Commentary Explorer Results
Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 23: The Limits of Opposition (1832–1835)
Seizure of the Portuguese fleet:
Palmerston’s response was to urge Miguel to grant concessions to the French, and to urge the French to sell the captured ships to the Constitutionalists for a nominal sum. (Bourne Palmerston p 388-89).
Palmerston’s Portugal Policy:
There is a detailed account of this – sympathetic to Palmerston’s point of view – in Kenneth Bourne’s Palmerston p 387-407 which is scholarly but sometimes confusing.
Palmerston outlook was that ‘Miguel’s Government was the sublimated essence of tyrannical absolutism’ (quoted p 395), and while his tactics varied his view of the desirable outcome remained constant.
Bourne gives ample evidence of the covert support given to the Portuguese liberals (e.g. p 391-393, 397-8) and that Grey and Palmerston pressed for a British expedition to help them overthrow Miguel but were defeated by other ministers after a bitter tussle in which Grey actually resigned (Jan 1834) but was persuaded to remain in office (p 399-402).
Wellington criticizes alliance with France:
It is quite true that France and England united are too strong for the rest of the world. But what are the objects of the union? Are they French objects exclusively, or English objects, or European objects? The answer is obvious. French objects exclusively. Look abroad at this moment. Holland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Mediterranean; all tending to the establishment not only of French influence but of French supremacy and rule. But it is said that we may stop. When, where, and in what manner? We may stop; but it must be at the risk of war, and at an expense equal to that of the last war, and without a chance of ultimate success.
We have no objects in Europe or elsewhere excepting the independence and tranquility of all; particularly the independence of France. The object of France is dominion – dominion to be acquired anyhow, but particularly by domestic disturbance. How can two such Powers, with such different objects, continue in alliance? A step cannot be taken which is not inconsistent with our interest and anti-Anglican. The peace then which this alliance gives us is hollow, and must terminate suddenly by a state of hostility the most extensive, the most expensive, and disastrous, because the least expected and prepared for, that the annuals of the country have known. (Wellington to Sir Henry Cooke, Walmer Castle, 14 November 1832 WND vol 8 p 445).
Wellington fears war and blames government’s mishandling of foreign affairs:
‘In respect to their foreign affairs, they will undoubtedly have a general war in Europe, out of which it will be scarcely possible for this country to keep itself. I attribute this to their flirtation with France, and with the war party there, and to the want of confidence in the allies, and in the peace party in France and Belgium, and to the views and conduct of this country, which has been occasioned by the course which our ministers have followed. They have not advanced one step in the settlement of Belgium since the 30th November 1830.’ (Wellington to Gleig, 4 July 1831, Personal Reminiscences of the First Duke of Wellington p 79).
Wellington’s criticism of the government’s foreign policy:
‘Madame de Lieven was there. When I had dined with her on Tuesday week I had launched forth in presence of Lord & Lady Cowper about the conduct of the Government in Portugal and in Belgium; and said that I could not see the Countries lost and destroyed which all the Energy of my Youth and Manhood had been exerted to save, without feeling a certain something like the boiling of Blood. She told this to Lord Grey, who was confounded and abashed. I said something not far short of it in Parliament.’ (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, 2 August 1832, Wellington and His Friends p 101-2).
The Election of 1832-33:
The election took place in December 1832 and January 1833 coinciding with the siege of Antwerp. Before the polls opened many leading Tories were surprisingly confident: Charles Arbuthnot thought that the news from Holland would hurt the government, while Hardinge, having talked to Holmes and Bonham who were managing the campaign, predicted ‘that we may muster 240 staunch Conservatives exclusive of loose fish’. (Hardinge to Wellington 15 November 1832 WND vol 8 p 449-50; Charles Arbuthnot to his son Charles 29 November and 9 December 1832 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 164; see also William Holmes to Mrs Arbuthnot 10 September 1832 ibid 162-3 and Londonderry to Wellington 23 October 1832 WND vol 8 p 422-23).
Wellington was sceptical, believing that ‘the government will be stronger in the next Parliament than people in general imagine’. He recognized both the effect of the bill and wider changes in society: ‘Reform had doubtlessly increased the influence of the democracy, already vastly increased in strength in comparison with that of property, by its increased and increasing wealth and knowledge, and by its factious habits and opinions acquired by the constant writing of the press’. On the other hand he felt that the gentry were habitually disinclined to exert themselves and use the full extent of their influence in elections, fearing the expense and the damage it could do to friendly relations between families in the confines of county society. (Wellington to Rosslyn 25 November 1832 WND vol 8 p 462-3 see also Wellington to Cumberland 24 September 1832 ibid p 413).
The results when they came were even worse than Wellington feared. Party affiliation was too loose for any precise figures, but most estimates give the Conservatives only about 150 seats in the Commons compared to perhaps 320 supporters of the government, almost 150 Radicals, and 42 Irish members who followed O’Connell. However it was impossible to draw a clear line between the government supporters and the Radicals for not only was there an unbroken spectrum of opinion running from conservative Whigs through to radical reformers, but many individual members’ position on the spectrum varied from issue to issue. There were more than 250 new members (more than one third of the House, a much higher proportion than usual), many of whose loyalties were not entirely predictable. (Gash Sir Robert Peel p 40-41; Newbould Whiggery and Reform p 82-83; Woolley ‘The Personnel of the Parliament of 1833’ English Historical Review vol 53 no 210 April 1938 p 242).
In the midst of the polling Wellington wrote that ‘It is impossible to describe to you how fatally the Reform Bill is working here in the towns. In truth the Revolution is effected. The Conservatives have carried but one seat for a town, that of Sir Robert Peel, without a severe and expensive and generally a bloody contest’. In Hampshire, Wellington’s county, the Conservative candidate for Winchester, Mr East, was obliged to withdraw when the local political union intimidated the voters ‘by every description of infamous outrage, threats of destruction of property, of injury to persons etc’. (Wellington to Maurice Fitzgerald 16 December 1832 WND vol 8 p 486-7). Similarly Wellington’s son Lord Douro gave up the contest for North Hampshire after a single day’s polling, when his friends advised him that success was impossible and would only put his father to useless expense. (Rosslyn to Wellington 22 December 1832 WND vol 8 p 489-91).
Although the new Commons contained only eight members who were not at least nominal members of the Church of England, the influence of the Dissenters contributed powerfully to the triumph of the government. Wellington wrote with some characteristic exaggeration in March 1833: ‘The revolution is made: that is to say that power is transferred from one class of society, the gentlemen of England, professing the faith of the Church of England, to another class of society, the shopkeepers being dissenters from the Church, many of them Socinians, others Atheists’. And ‘a new democratic influence has been introduced into elections, the copy holders and freeholders and leaseholders residing in towns which do not themselves return Members to Parliament. These are all dissenters from the Church; and are everywhere a formidably active party against the aristocratical influence of the landed gentry’. (Wellington to Croker, Stratfield Saye, 6 March 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 106-7). Given the resentment many Dissenters felt at the privileged position of the Church of England and its Church in Ireland, it is unsurprising that this became one of the leading issues in British politics for the next two years.
‘I have never seen so many bad hats in my life’
The well known story goes that Wellington surveyed the Commons from the Peers’ gallery when it met for the first time after the passage of the Reform Bill and the subsequent election his reaction was to remark ‘I have never seen so many bad hats in my life.’ Like so many anecdotes about Wellington, this remark has no reliable basis: it first appears in Sir William Fraser’s Words on Wellington – the Duke – Waterloo – the Ball (p 11-12) where it is given without source. Fraser was an enthusiastic but indiscriminate collector (and possibly coiner) of anecdotes about the Duke, and in at least one case he has been shown to have completely misunderstood and distorted the basis of one of his stories (see Foster Wellington and Waterloo p 21-22).
‘What a shocking bad hat!’ was, in fact, a common catch-cry in the 1830s and after (it appears in The Ingoldsby Legends and many newspaper stories of the 1830s and 40s, often connected with radicals and often in quotation marks). But there is no reason – other than Fraser – to connect it to Wellington. Indeed according to Dorothy George ‘its origin is attributed to a hat-maker soliciting votes in Southwark, who always used the words, adding “you really must allow me to send you a new one” (citing the Times 9 July 1831, where there is an article discussing its universal popularity and origins). It certainly appears – spoken by Lord Grey – in a print ‘The Bad Hat’ by Robert Seymour published by Thomas Maclean on 30 April 1831 (Grey is lifting the crown from the King’s head) in a context that shows that it was already a well known phrase then. And Gronow says that it first passed into circulation when the Duke of York remarked on a hat worn by Lord Walpole at Newmarket (clearly before 1827 when the Duke died). (All this from Dorothy George’s entry in BM Catalogue of Satires vol 11 no 16,664 p 469).
It is, of course, possible that Wellington made the remark, using the popular catch phrase of the day. But given that there is no contemporary evidence to support this, and that Fraser introduces the story as an explanation for the origin of the phrase which he remembered from his schooldays, it seems more likely that the whole story is spurious.
At one level this hardly seems to matter, and the story can be seen as nothing more than a harmless joke, one of the countless such tales that humanize Wellington and make him memorable. But it does more than this: it conveys a sense that Wellington was a hidebound snob hopelessly out of touch with the modern world of the 1830s, who could not understand the changing times, whether in hats or in politics. And so rather than shed light on Wellington’s character it helps to obscure the fact that he was a serious politician deeply engaged in a struggle over the shape of the British constitution.
An example of Wellington’s gloom comes in a letter to George Gleig written in April 1831: ‘In a short time, and that a period approaching nearer to be counted by months than by years, nothing will remain of England but the name and the soil. Its greatness will be history…’ (Wellington to Gleig, 6 April 1831 printed in Gleig Personal Reminiscences of the First Duke of Wellington p 59-61).
Echoes of the Civil War:
In November 1832 Wellington told Cumberland ‘In truth the country is at this time divided into the same parties as it was two hundred years ago. Unfortunately the King and his government have, by the alteration of the law and the operation of the new law, given the preponderance to the democratic party’. (Wellington to Cumberland 25 November 1832 WND vol 8 p 461-2). This became a theme in his correspondence and was picked up by Lady Salisbury and others.
On 24 December 1832 Wellington told the Bishop of Exeter: ‘The times are more similar to those of Charles I than people are aware of. The same parties, almost under the same denomination, are en présence. They are contending for the same objects. The essential difference is that there was formerly a King!’ (WND vol 8 p 491-2).
And on 11 January Aberdeen wrote ‘I have little doubt that the Long Parliament, when it first assembled, contained as large a proportion of moderate men, and as few decided republicans as the present House of Commons’. (Aberdeen to Wellington 11 January 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 26-27).
Wellington’s tactics of restraint in the Lords:
As early as 26 December 1832 when the elections were still in progress, Wellington told Melville, ‘I should say that our course in the House of Lords ought to be very firm and uncompromising, but very moderate: that we should attend constantly, discuss everything, but avoid to divide excepting upon occasions of great importance’. (Wellington to Melville 26 December 1832 WND vol 8 p 502-3). A few weeks later he explained his ideas more fully to Aberdeen:
I dislike such conduct at present even more than I did heretofore. In truth we do not know what sort of constitution we have got; whether a monarchy or a republick under the governor of the people; or that best of republick, La Démocratic Royale! …
The course then which I would recommend on the whole is one of attentive observation rather than action. That we should observe the measures of foreign or home policy when necessary; but that we should not oppose and bring an opposition to the test of a division excepting in a case of paramount importance essential to the best interests of the country. (Wellington to Aberdeen 18 January 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 32-33; see also Wellington to Roden 13 March 1833 ibid p 120-121).
Wellington on the diminished role of the House of Lords:
On 7 March 1833 he wrote to Aberdeen, discouraging the idea of a debate on Belgium:
The House of Lords is precisely in the position in which it must be under the reform system. Property has lost its political significance, and a division of the House of Lords upon any question can have no political consequence whatever. A discussion by any men with the habits, education and information of the members of the House of Lords might have some moral influence. But it must be well timed. A fair opportunity for it must be offered. In this case I don’t think that there is such an opportunity’. (HMC Wellington vol 1 p 110-111).
But he was also weary and sickened by the state of politics, telling Aberdeen,
To tell you the truth one of my reasons for keeping out of town is not only to avoid the appearance of seeking for opportunities to oppose a government which I wish to keep in power although I detest their principles and policy and object to their course of action, but likewise because I wish to avoid the perpetual bavardage about public affairs which does no good and can throw no fresh light upon any subject whatever. (Wellington to Aberdeen 13 March 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 119-20).
Foreign Policy a field when the Opposition can attack the Government:
On 7 January 1833 Herries wrote to Wellington, outlining Peel’s views on the tactics they should use in the coming session – no point overthrowing government when would have nothing better with which to replace it. ‘He [Peel] then goes on to observe that these principles apply only to domestic politics, and that on the subject of foreign policy we could not with advantage or even propriety lie by while measures were in progress which we cannot sanction’. (HMC Wellington vol 1 p 16-18).
On 10 February Hardinge told Mrs Arbuthnot, ‘Palmerston is ruined in reputation; the only point which we could not assent to in the Speech, was the past conduct of the Govt. in foreign affairs … I am most anxious that we should not be considered an appendage to this rascally Govt – & so is Peel, as you will find o the foreign policy whenever it is discussed …’ (Hardinge to Mrs Arbuthnot 19 February 1833 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 166-7).
At this time Wellington was infuriated by press accounts that Peel had approved the government’s handling of Portugal (see Wellington’s letters to Aberdeen on the subject and reply, 10-12 February 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 70-74).
Lady Wharncliffe’s impressions of Wellington, early 1833:
Wellington ‘added that he could not conceive a more unjustifiable line for a tory to take, than to attempt to weaken the government as long as they shew a disposition to repair or arrest the mischief they are the cause of; or for the tories ever to vote with the radicals against them…..
I cannot tell you how odd it seems to me to be in a country House with the Duke of Wellington like any other visitor. You would have been pleased to see him on the night of the Ball, with perfect good-humour, dancing down two immensely long country dances. It was excessively full, of all sorts of people from the neighbourhood, besides all the servants in the house. When we went in to dinner that day there was an immense crowd assembled in the Gothic gallery, who cheer’d him handsomely as he walk’d by. It was pleasant, & yet melancholy to hear under existing circumstances. He is looking remarkably well, & says he has not felt so well & strong for many years, owing to moderation in eating. He goes out every day, either shooting or hunting, so that we never see him in the morning. (Lady Wharncliffe to Mrs J. C. Talbot, Belvoir 7 Jan 1833 The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 2 p 166-8).
I was disagreeably surprised yesterday to find that our Hero meant to leave us this morning, especially as we had begun to be great friends. You would have been captivated with him if you had been here, & seen him exhibiting the beauties of his character – his perfect simplicity & good humour, his kind & playful manner to the Boys, & his readiness to be amused… (Lady Wharncliffe to Mrs J. C. Talbot, Belvoir 8 Jan 1833 The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 2 p 168).
Wellington and Peel:
5 December 1832 Camden reports that the King commented on the rift between Wellington and Peel (WND vol 8 p 473-474).
10-12 February 1833 Wellington complains to Aberdeen that Peel has approved the government’s handling of Portugal (HMC Wellington vol 1 p 70-74).
n.d. c 7 February 1833 Mrs Arbuthnot reports that Wellington still harbours resentment over events of May 1832; he feels under an obligation to those who supported him then, but not to others, including Peel. Even has some thought of Stanley, not Peel, as PM – Mrs Arbuthnot doubts that (Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 165-66).
July 1833 their exchange of letters regarding the Irish Church Bill
October 1833 Wellington criticizes Peel as weak to Lady Salisbury (diary HMC Wellington vol 1 p 345-6).
December 1833 ‘“Peel never knows his own mind, he is conscious of that defect, and therefore afraid of committing himself: his opinions are only to be gathered from what he accidently lets fall”’. (Lady Salisbury’s Diary 22 December 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 396-7).
It is possible that Wellington’s outbursts of temper, which were present in the late 1820s and into the 1830s, disappeared at this time, or at least became rarer. No one says so, and it may simply be that we don’t have Mrs Arbuthnot’s journal to record them; but they are not mentioned in other sources, and his life from mid 1832 onwards was probably less stressful and demanding. (Of course, it is dangerous to argue from the absence of evidence, and this is not something we can assert with any great confidence).
Difficulty of Managing the Lords:
On 10 April 1833 Wellington told Bishop Philpotts:
It is very necessary that in our course upon this subject, we should consider of the state of general politicks and of what is most likely to promote our object of saving the Church of England. I am aware that this language is laughed at and despised by those who think that all ought to be sacrificed in order to bring themselves and their friends into office. There are some indeed who don’t look even so far. These are satisfied if there is only a good sharp debate in the House of Lords for their amusement and a division afterwards which will afford topicks of conversation of a day or two to account for the mode of voting of the Lords present and the absence of those not in the House. Neither class reflects upon the imminent peril in which the country is placed, occasioned as I could prove clearly very much by their own intrigues and folly, and of the delicacy and difficulty of managing the House of Lords so as to keep it in a state of useful dignity, and to be able to make use of its legislative powers at the moment at which the country will bear and will require the use of them’. (HMC Wellington vol 1 p 194-5).
Connection between the debate over Portugal and the Irish Church Bill:
Richard Davis The Political History of the House of Lords p 182 suggests that Wellington attacked the government over Portugal knowing that this would get nowhere, but as a way of firing a shot across the bows of the government to force them to drop the 147th (Appropriation) clause from the Irish Church Bill; and that this worked. In support of this he quotes Ellenborough: ‘All feel that the humiliation of the government is extreme, and the triumph of the Lords, for this concession is the effect of our vote on Portugal’.
There may be some truth in this argument but it is probably misleading to suggest that Wellington viewed Portugal as a mere pretext or occasion to remind the government that it did not have the numbers in the Lords. It is more likely that he raised Portugal for its own sake and was dismayed (if not entirely surprised) at the reaction his attack produced, and the failure of the public or the press to pay attention to the issues at stake.
He may have had additional, ulterior motives – not just warning the government but also reminding the ultras of the weakness of their position – but it is likely that they were secondary.
In his biography of Stanley, Angus Hawkins gives an interesting account of the affair and makes clear that the clause was dropped by Stanley acting with Grey’s approval but without taking it to the cabinet – and that many of the ministers violently objected. He positions it in the context of talk – including by the King – of Stanley and Peel coming together to form a centrist government, implying (but not stating) that Stanley acted so as not to create a major barrier to such a coalition. (Hawkins The Forgotten Prime Minister vol 1 p 125-6, 130-35).
The Irish Church Bill:
Charles Arbuthnot catches the ambivalence of an intelligent Tory loyal to Wellington but hating the government and the bill: ‘I feel that we are at this moment in a great crisis’. He approved of the decision not to divide on the Second Reading because the Primate had approved it, and because ‘the throwing it out altogether would have rallied all the Dissenters, Free-thinkers, Radicals &c. against us’, but thought it very dangerous ‘if one species of property is attacked, no other species can be secure’ ‘even from these Ministers no such wicked measure has emanated as this Robbery Bill, & let what may be the consequences, I earnestly hope that it may be greatly altered in Committee. I will not pretend to way whether we can form a Govt. or not …’ It is possible we could, as many MPs only support the government for fear of another election…’ (Charles Arbuthnot to his son Charles, 22 July 1833 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 171-2).
Fear for Property in wake of the Reform Bill:
In January 1833 George William Chad recorded a conversation with Wellington at Hatfield which gives a hint of the anxieties of the time, and the ‘croaking’ which depressed the Arbuthnots:
G.W.C. “What shall we come to in this Country Duke? Shall we lose our property?”
- “Yes – we shall not have a commotion, we shall not have blood – but we shall be plundered by form of Law – order will be preserved, but we shall be plundered – every man now, in England, is looking about to rob somebody; one the Bishops, the other the Church, & so on.
“In France they are one degree better off than we are here, because in the French Nation there is a spirit of Discipline, & of Order – here it is quite the reverse; every fellow wants to have his own way, & will have his own way.
“The Aristocracy will be squeezed down by the effect of the Reform, they do not by that measure lose their Influence, but they see their Influence swamped, by that of the £10 freeholders …”
G.W. C. “I have got my Pension Duke, but shall I keep it?”
D. “Yes, if you have no other Place or office.”
G.W. C. “I have none”.
D. “Well then you will keep your Pension because I know their Plan is, only to reduce those, who hold other things, so as to make the Office merge with the Pension”.
G.W. C. “Yes Duke but I mean, will any Pensions last long?”
D. “No, I think not”.
(Chad The Conversations of the Duke of Wellington with George William Chad p 15-16).
Wellington and Cumberland and Gloucester:
Lady Salisbury recorded in August 1833 that Wellington ‘was in great force and very amusing about the Dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland, describing their sitting on each side of him in the Home suggesting their own ideas into each ear (one of which is stone deaf) and totally preventing him attending to the speaker opposite. The Duke of Gloucester especially proposing some impossible situation. “And what would your Grace do under such a circumstance?” “For Heaven’s sake, Sir, let me hear one word of the speech that is going on for I have to reply to it”’. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 6 August 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 280).
In July 1834 Lady Salisbury commented that ‘I can never ask the Duke to meet either Cumberland or Gloucester, as he has a horror of it: and their surprise at never meeting him here increases every time they come. It is difficult sometimes to find an answer to their very pointed questions in the subject’. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 1 July 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 280).
And in January 1834, on a visit to Stratfield Saye, she wrote ‘I never saw a man so relieved by the absence of the Duke of Gloucester [as Wellington]. He declares he shall never come into his house again. But this I think is the resolution of the moment while the recollection of the bore is fresh upon him’. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 24 January 1834 Gascoyne Heiress p 111).
Wellington and the Ultras:
Relations were never comfortable in 1833, even though Cumberland had preached the need for party unity and accepted Wellington’s leadership at the end of December 1832 (WND vol 8 p 506-7). At the beginning of February Wellington told Mrs Arbuthnot that he was more than even ‘disgusted’ with ‘Party Politicks. What do you think of the Duke of Cumberland, the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Londonderry carrying [on] a correspondence with a view to separate the Party from me? The Duke of Cumberland carried on the correspondence from my own House unknown to me. Lord Londonderry in his Madness showed me the Letters!’ (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 4 February 1833 Wellington and His Friends p 104).
Lady Salisbury gives a detailed and colourful account of the ultra revolt in her diary for 10, 13 and 14 July 1833 (HMC Wellington vol 1 p 248, 256-7, 259-60). Buckingham’s letter criticizing Wellington for having misled his followers and done a volte face which would break up the party is in ibid p 255.
On 22 July Wellington told Mrs Arbuthnot:
The Question is how to attain objects practically. How can a Party such as the Tories be guided to any good purpose in the House of Lords which will not take into consideration the existing state of things in the House of Commons? One which will go by its own Road under the Direction of the Duke of Cumberland, Duke of Buckingham & Lord Londonderry?
Can I take a course which is to overturn the Government by a vote in the House of Lords, and take a Chance of forming a new Government under the Vice Royalty of such a Party?
They have this day on Assembly at the Duke of Cumberland’s without my knowledge.
Of course I am no longer their Leader. Am I to become their Follower? You can settle matters very easily in your Garden. They are not so easily settled between Ultra Tory Peers on the one side, and the House of Commons and Sir Robert Peel and the Real Interests of the Country on the other. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 22 July 1833 Wellington and His Friends p 106-7).
In the midst of the crisis Wellington told Philpotts: ‘I have never despaired of a publick cause before. It is quite clear to me that the Church of Ireland is gone … I cannot understand statesmen who see the state of the case clearly, who are unable to point out any road to safety to the solution of the difficulties of the times and of the country, should what they call adhere to a principle and see the ruin of the Church in the sister kingdom and do nothing to assist in extricating it from its difficulties …’ (Wellington to the Bishop of Exeter 11 July 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 251).
Cumberland believed in precipitating a crisis arguing that the existing ministers were bringing the country to ruin while ‘if the Radicals were actually in power they would create such a feeling of alarm and disgust that they could not stand six weeks’. (Cumberland to Wellington 30 September 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 325-7).
Wellington’s hostility towards the Ministers:
On 7 March 1833 Wellington wrote to Londonderry: ‘I think that Lord Grey’s resignation will be just the most blackguard acts that any statesman was ever guilty of. He first destroys the constitution of his country. He is repeatedly warned that neither he nor anybody else would be able to carry on a government under the new system which his Act of Parliament would establish. He perseveres, carries his measure, and as soon as he experiences the difficulties into which he has brought the country, he says he is grown old, is tired, and must retire’. (HMC Wellington vol 1 p 111-112).
A few weeks later he told Lady Salisbury that he did not want to go to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet – felt himself treated badly in 1830 and was anxious not to meet the Ministers somewhere where they would be feted and applauded – and they would organize a mob to hoot him as Canning did in 1827. (HMC Wellington p 148-9).
In October he showed his resentment that Palmerston’s hostility meant that foreign ambassadors were afraid of meeting him, and the King never invited his to dine with foreign visitors. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 25 October 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 345-6).
And in December he described Lord Holland as ‘“A bad man”, utterly selfish and unprincipled, and popular from the effect of manner only’. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 22 December 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 396-7).
Wellington and public opinion, 1833-1834:
Wellington showed some interest in plans to influence public opinion, even suggesting that a conservative riposte to the pro-government pamphlet The Reform Ministry and the Reformed Parliament take the form, not just of pamphlets and articles in the Morning Post which would reach only a small well-deposed audience, but handbills which could be widely distributed and reach a large slice of the population. (Wellington to Strangford 14 September 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 296-7 cf Lord Elgin to Wellington 9 September 1833 ibid p 288-89 suggesting the use of handbills). When Croker asked for some assistance in reviewing the pamphlet in the Quarterly, Wellington responded in a letter running to some ten thousand words covering every aspect of the subject. (Wellington to Croker 30 September 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 301-23). He was rather less enthusiastic about attempts to gain a greater Conservative presence in the daily press, which remained predominantly very liberal in outlook, but responded to a request from Hardinge with a subscription of £50. (Wellington to Hardinge 22 February 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 451-2 cf Wellington to Thomas Baker 4 September 1834 ibid p 668 which should not be accepted at face value).
The beginnings of the Carlist Wars in Spain:
On 29 September 1833 King Ferdinand VII of Spain died, precipitating a long anticipated crisis. Three years earlier the King had altered the law of succession to ensure that if his fourth attempt at matrimony (to his niece, María Cristina of Naples) produced a daughter rather than a son, the child would inherit the throne rather than his brother Don Carlos; however the legality of the change was open to dispute, and Don Carlos and his supporters had never accepted his exclusion from the succession. María Cristina and Ferdinand had two children, both girls, between their marriage in 1830 and his death, and the elder, Isabella was duly proclaimed Queen with her mother as Regent on her father’s death. But the fragile stability Spain had enjoyed between 1823 and 1830 had already been undermined by the French Revolution of 1830, which had inspired a number of efforts at liberale risings or invasions in different parts of Spain in 1831. Equally the conservative, clerical supporters of Don Carlos openly disputed the change to the succession, and did not conceal their willingness to resort to force when the time came. The civil war in Portugal added to the tension with the Carlists naturally aligning themselves with Dom Miguel and their Spanish liberals with Dom Pedro.
Within weeks of Ferdinand’s death civil war had broken out in Spain with the Carlist uprising concentrated in the northern provinces. The opposition of the Carlists drove María Cristina’s government to embrace the liberales and to look to Britain and France for support. In December the Spanish government proposed Anglo-Spanish co-operation to drive Dom Miguel and Don Carlos from Portugal, and impose a land and sea blockade on rebel areas of Spain. This was the genesis of the Quadruple Alliance which Palmerston signed in London in April 1834, whose purpose was to establish and maintain liberal regimes in Spain and Portugal, and so create a western counterweight to the Holy Alliance of the Eastern Powers. Even before the treaty was signed, in January 1834, Palmerston urged cabinet to approve British military intervention in Portugal in favour of Dom Pedro; but this was rejected by Grey and the other ministers who had no appetite to indulge in such an open-ended commitment, and who recognized that continual reductions in spending had left the army already over-stretched.
Wellington viewed events in Spain with concern and strongly disapproved of the policy pursued by the British government. At the end of November he told Lord Mahon, ‘What I wished for Spain was if possible to avoid a civil war. Now that we have got the war, there is nothing to wish for excepting to have peace as soon as possible; and that the operations of war should be limited in respect to space’. (Wellington to Lord Mahon 29 November 1833 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 363-4). In December he found some consolation in the moderation of the King of France, but ruefully noted that this was giving France the influence and weight in international affairs that had until recently belonged to Britain. And in January he commented on reports that the government was considering sending troops to Portugal, ‘There is non-interference for you’. (Wellington to Mahon 26 December 1833; Wellington to Aberdeen 17 January 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 402, 418-20). He was unequivocal in his condemnation of the Quadruple Alliance: ‘It is erroneous in policy, and infamous in principle’, but he doubted whether public opinion could be roused on the subject and, remembering the debate on Portugal the previous year, was disinclined to raise it in Parliament. (Wellington to Aberdeen 20 May 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 537). For their part the ministers did not seek Parliamentary approval of their treaty, using a contrived delay in Portuguese ratification as an excuse. Meanwhile Miguel’s forces were defeated in a decisive battle at Santarem on 18 May 1834, and on 26 May he capitulated accepting exile and a pension. The Portuguese Civil War was finally over, but within a few months Pedro had died of consumption at the age of thirty-six. His daughter, Queen Maria, remained on the throne until 1853, when she died giving birth to her eleventh child when she was still only thirty-four. Her reign was marked by great political instability as different factions within the narrow liberal establishment competed for power, argued over rival constitutions, persecuted their opponents, and plundered the already impoverished economy.
Meanwhile the Carlist uprising continued in Spain with both sides conducting the operations with great brutality and indulging in frequent massacres of prisoners and civilians. The British government pressed France to intervene, by sending an army over the Pyrenees to crush the Carlists, and the idea was supported by some leading French liberals, but Louis Philippe and his more conservative ministers resolutely refused, remembering just how difficult even Napoleon’s veterans had found counter-insurgency operations in Navarre and Biscay. In early August Londonderry raised the Quadruple Alliance in the Lords against Wellington’s wishes, and the Duke was drawn into the debate when taunted by Melbourne, making a powerful speech denouncing the alliance as ideologically driven, a flagrant breach of the principle of non-intervention, and contrary to the long-standing national interest of supporting Portuguese independence and reducing French influence in both Lisbon and Madrid. However Wellington also admitted that there was little public interest in the subject and persuaded Londonderry to withdraw the motion without pressing it to a division. In private Wellington maintained that the best use of British influence would be ‘to endeavour to humanize the war. Rodil’s last proclamation is infamous. It is quote curious how little notice is taken of it in any of our newspapers. Yet one would have thought that humanity was a topick which could not fail to be listened to in England’. (Wellington to Aberdeen 23 August 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 639-41; Bullen ‘Party Politics’ p 45-47; Wellington speech of 5 August 1834 Speeches vol 1 p 747-9; Smith ‘Wellington, Aberdeen and the Miguelist Crisis in Portugal’ p 309-10).
Don Carlos in London:
Don Carlos was in London briefly in June 1834 after his expulsion from Portugal and before his return to Spain. Wellington visited him and Lady Salisbury records his account of the interview:
‘The Duke called upon me. He had been to visit Don Carlos at Brompton who is just arrived and gave me a most amusing description of their interview.
‘… As to the King [i.e. Don Carlos], he is a fool, as I have always thought him…’ [Carlos asked Wellington’s advice, which Wellington refused to give. Wellington warned him that his movements will be watched, and he may be prevented from joining his forces in northern Spain.] ‘“but if your object is to raise recruits here you will easily do it, if you have plenty of money. If the money fails – there is an end. Some people perhaps will tell you that there is a large party in this country ready to take up your cause. It is all nonsense: there is not a man who would walk across the room for you. But if you have money you may do anything.”’
‘The Duke, after telling me this conversation added “There is a treaty into which England has entered, contrary to Don Carlos’s interests. The King’s faith is pledged. There never was a more fatal treaty for England – but it is done. It was in the same way that I succeeded to the Greek treaty – there never was a worse – but the King’s faith was pledged and I was bound to see it carried into execution. There is no object in this Quadruple treaty but an alliance with France – to have a treaty of any sort with France – to get rid of the ancient alliance of England with the Northern powers.”
“And why?” I said.
“Because we went the other way – no other reason”. (Lady Salisbury’s diary Wednesday 29 June 1834 Gascoyne Heiress p 125-27).
Prospect of French intervention in Spain:
In August 1834 Wellington told Aberdeen that he had learnt that the British government was strongly pressing France to intervene with troops in the war in Spain (Wellington to Aberdeen 23 August 1832 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 639-41).
There is no confirmation of this in Bullen ‘Party Politics and Foreign Policy’ and it seems probable that it was an exaggerated report of the Additional Articles of the Quadruple Alliance which had just been signed. Accounts of Palmerston’s policy at the time say that he was anxious to prevent French intervention.
Wellington’s tactics in the Session of 1834:
Although the government’s popularity was now clearly waning and its internal divisions were worsening, the fundamental weakness of the Opposition’s position remained the same. As Wellington explained to the Duke of Buckingham, at the end of January,
We might carry in the Lords a question upon a point of foreign or of home policy. Everybody would admit the truth and justice of our proceeding, would peruse our debate with interest, and abuse the Ministers would join in a censure of the majority of the House of Lords as they did in the last session of Parliament; and not a soul in the Commons would venture to utter a word in our favour, or in support of the causes which we should have espoused. (Wellington to Buckingham 31 January 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 442-3).
He did not believe that anything could be gained by forcing the ministers out of office, so long as it was impossible to construct a Conservative government to take their place; and while he thought that a confrontation between the Lords and the Commons was probably inevitable eventually, he would not take responsibility for precipitating it, as the result would surely be another defeat for the Lords. (Wellington to Londonderry 17 June 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 561-2).
This sense that the power of the Lords remained under threat was strengthened by a debate on 13 March 1834 when a radical motion to exclude the bishops from the upper house received substantial support despite being opposed by the government, (it was defeated 58 votes to 125). The Times endorsed the argument that ‘the Protestant bishops of this country should be clergymen and nothing else’, while Lady Salisbury asked rhetorically, ‘Who would have believed, three years ago, that such a motion would have found 58 supporters in the House of Commons? It reminds one strangely of the Long Parliament, some of the arguments of which were indeed quoted, and the intervening 200 years do not seem to have furnished many new ones’. (The Times 14 March 1834; Lady Salisbury’s diary 13 March 1834 Gasgoyne Heiress p 113). Nor was this an isolated attack on the Lords: throughout 1833 and 1834 it was a constant, if generally secondary, theme of liberal and radical rhetoric in the Commons, the press and from the cartoonists.
Wellington responded, as he had the previous year, by not attending the Lords much in the early part of the session, when there was little legislation for it to consider and too many opportunities for indiscreet ultras to make mischief. He wanted the public attention to concentrate on the Commons where the ministers would introduce their proposals, and for the Lords to reserve its position until it had actual bills to discuss. In 1834, as in 1833, the ministers in the Commons had more trouble with the radicals and Irish members that with the Conservatives. Peel attacked Palmerston’s policy towards Turkey, pointed to the extent of agricultural distress and defended the right of Oxford and Cambridge Universities to admit only Anglican students, but otherwise he was inclined to support the government and reinforce his standing as the friend and moderate and sensible reform.
Wellington seldom attends the Lords early in the Session of 1834:
‘I have been in the House of Lords only twice during the session; the first time to present a petition, the last within these few days to be present at the presentation of a petition by Lord Grey’. (Wellington to Lord Carnarvon 26 March 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 487).
Wellington’s Speeches record him as speaking on 4 February 1834 on the Address to the Crown of the Opening of Parliament; on 21 March when Grey presented a petition from 63 members of Cambridge University, asking for admission of Dissenters; and next on 21 April (also on admission of Dissenters to Universities). By May he was speaking more frequently. (Wellington Speeches vol 1 p 690-700).
Wellington and the Plight of Agricultural Labourers:
On 26 February 1834 Wellington wrote to Lord Wynford,
I tell you fairly that my belief is that the cause of the agricultural distress is now beyond our reach. We have no government in England. We are not able if we are willing to protect them in the enjoyment of their property and in their bargains with their labour. The consequence is that the latter are paid much more than the value of their labour. They will be so paid. They will burn, plunder and destroy till they are so paid and the Government will not, possibly cannot, now protect the gentlemen and farmers in resistance to these demands. To talk of the lowness of the price of corn or of any other article is under these circumstances futile. The English labourer receives for his labour more than it is worth. He will receive that reward whether the price of corn is high or low and consequently agriculture must be distressed. (HMC Wellington vol 1 p 454-6).
Ideas for a Conservative government:
As early as February 1833 Wellington had toyed with the idea of Stanley rather than Peel as Prime Minister and that he, Wellington, should go to the Horse Guards. (Mrs Arbuthnot to her husband n.d. [7 February 1833?] Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 165-66).
At the same time, February 1833, Hardinge was looking to a junction between Peel and Stanley which would unite the moderate Whigs and Tories, including Wellington (Hardinge to Mrs Arbuthnot 10 February 1833 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 166-67).
The King had talked of a possible centrist government based on a union of Peel and Stanley, and had even engaged in a secret correspondence with Stanley about this (Hawkins Forgotten Prime Minister vol 1 p 125-6, 131).
And in November 1833 Lady Salisbury noted that Hardinge favoured a mixed administration which would detach conservative Whigs from the radicals without forcing them to renounce their party. ‘His wish is to see Peel at the head of the Govt. and the Duke Commander in Chief …’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary 17-20 November 1833 Gascoyne Heiress p 95-96).
Peel’s ill-humour at being overlooked for Chancellorship of Oxford:
Wellington told Lady Salisbury in May that Peel had pointedly snubbed a deputation from Oxford, acknowledging only the Provost of Merton, a Whig, who had proposed Peel for the Chancellorship. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 11 May 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 528-9).
High Church sentiment at Oxford:
A High Church reaction had began at Oxford about a year before Wellington’s installation, when John Keble delivered his famous Assize sermon at St Mary’s Church which marked the beginning of the Oxford Movement and its reaction against liberal secularism. Newman and others began producing their Tracts for the Times. In February 1834 Addresses protesting against the appropriation of Church property for secular purposes were signed by 7,000 clergymen and 230,000 heads of families. (Hawkins Forgotten Prime Minister vol 1 p 139).
Wellington’s reputation in 1834:
Lady Holland’s comments on the state of politics in the summer of 1834 show a striking appreciation of Wellington’s political skills and ability to control the House of Lords:
The political horizon is murky; the Tories, excessively elated by their success at Oxford, ready to plunge all into confusion to expel this Govt. The high flyers, such as the D. Newcastle, Lds Winchelsea [sic], Londonderry, Wynford, etc., are for a motion to remove Ministers. The D. of W., with his accustomed craft & discretion by pretending to acquiesce, has taken the business out of their hands, pretending that he will do it in a manner more consistent with the forms of the House, but in fact to prevent any such headlong mischief. (Letters of Lady Holland to Her Son 20 June 1834 p 149).
The Irish Tithe Bill:
According to Davis Wellington initially promised to allow this to go to committee, but ended up voting it down due to pressure from his supporters (Political History of the House of Lords p 197-8) See also Wellington to Aberdeen 4 September 1834 HMC Wellington vol 1 p 663-5 which supports this view; and Lady Salisbury’s diary (11 September Gascoyne Heiress p 136-7) that Peel had been furious about it.
The Proposed Coalition:
Greville has a complicated and not very plausible story that the King really wanted a change of government but was misled by H. [Halford?] into believing that the Tories were not up to this, but that he should propose a coalition instead. (Greville Memoirs (1888 edition edited by Reeve) 16 November 1834 vol 3 p 149-50).
Lord Spencer’s death:
Wellington had forecast that the Ministry would fall when Althorp was removed to the Lords as early as June, ‘“Mind what I say, if that man goes, they cannot last”’. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 29 June Gascoyne Heiress p 127 – same entry refers to Althorp’s distress, and his statement that it was lucky he did not own pistols).
And on 21 September Wellington told Aberdeen, ‘I cannot but think that if Lord Spencer was to die we should see a dissolution of the Government or a state of things in the House of Commons which would prove to the common sense of mankind that the system could not continue. Till then they will go on very much as they have hitherto, be the partial changes what they may’. (HMC Wellington vol 1 p 677-79).
This raises the question of why Peel went on such a prolonged Continental Tour when the government’s future was so precarious. (Gash Sir Robert Peel p 77 says that Croker advised Peel he had no need to return in time for the opening of Parliament in 1835; Easter would be soon enough; but he does not say when Peel intended to return). The most probable explanation is that when Peel made his plans he had no reason to believe that Lord Spencer would die quite so soon; or that the King would act so decisively. Another patch up seemed the most likely outcome possibly with the government collapsing in the course of 1835. It is just possible that Peel’s trip was more calculating: deliberately absenting himself in order to discourage the King turning to him; however this seems too Machiavellian to be really plausible. If that idea is discarded, there remains a lingering sense of surprise that Peel should go away for so long: it suggests a slightly half-hearted commitment to politics that is apparent at other points in Peel’s career as well.
Reaction to the burning of the Houses of Parliament:
‘Is not this fire dreadful? I cannot get it out of my head, what consternation the Black Rod must have been in! I dread the new Houses or ‘Chambers’; they will be so large and shewy instead of the businesslike & ancient places we have been used to. Baines & the radicals here are rejoicing in the destruction of such inconvenient buildings, so unworthy of the reformed Parliament & a great nation. I cannot bear the idea of seeing these fellows lolling in more comfortable seats.’ (James Stuart Wortley to Lady Wharncliffe, Leeds 20 October 1834 The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 2 p 205-6).
Government in decline:
In November, when Lord Spencer had just died, Creevey wrote that he was convinced that the ministry could not survive even without this disruption: ‘Melbourne, with all his merits’ was utterly incapable of sustaining the government in the Lords. (Creevey to Miss Ord 12 November 1835 Creevey Papers p 637-8).
Grey concurred with Creevey that the idea of Lord John Russell as Leader of the House ‘is horrible, if not fatal. We both agree that he had an overweening conceit of himself, is very obstinate, very pert, and can be very rude – charming properties for the leader of such a House of Commons!’ (same to same 15 November 1834 Creevey Papers p 638).
Reaction to the dismissal of Melbourne’s government:
Lady Wharncliffe, wife of the moderate Tory Lord Wharncliffe, wrote on 16 November:
The Governor [Lord Wharncliffe] is dreadfully frighten’d, says we are playing our last stake, & wishes the Whigs had tried again & failed, & resigned of themselves, instead of being turn’d out by the King. However much depends on what passed between the King and Lord Melbourne, for if, as they say, the latter, in announcing the alterations likely to take place, mention’d Johnny Russell as the new Leader of he House of Commons, I think the King was quite right to object, & say if you can do no better than that, you must all go – and the Governor admits that that would be justifiable. Still one wishes they had fairly hung themselves when Parliament met again. (Lady Wharncliffe to Hon. Mrs J. C. Talbot Brighton 16 Nov 1834 The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 2 p 210-11).
Greville Memoirs (1888 edition edited by Reeve) 16 November 1834 vol 3 p 147 is good and quotable on the complete surprise caused by the news; and the story (p 148) that most of the cabinet read it in the paper.
Creevey was closer to Grey than to Wellington at this time, and was highly critical of Wellington’s position without being sympathetic to Melbourne:
Lord Grey and I are of opinion that Wellington’s difficulties appear greater every day. His assuming all the offices of State into his own hands, without knowing if he can ever fill them, is a most offensive and wanton act of power. For instance, he has dismissed from their offices in the most insulting manner Palmerston and Rice, without naming any successors, when, according to established usage, they might have held the seals of their offices till such successors had been found. … This vesting, or rather assuming, of all the power by one man, and him a soldier and with such known opinions, for a whole fortnight or perhaps three weeks, is giving opportunities for every species of criticism upon such conduct. The Whigs might have died a natural death, as they shortly would, had they been left alone; but it is quite another thing to have them kick’d out of the world by this soldier, and to see him stand single-handed on their grave, claiming the whole power of the nation as his own. (Creevey to Miss Ord, 22 [November 1834] Creevey Papers p 640-41).
Wellington’s interim government:
Lyndhurst did not become Lord Chancellor; Brougham resigned, and the Great Seal was placed in commission under Lyndhurst. (Greville Memoirs (1888 edition edited by Reeve) 17 November 1834 vol 3 p 153). This is consistent with what Wellington told Peel on 15 November 1834 HMC Wellington vol 2 p 19-200.
Wellington believed outgoing ministers were relieved:
He told this to Peel (15 November 1834 Private and Confidential HMC Wellington vol 2 p 21) and to Greville (Memoirs (1888 edition edited by Reeve) 28 November 1834 vol 3 p 168).
Wellington and the King, November-December 1834:
Wellington prevented the King from making an overture to Stanley on 21 November, arguing that it would bind Peel and so be counter-productive. (The King to Wellington and reply both 21 November 1834 HMC Wellington vol 2 p 45-46).
The following day Wellington expressed relief that the King has left London for a few days – he was getting hurried and Wellington doubted that he could keep him quiet much longer. (Wellington to Melville 22 November 1834 HMC Wellington vol 2 p 60).
(This may refer purely to the risk the King would interfere in politics; but Wellington may also have been concerned by his mental health: in May he told Lady Salisbury that he thought there ‘was every reason to believe the King was going mad. His conduct in some respects resembled that of George 3rd before his last illness’. (Lady Salisbury diary 11 May 1834 Gascoyne Heiress p 114).
Wellington complains of overwork, but relishes it:
‘Every gentleman who thinks proper to do so has a right a letter or forward a memorial. The Duke cannot but admit that he wishes that it was otherwise as he passes three of four of the best hours of every day in opening reading and deciding answers to be given to those letters and memorials’. (Wellington draft reply to Richard Jones Colley 22 December 1834 HMC Wellington vol 2 p 227).
As well as Lady Salisbury see Greville Memoirs (1888 edition edited by Reeve) 19 November 1834 vol 3 p 159. This also mentions Whig complaints of incivility to which Wellington responded in his letter to Lord Francis Egerton 29 November 1834 HMC Wellington vol 2 p 108-9. See also his considerate treatment of James Backhouse: Wellington to Backhouse 21 November 1834 ibid p 38 – a marked contrast to Palmerston’s notorious harshness.
Stanley’s ambitions had been fed by talk of a Peel-Stanley centrist coalition – talk encouraged and supported by the King – as early as March 1833. This extended to secret correspondence between Stanley and The King – see Hawkins The Forgotten Prime Minister vol 1 p 125-6, 131.
Wellington also had some ideas on these lines: see Mrs Arbuthnot to Charles Arbuthnot n.d. February 1833 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 145-66.
Wellington’s appointment to the Foreign Office:
The editor of Lady Salisbury’s diary (Carola Oman) says that Wellington accepted the Foreign Office ‘somewhat against his inclination’ (p 151). I have seen no evidence of this in any of the primary sources, except his comment in May that he was looking to the Horse Guards (see p 20 above).
Greville does say, on 1 January 1835. ‘The Duke of Wellington is so well aware of the obstacle that he is to Stanley’s joining the Government that he wanted not to belong to it originally, and he is now meditating his retreat, in order to open the way for Stanley’. (Memoirs (1888 edition edited by Reeve) vol 3 p 189).
Reaction to the Tamworth Manifesto:
Peel’s letter to his constituents has appeared as his manifesto to the country; a very well written and ingenious document, and well calculated to answer the purpose, if it can be answered at all. … The Whigs affect to hold it very cheap, and to treat it as an artful but shallow and inefficient production. It is rather too Liberal for the bigoted Tories, but all the moderate people are well satisfied with it. Of course it has made a prodigious sensation, and nobody talks of anything else. (Greville 20 December 1834 Memoirs (1888 edition edited by Reeve) vol 3 p 183-4).
The historian Boyd Hilton’s assessment is not that different from Greville’s:
Peel ‘called his Tamworth Manifesto a “frank and explicit declaration of principle”, unlike the usual “vague and unmeaning professions” espoused by politicians. In reality his promises to correct “proven abuses”, redress “real grievances”, and support “judicious reforms” were platitudinous. The document’s significance was not substantive but political. Firstly it signalled Peel’s willingness to lead the party after two years when this had seemed in doubt … Secondly, Tamworth indicated that the Conservative leadership would pursue liberal Tory rather than Ultra Tory policies, notably by accepting the Reform Act as ‘a final and irrevocable settlement’ (Hilton A Mad, Bad & Dangerous People? p 497).
Wellington’s attitude to Dissenters:
In September 1834 Wellington told Lady Salisbury, ‘“It is the same party that destroyed the Monarchy in Cromwell’s time, and that have been at the bottom of every democratic project since, and the worst feature of the Reform Bill is that it has given power precisely to that class where the Dissenters are prevalent. This cry, or that cry, are equally unmeaning – the real and great object of that party is the destruction of the Church”’. (Lady Salisbury’s diary 12 September 1834 Gascoyne Heiress p 139-40).
The Election of the Speaker:
Lady Wharncliffe wrote on 19 February:
We are all in a state of excitement to day, as you may suppose dearest Mama, at having at last reached the day of Battle. It seems by no means sure which party will win, but the Whigs have so disgraced themselves that they will be unable to do us any serious harm, even if they should succeed today. And Sir Robert Peel said to Lord Harrowby the other day, after talking about the Speakership & the possibility of defeat, “but it will be but a flea bite after all’. He is in great spirits, & confident of ultimate success, which is half the battle, as it gives confidence to his friends & party….
7 o’clock. I grieve to finish my letter by telling you that the vile Whigs have won by a majority of ten – it is too bad & disgraceful. Lord Stanley made an excellent speech, & is as stout as possible with us. All the reason & argument was on our side, but the Radicals had absolutely insisted on their members pledging themselves to vote against a Tory Speaker, for that was the only ground upon which they whole thing stands at last, finding that no case could be made against Sutton. (Lady Wharncliffe to her mother, Lady Erne, 19 Feb 1835 The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 2 p 235-6).
Two days later,
I went to Lady Peel’s last night, but I think all our people were in better spirits than the day before. The address will be the next battle, but nobody supposes it can move the ministers – on the contrary, the belief is that Peel will act Pitt over again, & back’d as he is by the King, he will stand or fall by his measures. (Lady Wharncliffe to her mother, Lady Erne 21 Feb 1835 The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 2 p 237).
And a week after that, still trying to be positive,
We are not cast down tho’ rather disappointed at the last division. You should remember that your Pitt stood as much & more, & succeeded at last, & that in these reform’d times much opposition must be expected & disregarded before a Minister resigns, otherwise nobody could remain in office but the Ultra Radicals. The Whigs are too bad, but I hear they look low, & in fact what can they do? We look forward to better results when the new measures are brought forward, so don’t despond. (Lady Wharncliffe to her mother, Lady Erne 28 Feb 1835 The First Lady Wharncliffe and Her Family vol 2 p 240).
Wellington and Spain in 1835:
Wellington’s arrival at the Foreign Office caused consternation in Madrid where the Queen’s liberal ministers feared that he would be much less inclined to give them active support in their war with the Carlists. They reacted by sending Alava on a special mission to London to represent them, and begged that George Villiers the British envoy be allowed to remain. Curiously the King, who generally thought that Palmerston’s policy had been too interventionist, had a high opinion of Villiers, which made it easy for Wellington to agree to leave him in place. More broadly Wellington was determined to fulfill Britain’s treaty obligations to Spain fully and fairly, but to go no further. So when Alava arrived in London and requested arms, Wellington readily agreed, for Palmerston had committed Britain to provide such assistance in the Additional Articles of the Quadruple Alliance signed in August. He also strongly warned Metternich against recognizing Don Carlos or sending him assistance: Britain was pledged to support the Queen’s government: ‘I could not act a double part in any transaction; and that having found His Majesty bound by treaties, I could not depart from them and must act according to their letter and spirit’. If Austria supported Don Carlos it risked prolonging the war, which would increase the risk of revolution in Spain, and would poison Austria’s relations with Britain. Only such a long standing friend as Wellington could send such a message without causing offence, but if good relations with the Eastern Powers were to be re-established it had to be on a basis of honesty and mutual understanding. (Wellington to Karl von Hummelauer 23 January 1835 HMC Wellington vol 2 p 376-77; Alava to Wellington 24 November 1834 ibid p 74; Bullen ‘Party Politics and Foreign Policy’ p 49-53; Sir Herbert Taylor to Wellington Private 5 December 1834 ibid p 157 re the King’s attitude to Villiers).
Wellington saw no immediate prospect of an end to the civil war in Spain and worried that the savagery with which it was being fought by both sides risked entrenching a cycle of violence which would make it very hard to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. He therefore attempted to use Britain’s influence to persuade both sides to sign a military convention to regulate the conflict and protect civilians and prisoners of war. He dispatched Lord Eliot, a young Tory diplomat who had served in both Lisbon and Madrid, on a special mission to Spain, assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel John Gurwood, a Peninsular veteran who was editing Wellington’s wartime dispatches for publication. Eliot and Gurwood arrived in Spain in April 1835 and by the end of the month both sides had signed a treaty (‘the Eliot Convention’) which stipulated that prisoners were not to be executed or maltreated but to be exchanged periodically, and that no one, civilian or military, was to be executed for the political opinions without due trial. The Convention led to an immediate improvement in conduct of both sides, and although this was not sustained over the years that followed, it has been estimated that the Convention saved some 5,000 lives. It was the most notable achievement of Wellington’s tenure at the Foreign Office, and was widely applauded by both sides of British politics. (F. Darrell Munsell ‘Wellington’s Iberian Policy, 1834 – 1835’ Consortium on Revolutionary Europe vol 19 1989 p 555-6 – I must thank Professor Alexander Mikaberidze for supplying me with a copy of this article – Bullen ‘Party Politics and Foreign Policy’ p 53-55. There is, at time of writing (August 2011) an unusually good entry on the Eliot Convention on Wikipedia. The documents relating to the convention are printed in Papers relating to Lord Eliot’s Mission to Spain in the Spring of 1835 edited by Lord St Germans 1871).
Lord Eliot’s Mission to Spain:
Hall England and the Orleans Monarchy p 184-5 says that Eliot’s mission had a second, secret purpose. To warn Don Carlos, in the name of both Britain and France, that his cause was hopeless and that he could receive no assistance from the Eastern Courts. However France refused to co-operate (Louis-Philippe fearing that the failure of such an attempt would weaken his ability to resist radical pressure for military intervention). Eliot delivered his message, but it had no effect.
Wellington as Foreign Secretary:
There is not space to discuss fully the appointment of Londonderry to St Petersburg or Wellington’s other diplomatic appointments (see HMC Wellington).
Also lacked space to deal with the King’s hostility to Russia, and his scheme for buying the Caribbean Island of Bartholomew from Sweden, to stop the Swedes selling it to Russia. (Hostility to Russia: The King to Wellington 10 January 1835 and reply, same day, HMC Wellington vol 2 p 320-223. Island of Bartholomew The King to Wellington 25 January and reply 27 ibid vol 2 p 389-91).
Wellington and the principle of non-interference:
Wellington was not wholly consistent in his commitment to this. When Lord Howard de Walden (the Canningite) wrote home from Lisbon describing how, at the request of the Portuguese government, he was playing an active part in detaching Saldanha from the liberal opposition and persuading him to accept a diplomatic position, Wellington approved his conduct while noting that in general such interference was best avoided. (Lord Howard de Walden to Wellington and reply 24 January and 3 February 1835 HMC Wellington vol 2 p 385-7). And he went further by privately instructing Lord Cowley to attempt to overcome Louis Phillipe’s opposition to the appointment of Saldanha to Paris; but he rejected Howard de Walden’s desire to extend his intervention further. (Munsell ‘Wellington’s Iberian Policy’ p 552).
Wellington and the Spanish Civil War after 1835:
Wellington told Lord Mahon:
I would not give a toss up for the choice between Don Carlos and Marotto, the Queen and Espartero. They ought all to be hanged on the same tree, to avoid the injury which might be done to a second.
I suspect the communications between Lord John Hay and Marotto; and I don’t like to mix myself and the House of Lords in them.
The Basque Provinces are pretty certain of their fueros being secured, happen what may, if we don’t interfere. I should advise all parties to leave the Spaniards to settle their own affairs. (Wellington to Lord Mahon, 21 August 1839 Stanhope Notes p 147-8).
This was writing loosely to a trusted friend, but the substance is not inconsistent with Wellington’s attitude throughout: he had no sympathy for Don Carlos and his cause, but strongly disliked British (and even more French) interference in a civil war.
© Rory Muir