HC Deb 08 July 1918 vol 108 cc61-6
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Their Majesties to congratulate Them on the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Their Wedding, and to assure Their Majesties that this House, deeply interested in the personal well-being of the Sovereign and warmly appreciating Their Majesties' unfailing devotion to duty in this time of stress, profoundly shares the sentiments of loyal affection with which Their peoples throughout the world welcome the Anniversary of so felicitous a union; and joins with them in praying earnestly for the continuance during many years of Their Majesties' health and happiness. In moving that address, I feel that I am expressing the unanimous sentiment of the House of Commons and of the whole of the people whom we represent. Even in these grave times, we should not be representing the people of this country were we not to lay aside for a few minutes our preoccupation with grimmer events, in order to offer a loyal tribute of felicitation to Their Majesties on their silver wedding. We have used in this Motion the time-honoured phraseology that the House is "deeply interested in the personal well-being of the Sovereign." But that is no mere phrase.

In a country possessing monarchical institutions, the success or failure of a royal marriage constitutes a matter not merely of national interest, but of deep national concern, because it is a fact which exercises a subtle and a permeating influence beyond measure on the life of the nation as a whole. Sovereigns govern the lives of their subjects less by edict than by example, and the King and Queen of this Realm—by the beauty, the simplicity, and the purity of their home life, by the kindliness and sympathy which they have invariably displayed towards all their subjects, by their unwearying devotion to all that duty exacts, have wielded an influence that cannot be assessed on the character of the hundreds of millions of the Empire who instinctively look up to the Throne for their pattern. For that reason, were it for no other, the success of the marriage whose twenty-fifth anniversary we have been celebrating, the happiness of the royal home which that marriage consecrated, are gladdening facts which constitute a matter for congratulation and for rejoicing throughout the whole of the King's Dominions.

No King was ever called upon to face graver issues or more shattering events. For generations the Empire had enjoyed a peace and a tranquillity unbroken except by incidents which barely disturbed the surface of the national current. Soon after the King ascended the Throne, there were signs of a coming storm. The Agadir episode was the first cloud that heralded the approaching break in the weather. At last the tempest burst in all its fury, and for four years the world has been devastated by the greatest hurricane that ever swept over the surface of the globe. There are no signs for the moment of it abating. The King has faced it all with the calmness of one trained in youth to encounter stormy seas.

Those who, of all parties, have been privileged to serve as his Ministers during these four years can best testify to his undaunted courage under the most dismaying conditions—how in hours of arduous anxiety he has watched all the vicissitudes of this terrible conflict, and fulfilled in every sphere of counsel and action all the functions of a constitutional monarch in the hour of his country's peril. His constant thought for those who, on land and sea, are undergoing endless dangers for their country, his solicitude and that of the Queen for those who are suffering pain for their native land, their tenderness for those who are bearing the more poignant and enduring pangs of grief—all these have sunk deep into the hearts of the people, who will never forget.

I feel, as one who has had a good deal to do with the munitions of this country, that I ought also to dwell for a moment on the help which the King gave by his visits to the yards and factories and workshops of the country, where men and women have been toiling hard to equip the nation's Armies and the nation's Navies for this great struggle. Wherever they went, they encouraged and inspired those who toiled, and when perplexities and misunderstandings threatened to weaken the arm of Britain, when all her might was needed, the King's and the Queen's presence invariably helped to smooth the difficulties.

They went there not merely to persuade and to encourage, but also to inquire. They helped to remove causes of irritation.

4.0 P.M.

In all these tasks the Queen has been the support and partner of our Sovereign. Truest and wisest of mothers in her home, she has displayed the same motherly care for the people over whom the King reigns. All this has strengthened the monarchy in times when systems of government have been put to the severest, sternest and most searching trial that the world has ever known. When thrones were tottering—some ancient thrones—when monarchs have been deprived of their sceptres in other lands, Britain's Throne became more firmly established than ever on the only foundation which is lasting—the affection and good will of the people. No King and Queen ever won a more sure place in the regard and loyalty of all classes of their subjects. The War, which has severed so many ties, has only strengthened the bonds which unite the Sovereign and his people.

At a crisis in our fate, when the integrity of the Empire means more to civilisation than it has ever done in our past history, the position won by the occupants of the Throne in the minds of the people of the Empire is a matter of Imperial moment. The stability of the Throne is essential to the strength of the Empire, for it is not only a symbol of unity, it is in itself a bond of unity. It is, therefore, no mere traditional tribute of loyalty, but a heartfelt and spontaneous expression of a people's affection, esteem and good will which greets this anniversary of Their Majesties' wedding. We rejoice they have been given a wedded life of such unbroken prosperity. We rejoice they have been able to see their children grow up—all their children grow up—to bear a share in the national life. We pray that they may long continue to guide the destinies of this Empire, and, above all, we devoutly pray that a new lustre may be added to their felicity by the crowning, at no distant date, of the dark affliction and the great sacrifice of their people by a complete triumph that shall banish war and all its horrors from their horizon for ever and for ever.


I believe I am addressing few, if any, of those who were present twenty-five years ago at the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York, which I had the honour to attend in the capacity of Home Secretary to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. It does not seem to be a remote date as dates are counted in history, but it would be impossible to recall the names of some of those who were there without giving striking illustrations of the changes which in only a few years have been brought about by the march of time and by the mutability of human fortune. Happily, in one, and that I feel the most important, aspect, we can look back to that memorable ceremony with unmeasured and unchequered satisfaction. The hopes that were felt, the prayers that were breathed, that a union so momentous to so many millions of people might be crowned with both personal and national blessings—those hopes have been more than realised, those prayers have been fully and abundantly answered.

One may say with confidence, and without a tinge of overstatement, that in the annals of our own, or, indeed, of any Royal House, there has been no instance of an apter and completer blending of all the qualities and conditions which make up domestic happiness. Theirs has been, as my right hon. Friend justly said, from the first, as it is to-day, an ideal English home, and their children, united in affection to their parents and to one another, as they grow up are showing one after another a determination to follow in the path of public duty the high example which has been set by their eldest brother, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

Their Majesties' married life was just entering, I think, upon its seventeenth year when, by the lamented death of King Edward VII., they were suddenly called to the highest place in the Empire. That was a long apprenticeship, but its years had not been wasted in frivolity or idleness. It happened that when King George succeeded to the Throne I was at the head of the Government, and I continued to hold that position for nearly the whole of the first seven years of his eventful reign. No one, therefore, has had better opportunities of seeing at close quarters and of knowing at first hand the part which the King and his Consort have played during a series of varied and testing phases in the unfolding of our national history. If there be any people who are disposed to think that, apart from social and ceremonial duties, the function of a constitutional sovereign is that of a benevolent cypher or detached looker-on, I can assure them they know very little of the truth.

This is not an occasion on which it would be appropriate to define or defend the office of the monarchy in a democratic ago and country. What concerns us to-day are not the abstract merits or the practical utility of the institution, but the manner in which it has been worked, in times of almost unexampled difficulty, by our present King and Queen. The earlier years of their reign—I am speaking now of the epoch before the War—had more than their share of troubled and anxious times. But through them all, as I can testify, the King, with the ever-ready sympathy and co-operation of Her Majesty, never lost head, or heart, or nerve, always leaned towards policies of reconciliation and appeasement, diligently thought out day by day the problems whether of his own duty or of the nation's need; showed unfailing consideration for those who had the privilege to servo him; and, when he had accepted the final counsels of his constitutional advisers, adopted and acted on them with whole-hearted sympathy.

It is four years ago this month since the King, with the object, if possible, of surmounting the most formidable of all our domestic difficulties brought together—unhappily without result—the Buckingham Palace Conference. The black clouds to which my right hon. Friend referred were already gathering on the international horizon. The first pre-occupation of the King, as of his Ministers, and as long as it could be done without breach of our national honour, was to avert the unimaginable calamities of European War. When the full history of the closing days of July, 1914, is unveiled it will be known—till then it cannot be known—with what unwearying tact and assiduity His Majesty strove for peace. But it was not to be; and, even with the incomplete evidence that has yet been given to the world, there is no longer any question at whose door lies the guilty responsibility for this War.

There was a saying in the ancient world that "it is rule which tests the real quality of a man." Let me add to that, it is the experience of war, and of such a war as this that tests the real quality of a Democratic King. Few who have not seen it at first hand can realise the gravity of the burden which, from the first day of the War, has lain on the shoulders of the King and Queen, or the extent to which they have voluntarily added to its weight by countless self-imposed tasks, duties, and cares. They have earned for themselves by the worthiest of all titles—a title which no pedigree can confer—by their daily share in the efforts, the sufferings, the sacrifices of their subjects, an impregnable place in the hearts of the people and an undying memory in its annals. It is fitting that this House should offer, as it is about to do to-day, a tribute of its gratitude and affection to their Majesties, and a heartfelt hope that their reign may be prolonged to witness the garnered fruits of an honourable peace.

Question put, and agreed to, nemine contradicente.

Address to be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.