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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 6


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This being done, Mr. Vyner suggested that the physicians should rather be examined by the house itself; a proposal supported by Fox. Pitt replied that this was a matter requiring much delicacy, and that the opinions of the physicians before the council being on oath, he imagined that they had greater force than any given before parliament, where they would not be on oath. But, during the four days' adjournment, he had ascertained, to his satisfaction, that the majority of the physicians were of opinion that the king would pretty soon recover, and that especially Dr. Willis was of this opinion, under whose more immediate care he was; and, no sooner did the commons meet, than Pitt seemed to make a merit of acquiescing in the suggestions of Vyner and Fox; but he managed not to have the physicians called to the bar of the house, but to be examined by a committee of twenty-one members, of which he himself was chairman. The same thing was done by the lords, at the instance of the marquis of Stafford. On the 16th of December Pitt brought up the report of the committee, in which a majority of the physicians had expressed the opinion that the malady of the king would not be of long duration; and he then moved for another committee to search for precedents as to the power to be exercised by a regent. Fox declared that Pitt knew very well that there were no precedents to be found while there existed an heir-apparent, at the time, of full age and capacity; that he was seeking only the means of delaying what ought to be done at once; that the failure of the mind of the sovereign was a case of natural demise, and that the heir-apparent succeeded to the exercise of the royal authority from the period of that failure, as a matter of course; that the parliament had, indeed, the authority to decide that such failure had actually taken place, and to sanction the assumption of the powers of regency, as the other two estates of the realm, but nothing more.

Pitt immediately seized on this to assert that Fox was announcing a doctrine destructive of the constitution; that he was denying the right by which parliament had placed the present family on the throne, and he asserted that the prince of Wales had no more natural right to assume the regency than any other individual. This led to the severest censures of the premier by Burke, who declared that Pitt was making himself a dictator, and changing the succession to the regal power in England from hereditary to elective. The same doctrine was announced and combated in the lords; but there, though Thurlow was silent, waiting to see how matters would go before he hazarded an opinion, Loughborough boldly supported Fox's doctrine, and declared that had the derangement of the king taken place during the non-existence of parliament, the prince undoubtedly would have been warranted in issuing writs and summoning one. On the 15th of December the duke of York and his uncle, the duke of Gloucester, both spoke on the question, expressing their sense of the inexpediency of pressing the delicate question of right, and stating that parliament could proceed to invest the prince of Wales with the powers of the regency without waiting, as they certainly could not appoint any one else. Thurlow had by this time found that he had no chance with the whigs, and he now, with unblushing assurance, took the part of Pitt, though every one knew why he had been hanging back till this moment. He declared that he could not see how parliament could avoid coming to some conclusion on the question of right, seeing that it had been raised. At the same time, he made a most pretendedly pious defence of the rights of the king against the prince and the whigs, exclaiming - " When I forget my king, may God forget me!" John Wilkes, who was standing in a knot of spectators near the throne, and within a few feet of Thurlow, said, loud enough to be heard by those around him - " Forget you! - he'll see you damned first!"

But Pitt had his majorities, and in a series of motions and violent debates on them - in which. Fox, Burke, Sheridan, and the whigs generally, most ably but unavailingly, combated the doctrines and the attempts of the premier, which did not terminate till the 23rd of January, 1789 - Pitt not only carried his point, that parliament should assert the whole right of appointing a regent, but he contrived to tie down the prince so completely, and to put so much of the authority into other hands, that, had the regency been carried through, the prince and his party would have found themselves a mere company of marionettes, in the hands of Pitt and his agents. Though the prince of Wales informed the house of lords, through his brother, the duke of York, and the house of commons, through Fox, that he had put forward no claim of right, Pitt, on the 16th of December, moved three resolutions - the third and most material of which was, that it was necessary that both houses should, for the maintenance of the constitutional authority of the king, determine the means by which the royal assent might be given to an act of parliament for delegating the royal authority during the king's indisposition. After most determined opposition by the whigs, he carried the whole of these resolutions, and it was then moved that the proper mode of doing this was to employ the great seal just as if the king were in the full exercise of his faculties. To prepare the way for this monstrous doctrine, the lawyers in Pitt's party had declared that there was a broad distinction betwixt the political and the natural capacity of the king; that, as the king could do no wrong, so he could not go politically, though he might go naturally mad; that therefore the king, in his political capacity, was now as fully in power and entity as ever, and therefore the great seal could be used for him as validly as at any other time. A more dangerous and revolutionary doctrine could not have been conceived; for, if the great seal could be used by ministers when the king was incapable of knowing or approving of it, what should put a limit to this arbitrary exercise of his power? what should restrain the ministers and parliament from actually conveying away the crown to another line? For, supposing there was a disposition so to do, in the ministers and parliament, the authority, by this doctrine, lay fully in the great seal to do it. Surely, it was a far less dangerous, a far more constitutional doctrine, that the heir-apparent, being of sound mind, of full age, and being in all other respects in harmony with the constitution, should succeed to the regency in case of the king's incapacity, as he would succeed, as a matter of course, on the king's demise.

But this would have overthrown the power of Pitt and his majority, and they determined to carry through the monstrous fiction. In vain did Burke exclaim that it was "a phantom," "a fiction of law" "a mere mummery, apiece of masquerade buffoonery, formed to burlesque every species of government." In the midst of the debate Mr. Rushworth, the young member for Newport, in Hampshire, standing on the floor of the house, exclaimed, in a loud and startling tone, " I desire that gentlemen of more age and experience than myself will refer to the glorious reign of George II. Let them recall to their memory the year 1745. Suppose that great and good king had lain under a similar affliction of madness at that period, where are the men, much less a minister, that would have dared to come down to that house, and boldly, in the face of the world, say that the prince of Wales had no more right to the regency than any other subject P The man or minister who could have dared to utter such language must henceforward shelter in some other place than in the house of commons, and in some other country than England!"

This most appropriate suggestion was received with tumultuous cheers by the whigs, and with loud murmurs by the ministerial party, but Pitt went on. The prince of Wales, by letter, complained of the little respect shown to him or his rights, but Pitt treated the prince himself with as little courtesy as he did his rights; he carried the resolution regarding the great seal, that it should be appended to a commission for opening parliament in due form, it only now occupying the position of a convention, and then should affix the royal assent to the bill for the regency. This done, he consented to the demand of the calling up the physicians again before proceeding with the bill, for he was quite aware that he had a majority amongst them, and the physicians having expressed sanguine hopes of the king's speedy recovery, on the 16th of January he moved the following string of resolutions: - That the prince of Wales should be invested with the royal authority, subject, however., to these restrictions; namely: that he should create no peers, that he should grant no place or pension for life, or in reversion, except such place as in its nature must be held for life, or during good behaviour. That the prince should have no power over the personal property of the king, nor over the king's person or household. That these two latter powers should be intrusted to the queen, a council being appointed to assist her in these duties by their advice, but subject to her dismissal, and without any power of alienation of any part of the property.

These restrictions were violently contested, and colonel Fullarton compared the situation of the queen and Pitt as parallel to that of Isabella of Bavaria, the wife of Charles VI. of France, who was also subject to fits of insanity, and her minister Morvillier; saying Isabella " was a woman attached only to her treasures, to the chancellor, the prime minister, and a few chief officers, who apprehended that if the heir- apparent were trusted with the government during the king's incapacity, they should lose their places."

These resolutions being carried, it then became a question whether the prince would accept this restricted regency. Burke had warned the house that perhaps, after all, the prince would not accept such a shadow of his own natural powers, and he warned them likewise that the English parliament might find itself electing the prince as regent, whilst the Irish parliament was nominating him as by right. But it would appear that the whigs were so anxious to seize on office, even under such cramping restrictions, and to see Pitt dethroned, that they advised the prince to accept. A joint committee of lords and commons waited on him on the 30th of January, the anniversary of the execution of Charles I., and another joint committee the same day waited on the queen, and the next day their answers, accepting their respective offices, were communicated to parliament. The prince, indeed, qualified his acceptance by declaring that he did it only as a temporary arrangement, and in the hope, notwithstanding the peculiar and unprecedented circumstances, of preserving the interests of the king, the crown, and people.

A commission was then moved for, under the great seal, by lord Camden, and in this commission were included the names of the prince of Wales, the dukes of York, Gloucester, and Cumberland. These royal personages, however, declined to be named in it. With these remarkable omissions Camden's motion was passed, and the result communicated to the commons, on which Pitt, on the 2nd of February, moved for the concurrence of that house. This again brought up the question of the prince's right. Lord North, who, though now blind, had mixed in these debates with his usual moderation, and with a great display of good sense, based on official experience, expressed his pleasure that the prince had condescended to accept the regency, notwithstanding its limitations. This prudence, he observed, had given the country an agreeable surprise, considering the temptations to stand upon his right, which must have produced inconceivable embarrassments. Pitt could not resist the impulse to rise and again deny the right, and observe that he believed those who had advocated that right were now really ashamed of it. This immediately called up Burke, for Fox was ill and away at Bath, and he exclaimed, " I assert that the prince of Wales's right is clear as the sun, and that it is the duty of the house to appoint him regent, with the full powers of sovereignty." A stormy debate followed. He asserted, with equal warmth, that ministers were about to purloin the great seal, and commit an act of forgery.

On the 3rd of February the commons attended to hear the commission read at the bar of the lords, which was done by earl Bathurst, in the absence of Thurlow. On returning to their house now as an authorised parliament, the commons read the bill for the first time without a division, but on the second reading, on the 6th of February, Burke attacked it with unabated ferocity. He wanted to know how they were to determine when the king was sane again. Who was to inform them of it? Who was to certify it? He asserted the utter impossibility of adducing proof whether a person who had been insane were perfectly recovered or not. If this doctrine had been established, the regency must have become permanent. But this mode of reasoning was too metaphorical for the house of commons; the debate passed on, and the bill was committed. The clause providing against the non-residence of the prince, and against his marrying a papist, again brought up Mr. Rolle. He said that he had given his assent to the appointment of the prince regent on the assurance of his friends, that he was not married to a certain lady, either in law or in fact: but that he had since read a famous pamphlet, which affirmed that the facts were in opposition to those avowals. This was a brochure of Home Tooke's, in the shape of a letter to a friend, in which he declared his positive knowledge of the marriage of the prince with " the late Mrs. Fitzlierbert," who, he contended, spite of the marriage act, was his lawful wife. Tooke knew very well that she could not be his lawful wife, in defiance of the marriage act, and that that act, by preventing her becoming a lawful wife, prevented the prince's loss of the crown, which was the certain consequence of a legal marriage with a catholic. But Tooke knew it to be a fine opportunity of embarrassing the whigs with an undying hatred. Rolle, accordingly, declared that no threats, no opposition, should deter him from moving that the words " or who is, or shall be married, in law or in fact, to a papist," should be added to the seventh clause of the bill. Rolle was answered by lord North, who declared that the object of the pamphleteer was simply to make mischief by throwing out assertions that he never meant to prove, and Welbore Ellis called for the reading of the royal marriage act, and showed that no royal marriage could be valid without the king's consent, and that therefore, whatever was the case, all those objections were a mere waste of words. Rolle did not press the question to a division. The other clauses of the bill raised much debate, but were all passed, and on the 10th of February the council was appointed to assist the queen in her charge, and Pitt named the four principal officers of the household for the time being, the lord chamberlain, the lord steward, the master of the horse, and the groom of the stole, with the addition of the archbishop of Canterbury, lord chancellor Thurlow, the archbishop of York, and lord Kenyon. The names of the prince of Wales, duke of York, several of the other princes, the lord mayor of London, and the speaker of the house of commons, were all strongly urged upon parliament as persons who ought to be members of this council, but it did not suit Pitt's objects, and they were, to a man, rejected by a ministerial majority of about fifty.

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