HC Deb 29 March 1847 vol 91 cc560-71

I congratulate the House upon, the convalescence of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and at the same time I must express my regret at his recent absence, for it compelled me to postpone the question which I intended to put to him upon two former occasions. And as the Order of the Day is now not upon going into a Committee of Supply, but upon going into Committee upon a question of domestic policy, I should not be in order, I should be out of order, if I moved for the production of the papers of which I have given notice. Under these circumstances, therefore, in putting the question to the noble Lord which I am now about to put, I trust the House will allow me to say just so many words, and no more, as will make that question intelligible. The point to which I am desirous of directing the attention of the noble Lord is limited to one single fact—and if that fact stood alone, in the age and country in which it occurred, and which it has disgraced, it would carry with it its own antidote; for its atrocity would forbid imitation, and would necessarily limit its influence within the circle of its immediate and more direct action. But the fact, though single, is not solitary. It is only one of the thousand indicia of vice which take place in revolution, and which are so inseparably associated with the machinery of that dynasty, with regard to which it will shortly be no longer possible to conceal from Europe, that so long as that dynasty is permitted to remain upon the stage, such atrocities will continue to shock and to degrade mankind. That to which I will now at once proceed to direct the attention of the noble Lord is a proclamation issued by the late Commandant of Catalonia, under the Government of the Queen of Spain. It is dated "Barcelona, March 4," and it begins— The exertions and fatigues of the brave troops of this army will be incompetent to the extermination of the hordes of Vandals who have raised anew their banner of blood, with a view to reproduce the disasters of the last war, so long as these hordes shall find in the country that shelter and protection which can alone save them from the pursuit of our indefatigable columns. So these "hordes of Vandals" are said to be protected by the peaceful people of the country. A question, therefore, arises for the consideration of the noble Lord, whether he would be able to do what General Breton has not been able to do—to draw a line of demarcation between these "hordes who are raising anew the banner of blood," and the peaceful, honest, and industrious people of the country. I assert, however, that there is no such distinction existing; and, speaking from this place as a Member of the British House of Commons, I state that at the time when this protection and shelter is said to have been given, not a musket had been fired, not a band formed, not an act in the shape of insurrection committed by any class of men, or under any banner, bloody or otherwise, in the name of the Conde de Montemolin; or, I may add, of any other person. This proclamation bears date the 4th of March and it thus proceeds:— I therefore ordain as follows:— The punishment of death shall be summarily inflicted—

  1. "1. Upon every person who shall be taken, with or without arms, if accompanying any of the rebel bands.
  2. "2. Upon all spies.
  3. "3. Upon every individual detected in carrying letters or despatches for the rebels."
I pass over some other items which, if the country were under martial law, would be regular and usual. But I object to the application of martial law in the case. Nothing has occurred to justify it; but if the country were in a state of martial law, I should have no objection to the 6th or 7th items. But I come to the 8th, and against its cruelty I most loudly protest:— 8. Upon every person who shall receive or conceal in his house, without giving information, any of the wounded or fugitives of the rebel forces. The "wounded," it must not be forgotten, of persons who carry no arms! But it proceeds:— II. The alcaldes and judges of the towns shall continually keep some person on the lookout upon the steeple or other elevated position in their respective towns, or in the environs, if there be no commanding situation in the town itself. The watch, so soon as he may observe any suspicious assemblage, shall give notice to the authorities. Surprise being thus rendered impossible, the plea of it will not be accepted as an excuse for the alcaldes or judges, who will be subjected to the strictest responsibility, involving penalties that may, under particular circumstances, include that of death. III. The alcalde, having received information that a band is in sight, shall give immediate notice of the fact to the nearest column, fortified post, or town: and the tocsin shall be sounded without delay. IV. The same obligation is imposed on all proprietors of country houses. V. So soon as a detachment of the enemy shall have appeared, the commandant-general of the province shall order all hermitages and chapels generally to be closed. VI. The alcaldes and judges shall be careful that no person above the age of fourteen shall quit his home without permission of the authorities. VII. If any adult shall leave his home to join the ranks of the rebels, the alcalde must give immediate information to the commandant-general of the province, who shall order that the father and mother, guardians, or relations (in case they should have influenced the adult to the commission of this crime by their advice or otherwise) be forthwith arrested and placed at the disposal of the Council of War. This tribunal shall try them, and inflict even the penalty of death, if they be found to have deserved it. Masters of apprentices and of young servants shall be liable to the same punishment. I reserve to myself the right to decide to what extent a town or population shall be considered guilty who may have permitted the presence of any factious band without offering resistance, and to inflict a heavy fine or some other more severe punishment, on the Ayuntamiento, (Signed) "MANUEL BRETON. Barcelona, March 4. I know perfectly well that it will be said, "But proof of the offences must be given before a council of war;" but this House will not have forgotten the fate of the mother of General Cabrera, at that time a young man, and a sudent in the university, who was shot because her son had left the university, and she was not able to say whither he had gone. The perpetrator of that foul and atrocious act was Nogueras, and the Government of the Queen promoted Nogueras. General Mina sanctioned it, and in his turn the Government promoted him. So we must read this proclamation, not with English but with Spanish eyes, and think of its force when it is addressed to the subjects of Isabella the Second. Queen Isabella is, unhappily, the ally of this country; and I cannot therefore call upon the noble Lord to do more than to use the weight of his great influence, and to remonstrate against such atrocities. But the important point is, that it is high time, before another day passes, that that influence should be used to prevent the recurrence of such barbarities. For there is but one thing that prevents the Spanish nation themselves from taking the vengeance which these barbarities would almost justify, and that is, the forbearance of the great majority of the people, who are devoted to him whom they believe to be their legitimate King, and, who, in obedience to his commands, refuse to retort by reprisals. To prove this I will read, not a proclamation, but a circular, dated London, 10th March, addressed by the Conde de Montemolin to his friends in Spain. The former proclamation which I have read is dated on the 4th of March, and did not appear in the London papers until the 17th. The Conde do Montemolin did not, therefore, know of the proclamation of the 10th; but having heard of the intention of the Government of the Queen to renew those barbarities, he thought it right to make public the following manifesto:— It has been brought to the knowledge of his Majesty, that the Government of Madrid proposes to adopt towards those who so heroically defend his just rights measures of extreme rigour, and even of atrocity, to oblige his friends, by such means, to imitate, in reprisals, the brutal conduct of their adversaries, and so to bring discredit on his Majesty's cause. Envious of the praiseworthy conduct of those chiefs who have hastened to anticipate the campaign, they fear, and not without reason, the effects and the adhesions which, not only among the mass of the population, but even among their own troops, are produced by such perfect order and admirable moderation. Such effects, when resulting from such causes, his Majesty desires not to forego, even should they involve on his part the greatest sacrifices. I am therefore commanded by his Majesty to impress upon you, that, be the conduct of the enemy what it may, you must on no account whatsoever make any reprisals. To all the atrocities which the enemy may commit, you must oppose only that steady discipline, order, moderation, and conciliation, winch his Majesty has so often and so anxiously recommended, in order that the guilt and opprobrium of the hateful acts which they only perpetrate may weigh upon themselves alone; and that Spain and Europe, judging strictly by the facts, may fix the responsibility on those to whom it truly belongs. In this manner you will augment your ranks; you will merit the approbation of the people whose guardians and protectors you will be; and the enemy, far from finding assistance and succour, will encounter only disgrace and defeat. His Majesty's desire is, that his arms may shine with the lustre of true valour, which is never separated from virtue and humanity, and that they should be employed against no enemies except those who oppose resistance in the open field of battle. God preserve your Excellency many years, &c. By royal order, (A true copy.) (Signed) "MON. London, March 10, 1847. I do not ask the noble Lord to become a partisan, or to interfere in any question of Spanish dynasties; but I wish to bring under his consideration the fact that, by the instrumentality of those gentlemen, to whose petition the noble Lord the Member for Lynn intends to call the attention of the House, and who assisted a foreign Government that they might turn to better account their idle money—that by means of English money that Government is disgracing Europe—is disgracing the name of Prince—nay, more, is even disgracing the name of woman! I allude not to that unhappy woman—to that unfortunate Princess—who is rather the victim than the agent of these enormities; but I allude to her ill-intentioned advisors, who with power derived from money which the lenders are now asking—I trust in vain asking—to be returned, have sacrificed their own honour, and the honour of their country, to their ambition, cruelty, and lust. My business is to ask the noble Lord to speak effectively; to say to this tide of horrid barbarity, "Hitherto hast thou come, but thy dark waves shall proceed no further." This it is in the power of the noble Lord to do. I doubt not that he will be willing to exert his power. It was my wish to have entered into the full merits of this question; but the Orders of the House forbid me, and I must rest contented with this brief and inadequate statement. I must not ask the permission of the House to read any other documents of the Conde de Montemolin; but if it be said that the circular I have read was written in London, and was dictated by the Conde de Montemolin at a time when an opposition to such barbarities would be sure to excite popularity, I hold in my hand his original proclamation—issued at that memorable time when his illustrious Father had just signed the abdication of all his rights. It breathes the very same sentiments:— Spaniards—The new position in which I am placed by the renunciation of his rights to the Crown of Spain made in my favour by my august Father, imposes upon me the duty of addressing you. But do not believe that I am about to cast amongst you a torch of discord. Enough of tears and of blood. My heart is oppressed by the bare remembrance of past calamities, and shrinks from the very idea of their recurrence. The events of former years may not unnaturally have left on some minds the impression that I am animated by the desire of avenging past injuries. My breast can harbour no such sentiments. If Divine Providence shall be pleased to open to me once again the portals of my country, I shall know no parties—I shall recognise only Spaniards. In the fluctuations of the revolution, eventful changes have taken place in the social and political organization of Spain; some of these, undoubtedly, both as a Prince and a Spaniard, I could not but deplore. But they are deceived who imagine me ignorant of the true situation of affairs, and desirous of attempting what is impossible. I know well, on the contrary, that the best means of avoiding the repetition of revolutions, is neither to attempt the destruction of all which they have created, nor yet the re-establishment of all which they have destroyed. Justice, without violence, reparation without reaction; the prudent and equitable adjustment of all interests; to profit by all the good which our forefathers have left us, without opposing the spirit of the times, as far as it contains what is salutary—this is my policy. There is in the royal family a question which sprung up at the end of the reign of my august uncle Ferdinand VII. (may he rest in peace!) and which provoked the civil war. I cannot forget the dignity of my birth nor the interests of my august family; but I at once assure you, Spaniards, that the fault will not be mine if this division is not terminated for ever. There is no sacrifice compatible with my conscience and my honour to which I am not ready to submit, if by such means I may put an end to civil discords, and accelerate the reconciliation of the royal family. If Heaven should vouchsafe to me the happiness to tread again the soil of my country, I shall desire no other shield than your loyalty and your love. I desire nothing more than to devote my life to the obliteration of every trace of past discords, and to the establishment among you of union, prosperity, and happiness. This will not be difficult for me if, as I hope, you will aid my earnest desires by endeavours worthy of your national character, by your love and reverence for the holy religion of our fathers, and with that magnanimity which rendered you so prodigal of life whenever it could be no longer preserved with honour. (Signed) "CARLOS LOUIS. Bourges, 23rd May, 1845. Fourteen years experience proves the truth of that with which I set out. From year to year, and from month to month, these facts have returned. There has been no single exception. No Minister has been an exception. Europe has been startled, and Spain has been degraded, by horrors the most atrocious and revolting. I deprecate those horrors, and I am sure the noble Lord will deprecate them as loudly as I do. It might be tempting to me to recur to former Parliaments and other years, in the course of which predictions were made by me, which at least do not exceed the truth. But in such triumphs of foresight or of opinion I have no pleasure—I take no pride. I only wish that the noble Lord, seeing the character of the two proclamations, "looking on this picture and on this," without taking any dynastic part in the affairs of Spain, would pronounce a voice in favour of justice, humanity, and truth. For even with the devoted loyalty, love, and affection towards him whom they believe and know to be their righteous Sovereign, it will be impossible for his endeavours to restrain the Spanish nation long from that vengeance which is natural when they see their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, butchered for no crime except it is adhesion to the interests of their country. The question which I have to put to the noble Lord is, whether the Government of Great Britain have addressed any remonstrance to the Government of Spain in consequence of this proclamation of General Breton; and if so, whether the noble Lord will have any objection to lay it upon the Table? If it is said that the author of that proclamation has been recalled—if the noble Lord refers to the Barcellonaise—a Barcelona paper—of the 15th of March, and to the Clamor Publico, published in Madrid on the 18th, he will find that the successor of General Breton has confirmed all the provisions of that detestable proclamation.


Sir, in giving an answer to the questions of the hon. Member, I beg to state that I have no official knowledge whatever of the proclamation which he has brought under the notice of the House. Indeed, the first knowledge that I had of such a proclamation being issued was from the hon. Gentleman himself, who had the goodness to send me an extract from a newspaper containing it. Of course no steps have been taken by Her Majesty's Government on the subject: but if the hon. Gentleman or the House wishes to know the sentiments of the Government with regard to the order which he has read, I think that every Member present need only consult his own opinions in order to know the disapprobation, disgust, and indignation, which such a barbarous proclamation as that inspires in the mind of every Member of Her Majesty's Government. The hon. Member has read a document in contrast with it, which, no doubt, is highly honourable to the Prince whom he considers best entitled to the throne of Spain. And as far as moderation and the humane principles contained in that proclamation which he has read are concerned, it certainly contrasts strongly with the savage tone and intention of the proclamation of General Breton. As the hon. Gentleman said, General Breton is no longer in the office which he held when he issued this proclamation; but I was not aware that General Pavia, his successor, had adopted it. As far as any influence of the British Government can go, the hon. Member may rest assured that our object has always been, in any advice which we felt ourselves competent to give to the Spanish Government, to impress upon them the necessity of acting upon a humane and not a barbarous policy; and that any advice we may give will be actuated by that sense alone. At the same time, when we are considering, as the hon. Member has called upon the House to consider, where the greatest degree of blame and censure should be cast for this sort of atrocious practices, it is right the House should bear in mind that these practices are not of such recent date. It is impossible for the House to have forgotten the Durango decree. Although the hon. Member has wished to represent that these atrocities were committed entirely by the troops serving upon the side of the Queen, in point of fact they have been committed by both sides, only with this difference, that whilst Don Carlos was in Spain, there was nothing corresponding to them on the part of the officers of the Queen. But, Sir, it was not only at that period that the barbarous practice of shooting prisoners was adopted, because in the days of Ferdinand, according to the absolutist doctrines, which are no longer professed by that party, it was adopted. With regard to the question of the hon. Gentleman, it would, in my opinion, be extremely irregular to enter into a discussion upon the subject which it involves. I have only to express my admiration of the general tone of moderation in which the circular or proclamation he has read is couched; but I cannot, at the same time, refrain from expressing my regret at some expressions and at some indications contained in that document. That circular or proclamation talks of "ranks" and "arms," of "the open field of battle," and of "the enemy;" I those expressions are indications that the person by whom the proclamation is issued means again to render his native land a scene of that discord which the hon. Member says he wishes to prevent. That proclamation seems to me, if it mean anything, to mean this, that we are to expect Spain again to be the theatre of civil war; originating from, and carried on by, the adherents of that party of which that Prince is the chief. Sir, I should be most sorry, indeed, if such a result were to take place; and I must say, that, judging from the conduct which that Spanish Prince has pursued since he has been prominently before the public eye, if this course be pursued by his friends, and if through the partisans of his family Spain is again made the scene of a bloody civil war—I should say, judging from what has been seen of the character and conduct of that Prince—such a course would not meet his approbation or his sanction; and I should hope any person in this country who may have the means of giving advice to that illustrious individual would use their influence with him to induce him to restrain his followers, and prevent Spain from being again exposed to those calamities which have resulted to it during former civil wars.


participated in the wish expressed by the noble Lord that Spain should not again be the theatre of a civil war, and did not wish to impute to the hon. Member who had introduced the subject any intention of promoting such a design. But it was due to his own character not to sit silent when he heard general remarks, even incidentally, from the noble Lord, which might seem to impute indiscriminate conduct of the kind he had condemned to all those who bore arms during the last civil war. He arrived in Spain immediately after the Elliot Convention, and he continued to serve there during the whole period of his engagement—namely, two years. With regard to the observations thrown out by the noble Lord, as if both parties had been equally criminal, he was bound to say, and he could state it upon his honour, that to his knowlege not one of the general officers serving under the Queen, who were in co-operation with him, were otherwise than most anxious, throughout the whole of those two years, to carry the Elliot Convention into effect. From private conversations with the officers themselves, and from his own personal knowledge—for he was aware of their actions—he repeated, he did not believe that any one of the Spanish gene- rals serving Her Majesty Queen Isabella had violated that convention during the whole time he served with them. With reference to himself, it was notorious that he had not only observed the treaty, but by observing it he even suffered murders and assassinations—for they were nothing else—to be committed upon our fellow-subjects, in direct violation of the convention. It was, therefore, rather extraordinary to hear the representatives of a fallen dynasty—for it was fallen—plume themselves upon their peculiar humanity. He did not mean to deny that great outrages had been committed by both parties during some periods of the civil war; but as to that in the Basque provinces, whilst he was there, he could bear testimony that the general officers of the Queen were anxious to humanize it, and they had not in the slightest degree subjected themselves to reproach. As to his own conduct, in consequence of the Durango decree, he was sorry to say, that, not having been sufficiently discountenanced as it should have been by either Government—for he always thought both the Spanish and the English Governments should have stepped in and protected British subjects from such barbarous treatment—he, as an individual, could not take upon himself the responsibility of avenging the cruel punishments inflicted under it, seeing that he was supported by neither Government. He was, therefore, obliged to conduct his operations with more caution, so as to protect the lives of the officers and men under his command, and to see that they did not undertake any operations which might expose them to the danger of falling into the enemy's hands. The consequence was, that in the two years, during which he was being constantly denounced in that House, not one detachment, not so much as a sergeant's guard, were taken prisoners from his troops. But some individuals, by falling back from the column, were caught hold of or kidnapped: they numbered about forty during the two years, and they were murdered in a cruel and cowardly manner, under the authority of those officers who were now ready to hoist the standard of the Count de Montemolin in Spain. He repeated once more, that it was too much for these gentlemen to plume themselves now upon their humane mode of conducting their part of the civil war in that country. And what had been the eventual result of his proceedings? Why, that he had himself one ground of vindication which was to him a matter of the highest satis- faction. On one occasion he took 1,000 prisoners and 100 officers. He had these men in his hands, with the full power of putting every one of them to death, in retaliation for the atrocities upon the other side; but he did not use his power. The consequence was, those officers addressed a letter to Don Carlos, deploring the atrocities to which they had previously been parties towards some of his (Sir De Lacy Evans's) men; beseeching Don Carlos to change the conduct which he had adopted during the war, and to treat in future the prisoners who would fall into his hands with humanity. He said, then, that in this letter to Don Carlos, which was afterwards applauded by his most violent opponents, he had his vindication and satisfaction. But he would go further. After he left Spain, what had been the effect of this address — an address which surely ought to have produced some change in the counsels of Don Carlos? Why, that a hundred men, who had re-enlisted in the Spanish army after he had left the country, were taken prisoners, and every one put to death. This was his vindication; and it was his answer to the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the subject.


said, when the gallant Gentleman, an English officer, took credit to himself for not causing 1,000 soldiers and 100 officers to be put to death in cold blood, he should recollect that the troops thus spared had been taken prisoners while fighting for what they believed the claims of their rightful Sovereign, and the true interests of their native country; while the troops the gallant Gentleman had commanded were engaged in an unscrupulous and unprincipled invasion, and were fighting in a cause in which they had no legitimate interest or concern. With pleasure he turned from the gallant Gentleman to the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston), and he trusted that the tone and spirit the noble Lord had exhibited would be imitated. With reference to the illustrious Prince alluded to by the noble Lord, he believed that everything that had fallen from the noble Lord would be received by the Prince with respect and deference. He trusted that what had fallen from the noble Lord would have the effect of inducing the officers of the Queen of Spain to act upon principles more humane than those expressed in the proclamation referred to as recently issued, and that there would be, not only in Spain, but throughout Europe, one feeling of horror and detestation against any set of men, or any Government, perpetrating such monstrosities.


wished to ask the noble Lord, whether it was according to the true construction of international laws, that a proclamation denouncing civil war in a foreign country, should be permitted to be put forth by a person who was at the time receiving the hospitality of this country?


wished to explain. He thought he had very cautiously guarded himself in every word he said against any possible allusion, however remote, to the conduct of either the one side or the other in the late civil war in Spain. He had not one word of blame to cast upon the gallant Officer; and those who remembered what passed during the absence in Spain of the gallant Officer, would acquit him of ever having said one word inconsistent with the respect for the gallant Officer which he had always entertained for him. He did not say one syllabic against the gallant Officer or any one else. He meant himself to say that the observations to which he had given utterance, referred to the conduct of the Count de Montemolin and the present state of Spain, and that the proclamation which he read to the House had been misconstrued by the gallant Officer. He would leave the noble Lord to answer the gallant Officer as he thought proper; but he (Mr. Borthwick) must explain that the proclamation which he read did not threaten to make war, but, on the contrary, forbade the partisans of the Count de Montemolin in Spain from making any reprisals when war was made on them.


said, that in answer to his gallant Friend he would state, that it would be a great abuse of the hospitality which this country afforded to all foreigners, whatever might be their rank or title, who chose to reside here, to issue proclamations or publications intending to excite war in friendly foreign States.

Subject dropped.