Chapter II, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7
The Queen's Name struck out of the Liturgy - She returns to England - Her Reception by the People - Intense Public Excitement - Civil War imminent - Various Attempts at Negotiation fail - All hope of Adjustment abandoned.Pages: <1> 2
The indisposition of parliament to attend to the ordinary business of the legislature, however important and pressing any portion of it might be considered under other circumstances, may be easily accounted for. One subject engrossed the minds of all men at this time, and agitated the nation to a depth and extent altogether unprecedented in our history. The house of lords were about to become actors in a drama, among the most exciting and tragic ever performed on the stage of real life in any civilised country. With the reign of a virtuous queen interposed between us and the period now under review, and with the altered manners and improved morals of high life, resulting from this and other causes, it is difficult for us to realise the scenes we are about to depict, or to believe that such things were possible in a Christian country, and in the metropolis of the most enlightened and powerful nation in the world. The story of Caroline of Brunswick is one of the saddest and most romantic in the annals of the queens of England. The time has now arrived when it can be fully told with all its accompanying incidents - when we can not only relate what was known to the public out of doors, but what was said and done by the principal actors behind the scenes - which have since been published in memoirs and private letters - the internal life of royalty, as well as its studied and stately manifestations which met the gaze of contemporaries. It will be found, in the course of this narrative, that, in the reign of George IV. monarchy in England passed through a crisis which was very near proving fatal, and that its having survived the ordeal was little short of a miracle. When the prince regent became king, his wife, as a matter of course, became the rightful queen of England. But her husband had resolved that she should not be queen; and, rather than not have his way in this, he was ready to peril his throne. She was as fully entitled to enjoy the well-defined rank and position that devolved upon her by the laws of the country, as he was to wear his crown, without regard to personal character. He would break the marriage tie, if he could, and be free to take another wife; but, failing that, he was determined, to degrade the queen by bringing against her the foulest charges of immorality. She might, indeed, have escaped a trial on those charges if she had consented to remain abroad, and had agreed to forego any title that would have connected her with the royal family of England. Till the death of George III., who had always been her steady friend, she had been prayed for in the liturgy as the princess of Wales. There was now no princess of Wales, and the king insisted that she should not be prayed for at all. His ministers, against their own convictions - against what they well knew to be the almost unanimous feeling of the nation - weakly yielded to the arbitrary will of their licentious sovereign. They and their apologists attempted to defend this conduct, by alleging that she was prayed for under the words, " the rest of the royal family." But Mr. Denman, her solicitor-general, afterwards observed, with more truth, that the general prayer in which she was embraced was, " For all that are desolate and oppressed." The moment the news of this outrage reached the queen, she resolved, with characteristic spirit and determination, to come at once to England, and assert her rights in person. The ministers flattered themselves that this was a vain boast, and that, conscious of guilt, her courage would fail her. "Our queen," wrote lord Eldon to his daughter, "threatens to approach to England. But if she can venture, she is the most courageous lady I ever heard of. The mischief, if she does come, will be infinite. At first she will have extensive popularity with the multitude; in a few short months or weeks she will be ruined in the opinion of the world."
On a subsequent day he again wrote: - "I saw my royal master as usual yesterday. The committee to settle the forms of the coronation have reported to him that, as there is to be no crowning of a queen, peeresses should not be summoned to attend, and so all former precedents in like cases appear to have been. But he says that as queen Elizabeth, though a lady, had both peers and peeresses, so he, though he has no queen, will have both ladies and gentlemen to attend him. I think, however, he will not persist in this. The town is employed in nothing but speculation, whether her majesty will or will not come. Great bets are laid about it. Some people have taken fifty guineas, undertaking in lieu of them to pay a guinea a-day till she comes, so sure are they that she will not come. Others assert that they know she will come, and that she will find her way into Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall on the coronation, in spite of all opposition. I retain my old opinion that she will not -come, unless she is insane. It is, however, certain that she has appointed maids of honour - ladies to whom she is pleased to give that appellation."
The other ministers shared this confidence, and the king himself seemed to have no misgivings upon the subject. On the 3rd of May he received addresses at Carlton House, and on the 10th he held his first levée since his accession to the throne, at which nearly eighteen hundred persons of distinction were present, who testified their attachment to his person in the most gratifying manner. The families of the great political party that formed and supported his government affected to treat the queen's pretensions with a quiet disdain that evinced their confidence in the unbounded loyalty of the nation. But their eyes were soon opened; and in a few weeks ministers sat abashed upon the Treasury benches as if conscious that they were driving the vessel of the constitution upon a rock, subservient to the tyranny of their master. The liberal party were vehement in their denunciations, and the leading whigs, whether from policy or a sense of duty, came forward as the champions of the queen's rights. The people were all enthusiastic in her favour, and wild with excitement.
On the 1st of June her majesty arrived at St. Omer, intending to embark at Calais without delay for England. She wrote thence to the prime minister, the earl of Liverpool, commanding him to prepare a palace in London for her reception; another to lord Melville, to send a yacht to carry her across the Channel to Dover; and a third to the duke of York, repeating both demands, and complaining of the treatment she had received. Two days later lord Hutchinson, with Mr. Brougham, who was her legal adviser, arrived with a proposition from the king, offering her fifty thousand pounds a-year for life if she would remain on the continent, and relinquish her claims as queen of England. There was some unaccountable misunderstanding between Mr. Brougham and lord Hutchinson, which has never been explained. The following statement is said to have been placed in the hands of the former by lord Liverpool: - "The king is willing to recommend to parliament to enable his majesty to settle an annuity of fifty thousand pounds a-year upon the queen, to be enjoyed by her during her natural life, and in lieu of any claim in the nature of jointure or otherwise, provided she will engage not to come into any part of the British dominions, and provided she engages to take some other name or title than that of queen, and not to exercise any of the rights or privileges of queen, other than with respect to the appointment of law officers, or to any proceedings in courts of justice. The annuity to cease upon the violation of these engagements, viz., upon her coming into any part of the British dominions; or her assuming the title of queen; or her exercising any of the rights or privileges of queen, other than above excepted, after the annuity shall have been settled upon her."
Mr. Brougham, instead of submitting this proposition to the queen, stated to her that he came accompanied by lord Hutchinson, as mediator who had a proposal to make on the part of the king. The queen demanded that it should be put in writing; but he answered, that he had only memoranda upon separate scraps of paper, the substance of many conversations held with lord Liverpool; and he conveyed to her an extract of a letter from lord Liverpool, in which he said, " It is material that her majesty should know confidentially, that if she be so ill- advised as to come over to this country, there must be an end to all negotiation and compromise. The decision, I may say, is taken to proceed against her as soon as she sets her foot on the British shore." The proposition made by lord Hutchinson was substantially the same as that in the statement above given. The queen instantly and indignantly rejected the offer, and started for England with all haste, having dismissed her foreign suite, including Bergami, her chamberlain, and the prime cause of the scandal that attached to her name. She would not even be dissuaded by Mr. Brougham, who most earnestly implored her to refrain from rushing into certain trouble, and possible danger; or, at least, to delay taking the step until lord Hutchinson should have received fresh instructions.
She was peremptory, and sailed at once for Dover, accompanied by lady Anne Hamilton and alderman Wood, landing on the 6th of June. As this event was quite unexpected by government, the commandant, having had no orders to the contrary, received her with a royal salute. The beach was covered with people, who welcomed her with shouts of enthusiasm. From Dover to London her journey was a continued ovation. In London the whole population seemed to turn out in a delirium of joy and triumph, which reached its climax as the procession passed Carlton House. No residence having been provided for her by the government, she proceeded to the house of alderman Wood, in Audley Street.
The astounded ministers held protracted and most anxious cabinet councils, at their wits' end to know how to act under this emergency; the swelling tide of the king's unpopularity threatening to sweep away him and them, and even the throne itself The result of their deliberations was the following message from his majesty to the house of lords: -
"George R. - The king thinks it necessary, in consequence of the arrival of the queen, to communicate to the house of lords certain papers respecting the conduct of her majesty since her departure from this kingdom, which he recommends to the immediate and serious attention of this house.
"The king has felt the most anxious desire to avert the necessity of disclosures and discussions which must be as painful to his people as they can be to himself; but the step now taken by the queen leaves him no alternative.
"The king has the fullest confidence that, in consequence of this communication, the house of lords will adopt that course of proceeding which the justice of the case, and the honour and dignity of his majesty's crown, may require.
Lord Eldon, writing to his daughter, Mrs. Bankes, gives the following account of these events: -
"June 7th, 1820, half-past 9 a.m.
"Contrary to all expectation, the queen entered London yesterday in an open carriage, with the alderman and lady Anne Hamilton, and amidst a vast concourse of people, in carriages and on horseback, who had gone out to meet her, and to hail her approach. She drove to alderman Wood's house in South Audley Street, where she exhibited herself and the alderman from the balcony to all who chose to take a peep at them, the multitude in the street requiring all who passed by to make their reverences and obeisances to her majesty. In the meantime, messages were sent to both houses of parliament, which may be considered as the forerunners of long parliamentary proceedings relative to her conduct. These parliamentary proceedings are likely to be warm on both sides. At present one can only conjecture what is to happen - and conjecture deserves little confidence, when this lady's arrival has robbed conjecture of all merit. As yet, indeed, there has been no time to consider what the effect of it should be upon coronation, drawing-rooms, &c. I think confidently it must postpone, the coronation; and it will require some days to see what can or cannot be done with the other matters. The king was well received as he went to and from the house; but his reception was nothing like what they gave the queen."
"From this time," says the duke of Buckingham," the agitation in the public mind hourly increased, till it began to assume a most threatening aspect. The queen never appeared in public without creating intense excitement.; When in the streets her horses were taken from her carriage, and she was drawn in triumph by scores of shouting adherents through a clamorous mob. Before the alderman's house, in South Audley Street, stood, hour after hour, a shouting myriad, excited to a pitch of frenzy to which no description can do justice, by the appearance on the balcony of a stout lady, in a large hat, surmounted by a plume of feathers." (Memoirs of the Court of George IV.," vol. I., p. 31.)
Some extracts from the correspondence in the volume just quoted will give an idea of the state of feeling among the aristocracy on this occasion. The hon. colonel Stanhope writes: - "I am in a great fright about the queen. What could make the government employ lord H., who seems to have committed himself and employers most lamentably? She will, I fear, have a tremendous party of many well-disposed, good, moral men, as well as of all those who hate the king and the government."
A contemporary diarist observes: - "Had some conversation with Tierney, who looked serious and down. He said everything was worse and worse out of doors, and he had no remedy. I observed, ' The only remedy - the only possibility of things returning to their former state - was a rebellion, and the troops standing by us, and quelling it with a high hand.' He replied, ' That was the disease.' I said, ' Neither he nor I should live to see society where it had been, and ought to be; ' to which he assented. I have no doubt he is sincere; yet he and his party are the real authors of the spirit we deplore."
A confidential friend of the duke of Wellington says: - "We fell upon the general situation of things, which the duke allowed was almost as bad as could be; nor could he see the remedy, if the upper and middle ranks would not! stir; but all, he continued, with some sadness as well as indignation, seem struck with panic - ourselves and all - and if the country is lost, it will be through our own cowardice. ' Everything,' said he, ' is audacity and insolence on one side, and tameness on ours. We go to the house, seemingly, on purpose to be insulted. The opposition know it, and act accordingly.' I said, 'I feared it was particularly so in the house of commons, where the ministerial bench, with the exception of lord Castlereagh, seemed like victims.'
>>> Next page >>>
Pages: <1> 2