HC Deb 18 June 1823 vol 9 cc1022-31
Sir Gerard Noel

rose for the purpose of moving that the petition which he had on the 3rd of March presented from the Lady calling herself Olive, princess of Cumberland, should be referred to a select committee, She had, he observed, been now for three years applying, but without effect, for the payment of a sum of money alleged to have been bequeathed to her by the will of the late king, which she declared to be necessary for the payment of for ejects. He was afraid he should find it difficult to make himself understood. He was an old member of that House, though he was not an old speaker in it; and he feared that the cause of this lady would not be much advanced by any adventitious aid from any eloquence of his. His was not the eloquence which could make a bad cause appear good; but certainly he ever would have taken up the present if he had not thought it always a good one. Whe- ther good or bad, however, he had undertaken it and would go through with it. He had always believed that every member of the royal family was on the civil list; and that it was not in the power of a minister to say, that a member of the royal family should have nothing to live upon. But here was a member of the royal family who had nothing to live upon. How was this matter to be settled? He had always understood, that by the British constitution, there could be no wrong without a remedy. But here was a lady suffering a great wrong, for which she had hitherto no remedy. He would now come to what he thought ought to be done in the case before the House. If she were an impostor, he claimed that ministers should protect the dignity of the royal family from the imposition. This lady was in possession of certain papers, not rejected by the public or by any tribunal, but at the same time producing no benefit to herself. He would not enter into any detail of the case—not because he had nothing to detail; but he had it in command from this royal personage (and he should call her royal until she had been proved to be otherwise), to say nothing that could be in the smallest degree offensive. He had it also in command too from this royal person to himself if no good answer were given to him, to say something that would be very strong, both to the ministers and to the country [a laugh] He should move for the appointment of a select committee on the petition he had presented three months ago. He had not neglected to take up the matter earlier through fear. Fear formed no part of his composition. He would pursue this lady's claim to the death, until she had obtained her rights. When it was shown that she had no claim, and not till then, he would give up the matter [Hear]. If the petition were not understood, he begged that it might be read again; for no man had a right to sit, much less to vote, upon a case until he knew the merits of it. No person who could treat such a subject with levity ought to vote upon it. To give judgment against any person without knowing why, would be still further to prove the necessity of the parliamentary reform sought for by the people. He pretended to say, for one, that he was a representative of the people; and, if a reform took place in parliament, if he did not come in again he should be very much surprised [laugh- ter]. But while he was for reform, he, was by means for revolution. He was one of the oldest members of the House. He had gone through the whole of Mr. Pitt's administration. He had come into parliament with "Pitt and the Constitution" on his cockade. The constitution, had been his watchword throughout; and if it had been corrupted through neglect the blame Jay somewhere. Where there was a grievance it ought to be remedied. To return to the case before the House. He must say, that great blame was attributable to those who had neglected this question. I am determined (continued the hon. baronet) to rectify the matter. I am resolved to persevere. If I cannot find the means of doing it here, I will find them somewhere else— Flectere si nequeo Superos, Acheronta movebo. [loud laughter]. He would here beg, that the petition of Olive princess of Cumberland, which he had had the honour to present on the 3rd of March, last might be read [It was accordingly read by, the clerk]. Perhaps it might not be fit for him to enforce this question, if there were any disposition on the part of ministers to grant the select committee. He undoubtedly meant to present the case in such a form as not to be personally disagreeable to the rest of the royal family [a laugh]. There was no man in the kingdom more attached to the royal family than himself. He had worn the prince's button for many years, and had had the honour of being very intimate with his present majesty. When Prince Regent, he had visited Rutland, and had no where seen tenantry more loyal than those upon his (sir G. Noel's) estate. He was compelled to the present proceeding, and he hoped that the good sense and discretion of ministers would shew them the necessity of proving this woman an impostor; if she were so in fact. Such were the grounds on which he most pertinaciously took up the claim of this lady as a royal personage. He hoped that some hon. gentleman would second his motion for a committee, without the necessity, on his part, of saying more. He did not wish to shirk the subject, or to pretend that he knew something that he dared not speak. He did not wish to avoid the question in any way. What he wanted was, to avoid being offensive; and he had it expressly in command from the royal lady to be respectful. He would therefore conclude by moving, "That the said petition be referred to a Select Committee, to examine the matter thereof, and to report their observations thereupon to the House."

Mr. Hume

said, he seconded the motion with great pleasure; not because he had any acquaintance with the petitioner, but because, after what had pablicly occurred on the subject, it appeared to him that her claims had become a serious question which ought to be settled. The petitioner claimed to be a branch of the royal family. Whether she was so or not, he did not know; but ministers, in defence of the dignity of the royal family, ought to take some steps against a supposed or real impostor, who in every newspaper had publicly asserted her right. It appeared that the petitioner was in possession of certain documents, one of them bearing the signatures of his late majesty, of Mr. Dunning, and other witnesses. This appeared to be a good document. The right hon. Secretary seemed to intimate a doubt regarding it: but the signature of Mr. Dunning had been proved by the best evidence that could be found. This document, formed the principal ground on which he (Mr. H.) seconded the motion; for it appeared that his late majesty died without a will, and in common acceptation it appeared to nm that this paper was a will, and that it could be so proved before the proper courts. This lady had been imprisoned for debt, and her creditors had brought her claim into court, demanding to be administrators of the personal property of his late majesty. This ought to have been done by the party who took possession of the personal property of the late king, for there was nothing in law, that he was aware of, that ought to have prevented it. The judge in the court to which the petitioner appealed, had not pretended to deny the authenticity of the documents. He had only said, that he had no authority to take cognizance of the claim. He him himself had seen a document in the late duke of Kent's own hand writing, stating that lord Warwick had told his royal highness the whole transaction, as also that he had been ordered by his late majesty not to disclose it until after his majesty's death. The duke of Kent was so convinced that this statement was true, that, under his own hand-writing, he had promised to pay this woman a certain sum of money; thus showing that he believed her to be the legitimate daughter of his uncle, the late duke of Cumberland. It was not necessary for him to take notice of the early marriage of the late duke of Cumberland, but he would assert, that ministers ought long ago to have instituted some proceeding to elicit the truth. At present, it seemed to him that a committee was the only mode of proceeding, and for this reason he seconded the present motion.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that the hon. baronet had imposed upon him a duty of rather an embarrassing nature. The subject was so exceedingly ludicrous, that he really felt called upon to beg pardon of the House for occupying its time regarding it. It seemed that the hon. baronet considered himself acting under the obligation of a royal command, believing the individual for whom he appeared, to be a princess of the blood. Such, certainly, was not his (Mr. Peel's) opinion; and upon the whole, perhaps, the best course he could pursue was, to state that truth, and those facts which it was the object of the hon. baronet to elicit. To pass over the case in silence might, perhaps, confirm groundless suspicions. He would therefore proceed to show, that this lady was either herself practising the most impudent imposture, or that she was the innocent dupe of others. The hon. baronet had omitted to state his case. It was therefore necessary for him (Mr. Peel) to detail it; and he would do so as shortly as possible. There were two brothers of the name of Wilmot; the one, Dr. Wilmot, the other a Mr. Robert Wilmot. The person now claiming to be princess of Cumberland was the daughter of Robert Wilmot. Proof of her birth and baptism existed, and for a considerable time 6he had been contented with this humble origin. But in the year 1817—(very possibly before that date she had pretended to be other personages)—she discovered that she was not the daughter of Robert Wilmot, but of the late duke of Cumberland, brother to his late majesty, Geo. 3rd. She did not then, indeed, pretend that she was the legitimate but the illegitimate daughter; and, in 1817, a petition, signed "Olivia Serres," was presented to his majesty by a person on her behalf, which contained these words—"May it please your royal highness to attend to the attestations which prove this lady to be the daughter of the late duke of Cumberland by a Mrs. Payne, the wife of a captain in the navy. Mrs. Payne was the sister to Dr. Wilmot, and this lady was born at Warwick, and the attestation of her birth is both signed and sealed by the matron and the medical attendant." This petition went to prove that she was the illegitimate daughter of the duke of Cumberland; but in 1819 the lady became dissatisfied with this distinction, and then she discovered, and produced attestations to prove, that she was the legitimate offspring of the duke of Cumberland by the daughter of Dr. Wilmot. She alleged, that Dr. Wilmot had a daughter who was privately married to the late duke of Cumberland in 1767. It was known that the duke of Cumberland was in fact married, not to Miss Wilmot, but to Mrs. Horton, in 1769. Of course, the ground of the petitioner's claim was, that the duke of Cumberland had been guilty of having been married to her mother two year's before his union with Mrs. Horton. After the death of lord Warwick, and of every party who could prove the signatures, the petitioner produced several documents to show that there had been a private marriage in 1767, and that she was the offspring of it. The marriage at that date would have been legal; the royal marriage act not then having been passed. She also produced various papers to account for the secret having been so mysteriously kept till the year 1819.

Sir G. Noel

interposed to state, that the late lord Warwick had given the papers in question to the duke of Kent. The petitioner did not obtain them until after the death of lord Warwick.

Mr. Secretary Peel

added, that they had not been forthcoming until the death of every party whose signatures they purported to bear: even the accoucheur who attended her mother, died in 1818, a year before the claim was advanced. The attesting witnesses were, Mr. Dunning, lord Chatham, and lord Warwick, and their names were used to prove a secret marriage, and the consequent birth of a child in 1772—no other, as was pretended, than the present Mrs. Serres. To account for the long belief that she was really the daughter of Mrs. Wilmot, she asserted that Mrs. Wilmot having bee delivered of a still-born child, the petitioner, the daughter of the duke of Cumberland, was substituted for the sake of concealment, and that Mr. Dunning and lord Chatham had consented to that substitution. The story was full of fabrications from beginning to end. They were easily detected But if he could show, as he was prepared to do, that two of the documents were forgeries, the presumption would be complete that the rest were not more authentic. He would take the two most important documents—the supposed will of his late majesty, and the pretended certificate of the private marriage. The petitioner claimed 15,000l. under an instrument which she called a will, signed on the 2nd of June, 1774, by his late majesty, and witnessed, "J. Dunning, Chatham, and Brook." "The terms of the bequest were singular. It was headed G. R. "In case of our royal demise, we give and bequeath to Olive, our brother of Cumberland's daughter, the sum of 15,000l., commanding our heir and successor to pay the same privately to our said neice, for her use, as a recompense for the misfortunes she may have known through her father." It would be observed, that this paper was witnessed, among others, by lord Chatham in 1774; but that nobleman had resigned his office in 1768, and never afterwards held any public employments. In 1772, he made a speech in direct opposition to the king's government; and, on the 20th of January, 1775, he moved an address to his majesty, to withdraw the troops from Boston. Those who knew the sentiments of his late majesty on the subject of the American war, would find it difficult to believe, that under such circumstances he would select lord Chatham to be his confident in a private transaction such as the one in question. But, on a reference to the recorded speech of lord Chatham on that occasion, it would be found that that noble lord actually commenced it with these Words: "As I have not the honour of access to his majesty. I will endeavour to transmit to him, through the constitutional channel of this House, my ideas of America, to rescue him from the misadvice of his present ministers."* But there was another of this lady's documents, said to be signed by lord Chatham, of a still more extraordinary nature. Would the House believe that a man of lord Chatham's known character would have done so dishonourable an act as to put his hand to a certificate like that to which his signature appeared to be appended: It began—"To be committed to the flames after my; decease;" and it testified, "that the duke of Cumberland *See Parl. History. v. 18, p. 149. having subjected himself to the crime of bigamy, we have agreed to let his daughter Olive be the sacrifice." It was signed "Warwick and Chatham." It was on the 20th of January, 1775, that lord Chatham had made his motion respecting the troops at Boston, and in six weeks afterwards it would not be easy to guess on what service his lordship was employed.—His name was appended to a document couched in these terms—"The princess Olive, only child of Henry Frederick, duke of Cumberland, and bred up as my brother Robert's daughter, may be known by a large brown spot." [Laughter, and cries of "Where? where?"] He should touch upon the brown spot by and by. He hoped that hon. members would restrain their curiosity upon this point for a few moments. If they did not think fit to satisfy themselves upon the subject, he would inform them, that according to the grave testimony of lord Chatham, the said large brown spot was of a liver colour, and that its situation was on the right ribs of her highness the princess Olive of Cumberland. [Much laughter.] It was indeed putting the distaff' into the hands of Hercules to call upon lord Chatham to bear witness to this delicate but important fact. Nor was it very likely that the authentic signature of Mr. Dunning should be affixed to this pretended bequest. However, whether it were or were not, this document was comparatively unimportant; because, if the marriage really Wok place, Mrs. Serres was to all intents and purposes, princess of Cumberland, and nothing could defeat her claim to that title. It was necessary, therefore, to examine the certificate of the marriage, which was dated March 4, 1767, and was in these words—"I hereby certify that Henry Frederick, duke of Cumberland, was this day married to Olive Wilmot, and that such marriage has been legally and duly solemnized, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England." It was signed "James Wilmot," present "Brooke," "J. Adder." "G. R." was also appended, but for what purpose did not appear. This document was intended to make out that the marriage was solemnized by James Wilmot, the real uncle of the petitioner. It was often astonishing to see, in how many, points, a fabricated story might be detected. Now, it was a fact, that James Wilmot was a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and unfortunately for the peti- tioner, on that very day, March 4,1767, he was resident there, as it appeared by, the books of the college, that he quitted Oxford on the 5th of March, 1767. So much for Mr. James Wilmot. But still the signatures of the late lord Warwick and of J. Adder remained to be disposed of. The late lord Warwick, by the paper, appeared to have signed "Brooke," his father being still alive; but unluckily again, the late lord Warwick, before he succeeded to the title, had always signed "Greville." He was so named in the entry of the burial of his wife. His servants knew him by that title only, and in that title his father's property was bequeathed to him. He (Mr. Peel) was in possession of a letter from the present lord Warwick, stating that the title of lord Brooke had not been borne by any eldest son but himself. The fabricator of this instrument had therefore been misled by the present practice of the family. As to the signature "J. Adder," a person had been sent down to Warwick to inquire if there existed any recollection of such a person; and by the residents he was rather startled to be in informed, that the medical attendant of the Warwick family certainly was a Dr. Adder. On further investigation, it turned out, however, that the real name of the gentleman was James Haddow; that be came from St. Andrew's, and that the people of Warwick generally, in speaking of Dr. Haddow, had omitted the H in his name altogether, and had substituted an R for a W at the end of it. Here again, vulgar mispronunciation had misled the framer of this precious piece of imposture. Having touched upon these prominent points, he apprehended, that he had said enough to satisfy the House. [Cheers from all sides.] It was needless therefore, to go into other documents; and even the hon. baronet himself, with all the fealty he had professed, would, probably admit that the claim of the lady was disproved. If, however, the baronet was inclined to persevere in her cause, there was one pretension, on which he (Mr. Peel) did not wish to throw the least discredit. He held in his hand a manifesto signed "Olive," and claiming the high, dignity of princess of Poland, by virtue of her relationship to Augustus Stanislaus, as she here pretended that the duke of Cumberland married Olive, the legitimate daughter of the king of Poland. It concluded in these terms—"Alas! be- loved nation of our ancestors, your Olive lives to anticipate the emancipation of Poland. Invite us, beloved people, to the kingdom, of our ancestors, and the generous humanity and wise policy of the emperor Alexander will restore the domain of our ancient House." It went on to assure the Poles, that her legitimacy, as princess of Poland, had been fully proved in England. Thus it appeared that this lady had two strings to her bow. With her claim to be a Polish princess he had; not the slightest wish to interfere, but should sit down satisfied with having shown that she had no pretension whatever to that rank in England.

Sir Gerarà Noel,

in reply, contended that the House ought not to be satisfied by the pleasantry of the statement of the right hon. gentleman. Assertion was no proof. If lord Chatham were out of office, it did not show conclusively that he had not signed the documents bearing his name. If the right hon. gentleman had nothing to fear, why did he not consent to the committee? He should press the, question to a division, if he stood alone, and did not retract an iota of what he had stated.

The hon. baronet, on consulting with one or two members near him, afterwards said, that he would not be so impertinent as to trouble the House to divide. The motion was therefore instantly and loudly negatived.