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Chapter III, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


The bill of pains and penalties.
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All attempts at negotiation having failed, sealed green bags were laid upon the table of the house of lords and of the house of commons, with a message from the king to the effect that in consequence of the arrival of the queen he had communicated certain papers respecting her conduct, which he recommended to their immediate and serious attention. (Hansard, 886.) The bags contained documents and evidence connected with a commission sent in 1818 to Milan and other places, to investigate charges - rather to collect evidence to sustain charges which had been made against the princess of Wales. The principal of those charges was that she had been guilty of adultery with a person named Bergami, whom she had employed as a courier, and afterwards raised to the position of her chamberlain and companion. The commission was under the direction of Sir John Leach, afterwards vice- chancellor. This was not the first investigation of which the princess of Wales was the object. As early as 1806 certain grave charges were laid against her, while residing at Blackheath, after her separation from her husband, the principal of which was that she had given birth to a child, the fruit of illicit intercourse. These charges were laid before the king, and four members of the cabinet were appointed to investigate them, pursuant to the advice of lord Thurlow. The four members were lord chancellor Erskine, earl Spencer, and the lords Grenville and Ellen borough, with Sir Samuel Romilly, the solicitor-general, as their secretary. Such names might seem to be a guarantee for proceedings perfectly constitutional in spirit at least, and in every respect just to the accused; but, nevertheless, it was altogether a star- chamber investigation. They gave the accused no notice of the charges alleged against her. Witnesses were brought with mysterious secresy from their homes at night, and examined in the absence of the accused. She had no opportunity to contradict or explain the evidence, which was not taken down verbatim, but only stated in substance without the questions, so that the effect of the testimony of each witness could not be accurately ascertained. When the unhappy lady who was the subject of this " delicate investigation " heard of what was going on against her, she applied for advice to the ex-chancellor Eldon, "who was delighted to become her patron," says lord Campbell, " for he thought that he might thereby please the king, who he believed secretly favoured her. Although his majesty had sanctioned this investigation, he was pleased to thwart the prince, whom he regarded as a political enemy; he expected that an opportunity might arise for censuring the conduct of the ministers. Accordingly, a very intimate intercourse, both by visits and letters, was established between him and her royal highness. Lord Eldon at that period would often dine with her at Blackheath, and to him she used to assign the seat of honour on her right hand. In Germany it had not been the custom to help- the ladies near them to wine, but each sex filled their own glasses at their option. The princess, however, as lord Eldon related, used to reverse, in some sort, our old English fashion in his favour, for she would quietly fill his glass herself, and so frequently, that he seldom left her house without feeling that he had exceeded the limits of discretion. Those, indeed, who recollect the proverb, that ' though one man may take a horse to the well, ten men cannot make him drink', will moderate their commiseration for the hard lot of the ex-chancellor. "

Mr. Horace Twiss, in his " Life of Lord Chancellor Eldon," passes lightly over this connection with the princess, which was not the most creditable to his hero, viewed in the light of his subsequent conduct. He gives some of the letters of her royal highness to lord Eldon, written in the most friendly and confiding spirit, but says nothing of the splendid entertainment given to her at his house, and the other proofs which he afforded of ardent devotion to her cause. The commissioners made a report, fully, acquitting the princess on the main charge, which was that of having given birth to a child in 1802. "This report," says Mr. Twiss, "was dated the 14th of July, 1806," but the unhappy lady who was the subject of it seems not to have been regularly apprised of its contents* until the 11th of August, when a copy of it was sent to her by Lord Erskine. (Twiss's "Life of Eldon," vol. ii., p. 24.)

Sir Samuel Romilly says: - "The result of this examination was such as left a perfect conviction on my mind, and, I believe, on the minds of the four lords, that the boy in question is the son of Sophia Austin; that he was born in Brownlow Street hospital on the 11th of July, 1802; and was taken by the princess into her house on the 15th of November in the same year." ("Memoirs of Sir S. Romilly," vol. ii, p. 244.) If we could be sure of any fact in history, one might suppose that there could be no- doubt about the fact he has stated regarding the mysterious parentage of "Billy Austin; " but lord Campbell says, " It is now ascertained that he was of a totally different parentage, and born in Germany."

The cause of lord Eldon's zeal for the princess of Wales was, no doubt, the hope that he would thereby please the king, and prepare the way for his own restoration to office; but when he saw that the regent, whom he had so strenuously opposed, was about to reign, he turned about suddenly, and worshipped the rising sun. He could not plead, in justification of this change, any new light thrown upon the character of the queen, for he made a statement in confidence to lord Grey, which shows how little credit is due to him for consistency, sincerity, or a nice sense of honour. Although at the time of his intimacy with the princess he maintained that she was the most chaste, and the most injured of her sex, he said, " My opinion is, and always was that, though she was not with child, she supposed herself to be with child." The four lords had added to their verdict of acquittal the remark that evidence had been laid before them of other particulars respecting the conduct of her royal highness, " such as must, especially considering her exalted rank and station, necessarily give occasion to very unfavourable interpretations;" and it was intimated to her by lord chancellor Erskine that " she was to be admonished by his majesty to be more circumspect in her conduct." Under lord Eldon's advice, she several times wrote to the king, complaining of the manner in which the proceedings against her had been conducted by his ministers, solemnly denying the levities which the report imputed to her, and praying that she might again be admitted into the presence of her uncle, her father-in-law, and her sovereign, who had ever hitherto proved her friend and protector. She would have been at once received by the king, but for the interference of the prince, and the advice of the ministers. But ultimately all obstacles were removed, and she appeared at court. Considering, therefore, the former relations between the princess of Wales and lord Eldon, as her confidential adviser, it is not surprising that he should have taken credit to himself for feeling some pain in being the chief instrument, in the hand of her royal persecutor, for effecting her ruin.

The crown had resolved to proceed against the queen by a bill of pains and penalties, the introduction of which was^ preceded by the appointment of a secret committee, to perform functions somewhat analogous to those of a grand jury, in finding bills against accused parties. Mr. Brougham earnestly protested against the appointment of a secret committee, which was opposed by lords Lansdowne and Holland. The course was explained and defended by the lord chancellor, who said that the object of ministers in proposing a secret committee was to prevent injustice towards the accused; that committee would not be permitted to pronounce a decision; it would merely find, like a grand jury, that matter of accusation did or did not exist; such matter, even if found to have existence, could not be the subject of judicial proceeding, strictly so called. The offence of a queen consort, or a princess consort of Wales, committing adultery with a person owing allegiance to the British crown, would be that of a principal in high treason, because, by statute, it was high treason in him; and as accessories in high treason are principals, she would thus be guilty of high treason as a principal; but as the act of a person owing no allegiance to the British crown could not be high treason in him, so neither could a princess be guilty of that crime, merely by being an accessory to such a person's act. Yet although, for this reason, there could be no judicial proceeding in such a case, there might be a legislative one; and the existence or non-existence of grounds for such legislative- proceeding was a matter into which it would be fit that a secret committee should inquire. In no case could injustice be done, because that committee's decision would not be final. There might be differences of opinion about the best mode of proceeding, but, for God's sake, said the lord chancellor, if their lordships differed, let it be understood that they all had the same object in view, and that their difference was only about the best mode of effecting it.

Mr. Canning, who had been on terms of intimacy with her majesty, declined to take any part in the proceedings, declaring that nothing would induce him to do anything calculated to reflect upon the honour and virtue of the queen. The queen intimated to the lord chancellor that she meant to come in person to the house of lords when her case should next be discussed there. He answered that he would not permit her to enter without the authority of the house, for which she must previously apply. She then desired that he would deliver a message to the house in her name, which he declined, stating that "the house did not receive messages from anybody but the king, unless they were sent as answers to addresses from the house." Lord Campbell thinks he was quite wrong. Lord Eldon thus refers to the matter in a letter written at the time, " when they brought a petition from her to be presented to the house by me; this I declined also, and for this Messrs. Grey, Lansdowne, and Holland abused me pretty handsomely. However, I don't think I suffered much by all that, and I am resolved I will not be employed in any way by this lady." The petition was presented by lord Dacre, on which occasion the lord chancellor declared that he had no objection to its being submitted to the consideration of the house, adding that " he would sooner suffer death than admit any abatement of the principle that a person accused is not therefore to be considered guilty." Mr. Brougham and Mr. Denman, her majesty's attorney and solicitor-general, were then called in to support the petition, which prayed that their lordships would not prosecute a secret inquiry against her. The powerful pleading of these two orators had an immense effect upon the public mind. On the following day lord Grey moved that the order for the appointment of a secret committee should be discharged. His motion was negatived by a majority of one hundred and two to forty-seven. This was the first division on the proceedings against the queen, and so large a majority naturally gave great confidence to the government. The secret committee accordingly set to work, opened the green bag, and examined the charges. On the 4th of July they brought in their report, which stated "that allegations supported by the concurrent testimony of a great number of persons in various situations of life, and residing in different parts of Europe, appeared to be calculated so deeply to affect the character of the queen, the dignity of the crown, and the moral feeling and honour of the country, that it was indispensable that they should become the subject of a solemn inquiry, which would best be effected in the course of a legislative proceeding." On the 5th lord Liverpool introduced the bill of " Pains and Penalties " against her majesty, which, having recited in the preamble that she carried cm an adulterous intercourse with Bergami, her menial servant, enacted "that she should be degraded from her statical and title of queen, and that her marriage with the king should be dissolved." Counsel were again heard against that mode of proceeding, a second reading was set down for the 17th of August, when the preamble was to be proved, and the trial " to begin.

In the meantime lord Erskine moved in vain for a list of the witnesses, which was peremptorily refused, so that the queen had no means of contradicting their testimony, should it be false or fabricated, or of supplying materials for an effective cross-examination. The lord chancellor's excuse for refusing this constitutional right was a miserable subterfuge. He said he would give "the accused ample time to collect counter-evidence; but in the meantime the foul mass of evidence for the prosecution was left to produce its damaging and contaminating effect on the public mind.

The memorable 17th of August arrived, and the curtain was raised on a new act in the great drama, on which the whole nation gazed with the deepest interest, and with feverish anxiety. The queen left her residence in St. James's Square, and proceeded to the house of lords In her new state carriage, an elegant landau, drawn by six beautiful chestnut horses, which the people were with difficulty dissuaded from unyoking, that they might draw it themselves. As she passed Carlton House, the crowd gave three cheers, and also at the Treasury. The soldiers on guard at the former place, and at the house of lords, presented arms when she arrived. The queen's carriage was preceded by alderman Wood's, and followed by one of her majesty's travelling carriages, in which were Sir Keppel Craven and Sir William Gell, her chamberlains. The way from Charing Cross to Westminster Abbey was crowded to excess, and all the windows of the houses on either side were filled with people, particularly with ladies. Such was the enthusiasm of the people, that the barrier erected at St. Margaret's Church was insufficient to keep them back, and the dense mass forced their way through, and reached Palace Yard shortly after the queen. Sir T. Tyrwhitt, as gentleman usher of the black rod, attended by the officers of the house, received the queen at the private entrance which had been prepared for her. She entered at the door near the throne, supported by lord A. Hamilton, and attended by lady A. Hamilton. She was dressed in deep mourning, and wore a large white veil. Her demeanour was in the highest degree dignified. On her entrance the peers all rose, and she was pleased to salute them in return.

The duke of Leinster, in pursuance of his intention to oppose the bill in all its stages, moved that the order of the day be rescinded. The motion was negatived by a majority of two hundred and sixty to forty-one; the number of peers present being three hundred and one. Lord Carnarvon denounced the bill of pains and penalties as a measure unnecessary and unconstitutional. It was a species of ex post facto and illegitimate mode of proceeding against an individual, an unprecedented anomaly in the law. In one of the cases which they had adduced as the best precedent, the sentence passed on the criminal was that he should be boiled to death! Far better to have drawn a veil over the transactions, than to have searched the Alps, the Apennines, and the ocean, for evidence against the queen. The measure had excited the disgust of every honest man in the kingdom.

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Pictures for Chapter III, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

Lord Eldon
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