HL Deb 01 May 1809 vol 14 cc278-90
The Earl of Buckinghamshire

said, that it was with reluctance he had given their lordships the trouble of an attendance on account of the motion he intended upon that occasion to submit to the house, but in truth, he considered the subject of Portugal so important, not only with reference to the arduous contest in which the people of the peninsula were engaged against the French, but to the essential and permanent interest of Great Britain, that he should neglect what he deemed an act of indispensable duty, were he not to bring the question, of which he had given notice, under their lordships' consideration.—He thought it necessary, as a preliminary observation, to declare his perfect acquiescence in the sentiments of a noble friend of his (lord Sidmouth), respecting the doctrines laid down upon a former occasion by the Secretary of State (lord Liverpool) with regard to the production of papers, and the right of the house to interfere in matters of pending negotiation. To the principles advanced by the Secretary of State, he never could agree in the extent to which he was disposed to carry them, inasmuch as they seemed to him calculated to circumscribe and limit the most important duties of parliament.—Upon the present occasion it was not necessary that he should take up their lordships' time by combating them, as he was not aware that the papers for which it was his intention to move, would be objected to, upon any other ground than the inexpediency of producing them.—Lord Buckinghamshire then proceeded to make some observations upon the geographical situation of Portugal, its capability, from the strength of its military positions, to resist an invading enemy, and the disposition of the Portuguese people for the profession of a soldier. Portugal, he said, was so situated as to afford the readiest means of assistance to the Spaniards, either in the centre, the north, or the south of Spain; an advantage, in the present contest, the most momentous that could be conceived; and which was truly described by the Junta of Gallicia, when "they expressed to sir Arthur Wellesley the greatest anxiety, that the troops under his command should be employed in driving the French out of Portugal, as they were persuaded that the Spaniards of the north and south of the peninsula could never have any decided success independently of each other, and could never make any great simultaneous effort to remove the French from Spain, till they should be driven from Portugal, and the British troops should connect the operations of the northern and southern armies."—The success of the Spaniards, his lordship remarked, might thus be improved, and any reverses the French might meet with rendered fatal by a sudden and judicious movement of the British troops.—The strength of Portugal, he said, as a military position, was not only known to the professional men who had served in that country, but must be obvious to every one who had referred to the maps. Its defiles, its mountains, and its rivers, were most conspicuous features; which, added to the sterility of the soil in most of the provinces, were circumstances of infinite weight in a defensive campaign. A country that does not furnish subsistence to its inhabitants for seven months in the year, may easily be placed in a situation that would leave nothing for an invading army to live upon.—Without going further back into the history of Portugal than the seven year's war, the campaign under the comte de la Lippe will afford ample information as to the natural means of defence afforded by Portugal. That able general found the Portuguese army without discipline and without any officers of experience to form or conduct it; but the spirit of the people was roused, the confidence placed in him by the government was unlimited, the resolution to exertion most decided, and although he never was able to bring into the field an army of 17,000 men, 3,000 of whom indeed were British, contrived to baffle all the efforts, and defeat the plans of a combined force of 42,000 men, 6,OOO of whom were French, under the command of the prince de Beauvais.—As testimonies of the hardihood, obedience, and bravery of the Portuguese soldiers, his lordship then cited the following instances—Lord Townsend, in a letter to the marquis de Pombal, of the 17th Feb 1763, writes thus: "Notwithstanding all these fatigues and difficulties, the Portuguese soldier obeyed with the greatest cheerfulness; and I ought to add to his praise, that if he was ill clothed and ill disciplined, he was at the same time contented and subordinate beyond any thing I had ever seen in any part of the world. What advantages might not one expect from such a disposition improved by military art?"—Le Comte de la Lippe, in his memoire, speaking of a march made by lord Townsend, says: "This march was executed by the skill of general Townsend, and by the admirable perseverance of the Portuguese troops, who supported the greatest misery. The larger proportion of them having worn out their shoes; marched gaiment over steep rocks, leaving on their route the traces of their pieds ensanglantes." A French author, the Due de Chatelet, speaking of Portugal, expresses himself in the following manner: "The inhabitants whereof are naturally spirited, and in whom valour has escaped that torpor (engourdissment) which has nearly taken possession of all their other faculties."—Lord Buckinghamshire said, he had adverted to these authorities for the purpose of shewing what might have been done, had the proper measure been resorted to, for calling into action the resources which Portugal was calculated to afford; and, whilst he contemplated with satisfaction the steps which the government were then taking, he had only to express his hope, that they might not be too late.—He could not leave this part of the subject without stating to their lordships that he had seen a most able plan of an attack upon Portugal from Spain, written by a Frenchman in the year 1767, when calculating the Portuguese army at 30,000 men, he allots a force of 75,000 for the attack, judiciously tracing the whole progress of the campaign, the preparation for which, he says, must be made before the breaking out of war, as it would be indispensably necessary to collect provisions for the whole army, urging as a consideration nearly conclusive upon the success of the undertaking, that it should be executed with a rapidity that did not admit of the arrival of British succours. If such was the opinion of a person whose work no man could read without the most thorough conviction of his capacity to form a correct opinion upon the subject—if an attack upon Portugal in order to be effectual, required such preparation, and such means, and that at a time when the Spanish government was undisturbed, when the attacking army was to be aided by a friendly country in its rear, and had consequently no precaution to take for the security of retreat in case of failure, to what degree would not the difficulties be increased by the actual state of Spain at the present moment?—His lordship said, he stated this in order to justify an opinion he had long entertained, that if the resources of Portugal had been wisely applied, the spirit of the people encouraged, a government established that was calculated to inspire their confidence, and an army, such as sir John Moore had commanded, sent for their protection, not only would that country have been rendered impregnable against any efforts the French could have made under the present circumstances, but the foundation laid of affording the most effectual support to the Spaniards which could be derived from external co-operation.—If, in the month of August, a blow could have been struck at the French army upon the Ebro, much might have been done to have prevented the disasters of the last campaign; but as his majesty's ministers had not judged it advisable to adopt that measure, Portugal was the point to which every national hope was directed, and where, indeed, advantages did actually present themselves of a nature so important and so evident, that it is utterly inconceivable how they should have escaped the notice of his majesty's ministers.—His lordship said, he should then proceed to that part of his subject which embraced the conduct which had been pursued in Portugal, founded upon the events that had taken place in that country.—It had appeared in papers before the house, that previous to the arrival of sir Arthur Wellesley with the force under his command, the disposition of the people of Portugal to resist the French, had been manifested in the most unquestionable manner. Sir Arthur Wellesley, speaking of the situation in which he found that country, says, "In respect to Portugal, the whole kingdom, with the exception of the neighbourhood of Lisbon, is in a state of insurrection against the French. The means of resistance are, however, less powerful than those of the Spaniards. Their troops had been completely dispersed, the officers had gone off to the Brazils, and their arsenals pillaged, or in the power of the enemy; and their revolt under the circumstances in winch it has taken place more extraordinary than that of the Spanish nation." To these exertions they had been urged not only by their own feelings, but by the proclamation of sir Charles Cotton, dated the 4th of July, 1808, who thus addressed them:—"Some months experience must convince you of the effect of French friendship. It is now to British faith and assistance, aided by your own energy and efforts, that you will, I trust, be indebted for the restoration of your prince, and independence of your country." Thus called upon, such was the attachment of the Portuguese people to their prince, such was their sense of the oppression they were suffering from the French, and such was their reliance "on British faith and assistance," that in the month of July the provinces of Entre-Minho-y-Douro, Beira, and Tra-los-Montes, as well as Algarva, comprehending more than hall the population of Portugal, were in a state of insurrection against the existing government. This was the situation of things when sir Arthur Wellesley landed, and which enabled him, with a force not otherwise equal to the attempt, to move forward for the purpose of meeting the enemy in the vicinity of Lisbon. The insurrection in Algarva had obliged Junot to detach six thousand men under Loisson, in order to collect provisions and disperse the Portuguese force; but sir Arthur Wellesley, with that promptitude and vigour for which his military life has been distinguished, attacked and defeated that officer at Roleia, before he could form his junction with Laborde, who was employed for similar purposes in the province of Beira. His lordship said it would be difficult to estimate the advantages the British army derived from the actual state of the country. Its effect, in the instance already given, has been shown; the organization in the neighbourhood of Oporto had amounted, by official report, to above 25,000 men, a part of whom were armed and acting with sir Arthur Wellesley: but his lordship observed, it was not his intention to go into the history of the campaign. He should however have no difficulty in explicitly declaring that he wholly approved of every thing sir Arthur Wellesley had done, whilst he had the command, but that he could neither concur in the expediency of the armistice or convention. These measures were adopted under the contemplation of a campaign in the north of Spain, and taking Burgos as the point to which the march of the British army was to be directed, it would appear singular that an agreement should have been made with the French general, by which it had been so contrived, that the forces he then commanded, and which had been defeated by the British, should have been embarked for France, and actually have reached Burgos many days before the conquering army could have arrived there, even if it had met with no interruption on its march.—It was proved, his lordship said, by the papers on the table, that general Junot was at Vittoria with the division which had served under him in Portugal on the 12th of December, the earliest day on which sir John Moore could assemble his army at Salamanca; volumes could not more fully illustrate the impolicy of the convention. Were it necessary to go further into that subject, lord Buckinghamshire said it would be sufficient to refer their lordships to the unanswerable reasoning of the Earl of Moira in his protest against the opinions of the majority of the Court of Inquiry.—It would be recollected, his lordship proceeded to observe, that in the month of July official representations had been made to his majesty's government, that the people of the north and south of Portugal, having followed the example of the Spanish nation, had established juntas. That of the north having been designated the Junta of Oporto, acknowledging the bishop of Oporto as the head of the government; and that of the south the Junta of Algarva, with the count Monteiro Mor as their president. With the knowledge of the existence of these juntas, when the expulsion of the French army from Portugal might confidently be expected, it became the duty of his majesty's ministers to consider in what manner it would be most advisable to form a provisional go- vernment in that country, until, the subject could be submitted for the decision of the prince regent; and with a view to such an arrangement as would appear most likely to be satisfactory both to the prince and the people. The knowledge of the opinions of the representative of the prince regent, who was in correspondence with him and the juntas, did seem to present the most easy and natural course for arriving at a right determination. Unfortunately however a measure had been resolved upon, to which it was known that the representative of the prince regent could not give his sanction. It was matter of notoriety that the whole of the regency left by the prince for the purpose of preserving his interests, and those of his faithful and loyal subjects who had accompanied him to the Brazils, had betrayed their trust in a variety of instances; amongst others in giving effect to a decree for confiscating the property of absentees from Portugal, and issuing a circular letter to the ministers of the prince regent at the several courts of Europe, directing them to discontinue their diplomatic functions. With such information respecting the conduct of the regency, it was not possible the Portuguese minister in London could sanction the appointment of any of the persons composing it, as a part of a provisional government; and as the circumstances alluded to were known to every merchant connected with Portugal, his majesty's ministers cannot be supposed to have been ignorant upon the subject. It has, indeed, been admitted by his majesty's ministers that instructions were issued to sir Hew Dalrymple to reinstate the regency; and although he excluded three out of the five obnoxious persons, yet as the remaining two were actually included, it was not surprizing that when the people saw the whole power of the government vested in those persons, that they should be alarmed and disgusted (as neither the bishop of Oporto, nor the count Monteiro Mor would act with them). Indeed, his lordship said, the conduct of this regency, immediately upon their appointment, was such as could not fail to excite suspicion and distrust. It was perfectly well known that one of the chief defects in the Portuguese army was the inadequacy of its establishment in point of pay. In order to remedy that defect, the Junta of Oporto, by an ordinance promulgated for that purpose, had raised the pay of the infantry soldiers to five pence per day. The effect of this judicious measure was, that, in less than one month after its adoption, upwards of twenty thousand men were enrolled under the orders of that Junta, and were fast approaching to a state of discipline that would soon have rendered them fit for the discharge of any duties they might be called upon to perform. The first act of the newly appointed regency was to rescind this ordinance, and the consequences of it were desertion to a very great extent, and a degree of insubordination amongst the troops and the people, that nothing but the personal influence which the bishop still retained, could have prevented from producing the most fatal effects; and although by his exertions tranquillity was restored, the zeal of the people was damped, the seeds of distrust and suspicion were disseminated, all hope of confidence in the government was destroyed, and whilst the means by which they had expected to have been able to defend themselves against the French were thus interrupted, they saw that "British aid and assistance," upon which they had been called upon by sir Charles Cotton to rely, withdrawn from them, and their country left exposed to the return of the French, if it should suit the purposes of Buonaparté to repossess it. In such a state of things lord Buckinghamshire said it could not be a matter of surprise to any man, that when on the 11th of December the country was by proclamation called upon to arm, the Portuguese levies should have been found in a less forward state than at the end of July, and that all hope of effectual resistance to the French should appear to have been abandoned.—Were it necessary to adduce proof of the unfortunate state of insubordination and distrust at which the Portuguese people and army had arrived, it would be found in the murder of their general Bernardin Freise, and several other officers, upon the approach of the enemy; and the loss of Oporto, the city and seaport next in consideration and importance to that of Lisbon. Speaking of that event general Beresford in his order of the 4th of April, says, "On the 26th the enemy arrived in the vicinity of Oporto. On the 27th they made some warm attacks, which were repulsed by the intrepidity of our troops. They continued their attacks on the following day with the same success, but on the 29th, the distrust which had arisen between the people and the army causing and increasing that anarchy and confusion which it ever produces, rendered ineffectual all the endeavours of the officers, as well Portuguese as English, to direct the operations of the great force which was in the city. The enemy entered with little loss. Much as the marshal regrets the loss of this important city, he feels with more acuteness the alarming cause to which it is to be attributed. Let it be a warning to the rest of the kingdom to avoid the fatal consequence of anarchy and insubordination. The marshal hopes that the army will perceive that we ought always to distrust those who have been with the French, or their partisans, and what reports they may propagate, as they are undoubtedly paid by the enemy to promote confusion and distress, the arms of which they make the most dangerous use."—His lordship said he had drawn the attention of their lordships to these orders, for the purpose of bringing the actual situation of Portugal more immediately under their observation: a situation the more alarming, because whilst so important a conquest had been made by Marshal Soult in the north, a great army under Marshal Victor was threatening that country from the east. At such a crisis every thing might depend upon the promptitude, the judgment, and the energy of the Commander-in-chief.—Lord Buckinghamshire said he knew sir John Craddock well enough to be quite confident that nothing could abate his zeal, or check his exertions in the advancement of the public service; but at such a conjuncture, when all the faculties of the human mind were called into action, when the most splendid military talents might be unequal to the task of extricating his majesty's troops from the difficulties with which they were surrounded, it was seriously to be lamented, that the general upon whom so much depended, should act under the knowledge that he had been superseded by an officer many years his junior in the army.—That the approbation of all the measures he had pursued in Portugal, under circumstances of extreme difficulty, and his acknowledged gallantry and approved exertions in Martinique, in Ireland, and in Egypt, had not been sufficient to protect him from so severe a mortification.—His lordship said he could not avoid remarking, in this place, upon the peculiar talent the present administration possessed, by the most ingenious contrivances, so to form their military arrangements that at the most critical periods they should never have the full benefit of the abilities of the officers employed by them; for under the hourly expectation of supercession, or under the controul of a presumptuous and inconsiderate interference, the human mind was incapable of those efforts by which alone great military achievements could be accomplished. The instances of sir Arthur Wellesley, when engaged in the operations against Junot, sir John Moore in Spain, and sir John Craddock at present, his lordship said, would fully illustrate the force of his observation.—Lord Buckinghamshire then proceeded to express (as not totally unconnected with the subject under discussion,) the satisfaction he had derived from the appointment of the marquis Wellesley to the Spanish embassy.—He dwelt upon the services he had rendered the British empire in India; the manner in which he had conducted the operations of the wars that had broken out during his administration in that country; the foresight, energy, and judgment he had displayed, and whatever differences might have arisen upon other points, the universál applause and admiration with which his military measures had been distinguished.—Was he to state in one sentence what he thought of lord Wellesley, he should be inclined to say, that he eminently possessed those qualities, to the absence of which in the councils of his majesty might be ascribed the disasters of the last campaign, with the fruitless expenditure of eight millions of money and seven thousand men.—Under the contemplation of this appointment lord Buckinghamshire would venture a suggestion, from which he thought considerable advantage might be drawn by his majesty's ministers: he conceived an alteration in the provisional government of Portugal indispensably necessary; and he would earnestly recommend that powers should be vested in the marquis Wellesley, for the purpose of making those changes which could not be delayed without the most material injury, not only to the interest of that kingdom, and the cause of Spain, but in its consequences to the welfare and security of Great Britain and Ireland.—His lordship in conclusion said, he had stated that the existing government was neither acceptable to the people nor to the prince regent; of the. disapprobation of the people there could be no question. The documents for which it was his intention to move would shew the sentiments of the prince. Upon those do- cuments, if produced, it might become his duty to institute a further proceeding; for the present he should confine himself to the following motions:

"That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, that he would be graciously pleased to give directions, that the Proclamation issued by sir Hew Dalrymple on the 18th of September 1808, for the formation of a Regency in Portugal, be laid before this house.—That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, that he would be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this house, copies of any Communications from viscount Strangford, concerning the formation of the Regency in Portugal, established by sir Hew Dalrymple's Proclamation of the 18th of September 1808, and of any communications relating thereto from the Portuguese minister resident in London, or of such Representations respecting the formation of a provisional government in that country, as may have been made at any time by the same minister, in consequence of advices having been received by the prince regent, of the resistance of the people of Portugal against the usurpation of the French, and of the successful operations of his majesty's arms in that country."

The Earl of Liverpool

restated the opinion he had declared on a former evening, as to the principle which was to guide the house in calling for papers. The granting or papers in one house, was not a conclusive argument in favour of their being produced in another. He agreed fully with the noble earl, as to the capacity of the Portuguese peasant to become an excellent soldier. He was convinced of his bravery, and of the bravery of the people of every country. They only required discipline, and to be well led on to make brave soldiers. With respect to the main question, that of the formation of the Regency, there were two modes to be adopted after the French had been compelled to evacuate Portugal; either to retain a military occupancy of the country, or to reinstate the former provincial government as nearly as could be, under all the circumstances of the case. The first could not have been resorted to on account of the jealousies it was calculated to create. The latter was actually done, because it was that kind of arrangement which was presumed to be most agreeable to the government at Rio Janeiro. In the manner of forming the Regency, every attention was paid to the feelings, and even to the prejudices of the people. Of the original Regency one was in France, where he remained to this day, and two more had accepted offices under the French government, after the dissolution of the Regency. Of these three, not one was admitted into the new Regency, but the three remaining, who were not liable to the same objections, chose their new colleagues. These colleagues were persons distinguished for their patriotism and talents; the bishop of Oporto and count Monteiro Mor. In Portugal, as in other countries, intrigues and jealousies, particularly among the higher and middle orders, were known to exist, and it was impossible that any arrangement would give universal satisfaction. The inhabitants of the northern provinces, the most industrious and populous part of the country, were naturally anxious that it should become the seat of government, or that at least they should have a preponderance in the new government. The southern provinces, on the other hand, were adverse to relinquishing the superiority incidental to the capital being situated in that quarter of the kingdom. It would not have become the government of this country, considering the circumstances under which the British army entered the kingdom, to interfere or endeavour to decide between these jealousies and claims. They adopted that course which prudence, as well as delicacy and a due regard to the feelings of an ally, dictated; and they reinstated the former government as nearly as could be. He had no objection to the first of the noble earl's motions; but seeing by what it was to be followed, he must resist both. He could not consent to the production of the correspondence which had passed between his majesty's government and the Prince Regent, or his representative in this country.

Lord Sidmouth

supported the motion nearly on the same grounds as lord Buckinghamshire. He insisted that the disunion and discontent produced among the Portuguese by the complexion of the Regency had materially impeded our operations, and injured the cause of Spain as well as of Portugal. For the success of both, however, he was still disposed to hope, and his hopes were considerably strengthened by the appointment that had just taken place, of a noble marquis (Wellesley) to the embassy of Spain, for which situation, indeed for any, the highest situation, he was in every respect so eminently qualified.

Lord Harrowby

could not see the propriety of entering into this discussion at present. He thought the most expeditious mode of proceeding was that adopted by sir H. Dalrymple. It might perhaps, be thought better to summon a Cortes; but that would have been a work of time, and the circumstances of the moment required urgency. He never could have approved the conduct that seemed to be advised, that of our taking military possession of Portugal; it was our duty to re-establish a civil government under the most legitimate form.

Lord Grenville

said, as there seemed to be an indisposition to lay the papers moved for before the house, he should not trouble their lordships long on a subject, respecting which he had not the necessary information. He supported the objections of the two noble noble lords on the cross bench, (Buckinghamshire and Sidmouth,) and maintained that it was the duty of his majesty's ministers to establish a form of government more agreeable to the wishes of the people, than a Regency in which they had no confidence, but which, on the contrary, was universally suspected and distrusted.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

replied, and after some observations from lords Horrowby, Sidmouth, and Liverpool, the question was put, and the motion was negatived without a division.