HC Deb 06 June 1820 vol 1 cc870-81
Lord Castlereagh

presented the following Message from his majesty: GEORGE R. The king thinks it necessary, in con- sequence of the arrival of the queen, to communicate to the House of Commons pertain papers respecting the conduct of her majesty since her departure from this kingdom, which he recommends to the immediate and serious attention of this House. The king has felt the most anxious desire to avert the necessity of disclosures and discussions which must be as painful to his people as they can be to himself; but the step now taken by the queen leaves him no alternative. The king has the fullest confidence that, in consequence of this communication, the House of Commons will adopt that course of proceeding, which the justice of the case, and the honour and dignity of his majesty's crown may require. GEORGE R. The Message having been read by the Speaker, lord Castlereagh laid on the table of the House the papers referred to in the said message, sealed up in a green bag, and moved, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty to return his Majesty the thanks of this House for his most gracious message, and to assure his Majesty that this House will proceed to take the same into their immediate consideration." The motion being agreed to, the noble lord next moved, "That his majesty's Message be taken into consideration to-morrow."

Mr. Bennet

said:—Mr. Speaker, seeing no member near me disposed to put a question to the noble lord, and with a full persuasion of my own inablity, I still feel most anxious to know from him, whether a letter which has this day appeared in one of the public journals, and which purports to be the letter of lord Hutchinson* to the legal adviser of the queen of * After the interview between the queen, lord Hutchinson, and Mr. Brougham on Saturday night, the 3rd of June, at St. Omer's, during which nothing passed except conversation on indifferent topics, Mr. Brougham sent the following letter to lord Hutchinson: Mr. Brougham having humbly submitted to the queen, that he bad reason to believe that lord Hutchinson had brought over a proposition from the king to her majesty, the queen has been pleased to command Mr. Brougham to request lord Hutchinson to communicate any such proposition as soon as possible, in writing. The bearer of this (Count Vassali) will England, is, or is not a genuine document? Whether lord Hutchinson had instructions from the ministers of the Crown to call upon the queen of England to lay down her right and title—a right held by the same constitutional securities as that of the king himself—for a bribe of 50,000l. a year [Hear, hear!]? I do feel most anxious to have an answer to this question because, hardy as I know his majesty's ministers to be—so hardy, to use the words of my right hon. friend (Mr. Tierney), as even to betray the king and insult the queen. I still cannot believe that even they would venture to authorize such a proposition. I for one, will never credit the genuineness of that document, until I hear it admitted by the noble lord opposite. Until that admission shall be made, I can never give credit to the statement, that a British ministry, without the authority and consent of parliament, would have dared to call upon the queen of Great Britain to divest herself of that title which she holds by the same right as the king himself does his title, for a bribe of 50,000l. a year—a bribe too, not to be paid by the king himself, but to be taken out of the pockets of the people of England, labouring under the severest distresses, and to be given to a person, who, if the statements circulated against her were true, was not alone unworthy of being the queen of England, but of being allowed to place her foot upon its shore. There are no words strong enough to convey an adequate impression of such a proposition. To call it treason to the monarchy, might be considered extravagant, but I cannot consider it less than an act of treachery to the monarchy of Great Britain. Feeling a sincere respect and attachment to that monarchy, upon whose wait to receive it from your lordship.—June 4th, 1820. To this letter lord Hutchinson sent a short note which stated that his lordship had no written proposals, but merely some scattered memoranda on scraps of paper. Mr. Brougham instantly sent the following reply to lord Hutchinson's note: Mr. Brougham is commanded by the queen to express to lord Hutchinson her majesty's surprise at his lordship not being ready to state the terms of the proposition of which he is the bearer: but as lord Hutchinson is desirous of a few hours delay, her majesty will wait until five o'clock, in the expectation of receiving a commu- credit and character I believe the peace and security of the country essentially to depend, I could not as an honest man postpone the desire I feel of hearing the ministers of the Crown admit or deny the fact of the genuineness of the document now before the public—whether or not they transmitted a person to make such an offer—whether they, the ministers of the Crown, are parties to the proposition of calling upon the queen of England, without the consent, authority, or knowledge of parliament, to lay down her title for a bribe of 50,000l. a year [continued cheers].

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that he could not help admiring the peculiar temper un- nication from his lordship at that hour.—2 o'clock, June 4th, 1820. This letter was dated two o'clock on Sunday, and within a few minutes of the stipulated time, Mr. Brougham received the following letter from lord Hutchinson: Sir;—In obedience to the commands of the queen I have to inform you, that I am not in possession of any proposition or propositions detailed in a specific form of words which I could lay before her majesty; but I can detail to you for her information the substance of many conversations held with lord Liverpool. His majesty's ministers propose that 50,000l. per annum should be settled on the queen for life, subject to such conditions as the king may impose. I have also reason to know that the conditions likely to be imposed by his majesty, are, that the queen is not to assume the style and title of queen of England, or any title attached to the royal family of England. A condition is also to be attached to this grant, that she is not to reside in any part of the United Kingdom, or even to visit England. The consequence of such a visit will be an immediate message to parliament, and an entire end to all compromise and negotiation. I believe that there is no other condition. I am sure none of any importance. I think it right to send to you an extract of a letter from lord Liverpool to me: his words are—'It is material that her majesty should know confidentially, that if she shall be so ill advised as to come over to this country, there must then be an end to all negotiation and compromise. The decision, I may say, is taken to proceed against her as 'soon as she sets her foot on the British der which the hon. member had risen to put his question. It must be felt by the hon. member as a most auspicious state of mind, under which to discuss one of the most grave and important questions, perhaps, ever submitted to the sober and deliberate consideration of parliament; a consideration in which were involved no less than the dignity and honour of the Crown, and the peace and tranquillity of the country [Hear, hear!]. With such an impression of that most grave and important deliberation, the hon. member must allow him to say, that even out of tenderness to him he should decline answering the question. He had already communicated to the House the course 'shore.' I cannot conclude this letter without my humble though serious and sincere supplication, that her majesty will take these propositions into her most calm consideration, and not act with any hurry or precipitation on so important a subject. I hope that my advice will not be misinterpreted. I can have no possible interest which would induce me to give fallacious counsel to the queen. But let the event be what it may, I shall console myself with the reflection that I have performed a painful duty imposed upon me to the best of my judgment and conscience, and in a case, in the decision of which the king, the queen, the government, and the people of England, are materially interested. Having done so, I fear neither obloquy nor misrepresentation. I certainly should not have wished to have brought matters to so precipitate a conclusion, but it is her majesty's decision, and not mine. I am conscious that I have; performed my duty towards her with every possible degree of feeling and delicacy. I have been obliged to make use of your brother's hand, as I write with pain and difficulty, and the queen has refused to give any, even the shortest delay—I have the honour to be sir, with great regard, your most obedient humble servant, HUTCHINSON. As soon as this letter was read by the queen, Mr. Brougham, at her majesty's request, made the following answer in writing: Mr. Brougham is commanded by the queen to acknowledge the receipt of lord Hutchinson's letter, and to inform his lordship, that it is quite impossible for her majesty to listen to such a proposition.—Five o'clock, June 4th, 1820. that was intended to be pursued, and he put it to the hon. member and the House to say, whether there ever had been a consideration affecting so peculiarly the feelings and interests, submitted to the attention of parliament, in language less calculated to provoke any warm or intemperate discussion. In the most ordinary act even in the discussion of a turnpike bill, a previous notice was required, and surely on a question of the present character a notice of such an intention might have been expected. As the hon. member, he well knew, was at times able to combine very contradictory qualities, he would himself feel the impropriety of giving way to any precipitancy. If such was his wish it was open to him to give a notice for tomorrow when the discusion of the motion, already noticed, would afford ample opportunity.

Mr. Beaumont

did not consider the question put by his hon. friend at all calculated to throw any impediment in the progress of the course proposed by the noble lord. It appeared to him to be a very fair and reasonable question. From the want of an answer to it, and the evident disinclination of the noble lord to give it, it was evident that this extraordinary letter was genuine, but that his majesty's ministers were ashamed to own it [Hear, hear!].

Mr. Creevey

said, that it was not only competent for any member to ask such questions as the hon. member for Shrewsbury had asked without giving notice of them, but also to make a motion to the same effect. So convinced was he of the propriety of the question put with so much feeling by his hon. friend, that had it not been put, it was his intention to have moved for the production of the papers connected with the late negotiation at St. Omer's, and he actually held in his hand a notice of a motion which he had drawn up with a view to obtain it. He implored the House to consider the situation in which they were placed. They had a message from the king, desiring them to interfere in his behalf. And why? Because her majesty the queen had set her foot in England [Hear!]—for that now appeared to be the chief ground of her offence [Hear!]. Indeed his majesty appeared to have the same objection to her being in the same country with him, which he formerly had to her being in the same drawing-room. In order, therefore, to promote his majesty's wishes, they first offered her a threat, and then a bribe to keep her abroad, but both, he was happy to say, ineffectually. The House ought to recollect, that when the king sent them a message, desiring them to interfere in his behalf, it was their bounden duty to consider, before they went into the evidence (into which he maintained that they had no right to go, as nobody could doubt of the present being a private prosecution), not only the situation in which they might themselves be placed, but also the situation in which the king absolutely was placed. In the first instance, he was the accuser, the procurer of the evidence, and the prosecutor of the crime of which, in the last, he might be called upon to become the judge [Hear!]; for if a bill of attainder should be passed against her majesty, it could not be passed without the king's giving his consent to it as a part of the legislature. The House ought to beware how it made itself a party to such a transaction, especially as, from the reign of Henry 8th downwards, it had not been the custom of parliament to interfere with the queens of England [Loud cheers]. The arrival of her majesty appeared to have created indescribable alarm amongst gentlemen on the other side of the House; for, strange as it might appear, fifteen ministers failed last night to attend in their places, being too busily employed in arming themselves against one poor, weak, defenceless woman. And who was that woman? The daughter of the duke of Brunswick, the niece of the late king, the wife of the present king, the mother of the princess Charlotte [Hear, hear!]. If that lamented princess had been alive, would this business have ever been brought before the House? He thought not. He had written in pencil the motion of which he had intended to give notice, relative to the late negotiation at St. Omer's; whether he should move to-morrow evening that an account of it be laid before the House, he would not say; but, feeling as he did upon the subject, he should have felt himself a disgraced man, if he had not made the remarks which he had just offered to their notice upon it [Hear!].

Sir Robert Wilson

assured the House that no motion had ever occasioned him more acute regret than that which had just been submitted to the consideration of the House; He trusted, however, that in the appeal which he was going to make to their generosity, he should meet with the support of a majority of the House. He called upon them to protect her majesty during the continuance of this inquiry from every species of indignity. He did not now allude to the indignities which she had received from our ministers at foreign courts, or from those foreign courts themselves, at the instigation of those ministers, nor to the paltry indignity of striking her name out of the Liturgy of the Church; but he alluded to the treatment which she had received in her journey to this country, and to the obstacles which had been raised up to retard it. It was a disgraceful fact, that the queen of England, in crossing from the Continent, should have had no other vessel on which to erect the royal standard than a common passage-boat. It was a disgraceful fact that she should have no place to which she could fly as to an asylum, that she should have no other roof to shelter her head, than that of an individual, who was an honest man [Loud laughter]. Gentlemen might laugh at the term, but he maintained that the individual to whom he alluded was an honest man, and had performed his duty to her majesty in the same exemplary manner as he had performed all the other duties of his station [Hear, hear!]. That individual had given her majesty an asylum which she had not been able to procure in any of the palaces of the Crown. He was sure that his majesty would never wish to see any of his subjects treated with indignities which they did not deserve, much less one who had once been the wife of his affection, and still was the partner of his throne.

Lord Archibald Hamilton

expressed his regret that a case of such importance should have been thrust upon the House—a case which required the most serious deliberation before any act should be done—before any resolution should be adopted. The queen had arrived in the metropolis of Great Britain; and how was she received? Not with the gratulations of the ministers of her husband; no, they had long prosecuted her with ignominy and with insult; they had caused her name to be erased from the Liturgy of the country, and they now brought forward what was tantamount to a charge, if not virtually an accusation against her. He had, therefore, taken the earliest opportunity of expressing his unbiassed sentiments on the subject, unconnected with, and uninfluenced by any person whatever. As far as the erasure of her majesty's name from the Liturgy was the act of his majesty's ministers, it appeared to him illegal; for he knew not by what special pleading, or by what legal quibbling, the act of parliament, which gave them power to alter in council the Liturgy, in case of the death of any of the royal family, could be construed to permit them to omit or erase the name of the queen altogether. But was the indignity then offered the sole effect that followed from such conduct? No. Ministers contributed by such a line of conduct to cause their queen to be considered as guilty by several of their fellow subjects. He would put it to the feelings of the House, whether the principles of common justice ought not to have prevented such conduct? In every case, even of the lowest and most ignorant individual, a man was not considered as guilty, until his guilt was established in due course of law. He would therefore ask his majesty's ministers, whether, that line of conduct had not produced in several parts of the country, the effect of considering the queen as guilty? and would further ask them if they could consider the message which had been delivered to the House, was a fair one, under such circumstances? He was not authorized by any person to ask it; but as an act of justice to the queen of England he thought the message ought to be seriously considered, before the House should, by adopting any step against the queen, contribute to prejudice her character and honour. Was not this the act of ministers against her? Was it not competent for any individual to ask whether he was to be tried or not? But in the case of the queen no such question would be answered, as it appeared from the conduct of his majesty's ministers; although they by their acts had instilled prejudices against the queen in every corner of the kingdom, while it was out of her power to repel their charges, or openly to meet the accusations with proofs to establish her innocence. For himself he would say, that he should be sorry to impute any charge against the queen on evidence palpably formed to condemn her, when no means of confronting her accusers was permitted; and he called upon the House not to permit such an attempt to be carried into effect. Ministers had long condemned the queen as guilty; they had acted upon that principle; they had fully declared their sentiments in relation to her majesty, by their actions, and would the House of Commons on their charge, and upon their statement, proceed also to condemn? He hoped not, and he therefore trusted that the House would act with deliberation and with caution. The spirit of the constitution of England was such as to consider every person accused as not guilty until proved to be so; and would the House of Commons at the instance of his majesty's ministers proceed to condemn the queen unheard, without allowing her the privilege which was allowed to the lowest subject of the kingdom? He was desirous of knowing whether the order in council by which her majesty's name was excluded from the Liturgy, was considered as equally binding on all the people of the kingdom; for that order had been transmitted to the general assembly in Scotland, where it had been looked upon as so much waste paper; for that order could not by law have any effect upon the regulations of the Established Church of Scotland. He knew several most respectable clergymen there who had refused to decline using the prayer for the queen as established by the Liturgy of their church; and who still continued to pray for her majesty by name. Unconnected as he was with any persons, he would request that the House would not proceed to acts of pure condemnation, suddenly and without consideration; and he would call upon his majesty's ministers to allow to the queen the same privilege at least which was allowed to the lowest and most ignorant subject—that of not being condemned unheard. He would protest against such a course of conduct as that about to be adopted respecting the queen, as not sanctioned by the usages of the country, not supported by the practice of the House, and not suited to the constitution of the kingdom. The queen, if she was to be accused, ought to be placed in the situation in which she would have stood prior to any accusation. Such were his opinions, and he thought, that in justice to her majesty and to himself that he was bound to state them, although he had no intention of opposing the motion which was then before the House. But he hoped that the House would go forward with deliberation to the performance of the serious duty imposed on it, and not by hastily agreeing with the views of his majesty's ministers, proceed to a sudden condemnation rather than to a fair trial.

Mr. Denman

said, that it was not his intention at the present moment to enter into any discussion of this most important subject; for, both in a personal and constitutional view of the question, a fitter opportunity would probably hereafter occur. He confessed that he entertained some apprehension lest he should be betrayed into too strong an expression of those ardent feelings which the subject was calculated to excite, but which, however, gave him infinitely less alarm than the cold, calm, temperate manner in which a proposition of this nature had been brought forward by his majesty's ministers [Hear, hear!]—a proposition full of such weighty consequences to the illustrious individual and to the country. He could not trust himself to press this subject at the present moment; but in common justice to the illustrious individual, whose arrival in the country was greeted with an accusation founded upon paper and not upon witnesses, and which was to be referred, not to the ordinary tribunals of the country, but to a secret committee [Hear, hear!]—standing in the peculiar situation in which he did, he felt himself entitled to call upon the noble lord opposite to state distinctly, when he came down tomorrow to the re-consideration of this awful subject; what was the nature of the proceedings which it was intended to institute against her majesty?

Mr. Brougham

said, that at the present moment he would not enter into the merits of the subject, even to the length at which his hon. and learned friend had entered upon them. Unhappily (and he said this unfeignedly)—unhappily, not merely for the illustrious parties concerned, but for this House, for parliament, and for the country, a resolution appeared to have been taken which rendered any longer silence upon the subject almost impossible. The time had at length arrived when all men would be called upon to make up their minds upon this most important question, and when his lips would be unsealed from that silence which he had hitherto observed. At the present moment he should only say, and he thought it but fair to give the noble lord the warning, that his majesty's government would not only have to perform the task, and to succeed in the task, of making out a strong case against the queen; but they would have another task to execute, foremost in situation and paramount in importance, as regarded their own justification—they would have to show, satisfactorily to show, to convince the House, and the country, that it had become impossible longer to postpone or to suppress the discussion. Which way soever might be the merits of the case was, in his view, a matter of minor importance, because, whatever might be the queen's case, the case of ministers must be, that the landing of the queen in England, that simple act, made all further forbearance absolutely impossible. This was so manifestly clear, that he would not waste the time of the House in urging another word in support of it; and he took it for granted that the noble lord and his colleagues were prepared to stake their places upon the event of the present proceeding. In his own justification, the hon. and learned member continued, he now thought it proper to acquaint the House, that, since he had taken his seat in the House, a public newspaper had been put into his hand, in which, to his infinite surprise, he had seen a long statement, in many respects an inaccurate, and, in some most material points, a garbled statement of the recent transactions which had taken place at St. Omer's. It was necessary, in justice to his noble friend (lord Hutchinson) with whom he had acted upon that occasion, and who was still absent, that he should first declare the statement which had appeared to be imperfect and garbled; and, in his own defence, he felt it necessary to say, although, he believed that no member could suspect him of such violation of propriety, that he knew nothing of the mode or manner in which, or of the channels through which, those circumstances had been made public. To what breach of confidence this publicity which had been given to part of the proceedings could be attributed, he was at a loss to conjecture: until he had come into the House he had not been aware that a tittle of the matter had been promulgated.

The motion was agreed to, and on the motion of lord Castlereagh, the Papers were ordered to he kept in the custody of the clerk of the House.