Commentary Explorer Results
Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 11: Verona and Spain
Wellington’s appointment to represent Britain on the Continent:
The Times disapproved of the choice (see passage from 3 September 1822 quoted in Commentary to Chapter 10). Yet launching the Opposition’s censure of the government the following April, James Macdonald, explicitly avoided the criticism, although mixing a few barbs into his comments:
With the selection of the duke of Wellington of the office which he had filled at the congress, he was not inclined to find any fault, provided the part assigned to him had been a proper part to play. He knew that there were some individuals who thought that the was too much mixed up with the allied sovereigns and their designs, to be a fit person for conducting such a negotiation: but did he not, covered as he was with badges of honour and distinction, most of them gained in consequence of his achievements in Spain – did he not represent a living proof, not only of what had been done, but of what might be done, on Spanish ground for Spanish freedom?’ (Hear!)’ (Parliamentary Debates n.s. vol 8 col 1310).
Was the Spanish government ‘constitutional’?
In so far as it re-established the Constitution of 1812 and was opposed by royalists who wished to return to absolutist rule its claim to the title seems reasonable; but it should not be forgotten that it was established by a military uprising and that in its short history properly ‘constitutional’ proceedings were overturned by riots and mob rule whenever it suited the interests of the more extreme liberals, hence the inverted commas.
Villèle’s policy in September:
Schroeder (Metternich’s Diplomacy at its Zenith p 209-11 & n) argues that Villèle was less opposed to war than Wellington believed and more concerned to preserve his freedom of action. However there seems little evidence for this, while Villèle’s continued resistance to the idea of war even in late December, when he was virtually a lone voice in the government, strongly suggests that Wellington was not misled, and both Nichols (The European Pentarchy p 37) and Sauvigny (The Bourbon Restoration p 187) come to the same conclusion. Of course, Villèle was also concerned to preserve his freedom of action unconstrained by the allies, but there seems no reason to suppose that his doubts about the risk of war were anything but genuine.
Villèle was also quite clear that France was acting as a great power in pursuit of her own interests, not as the agent of the powers of Europe meeting together to devise a common policy. (This assertion of national independence reflected Britain’s view of how Austria should have acted towards Naples, and was conciliatory rather than pugnacious. It also reflected Villèle’s determination to retain his freedom of action). France did not need help from any other power if intervention in Spain became unavoidable, and she would not permit foreign troops to cross her soil on their way to Spain. This was clearly directed at Russia whose eagerness to offer military assistance where it was not wanted caused alarm and resentment even among her closest allies. (Wellington to Canning, Paris, 21 September 1822 WND vol 1 p 288-294, see also Sir C. Stuart to [the 3rd] Lord Londonderry, Paris, 30 September 1822 ibid p 333-4).
British policy and the Spanish Royal Family:
As well as the precedent of 1792-3 there as Liverpool’s explicit statement of 27 September 1822: ‘The conduct and character of the King makes even the personal question the weakest I ever recollect in a case of revolution; and though I would not remove from the revolutionary party the check that may be imposed upon them by the apprehension that any personal violence to the King might be resented by other powers, I am not at all prepared to say that if a change of dynasty should be the result it would or ought to be a ground for hostile interference, in any way, from other powers’. (Liverpool to Canning 27 September 1822 WND vol 1 p 300-1).
When did Wellington leave Paris?
In his dispatch of 30 September Wellington told Canning ‘I left Paris on Tuesday, the 23rd, and arrived here last night’. (WND vol 1 p 319-22). However in 1822 the 23 September was a Monday. On the same day he wrote to Mrs Arbuthnot ‘I arrived here last night [i.e. the 29th] in eight days from Paris’ (Wellington and His Friends p 31) which would imply he left on the 22nd. He wrote a series of letters including a long official dispatch to Canning from Paris on the 21st, and it would be natural to suppose that he left the following day i.e. the 22nd. This is confirmed by the draft in the Wellington Papers (WP 1/724/24) which says “I left Paris on Sunday the 23rd [crossed out and 22nd inserted in its place]”
When did Canning’s instructions permitting him to go to Verona reach Wellington?
The allied ministers and sovereigns were impatient to move on from Vienna to Verona where the main congress was to be held. Alexander had arrived as early as 9 September and while everyone had been shocked at the news of Castlereagh’s death, and concerned at the Duke’s illness, time was now pressing.
Wellington spent less than a week in Vienna before taking to the road again. For a moment it looked as though he might be delayed by the need to wait for fresh instructions from London authorizing him to proceed to Verona, but they arrived in early October about the time that the Emperor Francis, Metternich, Nesselrode and other ministers left Vienna. He left Vienna on 5 October.
Nichols The European Pentarchy p 42 says on 3 October, citing Wellington to Metternich 3 October 1822 WND vol 1 p 340. Wellington acknowledged their arrival to Canning on the 4th without saying when they arrived (WND vol 1 p 354), but a letter of 2 October to Charles Arbuthnot concludes ‘Since writing the above I have received the discretionary power to go to Verona …’ (Wellington and His Friends p 34-5). Unless this is a postscript, or Wellington wrote the letter over two days, this shows that they arrived on 2 October.
Wellington’s health in October:
On 4 October he wrote to Mrs Arbuthnot from Vienna that his head felt either too light or too heavy ‘& sometimes I feel as if I was drunk & can’t walk. I am very tired of being sick, never having been so before. Even the strength of my Iron constitution tells now against me.’ (Quoted in Longford Wellington. Pillar of State p 101). A fortnight later he wrote, ‘I am going on as usual. Sometimes I feel not very secure on my Balance [sic]. Yet I am strong & stout as ever in other respects’. But Mrs Arbuthnot, back in England, was not deceived and wrote in her journal: ‘He is still in a very weak state & suffering from his head, but he thinks himself better’. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, Verona, 18 October 1822 Wellington and His Friends p 34; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 1 November 1822 vol 1 p 196).
Continental criticism of Wellington’s behaviour at Verona:
Metternich and Gentz were both highly critical of British policy and Wellington’s execution of it at Verona. Part of this was certainly due to their annoyance that Britain had not made more concessions and co-operated more closely with them. As the obdurate ‘odd man out’ Britain was bound to be blamed for the divisions in the Congress. It is much less clear whether there were legitimate grounds for criticizing Wellington’s conduct of the negotiations, and as the criticism is more abusive than detailed it is hard to test it. Certainly it is difficult to see that any amount of diplomatic subtlety or tact could have altered the final outcome, which reflected a fundamental difference between the powers. (Schroeder Metternich’s Diplomacy at its Zenith p 219-220 quotes the criticism but casts doubt on its validity).
Londonderry’s criticism of Wellington at Verona:
Charles Stewart, the new Lord Londonderry, had resigned in outrage at Canning’s appointment (he had never forgiven Canning his duel with Castlereagh in 1809), but remained in office for the moment and assisted Wellington in the negotiations, while his new second wife Frances Anne revelled in the attentions of the Emperor Alexander among others.
The Londonderrys were highly critical of Wellington’s diplomatic skills, deploring ‘his brusqueness, his lack of sociability, his lack of tact towards the French, and especially what they saw as his insulting behavior to their friend the Tsar: “he is a great general, but a sorry negotiator”, Londonderry noted’. (Heesom ‘Wellington’s Friend? Lord Londonderry and the Duke of Wellington’ p 14). However this needs to be viewed with great caution: Lady Londonderry was conducting a furious flirtation with the Tsar, while her husband was extremely angry at Wellington’s role in bringing Canning into the cabinet. They are a very hostile source.
The ‘come what may’ dispatch:
Canning’s admirers have made a great deal of the significance of this dispatch (e.g. Temperley Foreign Policy of Canning p 63-5) and attribute to it the ‘credit’ for the failure of the Congress. Yet it did not mark any change in the policy Britain had pursued on the Spanish question since 1820. Its significance lay in confirming that the policy would be maintained unaltered rather than give any concessions to the allies. Wellington’s hands were already tied: it simply tightened the knots.
Metternich chooses to side with Russia not Britain:
The story of Verona could be told as one in which Metternich induced Britain to attend a conference in Vienna with false promises to Londonderry that the main topic of discussion would be the Eastern Question and that he would support him over Spain. That Metternich then took advantage of the delays caused by Londonderry’s suicide and Wellington’s illness to merge this preliminary conference with the Congress of Verona, and that once there he betrayed Britain in return for very considerable influence over Russian policy. Schroeder Metternich’s Diplomacy at its Zenith p 219 suggests this line of argument but does not really embrace it, and while it is momentarily tempting, in the end it is unconvincing, as it does not take sufficient account of events in Spain itself, and the policies of France and Russia.
Wellington in low spirits at Verona:
Mrs Arbuthnot noted in her journal for 16 November that she had received a letter of the 5th from Wellington, ‘He seems in despair at the delays and difficulties in his way’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 197). The letter is not printed in Wellington and His Friends, but Longford quotes some snippets from this and a letter written on the 12th in Sword of State p 103. The latter included the passage: ‘I am more tired of them than I ever was … It has been a sad Autumn. Since August nothing has gone right’.
Princess Lieven told Lady Granville on 9 November, ‘The Duke is in a better state of health, but not in a good humour; he is bored, they vex him, and I am truly pained that things go so little as I had hoped … He sighs for the moment of his departure, and I love him so much that I would sigh also if that would give him pleasure, but it would not, in any way’ (quoted in Temperley Foreign Policy of Canning p 485).
Wellington’s trip from Verona to Paris:
He left on 30 November 1822 (see WND vol 1 p 620); and arrived in Paris on the afternoon of 9 December, ‘having made a very slow & unpleasant Journey and having suffered a good deal from the Cold … I am however quite well; indeed better than I was when I quitted Verona’. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, Paris, 9 December 1822 Wellington and His Friends p 35).
Wellington at Paris:
Louis XVIII reinforced Villèle’s arguments in an interview with Wellington on 12 December stressing the need for ‘the Spaniards to modify their system in such a manner as to give the King of Spain some security for the safety of his person, and more authority, and to the system itself more stability’. A few days later, under instructions from home, Wellington formally offered British mediation between France and Spain. This was embarrassing to Villèle, as Wellington understood, but Canning had given Wellington no choice and while unwelcome it does not seem that the overture did any real harm. . (Wellington to Canning, Paris, 12 December 1822 WND vol 1 p 644-5; Nichols The European Pentarchy p 267-70 and p 302-5 on press and opinion in France).
An undated caricature by Marks (British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires vol 10 no 14,409) may relate to this time in Paris, although the story it alludes to – that Wellington’s advances were rejected by a Parisian dancer who told him to attend to his wife – does not appear to survive anywhere else. It was probably just one of those rumours that have a brief currency than die away, lacking political significance, whether true or false.
Villèle and the King under increasing domestic pressure to intervene in Spain:
Montmorency had returned from Verona at the end of November and had been collecting support within the government to overturn Villèle’s policy. At a Council meeting on 20 December he argued that war with Spain was inevitable, and that the support of the Eastern Powers was vital to deter British opposition. All the other ministers agreed with him, and Villèle only avoided defeat by adjourning the meeting until the 25th. So it was on Christmas Day that the cabinet resumed the discussion this time in the presence of the King. Again Villèle was the lone voice for peace, until the King intervened and ruled in his favour. Montmorency promptly resigned, and was replaced a few days later by Chateaubriand, who had sycophantically supported Villèle throughout the debate, and who had important connections in the royalist press. But although Villèle had won the immediate struggle, the pressure for war remained unrelenting. (Sauvigny Bourbon Restoration p 187-90).
Wellington’s departure from Paris:
Wellington had left Paris on 20 December. It appears that he did so with some reluctance, recalled by orders from home, and he came to believe that of he had been allowed to stay, he could ‘have prevented much mischief’, and possibly even opened the way for a mission to Madrid which could have negotiated a settlement. That was probably a little vainglorious – the mood in both Paris and Madrid had hardened considerably by the end of 1822, so that a peaceful settlement had become quite unlikely – but it is clear that Wellington had a far better chance of success than any other British representative. (Wellington to Frederick Lamb, London, 11 March 1823 WND vol 2 p 63-5; see also Princess Lieven to Metternich, Paris, 26 December 1822 Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 213-14 who states that Wellington was recalled against his will).
Wellington discontented at coolness of his reception on return from Verona:
On 12 January 1823 Mrs Arbuthnot wrote that Wellington ‘is greatly dissatisfied with the state of affairs at the treatment he had received. Neither Ld Liverpool nor Mr Canning have said one civil word to him, tho’ at Verona he arranged every thing to their satisfaction, settled the question of the Slave Trade, & certainly prevented the French by his personal influence from declaring war against Spain. They never even thanked him or expressed the slightest approbation, but this is just the way in which Ld Liverpool always treated Ld Londonderry’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 202-3).
Had Wellington really convinced himself that his mission had been such a success or was Mrs Arbuthnot gilding an already gilded lily?
It contrasts very oddly with Princess Lieven’s account of a conversation with Wellington a couple of weeks later: ‘He said that he quite understood that his visit had had worse results than those which had at first appeared; that every day the separation of England from the great Alliance became, and would become, more noticeable …’ (Princess Lieven to Metternich, London, 28 January 1823 Private Letters p 227-8).
The suspicion must be that Wellington adjusted his tone to his company and that each woman exaggerated what she wanted to hear.
Two letters from Bathurst to Arbuthnot (15 and 23 January 1823 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 42, 45) confirm that Wellington was very put out at the lack of attention shown to him on his return from the Continent and that he threatened to resign if the Foreign Enlistment Bill was repealed. (See also Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 12 January 1823 vol 1 p 203 Wellington’s threat over the Bill).
The Cabinet reshuffle of 1822 and Robinson’s success at the Exchequer:
Wellington landed at Dover on the morning of 22 December and reached London on the following day. (The Times 24 December 1822 has details of his arrival both at Dover and in London). He found that the Prince Minister was preoccupied with an impending cabinet reshuffle. Bragge Bathurst and Vansittart both agreed to retire, and Frederick Robinson became the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. Robinson was not particularly efficient, but he was an immensely likeable man, and he arrived at the Exchequer just as the economy finally emerged from the postwar doldrums, so that he received a great deal of undeserved credit including the enviable nickname ‘Prosperity Robinson’. Liverpool moved Huskisson into Robinson’s old office at the Board of Trade, but mishandled the affair so badly that Huskisson felt harshly treated (by his exclusion from cabinet, and possibly by not being considered for the Exchequer). Wellington was brought in to persuade Huskisson to accept a compromise, and also had to intervene to protect Charles Arbuthnot’s interests which were momentarily threatened in some of the subsequent changes. Overall the reshuffle was a success, refreshing the government’s image, but Liverpool’s handling of it had been surprisingly inept. (Liverpool to Arbuthnot 27, 30 December 1822 and 6 January 1823 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 35-8; Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 26 December 1822 Wellington and His Friends p 35).
In the middle of 1822 Liverpool had suggested that Bragge Bathurst might be invited to retire, but both Sidmouth (Bragge Bathurst’s brother-in-law) and Londonderry had objected and the idea had been put to one side. Now it was revived and sweetened with a pension for Mrs Bathurst and her daughters after her death. Bathurst was happy to retire on these terms, and even gave up his seat in Parliament – Harwich – to Canning, who had found that the combination of the business of his office and the duties of MP for the great city of Liverpool, taxed even his energy. The Prime Minister’s next step was to suggest that Vansittart got a peerage (he became Lord Bexley), although not on terms that would enable his nephews to inherit it. Liverpool promoted Frederick Robinson to the vacant exchequer, explaining that ‘connected as he was with Lord Londonderry, and is still in some degree with Vansittart, would take away all the awkwardness from the arrangement in the eyes of the public, and remove any objection the King might have to it’. (Liverpool to Bathurst ‘Private and Confidential’ 4 January 1823 HMC Bathurst p 537). No doubt he also hoped that the responsibility and prominence of the Exchequer would force Robinson to overcome his notorious laziness and realize the potential his colleagues saw in him.
Fate was kind to Frederick Robinson. Vansittart had been Chancellor of the Exchequer for ten years, confronting first the enormous demands of the final years of the war against Napoleon, and then the long dreary hangover as the economy coughed and spluttered its way through the postwar slump with the occasional false dawn, such as that of 1818, rapidly followed by further misery. Although it was not immediately apparent, the tide had turned in 1822, and by the time Robinson delivered this first budget in early 1823 the chronic invalid had thrown away its crutches and was ready to dance a jig. Inevitably Robinson got much of the credit, as Henry Hobhouse noted in July:
Robinson has risen during the session in an extraordinary degree. His manner of speaking is fervid and displays an appearance of manly candour, wch. predisposes his auditors in his favour. In his first speech as Chancellor of the Exchequer he had to propose a great reduction of taxes, and to report a flourishing revenue. And his exposition of the financial state of the country was made with a degree of eloquence wch. has not been witnessed since Mr Perceval’s death, and was therefore new to a very large proportion of the House. This combination of favourable circumstances gave charms to his speech and obtained for it unprecedented applause. This success at the same time raised his character and stimulated him to further exertions. (Hobhouse Diary 19 July 1825 p 102-3 see also Palmerston to Sulivan, 24 February 1823, Palmerston Letters to the Sulivans p 159; and W. D. Jones Prosperity Robinson p 100-102).
As Robinson was also an unaffected, amiable man who bore his success well, he soon became popular on both sides of the House, and was accorded the enviable nickname ‘Prosperity Robinson’.
William Huskisson may have viewed Robinson’s success a little sourly: where Robinson had charm and affability but was intellectually lightweight, Huskisson was awkward and clumsy, a poor speaker and unpopular in the House, but had probably the best grasp of economics of any member of the government, except possibly Liverpool. In a world where substance counted for more than appearances, Huskisson would have done very well; as it was, he often felt aggrieved. Liverpool relied upon him, worked him hard, and then treated him badly. Now he offered him promotion Robinson’s old place as President of the Board of Trade and Treasurer of the Navy, but immediately poisoned the offer by insisting that unlike Robinson, Huskisson would not sit in cabinet. Huskisson was understandably mortified: for years he had been doing more than his fair share of the real work of government, and the one man who knew just how much he had done, chose that way of thanking him. Liverpool was completely unsympathetic. Ostensibly his reason was that the King had complained for some time that the cabinet was too large, but it is clear that his sudden deference to the King’s opinions concealed another motive. The most likely explanation is either that he felt happier working with Huskisson and a few other trusted figures outside the cabinet, so that many potentially contentious questions could be settled in private meetings; or that he felt that Huskisson would add an element of discord to cabinet discussions, although both these ideas are essentially speculative, and it is possible that he was also influenced by pure social snobbery. Whatever the reason, Liverpool’s annoyance was real: ‘I am more provoked with Huskisson than I can tell you. I cannot conceive anything [in] worse taste than a man endeavouring to force himself into a Cabinet’. (Liverpool to Arbuthnot, ‘Private & Confidential’, Coombe Wood, 30 December 1822 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 36-7; see Boyd Hilton ‘The Political Arts of Lord Liverpool’ Trans. Royal Historical Soc. 5th series vol 38 1988 p 161-3 for a most interesting discussion of the affair). Canning would not take up Huskisson’s cause, but could not persuade his friend to drop his demand, and the Prime Minister even asked Wellington to try to talk some sense into him. That was never going to succeed, for two ministers could hardly have less in common than Wellington and Huskisson, but they met on 26 December, and on the following day the Duke went to Brighton to get a sense of the King’s mood. In the end a compromise was devised, with Huskisson being promised that he would be elevated to cabinet at the first vacancy or at the end of twelve months. (Liverpool to Arbuthnot 27, 30 December 1822 and 6 January 1823 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 35-8; Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 26 December 1822 Wellington and His Friends p 35).
Even this was not the end of the trouble for Thomas Wallace, Vice President of the Board of Trade now protested. He had done much of the work behind the reforms which had been introduced in Robinson’s name and felt he had a fair claim to succeed to the principal position on Robinson’s promotion. Moreover it was obvious that working for Huskisson would be very different from working for Robinson, and Wallace was not willing to accept the subordination this required. Liverpool had not anticipated this problem, but acknowledged that Wallace’s reaction was justified. In looking round for a solution he threatened to disrupt Charles Arbuthnot’s eagerly desired move from the Treasury to Woods and Forests, until Wellington intervened in defense of his friend.
Overall the reshuffle was a great success and did much to improve the government’s standing, although this was partly fortuitous. But it is noticeable that in executing it Liverpool was surprisingly insensitive in his handling of men, perhaps especially those like Huskisson and Arbuthnot on whom he most relied. Small details matter, and it did not go unnoticed, for example, that Liverpool’s letter to Vansittart confirming the arrangements for his removal from the Exchequer was not even in the Prime Minister’s own hand, but that of his private secretary. (Abbot Diary 5 February 1823 vol 3 p 272). The Prime Minister also countenanced a proposal from Canning that Robinson not occupy the Downing Street house relinquished by Vansittart and always occupied by either the First Lord of the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The motive was simply to leave it free for Canning who was then living at Gloucester Lodge on the Brompton Road. Vansittart refused to mention the idea to Robinson, and pointed out that it was bound to cause ill-feeling and jealousy – upon which it was dropped. But it is remarkable that it should have been discussed at all: such blatant favoritism was hardly likely to produce a harmonious cabinet or lessen the reservations which many ministers still felt about Canning. (Diary of Henry Hobhouse 22 January 1823 p 101-2. Hobhouse felt that Peel, his chief, could hardly have viewed this without resenting it).
Opinions of Canning and Wellington in early 1823:
Lady Cowper, who was far more a Whig than a Tory, commented on rumours of the reshuffle, ‘My idea is that if Canning can seat himself fast, he will get out Ld Liverpool, and all that part of the Cabinet and perhaps join Ld Wellesley and the Whigs or some of them. He hates the Chancellor and Peele [sic], but there is no depending upon him in any way. Whatever happens D[uke] of Wel[ling]ton is always sure to be in power, and so he ought for he is far the best of them.’ (Lady Cowper to her brother Frederick Lamb 13 January  Letters of Lady Palmerson p 117).
The British Economy in 1823:
Consider Princess Lieven’s comments written in late August when neither she nor Metternich were feeling very sympathetic toward s Britain:
I see from your despatches that England annoys you, that her policy irritates you: it is no use hoping for a change. Her domestic prosperity justifies her behavior. Never was a country so happy and peaceful as England at the moment. The lower classes live in plenty. Trade flourishes. The nobility wallow in the lap of luxury. If anyone thought of complaining, people would laugh in his face. I have lived in this country for eleven years, and for the first time I hear no grumbling. If one looks back to the last two years, when whole counties were in open revolt, one had to admit that the present state of things offers a striking contrast. The National Debt is being reduced; taxes are being abolished. Bread is cheap. Why has all this happened? I don’t know. We do not like their foreign policy; but what does John Bull mind? He has his mug of beer.’ (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 24 August 1823 p 283-4).
Liverpool and Huskisson:
Liverpool had some excuse for his treatment of Huskisson: as late as June 1821 Canning had explicitly told him that ‘He has never, as you know, aspired to Cabinet office’ and suggested that a position ‘below the highest, but above the ordinary rank of office …’ [such as] the India Board (out of the Cabinet)’ was ‘precisely’ the sort of office he wanted. (Canning to Liverpool 23 June 1821 Some Official Correspondence of George Canning edited by E. J. Stapleton vol 1 p 26).
Boyd Hilton’s discussion of the affair (in ‘The Political Arts of Lord Liverpool’ is most interesting and largely convincing although he possibly generalizes too much on the basis of the way Liverpool handled financial and parliamentary questions, and so overplays the idea that cabinet was not an important centre for decision making (p 156).
Liverpool’s sometimes inept handling of colleagues:
A similar incident occurred in late 1824 when Sidmouth retired from the Cabinet and Liverpool did not even inform the other ministers! (Abbot Diary vol 3 p 353).
Wellington’s poor health in early 1823:
In March Princess Lieven reported that he ‘has been very ill again. He was bled. I saw him yesterday; he looks very poorly’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 21 March 1823 p 244). Yet at the same time he protested to Mrs Arbuthnot:
Mr Hume [his doctor] makes a terrible piece of Work because I would dine at Sir G. Warrender’s, as if I don’t know what suits myself as well if not better than he does; and he made a similar piece of Work because I told him the last night I was bled that I could not have the operation performed till twelve because I had matters to attend to, which would take me till that Hour; as if I can sit at home with my hand before me, doing nothing or asleep in my chair!!! Such nonsense makes me sick … (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, Brighton, 20 March 1823 Wellington and His Friends p 36-7).
In India Wellington had tended to fall ill when his duty and his inclination diverged and he endeavoured to follow the former, and it is curious that the ill-health of 1822-23 coincided with Canning’s arrival at the Foreign Office. This can scarcely be anything but a coincidence, given the well-attested origin of his ailment in Stevenson’s mistreatment of his ear, but it is likely that the effects of this original problem were worsened, first by the demands of the journey to and from Verona, and subsequently by his unhappiness at Canning’s conduct of foreign affairs.
Wellington and Canning, early 1823:
There is a superfluity of evidence for Wellington’s discontent with Canning’s performance as Foreign Secretary in the first half of 1823, but it may not have been all one way. A passage in a letter from Princess Lieven to Metternich (admittedly not the most impartial source) in January is suggestive: ‘If you take into account the insidious questions that Canning addressed to our two Ambassadors about Wellington’s behavior at Verona, you will see that they are both more on the look-out than is quite friendly’. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 17 January 1822 Private Letters p 224-5). And there is at least a suspicion that in Parliament and through his connections in the press Canning encouraged the idea that Wellington had performed badly at Verona and was not skilled or experienced in diplomacy.
Fitzroy Somerset’s mission to Madrid:
Wellington believed that the best hope of peace was to apply pressure to the Spanish government to make concessions which would allow Villèle to step back from the brink. Canning had no objection to this, and even suggested that Wellington go to Madrid to attempt to convince the Spanish ministers of the need to give ground. Wellington was half-tempted, but recognized that he was ‘too great a card to be played’ without a good prospect of success; a decision which was reinforced by the pleas of his friends and Lord Bathurst who felt that an unsuccessful mission would damage his reputation, and that his absence would leave Canning unchecked. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 3 February 1823 vol 1 p 210-12). Instead Fitzroy Somerset was sent, ostensibly as Wellington’s personal emissary in his capacity as a grandee of Spain, rather than as a representative of the British government, although Canning saw and approved his instructions, and Somerset worked closely with À Court. The memorandum Wellington prepared outlining his ideas to guide Somerset was a model of calm common sense, based on the premise that the only way to give Spain the peace and stability she needed to regain her prosperity was for both parties to demonstrate good will in establishing a constitutional compromise. As such it was almost completely irrelevant to a political impasse where the opposing sides were deeply entrenched and regarded each other with well-justified suspicion. Somerset’s mission failed, just as Wellington would have failed if he had gone to Madrid, because neither Liberales nor royalists were willing to yield anything of significance.
The twenty-two year old Lord Francis Leveson Gower (later First Earl of Ellesmere) accompanied Fitzroy Somerset on the mission, and some of his letters home are printed in his Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington p 5-17.
According to Princess Lieven: ‘Wellington told me that he had just received a letter from Lord Fitzroy Somerset, informing him that Lord Holland, having learned from Canning of the steps the English Government were taking at Madrid to bring about changes in the Spanish Government, had on his side done all he could to thwart the plan; and that he had succeeded so well that it was to his counter-influence that Fitzroy attributed the reverse he had encountered. Wellington showed the letter to Canning, who seemed thunderstruck at the discovery’. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 1 March 1823 Private Letters p 240).
This is nothing more than hearsay, of course. But there is nothing implausible in the idea that Lord Holland would encourage Spanish Liberales to resist pressure to make constitutional concessions – although it is most unlikely that his influence was decisive.
France moves towards war and Louis’s statement to the Chambers:
Chateaubriand had no sooner gained the Foreign Ministry than he abandoned his support for Villèle’s peace policy. The allied ministers to Madrid presented their protests, were met with haughty defiance, and took their departure. The Spanish government instructed its ambassador in Paris, the Duke of San Lorenzo, to make no concessions. This allowed Chateaubriand to heighten his language and, on 18 January, to recall the French ambassador, despite Villèle’s reluctance. Pozzo di Borgo attempted to exert allied control over French conduct but was firmly rebuffed by both Chateaubriand and Villèle: France was pursuing her own policy with the support of the allies, not executing allied policy on their behalf. On 28 January Louis XVIII’s speech at the opening of the Chambers included the ominous statement that
Madrid’s deafness to our appeals leaves little hope of preserving peace. I have ordered the recall of our minister; and 100,000 French troops commanded by a prince of my family … calling on the God of St Louis, are ready to go into action to save the throne of Spain for a grandson of Henry IV, to spare this fine kingdom from ruin, and to reconcile it with Europe. … let Ferdinand VII be free to give his people institutions which they cannot hold but for him. (The last sentence from the translation in Nichols The European Pentarchy p 312; the rest from Bertier de Sauvigny The Bourbon Restoration p 190).
The speech produced a huge outcry in Britain where opinion already strongly favoured Spain. Hackles were raised by the reference to the family ties between the different branches of the House of Bourbon, for any idea of a revival of the old alliance between France and Spain was greatly resented in London, which had insisted on including an explicit renunciation of the Family Compact in its 1814 treaty with Spain. Even worse, in British eyes, was the assertion that political institutions could only be granted by the Crown to the people – the core of legitimist doctrine which ran counter to British beliefs, as embodied in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, that in the end the Crown’s authority was not absolute but derived from the consent of the people. The accumulated hostility built up by years of Whig and radical propaganda in the press was unleashed by this statement, marking a further distinct shift of Britain away from her old allies in the continent. Even Princess Lieven, who was no closet liberal, regretted the harm done by Louis’s speech: ‘Certainly, that part of the speech was ill-advised just now. What is more, I find the rest just as pitiful. Does the King explain the motives of the war; does he say if it is a European war or a French war? Not a word of that. There is plenty of stuff about St Louis and Henry IV, plenty of Bourbon talk and nothing else’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 31 January 1823 p 232).
Wellington loathes loose talk of war:
It is not entirely clear whether this objection was to any war, or to one where Britain would be facing all her old allies. Mrs Arbuthnot noted ‘He is greatly against war; tho’ as far as his pleasure is concerned, I am sure he would like to begin his campaigning again. He said it was such an active & merry life, all in high spirits & always confident of victory …’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 7 February 1823 vol 1 p 212).
Wellington sees danger whether the French succeed or fail in Spain:
On 11 March he told Fredrick Lamb:
I have always been of opinion that complete success or complete failure by France in this Spanish concern would be equally unfortunate for us. But I don’t think either very probable. Complete failure is out of the question. I give no credit to the stories of the revolt of the military, and at all events none to the consequences predicted from the state of their morale upon the operations of the war. The Spanish bubble will burst, and there will be no military resistance at all; and the real truth of the late war will come out, and the French will be successful in their military operations as far as they can carry them. But this is not success in producing a political result. Much time, very large armies, and enormous expense will be required to conquer the country and establish a government in Spain. The French government will be tired, and will be too ready to patch up the business and leave Spain to itself, and to new misfortunes’. (Wellington to Frederick Lamb, 11 March 1823 WND vol 1 p 63-5).
The first half was an accurate prediction if one that was widely (though not universally) shared; the second proved completely mistaken, but was not unreasonable.
Three weeks later, on the eve of the war, Wellington wrote to Metternich arguing that France was acting from Bourbon family ambition; Britain could not accept a renewal of the Family Compact and Austria and Prussia had as much to fear from French domination of Spain as Britain did.
The continental powers generally hold the Bourbons in such contempt as to ignore their actions: this is a mistake. At Verona, France was placed in a difficult position from which there could be three exits: a complete failure, which would bring down the House of Bourbon; military success, but political failure; and political and military success. Wellington believes the second alternative the most probable, but the latter must be hoped for. The Bourbons would advance thirty years in stature, but without the necessary experience and faster than France’s neighbours could make similar progress. The Bourbons lead the most warlike nation in the world, well-prepared and with greater military resources than all of Europe combined. Further, the weak character of the Bourbons might be the cause of more war and trouble for Europe’. (Wellington to Metternich draft 1 April 1823 WP 1/761/1 printed in French WND vol 2 p 83-6).
Wellington’s attitude to intervention in Spain:
It was well known that Wellington had little sympathy for the ‘constitutional’ or ‘revolutionary’ cause in Spain, and that he believed that the best solution would be a reconciliation of the parties around a constitutional compromise. (See his instructions to Fitzroy Somerset for more on this Wellington to Fitzroy Somerset ‘Memorandum on Spain’ Jan. 1823 WND vol 2 p 1-3).
It is also often supposed that he felt some sympathy for the French invasion. In one narrow sense this is true: once the invasion began the worst outcome of all in Wellington’s view would have been its defeat as this would almost certainly have brought down the Bourbons in France, precipitating another revolution and probably plunged Europe into another long war. However this does not mean that Wellington had secretly favoured intervention even while opposing it in Paris and Verona. All the evidence suggests that he was completely sincere in arguing against interference (and he was not a man to conceal his true opinion, even when it differed from his instructions). And even after the invasion began he maintained the same arguments in notes written on Metternich’s letter of 18 April 1823:
The fact is that Spain might have been left to herself without danger to any power in Europe. The revolution and the proceedings of the government in Spain were never thought much of in Europe till the French government shewed they felt an interest in them. These proceedings then became an object of interest, not on their own account but on account of the revolutionary effect which the repressive measures of the French government might produce in France herself. As soon as it was found that no such effect would be produced and that in fact the French army could be relied on, all interest respecting Spain has ceased, and nobody cares what becomes of that country or its revolution. I conclude, therefore, that Spain might with safety have been left to herself’. (WP 1/760/13 printed in WND vol 2 p 92).
Wellington’s analysis may not be convincing, but it shows where he stood. Against this we have Princess Lieven’s claim in May that ‘In his heart, he thinks very much as you [Metternich] do’ – ‘in his heart’ because what he actually told her was not compatible with Metternich (or Princess Lieven’s own) opinions. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 21 May 1823 Private Letters p 265).
Before he became Foreign Secretary, addressing his constituents at Liverpool, he put this on an elevated plane:
a struggle is now going on – in some countries open, in some a tacit struggle between the principles of monarchy and democracy. God be praised! in that struggle we have not any part to take … it is not … the duty of this country to side either with the assailants when they aim at too much, nor with those who stand on the defensive when they will grant nothing. Should we be led by any false impulse … to participate in the struggle itself, we commit, and therefore impair, our authority; we abandon the position in which we might hereafter do most good, and may bring the danger of a foreign struggle home to our own hearths and to our own institutions. (Quoted in Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 151).
Neither Wellington nor most of the cabinet would have accepted the implied equivalence between established governments and radical revolutionaries aiming to overthrow them, but at least Canning was favouring non-interference rather than active support for populist regimes. And at the beginning of 1823 a letter to Bagot shed more light on his outlook:
Villèle is a minister of thirty years ago; no revolutionary scoundrel, but constitutionally hating England as Choisel and Vergennes used to hate us, and so things are getting back to a wholesome state again.
Every nation for itself, and God for us all. Only bid your Emperor [Alexander] be quiet, for the time of Areopagus, and the like of that, is gone by. (Canning to Bagot, ‘Private and confidential’ 3 January 1823 Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 153).
Brougham launched a Philippic against the Eastern powers which provided further proof of his great oratorical gifts and of his lack of moderation and judgment. (Parliamentary Debate n.s. vol 8 col 45-64. Brougham’s speech shows an extraordinary hostility towards the allies especially Russia and virtually amounts to a call for war. Yet it was received with great and sustained applause from all sides of the House according to Hansard).
Creevey caught the mood of the speech and of the House in a letter written the next day:
[Brougham] by no means abandoned his plan of castigation of the Royal and Imperial scoundrels of Verona. … So faithful a picture of villains – portrait after portrait – was never produced by any artist before. If anything could add to the gratification of the Allied Sovereigns must have received had they been present, it would have been from the way in which our otherwise discordant fellows lapped up this truly British cordial like mother’s milk. (Creevey to Miss Ord 5 February  Creevey Papers p 404).
Brougham’s speech was really quite extraordinary displaying far more vehement, personal hostility towards Russia than the Opposition ever showed towards Napoleon – and indeed Napoleon is referred to with great tenderness, as is France, except the clique leading her policies astray.
Wellington and the Publication of Papers:
Faced with the Opposition attacks Canning agreed to publish much of the official correspondence relating to Wellington’s mission. The Duke was concerned that a confidential diplomatic note would be made public, and pressed Canning to explain the reasons for this to the countries involved, but otherwise accepted the need for publication, especially as Chateaubriand had already used extracts of many of the documents to justify France’s conduct. (Wellington to Canning 21 March 1823 WND vol 2 p 73-5).
Rather more has been made of Wellington’s opposition to publication, at least on this occasion, than is warranted. On 21 March and again on 5 April he wrote to Canning urging that an explanation be given to the Continental Powers before his confidential note of 30 October was published. He did not like publishing such material in general, ‘But in this case there is a good reason for making the communication public, viz., that one of the parties to the communication has published it partially and unfairly; and the other three parties cannot but admit our right to publish the whole’. (Wellington to Canning 21 March 1823 WND vol 2 p 73-5). Canning made suggested cuts and explained the publication to the foreign ambassadors (Canning to Wellington 6 April 1823 WND vol 2 p 87).
On 17 April he told Mrs Arbuthnot ‘he did not think they had made so good a selection of papers as they might have done, but that he had not cared much what was kept back or given’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 227).
Possibly the Duke’s resistance has been back-dated, for according to Princess Lieven the publication harmed his reputation. ‘Since the publication of the official diplomatic documents in Parliament; the Duke of Wellington has become the object of unflattering public attention. They say that his despatches and his notes are pitiful. I told him long ago that Canning was trying to harm him and to make him a scapegoat: he finds him an uncomfortable mentor and keeper’. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 24 April 1823 Private Letters p 258-9). This is not implausible – the public mood was so agitated about Spain that any dispatches written six months before would have seemed tame – yet it needs confirmation from other sources to be accepted in its entirety.
According to the Whig James Macdonald, introducing the censure of the government on 28 April 1823. Canning had encouraged this line: ‘The right hon. secretary had warned them not to expect any display of diplomatic finesse or artifice, in the productions of the noble duke’. (Parliamentary Debate n.s. vol 8 col 1310).
At the very least this suggest that Canning was, none too subtly, seeking to undermine Wellington’s reputation.
Wellington and Ferdinand’s repression in Spain:
In May Princess Lieven told Metternich that ‘In his heart’ Wellington, ‘thinks very much as you do; for he is an Ultra to the finger-tips. At the passage in your letter in which you insist on the punishment of the instigation of the military revolt, he exclaimed: “… Yes, I should have them all hanged”.’ (Princess Lieven to Metternich 21 May 1823 Private Letters p 265). However Princess Lieven is not a very reliable witness – she was trying to reconcile Metternich and Wellington at the time. Wellington did view military uprisings with abhorrence, and may well have favoured severe punishment of the leaders of the revolution; but conversely he gave generous support to Alava in his exile, and generally favoured clemency.
Wellington expects Spanish government to be unfriendly:
‘It is quite clear to me that King Ferdinand has taken his line in Spain, and he will punish the revolutionary party with as much severity as his French allies will support him in adopting. He will then have no motive for courting us with a view to the settlement of his internal government, and he can have no hope of our aid in the settlement of the questions with his colonies. If I have not mistaken the character of King Ferdinand, of his councils, and of his courting I should say that he would oppose every object of this country by every means in his power …’ (Wellington to Canning 24 October 1823 WND vol 2 p 154-7).
British reaction to the French occupation of Spain:
Mrs Arbuthnot (Journal vol 1 p 358-9) gives an account of an acrimonious cabinet meeting at the beginning of December 1824 in response to the news that the French were reducing but not ending their occupation of Spain. Canning wanted a very strong menacing protest, but was opposed by the other ministers including even Lord Liverpool. The result was to soften it greatly, but still harsher than Wellington wanted.
Wellington said that anyone but Canning would first find out the attitude of the others powers before confronting France so aggressively.
Mrs Arbuthnot (Journal vol 1 p 364-5) records the answer:
10th [December 1824] – Yesterday the answer arrived from Paris to Mr. Canning’s questions respecting the French occupation of Spain. M. de Villele says that, if the French withdrew from Spain, the two parties, who are to the highest degree exasperated against each other, wd instantly break out into violence & fresh outrage, that under such circumstances it was impossible to withdraw the French army. In the conversation with Ld Granville, M. de Villele alluded to a discussion he had had with the D. of Wellington on his return from Verona, confessed the truth of the remark which the Duke made to him that the military conquest of Spain wd be but the beginning of their labours & scarcely the first step towards the pacification of Spain. They had found this a most true prophecy; but that, under the circumstances, they must continue the occupation even tho’ it lasted ten years. In short, the answer is very civil, but is now with regard to the period of the occupation, upon which point our neutrality has always been made to depend.
The Cabinet have been greatly annoyed at this answer. Mr. Canning was excessively ill-tempered &, tho’ not prepared to push this specific question a l’outrance & to go to war in a case the necessity for which was so palpable, yet he did not scruple to avow that his object wd be to bully & insult France upon every little subject in dispute (of which there are several trifling ones with regard to the blockade of Cadiz & the treatment of neutral vessels during the war) in order to force her to declare war. And this he wd do tho’ he knows all Europe wd be against us, & that we could not possibly gain & must lose. I have never seen the Duke so much annoyed upon any subject; tho’ war is his trade, he is always the advocate for peace & says he cannot think without horror of all miseries of war being inflicted upon Europe again because one man has a bad temper, for there is not a pretence at a national interest in the whole business. The Cabinet meet again today upon this subject.
To be sure, there never was a greater change effected than that which has taken place with regard to the position of this country since the death of poor Ld Londonderry little more than 2 years ago. He left us on the most friendly footing with every Power in Europe. When we differed with them in opinion, there was at least always a disposition on the part of the other powers to do away ill impressions, to explain & to convince, and an anxious desire to preserve the relations of peace & amity. Now we are completely separated from all, hated & looked upon with suspicion & distrust, & I believe our friendship considered a matter of indifference. And all this for no reason on earth but because Mr. Canning thinks every thing too sleepy & because, coute qui coute he wants to have a war. Sir Chas Stuart said to me the other day that, formerly, we had a minister who could neither write nor speak & who exercised an unbounded influence in every Court in Europe. Now we have one who is a master of both arts, & we know nothing & are consulted about nothing. It is perfectly true.
Wellington at Cheltenham July-August 1823:
‘The people follow him about so much that he was obliged to get a house that had a garden, a gentleman living here went out of his house to lend it to him’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 1 August 1823 vol 1 p 247).
The Portuguese Liberals of 1820-1823:
- E. Livermore A New History of Portugal while generally quite sympathetic to the liberal cause, supports Canning’s condemnation: ‘there was no representative of the nobility or clergy in the first cortes of the new dispensation (December 1822). The quality of the deputies declined under pressure of the demagogic clubs; and the appearance of a gutter press, free from censorship, resulted in the election of radicals with loud voices and doubtful principles’ (p 264). And, ‘The radical regime had removed Beresford and forced the Braganças to return: it had also forced the separation of Brazil, imposed a doctrinaire form of government, humiliated the King, antagonized the nobility, the church and the merchants, and failed to produce any improvement in the economic situation’ (p 266).
Lack of Support for Canning inside the Government:
On 14 February Creevey noted: ‘I never saw a fellow look more uncomfortable than Canning. Independent of the difficulty of the times, he is surrounded by perfidy quite equal to his own. People in office are in loud and undisguised hostility to him: it may be heard at all corners if the streets. I never saw such a contrast as between the manners of ministerial men even to him, and what it used to be Castlereagh’ (Creevey Papers p 405).
In April Princess Lieven said that, ‘Canning’s position is curious. He is on bad terms with all the foreign cabinets, with all his colleagues, with the Tory party, and, worst of all, with the Opposition, whom he impudently boasted of having mastered. He has accomplished all this in two months time’. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 20 April 1823 Private Letters p 256-7).
And in June she went further, although allowance must be made for her bias:
In the Cabinet, the split is more marked than ever. Lord Liverpool and Canning are on one side, all the rest of the Ministers on the other. The latter want to get the position clear; and, the Duke of Wellington will insist on having it out. What I hear from the Duke of Wellington fully confirms the Duke of York’s reports of the weakening of the Minister’s Parliamentary support; and this is entirely due to the behavior of Mr Canning whose duty it is to act as the mouthpiece of the Government in the Commons and defender of all Government measures. He evades discussion; and, when he is compelled to speak, far from defending his colleague’s actions, he betrays them to please the Opposition’. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 3 June 1823 Private Letters p 268-9).
Even Liverpool wavered in his support at times. On 7 February Mrs Arbuthnot recorded that ‘Lord Liverpool said yesterday to Mr Arbuthnot that Canning was so rash and such a runner after popularity that it was impossible to know how soon the thing may break up’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 213).
Wellington’s irritation with Liverpool as well as Canning:
‘I heard from Mr Arbuthnot today that the Duke is more than ever out of sorts with Canning & Liverpool, who he calls two tricksters’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 16 March 1823 vol 1 p 223).
‘The Duke seems still very much out of sorts with Canning & Ld Liverpool for their shuffling conduct in foreign policy’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 22 March p 224).
Years later, in 1836, Wellington told Lady Salisbury that, ‘Canning’s empire over Lord Liverpool was more that of fear than of love. Once, when the Duke and L. had had an interview on business with Canning, and were returning together from Gloucester Lodge, the Duke observed to his companion that what Canning proposed would never do. “No,” said Lord L. “I know that. I wish you would tell him so.”’ Lady Salisbury’s diary 1 September 1836 Gascoyne Heiress p 210.
Cabinet not divided into cliques:
Liverpool’s dominance probably helped ensure that the cabinet did not break into cabals and the ‘little knots of parties’ which he abhorred. (Liverpool to Arbuthnot ‘Most Secret’ 2 October 1823 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 45-6). In September 1823 Wellington assured the Duke of Buckingham
That in the existing Cabinet such as a confederacy does not exist, and if it did it would be useless. I have never known two members of the existing Cabinet go into the Council determined to be of the same opinion, and it is a mistake to suppose that the relationship which existed between Lord Sidmouth and others, or between the late Lord Londonderry and Robinson, ever gave either more weight or more facility in the Cabinet than they could have had otherwise. (Wellington to Buckingham, Woodford, 18 September 1823 WND vol 2 p 131-3).
William Wellesley-Pole retires from Cabinet:
Wellington did not make any objection when in August 1823 Liverpool finally pressured Lord Maryborough (William Wellesley-Pole) into retiring from the cabinet, however some outsiders, including those as well informed as the King and the Duke of Buckingham, felt that his departure lessened Wellington’s weight in the cabinet – an impression which can only have been strengthened when his place was taken, a couple of months later, by Canning’s friend Huskisson. (Princess Lieven to Metternich, Windsor, 13 August 1823 Private Letters p 279-80; Wellington to Buckingham Woodford 18 September 1823 WND vol 2 p 131-3).
The King, Knighton and Lord Liverpool:
The credit for the King’s improved attitude towards Liverpool and the government in the first half of 1823 probably belongs to Sir William Knighton whose influence at court had grown considerably and now equaled or exceeded that of Lady Conyngham. Unfortunately Knighton hankered for some recognition and reward for his good work: specifically he set his heart on being made a member of the Privy Council. This was an honourable distinction for a mere doctor, an accoucheur at that, especially one whose social origins were obscure and whose rise to success had not been primarily achieved through professional eminence. Liverpool strongly resisted Knighton’s claim, partly from social snobbery but principally from genuine constitutional scruples: the crown should have no advisors who were not answerable to parliament, and experience had shown that admitting Knighton’s predecessors, Sir William McMahon and Sir Benjamin Bloomfield to the Council had been a mistake, as it had encouraged their pretensions to an independent position. Peel strongly supported Liverpool: he had always and distrusted Knighton and not attempted to conceal it, thus making an influential enemy. Canning was more ambivalent, and Wellington was decidedly in favour of giving Knighton the honour. The Duke was just as ready to sneer at the doctor as any of his colleagues, but thought that whether they liked it or not the King would always have an intimate friend, and that it was as well that Knighton’s position be recognized and that he be bound by Privy Councillor’s oaths of secrecy. Nonetheless he accepted Liverpool’s decision and was charged with breaking the news to Knighton who appeared to take it well. (Liverpool to Wellington 16 July 1823 WND vol 2 p 103; Peel: Hobhouse Diary 21 July 1823 p 105; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 24, 27 May 1823 vol 2 p 237; Wellington to Liverpool 28 July 1823 WND vol 2 p 105-6 cf Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 19 July 1823 p 245-6).
But Knighton did not accept defeat and a few weeks later, in early September, he saw Arbuthnot and said that he was not sure but that ‘Canning might not make way with the King’, and went on to outline a ministry led by Wellington and Canning which would have no room for Liverpool, and in which Peel would be shunted off to the Lords. Arbuthnot responded robustly that ‘this was all stuff’ and that ‘it was utterly impossible for the Duke ever to confide in Canning’, but left the meeting with his political antennae twitching furiously. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 8 September 1823 vol 2 p 255). In early October Arbuthnot saw the King and warned Liverpool that Knighton’s intrigue had evolved and made considerable progress. The King expressed undiminished dislike of Canning and dwelt heavily on the apparent subordination of Liverpool to him. He wished that Liverpool would break free and be the King’s minister as Mr Pitt had been his father’s, but ‘he wd. far rather make Canning his Prime Minister than continue to have the conviction that the real power is already vested in him, while the name alone remains with you’. Arbuthnot went on to tell Liverpool that Knighton, ‘is a man with a most astute and acute intellect … [but] a very vain man. You have galled him to the soul by not allowing him to emerge from the lowness of his former situation’. At the same time the King sounded Wellington out to see if he might be willing to lead a reconstructed government but was rebuffed: Wellington was loyal to Liverpool, had no desire to replace him, and probably recognized that such a scheme would be most unlikely to succeed, for Canning would surely join forces with the Opposition in an attempt to bring it down. (Arbuthnot to Liverpool draft n.d. [c7 October 1823) Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 46-57 and Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, Windsor Castle, 9 October  Wellington and His Friends p 39).
Liverpool reacted coolly to Arbuthnot’s warning, denying that Canning had any undue influence, though it was always important that the leaders of the two Houses work closely together, and refusing to reconsider Knighton’s admission to the Council. He replied to Arbuthnot that, ‘I think the K. will find himself very much mistaken if he supposes that if he dismissed he because it was his royal will & pleasure, or if he created an obvious pretence for this purpose, that Canning, Peel, or anyone of my colleagues would remain behind’. And he went on to show that the King was not the only one who could make threats:
The K. is mistaken if he supposes that I have any anxious desire to remain in his service. He cannot be too strongly apprized of this truth. If I see I cannot go on with honour & with credit, it will be for me to consider when I can most easily retire, but let the K. take care that he does not make the close of a reign which has been hitherto most glorious, & upon the whole most prosperous, stormy & miserable. (Liverpool to Arbuthnot, Walmer Castle, 8 October 1823 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 57-8).
Bathurst on Knighton and the Privy Council:
According to Hobhouse (Diary 21 July 1823 p 105) Bathurst, like Peel, opposed Knighton’s admission to the Council; but Charles Arbuthnot said to Liverpool in early October that Bathurst and the Duke of York agreed with Wellington in giving way. (Arbuthnot to Liverpool [7 October 1823] Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 46-57 (esp. p 56-57)). Quite possibly he changed his mind and both sources are correct.
© Rory Muir