HC Deb 22 March 1815 vol 30 cc331-5
Sir Charles Monck,

in rising to submit to the House his promised motion relative to the late extension of the Order of the Bath, regretted that a subject of so serious and important a nature, had not been taken up by some more learned and experienced member than himself. Fully impressed, however, with the necessity of calling the attention of the House to the late modification of the Order of the Bath, he had determined, as no other gentleman seemed inclined to notice it, rather to bring it forward himself, under every risk, than to run the chance of its not being at all submitted to their consideration. In the first place, he wished to guard against any misapprehension to which his observations, either with reference to the prerogatives of the Crown, or to the rewards that ought to be conferred on military and naval officers, might give rise. For the prerogatives of the Crown he entertained the highest veneration; and no man was less disposed than he was, to envy those generous persons who had so gallantly fought the battles of their country, the rewards which were so justly bestowed on them. The hon. baronet then entered into a history of the Order of the Bath, from its origin, in the reign of Henry the 4th, down to the time of George 1, when it was restored, and made a completely military order—a measure of which he expressed his disapprobation. At that period, as appeared from 'Clarke's History of Knighthood,' the knights companions were only thirty-six, though they had been afterwards greatly increased. The House, he conceived, ought to look with great jealousy at the recent extension, which only opened the way for a still greater enlargement. By the Charter of the Order each knight was bound to maintain a certain number of efficient men; and, by this means, a power was placed in the hands of the Crown to raise an armed force surreptitiously; since the King could call on every knight to furnish, him with a specific quota. He hoped the papers he should move for would be granted, because they would enable him to show how much at variance the recent extension of the Order was with the principles on which the institution was originally established. He condemned, in strong terms, the almost utter exclusion of the civil classes of society, under the new modification, from participating in the honours of this Order—pointed out the many inconveniences that must result from the alteration of rank which it created in this country—and concluded by moving, "That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there he laid before this House, copies of all letters patent issued by his late majesty King George the 1st, whereby the Order of Knighthood of the Bath was restored and erected into a regular military order, and of all letters patent affecting the same since issued by his said late Majesty, and his successors, kings of these realms, unto the present time, and also of the letters patent, or other instrument, by which the said Order was lately modified and extended."

Lord Castlereagh

argued, that it was most advantageous for the public service that the honours objected to by the hon. baronet, should be conferred on our military and naval officers; the events of the late war created, he said, an absolute necessity that some distinguishing marks of approbation should be appropriated to them. All the inconveniences the hon. baronet had stated, as arising, with respect to precedence, from the new modification, would have been equally felt if the expedient of creating our meritorious officers, either knights or baronets, had been resorted to—while the honour would not be distinctly military as it now was. It was wished, that the persons who performed great military services for the country, should be distinctly pointed out to their fellow-citizens; and no mode appeared so proper for that purpose, as that which had been pursued. The idea was by no means new. It was an object to which Mr. Pitt's mind had been earnestly, directed; and towards the close of his life, a very extensive, arrangement was contemplated, to hold out to the country those officers who had signalized them- selves. A good guard against the too great extension of the Order was, that if those honours were too profusely granted, they would lose their value. But on the other hand, if they were too few, his Majesty would not have the means of rewarding services. Every precaution had been adopted to guard against any abuse of the Order. Every state of Europe had some Order particularly devoted to the military. Every person knew how eagerly in Austria the Order of Maria Theresa, and in Russia the Order of St. George, were desired by the armies of those countries. He saw nothing in the manner in which the Crown had exercised its prerogative on the present occasion, to invite Parliament to consider it as an abuse. As the other orders of the day were disposed of, he should conclude with moving, that the House do now adjourn.

Mr. Gordon

contended, that in time of peace it was the duty of the Legislature of this country to repress rather than to encourage any attempt to give too great a military character to this country. They had at present an instance in a neighbouring country of a military despotism trampling on the wishes of the people of that country. He complained of the attempt to separate the citizen from the soldier; and objected to the measure as an imitation of foreign manners, of foreign frippery and frivolity. It was only such a constitution of mind as had contrived the late exhibitions in the Parks, that could imagine his piece of frivolity.

Mr. W. Bathurst

defended the extension of the Order as the only fit mode of honouring men who must otherwise have been unrewarded, and whose only object in life, and consolation in death, was honour. It was this which had made the late ruler of France so popular with his army. If other nations had found out that soldiers were pleased with these honours, why should we refuse to avail ourselves of such a mode of rewarding an army merely on that account? He should certainly oppose the motion.

Mr. Wynn

said, that this country was differently circumstanced from those foreign states, where military orders had been found beneficial. Wherever a nation was a military nation, there ought to be military orders; but England was not a military nation. In Russia, maids of honour ranked as major-generals, and the chancellor himself was a field-marshal. Buonaparté had been alluded to, as ren- dering himself popular to the army, by the creation of military orders; but how deplorable were the consequences of his so doing likely to be! This measure, be said, might ultimately be attended with most dangerous consequences to our liberties. It was the first attempt to establish? exclusive military honours. He complained of the inequality with which they had been distributed between the two services. Out of 180 knights, only 49 belonged to the navy. He instanced captain Phillimore as a person who ought not to have been overlooked on such an occasion.

Mr. Bragge Bathurst

said, that there should have been some better ground shown for objecting to the measure than the circumstance that foreign nations had Orders of a like nature. The order was a reward for past services, and a stimulus to future. Buonaparté had created a vast military power in a great measure by means of orders of a like nature. Would it not be necessary to meet and counteract him by means similar to his own?

Mr. Whitbread

said, that these new honours had dissatisfied every body and pleased nobody; they had disgusted those who before belonged to the Order of the Bath, and those who had since entered were ashamed to shew their honours. The measure had revived the jealousy between the two services. Government had been more than just to the army, and done less than justice to the navy. He participated in the feeling of jealousy at the attempt to make this a military country. Was the duke of Wellington bred at a military college? or lord Lynedoch, or sir John Moore? There was not one who had received medals who would not rather continue to wear them, than be adorned with this distinction, which had been diluted almost to nothing. Before the French Revolution, the Cross of St. Louis, being at every button-hole, was not worth 2s. 6d.; and in Portugal the same distinction was worn by upper servants. When we talked of the splendid services of our army, we ought not to forget those men who had swept the seas to make room for that army. The navy was now congenial to the constitution of this country. The army were contented with their medals, and discontented with their badges, and rather ashamed of them.

Mr. Goulburn

observed, that it was not the fact that the army had been honoured more than, the navy; the distribution to the two services had been made with strict reference to their respective numerical strengths; and on this principle the army had only twenty knights more than the navy.

Mr. Ponsonby

wished to know how this modification of the old Order of the Bath had been created. Was it in virtue of a notification in the Gazette? In looking at the history of the country, he could see that no change had been effected in that Order, except through the instrumentality of the Great Seal. Then he wished to ascertain in what manner the pleasure of the Crown had in the present instance been executed. Was the duke of Wellington's opinion, he would ask, taken in the selection of the officers for this distinction?—Were navy authorities consulted for their quota? He thought not; for if they had, the omissions which had occurred would never have taken place. The whole formation and arrangement was, he believed, the work of ministers themselves. (Hear.) In his opinion, for some time past there existed a marked partiality to the military service, in preference to the navy. (No, no.) In his opinion there had, and the public thought so. Nothing was more dangerous than this distinction. For the army he entertained the highest respect. He believed them the best in the world. (Hear, hear.) But he also felt that they could not be maintained in their station, except by the proper and firm support of the naval character. The right hon. gentleman concluded by adverting to the illiberal manner in which the new honours had been distributed between the two services.

Mr. Wellesley Pole

, in reply to the question of Mr. Ponsonby, as to the manner in which the measure had been produced, said, that the order had been regulated as usual, by patent, and therefore there had been no unjust exercise of the prerogative. The military officers had been selected from those whom lord Wellington had recommended for medals. The only regular way, on the part of the hon. gentleman opposite, would be, not to insinuate that anything improper had been done; but to charge and make a motion. He justified the extent of the Order, on the round that it was found, even in Mr. Pitt's time, that the rewards were not equal to the gratification of deserving claimants.

The House then, without a division, agreed to lord Castlereagh's amendment, and adjourned.