Page images
PDF

Such a doctrine was not likely to pass without debate. Lord Mansfield said mysteriously that he had his own private thoughts who are and who are not of the Royal Family, but that he did not choose to declare them. The question being resumed next day, Lord Chancellor Henley, not long since created Earl of Northington, publicly avowed his opinion as directly opposite to the Duke of Bedford's. * Amidst so much of doubt and contradiction it became indispensable that the persons intended should be more clearly designated in the Bill. It was then that Lord Halifax, eager to put himself forward in this business, hurried to the King, and assured him on the part of the Cabinet that if the name of his mother should be inserted, the House of Commons would in all probability strike it out. Far better therefore, urged Halifax, with a view to save the honour of His Majesty and of Her Royal Highness, that the Ministers should anticipate the insult, and themselves in the first instance omit her name. The young monarch taken unawares, and struck with painful surprise, answered mildly: “I will consent if it will “satisfy my people.” Armed with the consent obtained under such pretences, Halifax hastened back to the House of Peers. There, alleging the King's permission, he proposed words to limit the persons who should be capable of the Regency to the Queen and to all the descendants of the late King usually resident in England. Thus did he exclude the Princess Dowager and the Princess Dowager alone! Thus did he seek to stigmatize by Act of Parliament the mother of his Sovereign

With such alterations the Regency Bill went through the House of Lords. But not many hours elapsed ere the King felt in its full force the insult offered to his parent, and bitterly complained of Lord Halifax for having surprised his

the learned Baldus : “Mater non numeratur inter consanguineos.” But Sterne carries the argument one step further: “Since Mrs. Shandy the “mother is nothing at all akin to him, - and since the mother's side is the “surest, — Mr. Shandy of course is still less than nothing!”

* H. Walpole to the Earl of Hertford, May 5. 1765. and Memoirs of George III., vol. ii. p. 118. ; to be carefully compared with Mr. Grenville's Diary.

1765. DISPLEASURE OF THE KING. 103

acquiescence. In one interview with Lord Mansfield His Majesty was moved even to a burst of tears. He strongly urged Mr. Grenville to propose the reinstatement of the name in the House of Commons. Grenville, however, was deaf to the King's entreaties; the utmost he would promise was to give way if he should be pressed by others. Meanwhile the friends of the Princess Dowager, political and personal, were filled with indignation, and determined, though unbidden, to make a stand in her behalf. One of these, Mr. Morton, the Chief Justice of Chester, made a formal motion to replace in the Bill as before the House of Commons the name of Her Royal Highness. George Grenville in much perplexity looked to the members of the Opposition for rescue, well knowing how much they hated the Princess. But he forgot that they hated the Prime Minister still more. Enjoying his confusion, and determined to increase it, they either walked out of the House, or sat still acquiescing in Morton's motion. Thus Grenville was reduced to stammer forth that he had hoped the words inserted by Lord Halifax would be universally acceptable, – thought there had been authority for the omission, but found that there was not, — and now would readily concur in any mark of respect to the mother of his Sovereign. In his letter to the King the same evening he takes merit to himself for having, as he says, “followed as nearly as I could the idea which your Majesty “pointed out to me.”* A small number of Members still continued to object, but on dividing could muster no more than thirty-seven. In the result, therefore, the name of Her Royal Highness, which the King had been assured could not fail, if retained, to be struck out, was, on the contrary, by an immense and overwhelming majority reinstated. In the whole of this strange transaction — “the vertigo “of the Regency Bill,” as it is aptly termed by Burke”, the Ministers seem to have wholly neglected — it might almost be said that they betrayed — the dignity and honour of the Crown. Their affront upon the Princess Dowager was as gross and public as it was undeserved. There were indeed rumours and whispers against her fame, but these, as probably false and certainly unproved, it behoved the King's Servants to disregard and to defy; and next to the Queen herself no member of the Royal House then living appeared so fit for the post of Regent as the person whom it was attempted to exclude from it, — the grandmother of the infant Prince. But throughout this business party grudges and resentments, and, above all, jealousy of Lord Bute, with whom Bedford and Halifax especially were now at variance, seemed to be the all-absorbing, the paramount considerations. The King himself, most justly grieved and offended, a few days afterwards opened his heart to his uncle of Cumberland, and besought advice and aid to rid him of his Ministers. His early dreams of governing without party, or of moulding every party to his will, - his resentment against the pride of Pitt standing singly, - his aversion to the confederacy of the great Whig houses, all these seemed by comparison to vanish into air. To every mind, unless to the very greatest, the present evil ever seems the most intolerable. Nor were other causes wanting to swell the Royal displeasure. His Majesty, though always willing and ready for business, disliked (as who does not?) long speeches out of season; and grievously lamented the wellinformed, but verbose and ill-timed, eloquence of Grenville. “When,” — such were the King's own words to Lord Bute, – “he has wearied me for two hours, he looks at his watch “to see if he may not tire one for an hour more.”* Besides such ill-timed eloquence, he had also to complain of illjudged economy. Grenville had refused His Majesty a grant of 20,000l. for the purchase of the ground behind the gardens which the King had made at Buckingham * Lord Orford's Memoirs of George III., vol. ii. p. 160.

* Letter, May 9. 1765. Grenville Papers. d "...onervation, on a late State of the Nation; Works, vol. ii. p. 156. ed., 1815.

1765. DUTIES ON FOREIGN SILKS. 105

House; thus the ground remaining in other hands, a new row of houses speedily sprung up, the present Grosvenor Place, to overlook the Sovereign and his family in their daily walks. * But besides these more personal considerations, and looking mainly as George the Third ever did, or meant to do, to the welfare of the country, His Majesty could not fail to observe an uneasy feeling, a sullen resentment, which had arisen, no doubt, under Lord Bute, but which had grown, if not by Grenville's fault, at least during Grenville's administration. At this time also there was another special cause of animosity. On the very day that the Regency Bill passed there came up for discussion in the Lords a measure which had been carried through the Commons with little notice; it was for imposing as high duties on ltalian silks as were paid on the French. The ground alleged was that the French sent their silks to Genoa and Leghorn, and there entered them as Italian merchandize; but the real object seems to have been to obtain, so far as possible, a total prohibition of foreign silks. The Duke of Bedford made a speech against this Bill; no Peer rose to defend it; and it was thrown out. Its rejection, however, was keenly resented by the Spitalfields weavers, whose trade was at this period languishing, and of whom a large proportion were unemployed.* On the day ensuing about three or four thousand of these poor men went very quietly and unarmed to Richmond to petition the King for redress. Finding him gone to a review at Wimbledon they followed him there. His Majesty told them he would do all that was in his power to relieve them, and they returned home well pleased and quite peaceable. But on the afternoon of the next day they appeared at Whitehall in unruly numbers, carrying red and black flags, and shouting forth invectives against the Peers. They stopped several of their Lordships' coaches; amongst others, the Chancellor's, and asked him if he had been against the Bill. He stoutly told them, Yes. They were abashed at his firmness, and said, they hoped he would do justice. He replied: “Always and everywhere; and whoever does need “fear nothing!” The Duke of Bedford was however, as may be supposed, the principal object of their anger. When his coach appeared it was hissed and pelted, and a large stone which was flung into it, not only cut the Duke's hand which he had raised to protect himself, but bruised him on the temple. But this was not all. The Duke received intelligence that on the evening of next Friday (May the 17th) his own dwelling (Bedford House on the north side of Bloomsbury Square) would be attacked by the rabble. Accordingly he provided an adequate garrison, friends and dependents in great numbers, and soldiers both horse and foot. The rioters did appear at the time expected, and began to pull down the wall of the court, but the great gates being thrown open, while the Riot Act was read, the party of cavalry sallied out and rode round Bloomsbury Square slashing and trampling on the mob and putting them to flight. Some wounds were inflicted, but no lives were lost. In the meantime another body of rioters had passed to the back of the house, and were forcing their way through the garden, when they also were dispersed by the fortunate arrival of a fresh detachment of fifty horse. Nevertheless the Duke and his company kept watch all night, while the neighbouring coffee-houses were thronged with idlers who with great indifference sent from time to time to hear how the siege went on. The baffled weavers vented their rage that night on the windows, which they demolished, of Carr, a fashionable mercer who dealt in French silks, but they refrained from any further outrage. On the Sunday which followed, Horace Walpole — from whose vivid and minute description these particulars are mainly drawn — went to compliment their Graces of Bedford, as did most of their acquaintance, upon their escape

* We are told by a contemporary of their “pallid looks and emaciated “carcases.” The Duke of Bedford's speech concerning them is accused of “uncommon harshness.” (Annual Register, 1765, part i. p. 41.)

« PreviousContinue »