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Chapter VIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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The third topic discussed at these conferences was the nature of the relations then subsisting between France and Spain, and the projects of the former power in reference to the latter. These were explained by the minister without any reserve, and with no symptoms of apprehension that they would be disagreeable to England, or of anxiety as to the result, whether they should or not. He frankly avowed that, under cover of the sanitary cordon, 100,000 French troops were assembled; that it was proposed to throw them in two columns into Spain; that one column, of 40,000 men, was to pass into Catalonia, while the other, of 60,000, was to march by the great road through Irun upon Madrid. He stated that the sole object of this invasion was to insure the personal safety of the king, to afford him the opportunity to collect a native force strong enough to enable him to protect himself against the schemes of the revolutionists - that is, to put down the constitution. Of course, France said she entertained no views of conquest or aggrandisement, or even of prolonge occupation. She would withdraw her troops whenever the king of Spain said he could do without them, and yield up every inch of territory. In reference to this matter the duke of Wellington wrote home for instructions, and in reply Canning said: - " If there be a determined project to interfere by force or by menace in the present struggle in Spain, so convinced are his majesty's government of the uselessness and danger of any such interference - so objectionable does it appear to them in principle, as well as utterly impracticable in execution - that when the necessity arises - or, I would rather say, when the opportunity offers - I am to instruct your grace at once frankly and peremptorily to declare that to any such interference, come what may, his majesty will not be a party." To say that England peremptorily declined "to be a party" to the invasion of an independent state, in order to force upon the people a government contrary to their will, was not saying very much, nor putting the objection very strongly. There should have been the strongest possible protest against such an iniquitous outrage upon a foreign state. There is no merit in a man saying that he would not be a party to robbery or murder; it is an insult to expect that he should be a party to the perpetration of a crime. We are assured, however, that the duke steadily set his face against the project, pointing out that the step would be not only unjust, but impolitic; that it would precipitate the catastrophe which the French government feared; that the revolutionists would probably remove Ferdinand from Madrid as soon as they heard of the passing of the frontier by the French troops, and that, even if these troops should reach the capital, the Spaniards would not therefore submit, nor would the king be set at liberty. He argued that a war between France and Spain for such a purpose would be pronounced a war to put down free institutions, and that if France sought the support of her allies, the only one amongst them that had free institutions would feel it her duty to meet such a request with a refusal. Europe would be ranged into two hostile camps, that of absolutism on the one side and of revolution on the other; amid which not thrones only, but settled governments in every form, might be overthrown.

In reply to these arguments, both the king and his minister stated that whatever France might do in the matter she would do single-handed, and that she would not only not apply for assistance from without, but that, if such assistance were offered, she would refuse it. The duke could not, however, prevail upon the French government to refrain from bringing the question between France and Spain before the congress. The king and his minister both contended that vast moral good would accrue from a joint remonstrance on the part of the allies against the treatment to which the king of Spain was subjected, and a joint threat that if any violence were offered to his person or family all would unite to avenge the outrage. " The duke," says his biographer, " was therefore forced to withdraw from the conferences, after he had explained that Great Britain would never assume without proof that violence was or could be intended by Spain to her royal family; that she would never be brought to declare beforehand what she might or might not do in any hypothetical case; and that if other governments took a different course, they would, in his opinion, do violence to the law of nations. Finally, he showed that if the purpose of the proposed agreement was to hinder Spain, through the influence of fear, from perpetrating a great crime, the whole transaction must necessarily be made public; and he took the liberty of adding, from his acquaintance with their national character, that Spaniards were as little likely to be deterred by threats from what they had resolved to do as any people under the sun."

Having reported to Mr. Canning the result of his diplomatic efforts at Paris, the duke set out on his journey to Vienna, where he arrived on the 29th of September, and where he expected the congress to be held. But there again England's plenipotentiary, the great conqueror of Napoleon, who had restored the legitimate despots to their thrones, was treated with as little consideration as at Paris. Not till his arrival did he learn that the congress which he was invited to attend was not to be held at Vienna at all, but at Verona, where the petty Italian princes would have a decent excuse for attending, in order to carry on their intrigues. Meantime, in the interval between the adjournment from one city to another, the allied sovereigns were paying a visit of friendship to the king of Bavaria, whose system of government no doubt met with their unqualified approval. As the duke's instructions forbade him to meddle with Italian affairs, he tarried at Vienna till he should receive further instructions from his own government.

While awaiting an answer, he had opportunities of conferring personally with the czar, who had obtained an ascendancy in the councils of the Holy Alliance which rendered him the virtual master of every situation. With regard to the affairs of Turkey, the duke succeeded in obtaining from his imperial majesty an assurance that, unless driven to it by some unforeseen and irresistible necessity, he would not come to an open rupture with the sultan. He was not so successful in his exertions with regard to the Spanish question, on which the czar was in an irritable mood. He said that Spain was the very centre and focus of revolutionary principles, and he felt it to be the duty not less than the policy of the allied sovereigns to trample them out at their source, and for this purpose he had proposed to contribute 150,000 men, which he intended to march into Spain through French territory. In reply to the duke's earnest remonstrances against this course, the czar put a question which betrays the aggressive policy of military despots. He asked what he was to do with his army. It insisted upon being led against Turkey, and was only restrained because he had expressed his determination of employing it in putting down jacobinism in the west. The British cabinet did not think that the duke ought to abstain from attending the congress because of its meeting in an Italian city, and thinking so himself, he set out for Verona, after a fortnight's sojourn in Vienna. Arriving there on the 15th of October, he found it crowded with the élite of European society. Before he left Vienna, he was waited upon by the celebrated philanthropist, William Allen, a member of the society of Friends, who was known to every public man in his own country, and had corresponded with most of the princes and statesmen of Europe. The duke was, therefore, more amused than surprised when Mr. Allen said to him, "Friend, I must go to Verona." The following dialogue then ensued: -

Duke: That is impossible; haven't you read the order that nobody is to be allowed to enter the town unless he belongs to one of the embassies?

Allen: Friend, I must go to Verona, and thou must enable me to do so.

Duke: How can I do that? You don't hold any office, and I have none to give you.

Allen: Friend, I must go to Verona, and thou must carry me thither.

Duke: Well, if I must, I must; but the only thing I can do for you, is to make you one of my couriers. If you like to ride as my courier, you may do so.

Allen: Friend, I told thee that I must go to Verona, and that thou must carry me thither; I will ride as thou desirest, and am ready to set out immediately.

And the Friend did ride as the duke's avant-courier, and, reaching his destination before him, introduced himself to the emperors of Austria and Russia and the other crowned heads, and lectured them all round on the iniquity of the traffic in negroes. The worthy Friend was, however, strangely out of place in the gay and brilliant society which at that time crowded Verona. Never had that old city witnessed such scenes of splendour and dissipation. Balls and theatrical representations occupied every night, and were renewed every morning, to the great apparent delight of all who partook in them. " Into the round of gaiety which never slackened, no one threw himself with greater abandon than the duke of Wellington. Fond of society, and especially of the society of beautiful and gifted women> he met in the frankest manner all the advances that were made to him, and indulged to his heart's content in that interchange of pleasant sayings and doings in which few public men of the day knew better than himself how to take part; and it is worthy of remark that more than all the other diplomatists assembled there, he was courted and caressed, not merely because of the renown which attached to him personally, but because it was hoped to work, through his 'Self-love, upon his temper, and thus to render the policy of England, concerning which much anxiety prevailed, more in union than it might otherwise be with that of the continental governments. But the politicians, female as well as male, who indulged in these speculations entirely mistook their man. To whatever weaknesses he might be liable - and he was not exempt from the shortcomings of human nature - the duke was so far master of himself as never to give his confidence lightly to any one; and, from a course of action to which duty or a conviction of its fitness pointed, neither blandishments nor their opposites could, under any circumstances, turn him aside."

In the midst of all this gaiety and pleasure, the despots did not lose sight of their great object to crush the liberties of Spain. Indeed, as appears from the foregoing passage, they availed themselves of the Circean cup of pleasure to accomplish their nefarious purposes. The "advances " of beautiful and gifted women were so many assaults on the integrity of the British plenipotentiary. Each Delilah in succession endeavoured to cut off the "invincible locks" of the here of Waterloo, who, it is to be feared, gave them too many opportunities. But he did not betray his trust, and, on the whole, he acquitted himself as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Austria was induced to acknowledge an old debt to Èngland, and to pay an instalment. The utmost which she could obtain from the allies on the slave trade was a reissue of the joint condemnation of the traffic which had been pronounced in 1815 at Vienna, and a special assurance from France that as soon as public feeling would admit, steps would be taken to carry out the treaty with England. In the discussion of the affairs of Italy the duke took no part; but the peace which he had urged upon Russia and Turkey was happily concluded, on terms honourable to both. With regard to the struggles for freedom in Spain and other countries, the duke found the allied sovereigns in the worst possible temper. They had no patience with England on account of her dissent, however mildly expressed, from their policy. " Hence, though England never expressed her approval of the military revolts in Spain and Italy, or even in South America, still, because she declined to be a party to the suppression of the free institutions in which they issued, Austria, Prussia, and Russia spoke of her as the champion of revolutionary principles all over the world."

Accordingly, the duke found himself alone in his opposition to the plan of an armed intervention in Spain. It was at first proposed that all the allies should unite in this; but it was ultimately agreed that a procès verbal should be jointly adopted, in which the king of Spain and his family should be declared to be under the protection of Europe, and Spain threatened with a terrible vengeance if any injury were done to them. This procès verbal was addressed to the head of the Spanish government, with an explanation of the reasons for its adoption. The duke was disappointed and mortified at the obstinate self-will of the crowned despots. He had gone to Verona in the hope that they would at all events be open to arguments in favour of peace; he found them bent on such a course as would render its preservation impossible. When the ministers reduced their ideas to a definite shape, the incidents which they agreed to accept as leading necessarily to war appeared to him fallacious in the extreme. They were these: - First, an armed attack by Spain upon France. Second, any personal outrage offered to Ferdinand VII., or to any member of the Spanish royal family. Third, an act of the Spanish legislature dethroning the king, or interfering in any way with the right of succession. Austria, Prussia, and Russia accepted the conditions readily, adhering, at the same time, to the substance of the notes which they had previously put in.

The duke produced a paper of his own, in which the three hypothetical causes of war were considered separately. He showed, "First, that an attack by Spain upon France was an occurrence beyond the range of human probability; next, that though, according to the usages of civilised nations, the persons of monarchs were held to be sacred, to extend a character of sanctity to those of other, members of the royal family was a thing never before heard of in the history of the world; and lastly, that, till the allies should be informed on sufficient authority that a plan for dethroning Ferdinand or changing the succession in Spain was actually in progress, to assume that such crimes might be perpetrated was to insult the whole Spanish nation. For his own part, he must decline to have any share in the transaction, or to deliver an opinion upon purely hypothetical cases further than this - that if the independence of Spain were assailed without just cause, Great Britain would be no party to the proceeding."

So prejudiced were the allied sovereigns against England, that they were ready to believe any tale to her disadvantage. One story which was circulated amongst them at the time was that England had bound herself to support Spain against France, in return for certain stipulated commercial advantages. Another was that she had entered into a secret treaty to defend Portugal against France, even though Portugal should join Spain in the war. After all the duke's arguments, explanations, and remonstrances, the French plenipotentiary was about to set off for Paris, representing all the powers as being perfectly unanimous on the policy adopted towards Spain, and the duke was obliged to threaten him with a public contradiction if he did not alter that statement and except England. The allies declined even to consider his paper on the revolted South American provinces, venting their ill-feeling in the following remark: - "That it was a subject of deep regret to them that England should stand forth as the protector of jacobins in all parts of the world, and that they (the allies) had neither the power nor the inclination to prevent it."

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Pictures for Chapter VIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2

Mr. Huskisson
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William Allens and the Duke of Wellington
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Verona
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