The King's Visit to Hanover
Political Intrigues of Lady Conyngham - Seclusion of the Sovereign - Opening of Parliament - The Royal Speech - The State of Ireland - Ministerial Changes - the Grenville Party - Mr. Peel, Home Secretary; Lord. Wellesley, Irish Viceroy; Mr. Plunket, Irish Attorney-General; Mr. Goulburn, Chief Secretary - Coercion in Ireland - The Irish Famine - English Munificence - Duplicity of the King on the Catholic Disabilities - Mr. Canning's Bill for the admission of Roman Catholic Peers to the House of Lords - Parliamentary Reform - Lord John Russell - Agricultural Distress: Parliamentary Inquiry on the Subject; Remedies proposed - Financial Operations - The Sinking Fund - Cash Payments - The Press in Scotland - Navigation Laws - Bishop Marsh - The Law of Marriage; its Reform strenuously resisted by Lord Eldon - Dependence of Members of Parliament - Suicide of Lord Londonderry: its Causes; his Character and Career as a Statesman; his Funeral - The King's Visit to Scotland - His Reception at Edinburgh - Sir Walter Scott - The Highland Clans - Public Entry into the City - The Levée Festivities - The Civic Banquet - The King's Return.Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5
The cup of adulation which the king had quaffed so freely in Ireland seems to have created an appetite for repeated draughts of the same kind; for he had scarcely arrived at Carlton House when he began to make preparations for another excursion. He reached London on the 15th of September, and on the 22nd we find him embarking at Ramsgate on his way to visit his kingdom of Hanover. After a rough passage, he arrived safely at Calais, travelling with a Hanoverian title. Thence he proceeded through Lisle, Brussels, Aix-la-Chapelle, Düsseldorf, and Minden.
When at Brussels, the king, attended by prince Frederick of Holland, the duke of Wellington, and lord Clancarty, rode to the field of Waterloo. The weather was bad, but it did not in the least damp his ardour. He went into the little church in the village, examined all the tablets on the walls, visited the willow tree under which was buried the shattered limb of lord Anglesea, and seemed greatly impressed with all around him. He carefully examined every position, and did not leave the field till he was master of all the details of the great decisive battle. On the 5th of October he entered Osnaburg, where he received an enthusiastic welcome from the inhabitants, not only as their sovereign, but as the brother of their royal bishop, the duke of York. The burgomasters and citizens voted him an address full of loyalty, to which he replied most graciously, stating that he should always entertain a grateful recollection of the flattering manner in which he was received. Next day the chief men of the city had the honour of dining with him, and were assured by him that he could not express the joy he felt at finding himself on the native soil of his illustrious ancestors.
He had certainly every reason to be pleased with the manifestations of their loyalty. All the streets through which he passed were strewn with flowers and evergreens. Every village, too, had triumphal arches erected, with appropriate inscriptions, "all bearing evident marks of real religion." The pastor, in his robes, is described as standing with his whole flock on either side, the women carrying their Bibles under their arms.
Having reviewed a regiment of Hanoverian troops, his majesty took his departure from Osnaburg, and proceeding on his journey, was met at Nienburg by the dukes of Cumberland and Cambridge. There he found a sumptuous banquet prepared for him in the court-house, at which the three royal brothers were entertained. The king, who seems to have always given himself up wholly to the enjoyment of the present scene, if it was one that gratified his feelings, declared there, as he had done in Ireland, that it was the " happiest day of his life," and he assured his Hanoverian subjects that the desire to promote their prosperity should always be the predominant feeling of his heart.
On the 11th of October a salute of one hundred and one guns announced his majesty's entrance into the capital of his German kingdom. It was the first time that his phlegmatic subjects had seen their king, and they were roused by the interest and novelty of the event to an extraordinary pitch of excitement. Even the Irish did not give themselves up to wilder excesses of joy. And here, also, the presence of the condescending and affable sovereign had a magical effect in promoting conciliation among classes and parties. The Hanoverians were gratified by a grand public procession, in which the king appeared in an open carriage drawn by eight cream- coloured horses. His majesty's love of show and pomp was gratified, despite the murmurs of economists, with another coronation. The whole city was illuminated on this occasion, and the royal brothers went forth in the streets, amidst the admiring people, to contemplate the scene which so brilliantly illustrated the glory of their race.
One of the ten days the king spent in Hanover was devoted to a hunt, conducted in the German fashion; the huntsmen and peasants form themselves into a circle, embracing an extended area, which is gradually contracted till the game are driven upon the centre, where the sportsmen are stationed, when the battue commences. On this occasion his majesty was amused by the slaughter of two thousand three hundred and twenty-six head of game. During the time he spent there the succession of public festivals and private entertainments was interrupted by an attack of the gout. The deputations from public bodies vied with one another in the high-flown language of adulation. As in Dublin he appeared with a huge bunch of shamrock in his hat, so in Hanover he flattered the people by wearing only the Guelphic order. Some hundreds of miners from the mountains came one day to serenade their king. They are a peculiar race, of Saxon origin, and for centuries have preserved their customs, language, and manners. They are very religious. "They sang," says Knighton, "with a band of music, two of the most beautiful hymns I ever heard." These miners had walked thirty miles for the purpose of paying their devotion to their sovereign. At Göttingen a tournament was got up for the king's entertainment, and an address was presented by the authorities that affected him to tears. Of the visits he paid to different portions of his dominions he appears to have enjoyed this the most thoroughly.
On his return to London, the king devoted himself to a life of seclusion for a considerable time, during which it appears that the marchioness of Conyngham maintained an ascendancy over him most damaging to his character and government. She had not only made the royal favour tributary to the advancement of her own family, but she meddled in political affairs with mischievous effect. "Had it been confined to mere family connections, no voice, perhaps, would have been raised against it; but when the highest. offices in the church were bestowed on persons scarcely previously heard of - when political parties rose and fell, and ministers were created and deposed to gratify the ambition of a female - then the palace of the king appeared as if surrounded by some pestilential air. The old hereditary counsellors of the king avoided the court, as alike fatal to private probity and public honour. The entrance to Windsor Castle was, as it were, hermetically sealed by the enchantress within to all but the favoured few. The privilege of the entree was curtailed to the very old friends of the king, and even the commonest domestics in the castle were constrained to submit to the control of the marchioness. The court of George IV. certainly differed widely from that of Charles II., although the number and reputation of their several mistresses were nearly the same in favour and character; but George IV. had no confiscations to confer on the instruments of his pleasures.... Yet, if it be true that the king left to the marchioness more than half a million of money, the outrage is morally the same as if estates had been alienated, or titles bestowed to gratify her ambition."
Thus passed the winter of 1821-22. Parliament met on the 5th of February for the transaction of business, and was opened by the king in person. In his speech from the throne he expressed regret for the agricultural distress that prevailed in England; and he had the unpleasant task imposed upon him of referring to a state of things in Ireland the reverse of what might have been expected from his conciliation policy - "a spirit of outrage " that had led to daring and systematic violations of the law which he submitted to the consideration of parliament. In the house of lords the address was adopted without opposition. In the commons amendments were proposed by Sir Francis Burdett and Mr. Hume, which were rejected by large majorities. The state of Ireland was the first subject that occupied the attention of the legislature. A salutary change had been effected in the executive of that country. Lord Talbot, the late viceroy, was a man of narrow and exclusive spirit, wedded to the régime of protestant ascendancy. But according to a system of counterpoise which had been adopted in the Irish government, his influence was checked by his chief secretary, Mr. Charles Grant, a man of large mind, enlightened principles, and high character. This system tended to keep the rival parties in a state of conflict, and naturally weakened the authority of the government. A modification in the English cabinet led to corresponding changes in Ireland. The spirit of discontent among the commercial classes in England induced lord Liverpool to enter into a compromise with the Grenville -Wynn party, and the marquis of Buckingham, its chief, was created a duke; lord Sidmouth retired from the home office, and was succeeded by Mr. Peel; the marquis Wellesley became lord-lieutenant of Ireland; while Mr. Plunket, a man of liberal politics and transcendant abilities, was appointed Irish attorney-general in the room of Mr. Saurin, the champion of unmitigated protestant ascendancy. The liberal tendencies of these statesmen were to some extent counteracted by the appointment of Mr. Goulburn, the determined opponent of the catholic claims, as chief secretary. Mr. Charles W. Wynn, in a letter to the earl of Liverpool, referring to these ministerial arrangements, and to his hope of contributing to the accomplishment of catholic emancipation, says: - "The circumstance which mainly encouraged me to act upon this hope is the intended appointment of lord Wellesley and Mr. Plunket. This appears to hold out to Ireland in general the fairest prospect of a firm, impartial, and conciliatory administration, while their known sentiments, with regard to the catholics in particular, will, I trust, excite in that great body of his majesty's subjects a confidence from which the most beneficial results may be expected. The nominations are, however, accompanied by that of another gentleman as chief secretary, whose opinions are known to be directly at variance with those of lord Wellesley and Mr. Plunket on this most momentous subject. I am so deeply impressed with the inconvenience and irritation which may arise from the apprehension in the public mind of counteraction and opposition between the lord-lieutenant and his secretary at a period of so much disturbance as the present, that if this should be made the subject of parliamentary discussion, I may find it necessary to declare that it is one in which I could not have concurred." Lord Liverpool, however, defended the appointment, on the ground that a man's opinions on the catholic question should not disqualify him for office in Ireland, "it being understood that the existing laws, whatever they may be, are to be equally administered with respect to all classes of his majesty's subjects, and that the Roman catholics are in any case to enjoy their fair share of the privileges and advantages to which they are by law entitled."
This coalition was considered a matter of great importance, not as giving strength to the administration of lord Liverpool, to which it brought only a few votes in the house of commons, but as indicating a radical change of policy towards Ireland. Lord Eldon was by no means satisfied with the changes. "This coalition," he writes, "I think, will have consequences very different from those expected by the members of administration who have brought it about. I hate coalitions." No doubt they ill suited his uncompromising spirit; and any connection with the whigs must have been in the highest degree repugnant to the feelings of one who believed that the granting of catholic emancipation would involve the ruin of the constitution.
Very strong hopes were entertained by the liberal party from the administration of lord Wellesley, but it was his misfortune to be obliged to commence it with coercive measures, always the ready resource of the Irish government. The new viceroy would have removed, if possible, the causes of public disturbance; but, in the meantime, the peace must be preserved and sanguinary outrages must be repressed, and he did not shrink from the discharge of his duty in this respect on account of the popular odium which it was sure to bring upon his government. Mr. Plunket, as attorney-general, was as firm in the administration of justice as Mr. Saurin, his high tory predecessor, could be. The measures of repression adopted by the legislature were certainly not wanting in severity. The disorders were agrarian, arising out of insecurity of land tenure, rack rents, and tithes levied by proctors upon tillage, and falling chiefly upon the Roman catholic population, who disowned the ministrations of the established church. The remedies which the government provided for disturbances thus originating were the suspension of the habeas corpus act and the renewal of the insurrection act. By the provisions of the latter, the lord-lieutenant was empowered, on the representation of justices in session that a district was disturbed, to proclaim it in a state of insurrection, interdict the inhabitants from leaving their homes between sunset and sunrise, and subject them to visits by night, to ascertain their presence in their own dwellings. If absent, they were considered idle and disorderly, and liable to transportation for seven years! These measures encountered considerable opposition, but they were rapidly passed through both houses, and received the royal assent a week after parliament met. Under these acts a number of Whiteboys and other offenders were tried and convicted, several hanged, and many transported. Lord Wellesley must have felt his position very disagreeable between the two excited parties. To be impartial and just was to incur the hostility of both. Possibly he became disgusted with the factions that surrounded him. Whether from this cause, or from an indolent temper, or from the feeling that he was hampered and restrained, and could not do for the country what he felt that its well-being required, or from ill health, it is certain that he became very inactive. A member of the cabinet writes about him thus: - "I find the orange party are loud in their abuse of lord Wellesley, for shutting himself up at the Phoenix Park, lying in bed all day, seeing nobody, and only communicating with secretary Gregory by letter. Indeed, I believe that the latter is more than he often favours secretaries Peel and Goulburn with." In another letter, the same minister, Mr. Wynn, complains of his total neglect of his correspondence with England. This, he said, was inexcusable, because those on whom the chief responsibility rested had a right to know his views upon the state of Ireland, in order to be able to meet the opposition, during the sitting of parliament. This was written towards the end of April, and at that time the government had not for a month heard a syllable from him on the agitated questions of tithes, magistracy, police, &c. The state of Ireland, indeed, became every day more perplexing and alarming. A revolutionary spirit was abroad, and all other social evils were aggravated by famine, which prevailed in extensive districts in the south and west. The potato crop, always precarious, was then almost a total failure in many counties, and left the dense population, whose existence depended upon it, totally destitute. The cry of distress reached England, and was responded to in the most generous spirit. Half a million sterling was voted by parliament, and placed at the disposal of lord Wellesley, to be dispensed in charitable relief and expended on public works, for the employment of the poor. In addition to this, the English people contributed from their private resources the sum of three hundred thousand pounds for the relief of Irish distress. On the 30th of May there was a ball given for the same object, in the King's Theatre, London, which produced three thousand five hundred pounds.
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