Commentary Explorer Results
Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 13: The Last Year of Liverpool’s Government
Mrs Arbuthnot on the economic boom:
The House & the whole country seem now completely occupied with the different speculations set on foot in the City. There are companies set on foot of all kinds, such as Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian mining companies; & such is the rage for speculation & the abundance of money from the high price of the funds, that large premiums may be gained upon any speculation that is brought out. There is one company called the Reale del Monte, the shares of which have been as high as £1200, £70 having been the original price’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 16 March 1825 vol 1 p 381-2; see also Richard Rush quoted in Dawson First Latin American Debt Crisis p 106).
Slide in value of foreign loans:
Although some accounts say that they had been down heavily since 1824, Dawson First Latin American Debt Crisis p 107-8 says that the decline began in late April 1825, very gently.
Collapse of proposed steamship companies:
Significantly the only steamship company which emerged from the crash and became successful was the General Steam Navigation Company which was run by London ship owners already familiar with the business and with ships already operating in the North Sea. (Williams and Armstrong ‘Promotion, Speculation and their Outcome: the “steamship mania of 1824-1825”’ p 654-55).
Rioting and Radicalism in 1826:
Accounts of the general election held in June comment on how quiet and tame it was; but there are a considerable number of disturbances reported in The Times for late April and early May 1826, and this is confirmed by Gash Mr Secretary Peel p 359.
It is possible that the economic distress of 1827 sowed the seed for popular agitation at the end of the decade, but there was no great immediate revival of popular radicalism.
Succession to the Emperor Alexander:
The most natural successor would have been the eldest of his brothers, Constantine, but there were already reports that he had renounced his right to the throne after a scandal in St Petersburg, or because he was divorced and had subsequently married a Polish countess who was a Roman Catholic. Little was known of the next brother, Nicholas, except that he was young (not yet thirty), a soldier, and had spent some time in Germany and it was understood that he had mixed in liberal, and particularly Philhellene circles in Berlin. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 15 January and 21 February1826 vol 2 p 4-5, 13; Crawley Question of Greek Independence p 52).
Reports of Ibrahim’s plans to deport the population of Greece, and British attitudes to the Revolt:
In late October 1825 Count Lieven the Russian ambassador to London, told Canning that his government had received information of an agreement between the Sublime Porte and Ibrahim Pasha, that when the revolt had been crushed Ibrahim should deport the entire population of the Morea and the islands, selling them into slavery and replacing them with Muslim colonists from Egypt. Dispatches from British diplomats in the Adriatic subsequently confirmed that reports of Ibrahim’s plans were circulating there, although it was not clear whether the reports were reliable, exaggerated or mere propaganda. (‘Extract from the Memorandum of a Conference between Mr Canning and Count Lieven’ 25 October WND vol 2 p 547; Stratford Canning to Canning, Corfu, 16 December 1825 WND vol 2 p 580-85).
In a sense the accuracy of the story mattered little for if it became public and was widely believed it might spark such an outcry that the European powers would be unable to continue to oppose Russian intervention to help the Greeks and might even be driven to take part themselves. (Canning to Wellington 19 February 1826 WND vol 3 p 85-93 especially p 92; see also Wellington to Canning 22 November 1825 WND vol 2 p 569-71). The massacres in Constantinople and Chios in the early days of the Revolt had already cost the Turks the public support they had often previously received in western Europe; but the first wave of enthusiasm for the Greek cause had faded as disenchanted volunteers returned home with stories of Greek misconduct and fraud, and with Byron’s death depriving the Revolt of its leading international celebrity supporter. In Britain broad sympathy for the Greek cause had not been transformed into active support, largely because the leading partisans were too closely associated with other liberal and radical causes, giving it a strong party flavor, while the incompetence and peculation associated with the loans raised for Greece tainted it with corruption. Nonetheless the predisposition in favour of Greece remained strong and it only needed a focus such as the story of Ibrahim’s plans to trigger popular outrage and make it irresistible. (Wellington to Canning 22 November 1825 WND vol 2 p 569-71; Canning to Wellington 10 February 1826 WND vol 3 p 85-93 especially 92 see also Allan Cunningham ‘The Philhellenes, Canning and Greek Independence’ Middle Eastern Studies vol 14 1978 p 156-9, 166. Cunningham gives an excellent account of British public opinion although he possibly underestimates the speed with which disenchantment could be replaced by renewed enthusiasm).
A number of factors helped shape British policy, none individually compelling, pressing in different directions. There was the traditional fear of Russian expansion towards Constantinople and the Straits. Pittite ministers naturally thought of the precedent of Ochakov when Pitt had risked war with Russia in 1791, but this was a double-edged lesson, for Pitt had been forced to back down when the Commons and the public had refused to support him. (Canning mentions this in his instructions to Wellington, 10 February 1826 WND vol 3 p 85-93). Against this there was popular support for the Greeks which at the very least meant that it was impossible for any British government to contemplate military intervention in favour of the Turks, and which had the potential to upset all the finely calculated, carefully calibrated policies designed by the cabinet or the Foreign Office.
Wellington’s view of the likely outcome of the Greek Revolt:
Wellington believed that in the end the Sultan would be forced to concede a form of autonomy which fell only marginally short of full independence for a relatively small, weak Greek state. This was somewhat better than a proposal which the Russians had floated which would have divided the Greeks into three tiny statelets, and which had been rejected by both sides in 1825, and there was little doubt that the Greeks would now be happy to accept a settlement on these terms. (National Assembly of Greece to Stratford Canning 1 May 1826 WP 1/877/5 indicates that they would accept peace on terms including acknowledging Turkish suzerainty and either a one off payment or an annual tribute, but there must be no mingling of populations; the Turks must not retain any fortresses in Greece, or have any influence over the internal government of Greece, and that all the areas have taken part in the present struggle must be included). Wellington did not particularly welcome this result: such a Greek state would almost certainly be the source of further instability and would probably look to Russia or even France for patronage and support. It would be a new and not necessarily friendly maritime power in the eastern Mediterranean which would inevitably make life more difficult for the seriously over-stretched Royal Navy, especially as the Greeks had already displayed a taste for piracy which rivaled that of the Barbary States. And it would probably be heavily influenced by the liberal and radical outlook of its leading supporters in western Europe. (Wellington to Canning, Stratfield Saye, 22 November 1825 WND vol 2 p 569-71).
Austria’s position on the Greek Revolt:
Each of the European powers had different interests and different perspectives on what happened in Greece. For Metternich the greatest danger was that the revolt might provoke Russian intervention leading to the collapse of Ottoman rule in the Balkans and the creation of a series of weak, unstable successor states, all under Russian influence which would destabilize the whole Austrian Empire. To avert this he played for time, entangling the Russians in endless negotiations in the hope that the Turks might suppress the revolt and the problem would go away. Ideology, national interest and the preservation of the Holy Alliance all pointed in the same direction when seen from Vienna. (Schroeder Transformation of European Politics p 637-9).
Should Britain have acted with Austria and France?
When Wellington was in St Petersburg the Russians impressed upon him their exasperation with Austria and the other Continental Powers, and made it clear that they were more ready to talk to Britain alone than if she had been acting together with them. (Wellington to Canning, St Petersburg, 5 March 1826 WND vol 3 p 148-50). Canning took great delight in this, seeing it as a vindication of his policy. (Canning to Wellington 25 March 1826 ibid p 218-9). But Cowles would probably argue that the Russians had gained the upper hand: Britain acting alone was in a weak position – indeed he virtually argues it made the ‘failure’ of Wellington’s mission inevitable from the outset (‘The Failure to Restrain Russia: Canning, Nesselrode and the Greek Question 1825 – 1827’ International History Review vol 12 November 1990 p 706, 709).
In fact Metternich wrote to Wellington on 22 February 1826 expressing strong support for his mission (WP 1/ 850/12).
Suspicions of Canning motives in proposing the mission:
Mrs Arbuthnot (29 December 1825 Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 432-33) gives a good account of how Wellington received the proposal while travelling with the Arbuthnots, and how immediately both men were suspicious, Mr Arbuthnot thinking that Liverpool had some idea of retirement and that it would be easier for Canning to succeed him if Wellington was away. Nonetheless Wellington had no hesitation – although some regret – in at once accepting.
Wellington’s views of Greece, Russia and the Eastern Question:
Wellington outlined his view of Russian intervention in a letter to Canning of 22 November 1825:
The Emperor of Russia interferes in this case, the contest still existing, solely because it suits the policy of his government that a Greek power should be established in Europe. It must be observed that this interference between a government and its revolted subjects is not, as has been the case in other instances, with a view to restore the power of a legitimate government, but to alter the state of possession in Europe for objects purely Russian, to deprive the Turks of a vast dominion and power, and to substitute Russian influence, and possibly in the effort to destroy the Ottoman government altogether, and to establish a Russian government on the Bosphorus and Dardanelles.
I entertain no doubt that as these measures cannot be carried into execution by Russia without maritime means, the naval power of this country could prevent their execution. But we must exert that power in concert with the Turks, frankly and fairly to maintain the Ottoman government at Constantinople. Otherwise they will never consent to our entering the only seat of our operation.
This is the real difficulty of the case. The country would not bear the Emperor of Russia overpowering any other Power for Russian objects. But the Turkish government is so oppressive and odious to all mankind, that we could scarcely expect to carry the country with us in a course of policy, however interesting, the result of which is to be to maintain by the exercise of our power that government at Constantinople. But I should think that the other Powers of Europe ought not to be less alive than ourselves to the danger of this interference of the Emperor of Russia in this contest, as well in its principle as its consequences; and that they would not be indisposed to join with us in remonstrance, or possibly in something more forcible …
I would recommend you, then, to connect yourself with Austria and France, as the best mode of preventing the Emperor of Russia from carrying into execution his supposed measure.
I should think that a joint declaration of the three Powers, not to submit to any further aggrandisement of the Russian empire, would induce his Imperial Majesty to pause; and if that declaration should not produce the desired effect, and it should be necessary to resort to the only effectual measure for saving the Turks, its unpopularity will be divided; and it will at least have the appearance and the grace of being one of common interest.
He was accompanied by only a small suite: the ever reliable Fitzroy Somerset; Captain George Cathcart who had been in Russia before, and was with Wellington at Waterloo; two diplomats Lord Dunglass, the secretary of the embassy and Mr Jerningham; and no doubt some servants probably including at least one coachman and valet. (Canning to Wellington 23 January 1826 and reply 25 January WND vol 3 p 71-3; Sweetman Raglan p 79-83 quotes from many of Somerset’s letters from St Petersburg. The Times 10 February 1826).
On Wednesday [8th] evening about six o’clock, His Grace the Duke of Wellington left his residence in Piccadilly, to proceed on his embassy to St Petersburgh, on his special mission to the Emperor, to congratulate His Imperial Majesty on his occasion to the throne. His Grace’s carriage was followed by two others in which were his Grace’s suite, consisting of Lord Fitzroy Somerset, the Hon. Captain Cathcart, (the Duke’s Aide-de-camp), Lord Dunglas, Mr Jerningham, Lord Francis Gower, (although not in his Grace’s suite,) Dr Hume, Mr Haviland the King’s Messenger, and a German courier. His Grace was to proceed to Dover, and to embark on board a steampacket commanded by Capt. Hamilton (The Times 10 February 1826).
Preparations to receive Wellington at Berlin:
On 16 February Lord Clanwilliam, the British envoy at Berlin, wrote to explain to Wellington the plans for his reception at the Prussian capital: he would be received by the King at 10 o’clock, and then visit the Berlin garrison, where Gneisenau and the principal officers of the garrison would greet him as a Prussian Field Marshal. He would dine with the King at a quarter to two, proceed to the grand theatre at six, and then to a ball at Prince Augustus’s. On the following day he would dine with the Duke of Cumberland and in the evening attend a subscription ball for the court and the haute bourgeoise. Clanwilliam had taken rooms for the party in the Hotel de Rome, remembering the Duke’s preference for the inn in 1822 (Clanwilliam to Wellington 16 February 1826 WP 1/850/3).
Wellington at Berlin:
Having crossed the North Sea the party proceeded overland to Berlin which they reached on 17 February. Here Wellington was greeted with marked attention and respect, had an audience with the King, and substantial talks with Count Bernstorff. He found that the Prussians were convinced that war between Russians and Turkey was probable, although not certain, and reported that
Count Bernstorff appears to think that the conspiracy in the Russian army has extended very far, and he says that there is scarcely a great family in Russia of which some member is not more or less involved in it. He thinks it doubtful war would be a remedy for the evil, but he admits that the probable inclination of the Emperor’s mind to military operations would induce him to decide in favour of war. He considers it certain that the late Emperor would before now have declared himself if he had lived, and would probably have commenced his operations early in spring, and that his successor will probably follow his example if not prevented by some prospect of settling the question between Greeks and Turks. (Wellington to Canning, Berlin, 19 February 1826 WND vol 3 p 138-40).
From Berlin to St Petersburg:
The next stage of the journey was difficult as the thaw made the roads heavy but the going was much easier beyond Memel where the ground was still frozen. Travel, even for the most exalted, was not always comfortable; nor was it leisurely. ‘On my journey’, he told Mrs Arbuthnot from St Petersburg, ‘I used to get up about ½ past two, or at twelve o’clock or half past by my watch which I have kept to London Time, which is about the Hour of your going to bed. We started at four or a little after; and we generally arrived about six, seven or eight in the evening, sometimes earlier. We dined immediately; and I went to bed as soon after eight as I possibly could, or six o’clock in the afternoon (your dressing Hour) in London. Excepting at Breakfast and dinner I never saw my fellow Travellers’. The civil and military authorities of all the towns they passed through turned out to greet their distinguished visitor, and a ceremonial guard of forty Cossacks joined the party at the Russian frontier but could not stand the pace, all but six being left by the wayside. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 135, 139; Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, Petersburgh, 2 and 5 March 1826 Wellington and His Friends p 56-8).
Conjunction of the Russian ultimatum with Wellington’s visit to St Petersburg:
Cunningham (‘Philhellenes, Canning and Greek Independence’ p 174) points out that the Turks saw the Russian ultimatum and Wellington’s visit to St Petersburg (and the Protocol when they learnt of it) as linked, signaling a new combination against them. This encouraged them to make concessions to Russia on their bilateral disputes and so postponed war – which was a good thing, and the purpose of Wellington’s mission. Unfortunately, but understandably, they would not also make concessions over Greece and so the problem, with all the dangers it carried with it, persisted.
Nicholas’s assurance that he would not retain any conquests in event of War with Turkey:
There is a letter from Nesselrode in WND vol 3 p 212 (WP 1/852/12) which appears to offer this guarantee but excludes influence – see Wellington to Canning 4 April 1826 (WND vol 3 p 250-1). Evidently it was this question of influence which distinguished the assurance that Nicholas gave Wellington from that which he had already given to the French ambassador St Priest: ‘“I will give you my word of honour that I do not want, do not desire, and do not plan to add a single inch of territory to the holdings of Russia, which is already large enough as t is. I am prepared to give in this case whatever formal guarantees are desired.’” (quoted in Lincoln Nicholas I p 116).
Different interpretations of British Policy:
Cunningham, Cowles (Loyal Cowles ‘The Failure to Restrain Russia: Canning Nesslerode and the Greek Question 1825-1827’ International History Review, vol 12 November 1990) and Schroeder (Transformation of European Politics) all portray Canning as lacking a clear settled policy or even set of aims; floundering around out of his depths; and – especially Cowles – being manipulated by Nesselrode. They succeed beyond reasonable doubt in demolishing the old view put forward by Temperley (Foreign Policy of Canning) which saw a master-stroke every time Canning scratched himself; and in establishing that Canning had little interest in Greece prior to 1825, and regarded it as of greatly inferior importance to Latin America. There is rather more room to doubt their case from the autumn of 1825 when Canning took a more active part. Steven Schwartzberg (‘The Lion and the Phoenix – 1 British Policy toward the ‘Greek Question’ 1831 [sic 1821] – 1832’ Middle Eastern Studies, vol 24 1988) believes that Canning then adopted the Greek cause, and moved to advance it even at some risks to British interests; that his instructions to Wellington were a smoke screen, playing on Wellington’s fears of a wider war to induce him to support taking an active part in Greek affairs, and revealing his real commitment in private letters for example to Granville in Paris. This is a coherent, if not entirely convincing argument. It could also be said that from rather later, say mid 1826, Canning saw the way the tide was running and swam with rather than against it. This interpretation seems more plausible than the idea that Canning was a hapless pawn with no control over what was happening. It is certainly not necessary to believe that Canning had any romantic or sentimental attachment to the idea of an independent Greece – Cunningham conclusively nails that on the head – appealing to liberal philhellene sentiment in Britain is a sufficient motive. Cunningham is also very good (‘Philhellenes, Canning and Greek Independence’ p 172-3) on some of the factors that influenced Canning towards support for Greece: the precedent of Latin America and the Monroe Doctrine and fear of French competition among others. (However Cunningham rather overstates British indifference to Greece, equating lack of enthusiasm for no sympathy at all).
Schwartzberg also argues that the St Petersburg Protocol did in fact contain sufficient safeguards to check Russia but that Canning deliberately chose not to use them, because they would not help Greece. That is a superficially tempting argument, for it exonerates Wellington from any blame, but it goes too far to be entirely plausible. It usefully prompts a reconsideration of the actual terms of the Protocol, but there is too great a range of opinion that Wellington had made important, and possibly inadvertent, concessions to be ignored.
Schwartzberg suggests (p 168-9) that Russian interest in Greece, which revived when Lieven arrived from London, was prompted by Canning. Bathurst suspected this (quoted by Schwartzberg) and Wellington may also have had suspicions, but they were so hostile to Canning that it may have made them unreasonable. On the whole it seems unlikely, at least that Canning did so deliberately; and that any change represented Russian tactics or the result of shifts of power and influence on the Russian side.
Schwartzberg does have a good paragraph outlining how Wellington probably saw the Protocol (based on a later, 1830, Memorandum in WND vol 7 p 335-44):
As far as Wellington was concerned, the conflict in the Levant was likely to go on indefinitely; indefinitely providing to the Emperor of Russia as a pretext, popular with public opinion throughout Europe, which could be used both to justify war and to discourage other powers from intervening on the Ottoman side. Such a war, and the terms of peace it would yield, could upset the balance of power in Europe either by the establishment of a Russian government on the Bosphorus and Dardanelles or by the creation of a large Greek state under Russian influence. It was the danger of such an occurrence that Wellington wished to avoid, and which he interpreted the Protocol as averting. (Schwartzberg p 167).
Wellington and the Birth of Modern Greece:
The Protocol marked a very important step in the establishment of the Greek state, giving it a formal status in international diplomacy and – in effect of not by law – establishing the minimum conditions Greece would gain. (Cunningham ‘Philhellenes, Canning and Greek Independence’ p 173-4).
By the beginning of 1826 Wellington believed that an independent Greek state was undesirable but inevitable. And that in his mission to St Petersburg he endeavoured to ensure that its birth would not create a major European crisis or fatally undermine the Turkish empire. These dangers were avoided, although Wellington’s contribution to the success was quite a small one, and most of the credit probably belongs to the Russians for their restraint.
Expectations of Wellington’s mission:
The Times 11 February 1826 thought that the purpose of the mission ‘was probably the prevention of Russia from commencing a war against the Turks in favour of the Greeks: and that our means of prevention would be the offer of undertaking ourselves, or of co-operating with other States – peaceably it is to be hoped in the undertaking to establish Greek independence’. It went on to discuss – in strong terms – the menace posed by the Russian army: ‘Let it not be thought that we are pleading for the Turks and against the Greeks. We are only deprecating Russian interference at the point of the bayonet. May success attend the Greeks! But it would be a very doubtful success which should be attained for them by the Russians’. The Times believed that the Greek leaders and the Turkish government could probably be pressured into an agreement, but that some form of military intervention would be needed to implement it and preserve the peace.
Canning’s attempts to ingratiate himself with the King and Lady Conyngham:
In 1824 Canning floated the idea that an under-secretary be permanently stationed at Court as an intermediary between the King and his ministers. The proposal was quickly scotched; neither Liverpool nor Knighton would hear of it, but it cannot have done the Foreign Secretary’s standing any harm in the eyes of Lady Conyngham, and even the King may have found it appealing. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 2 August 1824 Private Letters p 323-4; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 9 August 1824 vol 1 p 332).
Lord Ponsonby’s appointment:
Ponsonby was a ruined gambler (and Lord Grey’s brother-in-law), desperate for money, and is said to have given the Lady Conyngham’s letters to Harriette Wilson to publish. There seems little doubt over the truth of this story, whatever its exact details. See also Princess Lieven to Metternich 8 November 1825 Private Letters p 355 and Greville Memories (edited by Strachey and Fulford) vol 2 p 173-4 31 July 1831). It is accepted by the ODNB in its entry on Ponsonby and by Frances Wilson The Courtesan’s Revenge p 230-32 which has much on Ponsonby, whose connection with Harriette Wilson went back many years.
There is quite a useful account – clearer than most – in Tom Ambrose’s The King and the Vice Queen p 159-64 which shows that Harriette Wilson not Ponsonby was the main problem.
To be fair, Ponsonby proved a successful diplomat and ended his career as ambassador to Vienna.
Knighton’s attitude to Canning’s rise:
Knighton had invested a good deal of time and effort in establishing good relations with Wellington and the Arbuthnots; but by early 1825 there are signs that he was increasingly impressed by Canning’s victories in cabinet and popularity with the public. Ideally he would have liked a reconciliation between Canning and Wellington, but when he was told firmly that this was impossible, he realized that it was time to begin hedging his bets. Not that Knighton aspired to be a political power in his own right; but he knew that his master’s favour was fickle and looked to secure his own position, or at least a comfortable retreat. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 9 February 1825 vol 1 p 375; see also 13 February 1826 vol 2 p 12-13; Princess Lieven to Metternich 10 March 1825 Private Letters p 345).
Wellington, Canning and the King, 1825-26:
The sunshine of royal approval was directed towards Canning throughout the second half of 1825, but the extent of his favour only became obvious to the political world in 1826 and Mrs Arbuthnot worried a little how Wellington would react. However,
He does not appear to care [in] the least for Mr Canning’s extraordinary favour with the King; he says it will save him all the trouble of making up their differences, but he was rather curious to know how it had been brought about & why? We told him the favour began with the appointment of Ld Ponsonby & was consolidated by the arrangement which placed Knighton in the Duchy of Lancaster. It seems the King finds that, by cutting down timber & managing it himself, he can get £100,000 out of the Duchy, and this Knighton is to do for him. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 29 April 1826 vol 2 p 24).
Canning’s favour lasted throughout the spring and summer of 1826 and during these months the King saw relatively little of Wellington and studiously avoided discussing politics with him. The Duke stayed at the Royal Lodge, as usual, for a week in early June for the races at Ascot, but neither this nor a subsequent visit in late July were a success. The King’s behavior was affected by drinking too much and over-indulging in laudanum, and Wellington’s disdain, which discretion usually kept in check, was expressed in a confidential letter to Mrs Arbuthnot: ‘I had the pleasure in being in this amiable society from 3 in the afternoon till one in the morning, excepting half an Hour. The King was very drunk, very blackguard, very foolish, very much out of Temper at times, and a very great bore! In short, altogether I never saw him so bad as yesterday’. And, ‘The King … complains a good deal [of his health]. But the truth is he has nothing the matter with him excepting what is caused by the effects of strong liquors taken too frequently and in too large quantities. He drinks Spirits morning, noon & night; and he is obliged to take laudanum to calm the Irritation which the use of Spirits occasions’. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 2 August and 28 September1826 Wellington and His Friends p 66-67, 69-70).
Towards the end of the year there was a reaction prompted by the imminent return of Parliament and the prospect of renewed discussion of the Catholic Question. The King remained opposed to concessions and once again floated the idea of an administration united in opposition to Emancipation – which would by definition exclude Canning. The idea was hopeless and was quickly squashed by the ‘Protestant’ ministers before news of it reached the Foreign Office but it was an interesting straw in the wind. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 22 November and 9 December 1826 vol 2 p 58, 62). By New Year there were some signs that Wellington might be coming back into favour, but the King’s behavior was inconsistent and contradictory, and the most reasonable interpretation was that His Majesty felt that he had over-committed himself towards Canning and was seeking a more balanced position.
Wellington on Canning, September 1826:
On 7 September 1826 Wellington wrote to Bathurst about an interview he had had with Canning:
He is certainly a most extraordinary man. Either his mind does not seize a case accurately; or he forgets the impressions which ought to be received from what he reads, or is stated to him; or knowing and remembering the accurate state of the case, he distorts and misrepresents facts in his instructions to his ministers with a view to entrap the consent of the Cabinet to some principle in which he would found a new fangled system. (Wellington to Bathurst 7 September 1826 passage suppressed in WND but printed in HMC Bathurst p 615).
Wellington on Castlereagh, Canning and Peel in 1838:
In 1838 Lady Salisbury recorded in her diary a conversation with Wellington:
The Duke spoke of Canning, Peel and Lord Castlereagh, and of their several abilities, and I was much struck with his manner of valuing them, which was wholly in reference to their habits of business, common sense and information on necessary topics. What one should describe as genius or talent seemed to go for nothing with him. He said Canning was “a man of imagination, always in a delusion, never saw things as they were; that he had wonderful powers of speaking and writing and in that was superior to Mr Pitt (who could speak but not write), but that he was wholly uninformed as to foreign affairs” – in short, spoke of hi as a charlatan. Peel also, he said, knew nothing of foreign affairs; but they were not in his province; and he was thoroughly acquainted with official business at home.
Lord Londonderry could neither speak nor write, but he was completely master of all our foreign relations, and knew what he was about. I observed that the two latter were honester men than Canning. He said Lord Castlereagh was completely so, but Peel was not always scrupulous as to the means he used to gain his object, and his object was often a mean and petty one. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 8 April 1838 Gascoyne Heiress p 278-9).
The Election of 1826:
The account in Machin The Catholic Question in English Politics p 65-87 gives a rather different view, but comes to broadly similar conclusions. He describes quite a few contests in Britain where No Popery was at least one element and, conversely, cites an article by J. H. Hexter as establishing that advocates of emancipation made a net gain of only three seats in Ireland. However he qualifies this by pointing out that the gains in Ireland were in hotly contested county contests where the influence of the landlords was set at defiance, and that this had a psychological impact far in excess of the actual number of seats (p 84).
Mrs Arbuthnot begins to use the term Tory or Tory Party freely in 1825 or 1826 usually in order to distinguish it from Canning, so that the Tories were the more conservative members and supporters of Liverpool’s administration. This seems a fair enough distinction: the lineage can be traced back through Castlereagh at the Foreign Office to Perceval’s premiership and even Sidmouth, but it was not really distinguished from the government as a whole until Canning’s tenure at the Foreign Office.
On the Wellington Papers database the first time the word appears in the text of a letter was 13 June 1826 from S. R. Lushington to Wellington (WP 1/857/9) where Lushington says at least Mr Capel ‘is a Tory and a Protestant’.
The first reference by Wellington appearing in the database is in his Memorandum of 25 May 1828 on the resignation of Huskisson and Palmerston: ‘We hear a great deal of Whig principles and Tory principles and liberal principles and Mr Canning’s principles, but I confess I have never seen a definition of any of them ..’ (WP 1/980/29).
It had been used by Whigs to describe their opponents since at least the election of 1812, and was being used by some Pittites (not necessarily more conservative ones) well before 1820, although not very frequently. Canning had begun to call himself a ‘conservative’ and a ‘tory’ by 1820: see Stephen M. Lee George Canning and Liberal Toryism p 82-84 and James Sack From Jacobite to Conservative p 4-5, 88-89.
Wellesley Family and Patronage:
Gerald Wellesley was not the only relative Wellington tried to assist in 1826: on 26 May he wrote to Liverpool asking for him to do something for Richard Wellesley (the eldest son of Marquess Wellesley who had been an MP but was re-elected in 1826. Wellington says that he had not come forward in parliament as expected (WP 1/855/26). He was appointed a commissioner of stamp duties.
Establishment of the Portuguese Regency:
On 5 March 1826, a few days before he died, King João appointed a regency with Dona Isabella Maria his daughter at its head to govern until the wishes of the heir were known. Otherwise the Queen would have become regent. The Queen expressed satisfaction at the appointment of the regency, and it calmed the public. Isabella was popular and Lisbon peaceful. But it was still possible that the Queen might seize power when the King died – A’Court does not think the liberals would resist her, at least in Lisbon (they might in the northern provinces). (A’Court to Canning 7 March 1826 in WP 1/877/3).
Miguel’s claim to the Regency when he turned twenty-five:
Miguel’s claim to succeed his sister in the Regency remained open to dispute. Canning and Liverpool both questioned its basis, although Wellington felt that it could scarcely be denied. (Liverpool to Planta 18 October 1826; Wellington to Liverpool 19 October 1826; Canning to Wellington 29 October 1826 WND vol 3 p 429-30, 430-31, 442-3 (their opinions on Miguel’s claim); Wellington to Canning 28 October 1826 WND vol 3 p 442). Livermore A New History of Portugal p 269 has no doubt that Miguel’s claim to the Regency was sound and it appears that Canning and Liverpool were clutching at straws in their attempt to throw it into doubt.
Wellington fears trouble between Portugal and Spain:
Watching from afar Wellington saw the danger not only of internal strife, but of a quarrel between liberal Portugal and absolutist Spain in which Britain might become entangled by her guarantee of Portuguese security. He was particularly worried that Spanish suspicion of the implications of the constitution ‘will be ten times aggravated by the taunts and reviling of the Spaniards and their government, which we know to be uppermost in the heart and mind of every Portuguese, and will be the daily topic of every speech and every publication’. To avert this danger Wellington proposed that the British government should urge the Portuguese not to allow the publication of proceedings in their Chambers, and to suspend the freedom of the press for five years. Liverpool was happy to support this idea, and Canning expressed no fundamental objection, although he was uneasy at the evident interference in the affairs of another country, and preferred to proceed by a private letter to the British ambassador rather than a formal dispatch, which might be published and which would open him to criticism in the British press. (Wellington to Canning 11 August 1826 WND vol 3 p 375-77; Liverpool to Wellington 16 August 1826; Wellington to Canning 21 August 1826 WND vol 3 p 381, 384-5).
Why could not Portugal defend itself as it had in 1810?
The underlying concern of the British ministers was Portugal’s inability to defend herself from an attack by Spain. Liverpool consulted Wellington on the problem making reference to the advice he had given during the Peninsular War, to which Wellington replied that in 1810 the country was united and its army and establishments were in good order, while now it was deeply divided and the loyalty of the army to the new Regency was highly doubtful. Although he did not make the comparison, it seemed more than likely that if Portugal was seriously attacked she would collapse just as she had done in the face of Junot’s invasion of 1807 (and as the Spanish liberals government had done in 1823). In the long run this problem could only be solved by a political settlement which would unite the Portuguese people and give them a strong and effective government. (Liverpool to Wellington and reply 16 and 18 August 1826 WND vol 3 p 381-3; Wellington to Liverpool 6 October 1826 WND vol 3 p 410-11).
Beresford offered the command of the Portuguese army:
At the end of September the Portuguese regency requested the return of Marshal Beresford, to the position of commander-in-chief. The British government agreed, although in private Wellington admitted that he thought that the Portuguese army had probably become too politicized, and Miguel had established too great an influence in it, for Beresford to have much chance of success. Beresford himself was keen to return to his mistress Madame de Juramenha, but warned Wellington before he sailed that he had little hopes of ‘recalling the estranged minds of so great a portion of the troops and of certain orders of people. I regret, also, to see that the Infanta Regent is calling to her assistance all the worst democrats of 1820, from, I suppose, thinking herself driven to it; but this may give the democratic constitutionalists too much sway’. (Wellington to Liverpool 6 October 1826 WND vol 3 p 410-11; Beresford to Wellington 22 October 1826 WND vol 3 p 438-9; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 19 October 1826 vol 2 p 51-2).
When the insurrection broke out the Portuguese regency again offered Beresford the command and he again declined. It was clearly far too late to reform the army and he had no wish to take sides in a civil war without clear guidance from London. But would the British government regard this as a civil war or as foreign aggression? Beresford genuinely did not know. There was no doubt that the rebels had received much help from senior Spanish officials, with or without the knowledge of the authorities in Madrid, but early reports that Spanish troops had crossed the frontier had proved mistaken so that the conflict set Portuguese against Portuguese. (Beresford to Wellington, Lisbon, 30 November and 1 December 1826 WND vol 3 p 470-3).
Beresford’s mistress Madame de Juramenha:
Also known as Madame de Lemos and Viscondessa de Juramenha. Beresford’s connection with her was anything but reassuring to the Portuguese liberals, for she was ‘the life and soul of Miguel’s party’ (diary of Lord William Russell 1 June 1833 quoted in Blakiston Lord William Russell and his Wife p 248). When Pedro gained power Lady William Russell intervened to secure her release from prison (Macaulay They Went to Portugal p 388).
But it is clear that Beresford had little sympathy for either faction, and that he and Miguel were rivals for influence in the army, not allies. Beresford’s letters to Wellington show that he hoped to avoid commitment to either side, seeing that as his only chance of maintaining a long term position in Portugal (Beresford to Wellington 1 December 1826 WND vol 3 p 472-3).
Wellington and Beresford:
Wellington was rather embarrassed and even annoyed at Beresford’s insistence on writing directly to him (see e.g. Wellington to Canning London 29 November 1826 WND vol 3 p 469-70; Wellington to Beresford 5 December 1826 WND vol 3 p 476-77).
Wellington had had some reservations about Beresford ever since he went to Brazil, opening the way (in Wellington’s view) for the revolution of 1820. These increased sharply at the beginning of 1827 as Charles Arbuthnot told Bathurst.
‘I never saw anyone so out of sorts as [Wellington] was on Sunday with Lord Beresford for all his rapacious pretensions. Between ourselves he began completely to distrust the discretion of Lord Beresford, and I should say (if you can any how replace him) that his coming away will be beneficial. Lord Beresford looks so to money and is so in the hands of the party in Lisbon, that you never for one moment could have been sure of him. The Duke has always thought highly of his intelligence; but he owned to me on Sunday that when detached ad left to himself he had invariably done ill. Added to this he writes volumes to everybody …’ (Charles Arbuthnot to Bathurst, ‘Confidential’, 30 January 1827 HMC Bathurst p 628-9; see also Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 28 January 1827 vol 2 p 75).
Paradoxes of the British intervention in Portugal:
The crisis forced conservatives and legitimists to question the right of Pedro to give his people a constitution; and liberals the right of the people to disavow the constitution and choose absolutist rule! (See Princess Lieven twitting Metternich on this point 14 July 1826 Private Letters p 372-3).
Bathurst more seriously made the point to Wellington that sending a British force would uphold the revolutionary party in Portugal against the will of the people. (Bathurst to Wellington WP 1/867/40).
The British Expedition to Portugal:
It is difficult or impossible to find much on the preparation of the expedition; the thinking behind its composition; or the grotesque instructions to Clinton – of which Wellington should have been thoroughly ashamed.
Sidmouth made a pertinent private comment on the expedition: ‘We now feel the effects of our improvident and prodigal economy in the extent to which the reductions were carried of our military force; and we have long bitterly felt them in the East and West Indies, and in Ireland’. (Sidmouth to Colchester 15 December 1826 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 454). Nonetheless he approved of the expedition.
According to Cannon’s Historical Records of the Fourth Foot p 138 that regiment embarked at Portsmouth on 15 December 1826, reached Lisbon towards the end of the month, and disembarked on 1 January 1827.
The Times 1 January 1827 says that the infantry sailed first, separately and that want of transports and then adverse winds were delaying the embarkation of the cavalry and wagon train. It also reported that the 23rd Fusiliers and 43rd Light Infantry had arrived at Lisbon from Gibraltar.
There is a good first hand material in Wrottesley’s Life of Burgoyne vol 1 p 347-87.
Beresford told Wellington on 1 December: ‘I need not tell you that if any troops are sent here cavalry will be the most wanted, as they have none and can make none for want of horses’. (Beresford to Wellington 1 December 1826 WND vol 3 p 472-3).
Bathurst to Wellington 20 December 1826 (WP 1/867/33) gives details of the sailing of the bulk of the force.
Restoration of order in Portugal:
Beresford reported on 30 December,
The truth is, that so soon as the news came here of the decision in England the moral effect was sufficient to turn the scale most decidedly; and in this town, in one hour, everything was changed from the strongest depression and melancholy on one side to confidence and exultation, and the reverse on the other side. The same effects have been felt in the provinces, and the natural results are operating. … The Portuguese troops under the orders of the government ought, and I hope will, now do the business themselves, and avoid thereby the necessity of the British taking a more decided part. (Beresford to Wellington, Lisbon, 30 December 1826 WND vol 3 p 507-8).
And Burgoyne wrote from Lisbon on 13 January 1827: ‘I attended yesterday morning a sitting of the House of Peers; the proceedings were very respectable and dignified. Since confidence is more established, and I have mixed more with the people, I have altered my opinion with regard to the more general feeling. I now conceive it, at Lisbon at least, to be more constitutional than otherwise – our presence has certainly done much for the cause – the rebels are said to be in full retreat, and it seems hardly to be expected that we can be required to act’. (Wrottesley Burgoyne vol 1 p 348-9).
The Duke of York’s jealousy of Wellington:
In 1821 Greville wrote in his diary after a conversation with the Duke of York:
The other day, as we were going to the races from Oatlands, he [the Duke of York] gave me the history of the D. of Wellington’s life. His prejudice against him is excessively strong, and I think if ever he becomes King the other will not be Commander-in-Chief. He does not deny his military talents, but he thinks that he is false and ungrateful, that he never gave sufficient credit to his officers, and that he was unwilling to put forward men of talent who might be in a situation to claim some share of credit, the whole of which he was desirous of engrossing himself. He says that at Waterloo he got into a scrape and allowed himself to be surprised, and he attributes in great measure the success of the day to Lord Anglesea, who, he says, was hardly mentioned, and that in the coldest terms, in the Duke’s despatch.’ (Greville Memoirs (edited by Strachey and Fulford) vol 1 p 120 24 June 1821).
And in December 1822 the Duke revealed more of his resentment of Wellington, with a garbled version of the Sultanpettah affair and claim that he (York) had been denied the command in Portugal by an intrigue of Wellington’s (Greville Memoirs (edited by Strachey and Fulford) vol 1 p 137 24 December 1822).
Who would succeed the Duke of York as Commander-in-Chief?
Rumours circulated that the Duke of Cambridge, or even the Duke of Cumberland was in the running, and Wellington deliberately left London to avoid the ridiculous appearance of unsuccessfully soliciting the position. As this suggests he was extremely sensitive on the subject and believed that there were objections to his appointment not only from the court but from some of his colleagues. (Wellington to Peel 7 January 1827 WND vol 3 p 532-33; Arbuthnot to Bathurst ‘Most Confidential’ 5 January 1827 HMC Bathurst p 619; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 8 January 1827 vol 2 p 71-2).
Liverpool and Sir Herbert Taylor both intervene:
Liverpool informed Knighton, whom the King sent to discuss the question ‘that there appeared to me to be no difficulty, that the Duke of Wellington was the natural person to be Commander-in-Chief, and that I should recommend that the office of Master-General of the Ordnance should merge for the for the present at least in that of Commander-Chief’. At the same time Sir Herbert Taylor, the military secretary at the Horse Guards, and a most loyal and trusted servant of the Crown had tactfully but unequivocally refused to have anything to do with the King’s scheme. Faced with this determined opposition and reminded by the Prime Minister how much the army had suffered when there was either no Commander-in-Chief (1783-93) or an ineffective one (1809-1811). (Liverpool to Peel 6 June 1827 Parker Peel vol 1 p 435-6; Peel to Wellington 6 January 1827 WND vol 3 p 531; Liverpool to Bathurst ‘Private & Confidential’ 8 January 1827 HMC Bathurst p 622; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 28 January 1827 vol 2 p 74-5).
John Pimlott has argued convincingly that the army was actually quite well run between 1783 and 1793 and the problems experienced in the first years of the war were due to the poor management of its rapid expansion when Lord Amherst was Commander-in-Chief. J. L. Pimlott ‘The Administration of the British Army 1783-1793’ (unpublished PhD Leicester University 1975) passim. But this was not how it was remembered in 1827.
Wellington gratified by support of his colleagues:
He might have been rather less gratified if he had known that Peel had told Liverpool that he did not believe that the office of Master General of the Ordnance should be continued in the longer term (quoted in Partridge Military Planning for the Defense of the United Kingdom p 49).
© Rory Muir