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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 10: The King and His Ministers, 1821-22

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Distinction between intervention in Spain and intervention in Naples:

At one level the distinction between Naples and Spain was purely pragmatic, British ministers believed with good reason that it would not be particularly difficult for Austria to mobilize her existing forces in northern Italy, reinforce them, and move against Naples; while the problems facing any foreign military intervention in Spain appeared formidable. They also felt that the revolution in Naples posed a much more direct and immediate threat to the stability of the rest of Italy than anything which happened in Spain: an argument which gained credence with a military uprising in Piedmont in the spring of 1821; but which ignored the fact that the Neapolitan revolt was inspired by the Spanish example. At a deeper level another distinction was more important: Spain and Portugal were in Britain’s sphere of influence, and her preference for non-intervention should be respected; Naples and the rest of Italy were Austria’s concern, and as a good ally, Britain was willing to support her solving the problem in her own way. However the state of British politics and public opinion, together with the need to preserve some appearance of consistency, meant that this support could not be expressed openly, and made Castlereagh extremely anxious that Austria act as quickly and as quietly as possible. (Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh, 1815-22 p 261-3, 272, 276; Schroeder Metternich’s Diplomacy at its Zenith p 47, 51-52).

Wellington and the Revolution in Naples:

On 21 July Princess Lieven wrote to Metternich: ‘The Duke of Wellington was sitting beside me yesterday evening. He seemed to be almost asleep. Suddenly, he woke up and observed: “Devil take me, Prince Metternich must march. He must advance all his troops against Naples. It will be five or six weeks before they are in a position to act. Meanwhile, he will warn his allies of what he is going to do. They will give their consent. He must crush this Italian revolution; but he must come out of it with clean hands, do you understand. He can play a splendid part’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 53-54).

And again on 30 July 1820: ‘Wellington talks about nothing but Naples; it engrosses him and he always comes back to his: “They must march”; I fancy he would very much like to be of the party. Here it would absorb all the interest, self-esteem and attention of the country. No more distress, because industry would be set moving; no more Radicals, because there would be no more distress; no more disaffection in his army, because the army would be abroad; and no more Queen, because no one would take any further notice of her. Really, if I were an English Minister, I should declare war’. (ibid p 56).

Metternich and intervention in Spain:

Just as the British did not really apply their principle of non-intervention to Naples, so Metternich had opposed the idea of intervention in general, but with reference to Spain, before the outbreak of the revolt in Naples: ‘“In such a situation [as in Spain] the remedies can only be found in the lands themselves which suffer from the errors and faults committed by their own governments. Every material remedy which a foreigner directs against an internal evil of that kind serves only to augment the evil by giving a very special force to extreme parties.”’ (quoted in Schroeder Metternich’s Diplomacy at its Zenith p 29 Metternich to Vincent 15 June 1820).

Why did Metternich not act unilaterally?

It may be that he was constrained by the difficulty of mobilizing a force of 80,000 men when the army was somnolent after years of peace and the treasury short of funds. But it is likely that he also sought diplomatic support from the other powers in the hope that this would intimidate radicals elsewhere in Europe (Germany had been disturbed in 1819 and was still a cause of considerable concern); and in order to avoid creating a precedent for unilateral action which might prove highly inconvenient in future in the hands of Russia or France. He genuinely regretted the embarrassment this would cause Castlereagh at home, but for the moment Britain was a broken reed, and Metternich was not prepared to act without securing the consent and approval of the Emperor Alexander. (Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh, 1815-22 p 264, 275).

Schroeder writes that: ‘Metternich claimed more than once, some months after the revolution began, that, had sufficient force been available to him, he would have crushed it immediately.… These claims, however, must be heavily discounted. Metternich was never a man of bold action. It is almost impossible to conceive of him taking such a decisive step without first ascertaining the attitude of the Allies and the other German and Italian Courts on it’. (Schroeder Metternich’s Diplomacy at its Zenith p 43n).

Given how beneficial to Austria the precedent established by Metternich over Naples proved to be in restraining Russia over Greece, its seems a little churlish to attribute it purely to weakness, even if it is too much to suggest that he anticipated how events would unfold.

Objectives of intervention in Naples:

Russia, France and Britain all believed that intervention in Naples should be accompanied by the grant of a moderate constitution modelled on the French Charte, but this was unacceptable to Metternich, and because Britain and France did not take part in the talks at Troppau he was able to get his way on the point.

Domestic Politics Castlereagh’s circular of 19 January 1821, and the principle of non-intervention:

Webster says that Castlereagh’s dispatch to Stewart of 16 December 1820 which explained British objections to Troppau ‘was undoubtedly designed as a document which could be laid before Parliament’, and that he undercut its force by telling Lieven that his heart bled to use such language and reiterated his attachment to the alliance and hatred of revolutions (Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh 1815-22 p 305).

Ever since the outbreak of the war with France in 1793, indeed even before this, the Whigs had strongly argued against intervening in the internal affairs of other states, citing the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as proof that countries should be allowed to determine their own form of government without foreign interference. (Given William of Orange’s role in 1688 the argument was strange, but it was a central piece of Whig ideology).   Pitt had by and large accepted this principle: Britain went to war against France in 1793 not because the French had overthrown their king and established a republic, but because France had overrun the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium), an area of vital strategic importance to British national security.   In 1815 the government had shown similar sensitivity to the principle of non-intervention, by refusing to commit itself to the restoration of Louis XVIII and justifying the war on the grounds that Napoleon and his heirs had been explicitly excluded from the government of France by the 1814 peace settlement.   Even so the war was strongly criticized by many Whigs and radicals for – in their view – violating this fundamental principle.

The principle of non-intervention, on which the Whigs had laid great emphasis for almost forty years, did not long survive their accession to power in 1830; and few, if any, British governments have ever shown such keenness in intervening in the internal affairs of other countries as the Whig administrations of the 1830s and 40s when Palmerston was Foreign Secretary.

The Allied views of British domestic politics:

At Troppau Alexander harangued Stewart on the dangers of revolution, and warned that Sir Robert Wilson was part of an international conspiracy to overthrow established governments including that of Britain. ‘How could the Sovereigns, he said vehemently to Stewart, “combine or concert with your Opposition who would release Bonaparte tomorrow, or with your Radicals who would reform toute l’Europe?”’ (Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh 1815-22 p 288-9).

The reference to releasing Napoleon was probably reflects an unwise joke of Tierney’s, which – according to Creevey – the French ambassador took seriously, and sent off an express courier to Troppau (Creevey Papers p 346). Given Lord Holland’s views and place in the Whig party – and the prominence of Sir Robert Wilson at this time – the concern of the allies is not hard to understand.

Confirmation that the allies took Tierney’s remark seriously and prepared a joint protest against any release of Napoleon can be found in Lord Stewart to Castlereagh ‘Most secret and confidential’, Troppau, 20 November 1820 printed in Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh 1815-22 p 531-2.

Esterhazy reported that Castlereagh was much more sympathetic to Austrian policy, despite Troppau, than he could admit: ‘“He is like a great lover of music who is at Church; he wishes to applaud but he dare not.”’ And the private conversation of Wellington and the King also pointed in this direction; however Lieven drew a distinction between their view and Liverpool’s less friendly attitude. (Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh 1815-22 p 326; see also Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 77).

Naples and British Public Opinion:

The Whigs were generally enthusiastic about the revolution in Naples and dusted off old dreams inspired by Lord William Bentinck’s constitutional experiments in Sicily a decade earlier.

The Times of 21 February 1821, commenting on the debate in Parliament on 19 February, strongly criticized the government for not issuing its circular sooner and expressed strong support for the Neapolitan Revolution.

Canning, again out of office, approved the government’s policy of strict neutrality, but broadly hinted that his sympathies lay more with the Neapolitan Revolution – which, like the Whigs, he associated with the cause of ‘liberty’ – than with Austria. (Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh, 1815-22 p 335n; Temperley Foreign Policy of Canning p 46-47 but cf Schroeder Metternich’s Diplomacy at its Zenith p 47 for Canning’s immediate reaction).

The Parliamentary Session of 1821:

When it was over, in July, Charles Arbuthnot told his son: ‘There never was so stormy a session, or so laborious a one. The agricultural distress is very great, & this has pressed so severely upon our country gentleman that they have been out of humour, & have supported us very ill. Lord Castlereagh (now Ld. Londonderry) has done wonders; & his reputation stands very high indeed. We must make great reductions, civil & military, but don’t talk of this…’ (Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 24-5).

Debate on the Catholic Question:

A set piece debate on Catholic Emancipation added to the sense that the under-currents were beginning to flow away from the government. Henry Bankes, a staunch opponent of the Catholic claims, told Lord Colchester that ‘the public sentiment appears either less adverse, or more indifferent about it than on former occasions’; and after further reflection, ‘I fear we must contemplate the passing of some such Bill as this at no very distant time; the temper of the House of Commons becoming evidently more favourable to it, and the general feeling out of doors being extremely indifferent about it’. Liverpool was sufficiently impressed to warn the King against expressing any personal view, and when the measure passed the Commons (216:197 on 2 April), the Prime Minister is said to have toyed with the idea of accepting a compromise in the Lords, until Sidmouth rallied him to stick to his life long convictions. Reports that the Catholic bishops in Ireland would not approve the bill helped ensure an unexpectedly large majority of 159:120 in the Lords: a majority of 17 even if the bishops were excluded. Wellington did not speak in the debate. (Bankes to Colchester, 20 March and 9 April 1821, Abbot Diary vol 3 p 214, 216; Hobhouse Diary p 53-55).

Tierney’s Resignation:

Tierney resigned as Whig leader in the Commons in March 1821 (see Olphin George Tierney p 224), but he was not immediately replaced and when Grey asked Brougham to take the lead in 1822 Brougham declined (Hay Whig Revival p 124-5) so that probably Tierney retained some shadow of the leadership.

The King’s health:

In May 1821 the King underwent a painful and dangerous operation to cut a growth from his head, and showed great fortitude: Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 95 and Neumann Diary vol 1 p 61-2.

Lady Conyngham:

‘Since we left Brighton, the King has seen nobody. Love which allows nothing to interfere with it is all very fine; but how extraordinary when its object is Lady Conyngham! Not an idea in her head; not a word to say for herself; nothing but a hand to accept pearls and diamonds with, and an enormous balcony it wear them on. Is it really possible to be in love with a woman who accepts diamonds and pearls?’ (Princess Lieven to Metternich 23 December 1821 Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 145).

The knowledge of her influence weakened the government’s standing in Parliament and with the broader political public, with one independent back bencher commenting, ‘there have been men in their situations who would not have put up with the indignation they suffered quite so patiently as they did’. (Edward Littleton to Charles Bagot, 17 September 1821, Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 113-15).

The ministers’ distrust of Lady Conyngham was exacerbated by the fact that her brother was William Joseph Denison, a Whig who had returned to Parliament in 1818 after ten years out of it (see Thorne History of Parliament vol 3 p 584-5). He seems not to have been as radical in his views as Princess Lieven suggests (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 31-2. See also Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 10 October 1820 p 42-43).

The King’s Grievances and dislike of Liverpool:

Croker’s diary for 30 July: ‘He [The King] is as well as I ever saw him; he was a little warm; Lord Liverpool had just been with him, and after I had said “my little say”, he began to complain of Lord Liverpool. He says he cannot go on with him, and that he will not; that he likes all the rest of his Cabinet, nobody for instance, better than Castlereagh; that if the Cabinet chose to stand or fall with Lord Liverpool, they must fall; if not, he does not wish any further change. … Lord Liverpool was captious, jealous, and impracticable; he objects to everything, and even when he gives way, which is nine times in ten, he does it with so bad a grace that it is worse than an absolute refusal. Even for his own personal comfort the King cannot get the smallest things done; for instance, two rooms of one story [sic] to his cottage are positively refused him. When he is refused such a misere as that, what must it be with greater matters?’ (Croker Papers vol 1 p 198-99).

The appointment of Dr Sumner:

In such a climate petty disputes could rapidly escalate leaving lasting scars. For example in April 1821 the King ordered that a vacant canonry at Windsor – a desirable but not particularly important position in the Church – be given to Dr Sumner, the former tutor of Lady Conyngham’s sons. Liverpool refused arguing that Sumner was too junior for such promotion and that the reason for his preferment would be all too obvious. The King was furious, claiming that the ministers thwarted his every wish and insisted on the appointment stating that Sumner had already kissed hands in private. Liverpool, fortified by the advice of Castlereagh and Sidmouth, refused to back down, and for a few days it seemed possible, if unlikely, that the government might fall over a trivial piece of church patronage. In the end, as usual, the King backed down, probably aware that he had chosen bad ground on which to make a stand, but with an abiding sense of grievance. (Hobhouse Diary 16 April 1821 p 52-3; correspondence printed in Yonge Liverpool vol 3 p 151-4; Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich, 17 April 1821, p 131; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 14 April 1821 vol 1 p 86-88; Letters of Lady Palmerston p 94-5 where it is misdated [1822] rather than 1821).

Castlereagh was Liverpool’s likely successor if he retired:

Many years later, in 1848, Charles Arbuthnot told Croker that,

Upon one occasion, after the death of his first wife, Lord Liverpool begged that I would see Lord Castlereagh and let him know that, after the close of the session, he was resolved to retire, and that, considering him as the proper person in their cabinet to succeed him, he wished to have a communication with him upon the subject. He named the day when Lord Castlereagh should call on him, in order that they might talk the whole thing over, and fix the particular time when the change should take place.

Lord Castlereagh desired that I would be in my room, as, after seeing Lord Liverpool, he should wish to see and talk with me. They had their meeting, after which Lord Castlereagh came to me as he had said he would.   He asked me to go with him into St James’s Park that he might tell me what had passed, and that he might discuss with me the various arrangements to be made.

He first asked me whether I thought that the Duke of Wellington would consent to be Lord Liverpool’s successor, as under him he would most willingly and cordially serve.

I answered that, to the best of my belief, it had never occurred to the Duke to wish to be the Minister of the country, his object ever appearing to be to adhere to his own profession.

Lord Castlereagh then told me what his arrangements would be on the retirement of Lord Liverpool, and that there was but one difficulty that he apprehended, and that difficulty was the Church. He feared that at first there might be apprehension of his leaning towards the Presbyterians, but that, if he had only time, he thought that his conduct would be seen to be most fair, as the Church should always have all the support and aid in his power to give.

Our conversation ended, each of us feeling certain that Lord Liverpool would retire, he having told Lord Castlereagh, as he had previously told me, that the state of his health made his retirement necessary.

But not only did he not act upon his then declared determination, but never afterwards did he allude to it.

This, however, had not the slightest effect upon the conduct of Lord Castlereagh. He had never sought to be Prime Minister; his ambition ever was to act with his colleagues most fairly and cordially, and Lord Liverpool, choosing to remain as Prime Minister, to give him all the support and aid in his power. (Arbuthnot to Croker 7 December 1848 Croker Papers vol 3 p 192-3).

Possible objections to Castlereagh as PM:

Cookson (Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 322) comments that, ‘Londonderry’s accession was certain to arouse fears that the Cabinet had become too ‘Catholic’ for comfort, the government’s dealings with Ireland inevitably being affected’, (citing Eldon to Lord Stowell n.d. (c August-November 1821) Twiss Life of Eldon vol 2 p 434-5). Eldon had no solution – neither Sidmouth nor Wellington would agree to serve – W. distrusts the King.

Need to Keep the Whigs Out:

Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot, 4 November 1821 (vol 1 p 123-4): ‘The Duke … said that his great anxiety in politics, was to keep the Whig’s out; he thinks they wd be the ruin of the country; that, being a very weak party, they wd be obliged to yield to the Radicals, & the whole constitution & government of the country wd be changed …’

Wellington’s professed indifference to Office:

In October 1820 Wellington told Mrs Arbuthnot, that ‘it wd. be most unfair to abandon the King, & that his motives for giving this opinion could not be misconstrued as nobody cared so little for office as himself’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1p 48).

The King and the Ministers in August 1821:

The King was annoyed that Liverpool appeared to take his approval of some of the coronation honours for granted, and signalled his displeasure by blocking those in the Irish peerage and creating four new Knights of the Thistle without consulting the Prime Minister, bestowing one of them on Lord Melville. Wellington was annoyed because the King, having declined to dine with him, dined with the Duke of Devonshire. This was patched up and a successful dinner held at Apsley House, but as Arbuthnot, on Wellington’s behalf, made clear to Bloomfield, all was not forgiven: ‘the King could not expect that every indignity was to be forgotten merely because he had offered to dine with the Duke; that the Ministers felt themselves exceedingly ill used, & that the King had better not drive them too far’. Above all there was a prolonged row over the appointment of the Marquess of Conyngham to a senior post in the King’s Household. There was some substance to this as well as great feeling, for the most senior Household offices were of some political importance and wielded substantial patronage. In fact both sides were willing to give a little ground – the King was not seeking to make Conyngham Lord Chamberlain, and the ministers were happy to see in a fairly senior Household place so long as it was not too much in the public eye – but the goodwill necessary to find a compromise was lacking, and the affair dragged on for months poisoning relations. (Hobhouse Diary 1 August 1821 p 68-71; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot, 23 July 1821, vol 1 p 110-11; Liverpool to Arbuthnot, ‘most private and confidential’ 22 July 1821, Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 25; Goulburn to Bathurst, 23 July and 2 August 1821 HMC Bathurst p 503-5, 507).

Bootle Wilbraham told Colchester on 18 August: ‘Lord Liverpool is in disfavour, and meets with many mortifications from his Royal Master for refusing to comply with the wishes of certain persons about the court in the disposal of his church preferment, so that I believe that he thinks seriously of resigning his situation, and it is probable that his chief enemy will try to bring in the Whigs, which will be an awkward and dangerous experiment, and would lead to confusion in various ways. … Lord Bathurst is also offended at something, but I do not exactly know what, on the part of the King, who will some day rue his treatment of this Ministers …’ (Abbot Diary vol 3 p 233-4).

Wellington and the King dining with him:

The grievance had existed for some time. On 18 May Wellington told Mrs Arbuthnot: ‘I am determined that I will not propose that he should dine with me unless I should be certain that he will accept the Invitation. I think it much better that he should dine only with the Opposition & not be invited by any of us than that he should dine only with them & refuse to dine with us. I am convinced that the way to treat all these matters is with the Indifference and contempt which they deserve. There is not a creature that crawls who is so ignorant as not to be aware how and by whom they are managed and arranged; and it is quite ridiculous to have any feeling about them excepting Contempt and disgust’. (Wellington and His Friends p 13-14).

Grief at Death of Napoleon:

William Napier ‘shut himself up in his study, and, on his wife going to him some hours afterwards, she found him stretched upon his sofa in an agony of grief. His worship of Napoleon was extraordinary, and he almost felt the extinction of that wonderful mind as a darkening of the sun for a time’. (Bruce Life of William Napier vol 1 p 233).

The Coronation:

The Coronation itself, on 19 July, went off remarkably well. The crowds cheered. Castlereagh, who had recently succeeded his father as Lord Londonderry, (but who remained in the Commons as it was an Irish peerage), was met with unaccustomed enthusiasm as he walked in the procession alone, the only Knight of the Garter not in the Lords. According to Mrs Arbuthnot, ‘his dress was beautiful, his hat bound round with the most splendid diamonds & he looked handsomer than I ever saw him; the people echoed his name from one to the other the whole length of the platform & received him with repeated cheers. It was unanimously voted that he was the handsomest man in the procession’. The artist Joseph Farington noted that ‘The King in proceeding to the Abbey looked pale, but on his return to Westminster Hall had recovered his look and appeared chearful [sic]. He was much applauded’. His behavior rather lessened the dignity of the occasion, for he ‘was continually nodding & winking at Ly Conyngham & sighing & making eyes at her. At one time in the Abbey he took a diamond brooch from his breast &, looking at her, kissed it, on which she took off her glove & kissed the ring she had on!!!’   The Queen’s frantic attempts to gain admittance to the Abbey were met with hostility from most of the crowd and calls of “Shame, shame” and “Off, Off”, although a few voices were raised in her favour. One witness declared that she ‘looked like a blowsy Landlady’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 19 July 1821 vol 1 p 107-8; Farington Diary 20 July 1821 vol 16 p 5703).

Walter Scott agree with Mrs Arbuthnot’s praise of Castlereagh:

      If you ask me to distinguish who bore him best, and appeared most to sustain the character we annex to the assistants in such a solemnity, I have no hesitation to name Lord Londonderry, who, in the magnificent robes of the Garter, with the cap and high plume of the order, walked alone, and by his fine face and majestic person formed an adequate representative of the order of Edward III, the costume of which was worn by his Lordship deserving the baton, which was never grasped by so worthy a hand. The Marquis of Anglesea showed the most exquisite grace in managing his horse, notwithstanding the want of his limb, which he left at Waterloo. I never saw so fine a bridle-hand in my life, and I am rather a judge of “noble-horsemanship”’. (Scott to The Editor of the Edinburgh Weekly Journal [James Ballantyne], London 20 July 1821 Letters to Sir Walter Scott vol 6 p 498).

 As Lord High Constable of England Wellington had an important part to play in the day’s drama. Another artist, Benjamin Robert Haydon, describes it:

After the banquet was over, came the most imposing scene of all, the championship & first dishes. Wellington, crowned, walked down the Hall, & was cheered by the Officers of the Guards. He shortly returned with Lords Howard & Anglesea, and rode gracefully to the foot of the throne; they then backed out. Lord Anglesea’s horse became restive. Wellington became impatient, and, I am convinced, thought it a trick of Lord Anglea’s to attract attention. He backed on, and the rest were obliged to follow him. This was a touch of character.

      The Hall doors opened again, & outside in the twilight a man in dark shadowed armour against the shining night appeared. He then moved, passed into darkness under the arch, & Wellington, Howard & the Champion stood in full view, with the doors closed behind them. This was certainly the finest sight of the day. The herald read the challenge; the glove was thrown down; they all then proceeded to the throne. My imagination got so intoxicated that I came out with a great contempt for the plebs …’ (Diary of Benjamin Robert Haydon 21 July 1821 vol 2 p 351).

But the last word should be left to Philipp von Neumann, a sophisticated young Austrian diplomat who wrote in his diary, ‘I went with the idea of seeing a theatrical show, and I came away filled with a religious feeling’. (Neumann Diary 19 July 1821 vol 1 p 69).

Other details re Coronation:

Croker (Croker Papers vol 1 p 195-6) took pride in the success of the fête in Hyde Park, attended by some 500,000 people, which he had suggested.

Hobhouse (Diary p 86) and Mrs Arbuthnot (Journal vol 1 p 143-144) tell the story that the Crown was hired for the occasion but the King proved slow and reluctant to give it back as he liked looking at it.

The editors of Mrs Arbuthnot’s Journal (vol 1 p 144n) say that the cost of the Coronation was £243,000.

Lady Jersey:

Lady Jersey, who turned forty in 1825, was lively, talkative, opinionated, sometimes foolish and sometimes mischievous. (At least this is how she appeared to others: unlike so many of Wellington’s female friends her perspective is not preserved in letters or a journal that has been published). As early as 1823 Lady Cowper reported that ‘L[ady] J[ersey] thinks no more of politics: all her thoughts are how to catch the Duke of W[ellington] – all ambition & yet as eager as if it was love. He gave her a fine diamond ring which she wears constantly on her finger or neck. He is delighted and laughs at it and at her always saying “not at home” to others when he calls’. So far as we can tell there was nothing more to it than this: Wellington was evidently amused by her, and she was flattered by his attention, but it was never an especially close or confidential friendship. Mrs Arbuthnot, who was probably a little jealous, commented sharply in 1828, ‘He fancies that he picks her brains, and gets every thing about her party out of her & gives nothing in return; while, on the contrary, she is sharp enough to tell him only what she chooses & she catches every indiscreet word he utters & repeats it to all her Whig friends’. But in fact her friendship with Wellington seems to have prompted her shift of allegiance from the Whigs to the Tories, which took place in the late 1820s. (Lady Cowper to her brother Frederick Lamb 27 March [1823] Airlie Lady Palmerston and Her Times vol 1 p 112; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 16 November 1828 vol 1 p 219, see also Greville Memoirs (edited by Strachey and Fulford) 13 February 1829 vol 1 p 255; Creevey to Miss Ord 9 March 1829 Creevey Life and Times p 302; ODNB).

Lady Salisbury noted in 1836:

Speaking of Lady Jersey, he [the Duke] said: “She is a foolish, vain, selfish woman, she has but one merit, and that in my eyes is a very great one – attachment to her children. I never go to see her unless she sends for me. I am always good friends with her in public: I always have some joke with which I attack her, and never give her an opportunity to begin her grievances.”

I said, “It is a standing accusation of the Whigs against you that you used to tell her everything, and show her state papers.” “I never told her anything.”’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary 5 June 1836 Gascoyne Heiress p 203).

But she was more generous, and in 1848 Lord Broughton, a Whig minister in Lord John Russell’s cabinet, recorded a conversation with her: ‘Lady Jersey gave me her opinion of men and things very freely. She told me there was not a distinguished man in the Cabinet, and that she had never known more than one real sagacious statesman in her life, viz. the Duke of Wellington.’ (Broughton diary for 8 September 1848 in his Recollections of a Long Life vol 6 p 226).

Deaths of Lady Worcester and Lady Bessborough:

Two deaths saddened these months: Wellington’s niece Lady Worcester died at Apsley House after a short illness in May (see Chapter 15). The other death was of another woman who had suffered much from misfortunes of love and debt, but who was one of the most vivid and entertaining letter-writers of the age: Lady Bessborough, who died in Florence in November. Mother of Lady Caroline Lamb and of Fred Ponsonby; sister of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and aunt of Harriet Lady Granville, she represented the very pinnacle of ‘the Grand Whiggery’ and yet became a good, if never a close friend of Wellington. Mrs Arbuthnot wrote in her journal: ‘I do not know when I have been so grieved as at her death. She was much the cleverest & most agreeable woman I gave ever known’. At the time of her death Wellington was arranging for Fred Ponsonby to serve in the Mediterranean rather than be exiled to India, while warning him, firmly but with some tact, against the mania for gambling that was obliging him to quit England. (Correspondence in Lady Bessborough and Her Family Circle p 272-3, 278-80; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 1 December 1821 vol 1 p 128-9).

Wellington’s visit to the Continent, August 1821:

At the beginning of August Wellington left London for his annual tour of the barrier fortresses in the Netherlands, going on into the Rhineland to see Princess Lieven and returning by Paris where he dined with the King and went shooting with Monsieur. There were rumours that Marshal Ney’s son intended to challenge him to a duel, but nothing came of this and he wrote from Paris that ‘all the Society here appears very happy to see me again’. On the whole he felt that ‘Matters are going on tolerably well here, and will be quiet as long as Louis XVIII lasts, particularly if nothing should occur to disturb the Harmony of the Alliance’. He landed at Dover on the evening of 2 September, slept at the Ship Inn and headed back to London. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, Paris, 26 August 1821 Wellington and His Friends p 14-15; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 116n and 118; The Times 6 September 1821).

The King’s Visit to Dublin:

George IV was also travelling in the second half of 1821, first to Ireland and then to Hanover. He left London on 31 July and crossed the Irish Sea by steam-packet on his birthday, 12 August. His arrival was marred by news of the Queen’s death and for the sake of propriety he remained in seclusion at Phoenix Park until the 17th when he made a grand public entry to Dublin surrounded by an enormous, rapturous cheering crowd. The visit proved an immense success, although after a week the royal appetite for applause was sated, and the King hurried away from a function to the private entertainment provided by the Conynghams at Slane Castle. The triumph – for it was nothing less, especially after his long-endured unpopularity in London – did nothing to sweeten his attitude to the ministers, and his private conversation in Ireland was decidedly hostile to Liverpool in particular. He was annoyed that news of the Queen’s illness and death had not been sent to him more efficiently, and was extremely angry at the debacle of the funeral procession, holding the Prime Minister personally to blame in both instances. Londonderry (i.e. Castlereagh) and Sidmouth who were in attendance on him did their best to placate his wrath, but to little avail which may explain why reports of the Home Secretary’s drunkenness reached London even appeared in the press. (For the King in Dublin see Croker Papers vol 1 p 198-207; Sidmouth to Liverpool, 29 August 1821 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 26n; Creevey Papers 10 September 1821 p 373).

Mrs Arbuthnot and Canning on Liverpool as Prime Minister:

Liverpool and some of the other ministers left at home fretted during the King absence, speculating whether or not the King had already resolved to dismiss them, and if so if he would act as soon as he returned from Ireland or wait until after his trip to Hanover. The Prime Minister took the threat very seriously and recognized that the King’s animus was primarily against him as an individual rather than against the ministry as a whole. It was an uncomfortable position, but in facing it Liverpool found a renewed taste for office and put aside his earlier thoughts of retirement, while his colleagues rallied to his defence. Mrs Arbuthnot went to see Lawrence’s just completed portrait of Liverpool at this time, and in reflecting upon it fleshes out a figure who has too often been dismissed as dull and colourless.

I went with Mr Arbuthnot to Sir Thomas Lawrence’s to see a picture he had been painting of Lord Liverpool for the King. It is impossible to conceive anything more exquisitely like or where the character & the manière d’être of the individual is more perfectly caught. It has exactly his untidy look & slouching way of standing; it has, too, all the profound and penetrating expression of countenance which marks this distinguished statesman. Lord Liverpool has a disagreeable, cold manner & a most querulous, irritable temper, which render it a difficult & unpleasant task to act in public life with him; but he is a most upright, honest, excellent man, conscientiously devoted to the service & too the real good of his country. He has held the reigns of government in terms of unexampled difficulty, has been upheld by the country from a perfect conviction of his probity as well as his political talents, & has guided the helm in a way to justify this well-merited confidence. It is shameful that such a man shd. have lost the confidence of his Sovereign & that he shd have all his great service overlooked & be himself treated with almost insult, because he has not chosen to bend obsequiously to an impudent, avaricious mistress who is constantly irritating the King forcing Ld Liverpool out of office but Ld Sidmouth’s assuring him that, if any indignity was offered to Ld L[iverpool], every one of the Cabinet wd make common cause with him & wd quit his service. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 17 September 1821 vol 1 p 120-1).

It is striking to compare Mrs Arbuthnot’s portrait of Liverpool with Canning’s assessment in a letter to his wife in late August 1822 when waiting for an overture:

 L[iverpool]’s weakness is shockingly manifest, and it is one very alarming circumstance in the combination of difficulties and awkwardnesses which would attend responsible office at the present moment. He will neither do nor let do; is jealous of his authority, but afraid to use it himself; ignorant of the world but convinced (like our old Dean) that he knows more of it than anyone; mysterious where he ought to be open, and liable to impressions from quarters against which he ought to be moot on his guard; selfish – without absolute heartlessness, indeed – but with such nervous intensity of desire to avoid anything that can give him pain, that I am quite sure that if one was to drop down in a fit or be shot through the head while in his room, he would (if he could, unobserved) sneak out of the room and get into his carriage, ringing perhaps for Willimott to take care of one.

   Yet he and he alone has the confidence of the country, and there is no other member of the Government upon whom I could for a moment rely. Perhaps, Peel, if we came to understand each other, may be an exception, but it is very perhaps indeed’. (Quoted in A. Aspinall ‘Canning’s Return to Office in September 1822’ English Historical Review vol 78 1963 p 533).

The King’s visit to Brussels, Waterloo and Hanover:

The King did not return to London until the middle of September delayed by bad weather which thwarted his plan of sailing round to the south coast of England. This left him little more than a week before he was due to leave for Hanover, and he remained enthusiastic about this second expedition, even talking of extending it to Vienna and Paris – an idea which caused his ministers some consternation, for the Commons was unlikely to approve the inevitable costs without difficulty. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 16 September 1821 vol 1 p 119-20). In the end this ambitious scheme was dropped largely because Lady Conyngham could not find a lady of respectable character willing to accompany her as a companion, and discovered that without one she might not be well received in foreign society. She therefore stayed home, and the King was tempted to do the same, but realized that it was too late to disrupt the plans which had been made for his reception. At the last minute he had the idea of commanding Wellington to accompany him as far as Brussels and guide him over the field of Waterloo. Just before he left London on 24 September he saw Croker and indicated that he remained determined in his opposition to Canning and that he had yet to decide the fate of the government. Liverpool who received him at Ramsgate as Lord Warden of the Cinque Parts, commented that ‘His manner to me was not OVER cordial, but not sufficiently otherwise to attract observation, and upon the whole I have no right to complain’. (Hobhouse Diary 26 September 1821 p 74-76; Croker Papers 24 September 1821 vol 1 p 213-14; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 23 September 1821 vol 1 p 121; Liverpool to Arbuthnot, ‘Private and Confidential’ Walmer Castle, 27 September 1821, Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 27).

The King’s trip aroused some speculation that he might be looking to remarry. Creevey told Miss Ord on 27 August 1821: ‘Not so, however, our dear Prinney. His mind is clearly made up, according to Lauderdale, to have another wife, and all his family are of that opinion. He goes straight for Hanover and Vienna after his Irish trip, so he will probably pick up something before his return at Xmas …’ (Creevey Papers p 370). That was unfounded and probably malicious, but it does remind us that the King was now free to re-marry, and it may only have been his attachment to Lady Conyngham which prevented him from doing so.

George IV in Hanover:

Princess Lieven who was with the royal party said later that, ‘no one ever behaved so ill; he never had any Hanoverians with him, wd. not even allow Münster to dine with him & remained quite shut up with [his party]’. But this may be exaggerated for at the time Londonderry reported that, ‘The King has been going to the Play and doing all sorts of right things, so that his visit will end well in spite of the gout’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 22 December 1821 vol 1 p 130 quoting Princess Lieven; Londonderry to Mrs Arbuthnot, Hanover, 27 September 1821 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 28).

Metternich on the Greek Revolt:

Metternich affected a pose of cool cynicism: ‘What will happen in the Orient defies calculation. Perhaps there is not much in it; beyond our eastern borders three to four hundred thousand persons hanged, strangled, and spitted do not count for much’. (Private letter from Metternich of 6 May 1821 quoted in Schroeder Metternich’s Diplomacy at its Zenith p 168). But underneath he was seriously alarmed.

Metternich’s influence on George IV:

There is no direct evidence that it was Metternich’s influence which transformed the way the King looked at his ministers, and some other factors (separation from Lady Conyngham; Londonderry’s personal influence), probably contributed. But Metternich was the new element in the equation; a reconciliation was in his interests; and he was very good at persuasion. He also had a good case to make, and Wellington had actually anticipated the result, writing to Mrs Arbuthnot in August: ‘I think that one benefit will result from the King’s Journey to the Continent, if he should talk to any publick Men upon the state of affairs, viz. that he will find them all very apprehensive of the Consequences of any Change of Ministers; particularly of the loss of Lord Liverpool’. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, Paris, 26 August 1821 Wellington and His Friends p 14-15).

Princess Lieven’s comments to Metternich also support the idea, at least in part. She reports Londonderry’s conversation in November – how pleased he is that Liverpool and the King are reconciled and hopes they will both learn a lesson. ‘In short, he seems absolutely convinced that the Government is now immovable. He gives you a great deal of credit for the reconciliation, because you mollified the King’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 30 November 1821 p 142-3).

Resolution of the Dispute between the King and the Government:

Londonderry told his brother on 21 November ‘I never saw His Majesty apparently in better humour, and I understand he has expressed himself to Esterhazy and others in this sense’. This was after the problem of Lord Conyngham’s appointment had been resolved: Lord Cholmondeley vacating the office of Lord Steward in return for the promise of the first vacant blue ribband and his son being called to the Lords. ‘The two awkward offices of Chamberlain and Master of the House are thus avoided. The office of Groom of the Stole would have been a more prudent measure, but the King’s objections were insuperable. The present arrangement has been productive at unmixed satisfaction, and I am sure the difference between the two offices, assuming confidence in all other matters re-established, could not in the mind of a statesman be a motive for giving the King a sentiment of either power or humiliation’. And ‘Liverpool is now very well received, and the Conynghams have sent him their thanks through the Duke of Wellington for his kindness to them…’

Three days later, on 24 November, he wrote again: ‘Complete harmony has been restored between the King and his Government, and he has received Liverpool with cordiality. He says he has never felt so happy. It would take some hours to explain all this, but in two words my residence with His Majesty at Hanover led to his putting the whole into my hands, and he sent me to Liverpool to hold confidential intercourse before matters came into formal discussion. After much negotiation I brought matters to bare … Canning will probably go to India, but such is the harmony of the day, that nothing deemed necessary upon political arrangements will now be refused. Such a changed man is the King you never saw. He is in the highest spirits, and says he, L., is again! entitled to all his confidence’. (Letters of King George IV vol 2 p 471-2).

Canning and India:

Canning had been thinking of India for some time, seeing it as a larger stage on which he could employ his talents, and at the same time honourably repair the fortune his wife had brought him and which was now greatly depleted. The King was so delighted with this convenient solution that he said that he would be willing to accept Canning’s return to cabinet for the few months before he could sail, if Canning made this a sticking point. But Melville quite naturally refused to give up the Admiralty simply to satisfy one of Canning’s many crotchets, and so the Governor-General designate remained out of office but on good terms with the government. (Hobhouse Diary 17 & 21 November 1821 p 78-80).

Lord Wellesley’s Appointment to Ireland:

The opening in Ireland occurred because Lord Talbot as Lord Lieutenant and Charles Grant as secretary were judged to have failed. There was severe distress, even reports of famine, in the south and some fear of insurrection. Harrowby summarized the resulting cabinet meeting in a letter to the absent Bathurst:

The Duke of Wellington, Lord Hopetoun [Sir John Hope, who had served under Wellington in the Peninsula] and Lord Wellesley were brought under discussion. The case was not thought a dingus vindice nodus [‘a knot worthy to be untied by such hands’ – Horace] for the first. The second would have been merely as a general, and would perhaps have given more impression of alarm than the former, who would combine the statesman and the general. On the whole, Lord Wellesley was thought the best, provided a very capable secretary could be found. All with one accord cried out for Goulburn, and before anything is said to Lord W[ellesley], Liverpool is to see G[oulburn] tomorrow and try to prevail upon him. (Harrowby to Bathurst, 24 November 1821 HMC Bathurst p 522; see also Stanhope Notes 24 October 1833 and 28 October 1842 p 44-45, 288-289).

Henry Hobhouse adds a few details: that Sidmouth and Melville favoured sending Wellington to Ireland but were opposed by Liverpool and Londonderry. The Duke himself was willing to go ‘for any period from 3 months to 3 years’, but was not keen. He was also frank in his assessment of his brother: ‘great energy cannot now be expected of him, that he never was diligent, and that his indolence has increased with his years’. (Hobhouse Diary 28 November 1821 p 80). Unfortunately these qualms proved well founded, for only a few months later Mrs Arbuthnot noted that ‘Lord Wellesley gives great dissatisfaction to all classes. In the first place he never writes a line to the Government here, they have not the slightest idea what is going on there for, since Mr Goulburn came away [to attend Parliament in London], they have never heard a word; they have written perpetually & got no answer, & Mr Goulburn wrote to him some time ago to offer to go over to him to Ireland at the Easter holiday & got no answer’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 22 April 1822 vol 1 p 157).

Even at the time Mrs Arbuthnot strongly disapproved of the appointment of Lord Wellesley, and of Goulburn: ‘Lord Wellesley goes to Ireland, & Mrs Goulburn to be his Secretary. I do not approve of either. Both are unquestionably very clever men, but Lord W[ellesley] is notorious for a degree of laziness & sloth which prevents his ever doing any business … Then Mr Goulburn is the most furious Protestant that ever was, and therefore will start with a greater degree of unpopularity’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 6 December 1822 vol 1 p 129-30). Nor was Henry Bankes impressed: ‘I can auger nothing good from such an appointment. Vanity, dissipation, want of private and unsteadiness of public character, a ruined fortune, and a strong predilection for the Roman Catholic cause, are not the component parts which ought to constitute the Chief Governor for such a country in such times as these’. (Bankes to Colchester 30 December 1822 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 241-2).

On the other hand Goulburn, having finally decided to accept, reported to Bathurst that: ‘Lord Wellesley has also accepted office of Lord Lieutenant not merely with satisfaction but with quite eastern ecstasy, which appears to be equally excited by his view of the situation itself and of his secretary’. (Goulburn to Bathurst 29 November 1821 HMC Bathurst p 524).

And the following July Bankes conceded that, ‘The great advantage to the Administration in appointing Lord Wellesley Lord-Lieutenant, has been that the Opposition profess to have confidence in him, which perhaps his own friends have not, which has made all the affairs connected with Ireland pass much more smoothly than they would have done under other auspices’. (Bankes to Colchester 29 July 1822 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 255-6).

Wellington at Brighton, January 1822:

Towards the end of January Wellington spent several days with the King at Brighton. Princess Lieven, who was also there, wrote ‘I like his manner; he behaves in a lordly way with his master, but he laughs rather too much with me; I am afraid they may suspect the cause of his hilarity’. And she preserved his reaction to the opulent décor and decoration of the Pavilion – which had been much increased since his previous visit: ‘“Devil take me, I think I must have got into bad company.”’ (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 26 January 1822 p 149-50; see also Greville Memoirs (edited by Strachey and Fulford) 30 July 1822 vol 1 p 125).

According to Greville, writing six months later: ‘When the Duke was at Brighton in the winter, he and the King had a dispute about the army. It began (it was at dinner) by the King’s saying that the Russians or the Prussians (I forgot which) were the best infantry in the world. The Duke said, “Except your Majesty’s”. The King then said the English cavalry were the best, which the Duke denied; then that an inferior number of French regiments would always beat a superior number of English, and, in short, that they were not half so effective. The King was very angry; the dispute waxed warm, and ended by his Majesty rising from the table and saying, “Well, it is not for me to dispute on such a subject with your Grace”. The King does not like the Duke, nor does the Duke of York. This I know from himself’. (Greville Memoirs (edited by Strachey & Fulford) 30 July 1822 vol 1 p 125).   Greville’s gossip is not always reliable, but there is no doubt that the Duke did not have a high opinion of the King, especially at this time.

Bloomfield displaced by Knighton:

An important change was occurring in the King’s inner circle at this time as Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, after many years as the King’s confident and agent, was displaced by William Knighton the doctor whom Lord Wellesley had introduced into society. The ministers generally distrusted Knighton regarding him as self-interested and an intriguer, and Wellington warned Mrs Arbuthnot that he gossiped about the medical complaints of his female clients to the King who delighted in such stories. Nonetheless Knighton seems to have used his influence to promote harmony between the King and the ministers even if he occasionally pursued private subplots of his own. His position was strengthened by the poor health and apprehensions of the King in the first months of 1822, which were sufficiently serious to set off speculation as to the Duke of York’s likely behavior as King. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 13 September 1822 vol 1 p 186-7 and also p 136-7, 147; Hobhouse Diary p 83-86; Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 26 and 31 January, 23 February and 10 March 1822 p 150-1, 156, 160).

Parliamentary session of 1822:

Parliament met on 6 February and an Opposition amendment to the Address was defeated by a large majority, but the government’s managers in the Commons were uneasy, recognizing that the country gentlemen were even more surly and discontented than twelve months before. The underlying problem was easily diagnosed, for the agricultural depression had only got worse since 1821 and most MPs owned land even if they did not farm it themselves. Ministers were well aware of the problem and ever since the previous summer had been paring back their spending plans. But all the easy economies had been made years before, and everyone involved was tired of traversing the some ground in the hope of squeezing a few extra savings when they had long since begun to cut into the bone. The Duke of York’s proposals for cuts to the army were so savage that a junior minister reported that they have ‘too much the appearance of having been made in order to render reduction impracticable by showing the inconvenience which such a reduction would create’. (Goulburn to Bathurst [25 July 1821] HMC Bathurst p 505).

Agricultural depression:

The evidence for the cause of this is rather contradictory. Reliable secondary sources (Gash Liverpool p 183; Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 340, 356) say that it was the result of three good harvests in succession leading to very low prices, and some other evidence supports this; however Henry Bankes wrote to Colchester in December 1821 a dire account of crops ruined by the wet as well as low prices for cattle and sheep (Abbot Diary vol 3 p 241).

Effect of Economies:

Mr Legge noted in December 1821: ‘Reductions in the Naval Department are going on ding dong, and will be followed by the most heart-rending distress to many families’. (Legge to Colchester 22 December 1821 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 240-1).

Peel in Parliament, 1822:

Bootle Wilbraham told Lord Colchester on 2 April 1822: ‘Peel … is of the greatest use in Parliament, and saves Lord Londonderry and Van[sittart] much speaking and explanations, as he is concise and clear in what he says. He is likely to do well in his troublesome office, from which Lord Sidmouth looks delighted at being relieved’. (Abbot Diary vol 3 p 251).

The Ten Percent Reduction in salaries:

This seems to have ended in 1824, see: Canning to the King 18 June 1824 Letters of King George IV vol 3 p 79-80.

The statue of Achilles:

According to Dorothy George: ‘The statue of Achilles (so-called) by Westmacott, in honour of the Duke’s victories, cast in metal from captured French guns, was brought to its site in Hyde Park on 18 June and unveiled on 14 July. The ladies of England subscribed £10,000 for the monument which was copied from the statue on Monte Cavallo, Rome, and was the first public nude statue in England. It was known as ‘the ladies man’. According to H. E. Fox (Journal, under date of 27 Jan 1822) the subscribers had been asked to decide whether the colossal figure ‘should preserve its antique nudity or be garnished with a fig-leaf: a majority voted for the leaf’. (British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires vol 10 p 297).

Lord Colchester, the former Speaker, wrote on 8 July 1824: ‘Went to Chantrey’s workshop in Pimlico… The Duke of Wellington, looking with Chantrey at the statue of Achilles (so called), in Hyde Park, and said, “I don’t think that it has much to do with me. The only way to give it an connection would be to put four bas-reliefs upon the pedestal, one on each side, and (then naming four actions in the Peninsular war &c) the first subject should be my entry into Madrid, where I was received by old and young with demonstrations of feeling which were quite extraordinary”’ (Abbot Diary vol 3 p 337-8).

Reactions to Chelsea Pensioners:

The reviewer in The Examiner was caught in two minds, feeling that the mood of the painting was too positive – he thought it should be solemn, even despondent – and went on ‘mortifying as the consequences of the Waterloo Battle are to every hater of the liberticidal system of Divine Right’ the painting was ‘so congenial to the tastes of all spectators, so unhesitatingly and potently awakening to the mind, so expressive of curiosity, surprise, joy, in their overflowing heart, that if ever it could be pronounced with certainty of a performance that it would go down to an admiring posterity, this is one of which such a prophecy may unerringly be made.’ (quoted in R. E. Foster ‘Wellington and Wilkie: Money well Spent’ The Waterloo Journal vol 35 no 1 spring 2013 p 14).

The casual dismissal of Waterloo as unfortunate is striking, but this line of radical criticism was nearly exhausted; while the popularity of the picture and its enthusiastic reception hints at the turn of the tide in public opinion.

Londonderry’s suicide:

Explanations for Londonderry’s breakdown include stress and overwork, hereditary mental illness, and tertiary syphilis; clearly none can be established beyond reasonable doubt. At the time of his last interview with Wellington he believed that there was a conspiracy against him, and that he was being urged to flee the country before his (unspecified but terrible) crimes were disclosed. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, 9 August 1822, Wellington and His Friends p 24; Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 14 August 1822 p 194). Modern secondary accounts frequently state that he was being blackmailed for alleged sodomy, having been trapped, the story goes, in a compromising situation with a young man dressed up as a female prostitute. Although the substance of this story is accepted as based in reality by H. Montgomery Hyde in his The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh (passim especially p 184-90), it is based on very flimsy evidence – an account written in 1855 by Rev. J. Richardson, who did not divulge his source, or risk contradiction by openly publishing his story.   We cannot know whether Richardson’s account is well-founded (possibly derived from Lord Clanwilliam, as Hyde too readily assumes), mere tittle-tattle, or pure invention. It is at least as likely that the anonymous letters that Londonderry, like all prominent figures of the period received, made vague threats which had no basis in fact, but which preyed upon a mind which was stretched beyond breaking point.

John Bew Castlereagh. Enlightenment, War and Tyranny p 552-7 gives a useful summary of all the different explanations of Londonderry’s suicide, while adding a fresh possibility, hydrophobia, or rabies.   On the whole it seems safest simply to state that he suffered from delusions, his mind gave way, and he committed suicide; and to leave it at that.

Mrs Arbuthnot’s obituary of Londonderry:

In the privacy of her journal Mrs Arbuthnot paid a warm, affectionate tribute to the man who had been her close friend for eleven years:

He was in the 54th year if his age, & retained all the personal beauty which had distinguished him in early youth. He was above six feet high and had a remarkably fine commanding figure, very fine dark eyes, rather a high nose and a mouth whose smile was sweeter than it is possible to describe. It was impossible to look at him & see the benevolent and amiable expression of his countenance without a disposition to like him, and over his whole person was spread an air or dignity & nobleness such as I have never seen in any other person. His manners were perfect. … He was excessively agreeable, a great favourite amongst women & used occasionally to excite Ly Londonderry’s jealously; but he was the kindest and most affectionate of husbands, paid her the greatest possible attention & had unbounded confidence in her. In discussing matters of business I used to remark that he was slow at finding words & had an involved way of explaining a subject, but it was always plain that the idea was right & clear in his mind, & nothing could exceed his strong good sense. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 29 August 1822 vol 1 p 181).

Wellington’s succession to the Foreign Office the most obvious result:

Creevey and Brougham both thought it the most likely outcome: Creevey to Miss Ord 14 August 1822; Brougham to Creevey 19 August 1822; Creevey Papers p 385.

Other possibilities:

A few other possibilities were occasionally mentioned in the torrent of speculation which followed, for example that Bathurst move to the Foreign Office and Fredrick Robinson take War and Colonies, or that Canning take the Exchequer rather than the Foreign Office, but these were never seriously considered. (Planta to Bagot, 3 September 1822, Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 131-2 mentions Bathurst as a possibility; Canning mentions the Exchequer: quoted in Aspinall ‘Canning’s Return to Office in September 1822’ English Historical Review vol 78 1963 p 536, see also p 533 and 535 where Canning suggests that he might be offered War and the Colonies, or that it might be merged with the Foreign Office with Bathurst as Secretary of State).

Canning’s reputation in 1822:

In January 1822 Neumann wrote in his diary: ‘even without wealth one can rise in this country by merit. Canning is a striking example of this. His gifts were so superior that no one but himself could diminish them; but this he did by force of ambition and a restless spirit which caused him to make false moves which have done for him among all parties’ (Diary vol 1 p 90). In August when Wellington told Princess Lieven he thought Canning should have the Foreign Office she reacted with horror, and remarkable prescience:

“In Heaven’s name, don’t have him; that man will cheat you!” This is my private belief; Canning has the most brilliant talents but no stability in his principles. He is excessively ambitious; no sooner in the Ministry than he would want to create a party. To form one, he would have to put in his supporters; bit by bit, the Ministry would be completely revolutionized; he might even make a compromise with the Whigs. In short, it seems to me impossible to place the least confidence in that man. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 21 August 1822 Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 199-200).

And on 10 September she told Metternich:

Canning’s present position is unique. The Opposition hates him; the King loathes him; the Ministers distrust him; those who want him do not like him. His personal following is a mere drop in the ocean; and, with that exception, there is not a soul in the United Kingdom who has the slightest respect for him. In spite of all these reasons for keeping him out, public opinion demands him; and he will receive the most important post in the Government.

Creevey described Canning as ‘perfidious’ and Brougham thought him ‘vulnerable’ (Creevey Papers p 385, 386); while six years earlier Lord Clancarty had written that, ‘It is of his very essence to push himself everywhere, from that restlessness of disposition with which he is afflicted, and with the vague object of turning every chance to his own advantage’ (quoted in Thorne History of Parliament vol 3 p 400).

These were all for one reason or another hostile witnesses – Canning provoked a lot of hostility – so it is worth considering Palmerston’s more impartial view: ‘I quite agree with you that there are many difficulties & objections to be overcome if Canning should be appointed. The King hates him, the Cabinet distrusts him, the Hs. [of] C[ommo]ns do not respect him & the Public have little confidence in him. In the other side of the account are his preeminent talents as an orator which in a constitution that is carried on by speaking in one room, the Hs. [of] C[ommo]ns, form a most important consideration’. Palmerston hoped that Canning take the Foreign Office but serve under Peel as Leader, and his reasons are revealing: ‘Canning Leader of the Commons wd. be to Liverpool a difft. person from Londonderry. The latter was all good faith & honour & disinterestedness; he never was playing a personal & counter game, never tried to make himself any party separate from Liverpool’s, & the latter might always be sure that whatever Londonderry reported to him was dictated by the clearest discernment and the most scrupulous good faith; this might not always be the case with Canning’ (Palmerston to Laurence Sulivan 19 August 1822 Palmerston Letters to the Sulivans p 151-3).

Objections to Wellington:

Liverpool’s objections to Wellington holding a frontline political office can probably be taken at face value, but similar arguments could be used by those who were really hostile to the Duke, for example the Times of 3 September 1822:

We are not anxious to disguise our wish that the mission to Vienna had been intrusted to some other minister. Military men are seldom very sound or generous politicians. Their instinct is so strong on the side of power, that they would (at least nine out of ten among them) extend to whole nations the discipline inseparable from an army, and weigh the resistance of a people to oppression in the same scale with mutiny against the articles of war. To what degree the mind of the Duke of Wellington may have been affected by this leaning towards the principles of despotism, derived not only from professional prejudice, but from the long exercise of discretionary and almost unbounded command, parties of course will differ: but the main point will not be disputed – that although at the head of an army no man ever carried himself with more regard to equity, moderation, and humanity, than this great and successful commander, he has become less admired and less popular, with every year that he has formed part of the Civil Government, and almost with every vote that he has given on questions of national politics. For his own sake, therefore, it is that we are anxious to see the Duke of Wellington less forward in the affairs of state. His administration if the Ordnance has displayed, we are told, much of that judgment and activity which might be expected from one so familiar with all branches of military mechanism: but at the Congress of Vienna, with his tendencies and prepossessions, what can he accomplish for his own fame, for the interests of his country, or for the cause of freedom?

This, of course, reflected the fact that the Times disagreed with the policy which Wellington and Londonderry had pursued, but the same arguments have been repeated – often without any consideration of their context or reflection on the accuracy – ever since.

Wellington’s great refusal:

It is perhaps unfair to make too much of the contrast between Wellington on the Whigs in June 1821 and his comment to Princess Lieven, for during the crisis Arbuthnot told Liverpool that ‘The duke [of Wellington] desired I would tell you this. His own opinion is that we must have Canning, and he has little doubt but that the King will ultimately yield the point. He is most decided for our doing our utmost not to let the government fall into the hands of the whigs.’ (quoted in Aspinall ‘Canning’s return to Office’ p 534).

On the basis of this it would be possible, though specious, to argue that Wellington yielded his claims to the Foreign Office in order to get the best possible outcome for the government. But it is clear that his disinclination was genuine and shaped the way he saw the advantages and disadvantages of each possible solution.

Wellington’s argument in favour of appointing Canning:

Princess Lieven wrote to Metternich on the 10th: ‘This is what Wellington thinks. The Government need Canning in the House of Commons, and their supporters have threatened to withdraw their votes if he is not appointed. The Ministers know him for an intriguer; but, if they offer him an important position, they deprive his intriguing spirit of its object. He will have reached the pinnacle of success and will be obliged to do everything in his power to remain there and, consequently, to support his colleagues. They do not think, therefore, that they have any reason to distrust him; but they have decided to keep a careful watch over him at the start. If he makes difficulties, they will send him packing – and they can, for the step the King has taken would prove that they have done all they could to secure his services, and that it was he who refused; and both the Canning faction, and the whole body of members who are now asking for his appointment, would no longer have the right to complain, since they could blame no one for the failure but Canning himself’. (Princess Lieven to Metternich 10 September 1822 Private Correspondence p 206 see also ‘Memorandum Shown to Lady Londonderry upon appointing Mr Canning to Office’ 7 September 1822 WND vol 1 p 277-8).

Canning’s exclusion would cause discontent among some government supporters:

There is no reason to doubt this, or to doubt that it was given considerable weight by both Liverpool and Wellington. However, according to Croker, the converse was also true: ‘If Canning is to come in on his own terms, with the consent of the present Cabinet – all is said; it will excite a good deal of dissatisfaction amongst the subordinate office men, and probably amongst some of the country gentlemen; but this will not break out into any flame, unless Canning shall mismanage his power either indiscretion or by intrigue. But all this is futurity …’ (Croker to Peel 25 August 1822 Croker Papers vol 1 p 229).

Wellington’s Illness:

The editors of Mrs Arbuthnot’s Journal (vol 1 p 185n) state that ‘While watching trials of a new howitzer, the Duke of Wellington had accidentally walked too far forward; the explosion of the shell caused him intense pain and brought on a singing noise in his left ear. John Stevenson (1778-1846), a celebrated aurist, was called in for consultation. He believed that the Duke’s ear drums had become thickened and could be relieved by treatment with a solution of nitrate of silver. Instead of bringing relief, this caused agonising pain and complete and permanent deafness in his left ear’. All this is plausible, but there does not seem to be any published primary source linking the 1822 illness with the testing of a new gun at Woolwich, and it is strange that Mrs Arbuthnot does not mention the story, rather than say that Wellington merely fancied that his hearing had deteriorated.   Neumann who also mentions Stevenson, simply says that Wellington ‘had a violent ear-ache, for which the aorist Stevenson…’ (Diary vol 1 p 102).

Samuel Rogers records Wellington saying, ‘I hear nothing by my left ear. The drum is broken, and might have been broken twenty years ago, for aught I know to the contrary. A gun discharged near me might have done it.’ (2 and 3 October 1824 Rogers Tabletalk of Samuel Rogers p 251).

Canning’s acceptance of the Foreign Office not quite a forgone conclusion:

All these arguments took for granted Canning’s own willingness, even eagerness to take office. It was commonly known that he would accept nothing less than ‘the full inheritance’: both the Foreign Office and the lead in the Commons, but no one doubted that he would prefer the glory of such a position to a profitable exile in India. But in fact Canning’s private letters to his wife in the critical weeks of August and September show a surprising reluctance to abandon India and return to the cockpit of Westminster. Indeed if it had not been for his family he might have refused – and, no doubt, regretted it for the rest of his life. (Canning’s letters are quoted in Aspinall ‘Canning’s Return to Office’ p 540-2 and passim.).


Reactions to Canning’s appointment:

Colchester’s reaction shows how far the government’s foreign policy had lost favour even amongst its most committed supporters:

Canning is appointed to succeed Lord Londonderry at the Foreign Office, having been forced on the King by Lord Liverpool, who has sacrificed the principle of having a Protestant Administration, and thrown away the opportunity of making such a Cabinet as should set the Roman Catholic question upon its only safe ground. In Foreign Affairs Canning may do very well, and support the interest and honour of the country with a loftier policy than his predecessor, and he may keep the House of Commons in better order; but his Ministerial influence, coupled with his declared principles and open support for Roman Catholic pretensions, must be mischievous to the constitution if he persists in them …’ (Abbot Diary 9 September 1822 vol 3 p 256).

Significance of Canning’s appointment:

In the course of the twentieth century it came to be widely accepted that Canning’s accession to the Foreign Office did not mark any great shift in British foreign policy, and that subsequent changes reflected a changing world rather than a different Foreign Secretary. This view was put forward by Howard Temperley in his study of Canning’s foreign policy: ‘It would be wrong to suggest that Canning was the inventor of his system. As he himself said, more than once, he was carrying out the ideas propounded by Castlereagh in his state paper of the 5th May 1820, and in this sense Castlereagh and Canning were at one.’ (Temperley Foreign Policy of Canning p 447-8).   Or, as Aspinall put it even more strongly, ‘we have long since abandoned the view that the substitution of Canning for Castlereagh produced a marked change in British foreign policy. Had he lived, Castlereagh would have broken with the continental league of despots as completely as Canning did, and would have recognized the independence of South America’ (Aspinall’s introduction to Hobhouse Diary p ix quoted by Lee George Canning and Liberal Toryism p 142n).

This consensus has been convincingly challenged (implicitly and explicitly) in the work of a later generation of historians including Muriel Chamberlain and Paul Schroeder.   The evidence set out in this biography of Wellington supports their conclusion, and the common perception of contemporaries, that Canning’s arrival at the Foreign Office did indeed mark a sharp shift in British policy, style and priorities. Not even Canning’s most ardent admirers would describe the main thrust of his foreign policy as Castlereagh did his: ‘the avowed and true policy of Great Britain being in the existing state of the world to appease controversy and to secure if possible for all States a long interval of repose.’ (Castlereagh to Bagot, 10 November 1817 quoted in Webster Foreign Policy of Castlereagh 1815-1822 p 449).



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© Rory Muir

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