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Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 9: The Queen’s Affair

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Death of George III:

At about 8:30 on the evening of 29 January 1820 George III died at Windsor in the sixtieth year of his reign. The quarrels and disputes of his early years on the throne, and the loss of the American colonies had long since faded into history. One loyal observer now wrote that ‘The whole town and country seemed moved with regret and a feeling amounting almost to grief. All this is owing to his just, amiable, and virtuous character’ (Plumer Ward Diary in his diary for 31 January 1820: Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 50-51). That may have been an exaggeration, but while the King’s long illness and seclusion meant that he was half forgotten, he had also become a fixed presence in a changing world, a symbol of stability and continuity. Few of his subjects would have had clear memories of any other reign, and the world of the mid-eighteenth century, of George II and the Seven Years War, of Pitt the Elder in his prime and the Duke of Newcastle, seemed remote and unreal to the rising generation of 1820.


George III’s reputation in the later part of his Reign:

This has been studied by Linda Colley in her article ‘The Apotheosis of George III: Loyalty, Royalty and the British Nation 1760-1820’ Past and Present vol 102 1984 p 94-129.

Mrs Arbuthnot wrote after the King’s funeral:

And thus has sunk into an honoured grave the best man & the best King that ever adorned humanity; and it is consoling to the best feelings of the human heart that such a sovereign was followed to his last home by countless thousands of affectionate subjects drawn to the spot by no idle curiosity to view the courtly pageant, but to pay a last tribute of respect & to shed the tear of affection and gratitude over the grave of him who, for sixty long years, had been The Father of his people! (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 16 February 1820 vol 1 p 5).

This can hardly be accepted at face value, but it makes a useful counter weight to the common assertion that the King’s death provoked little more than surprise that he was still alive.

Accession of George IV, and Brougham’s opinion of his brothers and likely successors:

For a few days it looked as though the longest reign in British history would be followed by the shortest, for George IV fell seriously ill, reportedly with pleurisy and on 1 February his life was believed to be in mortal danger. Brougham flippantly told Creevey a few days later,

I never prayed so heartily for a Prince before. If he had gone, all the troubles of these villains [the Ministers] went with him, and they had Fred I [the Duke of York] their own man for his life – i.e. a shady Tory-professional King, who would have done a job or two for Lauderdale, smiled on Lady J[ersey], been civil at Holland House, and shot Tom Coke’s legs and birds, without ever deviating right hand or left, or giving them, politically, the least annoyance. This King they will have too, for the present man can’t long survive. He (Fred I) won’t live long either; that Prince of Blackguards ‘Brother William’ is as bad a life, so we come in course of nature to be assassinated by King Ernest I or Regent Ernest [the Duke of Cumberland]. (Brougham to Creevey 5 February 1820 Creevey Papers p 297-8).

Such was the respect inspired by the sons of George III! Nor was there much comfort to be had by looking to the next generation of the royal family. Neither the new King nor the Duke of York had children, while William’s Adelaide had already suffered two miscarriages. In December 1820 she gave birth to the Prince Elizabeth but the baby died after only four months. A miscarriage of twins followed in 1822 and there were other, later reports of pregnancies which were either groundless or came to nothing (Ziegler William IV p 126-7). This left as the ultimate heir to the throne Princess Alexandrina Victoria, the daughter of the Duke of Kent who had been on 24 May 1819, and any chance that she would be displaced in the succession by a younger brother was removed when her father died on 23 January 1820. But if anything happened to her, there was at least a cousin, Prince George of Cambridge, who was just two months older than the Princess, and who would be her heir presumptive until her own children were born.

Role of Münster:

Princess Lieven, in her letters to Metternich several times alludes to Münster’s role in encouraging the King to seek a divorce and inciting him against the ministers: see especially 30 November 1820 Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 97 and also 26 April 1820 (ibid p 32).

The Queen’s Pension:

There is some confusion over the size of the Queen’s allowance with many contemporary, especially Queenite sources using the figure of £35,000, while modern secondary sources talk of £50,000. A cabinet document of February 1820 printed in Stapleton’s George Canning and His Times p 287 appears to explain this: the Queen had received an allowance of £35,000 under an Act of 1814 which lapsed (with George III’s death?). The Ministers offered £50,000 – the figure proposed by Brougham in 1819 – and continued to offer it until it was accepted in 1821.

Canning and his Colleagues, early 1820:

Even before George III died Canning had warned Liverpool that he would not be willing to go on much longer as President on the Board of Control. He felt that his talents were being wasted and the best years of his life slipping by. Liverpool floated the idea of moving him to the Home Office if Sidmouth retired on the King’s death, but this did not satisfy Canning who indicated that he would prefer to go out as Governor-General of India, unless he was given leadership of the Commons as well as the Home Office (Gash Liverpool p 150 citing Dixon and Hinde’s biographies of Canning). (This sounds rather too similar to the negotiations after Castlereagh’s suicide, but presumably it is correct).

See also Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 46-8 discussion of possible cabinet reshuffle early in January.

Canning and the Princess:

For one version of stories about Canning and the Princess see Princess Lieven to Metternich 22 December 1820 Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 98. For the King’s conviction that Canning had indeed been a lover of the Queen see Letters of King George IV vol 2 p 386 Memorandum 22 November 1820.


Excluding the Queen from the Liturgy:

Peel was not in office when the decision was made, and in August (so possibly with the benefit of hindsight) told Croker that he disagreed with it, because it ‘established a precedent of dethronement for imputed personal misconduct. Surely this was not a time for robbing Royalty of the exterior marks of respect, and for preaching up the anti-divine right doctrines’. (Peel to Croker 10 August 1820 Croker Papers vol 1 p 176-77).

Greville’s account of Liverpool’s interview with the King:

This may not be reliable – it can hardly be anything more than second or third hand gossip – but it is still quite interesting.

   The Ministers had resigned last week because the King would not hear reason on the subject of the Princess. It is said that he treated Lord Liverpool very coarsely, and ordered him out of the room. The King, they say, asked him “if he knew to whom he was speaking”. He replied, “Sir, I know that I am speaking to my Sovereign, and I believe I am addressing him as it becomes a loyal subject to do”. To the Chancellor he said, “My Lord, I know your conscience always interferes except where your interest is concerned.” The King afterwards sent for Lord Liverpool, who refused at first to go; but afterwards, on the message being reiterated, he went, and the King said, “We have both been too hasty etc.” This is probably all false, but it is very true that they offered to resign. (Greville Memoirs (edited by Strachey & Fulford) 20 February 1820 vol 1 p 89).

The Row between the King and his Ministers in early 1820:

There was a furious row in the course of which Liverpool deeply offended the King, leaving a grievance that would fester even when the other ministers had been forgiven. For several days the King talked of dismissing the government or of retiring to Hanover. Rumours circulated of an overture to the Opposition, or to Lord Grenville, or even Lord Wellesley, but came to nothing. As Palmerston wrote to a friend at the time, ‘when [the King] finds that neither tears nor scolding neither threats nor entreaties neither promises nor upbraidings will carry his point, he will dry up his tears and eat up his words & very quietly sit down to bear his disappointment & pocket the affront’. (Palmerston to Lawrence Sulivan 16 February 1820 Letters to the Sulivans p 148-9; see also Croker Papers vol 1 p 160-61; Hobhouse Diary p 9-10; Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 1-3 and Mitchell The Whigs in Opposition p 138-9).

Other accounts of Cato Street:

Castlereagh to Lord Stuart, 24 February 1820:

   You will be shocked by the official report of our conspiracy. There cannot exist a doubt that had our information not been such as to enable us to watch all their movements, and to interfere when we deemed fit, the fifteen Cabinet ministers would have been murdered yesterday in Harrowby’s dining parlour. Thistlewood amongst this party of assassins when assembled had fourteen picked men, all ripe for slaughter. They would have moved to the attack in ten minutes had not the police arrived. After he had escaped from the place of rendezvous he went to Grosvenor Square, with the sword in his hand bloody with which he had murdered the constable, and then went to Harrowby’s door, and returned, on discovering that sentinels guarded the front and rear of the house, to his place of concealment. Our information did not fail us, and he was seized in his hiding-place this morning in bed. The constable who first entered the room suddenly threw himself upon him, and thus fettered his exertions until he was secured. The naked sword was by his side in bed under the clothes. He is a most desperate dog. Harrowby’s dinner was left to wait for the arrival of the Cabinet to a late hour, so as not to arrest the preparations of the assassins. We had an idea at one time of going there and receiving the attack. But as this would have involved in point of prudence the necessity of some preparations for defence, which could not be managed without exciting observation, we thought it better to stay away from the festive board, and not to suffer it to go to single combat between Thistlewood and Marshal Liverpool. The whole has been arranged without a fault; and if you consider that we ministers have been for months the deliberate objects of these desperate concerts, planning our destruction, sometimes collectively, sometimes in detail, but always intent upon the project, and with our own complete knowledge, you will allow that we are tolerably cool troops, and that we have not manoeuvred amiss to bring it to a find catastrophe, in which they are not only all caught in their own net, but that we can carry into a court of justice a state conspiracy, which will be proved beyond the possibility of cavil, and which would form no inconsiderable feature in the causes célèbres of treasonable and revolutionary transactions’. (Alison Lives of Castlereagh and Stewart vol 3 p 111-112n).

And Bathurst wrote:

Of their intention to attack us at a Cabinet dinner we had some intimation ad far back as the time when we dined at Westmorland’s before Christmas, but the appearance of two police officers put an end to that idea.

The intended attack yesterday was upon a large scale and well methodized. The information which we had received respecting it, was to a certain extent confirmed by an anonymous letter, and on Tuesday morning a person delivered to Lord Harrowby a letter, which he desired should be immediately given to Lord Castlereagh; it contained a corroboration of all that we had heard.

As it was not certain that the place or rendezvous was finally fixed from whence the party were to proceed towards Grosvenor Square, and as we know that Lord Harrowby’s house was watched in order to see if any alarm were taken and preparation made for defence, it was agreed among us that we should keep our council and not dine there, but the preparations for dinner should go on up to the dining-room. Thistlewood was the leader. Nine of them were taken.

The Duke of Wellington, Lord Castlereagh, and Lord Sidmouth were the three they were most determined upon destroying, but all were to have fallen’. (‘Extract of a letter from Lord Bathurst’ no date, no recipient, printed in Malmesbury A Series of Letters vol 2 p 534-5).

            The story that Wellington advised that the ministers attend the dinner but armed and with a strong body of police in the house (but concealed from the servants) is given in Brialmont and Gleig’s Life of Wellington vol 3 p 93 and as a quotation from Wellington in the one volume popular version by Gleig (Everyman edition p 251).

The latter also contains a story told by Wellington at Walmer (so, presumably, years later) that when the conspirators were examined it emerged that Ings had often watched or followed Wellington, but never caught him alone until one afternoon in early February when he left the Ordnance Office by himself. Ings followed intending to stab him in the back in Green Park, but before he got there he was joined by a gentleman with one arm (Fitzroy Somerset) and Ings abandoned the idea (ibid p 251).

Castlereagh’s letter shows that a proposal to defend themselves was floated; while both his account and Bathurst’s show that they regarded the conspiracy in a fairly similar way to Wellington.

Aftermath of Cato Street:

Eleven of the conspirators were brought to court in separate trials, beginning with Thistlewood, in April. After the first three trials resulted in convictions for high treason the defence made overtures for the remaining defendants to plead guilty in return for their lives. Influenced by the strong opposition of Sidmouth and Eldon the cabinet declined, but changed its mind after the fifth trial fearing that some prosecution witnesses might break down in the constant repetition of their evidence. Those thus spared were sentenced to transportation for life, while the five convicted of high treason were sentenced to death ‘by a warrant which dispensed with all parts of the sentence except the hanging and beheading’. The executions took place on 1 May in front of a very large crowd, and ‘Except an expression of horror at the decapitation, not a murmur of disapprobation was heard unless from a few insulated individuals’. (Hobhouse Diary p 21-23 cf Johnson Regency Revolution p 142-6). Nonetheless the radicals had regained their equipoise after the first shock caused by the discovery of the conspiracy and soon portrayed the plotters as deluded victims of Home Office intrigue. Alderman Matthew Wood, one of the MPs for the City of London, who emerged in 1820 as a prominent radical, moved for a parliamentary committee into informers; while the caricaturists portrayed the ministers dancing round maypole to a tune played by Edwards the spy. (Mitchell Whigs in Opposition p 143; George English Political Caricature vol 2 p 190; Stevenson Popular Disturbances in England, 1700-1870 p 198, 344n 31. This line of argument has influenced many later accounts some of which treat Edwards as the villain and ignore the political motive behind Wood’s attack, for example Johnson Regency Revolution p 122-3).

Decline of Extreme radicalism:

Cato Street was not quite the end of insurrectionary activity in Britain in 1820; a general strike in Glasgow at the beginning of April and an attempt to seize the Carron Ironworks, led to disturbances culminating in ‘the Battle of Bonnymuir’ and a number of arrests, followed by trials and three executions. And there was an abortive attempt at mass demonstrations in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but these were the last gasps of the revolutionary movement which had been losing momentum ever since the autumn of 1819. There remained very strong and widespread support for the more moderate ‘constitutional’ radicals, and it is likely that all the talk of spies and informers encouraged this shift, by raising doubts and suspicions about the extremists while encouraging resentment of the government. At the same time there was a geographical shift of emphasis: improvements in the cotton trade reduced distress and disaffection in Lancashire, and London regained its primacy with the provinces reduced to their habitual role as a supporting chorus. (Fry The Dundas Despotism p 339-40 Prothero Artisans and Politics p 131; Stevenson Popular Disturbances in England, 1700-1870 p 198).

Election of 1820:

The Act of Succession required that an election be held within six months of the accession of a new monarch, and the ministers had little hesitation in bringing it forward to March, for MPs who knew they were about to face the electors were even less tractable than those fresh from the hustings. (Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 50; Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 215). The results saw little change from those of 1818: the government regained a few seats it had lost, but was defeated in other contests, so that most estimates had the Ministers poorer by a handful of seats. (See Mitchell Whigs in Opposition p 140; Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 215; Wellington to Richelieu 24 March 1820 WP 1/642/6; Abbot Diary vol 2 p 124, 125 for a range of estimates of the results). Writing confidentially to Arbuthnot, Liverpool’s verdict was measured:

I got the account this morning of the successful result of the Devon contest; this is a most important triumph. Tierney knows that he lies when he says that the Govt. are unpopular; they are on the contrary highly popular when compared with the opposition, but I feel the Radicals have gained ground in many parts of England, & still more in Scotland. They have as yet fortunately little or no existence in the eastern part of this country. (Liverpool to Charles Arbuthnot, Private, 29 March 1820 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 19. This was written just a week before Bonnymuir, hence the references to Scotland).

In one prominent instance the government tacitly assisted the Radicals achieve a striking triumph by refusing to give any support to George Lamb in Westminster, with the result that he lost, and both Burdett and Hobhouse were elected. Otherwise it is rather surprising that the government did not do much better and that the Whigs did not suffer from their opposition to the Six Acts. The unreformed electorate was far from a precise barometer of public opinion, but the mood of the country usually had some influence on election result, and it is remarkable that the tumult and alarms of 1819 and the news of the Cato Street Conspiracy should have had so little bearing on the polls. At the same time it is notable that the election itself passed with no more than the usual disorder of any poll in this era: confirming the confidence which the ministers had shown in calling it, and their belief that the political temperature of the country had fallen over the winter.

Decision to call the election as soon as possible:

On the day before the King died Wellington discussed the likely consequences with Plumer Ward who wrote in his diary:

‘I feared that it might occasion much disturbance at such a time, from the necessity of assembling a new Parliament within the six months. He differed, and said he thought if it was to happen, the sooner a new Parliament was summoned the better; that Radicalism was for a time completely got under, that the public were pleased with Ministers for it, and were in tolerable humour, and as there was nothing on the score of finance to detain us, the present Parliament might be dissolved as soon as the Meeting bill could pass. That, said he, with an air of decision, is my opinion, and as he had just, I believe, come from a Cabinet, I conclude he had been giving it there; it certainly seemed soured’. (28 January 1820 Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 50).

Princess Lieven told Metternich on 9 February: ‘Parliament will be dissolved at the end of this month, and the delicate and thorny questions at issue will wait for the new House – because new members are always more docile than the old. They have seven years to enjoy the good graces of the Court without having to fear their criticism. When the elections are at hand, it is another matter – you have to stop bothering about the Court and flatter the people’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 12).

The Civil List:

Before the new Parliament met the government had to settle the potentially explosive question of the Civil List. It was natural for George IV to expect a significant increase in his income on ascending to the throne especially as his father’s death put an end to the cost of a still substantial establishment at Windsor, and his Household put forward claims amounting to an increase of £65,000 per annum. However the ministers were disinclined to present the new Parliament with such demands, and decided instead that the settlement of 1816 should be maintained. They were under no illusions as to the King’s probable reaction, but evidently calculated that his resentment would soon pass, while proposing more money for an unpopular monarch, whose extravagance was notorious, would indelibly damage their reputation with MPs, and possibly even bring down the government. Or perhaps it was simpler than that, and Liverpool just decided to do what he believed was right regardless of the King’s reaction. The inevitable row followed in which Liverpool again showed himself almost as prickly as the King, and had to be persuaded by his colleagues not to resign. After venting his spleen the King was forced to eat humble pie sending the Prime Minister ‘such a letter of submission as left no question as to his continuance in office’. But again the resentment aroused lingered and was directed at Liverpool personally. At an audience with Sidmouth on 26 April the King said that ‘it was time to determine whether the Ministers were serv[an]ts of the King or the servants of Lord Liverpool’. Sidmouth very properly stated that the cabinet was entirely united and in agreement on the question and that the ministers would only continue to serve so long as they enjoyed His Majesty’s full confidence. That adroitly ended the discussion for the moment but it could not be said that the King’s relations with the government were as harmonious as they had been before his accession. (Hobhouse Diary p 18-20; Liverpool to Bathurst, ‘Private’, 23 April 1820 HMC Bathurst p 483 Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 18n).

According to Aspinall’s note in Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 18n the decision not to increase the King’s income and the ending of the establishments for George III and for Queen Charlotte saw a reduction in the total Civil List from £1,083,000 in 1816 to £845,000 in 1820. (It is not clear if this included any allowance for Queen Caroline; if not, that would account for £35,000 of the saving).

The King and Lady Conyngham:

The King’s affair with Lady Conyngham was now blossoming; Lady Hertford had fallen completely from favour and in March Mrs Arbuthnot noted that ‘The King [is] still at Brighton & deaf to the entreaties of his ministers that he would return to town where three Recorders’ reports are waiting, & ministers & letters from every Court in Europe to congratulate him on his accession. It is a sad thing in these times, when the personal character of the Sovereign might do so much towards tranquillizing the country, that nothing can persuade him to attend to business & cease to make himself ridiculous at his years.’ (Mrs Arbuthnot’s Journal 17 March 1820 vol 1 p 10).

The King and his Ministers, April 1820:

According to Lady Cowper,

The K[ing] certainly disagrees very much with his Ministers, and if he has the nerves to do so will certainly try to get rid of them very soon. His feelings also towards opposition are also very considerably changed, and he was particularly pleased with Tierney’s speech about the Princess. If they remain prudent and moderate, I really believe some changes will be attempted …. His wish to do something about the P[rince]ss may be one reason, but [I] also believe that he is alarmed at the bad spirit in the country, and thinks that a change of Govern[ment] might in part sooth the dissatisfaction and make the distressed part of the community at least think that something might be attempted to be done in their favour, instead of mere keeping down their clamour with the sword. (Lady Cowper to her brother Frederick Lamb, Brighton 10 April [1820] Letters of Lady Palmerston p 30).

Weakness of the Government in the Commons:

The government’s caution over the Civil List wrong-footed the Opposition and deprived their initial attacks of potency, but it soon became obvious that many MPs were reluctant to commit themselves to support the ministers. One shrewd observer, W. H. Fremantle, attributed this to the reports of dissensions between the government and the King, and the idea that there might be a change of administration. In other words many members were anxious to reserve their allegiances until they saw which way the wind blew. (Fremantle to Buckingham 8 May 1820; see also Tom Grenville to Buckingham 9 May 1820 both in Buckingham Memoirs of George IV vol 1 p 19-20, 21). The Opposition found its feet in an attack on a judicial appointment in Scotland where the government appeared to have ignored the recommendation of a parliamentary committee for no better reason than to maintain its patronage. Even Mrs Arbuthnot, normally a fierce partisan, felt that this was ‘a gross job of Lord Melville’s in Scotland’ and added, ‘I must say I think, when the Government are detected in such proceedings, it serves them quite right to be deserted by the most respectable of their friends.’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 13 May 1820 vol 1 p 18 – this entry must be misdated for the debate was on 15 May: Parliamentary Debates n.s. vol 1 col 347-88). The government rejected the motion by a bare dozen votes leading Charles Arbuthnot to urge the Prime Minister to look for an accession of strength, suggesting such unlikely recruits as Tierney, Brougham or Lord Lansdowne. Liverpool did not completely reject the idea, but pointed out that it would risk offending the rising men on their own side who would see it as an obstacle to their own promotion. Wellington conceded that point, but still expressed a wish ‘that such a junction could be formed which w[oul]d strengthen the hands of the Executive Government & break up that formidable body of the Opposition which he considers as too powerful for the real welfare of the country’(Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 18-19). Nothing came of this at the time, but the events of the next few months would confirm Wellington’s fear of the government’s weakness while testing its cohesion to the limits. An enlarged administration, if one could have been formed, would probably not have survived the storm which was already brewing.

Mrs Arbuthnot shrewdly commented in her diary: ‘I listened to all this conversation & did not take any part in it, but I could not help feeling to myself that Ld Liverpool wd. strengthen his Government much more by preventing the different members of it from being guilty of such indiscretions as that of Ld Melville’s, which indisposes the great mass of the country gentlemen, than by turning his mind to a junction which wd. only add a few individuals to his party wd not give him the least more hold on the mind & opinion of the nation generally, which is in fact what the present Government wants the most.’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 13 May 1820 vol 1 p 19).

State of the Economy:

On 8 May Alexander Baring, the banker, gave a long speech when presenting a petition from the merchants of London, in which he surveyed the state of the country and the economy in particular. Fremantle told Lord Buckingham, ‘You have no conception with what attention Baring was heard in a full house last night, when for an hour or so he described the commercial state of England in the most lamentable terms. It had great effect’. Tom Grenville confirmed the point: ‘You see, by the loud cheering of Baring, how strongly the impression prevails in the House that he present evils demand great and vigorous remedies’. (W. H. Fremantle to Buckingham 8 May 1820; Tom Grenville to Buckingham 9 May 1820, in Buckingham Memoirs of George IV p 19-20, 21. Baring’s speech is in Parliamentary Debates n.s. vol 1 col 165-82). Liverpool had considerable sympathy for Baring’s arguments and used the subsequent discussion of the issue as an opportunity for a major statement of government policy signaling a commitment to the principles of free trade. He was more cautious about specific measures – the government still had one hand tied behind its back by its dependence on indirect taxes, while even Baring’s constituents had mixed views of the question, but the next few years would show that his commitment was real, and that dismantling the old system of commercial protection would become one of the leading policies of the government. (Gash Lord Liverpool p 157-8; Cookson Lord Liverpool’s Administration p 222-8; Abbot Diary vol 3 p 137-8).

Plans for the Coronation and hopes of peerages:

Thwarted in his desire for a divorce and over the Civil List the King consoled himself with making plans for the coronation which he was determined to have in the summer. This was likely to be accompanied by the creation and promotion of a number of peers, leading to considerable speculation and agitated hopes and envy in some quarters. One of those looking forward with confident anticipation was William Wellesley-Pole who had tired of the life as a cabinet minister in the Commons and yearned for the dignity and peace of the Lords. (William Wellesley-Pole to Charles Bagot 21 July 1820 Bagot George Canning and his Friends vol 2 p 96-8; Bootle Wilbraham to Colchester 11 April 1820 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 125-8).

The Spanish Revolution of 1820:

The revolt in Cadiz was not the first in Spain: there had been a number since 1814, not all of them claiming to be liberale. These revolts were encouraged by the weakness and poverty of the government: officers had few opportunities, while the risk was not high as previous mutinies had not led to serious punishments.   The trigger for the revolt was the prospect of being sent to fight the American rebels, and it is at least possible that the conspirators received some funding from Latin America. There was a strong Masonic element in the revolt, though it was more a case if the conspirators using the form and organization of the lodges than being influenced by doctrine or ideology. The revolt had no popular support anywhere, even in Cadiz; and succeeded only because the rest of the army would not oppose, and ultimately supported it. Henry Wellesley wrote that, ‘Nothing is more remarkable than the apathy of the people who have taken neither side of the question but look on the quarrel as to be one between the army and the King’. Raymond Carr writes ‘To their opponents they were oficialillos deluded by rapid war promotion into posing as cheap imitation Bonapartes: to themselves they were “drunk with glory.”’ (Carr Spain 1808-1939 p 125-29, quote on page 126).

The State Paper of 1820 and the principle of non-intervention:

The principle of non-intervention had always had considerable support on both sides of British politics, and oddly enough the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was cited as the decisive example of the importance of letting a country determine its own government, rather of an example of effective foreign intervention in support of a domestic opposition to the established government.   It had been championed particularly strongly by Whigs and liberals who criticized Pitt for going to war with France in 1793 and Liverpool’s government for its opposition to Napoleon in 1815; but even in these cases the British government had been careful to argue that it was not attempting to impose any particular government on France, but only attempting to preserve British security and defend her national interests.

It is worth noting that the Whigs and liberals who were loudest in their condemnation of the Eastern Powers for intervening in the domestic affairs of other states in the early 1820s, strongly supported British intervention in later years when it was directed in favour of liberal governments (and sometimes liberal insurgencies).   Neither party was entirely consistent, but there was a very marked shift of policy between the State Paper of 1820 and Palmerston’s policies of the 1830s.

Castlereagh had lost the battle for public opinion on foreign affairs:

Greville’s comments immediately after Castlereagh’s death illustrate his failure to convince the public of the purpose of his policy:

With these qualities, it may be asked why he was not a better Minister, and who can answer that question? or who can aver that he did not pursue the policy which he conscientiously believed to be most advantageous to his country? Nay, more, who can say but from surmise and upon speculation that it was not the best? I believe that he was seduced by his vanity, that his head was turned by emperors, kings, and congresses, and that he was resolved that the country which he represented should play as conspicuous a part as any other in the political Dramas which were acted on the Continent. The result of his policy is this, that we are mixed up in the affairs of the Continent in a manner we have never been before, which entails upon us endless negotiations and enormous expenses. We have associated ourselves with the members of the Holy Alliance, and countenanced the acts of ambition and despotism in such a manner as to have drawn upon us the detestation of the nations of the Continent; and our conduct towards them at the close of the war has brought a stain upon our character for bad faith and desertion which no time will wipe away, and the recollection of which will never be effaced form their minds’ (Greville Memoirs (ed by Strachey and Fulford) 13 August 1822 vol 1 p 54-55).

The Return of the Queen:

The ministers had thought that the problem of the Queen was well on the way of being solved.   Brougham had publicly dismissed her exclusion from the liturgy as a ‘trifle light as air’; and it seemed that all that remained was some haggling over the exact terms of the separation. (Quoted in New Life of Brougham p 233). But Brougham, as usual, tried to be a little too clever, urging the Queen to leave Italy and head for England in order to put pressure on the government. Alderman Wood then met the Queen near Paris and convinced her to come home.   She arrived on 6 June to an enthusiastic welcome. Henry Hobhouse, the undersecretary at the Home Office noted disapprovingly that Alderman Wood

sat on the same seat with the Queen, and waved his hat to the populace, who were assembled to meet Her Majesty, and hailed her arrival with shouts, particularly opposite Carlton House. In the course of the evening the mob endeavoured to force an illumination, wch. partially succeeded, and many persons who refused to shew lights had their windows broken. (Hobhouse Diary 7 June p24; see also Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) 7 June 1820 vol 1 p 94-95).

Brougham and the Queen:

Brougham’s conduct in regard to the Queen has always been regarded with a mixture of suspicion and cynicism, and his motives remain unclear.   He knew that her conduct abroad would not bear scrutiny – his brother James had visited the Caroline in the spring of 1819, and reported that she was living quite openly with Bergami, her former servant as ‘man and wife, never was anything so obvious’ (quoted in New Life of Brougham p 228). Nonetheless he had constantly urged her to leave Italy and come towards England, and announce her intention of returning. Probably he wanted nothing more than to make trouble for the government, embarrass the new King, and inflate his own importance; certainly he cared little for the Queen’s comfort and convenience. Brougham met the Caroline at St Omer on 3 June, but for some reason, failed to disclose the terms of the government’s offer to her. Perhaps already he found her less tractable than he expected, for Alderman Wood had pre-empted him, meeting the Queen near Paris and gaining considerable influence over her. To Brougham’s astonishment and chagrin she cut short the meetings at St Omer and announced her intention of sailing for England. (New Life of Brougham p 228-41).

Wellington’s verdict with hindsight on overture to the Queen:

In October 1820 Wellington told Plumer Ward that the government’s mistake, ‘was in not believing that she would ever leave Italy, and our unwillingness to look the thing in the face. Everyone had his secret persuasion and his wish, that with such a case against her she would never come here. He said they were blamed for not having investigated the character of the evidence more, by examining, as far as they could, the servants friendly to the Queen. He considered this was all owing to the disbelief of her coming which he had mentioned …’ (Plumer Ward diary 19 Oct 1820 in Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 65-66).

And although the ministers warned the King in February of the difficulty of proving adultery, especially when relying on the evidence of foreigners and servants at that, it seems likely that because everyone already knew that the Queen was guilty, they underestimated the difficulty of proving it.

Chester New in his Life of Brougham quotes (without giving a source) a comment of Wellington to Edward Littleton in June 1820 that Brougham ‘“had betrayed everybody, King, Queen, ministers and Lord Hutchinson.”’ New comments ‘It was an angry outburst, entirely unsupported by facts’. (p 235). But compare it with this entry in Mrs Arbuthnot’s journal for 14 February 1821:   ‘The Duke of Wellington called upon me & spent the evening with us. We passed the time in reading letters which passed between Ld Hutchinson & Brougham in the summer of 1819 & beginning of 1820 before their journey to St Omer. His abuse of the Queen is most gross, & also of the Ministers with whom he was at that time in friendly communication. In short, it appears that he was trusted by King, Queen & Ministers & was a most foul traitor to all parties.’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 71). She then copies four letters from Brougham to Hutchinson which at the very least show no great devotion to any cause other than his own. It is no wonder that Brougham came to be distrusted by political allies and foes alike.

Alderman Wood:

Wood was not highly regarded by his political opponents. One described him as ‘that vain, foolish, busybody, Alderman Wood, citizen and fishmonger;’ (H. Legge to Colchester 24 March 1820 Abbot Diary vol 3 p 120-1). While Brougham said that the Queen should be warned of ‘“the ridicule that attaches everywhere to him, and that he never rises but to make a roar of laughter.”’ (quoted in Thorne History of Parliament vol 5 p 647 which also quotes many other critical comments). These were the views of hostile witnesses, or course; but once in London the Queen soon distanced herself from Wood, and his failure to maintain the prominent position he had briefly attained, suggests that his talents were indeed limited.

Press Coverage of the Queen:

The Times of 6 June reported that ‘neither at the landing of William the Conqueror, nor at that of the Earl of Richmond [Henry VII], nor of William III, were the people’s bosoms of this metropolis so much agitated as they were last night, when it was known that Her Majesty, the Queen of England, had once again – bravely, we will say – set her foot on British ground. The most important Parliamentary questions were adjourned, the King’s Ministers fled to the council-chamber, the streets were crowded, everyone was inquiring ‘When did she land? Where will she sleep? Where will she reside? How will she enter London? (quoted in New Life of Brougham p 242).

A few caricaturists made a brief attempt to satirize the Queen, or at least to depict her and the King as equally at fault, but they were unable to stand against the tide of public opinion, and from then until almost the end of the year the prints were uniformly favourable to the Queen. (George English Political Caricature vol 2 p 191-92).

Support for the Queen:

The affair appealed to a broad public in a wide variety of ways. Radicals naturally saw it as a means of attacking the King and his government: some like Wood and Cobbett seem to have sincerely believed in the Queen, but others were more cynical. Francis Place admits that ‘I cared nothing for the queen as the queen’, but he saw that one meeting would be followed by others, and that ‘nearly the whole of the underprivileged unfrocked unpensioned unofficered part of the people would meet and address the Queen and … that the consequence would be a familiarity with the Royalty highly injurious to its state … and that many thousands of people would lose their reverence both for Royalty and Aristocracy’. (Quoted in Prothero Artisans and Politics p 137). Many of these ordinary people cared little for the politics of the affair, and simply enjoyed the drama and excitement of a juicy scandal in high society, just as they had done in the Mary Anne Clarke affair in 1809. And there were no doubt many women who were moved to take an active part from a sense that whatever the Queen had done, the King had done far worse, more openly and at home; and in the hope that if the old double-standard was shaken for the highest in the land, the benefit might trickle down through society to them or their daughters.

The Coronation Postponed:

The King was also forced to accept a postponement of the coronation until 1821. Wellington would have persisted with the original plan, but his colleagues felt that it would be unnecessarily provocative given the state of public feeling, and perhaps also that the government’s resources would already be fully stretched without the elaborate planning and pageantry of the coronation (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 7 July 1820 vol 1 p 27).

‘The Duke of Wellington called here & told me they had decided in Cabinet to put off the Coronation, very much in opposition to his wishes. He thinks that the Ministers will be accused of cowardice & thinks it wd have been far better to have gone on. He also disapproves of putting off the trial, as is now intended, till the middle of August. The excuse given is the occupations of the Judges, who will not be returned from the Circuits’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 7 July 1820 vol 1 p 27). There can be little doubt that on he was wrong about the coronation, which was most unlikely to have been a success if it had been held in the midst of the agitation of 1820.   

Wellington’s coach stoned in June 1820:

The most detailed account is in Pellew’s Life of Sidmouth (vol 3 p 327-8n). Pellew had just become Sidmouth’s son-in-law and was a witness to the events, although he was writing years later. According to him the incident occurred on the third night after the Queen reached London – the mob had thrown stones at the window of Sidmouth’s house each night (shutters protected them) and were returning for a second visit on the third night. Pellew, the narrator was caught with a watchman outside and retired with their backs to the front door ‘Before, however, they could gain admittance, the Philistines were upon them, filling the whole footway, and hemming them up in the entrance. At this moment a carriage dashed rapidly down the street, drew up at the door, and Lord Sidmouth exclaimed from within it – “Let me out; I must get out:” but another and a commanding voice, replied – “You shall not alight; drive on;” and instantly the carriage bounded forward, and disappeared, but not before the glass of the window nearest the speaker had been shivered to atoms by a stick or stone. In a moment afterwards, at a signal given, the mob dispersed, leaving the watchmen and his companion the only occupants of the street. In a few minutes the same carriage returned, escorted by a small party of the Life Guards. It was that of the Duke of Wellington, and contained his Grace, Lord Eldon, and Lord Sidmouth’.   Croker gives a brief account of the same incident, although he records it under the date of 7 June, the second night after the Queen’s return: Croker Papers vol 1 p 174.

Edward Littleton saw another incident involving Sidmouth, probably on the following night: ‘I was that night, about 11 o’clock, passing down Clifford Street, where the party were occupying themselves with breaking Lord Sidmouth’s windows, when the door opened and his Lordship presented himself with a drawn sword. The Mob immediately after dispersed on the appearance of the Home Guard [sic Horse Guards], and broke Lord Angelesey’s windows in their anger’. (Littleton’s diary 10 June 1820 The Hatherton Diaries unpaginated but arranged by date).

Liverpool and the King quarrel over Church Patronage:

The tensions between the Prime Minister and the King were heightened in July by a row over clerical patronage. The Bishop of Winchester died and the King was determined to honour an old promise and elevate the Bishop of Exeter to fill the vacancy. However Dr Pelham’s ‘want of qualification in respect of learning, talent and acquirements’, and the widespread belief that he was ‘addicted to a vice wch. wd. if discovered banish him from society’, determined Liverpool to oppose it. Eventually a compromise was achieved but not without much soreness and mutual irritation. (Hobhouse Diary 18 July 1820 p 32-22; see also Buckingham Memoirs of George IV vol 1 p 52 – Tom Grenville noting the general satisfaction at Pelham’s discomfiture).

Anniversary of Waterloo:

The following day was the anniversary of Waterloo and the Duke of York attended the parade of his own regiment, the 1st Guards. He was extremely well received both by the troops and by the large crowd of onlookers, but this was less reassuring than it seemed, for it was made plain that this applause ‘was bestowed on the Duke in disparagement of the King’ or, as another source put it ‘their affection for a Prince who was not afraid of showing himself amongst them’. (Hobhouse Diary 19June 1820 p 26; Mrs Arbuthnot’s Journal 18 June 1820 vol 1 p 23. See also The Times 19 June 1820).

Princess Lieven’s account of the incident is vivid, and perhaps a little exaggerated: ‘The other day the Duke of York was almost torn to pieces by the enthusiasm of the mob. About 6,000 people had collected near his house, and when he came out they pressed round him shouting: “We like princes who show themselves; we don’t like Grand Turks who shut themselves up in their seraglio – long live the Duke of York – our King to be”. They were very much frightened by this at Carlton House, and the object of these acclamations was more frightened still. The mob escorted him as far as the chapel where he was going’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 21 June 1820 p 43).

Edward Littleton at Brighton and noted in his diary, ‘Today being the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, all the soldiers are drunk’. (Diary 18 June 1820 The Hatherton Diaries).

Wellington’s warning to Liverpool:

[T]here are, as usual, reports without number in circulation respecting all the Guards, both cavalry and infantry, the greater number false, no doubt, but whether true or false no man can tell; and I am sure that none of us could say he was surprised if, at the next Drawing-room, he should hear as we did at the last, that there was a mutiny in more of these corps; and thus, in one of the most critical moments that ever occurred in this country, we and the public have reason to doubt in the fidelity of the troops, the only security we have, not only against revolution but for the property and life of every individual in the country who has anything to lose’. (‘Memorandum to the Earl of Liverpool respecting the State of the Guards’ June 1820 WND vol 1 p 127-129 WP 1/648/1 (this also mentions the Duke of York’s fears about the state of the Coldstream Guards).).

Liverpool so alarmed he toys with idea of sending the King to Hanover:

Mrs Arbuthnot’s journal for 28 June 1820: ‘Mr Arbuthnot told me that, at Lord Liverpool’s they had been discussing the state of the country & the public mind, & Lord L[iverpool] said that the aversion to the King was risen to the greatest possible height, that the Guards in London were all drinking the Queen’s health & had the greatest possible contempt for the King from thinking him a coward & afraid of showing himself amongst them. Lord L[iverpool] said that, if it was found impossible to prevail upon him to come out a little, that it wd be advisable to endeavour to prevail upon him to go over to Hanover for a time while the storm blows over, & have a Regency here. We shd soon become tranquil here with the Duke of York for our Governor’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 26).   It is hard to imagine that this was ever more than idle talk, for George IV could hardly have recovered from such a disastrous blow to his prestige.

Reports of disaffection in the Army:

Princess Lieven wrote to Metternich on 8 July ‘they are not sure of the army. The Duke of York, who tells me a great deal, has not told me this; but he boasts of sometimes spending three nights running at his office. He is not making plans of campaign. What is he doing?’ (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 48).

And on 27 July: ‘The troops are disaffected. They are being paid by the Queen’s partisans; that much is certain. The Duke of York told me so himself. Last month, she distributed £9000 amongst the soldiers of the guard. All this is very bad, and we shall only get out of it by blood-letting. As it is not my business to be brave, I am feeling thoroughly frightened; and, if anything happens, I shall run away’. (ibid p 56).

Greville’s diary for 6 July 1820: ‘The military in London have shown alarming symptoms of dissatisfaction, so much so that it seems doubtful how far the Guards can be counted upon in case of any disturbance arising out of this subject. Luttrell says that “the extinguisher is taking fire.”’ (Greville Memoirs (edited by Strachey & Fulford) 6 July 1820 vol 1 p 100).  Lady Cowper told her brother ‘The soldiers are, I think, most to be feared; those who are behind the curtains say they are so much for her, and so dissatisfied at the K[ing] never appearing amongst them, that they think it is cowardice keeps him shut up. They also have an idea that they swore allegiance to G[eorge] 3rd, and owe him nothing, and some of them cried to the D[uke] of G[loucester] on parade, “You ought to be our King.” Now it may go on smoothly, but should the population rise in her favour will they with their discontents march against them? Voilà ce qui reste à voir, and what I feel no security about…’ (Lady Cowper to Frederick Lamb, 20 June 1820 Letters of Lady Palmerston p 37).

And Tom Grenville noted that,

   The rumours about the military increase daily and frightfully. How much of these rumours is true, and how much is invented, and how much is exaggerated, I have not means to judge; but the prevalence of that topic of conversation, while it shows the generality of the apprehension, is itself but too much calculated to bring on the evil of which it treats.


   One of the rumours is, that the D___ of W___ was earnest for disbanding one of the regiments of Guards, but that the D___ of Y___ would not consent; another is, that the D___ of G___, apprised some time back of the state of his regiment, forbid his adjutant to communicate it to the D___ of Y___. But these are only rumours.

   Reports continue of doubts about the Household Troops; probably some are mere inventions, and others exaggerated; but the mischief of these reports is incalculable, because they promote distrust and suspicion on the one side, and agitation and restlessness on the other; and if one wished to create the evil, there could be no readier way than by the unremitted discussion which prevail upon this subject. (Tom Grenville to Buckingham 26 July 1820 Buckingham Memoirs of George IV vol 1 p 53-55).

Wellington’s recommendations:

Wellington argued for a reduction of the number of officials entitled to call the Guards out to support the civil authorities, complaining that the existing arrangement led to confusion: ‘nobody knows who is on or who is off duty, all the troops are harassed, and the duty is ill done after all’. Finally, he suggested that officers of the Guards be required to perform rather more of their duties, and that the very heavy dependence placed on the NCOs be lessened. This was delicate ground, for the Guards strongly defended their traditional privileges and system, resenting any interference from outsiders, and their officers were both extremely well connected, and were often busy pursuing other interests (including attending Parliament). (Memorandum to the Earl of Liverpool respecting the State of the Guards’ June 1820 WND vol 1 p 127-129 WP 1/648/1.).

Wellington’s idea for the creation of a new police force was not taken up at this time: it was probably felt that it would take too long to become effective and would arouse much opposition in the heated atmosphere of the day. Nor did an attempt to revive the City Light Horse Volunteers prosper – too many gentry had left town by mid-summer, meaning that the corps would lack leadership and might even prove dangerous. After consulting the High Bailiff of Westminster and other local authorities Liverpool preferred to rely upon the traditional measure of recruiting a large number of special constables when trouble seemed likely, and to put the Yeomanry Corps in the counties near London on alert to be summoned if needed. (Liverpool to Wellington 31 July 1820 WND vol 1 p 141, WP 1/649/15).

The example of Naples:

William Benbow, the radical printer, produced a handbill headed ‘Revolution in Naples, effected by the Soldiers’ which praised the army of Naples for imposing ‘a representative free Constitution’. (John Stevenson ‘The Queen Caroline Affair’ in London in the Age of Reform edited by John Stevenson p 127).

Princess Lieven noted on 22 July: ‘The English newspapers are odious. The Opposition ones are all democratic; those of the other party, all stupid. Here they are already discussing whether or no the English army will one day follow the example of the Spanish and Neapolitan armies. That is a nice subject for newspapers supposed to be ministerial’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 55).

Troop reviews in late July and early August:

Wellington described a review at Hounslow on 4 August to Mrs Arbuthnot.

     The King was remarkably well received by the Spectators, particularly the Gentry. I did not hear more than two or three of the Mob cry out Long live the Queen Caroline; one of them added and no Gout! The tenth Hussars cheered the King when he approached them; and as this is quite irregular, & I knew had been forbidden by Lord Edward Somerset, the General Officer who commanded, I was afraid it had been a Carlton House trick; but upon enquiry I found it was the spontaneous act of the soldiers themselves. The example was not followed by the other Regiments; and indeed the Men had the excuse for it that the King had been the Colonel of the Regiment, and that this was his first appearance since the new Colonel had been appointed.

        The Queen came to the Ground affair the Review was over, evidently to try how she would be received by the Officers & Troops, and I am happy to say that the experiment failed compleatly. I met her in Hounslow, which at that time was full of Officers, Troops & people; and they literally took no notice of her. I passed close by her at a Gallop; & and what is very extraordinary, after I had passed & had taken no notice of her, there was not a Man in the Street who did not pull off his Hat to me! (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, Stratfield Saye, 6 August 1820 Wellington and His Friends p 6-7).

Henry Goulburn wrote to Bathurst on 4 August: ‘You will be glad to hear that the King has been remarkably well received at the review. I hear from a spectator that he was cheered quite as much as his father ever was. I hope it will induce him to show himself, and if he does, I am sure he will drive his worse half from the field’. (HMC Bathurst p 484-5).

Edward Littleton described it in his diary: ‘The review consisted of two regiments of lancers and one of Hussars, the 10th regiment belonged to the King before his ascension. His Majesty, who for the first time of his life arrived, rode down the line of his old regiment, who cheered him in defiance of the order of their Officers, at which he was so much affected that tears came to his face. There was a splendid breakfast given in the Barracks after’. (Hatherton Diary 20 August 1820: a word or phrase may be missing after ‘arrived’).

Wellington’s recurrence of concern about the Army in September:

Mrs Arbuthnot’s journal for 23 September 1820: ‘The Duke of Wellington came to pay us a visit. He told us he thought that at the Horse Guards they were managing the affairs of the army exceedingly ill, that they were allowing the soldiers to form combinations among each other & that, when one had a grievance, all the rest of the company made common cause with him, which was a practice subversive of all military discipline. The Duke told me he had written to Sir Herbert Taylor, pointing out to him how destructive such a system must be & strongly advising that severe measures should be taken to put a stop to it’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 38).

But this was an immediate reaction to Taylor’s letter to Wellington of 19 September which raised these concerns (WP 1/653/4 printed in WND vol 1 p 144-6). Further enquiries led Taylor to withdraw his statements (to Wellington 3 October 1820 WP 1/654/1 not printed) at it does seem to have been a false alarm. Of course Wellington may not have been fully satisfied by Taylor’s subsequent reassurance, and the incident, along with the revolution in Portugal probably contributed to his gloom in October, but there is no more evidence of concern re the loyalty of the army.

Wellington’s distrust of armies:

In 1826 Wellington opposed the idea of unifying the armies of the three Presidencies in India arguing that their separation was a vital security for the British empire and justifying this by reference to, ‘First, the mutiny of the European officers of the Bengal army in ’95 and ’96. Secondly the mutiny of the sepoys of the army of Fort St George; and thirdly, the mutiny of the officers of the army of Fort St George’.

‘With these events these events before us, and seeing what armies have done in different countries of Europe, and are capable of attempting; and knowing them as I do, and knowing, moreover, the sort of men whom you must employ to manage them, I cannot but think it fortunate that they are three separate and distinct armies, and not an army consisting for 250,000 men!’ (Wellington to Charles Wynn 7 August 1826 WND vol 3 p 371-3).

Public opinion continues to favour the Queen:

Edward Littleton wrote with only a little exaggeration to Charles Bagot, ‘Not only the mob (don’t be deceived by what your Tory friends may tell you to the contrary) but people of all ranks, and the middle classes almost to a man … side with the Queen – [and] look upon the whole affair as a Court-job, and impute it to the wrong headedness of one man, and the miserable servility of the instruments of his will’. (Littleton to Bagot 8 August 1820 Bagot George Canning and His Friends vol 2 p 98-101).

Popular demonstrations:

Creevey wrote on 26 October: ‘Every Wednesday, the scene which caused such alarm at Manchester is repeated under the very nose of Parliament and all the constituted authorities, and in a tenfold degree more alarming. A certain number of regiments of the efficient population of the town march on each of these days in regular lock step, four or five abreast – banners flying – music playing … I should like anyone to tell me what is to come next if this organized army loses its temper …’ (Creevey Papers p 332).

And on 11 November, ‘Thank God, however, whoever is Minister has a pleasant time before him. The people have learnt a great lesson from this wicked proceeding: they have learnt how to marshal and organize themselves, and they have learnt at the same time the success of their strength’. (Creevey Papers p 341). Yet contrary to his hope this proved almost the end, not the beginning of a period of intense popular involvement in politics.


Preparations for the Opening of Parliament:

   There was great reason to expect disturbance, of which the probability was considerably increased by the Queen having placed herself in a house in St James’s Square, next door to Ld. Castlereagh’s in passing from whence to the House she wd. of course pass by Carlton House. For the purpose of avoiding as much as possible all cause of irritation to the mob, Ld. C. shut up the windows of his house, forbad them being opened, and put up a bed for himself at his office. The Queen’s selection of this house, when she might have had a better one elsewhere at the public expence, showed there existed some reason for the preference. To provide against the danger to the peace of the metropolis wch. was thus threatened, the whole force of the police was called into action. And it was the intention of Govt. to rely ostensibly on the civil power exclusively, and to have the military under cover at the Horse Guards, the King’s Mews, and he Riding Houses at Carlton and Buckingham Houses. But when the Lords met on Tuesday, a Committee was appointed to consider of the provision necessary to be made on the subject, when a resolution was unanimously passed for having the same Guards as in cases of impeachment. A detachment both of horse and foot were therefore ordered on duty, and to prevent the pressure of the crowd in Old Palace Yard barriers were erected across Margaret Street and Abingdon Street, admitting only one carriage at a time by an aperture wch. was guarded. The crowd however was by no means so great as was expected, and they betrayed much less animosity and ill-humour than had been looked for’. (Hobhouse Diary 21 August 1820 p 34-35).

Harriet, Lady Granville conveys the anxiety of the day in a letter to her sister, ‘I walk about the room a good deal, draw very long breaths and sometimes say out loud “I don’t signify.”’ And ‘I am so glad I have to write, as all these early hours must necessarily be passed in solitude. I cannot help looking out of window and spying out for ill-looking men’. With no news except that which came by word of mouth, waiting to learn what was happening was a severe trial on the nerves for those who took the alarm seriously. Yet the evidence that any real trouble was expected was curiously patchy. Castlereagh had, with difficulty, been persuaded to leave his house and sleep at the Foreign Office; but as the Queen had chosen to take up residence close to his house, and the streets and square would be full of her vociferous supporters, that was less a precaution than simple common sense. More significant was ‘a cordon of military, preventing the mob penetrating beyond Charing Cross on one side and Abingdon Street on the other’. But it was anyone’s guess whether they would be needed or would prove effective if they were. (Harriet Lady Granville to her sister Lady G. Morpeth, London, 17 August 1820 Letters of Harriet, Countess of Granville vol 1 p 155-6. See also Princess Lieven to Metternich 12 August 1820 Private Letters to Metternich p 59-60. There are some useful details re the disposition of troops to guards Parliament and be ready to suppress riots in Lt-Col Ross-of-Bladenburg History of the Coldstream Guards from 1815 to 1895 (London, Innex, 1896) p 81).

Creevey’s account:

Creevey was less anxious than Lady Granville partly because he was able to be on the spot and could judge the mood of the crowd from his observation not from his fears. Moreover he had sufficient compassion for the fears of others, and sufficient time on his hands, to write two letters from Parliament in the course of the day to his step daughter Miss Ord to reassure her. ‘Near the House of Lords’, he told her in the first, ‘there is a fence of railing put across the street from the Exchequer coffee-house to the enclosed garden ground joining to St Margaret’s churchyard, through which members of both Houses were alone permitted to pass. A minute after I passed, I heard an uproar, with hissing and shouting. On turning round I saw it was Wellington on horseback. His horse made a little start, and he looked round in some surprise. He caught my eye as he passed, and nodded, but was evidently annoyed’. (Creevey to Miss Ord 17 August 1820 Creevey Papers p 306-7, but cf Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 17 August 1820 Wellington and His Friends p 7-9.). A few hours later Creevey wrote that, ‘There are great crowds of people about the House, and all the way up Parliament Street, The Guards, both horse and foot, are there too in great numbers, but I saw nothing except good humour on all sides’. (Creevey to Miss Ord ‘4 o’clock’ [17 August 1820] Creevey Papers p 309) Other witnesses differ over the size of the crowd – Hobhouse described it as ‘not so great as was expected’, but agree that having escorted the Queen’s carriage to and from the House, ‘it dispersed peacefully in the evening’. (Hobhouse Diary 21 August p 34-5; cf Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 18 August 1820 vol 1 p 32).

Spirit of the Army on 17 August 1820:

Lady Granville told her sister on 16 August: ‘Lord Morley has seen Major Bowles, an officer in the Guards. He says nothing ever equalled the zeal and discipline of the troops, that the only fear is lest their anxiety to show their loyalty should make them act too much, if there is any occasion for it’. (Letters of Harriet, Countess of Granville vol 1 p 154).

Wellington’s arrival on 17 August:

Wellington told Mrs Arbuthnot: ‘I rode down & got to the House very quietly. There were a great many people in the Streets’. (17 August 1820 Wellington and His Friends p 7-9). But this was probably written to reassure her, and Creevey’s account is more accurate. The Times of 18 August 1820 gives an interesting account:

The next personages recognized by the people were not so fortunate as to meet with a similar reception: they were the Duke of Wellington and the Marquis of Anglesea. These distinguished personages were on horseback. The crowd particularly pressed around the Duke, and shouted “We must have the Queen – no foul play, my lord – The Queen for ever!” Others exclaimed – “The army for ever, my lord!” And one person who was on horseback rode along-side the Duke, and said “The Queen and the army”. His Grace rode on apparently indifferent to the surrounding bustle; he occasionally smiled at those of the crowd who pressed nearest to him, and said “Yes, yes”, to the reiterated exclamations of some of the most persevering among them who continued to vociferate “Long live the Queen!” The Marquis of Anglesea did not manifest the same command of temper: he spurred his horse, and seemed anxious to get rapidly through the crowd.

Of course The Times was sympathetic to the demonstrations and probably softened their comments a good deal, but it may be that the crowd was not so uniformly hostile as Creevey represents.

Wellington booed:

Princess Lieven told Metternich on 19 August ‘Wellington is terribly booed – and I believe he feels it’. She also mentions a point which does not appear elsewhere, and may not be true: ‘Wellington did something in very bad taste. He was the only person who kept his hat on, during the whole of the first hearing, in the Queen’s presence’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 62).

On the 29th she confirms Lady Granville’s account: ‘Every day the Duke of Wellington is handled more and more roughly by the mob; yesterday he was nearly pulled off his horse. Evidently they are getting bolder’. (ibid p 69).

Wellington had his own, face-saving but not entirely inaccurate interpretation of his unpopularity as appears in Mrs Arbuthnot’s journal for 28 February 1821 in part of a discussion of the mood of the King and Lady Conyngham as reported by Mrs Pole:

Mrs. Pole says that every paper, however secret, is shown to Ly C[onyngham] & that she repeats every thing she hears to him. And she instanced a conversation which had passed between the D. of Wellington & Ly C[onyngham] during the progress of the trial, & which the Duke told me was perfectly correct. She had talked to him of the Ministers being unpopular & affected to lament it; the Duke denied their being unpopular &, when she was persisting in it, he said, “Now, pray explain to me why I am unpopular? I have been but two years in England, have certainly done nothing to deserve to lose the popularity I had. I had nothing to do with the Milan Commission & yet I am hunted down to the H. of Lords every day 7 back again, whilst the Duke of York is as much applauded. What do you suppose is the reason of this?” She did not know what to answer & he said, “It is because I am thought to be a King’s man! & the D. of York is applauded because, as it’s his interest that the divorce shd. not pass, he is thought to be a Queen’s man! & then this is what you can the Ministers being unpopular. It is the King that is unpopular & we share it with him”. This story the King told Mrs. Pole, & said he had desired his brother after that always to go to & from the House with the D. of Wellington. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 78)

Wellington cheered:

There is considerable evidence that Wellington remained popular outside London. In August he visited the Arbuthnots and ‘went to church with us on the 13th, to the great delight of the people of Woodford who assembled in crowds to see him & rang the bells in token of their joy’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 30 12 August 1820). At the beginning of October, when he passed through Bedford a large crowd collected round the inn to cheer him (ibid 1 October 1820 vol 1 p 39). And in December he and the Duke of York were received with the utmost enthusiasm at Norwich. (ibid 5 December 1820 vol 1 p 55-6 ).

Concern at the effect of the discussion of the case on public morality:

‘For several months’, Mr Hatsell the old chief clerk of the Commons, wrote to Lord Colchester in all earnestness,

the people of England have thought, talked, and dreamt of no other subject than the Queen. The Lords, by permitting the evidence taken by shorthand-writers to be published every morning, have not only supplied matter sufficient to occupy the leisure hours of the whole reading world, from breakfast to dinner, with subjects of conversation for the remainder of the day, but have exhibited to the world such a scene of profligacy and vice as were never detailed in any novel …[1] The women in general … have taken part with Her Majesty. Sir Thomas Acland told me at Brighton, [that] the ladies said “Well, if my husband has used me as hers has done, I should have felt myself entitled to act as she has done”. The mischief introduced into private families (where the father has not been cautious, like Lord Sidmouth and Lord Lilford, to prevent the newspapers from being read by his daughters) will be very great in corrupting the imaginations of young ladies, and encouraging them to take part in every conversation, however indecent. (Mr Hatsell to Lord Colchester 9 September 1820, Abbot Diary vol 3 p 161-2. Bootle Wilbraham also feared for the effect of the newspapers upon young ladies: ibid p 163-4. For Hatsell’s position see Pellew Life of Sidmouth vol 3 p 332n).

 Few well informed people believe in the Queen’s innocence:

It was widely said that Brougham, of all people, had punned that “The Queen is pure innocence (in no sense)”. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 31 October 1820 p 87). Lady Granville noted on 7 October: ‘I dined at Cleveland House … The Archbishop sat on the other side of me. He looks upon the thing as over, and says it is better that the bill be thrown out, with the moral conviction in the higher orders that she is guilty, then carried with the moral conviction in the lower orders that she is innocent. Very sensible, and my own view of the case’. (Letters of Harriet, Countess of Granville vol 1 p 184).

As early as June Lady Cowper had told her brother, Frederick Lamb, ‘The common people, and I fear the soldiers, are all in her favour and I believe the latter more than is owned – this is natural enough; they look upon her as an oppressed individual, whereas she is oppressing. As for her virtue, I don’t think they care much about it, for tho they call her innocent, the Mob before her door have repeatedly called out ‘A cheer for Prince Austin, the Queen’s son’. [William Austin, 1802-49, the adopted son of Queen Caroline]. (Lady Cowper to Frederick Lamb, 26 and 27 June 1820 Letters of Lady Palmerston p 36).

Wellington’s health September-October 1820:

On 4 October 1820 Wellington told Lady Shelley: ‘I have had a bad cold and have been poorly for some time past’. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 103-4).

Boredom with the subject:

‘…. the Queen, the Queen, and nothing but the Queen is heard of. Her impudence surpasses every thing, and one requires great command of temper to keep within bounds, for the folly of the people and the absurdity they talk outdoes any thing you can conceive…’ (Lady Cowper to Frederick Lamb, 20 August 1820 Letters of Lady Palmerston p 43).

Effect of the evidence and the cross examination:

The fact is that tho the impression must remain very much the same upon all rational minds, yet there is not evidence to convict her, or at least so many parts of the evidence being disproved and the character of the witnesses taken in, and added to this the expediency of throwing out the Bill … that, should the Ministers persist, I am told they would most probably be beat….

The Queen has a strange luck in her favour; the worse she behaves, the more it redounds to her credit. The only good I see in the turn affairs have taken, is that the Radicals are furious, and Cobbett makes a violent attack on Brougham for lukewarmness, and for having spared the King in his speech. The fact is that the Bill being thrown out is death to their hopes….

… I believe most of the Queen’s witnesses are more or less perjured, but it is very different swearing to what you believe and what you know. The Queen is in high glee, but bored with it all…

(Lady Cowper to Frederick Lamb, 10 October 1820 Letters of Lady Palmerston p 49-50).

Liverpool’s character:

Wellington was not alone in complaining of deterioration of Liverpool’s temper. As early as the spring of 1819 Charles Arbuthnot, who had worked closely with the Prime Minister for years, avoided a difficult discussion ‘because I had not wished to agitate a most nervous mind just in the midst of our parliamentary difficulties’. In February the King resented Liverpool’s deficiency in both manners and temper; while Wellesley-Pole, who had never much liked him, repeatedly if privately criticized his lack of warmth, his ‘coldness and inattention’, and his reluctance to mix with other public men. (Arbuthnot to Castlereagh 14 March [1819] Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 17; Hobhouse Diary 16 February 1820 p 9; Plumer Ward’s diary 4 May and 2 November 1820 in Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 53, 71).

In 1836 Lady Salisbury wrote in her diary that, ‘Arbuthnot told me some curious anecdotes of Lord Liverpool’s irritation of temper. He would break a chair to pieces by dashing it against the ground, when annoyed at something that had happened, and on one occasion, when the Ministers were assembled at Lord Castlereagh’s house, upon it being announced that one of them, Lord G. Cavendish, would not vote for them on some particular question, Lord Liverpool began beating himself with his arms, in the most violent manner, and exclaiming in a sort of scream, “D—n the Cavendishes! D__n the Cavendishes!” till at last he burst out of the room, continuing these gestures and exclamations through the hall, to his carriage, to the great astonishment of the servants…’ Lady Salisbury’s diary 9 September 1836 Gascoyne Heiress p 212.

And in April 1827 Henry Hobhouse, writing of Canning’s difficulties in forming a government, said that Liverpool was ‘a man who had fewer personal friends and less quality for conciliating men’s affections than perhaps any Minister that ever lived’. (Hobhouse Diary p 136).

Liverpool’s speeches:

Greville, after describing the strength of party feeling and violence of most speakers on both sides adds, ‘Lord Liverpool is a model of fairness, impartiality, and candour, and he has his reward in the admiration which his candour excites and the respect and esteem which he enjoys of the whole House of Lords’. (Greville Memoirs (edited by Strachey & Fulford) 15 October 1820 vol 1 p 108).

Plumer Ward noted in July that Lord * * * (apparently an Opposition peer) had said that Liverpool was not only very able but ‘the honestest man that could be dealt with. You may always trust him, he stated, and though he may be going to answer you after a speech, you may go out and leave your words in his hands and he will never misrepresent you; he owned he had quite got the better of Ld Grey’. (Plumer Ward diary 6 July 1820 in Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p57).

In May 1823 Princess Lieven watched a debate in the Lords ‘Liverpool showed no coquetry. Heavens, what attitudes he gets into! All the same, he speaks well. He is not careful in his choice of words, but he makes his points soundly. He speaks with force and clarity and one remembers what he had said’. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 13 May 1823 p 262-3).

Gash Liverpool p 163 says that Liverpool made only one important contribution to the debate on the second reading – which is true but open to misinterpretation: the Parliamentary Debates show his numerous interventions in the Trial, speeches responding to Opposition motions etc etc leaving no doubt that he carried the weight of making the government’s case while some of his colleagues, including Wellington, were almost dumb.

Plumer Ward doubts about Liverpool’s leadership:

‘I doubted Ld. Liverpool’s knowledge of the House, thinking that that and the general power of governing by a party was what he failed in. He is too honest, I said, to take pains this way. No man can lead the House or the Cabinet so well, or all subjects everyone Looks up to him in debate; but he trusts too much to this, and takes his account of minor, yet necessary, points from others’.

But Wellington-Pole disagreed. (Plumer Ward diary 2 November 1820 in Phipps Memoir of Plumer Ward vol 2 p 71).

In February 1821 Mrs Arbuthnot wrote in her journal: ‘I did not think it was just the moment for irritating Ld L[iverpool] & making him determined to resign when I did not believe wd cd go on without him’. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 76). Although Wellington thought Castlereagh might be a possible alternative prime minister.

Wellington’s reaction to abandoning the trial:

On 11 November Princess Lieven told Metternich that only two days before, i.e. on the 9th, Wellington ‘said to me again and again: “We must go on, we must persevere to the finish.”’ And she thought he would be very happy with the result. (Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich p 93). Perhaps the point was that the third reading had been carried, and this made Wellington feel that the government had been vindicated. This view seems borne out by Wellington to Lady Shelley, 10 November 1820: ‘You’ll see how we have finished our Bill. The truth is that we could not have moved it another stage; and I believe the conclusion of it will give general satisfaction’. (Diary of Lady Shelley vol 2 p 105-6).

Wellington’s memorandum for the King:

Wellington told Mrs Arbuthnot that the Queen was in league with the Opposition and that Lady Conyngham was intriguing against the governmentt and that the King was unreliable: ‘I have given him however a piece of my mind upon his conduct if he changes his Ministers before the Enquiry into the Milan Commission will be closed; and I believe I have displeased him not a little by so doing, as I have not heard from him since…’ (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot 18 November 1820 Wellington and His Friends p 12-13).

The King received another memorandum arguing against a change of government at this time. It is unsigned and undated but Professor Aspinall suggests that it may have been from the Earl of Lauderdale. It is less significant for its content than for showing that Wellington’s unsought advice was not quite so remarkable or presumptuous than it would otherwise appear. (This memorandum is printed in The Letters of George IV vol 2 p 387-8).

Wellington and the Duke of York visit Norwich:

The two dukes were in Norfolk in early December and stopped in Norwich to receive the freedom of the town. They were met with great enthusiasm, the cathedral was over-flowing and the crowd pressed around them. ‘The D. of Wellington heard one man in the crowd call “Queen”, & another say, “Oh, never mind the Queen. We have nothing to do with her now.”’ (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 5 December 1820 vol 1 p 55-6). This was particularly significant for Norwich was a strongly nonconformist and radical city (see Davis Dissent in Politics passim).

Political mood early 1821:

On 1 February Lady Cowper told her brother Frederick:

Politics are fallen very flat, high expectations have been disappointed. The Whigs are low and out of temper; the Ministers are abused and consequently peevish; the landlords are all poor and get only two-thirds of their rents. In short everybody has a grievance….

…. There is certainly a change in popular feeling about the Queen, the Theater shows it, and the difference is remarkable. On the Accession Day ‘God Save the King’ was received with rapture and waving of hats and encored, a few hisses quite drowned and when they called for ‘God Save the Queen’ they were hissed down directly. Parliamentary Debates n.s. 3 May 1827 vol 17 col 541

Beyond John Bull:

There are many references to John Bull in the sources, and there is a story in Colchester (Abbot Diary vol 3 p 251 letter from Bootle Wilbraham of 2 April 1822) that Sir R. Fergusson, hearing that he was going to be attacked in a forthcoming issue, called upon Theodore Hook and informed that if so ‘he should break his bones. The consequence of which has been, that Sir Ronald has not been brought before the public’.

Yet John Bull was not quite the most extreme or scurrilous Tory paper: for under the editorship of Charles Molloy Westmacott the Age became known for ‘pseudo-satirical gossip with a view to extortion’ – victims including the royal family. See ODNB on Westmacott (half brother of the sculptor) who prospered.

Cheering at the Theatre:

According to Mrs Arbuthnot (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 69 8 February 1821) Wellington was also loudly cheered at Covent Garden.

The Fading of Popular Radicalism:

In 1824 Thomas Wooler wrote that ‘The nation is asleep, as dull as tortoise in winter, and nothing can stir them from their trance. Yet there are matters that at any other times would have produced universal agitation; but they have stirred so often to so little purpose that they begin to think quietness best’. (quoted in Dorothy George English Political Caricature vol 2 p 203).

One explanation not discussed here is that put forward by Thomas Laqueur in ‘The Queen Caroline Affair: Politics as Art in the Reign of George IV’ Journal of Modern History vol 54 no 3 September 1982 p 417-60 especially p 439-41 which, if I understand it correctly, is that rhetorical and aesthetic forms which the agitation took, particularly its resort to melodrama, necessarily limited its political impact. The reason for this is not made entirely clear, unless Laqueur simply means that the public were more interested in the scandal and human drama of the Queen’s affair than in the political meaning that radical activists wished to give it. Nonetheless this is a deeply researched, rich, and stimulating article, although somewhat marred by an inordinate number of trivial errors (names misspelt etc) and one or two more serious misconceptions e.g. the Queen was not ‘acquitted’ (pace p 438).

[1] Had he read Moll Flanders? Or Fanny Hill ?


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© Rory Muir

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