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functions ; continually and anxiously watch every part
of the public business, in order to be able to advise and
assist her at any moment, in any of the multifarious
and difficult questions or duties brought before her
sometimes international, sometimes political, or social,
or personal. As the natural head of her family, super-
intendent of her household, manager of her private
affairs, sole confidential adviser in politics, and only
assistant in her communications with the officers of the
government, he is, besides the husband of the queen, the
t utor of the royal children, the private secretary of the
sovereign, and her permanent minister.' *

How thoroughly, and with what strict impartiality,
Prince Albert fulfilled the multifarious duties of his
difficult and delicate position, which lie has thus gra-
phically described, is well known to the world, as well
as to the British nation, who have never ceased to
mourn his loss.

Defenceof Prince Albert's position as alter ego of the Queen was
liuc? 011 " fully approved and sanctioned by all the leading states-
men of England, when called in question during a tem-
porary outburst of unpopularity by which he suffered at
the commencement of the Eussian war. At the opening
of the session of 1854, the principal members of govern-
ment and of the Opposition, in both Houses of Parlia-
ment, gave expression to their sentiments on this subject,
during the debate upon the address in answer to the
speech from the throne. A portion of the press had
attacked the prince for alleged unconstitutional ' inter-

1 Prince Albert's Speeches, &c. pp. vations on this definition, Cont. Rev.
74, 70. See Mr. Gladstone's obser- v. 26, p. 9.


ference' in politics, and in the affairs of the army, n
asserting that he had used his position to control the
action of the government, and to advance the interests
of foreign dynasties to the prejudice of England. The
prime minister, Lord Aberdeen, defended his Royal
Highness from these unjust aspersions upon his cha-
racter. He stated that Prince Albert had, with great
self-denial and discretion, declined to accept the office
of commander -in- chief of the British army, notwith-
standing the urgent solicitations of the Duke of Wel-
lington that he would consent to succeed him in that
post v ; and that his alleged ' interference with the
business of the army ' had been no more than his
position as a field-marshal and colonel-commanding
certain regiments, and one acting on behalf of a female
sovereign, amply justified. The commander-in-chief,
Lord Hardinge, corroborated this statement. At the
same time, the premier took the opportunity to define,
for the information of parliament and of the country,
the constitutional position occupied by the Prince
Consort, in relation to the executive government; and
to bear testimony to the wisdom and prudence which
he had uniformly exhibited in maintaining the same.
Lord Derby and Lord Campbell (Chief Justice of the
Common Pleas) in the House of Peers, and Lord John
Eussell and Mr. Walpole in the House of Commons,
expressed their entire satisfaction with this explanation,
and their cordial approval of the conduct of Prince
Albert in his position of confidential adviser of the
Queen. w

Since his decease (which occurred on December 14,
1861), ample evidence has been adduced as to the

u Martin's Pr. Consort, v. 2, p. 538, January 31, 1854. And see theeulo-

et seq. Stockmar's Mem. v. 2, pp. gitims pronounced upon the Prince

480-505. Consort, in both Houses of Parlia-

T For further particulars in regard ment, on February 6, 1862, after his

to this ofl'er see post, v. 2. decease, and especially the speeches

w Hans. D. in both Houses, for of Earl Russell and of Mr. Disraeli.


Prince manner in which Prince Albert discharged the difficult

l ie } ia j undertaken, during the whole course of his
brief but well-spent life. All agree in testifying that
the prince's conduct was invariably characterised by a
consummate judgment, and by a constant deference to
the constitutional rights of the ministers of the crown.
With strong political convictions, and a decided opinion
on the political questions of the day, which he expressed
and defended with great ability, his course was uni-
formly free from all party bias, straightforward, and
patriotic. ' His influence in public affairs was at once
so genial and so salutary, that, like the pressure of the
atmosphere, it was unfelt. He hit the exact mean on
which authority rests in a free country, and he contri-
buted to make the crown act as the adjusting balance
of our institutions at home, and of our policy abroad.'
He brought to the consideration of every question of
foreign policy, and of every point of domestic adminis-
tration, ' the principles of a statesman, rather than the
interests of a politician ; and as his position had placed
him beyond the region in which men contend for politi-
cal power, he sought, without distinction of parties or
persons, to apply his dignified, liberal, and honest rule
of life to the smallest as well as the greatest objects
to which he turned his clear and comprehensive mind.' x
His ser- With an intuitive perception of the widely-extended

thtfcom- field hitherto untrodden by royal footsteps wherein
munity. ].,j s var i e d accomplishments, and the influences of his
exalted station, could be suitably employed, Prince
Albert took a prominent part in the encouragement of
every social movement which sought to advance the
industrial, educational, or moral interests of the people.
He lent his aid and countenance to the promotion of
science and the arts, and was always ready to foster

x Rt. Hon. W. N. Massey, in Ed. an article on the prince (attributed to
Uev. v. 115, p. 211. And see Mar- Mr. Gladstone) in the Cont. Rev. v.
tin's Life of the Prince, passim. Also 26, p. 1.


every undertaking that gave promise of contributing to
develope the resources of the empire, or of assisting her
friendly and successful rivalry with other countries in
the arts of peace/

The loss which the nation sustained in the death of The value
this illustrious man has, unhappily, deprived our en- the *
quirv into the constitutional standing of a prince-'consort cause f

* J Tii monarchy.

of its immediate practical value ; nevertheless, the ex-
ample of his life is of incalculable service to the cause
of monarchy, as it helps us to explain and illustrate the
status of the sovereign in the existing development of
the British constitution, and also to exemplify the value
and extent of the influence which may be legitimately
exercised by one who is politically identified with the
occupant of the throne, and who yet fills a personally
irresponsible position, 2 without encroaching upon the
province of responsible government.

We now proceed to define, more particularly, the constitu-
constitutional position of the British sovereign. We gj^ 1 ^ "
have already seen that, in a system of parliamentary the sove-
government, as it is administered in England, the per-
sonal will of the monarch can only find public expres-
sion through official channels, or in the performance of
acts of state which have been advised or approved by
responsible ministers ; and that the responsible servants
of the crown are entitled to advise the sovereign in
every instance wherein the royal authority is to be
exercised. 11 In other words, the public authority of
the crown in England is exercised only in acts of repre-

y Martin, Pr. Consort, v. 1, pp. the chief merit of the conception and

332, 385, 485. He acted as Chair- carrying out of that great work, the

man of the Royal Commission for the forerunner of so many similar under-

Encouragement of the Fine Arts in takings, but pre-eminent amongst

the United Kingdom, from its ap- them all for its design and execution,

pointment in 1841 until his death. See E. A. Bowring's paper in 19th

(Com. Papers, 1863, v. 16, p. 323 ; Cent. v. 2, p. 62.

Martin's Pr. Consort, v. 1, p. 119). * Earl Derby and Mr. Disraeli in

He was also President of the Royal Hans. D. v. 165, pp. 27, 69.

Commission for the International * See ante, p. 267. \
Exhibition of 1851 ; and to him is due



sentation, or through the medium of ministers, who are
responsible to parliament for every public act of their
sovereign, as well as for the general policy of the
government which they have been called upon to ad-
minister. This has been termed the theory of Royal
Impersonality. But the impersonality of the crown only
extends to direct acts of government. The sovereign
retains full discretionary powers for deliberating
and determining upon every recommendation which
is tendered for the royal sanction by the ministers
of the crown; and, as every important act of adminis-
tration must be submitted for the approval of the
crown, the sovereign, in criticising, confirming, or dis-
allowing the same, is enabled to exercise a beneficial
influence and an active control over the government of
the country. In the gradual but almost entire trans-
formation which the kingly office has undergone, since
the substitution of parliamentary for personal govern-
ment, the functions of royalty are still vital if less con-
spicuous than before. They are now chiefly fulfilled in
the exercise of a direct and personal influence in the
whole work of government. 15

In the fulfilment of the functions of royalty, much
must always depend upon the capacity and personal cha-
racter of the reigning monarch. The sovereign ' should
be, if possible, the best informed person in the empire, as
to the progress of political events and the current of
political opinion both at home and abroad.' 'Ministries
change, and when they go out of office lose the means
of access to the best information which they had
formerly at command. The sovereign remains, and to
him this information is always open. The most patri-
otic minister has to think of his party. His judgment,
therefore, is often insensibly warped by party consider-
ations. Not so the constitutional sovereign, who is

b Seo Mr. Gladstone, in Cont. Rev. v. 20, pp. 10-15.


exposed to no such disturbing agency. As the perma-
nent head of the nation he has only to consider what is
best for its welfare and its honour ; and his accumulated
knowledge and experience, and his calm and practised
judgment, are always available in council to the ministry
for the time, without distinction of party.' c

But in order to discharge his functions aright, it is Duty of a
indispensable that the sovereign should be ready and
willing to labour, zealously and unremittingly, in his
high vocation ; otherwise he will be unable to cope
with the multifarious and perplexing details of govern-
ment, or to exercise that controlling power over state
affairs which properly appertains to the crown. On
the other hand, a sovereign who, from whatever cause,
is indifferent to the exercise of his kingly functions,
may neglect the administrative part of his duties, and,
if he be served by competent ministers, the common-
wealth will suffer no immediate damage. But, in such
a case, the legitimate influence of the monarchical
element in the constitution is impaired, and is rendered
liable to permanent deprivation.* 1 Moreover, while a
sovereign may forego the active control of the affairs of
state without apparent public loss, provided his ministers
are able and patriotic, the moment political power falls
into the hands of self-seeking and unscrupulous men,
the nation is deprived of the check which a vigilant
and upright monarch alone can maintain a check no
less valuable because unseen, but which may suffice,
upon an emergency, to save the country from mis-
government. For the sovereign can always dismiss a
ministry, and summon another to his councils, provided

c Prince Albert's words, quoted in 313-316. See also, on the advan-

Martin's Pr. Consort, v. 2, -p. 159 ; tages derivable from the experience

and see Ib. p. 300. Mr. Disraeli's of a sagacious king, Bagehot, on the

speech at Manchester, April 3, 1872. Eng. Const, pp. 103-109. Prince

And in respect to George III. see Albert, as alter ego of the Queen, rea-

ante, p. 283. See also articles in the lised, in a pre-eminent degree, his

Sat. Rev. Nov. 8, 1862 ; June 4, own ideal of the kingly office.
1864; Martin's Pr. Consort, v. l,pp. d See Bagehot, pp. 112-116.

x 2


Coustitu- he does so not for mere personal considerations, but for
siSono? reasons of state policy, which the incoming administra-
te sove- tion can explain and justify to the satisfaction of. Par-
liament. This branch of the royal prerogative will
presently engage our special attention.

It need scarcely be urged that the possession of a
high personal character and a cultivated intellect are of
vital consequence to the sovereign, to fit him for his
rightful position in the inner councils of the state.
Therein, the king must be regarded as, in fact, the per-
manent president of his ministerial council, with liberty
to share in the initiation as well as in the maturing of
public measures ; provided only that he does not limit
the right of his ministers to deliberate in private before
submitting for his approval their conclusions in council ;
whilst they, on the other hand, are equally careful to
afford to their sovereign an opportunity of exercising
an independent judgment upon whatever advice they
may tender for his acceptance. For it is the duty of
the sovereign to subject every recommendation of his
ministers to the scrutiny of an intelligent and impartial
mind, intent only upon the promotion of the public
good.* Should such a necessity unfortunately arise, a
prudent and sagacious monarch while unable to im-
pose his personal views upon his ministers, or to shape
a policy for their guidance can do much to moderate
party asperities, rebuke selfish and unworthy aims, and
encourage patriotism, by bringing to bear upon his
ministers a healthy moral influence, similar to that
which proceeds from an enlightened public opinion.

On the wider field of national and non-political
pursuits, wherein the individuality of the sovereign is
equally excluded from direct interference, the moral
influence of the crown, as a means of promoting the
public welfare, is of incalculable weight and value. It

f See post, v. 2.


properly devolves upon the constitutional sovereigns of
England to employ this powerful influence for the en-
couragement of public and private morality, for the
advancement of learning, and for the diffusion of civili-
sation among their peopled The favour of the monarch
is always an object of honourable ambition, and, when
worthily bestowed, will nerve the arm and excite the
brain to deeds which deserve a nation's gratitude, and
bring renown upon the whole empire.

With such advantages resulting from monarchical import-
rule, it were vain to imagine that, because the direct the kingly
interference of the crown in acts of government is for- office>
-bidden by the spirit of the constitution, therefore
royalty has ceased" to be anything but an empty phan-
tom or a costly pageant. Though divested, by the
growth and development of our political institutions, of
direct political power, the crown still retains immense
personal and social influence for good or evil. ' The
king's name is a tower of strength ; ' and without the
blessing of headship, in the person of an hereditary
sovereign, the time-honoured institutions of England
would sink at once to the level of a democracy, and the
good government of the country would be jeopardised,
if not overthrown, by the strife and cupidity of rival
factions contending for the mastery. h

One of the most important branches of the regal Cere-
functions is that wherein the crown, as ' the symbol of and per-
national sovereignty,' appears in public for the perform- sonalfunc -

g See Harris on Civilisation, pp. rational recreation of the people. See

291-294. Thus, upon the occurrence the letter with the Mayor's reply in

of a frightful catastrophe to a female the Ann. Reg. 1863, Chron. p. 122.

performer on the tight- rope, at Aston This ' personal and direct rebuke' by

Park, near Birmingham, Sir C. B. her Majesty led, we are told, to ' the

Phipps, by command of the Queen, instant destruction of Blondinism ' in

wrote to the Mayor of Birmingham, Great Britain. Viet. Mag. v. 29, p.

on July 25, 1803, to express her Ma- 229. And see Louis Blanc's Letters

jesty's desire that he would use his on England, 2nd S. v. 1, p. 271 ; and

influence to prevent in future such Hans. D. v. 211, p. 1733.
demoralising exhibitions in a place h See Cox, Eng. Govt. p. 634.
intended for the healthy exercise and


ance of those acts of state which peculiarly appertain
to the kingly office such as opening and proroguing
Parliament, holding public receptions, or ceremonials
for conferring marks of distinction and royal favour
upon particular persons, and according, on behalf of the
nation, a hospitable welcome to foreign sovereigns, or
other eminent persons from abroad, who may visit the
kingdom. These duties, while they frequently entail
heavy burdens upon the sovereign, cannot be inter-
mitted except for unavoidable causes, and for a limited
time without impairing the dignity and influence of
the crown itself. The presence of the sovereign in the
midst of his people, dispensing favours, or engaged in
the performance of high acts of state, affords oppor-
tunity for the public expression of the loyalty or
personal devotion of the people to their king. This
elevated Christian sentiment is of the greatest value in
uniting together the ruler and the subject, so that
fidelity and attachment to the monarchy become a
part of the national life. 1 But ' loyalty needs to be
stimulated by external display, by the pomp and cir-
cumstance of power, by all the kindly feejings which
personal intercourse creates between sovereign and
subject. If a sovereign omits to keep it alive by such
means, he leaves unfulfilled that one function which no
one else can perform in his stead.' 3

Moreover, notwithstanding the supreme political
power which is concentred in the hands of the prime
minister for the time being, the court, presided over by
Social pre- the sovereign, is still the highest point in the social
scale. No prime minister, or leader of a political party,
can attempt to vie with his sovereign in this particular.
The personal pre-eminence of the king invests himself
and his surroundings with a dignity which is absolute

1 On this point see Austin, Plea for J Sat. Rev. March 26, 1864.
the Const, p. 37.


and unapproachable. The most exalted position in
English society is thereby withdrawn from the arena of
political competition, which is an immense benefit to
the best interests of the nation. Were it otherwise,
' politics would offer a prize too dazzling for mankind.'
If, in addition to the advantages that at present attend
upon a successful parliamentary career, ' the highest social
rank was to be scrambled for in the House of Commons,
the number of social adventurers there would be incal-
culably more numerous, and indefinitely more eager ; '
and an overwhelming preponderance would be given to
a force which is ' already perilously great.' k From all
these disturbing influences, our political system has been
preserved by the position assigned therein to the monarch.
The court of our sovereign is therefore an important
element in the forces whereby the legitimate influences of
royalty make themselves felt in the body politic ; and if
the favour and hospitalities of the court are beneficially
dispensed and its recreations becomingly directed into
moral and healthful channels the social and moral
tone of the upper classes, and by their example, of the
whole community, are proportlonably elevated. 1

The foregoing definition of the true place and work
of the sovereign in the British Constitution, as now ad-
ministered, may be suitably illustrated by reference to
the recorded opinions of eminent statesmen of our own
day upon this topic :

Lord Brougham, in his ' Historical Sketches,' has the following Lord
weighty remarks : ' The question is, Does the king of this country Brougham
hold a real or only a nominal office ? Is he merely a form, or is he ?? , e
a substantive power in our mixed and balanced constitution ? Some office,
maintain nay, it is a prevailing opinion among certain authorities
of no mean rank that the sovereign, having chosen his ministers,
assigns over to them the whole executive power. They treat him as

k Bagehot, Eng. Const, p. 73. see a well- written ' Letter to the

1 See Mr. Gladstone on this subject Queen, on her Retirement from Public

in Cont. Rev. v. 26, p. 13, and in the Life : by one of her Majesty's most

Church Quar. Rev. v. 3, p. 487. And Loyal Subjects ' (London, 1875).


a kind of trustee for a temporary use, to preserve, as it were, some
contingent estate ; or a provisional assignee, to hold the property of
an insolvent for a day, and then divest himself of the estate by as-
signing it over. They regard the only power really vested in the
crown to be the choice of ministers, and even the exercise of this to
be controlled by Parliament. They reduce the king more completely
to the condition of a state pageant, or state cypher, than one of
Abbe" Sieyes' constitutions did, when he proposed to have a grand
functionary with no power except to give away offices ; upon which
Napoleon, then First Consul, to whom the proposition was tendered,
asked if it well became him to be made a ' Cochon a 1'engrais a la
somme de trois millions par an ? ' m The English animal, according
to the Whig doctrine, much more nearly answers this somewhat
coarse description ; for the Abbe's plan was to give his royal beast a
substantial voice in the distribution of all patronage, while our lion
is only to have the sad prerogative of naming whomsoever the Par-
liament chooses, and eating his own mess in quiet,

' Now, with all the disposition in the world to desire that the
royal prerogative should be restricted, and the will of the nation
govern the national affairs, we cannot comprehend this theory of a
monarchy. It assigns to the crown either far too much revenue, or
far too little power. To pay a million a year, or more, for a name
seems absurdly extravagant. To affect living under a kingly
government, and yet suffer no kind of kingly power, seems extrava-
gantly absurd. Surely the meaning of having a sovereign is, that
his voice should be heard, and his influence felt, in the administra-
tion of public affairs. The different orders of the state have a right
to look towards that high quarter all in their turn for support, when
their rights are invaded by one another's encroachments, or to claim
the royal umpirage when their mutual conflicts cannot be settled by
mutual concessions ; and unless the whole notion of a mixed mon-
archy, and a balance of three powers, is a mere fiction and a dream,
the royal portion of the composition must be allowed to have some
power to produce the effect upon the quality of the whole. It is
not denied that George III. sought to rule too much it is not main-
tained that he had a right to be perpetually sacrificing all other con-
siderations to the preservation or extension of his prerogative : but
that he only discharged the duty of his station by thinking for himself,
acting according to his conscientious opinions, and using his influence
for giving these opinions effect, cannot be denied.' . . . ' George III.
set one example which is worthy of imitation in all times. He
refused to be made a state puppet in his minister's hands, and to let
his name be used either by men whom he despised, or for purposes
which he disapproved. Nor could any one ever accuse him of ruling by

m A hog to be fatted at the rate of 120,000/. a year,



favourites ; still less could any one, by pretending to be the people's
choice, impose himself on his vigorous understanding.' n

Again, in his ' Political Philosophy,' Lord Brougham interprets
the British Constitution as intending that the opinions of the
monarch should have a sensible weight, even against the most con-
flicting sentiments of the people and of the peers, and that the

Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 29 of 85)