Lord Palmerston


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.


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



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


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