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


Opening of the Session of 1840 - The Queen's Speech - The Approaching Royal Marriage - Protestantism of the Prince - The Address, and Her Majesty's Reply - Naturalisation of the Prince - His Precedence - His Income - Proposal of Fifty Thousand Pounds - Speech of Sir Robert Peel - Defeat of the Government - The House of Commons and the Queen's Bench - The Great Privilege Question - Actions against the Printers of the House of Commons - The Sheriffs Arrested for Contempt - Proceedings relating to the Privileges of the House - An Act for Authorising the Publication of Parliamentary Papers - Great Debate on Want of Confidence in the Ministry - Speeches of Sir J. Y. Buller, Sir George Grey, Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Lytton, Lord Howick, Sir James Graham, Mr. Macaulay, Lord Stanley, Lord Morpeth, Sir Robert Peel, and Lord John Russell.
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The session of 1840 was opened by the Queen in person. The first two paragraphs of the royal speech contained the following announcement: -

"My Lords and Gentlemen, - Since you have last assembled, I have declared my intention of allying myself in marriage with the Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. I humbly implore that the Divine blessing may prosper this union, and render it conducive to the interests of my people, as well as my own domestic happiness; and it will be to me a source of the most lively satisfaction to find the resolution I have taken approved of by my Parliament. The constant proofs I have received of your attachment to my person and family, persuade me that you will enable me to provide for such an establishment as may appear suitable to the rank of the Prince and the dignity of the Crown."

The speech contained nothing else very definite or very interesting; and the debate on the address was remarkable for nothing more than its references to the royal marriage. The Duke of Wellington warmly concurred in the expressions of congratulation. He had been summoned to attend Her Majesty in the Privy Council when this important announcement was first made. He had heard that the precedent of the reign of George III. had been followed in all particulars except one, and that was the declaration that the Prince was a Protestant. He knew he was a Protestant, he was sure he was of a Protestant family; but this was a Protestant state, and although there was no doubt about the matter, the precedent of George III. should have been followed throughout, and the fact that the Prince was a Protestant should be officially declared. The Duke, therefore, moved the insertion of the word Protestant before the word Prince in the first paragraph of the address. Lord Melbourne considered the amendment altogether superfluous. The Act of Settlement required that the Prince should be a Protestant, and it was not likely that Ministers would advise Her Majesty to break through the Act of Settlement. The precedent which the Duke had endeavoured to establish was not a case in point, for George III. did not declare to the Privy Council that the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a Protestant, but only that she was descended from a long line of Protestant ancestors. All the world knew that the Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg was a Protestant, and that he was descended from the most emphatically Protestant house in Europe. To the eldest branch of his family, the Protestant religion owed its existence, and the Elector of Saxony lost his throne for his adherence to the Protestant cause. The Prince would not be more a Protestant because the House called him so. The amendment was therefore perfectly immaterial and unnecessary. Lord Winchilsea, on the other hand, maintained that changes had taken place in the history of the Coburg family, which rendered it absolutely necessary that the declaration should be made. He mentioned, moreover, as proof that Lord Melbourne was not a safe guide in religious matters, the case of Mr. Owen, the celebrated socialist, whom he had introduced to Her Majesty. Several other noble lords having spoken, the address as amended was agreed to. It was adopted in the Commons without any amendment. It, as a matter of course, expressed approval of the Queen's resolution to get married, and of the choice she had made. Her Majesty replied to the address in the following terms: -

"I receive with very great satisfaction your loyal and affectionate address upon an occasion so deeply affecting the happiness of my future life. I thank you for your support and concurrence in my resolution, and I am much gratified by the opinion which you have expressed of the Prince, and which I am confident he will justify. I thank you for your assurance that you will concur in the measures which may be necessary to provide for such un establishment as may be suitable to the rank of the Prince and the dignity of the Crown. I shall anxiously endeavour to make my reign conducive to the happiness of all classes of my people."

On the 20th of January a bill was introduced to the House of Lords, for the naturalisation of the Prince. By this act, which passed the next day through the House of Commons, the Prince was declared already exempt, by an act passed in the sixth year of George IV., from the obligation which had previously bound all persons to receive the Lord's Supper within one month before exhibition of a bill for their naturalisation. And the bill was permitted to be read the second time, without his having taken the oaths of supremacy and allegiance, as required by an act passed in the first year of George I. But on the second reading in the House of Lords, the Duke of Wellington objected that it was not merely a bill for naturalising the Prince, but that it also contained a clause which would enable him, "during the term of his natural life, to take precedence in rank after Her Majesty in Parliament, and elsewhere as Her Majesty might think fit and proper," any law, statute, or custom, to the contrary, notwithstanding. The Duke of Wellington stated that as the title of the bill said nothing about precedence, the House had not received due notice of its contents; he therefore moved the adjournment of the debate. Lord Melbourne remarked that the omission was purely accidental, and in his opinion of no importance; at the same time he admitted that this bill did differ in form from other similar bills, as it gave the Queen power to bestow on Prince Albert a higher rank than was assigned to Prince George of Denmark, or to Prince Leopold. But the reason for the difference was to be found in the relative situation of the parties. Lord Brougham, however, pointed out a practical difficulty that might possibly arise. According to the proposed arrangement, if the Queen should die before there was any issue from the marriage, the King of Hanover would reign in this country, and his son would be Prince of Wales. Prince Albert would thus be placed in the anomalous position of a foreign naturalised Prince, the husband of a deceased Queen, with a higher rank than the Prince of Wales. Lord Londonderry decidedly objected to giving a foreign Prince precedence over the blood royal. In consequence of this difference of opinion, the debate was adjourned till the following week, when the Lord Chancellor stated that he would propose that power should be given to the Crown to allow the Prince to take precedence next after any heir apparent to the throne. Subsequently, however, Lord Melbourne expressed himself so anxious that it should pass with all possible expedition, that he would leave out everything about precedence, and make it a simple naturalisation bill, in which shape it immediately passed.

The question of the Prince's income was not so easily disposed of. On the 24th of January, Lord John Russell, having moved that the paragraph relating to the subject should be read, quoted, as precedents for the grant he was about to propose, the instances of Prince George of Denmark, Prince Leopold, and Queen Adelaide. Queen Anne granted to Prince George 50,000 a year, one moiety of which was to be paid out of the Excise, and the other out of the Post Office. Prince Leopold married the heiress presumptive to the throne. There was no certainty that the Princess would ever be queen of this country, even though she survived her father; yet a sum of 60,000 a year was granted for the Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, 50,000 of that sum being settled on Prince Leopold in the event of survivorship. In 1831 a select committee upon the Civil List was appointed, and on their recommendation 110,000 was allotted by Parliament to the privy purse of William and Adelaide, of which 50,000 was for the Queen. As far, therefore, as he could judge by precedent in these matters, 50,000 a year was the sum generally allotted to princes in the situation of the Prince Consort to the Queen of this country. He therefore moved - That Her Majesty be enabled to grant an annual sum not exceeding 50,000 out of the Consolidated Fund, as a provision to Prince Albert, to commence on the day of his marriage with Her Majesty, and to continue during his life."

The debate having been adjourned for a few days, Mr. Hume moved, as an amendment, that only 21,000 should be granted. In his opinion, no grant was necessary during the lifetime of the Queen. "What," he asked, "was to be done with it?" He warned the House against setting down a young man in London with so much money in his pockets. Besides, while the country suffered so much privation, and the people laboured under such heavy burdens, they had no money to spare for ministering to the profusion and extravagance of the Court. They would find many better ways of disposing of their surplus funds. They devoted 70,000 a year to the royal stables, while they gave only 30,000 a year for the education of the people. Colonel Sibthorpe moved that 30,000 be the sum allowed. Mr. Goulburn was in favour of that sum. The amendment proposed by Mr. Hume was lost by a majority of 305 against 38.

When Colonel Sibthorpe's amendment became the subject of debate, Lord John Russell, alluding to professions of respect made by Lord Elliot for Her Majesty, and of care for her comfort, said: " I cannot forget that no sovereign of this country has been insulted in such a manner as her present Majesty has been." Lord Elliot and Sir James Graham rose immediately to protest against this insinuation, as in all respects most uncalled- for and unjustifiable. Sir James Graham considered it a large and generous disposition of the public money to give Prince Albert 30,000 for his establishment, which was 9,000 a year more than was enjoyed by the royal family in a direct line of succession to the throne. " Perhaps," he said, "in the critical times in which they lived, their loyalty might be brought to the test; something better than words might be necessary, and then the noble lord would see that the party with whom he had the honour of acting had not forgotten their duty to their sovereign." With the exception of Sir R. Inglis, all the members of the Conservative party who addressed the House were in favour of Colonel Sibthorpe's amendment.

Sir Robert Peel at length rose to repel the insinuation of Lord John Russell, which he stigmatised as unjust, and said it was unnecessarily introduced, contrary to all Parliamentary rules and principles, and in a manner unworthy of the situation which the noble lord occupied as a minister of the Crown and leader of the House of Commons. The right honourable baronet said it would be base, indeed, in him to be influenced by the events of last May, relating to the Queen's household, but it would also be equally base and cowardly to shrink from the performance of his duty, from fear lest such a motive should be imputed to him. He did not give his vote for the smaller sum on account of the temporary distress that prevailed, nor because financial difficulties were felt, for he did not believe the country was unable to make a proper allowance for the consort of the Sovereign. He felt that he might by his vote give temporary displeasure, but he was conscious that he only consulted the permanent interests of the Crown in saving it from the unpopularity that would attend such an extravagant vote. Could any man deny that the universal opinion of the country was that the grant was too great? "I will not," he continued, " condescend to rebut the charge of want of loyalty and respect. I have no compunctions of conscience on that ground. I never made a concurrence of political sentiments on the part of the Sovereign a condition of my loyalty. I have never been otherwise than respectful towards my Sovereign. Not one word, not one breath of disloyalty to the Crown, or any members of the royal family, however adverse their political sentiments were to mine, has ever escaped my lips; and in the performance of my duty to this House, and to the Crown, I should, deem myself unworthy of the position which I hold, if, in my station as a member of the House of Commons, I hesitated to take a straightforward course without needless professions of loyalty, or without a defence against accusations which I believe to be utterly unfounded."

The House then divided on the amendment, which was carried by a very large majority, the numbers being - ayes, 262; noes, 158: majority for the sum of 30,000, 104. Such a signal defeat of the Government, on a question in which the Sovereign naturally felt a deep interest, was calculated to produce a profound impression upon the country, and under ordinary circumstances would have led to a change of ministry; but it was regarded as the result of an accidental combination between heterogeneous materials, and therefore Lord Melbourne did not feel called upon to resign.

A remarkable conflict took place this year between the jurisdiction of the House of Commons and that of the Court of Queen's Bench, which excited great interest at the time, and has important bearings upon the constitutional history of the country. The following is a brief narrative of the facts out of which it arose: - In the year 1835 a bill was proposed in the House of Lords by the Duke of Richmond for the purpose of appointing inspectors of prisons. The inspectors were appointed, and, in the discharge of their duty, reported on the state of Newgate. The House ordered the report to be printed and sold by the Messrs. Hansard. In this report it was stated that the inspectors of that gaol found amongst the books used by the prisoners one printed by John Joseph Stockdale, in 1827, which they said was " a book of the most disgusting nature, and the plates are obscene and indecent in the extreme." On the 7th of November, 1836, Stockdale brought an action for libel against the Messrs. Hansard for the sale of this report, which was alleged to be false. Sir John Campbell, who was counsel for the defendants, argued that the report was a privileged publication, being printed by the authority of the House of Commons, and on that ground they were entitled to a verdict. But Lord Denman, in his charge to the jury, said: "I entirely disagree from the law laid down by the learned counsel for the defendants. My direction to you, subject to a question hereafter, is, that the fact of the House of Commons having directed Messrs. Hansard to publish all the Parliamentary Reports is no justification for them, or for any bookseller who publishes a parliamentary report containing a libel against any man."

In addition, however, to the plea of "Not guilty," there was a plea of justification, on the ground that the allegations were true, and on this the jury found a verdict for the defendants. On the 16th of February, 1837, the Messrs. Hansard communicated the facts to the House of Commons. A select committee was consequently appointed to examine precedents, and report upon the question of its privileges in regard to the pub- iication of its reports and other matters. They reported in favour of the privilege which would protect any publication ordered by the House of Commons. This report was brought up on the 30th of May, 1839, when the following resolutions were adopted: "1st. That the power of publishing such of its reports, votes, and proceedings, as it shall deem necessary or conducive to the public interests, is an essential incident to the constitutional freedom of Parliament, more especially of this House, as the representative portion of it. 2nd. That by the laws and privileges of Parliament, this House has the sole and exclusive jurisdiction to determine upon the existence and extent of its privileges; and that the institution or prosecution of any action, suit, or other proceedings, for the purpose of bringing them into discussion before any court or tribunal elsewhere than a Parliament, is a high breach of such privilege, and renders all parties concerned therein amenable to its just displeasure and to the punishment consequent thereon."

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