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be in attendance upon him. n

At every interview between the sovereign and the
minister of any foreign court, it is the duty of the
secretary of state for foreign affairs to be present.
Private communication between a king of England and
foreign ministers is contrary to the spirit and practice
of the British constitution. George III. invariably
respected this rule. During the reign of his successor
it was not so strictly adhered to ; but upon the appoint-
ment of Mr. Canning as foreign secretary, he restored
and maintained the constitutional usage.

The king * It is quite unusual that a foreign sovereign should

ways afct write to the sovereign of England on politics,' p or affairs
through a o f state ; for as the British monarch can be no party to

minister. ,, ni IT i -i

an act 01 state personally, but only through the instru-
mentality of others, who are responsible for the act, so
he can neither sign a treaty nor accede to the terms of a
treaty personally, in the first instance. He negotiates,
concludes, and signs by plenipotentiaries, whom he em-
powers to do those acts. He afterwards ratines what
they have done, if he approves of it; but to this ratifica-
tion the Great Seal must be attached . q

Moreover, it is not usual for the king of England to
receive from other sovereigns letters upon public ques-
tions which do not pass through the hands of his minis-
ters ; and sometimes such letters have been returned,
because copies were not sent (with the sealed letter) for
the information of the minister. It is still more un-

n Macaulay, Hist, of Eng. v. 4, Freeman, Inter. Rev. v. 2, p. 375.

p. 9. The duty of constant attend- Stapleton, Canning and his Times,

ance on the sovereign used to be p. 433.

taken by the secretaries of state in P Ld. Palmerston" in Bunsen's

turn ; but within the last few years Mem. v. 2, p. 150.

this duty haa been taken by all the q Yonge's Life of Ld. Liverpool,

cabinet ministers in turn. E. A. v. 2, p. 232.


usual and improper for the king to answer a letter from
another sovereign without the advice of his minister,
who, whether he advises or does not, is responsible if he
knows of the letter being written/

While the sovereign, as the fountain of justice and Does not
the source of all political authority and jurisdiction in personal
the realm, is presumed to be personally present in every
court of law, and especially in the High Court of Parlia-
ment, justice must be dispensed and laws enacted in the
king's name, in strict conformity to the laws, usages,
and customs of the constitution. And by the common
law itself, and more especially since the formal recogni-
tion of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, the
sovereign of England is constitutionally debarred from
the public or personal exercise of any functions of
royalty, except such as are necessary to express the
royal pleasure in regard to acts of state which have
been advised or concurred in by constitutional ministers.
For example, although in the eye of the law the king is
always present in all his courts, he is not above the law,
and cannot personally assume to decide any case, civil
or criminal, but must do so by his judges. 8 And when
any judicial act is by any Act of Parliament referred to
the king, it is understood to be done in some court of
justice according to the law.' Even the prerogative of
mercy cannot now be exercised, except under the direc-
tion of ministers." Neither can the sovereign consti-
tutionally make any appointments to office without
previously communicating with the prime minister, and

' Welln. Desp. Civil S., v. 6, pp. pp. 66-74.

313, 319. Martin, Pr. Consort, v. 3, * Stephen's Blackstone, v. 2, p. 483 ;
pp. 39, 45. ' All letters received by 2 Co. Inst. p. 186 ; and see Fischel,
the Queen and Prince Consort from Eng. Const, p. 238 ; and Ld. Cam-
foreign potentates, and all answers to den's Judgment in Shipley's case,
them, were shown to the Foreign wherein the king had been appealed
Secretary or to the Prime Minister.' to, as visitor of a college which was a
76. v. 4, p. 329. See Amos, Fifty royal foundation.
Years' Eng. Const, p. 328. u See Colchester Diary, v. 3, p. 297.

' Broom's Const. Law, pp. 145- Martin, Pr. Consort, v. 1, p. 141.

148. And see Hearn, Govt. of Eng. Ante, p. 269.


acting with his sanction and consent/ And though the
sovereign be present in the House of Lords at any time
during the deliberations of that House, seated upon the
throne, yet his presence would now be considered a
departure from constitutional usage, which forbids the
sovereign to interfere or take part in any of the pro-
ceedings of Parliament, except when he comes in state
for the exercise of the royal prerogatives. w Up to the
reign of Queen Anne it was .customary for the sovereign
to attend debates in the House of Lords as a spectator,
and his presence was duly recorded in the journals; but
since the accession of George I. this questionable prac-
tice, which might be used to overawe the assembly and
influence their debates, has been wisely discontinued/

Upon the solitary occasion of H.R.H. Prince Albert attending a
debate in the House of Commons, in 1846, so 'many moderate men
on both sides ' were disquieted by the incident of his presence that
he never went again.?

And although the king is the acknowledged head of the
military forces of the empire, no English monarch has
taken the field in person since the siege of Dettingen by
George II. ' A contrary practice,' says a recent writer
on the English Constitution, ' would not accord with
modern parliamentary usage.' z

The king Upon the death of H.R.H. the Duke of York, in January 1827,

anxious to his Majesty King George IV. expressed an intention of personally
assuming the command of the British army. But the premier
der-in- " (Lord Liverpool) said that such a thing ' was preposterous, and that
chief. he would never consent to it.' Sir R. Peel also spoke of it as
' almost incredible,' and ' as pregnant with unceasing embarrassment
to the government.' Accordingly, upon the advice of Lord Liver-
pool, the office was conferred upon the Duke of Wellington.* But
upon the break up of this administration, and the nomination of

r Welln. Desp. Civil S. v. 6, p. 181 . z Fischel, Eng. Const, p. 139. And

w Hearn, Govt. of Eng. pp. 58, 59. see Macaulay, Hist, of Eng. v. 4, p.

* May, Parl. Prac. ed. 1883, p. 503. 10.

Disraeli, Life of Ld. G. Bentinck, Welln. Desp. 3rd S. v. 3, pp.531-

4th ed. pp. 65, 106, Martin's Pr. 535.
Consort, v. 1, p. 321.


Mr. Canning to be prime minister, in April 1827, the Duke of
Wellington resigned. Whereupon the king again declared that he
should take the command of the army into his own hands. The
reason he alleged for such a proceeding was ' the impossibility of
selecting any member of the royal family or any other general
officer of sufficient rank ' for the place. Mr. Canning appears to
have refrained from openly opposing the king's proposal, although
he urged his Majesty to adopt some other arrangement. Anyhow,
the office remained vacant until the following August, when, upon
another change of ministry occurring, the Duke of Wellington
agreed to resume the post. b

The great principle of ministerial responsibility for

. r -,.,.. L / mentof

every act 01 sovereignty, and its legitimate result, in minis-
limiting the personal action of the sovereign in state responsi
affairs to formal and representative occasions, is a natural bilit y-
consequence of the system of parliamentary government
which was introduced by the Revolution of 1688. It is
based upon the fundamental doctrine that the king him-
self ' can do no wrong,' a maxim the true meaning of
which has been already considered. The doctrine of
ministerial responsibility has been contended for, more
or less emphatically,- from an early period ; although we
do not find it distinctly asserted, as it is now understood,
until the reign of Queen Anne. d During the earlier part
of the reign of George III. this doctrine continued in an
unsettled state. Thus, in 1770, we find Dr. Johnson,
who was a professed Tory, arguing that ' a prince of
ability might and should be the directing soul and spirit
of his own administration in short, his own minister,
and not the mere head of a party ; and then, and not
till then, would the royal dignity be sincerely respected.' 6
This passage seems to claim for the king that he should
govern as well as reign. In Russell's ' Memorials of
Fox,' under the date of 1778, it is stated that about
this time Lord George Germaine asserted in the House
of Commons ' that the king was his own minister, which

b Welln. Desp. 3rd S. v. 3, pp. d Ib. p. 264.

645, 646, 661 ; v. 4, pp. 66, 96. e Boswell's Johnson, v. 3, p. 131.

c See ante, p. 263.



Charles Fox took up admirably, lamenting that his

Majesty was his own unadvised minister.' 1 But, as we

have already pointed out, the Whigs and Tories at this

time differed radically in their ideas upon this subject,

and neither party held what is now considered to be

M . sound doctrine on the subject. The Whigs arrogated

ception of to themselves the right of nominating all the king's

prmSpies ministers, not excepting the prime minister ; whilst the

of govern- Tories, going to the other extreme, claimed for the king,


on his own personal responsibility, the right to select all
the persons who should govern the state. g With these
discordant ideas and rival claims, which are now ad-
mitted by all parties to be equally untenable, it is no
wonder that the true principles of government should
have been so frequently disregarded on every side. Ere
long, however, they were amply vindicated. During
the memorable debates of 1807, when the king dis-
missed his ministers because they refused to sign a
pledge which he had no right to exact of them, more
intelligent and enlightened opinions as to the relative
position of the king and his ministers were expressed by
all the leading statesmen in Parliament, of every creed.
On this occasion we find it distinctly enunciated as in-
controvertible maxims: '1. That the king has no power,
The king by the constitution, to do any public act of government,
constitu- either in his executive or legislative capacity, but through
tion. the medium of some minister, who is held responsible for
the act ; 2. That the personal actions of the king, not
being acts of government, are not under the cognisance
of law.' 11 This is now universally accepted as sound

But if the exercise of personal power by the sovereign
be thus limited and circumscribed, it may be thought

' Russell's Fox, v. 1, p. 203. h Ld. Selkirk, Parl. D. v. 9, p. 381 ;

Ante, p. 125 ; and see Ed. Rev. v. and Mr. Adam, Ib. v. 16, p. 2 * * * ;

18, p. 46. Mr. Allen, on Royal and see Maley's William IV. v. 2,

Prerogative. p. 134.


that the monarchy of England exists only in name, and
that the authority of the king is a mere legal fiction, to
express the dominion exercised by certain public func-
tionaries who have obtained possession of supreme
power. Such an idea is very erroneous ; for while the
usages of the constitution have imposed numerous re-
strictions upon the crown in the conduct of state affairs,
these restrictions have been established to secure good
government and to protect the liberty of the subject,
and not with a view to reduce the authority of the
crown to a nullity.

Before attempting to define the nature and limit of Personal
the authority which rightfully appertains to a reigning govem-
monarch, 1 it may be profitable to point to a few examples m ent ^ inc
indicative of the extent of interference in affairs of state Anne's
which has been claimed and exercised by English sove- reign '
reigns since the accession of the House of Hanover. Our
illustrations upon a subject so delicate, and upon which
so little is recorded, will necessarily be very few. Never-
theless, they may serve to mark the growth of political
opinion on the subject, and to show how much, in this
as in other matters, depends upon the force of individual

The dogma of the impersonality of the sovereign is imperso
the offspring of the Revolution of 1688, although, as we of 1 the
have already seen, j it found no favour, either in theory
or practice, in the eyes of William III. It began to
be asserted as a constitutional principle in the reign of
Queen Anne, who, unlike the great Elizabeth, had no
special administrative capacity, although she clung to
the exercise of power with great tenacity. The weak-
ness and inexperience of a female sovereign, combined
with the acknowledged necessity for governing by means
of a ministry acceptable to Parliament, gave increased
weight to the advocates of this doctrine. Though her

1 For which definition, see post, p. 805. J Ante, p 108.

T 2


personal predilections were in favour of the Tories,
Queen Q, ue en Anne was compelled, for a great part of her
reign, to accept a Whig ministry. Distrusting her own
judgment, she surrendered herself far too implicitly to
the counsels of the leading spirit whom for the time she
admitted as her guide. And yet, like all her predeces-
sors, she kept in her own hands the reins of government,
jealous, as such feeble characters usually are, of those
in whom she was forced to trust. Obstinate in her
judgment, from the very consciousness of its weakness,
she took a share in all business, frequently presided in
meetings of the cabinet, and sometimes gave directions
without their advice. k In the impeachment of Lord
Oxford by the Commons, for alleged treasonable acts,
he alleged in his defence that he had acted under the
immediate commands of the queen, in the matter spe-
cially complained of, using these words : ' My lords, if
ministers of state, acting by the immediate commands of
their sovereign, are afterwards to be made accountable
for their proceedings, it may one day or other be the
case of all the members of this august assembly n a
species of defence similar to that urged by Lord Somers
in the case of the Partition Treaty, but which was un-
doubtedly irregular and insufficient.

George I. Throughout the reigns of the first two Georges, the
and ii. principle of the royal impersonality continued to make
progress, but rather through the incapacity for the
details of administration arising from the foreign educa-
tion of both these monarchs, and the force of circum-
stances which compelled them to entrust to the leaders
of the dominant Whig party authority which they felt
incompetent to exercise, than because either the nation
or the political philosophers of the day were prepared to
accept it in theory." 1

k Hallaru, Const. Hist. v. 3, pp. Parl. Hist. v. 7, p. 105.
314, 315. Stanhope, Queen Anne m See Q.uar. Rev. v. 105. Art, 6.
pp 38, 542,


It is a fact that would be hardly credible, were it not George i.
so well attested, that George I., being incapable of con-
versing in English, as his chief minister, Sir Eobert Wai-
pole, was of conferring with him in French, they were
compelled to hold communication with each other in the
Latin language." It is impossible that, under such cir-
cumstances, the king could have obtained much insight
into the domestic affairs of England, or become fami-
liarised with the character of the people over whom he
had been called to rule. * We know, indeed, that he
nearly abandoned the consideration of both, and trusted
his ministers with the entire management of the kingdom,
content to employ its great name for the promotion of his
Electoral interests. This continued, in a less degree, to
be the case with his son, who, though better acquainted
with the language and circumstances of Great Britain,
and more jealous of his prerogative, was conscious of his
incapacity to determine in matters of domestic govern-
ment, and reserved almost his whole attention for the
politics of Germany.'

In describing the character and conduct of the first
two Georges, Hallam intimates of both of them that they
forced upon their ministers the adoption of a foreign
policy adverse to the interests of England and directed
to the aggrandisement of Hanover : but that, so far as
domestic politics were concerned, they surrendered
almost everything into the hands of their ministers, so
that during their reigns ' the personal authority of the
sovereign seems to have been at the lowest point it has
ever reached. 5p But, so far as regards George II., this George n
conclusion is contradicted by the researches of later
writers. Although this monarch, equally with his pre-
decessor, rendered the interests of his British dominions
subservient to those of his German principality, he was,

" Coxe's Walpole, v. 1, p. 266; H. Hallam, v. 3, pp. 389, 390.
Walpole's Works, v. 4, p. 476 ; and p Ib. p. 393.
see Campbell's Chanc. v. 4, p. 340.


George ir. nevertheless, fond of the exercise of arbitrary power,
and unwilling to yield his prerogative into the hands of
ministers. By the publication of the Life of Lord Hard-
wicke, for many years one of the principal advisers of
George II., great light has been thrown upon the political
history of this reign.

On the occasion of certain ministerial changes, which
had been brought about by the leading members of the
cabinet in order to strengthen their position in Parlia-
ment, a curious conversation is reported to have taken
place between Lord Chancellor Hardwicke and the king,
in which his Majesty declared his aversion to the new
men who had been introduced into the ministry, and
asserted that he had been ' forced ' and ' threatened ' into
receiving them. The chancellor deprecated the use of
such language, saying that ' no means had been used but
what have been used at all times the humble advice of
your servants, supported by such reasons as convinced
them that the measure was necessary for your service.'
After some further explanations, the chancellor observed,
' Your ministers, sire, are only your instruments of
government ; ' to which the king replied, with a smile,
' Ministers are the king in this country.' q But while
the force of circumstances compelled the king to give way
on this occasion, the ' Hardwicke papers ' afford frequent
examples of his active and successful interference in the
government of the country. The interests of Hanover, it
is true, were ever uppermost in his thoughts ; but he
seems to have possessed great discernment of character,
both in regard to the abilities of the men whom he
selected for his ministers, and the degree of confidence
he could safely repose in them. * To a large extent,'
says the biographer of Lord Hardwicke, ' he was not
only the chooser of his own ministers, but the director
also of all the most important measures propounded by

Harris, Life of Hardwicke, v. 2, pp. 106-109.


them ; and into every political step taken he seems to
have entered fully, even to the very details. As a poli-
tician, his great fault, especially for a king, was his
being so decided a partisan. He was the sovereign and
the head, in fact, not of the English people, but of the
Whig party.' 1 "

But the peers and landed gentry of this period
were possessed of enormous political influence, and the
united efforts of the leading Whig families gave them an
authority greater even than that of king and commons
combined. So that ' when George III. came to the throne,
the English Government was, in practice, assuming the
form of an exclusive oligarchy,' in which the king,
though nominally supreme, was entirely bereft of sub-
stantial power. 8

Naturally ambitious and self-reliant, the youthful George
sovereign began his reign with a determination to exer-
cise to the fullest possible extent the functions of royalty.
Born a Briton, and prepared by careful training for the
duties of his exalted station, he became at once popular
with the country at large, who were ready to sustain
him in any attempt to magnify his office. In a previous
chapter we have had occasion to dwell at considerable
length upon the character of George III.,* and to point
out several instances of his departure from the line of
conduct which should characterise a constitutional king,
and our further observations on this subject must neces-
sarily be brief. Regarded in the light of the relations
which now exist between the sovereign and his respon-
sible advisers, the conduct of George III. would call for
unqualified censure, from his systematic endeavours to
govern by the exercise of his personal authority, and
to absorb in himself the power and patronage of the
state. Such practices are incompatible with the acknow-

r Harris, Life of Hardwicke, v. 3, 1, pp. 64, 519.
p. 222 ; and see 519. p. * Ante, pp. 111-124.

s Massey, Reign of George III. v.


George ledgment of parliamentary government, and would be
neither tolerated nor attempted in our own day. Never-
theless, before we condemn George III. for pursuing a
policy at variance with our present political ideas, we
should remember that the theory of royal impersonality
was but partially understood when he ascended the
throne. And not only was this particular theory still
unrecognised as a constitutional principle, but the prac-
tice of his immediate predecessors, who had voluntarily
abstained, for various reasons, from much personal in-
terference with the details of government, had fallen
into disfavour. The country was heartily sick of the
victories of court intriguers, and the monopoly of power
in the hands of certain ' Revolution families ; ' and the
young monarch, in obeying his mother's emphatic ex-
hortation of ' George, be a king ! ' did but respond to
the popular will, although the experience of the first
year of his reign should have sufficed to convince him
of its unstable and misleading character." The great
error of George III. was a love of power, which habit-
ually tempted him to ignore the constitutional restraints
of a limited monarchy. Notwithstanding his moral and
exemplary life, his sympathies with the popular preju-
dices, and his genuine endeavours to govern for the good
of all classes of his subjects, his frequent interference
in the smallest details of administration and consequent
disregard of the obligations of responsible government,
caused him to suffer during his lifetime from the violent
attacks of political partisans, and has loaded his memory
with an amount of calumny and misrepresentation from
which it is only now beginning to recover/

Lord Campbell says of George III., that he 'certainly was a
prince possessed of very valuable qualities ; and it is only fair to
state that everything discovered concerning him since his death, has

u Quar. Rev. v. 105, Art. 6. Commentary on Brougham's 'Cha-

r Brougham, Brit. Statesmen (ed. racter of George III.' (London, 1860).
1858), v. 1, p. 13. And see Edison's


tended to raise our opinion both of his abilities and of his gene- George
rosity.' w

But if we make due allowance for the difficulties of
his position, and the temptations to an exaggerated idea
of his personal authority natural to a time when the
sovereign was still permitted to govern as well as reign,
we must acquit him of any intentional violation of the
constitution ; and at the same time admit that his in-
tegrity of purpose, and rigid adherence to the line of
duty, according to his lights, entitle him to be regarded
as ' a patriot king.' We may unreservedly condemn
his unconstitutional acts, but should yet be willing to
confess that much that was faulty in his conduct was
' simply the natural result of a complicated position, still
undefined, and the working of a spirit as yet inex-
perienced in government, and seeking with hesitation
its course and its friends.' x During an unusually pro-
tracted reign, George III. devoted himself to the fulfil-
ment of his royal duties with the most scrupulous and
constant care, diligently superintending every move-
ment of the great political machine/

The following instances of the direct interference of
George III. in the details of government have been
gathered from the pages of contemporary historians :
some of them being rather inconsistent with modern
ideas of the duties of a sovereign.

Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 85)