HC Deb 12 February 1827 vol 16 cc425-34
Mr. Secretary Peel

rose, and said:—Sir, in the period which has elapsed between the separation and reassembling of this House, the country has sustained the loss, by death, of the first prince of the blood; a prince whom the probable course of human events would, at some future period, have placed on the throne of these realms. Under such circumstances, at any time, and without reference to personal qualities or extraneous considerations, this House would have been induced, in unison with the general feelings of the country—to have presented an Address to the Throne, expressive of their respectful sympathy with the feelings of his majesty. The House would, under any circumstances, I say, have been induced to adopt that course, from the feelings which must necessarily arise in the bosoms of subjects of an ancient and limited monarchy, from those feelings that spring from the deep-felt conviction, that there is no other form of government better suited to the genius and habits of the people of this country, or better cal- culated for the maintenance of their happiness, and the enjoyment of their rights. The House would, I repeat, have been induced to adopt that course from the influence of these feelings alone; but, Sir, I feel that the circumstances under which we are called upon to present an Address of Condolence to the King, in consequence of the death of the Duke of York, are, in some respects, peculiar, and different from the ordinary course of events. This Address, if acquiesced in by the House, will be presented to one who was the companion of the deceased prince's early years—who had studied with him in his youth, and who had been intimately acquainted with him throughout his life; to one who had watched over him in his dying moments, in the utmost affliction, and who felt his loss with the regret of a brother. I am sure no consolation is better calculated to assuage the affliction which that illustrious person must feel, than the demonstration that this House concurs in the universal feeling of respect which is felt throughout the country for the memory of the deceased duke, and in the universal disposition to offer their respectful assurances of regret for his loss. But, mixed with that regret, which, as I said before, under any circumstances, this House would be disposed to evince, is the feeling which arises from the deep respect which, I am warranted in saying, it must feel for the public services of the deceased duke; and also a feeling of a tenderer and more domestic sort, which arises from long experience of the great kindness of his heart, and the benevolence of his disposition—qualities which adorn any station of life, but which shine with peculiar lustre when displayed in such exalted rank. Sir, I do not stand up here for the purpose of pronouncing a set eulogium on the character of the Duke of York. It was well said by an hon. gentleman opposite, upon an occasion not dissimilar to the present, that a laboured panegyric on the great, was better suited to the genius of despotic countries, than to the free institutions of this; and nothing would be less in character with the open manliness and candour of him who is the object of this Address, than that I should ascribe to him qualities which he did not possess, or deny him those faults from which none are free. I shall therefore confine myself to the truth, and I think I do not transgress the truth when I say that, in the public capacity of commander-in-chief of the forces, his royal highness, the deceased duke, improved the discipline, and raised the moral character of the profession.—I do not transgress the truth when I say, further, that he possessed a combination of singular advantages and of peculiar personal qualities for properly discharging the functions of that high station, and that he lost no opportunity of availing himself of those advantages. Sir, for a period of six and forty years the Duke of York was a soldier in the British army, and for a period of thirty-two years, with a slight intermission, he held the high situation of commander-in-chief; and I do not believe that any man could do justice to the services which he rendered to the country in that capacity, except the man who knows, by personal experience, or has taken the pains to look at the state of the British army, as to efficiency and discipline, when his royal highness assumed the command of it, and its state at the moment when he relinquished it. I cannot soon forget the last words which I myself heard from his lips,! only nine days before his death, upon f hearing of the landing of part of the British troops at Portugal. With a faint expression of honest triumph, he said he: wished any one to compare the condition of the brigade which landed at Ostend in 1794, with the corps which disembarked; at Lisbon in 1826. These were the last words which I heard from the lips of his ' royal highness. The Duke of York had himself commanded a British army in Holland, before he was raised to the office of commander-in-chief; and when he came to it, he declared that no other officer who might hereafter command on foreign service should be subjected to the same disadvantages that he had laboured under. Sir, no other but a man of professional experience could trace the progressive steps by which this discipline and efficiency had been effected in the British army. To do so it would be necessary to detail the several rules which have been adopted and watched over with great attention, in order to the correction of many abuses, and the supply of many defects in the British army; the many regulations by which the welfare and comfort of the soldier, in the subordinate ranks of the army, were secured, with respect to his religious instruction, his duties on foreign service, the education of his children, and the eco- nomy of his regimental intercourse. To give effect to these would require a man of professional knowledge; but I do not think a lengthened allusion to them necessary; I attribute the general effect less to the operation of particular rules than to the influence of the more large and extended system which he adopted towards the troops. It is in the example which the Royal Duke set to the officers in his own person, of gentlemanly and courteous attention to the wants of the meanest soldier—in the stimulus which such an example gave them to do their duty—in the conviction which he made every man feel, that however low his station, justice would be done, and protection afforded him against oppression—in these particulars, I say, and in these effects, are to be found the causes of the army being made that wonderful machine which, by regularity of movement, and submissive' obedience to authority, retains the energy which ever distinguishes the soldier of a free state from the passive machines of a despot. During the thirty years that the Duke of York filled the situation of commander-in-chief—a long period, comprising, I believe, ten thousand days. I do not believe I exaggerate when I say, that there was not one of those ten thousand days which passed by the Royal Duke without devoting some portion of it to the performance of his public duty. Never was there a letter received at the office over which he presided, without being noticed, if it was susceptible of an answer. If it contained a signature, the reply was, without delay, transmitted to the proper address. And it ought to be stated, to the honour of the deceased Duke, that the answer so sent was not a mere dry, official communication, referring the party to some other department, but that, upon every occasion, his royal highness showed an anxious desire to facilitate the despatch of business, although it might not be within his own department. If the letter had no signature, but preferred a complaint, it was not necessarily rejected because it was anonymous, but immediate inquiry was made, to ascertain whether the particular charge was well or ill founded. And, upon every occasion of promotion in the army, I think I can appeal with confidence to the House itself, whether there has not been a universal wish to do justice to the strict impartiality with which his royal highness discharged that most important part of his duty; and I address myself more particularly to the hon. gentlemen opposite, and ask whether they had reason to complain, that in any case, a man's political sentiments presented any bar to his receiving the reward of his merit in the army. I am sure they will agree with me, that no objections were made to a man's promotion from anything like personal hostility, and that his royal highness always showed an earnest disposition to forget and overlook all associations, as connected with any claimant for reward, other than his actual merits or demerits. But, Sir, I do not conceive this to have been his royal highness's highest merit. In the administration of his high office, the exalted individual had not merely to guard against the influence of personal prepossession, but to exercise a reasonably jealous apathy with respect to the fame of individuals; for, if he suffered himself to be dazzled too much by the eclat of military glory derived from actual service, he might be tempted to overlook those who, deprived of the opportunities of distinguishing themselves, were panting for such opportunities. Upon all occasions in which the Duke of York had to bestow promotion, he acted with impartial justice—not only to those who had merited distinction by their valour, but to those who had shown a disposition, but had not had the opportunity of distinguishing themselves. As proofs of his strict impartiality, I will recite one or two facts. In the year 1825, when an augmentation of the army took place, no lieutenant, with a solitary exception, was promoted who had not entitled himself by service. From 1810, I can state confidently, that no favour was shown to any individual, with the single exception which I have stated, and that was a case which can reflect no dishonour on the illustrious deceased. One lieutenant, whose standing was only from 1814, had been promoted; but it was under these especial circumstances.—At the battle of Waterloo this officer, though a subaltern, became in command of his regiment, all his senior officers having been killed upon the field. This was the only one promoted, who was not of the required standing; and could it be said that it was a case unworthy of notice? With respect to the ensigns the same impartiality was shown. In 1825, twenty-two captains received majorities without purchase. The grant of a commission without purchase affords a great opportunity of showing personal favour; but such favour could not be charged in any one of these instances. Of the twenty-two captains who received majorities without purchase in 1825, the average service was twenty-six years; and of these seventeen were spent in their particular regiments. In 1825, sixteen majors were promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonels without purchase, whose average service was twenty-eight years, fifteen of which they had spent in their own regiments. In short, Sir, I am justified in saying, that there never was an instance in which any officer has been promoted without purchase over the head of his senior, unless where this latter, by some misconduct, had forfeited all reasonable claim to priority; and, let me add, where the promotion was by purchase, the officers of the same regiment were first invariably consulted. Of the first commissions granted without purchase in 1825, three-fourths were given to the sons and relations of officers in the army and navy—to young men who had no other claim than that which was derived from the services of their parents or relatives.— I have thought it right, Sir, to state these facts, because the simple truth is the highest honour to the memory of the deceased Duke. That his royal highness possessed singular advantages for his high situation is beyond doubt. In the first place, having been in the army forty-six years, of which, for thirty-two years, he was commander-in-chief, he had opportunities of watching over the conduct and progress of a vast portion of the officers. He knew their persons; he was cognizant of their services; and, in very many instances, he was aware, from personal observation even, of the circumstances under which their wounds had been received. And let me remark, that it is matter of no slight consolation to a gallant, but suffering soldier, to know that there is an eye which constantly watches his progress, notes his services, and gives him credit for his merits; for such a conviction must greatly lessen his pain and enhance his exertions. Sir, the service has derived many and most substantial advantages from the noble Duke's administration; but perhaps, of all, that is the most substantial which gives the soldier the conviction, and consequently the confidence, that his merit, if he has any, will not be overlooked. I think, therefore, that the House will be certainly disposed to mix up with its expression of Condolence to his Majesty upon this occasion, a repetition of that sense of his royal highness's services which it has made more than once before.—Sir, I do not know that it is necessary for me to offer any additional observation to induce the House to acquiesce in the proposal for this Address. Some persons may think that all reference to the personal qualities of the individual, upon occasions like this, is unnecessary; but no man can, I think, read the history of the monarchy of this and of other countries without acknowledging how far the personal character of the sovereign influences the manners of the age, and how much they strengthen the claims of royalty upon the people. And in that history, it would, I think, be difficult to find an instance in which there has not been exhibited, not only by the Duke of York, but by every member of his illustrious family, the warmest disposition to promote every charitable object, to enter into every benevolent enterprise, and to contribute, not only by their money, but by their personal services, to the completion of these laudable purposes. In truth, Sir, I think we might all of us benefit by the example of active charity which has been set us by that illustrious family. Every one who hears me knows, I have no doubt, after his time and attention have been very fully occupied with business, how painful it sometimes is, on receiving- an application to attend at some meeting for charitable purposes, to make the requisite exertion. But I would ask any man, who ever had occasion to apply, with such an object, to the late Duke of York, whether his application did not meet with a cheerful acquiescence from his royal highness? whether such assistance was not immediately given, with that ready benevolence, which it is impossible to assume, and which could flow only from a generous and charitable disposition, to co-operate in every scheme, having for its object the relief of misery and distress —I shall here, Sir, close the few observations with which I have deemed it necessary to accompany this motion for an Address of Condolence to his Majesty. I trust I have adhered to the intention I expressed, at the outset, of confining myself strictly to the truth in any statements I might make, and of abstaining from all exaggeration, as unsuitable either to the occasion, or to the character of him to whom those statements relate. In like manner, in the wording of the proposition with which I shall conclude, I shall studiously abstain from every topic calculated to provoke angry discussion, or to interrupt that unanimity which will, I am certain, ' mark the proceedings of the House on an occasion of this nature. I shall studiously abstain, I say, from every topic that can, by possibility, render any one man reluctant to give his assent to this motion. In the same feelings, Sir, I disdain to take advantage of any particular opinions which this lamented personage may have entertained, by any appeal to the concurring views of those who entertain, on that subject, similar opinions; for I am confident, that every man in this House, be his political opinions what they may, will be anxious to concur in an address, that expresses no other feeling but that of sincere grief, for the loss of an illustrious prince, who administered his high functions with great attention, great justice, great fairness, and great success;—who improved, in a most extraordinary degree, the discipline, and raised the character, of the British army; and whose name will ever be associated with its distinguished reputation and its brilliant achievements. I believe, Sir, that no man, whatever his political sentiments may he, will refuse to participate in the feelings of those who were admitted to a more intimate and friendly acquaintance with the royal Duke; but that, they will concur in sympathising with his majesty for the loss of one, whose last moments were consoled by the reflection, the purest and best of consolations, that, during the course of a long and varied intercourse with society, he had never abandoned a friend, nor resented an injury. I, therefore, propose, Sir, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, to assure his Majesty, that we fully participate in the deep regret which has been so generally manifested by his Majesty's loyal subjects, on the death of his royal highness the Duke of York:—To convey to his Majesty the expression of our sincere condolence with his Majesty, on the loss of his beloved and lamented brother:— That we take this opportunity of again recording our sense of the eminent services which were rendered by his royal highness the Duke of York, in the capacity of Commander-in-chief of his Majesty's forces:—That we witnessed, with the utmost satisfaction, the continuance, to the last period of the life of his Royal Highness, of that unremitting attention to the duties of his high office, and of that strict impartiality and justice in the exercise of all its functions, which have so essentially contributed to perfect the discipline, and exalt the character, of the British army:—That, to the expression of these feelings of grateful acknowledgment of the public services of his Royal Highness, and of sincere sympathy with the present affliction of his Majesty, we add the dutiful assurances of our loyal and affectionate attachment to his Majesty's sacred person."

Mr. Brougham,

feeling the deepest sympathy with those who most deplored the decease of his royal highness, the late commander-in-chief, assured the; right hon. gentleman, that the language he had employed on this occasion, made it not only perfectly easy, but extremely grateful for him to concur in the proposed Address. In now rising to express his own entire concurrence in the language of the right hon. Secretary, he should abstain from all comment, further than to add that he considered it to have been no small praise to his royal highness, and one that might with perfect truth be applied to his memory, to have, for so long a period of time, enjoyed the disposal of the immense patronage of the army, without ever allowing political considerations— by which, he would be understood to mean, such as were more commonly termed party considerations—to interfere with the disposal of that patronage. And he would add another just eulogium, that his royal highness had shown himself quite incapable of allowing mere personal feelings—feelings of asperity towards any particular individuals for example—to cast any shade across the path of his public duty; and, surely, the best testimony which the country could have of the sincerity and honesty of those strong-political opinions which his royal highness confessed himself to entertain on certain questions—and, on some subjects, he might be almost tempted to call them prejudices—the best test that his royal highness at least hold them honestly and conscientiously, was this, that he cherished them as much as possible, free from all admixture of asperity towards those whose notions were opposed to his own on such matters.

Sir Robert Wilson

regretted that the right hon. gentleman, in proposing this Address, had not stated to the House more particularly the means by which the Duke of York had brought about so salutary a revolution in the army. In 1791, its inefficiency, as to the public interests, was carried to an incredible degree of inattention to the means of enabling men to discharge their duty in the army. Under the Royal Duke's administration great changes were soon effected; but the right hon. gentleman had omitted to state, that the improvement which the Duke of York had effected in the discipline of the army was brought about without any exaggerated severity. When his royal highness came into office, corporal punishment, which had been carried to so great an extent that it had become a matter of opprobrium in the eyes of foreigners, was considerably reduced, and he now called upon the House to complete that which the late commander-in-chief had begun. The kindness, the benevolence, and the impartiality of the Duke of York were well known; and although parties, upon whose cases he judged, might sometimes think his decisions harsh, yet in no case had any one impeached the motives upon which he had come to his determination.

The Address was agreed to nem. con.