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The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 13


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The ministry were now involved in a transaction which produced them a plentiful crop of unpopularity. The country was already highly disappointed by the character of the financial measures, and now saw them engaged in an attempt to gratify the domestic resentments of the prince of Wales. We have already alluded to the disreputable circumstances attending his marriage with the princess Caroline of Brunswick. The prince, who was living in open adultery with the countess of Jersey, had become from the first - and, it is said, greatly through the arts and insinuations of his mistress - disgusted with his wife. Probably, they were not by any means suited to each other, but no wife could have tolerated the course of life of the prince. After little more than a year's cohabitation they separated, but not before a daughter was born. So long as the Pitt administration continued, all offensive measures of a public nature were warded from the unfortunate princess. The king had always been her decided protector; but now the whigs came in, who had ever been in alliance with the prince of Wales, and that exemplary gentleman conceived hopes that he might rid himself of her. The public had been for some time scandalised by disputes betwixt the prince and princess as to a proper separate allowance for her, and concerning the prince's endeavours to deprive her of the company of her own child; but, as he had not succeeded in taking away the infant, rumours were, soon industriously spread that the princess, at Blackheath, was leading a very disreputable life. She herself wrote to the king, stating that, for two years, she had been surrounded by spies. At the head of these spies were Sir John and lady Douglas. Sir John was an equerry of the duke of Sussex, and he and his wife had fixed their residence near that of the princess, and insinuated themselves into her most intimate confidence. All that they could gather up on construe to the princess's disadvantage was duly communicated to the duke of Sussex, and by the duke to his brother, the prince. In 1805 they had supplied their employer or employers with a most startling story of the princess's having been delivered of a son, whom she was openly keeping in her house, under pretence that it was the child of a poor woman of the name of Austin, which she had adopted. Immediate steps were taken privately to get up a case. Samuel Romilly was sent for by the prince, who made him a relation of what was asserted against the princess, and the evidence which he had already on the subject. He told him that a written statement of the particulars should be sent to him, when he was to consult lord Thurlow, the old ex-chancellor. This narrative, written by lady Douglas, was brought to Romilly by colonel M'Mahon, one of the prince of Wales's household; and, when Romilly had carefully read it, he took it to Thurlow, accompanied by M'Mahon, on the 15th of December, 1805. At first, Thurlow declared that he did not believe the story; that he felt great compassion for a woman in the princess's situation in a foreign country; and that, in the first place, it was necessary that the prince should have better evidence than this paper furnished before any step was taken in the matter. In the end, however, he advised that means should be taken to endeavour to come at the truth, and he recommended a person of the name of Lowten, a barrister, or lawyer of some kind, as a likely man to sift this out.

The manner of Thurlow convinced M'Mahon that he was not anxious to have much to do with the business, and he therefore informed Romilly that the prince would confide the case to him with perfect confidence; but Romilly declined taking the responsibility of so delicate and important an affair alone, and recommended that Erskine should be consulted; but Erskine did not show much more liking for the sort of business than Thurlow, and Romilly had to proceed in it alone for some time. On the last day of 1805, Romilly met lord Moira, at that time a great companion of the prince of Wales, and Sir John and lady Douglas, at Lowten's chambers, that individual having accepted the office of director of the spies on the princess. Lady Douglas was minutely questioned on her statements, and seems to have impressed her questioners, Romilly amongst the rest, with the truthfulness of her assertions.

On the 23rd of February, 1806, Pitt died, the whigs came into power, and Romilly, a good whig, was appointed attorney-general. Lowten, during the interval that the new arrangements occupied Romilly and others, was actively pursuing his system of espionage; and, on the 18th of May, Romilly, at the prince's desire, again saw Thurlow. Matters had now greatly changed. The tory administration, which had kept these inquiries in check, was gone, and one was existing which was supposed favourable to it - which, at least, was desirous to oblige the prince. Thurlow, who always looked well at these matters, now declared that he thought the evidence in the prince's hands too important not to be acted upon. He recommended that the business should be brought under the notice of Mr. Fox. This being reported to the prince, Romilly was sent by him to lord Grenville, who seemed to listen to his statement of the facts delivered in secret evidence, and, at once jumping to the conclusion that all was true, thought it impossible to avoid making the birth of the child a subject of parliamentary proceeding. On the 24th of May lord chancellor, Erskine, who also appeared much more bold on the matter, read the written statements to the king, who decided that a private inquiry should take place; that the house of lord Grenville should be selected as the proper scene, and that lords Erskine, Spencer, Grenville, and Ellenborough should undertake the inquiry, and report to him upon it.

This meeting and inquiry took place, accordingly, on the 1st of June. Romilly attended. The examination of witnesses went on for a week, these being brought thither with much secrecy, and without any intimation of what was going on being given to the princess of Wales. On the 7th the four lords of the council issued an order to bring six of the most confidential of the princess's servants before them. The duke of Kent then waited on the princess, and apprised her of which was going on, and that her servants must attend. Her royal highness at once said that all her servants were at the command of the council. The servants were accordingly examined, and appear, according to Romilly's own diary, to have uniformly given the most favourable testimony to the conduct of the princess, and to have contradicted at almost every point the statements of lady Douglas. Further: the reputed mother of the child, Sophia Austin, was examined, and proved that the child was veritably her own; had been born at the Brown- low Street Hospital on the 11th of July, 1802, and had been taken to the princess's house on the 15th of November, adopted by her, and had remained there ever since. " The result," says Romilly, " was a perfect conviction on my mind, and, I believe, on the minds of the four lords, that the child was the child of Sophia Austin." Yet, after this statement, and the statement of the unanimous testimony of the servants to the general conduct of the princess, he adds that the prince could not be blamed for what he had done; that, in fact, he had neglected the inquiry too long. Certainly, so far as regarded the reputation of the princess, agaiust whom nothing could, after all, be brought, he had neglected it too long, or commenced it too soon, The public, who knew too well the disgraceful life of the prince, warmly espoused the cause of the accused woman. Wherever she appeared she was lustily applauded, and the prince complained that his enemies were doing all they could to injure him. His enemies were truly " those of his own house " - his own evil life and passions. The odium which this brought on the prince fell not less heavily on the cabinet which had shown such alacrity in endeavouring to traduce and ruin the character of a woman who, as a foreigner, was under the chivalrous protection of the nation into which she had married, and that at the instigation of such a husband as the prince of Wales. The four lords had certain obscene drawings laid before them, which had been sent in envelopes to certain persons, with inscriptions written upon them; and Romilly, who attended to produce letters to the prince and to the princess Charlotte from the princess of Wales, says that they were satisfied that the obscene sentences were in the writing of the princess. If so, it would seem that she had been too long in the Company of her husband, for even Thurlow said that, when he first knew her, lie could not believe her guilty of anything of the kind? and that, if she had written them, she was much changed. The four lords, however, made up their report on the 12th of July, and were obliged to pronounce her innocent of the whole charge about the child; but they observed that the conduct which had been sworn to, as observed by the princess towards captain Manby, was of a kind that deserved a most serious consideration.

This affair of the princess of Wales was not terminated till the end of January, 1807. When the report was laid before the king, he referred it to the cabinet, and they advised him to send a written message to the princess, acquitting her of the main charge, but observing that he saw in the depositions of the witnesses, and even in her own letter to him, defending her conduct, evidence of a deportment unbecoming her station. The fact was, that the princess - clearly, from her after proceedings, not the most prudent or cautious person - had felt herself unworthily treated, and expressed her resentment in terms not deemed courtly. The odium excited by these un-English proceedings against the ministry was intense, especially amongst the ladies all over the country; and, certainly, there is no portion of his life which does Romilly so little credit. The conservative opposition were very righteously severe on the conduct of the ministry in this matter; but when they themselves were in power, in the days of George IV., they went far deeper into disgrace in their secret proceedings against the same woman, and were more signally defeated, amid universal execration. Such is the estimate of the same act when in power and when out of it.

Whilst this inquiry was proceeding, there was an attempt made by Sir Philip Francis and his party to impeach the marquis of Wellesley for his policy in India. Mr. Paul took the lead in the charge, and it was intended to implicate his brother, Sir Arthur Wellesley, for his participation in it. The marquis's system had certainly been one of extensive annexation; of removing nominal princes, and placing certain provinces in the position of actual British possessions, instead of apparently independent ones, when their real independence had long vanished, and of breaking the power of the formidable Mahrattas. Sir Arthur had carried out his instructions with that military superiority which afterwards made him the greatest general of the age, and, no doubt, many a case might have been made out, which, according to our European ideas, would have excited astonishment; but there was nothing like the career of Warren Hastings to expose, and even that was not destined to be gone into now. On the 4th of July, as parliament was approaching its prorogation, Mr. Paul announced that he was not yet prepared with all the papers needed, and the question was ordered to stand over to the next session., The English during this year were engaged in a variety of enterprises, and in very différent and distant parts of the world, with a success as various. The most remarkable undertaking was the defence of Lower Calabria, which showed what might be effected by British soldiers, if employed in sufficient numbers, and under able commanders. If we must fight at all for foreign nations, it is obvious that it should be done in masses, which can not only conquer, but keep what they conquer. The miserable policy of our ministers had hitherto been to send small bodies of men hither and thither in the face of overwhelming armies of French. Under such circumstances, brilliant but useless exploits might be performed, but no permanent result could be obtained. The English appeared, struck a blow, and then disappeared again, sacrificing men and money, and tantalising instead of benefiting their allies. By this imbecile policy, and by trusting the command to men of mere position, instead of such as had made their way by their courage and talent, " the French soldiers," Buonaparte said, at St. Helena, " had a great contempt for the English troops at the beginning of the war, caused, perhaps, by the failure of the expeditions under the duke of York, the great want of alertness in the English advanced posts, and the misfortunes which befell your armies. In this they were fools, as the English were well known to be a brave nation; yet it is difficult to conceive how little the French soldiers thought of yours, until they were taught the contrary."

We have given a rapid sketch of the attempt by a small Russian army and a smaller English one, under Sir James Craig, to support Ferdinand of Naples in his kingdom against the French. As general St. Cyr came back upon them, followed by Massena, with altogether sixty thousand, the seven thousand at most of English and Russians were obliged to retreat, the Russians embarking for Corfu, and the English crossing over into Sicily, whither the Neapolitan court fled, and took up its residence at Palermo. Joseph Buonaparte, supported by sixty thousand French bayonets, was now reigning at Naples, and St. Cyr besieging the strong fortress of Gaëta. Sir Sidney Smith was plying in the Neapolitan waters, with a small squadron, by which he, for a long time, enabled the brave defender of that stronghold to defy all the efforts of the French, renewing the memory of his exploits at Acre, and making the conquest of the place hopeless so long as he could remain there. But Sir Sidney was obliged to return to Palermo, to defend the coast and appease the fears of the royal family, and then the brave governor, the prince of Hesse-Philipsthal, received his mortal wound, and the fortress capitulated. Had Sir Sidney had a sufficient fleet there, and the power of remaining, no amount of French troops could have taken Gaëta.

In Calabria, the two sons of Ferdinand of Naples, prince Francis and prince Leopold, in conjunction with general Damas, held a force of fourteen thousand men, and endeavoured to arouse the mountaineers, and repel the advance of the French; but Regnier was dispatched against them, with a force of ten thousand, and soon defeated and dispersed the Neapolitans, making himself master of all the country, except the towns and fortresses of Maratea, Amantea, and Scylla. After three days of a bloody contest, Regnier took Maratea, and gave it up to the soldiery. The people were butchered in cold blood, the women violated, the town burnt. These atrocities aroused the mountaineers to such fury, that they beset and harassed the French on their i march to Amantea like so many demons. Their progress was arrested: Amantea stoutly resisted; Scylla, though taken, was invested by enraged Neapolitans and peasantry, and Reggio was again wrested from them. At this crisis arrived Sir John Stuart in Sicily, to reinforce and take the command of the British troops, and, at the earnest entreaty of the queen, Sir John crossed into Calabria.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 13

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