever allowance may be made for the coercive policy of the government during the dark period of storm and stress which succeeded the great war, it is hard to find any excuse for its neglect of social legislation. Then, if ever, was a time when the work of Pitt's best days should have been resumed, when real popular grievances should have been redressed, and when the long arrears of progressive reform should have been gradually redeemed. Yet very little was done to better the lot of men, women, and children in Great Britain, and that little was chiefly initiated by individuals. In 1816, on the motion of a private member, an inquiry was commenced into the state of the metropolitan police, which disclosed most scandalous abuses, such as the habitual association of thieves and thief-takers, encouraged by the grants of blood-money which had been continued since the days of Jonathan Wild. In 1817 a committee sanctioned by the ministers recommended a measure for the gradual abolition of sinecures, which then figured prominently in the domestic charter of reform. Their recommendations were adopted, and a large number of sinecure offices were swept away. But inasmuch as sinecures had been largely given to persons who had held public offices of business, it was thought necessary to institute pensions to an amount not exceeding one-half of the reduction. In 1816 a private member, named Curwen, brought forward a fanciful scheme of his own for the amendment of the poor laws, which in effect anticipated modern projects[Pg 182] of old age pensions. He obtained the appointment of a select committee, which reported in 1817, but their proposals were thoroughly inadequate, and no sensible improvement came of them.

It was also in 1816 that the cause of national education, the importance of which had been vainly urged by Whitbread, was taken up in earnest by Brougham. His motion for the appointment of a select committee was confined to the schools of the metropolis. It sat at intervals until 1818, when its powers were enlarged, and its labours somewhat diverted into a searching exposure of mismanagement in endowed charities. The one direct fruit of the committee was the creation of the charity commission, but in the opinion of Brougham himself it was of the highest value in opening the whole education question. The almost universal prevalence of distress in 1817, and the excessive burden thrown upon poor rates, induced parliament to authorise an expenditure of £750,000 in Great Britain and Ireland for the employment of the labouring poor on public works. A far sounder and more fruitful measure of relief owes its origin to the same year. It was now that the institution of savings banks, hitherto promoted only by single philanthropists, emerged from the experimental stage and claimed the attention of parliament. A bill for their regulation, introduced by Pitt's friend, George Rose, did not pass into an act; but the establishment of savings banks was now directly encouraged by the legislature, and there were thoughtful men who already dimly foresaw the manifold benefits of their future development.


In the year 1819 was initiated a very important reform in the currency, which had long been delayed. When the bullion committee reported in 1810, Bank of England notes were at a discount of about 13½ per cent. There were several reasons why this should be the case. Continental trade was then compelled to pass through British ports, and a large supply of gold was needed to serve as the medium of this trade. There was also a steady drain of gold to the Spanish peninsula to meet war expenses, while troubles in South America diminished the annual output of the precious metals. In 1811 Bank of England notes were made legal tender, but no further action was then taken, and the depreciation continued until 1814. The magnificent harvest of 1813, together with other causes, brought[Pg 183] about a sudden fall of prices, in consequence of which no less than 240 country banks stopped payment in the years 1814-16. The decrease and popular distrust of private banknotes produced an increased demand for Bank of England notes, which in 1817 had nearly risen in value to a par with gold. In 1819, when they were at a discount of only 4½ per cent., a committee was appointed by the house of commons to reconsider the policy of resuming cash payments, and Peel, young as he was, became its chairman. In this character he abandoned his preconceived views and induced the house to adopt those which had been advocated by Horner. It was not thought prudent to fix an earlier date than 1823 for the actual resumption of cash payments, but the directors of the Bank of England anticipated this date, and began to exchange notes for specie on May 1, 1821. The new standard was definitely one of gold. A considerable fall of prices ensued, and it is still a disputed question whether the return to a single standard was entirely beneficial.

But for what is called the public, the readers of newspapers and the frequenters of clubs or taverns, the rivalry of party leaders or the incidents of court life excite a much keener interest than painful efforts for the good of the humbler classes. During the closing years of George III.'s reign there were no party conflicts of special intensity. The whigs acquiesced in their self-imposed exclusion from office, and contented themselves with damaging criticism; the radicals had not yet acquired the confidence or respect of the electors. Liverpool remained prime minister; Castlereagh, foreign secretary; Sidmouth, home secretary; Vansittart, chancellor of the exchequer. Meanwhile there were startling vicissitudes in the fortunes of the royal family. The king, indeed, remained under the cloud of mental derangement which darkened the last ten years of his life, and the Princess of Wales, who had been the object of so much scandal, was now out of sight and residing abroad. The Princess Charlotte, however, the only daughter of the regent, had centred in herself the loyalty and hopes of the nation in a remarkable degree, and was credited, not unjustly, with private virtues and public sympathies contrasting strongly with the disposition of her father. Her marriage with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who bore[Pg 184] a high character, had been hailed with national enthusiasm, for it was known that, like Queen Victoria, she had been carefully trained and had disciplined herself, physically and morally, for the duties of a throne. It has been truly said that her death in childbirth, on November 6, was the great historical event of 1817. The prince regent, with his constitution weakened by dissipation, was not expected to survive her long, and so long as his wife lived there was no prospect of other legitimate issue, unless he could procure a divorce. There was no grandchild of George III. who could lawfully inherit the crown, and the apprehension of a collateral succession became more and more generally felt.[66]

In the following year four royal marriages were announced. The Princess Elizabeth espoused the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg; the Duke of Clarence, the Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen; the Duke of Cambridge, the Princess Augusta of Hesse; the Duke of Kent, the Princess Victoria Mary of Saxe-Coburg. The Duke of Sussex was already married, but not with the necessary consent of the crown, and the Duke of Cumberland was childless, having married three years earlier a divorced widow whom the queen, for private reasons, declined to receive. It is a striking proof of the discredit into which the royal family had fallen, since the old king virtually ceased[Pg 185] to reign, that parliament, in spite of its anxiety about the succession, displayed an almost niggardly parsimony when it was moved to increase the allowances of the princes about to marry. No application was made on behalf of the Princess Elizabeth or the Duke of Sussex, who was already married morganatically. The additional grant of £6,000 a year asked on behalf of the Duke of Cumberland was refused by a small majority, partly, no doubt, because his anti-liberal opinions and untrustworthy character were no secret to public men. £10,000 a year was asked for the Duke of Clarence, and justified by Canning as less than he might fairly have claimed, but it was reduced to £6,000 and declined by the duke as inadequate; he afterwards married without a parliamentary grant. The provision of £6,000 a year for the Dukes of Cambridge and Kent respectively was stoutly opposed but ultimately carried. Of all George III.'s sons, the Duke of Kent was perhaps the most respected. It has been truly said that if the nation could have expressed its dearest wish, in the spirit of prophecy, after the death of the Princess Charlotte, it would have been that the issue of the Duke of Kent's marriage with Prince Leopold's sister might succeed, as Queen Victoria, to the crown of her grandfather.[67]


On November 17, 1818, Queen Charlotte died, having filled her great and most difficult position for nearly sixty years with sound judgment, exemplary moral integrity, and a certain homely dignity. The Duke of York succeeded her as guardian of the king's person. Little more than a year later she was followed to the grave by the Duke of Kent, who died on January 23, 1820, and by the king himself, who died on January 29, in the eighty-second year of his age. He was not a great sovereign, but, as a man, he was far superior to his two predecessors, and must ever stand high, if not highest, in the gallery of our kings. His venerable figure, though shrouded from view, was a chief mainstay of the monarchy. Narrow as his views were, and obstinately as he adhered to them, he was not incapable of changing them, and could show generosity towards enemies, as he ever showed fidelity to friends. His reception of Franklin after the American war, and of Fox after the death of Pitt, was[Pg 186] that of a king who understood his kingly office; and his strict devotion to business, regardless of his own pleasure, could not have been exceeded by a merchant engrossed in lucrative trade. The many pithy and racy sayings recorded of him show an insight into men's characters and the realities of life not unworthy of Dr. Johnson. His simplicity, kindliness, and charity endeared him to his subjects. His undaunted courage and readiness to undertake sole responsibility, not only during the panics of the Gordon riots and of the impending French invasion, but in many a political crisis, compelled the respect of all his ministers, and his disappearance from the scenes, to make way for the regency of his eldest son, was almost as disastrous for English society as the exchange, in France, of Louis XIV.'s decorous rule for that of the Regent Orléans.

The European concert which had been called into existence by the war against Napoleon, and had effected a continental settlement at Vienna, continued to act for the maintenance of peace. The treaty of alliance of 1815 only bound the four powers to common action in the event of a fresh revolution in France which might endanger the tranquillity of other states. The holy alliance was more comprehensive and wider in its aims, but was too vague to form the practical basis of a federation. The settlement of Europe by the treaty of Vienna was, however, the work of all the powers, and they had therefore an interest in everything that might be likely to affect that settlement. The habit of concerted action, once formed, was not lightly abandoned, and the succeeding age was an age of congresses. But though there was a general sentiment in favour of concerted action it manifested itself in different ways. The causes of the recent struggle with France had been political in their origin, and it was agreed that a recurrence of disorder from France could be best prevented by the establishment of a government in that country which should be at once constitutional and legitimist. England favoured, and Russia, the most autocratic of states, favoured still more vehemently, the development of constitutions wherever it might be practicable, while Austria, being composed of territories with no national cohesion, endeavoured rather to thwart the growth of constitutions. But Russia was also the most active advocate of joint interference where a constitutional reform was effected by unconstitutional[Pg 187] means. Great Britain and Austria, on the other hand, with a juster instinct, considered armed interference an extreme remedy which might often be worse than the disease of a revolution.


The numerous restorations of 1814 and 1815 were followed by a royalist and aristocratic reaction in many countries of Europe. In France Louis XVIII. found himself confronted by an ultra-royalist chamber of deputies which clamoured for vengeance on the partisans of the republican and imperial régimes and for the restoration of the privileges and estates of the Church. Ferdinand VII. of Spain swept away the unwieldy constitution of 1812 amid the rejoicings of his people, who little foresaw his future tyranny; and Great Britain did not venture to resist the action of Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies in abolishing a constitution which British influence had induced him to grant his island kingdom in 1813. In Prussia the government dealt sternly with the liberal press, and the provincial estates opposed the institution of a national diet; while in Würtemberg a parliament assembled under a liberal constitution demanded the restoration of the ancient privileges of the nobility and clergy. In the Two Sicilies British influence, supported by that of Austria, was used to prevent outrages on the defeated party; in Spain the moderate counsels of Great Britain were less successful. Austria endeavoured to prevent future disturbance in the Italian peninsula by a secret treaty, which obtained the sanction of the British government, requiring the Two Sicilies to adopt no constitutional changes inconsistent with the principles adopted by Austria in the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom. Similar treaties were concluded by Austria with Tuscany, Modena, and Parma, and she thus gained an ascendency in Italy, from which only Sardinia and the papal states were exempt. Russian agents meanwhile began to conduct a liberal propaganda in Spain and Italy, and Russia was even credited with a desire to make a liberalised Spain a counterpoise to England on the sea.

For a time, however, there were no European complications of a formidable nature. In 1816 a British squadron was sent out under Lord Exmouth lo execute the decree of the congress of Vienna against the Barbary states. The Dey of Algiers and the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli were called upon to recognise the Ionian Islands as British, to accept British media[Pg 188]tion between them and the courts of the Two Sicilies and Sardinia, to restore their Christian captives, and not to authorise further piracy. These terms were accepted by the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli, and the two first demands were granted by the Dey of Algiers. He was allowed a delay of three months in order to obtain the sultan's permission for granting the remainder, but in the interval a massacre of Italian fishermen took place at Bona. Lord Exmouth now sailed from Gibraltar to attack Algiers. On his demands being again ignored, he bombarded that city on August 27 for more than six hours. The arsenal and storehouses and all the ships in the port were burned, and on the next day the dey accepted Exmouth's terms; peace was signed on the 30th, the principal terms being the abolition of Christian slavery, and the delivery of all slaves to Exmouth on the following day.

The treaty of Vienna in placing the Ionian Islands under British protection had made no mention of the towns of Parga and Butrinto on the mainland of Epirus which had passed under British rule along with the islands. These places were now surrendered to Turkey in accordance with a former treaty, in return for the Turkish recognition of the British protectorate over the islands. The inhabitants of Parga were, however, vehemently opposed to such a transference of their allegiance, and they were conveyed to the Ionian Islands and compensated for the loss of their property. The Turks entered into occupation of Parga in 1819. In 1817 and 1818 wild rumours of Russian aggression in the direction of the Mediterranean began to circulate in England. It was reported that Spain had promised to cede Port Mahon to Russia; and that Russia was preparing a great military force, to be employed, if necessary, in alliance with the Bourbon states, France, Spain, and the Two Sicilies, to counteract British and Austrian influence. This influence, with that of Prussia, had really been employed to keep the Dardanelles closed against Russian ships. Meanwhile Austria had won over Prussia to her conservative policy in Germany.

The violent language of the liberal party, especially at the universities, already began to terrify the Prussian government. The first danger signal was given at the Wartburg festival of delegates from the German universities in 1817, at which the students indulged in some boyish manifestations of their[Pg 189] sympathies; their proceedings made some stir in Germany, and Metternich declared that they were revolutionary. The horror of liberalism was destined to be heightened in 1819 by the murder of the tsar's agent, the dramatist Kotzebue, by a lunatic member of a political society at Giessen. Its immediate result was a conference of German ministers at Carlsbad, where several resolutions for the suppression of political agitation were passed, and afterwards adopted by the diet at Frankfort. This policy was embodied in the "final act" of a similar conference held at Vienna in the following year (1820), which empowered the greater states of Germany to aid the smaller in checking revolutionary movements. At the same time it reaffirmed the general principle of non-intervention, and even laid down the pregnant doctrine that constitutions could not be legitimately altered except by constitutional means. The union of Austria and Prussia on the conservative side had rather the effect of throwing the secondary states of southern Germany upon the liberal side. In the spring and summer of 1818 Bavaria and Baden framed constitutions, and in 1819 Würtemberg once more essayed parliamentary government, which the reactionary policy of her first parliament had compelled her to abandon. The significant fact in European politics was that Frederick William III. of Prussia, always accustomed to being led, had passed from the influence of Russia to that of Austria.


Such were the general tendencies of European politics when the conference of Aix-la-Chapelle assembled on September 30, 1818. The primary object of this conference was to consider the request of France for a reduction in the indemnity demanded of her and for the evacuation of her territories by the four allied powers. Wellington and Castlereagh, who represented Great Britain, earned the gratitude of France by readily agreeing to these requests, which were granted without any difficulty. This question was obviously one which required such a conference to settle it; but the conference, having once assembled, was urged to deal with other difficulties that less directly concerned it. One of these was a dispute between Denmark and Sweden about the apportionment of the Danish debt, which, in consideration of the annexation of Norway to Sweden, under the treaty of Kiel, was to be partly borne by Sweden. Denmark appealed to the four powers, representing that treaty as in fact a part of their[Pg 190] own settlement of Europe. Sweden would not admit the right of the powers to intervene, but finally settled her difficulty with Denmark by a separate negotiation conducted by the mediation of Great Britain in 1819.

A still more doubtful question was raised by the request of Spain for the assistance of the allied powers against her revolted colonies. The Spanish dependencies in America had declined to acknowledge Joseph Bonaparte, and had lapsed into a state of chaos; the restoration of Ferdinand VII. had induced most of them to return to their allegiance, but the three south-eastern colonies, Banda Oriental (Uruguay), La Plata (the Argentine), and Paraguay, continued in revolt. In 1817 fortune turned still further against Spain; Monte Video, the capital of Banda Oriental, was taken by Portugal, or rather by Brazil, and Chile revolted against Spain. On February 12, 1818, Chile proclaimed her independence, and she began at once to procure warships in England and the United States, of which Lord Cochrane took command. The four allied powers and France had protested against the seizure of Monte Video, but otherwise Spain had been left to herself. Great Britain seemed to have more to gain than to lose by the insurrection. The revolted colonies were open to her commerce, and by weakening Spain they had strengthened the maritime supremacy of Great Britain. Nevertheless Great Britain was willing to mediate, on condition that Spain would make reasonable concessions. Spain, however, refused to make any concessions at all, and called on the allied powers to aid her in crushing the insurrection by force. Great Britain did not regard an unconditional subjection of the colonies as either expedient or practicable, and opposed this course; Austria took the same view, and thus placed intervention out of the question.


But the principal question before the conference of Aix-la-Chapelle was not one relating to any particular difficulty, but the permanent form of the European alliance. The tsar desired a general confederacy of European powers, such as had signed the treaty of Vienna and the holy alliance. This confederacy was to guard against two evils—that of revolutionary agitation and that of arbitrary administration and sectional alliances. Such a project, though doubtless proposed in good faith, practically gave Russia an interest in the domestic movements, both[Pg 191] reactionary and constitutional, of every country, while it forbade any political combination to which Russia was not a party. Castlereagh agreed with Metternich in thinking that such an extension of Russian Influence was more to be dreaded than local disorder, and Great Britain and Austria proposed therefore that the alliance should be based on the treaty of Chaumont, as renewed at Vienna and Paris, though they were willing to have friendly discussions from time to time without extending the scope of the alliance. All parties desired to include France in their alliance, but the tsar pertinently objected that France could not be admitted to an alliance aimed solely against France. A compromise was therefore adopted. The quadruple alliance for war, in case of a revolution in France, was secretly renewed, and centres for mobilisation were fixed, while France was publicly invited to join the deliberations of the allied powers. A secret protocol was then signed providing for the meeting of congresses from time to time, and giving the minor European powers a place in these congresses when their affairs should be under discussion.


[64] For details of the riots see Annual Register, lviii. (1816), 60-73. They were particularly numerous in May, 1816, and in the counties of Cambridge, Essex, and Suffolk. At Littleport in Cambridgeshire, on May 24, it was found necessary to fire on the rioters. Two men were killed and five were afterwards executed.

[65] Greville, Memoirs, i., 2; Walpole, History of England, i., 392, 393.

[66] The curious may be interested in the following list of the names and ages of the persons who stood next in order of succession to the crown after the death of Princess Charlotte. It will be observed that of the fourteen who stood nearest the throne, not one was under forty years of age, and not one had a legitimate child:—

  Age. Relation to king.
1. George, Prince Regent 55 Son.
2. Frederick, Duke of York 54 Son.
3. William, Duke of Clarence 52 Son.
4. Edward, Duke of Kent 50 Son.
5. Ernest, Duke of Cumberland 46 Son.
6. Augustus, Duke of Sussex 44 Son.
7. Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge 43 Son.
8. Charlotte, Queen-Dowager of Würtemberg 51 Daughter.
9. Princess Augusta 48 Daughter.
10. Princess Elizabeth 47 Daughter.
11. Mary, Duchess of Gloucester 41 Daughter.
12. Princess Sophia 40 Daughter.
13. William, Duke of Gloucester 41 Nephew.
14. Princess Sophia of Gloucester 44 Niece.
15. Charles, Duke of Brunswick 13 Great nephew.

[67] See, however, the Creevey Papers, i., 268-71, 284.[Pg 192]



The only important events of domestic interest in the year 1820, after the death of George III., were the Cato Street conspiracy, and the so-called trial of Queen Caroline. For the accession of the king, who had so long exercised royal functions as regent, produced no visible effect either on the personal composition or on the general policy of the government. Immediately after his proclamation he was attacked by a dangerous illness, but on his recovery he promptly raised two questions which nearly involved a change of ministry. One of these was a proposal to increase his private revenue, which he was induced to abandon for the present. The other was a demand for a divorce, which the ministers firmly resisted, though they ultimately agreed to a compromise, under which the divorce question was to be deferred, so long as the queen remained quietly abroad, but action was to be taken in case she returned to assert her rights.


In the midst of these difficulties the lives of the ministers were threatened by a plot somewhat like those of the seventeenth century. Later writers have represented it as contemptible in its conception, and as directly provoked by the "Manchester massacre". So it may be said that Guy Fawkes was an insignificant person, and that his employers were exasperated by the severe treatment of popish recusants. The facts are that Arthur Thistlewood, the author of the Cato Street conspiracy, was a well-known confederate of the Watsons and other members of the extreme reform party, and that his plan for murdering the assembled cabinet in a private house would probably have been effectual, had it not been detected by the aid of an informer. This informer, Edwards, had warned the authorities in Novem[Pg 193]ber, 1819, of the impending stroke, and may or may not have instigated Thistlewood's gang to execute it at a moment and place well-calculated to secure their arrest. At all events twenty-four conspirators armed themselves in Cato Street, near the Edgware Road, London, for the purpose of assassinating the ministers at a cabinet dinner in Harrowby's house in Grosvenor Square, and some of their associates were posted near the door of that house to summon them when the guests should have assembled. Harrowby's dinner was of course put off, but the watchers were deceived by the arrival of carriages for a dinner party next door, and failed to apprise the gang in Cato Street. The police rushed in upon the gang, but a body of soldiers ordered to support them reached the spot too late, a policeman was stabbed, and Thistlewood, with twelve or fourteen others, contrived to escape. He was captured the next morning, and executed with four of his accomplices, five more were transported for life, and the atrocity of the enterprise was naturally treated in the king's speech as a justification for the repressive measures in operation. In the following April a petty outbreak in Scotland was easily put down by a few troops at a place called Bonnymuir. It was, however, preceded by a treasonable proclamation, which spread terror among the citizens of Glasgow for several hours, and was sufficiently like an attempt at armed rebellion to confirm the alarm excited by the Cato Street conspiracy. In the face of such warnings, the energy of the government in stamping out disorder could hardly be censured.

The last parliament of George III. was prorogued on February 28, 1820, and dissolved on the following day. One of its last debates was on Lord John Russell's proposal to suspend the issue of writs to the boroughs of Grampound, Penryn, Barnstaple, and Camelford. This was carried in the house of commons, but lost in the house of lords. The new parliament was opened by George IV. in person on April 21. Widespread excitement occasioned by the question of the divorce prevented the business of the first session from attracting much attention. A deficit in the revenue, coinciding with growing expenditure, compelled Vansittart to fall back on a fresh manipulation of the sinking fund. One measure, however, of the highest importance was introduced by Brougham. The committee of 1814 on national education had amassed a great body of valuable evidence,[Pg 194] and he now founded upon its report a comprehensive bill extending to the whole country. It placed the management and teaching of elementary schools entirely in the hands of Churchmen, and was dropped after the first reading, but the conscience of the nation was roused by it, and it bore fruit later. Further slight mitigations of the criminal law were carried as a result of attacks made by Sir James Mackintosh, upon whom the mantle of Romilly had fallen, and it is worthy of notice that even Eldon, the stout opponent of such mitigations, condemned the use of spring-guns, as a safeguard against poaching. The only ministerial change in this year was the final retirement in May of Lord Mulgrave, who had held high office in every ministry except that of Grenville since 1804, and had voluntarily surrendered his post at the head of the ordnance in 1818 to make room for Wellington.


The "queen's trial," as it is erroneously called, was the last act but one in a domestic tragedy which had lasted twenty-five years. The Princess Caroline of Brunswick was a frivolous and ill-disciplined young woman when she was selected by George III. as a wife for the heir-apparent, already united and really attached to Mrs. Fitzherbert. The princess could not have been married to a man less capable of drawing out the better side of her character, nor was she one to inspire his selfish and heartless nature with a sentiment, if not of conjugal love, yet of conjugal friendship. From the first there was no pretence of affection between them. A few years after her marriage she was relegated, not unwillingly, to live independently at Blackheath, where many eminent men accepted her hospitality. During this period, as we have seen, a "delicate investigation" into her conduct was instituted in 1806. Though she emerged from it with less stain on her character than had been expected, she never enjoyed the respect of the royal family or of the nation, and there was no question of her sharing the home of her husband. Instead of being a bond of concord between them, the education of her daughter was the subject of constant discord, requiring the frequent intervention of the old king until he lost his reason. After she went abroad in 1814, she travelled widely, but her English attendants soon retired from her service, and she incurred fresh suspicion by her flighty and undignified conduct. She had no part in the rejoicing for the marriage, or[Pg 195] in the mourning for the death, of the Princess Charlotte; and in 1818 a secret commission, afterwards known as the Milan commission, was sent out by the prince regent to collect evidence for a divorce suit. Not only Liverpool, but Eldon, who had formerly stood her friend, concurred in the appointment of this commission, promoted by Sir John Leach, and its report was the foundation of the proceedings now taken against her.

These proceedings were immediately due to her own action in returning to England in June, 1820, but this action was not wholly unprovoked. She had long and bitterly resented her official exclusion from foreign courts, and when, after the king's accession, her name was omitted from the prayer-book, she protested against it as an intolerable insult. Contrary to the advice of her wisest partisans, including Brougham, she persisted in braving the wrath of the king and throwing herself upon the people. She was received at Dover with acclamations from immense multitudes; and her journey to and through London was a continued ovation. Not that her innocence was established even in the popular mind, but that, innocent or guilty, she was regarded as a persecuted woman, and persecuted by a worthless husband. The ministry fulfilled its promise to the king by moving the house of lords to institute an inquiry into the queen's conduct. Pending this, conferences took place between Wellington and Castlereagh, on the part of the king, and Brougham and Denman on that of the queen. It was at once laid down as a preliminary basis of the negotiation that neither should the king be understood to retract, nor the queen to admit, any allegation against her. The points upon which she inflexibly insisted were, the recognition of her royal status at foreign courts, through an official introduction by the British ambassador, and the insertion of her name in the prayer-book.

The house of commons, on the motion of Wilberforce, offered to protect her honour (whatever that might import) on condition of her waiving this last point, but she courteously declined its conciliatory proposals on June 22. On July 4 a secret committee of the house of lords recommended a solemn investigation, to be carried out "in the course of a legislative proceeding," and on the 8th Liverpool introduced a bill of pains and penalties, to deprive her of her title, and to dissolve her marriage. The second reading of this bill was formally set down for August[Pg 196] 17, and for several weeks afterwards the house of lords was occupied in hearing evidence in support of the charges against her. The whole country was deluged with the squalid details of this evidence, the ministers were insulted, and the sympathy of the populace with her cause was obtrusively displayed in every part of the kingdom. On October 3, after an adjournment of the lords, Brougham opened the defence in the most celebrated of his speeches. On November 2 the lord chancellor, Eldon, moved the second reading of the bill, and on the 8th it was carried by a majority of twenty-eight. Four days later, on the third reading, the majority had dwindled to nine only. Knowing the temper of the house of commons, Liverpool treated such a victory as almost equivalent to a defeat, and announced that the government would not proceed further with the measure.

Had the queen possessed the virtue of self-respect or dignity, she would have been satisfied with this legislative, though not morally decisive, acquittal. But she was intoxicated with popular applause, largely due to her royal consort's vices, and, after London had been illuminated for three nights in her honour, she declined overtures from the government, and appealed for a maintenance to the house of commons, which granted her an annuity of £50,000 in the next session. But she never lived to enjoy it After going in procession to St. Paul's, to return thanks for her deliverance, on the 29th, and vainly attempting, once more, to procure the mention of her name in the prayer-book, she concentrated her efforts on a claim of right to be crowned with the king. No government could have conceded this claim, and, when it had been refused by the privy council, her solemn protests were inevitably vain. Even her least prudent counsellors would assuredly have dissuaded her from the attempt which she made to force an entrance into Westminster Abbey on the coronation day, July 19, 1821. It was a painful scene when she, who had so lately been the idol of the fickle populace, was turned away from the doors amidst conflicting exclamations of derision and pity. A fortnight later, on August 2, she was officially reported to be seriously ill; on the 7th she was no more. In accordance with her own direction her body was buried at Brunswick. Her ill-founded popularity was shown for the last time, when a riotous multitude succeeded in diverting her funeral procession, and[Pg 197] forcing it to pass through the city on its way to Harwich. But it did not survive her long; the people were becoming tired of her, and the king, who had forfeited the respect of the middle and upper classes, was less hated by the lower classes after her death.


The personal character and opinions of George IV. seem to have influenced politics less during the early years of his reign than during his long regency. His coronation was celebrated with unprecedented magnificence, and amidst external demonstrations of loyalty, hard to reconcile with the unbounded enthusiasm which the queen had so lately inspired. Soon afterwards, he sailed in his yacht from Portsmouth on a voyage to Ireland, but put into Holyhead and there awaited news of the queen's expected death. This reached him at last, and probably impressed him, no less than his ministers, as "the greatest of all possible deliverances, both to his majesty and the country".[68] He proceeded to Dublin in one of the earliest steam-packets, and secluded himself until "the corpse of his wife was supposed to have left England".[69] He then plunged into a round of festivities, and pleased all classes of Irishmen by his affable and condescending manners. He was, indeed, the first sovereign of England who had appeared in Ireland on a mission of peace. John William Ward, afterwards fourth Viscount Dudley in his letters, describes him as having behaved like a popular candidate on an electioneering trip, and surmises that "if the day before he left Ireland, he had stood for Dublin, he might have turned out Shaw or Grattan ".[70] Certain it is that his visit to Ireland was regarded as an important political event. The same kind of success attended his visit to Scotland in August of the following year, 1822. Thenceforth, he scarcely figures in political life until the resignation of Lord Liverpool in 1827, and though he consented with reluctance to Canning's tenure of the foreign office, he did not attempt to interfere with the change in foreign policy consequent upon it. He was, in fact, sinking more and more into an apathetic voluptuary; but he could rouse himself, and exhibit some proofs of ability, under the impulse of his brothers, the honest Duke of York and the arch-intriguer, the Duke of Cumberland.[Pg 198]

The cry for retrenchment, now taken up by the country gentlemen, and not unmingled with suggestions for a partial repudiation of the national debt, compelled the government to adopt a policy of strict economy. Accordingly, in 1822, Vansittart introduced a scheme for the conversion of the so-called "Navy 5 per cents.," which resulted in a saving of above £1,000,000 annually. He also carried a more questionable scheme for the payment of military, naval, and civil pensions, which then amounted to £4,900,000 a year, but were falling in rapidly; the money required for this purpose was to be borrowed by trustees, and was to be repaid in the course of forty-five years at the rate of £2,800,000 a year; in this way an immediate saving of about £2,000,000 annually was effected at the cost, however, of the next generation. By means of these expedients, with a considerable reduction of official salaries, the government was enabled to repeal the additional duty on malt, to diminish the duties on salt and leather, and, on the whole to remit about £3,500,000 of taxes. When the entire credit of financial reform is given to Huskisson, Joseph Hume, and other economists of the new school, it should not be forgotten that a beginning was made by economists of the old school, before Huskisson joined the government in 1823, or Robinson took Vansittart's place as chancellor of the exchequer.

From the beginning of this reign a more enlightened spirit may be traced in parliamentary debates. This was aided by the growth of a constitutional movement in favour of reform in parliament as the first step towards a redress of grievances. The movement left its first trace on the statute-book in a measure carried by Lord John Russell in the session of 1821 for the disfranchisement of Grampound, though the vacant seats were transferred to the county of York, instead of to the "village" of Leeds or some other of the great unrepresented cities. This was the first instance of the actual disfranchisement of a constituency, though it was not without precedent that the franchise of a corrupt borough should be extended to the freeholders of the surrounding district. A notable sign of the progressive change was the reconstruction of the cabinet in 1822. Liverpool, who always possessed the gift of working harmoniously with colleagues of different views and felt the weakness of his present ministry, once more attempted to bring about a coalition[Pg 199] with the Grenville party in the opposition. Grenville had long been drifting away from his alliance with Grey, and had been a stout advocate of repressive legislation which the more advanced whigs opposed. Though he declined office for himself, several of his relatives and adherents were rewarded with minor appointments, his cousin, Charles Wynn, became president of the board of control, in succession to Bragge-Bathurst, who had himself succeeded Canning in the previous year, and his nephew, the Marquis of Buckingham, obtained a dukedom. Such recruits added little strength to the Liverpool government, and Holland well said that "all articles are now to be had at low prices, except Grenvilles".


But Liverpool gained far more powerful coadjutors in the Marquis Wellesley, Peel, and Canning. In December, 1821, Wellesley undertook the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland, which had relapsed into so disturbed a state that it had been proposed to make Wellington both viceroy and commander-in-chief. The significance of this selection was increased by the appointment of Plunket as attorney-general. Sidmouth, while retaining his seat in the cabinet, retired, by his own wish, from the office of home secretary, with a sense of having pacified the country, and was succeeded by Peel. Castlereagh, now Marquis of Londonderry, remained foreign secretary, but on August 12, 1822, as he was on the point of setting out for the congress of Verona, he died, like Whitbread and Romilly, by his own hand. His suicidal act was clearly due to a morbid fit of depression, under the stress of anxieties protracted over more than twenty years; and the disordered state of his mind had been observed, not only by Wellington, but also by the king. His successor was Canning, who also became leader of the house of commons.

The characters and political aims of these rival statesmen have often been contrasted by historians of a later age, who have seldom done justice to Castlereagh. It is remembered that he was the author of the Walcheren expedition; it is forgotten that he was the advocate of sending a powerful force to the Baltic coast at the critical moment between Jena and Eylau, that he was not altogether responsible for the delays which rendered the Walcheren expedition abortive or for the choice of its incompetent commander, that his prime object was to strike a crushing blow at Napoleon's naval power, and[Pg 200] that, if his instructions had been obeyed, this would have been effected by a rapid advance upon Antwerp when nearly all the French troops had been withdrawn from the Netherlands. It is remembered that he was at the war office when the operations of Wellington in the Peninsula were crippled for want of supplies; it is forgotten that it was he who selected Wellington, and that he loyally strained every nerve to keep him supplied with troops, provisions, and specie, when few but himself believed in the policy of the Peninsular war, and Sir John Moore had assured him that if the French dominated Spain, they could not be resisted in Portugal. It is remembered—or rather it is assumed—that he was the eager promoter of coercive and reactionary legislation at home; it is forgotten, or ignored, that he was among the earliest and staunchest advocates of catholic emancipation, and that a despotic temper is belied by the whole tone of his speeches. Above all, he is unjustly credited, in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, with being the champion of absolutism in the councils of Europe, the fact being not only that his voice was always on the side of moderation and conciliation, but that Canning himself, on succeeding him, dissociated Great Britain from the holy alliance by taking his stand upon an admirable despatch of Castlereagh and adopting it as his own. When he met with his tragical end, the brutal shouts of exultation raised by a portion of the crowd at his funeral were the expression of sheer ignorance and not of intelligent public opinion. He was a tory, in days when most patriots were tories, but he was a tory of the best type; and we of a later generation can see that few statesmen of George III.'s reign have left a purer reputation or rendered greater services to their country.


George Canning, his successor, has been far more favourably judged by posterity, and not without reason, if intellectual brilliancy is a supreme test of political merit. A firm adherent of Pitt, and a somewhat unscrupulous critic of Addington, he was probably the first parliamentary orator of the nineteenth century, with the possible exception of Sheridan. Pitt's eloquence was of a loftier and simpler type, Fox's was more impetuous and spontaneous; Peel's range of political knowledge was far wider; Gladstone excelled all, not only in length of experience but in readiness and dialectical resource. Canning's rhetoric was of a finer quality and was combined with great debating power,[Pg 201] but he was a man to inspire admiration rather than confidence, and had not held one of the higher political offices since his resignation in 1809, after his quarrel with Castlereagh. He accepted a mission to Portugal, however, and was in Lisbon when Napoleon returned from Elba. In 1816, as has been seen, he became president of the board of control, but, having been formerly one of the queen's advisers, he declined to have anything to do with her trial and remained abroad during its continuance. In December, 1820, he returned, but persisted in resigning his place at the board of control on the supposed ground that further parliamentary discussion of the queen's case was inevitable. On this occasion he received a special vote of thanks from the directors of the East India Company for his services on the board. The king objected to his readmission after the queen's death, and he was a private member of parliament when he was offered and undertook the governor-generalship of India in March, 1822. But his departure was delayed until August, and he was on his way to bid farewell to his constituents at Liverpool when Castlereagh destroyed himself. It was generally felt that no other man was so well qualified as Canning to succeed him. But the king declared his "final and unalterable decision" to sanction no such change. Though he afterwards relented, on the remonstrances of Wellington, he did so with a bad grace; but there was no delay on Canning's part in accepting the foreign secretaryship thus offered. From his acceptance may be dated the most remarkable part of his career.

The accession of Peel to the Liverpool ministry, in the capacity of home secretary; was only less important than that of Canning. Hitherto, Peel had mostly been known to the British public as chief secretary for Ireland, and as chairman of the committee which, in 1819, recommended the early resumption of cash payments. In both these posts he displayed a certain moderation and independence of mind, combined with a rare capacity for business, which marked him out as a great administrator. This promise he amply fulfilled as home secretary. He was the first minister of the crown who took up the philanthropic work of Romilly and Mackintosh, largely reducing the number of offences for which capital punishment could be inflicted. He was also the first to reform the police[Pg 202] system of London, and to substitute for a multitude of decrepit watchmen, incapable of dealing with gangs of active criminals, a disciplined body of stalwart constables, which has since been copied in every county and large town of Great Britain. Above all, while he cannot be said to have shown a statesmanlike insight or foresight of the highest order, he could read the signs of the times and the temper of his countrymen with a sagacity far beyond that of his predecessor, Sidmouth, or of such politicians as Eldon and Castlereagh. In him was represented the domestic policy of Pitt in his earlier days, as Pitt's financial views were represented in Huskisson, who had actually served under him.

Though Huskisson was only made president of the board of trade, in January, 1823, and not chancellor of the exchequer, it is certain that his mind controlled that of Robinson, who succeeded Vansittart in that position. Vansittart, who was created Lord Bexley, succeeded Bragge-Bathurst as chancellor of the duchy. The cabinet changes were completed in October by the removal of Wellesley Pole, now Lord Maryborough, from the office of master of the mint. Huskisson, if any man, was the leading pioneer of free trade, and there can be little doubt that, had he not died prematurely, its adoption would have been hastened by ten or fifteen years. In his first year of office he welcomed petitions for the repeal of the import duties on foreign wool, but failed to convince the wool manufacturers that it must be accompanied by the abolition of export duties on British wool. The proposed reform was, therefore, dropped, and a like fate befell his attempt in the same year to benefit the silk trade by abolishing certain vexatious restrictions upon it, including the practice of fixing the wages of Spitalfields weavers by an order of the magistrates. For the moment the ignorant outcry of the journeymen themselves prevailed over their real interests, but in the following year, 1824, Huskisson carried a much wider measure, providing that foreign silks, hitherto excluded, should be admitted subject to a duty of 30 per cent. in and after 1826, and another measure for the joint relief of wool growers and wool manufacturers which imposed a small duty of equal amount on the importation and the exportation of wool.

His great achievement in 1823 was the reform of the navi[Pg 203]gation laws. These acts, dating from the commonwealth and the restoration, gave British shipowners a qualified monopoly of the carrying trade, since they prohibited the importation of European goods except in British ships or ships of the producing country, while the importation of goods from other quarters of the world was confined to British ships only. America had protested against this exclusive system, and it was abandoned, as regards the United States, by the treaty of Ghent in 1814. The mercantile states of Europe soon followed the example of America, and the reciprocity of duties bill, introduced by Huskisson on June 6, 1823, conceded equal rights to all countries reciprocating the concession, only retaining the exclusion against such countries as might reject equality of trade. The change involved some hardship to shipowners who had built their vessels with timber bought at prices raised by heavy duties, but they were too shortsighted to accept the compromise offered by Huskisson. Before long, however, the act was justified, and the shipowners compensated by a rapid increase in British shipping.


For nearly five years after the accession of George IV. the state of the country was, on the whole, more prosperous, and the industrial classes were more contented, than in the five years next preceding. Such restlessness as there was prevailed among farmers and agricultural labourers rather than among workmen in the manufacturing districts, and in 1823 every branch of manufactures was reported to be flourishing. It is difficult for a later generation, accustomed to consider 30s. a quarter a fair price for wheat, to understand the perennial complaints and petitions of the agricultural interest when 60s. a quarter was regarded as a low price for wheat, and the cultivation of wheat extended over a vastly larger area than it does at present. Nor is the difficulty lessened, when we remember the miserably low rate of wages then paid by farmers. A partial explanation may be found in the fact that what they saved in wages they lost in poor rates, and that most agricultural products except corn were sold at a very small profit. The high poor rates were the result of the disastrous system of giving allowances to labourers.

But there were other evils caused by the vicious policy pursued by the government. The encouragement of home production had led to the enclosure of land not fit for cultivation, so that a slight fall in prices meant ruin to many farmers. Moreover, the[Pg 204] corn laws, though framed for the purpose of arresting fluctuations in price, actually increased fluctuations and thus enhanced the risks attending agricultural enterprise. Nor were landlords who had thriven on war prices, and raised the scale of their establishments as if these prices were to be perpetual, willing to reduce their rents on the return of peace. Rent was said to have risen 70 per cent. since 1792; but the landlords were often embarrassed, because their lands had too often been burdened with jointures, settlements, and mortgages during the war. It was in their interest that the act of 1815, which aimed at maintaining war prices, had been passed. But the deeper reason for all this clamour from the rural districts was the stagnation of ideas, and incapacity of improvement, engendered by an artificial monopoly of the national food supply. This was not the special lesson impressed upon landlords or tenants by Cobbett, whose violent and delusive writings had a large circulation in the country. But his teaching was so far beneficial that it quickened the demand for parliamentary reform, though the fruits of that reform were destined to be very different from the expectations which he excited.


The spell of general prosperity which, in spite of some distress in the rural districts, prevailed in the years 1820-23 was somewhat broken in 1824 by strikes and outrages in the manufacturing districts. Strikes for higher wages naturally arose out of the increase in mill owners' profits, and the ferocious spirit displayed by the strikers against masters and fellow-workmen was attributed by reformers to the one-sided operation of the combination laws. Accordingly, a committee of the house of commons reported in favour of repealing these laws, and also part of the common law which treated coercion either by trade unions or by masters as conspiracy. A bill founded on this report was hastily passed, with the natural result that strikes broke out in every quarter of the country; wholesale and cruel oppression was practised by trade unionists, and it became necessary for parliament to retrace its steps. Under a new act, passed in 1825, which continued in force until very recent times, trade unions were recognised as legal, but their worst malpractices were once more brought within the control of the criminal law.[71] So far the commercial policy[Pg 205] of Huskisson was justified, as a whole, by its effects on trade, and the session of 1824 was closed on June 25 by a cheerful speech from the king, in which the disturbed state of Ireland was the only topic suggestive of anxiety. Already, however, the revival of commercial hopefulness at home, with the opening of new markets in South America, was paving the way for the most ruinous mania of speculation known in England since the south sea bubble. It was well that sound and sober-minded economists now guided the action of the government, and that Liverpool proved himself a worthy successor of Sir Robert Walpole during the great financial crisis of 1825.[72]

The speculative frenzy of 1825 differed from the railway mania of the next generation in that it had no solid basis of remunerative investment. The development of the railway system, after the application of locomotive steam engines to iron tramways, offered a legitimate promise of large profits, and this promise would have been still more amply realised but for the shameful waste of capital on competition and law expenses. It was otherwise with the dupes and victims of the rage for speculation which possessed all classes of society in 1825, and arose out of an immense accumulation of wealth for which no safe employment could be found at home except at a modest rate of interest. The weakening of the hold of Spain on South America left her colonies open to foreign trade, but the enterprises there and elsewhere which absorbed the hard-won savings of humble families, by thousands and tens of thousands, were nearly all chimerical, and some of them grotesque in their absurdity. Whether or not warming-pans and skates were actually exported to the tropics, it is certain that Scotch dairy-women emigrated to Buenos Ayres for the purpose of milking wild cows and churning butter for people who preferred oil. The incredible multiplication of bubble-companies was facilitated by a marvellous cheapness of money, largely due to an inordinate issue of notes by country bankers, and even by the Bank of England, in spite of the fact that gold and silver were known to be leaving the country in vast quantities, especially in the shape of loans to France. The inevitable reaction came when[Pg 206] the Bank of England contracted its issue of notes in order to arrest the drain of gold; goods recklessly bought up had to be sold at a fearful loss, bills upon which advances had been made proved to be of no value, and several great London banking houses stopped payment, bringing down in their fall a much larger number of country banks dependent on them.

In the month of December, 1825, the crisis was at its height, and it is stated that within six or seven weeks after the failure of the banking firm of Pole & Company on the 5th, sixty or seventy banks had broken. The king's speech in July had congratulated parliament on increasing prosperity and had betrayed no misgivings about its stability. When the crash came, however, the ministers showed no want of firmness or resource. They could not repair the consequences of national folly, but they devoted themselves with intelligence to a restoration of credit. For this purpose they suppressed at once the further issue of small notes from country banks by a high-handed act of authority, for which they admitted that an act of indemnity might be needed. At the same time they rapidly increased the supply of small notes from the Bank of England, and of coin from the mint. Moreover, they induced the Bank of England to establish branches in a few provincial towns and to make advances upon merchants' goods to the amount of three millions. It cost a greater effort to break down the monopoly of the Bank of England by legalising joint-stock banks in the provinces, though not within a distance of sixty-five miles from London. Such practical expedients as these, seconded by the good sense of the mercantile community, proved sufficient to avert a catastrophe only less disastrous than national bankruptcy. With the subsidence of alarm, the causes of alarm also subsided, the recuperative powers of the country reasserted themselves, as during the great war, and the heart-breaking anxieties of 1825-26 were ignored, if not forgotten, in the political excitement of 1827.[73]


The budgets of 1823-26 indeed mark a memorable advance in financial reform, which the commercial panic of 1825 scarcely interrupted. There had been a reduction of the national debt by about £25,000,000. "The poorer householders had been relieved from the pressure both of house tax and window tax.[Pg 207] The manufacturing classes had been encouraged by the reduction of the duties on silk, wool, and iron. The consuming classes had been benefited by the reduction of duties on spirits, wines, coffee, and sugar."[74] Owing to Huskisson's enlightened policy the old navigation laws had been repealed upon the condition of reciprocity; the combination laws had been liberally revised; various bounties had been abandoned on free trade principles, and the monstrous evils of smuggling had been greatly abated. If the chancellor of the exchequer could show no surplus in 1826, he could at least boast that after so desperate a crisis there was no deficit, and he had no reason to be ashamed of Cobbett's nickname, "Prosperity Robinson," which he owed to his optimism, largely founded upon facts. Before the close of the year 1826, however, this optimism received a rude shock. The agitation against the corn laws assumed an acuter form than ever, and Huskisson prudently deprecated it on the simple ground that no effective action could be taken in an expiring parliament. Distress had recurred in the manufacturing districts; mills and power-looms were again destroyed. The free trade policy of Huskisson was vigorously attacked in parliament, but it was successfully defended in powerful speeches by Canning as well as by himself. Ultimately the government, having obtained limited powers from parliament to admit foreign corn during the temporary emergency, had the courage to exceed those powers and seek an indemnity from the next parliament.

The dissolution of 1826, closing the life of one of the longest parliaments in modern times, was the prelude to a very eventful year. The general election brought into prominence the two burning questions of catholic relief and the corn laws, and unseated for the moment Brougham, Cobbett, Hunt, and Lord John Russell, but it produced no material change in the balance of parties. Little was done in the short autumn session, but when parliament met again early in February, 1827, great events had already cast their shadows before. The Duke of York, heir-presumptive to the crown, had died on January 5. He was known to be a strong tory in politics, but, in spite of this, and of the scandals which attached to his name in earlier years, he enjoyed a considerable share of popular confidence. Compared[Pg 208] with his elder brother, he was respected; he was a true Englishman, like his father, whom he resembled in character; his administration of the army had survived hostile criticism, while a declaration which he had recently made against catholic emancipation had produced a profound impression on public opinion. Much less was known of the Duke of Clarence, who stood next in succession. He had already injured himself in public estimation by declining the increased allowance offered him, and then claiming it with arrears; nor did he now improve his position in the eyes of his future subjects by stickling for a larger addition to it than parliament was disposed to grant. But the Duke of York's death was followed by a far more important incident. Liverpool was disabled by illness from attending his funeral, which, occurring in the depth of winter, proved directly fatal to one of those who were present, and seriously weakened the constitutions of others, including Canning. On February 8, the first day of the session, Liverpool was in his place, though in broken health, and on the 17th he took a feeble part in the debate on the grant to the Duke of Clarence. On the following morning he was struck down by a paralytic seizure, and, though his life was prolonged for two years, he never recovered the use of his faculties.


Liverpool's disappearance from the political scenes may be said to mark an epoch in the later history of England. Though only fifty-six years of age, he had been continuously in office for twenty years, and prime minister for fifteen, a tenure of power which none of his predecessors had exceeded except Walpole and Pitt. His lot was cast in the most critical period of the great war, and in the long night of adversity and anxiety which ushered in the "thirty years' peace". As foreign secretary he conducted the negotiations for the peace of Amiens; as home secretary he led the house of lords and was responsible for the government of Ireland; as secretary for war and the colonies he gave Wellington a steady, if not ardent, support in those apparently barren campaigns which strained the national patience; as prime minister he guided the ship of state in all the difficulties of foreign and domestic affairs which arose between 1812 and 1827. Castlereagh may have been the most influential minister in the earlier years of his administration, and Canning in the later, but he was never the[Pg 209] mere tool of either; on the contrary, it Is certain that he was treated with respect and deference by all his numerous colleagues. In general capacity and debating power he was inferior to few of them; in temper, judgment, and experience he was superior to all.

He may be said to have lived and died without "a policy," in so far as he forebore to identify himself with any of the great questions then pressing for solution. His real policy both at home and abroad was one of moderation and conciliation; he looked at party divisions almost with the eyes of a permanent official who can work loyally with chiefs of either party; and he succeeded in keeping together in his cabinet ambitious rivals who never would have co-operated under any other leader. This is not the road to fame, neither is it the course which men of imperious character like Castlereagh, or Canning, or Wellington, in his place, would have adopted. But Canning and Wellington actually proved themselves incapable of winning the confidence which Liverpool so long retained, and the whig government which followed them fell to pieces in two years. Moderation in statesmanship does not always imply mediocrity of ability; and if Liverpool failed to see how many institutions needed radical amendment, he was not so blind as some of his more celebrated associates. Not only was he more liberal in his views than Eldon and Castlereagh, but he was less opposed to free trade than most of his cabinet, to parliamentary reform than Canning, and to catholic emancipation than Wellington or Peel. His fault was that he did not act upon his own inward convictions with sufficient promptitude, or assert his own authority with sufficient energy. Had he done so, the beneficial measures of the last years of his administration might have been anticipated, and the country might have been spared much of the misery which darkened the close of George III.'s reign.


[68] Lord Londonderry in Twiss, Life of Eldon, ii., 432.

[69] Harriet Martineau, History of England During the Thirty Years' Peace, i., 274.

[70] Letters to Copleston, p. 295.

[71] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times (edit. 1903), pp. 756-59. Compare Dicey, Law and Opinion in England, pp. 190-200.

[72] The graphic description of this crisis in Harriet Martineau's History of the Thirty Years' Peace, i., 355-66, deserves to be studied and remembered as a masterpiece of social portraiture by a contemporary.

[73] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times, p. 823.

[74] Walpole's History of England, vol. ii., p. 187.[Pg 210]



The events of the year 1820 subjected the European concert to a severe strain. An insurrection broke out in Spain on January 1, and on March 9 the king was forced to swear fidelity to the obsolete constitution of 1812. The result was to plunge the country into disorder, as both the clerical party and the extreme revolutionists refused to accept the constitution. Meanwhile the assassination by a working man of the Duke of Berry, who died on February 14, 1820, had occasioned a new royalist reaction in France, and had increased the general fear of the revolutionary party. The Bourbon succession had seemed to depend on his life, for his son, the Count of Chambord, was posthumous. On receiving the news of the Spanish revolution the tsar, already tiring of his liberal enthusiasm, fell back on his scheme for exercising paternal discipline over Europe. He proposed in April that the ambassadors at Paris should issue a joint remonstrance requiring the Spanish cortes to disavow the revolution, and to enact severe laws against sedition. Failing this, he proposed joint intervention, and offered for his own part to send an army of 15,000 men through North Italy and southern France to co-operate in the suppression of the revolution. To this Castlereagh replied that England would never consent to a joint intervention in Spain. Metternich was too much displeased with the Russian encouragement of secret societies in Italy to wish to see Russian troops in that country, and both Castlereagh and Metternich wished to keep Spain free from French influence. In the face of this opposition Russia could not, and France would not, do anything, and all thought of intervention was postponed. It was the last time that Castlereagh was able to assert the[Pg 211] principle of non-intervention without breaking up the European concert.


July and August saw three new revolutions. A rebellion at Nola on July 2 ended in King Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies taking the oath on the 13th to the Spanish constitution, then regarded as a model by the liberals of Southern Europe. But the grant of a constitution to Naples suggested a demand for independence at Palermo. On July 17-18 that city rose in revolt and was only subdued by the Neapolitans in the beginning of October. Portugal, too, was in a disturbed state. The royal family had been absent for nearly thirteen years, and the country had for five years been governed by Lord, afterwards Viscount, Beresford as marshal and commander of the Portuguese army. In April, 1820, he sailed for Brazil, intending to induce the king, John VI., to return. During his absence a revolution took place at Oporto on August 24, a provisional government was established, and all British officers were dismissed. This was followed by a similar revolution at Lisbon on September 15. Beresford on his return was forbidden to land, and retired to England. On November 11, the Spanish constitution was proclaimed in Portugal, but six days later another proclamation left the question of determining the constitution to the cortes which were to be elected on a popular suffrage.

The Neapolitan revolution raised at once the question of intervention. In this case Castlereagh held that Austria had a right to interfere, because her position as an Italian power was endangered by the revolution, and because the revolution was a breach of the secret treaty of 1815 which had received the sanction of the British government. He still objected to any joint interference and was opposed to the reference of the question to a congress. Austria could not have interfered alone without offending the tsar, who clung to the principle of joint action. The question of intervention was therefore postponed for the present. France, however, being jealous of Austrian influence in Italy, demanded the meeting of a congress, and such a meeting was accordingly held at Troppau on October 20. To this congress Austria, France, Prussia, and Russia sent plenipotentiaries. Great Britain carried her opposition to joint interference so far as to refuse to join in the deliberations, though[Pg 212] Sir Charles, now Lord, Stewart was sent to Troppau to watch the proceedings. Metternich, on finding that he could not avoid the meeting of a congress, determined to lead its proceedings, and, before it met, drew up a memorandum defining his own views about intervention. These views were accepted at the congress by Prussia and Russia as well as by Austria; and a protocol was issued by the three powers declaring that a state in which a revolution should occur was dangerous to other states, and ceased to be a member of the European alliance, until it could give guarantees for its future stability. If such a revolution placed other states in immediate danger, the allied powers were bound to intervene by peaceful means, if possible, or if need were, by arms. Before parting, the congress invited Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies to attend an adjourned meeting, to assemble early in the following year at Laibach.[75] Against these decisions Castlereagh protested in vigorous terms, and more especially against any possible application of the principle of intervention to England; France under the Duke of Richelieu joined in neither the protocol nor the protest. The liberal tendencies of the tsar had been quenched by recent events, so that, instead of a concert of Europe, there was left only a concert of absolute monarchs.


In January, 1821, the sovereigns of Austria, Prussia, and Russia met the King of the Two Sicilies at Laibach. France had vainly attempted to mediate between the King of the Two Sicilies and his people. But the Neapolitans were not satisfied with any vague promise of a constitution, and before allowing their king to depart for Laibach, held him pledged to the observance of an impossible condition, the maintenance of the Spanish constitution of 1812. The king's oath to preserve this particularly objectionable constitution was regarded by Austria as sufficient to preclude negotiation, and it was resolved that she should restore him by force as an absolute monarch, and should occupy the Neapolitan territory. The duration of this occupation was reserved as a question to be discussed at the next European congress, which it was intended to hold at Florence in the autumn of the next year. After a show of resistance at Rieti the Neapolitans submitted, and the Austrian[Pg 213] army entered Naples on March 24. The restoration of absolute government was accompanied by severities towards the constitutionalists, but Austria would not allow any repetition of the bloodshed of 1799.

While the Austrian army was marching southwards, a new revolution broke out in Piedmont. The Spanish constitution was proclaimed at Alessandria on March 10, and at Turin on the 12th. On the 13th, Victor Emmanuel I., King of Sardinia, abdicated, appointing as regent his distant cousin Prince Charles Albert of Carignano, who had been in communication with the revolutionary party. The regent immediately accepted the Spanish constitution on condition of the maintenance of the line of succession and of the Roman catholic religion. The new king, Charles Felix, was at Modena when the revolt occurred. He refused to acknowledge the new constitution, and ordered Charles Albert to betake himself to Novara, where the royalist troops were collecting. On the night of the 21st, Charles Albert fled from Turin to Novara, but the constitutional party did not submit without a struggle. On April 8 the Austrians crossed the frontier and, uniting with the royalists, defeated the constitutionalists at Novara. Two days later the royalist army entered Turin. The two Italian revolutions had thus ended in an Austrian occupation of the two largest Italian states which were not ruled by members of the imperial house. The Papal States were now the only Italian principality of any size which was not dominated by Austria.

So far Austria had been sufficiently powerful in the congresses of the powers to be able to prevent interference with other states where it was not to her interest, and to incline the balance in favour of it where intervention would strengthen her. The reopening of the Eastern question made her ascendency more difficult to maintain. The congress of Laibach had been closed, but the sovereigns had not yet departed, when the news arrived that a revolt, engineered by Greeks with the pretence of Russian support, had broken out against the Turks in Moldavia and Wallachia. Russia at once agreed with Austria that the principle laid down at Troppau applied to this revolt; the insurrectionary leaders were disowned by Russia, and by the end of June Turkish authority was restored in the Danubian principalities. So far the action of Russia had met with the approval[Pg 214] not only of Austria but of Great Britain, and Castlereagh had written to Alexander urging him not to join the Greek cause, which appeared to him to be part of an universal revolutionary movement.

Early in April, however, a more serious insurrection broke out in the Morea, and was followed a few weeks later by one in Central Greece. The war was disgraced from the first by inhuman massacres on both sides. The Greek patriarch at Constantinople together with three archbishops was executed by the Turks on Easter Sunday, April 22. A great ferment in Russia was the result, where the people were anxious to assist their co-religionists and to avenge the death of the patriarch, whom they regarded as a martyr. The grievances of the Orthodox religion were seconded by the proper grievances of Russia. Greek ships, sailing under the Russian flag, had been seized in the Dardanelles; the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia had not been evacuated by the Turkish troops as was required by treaty, while an ancient treaty rendered it possible to regard the wrongs of the Greek Church as the political wrongs of Russia. A Russian ultimatum was despatched on June 28; and, while awaiting a reply, Russia consulted the other powers as to the course they would pursue in the event of war breaking out between Russia and Turkey, and the system with which they would propose to replace the Turkish domination if it came to be destroyed. The principle of joint intervention, adopted at Troppau, seemed to require the powers to give their support to Russia. Great Britain and Austria, however, refused to treat war with Turkey as a possibility. The Greek revolt seemed to them to express the principle of revolution, and the tsar himself became inclined to take this view of the situation when the Greeks established an advanced republican form of government. They accordingly distinguished between the treaty rights of Russia, which the four powers would urge Turkey to respect, and the provision of a more secure state of order in Turkey, which would be discussed at a European congress. The Russian ambassador had been withdrawn from Constantinople on August 8, and the negotiation was conducted mainly by Lord Strangford, the British ambassador at Constantinople, who was supported by Austria, France, and Prussia. He succeeded in inducing Turkey to[Pg 215] evacuate the principalities and to open the Dardanelles to ships of all nations, but Turkish obstinacy deferred the conclusion of a treaty.


Meanwhile the Spanish question became more critical. As time went on Spain grew less instead of more settled, while the ultra-royalist party gained strength in France. To them the position to which the Bourbon King of Spain had been reduced seemed at once an insult and a menace to France. The establishment of Austrian supremacy in Italy made them long for French supremacy in Spain. In August, 1821, the presence of yellow fever in Spain was made the occasion for establishing a body of troops, professing to act as a sanitary cordon, upon the frontier. They were retained there when the fever had disappeared, and their numbers were gradually raised to 100,000. In December, 1821, an ultra-royalist ministry entered on office in France under the leadership of Villèle. Villèle, like King Louis XVIII., was opposed to war, but he might easily be forced to adopt the war policy which was popular with his party. Fresh evidence was given of the contagious nature of the Spanish revolution by the adoption, on the 27th of the preceding June, by the Portuguese cortes, of a constitution modelled on that of Spain. Six days later the Portuguese king arrived at Lisbon and was induced to sign the new constitution. This event was the more significant in the eyes of the powers, because the proclamation of the constitution had been accompanied by an insult to the Austrian embassy.

If Spanish liberalism placed Spain in danger of a war with France, Spain was in equal danger of a war with Great Britain because she was not liberal enough. The revolution of 1820, instead of reconciling the revolted colonies, had served as an example to the loyal colonies to seek their liberty. By the summer of 1822 Upper Peru was the only part of the American mainland where Spain held more than isolated posts; she had been compelled to sell Florida to the United States, and San Domingo had joined the revolted French colony of Hayti. The Spanish cortes, however, were even more resolute than the king had been to maintain the authority of the mother country, and protested against the right which the British had claimed and exercised of trading with the revolted colonies. The disorderly state of these colonies encouraged the growth of piracy, which[Pg 216] flourished even in the ports which still acknowledged the supremacy of Spain. Special irritation was caused in 1822 by the condemnation of the Lord Collingwood for trading with Buenos Ayres, a place over which Spain had exercised no authority for twelve years. In the same year the new navigation acts greatly increased the facilities for trading with Great Britain enjoyed by such places in America as admitted British ships. In April, 1822, the United States recognised the independence of Colombia, but Great Britain refrained as yet from recognising any of the Spanish-American states, partly because of their unsettled condition and partly because the threat of recognition was a valuable diplomatic counter in negotiations with Spain.

Instead of a congress being held at Florence it was finally determined that the Italian questions should be referred to a congress which was to meet at Verona in September, 1822, and was to be preceded by a conference at Vienna on the Eastern question; there could, however, be little doubt that the Spanish question would also be raised. Castlereagh, or as we should now call him Lord Londonderry, would have preferred that Great Britain should stand aloof from the Spanish and Italian questions, but he desired that she should participate in the discussion of the Eastern question; it was accordingly arranged that he should represent Great Britain at the conference of Vienna, and he had actually drawn up instructions in favour of non-intervention in Spain and of accrediting agents to some of the South American republics, when his departure was prevented by his death on August 12. He was succeeded by Wellington as plenipotentiary, and by Canning as foreign secretary. The change was, however, one of persons rather than of policies. Canning was less conciliatory in manner, and had less sympathy with the principle of European congresses, but was prepared to carry on Castlereagh's policy on the questions which for the time being agitated the world.


The Spanish question was, as a fact, the one question which occupied the attention of the powers at Vienna and Verona. In consequence of the efforts of Strangford at Constantinople and his own growing dissatisfaction with the Greeks, the tsar was willing to allow the Greek question to drop; at the same time the kings of the Two Sicilies and Sardinia themselves desired the continuance of Austrian occupation, and thus post[Pg 217]poned the Italian question. As in 1820, Austria held the balance between two rival policies. She had then thrown her weight on the side of non-intervention, and, had the Spanish question stood by itself, she would probably have done so again. But in Metternich's opinion the Spanish question was of less importance than the Eastern, and it was important that the tsar should not doubt her loyalty to the principle on which she had persuaded him to refrain from an attack upon the Porte.

On passing through Paris on his way to Vienna, Wellington found Villèle desirous of avoiding war, but counting on it as a probability. He arrived at Vienna too late for the actual conference, but in time to have some conversation with Metternich and the tsar before leaving for Verona. So far it appeared that Montmorency, the more active of the French representatives, though professing to desire a peaceful termination to the dispute between France and Spain, advocated French intervention, if intervention should be necessary, but was opposed to the passage of foreign troops through France. Metternich and the tsar distrusted French troops when brought face to face with revolutionists, and Metternich was therefore opposed to intervention, while the tsar still desired to be allowed to march a Russian army on behalf of the combined powers through Piedmont and southern France into Spain. Metternich of course did not wish to see any Russian troops to dispute Austria's supremacy in Italy. But all three desired the suppression of the Spanish constitution, if they could find a trustworthy instrument. Wellington adhered to Castlereagh's policy of non-intervention.[76]

When the congress opened at Verona on October 20, Montmorency proposed three skilfully drawn questions. Avoiding the direct discussion of hostilities, he asked whether, if France were compelled to withdraw her ambassador from Madrid, the other powers would do the same. Then, assuming their sympathy, he asked what form of moral support they would give her in event of war. Lastly, he propitiated Russian views of joint action by asking what form of material support the powers would give France, if she should require it. Wellington refused to consider hypothetical cases, but the sovereigns of Austria,[Pg 218] Prussia, and Russia answered the first question in the affirmative, and assured France of their moral, and, if necessary, of their material support. So far no power had abandoned its original attitude, but the promises had been given in a form which lent itself best to the sole interference of France, as the representative of the congress. Metternich now advocated British mediation, but this was refused by Montmorency on the ground of the differences between the policy adopted by Great Britain and that adopted by the other powers. It was then agreed that Austria, France, Prussia, and Russia should address notes of the same tenor to their ambassadors at Madrid, who should make corresponding representations to the Spanish government, and a procès verbal was concluded between these four powers defining the causes which would justify the recall of their ambassadors.

As the French king was not present at Verona, the sending of the French note was made conditional on the approval of the French government. The occupation of Spain by foreign troops was to be discussed when the King of Spain should have been restored to liberty. The tenor of the notes agreed on seemed to Wellington more likely to inflame the Spanish government than to win concessions, and he lost no time in informing Villèle through Sir Charles Stuart, the British ambassador at Paris, of the course of negotiations.[77] Although Wellington had been assured at Verona that Villèle's decision would not affect the transmission of notes from the other courts, he hoped and Canning believed that it was still in the power of Villèle to arrest the machinery that Montmorency, his representative at Verona, had set in motion. On November 30 Wellington left Verona, but the emperors remained. On December 5 Villèle sent a message to Verona proposing to postpone sending the despatches till an occasion for breaking off diplomatic relations as defined in the procès verbal should arise, and suggesting that the ambassadors at Paris should determine when such an occasion had occurred. This proposal was rejected. It was inconsistent with Russia's desire for war, while Austria was anxious to please Russia in the west, so long as she remained pacific in the east. The three eastern powers therefore resolved that they[Pg 219] would only delay sending their notes till the French note was ready.


While this negotiation was pending, Wellington arrived at Paris, where, under strong pressure from Canning,[78] he renewed his offer of mediation with Spain. It was declined. On the arrival of the reply from Verona, Wellington was informed that even if the other powers sent their despatches to Madrid, France would withhold hers. In the end, Villèle dismissed Montmorency for the independent line he had taken, and sent a milder note than the three eastern powers, but withdrew his ambassador from Madrid soon after the other ambassadors had departed. Great Britain was in consequence the only great power which still continued diplomatic relations with Spain at the end of January, 1823. In the course of the negotiations two curious suspicions had occurred to Canning and Villèle respectively. Canning imagined that France would employ the threats of her allies as a show of force to compel Spain to join her in an attack on British commerce in the West Indies, while Villèle suspected that the British defence of the political independence of Spain was to be recompensed by the cession of some Spanish colonies in America.

Meanwhile, the war party before which Villèle had had to bow, was having its own way in France. On January 28 Louis XVIII. in opening the chambers announced the withdrawal of his ambassador, and declared that 100,000 Frenchmen were ready to march to preserve the throne of Spain to a descendant of Henry IV., and to reconcile that country with Europe. The sole object of any war that might arise would be to render Ferdinand VII. free to give his people institutions which they could not hold except from him, and which, by securing their tranquillity, would dissipate the unrest in France. Canning protested against the apparent implication that no valid constitution could rest on any other basis than that of France did, as also against the apparent claim to interfere in virtue of the family relation of the dynasties of France and Spain; but he vainly endeavoured to persuade the Spanish government to come to some agreement with its king. On March 31, when war seemed imminent, Canning despatched a note to Paris defining the limits of British[Pg 220] neutrality. The independence of Spain and integrity of its dominions were to be recognised; it was not to be permanently occupied by a military force, and France was not to attempt to gain either by conquest or by cession any of the revolted colonies of Spain in America. At the same time he disclaimed any intention of acquiring any of those colonies for Great Britain.[79]


War between France and Spain began with the passage of the frontier by the Duke of Angoulême on April 7. On May 23 he entered Madrid. On October 1 the Spanish constitutionalists were compelled to set their king at liberty to join the French, and on November 1 the war was terminated by the surrender of Barcelona to the royalists. The restoration of Ferdinand VII. to absolute power was followed by a furious and vindictive reaction, which Angoulême strove in vain to moderate. For the next five years French troops occupied the country, but Angoulême showed his disapproval of the method of government by refusing the decorations offered him by Ferdinand. The restoration of absolutism in Spain led to events in Portugal which forced Great Britain to intervene and strengthened the difference between her policy and that of the continental powers. The new Portuguese constitution was unpopular, especially in the army, and as early as February, 1823, there was a revolt against the constitution, but order was restored in April. On May 26 another absolutist revolt broke out, and the rebels were joined next day by the king's second son, Dom Miguel, then twenty years of age; on the 29th the revolt spread to Lisbon; on the 31st the king promised a revised constitution, and on June 2 the cortes ceased to sit. The government resolved itself into an absolute monarchy, which continued till the following year, in spite of the appointment of a junta under the presidency of Palmella to draw up a new constitution. The ambassadors of Austria, Prussia, and Russia opposed the granting of a new constitution, and Dom Miguel still maintained a threatening attitude. Palmella accordingly applied to Great Britain for troops to support his government. This request created no little difficulty. It was impossible for Great Britain to allow the government of Portugal to fall into[Pg 221] the hands of a party resting for support on the absolutists in Spain and the French army, and it was equally impossible to employ British troops to maintain the cause of the King of Portugal against his ultra-royalist subjects when Great Britain had protested so vigorously against the kings of Spain and the Two Sicilies receiving foreign assistance against their liberal subjects; there were moreover no troops that could well be spared.

Canning accordingly contented himself with despatching a naval squadron to the Tagus to act as a moral support to the king. As the event proved, this squadron was sufficient to determine the course of events. At the same time Canning refused to guarantee any constitution, though when France joined the eastern powers in threatening the proposed constitution, he intimated his readiness to resist by force of arms any foreign intervention in Portugal. On April 30, 1824, Dom Miguel attempted another coup d'état, and was for nine days in possession of Lisbon, where he made wholesale arrests of his political opponents. John VI. was, however, supported by all the foreign ambassadors, and on March 9, by their advice, he went on board the British ship of war, Windsor Castle, where he summoned his son to appear before him. Dom Miguel thought it wisest to obey; the king sent him abroad, and the attempt at a revolution was over for the present. The junta appointed in the previous year to frame a constitution now reported in favour of a revival of the ancient cortes, and this proposal was accepted by the king. The cortes were not, however, actually assembled; still, the mere fact of Dom Miguel's absence left the government a little stronger.

Meanwhile, the relations between Portugal and Brazil occasioned difficulties between the former country and Great Britain. On leaving Brazil, King John VI. had entrusted the government to his elder son, Peter, to whom he had given secret instructions to proclaim himself Emperor of Brazil in case he found it impossible to maintain the union between Brazil and the mother country. Acting on these instructions, Peter had proclaimed the independence of Brazil on October 12, 1822, adopting for himself the style of constitutional emperor. Next month Lord Cochrane, who had been in the service of Chile, quitted it for that of Brazil. Neither party in Portugal was prepared for the separation of Brazil, and it[Pg 222] was therefore opposed, but without much effect, by the home government. By the end of 1823 Cochrane had captured all the Portuguese posts in Brazil, and in August, 1824, he suppressed a republican movement in the north of that country. On July 23 of the same year Great Britain signed a commercial treaty with the new empire. This irritated the Portuguese government. Meanwhile, Beresford, who had returned to Portugal in a private capacity, had been requested to resume the command of the Portuguese army. This he refused to do so long as the Count of Subsérra, a French partisan, held office at home. There was a difficulty in forming a ministry without him, and eventually Subsérra became virtual prime minister, and Beresford was excluded from office. In order to obtain an excuse for the introduction of French troops into Portugal, Subsérra sent a request to Great Britain for a force of four or five thousand, knowing it would be refused. Great Britain's refusal had not, however, the expected consequence, because the influence of the other powers at Lisbon was weakened by their anti-constitutional policy. In July, 1825, the representatives of Austria, Brazil, Great Britain, and Portugal assembled at London to consider the relations of Portugal and Brazil. While the conference was sitting it was discovered that Subsérra was carrying on separate negotiations with Brazil. Canning was now able to obtain his dismissal, which was followed by the recall of the French ambassador, De Neuville, who had been the principal opponent of British influence at Lisbon. As a result of this conference the Portuguese government on August 29 recognised the independence of Brazil.[80]

The restoration of absolute government in Spain revived the question of Spanish America. Ferdinand VII., on recovering his authority, proposed a congress at Paris for the consideration of South American affairs. Canning, however, declined his invitation, and it was thought useless to hold a congress without the participation of Great Britain. The position in which Great Britain had been placed by the negotiations of Verona, as diplomatic champion of Spain, had caused her to suspend her complaints about the treatment of her merchant vessels trading with the revolted colonies; but disorder continued, and on one occasion the British admiral was authorised to land in Cuba to[Pg 223] extirpate the pirates using the Spanish flag. Canning was determined that French force should not be employed to reduce the revolted colonies, and in October, 1823, he informed the French ambassador, Polignac, that he would acknowledge the independence of those colonies if France assisted Spain in her attempts to reduce them[81]—a somewhat empty threat, as the commercial interests of Great Britain would have compelled him to acknowledge them in any case as soon as there should be settled governments in existence with which he could treat. Diplomatic agents were in fact appointed in most of the revolted colonies before the end of this year.


What, however, rendered French interference hopeless was the attitude of the United States, as expressed in President Monroe's historic message to congress on December 2, 1823. In this message occur the words, since known as the Monroe doctrine: "With the governments who have declared their independence, and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration, and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power, in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States." After this the recognition of the independence of the Spanish colonies was only a matter of time.[82] Great Britain recognised the independence of Buenos Ayres, Colombia, and Mexico, in 1824, and the rest soon after. In spite of the temporary successes of Canterac, Peru, the last of the mainland provinces, was lost to Spain in 1825, and the other European powers did not now delay their recognition of the American republics. In April of that year France recognised the virtual independence of her own revolted colony of Hayti.

The Eastern question advanced more slowly. On March 25, 1823, Canning recognised the Greeks as belligerents. After this step Great Britain enjoyed the advantage of being able to hold the Greek government responsible for piracy committed by Greek ships; but, coming as it did after the isolated action of Great Britain at Verona, it created a suspicion among the eastern[Pg 224] powers of a desire to effect a settlement of the Eastern question without the co-operation of other states. In October, 1823, the Tsar Alexander and the Emperor Francis had a meeting at Czernowitz in Bukowina. Here they discussed joint intervention in Greece as a means of forestalling the isolated intervention of Great Britain. During the meeting the news arrived of the Turkish concessions to the Russian demands of 1821. Before the conference broke up, the tsar informally suggested a conference at St. Petersburg to arrange joint intervention on the basis of the erection of three principalities under Turkish suzerainty in Greece and the Ægean. In January, 1824, the same proposal was made formally in a Russian circular addressed to the great powers. Metternich and Canning both opposed the scheme, thinking that the principalities would fall under Russian influence.

Metternich met it by a counter proposal for the complete independence of Greece. Canning preferred to adopt neither course, and to watch the sequence of events. In April, however, he consented that Great Britain should be represented at the conference at St. Petersburg on condition that no coercion should be applied to Turkey, and that diplomatic relations should have been previously restored between Russia and Turkey; in August the Greek government sent to London its protest against the Russian proposals, and in November Canning, finding that neither Greeks nor Turks would accept the decision of the conference, and being still opposed to violent interference, refused to take part in it. At the same time he offered British mediation to the Greeks in case it should be absolutely necessary. Early in 1825 Metternich induced Charles X., the new King of France, to support his proposal. Russia, however, would not hear of the independence of Greece, which might mean the creation of a rival to her influence in the Turkish dominions. The conference therefore merely resolved that the Porte should grant satisfaction to its subjects, failing which the powers offered their mediation.


Turkey refused the offer. She was in fact busily engaged in restoring order in her own way. In February, 1825, an Egyptian army was landed in the Morea, and met with rapid successes of such a nature as to arouse a suspicion that it was the fixed policy of its commander, Ibrahim, the adopted son of Mehemet Ali,[Pg 225] Pasha of Egypt, to depopulate the Morea. His advance upon Nauplia was checked by an order of the British commodore, Hamilton, and he retired towards Tripolitza and Navarino. The Turkish successes induced Canning to make proposals to Russia through Sir Stratford Canning, the British ambassador at St. Petersburg, for a joint intervention of the powers on condition that there should be no coercion of Turkey. The tsar refused to accept the condition and made preparations for war. Canning meanwhile declined an offer of the Greek government to place itself under British protection, and on August 18 Alexander declared that he would solve the Eastern question by himself. He then set out for the south of Russia, where his army had collected. Canning now dropped his scheme of an united intervention and opened negotiations for a separate intervention on the part of Great Britain and Russia alone. Meanwhile he informed the Greek government that he would allow no power to effect a settlement without British co-operation, and that if Russia invaded Turkey he would land troops in Greece. The negotiations with Russia were proceeding favourably when they were interrupted by the death of Alexander on December 1.

One event of the year 1825 which attracted little attention at the time was destined to be a cause of friction at a much later date. In 1824 the boundary between British America and the United States had been partially delimited, and this was followed early in the following year by a treaty, which attempted to settle the boundary between British and Russian America. Unfortunately the words used in this treaty were somewhat indefinite, and, although no difficulty was experienced for two generations, the discovery of gold in the north-west of America subsequently led to a bitter dispute between Canada on the one side and the United States, which had acquired the rights of Russia, on the other.


[75] Metternich, Memoirs, § 484, English translation, iii., 446.

[76] Wellington, Despatches, etc., i., 343-48.

[77] Wellington, Despatches, etc., i., 518-23. For a French account of the congress see Duvergier de Hauranne, Gouvernement Parlementaire en France, vii., 130-229.

[78] Wellington, Despatches, etc., i., 650. Compare pp. 638, 653-57.

[79] Stapleton, Life of Canning, ii., 18, 19.

[80] Stapleton, Life of Canning, ii., chapters x., xi.

[81] Stapleton, Life of Canning, ii., 26-33.

[82] See J. W. Foster, A Century of American Diplomacy, pp. 442-50; Stapleton, George Canning and his Times, p. 375.[Pg 226]



The sudden illness of Liverpool in February, 1827, disclosed the dualism and mutual jealousies which had enfeebled his cabinet. One section, represented by Canning, advocated catholic emancipation, encouraged the practical application of free trade doctrines, and was prepared to support the principle of national independence, not only in South America, but in Greece and Portugal. This section was dominant in the house of commons. The other section, led by Wellington and Peel, which was dominant in the house of lords, was strictly conservative on all these questions, though Peel was beginning to show an open mind on one, at least, of them. The king's known distrust of Canning, largely shared by his own party, naturally suggested the hope of rallying it under the leadership of some politician with the moderate and conciliatory temper of Lord Liverpool. But no such politician could be found, nor was there any prospect of Canning accepting a subordinate position in a new ministry. For nearly six weeks the premiership was in abeyance, while Liverpool's recovery was treated as a possible event. Canning himself was in broken health, but, ill as he was, he proposed and carried in the house of commons a sliding scale of import duties upon corn, variable with its market price. He also made a fierce attack on Sir John Copley, then master of the rolls, who had vigorously opposed a motion of Burdett for catholic relief. At last the king, having consulted others, made up his mind to send for Canning, who had been suffering from a relapse. It was in vain that Canning advised him, unless he were prepared for concession on the catholic question, to summon a body of ministers sharing his own convictions. There was, in fact, no alternative to Canning's succession, except that of Wellington or[Pg 227] Peel. The former declared that he would be worse than mad to accept the premiership; the latter was still young for the office and deprecated as hopeless the formation of any exclusively "protestant" cabinet. The selection of Canning became inevitable, and on April 10 the king determined upon it, irritated by what he regarded as an attempt to force his hand in the choice of a minister.


From that moment, during the short remainder of his life Canning had to undergo the same bitter experience as Pitt in 1804, and to suffer a cruel retribution for his aggressive petulance. All his strongest colleagues, except Huskisson, deserted him. The resignation of Lord Eldon, since 1821 Earl of Eldon, must have been expected, terminating, as it did, the longest chancellorship since the Norman conquest. But Canning seems to have really hoped that he might secure the support of Wellington by the assurance of his desire to carry out the principles of Liverpool's government. The duke, however, repelled his overtures with something less than courtesy, and even retired from the command of the army. Peel had already intimated privately that a transfer of the premiership from an opponent to a champion of emancipation would make it impossible for him to retain office. Three peers, Bathurst, Melville, and Westmorland, followed his example. Canning had no resource but to enlist colleagues from the ranks of the whigs. In this he was at first unsuccessful. Sturges Bourne was appointed to the home office, Viscount Dudley became foreign secretary, and Robinson, who was raised to the peerage as Viscount Goderich, became secretary for war and the colonies. Canning himself united the offices of first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer. The Duke of Portland became lord privy seal. Palmerston, the secretary at war, was given a seat in the cabinet. Harrowby, Huskisson, Wynn, and Bexley, retained their former posts, and Sidmouth, hitherto an unofficial member of the cabinet, finally retired. One important office outside the cabinet, that of chief secretary for Ireland, was given to a whig, William Lamb, afterwards Lord Melbourne. It was a happy idea to make the Duke of Clarence lord high admiral without a seat in the cabinet, and without any power of acting independently of his council, while Copley (as Lord Lyndhurst) proved a good successor to Eldon.[Pg 228]

In May some of the whigs were induced to join the ministry. Tierney entered the cabinet as master of the mint and the Earl of Carlisle as first commissioner of woods and forests. The Marquis of Lansdowne, the former Lord Henry Petty, joined the cabinet without taking office. Other minor posts were assigned to whigs, and several whig chiefs, such as Holland and Brougham, while they remained outside the government, tendered it a friendly support. In July Lansdowne became home secretary, Bourne was transferred to the woods and forests department, Carlisle became lord privy seal, and Portland remained in the cabinet without office.

The new cabinet was therefore still in an unsettled state when it met parliament at the beginning of May. It there encountered a storm of unsparing criticism even in the house of commons, but still more in the house of lords. Lord Stewart, who had succeeded his brother as Marquis of Londonderry, and the Duke of Newcastle denounced Canning in the most intemperate language; and the veteran whig, Lord Grey, who had not been consulted, delivered an elaborate oration against him not the less virulent because it was carefully studied and measured. This attack was so keenly felt by Canning that he was supposed to meditate the acceptance of a peerage, that he might reply to it in person. The climax of his vexations was reached when a corn bill, prepared by the late cabinet, and passed by the house of commons, was finally wrecked in the house of lords through an amendment introduced by Wellington. There was some excuse for the duke's action in letters which had passed between him and Huskisson, but Canning naturally resented his mischievous interposition, and unwisely declared that he must "have been made an instrument in the hands of others". So ended the session on July 2, amidst discords and divisions which boded ill for the future, but threw a retrospective light on the rare merits of Liverpool.


The days of Canning were already numbered. Before the end of July he was unable to attend a council, and retired for rest to the Duke of Devonshire's villa at Chiswick. As in the case of Castlereagh, the king had noticed the symptoms of serious illness, and on August 5 the public was informed of his danger. On the 8th he died of internal inflammation in the room which had witnessed the death of Fox. His loss was deeply felt, not[Pg 229] only by the king who never showed him confidence, but also by the best part of the nation, and his funeral was attended by a great concourse of mourners, both whigs and tories. No one doubted that he was a patriot, and his noble gifts commanded the admiration of his bitterest opponents. He belonged to an age of transition, and it must ever be deplored that he missed the opportunity of showing whether his mind was capable of further growth in the highest office of state; for the inconsistencies of his opinions, obstinately maintained for years, would have demanded many changes of conviction or policy. He was as stout an enemy of reform at home as he was a resolute friend of constitutional liberty abroad. He detested the system of repression consecrated by the holy alliance, but he defended the necessity of such measures as the six acts and arbitrary imprisonment for a limited period. He never swerved in his advocacy of Roman catholic relief, but he was unmoved by arguments in favour of repealing the test and corporation acts. Probably, at the head of a coalition, embracing the ablest of the moderate tories and reformers, and loyally supported by his colleagues, he might have proved the foremost British statesman of the nineteenth century. But it is more than doubtful whether his proud and sensitive nature would have enabled him so to cancel past memories as to consolidate such a coalition, or to inspire such loyalty in its members.

The death of Canning involved for the moment far less political change than might have been expected. The king at once sent for Sturges Bourne and Goderich, as the most intimate adherents of Canning. He then commanded Goderich to form, or rather to continue, a ministry of compromise, and this was done with little shifting of places. Wellington resumed the command of the army, thereby revealing his motive in giving it up so abruptly. But a very unwise choice was made in the appointment of John Charles Herries, rather than Palmerston, as chancellor of the exchequer, and it carried with it the seeds of an early disruption. Palmerston had originally been proposed for the office, but the king strongly favoured Herries, though he showed good sense in deferring to public opinion, and desiring Huskisson to take the post himself. Unfortunately, Huskisson preferred the colonial office, and, as neither Sturges Bourne nor Tierney would accept the position, royal influence prevailed,[Pg 230] and Herries found himself at the exchequer. Meanwhile Portland succeeded Harrowby as lord president, Charles Grant succeeded Huskisson at the board of trade, and Lord Uxbridge, who had been created Marquis of Anglesey after the battle of Waterloo, and who was now master-general of the ordnance, was given a seat in the cabinet.

In the course of November it was decided by Goderich, in concert with Huskisson and Tierney, that a finance committee should be appointed early in the next session to consider the state of the revenue. Lord Althorp, the son of Earl Spencer, was designated as chairman, and provisionally undertook to act, but the chancellor of the exchequer, who, contrary to all precedent, had not been taken into counsel, strongly protested against the nomination, as soon as he was informed of it. Out of this dispute arose the ignoble fall of the Goderich administration, though it was preceded by more serious dissensions on foreign policy. The king, whose activity revived with the increasing weakness of his ministers, committed himself, without asking their opinion, to a hearty approval of Codrington's action at Navarino, in which, as will be recorded hereafter, that admiral had co-operated in the destruction of the Turkish navy, though the British government professed to be at peace with the Porte. The king was also adverse to a proposal for the admission of Holland and Wellesley into the cabinet. Goderich in consequence resigned, but had withdrawn his resignation when the quarrel between Huskisson and Herries broke out afresh. Driven to distraction by difficulties to which he was utterly unequal, Goderich once more abandoned his post. The king gladly dispensed with his services, and after some negotiation with Harrowby sent for Wellington on January 9, 1828, giving him a free hand to invite any co-operation except that of Grey. It was stipulated, however, "that the Roman Catholic question was not to be made a cabinet question," and that both the lord chancellors, as well as the lord lieutenant of Ireland, were to be "protestants".[83]


It must ever be regretted, for the sake of the country not less than of his own fame, that Wellington undertook the premiership. He was beyond all dispute the greatest man in England, and exercised up to the end of his life a more power[Pg 231]ful influence in emergencies than any other subject. But he had judged himself rightly when he declared that he was wholly unfit to be prime minister, and his administration was among the weakest of modern times. The firmness which had sustained him in so many campaigns, the political sagacity which had enabled him to grapple with the complications of Spanish affairs, and with the great settlement of Europe, equally failed him in party management and in the estimation of public opinion at home. He understood better than any man how to deal with the king, and overbore not only the king's own prejudices but the machinations of the Duke of Cumberland with masterly resolution. He set a good example in declining to regard himself as a mere party leader and in refusing to study the arts of popularity hunting, but he never grasped the principle that constitutional government ultimately rests on the will of the people. Still he was too good a general not to see when facts were too strong for him. His chief manœuvres on the field of politics consisted in somewhat inglorious though not unskilful retreats; when he afterwards carried boldness to the point of rashness, he encountered a signal defeat. Nevertheless, while he utterly lost his political hold on the masses, and even the confidence of shrewd politicians, he never ceased to retain the profound respect of his countrymen, not only as the first of English generals, but as the most honest of public servants.

Wellington naturally applied first to Peel, and, by his advice, attempted a reconstruction of the Goderich cabinet, but with the addition of certain new elements. Five of Canning's followers—Lyndhurst, Dudley, who had been created an earl, Huskisson, Grant, and Palmerston retained their old offices, and Palmerston gave an extraordinary proof of patience by cheerfully remaining secretary at war after eighteen years' service in that capacity. These cabinet ministers were now joined or rejoined by Peel as home secretary, Earl Bathurst as lord president, Henry Goulburn as chancellor of the exchequer, Melville as president of the board of control, Lord Aberdeen as chancellor of the duchy, and Lord Ellenborough, son of the former chief justice, as lord privy seal. Herries was transferred from the exchequer to the mastership of the mint. Outside the cabinet Anglesey became lord lieutenant of Ireland, where Lamb remained chief secretary. It was under[Pg 232]stood that Eldon, now in his seventy-seventh year, would have willingly accepted the presidency of the council, and felt hurt that no offer or communication was made to him. On the other hand, the whigs were by no means satisfied, while the inclusion of Huskisson equally offended extreme tories and the widow of Canning, who spoke of him as having become an associate of her husband's murderers. This association was not destined to be long lived. The formation of the ministry was not completed until the end of January, and very soon after parliament met on the 29th of that month a rupture between Huskisson and Wellington became imminent. For this Huskisson was mainly responsible. Having to seek re-election at Liverpool, and irritated by the attacks made upon his consistency, he delivered a very imprudent speech, in which he implied, if he did not state, that he had obtained from his chief pledges of adhesion to Canning's policy. Such a declaration from such a man was inevitably understood as applying at least to free trade and the conduct of foreign affairs. Both Huskisson and the duke in parliamentary speeches disclaimed the imputation of any bargain; still the rift was not closed, and it was speedily widened by events on which harmony between tories and friends of Canning was impossible.

For six years the so-called war of Greek independence had been carried on with the utmost barbarity on both sides. The sympathies of Canning, as foreign secretary, had been entirely with the Greeks, as they had been with the South American insurgents, but he was equally on his guard against the armed "mediation" of Russia and her claim to be the supreme protector of the Greek Christians. We have seen how at last, in 1825, hopeless discord between the great continental powers led to overtures for the peaceful intervention of Great Britain, and how at this juncture the Tsar Alexander died on December 1, 1825. Wellington, at Canning's request, undertook a special embassy to St. Petersburg for the ostensible purpose of congratulating the new tsar, Nicholas, on his accession, and succeeded, during April, 1826, in concluding an arrangement for joint action by Russia and Great Britain with a view to establishing the autonomy of Greece under the sovereignty of Turkey. Meanwhile the impulsive enthusiasm which has so often seized the English people on behalf of "oppressed nationalities" had been[Pg 233] fanned into a flame by the cause of Greek independence. Byron had already sacrificed his life to it in April, 1824; Cochrane now devoted to it an energy and a naval reputation only second to Nelson's; volunteers joined the Greek levies, and subscriptions came in freely. In the course of 1826 Canning succeeded in procuring the adhesion of the French government to the Anglo-Russian agreement. Early in 1827 the three powers demanded an armistice from Turkey, and, on the refusal of the Porte, signed the treaty of London for the settlement of the Greek question. This treaty, dated July 6, 1827, was almost the last public act of Canning. It was moderate in its terms, embodying the conditions laid down in the previous year at St. Petersburg, and making the self-government of Greece subject to a payment of tribute to the Porte. It provided for a combination of the British, French, and Russian fleets in the event of a second refusal from Turkey; but Canning died in the hope that hostilities might be avoided.


This hope was not likely, nor was it destined, to be realised. The Porte remained inflexible, and would grant no armistice; indeed, it had summoned a contingent of ships from Egypt, and a fleet of twenty-eight sail under Ibrahim Pasha was lying in the Bay of Navarino awaiting further reinforcements. Admiral Codrington, who commanded the allied fleet, now before Navarino, showed much forbearance. In concert with the French admiral, he warned Ibrahim Pasha not to leave the harbour, and obtained assurances which were speedily broken. Futile negotiations went on during the early part of October, ending in a massacre among the inhabitants of the coast by the direction of Ibrahim. The admirals of the allied fleet no longer hesitated. On the 20th the fleet entered the harbour. The first shots were fired by the Turco-Egyptian fleet, which was skilfully ranged in three lines, and in the form of a horseshoe. An action ensued, which lasted four hours, and resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Ottoman armament. Had the allied fleet at once proceeded to Constantinople, the Greek question might perhaps have been settled promptly, instead of being left to perplex cabinets for two years longer.

The news of Navarino reached England when the ministry of Lord Goderich was already tottering, and caused its members far more anxiety than satisfaction. Probably the wisest of them[Pg 234] foresaw that, unless immediate action were taken, Russia would declare war single-handed against Turkey and enforce her own terms, but nothing in fact was done, and Wellington, on coming into power, found the question of our relations with Turkey and Greece still open. In spite of his own share in bringing about the co-operation of Russia with Great Britain, he was by no means prepared for a crusade on behalf of Greek independence, or for a definite rupture with Turkey. Hence the memorable phrases inserted in the king's speech of January 29, 1828, which described the battle of Navarino as "a collision wholly unexpected by His Majesty" and as "an untoward event," which His Majesty hoped would not be followed by further hostilities. These expressions, however much in accord with the pacific tone of the treaty of London, provoked an outburst of indignation from the friends of Greece in both houses. Lords Holland and Althorp, Lord John Russell, and Brougham recorded earnest protests against any disparagement of Admiral Codrington's action. The infatuation of the Porte, and the consequent war with Russia, checked further agitation on the subject, and Wellington's government was able to fall back on the policy of non-intervention proposed, though not always practised, by Canning. But the reactionary tendency of Wellington's foreign policy betrayed in the king's speech had its effect in alienating the more liberal of his colleagues. Nor was his position strengthened by his irresolute home policy. During the session of 1828 issues were raised which inevitably divided and ultimately broke up the cabinet.


The first of these difficulties was caused by the success of Lord John Russell's motion for the repeal of the test and corporation acts, under which dissenters were precluded from holding municipal and other offices. It was, indeed, a grave blot on the consistency of reformers that, while the claims of Roman catholics, and especially of Irish Roman catholics, had been vehemently urged for nearly thirty years, those of protestant nonconformists had been coldly neglected. Their legal disabilities, it is true, had gradually become almost nominal, and an indemnity act was passed yearly to cover the constant breaches of the obnoxious law. Still, the law was maintained, and was stoutly defended by such tories as Eldon on the principle that it was an important outwork of the union between Church and[Pg 235] State. Even the Canningite members of the government supported it against Russell's attack, but on the very opposite ground—that it had become a dead letter. However, the measure for its repeal was carried in the house of commons by a majority of forty-four, including some well-known Churchmen. This measure would assuredly have been rejected in the house of lords had not Peel judiciously procured the insertion of a clause substituting for the sacramental test a declaration binding the office-holder to do nothing hostile to the Church. Thus modified, it passed the house of lords, with the assent of several bishops, in spite of the implacable opposition of Lords Eldon and Redesdale, and the Duke of Cumberland. But the declaration was amended by the addition of the words "upon the true faith of a Christian," which incidentally continued the statutable exclusion of Jews.

The enforced acceptance of this enactment was equivalent to a decisive reverse, and could not but injure the prestige of the government, but it did not actually cause a schism in the cabinet. It was otherwise when the duke proposed a corn bill in lieu of that rejected at his instance in the previous year. The difference between these measures was not very material, but the duke insisted upon certain regulations of detail, which Huskisson persistently opposed. Peel suggested a compromise which, after long altercation and some threats of resignation, was adopted. But the effect was to weaken the government still further in the eyes of the public, inasmuch as the principle of duties on a graduated scale had prevailed at last against the declared opinions of the duke. The inevitable rupture was only deferred for a few weeks, and arose out of motions for disfranchising East Retford and Penryn—a premonitory symptom of the great reform bill. These were among the most corrupt of the old "rotten boroughs," and the scandalous practices which flourished in both of them had more than once shocked even the unreformed parliament. In 1827 a bill for disfranchising Penryn had actually been carried by the house of commons in spite of Canning's dissent, and one for disfranchising East Retford would probably have been carried, but that it was introduced too late.

The motions now introduced by Lord John Russell and Charles Tennyson respectively could scarcely have been thrown[Pg 236] out by the same house, but squabbles arose in the cabinet, partly on the comparative guiltiness of the two venal constituencies, but chiefly on the disposal of the seats to be vacated. It was agreed at last that Penryn should be merged in the adjacent hundred, and the majority of the cabinet, represented by Peel, were for dealing in like manner with East Retford. The liberal section, however, represented by Huskisson, was bent on transferring its representation to Birmingham, and voted against Peel in the house of commons. Having thus vindicated his independence, Huskisson, somewhat too hastily, placed his resignation in the hands of the premier on May 20. The duke, having fairly lost patience with his insubordinate colleagues, was equally prompt in accepting it, and declined to receive the explanations offered. In the end, Palmerston, Dudley, Grant, and Lamb, followed the fortunes of Huskisson, and Wellington's government was completely purged of Canning's old supporters.


Two military officers, without political experience, were now imported into the ministry. Sir George Murray succeeded Huskisson at the colonial office, and Sir Henry Hardinge replaced Palmerston as secretary at war, but was not admitted to the cabinet; Lord Aberdeen became foreign secretary, and Vesey Fitzgerald president of the board of trade, while Lord Francis Leveson Gower succeeded Lamb as chief secretary for Ireland. So purely tory an administration had not been formed since the days of Perceval. Looking back we can see that, for that very reason, it was doomed; but to politicians of 1828 Wellington's ascendency seemed assured, and it was not actually broken for above two years. By far the most important event of domestic history within that period was the crisis ending in the catholic emancipation act, and this crisis was immediately precipitated by the almost casual appointment of Vesey Fitzgerald. He was a popular Irish landlord, who had always supported catholic relief, and his re-election for the county of Clare was regarded as perfectly secure. The landlords were known to be entirely in his favour, and Irish tenants, miscalled "forty shilling freeholders," had been used to vote obsequiously for the candidate of their landlords. Indeed, these counterfeit freeholds had been manufactured recklessly throughout Ireland for the very purpose of extending landlord influence. Perhaps the recent[Pg 237] defeat of a Beresford at Waterford by a nominee of Daniel O'Connell, who had made himself the leader of the movement for Catholic relief, ought to have undeceived the Irish tories, but no one could have foreseen so daring an act as the candidature of O'Connell himself, notwithstanding that, as a catholic, he was incapable of sitting in the house of commons.

The contest began on June 30 and lasted five days. All the gentry and electors of the higher class supported Fitzgerald, but all the poorer electors, headed by their priests, flocked to the poll and voted for O'Connell, who, on Fitzgerald's retirement, was triumphantly elected. The violence of O'Connell's language was unmeasured, and as was said by Sheil, "every altar became a tribune," but perfect order was maintained throughout. The terrorism which has since disgraced Irish elections and vitiated the whole representation of Ireland had no place in this startling victory, and the impression produced by it was thereby infinitely enhanced. Two conclusions were instantly drawn from it: the one, that electoral power in Ireland could not safely be left in the hands of the forty-shilling freeholders; the other, that, whether or not they were disfranchised, nothing short of political equality of the catholics of Ireland could avert the risk of civil war. It is seldom that momentous changes can be so clearly traced to a single cause as in the case of catholic emancipation. The whole interval between July, 1828, and April, 1829, was occupied by the discussion of this question, or circumstances arising out of it, and it may truly be said to have filled the whole horizon of domestic politics. The first and final recognition by a responsible government of emancipation as a political necessity dates immediately from the Clare election.

The question of catholic emancipation had been the only reason for the resignation of Pitt in 1801, but we have seen that he resumed office in 1804 under a pledge not to re-open it. It is certain that he never contemplated a complete emancipation of the catholics without safeguards for the interests of the established church. Such a safeguard (though ineffective against a future attack through disestablishment) was provided by the act of union,[84] which inviolably united the Irish and English churches. The catholic leaders, on their part, were profuse in their disavowals of hostility to that establishment and to the protestant[Pg 238] government in Ireland. In their first solemn memorial, presented by Grenville on March 25, 1805, they expressly declared that "they do not seek or wish, in the remotest degree, to injure or encroach upon the rights, privileges, immunities, possessions, and revenues appertaining to the bishops and clergy of the protestant religion, or to the churches committed to their charge". They further volunteered an expression of their belief that no evil act could be justified by the good of the Church, and that papal infallibility was no article of the catholic faith. Thenceforward, frequent motions in support of the "catholic claims" were made in both houses of parliament. In 1810 such a motion was proposed in a very eloquent speech by Grattan, but Castlereagh, though a staunch friend of the cause, deprecated it as inopportune, since the catholics had injured themselves by imprudent conduct, and fresh declarations inconsistent with their former assurances. The motion was therefore rejected, and a similar fate befell motions of the same kind in the two following years, especially in the house of lords, where Eldon inflexibly resisted any concession, and always commanded a majority.


When Liverpool replaced Perceval as prime minister in 1812, catholic emancipation became an open question in the cabinet. In that year Canning succeeded in carrying triumphantly a resolution pledging the house of commons to consider the question seriously in the next session, and a like resolution was only lost by one vote in the house of lords. Accordingly, in 1813, Grattan's motion for a committee of the whole house on catholic disabilities was accepted, and a bill for their removal passed its second reading. But it was loaded with vexatious securities in committee and wrecked by the vigorous opposition of the speaker, Abbot, who on May 24 carried by a majority of four an amendment withholding the right to sit and vote in parliament. After this, the bill was of course abandoned, but another was unanimously passed exempting from penalties Roman catholics holding certain military and civil offices, to which, by a harsh construction of law, they were not eligible. In 1817 the question was debated at great length in the house of commons, and several leading men took part in it, but the motion for catholic relief was again defeated by a majority of twenty-four. It was revived in 1819 by Grattan, who delivered on this occasion one of his greatest speeches, and succeeded in reducing the majority to[Pg 239] two only. In 1821 a further advance was made by Plunket's success in obtaining a committee to consider the claims of the catholics. This was carried by a majority of six, and followed up by two bills, removing all catholic disabilities with very slight exceptions, but subject to stringent and somewhat illusory securities for the loyalty of the priesthood. Ultimately on April 2 a comprehensive measure of catholic relief passed the house of commons by a majority of nineteen. All the most influential members of the lower house now voted in its favour, but the attitude of the upper house remained unchanged. The spirit of Eldon still ruled the peers, and his speech against Plunket's relief bill contains a complete armoury of protestant arguments. But the catholics had a still more doughty opponent in the Duke of York, who delivered on this occasion the first of his famous declarations, binding himself to life-long hostility. As Eldon said, "he did more to quiet this matter than everything else put together".[85]

The year 1821 marks a turning point in the history of the catholic question, since the protestant cause, no longer safe in the house of commons, was felt by its champions to depend on the crown and the house of lords. But it would be an error to suppose that catholic relief was ever a popular cry in this country, like retrenchment and reform. On the contrary, the feelings of the masses in Great Britain were never roused in regard to it, and, if roused at all, would probably have been enlisted on the other side. It would be too much to say that the controversy was merely academical, for it was keen enough to split up parties and produce dualism in cabinets. But it was never a hustings question. It filled a much larger space in the minds of statesmen than in the minds of the people, and even among statesmen it was so far secondary that it could be treated as an open question in Liverpool's ministry for a period of fifteen years. No doubt the disturbed state of Ireland, which ultimately supplied the motive power for carrying the emancipation act, contributed at an earlier stage to damp the zeal of its advocates. Whatever the merits of the union, it had failed to pacify the country, thereby verifying the warning of Cornwallis, that, although Ireland could not be saved without[Pg 240] the union, "you must not take it for granted that it will be saved by it".

In 1800, the very year of the union, the habeas corpus act had been suspended and another act passed for the suppression of rebellion. Though repealed in the following year, these coercive measures were renewed in 1803, after Emmet's abortive rising, and continued in 1804. In 1805, when they expired, special commissions were appointed for the repression of crime in the south and west of Ireland. In 1807 the habeas corpus act was again suspended and a rigorous insurrection act passed which continued in force until 1810. In that year a Catholic Committee was formed, anticipating the more notorious Catholic Association. An essential part of the scheme was the formation of a representative assembly in Dublin, to discuss and procure redress for the wrongs of catholics. This project was put down by the Irish government, which treated it as a breach of the convention act of 1793. The next ten years seem to have been somewhat quieter in Ireland, and the disturbances which followed the peace in Great Britain had no counterpart in that country. Still, it was thought necessary to suppress another catholic convention in 1814, and to renew the insurrection act, which remained in force with one interval till 1817. It can well be imagined that a population so lawless, and so prone to horrible outrages which shock Englishmen more than a thousand crimes against property, should have excited little general sympathy by their complaints of political grievances. These grievances were justly denounced by party leaders, but in the eyes of ordinary politicians, and still more of electors, coercion rather than concession was the appropriate remedy for the ills of Ireland.


Canning, however, though suspected of lukewarmness, did not let the question rest in 1822. On April 30, while still out of office, he introduced a bill which he could scarcely have expected to become law, for enabling Roman catholic peers to sit and vote in the house of lords. This bill was passed in the commons by a majority of five, but rejected in the lords by a majority of forty-four, in spite of somewhat transparent assertions that it was not intended to prejudice the main issue. On April 18, 1823, an angry protest from Burdett against the "annual farce" of motions leading to nothing was followed[Pg 241] by a quarrel between Canning and Brougham, who accused Canning, then foreign secretary, of "monstrous truckling for the purpose of obtaining office"; and when Plunket moved, as usual, for the relief of catholics, a temporary secession of radicals took place, which left him in a ridiculous minority. In spite of this discomfiture, Lord Nugent succeeded in carrying through the commons a bill, granting the parliamentary franchise to Roman catholics in Great Britain. The bill was lost in the lords, and the question remained dormant in 1824; but in 1825 it received a fresh impulse. This time it was Burdett who, at the instance of Lansdowne and Brougham, appeared as spokesman of the catholics. His action was in some respects inopportune, as the "Catholic Association," founded by O'Connell and Sheil in 1823, was now usurping the functions of a government, and regularly levying taxes under the name of "rent". The necessity of suppressing it, though not apparent to Lord Wellesley, the lord-lieutenant, was strongly felt on both sides of the house of commons. A bill for this purpose, but applicable to all similar associations, was rapidly carried by large majorities in both houses, and the opposition was fain to rely mainly on the declaration that it would be put in force against catholic associations only, and not against those of the Orangemen, as the more violent of the Irish protestants were called. It is needless to say that it was evaded by the former, but on March 1, while it was still before the house of lords, Burdett took courage to move another preliminary resolution in favour of the catholics, and obtained a majority of thirteen. A bill founded on this resolution was at once introduced.

The debates on this bill were memorable in several respects and opened the last stage but one in the long history of catholic relief. In the first place, more than one opponent publicly avowed his conversion to it; in the second place, now that its "settlement" was actually within view, the necessity of providing a counterpoise became admitted. Accordingly, one independent member proposed a state grant of £250,000 a year for the endowment of the catholic clergy, who might thus be indirectly bound over to good behaviour, while another proposed the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders. Both of these bills were read a second time, but held over until the fate of the main relief bill should be determined. That bill passed the house[Pg 242] of commons on May 10, 1825, by a majority of twenty-one, and Peel tendered his resignation to Lord Liverpool.[86] Two days later, the Duke of York, on presenting a petition against the bill in the house of lords, delivered another speech which fell like a thunder-clap on the country, and has been celebrated ever since as an audacious breach of constitutional usage. In this speech, he justified the inflexible attitude of his father, whose mental disorder he expressly attributed to the agitation of the catholic question. He concluded by declaring that his principles were the same, imbibed in early youth and confirmed by mature reflection, and that he would maintain them up to the latest moment of his existence, "whatever might be his situation in life". It is certain that, in thus pledging himself, he acted without having consulted the king, who somewhat resented so direct an allusion to his prospect of succession. Still, the sensation produced by the duke's utterance was prodigious, and he remained the favourite champion of the protestant cause until his death. Brougham attacked him with furious sarcasm in the commons, but the lords threw out Burdett's relief bill by a majority of forty-eight, and the No-popery cry influenced the general election of 1826. In that year no further effort was made by the friends of catholic claims, but O'Connell showed his growing power in Ireland by exciting a political revolt of the peasantry at Waterford, and procuring the defeat of Lord George Beresford.


In the session of 1827, before Canning succeeded Lord Liverpool, Burdett renewed his motion of 1825 on the catholic question, but found himself defeated by four votes. The division had taken place in a full house, after the fierce encounter, already mentioned, between Copley and Canning; but it cannot be regarded as a decisive token of contrast between the old and the new parliament, since relief was now claimed without any mention of "securities". The subject was in abeyance during the short administrations of Canning and Goderich, but was raised again by Burdett in May, 1828, after the repeal of the test and corporation acts. The number of votes on the catholic side, 272, was the same as in 1827, that on the protestant side, 266, was less by ten, the result being a majority of six for the motion. A similar resolution was lost in the house of lords, as a matter[Pg 243] of course; but the language held by the new lord chancellor, Lyndhurst, and by Wellington himself, as prime minister, prepared observant men for an impending change of policy. Then followed the Clare election, which revealed nothing which might not have been foreseen, but which had the same effect in precipitating the removal of catholic disabilities as the Irish famine afterwards had in precipitating the repeal of the corn laws.

We now know that Peel had made up his mind to yield shortly after the Clare election,[87] partly influenced by the alarming reports of Anglesey, the Irish lord-lieutenant, on the state of Ireland. We also know that Wellington himself was more than half convinced of the necessity of concession, and was preparing to strengthen his government for the coming struggle, in the event of Peel feeling bound to retire. Meanwhile a vacancy in the ministry had been created by the Duke of Clarence's resignation of his office of lord high admiral. In spite of the limitations imposed on his power, he had insisted on hoisting his flag, and assumed command. For this he was severely reprehended by the king and Wellington, and was virtually forced to resign office. Melville now became once more first lord of the admiralty, and was succeeded by Ellenborough at the board of control. Ellenborough retained his former office of lord privy seal, which Wellington was holding in reserve with a view to strengthening the government. But the public of those days remained in entire ignorance of their intentions until the meeting of parliament on February 5, 1829.

The speech of George Dawson, Peel's brother-in-law, at Derry, on August 12, had greatly startled protestants. As it was never publicly disavowed, Brunswick clubs were formed to repel the rising tide of sympathy with the catholics, but the only tangible indication of Wellington's personal sentiments favoured the belief that nothing would be done. The circumstances under which this indication was given were peculiar. The duke had written a letter to the Roman catholic archbishop of Dublin, an old correspondent, deprecating agitation on the catholic question, as likely to prejudice its future settlement, of which, however, the duke saw "no prospect".[88] This letter was improperly sent[Pg 244] by the archbishop to O'Connell as well as to Anglesey. O'Connell read it to the Catholic Association as a sign of conciliatory inclinations; Anglesey's reply suggested, at least, that agitation might continue. He was promptly recalled, and his recall was rendered the more significant by the appointment of the Duke of Northumberland, a known "protestant," as his successor. What the public could not then know was that behind all other difficulties, political or personal, lay the almost insuperable difficulty of inducing the king to allow the cabinet to be even consulted. Indolent and unprincipled as George IV. was, he was still capable of rousing and asserting himself. Probably no one but Wellington could have prevailed against his anti-catholic prejudices, shared, as they were, not only by most of the peers, both spiritual and temporal, but also by the mass of the English people. At this juncture Peel informed the duke that, rather than risk the success of the proposed measure, he would remain at his post. His example was followed by his "protestant" colleagues.


During the winter of 1828-29 the strongest pressure was brought to bear on the king by his ministers to procure his consent to a measure of relief, accompanied by safeguards. Though he afterwards assured Eldon that he had never explicitly given such a consent, the old chancellor, on seeing the documents, felt obliged to express a contrary opinion. It is certain that he gave way most reluctantly, and probable that his scruples were as sincere as was consistent with his character; but he knew well that, if he dismissed his ministers, he would be left isolated, and he bowed to necessity. Indeed even the "protestant" members of the cabinet had urged him to yield. His assent was, in fact, only given by degrees; after each member of the cabinet, who had previously opposed catholic emancipation, had had a separate interview, the king consented on January 15 to the consideration of the subject by the cabinet, but reserved the right to reject its advice. After this no great difficulty was experienced in obtaining the royal assent to the introduction of a bill.[89] Accordingly the king's speech, delivered by commission on February 5, 1829, distinctly recommended parliament to consider whether the civil disabilities of the catho[Pg 245]lics could not be removed "consistently with the full and permanent security of our establishments in Church and State". This recommendation, however, was preceded by a severe condemnation of the Catholic Association and the expression of a resolution to put down the disorders caused by it. The sensation produced by the king's speech was increased by the simultaneous resignation by Peel of his seat for the university of Oxford. Considering that he was originally preferred to Canning mainly on protestant grounds, he could not have honourably acted otherwise. Many of his old friends stood by him, in spite of differences on the catholic question, and Eldon's grandson, who had been proposed as a candidate, was set aside as too weak an opponent. Ultimately Sir Robert Inglis was put forward by the "protestants," and was returned by 755 votes against 609. Peel obtained a seat for the borough of Westbury,[90] and moved a preliminary bill for suppressing the Catholic Association. This passed both houses in February, but was already ineffective when it became law, since the association had been shrewd enough to dissolve itself upon the advice of its English well-wishers. The catholic relief bill was therefore introduced under favourable auspices.

The motives which actuated Wellington and Peel in espousing the cause which they had so persistently opposed admit of no doubt whatever. In the memoir which Peel left as embodying his own defence, no less than in his speech introducing the emancipation bill, he affects no essential change of conviction. He rests his case entirely on the public danger of leaving the question "unsettled" after the disclosures of the Clare election, and argues calmly, as the agitators had been arguing for nearly thirty years, that no settlement was practicable short of complete, though not unconditional, surrender. There is no pretence of consistency. All the constitutional, political, and religious objections to civil equality between protestants and catholics in Ireland remained unanswered and unabated. Indeed the increasing power and defiant tone of the catholic demagogues might well have appeared a crowning reason for refusing them seats in parliament. Peel, however, had adopted, and pressed upon Wellington, the delusive opinion of Anglesey that by[Pg 246] "taking them from the Association and placing them in the house of commons" they might be reduced to comparative impotence. He lamented, it is true, the premature announcement of a new policy by Dawson, and he had submitted his own resignation to the duke in the belief, apparently sincere, that he could render better service in an independent position. But he seems not to have felt the least scruple in urging the duke to break all his pledges to his protestant supporters, and conciliate the followers of O'Connell. Nor did his advice fall on unwilling ears. Trained in a vocation where private conscience is subordinate to military duty, where enemies must sometimes be welcomed as allies if it may further the plan of campaign, and where a masterly retreat is as honourable as a victory, Wellington did not shrink from undertaking the part of an opportunist minister. He had always regarded himself as a servant of the crown and the nation, rather than as a party leader, and he saw no personal difficulty in adopting any political measure as the less of two evils. Having once satisfied himself that civil war in Ireland was the only alternative to emancipation, he abandoned resistance to it as he would have abandoned a hopeless siege, and called upon his tory followers to change their front with him.

Notice had been given of a resolution to be moved by Peel on March 5, preparing the way for the catholic relief bill, when the king raised fresh obstacles to its progress. As the day drew near, George, encouraged by the Duke of Cumberland, grew very excited. He had violent interviews with his ministers, and finally on March 3 he informed Wellington, Lyndhurst, and Peel that he could not assent to any alteration in the oath of supremacy. The three ministers accordingly tendered their resignations, which were accepted. But the king soon found that no alternative administration was possible, and on the following day the existing ministers received permission to proceed with the bill.[91]


Peel's great speech on March 5, in favour of his resolution, contains a comprehensive review of the Irish question, as well as an elaborate defence of his own position, resting solely on grounds of expediency. He advocated the measure itself as the only means of pacifying Ireland, reducing the undue power[Pg 247] of the catholics, and securing the protestant religion. It was simple in its main outlines, applying to the whole United Kingdom, and purporting to open all political and civil rights to catholics, with a very few specified exceptions. It contained, however, a number of provisions, in the nature of securities against catholic aggression. By the new oath, to be substituted for the oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration, a member of parliament, or holder of an office, was no longer required to renounce transubstantiation, the invocation of saints, or the sacrifice of the mass. But he was still obliged not only to swear allegiance, but to profess himself resolved to maintain the protestant settlement of the crown, to condemn absolutely all papal jurisdiction within the realm, and to disclaim solemnly any intention of subverting the existing Church establishment or weakening the system of protestant government. Moreover, priests were expressly denied the privilege of sitting in parliament. Catholics were still excluded from the high positions of sovereign, regent, lord chancellor of England or Ireland, and lord-lieutenant of Ireland. They were enabled to become ministers of the crown, but were debarred from the power of advising the crown on presentations to ecclesiastical dignities or benefices, nor were they allowed to exercise such patronage in their personal capacity. They were still to be disabled from holding offices in the ecclesiastical courts, or in the universities, and their bishops were forbidden to assume diocesan titles already appropriated by the establishment. Other clauses were directed against the use of catholic vestments except in their chapels and private houses, and against the importation of Jesuits or members of similar religious orders, with a saving clause for those already resident and duly registered. Two other safeguards, often proposed, were deliberately omitted from the bill. There was no provision for a state endowment of catholic priests, or for a veto of the crown on the appointment of catholic bishops. These omissions, whether justifiable or not, were pregnant with serious consequences.

The debates in both houses on Peel's bill, as it was rightly considered, are chiefly interesting as throwing light on contemporary opinion. The arguments for and against it had been fairly exhausted in previous years, and would carry no great weight in a later age. The constitutional objections to it, which[Pg 248] seemed vital to Eldon, and weighty to every statesman of his time, were at a later date put aside, when they were pleaded against the dissolution of the Irish church, directly guaranteed by the act of union. The criticisms on the personal consistency of Wellington and Peel belong to biography rather than to history. But no one can read the speeches of leading men on either side without recognising the superior foresight, at least, of those who opposed the bill, and distrusted the efficacy of the safeguards embodied in it. Two assumptions underlay the whole discussion, and were treated as axioms by nearly all the speakers. The one was that catholic emancipation must be judged by its effect on the future peace of Ireland; the other, that it could not be justified, unless it would strengthen, rather than weaken, protestant ascendency, then regarded as a bulwark of the constitution. Posterity may contemplate it from a different and perhaps higher point of view; but it is certain that, if its consequences had been foreseen by those who voted upon it, the bill would have been rejected. It is no less certain that its adoption was a victory of the educated classes, represented by nomination-boroughs, over the unrepresented masses of the people.

The actual result in the division lists was all that its promoters could have desired. Though the secret had been so well kept by the government that few of its supporters knew what to expect, and though piles of petitions showed the preponderance of protestant sentiment outside parliament, that sentiment was not reflected in the division lists. The first reading of the bill in the house of commons was carried by a majority of 348 to 160; the second reading by a majority of 353 to 180; the third reading by a majority of 320 to 142. The debates were enlivened on the protestant side by a brilliant speech from Michael Sadler, a tory friend of the working classes, returned by the Duke of Newcastle for Newark, and a violent invective from Sir Charles Wetherell, the attorney-general, who was thereupon dismissed from office. Peel, who had borne the brunt of these attacks, replied on March 30, when the bill was sent up to the lords, and on April 2, the second reading of it in the upper house was moved by Wellington. His candid admission that he was driven to concession by the fear of civil war has since become historical, and served as the watchword of many a lawless agitation in Ireland. It was natural that[Pg 249] most of the peers, and especially of the spiritual peers, who took part in the discussion should be opponents of the measure, but Lloyd, Bishop of Oxford, severed himself from the rest of his order, and vigorous speeches were made in support of it by Anglesey and Grey, neither of whom could be regarded as friendly to Wellington's government.


Anglesey, who had been recently dismissed from the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland, went beyond the duke in the use of purely military arguments; Grey ventured to prophesy not only a future reign of peace in Ireland, but an extension of protestantism, as the consequence of catholic emancipation. The hopeless attempt of Lyndhurst to vindicate his own consistency, and a forensic duel between Eldon and Plunket, who had been raised to the peerage in 1827, relieved the monotony of the debate, but probably did not influence a single vote. The old guard of the anti-catholic party remained firm, but the mass of tory peers followed their leader in his new policy, as they had followed him in his old, and the relief bill was read a third time in the house of lords on the 10th, by a majority of 104. Three days later it received the royal assent. Lord Eldon had virtually encouraged the king to refuse this, at the last moment, though he was too honest to accept the assurance of George IV. that the bill was introduced without his authority. But the son of George III. had not inherited his father's resolute character. After a few childish threats of retiring to Hanover and leaving the Duke of Clarence to make terms with the ministry, he abandoned further resistance and capitulated to Wellington, as Wellington had capitulated to O'Connell.

The disfranchisement of the forty-shilling freeholders and the substitution of a ten-pound suffrage was the price to be paid for catholic emancipation, and no time was lost in completing the bargain. In days when it is assumed that every change in the electoral franchise must needs be in a downward direction, it may well appear amazing that so wholesale a destruction of privileges enjoyed for thirty-six years should have provoked so feeble an opposition. It is still more amazing that it should have passed without a protest from O'Connell himself, who had solemnly vowed to perish on the field or on the scaffold rather than submit to it. Yet so it was. These ignorant voters, it is true, had never ventured to call[Pg 250] their souls their own, and had only ceased to be the servile creatures of their landlords in order to become the servile creatures of their priests. Still, it was they who, by their action in the Waterford and Clare elections, had forced the hand of the government, and achieved catholic emancipation. It may safely be said that after the reform act of 1832 it would have been politically impossible to disfranchise them; and even in the unreformed parliament it would have been scarcely possible if gratitude were a trustworthy motive in politics. On the other hand, the government could never have secured a majority for catholic emancipation, unless it had been distinctly understood to carry with it the extinction of democracy in Ireland. This, rather than declarations and restrictions of doubtful efficacy, was the real "security" on which the legislature relied for disarming the disloyalty of Irish catholics. For some time it answered its purpose so far as to keep the representation of that disloyalty within safe limits in the house of commons. But it naturally produced a contrary effect in Ireland itself, and was destined to be swept away before a fresh wave of agitation.

A few days before the relief bill passed the house of commons an episode occurred which is chiefly interesting for the light which it throws on the ideas then prevalent in the highest society. In 1828 Wellington had presided at a meeting for the establishment of King's College, London, an institution which was to be entirely under the influence of the established church, and which was intended as a counterpoise to the purely secular institution which had been recently founded under the title of the "London University". The Earl of Winchilsea, a peer of no personal importance, but a stalwart upholder of Church and State, published in the Standard newspaper of March 16, 1829, a virulent letter, describing the whole transaction "as a blind to the protestant and high church party," and accusing the prime minister of insidious designs for the introduction of popery in every department of the state. The duke at once sent Hardinge with a note couched in moderate language, demanding an apology. Winchilsea made no apology, but offered to express regret for having mistaken the duke's motives, if the duke would declare that when he presided at the meeting in question he was not contemplating any measure of catholic relief. Whereupon the duke demanded "that satis[Pg 251]faction which a gentleman has a right to require, and which a gentleman never refuses to give". A hostile meeting took place on March 21 in Battersea fields. The duke intentionally fired wide, and Winchilsea, after discharging his weapon in the air, tendered a written apology, in conformity with the so-called rules of honour. The duke was conscious that his conduct must have "shocked many good men," but he always maintained that it was the only way, and proved an effectual way, of dispelling the atmosphere of calumny in which he was surrounded. It is probable that he judged rightly of his contemporaries, and that he gained rather than lost in reputation by an act which, apart from its moral aspect, risked the success of a great measure largely depending on the continuance of his own life. It may be noticed that he afterwards became not only the personal friend of his antagonist, but the most influential member of the Anti-Duelling Association.[92]


Another episode, or rather sequel, of the great contest on catholic relief had more serious political consequences. Though O'Connell was the undoubted leader of the movement, and might almost have claimed to be the father of the act, he was most unwisely but deliberately excluded from its benefits. His exclusion was effected by a clause which rendered its operation strictly prospective, for the very purpose of shutting out the one catholic who had been elected under the old law. It had been decided by a committee of the house of commons that he was duly returned, the only question being whether he could take his seat without subscribing the oath now abolished. This question was brought to a test by the appearance of O'Connell in person in the house itself. The speaker, Charles Manners-Sutton, declared that he could not properly be admitted to be sworn under the new law, upon which O'Connell claimed a hearing. A long and futile discussion followed as to whether he should be heard at the table or at the bar. In the end he was heard at the bar, and produced a very favourable impression upon his opponents as well as his friends by the ingenuity of his arguments and the studied moderation of his tone. His case, however, was manifestly untenable from a legal point of view, and a new writ was ordered to be issued for the county of Clare.[Pg 252]

Then was shown both the folly of stirring up so needlessly the inflammable materials of Irish sedition and the futility of imagining that catholic emancipation, right or wrong, would prove a healing measure. Having exhibited the better side of his character in his speech before the house of commons, O'Connell exhibited its worst side without stint or shame in his addresses to the Irish peasantry. Skilfully avoiding the language of sheer treason, he set no bounds to his coarse and outrageous vituperation of the nation which had sacrificed even its conscience to appease Ireland; nor did he shrink from denouncing Wellington and Peel as "those men who, false to their own party, can never be true to us". The note which he struck has never ceased to vibrate in the hearts of the excitable people which he might have educated into loyal citizenship, and the spirit which he evoked has been the evil genius of Ireland from his day to our own. He openly unfurled the standard of repeal, but the repeal he demanded did not involve the creation of an Irish republic. Ireland was still to be connected with Great Britain by "the golden link of the crown," and though agitation was carried to the verge of rebellion, the great agitator never actually advised his dupes to rise in arms for a war of independence. Short of this he did all in his power, and with too much success, to inflame them with a malignant hatred of the sister country. If the promoters of catholic emancipation had ever looked for any reward beyond the inward satisfaction of having done a righteous act, they were speedily and wofully undeceived.


[83] Wellington to Peel, January 9, 1828, in Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 27.

[84] Lecky, History of Ireland, v., 358-60, n.; Stapleton, Life of Canning, ii., 131-34.

[85] Eldon to Sir William Scott, Twiss, Life of Eldon, ii., 416. For Eldon's Speech, see Twiss, iii., 498-512.

[86] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, i., 372-75.

[87] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 54-60.

[88] Wellington to Curtis, December 11, 1828, Wellington, Despatches, etc., v., 326.

[89] For the king's qualified assent see Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 82-85; Peel's Memoirs, i., 297, 298, 310.

[90] See Peel's Memoirs, i., 3, for his unpopularity at Westbury.

[91] Peel's Memoirs, i., 343-49; Greville, Memoirs, i., 189, 190, 201, 202.

[92] See Maxwell, Life of Wellington, ii., 231-36, for the incident.[Pg 253]



It is now time to turn to the general course of foreign policy during the closing years of the reign of George IV. The only foreign problems which gave serious trouble during this period were the Eastern and Portuguese questions. The influence which the former exercised on domestic policy has rendered it necessary to trace its course as far as the battle of Navarino in the last chapter. We must now take up the other question where we left it, at the recognition of the independence of Brazil and the expulsion of the Spanish troops from the mainland of America.

Peter I., Emperor of Brazil, though an independent sovereign, was still heir-apparent to the throne of Portugal, and the ultra-royalists hoped that, in spite of the provisions of the Brazilian constitution, his succession to his ancestral crown would restore the unity of the Portuguese dominions. The death of King John VI. on March 10, 1826, brought the matter to a crisis. Four days before his death he had appointed a council of regency which was to be presided over by his daughter, Isabella Maria, but from which the queen and Dom Miguel, then twenty-three, were both excluded. By this act the absolutist party were deprived of power until they should be restored to it by the action of the new king, or by a revolution. The regency wished the new king to make a speedy choice between the two crowns; and it was anticipated that he would abdicate the Portuguese crown in favour of his seven-year-old daughter, Maria da Gloria. The absolutists on the other hand hoped that the king might by procrastination avoid the separation of the crowns.[Pg 254]

What was their surprise when they discovered that the king had indeed determined to procrastinate, but in such a way as to displease the absolutists as much as the friends of constitutional government? No sooner had the news of his father's death reached Peter at Rio Janeiro, than he issued a charter of 145 clauses, conferring a constitution on Portugal. This constitution which was destined to alternate for nearly a generation with absolute monarchy or with the revolutionary constitution of 1821, had the advantage of being the voluntary gift of the king. It was, however, composed in great haste, and, except that it retained the hereditary nobility as a first chamber in the cortes, was almost identical with the constitution established in Brazil in the previous December. Among other provisions it subjected the nobility to taxation and asserted the principle of religious toleration. A few days later, on the 2nd of May, King Peter executed an act of abdication in favour of his daughter Maria, providing, however, that the abdication should not come into effect until the necessary oaths had been taken to the new constitution and until the new queen should have been married to her uncle, Dom Miguel.


This compromise pleased nobody. It is true that it seemed to make permanent the separation of Brazil from Portugal, since the former state was destined for Peter's infant son, afterwards Peter II.; but the Brazilian patriots would have preferred a more definite abandonment of the Portuguese throne, and Peter's half-measure of abdication was one of the main causes of the discontent which drove him to resign the Brazilian crown five years later. The Portuguese liberals were alarmed at the prospect of a restoration of Dom Miguel to power, while the absolutists were indignant at the imposition of a constitution. From the very first it encountered opposition. The new constitution was indeed proclaimed on July 13, and the necessary oaths were taken on the 31st. But on the same day a party, consisting mainly of Portuguese deserters in Spanish territory, proclaimed Miguel as king and the queen-mother as regent during his absence. Miguel, however, gave no open support to this party; on October 4 he actually took the oath to the new constitution, and on the 29th he formally betrothed himself at Vienna to the future Queen of Portugal. But the Portuguese insurgents were not deterred by the apparent defection[Pg 255] of the prince whose claim to reign they asserted, and they received a thinly disguised encouragement from the Spanish government, which certainly did nothing to interfere with their organisation in Spanish territory. On the 10th the last insurgents had been expelled from Portuguese territory, but in November they were openly joined by some Spanish soldiers, and on the 22nd of that month they invaded the Portuguese province of Traz-os-Montes. Another division made a simultaneous irruption into the province of Alemtejo. This latter body was quickly expelled from the kingdom and marched through Spanish territory to join its more successful comrades in Northern Portugal. The whole province of Traz-os-Montes had fallen into the hands of the absolutists in a few days, and its defection was followed by that of the northern part of Beira, when the arrival of British forces gave the constitutional party the necessary encouragement to enable them to arrest the progress of the insurrection.

As in 1823, the Portuguese government, represented in London by Palmella, applied for British assistance against the ultra-royalists at home. But on the present occasion Portugal was able to appeal to something more than the general friendship of Great Britain. By the treaties of 1661 and 1703, renewed as recently as 1815, Great Britain was bound to defend Portugal against invasion, and Portugal now claimed the fulfilment of these treaties. The formal demand was received by the British ministry on December 3, but it was not till Friday, the 8th, that official intelligence was received of the invasion. Not a moment was lost in despatching 5,000 troops to Portugal. This resolution was formed by the cabinet on the 9th, approved by the king on the 10th, and communicated to parliament on the 11th. On the evening of the 12th Canning was able to inform the house of commons that the troops were already on the march for embarkation.

The debate in the house of commons on the address in answer to the royal message announcing the request of the Portuguese government, was the occasion of two of the most famous speeches that Canning ever delivered. After recounting the treaty obligations of this country to Portugal, and the circumstances of the Portuguese application for assistance, and disclaiming any desire to meddle with the domestic politics of[Pg 256] Portugal, he referred to a previous anticipation that the next European war would be one "not so much of armies as of opinions". "Not four years," he proceeded, "have elapsed, and behold my apprehension realised! It is, to be sure, within narrow limits that this war of opinion is at present confined: but it is a war of opinion that Spain (whether as government or as nation) is now waging against Portugal; it is a war which has commenced in hatred of the new institutions of Portugal. How long is it reasonable to expect that Portugal will abstain from retaliation? If into that war this country shall be compelled to enter, we shall enter into it with a sincere and anxious desire to mitigate rather than exasperate, and to mingle only in the conflict of arms, not in the more fatal conflict of opinions. But I much fear that this country (however earnestly she may endeavour to avoid it) could not, in such case, avoid seeing ranked under her banners all the restless and dissatisfied of any nation with which she might come in conflict. It is the contemplation of this new power in any future war which excites my most anxious apprehension. It is one thing to have a giant's strength, but it would be another to use it like a giant. The consciousness of such strength is undoubtedly a source of confidence and security; but in the situation in which this country stands, our business is not to seek opportunities of displaying it, but to content ourselves with letting the professors of violent and exaggerated doctrines on both sides feel that it is not their interests to convert an umpire into an adversary."

In his reply at the close of the debate Canning vindicated his consistency in resisting Spanish aggression upon Portugal, while offering no resistance to the military occupation of Spain by France, which had not yet terminated. He pointed out that the Spain of his day was quite different from "the Spain within the limits of whose empire the sun never set—the Spain 'with the Indies' that excited the jealousies and alarmed the imaginations of our ancestors". He admitted that the entry of the French into Spain was a disparagement to the pride of England, but he thought it had been possible to obtain compensation without offering resistance in Spain itself. Then came the famous passage: "If France occupied Spain, was it necessary, in order to avoid the consequences of that occupation, that we should blockade Cadiz? No. I looked another[Pg 257] way—I sought materials of compensation in another hemisphere. Contemplating Spain, such as our ancestors had known her, I resolved that if France had Spain, it should not be Spain 'with the Indies'. I called the new world into existence to redress the balance of the old."[93]


The two speeches were greeted with applause both in parliament and in the country, but their vanity was excessive. So far from "creating the new world," Canning had merely recognised the existence of states which had already won their own independence, and even so he was only following the example of the United States. It was not only extremely foolish, but altogether disingenuous, to maintain that the recognition of the South American republics had been resolved on as a counterpoise to French influence in Spain. The reasons which prompted this recognition were commercial, not political, and it had been announced to the powers as our ultimate policy before any invasion of Spain had taken place. The king had only consented to the step on condition that it was not to be represented as a measure of retaliation, and Canning himself when he delivered these speeches knew that the French had promised to evacuate Spain in the following April.[94] But however little justified by facts, the two speeches made a profound impression throughout Europe. Whatever Canning might desire, it was quite clear that he contemplated the possibility of a military alliance between this country and the revolutionary factions on the continent, and the impression gained ground that he desired to pose as the champion of liberalism against legitimate government.

The first detachment of the British army reached Lisbon on Christmas day. It was not destined, however, to play an active part in the Portuguese struggle. The insurgent army was as greatly discouraged as the loyal troops were elated by its arrival, and the government was moreover enabled to employ a larger force on the scene of hostilities. The insurgents were in consequence driven out of the province of Beira and the greater part of Traz-os-Montes. A new invasion[Pg 258] from Spanish territory, supported by some Spanish soldiers and Spanish artillery, took place during January, 1827. The greater part of the province of the Minho fell into the hands of the rebels, and on February 2 they captured the important town of Braga. But the forces of the regency proved too strong for them, and early in March the insurgents evacuated Portugal altogether. The Spanish government, now that little could be effected by further assistance to the Portuguese refugees, determined at length to perform the duties of a neutral power, and disarmed them.

The British troops remained in Portugal till March, 1828. By that time the disturbances had assumed a purely domestic character, and it was ultimately decided to recall them. But a firmer policy than that actually followed would have been necessary in order to extricate Great Britain from the strife of Portuguese factions, in which her recent action had given a decided advantage to the constitutional party. That party had been driven into opposition before the British troops were recalled. On July 3, 1827, King Peter had issued a decree appointing Dom Miguel his lieutenant, and investing him with all the powers which belonged to him as king under the charter. Miguel, after visiting London, arrived at Lisbon on February 22, 1828, and was sworn in as regent four days later. As he was twenty-five years old, and therefore of full age according to Portuguese law, he could not with any show of equity have been kept out of the regency longer. Miguel's installation as regent was followed by a series of riots as well on the part of the absolutists, who desired to make him king, as on the part of the constitutionalists who feared that he would make himself king. It was not long before he definitely identified himself with the absolutist party.


On March 14 the cortes were dissolved. On May 3 Miguel summoned the ancient cortes in his own name, and on June 26 they acknowledged him as king. The immediate result of this act was that all the ambassadors, except those of Spain and the Holy See, quitted Lisbon, and the lapse of time did not induce them to change their attitude towards Miguel. A further complication was introduced by Peter's definite abdication in favour of his daughter on March 3, executed before he had any suspicion of Miguel's designs, which placed Miguel in the position[Pg 259] of regent for his infant niece instead of for his brother. After this formal abdication Peter despatched his daughter to Europe, intending that she should proceed to Vienna. When, however, she arrived at Gibraltar on September 2, her conductors, hearing of Miguel's usurpation, determined to take her to England, and she landed at Falmouth on the 24th. Peter, on hearing of Miguel's usurpation, naturally considered the regency terminated, and claimed to act as the guardian of the infant queen; the Brazilian ministers in Europe acted as his agents, while his partisans assembled in England and attempted to use this country as a basis for warlike operations in Portuguese territories.

The situation of 1826 was thus reversed. Instead of an ultra-royalist party resting on Spain, a constitutionalist party resting on Brazil and attempting to rest on England was now threatening the established government at Lisbon. Wellington was anxious to maintain a strict neutrality, but he failed to prevent a ship of war and supplies of arms and ammunition going from Plymouth to Terceira in the Azores, where Donna Maria was acknowledged as queen. He succeeded, however, in preventing a larger armament, which had been raised under the name of the Emperor of Brazil, with Rio Janeiro as its nominal destination, from landing at Terceira. This action, though the logical consequence of the British opposition to the conduct of Spain in 1826, was severely criticised in England as equivalent to an intervention on behalf of Miguel.

Meanwhile Canning's attempt to prevent the separate action of Russia in the Eastern question had been doomed to disappointment. The destruction of the Turkish navy at Navarino was naturally regarded at Constantinople as an outrage, and the Porte demanded satisfaction from the ambassadors of the allied powers. This they refused to grant on the ground that the Turks had been the aggressors, and they in their turn demanded an armistice between the Turkish troops and the Greek insurgents. As the Porte remained obdurate, the ambassadors of France, Great Britain, and Russia, acting in accordance with their instructions, left Constantinople on December 8, 1827. But though war seemed imminent, the tsar still disowned all idea of conquest, and professed to desire nothing further than the execution of the treaty of London. A protocol was accordingly signed on the 12th by which the three powers confirmed[Pg 260] a clause in the treaty, providing that, in the event of war, none of them should derive any exclusive benefit, either commercial or territorial.

The British government imagined that the powers might still effect their object by diplomacy, and that it would not be necessary to abandon the Turkish alliance. But any such idea must have been rudely shaken by the hati-sherif of December 20. In that document the sultan enlarged on the cruelty and perfidy of the Christian powers and summoned the Muslim nations to arms: he denounced Russia in particular as the prime mover of the Greek rebellion, the instigator of the other powers, and the arch-enemy of Islam; and he declared the treaty of Akkerman, by which the outstanding disputes between Russia and the Porte had been settled in October, 1826, to have been extorted by force and only signed in order to save time. This defiance of Russia, if not of all Christendom, was followed by a levy of Turkish troops and the expulsion of most of the Christian residents from Constantinople. No course was now open to Russia but to make war. It remained to be seen whether any other power would join her. On January 6, 1828, a Russian despatch announced the tsar's intention of occupying the Danubian principalities, and suggested that France and Great Britain should force the Dardanelles and thus compel the Porte to comply with the provisions of the treaty of London.


It is possible that if the direction of British foreign policy had remained in the hands of Goderich and Dudley, our government might have lent its support to a settlement of the Eastern question which would in effect have been the work of Russia only. The more daring policy of Canning, by which Great Britain had attempted to take the lead as opportunity offered, either in active co-operation with Russia or in active opposition to her, could only be directed by a more versatile statesman than the nation now possessed. The accession to office of Wellington, though it left Dudley at the foreign office, was really marked by a return to the policy of Castlereagh, a policy which, if not brilliant, was at least honourable, consistent, and considerate, and which in the hands of Wellington was managed with a sufficient measure of firmness, though with less tact and insight than had been shown by Castlereagh. The first object of this policy was to keep the special grievances of[Pg 261] Russia distinct from the complaints which Europe at large or, in the present situation, the three allied powers were able to bring against the Porte. By so doing the British government hoped to prevent Russia from dragging other powers into a war for her private benefit, and also to render it impossible for Russia to use her special grievances as a lever by which she might effect a separate settlement of the general question. For some years this policy was successful. Russia did indeed wage a separate war with the Turks, but the Greek question was settled by the three powers conjointly, and Great Britain rather than Russia took the lead in the settlement. It was only after Palmerston had succeeded to the direction of our foreign policy in 1830, that it was discovered how far the victory of Russia in war had placed her in a position to dictate the general policy of the Ottoman court.

Wellington experienced no difficulty in striking out a line of policy along which he could carry France with him. On February 21 De la Ferronays, who had been recalled from the French embassy at St. Petersburg to occupy the post of foreign minister in the new liberal administration, which had been formed in France in December, 1827, despatched a note urging the immediate employment of energetic measures against the Porte. He saw that the hati-sherif gave special occasion of war to Russia, and he was naturally anxious to anticipate her isolated action by combined measures of coercion. He had, however, nothing better to suggest than the execution of the Russian proposals of January 6. Wellington, in his reply, dated the 26th, rightly minimised the seriousness of the hati-sherif, and characterised the proposed measures of coercion as destined to be ineffectual. He also expressed the fear that if the three powers combined to make war on the Turks there would be a general insurrection of the subject races in the Turkish dominions which might last indefinitely. He therefore proposed first to settle the Greek question by local pressure, after which he anticipated no serious trouble about events at Constantinople. On the same day he drafted a memorandum to the cabinet in which he proposed that the allied squadrons should proceed to the Archipelago, blockade the Morea and Alexandria, destroy the Greek pirates, stop the warfare in Chios and Crete, and call upon the Greek government to withdraw[Pg 262] the forces which were operating in western and eastern Greece respectively under the command of two foreign volunteers, General Church and Colonel Fabvier. In other words, he proposed to coerce not the Porte but the actual combatants, Greece and Egypt, and to check each party where it was the aggressor. If the prime object of the government in the eastern question was the maintenance of order, these proposals were excellent. The one capital defect of the whole scheme was that it ignored the Russian desire for war, which rendered it impossible for the tsar to postpone the settlement of his own grievances until an arrangement should be come to on the Greek question; on the other hand, by isolating the Greek question, it left it possible for the western powers to proceed with its solution in spite of the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and the Turks.[95]


Russia's determination to act singly was, however, already made. On the same day, February 26, on which Wellington sketched his policy, Nesselrode issued a despatch declaring that war was inevitable, including among his reasons the repudiation of recent treaties by the Porte and the proclamation by it of a holy war. At the same time he endeavoured to disarm any possible opposition on the part of the powers by an invitation to them to make use of the coming war to carry out the treaty of London. In any case Russia would execute the treaty, but if she were left to herself, the manner of execution would be determined by her own convenience and interest.[96] So far Russia had done nothing directly inconsistent with the maintenance of her concert with France and Great Britain, whose representatives had been sitting in conference with hers at London since January, 1827. But the reference in this last note to the possibility of a settlement of the Greek question according to the convenience and interest of Russia appeared like a threat of breaking up the alliance in case France and Great Britain refused to send their fleets to the Mediterranean. At least Wellington so understood it, and, rather than be a party to the war, he dissolved the conference of London in the middle of March. But he soon found that by so doing he lost the co-operation of France, and he was therefore compelled to accept the assurances of Russia that she intended to keep within the limits of the treaty of London, and to regard the Mediterranean as a neutral area.[Pg 263] The conference was in consequence reopened at the beginning of July. Meanwhile hostilities had actually begun between Russia and the Turks. Russia declared war on April 26. On May 7 her troops crossed the Pruth. They rapidly overran the Danubian provinces, and on June 7 crossed the Danube into Bulgaria. They were destined, however, to spend more than a year between the Danube and the Balkans before they could force their way into Rumelia.

During the interval considerable progress was made with the settlement of the Greek question. The treaty of London in providing for the autonomy of Greece had specified no boundaries, and the first problem demanding the attention of the powers that had assumed the task of the settlement of Greece was to determine the limits within which that settlement was to be effected. It might be urged that all the Greeks who had accepted the armistice imposed by the powers in consequence of the treaty of London had a right to share in the settlement at which that treaty aimed. But the armistice had been broken by Greek attacks on Chios and Crete, and Wellington held that the powers were, in consequence, free from any obligation imposed by the nominal acceptance of the armistice. He, accordingly, desired to adopt the simple principle of granting the proposed autonomy to those parts of Greece in which the insurrection had proved successful, namely, the Morea and the Ægean Islands, and refusing it in Northern and Central Greece, where the Turkish forces still held their own. But the British cabinet was far from being unanimous; many, among whom Palmerston was specially prominent, urged the concession of a greatly increased territory. The changes which took place in the British ministry towards the end of May, 1828, deprived Palmerston of his share in its deliberations, and by substituting Aberdeen for Dudley at the foreign office, placed our foreign relations under the direction of a man of talent and experience, who had already exercised an important influence on British policy and who was more in sympathy with the policy of the prime minister than Dudley had been, but who was not content, like Dudley, to be a mere cipher in the department over which he was called to preside. Aberdeen, though opposed to the narrow boundaries which Wellington wished to assign to liberated Greece, was no less antagonistic than his chief to any[Pg 264] attempt to make the new Greek state politically important; and he was even of opinion that the Russian declaration of war had released Great Britain from any further obligation under the treaty of London.

Such were the composition and policy of the British government when the conference of London reassembled in July. The differences between the powers had prevented any active intervention in Greece, since the battle of Navarino. The ports in the Morea, still occupied by Ibrahim, had indeed been blockaded, but it had been found impossible to induce Austrian vessels to acknowledge a blockade of such questionable legality, and the allied fleets had even permitted the embarkation of Ibrahim's sick and wounded together with 5,500 Greek prisoners, who were sold into slavery on their arrival at Alexandria. The renewal of the concert of the three powers was followed by a rapid change in the situation. On the 19th it was decided that France should send an expedition to expel the Turco-Egyptian troops from the Morea, while Great Britain should render her any naval assistance that might be necessary. This step was valued by the British government as definitely committing France to a share in the settlement of the Greek question, and therefore interesting that power in opposition to any attempt at a separate settlement by Russia. It also furnished a safe outlet for French military ardour, disappointed by the results of the Spanish expedition. In fact, the evacuation of Spain, which was in progress at the date when this agreement was concluded, materially reduced the strain which the new undertaking imposed upon the French government. France immediately prepared to send out a force amounting to nearly 22,000 men. But before they could arrive, the greater part of their task had been performed by other hands.


Codrington's conduct in permitting the embarkation of the Turkish sick and wounded with their prisoners had given great dissatisfaction at home, and the cabinet had resolved on his recall before the ministerial crisis of the latter part of May. That crisis occasioned a fortnight's delay, and, in consequence, Codrington was able, before his successor arrived, to make a naval demonstration before Alexandria and on August 6 to obtain the consent of Mehemet Ali to the following proposals: an exchange of prisoners was to take place, involving the liberation[Pg 265] of the recently enslaved Greeks, and the Egyptian army was to be withdrawn from the Morea, but Ibrahim was to be allowed to leave behind 1,200 Egyptian troops to help to garrison five fortresses which were held by the Turks. Before either the new London protocol or the Alexandria convention could be carried into effect, further differences had arisen. Russia had proclaimed a blockade of the Dardanelles and ordered her admiral to carry it out. This proceeding was regarded by the British government as a breach of faith and a menace to British commerce. It was, however, impossible to abandon co-operation with Russia for fear that the Greek question might become involved in the issues at stake between her and the Porte. Wellington, in consequence, contented himself with obtaining certain exemptions from the operation of the blockade on behalf of British subjects trading with Turkey, and with the exclusion of the Russian fleet from the operations conducted in the Mediterranean in accordance with the orders of the London conference. The French force for expelling the Egyptians from the Morea arrived almost simultaneously with the Egyptian transports for removing them. On October 5 Ibrahim set sail for Egypt, with 21,000 men, leaving 1,200 behind in the five fortresses in accordance with the terms settled at Alexandria. The French began their attack on the remaining fortresses two days later, and by the end of November had expelled all the Turks from the Morea. By the terms of their engagements, they ought now to have departed. But it was hardly to be expected that France would so readily abandon the advantage that the presence of her troops gave her in the settlement of the eastern question.

Meanwhile the negotiations made slow progress. On November 16 a protocol was issued placing the Morea with the neighbouring islands under the guarantee of the powers. Wellington had opposed any extension of the guarantee to Central Greece on the ground that the allies had to provide both the necessary military force and the cost of maintaining the Greek government, so that any undertaking beyond the Morea would involve heavy expense without rendering lighter the task of maintaining order. But the real decision of the question lay not with the diplomatists at London, but with the diplomatists on the spot. Representatives of the three powers had been sent to[Pg 266] Poros to make detailed arrangements in accordance with the terms of the treaty of London. Stratford Canning, who represented Great Britain, was one of the supporters of an extended frontier, and in the end the ambassadors at Poros drew up a protocol in favour of erecting Greece south of a line connecting the Gulfs of Arta and Volo into a hereditary principality, which was also to include nearly all the islands. Even Samos and Crete were recommended to the benevolent consideration of the courts. All Mohammedans were to be expelled from this territory. The tribute payable to Turkey was to be fixed at 1,500,000 piastres, but this was to be paid not to the Turkish government, but to those who might suffer pecuniary loss by the confiscation of lands hitherto owned by Mohammedans.


The spring of 1829 was marked by events which went far to cancel the arguments on which Wellington had based his case for a restricted frontier. Not only the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth but Acarnania and Ætolia were liberated by the Greek forces under Sir Richard Church the castle of Vonitza falling on March 17, Karavasara shortly afterwards, Lepanto on April 30, and Mesolongi on May 17.[97] Meanwhile the terms agreed upon at Poros had been adopted and further defined by the conference at London on March 22. It was now provided that the future hereditary prince was to be chosen by the three powers and the sultan conjointly, and that the terms were to be offered to the Porte by the British and French ambassadors in the name of the three powers; any Turkish objections were to be weighed.[98] It was not till June that Robert Gordon and Guilleminot, representing Great Britain and France respectively, were able to lay these proposals before the Porte, and it was only after a Russian army under Diebitsch had crossed the Balkans that the Porte on August 15 accepted them, and even then only with extensive modifications. These limited the new state to the Morea and the adjacent islands, and left the tribute assigned to the same purposes as before the revolt; a limit was to be set to the military and naval forces of Greece, and Greeks were not to be allowed to migrate from Turkish dominions to the new state.

Wellington was of opinion that these concessions were ade[Pg 267]quate. He attached great importance to the consent of the Porte, to dispense with which seemed to him a sure method of encouraging a general revolt in the Turkish dominions; and he also advocated a limited frontier in the interests of the Ionian Islands. He doubted whether it would be found possible to remove Capodistrias, who had been elected president of Greece for a period of seven years on April 14, 1827, from his office to make room for a hereditary prince, and he felt sure that if Capodistrias were once granted Central Greece he would not hesitate to attempt the conquest of the Ionian Islands. Capodistrias had in fact refused to accept any of the arrangements proposed by the London conference, and was still engaged in the vigorous prosecution of the war. Wellington did not, however, succeed in inducing France and Russia to remain content with the Turkish concessions. Diebitsch's successful march through Rumelia encouraged Russia to demand more, and filled the minds of the French ministers with the wildest schemes of aggression. They actually proposed to Russia that the northern part of the Balkan peninsula should be divided between Austria and Russia while the whole peninsula south of the Balkans, with Bulgaria to the north, was to be formed into a new state under the sovereignty of the King of the Netherlands, whose hereditary dominions were in their turn to be divided between France, Great Britain, and Prussia.

Such chimerical projects were based on the assumption that Constantinople lay at the mercy of the army of Diebitsch; and this was believed to be the case not only by the court of Paris, but by that of London, and even by that of Constantinople. But no one knew better than Diebitsch how precarious his situation was, and, if Russia wished to obtain advantageous terms, it was necessary for her to make the most of the illusion while it lasted. On September 14 the peace of Adrianople was signed, which established the virtual independence of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia and secured for all powers at peace with Turkey a free passage for merchant ships through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles; Russia received a small addition to her Asiatic territories, and Turkey accepted both the treaty of London of July 6, 1827, and the protocol of London of March 22, 1829. The difficulties raised by Turkey's opposition to the full terms of the protocol were thus swept aside, and it was now[Pg 268] clear that, if that protocol was to be further modified, it would be modified out of regard for the interests of Europe not by way of concession to Turkey. France and Great Britain were naturally averse from a settlement of the question by Russia alone, even when that settlement was on lines to which they had given their consent, and they might have been expected to propose some alteration in the scheme. But the conciliatory action of Russia rendered such proposals needless. On September 29, only fifteen days after the treaty, Aberdeen received a formal proposal from Russia that Turkey should be offered a restriction of the Greek boundary in return for a recognition of the total independence of Greece.[99] This proposal removed Wellington's fear that the new principality might be used as a basis for an attack on the Ionian Islands; while the maintenance of Turkish suzerainty seemed less important after the apparent prostration of Turkish military power in the recent war.

It now remained for the allied powers to select a prince to whom the new crown should be offered. This subject engaged their attention from October, 1829, to January, 1830. Finally, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, widower of the Princess Charlotte, was selected, greatly to the annoyance of King George IV. On February 3 Prince Leopold was formally offered the sovereignty of Greece as an independent state, bounded on the north by a line drawn from the mouth of the Aspropotamo to Thermopylæ. Before accepting the crown he made an effort to obtain a stronger position for its future prince. He asked for a complete guarantee of independence from the three powers, some security for the Greek inhabitants of Crete and Samos, an extension of the boundary to the north, and financial and military support. The powers on February 20 decided to grant the guarantee and a loan of £2,400,000, and to allow the French troops to remain in Greece for another year, but refused the extension of territory and would not recognise the right of the Greek state to interfere in the affairs of Crete and Samos. Leopold accepted the crown on these conditions on February 24, and they were accepted by the Porte on April 24. Capodistrias, who had no desire to make way for another[Pg 269] ruler, invited Leopold to the country, but suggested that he would not be well received and that he would have to change his religion.[100] These considerations, combined with other causes, induced him to renounce the crown on May 21.


One other foreign event exercised the minds of Wellington's cabinet during the last months of George IV.'s reign. This was the French punitive expedition to Algiers, which resulted In the conquest of that state. The expedition was originally planned in concert with Mehemet Ali of Egypt, and appeared to Wellington to be prompted by the idea that the defeat of the Turks by Russia afforded a convenient opportunity for a partition of Turkish territory. The British government was able by means of diplomatic pressure to induce Mehemet Ali to refrain from co-operating, but it could not deny the justice of the French expedition or prevent it from sailing.


[93] Stapleton, Life of Canning, iii., 220-25, 227-35.

[94] See Lloyd, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, N.S., xviii. (1904), 77-105.

[95] Wellington, Despatches, etc., iv., 270-79.

[96] Ibid., pp. 280-86.

[97] So S. Lane-Poole, writing from Church's papers, English Historical Review, v., 519.

[98] Hertslet, Map of Europe by Treaty, p. 142.

[99] Wellington, Despatches, etc., vi., 184.

[100] See the letters in the Annual Register, lxxii. (1830), 389-401.[Pg 270]



The year that elapsed between the prorogation of parliament on June 24, 1829, and the death of George IV., on June 26, 1830, was barren in events of domestic importance. While Ireland was torn by faction, and the Orangemen of Ulster rivalled in lawlessness the catholics of the other provinces, England was undergoing another period of agricultural and commercial depression. The harvest of 1829 was late and bad; the winter that followed was the severest known for sixteen years; and a fresh series of outrages was committed by the distressed operatives, especially by the silk weavers in the east of London and the mill hands in the midland counties. In the district of Huddersfield, where the people bore their sufferings with admirable patience, a committee of masters stated as a fact that "there were 13,000 individuals who had not more than twopence half-penny a day to live on". When parliament met on February 4, 1830, the prevailing distress was recognised in the king's speech, but in guarded terms, and the ministers attributed it in the main, probably with justice, to unavoidable causes. This gave the enemies of free trade and currency reform an opportunity of renewing their protests against Peel's and Huskisson's financial policy. They failed to effect their object, but Goulburn, the chancellor of the exchequer, initiated a considerable reduction of expenditure and remission of taxes. The excise duties on beer, cider, and leather were now totally remitted, those on spirits being somewhat increased. The government even deliberated on the proposal of a property tax, and, stimulated by a motion of Sir James Graham, actually carried out large savings in official salaries. On the whole, this session was the most fruitful in economy since the conclusion of the peace. The system of judicature, too, was subjected to a[Pg 271] salutary revision throughout Great Britain by the amalgamation of the English and Welsh benches, and the concentration of courts in Scotland. As the charter of the East Indian Company was about to expire, a strong committee was appointed to consider the whole subject of its territorial powers and commercial privileges. This committee was not the least beneficial result of a session which has left no great mark on the statute-book.


The weakness of Wellington's position had long since become apparent to all. By his conduct in regard to catholic emancipation he had estranged a powerful section of his tory followers. By his jealousy and haughty attitude towards his whig allies, he had forfeited their good-will, never very heartily given. By his treatment of Huskisson, a small but able body of politicians was thrown into the ranks of a discordant opposition. No one else could have induced the king to give way on catholic emancipation, but the king had not forgiven him, and submitted to him out of fear rather than out of confidence. Though singularly deficient in rhetorical power, he still maintained his ascendency in the house of lords by the aid of more eloquent colleagues, but Peel was his only efficient lieutenant in the house of commons. The vacancy in the office of lord privy seal, occasioned by the transference of Ellenborough to the board of control, had at last been filled in June, 1829, by the appointment of Lord Rosslyn, nephew of the first earl, who, however, added nothing to the strength of the ministry. In the meantime, reform had succeeded catholic emancipation as the one burning question of politics, but with this all-important difference that it roused enthusiasm in the popular mind. Political unions, like the branches of the catholic association, were springing up all over the country, and a series of motions was made in the house of commons which feebly reflected the feverish agitation in all the active centres of population. One of these, brought forward by the Marquis of Blandford, who had made a similar motion in the previous year, was really prompted by enmity against the author of catholic emancipation. Another, introduced by Lord Howick, son of Earl Grey, called for some general and comprehensive measure to remedy the admitted abuses of the electoral system. A third, and far more practical, attempt was made by Lord John[Pg 272] Russell to obtain the enfranchisement of Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham. A fourth, and perfectly futile proposal, was made by O'Connell, in the shape of a bill for triennial parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote by ballot, to which Russell moved a statesmanlike amendment, in favour of transferring members from petty boroughs to counties and great unrepresented towns. All these motions were defeated by larger or smaller majorities, but no one doubted that parliamentary reform was inevitable, and few can have imagined that Wellington was either willing or competent to grapple with it.

While domestic affairs were in this state, George IV. died. His constitution, weakened by many years of self-indulgence, had been further depressed by a growing sense of loneliness and by the long struggle with his ministers over catholic emancipation. On April 15 his illness had been made public, and on May 24 it had been necessary to bring in a bill, authorising the use of a stamp, to be affixed in his presence in lieu of the royal sign manual. A month later, the disease of the heart from which he suffered took a fatal turn, and on June 26 he passed away, not without dignity, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. Perhaps no other English king has been so harshly judged by posterity, nor is it possible to acquit him of moral vices which outweighed all his merits, considerable as they were. The Duke of Wellington, who knew him as well as any man, declared that he was a marvellous compound of virtues and defects, but that, on the whole, the good elements preponderated. Peel, who had become by his father's death Sir Robert, testified in Parliament that he "never exercised, or wished to exercise, a prerogative of the crown, except for the advantage of his people". These estimates assuredly err on the side of charity, and are quite inconsistent with other statements of the duke himself.

George IV., it is true, possessed many royal gifts. He was a man of no ordinary ability, with a fine presence, courtly manners, various accomplishments, and clear-sighted intelligence on every subject within the sphere of his duties. But all these kingly qualities were marred by a heartlessness which rendered him incapable of true love or friendship, and a duplicity which made it impossible for him to retain the respect of his ministers. His private life was not wholly unlike that of the Regent Orléans[Pg 273] and had much the same influence on the society of the metropolis. He was an undutiful son, a bad husband, a perfidious friend, with little sense of truth or honour, and destitute of that public spirit which atoned for the political obstinacy of his father. No one sincerely regretted his death, except the favourites who had been enriched by his extravagance, and actually succeeded in carrying off a large booty out of the valuables that he had amassed. Nevertheless, his regency is identified with a glorious period in our military history, and his reign ushered in a new age of reform and national prosperity. In the great struggle against Napoleon and the pacification of Europe he gave his ministers a cordial and effective support. To catholic emancipation he was honestly opposed, but he kept his opposition within constitutional limits, and his intense selfishness did not exclude a certain sentiment of philanthropy and even of patriotism.


His successor, William IV., was greatly inferior to him intellectually, and infinitely less conversant with the business of state. Most of this prince's early life was spent at sea, where he saw a fair share of service, and became the friend of Nelson, but incurred his father's displeasure by infringing the rules of discipline. Having been created Duke of Clarence in 1789, he was rapidly promoted in the navy, but remained on shore without employment for some forty years before his accession, taking an occasional part in debates of the house of lords, and generally acting with the whig party. During this long period he was little regarded by his future subjects, and led a somewhat obscure life, at first in the company of Mrs. Jordan, by whom he had a numerous family. After his marriage with the Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen in 1818, he became a more important personage, and, as we have seen, was made lord high admiral by Canning, but held office for little more than a year. He was thus entirely destitute of political training, and was living in privacy when he was called to ascend the throne on the eve of a singularly momentous crisis.

The session was prolonged until July 23, when parliament was prorogued by the new king in person, and on the following day a dissolution was proclaimed, the writs being made returnable on September 14. During the month that elapsed between the death of George IV. and the prorogation, no serious[Pg 274] business was done, but the leaders of opposition in both houses moved to provide for a regency, in view of a possible demise of the crown before a fresh parliament could be assembled. This course was clearly dictated by the highest expediency, for, had the king's life been cut short suddenly, the young Princess Victoria, then eleven years old, would have become sovereign with full powers, but without protection against the baleful influence of her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, the least trustworthy person in the realm. In advocating it, however, the whigs showed an evident disposition to win the favour of William IV., who had never broken away, like his predecessor, from his whig connexion. These motions were defeated, but the opposition gained popularity at the expense of the government, by raising debates on certain state prosecutions for libel, and on the question of colonial slavery. Their position was further strengthened by a widespread impression that the king himself was a reformer at heart, and would seize an early opportunity of declaring his sentiments. His weakness had not yet disclosed itself, while his kindliness earned him golden opinions, as he "walked in London streets with his umbrella under his arm, and gave a frank and sailor-like greeting to all old acquaintances".

The election of 1830, following close on the revolution of July in Paris, was the death-blow of the old tory rule in England. The widespread sympathy which the original uprising of 1789 had excited among Englishmen, but which the atrocities of jacobinism had quenched, was now revived by the comparatively bloodless victory of constitutional principles and the accession of a citizen-king in France. The growing enthusiasm for reform, thus stimulated, exercised a decisive effect in all the constituencies except the pocket-boroughs. Brougham was returned without opposition for Yorkshire, and Hume by a large majority for Middlesex, two brothers of Sir Robert Peel lost their seats, and Croker was defeated for Dublin University. Distrust of the government was equally shown in the counties and in the great cities, but in some instances ultra-tories were elected, in revenge for catholic emancipation or for alleged neglect of agricultural interests. It was calculated that fifty seats, in all, had changed hands, and the parliament which assembled in October 26 was very different in constitution[Pg 275] and temper from any of those which supported tory ministries with unshaken constancy during the great war and the long period of agitation consequent on the peace.

The losses of the government in Great Britain, partly due to its Irish policy, were not compensated by any gain in Ireland, which did not fail to display the ingratitude so often experienced by its benefactors. Catholic emancipation was now treated as a vantage ground on which the battle of repeal might be waged. Association after association was formed by O'Connell, only to be put down by proclamation and to re-appear under another name. The worst passions of the people were effectually roused, assassinations became frequent, and Peel's correspondence with Hardinge, then chief secretary, shows that he fully recognised the failure of his experiment, as a cure for Irish anarchy.[101] In the course of this new agitation, O'Connell used most offensive expressions for which Hardinge called him to account. The chief secretary's act may have been unjustifiable, but the shuffling and faint-hearted conduct of O'Connell in declining this and later challenges provoked by his foul language was fatal to his reputation for courage. The most insolent of bullies, he never failed to consult his own personal safety, by professing conscientious objections to duelling, as well as by keeping just outside the meshes of the criminal law.


A few weeks before parliament met a tragical accident closed the life of Huskisson, whose death was rendered all the more impressive by its circumstances. In 1825 the idea of railways for the rapid conveyance of goods and passengers bore fruit in an act for the construction of a line between Liverpool and Manchester. It was not in itself a new idea, for tramways had long been in use, and so far back as 1814 George Stephenson had constructed a locomotive engine for a colliery. But it was generally believed that such engines must always be limited to a speed of a few miles an hour, and even the great engineer, Telford, giving evidence before a committee in 1825, did not venture to speak of a higher maximum speed than fifteen or twenty miles an hour. Few indeed were far-sighted enough to credit this estimate, and the incredulity of ignorance was aided[Pg 276] by the forces of self-interest, for the profits of canals, stage-coaches, and carriers' vans were directly threatened by the innovation of railways. However, George Stephenson quietly persevered, and from the moment that his pioneer engine, the "Rocket," won the prize in a great competition of locomotives, "the old modes of transit were changed throughout the whole civilised world". On September 15, 1830, the first public trial of this and other engines was made at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway. Wellington, Peel, and other eminent personages were present, among whom was Huskisson, just returned for Liverpool. Two trains proceeded towards Manchester on parallel lines, and stopped at the Parkgate station. There several passengers got out, and Huskisson was making his way to shake hands with the duke when he was struck by a carriage of the other train, already in movement, fell upon the rails, and was fatally crushed. He bore his sufferings with great fortitude, but died during the night at a neighbouring vicarage to which he was carried. He could ill be spared by his party, for, though he was not the man to ride the storm which raged over the reform bill, his counsels might have saved the whigs from the just reproach of financial incapacity and have hastened the advent of free trade.


The winter session of 1830 opened with an ominous calm. It was believed that private negotiations were going on between the ministry and the survivors of Canning's following, which might result in a moderate scheme of parliamentary reform. These expectations were utterly discomfited by the king's speech delivered on November 2. It has unjustly been described as "the most offensive that had been uttered by any monarch since the revolution". On the contrary, it was tame and colourless for the most part, recording his majesty's resolution to uphold treaties and enforce order in the United Kingdom, but welcoming the new French monarchy in terms which Grey emphatically commended. It gave offence to liberals by describing the revolutionary movement in Belgium as a "revolt"; but what called forth an immediate outburst of popular resentment was its significant reticence on the subject of reform. This resentment was aggravated tenfold by the Duke of Wellington's celebrated speech in the lords, declaring against any reform whatever. The duke always refused to admit that this[Pg 277] declaration was the cause of his subsequent fall, which he attributed, by preference, to his adoption of catholic emancipation. Speaking deliberately in reply to Grey, who had indicated reform as the only true remedy for popular discontent, the duke stated that no measure of reform yet proposed would, in his opinion, improve the representative system then existing, which, he said, "answered all the good purposes of legislation" to a greater degree than "any legislature in any country whatever". He went further, and avowed his conviction not only that this system "possessed the full and entire confidence of the country," but also that no better system could be devised by the wit of man. Its special virtue, according to him, consisted in the fact of its producing a representative assembly which "contained a large body of the property of the country, and in which the landed interests had a preponderating influence". Finally, he protested that he would never bring forward a reform measure himself, and that "he should always feel it his duty to resist such measures when proposed by others".

There is no reason to suppose that the duke had consulted any of his colleagues before making this declaration. Indeed, it is known that Peel had just before received a confidential offer of co-operation in carrying a moderate reform bill from Palmerston, Edward Stanley, grandson of the Earl of Derby, Sir James Graham, and the Grants; nor had these overtures been definitely rejected.[102] Some lame attempts were made to clear the cabinet, as a whole, from responsibility for their chief's outspoken opinions, and Peel cautiously limited himself to a doubt whether any safe measure of reform would satisfy the reformers. But he would not separate himself from Wellington, and Wellington's ultimatum remained unretracted.

Brougham at once gave notice of his intention to bring forward the question of parliamentary reform in a fortnight. In the meantime the duke had committed a mistake which irritated the people, and especially the inhabitants of London. It happened that the king and queen, with the ministers, were engaged to dine with the lord mayor on November 9. Three days earlier, the lord mayor-elect warned the prime minister that a riot was apprehended on that occasion, that an attempt[Pg 278] would probably be made to assassinate him, and that it would be desirable to come attended by a strong military guard. Upon this intimation, confirmed by others, the cabinet most unwisely decided not to surround the mansion house with a large armed force, but to put off the king's visit to the city. A panic naturally ensued, consols fell three per cent. in an hour and a half, and the disorderly classes achieved a victory without running the smallest risk. There were local disturbances in the evening, and the duke arranged to join Peel at the home office, in case decisive measures should be required, but the new police were too strong for the mob, and the whole affair passed off quietly, though not without involving the government in some ridicule. The Marquis Wellesley, now in opposition to his brother, declared the postponement of the dinner to be "the boldest act of cowardice" within his knowledge.

If Wellington sought to conciliate the ultra-tories by his unfortunate speech, he was soon undeceived. While Brougham's motion was pending, the government proposed a revision of the civil list which purported to effect slight economies for the benefit of the public. It was objected, however, that a greater reduction of charges should have been contemplated, and that parliament should have been invited to deal with the revenues derived from the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, which, as Peel explained, formed no part of those placed at the disposal of parliament. Sir Henry Parnell moved to refer the civil list to a select committee; the chancellor of the exchequer directly opposed the motion, and, after a short discussion, a division was taken on November 15. The result, which had been foreseen, was a majority of twenty-nine against the government in a house of 437 members. There were many defections among the discontented tories, and the Wellington ministry preferred to fall on an issue of minor importance, rather than await a decisive contest on the reform question. On the following day, therefore, both the duke and Peel announced the acceptance of their resignations, and it was known that Grey had received the king's command to form a new administration.


Grey was the inevitable head of any cabinet empowered to carry parliamentary reform. His dignified presence, his stately eloquence, his unblemished character, and his parliamentary experience, marked him out for leadership, and disguised his want[Pg 279] of practical acquaintance with the middle and lower classes of his countrymen. His political career, ranging over forty-four years, though not destitute of errors, had been perfectly consistent. From the first he was a staunch adherent of Fox; he was among the managers who conducted the prosecution of Warren Hastings; his connexion with the Society of the Friends of the People, and his advocacy of reform during Pitt's first administration are described in the preceding volume of this history. On Pitt's death he became closely associated with Grenville; it will be remembered that he joined his short-lived government, originally as first lord of the admiralty, and afterwards as Fox's successor at the foreign office. It was he who carried through the house of commons the bill for the abolition of the slave trade, and it may truly be said that, in opposition, he was equally persistent in supporting every measure in favour of liberty, political or commercial, and in resisting every measure, necessary or otherwise, which could be interpreted as restricting it. We have seen how he more than once declined overtures for a coalition with his opponents, and showed a bitter personal antipathy to Canning, whom he was more than suspected of despising as a brilliant plebeian adventurer. This suspicion of aristocratic prejudice, ill harmonising with democratic principles, had never been quite dispelled, and was now to be confirmed by the composition of his own cabinet.

All the members of this cabinet, with four exceptions, sat in the house of lords. No cabinet had contained so few commoners since the reconstruction of Liverpool's ministry in 1822. Of the four who now sat in the house of commons, Lord Althorp was heir-apparent to an earldom; Lord Palmerston was an Irish peer; Graham was a baronet of great territorial influence; Charles Grant was still a commoner, though he was afterwards raised to the peerage. In the distribution of offices, full justice was done to Canning's followers. Three of these occupied posts of the highest importance, Palmerston at the foreign office, Lamb, who had succeeded his father as Viscount Melbourne in 1828, at the home office, and Goderich at the colonial office, while Grant became president of the board of control. The selection of Graham as first lord of the admiralty did not escape criticism, but was due to his tried energy in financial reform, and was justified by the result. Lansdowne was made[Pg 280] president of the council, and Holland chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Both of these had been Grey's colleagues in the administration of "All the Talents". Althorp, who succeeded Goulburn at the exchequer, and Carlisle, who accepted a seat in the cabinet without office, were both whigs of tried fidelity. But the Duke of Richmond, the new postmaster-general, was a deserter from the tory ranks, and Lord Durham, the premier's son-in-law, the new lord privy seal, was a radical of the most aggressive type, well qualified, as the event proved, to disturb the peace of any council to which he might be admitted. Three occupants of places outside the cabinet remain to be mentioned. One of these, the Marquis Wellesley, had been a warm supporter of catholic emancipation when the Duke of Wellington stoutly opposed it, and his brother's conversion on that question had not affected his own relations with the whig party, which now welcomed him as lord steward. Lord John Russell, the new paymaster of the forces, had identified himself as prominently as Grey himself with the promotion of parliamentary reform, and Stanley, the new chief secretary for Ireland, was probably selected for his brilliant powers in debate, as the natural and most worthy antagonist of the great demagogue, O'Connell.


But the most formidable of all the "radical reformers" still remained to be conciliated, and provided with a post which might satisfy his restless ambition. At the end of 1830 Brougham was in the plenitude of his marvellous powers, and in the zenith of his unique popularity. As member for the great county of York, returned free of expense on the shoulders of the people, he already occupied the foremost position among British commoners, and it was feared that he might use it for his own purposes in a dictatorial spirit. He had recently declared in Yorkshire that "nothing on earth should ever tempt him to accept place," and that he was conscious of the power to compel the execution of measures which, before that democratic election, he could only "ventilate". So late as November 16, he assured the house of commons that "no change in the administration could by any possibility affect him," adding that he would bring forward his motion for parliamentary reform on the 25th, whatever might then be the state of affairs, and whatever ministers should then be in office. The great whig peers[Pg 281] were most anxious to keep him out of the cabinet without losing his support, or, still worse, provoking his active hostility. With this view, Grey indiscreetly offered him the attorney-generalship, and we cannot be surprised that Brougham rejected the offer with some indignation and disdain. It was no secret that his supreme desire was to become master of the rolls—an office compatible with a seat in the house of commons—but his future colleagues well knew that, in that case, they would be at his mercy in the house. Thereupon it was suggested, probably by the king himself, that it might be the less of two dangers to entrust him with the great seal, which Lord Lyndhurst was quite prepared to resume under a fourth premier. Accordingly, it was known on November 20 that Brougham was to be the whig lord chancellor, and on the 22nd he actually took his place on the woolsack. His title was Baron Brougham and Vaux, but, though he lived to retain it for nearly forty years, he always preferred, with pardonable vanity, to sign his name as "Henry Brougham".

Before the close of 1830 the new ministers found time to carry a regency bill, whereby the Duchess of Kent (unless she married a foreigner) was to be regent in the event of the Princess Victoria succeeding to the crown during her minority. Having adopted the watchword of "Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform," they gave an earnest of their zeal for retrenchment by instituting a parliamentary inquiry into the possible reduction of official salaries, including their own. The defeat of Stanley by "Orator" Hunt at Preston was a warning against undue reliance on popular confidence, for Preston was already a highly democratic constituency, largely composed of ignorant "potwallopers". A similar but more emphatic warning came from Ireland, where O'Connell did his utmost to insult and defy Anglesey, the new lord-lieutenant, in spite of his sacrifices for catholic emancipation, and his well-known sympathy with the cause of reform. In the southern counties of England, too, violent disturbances had broken out, and were marked by all the ferocity and terrorism characteristic of luddism in the manufacturing districts. They spread from Kent, Sussex, and Surrey into Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire. In these four counties there was a wanton and wholesale destruction of agricultural machinery, of farm-buildings, and[Pg 282] especially of ricks, as if the misery of labourers could possibly be cured by impoverishing their only employers. The rioters moved about in large organised bodies, and their anarchical passions were deliberately inflamed by the writings of unscrupulous men like Cobbett and Carlile.

Happily, the ministers showed no sign of the weakness upon which the ringleaders had probably calculated. They promptly issued a proclamation declaring their resolution to put down lawless outrage, and promised effective support to the lords-lieutenant of the disturbed counties. Acting upon this assurance, Wellington himself went down to Hampshire, and took a leading part in quelling disorder. The government next appointed a special commission, which tried many hundreds of prisoners and sentenced the worst to death, though few were executed. This vigour soon overawed the organised gangs which, in one or two instances, had only been dispersed by military force. Finally, they prosecuted Carlile and Cobbett for instigating the poor labourers to crime. The former was convicted at the Old Bailey, and condemned to a long term of imprisonment, with a heavy fine. The trial of Cobbett was postponed until the following July, when the frenzy of reform was at its height. He defended himself with great audacity in a speech of six hours, calling the lord chancellor with other leading reformers as witnesses, and succeeded in escaping conviction by the disagreement and discharge of the jury.


Two other questions engaged the attention of parliament on the eve of the great struggle over the reform bill. One of these was the settlement of the civil list, which the Duke of Wellington's ministry had failed to effect. William IV. was not an avaricious sovereign, nor did he share the spendthrift inclination of his brother. But he was disposed to stickle for the hereditary rights of the crown, both public and private, and he greatly disliked the details of his expenditure being scrutinised by a parliamentary committee. Now, Grey and his colleagues stood pledged to such a committee, and could not avoid promoting its appointment. They propitiated the king, however, by excluding the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster from the inquiry, and ultimately succeeded in persuading the house of commons to grant a civil list of £510,000 a year. But the publication of a return containing[Pg 283] a complete list of sinecure offices and pensions was turned to good account by the economists, and produced an outburst of public indignation, which was by no means unreasonable. Great results were expected from the report of the select committee on the civil list, which revised the salaries of officials in the royal household, as well as the emoluments of pensioners. It was even demanded that no regard should be paid to vested interests, but Grey firmly supported the private remonstrances of the king against such an act of confiscation. In fact, the savings recommended by the committee were so trifling that it was thought better to waive the question for the time, and the first economical essay of the new régime ended in failure.

The budget introduced by Althorp soon after the meeting of parliament on February 3, 1831, and in anticipation of the reform bill, was equally unsuccessful as a specimen of whig finance. Finding that, after all, he could not effect a saving of more than one million on the national expenditure, as reduced by his capable predecessor, Goulburn, he nevertheless proposed to repeal the duties on coals, tallow candles, printed cottons, and glass, as well as to diminish by one half the duties on newspapers and tobacco. To meet the deficit thus created, he designed an increase of the wine and timber duties, new taxation of raw cotton, and, above all, a tax of ten shillings per cent. on all transfers of real or funded property. This last proposal was at once denounced by Goulburn, Peel, and Sugden, the late solicitor-general, as a breach of public faith between the state and its creditors. Their protests were loudly echoed by the city, and the obnoxious transfer duty was abandoned. The same fate befell the proposed increase of the timber duties, and Althorp only carried his budget after submitting to further modifications. Those who had relied on his promises of economical reform were signally disappointed, and, had not parliamentary reform overshadowed all other issues, the credit of the government would have been rudely shaken in the first session after its formation. But this great struggle, now to be described, so engrossed the attention of the country, that little room was left for the consideration of other interests, until it should be decided.

It is probable that no great measure was ever preceded by so thorough a preparation of the public mind as the reform bills of 1831-32. Ever since the early part of the eighteenth[Pg 284] century the abuses of the representative system had been freely acknowledged, and no one attempted to defend them in principle. The multitude of close boroughs, the smallness of the electoral body, the sale of seats in parliament, the wide prevalence of gross bribery, and the enormous expense of elections—these were notorious evils which no one denied, though some palliated them, and few ventured to assail them in earnest by drastic proposals, lest they should undermine the constitution. So far back as 1770 Chatham had denounced them, and predicted that unless parliament reformed itself from within before the end of the century, it would be reformed "with a vengeance" from without. In 1780 the Duke of Richmond had introduced a bill in favour of universal suffrage, and Pitt had brought forward bills or motions in favour of parliamentary reform as a private member in 1782 and 1783, and as prime minister in 1785. But the French revolution persuaded him that the time was not favourable to reform, and he successfully opposed Grey's motion for referring a number of petitions in favour of reform to a committee in 1793.

After this, a strong reaction set in, and the reform question had little interest for the governing classes during the continuance of the great war. It was never allowed to sleep, however, and in 1809, a bill introduced by Curwen to pave the way for reform by preventing the return of members upon corrupt agreements, actually passed both houses, though in so mutilated a form that it was practically a dead letter. Still, the cause was indefatigably pleaded by Brand, and Burdett, who in 1819 made himself the spokesman of the violent reform agitation then spreading over the country. Unfortunately, this violence, and the extravagance of the demands put forward by the democratic leaders, were themselves fatal obstacles to a temperate consideration of the question, and threw back the reform movement for several years. In 1821, when Grampound was disfranchised, it assumed, as we have seen, a more constitutional form, and motions in favour of reform were proposed by Russell in 1822, 1823, and 1826, and by Blandford in 1829. Had Canning placed himself at the head of the movement the course of domestic history during the reign of George IV. might have been very different. As it was, the number of petitions in favour of reform sensibly fell off in the last half of the reign,[Pg 285] and its tory opponents vainly imagined that the movement had spent itself. We now know that, in the absence of noisy demonstrations, it was really and constantly gaining strength in the minds of thoughtful men until it reached its climax at the end of 1830.


The first act of the great political drama which occupied the next eighteen months may be said to have opened with the fall of Wellington, and the formation of the whig ministry. These events, together with the success of the Paris revolution, supplied the motive power needed to combine the great body of the middle classes with the proletariat in a national crusade against the political privileges long exercised by a powerful landed aristocracy. It is true that reform, unlike catholic emancipation, had always appealed to broad popular sympathies, and had been advocated by men like Grey and Burdett as carrying with it the redress of all other grievances. But Canning was by no means the only liberal statesman who heartily dreaded it, and even the advanced reformers had not fully grasped the comprehensive meaning of the idea which they embraced, or the far-reaching consequences involved in it. The palpable anomaly of Old Sarum returning members to parliament, while Birmingham was unrepresented, was shocking to common sense, and so was the monopoly of the franchise by a handful of electors in some of the larger boroughs, especially in Scotland. But few appreciated how seriously constitutional liberty had been curtailed by the growth of these abuses (unchecked by the Commonwealth) since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, how effectually home and foreign policy was controlled by a small circle of noble families dominant in the lower as well as in the upper chamber, how vast a transfer of sovereignty from class to class would inevitably be wrought by a thorough reform bill, and how certainly men newly entrusted with power would use it for their own advantage, whether or not that should coincide with the advantage of the nation. Such general aspects of the question are seldom noticed in the earlier debates upon it, and economical reform sometimes appears to occupy a larger space than parliamentary reform in the liberal statesmanship of the Georgian age.

With Wellington's declaration against any parliamentary reform, this apathy vanished, and the movement, gathering[Pg 286] up into itself all other popular aspirations thenceforward filled the whole political horizon. Reform unions sprang up everywhere, and instituted a most active propaganda. So rapid was its spread and so wild the promises lavished by radical demagogues, that Grey and his wiser colleagues soon felt themselves further removed from their own extreme left wing than from the moderate section of the conservatives. It is abundantly clear that Grey himself, faithful as he was to reform, never dreamed of inaugurating a reign of democracy. He often declared in private that such a bill as he contemplated would prove, in its effect, an aristocratic measure, and he doubtless believed that it would be possible to bring the new constituencies and the new electoral bodies under the same conservative influences which had been dominant for so many generations. He did not foresee, as Palmerston did thirty years later, that, even if the political actors remained the same, they "would play to the gallery" instead of to the pit or boxes. He would, indeed, have repudiated the maxim: "Everything for the people, and nothing by the people"; he was fully prepared to place the house of commons in the hands of the people, or at least of the great middle class, but he regarded the crown and the house of lords as almost equal powers, and he never doubted that property and education would practically continue to rule the government of the country.


When the whigs came into office they were singularly fortunate in the high character and consistency of their chief, no less than in the divisions of their opponents, whose right wing showed almost as mutinous a spirit as their own left wing. Even between Wellington and Peel there was a want of cordial harmony and confidence, yet Peel was the only tory statesman of eminent capacity in the house of commons. The attitude of the king, too, was not only strictly constitutional but friendly, though it afterwards appeared that he relied too implicitly on Grey and Althorp to protect him against the machinations of the radicals. The letters written by his orders, though mostly composed by his private secretary, Sir Herbert Taylor, display marked ability together with a very shrewd and just conception of the situation. His loyal adoption of a moderate reform policy was a most important element of strength to his ministers at the outset of their great enterprise, and, if he[Pg 287] afterwards held back, it was in deference to scruples which several of them shared in their hearts. Nor was the violence of the ultra-radicals, or the scurrilous language of O'Connell by any means an unmixed source of weakness to men engaged in framing and carrying a temperate reform bill. Their firm resistance to extravagant demands reassured many a waverer and showed how carefully their comprehensive plan had been matured. On the other hand, they had to contend against difficulties not yet fully revealed. One of these was their own want of administrative experience, contrasting unfavourably with the statesmanlike capacity of Peel. Another was the intractable character of two at least within their own innermost councils—Durham and Brougham. A third was the inflexible conservatism of a great majority in the house of lords, who, unlike the people at large, clearly understood that the impending conflict was a life-and-death struggle for political supremacy between themselves and the commons—the greatest that had been waged since the revolutions of the seventeenth century.

It was privately known that a committee had been empowered to draft the bill awaited with so much impatience. This committee consisted of two members of the cabinet, Durham and Graham, together with two members of the administration not of cabinet rank, the Earl of Bessborough's eldest son, Lord Duncannon, then chief whip of the whig party, and Russell, who was second to none as a staunch and judicious promoter of parliamentary reform. In spite of his vanity and petulance, Durham deserves the credit of having drawn up the report, highly appreciated by the king, upon which the projected measure was founded. It originally included vote by ballot, and it is rather strange that on this point Durham was powerfully supported by Graham, but opposed by Russell. It is still more strange that Brougham, whose scheme of reform was locked up in his own breast, was honestly disturbed by the radicalism of his colleagues and specially objected to so large a disfranchisement of boroughs as they contemplated. Upon the whole, however, the bill was the product of an united cabinet, and received the express approval of the king in all its essential features. The elaborate letter which he addressed to Grey on February 4, 1831, betrays a sense of relief on finding that universal suffrage and the ballot were not to be pressed upon him[Pg 288] In declaring that he never could have given his consent to such revolutionary innovations, he insists strongly on the necessity of maintaining an "equilibrium" between the crown, the lords, and the commons, as well as between the "representation of property" and that of numbers.

The reform bill of 1831, which differed only in detail from the act passed in 1832, cannot be understood without some knowledge of the system which that act transformed. This system has been well described as "combining survivals from the middle ages with abuses of the prerogative in later times". The counties remained as they had remained for centuries; Rutland, for instance, returned as many representatives as Yorkshire, until in 1821 the two seats taken from Grampound were added to those already possessed by Yorkshire. On the other hand, the old franchise of the 40s. freeholders was more widely diffused since the value of money had been greatly depreciated. Still, the influence of the great county families was almost supreme, and they were firmly entrenched in the nomination boroughs, where there was scarcely a pretence of free election. The crown had originally a discretion in summoning members from boroughs, and used it by issuing writs to all the wealthiest as better able to bear taxation and more competent to sanction it. The poorer boroughs, too, were also glad to escape representation in order to save the expense of their members' wages. The discretionary power of the crown was afterwards used in creating petty boroughs such as "the Cornish group," for the purpose of packing the house of commons with crown nominees. This practice, however, ceased in the reign of Charles II., and these petty boroughs fell by degrees into the hands of great landowners, who dictated the choice of representatives.

The result has been concisely stated as follows: "The majority of the house of commons was elected by less than fifteen thousand persons. Seventy members were returned by thirty-five places with scarcely any voters at all; ninety members were returned by forty-six places with no more than fifty voters; thirty-seven members by nineteen places with no more than one hundred voters; fifty-two members by twenty-six places with no more than two hundred voters. The local distribution of the representation was flagrantly unfair.... Cornwall was a corrupt nest of little boroughs whose vote outweighed[Pg 289] that of great and populous districts. At Old Sarum a deserted site, at Gatton an ancient wall sent two representatives to the house of commons. Eighty-four men actually nominated one hundred and fifty-seven members for parliament. In addition to these, one hundred and fifty members were returned on the recommendation of seventy patrons, and thus one hundred and fifty-four patrons returned three hundred and seven members."[103] Household suffrage prevailed in a few boroughs, and here barefaced corruption was common. Seats for boroughs, appropriately called "rotten," were frequently put up to sale; otherwise, they were reserved for young favourites of the proprietor. Neither yearly tenants, nor leaseholders, nor even copyholders, had votes for counties. Of Scotland it is enough to say that free voting had practically ceased to exist both in counties and in boroughs, as the borough franchise was the monopoly of self-elected town councils, and the county franchise of persons, often non-resident, who happened to own "superiorities".


The reform bill of the whig ministry, drawn on broad and simple lines, struck at the root of this system. Its twofold basis was a liberal extension of the suffrage with a very large redistribution of seats. The elective franchise in counties, hitherto confined to freeholders, was to be conferred on £10 copyholders and £50 leaseholders; the borough franchise was to exclude "scot and lot" voters, "potwallopers" and most other survivals of antiquated electorates, but to include ratepaying £10 householders. The qualification for this franchise had originally been fixed at £20, and the king deprecated any reduction, but the omission of the ballot reconciled him and other timid reformers to an immense increase in the lower class of borough voters. Sixty boroughs of less than 2,000 inhabitants, returning 119 members, were to be disfranchised altogether; forty-seven others, with less than 4,000 inhabitants, were to be deprived of one member, and Weymouth was to lose two out of the four members which it returned in combination with the borough of Melcombe Regis. Fifty-five new seats were allotted to the English counties, forty-two to the great unrepresented towns, five to Scotland, three to Ireland, and one to Wales. Altogether the numerical strength of the house of commons was[Pg 290] to be reduced by sixty-two, and this entirely at the expense of England. Both the county and borough franchises in Scotland were to be assimilated generally to those established for England, and the £10 borough franchise was extended to Ireland. The bill contained many other provisions designed to amend the practice of registration, the voting power of non-resident electors, and the cumbrously expensive machinery of elections. It is important to notice that it also limited the duration of each parliament to five years—a concession to radicalism afterwards abandoned and never since adopted.

On February 3 parliament met after the adjournment, and Grey stated that a measure of reform had been framed, but the nature of it was not disclosed to the house of commons until March 1, and during the interval the secret was kept with great fidelity. The task of explaining it was entrusted to Russell, whose thorough mastery of its letter and spirit fully justified the choice, partly suggested by his aristocratic connexions and historical name. His speech was remarkable for clearness and cogency rather than for rhetorical brilliancy, and he was careful to rest his case on constitutional equity and political expediency of the highest order rather than on vague and abstract principles of popular rights. The debate on the motion for leave to bring in the bill lasted seven nights, and was vigorously sustained on both sides. The drastic and sweeping character of the measure took the whole house by surprise, while its authors justly claimed some credit for moderation in rejecting the radical demands of universal suffrage, vote by ballot, and triennial, if not annual, parliaments. Not only inside but outside the walls of St. Stephen's the statement of the government had been awaited with the utmost impatience, and it was universally felt that an issue had now been raised which hardly admitted of compromise. The king himself, though much engrossed by minor questions affecting the civil list and the pension list, heartily congratulated Grey on the favourable reception and prospects of the measure, which he regarded as a safeguard against more democratic schemes. His great fear was of a collision between the two houses, and the sequel proved that it was not unfounded. For the present, however, all promised well. Peel denounced the bill with less than his usual caution, but declined to give battle upon it, and it passed the[Pg 291] first reading on March 9 without a division. Indeed, the chief danger to the stability of the government arose from its defeat on the timber duties. This and other vexatious rebuffs so irritated Grey that he actually contemplated a dissolution, lest the reform bill itself should meet with a like fate. But the king would not hear of it, and the cabinet wisely decided to follow the example of Pitt and ignore an adverse division on a merely financial proposal, however significant of parliamentary feeling.


Between the 9th and the 21st, the date fixed for the second reading, popular excitement rose to a formidable height. Monster meetings were held in the great centres of population, and the political unions put forth all their strength. Nevertheless, the efforts of the "borough-mongers" were all but successful, and after only two nights debate the bill passed its second reading by a bare majority of one, 302 voting for it, and 301 against it. After this demonstration of strength on the part of its opponents, no one could expect that it would survive the ordeal of discussion in committee, and a letter of Lord Durham, written in anticipation of the event, sums up with great force the reasons for an early dissolution. The crisis was precipitated by the action of General Gascoyne, member for Liverpool, who moved before the house could go into committee that in no case should the number of representatives from England and Wales be diminished. In the hope of conciliating some wavering members, the ministry framed certain modifications of their original scheme, but they do not seem to have entertained the idea of accepting Gascoyne's proposal in its entirety. In the division, which took place on April 19, they were defeated by 299 votes to 291, and on the following morning advised the king to dissolve. In spite of his former refusal, more than once repeated, the king yielded to necessity, feeling that another change of government, in the midst of European complications, and in prospect of revolutionary agitation in the country, would be a greater evil than a general election.

The opposition, flushed with victory, pressed its advantage to extremes, and successfully resisted a motion for the grant of supplies. Urged by Althorp, the cabinet promptly resolved on recommending that the dissolution should be immediate, and the king, roused to energy by indignation, eagerly adopted their recommendation. Indeed, on hearing that Lord Wharn[Pg 292]cliffe intended to move in the house of lords for an address to the crown against a dissolution, he strongly resented such an attempt to interfere with his prerogative, and declared himself ready to start at once and dissolve parliament in person. Difficulties being raised about preparing the royal carriages in time, he cut them short by remarking that he was prepared to go in a hackney-coach—a royal saying which spread like wildfire over the country. Both houses were scenes of confusion and uproar when he arrived, preceded by the usual discharges of artillery, which excited the angry disputants to fury. Lord Mansfield, who was supporting the motion for an address, continued speaking as the king entered, until he was forcibly compelled to resume his seat. Even Peel was only restrained by like means from disregarding the appearance of the usher of the black rod who came to summon the commons from the bar of the house. The king preserved his composure, and announced an immediate prorogation of parliament with a view to its dissolution, and an appeal to the country on the great question of reform. Such an appeal could only be made to constituencies under threat of thorough reconstruction or total extinction, but from this moment the ultimate issue ceased to be doubtful.


[101] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 160-62.

[102] Arbuthnot to Peel, Nov. 1, 1830, Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 163-66.

[103] Goldwin Smith, United Kingdom, ii., 320.[Pg 293]



The general election which took place in the summer of 1831 was perhaps the most momentous on record. The news of the sudden dissolution, carrying with it the assurance of the king's hearty assent to reform, stirred popular enthusiasm to an intensity never equalled before or since. From John o' Groat's to the Land's End a cry was raised of The bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill. This cry signified more than appears on the surface, and was not wholly one-sided in its application. No doubt it was a passionate and defiant warning against any manipulation or dilution of the bill in a reactionary sense, but it was also a distinct protest against attempts by the extreme radicals to amend it in an opposite direction. Now, as ever, the impulse was given by the middle classes, and they were in no mood to imperil their own cause by revolutionary claims. They could not always succeed, however, in checking the fury of the populace, which had been taught to clamour for reform as the precursor of a good time coming for the suffering and toiling masses of mankind. The streets of London were illuminated, and the windows of those who omitted to illuminate or were otherwise obnoxious were tumultuously demolished by the mob, which did not even spare Apsley House, the town residence of the Duke of Wellington. But, except in Scotland, no formidable riots occurred for the present, and some good resulted from the new experience of popular opinion gained by candidates even from unreformed constituencies hitherto obedient to oligarchical influence, but animated for the moment by a certain spirit of independence.

Having sanctioned the dissolution, the king addressed an elaborate letter to Grey, in which he did not disguise his[Pg 294] own misgivings about the perilous experiment of reform. Chiefly dreading a collision between the two houses, he never ceased to press on his ministers the expediency of making all possible sacrifices consistent with the spirit of the bill in order to conciliate opposition in the house of peers. Grey's constant reply was that no concessions would propitiate men bent on driving the government from office, and that no measure less efficacious than that already introduced would satisfy the just expectations of the people. Both of these arguments were perfectly sound, and the constitutional triumph ultimately achieved was largely due to the admirable tenacity of purpose which refused to remodel the original reform bill in any essential respect to please either the borough-mongers or the radicals. The elections were conducted on the whole in good order. Seventy-six out of eighty-two English county members (including the four Yorkshire members), and the four members for the city of London, were pledged to vote for the bill. Several notable anti-reformers were among the many county representatives who failed to obtain re-election; even some of the doomed boroughs did not venture to return anti-reformers; and the government found itself supported by an immense nominal majority. The new bill, introduced on June 24 by Lord John Russell, who had recently been admitted in company with Stanley to the cabinet, differed little from the old one. The number of boroughs to be totally disfranchised was slightly greater, that of boroughs to be partially disfranchised slightly less, but the net effect of the disfranchising and enfranchising schedules was the same, and the £10 rental suffrage was retained. The measure was allowed to pass its first reading after one night's discussion. The debates on the second reading lasted three nights, but the bill passed this stage on July 8 by a majority of 136 in a house of 598 members.


The victory, however, though great, was far indeed from proving decisive. By adopting obstructive tactics, of a kind to be perfected in a later age, the opposition succeeded in prolonging the discussion in committee over forty nights, until September 7. Though Peel separated himself from the old tories, and steadily declined to cabal with O'Connell's faction against the government, such an unprofitable waste of time could not have taken place without his tacit sanction. Only one important[Pg 295] alteration was made in the bill. This was the famous "Chandos clause," proposed by Lord Chandos, son of the Duke of Buckingham, whereby the county suffrage was extended to all tenants-at-will of £50 rental and upwards. A very large proportion of tenant farmers thus became county voters, and for the most part followed the politics of their landlords. It may be doubted whether Grey seriously lamented Chandos's intervention; at all events it went far to verify his own prediction that aristocratic dominion would not be undermined by reform.[104] Meanwhile, the country was naturally impatient of the vexatious delay, and a somewhat menacing conference took place between the political unions of Birmingham, Manchester, and Glasgow. Happily public attention was diverted to some extent by the coronation, which took place on the 8th. The bill was carried more rapidly through its later stages, and was finally passed in the house of commons on the 21st, though by a reduced majority of 345 to 236.

On the following day the bill reached the house of lords and was set down for its second reading on October 3. Thenceforth all the hopes and fears of its friends and enemies were concentrated on the proceedings in that house, whose ascendency in the state was at stake. The question: "What will the lords do?" was asked all over the country with the deepest anxiety. The debate lasted five nights, and is admitted to have been among the finest reported in our parliamentary history. All the leading peers took part in it, and several of them were roused by the occasion to unwonted eloquence, but the palm was generally awarded to the speeches of Grey, Harrowby, Brougham, and Lyndhurst. The first of these occupied a position which gave increased weight to his counsels, since he was the veteran advocate of reform and yet known to be a most loyal member of the nobility which now stood on its trial. In his opening speech he appealed earnestly to the bench of bishops, as disinterested parties and as ministers of peace, not to set themselves against the almost unanimous will of the people. Brougham's great oration on the last night of the debate contained a masterly review of the whole question, and, in spite of its theatrical conclusion, when he sank upon his knees, extorted the admiration of his bitterest critics as a consummate exhibition of his marvellous powers.[Pg 296]

But very few of the peers were open to persuasion; the votes of anti-reformers were mainly guided by a shortsighted conception of their own interests, and Eldon did not shrink from contending that nomination boroughs were in the nature of property rather than of trusts. A memorable division ended in the rejection of the second reform bill on the 8th by 199 votes to 158. Twenty-one bishops voted against it. The king lost no time in reminding Grey of his own warning against submitting the bill, without serious modifications, to the judgment of the house of lords. He also intimated beforehand that he could not consent to any such creation of peers as would convert the minority into a majority. Grey at once admitted that he could not ask for so high-handed an exercise of the royal prerogative, and undertook to remain at his post, on condition of being allowed to introduce a third reform bill as comprehensive as its predecessor. Thereupon the king abandoned his intention of proroguing parliament by commission, and came down in person to do so on the 20th when he delivered a speech clearly indicating legislation on reform as the work of the next session.


During the interval between the 8th and the 20th it became evident that the reform movement, quickened by the action of the upper house, would rise to a dangerous height. A vote of confidence in the government, brought forward by Lord Ebrington, eldest son of Earl Fortescue, was carried by a majority of 131, and speeches were made in support of it which encouraged, in the form of prediction, every kind of popular agitation short of open violence. In the course of this debate Macaulay, the future historian of the English revolution, delivered one of those highly wrought orations which adorn the political literature of reform. The excitement in London was great, but kept for the most part within reasonable bounds, partly by the firm and sensible attitude of Melbourne as home secretary. The mob, however, vented its rage in window breaking and personal assaults on some prominent anti-reformers, one of whom, Lord Londonderry, was knocked off his horse by a volley of stones. In the provinces more serious disturbances broke out. At Derby the rioters actually stormed the city jail, releasing the prisoners, and were only repelled in their attack on the county jail by the fire of a military force. At Nottingham they wreaked their vengeance on the Duke of Newcastle by[Pg 297] burning down Nottingham Castle, which belonged to him, and were proceeding to further outrages when they were overawed by a regiment of hussars. A great open-air meeting of the political union was held at Birmingham, while the bill was still before the house of lords, at which a refusal to pay taxes was openly recommended in the last resort, and votes of thanks were passed to Althorp and Russell. The former, in acknowledging it, wisely condemned such lawless proceedings; the latter unwisely made use of a phrase which gravely displeased the king: "It is impossible that the whisper of faction should prevail against the voice of a nation". Both were called to account in the house of commons for holding correspondence with an illegal association, but disclaimed any recognition of the Birmingham union as a body, and fully admitted the responsibility of the government for the maintenance of order.

This assurance was about to be tested by the most atrocious outbreak which disgraced the cause of reform. On Saturday, the 29th, Wetherell, as recorder of Bristol, entered the city to open the commission on the following Monday. Of all the anti-reformers, he was perhaps the most vehement and unpopular, but his visit to Bristol was in discharge of an official duty, and had been sanctioned expressly by the government. Nevertheless, the cavalcade which escorted him was assailed by a furious rabble on its way to the guildhall, and from the guildhall to the mansion house, where he was to dine. For a while, they were kept back or driven back by a large force of constables, but, on some of these being withdrawn, their ferocity increased, and threatened a general assault on the mansion house. In vain did the mayor address them and read the riot act; they overpowered the constables, and carried the mansion house by storm, the mayor and the magistrates escaping by the back premises, while the recorder prudently left the city. At last the military were called upon to act, and two troops of cavalry were ordered out. But the military as well as the civil authorities showed a strange weakness and vacillation in presence of an emergency only to be compared with the Lord George Gordon riots of a by-gone generation. After making one charge and dispersing the populace for the moment, the cavalry were sent back to their barracks, and when one troop was recalled on the following (Sunday) morning, the[Pg 298] rioters were all but masters of the city. Many of them, having plundered the cellars of the mansion house, were infuriated by drink; they broke into the Bridewell, the new city jail, and the county jail, set free the prisoners, and fired the buildings. They next proceeded to burn down the mansion house, the bishop's palace, the custom-house, and the excise-office. The cathedral is said to have been saved by the resolute stand of a few volunteers hastily rallied by one of the officials. In the midst of all this havoc, the cavalry were almost passive, Colonel Brereton, the commanding officer, waiting for orders from the magistrates, and actually withdrawing a part of his small force when it was most needed, because it had incurred the special hatred of the criminals.

On the morning of Monday, the guardians of law and order seemed to have recovered their courage; at all events, the cavalry, no longer forbidden to charge, and headed by Major Mackworth, soon cleared the streets, fresh troops poured in, and the police made a number of arrests. The reign of anarchy was at an end, having lasted three days. When a return of casualties was made up, it showed that only twelve were known to have lost their lives, besides ninety-four disabled, most of whom were the victims of excessive drunkenness or of the flames kindled by themselves. But, though the riot was quelled, it was some proof of its deliberate promotion, and of the aims which its ringleaders had in view, that parties of them issuing out from Bristol attempted to propagate sedition in Somersetshire. A special commission sent down to Bristol condemned to death several of the worst malefactors; four were hanged and eighty-eight sentenced either to transportation or to lighter punishments; and Colonel Brereton destroyed himself rather than face the verdict of a court-martial.

On the same Monday, the 31st, Burdett took the chair at a meeting in Lincoln's Inn Fields, called for the purpose of forming a "National Political Union" in London. Soon afterwards, however, he retired from the organisation, on the nominal ground that half of the seats on its council were allotted to the working classes, but more probably because he was beginning to be alarmed by the violence of his associates. His fears were justified by a manifesto summoning a mass meeting of the working-classes to assemble at White Conduit House[Pg 299] on November 7, for the purpose of ratifying a new and revolutionary bill of rights. This time the government was on its guard, and Melbourne plainly informed a working-class deputation that such a meeting would certainly be seditious, and perhaps treasonable, in law. The plan was therefore abandoned, and soon afterwards a royal proclamation was issued, declaring organised political associations, assuming powers independent of the civil magistrates, to be "unconstitutional and illegal". The political unions proposed to consider themselves outside the scope of the proclamation, which had little visible effect, though it was not without its value as proving that the government was a champion of order as well as of liberty.


During the short recess of less than six weeks political discontent, constantly growing, was aggravated by industrial distress and gloomy forebodings of a mysterious pestilence, already known as cholera. A voluminous correspondence was carried on between the king and Grey on the means of silencing the political unions and smoothing the passage of a new reform bill. It was not in the king's nature to conceal his own conservative leanings, especially on the imaginary danger of increasing the metropolitan constituencies, and Grey complained more than once of these sentiments being confided, or at least becoming known, to opponents of the government. At the same time attempts were being made not only by the king himself, but also by peers of moderate views to arrange a compromise which might save the honour of the government, and yet mitigate the hostility of the tory majority in the upper house. In these negotiations behind the scenes, Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Carr, Bishop of Worcester, took part, as representing the episcopal bench, while Lords Harrowby and Wharncliffe, in temporary concert with Chandos, professed to speak for the "waverers" among peers. As little of importance resulted from their well-meant efforts, and as nearly all the supposed "waverers," including the bishops, drifted into open opposition, it is the less necessary to dwell at length on a very tedious chapter in the history of parliamentary reform. Suffice it to say that when parliament reassembled on December 6, 1831, the prospects of the forthcoming bill were no brighter than in October, except so far as the danger of rejecting it had become more apparent.[Pg 300]

The final reform bill introduced by Lord John Russell on the 12th was identical in its principle and its essential features with the former ones. The chief alteration was the maintenance of the house of commons at its full strength of 658 members. This enabled its framers not only to reduce the number of wholly disfranchised boroughs (schedule A) from sixty to fifty-six, and that of semi-disfranchised boroughs (schedule B) from forty-six to thirty, but to assign a larger number of members to the prosperous towns enfranchised. The bill was at once read a first time and passed its second reading after two nights' debate on the 16th by a majority of 324 to 162, or exactly two to one. But, after a short adjournment for the Christmas holidays, a debate of twenty-two nights took place in committee, and the opposition made skilful use of the many vulnerable points in the new scheme. Every variation from the original bill, even by way of concession, was subjected to minute criticism, and especially the fact that the schedules were now framed, not on a scale of population only, but on a mixed basis, partly resting on population, partly on the number of inhabited houses, and partly on the local contribution to assessed taxes.

It was easy to pick such a compound scale to pieces, to uphold the claims of one venal borough against another equally venal, and even to reproach the government with inconsistency in relying on the census of 1831, instead of on that of 1821—a course which the opposition had specially urged upon them. But it was not so easy to combat the irresistible arguments in favour of the bill on its general merits, to ignore the reasonable concessions on points of detail which it embodied, or to explain away the patent fact that no measure less stringent would satisfy the people. There was therefore an air of unreality about this debate, spirited as it was, nor is it easy to understand what practical object enlightened men like Peel could have sought in prolonging it. He well knew, and admitted in private correspondence, that reform was inevitable; he must have known that a sham reform would be a stimulus to revolutionary agitation; yet he strove to mutilate the bill so that it might pass its second reading in the house of lords, and there undergo such further mutilation as would destroy its efficacy as a settlement of the question. For the present he yielded. No attempt[Pg 301] was made to obstruct the bill on its third reading, when the division showed 355 votes to 239, and it passed the commons on March 23 without any division.


Such a result would have been conclusive in any parliament during the second half of the nineteenth century. A house of commons elected by the old constituencies, and under the old franchises, had declared in favour of a well-considered reform bill. The same constituencies voting under the same franchises had returned an increased majority in support of the same, or very nearly the same measure; this measure, with slight variations, had been adopted by an immense preponderance of votes in the new house of commons: yet its fate in the house of lords was very doubtful. Ever since the autumn of 1831, the expedient of swamping the house of lords had been seriously contemplated. It was supremely distasteful to the king, and Grey himself, in common with a majority of the cabinet, was strongly averse from it. Then came the intervention of Harrowby and Wharncliffe, the failure of which strengthened the hands of the more determined reformers in the cabinet, and induced the king to give way. Having already created a few peers on the coronation, he consented to a limited addition in the last resort, but with the reservation that eldest sons of existing peers should be called up in the first instance, and upon the assurance that, reform once carried, all further encroachments of the democracy should be resisted by the government. He even authorised Grey to inform Harrowby that he had given the prime minister this power, in the hope that it would never be needed, and that at least the second reading of the bill would be carried in the house of lords without it. His objection to a permanent augmentation of the peerage remained unshaken, and Grey promised to propose no augmentation at all before the second reading.

This compact, if it can be so called, was fulfilled in the letter, for the bill was read a first time without a division, and it passed the second reading on April 14 by a majority of 184 to 175. To all appearance a notable process of conversion had been wrought among the peers, seventeen of whom actually changed sides, while ten opponents of the former bill absented themselves, and twelve new adherents were gained. However encouraging these figures might be, the ministers were under no illusion. They had the best reason for expecting the worst[Pg 302] from the struggle in committee, and they were conscious of gradually losing the king's confidence. The very demonstrations of popular enthusiasm for reform which impressed others with a sense of its necessity impressed him with a sense of its danger; the political unions and the Bristol riots alarmed him extremely; and the foreign policy of the government elicited from him so outspoken a protest that Grey tendered his resignation. The difficulty was overcome for the moment, but recurred in a more serious form when parliament reassembled on May 7. Lyndhurst at once proposed in committee to postpone the consideration of schedule A; in other words, to shelve the most vital provisions of the bill until the rest should have been dissected in a hostile spirit. This proposal is supposed to have been concerted with Harrowby and Wharncliffe, if not to have received the sanction of the Duke of Wellington. It was adopted by 151 votes to 116, and the cabinet, on May 8, courageously determined to make a decisive stand. They firmly advised the king to confer peerages on "such a number of persons as might ensure the success of the bill". The principle thus expressed had, as has been seen, been reluctantly approved by the king himself, but he recoiled from the application of it when he learned that it would involve at least fifty new creations. After a day's thought, he closed with the only alternative, and accepted the resignation of his ministry. He then sent for Lyndhurst, who of course at once communicated with the duke.

The king, as we have seen, had never been able to understand the real force of the reform movement, and his leading idea was that the demand for reform might be satisfied by a moderate reform bill, which the house of lords would not reject or reduce to nullity. Wellington shared this impression, and, though an implacable opponent of reform, was willing to undertake office for the purpose of carrying, not merely a mild substitute for the whig reform bill, but the whig reform bill itself with little modification. Such an act might appear immoral in a statesman whose integrity was more open to question, but the duke's political moral appears to have been of a less delicate type than that which is commonly expected in party politicians. As a general, he considered, first of all and above all, what manœuvres would best advance his plan of campaign. As a[Pg 303] political leader, he regarded himself not as the chief of a party, still less as the exponent of a creed, but rather as a public servant to whom his followers owed allegiance, whether in office or in opposition. As a public servant he felt bound to obey the king's summons, and conduct the administration, honestly and efficiently, but without much concern for personal convictions. He was also anxious to preserve the house of lords from being swamped and so rendered ridiculous by an extensive creation of peers.[105]


But Wellington knew that he was powerless to manage the house of commons without the aid of Peel, and Peel, though pliable in the case of catholic emancipation, was inflexible in the case of reform. He drew a distinction between these cases, and absolutely rejected the advice of Croker that he should grasp the helm of state to avert the worse evil of the whigs being recalled. "I look," he wrote, "beyond the exigency and the peril of the present moment, and I do believe that one of the greatest calamities that could befall the country would be the utter want of confidence in the declarations of public men which must follow the adoption of the bill of reform by me as a minister of the crown."[106] This language, repeated under reserve in the house of commons, after a direct appeal from the king, strongly contrasts with that of the duke who roundly asserted that he should have been ashamed to show his face in the streets if he had refused to serve his sovereign in an emergency. The marked divergence of views and conduct between the two leaders of the conservative party led to a temporary estrangement which materially weakened their counsels, and was not finally removed until a fresh crisis arose two years later.

While Lyndhurst and the duke were vainly endeavouring to patch up a government without Peel or his personal adherents, Goulburn and Croker, the house of commons and the country gave decisive proofs of their resolution. A vote of confidence in Grey's ministry, proposed by Ebrington, was carried on May 10 by a majority of eighty. Petitions came in from the city of London and Manchester, calling upon the commons to stop the supplies, and the reckless populace clamoured for a run upon the Bank of England. A mass meeting convened by the[Pg 304] Birmingham political union had already hoisted the standard of revolt against the legislature, unless it would comply with the will of the people; the example was spreading rapidly, and events seemed to be hurrying on towards a fulfilment of Russell's prediction that, in the event of a political deadlock, the British constitution would perish in the conflict. The duke was credited, of course unjustly, with the intention of establishing military rule, and doubts were freely expressed whether he could rely either on the army or on the police to put down insurgent mobs. The excitement in the house of commons itself was scarcely less formidable, and it soon became evident that high tories were almost as much incensed by the prospect of a tory reform bill as radicals and whigs by the vote on Lyndhurst's amendment.

On the 14th Manners Sutton and Alexander Baring, Lyndhurst's trusted confidants, plainly informed the duke that his self-imposed task was hopeless, and on the next day the duke advised the king to recall Grey. The king, who had apparently grasped the position earlier, acquiesced in this solution of the question. He agreed to recall Grey and his colleagues, and to use his own personal influence in persuading tory peers to abstain from voting. He attempted to impose upon his old ministers the condition of modifying the bill considerably, but they continued to insist on maintaining its integrity, and on swamping the upper house, unless its opposition should be withdrawn. It was, happily, unnecessary to resort to such extreme measures. A letter from the king, dated the 17th, informed Wellington that all difficulties would be removed by "a declaration in the house of lords from a sufficient number of peers that they have come to the resolution of dropping their further opposition to the reform bill". On that night, after stating what had passed, the duke retired from the house, followed by about 100 peers, and absented himself from the discussion of the bill in committee. A stalwart minority remained, and took issue on a few clauses, but their numbers constantly dwindled, and when the report was received on June 1 only eighteen peers recorded their dissent in a protest. Grey himself, though suffering from illness, moved the third reading on the 4th, when it was carried by 106 to 22. His last words did not lack the dignity which had marked his[Pg 305] bearing throughout, and expressed the earnest hope that, in spite of sinister forebodings, "the measure would be found to be, in the best sense, conservative of the constitution".


The amendments made in the house of lords were slight, and the house of commons adopted them without any argument on their merits. Peel, who had made a convincing defence of his recent conduct, and who afterwards took a statesmanlike course in the reformed parliament, declared, with some petulance, that he would have nothing to do with the consideration of provisions or amendments passed under compulsion, and that he was prepared to accept them, en bloc, whatever their nature or consequences. The bill, therefore, received the royal assent on the 7th, but the king could not be induced to perform this ceremony in person. Though his scruples had been respected in framing the scheme of reform, though he was consulted at every turn and clearly recognised the necessity to which he bowed, and though he was spared the resort to a coup d'état which he abhorred, he could not but feel humiliated by the ill-disguised subjection of the crown and the nobility to a single chamber of the people. It is greatly to his honour that, with limited intelligence, and strong prejudices, he should have played a straightforward and strictly constitutional part in so perilous a crisis.

By the great reform bill, as it was still called even after it became an act, the whole representative system of England and Wales was reconstructed. Fifty-six nomination boroughs, as we have seen, lost their members altogether; thirty more were reduced to one member, and Weymouth which, coupled with Melcombe Regis, had returned four members, now lost two. Twenty-two large towns, including metropolitan districts, were allotted two members each; twenty smaller but considerable towns received one member each; the number of English and Welsh county members was increased from ninety-four to one hundred and fifty-nine, and the larger counties were parcelled out into divisions. All the fanciful and antiquated franchises which had prevailed in the older boroughs were swept away to make room for a levelling £10 household suffrage, the privileges of freemen being alone preserved. The rights of 40s. freeholders were retained in counties, but they found themselves associated with a large body of copyholders, leaseholders, and tenants-at-will pay[Pg 306]ing £50 in rent. The general result was to place the borough representation mainly in the hands of shopkeepers, and the county representation mainly in those of landlords and farmers. The former change had a far greater effect on the balance of parties than the latter. The shopkeepers, of whom many were nonconformists, long continued to cherish advanced radical traditions, partly derived from the reform agitation, and constantly rebelled against dictation from their rich customers. The farmers, dependent on their landlords and closely allied with them in defending the corn laws, proved more submissive to influence, and constituted the backbone of the great agricultural interest.

The enactment of the English reform bill carried with it as its necessary sequel the success of similar bills for Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland electoral abuses were so gross that reform was comparatively simple, and that proposed, as Jeffrey, the lord advocate, frankly said, "left not a shred of the former system". The nation, as a whole, gained eight members, since its total representation was raised from forty-five to fifty-three seats, thirty for counties and twenty-three for cities and burghs. Two members were allotted to Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively; one each to Paisley, Aberdeen, Perth, Dundee, and Greenock, as well as to certain groups of boroughs. Both the county and burgh electorates were entirely transformed. The "old parchment freeholders" in counties, many of whom owned not a foot of land, were superseded by a mixed body of freeholders and leaseholders with real though various qualifications. The electoral monopoly of town councils was replaced by the enfranchisement of householders with a uniform qualification of £10. A claim to representation on behalf of the Scottish universities was negatived in the house of lords. The number of representatives for Ireland was raised from 100 to 105. The disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders was maintained against the strenuous attacks of O'Connell and Sheil, but the introduction of the £10 borough franchise amply balanced the loss of democratic influence in counties. On the whole the transfer of power from class to class was greater in Scotland and Ireland than in England itself, and in Ireland this signified a corresponding transfer of power from protestants to catholics. The rule of the priests was almost as absolute as ever until it was checked[Pg 307] for a while by a purely democratic movement, and the Irish vote in the house of commons was generally cast on the radical side.


A calm retrospect of the reform movement, culminating in the acts of 1832, compels us to see how little the course of politics is guided by reason, and how much by circumstances. Every argument employed in that and the preceding year possessed equal force at the end of the eighteenth century, and the benefits of reform might have been obtained at a much smaller cost of domestic strife; nor can we doubt that, but for the French revolution, these arguments would have prevailed. Whether or not the sanguinary disruption of French society furthered the cause of progress on the continent, it assuredly threw back that cause in Great Britain for more than a generation. Not only did its horrors and enormities produce a reaction which paralysed the efforts of liberals in this country, but the wars arising out of it engrossed for twenty years the whole energy of the nation. Had it been possible for Pitt to pass a reform bill after carrying the Irish union, the current of English history would have been strangely diverted. The sublime tenacity of that proud aristocracy which defied the French empire in arms, and nerved all the rest of Europe by its example and its subsidies, would never have been exhibited by a democratic or middle class parliament, and it is more than probable that Great Britain would have stood neutral while the continent was enslaved or worked out its own salvation. On the other hand, in such a case, Great Britain might have been spared a great part of the misery and discontent which, following the peace, but indirectly caused by the war, actually paved the way for the reform movement. It remained for a second French revolution, combined with the infatuation of English tories, to supply the motive power which converted a party cry into a national demand for justice. The reform act was, in truth, a completion of the earlier English revolution provoked by the Stuarts. Considering the condition of the people before its introduction, and the obstinacy of the resistance to be overborne, we may well marvel that it was carried, after all, so peacefully, and must ever remember it as a signal triumph of whig statesmanship.

It was the crowning merit of the reform act, from a whig point of view, that it stayed the rising tide of democracy, and[Pg 308] raised a barrier against household suffrage and the ballot which was not broken down for a generation more. It put an end to an oligarchy of borough-owners and borough-mongers; it was a charter of political rights for the manufacturing interest and the great middle class. But it did nothing for the working classes in town or country; indeed, by the abolition of potwallopers and scot-and-lot voters in a few boroughs, they forfeited such fragmentary representation as they had possessed. Hence the seeds of chartism, already sown, were quickened in 1832; but socialism was not yet a force in politics, and it was still hoped that, under the new electoral system, the sufferings of the poor might be mostly remedied by act of parliament. The effect of the reform act on the balance of the constitution was not, at first, fully appreciated. The grievance of nomination-boroughs had been all but completely redressed, and that of political corruption greatly diminished, but the hereditary peerage remained, and the right of the lords to override the will of the commons had ostensibly survived the conflict of 1831-32. But far-sighted men could not fail to perceive that, in fact, the upper house was no longer a co-ordinate estate of the realm. The peers retained an indefinite power of delaying a measure, but it soon came to be a received maxim that on a measure of primary importance such a power could only be exercised in order to give the commons an opportunity of reconsideration or to force an appeal to the country at a general election, and that a new house of commons, armed with a mandate to carry that measure, though once rejected by the peers, could not be resisted except at the risk of revolution.

The best safeguard against collision, however, was to be found in the latent conservatism of the house of commons itself. Reformed as it was, it had not ceased to be mainly a house of country gentlemen, and the non-payment of members was a security for its being composed, almost exclusively, of men with independent means and a stake in the country. A very large proportion of these had been educated at the great public schools, or the old English universities. They might accept on the hustings the doctrine, against which Burke so eloquently protested, that a representative is above all a delegate, and must go to parliament as the pledged mouthpiece of his constituency. But in the house itself they could not divest themselves of the senti[Pg 309]ments derived from their birth, their education, and their own personal interests; nor was it found impossible, without a direct violation of pledges, to act upon their own opinions in many a critical division. Still, it has been well pointed out that, with the flowing tide of reform there arose a new and one-sided conception of statesmanship as consisting in progressive amendment of the laws rather than in efficient administration, so that it is now popularly regarded as a mark of weakness on the part of any government to allow a session to pass without effecting some important legislative change.[107]


The supreme interest of the reform bill and its incidents naturally dwarfed all other political questions, and the legislative annals of 1831-32 are otherwise singularly devoid of historical importance. The coronation of William IV., which, as has been seen, took place on September 8, 1831, was hardly more than an interlude in the great struggle, yet it served for the moment to assuage the animosities of party warfare. The king himself, who disliked solemn ceremonials, and the ministers, deeply pledged to economy, were inclined to dispense with the pageant altogether. It was found, however, that not only peers and court officials but the public would be grievously disappointed by the omission of what, after all, is a solemn public celebration of the compact between the sovereign and the nation. The coronation was, therefore, carried out with due pomp and all the time-honoured formalities, but without the profuse extravagance which attended the enthronement of George IV. There was no public banquet, and the public celebration ceased with the ceremony in Westminster Abbey. The Duke of Wellington and other leading members of the opposition had been duly consulted by the government; there was a welcome respite from parliamentary warfare; the king's returning popularity was confirmed; and all classes of the people were satisfied.


Two months later, the appearance of the cholera at Sunderland added another grave cause of anxiety to all the difficulties created by the defeat of the reform bill in the house of lords, and the ominous riots at Bristol. A similar but distinct and infinitely milder disease had long been known under the name of cholera morbus, or more correctly cholera nostras.[Pg 310] Asiatic cholera, as the new disease was called, had no affinity with any other known disease, and excited all the greater terror by its novelty, as well as by the suddenness of its fatal effect. It was first observed by English physicians in 1817, when 10,000 persons fell victims to it in the district of Jessor in Bengal. About the same time it attacked and decimated the central division of the army of Lord Hastings, advancing against Gwalior. Before long it spread over the whole province of Bengal, and eastward along the coasts of Asia as far as China and Timur in the East Indies, crossed the great wall, and penetrated into Mongolia. In 1818 it broke out at Bombay, and during the next twelve years continued to haunt, at intervals, the cities of Persia and Asiatic Turkey, with the coasts of the Caspian Sea. It was not until 1829 that it reached the Russian province of Orenburg, by way of the river Volga, visiting St. Petersburg and Archangel in June, 1830. Thence it travelled slowly but steadily westward through Northern Europe, as well as southward into the valleys of the Danube and its tributaries, until it made its appearance at Berlin and Hamburg in the summer of 1831. Long before this, and while the reform crisis was in its acutest stage, the probability of its advent was fully realised in England, and orders in council were issued in June, 1831, placing in quarantine all ships coming from the Baltic. Notwithstanding the outcry against meddling with trade, men of war were appointed to enforce these orders, and when the news came that Marshal Diebitsch had died of the disease in Poland, the alarm increased and all regulations against plague were made applicable to cholera. Whether or not these precautions were ineffective, it swooped upon Sunderland on October 26, and prevailed there for two months, though its true character was very unwillingly recognised.[108]

The conflict between the newly created board of health and the merchants importing goods caused the government no little perplexity. The protests of the latter were strengthened by the somewhat remarkable fact that, once established at Sunderland, the cholera seemed to be arrested in its course and for a while spread no further. There seemed to be some ground for the belief that it was partly due to extreme overcrowding and[Pg 311] neglect of all sanitary rules in that town, but this belief was soon dissipated by its appearance at Newcastle and progress over the north-eastern counties even during the winter months. Seven cases of it occurred on the banks of the Thames just below London early in February, 1832, and though its virulence in England was alleged to be less than on the continent, further experience hardly justified that opinion. The appalling violence of its first onslaught on some vulnerable districts may be illustrated by the example of Manchester, where a whole family just arrived from an infected locality was swept away within twenty-four hours. The government did its duty by disseminating instructions for its prevention and treatment among the local authorities, but the prejudices of the lower orders were against all interference for their benefit, and scenes of brutality were sometimes enacted such as may still be witnessed in oriental cities scourged by the plague. After a temporary decline, the visitation recurred in all its severity, and in July the deaths of a few persons in the highest circles occasioned a panic in the west end of London. Still the declared number of deaths in the metropolitan area was only 5,275, showing a far lower rate of mortality in London than in Paris at the same time, and much lower than in London itself during the epidemic of 1849, when statistics were more trustworthy. None of the cholera epidemics, however, approached in deadliness the plagues of 1625 and 1665. In the latter year the number of deaths in London from plague alone represented about one-fifth of the entire resident population—a proportion equivalent to a mortality of above 200,000 in the London of 1831-32. This comparative immunity was partly due to improved sanitation, the vigorous development of which may be said to date from the first visitation of cholera.

The census taken in 1831 revealed an increase of population, which, though not equal to that of the preceding decade, indicated a most satisfactory growth of wealth and employment. It was found that Great Britain contained about 16,500,000 inhabitants, but of these, as might be expected, a smaller percentage was employed in agriculture and a larger percentage in manufacturing industry than in 1821. It has been calculated that since the end of the great war the accumulation of capital had been twice as rapid as the multiplication of the people, but, in spite of this, pauperism, as measured by poor law expendi[Pg 312]ture, had increased almost continuously since 1823, and emigration received a startling impulse in 1831-32. Rick burning and frame breaking were the joint result of childish ignorance, miserable wages, mistaken taxes on the staple of food, and poor laws administered as if for the very purpose of encouraging improvidence and vice. All these causes were capable of being removed or mitigated by legislation, for even the rate of wages was kept down by the ruinous system of out-door relief. But it was only a few thoughtful persons who then appreciated either the extent or the real sources of the mischief, and the disputes which soon arose about the proper remedies to be applied have been handed on to a later age.

Next to parliamentary reform the state of Ireland was by far the most important subject which engaged the attention of the legislature in 1831-32. The population had increased from 6,801,827 in 1821 to 7,767,401 in 1831, and the increase, unlike that in England, had been almost exclusively in the agricultural districts. While the political motive for multiplying small freeholds had ceased, the motives for multiplying small tenancies were as strong as ever, and were felt by landlords no less than by cottiers. This class, often inhabiting huts like those of savage tribes and living in a squalor hardly to be seen elsewhere in western Europe, chiefly depended for their subsistence on potatoes—the most uncertain and the least nutritious of the crops used for human food. Many hundred thousands of them had no employment in their own country and no means of livelihood except the produce of the scanty patches around their own turf cabins. Tens of thousands flocked to England annually seeking harvest work, and a small number emigrated to Canada or the United States, the passage money for an emigrant being then almost prohibitive. Those who could not pay rent were liable to eviction, and eviction was a more cruel fate then than now, since there was no poor law in Ireland. Fever was rife in their miserable abodes, following in the steps of hunger, and for relief of any kind they could rely only on the mercy of their landlords or the charity of their neighbours. Under such conditions of life crime and disaffection could not but flourish, and the Irish peasant could hardly be blamed if he listened eagerly to the counsels of O'Connell. For him catholic emancipation had no meaning except so far as it gave him a hope that parliament,[Pg 313] swayed by the great Irish demagogue, would abolish tithes, if not rent, and find some means of making Irishmen happy in their own country.


Had O'Connell been a true patriot, or even an honest politician, he would have devoted his vast powers and influence to practical schemes for the good of Ireland, and specially to a solution of the agrarian question. Unhappily, smarting under a not unfounded sense of injustice, when he was disabled from taking his seat for Clare, he threw his whole energy into a new campaign for the repeal of the union, which occupied the rest of his life. So far from acknowledging any gratitude to the whigs, through whose support emancipation had been carried, he exhausted all the resources of his scurrilous rhetoric upon them, lavishing the epithets "base, brutal, and bloody," with something like Homeric iteration. In December, 1830, Anglesey had returned to succeed the Duke of Northumberland, and Stanley occupied the post of chief secretary, in place of Hardinge. The ministers were privately advised to buy O'Connell at any price, and it was intimated that he would not object to become a law officer of the crown, or at least would not refuse a judicial appointment. It may well be doubted whether the offer of such a bargain to such a man could have been justified by success; it is more than probable that it would have failed, and it is quite certain that failure would have brought infinite discredit upon the government. At all events the attempt was not made, and other catholic aspirants to legal promotion were passed over with less excuse.

Lord Anglesey proved a resolute viceroy, and proclaimed the various associations, meetings, and processions organised by O'Connell, with little regard for his own popularity. O'Connell's policy, carried out with the cunning of a skilful lawyer, was to obey the law in the letter, but to break it almost defiantly in the spirit. At last, however, he went a step too far by advising the people who had come for a prohibited meeting to reassemble and hold it elsewhere. He was arrested on January 18, 1831, and pleaded "Not guilty," but on February 17, when his trial came on, he allowed judgment to go by default against him on those counts of the indictment which charged him with a statutable offence, provided that other counts, which charged him with a conspiracy at common law, should be withdrawn. The[Pg 314] attorney-general assented, and the case was adjourned until the first day in Easter term. Before that day arrived, however, the reform bill had been introduced, and O'Connell had made a powerful speech in support of it. In the desperate struggle which ensued, the ministers shrunk from estranging so formidable an ally, a further adjournment of the case was allowed, a sudden dissolution of parliament took place, the act under which O'Connell was to be sentenced expired with the parliament, and no further action was taken.


During the year 1831, the agitation for repeal which O'Connell had set on foot, as soon as the emancipation act had been passed, was for a while thrust into the shade by the fiercer agitation against tithes. This agitation was connected, in theory, with the demand for the abolition or reduction of the Irish Church establishment, but was, in fact, entirely independent of that or any other constitutional movement. It may seem inexplicable to political students of a later age that Irish questions of secondary importance, and eminently capable of equitable treatment, should have convulsed the whole island and disturbed the whole course of imperial politics, during the reign of William IV. The rebellion against tithes or "tithe-war," as it was called, had not the semblance of justification in law or reason. Every tenant who took part in it had inherited or acquired his farm, subject to payment of tithes, and might have been charged a higher rent if he could have obtained it tithe-free. The tithe was the property of the parson as much as the land was the property of the landlord, and the wilful refusal of it was from a legal point of view sheer robbery. On the other hand, the mode of collection was extremely vexatious, perhaps involving the seizure of a pig, a bag of meal, or a sack of potatoes; and a starving cottier, paying fees to his own priest, was easily persuaded by demagogues that it was an arbitrary tribute extorted by clerical tyrants of an alien faith.

Thus it came to pass that the history of the Irish "tithe-war" exhibits the Irish peasantry in their very worst moods, and it is stained with atrocities never surpassed in later records of Irish agrarian conspiracy. It is among the strange and sad anomalies of national character that a people so kindly in their domestic relations, so little prone to ordinary crime, and so[Pg 315] amenable to better influences, should have shown, in all ages, down to the very latest, a capacity for dastardly inhumanity, under vindictive and gregarious impulses, only to be matched by Spanish and Italian brigands among the races of modern Europe. Yet so it is, and no "coercion" (so-called) ultimately enforced by legal authority was comparable in severity with the coercion which bloodthirsty miscreants ruthlessly applied to honest and peaceable neighbours, only guilty of paying their lawful debts. It is not too much to say that anarchy prevailed over a great part of Ireland, especially of Leinster, during the years 1831 and 1832. The collection of tithes became almost impossible. The tithe-proctors were tortured or murdered; the few willing tithe-payers were cruelly maltreated or intimidated; the police, unless mustered in large bodies, were held at bay; cattle were driven, or, if seized and offered for sale, could find no purchasers; and the protestant clergy, who had acted on the whole with great forbearance, were reduced to extremities of privations. Five of the police were shot dead on one occasion; on another, twelve who were escorting a tithe-proctor were massacred in cold blood. A large number of rioters were killed in encounters with the police, which sometimes assumed the form of pitched battles and closely resembled civil war. Special commissions were sent down into certain districts, and a few executions took place, but in most cases Irish juries proved as regardless of their oaths as they ever have on trials of prisoners for popular crimes. O'Connell, and even Sheil, tacitly countenanced these lawless proceedings, and openly palliated them in the house of commons.

The whig government, engaged in a life-and-death contest with the English borough-mongers, hesitated to crush the Irish insurgents by military force, or to initiate a sweeping reform of the Irish Church. Early in 1832, however, committees of both houses reported in favour of giving the clergy temporary relief out of public funds, and of ultimately commuting tithes into a charge upon the land. A preliminary bill for the former purpose was promptly carried by Stanley, and made the government responsible for recovering the arrears. The committee, pursuing their inquiries, produced fuller reports, and again recommended a complete extinction of tithes in Ireland. But the method proposed and embodied in three bills introduced by[Pg 316] Stanley in the same year, was too complicated to serve as a permanent settlement, and was denounced as illusory by the Irish members. The first bill was, in fact, a compulsory extension of acts already passed in 1822 and 1823, the former of which had permitted the tithe-owner to lease the tithe to the landlord, while the latter permitted the tithe-owner and tithe-payers of each parish to arrange a composition. Unfortunately, the act of 1823 had provided that the payment in commutation of tithe should be distributed over grass-lands hitherto tithe-free in Ireland as well as over land hitherto liable to tithe. The act was in consequence unpopular with a section of farmers, while at the same time the bishops resented the commutation, as likely to diminish the value of beneficies. But in spite of this opposition the act of 1823 had been widely adopted. Stanley's bill to render such commutations compulsory passed, but his other two bills, providing a new ecclesiastical machinery for buying up tithes, were abandoned at the end of the session. Of course the substitution of the government for the clergyman as creditor in respect of arrears had no soothing effect on the debtors. The reign of terror continued unabated, and O'Connell contented himself with pointing out that without repeal there could be no peace in Ireland. We may so far anticipate the legislation of 1833 as to notice the inevitable failure of the experiment which converted the government into a tithe-proctor. It was then replaced by a new plan, under which the government abandoned all processes under the existing law, advanced £1,000,000 to clear off all arrears of tithe, and sought reimbursement by a land tax payable for a period of five years.


It reflects credit on the unreformed house of commons that in its very last session, harassed by the irreconcilable attitude of the catholic population in Ireland, it should have found time and patience not only for the pressing question of Irish tithes, but for the consideration of a resolution introductory to an Irish poor law, of a bill (which became law) for checking the abuses of Irish party processions, and of a grant for a board to superintend the mixed education of Irish catholic and protestant children. The discussion of Sadler's motion in favour of an Irish poor law was somewhat academic, and produced a division among the Irish members, O'Connell, with gross inconsistency, declaring himself vehemently opposed to any such measure.[Pg 317] The ministers professed sympathy with its principle, but would not pledge themselves to deal immediately with so difficult and complicated a subject, perhaps foreseeing the necessity of radical change in the English poor law system. The processions bill was vigorously resisted on behalf of the Orangemen, as specially aimed at their annual demonstrations on July 12, but it was so manifestly wise to remove every wanton aggravation of party spirit in Ireland, that it was passed just before the prorogation.

The experiment of mixed education in Ireland had already been made with partial success, first by individuals, and afterwards by an association known as the Kildare Place Society. On the appointment of Dr. Whately to the archbishopric of Dublin, it received a fresh impulse, and Stanley, as chief secretary, definitely adopted the principle, recommended by two commissions and two committees, of "a combined moral and literary and separate religious instruction". A board of national education was established in Dublin, composed of eminent Roman catholics as well as protestants, to superintend all state-aided schools in which selections from the Bible, approved by the board, were to be read on two days in the week. Though provision was made for unrestricted biblical teaching, out of school hours, on the other four days, protestant bigotry was roused against the very idea of compromise. A shrewd observer remarked, "While the whole system is crumbling to dust under their feet, while the Church is prostrate, property of all kind threatened, and robbery, murder, starvation, and agitation rioting over the land, these wise legislators are debating whether the brats at school shall read the whole Bible or only parts of it".[109] The opponents of the national board failed to defeat the scheme in parliament, and it was justly mentioned with satisfaction by the king in his prorogation speech of August 16. But its benefits, though lasting, were seriously curtailed by sectarian jealousy. Most of the protestant clergy frowned upon the national schools, as the Roman catholic priesthood had frowned upon the schools of the Kildare Place Society, and a noble opportunity of mitigating religious strife in Ireland was to a great extent wasted. Thus ended the eventful session of 1832.


[104] See Professor Dicey's observations on this clause, Law and Opinion in England, p. 54, n.

[105] Wellington, Despatches, etc., viii., 206; Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 207.

[106] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 206.

[107] Goldwin Smith, United Kingdom, ii., 354; Dicey, Law and Opinion in England, p. 85.

[108] C. Creighton, History of Epidemics in Britain, ii., 768, 793-97, 860-62.

[109] Greville, Memoirs (March 9, 1832), ii., 267.[Pg 318]



It was assumed in 1832, and has been held ever since, that a redistribution act must be speedily followed by a dissolution, so as to give the new constituencies the power of returning new members. Accordingly, parliament, having been prorogued until October 16, was further prorogued until December 3, and then finally dissolved. The general election which followed, though awaited with much anxiety, was orderly on the whole, and produced less change than had been expected in the personnel of the house of commons. The counties, for the most part, elected men from the landed aristocracy, the great towns elected men of recognised distinction, and few political leaders were excluded, though Croker abjured political life and refused to solicit a seat in the reformed house of commons. The good sense of the country asserted itself; while Cobbett was returned for Oldham, "Orator" Hunt was defeated at Preston, and no general preference was shown for violent demagogues by the more democratic boroughs. The age of members in the new house was higher, on the average, than in the old; its social character was somewhat lower, and the high authority of William Ewart Gladstone, who now entered parliament for the first time, may be quoted for the opinion that it was inferior, in the main, as a deliberative assembly. But it was certainly superior as a representative assembly, it contained more capable men of business, and its legislative productions, as we shall hereafter see, claim the gratitude of posterity. A certain want of modesty in the new class of members was observed by hostile critics, and was to be expected in men who had won their seats by popular oratory and not through patronage. The house of commons had already ceased to be "the best club in London," and later re[Pg 319]forms have still further weakened its title to be so regarded, but they have also shown the wonderful power of assimilation inherent in the atmosphere of the house itself, and the spirit of freemasonry which springs up among those who enter it by very different avenues.


The change wrought by the reform act in the strength and distribution of parties was immediate and conspicuous. The ancient division of whigs and tories, which had become well-nigh obsolete in the reign of George IV., had been revived by the great struggle of 1831-32. It was now superseded to a great extent by the combination of the radicals with O'Connell's followers into an independent section, and by the growth of a party under Peel, distinct from the inveterate tories and known by the name of "conservative," which first came into use in 1831.[110] The preponderance of liberalism, in its moderate and extreme forms, was overwhelming. It was roughly computed that nearly half the house were ministerialists and about 190 members radicals, Irish repealers, or free lances, while only 150 were classed as "conservatives," apparently including tories.[111] In such circumstances the attitude to be adopted by Peel was of the highest constitutional importance. It is some proof of the respect for statesmanship instinctively felt by the new house of commons that Peel, as inexorable an opponent of reform as Canning himself, should at once have assumed a foremost position and soon obtained an ascendency in an assembly so largely composed of his opponents.

But Peel himself was no longer a mere party leader. Unlike Wellington and Eldon, he saw the necessity of accepting loyally the accomplished fact and shaping his future course in accordance with the nation's will. He, therefore, took an early opportunity of declaring that he regarded the reform act as irrevocable, and that he was prepared to participate in the dispassionate amendment of any institution that really needed it. In a private letter to Goulburn he stated that, in his judgment, "the best position the government could assume would be that of moderation between opposite extremes of ultra-toryism and radicalism," intimating further that "we should appear to the greatest advantage in defending the government" against their[Pg 320] own extreme left wing.[112] In this policy he persevered; his influence did much to quell the confusion and disorder of the first debate, and his followers swelled the government majorities in several of the early divisions. When he came to review the first session of the reformed parliament he remarked in a private letter that what had been foreseen took place, that "the popular assembly exercised tacitly supreme power," and, without abolishing the crown or the house of lords, overawed the convictions of both.[113]


The passion for reform, far from spending itself in remodelling the house of commons, filled the statute-book with monuments of remedial legislation. No session was more fruitful in legislative activity than that of 1833. But the way of legislation was at first blocked against all projects of improvement by the urgent necessity of passing an Irish coercion bill. This had been indicated in the king's speech, and on February 15, 1833 Grey introduced the strongest measure of repression ever devised for curbing anarchy in Ireland. It combined, as he explained, the provisions of "the proclamation act, the insurrection act, the partial application of martial law, and the partial suspension of the habeas corpus act". But the barbarities and terrorism which it was designed to put down were beyond precedent and almost beyond belief. The attempt to collect the arrears of tithe, even with the aid of military force, had usually failed, and less than an eighth of the sum due was actually levied. The organised defiance of law was not, however, confined to refusal of tithes; it embraced the refusal of rent and extended over the whole field of agrarian relations. The Whiteboys of the eighteenth century reappeared as "Whitefeet," and other secret associations, under grotesque names, enforced their decrees by wholesale murder, burglary, arson, savage assaults, destruction of property, and mutilation of cattle. In two counties, Kilkenny and Queen's County, nearly a hundred murders or attempted murders were reported within twelve months, and the murderous intimidation of witnesses and jurors secured impunity to perpetrators of crimes. No civilised government could have tolerated an orgy of lawlessness on so[Pg 321] vast a scale, and nothing but the exigencies of the reform bill can excuse Grey and his colleagues for not having grappled with it earlier. Nor does it appear that any remedy less stern would have been effectual. Where unarmed citizens have not the courage either to protect themselves or to aid the constabulary employed for their protection, soldiers, accustomed to face death and inflict it upon others under lawful command, must be called in to maintain order. Where civil tribunals have become a mockery, summary justice must be dealt out by military tribunals. Force may be no remedy for grievances, but it is the one sovereign remedy for organised crime, and this was soon to be proved in Ireland.

The viceroy, Anglesey, true to his liberal instincts, would have postponed coercion to measures of relief, such as a settlement of the church question. Stanley, on the other hand, insisted on the prompt introduction of a stringent peace preservation bill, and his energetic will prevailed. The bill contained provisions enabling the lord-lieutenant to suppress any meeting, establishing a curfew law in disturbed districts, and placing offenders in such districts under the jurisdiction of courts martial with legal assessors. It passed the house of lords with little discussion on the 22nd, and was laid before the house of commons a few days later by Althorp, who had already brought in an Irish Church temporalities bill. The debate on the address had already given warning of the reception which the Irish members would accord to any coercion bill, and of their malignant hostility to Stanley. Efforts were made to delay its introduction, and full advantage was taken of Althorp's statement that one special commission had been completely successful. His opening speech, tame and inconclusive, discouraged his own followers. The fate of the bill appeared doubtful, but Stanley, who had twice staked the existence of the ministry on its adoption, reversed the whole tendency of the debate by a speech of marvellous force and brilliancy, which Russell afterwards described as "one of the greatest triumphs ever won in a popular assembly by the powers of oratory".[114] It was in this speech that he proved himself at least a match for O'Connell, whom he scathed with fierce indignation as having lately called the house[Pg 322] of commons a body of scoundrels. It cost many nights of debate to carry the bill, with slight amendments, but Stanley's appeal had a lasting effect, and it became law in April, to the great benefit of Ireland.


Meanwhile, the Irish Church temporalities bill was pressed forward as a counterpoise to coercion. It imposed a graduated tax upon all episcopal, capitular, and clerical incomes above £200 a year, and placed the proceeds, estimated at £60,000 or £70,000 a year, in the hands of commissioners, to be expended in the repairs of churches, the erection of glebe-houses, and other parochial charges. In this way Irish ratepayers might be relieved of the obnoxious "vestry cess," a species of Church rate, at the expense of the clergy. A further saving of £60,000 a year or upwards was to be effected by a reduction of the Irish episcopate, aided by a new and less wasteful method of leasing Church lands attached to episcopal sees. Two out of four Irish archbishoprics and eight out of eighteen bishoprics were doomed to extinction, as vacancies should occur. Dioceses and benefices were to be freely consolidated, clerical sinecures were to cease, and the more scandalous abuses of the Irish Church were to be redressed.

As a scheme for ecclesiastical rearrangement within the Church itself, the bill was sound and liberal, but it was utterly futile to imagine that it would be welcomed, except as a mere instalment of conciliation, by Roman catholics who looked upon the protestant Church itself as a standing national grievance. The only boon secured to them was exemption from their share of vestry cess, for, though Althorp intimated that the ultimate surplus to be realised by the union of sees and livings would be at the disposal of parliament, they well knew how many influences would operate to prevent its reaching them. Not even O'Connell, still less the ministry, ventured to propose "concurrent endowment" as it was afterwards called, and the very idea of diverting revenues from the protestant establishment to Roman catholic uses was disclaimed with horror. More than a century earlier, a partition of these revenues between the great protestant communions had been seriously entertained, and Pitt had notoriously contemplated a provision for the Roman catholic priests out of state funds. But no such demand was now made, and the one feature of the bill which commanded[Pg 323] the vigorous support of O'Connell and his adherents was the 147th section, or "appropriation clause," which enabled parliament to apply the expected surplus of some £60,000 in income, or some £3,000,000 in capital, to whatever purposes, secular or otherwise, it might think fit to approve. The far-reaching importance of this principle was fully understood on both sides. To radicals and Roman catholics it was the sole virtue of the bill; to friends of the Irish Church and tories it was a blot to be erased at any cost.

The progress of the measure was not rapid. Its nature had been explained by Althorp on February 12, but it was not in print on March 11 when, notwithstanding the reasonable protest of Peel, he induced the house to fix the second reading for the 14th. It was then found that, owing to its form, it must be preceded by resolutions, in order to satisfy the rules of the house. These resolutions, containing the essence of the bill, were proposed on April 1, but were not adopted without a long debate, and the debate on the second reading did not begin until May 6. It ended in a majority of 317 to 78 for the government, chiefly due to a moderate speech from Sir Robert Peel, who, however, denounced the policy of "appropriation". The discussion in committee was far more vehement, and radicals like Hume did not shrink from avowing their desire to pull down the Irish establishment, root and branch. The attack on the conservative side was mainly concentrated on the appropriation clause. In vain was it argued that a great part of the expected surplus was not Church property, inasmuch as it would result from improvements in the system of episcopal leases to be carried out by the agency of the state. Every one saw that, however disguised, and whether legitimate or not, appropriation of the surplus for secular purposes would be an act of confiscation, and must needs be interpreted as a precedent.

The cabinet itself was divided on the subject, and despaired of saving the bill in the house of lords, without sacrificing the disputed clause. On June 21, therefore, Stanley announced in the house of commons that the appropriation clause would be withdrawn, and that any profits arising out of financial reforms within the Church would be allowed to fall into the hands of the ecclesiastical commissioners. The fury of O'Connell was unbounded, and not so devoid of excuse as many of his passionate[Pg 324] outbreaks. He treated the Church bill as the stipulated price to be paid for the coercion bill, and the appropriation clause as the only part of it, except relief from vestry cess, which could possess the smallest value for Irish Roman catholics. There was no valid answer to his argument, except that another collision with the house of lords must be avoided at any tolerable cost, for, as Russell bluntly said, "the country could not stand a revolution once a year". Thus lightened, and slightly modified in the interest of Irish incumbents, the bill passed through committee and was read a third time by very large majorities, the minority being mainly composed of its old radical partisans. Peel's letters show how anxious he was to "make the reform bill work," by protecting the government against this extreme faction,[115] and the parliamentary reports show how much he did to frustrate the attempt to intimidate the lords by a resolution of the commons.

The debate in the upper house lasted three nights in July, but is almost devoid of permanent interest. The appropriation question being dropped, there was little to discuss except the historical origin of Irish dioceses, the precedents for their consolidation, and the economical details of the scheme for equalising, in some degree, the incomes of Irish clergymen. Two or three peers, headed by the Duke of Cumberland, took their stand once more on the coronation oath, and Bishop Phillpotts of Exeter availed himself of this objection in one of the most powerful speeches delivered against the bill. On the other hand, Bishop Blomfield of London, and the Duke of Wellington, now acting in concert with Peel, gave it a grudging support, as the less of two evils. After passing the second reading by a majority of 157 to 98, it was subjected to minute criticism in committee, and one amendment was carried against the government, but Grey wisely declined to relinquish it except on some vital issue. The majority on the third reading was 135 to 81, and on August 2 the commons agreed to the lords' amendments, O'Connell remarking that, after all, the peers had not made the bill much worse than they found it. More than a generation was to elapse before this "act to alter and amend the laws relating to the temporalities of the Church in Ireland"[Pg 325] was completed by an act severing that Church from the state. But the ulterior aims of those who first challenged the sanctity of Church endowments were not concealed, and the more than Erastian tendency of the liberal movement was henceforth clearly perceived by high Churchmen. We know, on the authority of Dr. Newman, that he and his early associates regarded the Anglican revival of which they were the pioneers as essentially a reaction against liberalism, and liberalism as the most formidable enemy of sacerdotal power.


Long before the Irish church bill had passed the house of commons Stanley exchanged the chief secretaryship of Ireland for the higher office of colonial secretary, to which he was gazetted on March 28. His uncompromising advocacy of the coercion bill, and his known hostility to direct spoliation of the Church, alike provoked the hatred of Irish Roman catholics, and Brougham had already advised his retirement from Ireland. His promotion was facilitated by the resignation of Durham, nominally on grounds of health, but also because he was in constant antagonism to his own father-in-law, Grey, and his moderate colleagues in the cabinet. He received an earldom, and was succeeded as lord privy seal by Goderich, who became Earl of Ripon. This opened the colonial office to Stanley, who instantly found himself face to face with a question almost as intractable as the pacification of Ireland. Sir John Hobhouse became chief secretary for Ireland, but without a seat in the cabinet. He resigned in May, and was succeeded by Edward John Littleton, who was married to a natural daughter of the Marquis Wellesley.

Among the statutes passed in 1833, there are several, besides those relating to Ireland, of sufficient importance to confer distinction upon any parliamentary session. One of these is entitled "an act for the better administration of justice in His Majesty's privy council"; a second, "an act for the abolition of slavery throughout the British colonies, for promoting the industry of the manumitted slaves, and for compensating the persons hitherto entitled to the services of such slaves"; a third, "an act for the abolition of fines and recoveries, and for the substitution of more simple methods of assurance"; a fourth, "an act to regulate the trade to China and India"; a fifth, "an act for giving to the corporation of the governor and company[Pg 326] of the Bank of England certain privileges, for a limited period, under certain conditions"; a sixth, "an act to regulate the labour of children and young persons in the mills and factories of the United Kingdom". Not one of these salutary measures was forced upon the legislature by popular clamour, every one of them represents a sincere zeal for what has been ridiculed as "world-bettering," and the parliament that passed them must have been thoroughly imbued with the spirit of reform.

Foremost of these measures, as a monument of philanthropic legislation, will ever stand the act for the abolition of colonial slavery. No class in the country was concerned in its promotion; the powerful interests of the planters were arrayed against it; and humanity, operating through public opinion, was the only motive which could induce a government to espouse the anti-slavery cause. Stanley had not occupied his new office many weeks when on May 14 it became his lot to explain the ministerial scheme in the house of commons. Its essence consisted in the immediate extinction of absolute property in slaves, but with somewhat complicated provisions for an intermediate state of apprenticeship, to last twelve years. During this period negroes were to be maintained by their former masters, under an obligation to serve without wages for three-fourths of their working hours, and were to earn wages during the remaining fourth. All children under six years of age were to become free at once, and all born after the passing of the act were to be free at birth. The proprietors were to receive compensation by way of loan, to the extent of £15,000,000, and additional grants were promised for the institution of a stipendiary magistracy and a system of education.

Several resolutions embodying the scheme were carried, with little opposition, though some abolitionists, headed by Mr. Fowell Buxton, a wealthy brewer and eminent philanthropist, who sat for Weymouth, took strong exception to compulsory apprenticeship, as perpetuating the principle of slavery, however mitigated by the recognition of personal liberty and the suppression of corporal punishment. It was found expedient, however, in deference to a very strong remonstrance from West Indian proprietors, to convert the proposed loan of £15,000,000 into an absolute payment of £20,000,000, and this noble donation, for conscience' sake, was actually ratified by parliament and the[Pg 327] country. The bill founded on the resolutions met with no serious opposition, but an amendment by Buxton for adopting free labour at once was lost by so narrow a majority that Stanley consented to reduce the period of apprenticeship to an average of six years. In this instance the lords followed the guidance of the commons, and a measure of almost quixotic liberalism was endorsed by them without hesitation. It must be confessed that experience has not verified the confident prediction that free labour would prove more profitable than slave labour, but Great Britain has never repented of the abolition act, and its example was followed, thirty years later, by the United States.


The first of the general factory acts was marked by the same philanthropic character, but here the manufacturing capitalists, introduced by the reform act, were induced by self-interest to oppose it. Ever since the beginning of the century the sufferings and degradation of children in factories had occasionally engaged the attention of parliament, but the full enormity of the factory system was known to few except those who profited by it. It seems incredible, but it was shown afterwards by irresistible evidence, that children of seven years old and upwards were often compelled to work twelve or fourteen hours a day, with two short intervals for meals, in a most unwholesome atmosphere, exposed not only to ill-treatment but to every form of moral corruption. A very partial remedy was applied by a law passed in 1802 which restricted the hours of labour to twelve for mills in which apprentices were employed. The same limit of hours was extended to cotton mills generally in 1816, and, but for the resistance of the house of lords, it would have been reduced to ten, as a select committee had recommended on the initiative of the first Sir Robert Peel. A few years later the question was revived by Sir John Hobhouse, but left unsettled. In 1831 Sadler introduced a ten hours bill for children, and obtained a select committee, before which disclosures were made well calculated to shock the country. At the general election of 1832, Sadler was defeated by Macaulay for the new borough of Leeds, but his mantle fell on Lord Ashley, afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury, one of the noblest philanthropists of modern times.

Early in the session of 1833 Ashley introduced a ten hours bill, applicable, like that of Sadler, to all young persons under[Pg 328] eighteen years of age working in factories. It also prohibited the employment of children under nine, and provided for the appointment of inspectors. It was strongly opposed by the Lancashire members as interfering with freedom of labour even for adults, since mills could not be kept running without the labour of boys under eighteen. They also objected to the evidence already reported as one-sided, and succeeded in procuring the appointment of a royal commission. This commission prosecuted its inquiries with unusual despatch, but its report was not in the hands of members on July 5, when the bill came on for its second reading. Though Althorp, unwilling to offend the manufacturing interest, pleaded for deliberation and urged that a select committee should frame the regulations to be adopted, the majority of the house was impatient of delay, and he encountered a defeat. The question now resolved itself into a choice between a greater or less limitation of hours. On this question, a compromise proposed by Althorp prevailed, and Ashley resigned the conduct of the bill into his hands. It was further modified in committee, but ultimately became law in a form which secured the main objects of its promoters. No child under nine years of age could be employed at all in a factory, after two years none under thirteen could be worked more than eight hours, and no young person under eighteen could be required to work more than sixty-nine hours a week, while the provisions for inspection were retained along with others which contained the germ of education on the half-time system.


The trading monopoly of the East India Company, though confined to China by the act of 1813, had been regarded ever since with great jealousy by the mercantile community. As the revised charter was now on the point of expiring, it was for the government to frame terms of renewal which might satisfy the growing demand for free trade. Their scheme, which few were competent to criticise, met with general approval, and the only determined opposition to it was offered in the house of lords by Ellenborough, who lived to come into sharp collision with the court of directors as governor-general. It was embodied in three simple resolutions, the first of which recommended the legislature to open the China trade without reserve, the second provided for the assumption by the crown of all the company's assets and liabilities but with the obligation of paying the com[Pg 329]pany a fixed subsidy, while the last affirmed the expediency of entrusting the company with the political government of India. Grant, who moved these resolutions, as president of the board of control, had no occasion to defend the policy of setting free the China trade which no one disputed; but he undertook to show that it had declined in the hands of the company, and that private competition had already crept in on a large scale. He also dwelt on the advantage of bringing the political relations arising out of commercial intercourse more directly under the control of the government. His reasoning was sound, and the China trade rapidly developed, nor could he be expected to foresee the course of events whereby the government afterwards became embroiled with the Chinese empire, on the importation of opium, and other economical questions. As compensation for the loss of its exclusive privileges, the company was to receive an annuity of £630,000, charged on the territorial revenues of India.

The policy of continuing the company's rule in India for twenty years longer would have excited more earnest discussion in a session less crowded with legislative projects. The way had been paved for the concession of complete free trade in the eastern seas by the reports of select committees and parliamentary debates under former governments. The consumers of tea, numbered by millions, promised themselves a better quality at a lower price, and a keen spirit of enterprise was kindled by the idea of breaking into the unknown resources of China. But public interest in the administration of India was languid. It might well have appeared that a board sitting in Leadenhall Street was fitter to conduct shipping and mercantile operations than to govern an imperial dependency like British India. But the contrary alternative was almost tacitly accepted. The directors were "to remain princes, but no longer merchant princes," and Ellenborough complained that whereas "hitherto the court had appeared in India as beneficent conquerors, henceforth they would be mortgagees in possession". Perhaps the ministry shrunk from provoking the storm of obloquy which must have resulted from placing the vast patronage of the company in the hands of the crown. At all events, it was agreed, with little dissent, that under the new charter the company should nominally retain the reins of[Pg 330] power, checked, however, by Pitt's "board of control," the president of which, in reality, shared a despotic authority with the governor-general of Bengal, who was hereafter to be in name what he had long been in fact, governor-general of India. The bill strengthened his council, and enabled him to legislate for all India.

At the same time Europeans were permitted to settle and hold land in India without the necessity of applying for a licence. Lastly, the principle was laid down, pregnant with future consequences, that all persons in India, without distinction of race or creed, should be subject to the same law and eligible for all offices under the government. Such was the last charter of the great company. It is interesting to observe that Grant, in admitting that the government of India under its sway had not been prone "to make any great or rapid strides in improvement," paid a just tribute to its eminently pacific character. "It excited vigilance," he said, "against any encroachment of violence or rapacity; it ensured to the people that which they most required—repose, security, and tranquillity." The immense annexations of territory and far-reaching reforms which have created the British India of the twentieth century were either most reluctantly sanctioned by the court of directors or have been carried out since its dominion was transferred to the crown. Irrevocable as they are, and beneficent as they may be on the whole, they have certainly imposed difficulties of portentous magnitude upon the rulers of India, nor would it be surprising if some native survivors of the olden days in far-off recesses of the country should remember with sad regret the paternal, though unprogressive, despotism of the sovereign company.


The bank charter act of 1833, having been superseded by that of 1844, fills a less important place than it otherwise would in the history of legislation on currency. The bill was founded, however, on the report of a secret committee which embraced Peel as well as Althorp and several other members of high financial repute or great experience in the city. Since the subject of it was familiar to a large section of members engaged in business, and touched the pockets of bankers all over the country, it was discussed in the house of commons far more earnestly than the bill renewing the charter of the East India Company. In the end two provisions were dropped, which[Pg 331] directly encouraged the increase of joint stock banks. The rest were passed, and contained important modifications of the banking system as it then existed. The main privileges of the Bank of England were continued, in spite of a strong opposition and of protests against the one-sided inquiry said to have been conducted by the secret committee. These privileges embraced the exclusive possession of the government balances, the monopoly of limited liability, then refused to other banks, and the right, shared by no other joint stock bank, of issuing its own notes. Though private London banks might have legally exercised this power they did not actually do so, and nearly all of them deposited their reserves with the Bank of England.

Another part of the scheme, which even Peel condemned, was thus briefly stated in a preliminary resolution: "That, provided the Bank of England continued liable, as at present, to defray in the current coin of the realm all its existing engagements, it was expedient that its promissory notes should be constituted a legal tender for sums of £5 and upwards". In other words, country bankers would no longer be compelled to cash their own notes, or pay off their deposits in gold, but might use Bank of England notes instead, above the value of £5. The Bank of England, however, and all its branches, remained liable to cash payments, as before, so that, as Baring argued, only one intermediate stage was interposed between the presentation of a country note and the exchange of it for specie. Peel's objection, which did not prevail, chiefly rested on the danger of the Bank of England closing its branches in its own interests, in order to check the demand for cash. Though his fears were not literally realised, experience disclosed the danger of country banks multiplying unduly, and, by their over-issue of notes, causing a severe drain upon the Bank of England for gold. For the present, however, the critics of the measure were less concerned in forecasting such remote consequences than in protesting against the charge to be made by the bank for managing the public debt. This charge was, in fact, to be reduced by £120,000 a year, but one-fourth part of the advances made by the bank to the public (or £3,671,700) was to be paid off, and the proposed remuneration was denounced as exorbitant. Althorp hardly denied that it was a good bargain for the bank, though he persuaded the house of commons to endorse the[Pg 332] arrangement, rather than incur the dislocation of national finance and commercial business certain to ensue if the bank should withdraw from its connexion with the government and use its vast influence for its own interest alone.


Two great law reforms close the series of important remedial measures passed in the first session of the reformed parliament—a session, be it remembered, which embraced all the furious and protracted debates on the Irish coercion act and the Irish Church temporalities act. The first of these was Brougham's valuable bill constituting a permanent "judicial committee of the privy council," and transferring to it the judicial functions theoretically belonging to "the king in council," but practically exercised by committees selected ad hoc on each occasion. Charles Greville, to whose memoirs all historians of this period are greatly indebted, and who in 1833 was clerk of the council, was inclined to disparage the proposed change as one of Brougham's fanciful projects, designed to gratify his own self-importance.[116] Even Greville, however, saw reason to modify his view, and the new court has ever since commanded general respect, except from those high Churchmen who resented its assumption of the appellate jurisdiction in ecclesiastical causes, formerly vested, along with a similar jurisdiction in admiralty causes, in the king in chancery, and exercised by a "court of delegates," usually consisting of three common law judges and three or four civilians selected ad hoc.

The essential defects of such a court were fully stated in the report of a very strong commission, including six bishops, appointed in 1830. Probably the expediency of reforming the jurisdiction of the privy council for the purpose of hearing these ecclesiastical appeals may have suggested to Brougham the idea of constructing a standing appellate tribunal within the privy council, for the purpose of hearing all appeals that might come before that body. Accordingly, after carrying a bill in 1832 whereby the privy council, as such, took over the powers of the "court of delegates," he introduced the general bill whereby the judicial committee was created, and under which it still acts. It was to consist of the lord chancellor, with the present and past holders of certain high judicial offices, and two privy councillors[Pg 333] to be appointed by the sovereign; to whom prelates, being privy councillors, were to be added for ecclesiastical appeals. The system thus founded, and since developed, is capable of indefinite expansion, in case still closer relations should be established between Great Britain and the colonies.

The act for the abolition of fines and recoveries, though scarcely intelligible except to lawyers, was a masterpiece not only of draughtsmanship, but of honest law amendment. It swept away grotesque and antiquated forms of conveyance, which had lost their meaning for centuries, and which nothing but professional self-interest kept alive. Had it been followed up by legislation in a like spirit on other departments of law, the profits of lawyers and the needless expenses of clients might have been reduced to an extent of which the unlearned public has no conception. As it was, it simplified the process of selling land in a remarkable degree, though it left untouched the complications of title and transfer affecting real property, which no lord chancellor since Brougham has been courageous enough to attack in earnest, and which remain the distinctive reproach of English law. It is not without shame that we read in the king's prorogation speech, delivered on August 29, 1833, the assurance that he will heartily co-operate with parliament in making justice easily accessible to all his subjects. He adds that, with this view, a commission has been issued "for digesting into one body the enactments of the criminal law, and for inquiring how far, and by what means, a similar process may be extended to the other branches of jurisprudence". Seventy years have since elapsed, yet this royal promise of codification is not even in course of fulfilment. On the other hand, Brougham's scheme for establishing local courts in certain parts of the kingdom was destined to bear ample fruit in the next reign. It was described by Eldon as "a most abominable bill," and, being generally opposed by the law lords, was rejected by a small majority, but it was the germ of the county courts, which have since done so much to bring justice within the reach and the means of poor suitors.

Notwithstanding its legislative exploits, the whig government was declining in popularity at the end of 1833, and was beginning to discover how vain it is to rely on political gratitude. Other reforming governments have since undergone the same[Pg 334] bitter experience, the causes of which are by no means obscure. No reform can be effected without "harassing interests," and the sense of resentment in the sections of the community thus harassed is far stronger and more efficacious than any appreciation of the benefits reaped by the general public at home, or by mankind at large. Again, the expectations excited by the agitation of such a question as parliamentary reform are far beyond the power of any legislature to satisfy. Grey and his colleagues were too well aware of this, and Stanley, for one, manfully championed the government measures on their own merits, disdaining to flatter the radicals, but his discretion was not equal to his valour, and every debate brought into stronger relief the more statesmanlike capacity and moderation of Peel. There was no tory reaction, but a growing distrust of heroic remedies for national disorders, and a growing faith in the possible development of a liberal policy in a conservative spirit. Even the Duke of Wellington found himself restored insensibly to popular favour, and was again received in the streets with marks of public respect.


Of all the ministers, no one enjoyed a greater share of confidence both in and out of parliament than Althorp. He was not a great financier, but he was an honest and prudent chancellor of the exchequer, a free-trader by conviction, and incapable of those artifices by which a plausible balance-sheet may be made out at the cost of future liabilities. Yet his budgets of 1831, 1832, and 1833 undoubtedly helped to shake the credit of the government. The first had been far too ambitious, and became almost futile, when the proposed tax on transfers was abandoned, and the timber duties left undisturbed. The second was modest enough, and was saved from damaging criticism by the absorbing interest of the reform bill. Considerable reductions were made in the estimates, the revenue yielded somewhat more than had been expected, and Althorp was enabled to present a favourable account in 1833. He anticipated a surplus of about a million and a half, out of which he was prepared to abolish certain vexatious duties and to decrease others. But the country gentlemen, headed by Ingilby, member for Lincolnshire, insisted on a reduction of the malt duty by one-half, while the borough members, headed by Sir John Key, clamoured for a repeal of the house tax and window tax. The former motion[Pg 335] was actually carried against the government by a small majority, but its effect was annulled, and the latter motion was defeated, by a skilful manœuvre. This consisted in the proposal by Althorp of a counter-resolution, declaring that, if half of the malt tax and the whole tax on windows and houses were to be taken off, it would be necessary to meet the deficiency by a general income tax. Such a prospect was equally alarming to the landed interest and the householders, whose rival demands were mutually destructive, the result being that Althorp's amendment was carried by a large majority, and the government escaped humiliation, though not without some loss of prestige.

It was perhaps to be expected that private members in the first session of the reformed parliament should be eager to gain a hearing for their special projects of improvement. So it was, but two only of these projects deserved historical mention. One of these was the abortive attempt of Attwood, the radical member for Birmingham, to reverse the policy of 1819 by inducing parliament to initiate the return to a paper currency. Cobbett actually followed up this failure by moving for an address praying the king to dismiss Sir Robert Peel from his councils, a motion defeated by a majority of 295 to 4.


[110] The Croker Papers, ii., 198.

[111] Mahon to Peel (Jan, 8, 1833), Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 209.

[112] Jan. 3, 1833, Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 213.

[113] Peel to Croker (Sept. 28, 1833), ibid., p. 224.

[114] Russell, Recollections and Suggestions, p. 113.

[115] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 212-16.

[116] Greville, Memoirs, ii., 364, 365.[Pg 336]



The year 1833, so fruitful in legislation, may be said to have witnessed the birth of a religious movement which has profoundly affected the character of the national Church. The neo-catholic revival, which afterwards took its popular name from Pusey but drew its chief inspiration from Newman, was in a great degree the outcome of the reform act and a reaction against the more than Erastian tendencies of the reformed parliament. In the early part of the century, as we have seen, personal and practical religion was mainly represented by the evangelical or low Church party, which did admirable service in the cause of philanthropy, as well as in reclaiming the masses from heathenism. The high Church party was comparatively inactive, but co-operated with its rival in opposition to catholic emancipation. The clergy, as a body, were hostile to reform, and the bishops incurred the fiercest obloquy by voting against the first reform bill, which had unfortunately been rejected by a majority exactly corresponding with the number of their votes.[117] The democratic outcry against the Church became louder and louder, as the evils of nepotism, pluralism, and sinecurism were exposed to public criticism, and a growing disposition was shown to deal with Church endowments both in England and in Ireland, if not as the property of the state, yet as under its paramount control.


The recent infusion of Irish Roman catholics into the house of commons, following that of Scotch presbyterians a century earlier, rendered it less and less fit, in the opinion of high Churchmen, to legislate for the Church of England, and every concession to religious liberty shocked them as a step towards "National[Pg 337] Apostasy". This was, in fact, the impressive title of a sermon preached by John Keble, in July, 1833, before the university of Oxford. From this sermon Newman himself dated the origin of the Oxford or "Tractarian" movement, but its inward source lay deeper. Having lost all confidence in the state and even in the Anglican hierarchy as a creature of the state, a section of the clergy had already been looking about for another basis of authority, and had found it in theories of apostolical succession and Church organisation. The university of Oxford was a natural centre for such a reaction, and it was set on foot with the deliberate purpose of defending the Church and the Christianity of England against the anti-catholic aggressions of the dominant liberalism. It was not puritanism but liberal secularism which Newman always denounced as the arch-enemy of the catholic faith. For, as Wesley's sympathies were originally with high Church doctrines, so Newman's sympathies were originally with evangelical doctrines, nor were they ever entirely stifled by his ultimate secession to the Roman Church.

The later development of this movement, which had its cradle in the common room of Oriel College, belongs rather to ecclesiastical history, and to the reign of Queen Victoria. But from the first it rallied a considerable body of support. Many who were not influenced by the movement, shared its earlier aspirations. Shortly after the formation of an association, under Newman and Keble's auspices, seven or eight thousand of the clergy signed an address to the Archbishop of Canterbury, insisting upon the necessity of restoring Church discipline, maintaining Church principles, and checking the progress of latitudinarianism. A large section of the laity ranged themselves on the side of the revival, and meetings were held throughout England. The king himself volunteered a declaration of his strong affection for the national Church now militant, and prepared to assert itself, not merely as a true branch of the catholic Church, but as a co-ordinate power with the state. In the autumn of 1833, Newman and one of his colleagues launched the first of that series of tracts from which his followers derived the familiar name of Tractarians. From that day he was their recognised leader, yet he claimed no allegiance and issued no commands. He felt himself, not the creator of a new party, but a loyal son of the old Church, at last awakened from her[Pg 338] lethargy. The spell which he exercised over so many young minds was due to a personal influence of which he was almost unconscious, but which spread from the pulpit of St. Mary's Church and his college rooms at Oriel over a great part of the university and the Church. It was broken some years later, when he gave up the via media which he had so long been advocating, accepted the logical consequences of his own teaching, and reproached others for not discovering that Anglicanism was but a pale and deformed counterfeit of the primitive Christianity represented, in its purity, by the Church of Rome.

Looking back at this movement across an interval of seventy years, we may well feel astonished that it satisfied the aspirations of inquisitive minds in contact with the ideas of their own times. For this was the age of Benthamism in social philosophy and "German neology" in biblical criticism. Though national education was in its infancy, a new desire for knowledge, and even a free-thinking spirit, was permeating the middle classes, and had gained a hold among the more intelligent of the artisans. The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, established by Brougham, circulated a mass of instructive and stimulating literature at a cheap rate; popular magazines and cyclopædias were multiplying yearly; and the British Association, which held its first meeting at Oxford in 1832, brought the results of natural science within the reach of thousands and tens of thousands incapable of scientific research. The Bridgwater Treatises, which belong to the reign of William IV., are evidence of a widespread anxiety to reconcile the claims and conclusions of science with those of the received theology. Thoughtful and religious laymen in the higher ranks of society were earnestly seeking a reason for the faith that was in them, and pondering over fundamental problems like the personality of God, the divinity of Christ, the reality of supernatural agency, and the awful mystery of the future life. Yet the tractarians passed lightly over all these problems, to exercise themselves and others with disputations on points which to most laymen of their time appeared comparatively trivial.


To them Church authority was supreme, and every catholic dogma a self-evident truth. What engrossed their reason and consciences was the discussion of questions affecting Church authority, for example, whether the Anglican Church pos[Pg 339]sessed the true note of catholicity or was in a state of schism, whether its position in Christendom was not on a par with that of the monophysite heretics, whether its articles could be brought into conformity with the Roman catholic doctrines expressly condemned by them, or whether its alliance with Lutheranism in the appointment of a bishop for Jerusalem did not amount to ecclesiastical suicide. Their message, unlike that of the early Christian or methodist preachers, was for the priestly order, and not for the masses of the people; their appeals were addressed ad clerum not ad populum; still less were they suited to influence scientific intellects. But their propaganda was carried on by men of intense earnestness and holy lives, few in number but strong in well-organised combination, and they carried with them for a time many to whom any "movement" seemed better than lifeless "high and dry" conformity. Herein consisted the secret of their early success. Their subsequent failure was inevitable when they were fairly confronted with protestant sentiment and with the independent spirit of the age. How their aims were taken up and partially realised in a new form by new leaders and through new methods, is an inquiry which must be reserved for a later chapter in the history of the English Church.

The strange religious movement which resulted in the foundation of the so-called Catholic Apostolic Church was of somewhat earlier date, and its author had already been disavowed as a minister by the presbyterian Church before the Tracts for the Times began to startle the religious world. The most brilliant part of Edward Irving's career falls within the reign of George IV., when his chapel in London was crowded by the fashionable world, and even attended occasionally by statesmen like Canning. According to all contemporary testimony he was among the most remarkable of modern preachers, and his visionary speculations in the field of biblical prophecy failed to repel hearers attracted by his wonderful religious enthusiasm. Compared with the adherents of the methodist or of the neo-catholic revival, his followers were a mere handful, and his name would scarcely merit a place in history but for the impression which he made upon men of high ability and position. What brought him into discredit with his own communion and with the public was his introduction into his services of fanatics professing the[Pg 340] gift of speaking with "unknown tongues". These extravagances led to his deposition in 1832, and probably hastened his early death in 1834. But his creed did not die with him, and a small body of earnest believers has carried on into the twentieth century a definite tradition of the gospel which he taught.

Far deeper and more lasting in its effects was the change wrought in current ideas by the almost unseen but steady advance of science in all its branches. During this epoch perhaps the most formidable enemy of orthodoxy was the rising study of geology, challenging, as it did, the traditional theories of creation. The discoveries of astronomy—the law of gravitation, the rotation of the earth, its place in the solar system, and, above all, the infinite compass of the universe—were in themselves of a nature to revolutionise theological beliefs more radically than any conclusions respecting the antiquity of the earth. But it may be doubted whether it was so in fact; at all events, theologians had slowly learned to harmonise their doctrines with the conception of immeasurable space, when they were suddenly required to admit the conception of immeasurable time, and staggered under the blow. The pioneers of English geology were careful to avoid shocking religious opinion, and Buckland devotes a chapter of his famous Treatise on Geology to showing "the consistency of geological discoveries with sacred history". His explanation is that an undefined interval may have elapsed after the creation of the heaven and the earth "in the beginning" as recorded in the first verse of Genesis; and he rejects as opposed to geological evidence "the derivation of existing systems of organic life, by an eternal succession, from preceding individuals of the same species, or by gradual transmutation of one species into another". But speculations of this order were utterly ignored by such religious leaders as Newman and Irving, whose spiritual fervour, however apostolical in its influence on the hearts of their disciples, was confined within the narrowest circle of intellectual interests.


The great event of parliamentary history in 1834, and the crowning achievement of the first reformed parliament, was the enactment of the "new poor law," as it was long called. No measure of modern times so well represents the triumph of reason over prejudice; none has been so carefully based on thorough inquiry and the deliberate acceptance of sound prin[Pg 341]ciples; none has so fully stood the conclusive test of experience. It is not too much to say that it was essentially a product of the reform period, and could scarcely have been carried either many years earlier or many years later. In the dark age which followed the great war, contempt for political economy, coupled with a weak sentiment of humanity, would have made it impossible for a far-sighted treatment of national pauperism and distress to obtain a fair hearing. After the introduction of household suffrage, and the growth of socialism, any resolute attempt to diminish the charge upon ratepayers for the immediate relief but ultimate degradation of the struggling masses would have met with the most desperate resistance from the new democracy. The philosophical whigs and radicals, trained in the school of Bentham, and untainted as yet by a false philanthropy, found themselves in possession of an opportunity which might never have recurred. They deserved the gratitude of posterity by using it wisely and courageously.

The irregular development of the poor laws, from the act of Elizabeth down to that of 1834, belongs to economic rather than to general history. It is enough to say here that in later years, and especially since the system of allowances adopted by the Berkshire magistrates at Speenhamland in 1795 had become general, the original policy of relieving only the destitute and helpless, and compelling able-bodied men to earn their own living, had been entirely obscured by the intrusion of other ideas. The result was admirably described in the report of a commission, appointed in 1832, with the most comprehensive powers of investigation and recommendation. The commissioners were the Bishops of London (Blomfield) and Chester (Sumner), Sturges Bourne, Edwin Chadwick, and four others less known, but well versed in the questions to be considered. A summary of the information collected by them, ranging over the whole field of poor-law management, was published in February, 1834. It astounded the benighted public of that day, and it still remains on record as a wonderful revelation of ruinous official infatuation on the largest possible scale. The evil system was found to be almost universal, but the worst examples of it were furnished by the southern counties of England. There, an actual premium was set upon improvidence, if not on vice, by the wholesale practice of giving out-door relief in aid of wages,[Pg 342] and in proportion to the number of children in the family, legitimate or illegitimate. The excuse was that it was better to eke out scanty earnings by doles than to break up households, and bring all their inmates into the workhouse. The inevitable effect of such action was that wages fell as doles increased, that paupers so pensioned were preferred by the farmers to independent labourers because their labour was cheaper, and that independent labourers, failing to get work except at wages forced down to a minimum, were constantly falling into the ranks of pauperism.

Had some theorists of a later generation witnessed the social order then prevailing in country districts, they would have found several of their favourite objects practically attained. There was no competition between the working people; old and young, skilled and unskilled hands, the industrious and the idle, were held worthy of equal reward, the actual allowance to each being measured by his need and not by the value of his work; while the parochial authorities, figuring as an earthly providence, exercised a benevolent superintendence over the welfare and liberty of every day-labourer in the village community. The fruits of that superintendence were the decline of a race of freemen into a race of slaves, unconscious of their slavery, and the gradual ruin of the landlords and farmers upon whom the maintenance of these slaves depended.[118]


The evidence laid before the commissioners not only showed how intolerable the evil had become in many counties, but also how purely artificial it was. While the aggregate amount of the poor rate had risen to more than eight millions and a half, while some parishes were going out of cultivation and in others the rates exceeded the rental, there were certain oases in the desert of agricultural distress where comparative prosperity still reigned. These were villages in which an enlightened squire or parson had set himself to strike at the root of pauperism, and to initiate local reforms in the poor-law system. It was clearly found that, where out-door relief was abolished or rigorously limited, where no allowances were made in aid of wages, and where a manly self-reliance was encouraged instead of a servile mendicity, wages rose, honest industry revived, and the whole[Pg 343] character of the village population was improved. Fortified by these successful experiments, the commissioners took a firm stand on the vital distinction, previously ignored, between poverty and pauperism. They did not shrink from recommending that, after a certain date, "the workhouse test" should be enforced against all able-bodied applicants for relief, except in the form of medical attendance, and even that women should be compelled to support their illegitimate children. They also advised a liberal change in the complicated and oppressive system of "parish settlement," whereby the free circulation of labour was constricted. They further proposed a very large reform in the administrative machinery of the poor laws, by the formation of parishes into unions, the concentration of workhouses, the separation of the sexes in workhouses, and, above all, the creation of a central poor-law board, to consist of three commissioners, and to control the whole system about to be transformed.

A bill framed upon these lines, and remedying some minor abuses, was introduced by Althorp on April 17, having been foreshadowed in the speech from the throne, and carefully matured by the cabinet. So wide and deep was the conviction of the necessity for some radical treatment of an intolerable evil that party spirit was quelled for a while, and the bill met with a very favourable reception, especially as its operation was limited to five years. It passed the second reading by a majority of 299 to 20 on May 9, notwithstanding a violent protest from De Lacy Evans, an ultra-radical, who had displaced Hobhouse at Westminster. The keynote of the radical agitation which followed was given by his declaration that "the cessation of out-door relief would lead to a revolution in the country," and by Cobbett's denunciation of the "poor man robbery bill". The Times newspaper, already a great political force, took up the same cry, and had not Peel, with admirable public spirit, thrown his weight into the scale of sound economy, a formidable coalition between extremists on both sides might have been organised. He stood firm, however; radicals like Grote declined to barter principle for popularity, and the bill emerged almost unscathed from committee in the house of commons. It passed its third reading on July 2 by a majority of 157 to 50. Peel's example was followed by Wellington in the house of lords, and Brougham delivered one of his most powerful speeches in sup[Pg 344]port of the measure. With some modification of the bastardy clauses and other slighter amendments it was carried by a large majority, and received the royal assent on August 4.

No other piece of legislation, except the repeal of the corn laws, has done so much to rescue the working classes of Great Britain from the misery entailed by twenty years of war. Its effect in reducing the rates was immediate; its effect in raising the character of the agricultural poor was not very long deferred. Happily for them, though not for the farmers, bread was cheap for two years after it came into force. Still, the sudden cessation of doles and pensions in aid of wages could not but work great hardship to individuals in thousands of rural parishes, and there was perhaps too little disposition on the part of the commissioners to allow any temporary relaxation of the system. The rigorous enforcement of the workhouse test, and the harsh management of workhouses, continued for years to shock the charitable sensibilities of the public, and actually produced some local riots. When the price of bread rose the clamour naturally increased, and petitions multiplied until a committee was appointed in 1837 to review the operation of the act. In the end the committee found, as might have been expected, that, however painful the state of transition, the change had permanently improved the condition of the poor in England.


While the bill was still in the house of commons the ministry which framed it was torn by dissensions; before it came on for its second reading in the lords Grey had ceased to be premier. The disruption of his government had been foreseen for months, but it was directly caused by hopeless discord on Irish policy. Anglesey had been forced by ill-health to resign the vice-royalty, and the Marquis Wellesley, who succeeded him, was more acceptable to Irish nationalists. But the king's speech at the opening of the session contained a stern condemnation of the repeal movement. O'Connell at once declared war, and the angry feelings of his followers were inflamed by a personal and public quarrel between Althorp and Sheil. Another incident, in itself trivial, disclosed the discord prevailing in the cabinet on Irish affairs, and, though O'Connell was defeated on a motion against the union by a crushing majority of 523 to 38, the disturbed state of Ireland continued to distract the minis[Pg 345]terial councils. The ingenious devices of Stanley and Littleton for solving the insoluble Irish tithe question had proved almost abortive; the government officials employed to collect tithe were almost as powerless to do so as the old tithe-proctors, and a new proposal to convert tithe into a land tax was naturally ridiculed by O'Connell as delusive. He made a speech so conciliatory in its tone as to startle the house, but no words, however smooth, could now conjure away the irreconcilable difference of purpose between those who regarded Church property as sacred and those who regarded it not only as at the disposal of the state, but as hitherto unjustly monopolised by a single religious communion. It was reserved for Lord John Russell to "upset the coach" by openly declaring his adhesion to "appropriation," in the sense of diverting to other objects, secular or otherwise, such revenues of the established Church as were not strictly required for the benefit of its own members. After this act of mutiny against the collective authority of the cabinet Grey's ministry was doomed.

Its ruin was consummated by a motion of Henry Ward, member for St. Albans, which expressly affirmed the right of the state to regulate the distribution of Church property and the expediency of reducing the Irish establishment. This motion was supposed to have been instigated by Durham, who had never been loyal to his colleagues. The government was notoriously divided upon it; Brougham suggested a commission of inquiry, by way of compromise; other ministerialists were in favour of meeting the difficulty by moving the previous question. Peel was prepared to support the conservative section of the government, and deprecated in strong terms "all manœuvring, all coquetting with radicals" in order to snatch a temporary party triumph.[119]

Ward's resolution was introduced on May 27, 1834, and seconded by Grote, but Althorp, instead of replying, announced the receipt of sudden news so important that he induced the house to adjourn the debate. This news was the resignation of Stanley, Graham, Richmond, and Ripon, whose views on appropriation, as afterwards appeared, were shared by Lansdowne and Spring Rice. The ministry was reconstructed by the ac[Pg 346]cession of Lord Conyngham as postmaster-general, without a seat in the cabinet, and of Lord Auckland, son of Sidmouth's colleague, as first lord of the admiralty, by the appointment of Carlisle (already in the cabinet) to be lord privy seal, and the substitution of Spring Rice for Stanley at the colonial office. Edward Ellice, the secretary at war, was included in the cabinet, and James Abercromby, afterwards Lord Dunfermline, a son of the famous general, Sir Ralph Abercromby, became master of the mint with a seat in the cabinet. Poulett Thomson became president of the board of trade, and minor offices were assigned to Francis Baring, and other whig recruits. Grey himself, sick of nominal power, was dissuaded with difficulty from retiring; Althorp, conscious of failing authority, was retained in his post only by a high sense of duty. Unfortunately, he was very soon entangled by his colleague Littleton in something like an intrigue with O'Connell, which precipitated the final resignation of Grey together with his own temporary secession.

The details of this affair may be passed over in a few words. What is clear is that Brougham and Littleton, without the knowledge of Grey, had persuaded Lord Wellesley, as viceroy of Ireland, not to insist on a renewal of the coercion act in its full severity, and especially to sanction an abandonment of clauses suppressing public meetings. Having obtained Wellesley's consent behind the backs of Grey and the rest of the cabinet, Littleton with the cognisance of Althorp, proceeded to bargain with O'Connell for an abatement, at least, of his opposition to all coercion. The cabinet as a body declined to ratify any such agreement, O'Connell denounced Littleton as having played a trick upon him, and Althorp, disdaining to advocate provisions which he was almost pledged in honour to drop, resigned his office and the leadership of the commons. Grey, who could not have remained in office without the support of Althorp's great popularity in the commons, at once resolved to follow his example, and on July 9 took leave of political life in a dignified and pathetic speech. As for Ward's motion, the original cause of Grey's desertion by Stanley and his subsequent fall, it had been rejected by an enormous majority in favour of "the previous question" before Althorp's disappearance from his old position. Meanwhile Stanley availed[Pg 347] himself of his liberty to make one of his most dashing but least prudent speeches, and permanently compromised his reputation for statesmanship.[120]


No other whig possessed the prestige derived by Grey from nearly fifty years of consistent public service. Althorp commanded an extraordinary degree of confidence in the house of commons and the country, but his intellectual capacity was not of the highest order, and many expected that Peel might receive a summons from the king, whose sympathy with the whigs, never very deep, had given place to mistrust. His choice, however, fell upon Melbourne, whom he desired, if possible, to form a coalition with Peel, Wellington, and Stanley against the radicals. But neither Melbourne nor Peel would accept such a coalition, and they both showed their wisdom in declining it. The king then empowered Melbourne to patch up the whig ministry. In deference to a requisition signed by liberals of all sections, Althorp was induced to withdraw his resignation, and resumed his leadership in the commons with no apparent diminution of popularity. Duncannon, who was created a peer, succeeded Melbourne at the home office; Lord Mulgrave, son of the first earl, became lord privy seal in place of Carlisle; and Hobhouse entered the cabinet as first commissioner of woods and forests. The rest of the session was mainly spent in discussing the budget and the two Irish questions which for so many years were the curse of English politics. A surplus of two millions enabled Althorp to propitiate an importunate class of taxpayers by repealing the house tax.

It would have been more statesmanlike to repeal the window tax or reduce indirect taxation, but relief was given, as usual, to those who raised the loudest clamour, and the vindication of sound finance was reserved for a conservative administration. A second and milder Irish coercion bill was carried by a large majority, with the fatal proviso, which has marred the effect of so many later measures, that it should continue in operation for a year only. A far more serious conflict arose on the new Irish tithe bill. A complicated plan had been proposed whereby four-fifths of the tithe would have been ostensibly secured to the[Pg 348] church by conversion into a rent-charge, the remaining fifth being sacrificed for the sake of peace and security. O'Connell succeeded in inducing the house of commons to adopt a counter-plan, of a very sweeping nature, whereby two-fifths of the existing tithe would have been abandoned, and the tithe owner partly compensated out of the revenues of suppressed bishoprics, aided by a state grant. The bill thus amended was rejected by a majority of 189 to 122 in the house of lords. Peel still cherished the idea of settling the question by a system of voluntary commutation, but, after the peremptory action of the lords, no compromise was likely to be acceptable, and there is some ground for the opinion that in that division the Irish Church establishment received its death-blow.

On August 15 parliament was prorogued, and the belief of Peel in the stability of the government may be inferred from the fact that he left England for Italy on October 14. During the vacation, however, two incidents occurred, trivial in themselves, but pregnant with important consequences. One of these was Brougham's triumphant progress through Scotland, where he was enthusiastically received as the saviour of his country, and assumed the air of one who not only kept the king's conscience but controlled the royal will. The story of this famous tour exhibits alike the greatness of his powers and the littleness of his character.[121] The homage paid to him was not undeserved, for he was assuredly the foremost gladiator of the whig party, and had given proofs of more varied ability than any living politician or lawyer. But the dignified eloquence of which he was capable on rare occasions was here submerged in a flood of egotistical rhetoric, which carried him away so far that he assumed a political independence which his colleagues deeply resented, and even spoke of the king in a tone of patronage. Having lowered himself in public opinion by these speeches, especially at Inverness and Aberdeen, he attended a banquet in honour of Grey at Edinburgh, where he provoked a passage at arms with Durham. The press, and especially the Times newspaper, which had formerly loaded him with extravagant praises, now turned against him, and ridiculed him as a political mountebank. But his worst enemy was the king.[Pg 349] William IV.'s ill-concealed impatience of whig dictation had at last been quickened into disgust by this and other sources of irritation, when the sudden death of Althorp's father, Earl Spencer, on November 10, gave him an opportunity which he eagerly seized.


By a strange fatality, this event almost coincided with the destruction by fire of the houses of parliament on October 16. This calamity was the result of a carelessness, which it is easy to condemn after the event on the part of some subordinate officials and the workmen employed by them. Down to 1826, accounts had been kept at the exchequer by means of wooden tallies, which were stored in what was called the tally-room of the exchequer. This room was required in order to provide temporary accommodation for the court of bankruptcy, and an order was given to destroy the tallies. The officials charged with the task decided to burn them in the stoves of the house of lords, and the work of burning began at half-past six in the morning of October 16. The work, hazardous in any case, was conducted by the workmen with a rapidity that their orders did not justify; the flues used for warming the house were overheated, and though the burning of the tallies was completed between four and five, the woodwork near the flues must have smouldered till it burst into flame about half-past six in the evening. In less than half an hour the house of lords was a mass of fire. About eight a change in the wind threw the flames upon the house of commons. That house was almost completely destroyed. The walls of the house of lords and of the painted chamber remained standing, while the house of lords library, the parliament offices, and Westminster Hall escaped. The king offered the parliament the use of Buckingham Palace, but it was found possible to fit up the house of lords for the commons and the painted chamber for the lords. When the legislature reassembled on February 9, 1835, a conservative ministry was in office, though not, indeed, in power.

It is difficult for a later age to understand why the accession of Althorp to a peerage should have afforded even a plausible reason for a change of ministry. The position which Althorp held in the house of commons is puzzling to a later generation.[122][Pg 350] It is well known that Gladstone recorded the very highest estimate of his public services. Yet he was not only no orator but scarcely in the second order of speakers, he made no pretence of far-sighted statesmanship, he was not a successful financier, and he made several blunders which must have damaged the authority of any other man. The influence which he obtained in leading the unreformed as well as the reformed house of commons was entirely due to his character for straightforward honesty, perhaps enhanced by his social rank, and his reputation for possessing all the virtues of a country gentleman. The national preference for amateurs over professionals in politics, no less than in other fields of energy, found an admirable representative in him, and he was all the more popular as a political leader because it was believed that he had no desire to be a political leader at all. At all events, he inspired confidence in all, and it was no mere whim of the king which treated his removal from the commons to the lords as an irreparable loss to Melbourne's administration.


It is often stated that "without a word of preparation" the king got rid of his whig ministers on November 14, 1834, and it must be admitted that he afterwards took credit to himself for their dismissal as his own personal act. But this view is not altogether borne out by contemporary evidence. A published letter, of the 12th, from Melbourne to the king shows that, as premier, he took the initiative in representing that, whereas "the government in its present form was mainly founded upon the personal weight and influence possessed by Earl Spencer in the house of commons," it was for the king to consider whether, as "that foundation is now withdrawn," a change of ministry was expedient.[123] It also appears from a letter placed by the king in Melbourne's hands that a "very confidential conversation" took place between them at Brighton, in consequence of which the king resolved to send for Wellington.[124] In the course of this conversation Melbourne informed the king that, in the opinion of the cabinet, Lord John Russell should be selected for the leadership of the house of commons. The king, incensed by Lord John's action on the Irish Church question, would not hear of this arrangement, espe[Pg 351]cially as he thought Lord John "otherwise unequal to the task," and disparaged the claims of other possible candidates.[125] He also strongly resented the recent conduct of Brougham. In the end, he parted kindly and courteously from Melbourne, who actually undertook to convey the king's summons to Wellington. Another memorandum by the king, of the same date, proves that a fear of further encroachments on the church was really uppermost in his mind, and that he anticipated, not without reason, "a schism in the cabinet" on this very subject.[126]

Wellington acted with his customary promptitude, and with his customary obedience to what he regarded as a call of public duty. A certain degree of mistrust had existed between him and Peel, arising, in part, out of circumstances preceding the duke's election to the chancellorship of Oxford University. This suspension of cordiality had now passed away, and Wellington strongly urged the king to entrust Peel, then at Rome, with the formation of a new government. Hudson, afterwards known as Sir James Hudson, delivered the despatch recalling him on the night of the 25th. Peel started from Rome on the 26th and, travelling with a speed then considered marvellous, reached Dover within twelve days on the night of December 8. He was in London on the 9th, and, without consulting any one else, immediately placed his services at the king's disposal. In the meantime, Wellington had stepped into the gap, and actually held all the secretaryships of state in his own hands, pending the arrival of Peel.

The king had been encouraged to hustle his ministers unceremoniously out of office by a paragraph which appeared in the Times of November 15. On the previous evening Brougham had been informed by Melbourne in confidence that the king had accepted his suggestion of resignation, and he carried the news to the Times, which, without giving Brougham's name, published his message in his own words. It stated that the king had turned out the ministry, and ended with the words: "The queen has done it all". After this the king was determined to be done with his ministers as quickly as possible. It is certain that neither Wellington nor Peel wished to be thought responsible for their dismissal, the propriety of which[Pg 352] they both secretly doubted. The king, however, had acted within his strict rights, and the outgoing ministers, as a whole, were not ill pleased to be relieved from the burdens of office.

Peel, though by no means hopeful of ultimate success, endeavoured to construct a cabinet on a comprehensive basis. He first obtained the king's "ready assent" to his inviting the co-operation of Stanley, who had succeeded to the courtesy title of Lord Stanley, and Sir James Graham. These overtures were declined in friendly terms, and both promised independent support. But Stanley explicitly declared that, in his judgment, "the sudden conversion of long political opposition into the most intimate alliance would shock public opinion, would be ruinous to his own character," and would rather injure than strengthen the new government.[127] After this failure, Peel felt his task well-nigh hopeless, and though he spared no effort to procure an infusion of fresh blood, he complained that after all "it would be only the duke's old cabinet".[128] There was, in fact, no man of known ability in it, except himself, the Duke of Wellington (as secretary for foreign affairs), and Lyndhurst, the chancellor; for the capacity of Aberdeen, who had been foreign secretary under Wellington, and who now became secretary for war and the colonies, and Ellenborough, who returned to the board of control, had not yet been generally recognised. Peel himself became first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer; Goulburn was home secretary, Rosslyn lord president, and Wharncliffe lord privy seal. Earl de Grey, elder brother of the Earl of Ripon, was made first lord of the admiralty, Murray became master-general of the ordnance, Alexander Baring president of the board of trade and master of the mint, Herries secretary at war, and Sir Edward Knatchbull paymaster of the forces. It was fully understood that a conservative government, even purged of ultra-tory elements, could not face the first reformed house of commons, and the dissolution which took place at the end of the year had been regarded by all as inevitable.


In anticipation of this event, Peel issued an address to his constituents which became celebrated as the "Tamworth manifesto". It is somewhat cumbrous in style, but it embodies with[Pg 353] sufficient clearness the new conservative policy of which Peel was the real author and henceforth the leading exponent. It opens with an appeal to his own previous conduct in parliament, as showing that, while he was no apostate from old constitutional principles, neither was he "a defender of abuses," nor the enemy of "judicious reforms". In proof of this, he cites his action in regard to the currency and various amendments of the law; to which he might have added his adoption of catholic emancipation. He then declares, absolutely and without reserve, that he accepts the reform act as "a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question," which no friend to peace and the welfare of the country would seek, either directly or indirectly, to disturb. He approves of making "a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper," with a view to "the correction of proved abuses, and the redress of real grievances," and that "without mere superstitious reverence for ancient usages". He lays stress on his recorded assent to the principle of corporation reform, the substitution of a treasury grant for Church rates, the relief of dissenters from various civil disabilities (but not from university tests), the restriction of pensions (saving vested interests), the redistribution of Church revenues and the commutation of tithes, but so that no ecclesiastical property be diverted to secular uses. After these specific pledges, the Tamworth manifesto concludes with more general professions of a progressive conservatism equally removed from what are now called "advanced radicalism" and "tory democracy".[129] It was, of course, too liberal for the followers of Eldon, and was ridiculed as colourless by extreme reformers, but its effect on the country was great, and it did much to win popular confidence for the new ministry. If such a policy must be called opportunism, it was opportunism in its best form; and opportunism in its best form, under the conditions of party government, is not far removed from political wisdom.


[117] If all the bishops present had not merely abstained, but actually voted in favour of the measure, it would have been carried by one vote.

[118] Sir George Nicholls, History of the English Poor Law, vol. ii., see especially pp. 242, 243.

[119] Peel to Goulburn (May 25, 1834), Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 244.

[120] Hatherton, Memoir; Creevey, Memoirs, ii., 285-88.

[121] See Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, viii., 446-57.

[122] Compare Walpole, History of England, iii., 478.

[123] Lord Melbourne's Papers, p. 220.

[124] Ibid., pp. 222, 223.

[125] Stockmar, Memoirs (English translation), i., 330.

[126] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 235.

[127] Stanley to Peel (Dec. 11, 1834), Peel's Memoirs, ii., 39, 40.

[128] Croker to Mrs. Croker, Croker Papers, ii., 219.

[129] Peel, Memoirs, ii., 58-67.[Pg 354]



The general election which took place in January, 1835, was hotly contested, and in the second reformed parliament the conservatives mustered far stronger than in the first. The party now consisted of some 270 members, chiefly returned by the counties. But they were still outnumbered by the whigs, radicals, and Irish repealers combined, and it was certain that an occasion for such a combination would soon arise. It was found at once in the election of a speaker, when the house of commons met on February 9, 1835. Sutton, now Sir Charles Manners Sutton, was proposed for re-election by the government; the opposition candidate was Abercromby. The number of members who took part in the division was the largest ever assembled, being 622, and Abercromby was elected by a majority of ten. It would have been larger, had not the government been supported by some waverers, but its significance was appreciated by the ministers, and still more by the king. He expressed his displeasure in a very outspoken letter to Peel, declaring that, if the leaders "of the present factious opposition" should be forced upon him by a refusal of the supplies, he might, indeed, tolerate them, but could never give them his confidence or friendship. Two days later, the 24th, the king's speech was delivered, reflecting the spirit of the Tamworth manifesto.[130]


The government was again defeated by seven on an amendment to the address, notwithstanding the loyal aid of Graham and Stanley, whose attitude during the general election had excited Peel's mistrust. In the course of this debate, the prime minister, abandoning his usual reserve, definitely pledged himself not only "to advance, soberly and cautiously, in the path of pro[Pg 355]gressive improvement," but to bring forward specific measures. "I offer you," he said, "reduced estimates, improvements in civil jurisprudence, reform of ecclesiastical law, the settlement of the tithe question in Ireland, the commutation of tithe in England, the removal of any real abuse in the Church, the redress of those grievances of which the dissenters have any just ground to complain." Nor were these offers illusory or barren. On March 17, he brought in a bill to relieve dissenters from disabilities in respect of marriage, which met with general approval. It was founded on the simple principle, since adopted, of giving legal validity to civil marriages duly solemnised before a registrar, and leaving each communion to superadd a religious sanction in its own way. The marriages of Churchmen in a church were to be left on their old footing, but Churchmen were of course to be granted the same liberty as other citizens of contracting a purely civil marriage.

Still more important, as examples of conservative reform, were Peel's efforts to purge the established Church of abuses, and to introduce a voluntary commutation of tithes. His correspondence amply shows how large a space these remedial measures occupied in his mind, and one of his first acts was to appoint an ecclesiastical commission, with instructions to institute a most comprehensive inquiry into every subject affecting the distribution of church revenues. Compared with the petty squabbles over the appropriation of an imaginary surplus to be derived from Irish tithes which it was impossible to collect, the schemes of Peel for purifying and strengthening the Church of England assume heroic proportions. The report of the ecclesiastical commission originated by him, with its startling disclosures of pluralism and non-residence, became the basis of legislation which has wrought a veritable revolution in the financial and disciplinary administration of the church. His tithe bill, abortive as it was in 1835, was reproduced, with little alteration, in the tithe commutation act of 1836.

But the whig-radical allies of 1835 had not the smallest intention of giving Peel a fair trial; nor indeed had they any other object beyond the recovery of power. His appeals to his opponents, though by no means without effect in the country, fell upon deaf ears in the house of commons, and further humiliations followed rapidly. One of these was the successful outcry[Pg 356] against the appointment of Londonderry, who had excited much hostility as an uncompromising enemy to reform, to the embassy at St. Petersburg, in consequence of which he, very honourably, relieved the government from obloquy by declining the post. A motion to repeal the malt tax was decisively defeated, and soon afterwards a motion in favour of granting a charter to the University of London was carried against the government by a large majority. Then came a defeat on a motion for adjournment, and the arts of obstruction were obstinately practised in debates on the estimates. At last the inevitable crisis arrived, and, as might be expected, the final issue was taken upon an Irish question.

The influence of O'Connell and his "tail," as his followers were called, had been neutralised, since the reform act, by the overwhelming strength of the whigs, and the public-spirited action of Peel, who, as leader of the conservative opposition, actually supported the whig government in sixteen out of twenty most important contests on domestic policy. A very different spirit was now shown by the whig opposition, and an evil precedent, pregnant with disastrous consequences, was set by the famous "Lichfield House compact". This was a close alliance between O'Connell and those whom he had so fiercely denounced as "the base, brutal, and bloody whigs". It bore immediate fruit in a motion of Russell for a committee of the whole house to consider the temporalities of the Irish Church. After a debate of four nights, the resolution was carried, on March 30, by a majority of thirty-three. On April 5, a further resolution was carried by a majority of twenty-five for applying any surplus-funds "to the general education of all classes of the people without religious distinction," and was more emphatically affirmed two days later by a majority of twenty-seven.

Peel had long been conscious of the hopelessness of his position and impatient of maintaining the struggle. He felt the constitutional danger of allowing the executive government to become a helpless instrument in the hands of a hostile majority in the house of commons. Nothing but the earnest remonstrances of the king and his tory friends, including Wellington, had induced him to retain office so long, and, after the division of the 7th, he firmly resolved to resign. On doing so, he received from the whole conservative party, of which he was[Pg 357] the creator, a most cordial address of thanks and confidence. Though his short administration had consolidated the whig forces for the moment, and given them a new lease of power, it showed him to be the foremost statesman in the country, and paved the way for his triumphant return to office. As Guizot said, he had proved himself "the most liberal of conservatives, the most conservative of liberals, and the most capable man of all in both parties".


The king now discovered the fatal mistake which he had made in "dismissing" his whig cabinet, as he boasted, instead of waiting for it to break down under the stress of internal dissensions. His first idea was to fall back on Grey, who had already betrayed his growing mistrust of radicalism, but Grey declined to enter the lists again. There was no resource but to recall Melbourne, whom the king personally liked, and to put up with the elevation of Russell to a position which all admitted him to have fairly earned. He became home secretary, as well as leader of the house of commons, and the new whig cabinet differed little from the old. Palmerston, Lansdowne, Auckland, Thompson, and Holland returned to their former offices. Grant was made secretary for war and the colonies, Duncannon became lord privy seal, Spring Rice chancellor of the exchequer, Hobhouse president of the board of control, and Viscount Howick, son of Earl Grey, was appointed secretary at war. Outside the cabinet, Viscount Morpeth, son of the Earl of Carlisle, became Irish secretary. The most significant difference between the two cabinets lay in the omission of Brougham, which was effected by the expedient of placing the great seal in commission. This negative act was, in reality, the boldest and most perilous in Melbourne's political life. A correspondence between Brougham and Melbourne in February must have made clear to the ex-chancellor that he would be excluded from office, and he reluctantly acquiesced in Melbourne's decision, hoping that it would be merely temporary, and that he would soon resume his place on the woolsack as the dominant member of the cabinet, but his exclusion was destined to be final, and the close of a career to which English history in the nineteenth century presents no parallel.[131][Pg 358]


Brougham was called to the Scottish bar at the age of twenty-one, having already given proof of brilliant ability and rare versatility at the University of Edinburgh. He was the youngest and most prolific of the original writers in the Edinburgh Review, then a very powerful organ of whig opinion, and his contributions to it ranged over some thirty years after its first appearance in 1802. He was already twenty-nine when he joined the English bar in 1808, and though he never rivalled Eldon as a lawyer or Scarlett as a persuasive advocate, he soon became an acknowledged master of the highest forensic eloquence. His fame was already established by his argument before parliament against the orders in council when he entered the house of commons in 1810. There his passionate oratory and power of invective made him the most formidable of party speakers, and it was said that Canning alone could face him on equal terms in debate. Except during four years, 1812-16, when he was out of parliament, his prodigious energy and versatility were the greatest intellectual force on the liberal side throughout all the political conflicts under the regency and the reign of George IV. His speeches embraced every question of foreign, colonial, or domestic policy, and it may truly be said that no salutary reform was carried during that period of which he was not either the author or the active promoter. The suppression of the slave-trade which had revived after the great war, the liberty of the press, the cause of popular education—these were among the almost innumerable objects, outside the common run of politics, and largely philanthropic, to which he devoted his restless mind, before it was engrossed for a while by parliamentary reform. There, as we have seen, he showed a moderation which had not been expected of him, nor is it too much to say that, both as a leader of the bar and as chancellor, he made good his claim to be the greatest of law reformers.

His famous speech of February 7, 1828, had quickened the germs of many legal improvements carried out in a later age, and the four years of his chancellorship actually produced great constructive amendments of the law, such as the institution of the central criminal court and the judicial committee of the privy council. Other reforms, in bankruptcy, criminal law, and equity, were mainly due to his initiative, and it was he who originated the county courts, though his bill was reck[Pg 359]lessly thrown out by the house of lords on party grounds. His public life, up to the year 1835, was perhaps the most brilliant and the most useful of the century, yet it was hopelessly marred in the end by a certain eccentric vanity, and want of loyalty to colleagues, not inconsistent with the higher ambition of leaving the world better than he found it. For some years after his fall he retained his astounding energy, and even his ascendency in the house of lords, where Lyndhurst, his only possible rival, was astute enough to court his co-operation. Never was his fertility in debate more conspicuously shown than in the session of 1835, while he was still nominally a supporter of the whig government. The last stage of his life, extending over more than thirty years, belongs to another chapter of English history; it is enough here to notice that, whatever his political aberrations, he continued in his isolation and old age to work zealously for those social reforms which he sincerely had at heart. The popularity which had been to him as the breath of life never, indeed, returned to him, and his figure no longer occupies a foremost place in the gallery of our statesmen, but the results of his noble services to humanity remain, and the memory of them ought not to be obscured by the sad record of his failings.

The new Melbourne administration came in with unfavourable omens. Russell failed to secure his re-election in South Devon, but a seat was found for him at Stroud, and though the premier emphatically denied that he had made any bargain with O'Connell, the Irish people believed it. Accordingly, they received the whig lord-lieutenant, Mulgrave, with a tumultuous procession, as if his advent portended the repeal of the union and extinction of tithes. An attempt to solve the insoluble tithe question was, in fact, among the earliest efforts of the government, and Morpeth, as chief secretary, introduced a very reasonable measure, differing little, except in details, from that of his predecessor. Like other proposals for agrarian settlements in Ireland, it involved a certain sacrifice on the part of the tithe-owner for the sake of security, and a subsidy from the state to relieve of arrears the defaulting and rebellious tithe-payers. Peel stated his intention of supporting these provisions for commutation, if they could be separated from other provisions for "appropriation," coupled with them under the influ[Pg 360]ence of political necessity rather than of sound policy. The proposals for appropriation were so moderate that little would have been lost by dropping or gained by carrying them, but, moderate as they were, they embodied a principle on which either party was resolved to stand or fall. The consequence might have been foreseen. The bill, as a whole, was passed in the house of commons, and even read a second time in the house of lords, after which the appropriation clauses were rejected in that assembly by a large majority. Thereupon Melbourne withdrew the scheme altogether. Thus a question of third-rate importance, having been the chronic difficulty of four Irish secretaries, was left to stand over for three years longer, and ultimately to be settled on the very basis which Stanley and Peel had accepted from the first. A greater waste of parliamentary time has perhaps never been recorded.


The session of 1835, however, was rendered memorable by the enactment of one beneficent measure of the first magnitude. This measure—the municipal corporations act—was preceded, like the new poor law, by a thorough and exhaustive inquiry. A committee of the house of commons, followed by a commission, had been appointed in 1833. The commission prosecuted careful researches into the local conditions of each municipality, and did not conclude its labours until 1835. Its report laid bare not merely grotesque anomalies, but the grossest abuses of election and administration in boroughs ruled by small, corrupt, and irresponsible oligarchies which then abounded in England, and, still more, in Scotland.[132] The reform act had paved the way for the purification of such urban communities, by disfranchising the smallest and most venal of them, by extending the boundaries of many others, by enfranchising great towns which had remained outside the pale of representation, and by conferring the suffrage, theretofore monopolised by freemen and other privileged classes, on the unprivileged mass of ten-pound householders.

The municipal corporations bill, in its ultimate form, rested[Pg 361] on the same broad lines of policy. It imposed upon all boroughs, with the exception of the city of London and a few of minor importance, one constitutional form of government, identical in all its essential features with those which a few model boroughs already possessed. The governing body was to consist of a mayor, aldermen, and councillors, together forming a town council. The councillors were to be elected directly by ratepaying occupiers, with a saving for the prescriptive rights of existing freemen. They were to hold office for three years; the aldermen were to be elected by the councillors for six years, with a provision for retirement by rotation. The mayor was to be elected annually by the town council. The elementary powers of local government, such as the control of lighting and the constabulary force, were to be transferred (subject to certain exceptions) from the hands of committees into those of the one recognised and supreme municipal authority. Other clauses provided for a division of the larger boroughs into wards, for the abolition of exclusive trading privileges, for the public management of charity estates, and for the appointment, at the option of each borough, of a recorder, for the purposes of jurisdiction.

Such were the main outlines of the great measure introduced by Russell, to which Peel heartily gave his adhesion. It was a natural, and almost necessary, sequel of the reform act, which had already broken up many nests of jobbery, curtailed the lucrative exercise of the elective franchise by freemen, and undermined the influence of those self-elected rulers who, in the worst boroughs, had become gangs of public thieves. Supported by Peel, the bill was read a second time in the house of commons, on June 15, without a division. Several conservative amendments were defeated in committee by small majorities, and the bill was sent up to the lords on July 21. There its fate was far different. Though Wellington himself was not disposed to obstruct it, he entirely failed to check the obstructive tactics of Lyndhurst who, on this occasion, outdid himself in the deliberate mutilation of a bill approved by the late conservative premier. Lord Campbell, no partial judge of Brougham, has left on record his belief that, but for his faithful and vigorous support, the scheme of municipal reform must have been utterly wrecked.[133] It was allowed to be read a second time, but with[Pg 362] the full concurrence of Eldon and all the ultra-tory peers, Lyndhurst succeeded in pulling it to pieces in committee. For instance, one of the amendments imported into it perpetuated proprietary rights which it was a chief object of the bill to abolish; another gave aldermen a life-tenure of their offices; a third retained a part of the old town councillors on the new town councils. Proud as he was of his destructive exploits, as a triumph of toryism over conservatism, Lyndhurst soon found that he could not so lightly override the wiser counsels of Peel. When the lords' amendments came to be considered in the commons, Russell prudently advised the acceptance of the less important, and the disallowance of those inconsistent with the principle of the bill. He was followed by Peel who, professing to uphold the independence of the upper house, declared against the more obnoxious amendments, and stickled only for points which the ministry was not unwilling to concede. His action proved decisive. The commons stood firm on the main issues, and the hostile party in the lords, who had vowed to mar this reform, flinched at the last moment. Many of them abstained from attendance. Wellington and even Lyndhurst recommended concession; conferences took place between the houses, at which Russell played the part of moderator, and on September 9 the corporation bill became law, not in its entirety, but in all its essential features.

In spite of this pacific compromise, popular feeling ran higher than ever against the house of lords which, under the evil influence of Lyndhurst, seemed bent on thwarting every liberal measure. John Roebuck, member for Bath, a prominent radical, who acted independently of party connexions, took a lead in denouncing their conduct, and went so far as to propose giving them a merely suspensory, instead of an absolute, veto on legislation. A sweeping reform in their constitution was loudly advocated in the press. O'Connell, exasperated by their wanton rejection of a Dublin police bill, spent a part of the parliamentary recess in a tour over the north of England and Scotland, exhausting the stores of his scurrilous invective in pouring contempt on the 170 tyrants who could dare to withstand the will of the people. But O'Connell's eloquence, marvellous as it was, never stirred British audiences as it stirred the Irish masses, and it happened that at this moment he was somewhat discredited[Pg 363] by accusations of corruption afterwards proved to be false. The house of lords not only survived his attacks, but was instigated by Lyndhurst to further acts of obstruction in the following year.


His most powerful opponent was about to disappear from the political scenes for the present, and in the future to be converted into an ally. When the great seal was entrusted to commissioners, Brougham had affected to regard the arrangement as a temporary makeshift to propitiate William IV., and hoped that he would inherit the reversion of the chancellorship. With this expectation he not only patronised but warmly supported the whig ministry in 1835. But his wayward and petulant egotism had set all his old colleagues against him, and Melbourne had made up his mind that "it was impossible to act with him". The interruption of legal business caused by the constant withdrawal of three judges from their proper duties, to act as commissioners, was severely criticised by the press, and Sir Edward Sugden, who had been lord chancellor of Ireland under Peel, published an effective pamphlet entitled, "What has become of the great seal?" It was thought necessary to appoint a new chancellor, and in January, 1836, Sir Charles Pepys, then master of the rolls, was raised to that dignity as Lord Cottenham. Foreseeing the implacable indignation of Brougham, the ministry decided to confer a peerage on Henry Bickersteth, the new master of the rolls, who became Lord Langdale, and who was supposed capable of confronting the ex-chancellor in debate. No expectation could have been more unfounded or delusive, but the sense of disappointment and desertion so preyed on the health and nerves of Brougham that he forsook the house of lords for a whole session. Campbell does not shrink from saying that he was "atrociously ill-used" on this occasion,[134] and assuredly he should not have been left to learn from a newspaper that he was thrust aside in favour of a man of vastly inferior gifts and services.

One other change was made in the cabinet during the recess. The Earl of Minto became first lord of the admiralty in succession to Auckland who had been appointed governor-general of India. When parliament met on February 4, 1836, the prospects of the whig government were more favourable than[Pg 364] on their first accession to office. The factious conduct of the house of lords in the last session had disgusted the country, while the statesmanlike moderation of Peel secured them fair-play in the house of commons, though it was gradually building up a strong conservative party. Ireland again blocked the way for a while against useful legislation for Great Britain, and the first encounter of parties was on an amendment to the address condemning the anticipated reform of Irish corporations on the principles already adopted for England. This amendment, unwillingly moved by Peel, was defeated by a majority of forty-one, and the Irish municipal bill was introduced on the 16th. Like its English prototype, it was founded on the report of a commission which had disclosed the grossest possible abuses in Irish municipalities, chiefly dominated by protestant oligarchies. A similar measure substituting elective councils for these corrupt bodies had actually passed its third reading in the commons before the end of the last session, but the attempt to carry it further was then abandoned. The debates on the bill of 1836 for the same purpose inevitably turned on broad issues which continued to disturb Irish politics and to perplex English statesmen for the rest of the century. On the one hand, no one could justify "government by ascendency" in Ireland, or the shameful malpractices incident to an exercise of power under no sense of responsibility. On the other hand, no one acquainted with Irish history and Irish character could honestly regard the people as yet qualified for local self-government. In the social and some of the moral virtues they might be favourably compared with Englishmen and Scotchmen; in the political virtues, upon which civil institutions must rest, they were several generations behind their fellow-subjects in Great Britain.


All were agreed on the necessity of sweeping away or expurgating the existing Irish corporations, but the whole strength of the conservative party in both houses was enlisted against the experiment of elective town councils, especially after the evidence lately taken before the so-called "intimidation committee" in the house of commons. Peel's scheme was to vest the executive powers and property of Irish corporations, at least for the present, in officers appointed by the crown. An amendment framed in this sense was defeated by[Pg 365] a large majority, and the bill passed the commons with little further opposition. When it reached the lords it was stoutly contested by Lyndhurst, now fortified by Peel's concurrence, on the not unreasonable ground that it would make the radicals and repealers predominant in every Irish municipality, and create "seats of agitation" for revolutionary purposes in the new town councils. Being converted into a bill "for the abolition of municipal corporations" in Ireland, it was returned in that form to the house of commons. Russell vainly attempted to meet the lords half-way by another compromise, and the measure was abandoned only to be adopted, in a very modified shape, after the lapse of four years. A like course was pursued by the upper house when a new Irish tithe bill, with an appropriation clause, was sent up to them. Had the whig government been well advised they would scarcely have challenged a needless collision between the two houses by reviving this burning question so early. It would have been possible to settle the Irish tithe system on equitable lines, without prejudicing the future application of superfluous Church revenues, and it was a somewhat perverse obstinacy which persisted in coupling the two objects year after year. The ingenuity of Lyndhurst in wrecking sound reforms should have been left without excuse; whereas, in this case, the peers could not have accepted what they regarded as a confiscation bill without a sacrifice of conviction and self-respect.

Happily the commutation of tithes in England presented no political difficulties of the same nature. The payment of tithes in kind, though founded on immemorial usage, had, indeed, produced constant discord between the parish clergyman and his flock, while landlords and farmers justly complained that it impeded the improvement of agriculture. In many localities the pressure of these evils had led to voluntary compositions between tithe-owners and tithe-payers, which, being temporary, lacked the force of law. The permissive tithe bills of Althorp and Peel were designed to render general a practice which already prevailed in a thousand parishes, and that now introduced by Russell was little more than an extension of the same principle. Its mainspring was the appointment of commissioners with compulsory powers in the last resort, and the provision of a self-acting machinery for assessing the reduced annual rent charge[Pg 366] payable in lieu of tithes, so as to vary with the average price of wheat, barley, and oats in the seven preceding years. This practical solution of the question was adopted cheerfully by the wearied legislature, and the commissioners succeeded before long in effecting universal commutation. Amendments in detail have of course been found necessary, but the system established by 6 and 7 William IV., cap. 61, has stood the test of long experience, and although tithe-owners have been impoverished by the fall of prices, the payment of tithes in England has ceased to be a grievance, except with those who absolutely condemn the endowment of a Church.


An equally valuable and permanent legacy of this session is contained in two cognate acts regulating marriages and registration in England. By the first of these acts two new modes of celebrating marriage were provided, without interfering with the old privileges of the established Church in regard to marriage by licence or banns. While the essential conditions of notice and publicity were carefully secured, the superintendent registrar of each district was empowered either to authorise the celebration of marriage in a duly registered place of worship, but in presence of a district registrar, or to solemnise the ceremony himself, without any religious service, in his own office. Clergymen of the Church of England were constituted registrars for marriages celebrated by themselves, and were bound to furnish the superintendent registrars with certified entries of such marriages. The act was complicated by a variety of safeguards, enforced by heavy penalties, against fraud and evasion, but its leading features were simple and have proved effectual for their purpose. It marked an advance on the earlier marriage bill of Russell, since it not only allowed dissenters to marry in their own chapels, but to marry without having their banns published in the parish church. It went beyond the marriage bill of Peel, since it not only recognised marriage as a civil contract, but utilised the new poor law organisation, and posted in each district a civil official before whom that contract could legally be solemnised.

The rules laid down by the first act for the registration of marriages were an integral part of a general registration system established by the second act, and embracing births and deaths as well as marriages. This system, rendered possible by the[Pg 367] division of the country into unions, brought under effective control the old parochial registers which had been loosely kept for three centuries. The statistical value of the returns thus checked and digested in a central department is now fully recognised, but can only be appreciated by students of social history, which, indeed, is now largely founded on reports of the registrar-general. The special provisions for the registration of deaths are also of the utmost service in the prevention of disease and crime. Not until after this act of 1836 was it realised by the mass of the people, not only that a sudden death would properly be followed by a coroner's inquest, but that every death, with its circumstances, must be treated as a matter of public concern and duly notified. Still more important in its results has been the requirement of a medical statement on the cause of death—a requirement which has brought about the discovery of numerous murders and greatly checked the commission of others. If the marriage act relieved a large class of the community from vexatious disabilities, the whole community assuredly owes the second reformed parliament a debt of gratitude for the registration act which, like so many of the best acts in the statute book, provoked but little discussion.

A far keener party interest was excited by the crusade against the Orange lodges in Great Britain and Ireland which Hume and Finn, an Irish member, carried on with great energy in the sessions of 1835 and 1836. These societies then had an importance which they no longer possess, and were the more open to radical attacks because the Duke of Cumberland was grand master of the order. It was said, with some justice, that while the catholic association was nominally put down, the Orange lodges in Ireland were openly spreading, with the connivance at least of the Irish authorities. Their officials included noblemen of high position; Goulburn, when chief secretary, was an Orangeman, and special efforts had been made to enrol members in the army. Their principles were strictly loyal, but their demonstrations were naturally resented by the Roman catholics, and were not far removed from preparations for civil war. They hailed the accession of Peel's short ministry with tumultuous enthusiasm, but when the legality of their organisation and proceedings was challenged[Pg 368] in the house of commons, during the session of 1835, their advocates felt compelled to support a committee of inquiry. The evidence taken before this committee, and the debate raised by Hume on the formation of Orange lodges in the army, damaged their cause in the eyes of the public, and seriously compromised the Duke of Cumberland. It was shown that his brother, the Duke of York, had resigned the grand mastership, and on being convinced of their illegality had forbidden Orange lodges in the army, whereas the Duke of Cumberland had accepted the grand mastership and directly promoted military lodges.

An address condemning them was carried; the king undertook to discourage them, and the commander-in-chief issued a stringent order for their suppression. The struggle, however, was continued by the pertinacity of the radicals in demanding a more extended inquiry, and the obstinacy of the Orangemen in defying both the house of commons and the horse guards. Early in the session of 1836 Finn and Hume renewed their assaults, and the latter moved for an address, to be framed in the most sweeping terms, and calling upon the crown to dismiss all persons in public employment, from the highest to the lowest, who should belong to Orange societies. Russell, who had been gradually rising in public estimation, showed the qualities of a true statesman on this occasion by a firm yet conciliatory speech which commanded assent on both sides. He exposed the extrav