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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 17: Cabinet Making, January to June 1828

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Wellington’s feelings on taking office:

Harriet, Lady Granville, wrote from Paris in early February 1828: ‘Alava is here. He says the Duke writes in good spirits, but Lord Clanwilliam told me that he had said “There is an end of health and happiness for me”.’ (Letters of Harriet Countess Granville vol 2 p 10).

Wellington and Peel:

As soon as he returned from Windsor Wellington sent for Peel, but not for Peel alone: he also summoned Bathurst, Melville (from Scotland) and even Goulburn, although Goulburn may not have been summoned until 10 January. He arrived on the evening of the 10th called at Peel’s house and went from there to Apsley House where he found Wellington, Peel and Lyndhurst who had kept some dinner for him. He supported Peel in arguing for a broadly based administration and in return Wellington offered him a seat in cabinet without specifying what. (Jenkins Henry Goulburn p 185-6).

The Retention of Huskisson:

Lord Lowther told his father on 17 January: ‘Huskisson will bring some votes, and per contra it is stated that his forming part of the Government with indispose and make 90 country gentlemen as shy as hawks’. (Quoted in Aspinall’s introduction to Three Early Nineteenth Century Diaries p xxiv-xxv note).

The exclusion of Eldon:

It is also possible, even likely, that Wellington left him out of office because he intended to act on the Catholic Question and knew that Eldon would be irreconcilably opposed. Certainly his absence sent quivers of alarm through the high Tories mainly on this ground.

Possible offices for Aberdeen:

According to Muriel Chamberlain (Aberdeen p 194) Wellington considered Aberdeen as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but Anglesey decided to stay so the post wasn’t vacant; then for the Foreign Office, but Dudley remained, so he offered him the Duchy of Lancaster with the understanding that he would help Dudley. This is quite plausible, although the sources for it aren’t very good (a gossipy letter from Palmerston to Lady Cowper, and on entry in Ellenborough’s diary for the following May, neither reporting conversations with either Wellington or Aberdeen).

Lord Ellenborough:

The King greatly disliked Ellenborough (see Ellenborough Political Diary vol 1 p 10 & n). Lady Holland told her son in March that ‘The K. says it is enough to cast ridicule and contempt upon any Govt, to have such a man as Ld Ellenboro’ belonging to it: he protests the sight of him makes him sick, he is absurd & contemptible in his appearance’. (Lady Holland to her son, 18 March 1828, Letters p 78).

For discussion of possible explanations for his appointment see Aspinall’s introduction to Three Early Nineteenth Century Diaries p xii & n.

The Irish Government:

According to Brian Jenkins ‘Wellington rejected the appeal of his brother that he be restored to the viceroyalty, and his retention of the Canningites induced Anglesey not to withdraw his acceptance of the lord lieutenancy and led Lamb to continue as chief secretary. Had Anglesey declined to go to Ireland under the new government, Wellington would have appointed Lord Aberdeen, a moderate “Catholic”.’ (The Era of Emancipation p 257).

Lord Wellesley and Wellington’s other brothers:

Lord Wellesley had hoped for some senior office, preferably in cabinet, and was disappointed and angry at having been overlooked. Before the news broke Marianne, his wife, wrote to his son” ‘I cannot think the Duke would be so unkind to him, or impolitic, as to overlook your father’s claims.’ (quoted in Severn Architects of Empire p 460; see also Wake Sisters of Fortune p 221-222).   Lord Maryborough was also excluded from office, but Henry Wellesley retained his position as ambassador to Austria and was raised to the peerage as Baron Cowley at the end of January 1828. Cowley’s promotion was recommended by Goderich (with Wellington strongly supporting his claim), not by Wellington’s government: see Severn Architects of Empire p 457-8.

Wellington’s own wishes and the formation of his government:

Peter Jupp first suggests, then treats as established fact, the idea that Wellington, initially favoured the creation of a narrowly based government made up entirely of those who had resigned the previous spring. (Politics on the Eve of Reform p 75, 77). This seems to be supported by Wellington’s letter to Mrs Arbuthnot of 13 January in which he wrote: ‘If I was to judge for myself I would not have acted as I have done’. (Wellington and His Friends p 81-82: Jupp does not cite this letter). Yet this is most unlikely: Peel’s letter of 9 January to Julia, written after his first meeting with Wellington, runs counter to any serious disagreement: he found Wellington ‘most reasonable and friendly and satisfactory in every way’, although Peel already believed that an attempt to include the Canningites was essential. (Peel Private Letters p 103-4). Equally the King had commissioned Wellington to form a broad not a narrow government and Wellington thought ‘the case cannot stand better’ (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 9 January 1828 Wellington and His Friends p 80-81). It is much more likely that from the outset Wellington accepted the need to at least attempt to recruit the Canningites in order to conciliate opinion in the Commons, but that he obscured this in writing to Mrs Arbuthnot at the end of the long day, knowing that she disagreed strongly, especially as he probably sympathized with her point of view even while rejecting it as impractical.

Criticism of a soldier as Prime Minister:

The Morning Chronicle of 22 January 1828 gives a fine example of this prejudice:

there is something in the election of the Duke of Wellington to the Premiership … that we cannot well digest. The Duke of Wellington is a soldier, and only a soldier. We say nothing as to his oratory, because, though the power of speaking fluently must be always of great utility to a Minister in a country like this, a man may possess an intellect of the highest order without being a fluent speaker. But the Duke of Wellington’s habits and pursuits have not been of a nature to enable him to possess the knowledge which we should think indispensible to a Minister, and especially a Premier. … [Goes on to suggest that the leading questions facing the government should be the Poor laws or the State of Crime … hardly areas of prime focus, or ones in which Canning, for example, had any more expertise than Wellington]. We instance these two cases among the numbers that must occupy Parliament, to show how impossible it is for a man educated like the Duke, who has never had the leisure for inquiry, even if he had the inclination, to be a competent judge of the subjects that must be discussed in a Cabinet.

… …

[Suggests that he probably only stepped forward as no one else capable]

Intellectually he is, as we have said, notoriously deficient in the qualities which a Minister ought to possess; for on questions of commercial policy, he has furnished the public with evidence of his incapacity to judge correctly.

[Yet he had firmness and character – will be decisive …]

We are not justifying the appointment of a mere [!] soldier to the arduous situation of Premier of this great Empire, for our opinion is that to give unity and effect to an Administration, it should be guided by one master mind. We are merely stating what we conceive may render the appointment less injurious to the country that at first sight it might be supposed likely to be.

The new Cabinet takes office, but early signs of disharmony:

Wellington and the other new ministers went to Windsor on the afternoon of 22 January to be sworn into office. Although they had been told that the King would receive them at three o’clock, he kept them waiting until six as he received the seals and bade farewell to the retiring ministers. Still the time passed pleasantly enough with ‘a good deal of conversation on different political subjects’ and when the King was finally ready he was gracious even to Lord Ellenborough whom he disliked. This was followed by a dinner at Apsley House for the whole cabinet including Huskisson and the other Canningites. According to Ellenborough, ‘Huskisson, whom I knew only by sight, made a slight cold bow to me. Dudley looked as black as thunder, and the others rather out of humour’. The conversation was much more constrained and awkward than at Windsor, and ‘the courtesy was that of men who had just fought a duel’. On the way home afterwards Aberdeen commented upon ‘the extreme coldness of our new allies’, while Ellenborough himself was even more forthright, albeit in the privacy of his diary: ‘I wish the junction with Huskisson had never been made. Wallace’s name was as good for the commercial interest. We get few votes, and abandon our strong ground with the country. Besides I doubt the fidelity of these men’. (Ellenborough Political Diary 22 January 1828 vol 1 p 1-4).

Cabinet meeting decides Wellington must resign as Commander-in-Chief:

Hatherton was one of the executors of J. W. Ward’s will and copied a few extracts from Ward’s journal into his diary before destroying it:

‘25th January 1828. … Cabinet on the King’s Speech till six. We began, however, by deciding the question left to us by the Duke as to his holding both offices. … The Chancellor spoke first, mildly and shortly, but against. Then the President, still more gently but still against. I more strongly against. Ellenborough and Peel ably and manfully against. Nobody for, except Aberdeen, feebly and with hesitation. He hates liberty and despises the people overmuch.’ (Extracts from Hatherton’s diary edited by Aspinall 3 July 1838 p 261-62):

Opinion on Wellington’s Government, January 1828:

Lord Colchester, a high Tory, was critical:

The Duke of Wellington and Mr Peel have disappointed the country by making a mixed Government; incorporating two of the least popular men in the country: Lord Dudley, of no acknowledged character for his department, – fanciful, irresolute, absent; and Huskisson, odious to the agricultural and shipping interest; and the whole cabinet composed of a majority of favourers of the Roman Catholic claim, viz. seven for them, and six against them, omitting also Lord Eldon, whose former officers and long services led all men to expect that he would be President of the Council, in a Government formed by two of his old colleagues, with whom, upon a common cause (their anti-Catholic and anti-Canning principles), he had resigned last year’. (28 January 1828 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 534).

Lord Redesdale, writing earlier, thought on similar lines:

I cannot understand the present supposed coalition. I think it cannot lead to good; I know enough of Huskisson to be persuaded that he will take the lead in all financial and commercial business, and have everything his own way, in spite of his colleagues. On these subjects he held Canning in leading-strings, and knocked down poor Lord Liverpool …

… I think the New Ministry will find the Chancellor not very manageable. I pity the Duke of Wellington, who is making thorns in his pillow, of which he is not aware’. (Redesdale to Colchester 19 January 1828 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 538).

Whig attitudes to Wellington’s government, early 1828:      

According to Austin Mitchell the Opposition was divided by events of 1827 and because there was no leader who could heal the division between those who had joined Canning and those who had remained in opposition. There were

wide differences of attitudes to the new administration, its personnel, and its still emerging policies. The next few weeks revealed three main groups. Althorp, Fitzwilliam, Milton, and Normanby openly opposed the administration, distrusting its members, its principles, and its origins. More were inclined to approve of it, for the exclusion of Eldon helped create hopes of a liberal policy. Bedford thought it impossible to find an alternative, and Rosslyn, although he declined office, was favourably disposed. So too were supporters of the previous government, such as Wilson, Calcraft, and even Lansdowne. Perhaps larger still, at this uncertain stage, was a group inclined to watch and wait and prepared to support those measures of which they approved. In it, besides Brougham, Spring Rice, and Stanley, who had supported the late administration, were Russell and Hobhouse. Grey, unwilling to commit himself, held aloof from all groups.’ (The Whigs in Opposition p 209; see also Greville Memoirs 19 and 28 Jan 1828 vol 1 p 198-200, 203-204).

Weakness and strength of Wellington’s government in early 1828:

Greville (Memoirs 19 January 1828 vol 1 p 198-200) is quite interesting on this: the lack of any alternative and the possibility that the ministry would gain strength as it went along. W. H. Fremantle wrote to the Duke of Buckingham on 25 February 1828:

The Government formed under the Duke of Wellington is strong, and composed of materials which could and ought to stand, and will stand, unless the same causes operate as did with the late Government – of internal quarrels breaking them down. The explanations which have taken place in the two Houses all tend to create disunion; but nevertheless if they weather the first six weeks, I have no doubt it will become a settled Government and strengthen with its growth. … There never was such a hodge-podge as these arrangements have made in the two great parties of the country’. [elaborates, neither Whigs nor ultra Tories mean to oppose, but he expects that in six weeks they will do so]. (Buckingham Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George IV vol 2 p 368).

Opinion on the Government, March 1828:

Lady Holland was, naturally, hostile to the government: ‘The Govt is not popular nor respected. Much disappointment at the D. of W. He is also nettled & sour at finding he can do so little. The H. of Commons is not manageable. The K. is not satisfied, & talks in all directions how much he liked Lord Lansdowne, that he was the only gentleman, & Lord Carlisle, he has ever had …’ And again, three days later: ‘There prevails a general notion of want of stability in the Govt. People are disappointed in D. of W.; & he surprized that his colleagues & H. of Commons are not as tractable as his military staff & councils of war used to be to his will’. (Lady Holland to her son 18 and 21 March 1828 Letters p 78, 80).

Her criticism was supported, from the other end of the political spectrum, by Lord Colchester: ‘Amongst the Members of Parliament there is a general feeling of dissatisfaction at the wavering and unsettled state of the House of Commons, without sufficient authority in the leading Minister’. (Abbot Diary 22 March 1828 vol 3 p 553-4).

Wellington’s accident, 22 March 1828:

‘The Duke had a most terrible fall two days ago, getting out of his cabriolet at the door of the Opera. He fell on his nose, which is frightfully cut & swelled, & his forehead is greatly bruised. He was bled & has not suffered from the shake, but is so disfigured he does not stir out.’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 24 March 1828 vol 2 p 175-6).

‘I have just seen the Duke of Wellington, who by the way has contrived to tumble out of his Cabriolet, upon his face, his hands being entangled in his Cloak & so totally unable to save himself – he has cut & bruised his nose & forehead a good deal, but nothing worse…’ (William Lamb to Lord Anglesey, 24 March 1828 quoted in Anglesey One-Leg p 194).

Wellington’s assessment of the position of the government, April 1828:

At the beginning of April Wellington wrote to the Prince of Orange,

I have been under the necessity of undertaking to perform the duties of a most arduous situation, under circumstances of great difficulty, and in most critical times; a situation for the performance of duties of which I am not qualified, and they are very disagreeable to me. But I must say that, up to the present moment, the government have been very successful. There is in fact but little, if any, opposition to it. This state of things cannot last, I know. But as the whole of the landed and great commercial and monied interests of the country are decidedly with us, I hope that, if the existing state of tranquility in this country should terminate, we shall remain still with a strong government.

Your Royal Highness would scarcely recognize England again if you were now to come here. There is no party remaining. The ladies and the youth of the country in particular are with us, and I could also count upon my fingers those who are hostile to the government. (Wellington to the Prince of Orange, London, 5 April 1828, WND vol 4 p 335-6).

The Test and Corporation Acts:

The Corporation Act of 1661 had been an important piece in the assertion of Anglican Supremacy after the Restoration, restricting municipal office to those who took communion with the Church of England. Many Dissenters found this no great deterrent and in 1711 the Occasional Conformity Act made its provisions more onerous. The Test Act of 1673 required that all office holders under the Crown, including MPs, receive Anglican communion at least once a year; to take oaths of supremacy and allegiance to the Crown; and make a declaration against transubstantiation. If both acts had been rigorously enforced Protestant non-conformists as well as Catholics would have been almost entirely excluded from formal participation in public life. However since the early eighteenth century regular indemnity acts had effectively suspended both Acts: Catholics were still excluded by other provisions, and many town corporations remained self-perpetuating oligarchies, but in other towns Dissenters played a full part and a number were elected to Parliament. In the 1820s the Test and Corporation Acts had little practical meaning, but they remained a powerful symbol of Anglican supremacy.

Charles James Fox had moved for the repeal of the Acts in 1790 but had been defeated, and the issue had slept for a generation as Whigs and liberals concentrated their attention on Catholic Emancipation.

The Debate in the Commons over Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts:

The debate was on 26 February and Russell spoke well, seeking to convince the House that toleration would protect the Church of England better than exclusions, and claiming that the existing tests encouraged hypocrisy and profanation of the sacrament. The response of the ministers was lame: they expected to be beaten, and rather than argue for the principle of the Acts, simply stressed that because they were not enforced they did no practical harm. (Peel anticipated defeat in a letter to Lloyd of 23 February 1828: quoted in Machin ‘Resistance to the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, 1828’ p 122; see also Ellenborough Political Diary 27 February 1828 vol 1 p 42). Yet the result was not a foregone conclusion as Edward Littleton made clear in his diary:

I never knew the House of Commons in so odd a state as it was this evening during the debate on Lord J. Russell’s motion for repealing the Corporation and Test Acts. There was at least 465 Members in the House at 10 o’clock; about thirty walked away not knowing what the devil to do, and at that hour at least fifty, I should think, though determined to vote, did not know how. They appeared to remain undecided even to the last. I was one of this number. We knew from the conduct of the Dissenters in past years they were enemies of the Catholic and would be worse, except that they had an object to gain from Parliament for themselves. This made many of the friends of religious liberty their opponents now for a season. But the Government spoke so feebly and all the arguments the other way were so ably put that it was impossible to resist, and we all walked out with the Ayes – so the Ayes had it. Great consternation on the Treasury Bench. (‘Extracts from Lord Hatherton’s Diary’ ed by Aspinall Parliamentary Affairs vol 17 1964 p 20-21.).

Russell’s motion was carried by a surprisingly strong majority of 237 to 193 votes, amidst loud cheering, and a committee was established to consider how to proceed.

The Government decides to yield:

According to Ellenborough opinion within cabinet was divided, but most ministers except Wellington and Bathurst either favoured concession, or did not feel strongly enough about it to make a stand. Wellington’s argument was that while the law did not keep Dissenters out of local government, it prevented them doing mischief when they were in office. (Parliamentary Debates n.s. vol 18 col 676-784: col 781 for numbers and cheering; Ellenborough Political Diary 23 February and 3 March 1828 vol 1 p 38-9, 46-7.). In other circumstances he might have pressed for more determined resistance but the government was facing a number of other difficult problems and there was little evidence that either the Church or the populace were willing to fight to save the Acts. An amended version of Russell’s proposal passed the Commons on 31 March and was sent to the Lords where it was debated in late April.

Peel’s failure leading the government in the Commons:

The press was, of course, highly partisan, but it is significant that in May the Globe wrote that ‘Whether or no Sir George Murray is to take the lead of Mr Peel is not yet announced; but the failure of Mr Peel as a leader is the common subject of conversation in his party’ (quoted in the Morning Chronicle 28 May 1828). While Ellenborough wrote, when Murray was appointed: ‘My expectation is that next session he will be the most efficient man in the House of Commons’. (26 May 1828 Political Diary vol 1 p 122) which hardly reflects well on Peel.

Canningites uneasy at their position:

Huskisson and his friends were morbidly sensitive to accusations that they had betrayed Canning’s principles in order to remain in office. A fierce quarrel between Huskisson and Joan Canning along these lines increased their recalcitrance in cabinet. The issue was complicated by demands for a peerage and a pension as recognition of the later statesman’s genius and sacrifice for his country. Wellington agreed to the initial request, for promises had been made when Canning gave up India for the Foreign Office in 1822, but he resisted their rapid escalation. The speeches on the subject in Parliament were uncomfortable and Wellington’s attempt to pour oil on the waters by denying any personal enmity for Canning was received with general incredulity and only succeeded in adding to high Tory suspicion. (Ellenborough Political Diary 25 February 1828 vol 1 p 40; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 29 February and 6 May 1828 vol 2 p 166-7, 185-7.).

The Canningites abuse Wellington:

According to Greville:

     After the explanations in February the Gov[ernmen]t went on to all appearance very well, but there lurked under this semblance of harmony some seeds of jealousy and distrust, not I believe so much in the mind of the Duke as in those of his Tory colleagues, and the Canningites on their side certainly felt no cordiality even towards the Duke himself. They complained that Palmerston told everything to Lady Cowper and she again to M. de Lieven and that so every secret of Govt. was known. This in fact is very true, for she has told me enough to show that it was so, and the contemptuous and dissatisfied manner which the Duke was spoken of proved how little harmony there was in the Govt. They said that he never could nor would understand anything; that he said a thing one day and forgot it the next, and instead of that clearness of intellect for which he had credit, nothing could be more puzzled and confused than he was; that nothing could absolve him from the suspicion of duplicity and insincerity but the conviction that his ambiguous conduct on various occasions arose from a confusion of ideas. (Greville Memoirs 12 June 1828 vol 1 p 208-209, the second and third sentences of the passage quoted were omitted from the original edition edited by Reeve).

But against this there are the comments of Dudley, writing to a trusted confidant:

        It is a great comfort to have a real minister. Were you never on a journey driven three or four miles by the under-ostler, or by what is called ‘an odd man in the stable’, slowly yet insecurely jolted by every stone, and expecting to fall into every ditch, and were you not afterwards delighted when happily meeting John, the proper postillion, he mounted, gathered up the reins, cracked his whip, and trotted on a good, sound, even pace? That is just the difference betwixt Goderich and the Duke. (Dudley to Ivy n.d. [March 1828] Ward Letters to Ivy p 333-4).

The Argument over the Corn Law:

Charles Grant was the most insignificant of the Canningites, but, as President of the Board of Trade, the minister who would have to introduce the revised corn bill into Parliament, and refused to accept the compromise that had been thrashed out between Wellington and Huskisson after their disagreement the previous year. This precipitated a crisis which kept the government on the brink of collapse throughout the second half of March, for Huskisson, who had accepted the compromise, now said that if Grant did not agree to it, nor would he, and that if Grant resigned he would follow. No one doubted that in this case Palmerston would follow them, and although Dudley was torn, he made it clear that he would not stay if all the other Canningites quit. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 24 March 1828 vol 2 p 175; Ellenborough Political Diary vol 1 p 51-74). On the other hand Wellington felt that he had already made great concessions to achieve a compromise that satisfied even Huskisson and was reluctant to yield anything further. This was accepted even by Palmerston, and Grant was put under great pressure by his friends to yield, for when it came to the point they were reluctant to lose office over a detail of little significance. (Palmerston Journal 28 March 1828 in Ashley Life of Palmerston vol 1 p 133-6).

Cabinet discussions over Penryn and East Retford:

According to Palmerston the issue was discussed at a cabinet dinner at Ellenborough’s on 12 March. Oddly there is no mention of this dinner in Ellenborough’s diary where the entry for that day concentrates on Corn, and says nothing either of the dinner of Penryn and East Retford. Nor does the Court Circular in The Times or the Morning Chronicle mention a cabinet dinner on this day, but rather a meeting at the Foreign Office. However the ‘Mirror of Fashion’ in the Morning Chronicle of 13 March does mention the dinner; possibly Ellenborough’s editor left it out for some reason, or Ellenborough was interrupted in writing his diary.

Palmerston wrote:

The Cabinet dined at Ellenborough’s. After dinner we discussed what should be done about the proposed disenfranchisement of Penryn – to be transferred to Manchester, and Retford to Birmingham.

Peel proposal to transfer Penryn, and throw Retford into the hundreds; Huskisson the reverse. Both wished to prevent establishing the rule that in all such cases the right should be transferred. Dudley was strongly for seizing the golden opportunity of giving members to great towns, and thus getting rid of the great scandal of the present state of our representation. I was clearly of opinion that we should be beat if we proposed to throw Penryn into the hundreds. The House of Commons had twice beat the Government upon a similar proposal as to Cornish borough, Grampound and Penryn; would it be wise to risk a third defeat as to Retford? The difficulty would be that it was a worse case than Penryn, and therefore seemed to call for a course at least as severe; and there was also a general impression that to throw it into the hundreds would give it to the Duke of Newcastle. The result seemed to be, that we should transfer Penryn, and try to throw Retford into the hundreds, taking away altogether the burgesses and making the right entirely in freeholders; or at least that Retford should be given to the agricultural interest in some way or other’. (Palmerston’s journal 12 March 1828 in Ashley Life of Palmerston vol 1 p 129).

Bathurst’s role in events leading up to Wellington accepting Huskisson’s resignation:

According to Greville, ‘Upon receiving Huskisson’s letter he went to Ld Bathurst and consulted him, and Ld B advised him to take him at his word’ (Greville Memoirs12 June 1828 vol 1 p 209). However Greville is not to be trusted on such matters.

Interpretations of Wellington’s motives:

Oliver MacDonagh The Hereditary Bandsman Daniel O’Connell 1775-1829 p 28 suggests that ‘Wellington’s decision to rid himself of the most “liberal” members of his cabinet’ was ‘probably to prepare the way for a Catholic compromise’. There is no evidence to support this idea, and no need for such a complicated explanation of Wellington’s motives, which appears unconvincing. Of course if the Canningites had remained in office the Catholic question would have unfolded in a rather different way, but that does not mean that Wellington, or anyone else, could plan their manoeuvres so many steps ahead.

Reaction to Huskisson’s and the other resignations:

Even many of the Canningites themselves were embarrassed to have left office on such a pretext. Lord Granville wrote from Paris (where he was ambassador) telling Huskisson that it would have been for better to leave office if he must, because Wellington was giving way to the high Tories or because of his foreign policy rather than over a ‘trivial Question’. Dudley wrote with exasperation of ‘this silly provoking quarrel – if quarrel it can be called …’ While Huskisson himself admitted to his friends that he had blundered by acting impulsively rather than consulting them – although he also argued that this hardly mattered because Wellington had been determined to drive them from office one way or another. (Granville to Huskisson, Paris, 30 May 1828 Huskisson Papers p 307-8; Ward Letter to Ivy [23 May 1828] p 337; Huskisson in Aspinall ‘Last of the Canningites’ p 651-2). This became the accepted liberal line: that Huskisson had been entrapped and driven from office by Wellington, and this has had some influence on later accounts of the affair. At the time however it was met with, at best, a sceptical smile, while Huskisson’s speech attempting to justify his conduct fell flat.

Greville’s account is quite interesting, referring to speculation of a complicated story behind the scenes when Greville thought it probably much as it appeared, ‘But the charge which is made on one side that Huskisson wanted to embarrass the Duke’s Gov[ernmen]t and enhance his own importance, and that on the other of the Duke’s insincerity, are both unfounded’. However the jubilation of the high Tories, and of some of Wellington’s close friends, tended to lend some support to claims that he had plotted to get rid of the Canningites, as did his attendance at the Pitt Dinner. (Greville Memoirs 12 June 1828 vol 1 p 210).

Speculation how Wellington will fill positions vacated by the Canningites:

In March Mrs Arbuthnot discussed the question with Bathurst. They agreed that the cabinet was too large and risked becoming a debating club, so that if the opportunity arose its numbers should be reduced by excluding some minor offices. Mrs Arbuthnot mentioned that Wellington was very anxious to include Lord Grey and had thought of offering him the Foreign Office, but that the King’s personal objections to Grey probably make this impractical. A solution might be to make Aberdeen and Ellenborough Secretaries of State and Grey Lord Privy Seal – an office which required little contact with the King. Bathurst agreed that Aberdeen would do well at the Colonial, and Ellenborough at the Foreign Office and also mentioned Vesey Fitzgerald and Henry Hardinge as rising figures who should be promoted. He also mentioned the disappointment of some Tory figures, specifically Westmorland, Wallace and Colchester at being kept out of office. Mrs Arbuthnot regretted Westmorland’s exclusion, and knew Wellington would have liked to include him when the government was formed, but she now accepted that ‘it will not do’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 27 March 1828 vol 2 p 178).

Two months later, in the midst of the crisis, Ellenborough thought that Huskisson and William Lamb would be the most difficult Canningites to replace. He coveted the Foreign Office for himself and drew up a list of other possible moves of which the most interesting is the nomination of Hardinge to the Colonial Office. That would have been a very big step forward for Hardinge, who had only held subordinate offices, but his evidence to the Finance Committee when it enquired into the Ordnance department had greatly impressed observers. (Ellenborough Political Diary 21 May 1828 vol 1 p 112 also 19 April 1828 p 86).

Murray’s Appointment:

Murray’s nomination also produced an inevitable flurry of anti-militarism in the liberal press. The Times of 28 May declared:

Our sentiment has always been, that the worst possible governors of British colonies were military men, yet such are in most cases selected for our Colonial Governments. Men educated to give orders, not to propose subjects of inquiry or discussion, – men used to coerce those who are punished for daring to think, instead of to conciliate free and reasonable beings, – these are the persons amongst whom the conductors of our colonial system in every quarter of the habitable world are appointed by the Ministers of Great Britain, to perplex, distract, and finally to dissolve an empire which ought to rest upon opinion.

And now what a spectacle is offered nearer home! The army of colonial martinets obtains a military head. The old Quarter-Master-General of the Commander-in-chief becomes Secretary of State for the Colonies, and a Cabinet Minister! We know and admire the talents of this respectable officer, but we own we had not looked for this result! A Secretary at War the country might have accepted from the hands of the Duke of Wellington, in the person of his able and sagacious friend and colleague Sir George Murray: but we do not wish to see the Cabinet Council sitting with aiguillettes on every shoulder …’

And the Morning Chronicle of the same date:

Sir George Murray enjoys, like his Grace, the reputation of being a good soldier, and he has gathered laurels in other fields than those of Mars; but of his qualifications as a Statesman his countrymen were not before aware. … We are not aware that Sir George Murray is deficient in confidence any more than his Grace; but should he have had any misgivings when this new career was opened to his ambition, his Grace would, no doubt, inform him that the old-fashioned way of laboring to obtain knowledge was exploded, and that he had never found his ignorance of any disadvantage to him in the Cabinet?

… here we have an Irishman, one day supposed incapable of understanding the plainest proposition, and the next surprising the world in his Premiership as such as Sancho did in his Government of Barrataria…’

Appointment of Vesey Fitzgerald to the Board of Trade:

Vesey Fitzgerald, Peel’s close friend, succeeded Grant as President of the Board of Trade. Early in his career, fifteen or twenty years before, Fitzgerald had shown great promise and was widely recognized as able, ambitious and a good speaker in Parliament. But then things had gone awry, not in any scandal but in several missteps which had annoyed his superiors.   In 1816 Lord Liverpool wrote that he ‘has certainly considerable abilities, but he is unfortunately deficient in two qualities, more important in the concerns of life then any talents, judgement and temper’. (Quoted in Thorne History of Parliament vol 3 p 756-757). As a result his career languished: for a few years in the early 1820s he was envoy to Sweden (while remaining an MP) and then, after an interlude out of office, paymaster general. His elevation to an important role on the front bench in the Commons with a seat in cabinet was a comfort to Peel who could rely upon him for loyal and steady support, except on the issue of Catholic Emancipation of which Fitzgerald was a consistent advocate. His appointment necessitated his re-election for his seat of Country Clare, which he had represented since 1818 and where he was understood to be widely respected and popular.

Mrs Arbuthnot dined with Fitzgerald in 1823 and noted that ‘[Fitzgerald] knew but little of the Duke before, but says he has been quite astonished by him; that he had always admired him as the greatest warrior in the world, but that he had had no idea that he had turned his mind so much to civil politics, & he found him as great in that as he had ever been in his military character’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 4 August 1823 vol 1 p 250).

Hardinge appointed to the War Office and Beresford to the Ordnance, but neither in cabinet:

The War Office went to Sir Henry Hardinge but without a seat in the cabinet. Palmerston’s elevation to the cabinet in 1827 had been unusual, although not unprecedented, and Wellington probably felt that including Hardinge as well as Murray would simply invite criticism of the number of soldiers in high office. Similarly Beresford remained at the Ordnance but outside cabinet: with Wellington at the head, and Murray at War and the Colonies, there was no need for a further source of professional military advice, and there was nothing in the departmental affairs of either the Ordnance or the War Office that required their inclusion in cabinet.

Lord Frances Leveson Gower:

The other appointment of significance was that of Lord Francis Leveson Gower (later Earl of Ellesmere) as Chief Secretary for Ireland. He had close ties to the Canningites and only accepted the position after some hesitation and with the reluctant approval of his father. His nomination was not immediately welcomed by Lord Anglesey, the Lord Lieutenant, but Wellington responded with warm praise for the young man, assuring Anglesey that there ‘is no doubt of Lord Francis’s talents, nor of his temper, manners, and qualities; and he stands higher in the public estimation here than any man who could be found to take the office of Chief Secretary’. (Wellington to Anglesey 15 June 1828 WND vol 4 p 489).

Brian Jenkins writes of his appointment:

Dismissed by Creevey as an “offensive, inefficient sprig of nobility”, Leveson Gower was in fact widely admired as a “very superior, clever man”, his romantic good looks matching his taste for poetry, prose, and drama. He also had a reputation for extreme caution, and a coldness of manner, which the extroverted Irish were unlikely to find attractive. Conversely, his wife, Harriet Greville, the sister of the diarist, and daughter of one of the duke’s former mistresses, was noted for a “total want of natural tact and feeling”, and was cruelly characterized by Maria Edgeworth as a “sharpish tartish looking” person. More important to Wellington, however, was Leveson Gower’s steady support of emancipation, his moderation on the issue – he had been selected to introduce of one the “wings” in 1825 – and his willingness to go to Ireland even though he had resigned an undersecretaryship at the Colonial Office when his fellow Canningites departed the government …

       The appointment served to heighten the distrust with which Anglesey had always regarded the Wellington ministry. In Leveson Gower, he grumbled to his brother Arthur, “I have a Man whose Manner is so cold, so rebuffing, so distant that it will be impossible to establish free & familiar intercourse, & then His Wife’s Connexions are alone sufficient to make his appointment disagreeable, embarrassing, & even unsafe to me”. Her family were “intriguing, mischievous, gossiping, & busy about the affairs of others’ … (Jenkins Era of Emancipation p 265).

Charles Arbuthnot reproaches himself:

I must settle some course of regular study for the summer. I will strive my utmost to emerge from the background in wch I am, for it does annoy me, I own. It would be very unkind & unfair to be angry with the Duke, for in point of fact it is my own fault. Had I exerted myself in Parlt. I shd. not have been so left behind by others; but tho’ it is my own fault, it does not the less mortify me. … indeed it is very painful to me never to be consulted, & never to be mixed up in everything, as I used to be. … Whether I can emerge or not is the question. I fear that the effort at my age is beyond human power, but I will make the attempt …’ (Charles Arbuthnot to his wife 13 July 1828 Correspondences of Charles Arbuthnot p 105.).

No Overture made to Lord Grey:

No overture was made to Lord Grey, although the idea was seriously pressed by both Ellenborough and by Charles Arbuthnot. (Ellenborough Political Diary 26 and 28 May 1828 vol 1 p 123, 126-7; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 13 June 1828 vol 2 p 194-5). At a personal level Wellington was probably tempted and there were obvious advantages in gaining the active support of the group of aristocratic Whigs who clustered around Grey; but the political cost would have been high. The traditional supporters of the government would be uneasy at best, while the high Tories would be deeply offended and might have gone into active opposition. Reconciling the King to such a move would not be easy, and it had unfortunate echoes of the infamous Fox-North Coalition of 1783. Besides it was by no means certain that Grey would accept, and a refusal, when it came known, would greatly damage the government’s standing. Over and above all these considerations was a reluctance to risk the new found unity of the cabinet by the inclusion of a major figure who represented a completely different set of political views and commitments.

Reactions to the Reshuffle:

Reactions to the new ministry was rather muted, partly because the political season was drawing to its close, and partly because it was soon overshadowed by other events. Creevey however did not hide his dismay. He was disappointed in the absence of an overture to Grey and some of the other appointments left him feeling disillusioned with Wellington. ‘I must say my curiosity to be mixed up with him again is much abated by his late horrible appointments – Croker a Privy Councillor – Vesey Fitzgerald a Cabinet Minister – and, above all, that offensive, inefficient sprig of nobility, Lord Frances Leveson Gower, to be Secretary for Ireland is really beyond all enduring’. (Creevey to Miss Creevey 17 Jun [1828] Creevey Papers p 502). But Wellington himself was quite satisfied with the reshuffle and was already looking ahead to the other problems he would soon need to face, as he told his brother Henry towards the end of June:

     We are going on well here. The government is very popular; and indeed there is but little opposition. We shall get through our Greek difficulties I hope, and that we shall see the peace of Europe again re-established, and resting upon some permanent basis. Portugal is a great difficulty. But I hope we shall get through that.

     Between the delays and procrastination of Lord Liverpool’s government, his having postponed everything from Session of 1825 on account of the dissolution of Parliament which took place in 1826, and Mr Canning’s government of last year, which could do nothing, my predecessors have left me a vast legacy of difficulties of all descriptions. But I shall get the better of them I hope … (Wellington to Lord Cowley 25 June 1828 WND vol 4 p 499).

Greville confirms this view: writing in the context of Wellington’s speech of 10 June on the Catholic Question he says ‘so far from the Duke’s Gov[ernmen]t having any difficulty in standing, there does not appear to be a disposition in any quarter to oppose it. Not only in Parliament there is no Opposition, but the Press is veering round and treating him with great civility’. (Greville Memoirs 18 June 1828 vol 1 p 212).





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Tags for Chapter 17: Cabinet Making, January to June 1828

© Rory Muir

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