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Reign of George III page 2


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On the 3rd of March, 1761, George, however, did a very popular action in his own person. On this day he recommended to parliament, in a royal speech, that the commissions of the judges, which had been held, according to the act of William III., since 1701, quamdiu se bene gesserint - that is, according to good behaviour - should now be made totally independent of the crown, and no longer terminate on its demise. This was a great and important step in the just administration of the laws, and an act was gratefully and unanimously passed to that effect.

At the close of the session the venerable speaker of the commons, Onslow, resigned his post, after occupying it for three-and-thirty years, with a degree of ability, impartiality, and courtesy which has made his name famous in that house. The commons passed a vote expressing their sense of the retiring speaker's eminent services, and praying his majesty to grant him some signal mark of his favour. Accordingly, a pension of three thousand pounds a year was settled on him, and his son was afterwards created baron Cranley, and succeeded his cousin as baron Onslow.

On the 21st of March parliament was dissolved by proclamation, and the same day the Gazette announced several of the changes determined on in the ministry. The duke of Bedford retired from the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland, and his place was taken by the earl of Halifax. Legge, who was considered too much in the interest of Pitt, was dismissed on the 19th, and lord Barrington now took his place of chancellor of the exchequer. Charles Townshend took Barrington's former place, and Sir Francis Dashwood became treasurer of the chambers in room of Townshend. Both Townshend and Dashwood had gone over to the party of Bute. Lord Holderness was now made to do what Dodington had before suggested; he resigned his office of secretary of state, and on the 25th Bute was gazetted as appointed to that post. This was the result of all the other movements. Holderness was rewarded for his compliance by the reversion, after the death of the infirm duke of Dorset, of the wardenship of the Cinque Ports, with a salary of four thousand pounds a year. No notice of this change had been communicated to either Holderness or Pitt, the other and chief secretary, till it took place. The king said he was tired of having one secretary who could do nothing, and another who would do nothing. Pitt, who was indicated as the would-do-nothing secretary, must have felt that his own post in conjunction with Bute, who he knew aimed to do everything, could not be lasting; but he still continued to act, and determined only to resign when it should be seen that a contrary and more dishonourable foreign policy forced him from his position. He knew that that day could not be far off, for there were no ambiguous symptoms of a determination at court, under the Bute influence, that Frederick of Prussia was to be abandoned, and peace made at all costs. True, there ought to have been no such meddling, bloody, and expensive interference in continental quarrels, first on one side, and then on another, as there had been; but, to withdraw dishonourably from a connection imprudently entered into, was only adding infamy to folly. Frederick was now reduced to the verge of despair and almost of total ruin; and, having been accessory in the means of bringing him to that pass, by supporting him in his martial schemes, it was the part of an honourable government to see him through the crisis before deserting him. But Bute had no more feeling of honour than the tories Harley and Boling- broke, who perpetrated the same course of perfidy towards our allies at the peace of Utrecht.

In addition to the ministerial changes, there were at the same time a few promotions. Three baronets of old standing, Curzon, Grosvenor, and Irby, were made barons. Sir Thomas Robinson became lord Grantham; and, after a long course of political dodging, Bubb Dodington was invested with the honours of a peerage as lord Melcombe. A new honour was also conferred on Bute, by creating his wife, the only daughter of lady Mary Wortley Montague, and an excellent woman, an English baroness.

Bute had arranged with the duke of Newcastle for the management of the elections for the new parliament and no means of government bribery were omitted to procure one of tory tendencies, and favourable to the Bute cabal. The sale of boroughs was extensively and undisguisedly practised, and the mode, now so common, of evading the direct charge of bribery by giving an absurdly great price for some article to an elector, was lavishly introduced. Foote, in his play of "The Nabob," happily hit off this custom, lie makes a voter say - "When I took up my freedom, I could get but thirty guineas for a new pair of jack-boots; whilst my neighbour over the way had a fifty-pound note for a pair of wash-leather breeches!"

On the 8th of July an extraordinary privy council was summoned. All the members, of whatever party, were desired to attend, and many were the speculations as to the important object. The general idea was that it involved the continuation or the termination of the war. It turned out to be for the announcement of the king's intended marriage. The lady selected was Charlotte, the second sister of the duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a prince of a petty state, but of the most enormous pretensions to the antiquity and unadulterated blood of his lineage. In this respect the young princess his sister, who was yet only seventeen, and of no beauty or fortune, thought herself infinitely the superior of her intended husband, the king of England, the lofty purity of whose genealogy had been so grievously debased by such encroachments as those of the Woodvilles, Tudors, Hydes, and the like plebeians. Like George himself, she was by no means overdone with education; she could play upon the harpsichord, and that was the sum-total of her accomplishments. Like the Hanoverian monarchs, whose line she was destined to perpetuate, she had no taste whatever for literature and the arts; she had read little, and of that little next to no English. In fact, whatever may have been the advantage in a protestant point of view, the importation of German princesses has been a practice especially pernicious in many other respects. German men are generally well educated, German women generally as ill.

The contempt of the female mind in Germany is one of the worst features of that country; hence the wretched education and the wretched moral character of our princes, except in our present excellent queen, who have had German mothers. The mother of George III. and of the duke of Cumberland, whose connection with Bute was the scandal of the age, could only turn out ill-educated sons. Walpole says that George III. was brought up in duplicity, and that his first act, the command to his groom to utter a falsehood, in order to enable him to secure his grandfather's hoards, was expressive of his character. Lord Malmesbury shows us what a wretched education queen Caroline, the consort of George IV., had, and how certain were the most disastrous consequences to succeed. The want of moral truth in queen Charlotte was propagated in the licentious character of her sons.

Apart from these defects of an overwhelming pride of pedigree, and of the narrowness of her education, the young princess had a considerable amount of amiability, good sense, and domestic taste. These she shared with her intended husband, and whilst they made the royal couple always retiring, at the same time they caused them to give, during their lives, a certain moral air to their court, This morality, however, became dreadfully outraged by their children, even during their own day, nor had George III. that unexceptionable right to declare that his sons had abandoned the example of their father, which our historians too generally assume. Lord Mahon finds no spot of sensual taint in Iiis youthful character; the writer of the "Pictorial History" goes further. He says: - "On ascending the throne, George- III. was only in his twenty-third year, yet he presented few of the graces, and none of the liveliness of youth. At the same time, he was wholly free from the vices or irregularities which commonly attended that age with persons in his situation."

That is, that George had not kept his mistress, according to the regular custom of his forefathers. It is too true that there is nothing so remarkable in the English people as their co-existent propensities to king-worship and freedom- worship. A moral and religious nation, abhorring licentiousness, and severe in its punishment of the invaders of domestic purity, we have, as a rule, been ready to tolerate in our monarchs a contempt for the conjugal virtues. Nay, so far have our countrywomen forgotten in kings and princes their stern and inexorable judgments against the frailties of their sex, that they have often honoured if not even envied the position of a prince's concubine. They have eagerly wrangled for the universal distinction; they have boasted of it; they have paraded it before the world when they have got it; and there is no cause which has tended to diffuse demoralisation through English society so much as this. We need not glance back to the days of the Tudors and the Stuarts, or point to the highest places of the peerage, for the proofs of it: the princes of Hanover, a heavy and dull race, were always surrounded by a sort of harem of this kind. George I. had, besides English ones, a troop of German ones, notorious for their impudent rapacity.

George II. is said to have had little natural disposition to gallantry, but actually thought it an honour to bow to them! So far had our customs sanctioned royal vice. He was, in fact, led by his education, and the evidence of public opinion, to adopt adultery as a royal grace. And now George III. is held up by some historians as a perfect model of chastity and propriety. "Though so young," says one writer, "so healthy and robust, and though his predecessor had been so old, he was the first prince of his house to do without a mistress! A few months after his accession he married, and from that time his fidelity to his consort was as remarkable as his previous continence."

This is a singular statement for a writer of a history of England, and especially regarding a prince of our time. We should be glad to be able to confirm that eulogy; but, with all George's domestic and public virtues, and he had many, we should justly forfeit all claim to confidence if we did not state the real facts. To say nothing of a certain flirtation with lady Sarah Lennox - recorded by lord Orford just previous to George's marriage - which, probably, was innocent enough, there is another affair, which involves a grave charge against the pattern king. When prince of Wales he fell in love with a beautiful quakeress of the name of Hannah Lightfoot. She resided at a linendraper's shop, at the corner of Market Street, St, James's Market. The name of the linendraper was Wheeler. "As the prince," says Beckford, in his "Conversations," published in the "New Monthly Magazine," "could not obtain her affections exactly in the way he most desired, he persuaded Dr. Wilmot to marry them, which he did at Kew Chapel, in 1759; William Pitt, afterwards lord Chatham, and Ann Taylor, being the parties witnessing, and, for aught I know, the document is still in existence."

We have already understood that the documentary evidence of this marriage was carefully preserved in the family of the descendants. Whether this be so or no, however, we have often been informed by a quakeress, who resided in London at the time, that the friends of Hannah Lightfoot, aware of the attentions of the prince, were extremely anxious to get her married to a young man of her own society, who was passionately attached to her. The day was fixed - nay, it is asserted the marriage had actually taken place - when, soon after the return of the bridal party from the ceremony, Hannah Lightfoot was observed to be restless, went to the window several times, and appeared to be in an absent state, as if listening for something. A pipe and tabor appeared in the street, stopped and played awhile before the house, and scarcely had it ceased, when Hannah Lightfoot was found to have disappeared. On making search for her, her friends learned that she had left the house and been seen to enter a close carriage, which stood in the next street, which then drove rapidly away. The suspicion fell immediately upon the prince. The distracted husband gave chase; and, overtaking the prince, I believe, at Kew Palace, demanded, it is said, on his knees, and with the most passionate pleading, the restoration of his wife, but in vain.

Now, if it was the fact that George actually thus carried off the wife of another man on his wedding-day, it is a black stain on his memory which no panegyric can wash out. If Hannah Lightfoot was thus married previously, she was not his legal wife, otherwise she had as fair a claim to the queenly crown as Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Jane Seymour, Catherine Parr, and Anne Hyde; for it is remarkable that the law forbidding royal marriages with subjects was not then made, but was afterwards passed by George himself. Of his marriage with Hannah Lightfoot there is, of course, a large amount of conflicting opinion, and it depends entirely on the truth of this wedding-day elopement, whether Charlotte was a wife at all, or a queen at all. If the carrying off had taken place before the wedding ceremony with the young quaker, Hannah Lightfoot would have been de jure and de facto queen of England. It would appear that George III. laid up for himself troubles of the deepest dye by this marriage - troubles affecting the happiness of his favourite daughter, and, probably, the leading cause of his own insanity. Into these, as of a distant date, we enter not here; but we may surmise that these circumstances, not less than the scandalous conduct of his brother, the duke of Cumberland, led him to pass the royal marriage act, forbidding the marriage of any member of the royal family with a subject, except with the express consent of the sovereign.

The earl of Harcourt was dispatched to Strelitz to demand the hand of the princess. He was followed by the duchesses of Hamilton and Ancaster, and lady Effingham, to attend upon her during her journey. Lord Harcourt was received, as may be supposed, with overwhelming courtesy at Strelitz, being always attended by a body-guard, as the representative of England, of which the princess was about to be queen. On the 8th of September Charlotte arrived at St. James's, and that afternoon the marriage took place, the ceremony being performed by the archbishop of Canterbury. The next day the royal couple held a crowded drawing-room and ball, in which the queen was reported to have conducted herself extremely well. On the 22nd the coronation took place with the greatest splendour; and it is noted, not only as a sign of the popularity of the sovereigns, but of the advancing wealth of the country, that the platform from St. Margaret's roundhouse to the abbey door, which at George II.'s coronation let for forty pounds, now let for two thousand four hundred pounds. There was one remarkable spectator of this scene, whose feelings must have been strange; the man - who, had his family ruled wisely, should have there been crowned himself - was Charles Stuart.

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