HL Deb 03 June 1853 vol 127 cc1079-87

said, that he was sure no apology was necessary for bringing the subject to which the notice on the Minutes referred, before their Lordships' House; for every one who was the least acquainted with the affairs of Europe must be aware that Denmark formed one of the pivots on which the balance of power turned. That small but important kingdom performed in the north the part which the keeper of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles did in the southeast; and anything, therefore, which threatened its integrity and independence became a matter of vital importance and serious anxiety to the great European Powers. In all negotiations which during the last century had taken place on questions relating to the succession or independence of the Crown of Denmark, or of the Ducal Coronets of Schleswig and Holstein, the Ministers of both France and England had shown themselves alive to the important interests involved in the question. On each of these former occasions, the representatives of those two Powers had endeavoured to remove as far as possible the chance of dismemberment of the Danish territory, or the incorporation of any portion of it with any of the great Powers of Europe. Their labours had been directed towards securing the permanent integrity of that small kingdom; nor did he (Lord Beaumont) doubt that the same desire influenced the action of those Powers who were parties to the treaty of May 1851. The task, however, both formerly and recently, had been one of extreme difficulty, in consequence of the various forms of succession which had been established in different parts of the territory, as well as in consequence of the fact that the kingdom of Denmark was a union of what had been—and what still to a certain extent continued to be—separate and independent States. Notwithstanding, however, the difficulties which surrounded the attempt, and the complicated rights they had to deal with, he (Lord Beaumont) believed that in all negotiations touching the succession to the Danish Crown, three main objects had been invariably kept in view; and those three objects he maintained ought never to be lost sight of The first of those objects was, as he had already stated the permanent integrity of Denmark, or in other words, resistance to any attempt to separate the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein from the Crown of Denmark Proper. The second object which ought to be kept in view, but which in all former negotiations the parties interested had failed to attain, was the removal of those various anomalies which existed in the different forms of government and separate jurisdictions of different parts, both of the duchies and the kingdom. The third, and perhaps the most important object which statesmen had hitherto kept in view, and which the Government of the present day ought not to disregard, was to place as many bars as possible to the reversionary claims of Russia, by admitting as many intermediate branches of the family of Oldenburg to the succession to the crown as possible, and thus weaken the connexion and diminish the interests between St. Petersburgh and Copenhagen. It was possible that the framers of the treaty of May 1851 flattered themselves that they had successfully laboured for the accomplishment of these important objects; but he (Lord Beaumont) maintained that however excellent might have been their intentions and sincere their wishes, they had totally failed in ariving at the desired solution of the question, and rather defeated those great European interests to which he had alluded, than placed them on a firm and permanent footing. In order to understand the case, it was necessary to narrate the circumstances which rendered the succession to the Crown of Denmark so complicated, and created such difficulties in regard to the position of the Duchies. He would, therefore, in as brief and as clear a way as the case permitted, place before them the pedigree of the different branches of the Royal family, and state the laws now in operation affecting their different claims. The reigning dynasty of Denmark was a branch of the family of Oldenburg. The Crown of Denmark had been formerly elective; and the estates conferred the royal dignity on Christian I., Count of Oldenburg, in 1448. From that time forward they selected for their sovereign members of the Oldenburg family, in accordance with the principle of the law of primogeniture. This family, on the death of Frederic I., became divided into two principal lines, namely, the elder or royal line, and the younger, or Gottorp line. The elder or royal line became again subdivided into two branches on the death of Christian III.; who left two sons, from the elder of whom the present royal family of Denmark is descended, while from the younger the Duke of Sonderburg was descended. The family of the younger or Sonderburg branch, is now again subdivided into two branches, namely, the Augustenburg or elder branch, and the Glucksburg or younger branch. The existing representatives of the royal branch of Oldenburg are, therefore, the present King of Denmark, the Duke of Augustenburg's family, and thereby the Glucksburg. The Gottorp branch, or younger line, is now represented by the Emperor of Russia, the Was a family, and the ducal house of Oldenburg. Supposing the crown to be hereditary in the descendants of Frederic I., these various families would succeed in the following order. First, the King of Denmark's; next, the Augustenburg's; thirdly, the Glucksburg's; and then, failing these three, the Russian. It happened unluckily that the Crown of Denmark was held under a different title from that by which the succession to the throne of the Duchies had been established. In 1660 the estates offered to Frederic III. absolute power and leave to make the crown hereditary, in consequence of which a statute was adopted in 1665 to fix the succession, and limit the claims to the throne. This statute is known under the name of the Lex Regia, and was the present law of Denmark. That law enacted that the Crown should be hereditary in the family of Oldenburg, according to the right of primogenture; but in such a manner that the male descendants of Frederic III. should be extinct before his female descendants succeeded. That is to say, the Crown would descend in regular succession to all agnates; and on the failure of male heirs, to the cognates. Such was not the case in the Duchies. In their case, the females who would succeed under the Lex Regia were excluded. In 1460 the estates of the Duchies had elected Christian I., King of Denmark, Duke, and now claimed the right of agnate succession in the family of the founder. So that on failure of male issue in the family of the King of Denmark, the Augustenburgs would succeed; and on failing male issue in the Augustenburgs, the Glucksburgs; and, again, failing the Glucksburgs, the Got-top or Russian branch. The difference in the law of succession as between the duchies and the kingdom of Denmark Proper held out the prospect of a break-up of the present united kingdom, and tended to resolve the component parts into their original separate States. The danger of such an unfortunate result seemed to be imminent, inasmuch as the present Royal family was reduced to two males, namely, the present King and his uncle, neither of whom had, nor were likely to have, male issue. On their demise, therefore, the Crown of Denmark would, according to the principle laid down in the Lex Regia, go to the King's sisters in succession; and finally, to Frederic of Hesse, the descendant of one of them. Now, the same course of events which would confer on the Prince of Hesse the Crown of Denmark, would confirm the title of the eldest surviving male of the Augustenburgs to the throne of the Duchies. Thus the separation, which ought to be deprecated, would be effected, and the result of that separation would be so disastrous to Europe in general that the great Powers were justified in taking steps to forestall it. Now, the object which the great Powers had in view might have been accomplished by either making the succession to the throne of the Duchies accord with hereditary claims established by the law of Denmark to the Crown of Denmark, or altering the law of Denmark, so as to make the title to the Crown follow the course of succession prevailing in the Duchies. The former of these schemes would have acknowledged the cognatic line; the latter would have confined the succession to the agnatic. The parties, however, who framed the treaty of May adopted neither of these courses, but passed over altogether the senior agnatic line of Augustenburg, and the immediate cognatic claimants of Hesse, and skipped at once to the sixth child of the Duke of Glucksburg, thus cutting out nine males of the agnates, and five of the cognates. This arbitrary act endangered the future peace of the country, inasmuch as it left several pretenders to the crown who might at some future period find an opportunity of asserting their claims. In a memorandum of M. Von Usedom to the King of Prussia, dated February 4, 1851, he found this danger ably set forth. M. Von Usedom says— In attemping to break the legitimate succession in the Duchies violently and without a free renunciation on the part of those concerned, the dangerous principle of arbitrary power is installed in the place of positively existing hereditary rights. Numerous pretenders and families of pretenders will be established; the seed of future insurrections, and those insurrections in favour of legitimacy, will be liberally sown. If your Majesty should give orders to sign the London Protocol, your Majesty will sooner or later be obliged to interfere in favour of the illegitimate cause. It seemed also that Prince Metternich and M. de Canitz held the opinion, that even the proposed principle of integrity was not be preferred to the principle of legitimate succession; that is to say, that the first step to secure the integrity of the territories, should be the renunciation of claims by the parties having rights. Unfortunately the parties who have claims, and who may become hereafter pretenders to the throne, were in some instances not consulted, and in others not offered compensation for the loss of their prospective interests. It was said that the parties most immediately interested had conceded their claims, and that even the head of the Augustenburgs had renounced his pretensions; but even though the Prince of Hesse and the Duke of Augustenburg had waived their rights, their renunciation could not invalidate the claims of the other members of the elder branch of Oldenburg, who were prior in order of descent to the sixth child of Glucksburg. The danger of future contention was the first objection he (Lord Beaumont) raised to the arbitrary and violent manner in which the treaty of May broke the legitimate succession. If the selection made was a desirable one, the manner of making it was objectionable; but the selection itself was not one which could be viewed without some degree of alarm. For by it we gave strength to the influence exercised by the reversionary claims of Russia, and brought Power so much nearer to the throne of the Duchies. It was said that Russia had renounced her claims, and that the Powers had reserved the right of making further arrangements should the male issue of Prince Christian become extinct; but this was not the case, for Russia, in the Protocol of Warsaw, reserves all her rights and claims; while by the treaty it will depend on the then reigning King of Denmark what further propositions are to be made. This was the view which the Danes themselves took of the question. They disliked, it was true, the Augustenburgs, and with some reason, for the part taken by the head of that family in the war in Schleswig and Holstein was not that of a loyal Dane; but they were, notwithstanding, anxious to keep the Crown as far as possible, from the Emperor of Russia, or his descendants. The diets had, consequently, refuged to comply with the Royal message to repeal the Lex Regia. Without a new law the treaty could not be carried into force; and as the Diet refused to make the new law, the Diet had been dissolved. In fact, the difficulties of carrying the treaty out were commencing; and he (Lord Beaumont) feared that they were chiefly the results of the inconsiderate and violent manner positive legitimate claims had been dealt with. Those claims, he must acknowledge, were intricate; but he believed they might have been successfully satisfied or compromised, if the parties had been all honestly consulted and fairly heard. The object of England in this treaty was most desirable, but was not attained; the attempt to secure it was a failure, and he thought, therefore, the House was entitled to see all the correspondence and papers respecting it in order to know where injustice (if any) had been done, and to what mistake the failure might be fairly traced. He would, therefore, ask the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whether he had any objection to lay upon the table of the House the correspondence which had taken place regarding the claims of those parties who considered their rights prejudiced by the treaty of May, as well as all documents and papers touching the conduct of Russia in the transaction? He did not ask for a copy of the treaty, as that was already on the table; but he should like to have the formal renunciation (if any) of the different parties concerned.


said, he could have no objection, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to comply with the Motion, so far as the production of the treaty went; but as to the other portion of the noble Lord's question, he regretted that to one part he could not agree, and to the other he did not feel justified in giving his assent. In reference to the correspondence upon the subject of the Danish succession, upon estimating its quantity, he found that it would amount to about 4,600 folios of print, and he thought the noble Lord would agree with him in thinking that he would not be justified in laying such a mass of documents upon the table of the House in regard to a matter which must be looked upon as settled. With regard to those intermediate persons whose rights his noble Friend had described as having been arbitrarily destroyed, no protest or remonstrance had been received. from them at the Foreign Office. The only letter which he (the Earl of Clarendon) had received was one requesting to be informed whether the treaty had been signed. There was certainly some correspondence—not of an official character—which had been received by his noble Friend at the bead of the Government (the Earl of Aberdeen), and which his noble Friend had proposed to hand over to the Foreign Office. This was objected to by the writer of those letters, and hence, their character being entirely unofficial, he did not think the Government justified in producing them. He (the Earl of Clarendon) must frankly admit that he was not so conversant with all the facts of this case as the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont); but even if he were, he thought he should best consult their Lordships' convenience by not following his noble Friend through all the arguments of his learned speech upon this subject, and by refraining from entering upon the defence made by the noble Lord of the family of Schleswig Holstein, whose champion he apparently was. At the time when this treaty was made, it was impossible that Her Majesty's Government should take cognisance of all the various claims in relation to it. If in the course of the business any rights were violated, the authority under whose power those rights rested, ought to have extended its protection to them. That power was the Germanic Confederation, and two of its great Powers were parties to and signed the treaty. One word with respect to those exclusions which his noble Friend complained were made by the treaty. It was incorrect to speak of that treaty as having arbitrarily skipped over various members of the Royal family of Denmark. He (the Earl of Clarendon) begged to say that the treaty was the result of the voluntary resignation on the part of the various princes of the Hesse family in favour of the Princess Marie, so far as Denmark was concerned; while in respect of Holstein the rights of the various parties were relinquished in favour of Christian, the husband of Marie. The arrangements, therefore, tended rather to the integrity than to the disintegration of the kingdom; for the kingdom of Denmark and the Duchies would thus be united under one rule. He did not think that there was any need for apprehension in respect of the Emperor of Russia. It was provided by the treaty that, should the possibility of a want of a successor become imminent, the matter should again become the subject of European arrangement. The Emperor of Russia had lately in a despatch stated that, should the question of succession again arise, he desired that it should be referred to the decision of Europe. In fact, there appeared to be no disposition on the part of the Emperor of Russia to put forward unjust pretensions. It was true that some of the families protested against the arrangement; but their right to protest was a matter of dispute, and it would have been most absurd to postpose the decision of a question affecting the peace of Europe on account of protests the validity of which was questioned.


said, that, as the Minister who on the part of England had signed the treaty in question, he could assure the noble Lord who had brought the subject under discussion before the House, that he had been misinformed and unnecessarily alarmed with respect to the consequences which were likely to flow from the treaty in question. He hoped, however, that the noble Lord would be satisfied with the explanation which he had received from his noble Friend who had just sat down. With respect to the conduct of the Emperor of Russia, and his present position in connexion with the treaty of 1851, he (the Earl of Malmesbury) would say that it was his opinion that that monarch showed considerable abnegation in having at once come forward to give up claims which he might have seen realised before the lapse of nine or ten years. In the second article of his protocol the Emperor of Russia had declared it to be his intention to abide by the spirit and the wording of the treaty into which he had entered. The noble Lord who had brought the subject under their notice, seemed to be of opinion that the Augustenburg branch of the Royal family had been ill-treated in connexion with the treaty of 1851. He (the Earl of Malmesbury) could not, however, agree with the noble Lord upon that point; but without entering into the question, he should wish to know why the members of that family, if they were of opinion that they had been ill-treated in the matter, had not, when he was Foreign Minister, put in a protest against the course which had been taken. He could safely say that from the members of that house he had received no application whatsoever, except one asking for his intercession between them and their Sovereign, after they had forfeited their property, and even their lives, by the acts of high treason in which they had been implicated. Her Majesty's Ministers had, in compliance with that request, used their good offices with the King of Denmark in behalf of the applicants. They had received what was considered an indemnity for the property confiscated by the King of Denmark. With respect to the younger branch, it had forfeited its estates by an act of high treason. That might not be any business of theirs; but it appeared to him singular that the persons who had placed their descendants in such a position, should come and find fault with the English Government, when, in fact, that Government had used its good offices to save them from a punishment which they might or might not have deserved, but which they certainly would have undergone. Though the King of Denmark had not permitted the head of the younger branch to return to his native country, he had not sequestrated his estates, and he was still permitted to enjoy the advantage of them. He could not think that any injustice had been committed by the treaty, and he remained of the same opinion as that which he held when he signed it.

After a few words from Lord BEAUMONT, in reply,

Subject at an end.