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Lord Palmerston








I

In 1851 the Prince's fortunes reached their highwater mark. The
success of the Great Exhibition enormously increased his reputation and
seemed to assure him henceforward a leading place in the national life.
But before the year was out another triumph, in a very different sphere
of action, was also his. This triumph, big with fateful consequences,
was itself the outcome of a series of complicated circumstances which
had been gathering to a climax for many years.

The unpopularity of Albert in high society had not diminished with
time. Aristocratic persons continued to regard him with disfavour; and
he on his side withdrew further and further into a contemptuous
reserve. For a moment, indeed, it appeared as if the dislike of the
upper classes was about to be suddenly converted into cordiality; for
they learnt with amazement that the Prince, during a country visit, had
ridden to hounds and acquitted himself remarkably well. They had
always taken it for granted that his horsemanship was of some
second-rate foreign quality, and here he was jumping five-barred gates
and tearing after the fox as if he had been born and bred in
Leicestershire. They could hardly believe it; was it possible that
they had made a mistake, and that Albert was a good fellow after
all? Had he wished to be thought so he would certainly have seized
this opportunity, purchased several hunters, and used them constantly.
But he had no such desire; hunting bored him, and made Victoria
nervous. He continued, as before, to ride, as he himself put it, for
exercise or convenience, not for amusement; and it was agreed that
though the Prince, no doubt, could keep in his saddle well enough, he
was no sportsman.

This was a serious matter. It was not merely that Albert was laughed
at by fine ladies and sneered at by fine gentlemen; it was not merely
that Victoria, who before her marriage had cut some figure in society,
had, under her husband's influence, almost completely given it up.
Since Charles the Second the sovereigns of England had, with a single
exception, always been unfashionable; and the fact that the exception
was George the Fourth seemed to give an added significance to the rule.
What was grave was not the lack of fashion, but the lack of other and
more important qualities. The hostility of the upper classes was
symptomatic of an antagonism more profound than one of manners or even
of tastes. The Prince, in a word, was un-English. What that word
precisely meant it was difficult to say; but the fact was patent to
every eye. Lord Palmerston, also, was not fashionable; the great Whig
aristocrats looked askance at him, and tolerated him only as an
unpleasant necessity thrust upon them by fate. But Lord Palmerston was
English through and through; there was something in him that expressed,
with extraordinary vigour, the fundamental qualities of the English
race. And he was the very antithesis of the Prince. By a curious
chance it so happened that this typical Englishman was brought
into closer contact than any other of his countrymen with the alien
from over the sea. It thus fell out that differences which, in more
fortunate circumstances, might have been smoothed away and obliterated,
became accentuated to the highest pitch. All the mysterious forces in
Albert's soul leapt out to do battle with his adversary, and, in the
long and violent conflict that followed, it almost seemed as if he was
struggling with England herself.

Palmerston's whole life had been spent in the government of the
country. At twenty-two he had been a Minister; at twenty-five he had
been offered the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, which, with that
prudence which formed so unexpected a part of his character, he had
declined to accept. His first spell of office had lasted
uninterruptedly for twenty-one years. When Lord Grey came into power
he received the Foreign Secretaryship, a post which he continued to
occupy, with two intervals, for another twenty-one years. Throughout
this period his reputation with the public had steadily grown, and
when, in 1846, he became Foreign Secretary for the third time, his
position in the country was almost, if not quite, on an equality with
that of the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell. He was a tall, big man
of sixty-two, with a jaunty air, a large face, dyed whiskers, and a
long, sardonic upper lip. His private life was far from respectable,
but he had greatly strengthened his position in society by marrying,
late in life, Lady Cowper, the sister of Lord Melbourne, and one of the
most influential of the Whig hostesses. Powerful, experienced, and
supremely self-confident, he naturally paid very little attention to
Albert. Why should he? The Prince was interested in foreign affairs?
Very well, then; let the Prince pay attention to him--to him,
who had been a Cabinet Minister when Albert was in the cradle, who was
the chosen leader of a great nation, and who had never failed in
anything he had undertaken in the whole course of his life. Not that
he wanted the Prince's attention--far from it: so far as he could see,
Albert was merely a young foreigner, who suffered from having no vices,
and whose only claim to distinction was that he had happened to marry
the Queen of England. This estimate, as he found out to his cost, was
a mistaken one. Albert was by no means insignificant, and, behind
Albert, there was another figure by no means insignificant
either--there was Stockmar.

But Palmerston, busy with his plans, his ambitions, and the management
of a great department, brushed all such considerations on one side; it
was his favourite method of action. He lived by instinct--by a quick
eye and a strong hand, a dexterous management of every crisis as it
arose, a half-unconscious sense of the vital elements in a situation.
He was very bold; and nothing gave him more exhilaration than to steer
the ship of state in a high wind, on a rough sea, with every stitch of
canvas on her that she could carry. But there is a point beyond which
boldness becomes rashness--a point perceptible only to intuition and
not to reason; and beyond that point Palmerston never went. When he
saw that the case demanded it, he could go slow--very slow indeed; in
fact, his whole career, so full of vigorous adventure, was nevertheless
a masterly example of the proverb, 'Tout vient a point a qui sait
attendre.' But when he decided to go quick, nobody went quicker. One
day, returning from Osborne, he found that he had missed the train to
London; he ordered a special, but the station-master told him that to
put a special train upon the line at that time of day would be
dangerous, and he could not allow it. Palmerston insisted, declaring
that he had important business in London, which could not wait. The
station-master, supported by all the officials, continued to demur; the
company, he said, could not possibly take the responsibility. 'On my
responsibility, then!' said Palmerston, in his off-hand, peremptory
way; whereupon the stationmaster ordered up the train, and the Foreign
Secretary reached London in time for his work, without an accident.
The story is typical of the happy valiance with which he conducted both
his own affairs and those of the nation. 'England,' he used to say,
'is strong enough to brave consequences.' Apparently, under
Palmerston's guidance, she was. While the officials protested and
shook in their shoes, he would wave them away with his airy 'My
responsibility!' and carry the country swiftly along the line of his
choice, to a triumphant destination,--without an accident. His immense
popularity was the result partly of his diplomatic successes, partly of
his extraordinary personal affability, but chiefly of the genuine
intensity with which he responded to the feelings and supported the
interests of his countrymen. The public knew that it had in Lord
Palmerston not only a high-mettled master, but also a devoted
servant--that he was, in every sense of the word, a public man. When
he was Prime Minister, he noticed that iron hurdles had been put up on
the grass in the Green Park; he immediately wrote to the Minister
responsible, ordering, in the severest language, their instant removal,
declaring that they were 'an intolerable nuisance,' and that the
purpose of the grass was 'to be walked upon freely and without
restraint by the people, old and young, for whose enjoyment the
parks are maintained.' It was in this spirit that, as Foreign
Secretary, he watched over the interests of Englishmen abroad. Nothing
could be more agreeable for Englishmen; but foreign governments were
less pleased. They found Lord Palmerston interfering, exasperating,
and alarming. In Paris they spoke with bated breath of 'ce terrible
milord Palmerston'; and in Germany they made a little song about him--

'Hat der Teufel einen Sohn,
So ist er sicher Palmerston.'

But their complaints, their threats, and their agitations were all in
vain. Palmerston, with his upper lip sardonically curving, braved

consequences, and held on his course.

The first diplomatic crisis which arose after his return to office,
though the Prince and the Queen were closely concerned with it, passed
off without serious disagreement between the Court and the Minister.
For some years past a curious problem had been perplexing the
chanceries of Europe. Spain, ever since the time of Napoleon a prey to
civil convulsions, had settled down for a short interval to a state of
comparative quiet under the rule of Christina, the Queen Mother, and
her daughter Isabella, the young Queen. In 1846, the question of
Isabella's marriage, which had for long been the subject of diplomatic
speculations, suddenly became acute. Various candidates for her hand
were proposed--among others, two cousins of her own, another Spanish
prince, and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, a first cousin of Victoria's
and Albert's; for different reasons, however, none of these young men
seemed altogether satisfactory. Isabella was not yet sixteen;
and it might have been supposed that her marriage could be put off for
a few years more; but this was considered to be out of the question.
'Vous ne savez pas,' said a high authority, 'ce que c'est que ces
princesses espagnoles; elles ont le diable au corps, et on a toujours
dit que si nous ne nous hations pas, l'heritier viendrait avant le
mari.' It might also have been supposed that the young Queen's
marriage was a matter to be settled by herself, her mother, and the
Spanish Government; but this again was far from being the case. It had
become, by one of those periodical reversions to the ways of the
eighteenth century, which, it is rumoured, are still not unknown in
diplomacy, a question of dominating importance in the foreign policies
both of France and England. For several years, Louis Philippe and his
Prime Minister Guizot had been privately maturing a very subtle plan.
It was the object of the French King to repeat the glorious coup of
Louis XIV, and to abolish the Pyrenees by placing one of his grandsons
on the throne of Spain. In order to bring this about, he did not
venture to suggest that his younger son, the Duc de Montpensier, should
marry Isabella; that would have been too obvious a move, which would
have raised immediate and insurmountable opposition. He therefore
proposed that Isabella should marry her cousin, the Duke of Cadiz,
while Montpensier married Isabella's younger sister, the Infanta
Fernanda; and pray, what possible objection could there be to that?
The wily old King whispered into the chaste ears of Guizot the key to
the secret; he had good reason to believe that the Duke of Cadiz was
incapable of having children, and therefore the offspring of
Fernanda would inherit the Spanish crown. Guizot rubbed his hands, and
began at once to set the necessary springs in motion; but, of course,
the whole scheme was very soon divulged and understood. The English
Government took an extremely serious view of the matter; the balance of
power was clearly at stake, and the French intrigue must be frustrated
at all hazards. A diplomatic struggle of great intensity followed; and
it occasionally appeared that a second War of the Spanish Succession
was about to break out. This was avoided, but the consequences of this
strange imbroglio were far-reaching and completely different from what
any of the parties concerned could have guessed.

In the course of the long and intricate negotiations there was one
point upon which Louis Philippe laid a special stress--the candidature
of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The prospect of a marriage between a
Coburg Prince and the Queen of Spain was, he declared, at least as
threatening to the balance of power in Europe as that of a marriage
between the Duc de Montpensier and the Infanta; and, indeed, there was
much to be said for this contention. The ruin which had fallen upon
the House of Coburg during the Napoleonic wars had apparently served
only to multiply its vitality, for that princely family had by now
extended itself over Europe in an extraordinary manner. King Leopold
was firmly fixed in Belgium; his niece was Queen of England; one of his
nephews was the husband of the Queen of England, and another the
husband of the Queen of Portugal; yet another was Duke of Wuertemberg.
Where was this to end? There seemed to be a Coburg Trust ready to send
out one of its members at any moment to fill up any vacant place among
the ruling families of Europe. And even beyond Europe there were
signs of this infection spreading. An American who had arrived in
Brussels had assured King Leopold that there was a strong feeling in
the United States in favour of monarchy instead of the misrule of mobs,
and had suggested, to the delight of His Majesty, that some branch of
the Coburg family might be available for the position. That danger
might, perhaps, be remote; but the Spanish danger was close at hand;
and if Prince Leopold were to marry Queen Isabella the position of
France would be one of humiliation, if not of positive danger. Such
were the asseverations of Louis Philippe. The English Government had
no wish to support Prince Leopold, and, though Albert and Victoria had
had some hankerings for the match, the wisdom of Stockmar had induced
them to give up all thoughts of it. The way thus seemed open for a
settlement: England would be reasonable about Leopold, if France would
be reasonable about Montpensier. At the Chateau d'Eu, the agreement
was made, in a series of conversations between the King and Guizot on
the one side, and the Queen, the Prince, and Lord Aberdeen on the
other. Aberdeen, as Foreign Minister, declared that England would
neither recognise nor support Prince Leopold as a candidate for the
hand of the Queen of Spain; while Louis Philippe solemnly promised,
both to Aberdeen and to Victoria, that the Duc de Montpensier should
not marry the Infanta Fernanda until after the Queen was married and
had issue. All went well, and the crisis seemed to be over, when the
whole question was suddenly reopened by Palmerston, who had succeeded
Aberdeen at the Foreign Office. In a despatch to the English Minister
at Madrid, he mentioned, in a list of possible candidates for
Queen Isabella's hand, Prince Leopold of Coburg; and at the same time
he took occasion to denounce in violent language the tyranny and
incompetence of the Spanish Government. This despatch, indiscreet in
any case, was rendered infinitely more so by being communicated to
Guizot. Louis Philippe saw his opportunity and pounced on it. Though
there was nothing in Palmerston's language to show that he either
recognised or supported Prince Leopold, the King at once assumed that
the English had broken their engagement, and that he was therefore free
to do likewise. He then sent the despatch to the Queen Mother,
declared that the English were intriguing for the Coburg marriage, bade
her mark the animosity of Palmerston against the Spanish Government,
and urged her to escape from her difficulties and ensure the friendship
of France by marrying Isabella to the Duke of Cadiz and Fernanda to
Montpensier. The Queen Mother, alarmed and furious, was easily
convinced. There was only one difficulty: Isabella loathed the very
sight of her cousin. But this was soon surmounted; there was a wild
supper-party at the Palace, and in the course of it the young girl was
induced to consent to anything that was asked of her. Shortly after,
and on the same day, both the marriages took place.

The news burst like a bomb on the English Government, who saw with rage
and mortification that they had been completely outmanoeuvred by the
crafty King. Victoria, in particular, was outraged. Not only had she
been the personal recipient of Louis Philippe's pledge, but he had won
his way to her heart by presenting the Prince of Wales with a box of
soldiers and sending the Princess Royal a beautiful Parisian doll with
eyes that opened and shut. And now insult was added to injury.
The Queen of the French wrote her a formal letter, calmly announcing,
as a family event in which she was sure Victoria would be interested,
the marriage of her son, Montpensier--'qui ajoutera a notre bonheur
interieur, le seul vrai dans ce monde, et que vous, madame, savez si
bien apprecier.' But the English Queen had not long to wait for her
revenge. Within eighteen months the monarchy of Louis Philippe,
discredited, unpopular, and fatally weakened by the withdrawal of
English support, was swept into limbo, while he and his family threw
themselves as suppliant fugitives at the feet of Victoria.


II

In this affair both the Queen and the Prince had been too much occupied
with the delinquencies of Louis Philippe to have any wrath to spare for
those of Palmerston; and, indeed, on the main issue, Palmerston's
attitude and their own had been in complete agreement. But in this the
case was unique. In every other foreign complication--and they were
many and serious--during the ensuing years, the differences between the
royal couple and the Foreign Secretary were constant and profound.
There was a sharp quarrel over Portugal, where violently hostile
parties were flying at each other's throats. The royal sympathy was
naturally enlisted on behalf of the Queen and her Coburg husband, while
Palmerston gave his support to the progressive elements in the country.
It was not until 1848, however, that the strain became really serious.
In that year of revolutions, when, in all directions and with alarming
frequency, crowns kept rolling off royal heads, Albert and
Victoria were appalled to find that the policy of England was
persistently directed--in Germany, in Switzerland, in Austria, in
Italy, in Sicily--so as to favour the insurgent forces. The situation,
indeed, was just such an one as the soul of Palmerston loved. There
was danger and excitement, the necessity of decision, the opportunity
for action, on every hand. A disciple of Canning, with an English
gentleman's contempt and dislike of foreign potentates deep in his
heart, the spectacle of the popular uprisings, and of the oppressors
bundled ignominiously out of the palaces they had disgraced, gave him
unbounded pleasure, and he was determined that there should be no doubt
whatever, all over the Continent, on which side in the great struggle
England stood. It was not that he had the slightest tincture in him of
philosophical radicalism; he had no philosophical tinctures of any
kind; he was quite content to be inconsistent--to be a Conservative at
home and a Liberal abroad. There were very good reasons for keeping
the Irish in their places; but what had that to do with it? The point
was this--when any decent man read an account of the political prisons
in Naples his gorge rose. He did not want war; but he saw that without
war a skilful and determined use of England's power might do much to
further the cause of the Liberals in Europe. It was a difficult and a
hazardous game to play, but he set about playing it with delighted
alacrity. And then, to his intense annoyance, just as he needed all
his nerve and all possible freedom of action, he found himself being
hampered and distracted at every turn by ... those people at Osborne.
He saw what it was; the opposition was systematic and informed, and the
Queen alone would have been incapable of it; the Prince was at
the bottom of the whole thing. It was exceedingly vexatious; but
Palmerston was in a hurry, and could not wait; the Prince, if he would
insist upon interfering, must be brushed on one side.

Albert was very angry. He highly disapproved both of Palmerston's
policy and of his methods of action. He was opposed to absolutism; but
in his opinion Palmerston's proceedings were simply calculated to
substitute for absolutism, all over Europe, something no better and
very possibly worse--the anarchy of faction and mob violence. The
dangers of this revolutionary ferment were grave; even in England
Chartism was rampant--a sinister movement, which might at any moment
upset the Constitution and abolish the Monarchy. Surely, with such
dangers at home, this was a very bad time to choose for encouraging
lawlessness abroad. He naturally took a particular interest in
Germany. His instincts, his affections, his prepossessions, were
ineradicably German; Stockmar was deeply involved in German politics;
and he had a multitude of relatives among the ruling German families,
who, from the midst of the hurly-burly of revolution, wrote him long
and agitated letters once a week. Having considered the question of
Germany's future from every point of view, he came to the conclusion,
under Stockmar's guidance, that the great aim for every lover of
Germany should be her unification under the sovereignty of Prussia.
The intricacy of the situation was extreme, and the possibilities of
good or evil which every hour might bring forth were incalculable; yet
he saw with horror that Palmerston neither understood nor cared to
understand the niceties of this momentous problem, but rushed on
blindly, dealing blows to right and left, quite--so far as he
could see--without system, and even without motive--except, indeed, a
totally unreasonable distrust of the Prussian State.

But his disagreement with the details of Palmerston's policy was in
reality merely a symptom of the fundamental differences between the
characters of the two men. In Albert's eyes Palmerston was a coarse,
reckless egotist, whose combined arrogance and ignorance must
inevitably have their issue in folly and disaster. Nothing could be
more antipathetic to him than a mind so strangely lacking in patience,
in reflection, in principle, and in the habits of ratiocination. For
to him it was intolerable to think in a hurry, to jump to slapdash
decisions, to act on instincts that could not be explained. Everything
must be done in due order, with careful premeditation; the premises of
the position must first be firmly established; and he must reach the
correct conclusion by a regular series of rational steps. In
complicated questions--and what questions, rightly looked at, were not
complicated?--to commit one's thoughts to paper was the wisest course,
and it was the course which Albert, laborious though it might be,
invariably adopted. It was as well, too, to draw up a reasoned
statement after an event, as well as before it; and accordingly,
whatever happened, it was always found that the Prince had made a
memorandum. On one occasion he reduced to six pages of foolscap the
substance of a confidential conversation with Sir Robert Peel, and,
having read them aloud to him, asked him to append his signature; Sir
Robert, who never liked to commit himself, became extremely uneasy;
upon which the Prince, understanding that it was necessary to humour
the singular susceptibilities of Englishmen, with great tact dropped
that particular memorandum into the fire. But as for Palmerston,
he never even gave one so much as a chance to read him a memorandum; he
positively seemed to dislike discussion; and, before one knew where one
was, without any warning whatever, he would plunge into some
hare-brained, violent project, which, as likely as not, would logically
involve a European war. Closely connected, too, with this cautious,
painstaking reasonableness of Albert's, was his desire to examine
questions thoroughly from every point of view, to go down to the roots
of things, and to act in strict accordance with some well-defined
principle. Under Stockmar's tutelage he was constantly engaged in
enlarging his outlook and in endeavouring to envisage vital problems
both theoretically and practically--both with precision and with depth.
To one whose mind was thus habitually occupied, the empirical
activities of Palmerston, who had no notion what a principle meant,
resembled the incoherent vagaries of a tiresome child. What did
Palmerston know of economics, of science, of history? What did he care
for morality and education? How much consideration had he devoted in
the whole course of his life to the improvement of the condition of the
working-classes and to the general amelioration of the human race? The
answers to such questions were all too obvious; and yet it is easy to
imagine, also, what might have been Palmerston's jaunty comment. 'Ah!
your Royal Highness is busy with fine schemes and beneficent
calculations--exactly! Well, as for me, I must say I'm quite satisfied
with my morning's work--I've had the iron hurdles taken out of the
Green Park.'

The exasperating man, however, preferred to make no comment, and to
proceed in smiling silence on his inexcusable way. The process of
'brushing on one side' very soon came into operation. Important
Foreign Office despatches were either submitted to the Queen so late
that there was no time to correct them, or they were not submitted to
her at all; or, having been submitted, and some passage in them being
objected to and an alteration suggested, they were after all sent off
in their original form. The Queen complained; the Prince complained;
both complained together. It was quite useless. Palmerston was most
apologetic--could not understand how it had occurred--must give the
clerks a wigging--certainly Her Majesty's wishes should be attended to,
and such a thing should never happen again. But, of course, it very
soon happened again, and the royal remonstrances redoubled. Victoria,
her partisan passions thoroughly aroused, imported into her protests a
personal vehemence which those of Albert lacked. Did Lord Palmerston
forget that she was Queen of England? How could she tolerate a state
of affairs in which despatches written in her name were sent abroad
without her approval or even her knowledge? What could be more
derogatory to her position than to be obliged to receive indignant
letters from the crowned heads to whom those despatches were
addressed--letters which she did not know how to answer, since she so
thoroughly agreed with them? She addressed herself to the Prime
Minister. 'No remonstrance has any effect with Lord Palmerston,' she
said. 'Lord Palmerston,' she told him on another occasion, 'has as
usual pretended not to have had time to submit the draft to the Queen
before he had sent it off.' She summoned Lord John to her
presence, poured out her indignation, and afterwards, on the advice of
Albert, noted down what had passed in a memorandum: 'I said that I
thought that Lord Palmerston often endangered the honour of
England by taking a very prejudiced and one-sided view of a question;
that his writings were always as bitter as gall and did great harm,
which Lord John entirely assented to, and that I often felt quite ill
from anxiety.' Then she turned to her uncle. 'The state of
Germany,' she wrote in a comprehensive and despairing review of the
European situation, 'is dreadful, and one does feel quite ashamed about
that once really so peaceful and happy country. That there are still
good people there I am sure, but they allow themselves to be worked
upon in a frightful and shameful way. In France a crisis seems at
hand. What a very bad figure we cut in this mediation! Really it is
quite immoral, with Ireland quivering in our grasp and ready to throw
off her allegiance at any moment, for us to force Austria to give up
her lawful possessions. What shall we say if Canada, Malta, etc.,
begin to trouble us? It hurts me terribly.' But what did Lord
Palmerston care?

Lord John's position grew more and more irksome. He did not approve of
his colleague's treatment of the Queen. When he begged him to be more
careful, he was met with the reply that 28,000 despatches passed
through the Foreign Office in a single year, that, if every one of
these were to be subjected to the royal criticism, the delay would be
most serious, that, as it was, the waste of time and the worry involved
in submitting drafts to the meticulous examination of Prince Albert was
almost too much for an overworked Minister, and that, as a matter of
fact, the postponement of important decisions owing to this cause had
already produced very unpleasant diplomatic consequences.
These excuses would have impressed Lord John more favourably if he had
not himself had to suffer from a similar neglect. As often as not
Palmerston failed to communicate even to him the most important
despatches. The Foreign Secretary was becoming an almost independent
power, acting on his own initiative, and swaying the policy of England
on his own responsibility. On one occasion, in 1847, he had actually
been upon the point of threatening to break off diplomatic relations
with France without consulting either the Cabinet or the Prime
Minister. And such incidents were constantly recurring. When this
became known to the Prince, he saw that his opportunity had come. If
he could only drive in to the utmost the wedge between the two
statesmen, if he could only secure the alliance of Lord John, then the
suppression or the removal of Lord Palmerston would be almost certain
to follow. He set about the business with all the pertinacity of his
nature. Both he and the Queen put every kind of pressure upon the
Prime Minister. They wrote, they harangued, they relapsed into awful
silence. It occurred to them that Lord Clarendon, an important member
of the Cabinet, would be a useful channel for their griefs. They
commanded him to dine at the Palace, and, directly the meal was over,
'the Queen,' as he described it afterwards, 'exploded, and went with
the utmost vehemence and bitterness into the whole of Palmerston's
conduct, all the effects produced all over the world, and all her own
feelings and sentiments about it.' When she had finished, the Prince
took up the tale, with less excitement, but with equal force. Lord
Clarendon found himself in an awkward situation; he disliked
Palmerston's policy, but he was his colleague, and he disapproved of
the attitude of his royal hosts. In his opinion, they were 'wrong in
wishing that courtiers rather than Ministers should conduct the affairs
of the country,' and he thought that they 'laboured under the curious
mistake that the Foreign Office was their peculiar department, and that
they had the right to control, if not to direct, the foreign policy of
England.' He, therefore, with extreme politeness, gave it to be
understood that he would not commit himself in any way. But Lord
John, in reality, needed no pressure. Attacked by his Sovereign,
ignored by his Foreign Secretary, he led a miserable life. With
the advent of the dreadful Schleswig-Holstein question--the most
complex in the whole diplomatic history of Europe--his position,
crushed between the upper and the nether millstones, grew positively
unbearable. He became anxious above all things to get Palmerston out
of the Foreign Office. But then--supposing Palmerston refused to go?

In a memorandum made by the Prince, at about this time, of an interview
between himself, the Queen, and the Prime Minister, we catch a curious
glimpse of the states of mind of those three high personages--the
anxiety and irritation of Lord John, the vehement acrimony of Victoria,
and the reasonable animosity of Albert--drawn together, as it were,
under the shadow of an unseen Presence, the cause of that celestial
anger--the gay, portentous Palmerston. At one point in the
conversation Lord John observed that he believed the Foreign Secretary
would consent to a change of offices; Lord Palmerston, he said,
realised that he had lost the Queen's confidence--though only on
public, and not on personal, grounds. But on that, the Prince noted,
'the Queen interrupted Lord John by remarking that she distrusted him
on personal grounds also, but I remarked that Lord Palmerston had so
far at least seen rightly; that he had become disagreeable to the
Queen, not on account of his person, but of his political doings--to
which the Queen assented.' Then the Prince suggested that there was a
danger of the Cabinet breaking up, and of Lord Palmerston returning to
office as Prime Minister. But on that point Lord John was reassuring:
he 'thought Lord Palmerston too old to do much in the future (having
passed his sixty-fifth year).' Eventually it was decided that nothing
could be done for the present, but that the utmost secrecy must be
observed; and so the conclave ended.

At last, in 1850, deliverance seemed to be at hand. There were signs
that the public were growing weary of the alarums and excursions of
Palmerston's diplomacy; and when his support of Don Pacifico, a British
subject, in a quarrel with the Greek Government, seemed to be upon the
point of involving the country in a war not only with Greece but also
with France, and possibly with Russia into the bargain, a heavy cloud
of distrust and displeasure appeared to be gathering and about to burst
over his head. A motion directed against him in the House of Lords was
passed by a substantial majority. The question was next to be
discussed in the House of Commons, where another adverse vote was not
improbable, and would seal the doom of the Minister. Palmerston
received the attack with complete nonchalance, and then, at the last
possible moment, he struck. In a speech of over four hours, in
which exposition, invective, argument, declamation, plain talk and
resounding eloquence were mingled together with consummate art and
extraordinary felicity, he annihilated his enemies. The hostile motion
was defeated, and Palmerston was once more the hero of the hour.
Simultaneously, Atropos herself conspired to favour him. Sir Robert
Peel was thrown from his horse and killed. By this tragic chance,
Palmerston saw the one rival great enough to cope with him removed from
his path. He judged--and judged rightly--that he was the most popular
man in England; and when Lord John revived the project of his
exchanging the Foreign Office for some other position in the Cabinet,
he absolutely refused to stir.

Great was the disappointment of Albert; great was the indignation of
Victoria. 'The House of Commons,' she wrote, 'is becoming very
unmanageable and troublesome.' The Prince, perceiving that
Palmerston was more firmly fixed in the saddle than ever, decided that
something drastic must be done. Five months before, the prescient
Baron had drawn up, in case of emergency, a memorandum, which had been
carefully docketed, and placed in a pigeon-hole ready to hand. The
emergency had now arisen, and the memorandum must be used. The Queen
copied out the words of Stockmar, and sent them to the Prime Minister,
requesting him to show her letter to Palmerston. 'She thinks it
right,' she wrote, 'in order to prevent any mistake for the future,
shortly to explain what it is she expects from her Foreign Secretary.
She requires: (1) That he will distinctly state what he proposes in a
given case, in order that the Queen may know as distinctly to what
she has given her Royal sanction; (2) Having once given her sanction
to a measure, that it be not arbitrarily altered or modified by
the Minister; such an act she must consider as failing in sincerity
towards the Crown, and justly to be visited by the exercise of her
Constitutional right of dismissing that Minister.' Lord John
Russell did as he was bid, and forwarded the Queen's letter to Lord
Palmerston. This transaction, which was of grave constitutional
significance, was entirely unknown to the outside world.

If Palmerston had been a sensitive man, he would probably have resigned
on the receipt of the Queen's missive. But he was far from sensitive;
he loved power, and his power was greater than ever; an unerring
instinct told him that this was not the time to go. Nevertheless, he
was seriously perturbed. He understood at last that he was struggling
with a formidable adversary, whose skill and strength, unless they were
mollified, might do irreparable injury to his career. He therefore
wrote to Lord John, briefly acquiescing in the Queen's requirements--'I
have taken a copy of this memorandum of the Queen and will not fail to
attend to the directions which it contains'--and at the same time, he
asked for an interview with the Prince. Albert at once summoned him to
the Palace, and was astonished to observe, as he noted in a memorandum,
that when Palmerston entered the room 'he was very much agitated,
shook, and had tears in his eyes, so as quite to move me, who never
under any circumstances had known him otherwise than with a bland smile
on his face.' The old statesman was profuse in protestations and
excuses; the young one was coldly polite. At last, after a long and
inconclusive conversation, the Prince, drawing himself up, said that,
in order to give Lord Palmerston 'an example of what the Queen
wanted,' he would 'ask him a question point-blank.' Lord Palmerston
waited in respectful silence, while the Prince proceeded as
follows:--'You are aware that the Queen has objected to the Protocol
about Schleswig, and of the grounds on which she has done so. Her
opinion has been overruled, the Protocol stating the desire of the
Great Powers to see the integrity of the Danish monarchy preserved has
been signed, and upon this the King of Denmark has invaded Schleswig,
where the war is raging. If Holstein is attacked also, which is
likely, the Germans will not be restrained from flying to her
assistance, and Russia has menaced to interfere with arms, if the
Schleswigers are successful. What will you do, if this emergency
arises (provoking most likely an European war), and which will arise
very probably when we shall be at Balmoral and Lord John in another
part of Scotland? The Queen expects from your foresight that you have
contemplated this possibility, and requires a categorical answer as to
what you would do in the event supposed.' Strangely enough, to this
point-blank question, the Foreign Secretary appeared to be unable to
reply. The whole matter, he said, was extremely complicated, and the
contingencies mentioned by His Royal Highness were very unlikely to
arise. The Prince persisted; but it was useless; for a full hour he
struggled to extract a categorical answer, until at length Palmerston
bowed himself out of the room. Albert threw up his hands in shocked
amazement: what could one do with such a man?

What indeed? For, in spite of all his apologies and all his promises,
within a few weeks the incorrigible reprobate was at his tricks again.
The Austrian General Haynau, notorious as a rigorous suppressor
of rebellion in Hungary and Italy, and in particular as a flogger of
women, came to England and took it into his head to pay a visit to
Messrs. Barclay and Perkins's brewery. The features of 'General
Hyaena,' as he was everywhere called--his grim thin face, his enormous
pepper-and-salt moustaches--had gained a horrid celebrity; and it so
happened that among the clerks at the brewery there was a refugee from
Vienna, who had given his fellow-workers a first-hand account of the
General's characteristics. The Austrian Ambassador, scenting danger,
begged his friend not to appear in public, or, if he must do so, to cut
off his moustaches first. But the General would take no advice. He
went to the brewery, was immediately recognised, surrounded by a crowd
of angry draymen, pushed about, shouted at, punched in the ribs, and
pulled by the moustaches until, bolting down an alley with the mob at
his heels brandishing brooms and roaring 'Hyaena!' he managed to take
refuge in a public-house, whence he was removed under the protection of
several policemen. The Austrian Government was angry and demanded
explanations. Palmerston, who, of course, was privately delighted by
the incident, replied regretting what had occurred, but adding that in
his opinion the General had 'evinced a want of propriety in coming to
England at the present moment'; and he delivered his note to the
Ambassador without having previously submitted it to the Queen or to
the Prime Minister. Naturally, when this was discovered, there was a
serious storm. The Prince was especially indignant; the conduct of the
draymen he regarded, with disgust and alarm, as 'a slight foretaste of
what an unregulated mass of illiterate people is capable'; and
Palmerston was requested by Lord John to withdraw his note, and
to substitute for it another from which all censure of the General had
been omitted. On this the Foreign Secretary threatened resignation,
but the Prime Minister was firm. For a moment the royal hopes rose
high, only to be dashed to the ground again by the cruel compliance of
the enemy. Palmerston, suddenly lamb-like, agreed to everything; the
note was withdrawn and altered, and peace was patched up once more.

It lasted for a year, and then, in October 1851, the arrival of Kossuth
in England brought on another crisis. Palmerston's desire to receive
the Hungarian patriot at his house in London was vetoed by Lord John;
once more there was a sharp struggle; once more Palmerston, after
threatening resignation, yielded. But still the insubordinate man
could not keep quiet. A few weeks later a deputation of Radicals from
Finsbury and Islington waited on him at the Foreign Office and
presented him with an address, in which the Emperors of Austria and
Russia were stigmatised as 'odious and detestable assassins' and
'merciless tyrants and despots.' The Foreign Secretary in his reply,
while mildly deprecating these expressions, allowed his real sentiments
to appear with a most undiplomatic insouciance. There was an
immediate scandal, and the Court flowed over with rage and
vituperation. 'I think,' said the Baron, 'the man has been for some
time insane.' Victoria, in an agitated letter, urged Lord John to
assert his authority. But Lord John perceived that on this matter the
Foreign Secretary had the support of public opinion, and he judged it
wiser to bide his time.



He had not long to wait. The culmination of the long series of
conflicts, threats, and exacerbations came before the year was out. On
December 2, Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat took place in Paris; and on
the following day Palmerston, without consulting anybody, expressed in
a conversation with the French Ambassador his approval of Napoleon's
act. Two days later, he was instructed by the Prime Minister, in
accordance with a letter from the Queen, that it was the policy of the
English Government to maintain an attitude of strict neutrality towards
the affairs of France. Nevertheless, in an official despatch to the
British Ambassador in Paris, he repeated the approval of the coup
d'etat which he had already given verbally to the French Ambassador in
London. This despatch was submitted neither to the Queen nor to the
Prime Minister. Lord John's patience, as he himself said, 'was drained
to the last drop.' He dismissed Lord Palmerston.

Victoria was in ecstasies; and Albert knew that the triumph was his
even more than Lord John's. It was his wish that Lord Granville, a
young man whom he believed to be pliant to his influence, should be
Palmerston's successor; and Lord Granville was appointed.
Henceforward, it seemed that the Prince would have his way in foreign
affairs. After years of struggle and mortification, success greeted
him on every hand. In his family, he was an adored master; in the
country, the Great Exhibition had brought him respect and glory; and
now in the secret seats of power he had gained a new supremacy. He had
wrestled with the terrible Lord Palmerston, the embodiment of all
that was most hostile to him in the spirit of England, and his
redoubtable opponent had been overthrown. Was England herself at
his feet? It might be so; and yet ... it is said that the sons of
England have a certain tiresome quality: they never know when they are
beaten. It was odd, but Palmerston was positively still jaunty. Was
it possible? Could he believe, in his blind arrogance, that even his
ignominious dismissal from office was something that could be brushed
aside?


III

The Prince's triumph was short-lived. A few weeks later, owing to
Palmerston's influence, the Government was defeated in the House, and
Lord John resigned. Then, after a short interval, a coalition between
the Whigs and the followers of Peel came into power, under the
premiership of Lord Aberdeen. Once more, Palmerston was in the
Cabinet. It was true that he did not return to the Foreign Office;
that was something to the good; in the Home Department it might be
hoped that his activities would be less dangerous and disagreeable.
But the Foreign Secretary was no longer the complacent Granville; and
in Lord Clarendon the Prince knew that he had a Minister to deal with,
who, discreet and courteous as he was, had a mind of his own.

These changes, however, were merely the preliminaries of a far more
serious development. Events, on every side, were moving towards a
catastrophe. Suddenly the nation found itself under the awful shadow
of imminent war. For several months, amid the shifting mysteries
of diplomacy and the perplexed agitations of politics, the issue grew
more doubtful and more dark, while the national temper was strained to
the breaking-point. At the very crisis of the long and ominous
negotiations, it was announced that Lord Palmerston had resigned. Then
the pent-up fury of the people burst forth. They had felt that in the
terrible complexity of events they were being guided by weak and
embarrassed counsels; but they had been reassured by the knowledge that
at the centre of power there was one man with strength, with courage,
with determination, in whom they could put their trust. They now
learnt that that man was no longer among their leaders. Why? In their
rage, anxiety, and nervous exhaustion, they looked round desperately
for some hidden and horrible explanation of what had occurred. They
suspected plots, they smelt treachery in the air. It was easy to guess
the object upon which their frenzy would vent itself. Was there not a
foreigner in the highest of high places, a foreigner whose hostility to
their own adored champion was unrelenting and unconcealed? The moment
that Palmerston's resignation was known, there was a universal outcry;
and an extraordinary tempest of anger and hatred burst, with
unparalleled violence, upon the head of the Prince.

It was everywhere asserted and believed that the Queen's husband was a
traitor to the country, that he was a tool of the Russian Court, that
in obedience to Russian influences he had forced Palmerston out of the
Government, and that he was directing the foreign policy of England in
the interests of England's enemies. For many weeks these accusations
filled the whole of the press; repeated at public meetings,
elaborated in private talk, they flew over the country, growing every
moment more extreme and more improbable. While respectable newspapers
thundered out their grave invectives, halfpenny broadsides, hawked
through the streets of London, re-echoed in doggerel vulgarity the same
sentiments and the same suspicions. At last the wildest rumours
began to spread.

In January 1854, it was whispered that the Prince had been seized, that
he had been found guilty of high treason, that he was to be committed
to the Tower. The Queen herself, some declared, had been arrested,
and large crowds actually collected round the Tower to watch the
incarceration of the royal miscreants.

These fantastic hallucinations were the result of the fevered
atmosphere of approaching war. The cause of Palmerston's resignation,
indeed, remains wrapped in obscurity, and it is possible that it was
brought about by the continued hostility of the Court. But the
supposition that Albert's influence had been used to favour the
interests of Russia was devoid of any basis in actual fact. As often
happens in such cases, the Government had been swinging backwards and
forwards between two incompatible policies--that of non-interference
and that of threats supported by force--either of which, if
consistently followed, might well have had a successful and peaceful
issue, but which, mingled together, could only lead to war. Albert,
with characteristic scrupulosity, attempted to thread his way through
the complicated labyrinth of European diplomacy, and eventually was
lost in the maze. But so was the whole of the Cabinet; and, when war
came, his anti-Russian feelings were quite as vehement as those of the
most bellicose of Englishmen.

Nevertheless, though the gravest of the charges levelled against the
Prince were certainly without foundation, there were underlying
elements in the situation which explained, if they did not
justify, the popular state of mind. It was true that the Queen's
husband was a foreigner, who had been brought up in a foreign Court,
was impregnated with foreign ideas, and was closely related to a
multitude of foreign princes. Clearly this, though perhaps an
unavoidable, was an undesirable, state of affairs; nor were the
objections to it merely theoretical; it had in fact produced unpleasant
consequences of a serious kind. The Prince's German proclivities were
perpetually lamented by English Ministers; Lord Palmerston, Lord
Clarendon, Lord Aberdeen, all told the same tale; and it was
constantly necessary, in grave questions of national policy, to combat
the prepossessions of a Court in which German views and German
sentiments held a disproportionate place. As for Palmerston, his
language on this topic was apt to be unbridled. At the height of his
annoyance over his resignation, he roundly declared that he had been
made a victim to foreign intrigue. He afterwards toned down this
accusation; but the mere fact that such a suggestion from such a
quarter was possible at all showed to what unfortunate consequences
Albert's foreign birth and foreign upbringing might lead.

But this was not all. A constitutional question of the most profound
importance was raised by the position of the Prince in England. His
presence gave a new prominence to an old problem--the precise
definition of the functions and the powers of the Crown. Those
functions and powers had become, in effect, his; and what sort of
use was he making of them? His views as to the place of the Crown in
the Constitution are easily ascertainable; for they were Stockmar's;
and it happens that we possess a detailed account of Stockmar's
opinions upon the subject in a long letter addressed by him to the
Prince at the time of this very crisis, just before the outbreak of the
Crimean War. Constitutional Monarchy, according to the Baron, had
suffered an eclipse since the passing of the Reform Bill. It was now
'constantly in danger of becoming a pure Ministerial Government.' The
old race of Tories, who 'had a direct interest in upholding the
prerogatives of the Crown,' had died out; and the Whigs were 'nothing
but partly conscious, partly unconscious Republicans, who stand in the
same relation to the Throne as the wolf does to the lamb.' There was a
rule that it was unconstitutional to introduce 'the name and person of
the irresponsible Sovereign' into parliamentary debates on
constitutional matters; this was 'a constitutional fiction, which,
although undoubtedly of old standing, was fraught with danger'; and the
Baron warned the Prince that 'if the English Crown permit a Whig
Ministry to follow this rule in practice, without exception, you must
not wonder if in a little time you find the majority of the people
impressed with the belief that the King, in the view of the law, is
nothing but a mandarin figure, which has to nod its head in assent, or
shake it in denial, as his Minister pleases.' To prevent this from
happening, it was of extreme importance, said the Baron, 'that no
opportunity should be let slip of vindicating the legitimate position
of the Crown.' 'And this is not hard to do,' he added, 'and can never
embarrass a Minister where such straightforward loyal personages as the
Queen and the Prince are concerned.' In his opinion, the very
lowest claim of the Royal Prerogative should include 'a right on the
part of the King to be the permanent President of his Ministerial
Council.' The Sovereign ought to be 'in the position of a permanent
Premier, who takes rank above the temporary head of the Cabinet, and in
matters of discipline exercises supreme authority.' The Sovereign 'may
even take a part in the initiation and the maturing of the Government
measures; for it would be unreasonable to expect that a King, himself
as able, as accomplished, and as patriotic as the best of his
Ministers, should be prevented from making use of these qualities at
the deliberations of his Council.' 'The judicious exercise of this
right,' concluded the Baron, 'which certainly requires a master mind,
would not only be the best guarantee for Constitutional Monarchy, but
would raise it to a height of power, stability, and symmetry, which has
never been attained.'

Now it may be that this reading of the Constitution is a possible one,
though indeed it is hard to see how it can be made compatible with the
fundamental doctrine of ministerial responsibility. William III
presided over his Council, and he was a constitutional monarch; and it
seems that Stockmar had in his mind a conception of the Crown which
would have given it a place in the Constitution analogous to that which
it filled at the time of William III. But it is clear that such a
theory, which would invest the Crown with more power than it possessed
even under George III, runs counter to the whole development of English
public life since the Revolution; and the fact that it was held by
Stockmar, and instilled by him into Albert, was of very serious
importance. For there was good reason to believe not only that these
doctrines were held by Albert in theory, but that he was making a
deliberate and sustained attempt to give them practical validity. The
history of the struggle between the Crown and Palmerston provided
startling evidence that this was the case. That struggle reached its
culmination when, in Stockmar's memorandum of 1850, the Queen asserted
her 'constitutional right' to dismiss the Foreign Secretary if he
altered a despatch which had received her sanction. The memorandum
was, in fact, a plain declaration that the Crown intended to act
independently of the Prime Minister. Lord John Russell, anxious at all
costs to strengthen himself against Palmerston, accepted the
memorandum, and thereby implicitly allowed the claim of the Crown.
More than that; after the dismissal of Palmerston, among the grounds on
which Lord John justified that dismissal in the House of Commons he
gave a prominent place to the memorandum of 1850. It became apparent
that the displeasure of the Sovereign might be a reason for the removal
of a powerful and popular Minister. It seemed indeed as if, under the
guidance of Stockmar and Albert, the 'Constitutional Monarchy' might in
very truth be rising 'to a height of power, stability, and symmetry,
which had never been attained.'

But this new development in the position of the Crown, grave as it was
in itself, was rendered peculiarly disquieting by the unusual
circumstances which surrounded it. For the functions of the Crown were
now, in effect, being exercised by a person unknown to the
Constitution, who wielded over the Sovereign an undefined and unbounded
influence. The fact that this person was the Sovereign's husband,
while it explained his influence and even made it inevitable, by
no means diminished its strange and momentous import. An ambiguous,
prepotent figure had come to disturb the ancient, subtle, and jealously
guarded balance of the English Constitution. Such had been the
unexpected outcome of the tentative and faint-hearted opening of
Albert's political life. He himself made no attempt to minimise either
the multiplicity or the significance of the functions he performed. He
considered that it was his duty, he told the Duke of Wellington in
1850, to 'sink his own individual existence in that of his wife ...
--assume no separate responsibility before the public, but make his
position entirely a part of hers--fill up every gap which, as a woman,
she would naturally leave in the exercise of her regal
functions--continually and anxiously watch every part of the public
business, in order to be able to advise and assist her at any moment in
any of the multifarious and difficult questions or duties brought
before her, sometimes international, sometimes political, or social, or
personal. As the natural head of her family, superintendent of her
household, manager of her private affairs, sole confidential adviser
in politics, and only assistant in her communications with the officers
of the Government, he is, besides, the husband of the Queen, the tutor
of the royal children, the private secretary of the Sovereign, and her
permanent minister.' Stockmar's pupil had assuredly gone far and
learnt well. Stockmar's pupil!--precisely; the public, painfully aware
of Albert's predominance, had grown, too, uneasily conscious that
Victoria's master had a master of his own. Deep in the darkness the
Baron loomed. Another foreigner! Decidedly, there were elements
in the situation which went far to justify the popular alarm. A
foreign Baron controlled a foreign Prince, and the foreign Prince
controlled the Crown of England. And the Crown itself was creeping
forward ominously; and when, from under its shadow, the Baron and the
Prince had frowned, a great Minister, beloved of the people, had
fallen. Where was all this to end?

Within a few weeks Palmerston withdrew his resignation, and the public
frenzy subsided as quickly as it had arisen. When Parliament met, the
leaders of both the parties in both the Houses made speeches in favour
of the Prince, asserting his unimpeachable loyalty to the country and
vindicating his right to advise the Sovereign in all matters of State.
Victoria was delighted. 'The position of my beloved lord and master,'
she told the Baron, 'has been defined for once and all and his merits
have been acknowledged on all sides most duly. There was an immense
concourse of people assembled when we went to the House of Lords, and
the people were very friendly.' Immediately afterwards, the
country finally plunged into the Crimean War. In the struggle that
followed, Albert's patriotism was put beyond a doubt, and the
animosities of the past were forgotten. But the war had another
consequence, less gratifying to the royal couple: it crowned the
ambition of Lord Palmerston. In 1855, the man who five years before
had been pronounced by Lord John Russell to be 'too old to do much in
the future,' became Prime Minister of England, and, with one short
inter





Next: Last Years Of The Prince Consort

Previous: Marriage



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