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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 21: The Fall of Wellington’s Government

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Casualties in the July Days in Paris:

Accounts from the British ambassador at the time put the losses very much higher: on 1 August Wellington wrote ‘The destruction of human life in these affairs is said to have been immense. Lord Stuart says five thousand. The private accounts which I have seen state that dead bodies were lying about in all the streets’. (Wellington to Northumberland 1 August 1830 WND vol 7 p 137-8). Two days later Ellenborough noted ‘Lord Stuart states the loss of the troops at 3,000. That of the people at 6,000. Of course there calculations are very vague, and probably exaggerated.’ (Ellenborough Political Diary 3 August 1830 vol 2 p 332-3).

Wellington and the 1830 Revolution in France:

‘The Duke says he has no doubt there had been just as great a conspiracy against the King as on his part against the people, but that the folly was in taking the initiative instead of leaving it to the people’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 5 August 1830 vol 2 p 376-77).

There can be no doubt that the resistance to the Ordonnances of King Charles X, however improper and unjustifiable the conduct of the King and his ministers, was an arranged plan, formed and executed by the old enemies of this country and of Europe, and by the revolutionary party. What has happened is the revolution acted over again by many of the same characters, the use of the same means, the same symbols, and the adoption of nearly the same measures. That has been done, on this occasion in a few days, which forty years ago required months and years. But the measures and the course pursued are the same, and if preserved in, or rather not changed, will certainly affect the interior of France ultimately in the same manner; or in the words of the Treaty, will “convulse France, and thereby endanger the repose of other States”. There will be a civil or a foreign war, possibly both, if the latter should precede the former, and all Europe will be more or less involved.

        In the mean time the Liberal party in every country in Europe will be in operation against the government and under the protection of France.

… … …

     The evil hanging over Europe as the consequence of the transactions of the last fortnight will come soon enough. I cannot hope that any step that we, or our Allies, can take will prevent it….

     [Our only feeble hope is in Orleans’s moderation] He will endeavour to preserve peace, and he may succeed if he has strength to govern the country. But he can have strength only by the countenance, and the protection which that countenance can give him, of the great Powers of Europe’. (Memorandum upon the existing state of our relations with France, founded upon the Treaties of 1815-18 &c [by Wellington], Walmer Castle, 14 August 1830 WND vol 7 p 162-9).

And he told the Prince of Orange,

     The view which I take of the state of affairs is perhaps not very consolatory. I don’t think that anything is to be apprehended at present from the government. I believe that the Duc d’Orléans and his ministers, and the party by which his nomination to the Crown is called for and supported, are sincerely desirous at this moment of preserving peace with the world, and of removing all cause for anxiety on the part of neighbouring governments’. [But the populace are more bellicose, and the government are not in control of the National Guard. Risk of some local action, and important that it not succeed, so reinforce any very advanced and vulnerable places such as Menin, but to do so as quietly as possible. Peace not as secure as it was before 25th of July, and worth increasing military preparations a little when it is natural do so]. (Wellington to the Prince of Orange 10 August 1830 WND vol 7 p 151-3).

Charles Stuart and the Revolution in France:

Stuart was very indiscreet during the revolution giving dangerous advice to Charles X (for example to leave his grandson and heir in France) and to the Duke of Orleans, who he had known for many years. Wellington was furious and wanted to recall him, seeing that if this became public and was taken up by the press on either side of the Channel it might might seriously embarrass the government in parliament and make relations with France much more. Fortunately they did not and Stuart stayed until the change of government. See WND, Robert Franklin Lord Stuart de Rothesay &c.

Palmerston’s reaction to the Revolution in France:

Palmerston’s reaction to events in Paris shows the level of his hostility to Metternich and Wellington and how difficult it would have been for him to work with Wellington in the same government:

Well, this is a pretty rapid process in France; on Monday the King issues a Revolutionary Proclamation violating & subverting the Constitution, on Wednesday there is an insurrection, and on Thursday he is deposed; sharp & short with a vengeance. I always expected this result, but not so rapidly.

We shall drink the cause of Liberalism all over the world. Let Spain & Austria look to themselves; this reaction cannot end where it began, & Spain & Italy & Portugal & parts of Germany will sooner or later be affected. This event is decisive of the ascendancy to Liberal Principles throughout Europe; the evil spirit has been put down and will be trodden under foot. The reign of Metternich is over & the days of the Duke’s policy might be measured by algebra, if not by arithmetic. (Palmerston to Sulivan Cambridge 1 Aug 1830, Airlie Lady Palmerston and Her Times vol 1 p 172-4)

And again

Well what a glorious event this is in France! How admirably the French have done it! What energy and courage in the day of trial: and what wisdom and moderation in the hour of victory! Who that remembers the excesses and outrages and horrors and insanity of 1792 and 1793, could have expected to see in so short a time, a nation of maniacs and assassins converted into heroes and philosophers? And what has wrought this miraculous change? Not any change of climate or soil; not even the infusion of Cossack blood produced by international gallantries during 3 years of occupation; nothing but a short and imperfect enjoyment of a free Press and a free constitution. Let the Metternichs and Wellingtons, who would chain the mind of man to the scale of their police regulations and military codes, and who would have the human race think, speak and write by ordinance and general order, contrast the bloody incidents of the tragedy entitled the Life and Death of Louis 16th, with the far different winding up of the drama which may be called the Life of Charles 10th, and then let them say whether any men are so interested in the diffusion of knowledge and the extension of political civilisation as arbitrary ministers and tyrannical monarchs. (Palmerston to Grant, 17 Aug 1830, quoted in Webster Foreign Policy of Palmerston vol 1 p 80-81).

Wellington and the Risk of War in 1830

       The Duke properly thinks that the sooner, after having taken a decent time for deliberation, we can recognise the Duke of Orleans, the better for him and for us.

         He expects at no distant period war, as the consequence of these events, and I fear he may be right. It will arise by the imitation of the Spaniards and Portuguese, and the ambitious sympathy of the French. (Ellenborough Political Diary vol 2 23 August p 340).

The Duke considers, as indeed is clear enough, that it is idle to expect the future submission of Belgium to the King of the Netherlands. It may be possible to place it under a Prince of the House of Nassau. I do not think the Duke sees his way; but he expects war.’ (Ellenborough Political Diary 1 October 1830 vol 2 p 375-6)

     The Duke thinks our attempt to make France act in concert with us the only chance of preserving peace.

I fear its preservation is almost desperate. One thing is in favour of it, that all the European States desire it yet more than we do.

I cautioned them today not to take any advanced position from which it would be difficult and discreditable to retreat. The people would not go in with us in a war to avert a distant danger, nor indeed for any object not commercially interesting.’ (Ellenborough Political Diary 2 October 1830 vol 2 p 376-9).

In respect to Foreign Affairs it cannot be doubted that the French Revolution has been acted over again in little more than two months; and the example set at Paris has been followed at Bruxelles. It is impossible to believe that the affair at Paris in July, although provoked by the King’s Ordinances, was not prepared; or that that at Bruxelles, in August, was not got up by the same parties who had prepared the Revolution at Paris.

        However, it is our duty to avoid war entirely if possible, and at all events as long as possible, and to be evidently in the right, if we should be forced into war, by avoiding all interference in the internal concerns of France, by using the influence which our conduct towards France has given us, and by vigilance and foresight to check the revolutionary spirit of France.

        We have hitherto been tolerably successful in attaining this object. Frenchmen and French principles and French money have certainly done mischief in the Netherlands as well as elsewhere. But I must do the government the justice to say that I have no reason to believe that they are concerned any more than we are; and we hope that they will concur cordially with us and our other Allies in some measures to settle the question as between the Dutch Provinces and the House of Orange on one side and the Belgian Provinces on the other.

        Whatever that settlement may be, I am much afraid that we cannot look forward to permanent tranquillity with the same confidence as we could a few months ago.’ (Wellington to the Duke of Northumberland 10 October 1830 WND vol 7 p 295-6).

 Aberdeen and Wellington on Belgium:

Aberdeen was less cautious and far-sighted in his response to the crisis in Belgium, equating independence with annexation to France and declaring this unacceptable. He felt sure that the Netherlands would be a cause of war, ‘Fortunately it will be a good one’. (Aberdeen to Peel n.d 1830 Parker Peel vol 2 p 159-60 see also Aberdeen to Wellington 9 September 1830 WND vol 7 p 252-3.

Wellington, by contrast, was surprisingly sanguine, replying to Aberdeen on 10 September:

It will be impossible to settle the affair of Belgium by the four Powers alone without communication with France. But if the four Powers should recognize the Duc d’Orléans, and then should agree among themselves and with the King of the Netherlands, there will not be much difficulty in prevailing upon King Louis Philippe to agree to what shall have been thus settled. I am much more afraid of confusion resulting from the efforts in Belgium and on the frontier to effect the alteration of the union by illegal means. (Wellington to Aberdeen 10 September 1830 WND vol 7 p 253-4).

Wellington on the King of the Netherlands:

In 1836 Wellington told a friend:

I never knew a better King than the King of the Netherlands. From four o’clock in the morning he was hard at work, and I never mentioned any subject to him connected with his dominions on which I did not find him most fully informed. He has been accused of not employing Belgians enough; but, as he has told me twenty times, the truth is that Belgium had been in a state of revolution every since 1789, and that there was not one man left in it whom he could employ. He gave them all the places at his Court; but, except a prefect or two of Napoleon, they were fit for no other. (Stanhope Notes 10 October 1836 p 85).

This is the more generous given that Wellington found the King difficult to work with in 1815.

State of the Economy in the autumn of 1830:

The evidence is fairly clear that the economy was flourishing and that the harvest was good. Take, for example, the evidence of Huskisson and Palmerston, neither of whom had any reason to gild the lily: ‘The harvest is abundant, price of provisions falling, and manufactures (silk, cotton, woollen) are in full employment’. (Huskisson to Graham 26 August 1830 Parker Life and Correspondence of Sir James Graham vol 1 p 86). ‘The harvest has been very fine & well got in’. (Palmerston to Sulivan 8 September 1830 Letters to the Sulivans p 241). And Ellenborough commented on its significance: ‘Most fortunately all our manufacturers are in full employment, and the harvest is abundant. The peace and constitution of England have depended upon fine weather’. (Political Diary 31 August 1830 vol 2 p 349).

Yet it is hard to square this with the discontent expressed by the Swing Riots and the revival of urban radicalism. Of course, when one probes there are specific grievances beyond hard times (threshing machines and Irish labourers in the country; a squeeze on skilled tradesmen in the city and resentment at the police) but it is unlikely that there was anything new about these for there would always be grievances of this kind.

I have no real alternative explanation: no doubt the sharp recession of 1829 played a part – but why when that of 1826 did not create an upsurge in radical activity?  The example of France was, no doubt, important; but it can hardly be the sole or even the principal cause. Perhaps Catholic Emancipation was the really significant difference: it led to a great deal of discussion of politics on a subject which many ordinary people thought important; it raised the importance of representation in parliament; and it showed that extra parliamentary pressure could be successful. (Thomas Attwood founded the Birmingham Political Union in 1829 with the example of the Catholic Association as his model – Cahill ‘The Popular Movement for Parliamentary Reform’ p 441). That is plausible, and yet it does not really explain the extent of popular support if the country was really prosperous. Maybe it was just time: the disillusionment of 1821-22 had finally worn off.

Wellington and the Swing Riots:

Russ Foster, in his account of Wellington and Hampshire, contrasts the account of Wellington’s role in the suppression of the Swing Riots given in Hobsbawm and Rudé’s Captain Swing which ‘censures him for boasting of “having hunted down Hampshire rioters like game or cattle”’ (at best a highly coloured interpretation of his own exaggerated language), with Longford’s biography which describes him as boasting about the efficiency of the authorities under his direction.   But after studying the question closely Foster concludes that Wellington’s personal role in Hampshire was limited, even minimal.   There were serious riots in Hampshire between 18 and 24 November, but they were dealt with by Sir William Heathcote, one of the MPs for Hampshire, and Richard Pollen, the Chairman of the quarter sessions, and by the local gentry. ‘In short, Wellington was not the fulcrum around which the county’s response to the disturbances pivoted.’   Foster also concludes his influence on the special commission that sat at Winchester to try the cases, and which passed 101 capital sentences (of which only three were executed, the rest being commuted) has been greatly overstated. (Foster ‘Wellington and Hampshire’ p 7-8).

Effect of the Revolutions in Ireland:

According to Northumberland the French Revolution had little effect in Ireland because Charles X was so Catholic, but the Belgian Revolution was seen to have close parallels and created ‘a fever of excitement’. He more than half expected some clash in Dublin and accused O’Connell of doing everything he could to ‘inflame the people to madness’. (Northumberland to Wellington 21 October 1830 WP 1/1146/16 – printed in WND vol 7 p 311-14).


Reform in the 1830 election:

On 29 March 1834 Charles Arbuthnot wrote to the Marquess of Tavistock: ‘I should say from my own observation, & from what I generally heard, that in the general election in 1830 there was scarcely a voice uttered for reform, but that the mania of the day was the slave question’. And Wellington’s popularity at opening of the Manchester-Liverpool railway was unmistakable. (Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 181-2). Of course, Arbuthnot is a partial witness, but an experienced one.

Tavistock’s reply is in ibid p 182-4: he does not agree, but he talks of the amount of support in the Commons for Brougham’s Reform motion (i.e. that it might or might not get a majority, but certainly not a large margin either way) which is not the same as its strength in the election.

The 1830 election:

Croker told Lord Lowther on 13 August:

No man elected in any contested place (except, I believe, Bristol) on ministerial principles. Whigs and ultra Tories and Radicals and Reformers and economists were everywhere successful against those who stood on the Government interest. I know that this is not the light in which the Treasury views the Returns, but I see in them the seeds of the most troublesome and unmanageable Parliament since that of 1640 which overturned the monarchy and beheaded the monarch. (Quoted in Aspinall’s introduction to Three Nineteenth Century Diaries p xxiii).

Yet this is simply not true: of the three contests Norman Gash studied for his article ‘English Reform and the French Revolution in the General Election of 1830’ (Southwark, Reading and Yorkshire) two (Southwark and Reading) saw pro-government candidates displace Whigs, although both also professed their independence; on the other hand, at Reading, one of the Whigs, professed to support the ministers in general in recent years. (Gash ‘English Reform and the French Revolution in the General Election of 1830’ p 274-9). The successful Tory in Southwark, John Harris, died on 27 August before he could take his seat: a by-election was held on 25 November and the defeated Whig candidate was elected. Charles Russell, the successful candidate in Reading, voted with the government on the Civil List question on 15 November and held his seat through all the subsequent upheavals until 1837 and again from 1841-47 partly because he was constant in his support for reform while being hostile to the Whig government.


The election of 1830, Reform and the Whigs:

Ian Newbould suggests that the election suddenly made Reform the dominant issue of British politics, especially for Whigs, even though

The elections were not specifically contested on the question of Reform, nor did anti-Reformers lose heavily to Reformers. The Reform question was not overwhelming and did not sweep the hustings. ‘The most significant fact’, wrote Professor Brock ‘was less that so many people demanded Reform than that practically no one opposed it.’ ….

       Of far greater moment for the promotion of Reform among the traditional elite was the erosion of the aristocracy’s deferential powers. The inability of the magnates to control elections in both borough and county seemed obvious to Brougham’s secretary Le Marchant, who told Baring that the one great feature of the elections ‘is that the small gentlemen and the independent farmers separate themselves from the aristocracy’. (Newbould Whiggery and Reform p 47-48).

Newbould argues that this decline in deference convinced the Whigs that they needed to adopt reform and not leave the way open for figures like Edward Baines of the Leeds Mercury to gain control of the popular movement.   (The argument is interesting, but possibly a little overstated.   Aristocratic influence had always produced resentment and had frequently been challenged, and it is hard to see that 1830 was so different in this respect from earlier elections.   A more immediate cause may have been the Whigs need to find a new unifying issue to take the place of Catholic Emancipation, and a desire to surf a popular issue, whose profile was kept up by the newspapers).

Political implications of Huskisson’s death:

Arbuthnot wrote to Peel only two days after the accident: ‘I find it as occurring to everybody that the sad event which we had the pain of witnessing has made a most important change, and has removed great difficulties. Both Lord Salisbury and William Bankes have separately told me that many Tories are well disposed who would have gone at once into opposition if an overture had been made to Huskisson; but that to others of that party there would be now, they were sure, have no objection’. (Quoted in Aspinall ‘Last of the Canningites’ p 662).

Huskisson’s attitude to any overture from Wellington:

On 26 August three weeks before he died, Huskisson told James Graham, ‘I agree with you that the present ministry ought not to stand the shock of the next session and that it is in the interest of all public men … that they should come to an understanding not to listen to any separate overtures for reinforcing it, unless upon the preliminary admission of an entire reconstruction, so as to exclude no one, and to admit to a fair participation of influence and power in the deliberations and management of the state persons more competent than those who have now the charge of some of the most important departments. I do not expect, I own, that the Duke of Wellington will consent to negotiate upon such a principle, but I am sanguine, from all that has come to my knowledge, since the close of the last session, that he will not find in the country any man of real weight inclined to treat with him upon any other’. (Quoted in Mitchell Whigs in Opposition p 239).

Arguments in favour of an attempt to strengthen the Government:

The government’s greatest weakness was its over-reliance on Peel in the Commons. On 26 August Mrs Arbuthnot wrote in her diary

   One day, while I was at Walmer, I tried to talk with the Duke about strengthening himself in the House of Commons, but he got into a rage and abused Peel & I saw there was no use; but, unless some extraordinary piece of luck happens, the Govt will break for no reason but because we have not speakers. If he had but one, it wd do; to speak either before or after Peel, it wd not signify; but, really single handed, it seems to me unreasonable to expect it. Besides which the Duke himself owns that in the department, as a man of business, Sir Geo: Murray is woeful, & the merchantile men say that, if he remains, we shall lose the colonies; & yet the Duke flies into a fury when one attempts to talk upon the subject or discuss who one shd try to get. It is very provoking, for we want nothing but speakers. The Govt, is popular with the country. At all the elections the people have urged economy & reduction of taxes upon their representatives, but not a word against the Duke nor a desire to have the Govt. changed. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 26 August 1830 vol 2 p 381).

She attributed Wellington’s reluctance to his dislike for dismissing anyone, and this may well have been part of the explanation, particularly in the case of Murray who had been induced to take high political office by an approach from Wellington rather than pursuing it from personal ambition. But there were other more practical reasons: a coalition with any other party or group would require significant compromise on matters of principle which would bring with it a loss of character, friends and supporters and introduce an element of dissension into cabinet. There were not the same objections to recruiting individuals, but it was hard to see who might be gained who would make much difference in the Commons without threatening the unity of the government. One possible recruit was Vesey Fitzgerald whose health appeared to have recovered and whose appointment would, presumably, please Peel. Wellington approached him in early September but cannot have been much disappointed by his prompt refusal, for he continued to regard Fitzgerald, in Mrs Arbuthnot’s words, as ‘cowardly and shabby’. His presence would have done little to strengthen the government, but Peel probably appreciated the offer being made and the fact that Wellington was thus willing to sacrifice his personal feelings. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 2 August and 26 September 1830 vol 2 p 376, 389; Wellington to Vesey Fitzgerald and reply 4 and 10 September 1830 WND vol 7 p 240-1, 256).

The Overtures to Palmerston:

On 26 September on the way back to London, Wellington stayed with Peel and discussed the political position with him, Aberdeen and Goulburn. They decided to offer Palmerston a place, and, if he accepted, to displace Sir George Murray, consoling him with the colonelcy of the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards and ‘a promise of the first thing that will do in the military profession’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 26 September 1830 vol 2 p 389). When Mrs Arbuthnot asked Wellington if any further changes would be made if Palmerston refused to join by himself, he brushed the question aside impatiently saying that they would deal with that if they problem arose; but he listened to her suggestion that the initial approach should be made through Lord Clive. As predicted Palmerston responded by demanding the inclusion of some of his friends, specifically Melbourne and Charles Grant.

In 1832 Wellington told Lady Salisbury that the overtures to Palmerston were the one thing he regretted from this period: ‘“Peel insisted upon it, saying that otherwise he could not go on in the House of Commons …”’ (Lady Salisbury’s journal 22 October 1832 quoted in Sir Herbert Maxwell’s Wellington vol 2 p 252-3n).

Brougham’s comments, while hardly impartial, are interesting. Two days after Huskisson’s death he wrote to Sir James Graham, ‘Well, what is the consequence? The party is now worth but little to anybody; though Pam and Grant are clever and good men, it is not any longer a party for the Beau to reckon upon as a port under his lee. The remnant joining him would not give him a month’s respite: Huskisson himself could hardly have given him a session’s’ (in Parker Life and Letters of Sir James Graham vol 1 p 88). If this seems implausible, consider the weakness of the government in the Commons in 1828 when Huskisson & co were sitting on the front bench.

There was also a suggestion of a coalition made by Edward Littleton at the last minute (to Arbuthnot in the Commons on 4 November), but it was clear that this was never going to go anywhere, and that neither side were really interested. (Arbuthnot to Peel 1 November 1830 Parker’s Peel vol 2 p 163-66).

Bourne’s account of these overtures is extremely detailed and based on a wide range of sources, and makes it quite clear that there was never any real prospect of Palmerston and his friends joining Wellington’s government, for example ‘[Palmerston] told Grant, who was not at Panshanger, that he could see no possibility of joining the Duke unless foreign affairs, finance and commerce were all taken out of his control and the three of them (Melbourne, Grant and he) backed by other accessions to the Cabinet’ (Bourne Palmerston p 318). This was in September before the overture but after Huskisson’s death.

The impression given in some secondary accounts that Wellington willfully turned his back on the chance of a coalition in the autumn of 1830 is unfounded, though there may be some truth to it for the autumn of 1829.

Wellington on Palmerston:

Many years later George Gleig recalled that Wellington, in conversation in 1830, ‘censured Palmerston for widening on all occasions, instead of trying to reconcile, divisions in the Cabinet. Even at the last, he said, it was quite in Palmerston’s power to have arrested the break-up. “But Palmerston never liked me. I stood in his way when he attempted and all but succeeded in subordinating the office of Commander-in-Chief to that of Secretary at War, in his proper place he behaved well enough, but as a member of my Cabinet he was by no means an agreeable colleague. I may be wrong, but I have always suspected him of having put Huskisson up to the move which led to the tender of his resignation.”’ (Gleig Personal Reminiscences of the First Duke of Wellington p 41-42).

The Times article of 30th October 1830 which Ellenborough found ‘infamous’:

It was on the Swing riots and included ‘crime is the inevitable consequence of desperation – of that horrible feeling which has been produced amongst a large proportion of the labourers of England, by a long course of improvidence and abuse of power in those at whose mercy it had been the policy or necessity of the British Government and Parliament to place them’.

The Opening of Parliament and the King’s Speech:

The first session of the new Parliament began with much pomp and ceremony on Tuesday 2 November 1830. In the morning the vaults and cellars under the House of Lords were searched of any imitator of Guy Fawkes by the Lord Great Chamberlain (the Marquess of Cholomondeley), numerous other officials and the Yeoman of the Guard carrying lighted flambeaux. At noon the doors were opened and those ladies fortunate enough to gain tickets of admission began to arrive and take their places. At 1:30 the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria arrived and were conducted to seats upon the Woolsack while half a dozen of the King’s brothers and nephews (including the Duke of Cumberland) took their place near the Throne. Many foreign ambassadors and other members of the corps diplomatique were present with Talleyrand, wearing the full costume of the Legion of Honour, in a prominent place. Peers attended in their robes, ladies in full dress, so that there was imposing spectacle. The King arrived at 2 o’clock and, after robing, entered the House and took his seat on the throne, surrounded by the great officers, Wellington carrying the sword of state. The Black Rod was sent to summon the Commons and while waiting for them to arrive the King called Princess Victoria to him and talked to her in ‘the most affectionate manner’. The Commons having entered and taken their place at the Bar, the Lord Chancellor presented the King with the declaration against transubstantiation which the King read aloud and signed. This was not enough for the Duke of Newcastle who wrote in his diary, ‘it made me sick to hear H. M. take the oath of abjuration, with the [Catholic] Duke of Norfolk Standing almost at his elbow – Such is the now existing & heinous anomaly’). The King then delivered his speech ‘in a firm tone of voice’. His Majesty then left the House amidst the enthusiastic crowd outside and the Parliament then adjourned for a couple of hours. Newcastle had never previously attended the opening of Parliament by the King in person and felt that it was ‘a magnificent sight’. However the crowds which cheered the King grew very disorderly after he had passed and, according to Mrs Arbuthnot jeered at Wellington ‘whenever they could see him, called out “No Police”, “No Polignac”!! (wise creatures) and in various parts of the town, attacked the police most furiously’. (Curiously The Times and The Morning Post print almost identical accounts of the opening of Parliament, the latter having a few more details. The Times 3 November 1830; The Morning Post 3 November 1830; Newcastle diary 2 November 1830 Unrepentant Tory p 129-30; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 4 November 1830 vol 2 p 396-7; The Times 8 November 1830 prints a letter describing the hostility of the crowd to Wellington which included stones being thrown and jostling).

The King’s speech noticed the change of dynasty in France in neutral tones; regretted that the ‘enlightened Administration of the King of the Netherlands’ should not have preserved his dominions from revolt, and promised in concert with the Allies to seek to devise means of restoring tranquility there. It mentioned that a prompt resumption of diplomatic relations with Portugal was likely, and expressed confidence that Britain would remain at peace.   The King renounced his rights to various hereditary revenues including the Droits of the Crown or Admiralty, and the West India duties, and promised ‘strict regard for economy’ in every branch of public expenditure. The Swing Riots were noticed with grief, indignation and regret, and promises made for the prompt suppression of outrage and disorder. But such disturbances, while serious, were the work of a minority and the King reflected with the highest satisfaction on the loyalty and affectionate attachment of the great mass of the population. ‘I am confident that they justly appreciate the full advantage of that happy form of Government, under which, through the favour of Divine Providence, this country has enjoyed, for a long succession of years, a greater share of internal peace, of commercial prosperity, of true liberty, of all that constitutes social happiness, than has fallen to the lot of any other country of the world’. (The Times 3 November 1830; The Morning Post 3 November 1830; Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates Third Series commencing with the Accession of William IV 26 October–20 December 1830 vol 1. Henceforth cited as Parliamentary Debates third series vol 1 col 8-11).

The Duke of Newcastle thought that the Speech contained ‘little that Could be objectionable’, while the Times welcomed ‘with unmingled satisfaction’ the King’s surrender of parts of his revenue, and warmly approved the speech as a whole with the caveat that it did not fully understand what was meant by the reference to restoring tranquility in the Netherlands. (Newcastle diary 2 November 1830 Unrepentant Tory p 129-30; Times 3 November 1830).

Canning and Melbourne on Parliamentary Reform:

‘I am asked, what do I mean to do on the subject of parliamentary reform? Why, I say to oppose it – to oppose it to the end of my life in this House, under whatever shape it may appear [cheers]. I am asked, what I intend to do on the subject of the Test act, I say, to oppose it [cheers] …’. Parliamentary Debates n.s. 3 May 1827 vol 17 col 541. Throughout his life Canning strongly opposed parliamentary reform.

On 27 April 1826 William Lamb who, as Lord Melbourne, would be Home Secretary in Grey’s government and his successor as Prime Minister, warmly opposed Lord John Russell’s motion in favour of parliamentary reform in the Commons, arguing that its advocates had failed to demonstrate that it would bring any benefit, and warning that while its advocates might not want to create ‘democracy’ they should remember that people ‘did not always want what they got, nor get what they wanted.’ (Fisher History of Parliament 1820-32 vol 6 p18).

Wellington’s opposition to reform:

Many secondary accounts describing Wellington’s declaration imply that it was made impulsively, almost unintentionally, and without consultation with his colleagues; and that is the implication of the story about his remark to Aberdeen. However this is unlikely. There was both precedent for a remark of this kind, and political arguments in favour of talking such a stand, while the paragraph in the King’s Speech implies that the system of government is so good that there is no need for reform. Wellington may not have consulted the whole cabinet (Ellenborough does not record any discussion on it, and this may explain Murray’s ‘slip’) but Mrs Arbuthnot makes clear that Peel was equally determined to resist reform (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 4 November 1830 vol 2 p 397), and when Ellenborough floated the idea of giving ground on the issue by agreeing to a committee ‘Peel said he thought the terms of the motion did not signify. It was “Reform, or no Reform!” He never would undertake the question of Reform: ‘Lord Bathurst, of course, was against me, and generally they were …’ (Ellenborough Political Diary 9 November 1830 p 426).

This doesn’t preclude the possibility that Wellington got carried away and that the terms of his declaration went too far and contributed to the reaction (and this could even justify part of the Aberdeen story), but it is unlikely that the decision to take a stand against reform was unpremeditated.

Aberdeen’s supposed remark to Wellington after his declaration on Reform:

The story appears in Balfour Life of Aberdeen (vol 2 p 3) and Chamberlain Aberdeen (p 252) who says that there ‘are several versions of the story’ and cites the biography of Aberdeen by his son, Lord Stanmore, adding the useful point that the source for the story was not family lore, but an 1861 letter from Gladstone (ibid p 265). Michael Brock Great Reform Bill p 353-4 cites sources for other versions of the story but they are all very much later (1870s and 80s).

Wellington’s Declaration against Reform:

According to the Times of 16 November the damage done by the declaration was much increased by the misapprehension that it applied, not just to parliamentary reform, but to ‘all other abuses and extravagancies, and to protect the yet smoking remains of that system, by which the nation had so severely suffered’. It does seem that in 1830 and after ‘reform’ had assured the same unrealistic, talismanic status that ‘Catholic Emancipation’ had in Ireland, that it would solve the problems of the poor and make the sun shine.

The Opposition and Wellington’s Declaration against Reform:

According to Brougham’s highly unreliable memoirs the Opposition were anxious before the opening of parliament that Wellington might again steal their thunder, as he had done on Catholic Emancipation, and introduce his own measure of reform. Brougham saw George and William Harrison – both senior public servants – at Brighton about the end of October and was reassured by their dismissal of the idea, but his fears not fully allayed until Wellington’s declaration. (I think this is plausible, though Brougham probably more influenced by the risk than other Whigs, and it may equally be the effect of hindsight). (Brougham Life and Times vol 3 p 52-53).

Wellington on his declaration against reform:

On 5 June 1831 Wellington wrote to Sir John Malcolm about a pamphlet the latter had written on the Reform question, and commented on one passage about his declaration against reform on 2 Nov 1830:

In respect to the observation which the pamphlet contains about me, the truth is, that my declaration was not made, and was not published at the time, as is now stated; nor did it produce the effect which the Reformers now think proper to attribute to it.

After saying what I thought of the working of the British constitution, I said that “I had never heard of any plan of Parliamentary Reform that was practicable, or that would not prove ruinous to the best interests of the country, that would give satisfaction,” and that, “as long as I was in office I could not support, but should consider it my duty to oppose, any plan of Reform.”

It is very convenient to say that this declaration broke down my government. That is not true. My government was broken down by the Roman Catholic question. The Tories separated from me, and it is useless here to recite the circumstances which prevented their reunion. The Whigs and Radicals and Canningites would not support us, and combined with the Tories against us in order to break us down.   They succeeded upon a question affecting the Civil List, which had nothing to say to Reform.

The proof that I am right upon this point is, that in the list of the division upon the second reading of the Reform Bill there are no less than forty-six members against the bill who voted in the majority against my government on the 14th November. If the question had referred to Reform I could have had these with me, and I should have had a majority of fifty upon the Civil List.

   The truth is, that my government was broken up by a political combination; and the nobility and gentry and Royal Family of England will yet bite their thumbs for it. (Wellington to Malcolm, 5 June 1831, WND vol 7 p 459-60).

However this was, at best, a partial and misleading account of the events leading to the fall of the government.

Alarm about the King’s visit to the City:

Hobhouse sat next to Sir James Graham at dinner on 6 November and recorded that, ‘He is dreadfully alarmed, and thinks a revolution almost inevitable. He asked me whether I thought Joe Hume meant mischief. I said, “No”. “What then did he mean by advising the people to use premature force?” said Graham. “He meant nothing”, said I; “he did not know the meaning of the word”.’ (Broughton Recollections of a Long Life vol 4 p 59).

Disappointment at cancellation of the King’s Visit:

This was not entirely artificial. On 1 November, long before there was any talk of cancelling the visit, the Times carried a story describing the eager demand for places along the King’s route and the high prices paid: a guinea a seat at once confectioner’s and no less than 175 guineas for the very large house of a linen-draper on Ludgate hill.

The decision to cancel the Visit:

The decision was not unreasonable, however it was out of character. Wellington very seldom if ever, this occasion excepted, allowed himself to be intimidated or to change course so obviously. Many explanations can be put forward (including the types of criticism he habitually faced, which I mention), the knowledge that the King and Queen were distressed by the prospect, and the fact that he had already been repeatedly assailed by the mob (which must have made the reality of their hostility very real), but he was not as confident in 1830 as when facing the Queen Caroline rioters in 1820.

Kitty praises the decision to cancel the visit:

‘… all is perfectly quiet except the talkers in the 2 Houses of Parliament, and the disappointed Pickpockets Thieves & Radicals of London. In my heart I think that in the Duke’s Warlike life, he never did any thing so valiant, and that no Government ever did a wiser thing than preventing the Lord Mayor dinner … but for the advice of our ministers, so judiciously complied with by our King, London might have been flowing with blood that night, and all England drowned in tears now!’ (The Duchess of Wellington to her brother Lord Longford, 12 November 1830 quoted in Pakenham Soldier, Sailor p 199-200).

Wellington’s unpopularity:

The Times reflected upon this on 10 November:

it is assumed that the Duke of Wellington is unpopular, and certain expressions of the humbler classes of our fellow-subjects, whenever his Grace appears among them or near them, would seem to confirm the surmise. Why is he so? It is that unhappy note of opposition to reform which he sounded. But how are the street rioters affected by this? More thoughtful and respectable persons feel regret; and artful and designing knaves inspire the unthinking and dissolve with passion, or affected passion, on a subject in which they have but little interest.

        The Duke of Wellington has done great things for the poor. He has reduced the price of beer per pot, by taking off the duty upon brewing; and, by the new license duty, multiplied the houses where it is to be sold, that the poor man can in every way procure his refreshment with infinitely greater ease. These facts, besides his being a hero, ought to make him popular. It is a curious circumstance to see pickpockets and prostitutes hissing the liberator of Spain and of Europe, the conqueror of Buonaparte, in the streets of the British metropolis. (The Times, 10 November 1830)

The vote on the Civil List:

A bare majority on the question would not have been sufficient, for it indicated the feeling of the House towards the ministry, and they could not hope to carry on the government if they had to struggle to get a majority on every question. This reduces the significance of the 34 Ultras who voted against the government on the question: if they had all stayed away the government would have won this vote by a majority of five, but that was not enough. They would have to have been willing to be counted with the ministers, not just on a few great occasions, but on most of the ordinary measures of government, for the ministry to have been stable and secure in its hold on office; and it is clear that Wellington, Peel and their colleagues recognized that if they did not have a majority at the outset of the session they were unlikely to gain strength in following days and weeks.

The alienation of the Tory party went deeper than these 34 ultras. According to Aspinall (intro to Three Nineteenth Century Diaries p xxv) of the 202 Tories who voted against Catholic Emancipation 145 were re-elected in 1830 and of these:

34 voted against the ministers on 15 November 1830

54 voted with the ministers

and 57 were absent and did not vote.

It was the level of absenteeism (in a fairly full house) which was really crucial. Some were certainly hostile, but more were rather disillusioned and unenthusiastic, and it was this that had made Peel’s job so hard.

The decision to resign:

Wellington was later inclined to suggest that he had been pushed into resignation by Peel when his inclination had been to stand his ground and fight it out. ‘Recollect that I was always ready to go on. I did not break up the Government. To use a vulgar expression, I did not dirty my own Nest by way of excuse for quitting it’ (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 28 December 1830 Wellington and His Friends p 92).

This does not necessarily imply that Wellington had any serious wish to try to avoid resigning after the vote on the Civil List (although that is how Neville Thompson interprets it, Wellington After Waterloo p 108); but the whole letter, and others of this time, is full of resentment at Peel. It is likely that: 1. Wellington blamed Peel in part for the weakness in the Commons that led to the fall of the government (see Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 16 January 1831 vol 2 p 411); 2. That he resented Peel’s delight in leaving office; and 3. He was troubled by and resentful of Peel’s lack of co-operation in the weeks immediately after their resignation.

He seems to have accepted that the resignation was necessary and inevitable, but was chagrined and even mortified by the defeat. He explained to the Duke of Northumberland ‘Our resignation prevented the discussion of Parliamentary Reform yesterday. Indeed it was with that view that I thought it best to lose no time in sending it’ (Wellington to Northumberland 17 November 1830 WND vol 7 p 361) which seems to take responsibility for the decision; while Mrs Arbuthnot wrote in her journal on 23 November ‘Putting aside the vexation of having been beat, he will be more at ease & happy, I hope, now that it is over &, if he ever returns to office, it will be under better auspices’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 2 p 404).

Peel’s pleasure at the chance to resign:

As early as 5 September Hardinge told Ellenborough that he thought that Peel was ‘vigilantly looking out … for as honourable pretence to withdraw’ as he had already ‘gained as much reputation as he can hope to retain’ (Hardinge to Ellenborough 5 September 1830 quoted in Fisher History of Parliament 1820-32 vol 5 p 503). Greville wrote on 17 November ‘It is universally believed that Peel pressed the Civil List question for the purpose of being beat upon it, and going out on that rather than Reform, for Planta told him how it would be … he certainly was in excellent spirits afterwards for a beaten Minister’. (Greville Memoirs 17 November 1830 vol 2 p 63). And Norman Gash acknowledges that in the summer of 1830 Peel ‘was in a state of underlying weariness and ill-humour. The accumulated strain of the last two sessions, the death of his father, the increasing anarchy in the House of Commons, the lack of support from his ministerial colleagues, and the continued frustration in the cabinet, had all made inroads on his physical and nervous strength’. (Gash Mr Secretary Peel p 635).

Wellington’s health and the decision to resign:

Kitty was pleased with the decision, attributing it to ‘the direct Hand of that God who has ever protected him … Every body saw that the Duke’s health was altering, that his countenance was acquiring a drawn and fallen look, his figure to shrink and many other appearances that preceed the breaking up of a constitution from over work. Thank God he has resigned in time.’ (Kitty to her sister Bess, Stratfield Saye, 29 November 1830 quoted in Pakenham Soldier, Sailor p 249).

Reaction to the Fall of Wellington’s Government:

Mountstuart Elphinstone, who had been on Wellington’s staff during the Maratha War, had returned to Britain in 1829.   He was both an admirer of Wellington and a committed Whig, which gives a particular interest to his comments on the fall of Wellington’s government. He was in Scotland when the news arrived:

November 19: Yesterday I went to Musselburgh to see Johnny Fleming, and on my return I found the club in a bustle from the news of the Duke of Wellington’s resignation, in consequence of being in a minority on the Civil List. The sentiments expressed were neither those of satisfaction nor regret, but of wonder who would succeed, and of anxiety as to the result and of the unsettled state of the nation. Even this feeling, however, is much less deep and serious than one would expect. A year ago we all thought, what would become of us if the Duke of Wellington were to die? Since then the French Revolution has unsettled Europe; the affairs of Belgium hold out the chance of war; Ireland is again disaffected; and strong inclinations to change, with formidable combinations for effecting it, appear at home; and, amidst all these difficulties, we have not only lost the Duke of Wellington, but have done so in a way that destroys our confidence in his ability, and greatly diminishes our reliance on all public men for the qualities requisite to carry us through this crisis. (Colebrooke Life of Elphinstone vol 2 p 297).

      The best, almost the only eulogy on the government that I have seen is Mrs Arbuthnot’s comment on 4 November, ‘we have a large majority of the nation [supporting us], the country is prospering, the taxes diminished, trade revived, all Europe looking to us as a refer & as the arbiter in all her quarrels & dissentions [sic] …’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 4 November 1830 vol 2 p 397).


Public Opinion and Wellington’s government:

A study of the unsolicited letters Wellington received as Prime Minister gives some sense into the weight the public gave to various issues:

49 letters on questions of foreign policy

124 on Catholic Emancipation

180 on politics in general and reform in particular, and

230 on economic distress

This represents only the surviving letters, and is probably somewhat distorted (people would be more likely to write on matters on which they had personal experience), but it is nonetheless surprising that economic distress was represented so much more heavily than Catholic Emancipation. (Durham ‘Wellington and the People’ p 19n).









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© Rory Muir

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