Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

the Whig politicians of the time (and their statements have been repeated ad nauseam to the present day) by the assertion that throughout the King was lying, playing a double game with his ministers and their supporters. As there is no contemporary evidence of facts against the King beyond the unsupported insinuations and assertions in the slanderous pamphlets and memoirs of the day, or the backstairs material collected by the spies employed to watch the actions of the King and his friends, the reader can judge from the character and history of the parties which side is to be believed. The unchecked endorsement of evil has been handed down steadily to our day, as material on which to ground educational history, as for instance when Lord Brougham in his Statesmen of the Time of George III., in 1845, accepts as fact the dirty lie that there was a criminal connection between King George's mother, the Princess Augusta, and Lord Bute. I can only say that for my own part I believe that King George was thoroughly straightforward so far as such a course was possible with men trained for more than half a century in a crooked policy of selfish party interest. The Whig, the truth finder, as it seems to me, “having raked out that jakes his own mind, and being there capable of tracing no ray of divinity, nor anything virtuous or good, or lovely or loving; very fairly, honestly, and logically concludes that no such things exist in the whole creation.”

iii. George III. and the Whig Politicians.-The relations of the King with the oligarchy of nobles in the islands has a history differing from the course of events on the Continent. The rulers of France, Spain and Austria represented dynasties long established, threatened; if at all, only by disputes between different branches of the family, and supreme over the nobles and the people. In the islands the crown had been wrested from the reigning house by a Dutchman, an unpopular alien, so little trusted by the nation that he was described by contemporaries as Stadtholder of England and King of Holland, and after him, succeeding Queen Anne, the occupants of the throne were Germans, ignorant equally of the English language and literature and of the principles of the British Constitution.

Hanover, no doubt, was, both for military and international relations, a millstone about our necks. But there is another

aspect of Hanover which affected British internal history. If either of the first two Georges had taken sufficient interest in the islands, from which they drew their influence and revenue, to conduct the government and organize its powers, they might have established a military despotism after the fashion of Prussia and France. But, looking only to Hanover, they left the management of British affairs in the hands of that part of the great landed aristocracy which professed the principles of the Revolution under which they had attained the throne. This political party, the Whigs, lowered or raised the powers of the Crown as it affected their own strength. Personal liberty remained very much where it was, the abuse of the law, as the country settled down to peace and general prosperity, replacing abuse of military force. The fear of revolution favoured this Whig supremacy, and it remained until George III. ascended the throne.

Hanover had another effect very striking and far-reaching on our history. Louis XIV. had subdued to his ends the power of the nobles and the Church by the splendour of his court, the national Court of France, teaching them all by his patronage of literature and merit of every kind to look to him for advancement. On the other hand, the court of the German kings, their eyes fixed always on Hanover, devoid of literary taste or brilliancy of display, had no attraction for men of merit or for men of distinction by birth. The aristocracy of Britain, in contrast to that of France, instead of grouping themselves round the throne, nursed their political influence in the counties and the boroughs, on their estates in the country, maintaining their superiority as a governing caste away from and superior to the King.

Under this Whig oligarchy new men, men of the nation, men of merit, except by means of the faction, had no hope of power or advancement. No progress was possible in social affairs under such an aftermath of the revolution, while the factions made use of proclamation of its principles to cover the corruption and impotence which accompanied their shifts of power. They were supported by great wealth and enormous borough interest; the secret service money was at their disposal ; the whole official world, owing to their long tenure of office, was filled with their partisans, including the bishops. Pitt drew his popularity from the fact that he was outside the party ring and had clean hands, and he lost it when, by the acceptance of the pension and peerage to which he was justly entitled, he identified himself with the Whig oligarchy in the eyes of the vulgar London mob, of whom he had made use to the destruction of the Crown. Yet he could only climb to power by his association with Newcastle and his group, and he never entirely left them, even when at his highest dictatorship. When Bute after his resignation urged the King to send for Pitt, the willing negotiations broke down because Pitt refused to form a ministry unless the old gang of Newcastle and his associates were to come back.

George III. became king in 1760 at twenty-two years of age. At his accession power was completely in the hands of the Whig oligarchy of great houses—Bentinck, Cavendish, Fitzroy, Lennox, Manners, Russell, Pelham and Wentworth, and their jackals. As the effect of a long continuance of unthreatened power the Whigs had ceased to be even a party, but had become a confederation of clans, (Sir Wm. Anson, note in Grafton's Autobiography), each, when it had gorged itself with political spoil, giving way to or incorporating with its own body members of some other clan. “Whig, the name of a faction,” the definition in Johnson's dictionary, though not correct probably for all time, was certainly accurate of the ruling castes at the accession of George III.

The issue of the first ten years of the new reign was whether the King would continue to submit, like his predecessors, to be a lay-figure in the hands of these men, or whether, brought up in independence of Whig doctrines, able to speak good English, and looking to England and not to Hanover as his country, he would take a kingly part in governing his people. The degradation to which the Crown had been reduced was such that it was highly unlikely that this high-spirited and cultivated young man would suffer himself to remain in such a position of impotence as his predecessors. “Now I shall have no more peace” is said to have been the remark of George II. when he heard of the death of Pelham, who had governed him as well as the country for many years.

There is no evidence whatever that George III. was trained by his mother or by anyone else, as so often stated by historians, to overthrow this Whig oligarchy ; but that he intended to be not the figurehead of a party, like his two predecessors, but the king of the whole people, is undoubtedly true. His influence, so far as it was exercised in politics, was wholly good, in that he got rid of a plutocracy of nobles, such as in France brought the whole country to revolution, who were corrupt to the core, carrying their evil influences into every quarter in which they had power. Under their long rule the purity of popular representation had become almost a dead letter. There had been a steady deterioration of the Church, which continued during the first part of the new reign. Of the Whigs Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, says in 1740—1 (Correspondence, Vol. 2), “the majority of them are knaves, and they have shown when they are in employment that their chief aim is to keep their places, and raise themselves without any regard to the good of the people."

Yet so strong was this negation of popular government, so complete the entrenchment of the Whig factions, that the King suffered ten years of humiliation, and the nation of political anarchy, before their despotic power was replaced by the stable influence of the Crown. “You have more than once," writes Horace Walpole in 1765 to Lord Hertford, "seen your old master (George II.) reduced to surrender up his closet to a cabal, but never under such circumstances of insult, indignity and humiliation.” “The Whigs set out,” says Walpole, “to involve the King in such a labyrinth of negotiations and demands as might end in nothing, and reduce him to apply again to them,” in which they then succeeded. King George himself, speaking of these various Whig factions—the Bedfords, Grenvilles and so forth—said : “You all give me advice, but none of you will serve me in my necessity.” The Duke of Grafton, negotiating with the Bedford faction, Walpole asks him how the King would approve of the plan. “Oh !” said the Duke, "we shall ask him when it is settled.”

Even Horace Walpole, in spite of his intense Whig prejudices, perceives he says “a danger growing upon us, danger from aristocracy and from those confederacies of great lords.' Writing in 1770 of the Whigs, he says: “The various factions hated each other more than they did their common enemies, and most of the leaders of the opposition had in their time contributed to the grievances of which they complained. The canker had begun," he says, “in the administration of the Pelhams and Lord Hardwicke, who, at the head of a proud aristocracy of Whig lords, had thought of nothing but establishing their own power; and who, as it suited their occasional purposes, now depressed and insulted the Crown and the royal family, and now raised the prerogative.” The Duke of Grafton resigned the place of First Lord of the Treasury in 1770, harassed, says the editor of Junius, and worn out by the attacks of Lord Chatham and his friends in Parliament, and of Junius and others. It was a perpetual squabble for places, each faction in turn putting pressure on the King, and refusing to take office unless they could find places of profit for their dependents and friends.

A good example of the treatment of the young King by the Whig factions is the account given in the Grenville papers (Vol. iii) of the terms offered to be imposed on the King after his failure to induce Pitt to take office after Bute's retirement. The King had appointed Mr. Stewart Mackenzie, who was Bute's son-in-law, to be Lord Privy Seal of Scotland, solemnly pledging his word to his permanence in the office. On May 22, 1765, the Lord Chancellor, the Duke of Bedford, Lord Halifax, Lord Sandwich, and George Grenville agreed that the following terms should be imposed upon the King :

1st. That the King's ministers be authorized to declare that Lord Bute is to have nothing to do in His Majesty's Councils or Government in any manner or shape whatever.

2nd. That Mr. Stewart Mackenzie be removed from his office of Lord Privy Seal of Scotland, and from the authority and influence which has been given to him in that kingdom.

3rd. That Lord Holland be removed from the office of Paymaster General, and that office disposed of as has been usual in the House of Commons. (The office of Paymaster General was a lucrative job, the source of all the worst corruption of the Government.)

4th. That Lord Granby be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

5th. That the King would be pleased to settle the Government of Ireland with his ministers.

The provision about the Government of Ireland refers to the

« AnteriorContinua »