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The public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) online

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in acting. He was very slow in forming his opinion, very diligent
in procuring every information on the subject, but once convinced,
he would act with the most unflinching firmness. His beautiful speech
about the Catholic question shows his character :

" 'I can give up my crown and retire from power; I can quit my
palace and live in a cottage ; I can lay my head on a block and lose
my life ; but I can not break my oath.' '

"My birthday, the 4th of June, was the same as George III.'s,
and I had to appear before him in full robes as chancellor. On one of
these occasions I arrived, and was beginning, ' Please your majesty,'
when he stopped me : ' Stop, stop,' (said he,) ' I wish you many happy
returns of this day ; now you may go on, but remember / spoke first.' '

"The present king (George IV.) sits at his levees; George III.
always stood. I remember once, when he was becoming old, I asked
if he had better not have a chair. He answered, ' No, I cannot sit,
for there are so many persons come to these levees who ought not
to come, who ought never to be admitted, the only way I have of
not speaking to them is to walk on.' Oh, he had many levees at
which he did not speak to one half of the persons present ; and that,
not from politics, but from their situation and character."

" On one occasion I, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and many
other lords, were with George III., when his majesty exclaimed, ' I dare
say I am the first king whose Archbishop of Canterbury and whose
chancellor had both run away with their wives was it not so, chan-
cellor ?' ' May it please your majesty, will you ask the archbishop
that question first?' answered I. It turned the laugh to my side, for
all the lords were beginning to titter."

" Lord Eldon told Miss Ridley, Lady Eldon's niece, that the king,
speaking to the same archbishop, Dr. Charles Manners Sutton, of his
large family, used the expression, ' I believe your grace has better
than a dozen.' 'No, sir,' said the archbishop, 'only eleven. '-
' Well,' replied the king, ' is not that better than a dozen?' '

The next two stories were related by Lord Eldon to Mr Farrer :

"On one occasion, George III., when he came out of the House of
Lords, after opening the session of Parliament, said to the chancellor,
'Did I deliver the speech well?' 'Very well, sir,' was Lord Eldon's
answer. ' I am glad of it,' replied the king, ' for there was nothing
in it.' "

The high opinion which George III. entertained of Lord Eldon and
his brother, Sir William, is illustrated by a little saying of his which
Dr. Ridley, the husband of Lady Eldon's sister, was accustomed to
relate :

"King George III., when hunting with the stag hounds, was told
that he might expect good sport, as the stag intended for the chase of
that day was brother to a stag which had afforded remarkably good
sport a few days before. 'Ah!' replied the king, 'do not depend too
much upon that; it is not every family that can produce two Scotts.' "




Cato Street Conspiracy. Marriage of the Hon. F.J.Scott to the Rev. E. Bankes:
correspondence with her. New Parliament. Bishop of Exeter and Clergy. Let-
ters of Lord Eldon to Mrs. E. Bankes and to Mrs. Forster. Arrival of Queen
Caroline: proceedings in Parliament respecting her: letters to Mrs. E. Bankes.
Capital punishments: Marriage Act Amendment Bill. Queen's trial: charges
completed: adjournment. Attempt of the queen to procure a house next door to
Lord Eldon's: letters of Lord Eldon and Lord Liverpool. Visit of Lord Eldon to
Encombe: letter from him to Sir William Scott. Resumption of queen's trial:
her defence: reply: debate on second reading of bill of pains and penalties: Lord
Eldon's speech: letter from Lord Eldon to Sir William Scott: committee: third
reading: abandonment of bill: letters to Mrs. E. Bankes : Sir John Leach's state-
ment of his own part in the inquiry: reflections of Lord Eldon on the proceed-
ings : observations on their public effect, and on the conduct of the queen and of
the ministers.

THE 23d of February, 1820, was the day on which the plot for the
assassination of the ministers, commonly called the Cato Street Con-
spiracy, was intended to explode. The leading conspirators were
Thistlewood, who had been a subaltern officer in the army, Ings, a
butcher, Tidd and Brunt, shoemakers, and a man of colour named
Davidson. These, with others less active, had been for some time
devising means to subvert (he government: and it occurred to them
as the readiest mode of accomplishing this object, to murder the
cabinet ministers, when assembled at a dinner which Lord Harrowby
was to give to his colleagues on Wednesday, the 23d of February.
It was arranged that, on that evening, the malcontents should pro-
ceed from their place of rendezvous, which was a loft over a stable
in Cato Street near the Edgware Road, to Lord Harrowby's house ;
that when the guests should be seated at the dinner table, one of the
confederates should knock at the street door with a note addressed to
Lord Harrowby ; and that on the opening of that door a band should
rush in, some of whom should seize the servants, and 'prevent all
egress from the house, while others should force their way into the
dining-room and take the lives of all the ministers. Two of the gang
were to proceed from Lord Harrowby's house, and throw fire-balls
into the straw-yard of the cavalry barracks ; and others were to occupy
different positions for the accomplishment of other parts of the general
design. But before the day arrived, a couple of the ruffians disclosed
the design : and silent, but effectual precautions were forthwith taken
by the ministers for its frustration. The preparations for the dinner
were continued at Lord Harrowby's just as if there had been no


intelligence of the plot ; and these appearances so effectually deceived
the conspirators, that about six o'clock they assembled, to the number
of four or five and twenty, at their appointed place of meeting in Cato
Street. There they were surprised by a strong party of constables :
several were made prisoners on the spot ; others were taken a day or
two afterwards. They were speedily brought to trial for high treason,
and the five beforementioned were executed. Lord Eldon expresses
his thankfulness to Providence for the deliverance of himself and his
colleagues, in the following passage of a letter, addressed by him to
Mrs. Farrer:

(Feb. 1820.)

"I feel very sensibly and gratefully the kindness of your anxiety about us. I have
myself been loo much engaged in investigating this business, to feel, perhaps, quite so
much as I shall hereafter, in reflecting upon our most providential escape. Lady
Eldon and Fanny have suffered, from apprehensions as to the future and in medi-
tating upon what is pasl, very painfully. For the past, thankfulness and gratitude, I
trust, will relieve all other feelings: as to the future, I trust there is something to be
hoped for of protection in human caution, and that we may all fully depend upon that
Providence to which we are so largely indebted."

On Monday, the 28th of February, the lord chancellor delivered
the king's speech proroguing the Parliament, which was on the same
day dissolved.

The Hon. Frances Jane Scott, the chancellor's younger daughter,
was married, on the 6th of April, 1820, to the Rev. Edward Bankes,
Rector of Corfe Castle, and son of the late Henry Bankes, Esq., the
member for the county of Dorset. Lord Eldon thenceforward kept
up a correspondence with her, so frequent, so minute and so unre-
served as almost to take the character of a diary. It contributes
largely to the remainder of this biography.

The following extracts, from a letter to her in April, exhibit the
difficulties which the ministry had now to encounter from the king,
who, though preferring the Tories to any other political party, had a
much stronger affection for certain personal objects of his own than
for any set of politicians.

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Bankes.} (Extract.)

(April 26th, 1820.)

" Our royal master seems to have got into temper again, as far as I could judge
from his conversation with me this morning. He has been pretty well disposed to
part with us all, because we would not make additions to his revenue. This we
thought conscientiously we could not do, in the present state of the country, and of
the distresses of the middle and lower orders of the people, to which we might add
too, that of the higher orders. My own individual opinion was such, that I could not
bring myself to oppress the country, at present, by additional taxation for this pur-
pose; and I strictly and firmly acted upon that opinion, when I had every reason to
believe that, adhering to it, I should no longer write the letter C. after the name Eldon.
I think now, the speech, in which he will disavow wishing for any increase, will make
him popular, and, if times mend, will give him a better chance of fair increase of
income than any thing else could give him.


"Our queen threatens approach to England; but, if she can venture, she is the
most courageous lady I ever heard of. The mischief, if she does come, will be infi-
nite. At first, she will have extensive popularity with the multitude; in a few short
months or weeks she will be ruined in the opinion of all the world."


This anticipation is curious for its accuracy in all its passages ; af-
fording, indeed, a remarkable instance how age may " rightly spell."
"Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain."

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Bankes.*) (Extract.)

(May IHh, 1820)

" The levee yesterday was more crowded than any that I remember, except that
upon the late king's recovery in 1788, and upon his escape, when he was shot at, at
the play-house, and when Margaret Nicholson was pleased to try to murder him. W.
H. J.* was quite graciously received, his majesty telling him that he was glad to be
acquainted with him. He and Shat'tesbury went with me. I think there must have
been 2000 persons present.

" My dear Fan, how time slips away ! Fifty-four years have glided by, this Ascen-
sion-day, since I left school, and yet I am as young as ever."

The new Parliament had been opened on the 27th of April by his
majesty in person. On the 12th of May, Lord Holland moved for a
committee upon the subject of a petition from a clergyman, who com-
plained that the Bishop of Exeter, his diocesan, had refused to coun-
tersign a testimonial in his favour, signed by three clergymen for the
purpose of his institution to two livings whereto he had been pre-
sented. The ground of the bishop's refusal appeared to be, that the
petitioner was believed by him to have used, at a public meeting,
some expressions derogatory to the Established Church and its clergy,
in connection with the subject of the Athanasian creed. The bishop
having asserted his right to refuse the testimonial upon his own con-
scientious judgment,

The chancellor confirmed that assertion. It had been alleged, he said, that a
bishop was bound to sign such a testimonial. If so, there must be a power to com-
pel him; but he could not find it in the canon law. He apprehended that it was a
most serious duty, incumbent on the clergy and the bishops to inquire into the cha-
racter of the persons whose testimonials they were required to sign; and maintained
that the bishops ought not to be satisfied with the signatures of the clergy, to the
exclusion of their own judgments and opinions. If the objection of his noble friends
was against the law as it stood, they should proceed by bringing in a bill which the
House would have an opportunity of discussing.

The motion of Lord Holland was negatived on a division, by 35
against 18.

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. fiances.) (Extract.)

" Tuesday, (May 23d, 1820 )

"We have had to-day another raree show, though not so gay as Epsom race days.
This is the Eton Montem day, and those who have been educated at Eton, and thos-e
who have sons there, make a large party not the smaller, because the king (imitat-
ing, and there he acts very right, his father's example) attends. This attention
attaches all the Etonians (and they are very numerous in their respective generations,)
to the throne and the king.

"I began to lament being at the west end of the town last night. Our next door
neighbour, Mrs. Drummond Burrell, thought proper to give a rout or some such thing;
nobody came till near twelve; and, for some hours, such was the noise and clatter,
that attempt at sleep was quite ridiculous. I hear she has another on Thursday: if
so, I must send my compliments to her, and inform her that against such breaches of
the peace and nuisances, I must grant an injunction.

"My silver dishes, with the gilded copper union seal in the middle of them, are
finished at Makepeace's, and are excessively handsome."

The Hon. William Henry John, the chancellor's second, and then sole surviving


(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. San&es.) (Extract.)

(May 29th, 1820.)

"We had our commemoration of poor Pitt on Saturday. The company did not
amount to more than 250: it ought to have been twice as many: but, after the great-
est and best of men have been buried fourteen years, the attention to the memory
even of those whose names will be had in everlasting remembrance, slackens and
abates wonderfully. Of fifteen members of a cabinet, some of whom, possibly none
of whom, would ever have been in a cabinet, if not brought forward in public life by
him, only four felt it their duty to attend, viz., Wellington, Westmoreland, Bragge,
Bathurst and myself. Mr. Bankes was there, and some other members of Parliament
of his standing and mine, who toiled through many a parliamentary campaign with

"I saw my royal master, as usual, yesterday. The committee to settle the forms
of the coronation have reported to him that, as there is to be no crowning of a queen,
peeresses should not be summoned to attend, and so all former precedents, in like
cases, appear to have been. But he says that, as Queen Elizabeth, though a lady,
had both peers and peeresses, so he, though he has no queen, will have both ladies
and gentlemen to attend him. I think, however, he will not persist in this. The town
here is employed in nothing but speculation whether her majesty will or will not
come. Great bets are laid about it. Some people have taken fifty guineas, under-
taking in lieu of them to pay a guinea a day till she comes, so sure are these that she
will come within fifty days: others again are taking* less than fifty guineas, under-
taking to pay a guinea a day till she comes, so sure are they that she will not come.
Others assert that they know she will come, and that she will find her way into West-
minster Abbey and Westminster Hall on the coronation, in spite of all opposition. I
retain my old opinion that she will not come, unless she is insane. It is, however, certain
that she has appointed maids of honour, ladies to whom she is pleased to give that

"I understand the medals that are to be struck for the coronation, are to have an
inscription in Latin, which imports that he now reigns in his own right, no longer
acting for his father, but that he reigns with all his father's mind and sentiments.-}-

(Lord Eldon to Mrs. Forster.) (Extract.)

" London, June 2d, 1820.

"With respect to the commissionership of bankrupt, it is a good or a bad thing,
as your son may make it the one or the other. If he uses it as a first step of the lad-
der, to enable him to go up higher, it may be a great blessing: if he reposes his foot
upon this first step, it will do him no good. This should be impressed upon him
kindly. After being forty-six years in the profession^ I think, I am sure, I am
correct, when I say most of those who have had this situation, have contented them-
selves with it, who might have risen to great eminence if they had not had it and had
been obliged to work hard. I have now in my possession a letter, in which Lord
Thurlow promised me a commissionership, when it would have been most valuable
to me in point of income; he never gave it me, and he always said it was a favour to
me to withhold it. What he meant was, that he had learnt (a clear truth) that I was
by nature, very indolent; and it was only want that could make me very industrious.
Forster, therefore, must use it only as a_stepping-stone to better things."

From this time, for several months next following, the attention of
the lord chancellor, and, indeed, of the whole nation of king, minis-
ters, Parliament and people was almost engrossed by the claims and
conduct of Queen Caroline. She had been long upon the continent ;
and rumours had prevailed of an improper familiarity between her
and a man named Bergami, whom she had promoted from being her
courier to be her companion. In 1818, a commission was sent to
visit Milan and other places where she had been resident, and to
ascertain the facts upon the spot; and though the result was one
which, in the opinion of the regent and his ministers, established the'

* Quaere, giving, on an undertaking to be paid?

f The motto of these medals was, " Proprio jam jure, animo paterno."


imputed adultery, yet, so long as she continued abroad, and held no
higher station than that of Princess of Wales, it was thought expedient
to abstain from any public proceeding on the subject of her alleged
misbehaviour. When, by her consort's succession to the crown, her
position became changed, the king thought it behoved him to insist
on stringent measures, and pressed his ministers to obtain for him a
divorce. They resisted the proposal : deeming it not only superfluous
but injudicious, to stir such a question while she should continue to
refrain from any offensive or obtrusive proceeding. He was for
some time pertinacious, but yielded at last upon an assurance from
them, that if at any time she should force herself upon him and the
country by returning to England, they would accede to his desire.
This assurance, when they gave it, seemed not only reasonable, but
safe ; so little was at first the apprehension, in any quarter, of her
venturing on a visit to this country. One only slight was put upon
her which, though little regarded at the first, grew afterwards into
matter of great Irritation the omission of her name from the Liturgy.
She had been originally named in it as Princess of Wales ; and that
arrangement had remained unaltered during the regency. W r hen the
prince regent had attained the crown, there was no longer a Princess
of Wales, and the form till that time used was now of course ex-
punged from the Prayer Book. In other circumstances she would
have been reinstated under her new title of queen: but, in the pre-
sent case, it was thought fit to exclude all individual mention of her:
so that the new form of prayer, directed by the privy council, on the
accession of George IV., came out without any reference to her, ex-
cept so far as she might be considered to be comprised in the general
prayer for the royal family.*

The news of the omission of her namefrom the Liturgy reached
her in Italy. After a few days of deliberation, she came to a con-
clusion that it was matter of serious importance to her, and wrote to
Lord Liverpool, not only demanding the insertion of her name in the
Liturgy, but announcing her intention to revisit England. In the
beginning of June she reached St. Omers, at which place she received
from the ministry, through the agency of Lord Hutchinson and of her
chief adviser, Mr. Brougham, proposals of adjustment, of which the
principal were, that she should receive a settlement of 50,000/. a-year,
on condition of her not using the title of Queen of England or any
other title attached to the British royal family, and of her remaining
absent from this country. The consequence of her re-appearance in
England, it was added, would be an immediate message to Parliament
and a refusal of all compromise. The queen indignantly rejected
these terms, set off at once for Calais, sailed for Dover, and on the 6th
of June arrived in London.

The tidings of her approach had reached the ministers on the 5th ;
and on the 6th, after the king had given the royal assent in person

* On this it was afterwards pathetically and strikingly said by Mr., now Lord Den-
man, that if she was included in any general was in the prayer for "all that
are desolate and oppressed."


from the throne of the House of Lords to several bills, a message from
his majesty was delivered to both Houses of Parliament, communi-
cating certain papers relative to her conduct, which were referred by
him to their immediate attention.

The friendship formerly entertained for Lord Eldon by Queen Caro-
line when Princess of Wales had been long since extinguished. She
had become an enthusiastic admirer of Mr. Canning, and had taken
great umbrage at the preference which Mr. Perceval had obtained
over him in the king's favour at the time of the Duke of Portland's
retirement, and which she mainly attributed to the influence of Lord
Eldon. And it is not improbable that the estrangement may have
been widened by the incongruity of her personal habits and modes of
life with those which Lord Eldon approved and practised. She was
now to become for a while a source of unmixed disquiet to him.

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Bankes.~) (Extract.)

"June 7th, (1820,) half-past 9 A. M.

" Contrary to all expectation the queen entered London yesterday in an open car-
riage with the alderman* and Lady Anne Hamilton, and amidst a vast concourse of
people in carriages and on horseback, who had gone out to meet her, and to hail her
approach. She drove to Alderman Wood's house in South Audley Street, where she
exhibited herself and the alderman from a balcony, to all who chose to take a peep at
them, the multitude in the street requiring all who passed by to make their reverences
and obeisances to her majesty. In the mean time messages were sent to both Houses
of Parliament, which may be considered as the forerunners of long parliamentary
proceedings relative to her conduct: these parliamentary proceedings are likely to be
warm on both sides. At present, one can only conjecture what is to happen and
conjecture deserves little confidence, when this lady's arrival has robbed conjecture
of all credit. As yet, indeed, there has been no time to consider what the effect of it
should be upon coronation, drawing-rooms, &c. I think confidently it must postpone
the coronation, and it will require some days to see what can or cannot be done with
the other matters. The king was well received, as he went to and from the House ;
but his reception was nothing like what they gave the queen."

On the evening of the day on which this letter was written, the
7th of June, the king's message was taken into consideration by the
House of Lords, when it was proposed by ministers that the papers
communicated by the king should be referred to a secret committee of
their lordships. This course being opposed by Lord Lansdowne and

The chancellor, expressing the pain which he felt in having to deal with such a
subject, declared that the object of ministers in proposing a secret committee was to
prevent injustice toward the accused. That committee would not be permitted to
pronounce a decision : it would merely find, like a grand jury, that matter of accusa-
tion did or did not exist. Such matter, even if found to have existence, could not be
the subject of & judicial proceeding, strictly so called. The offence of a Queen Con-
sort, or Princess Consort of Wales, committing adultery with a person owing alle-
giance to the British .crown, would be that of a principal in high treason, because, by
statute, it was high treason in him, and as accessories in high treasons are principals,
she would thus be guihy of high treason as a principal. But as the act of a person
owing no allegiance to the British crown could not be high treason in him, so neither
could a princess be guilty of that crime merely by being an accessory to such a per-
son's act. Yet although, for this reason, there could be no judicial proceeding in
such a case, there might be a legislative one: and the existence or non-existence of
grounds for such legislative proceeding was a matter into which it would be fit that a
secret committee should inquire. In no case could injustice be done, because that

* The late Sir Matthew Wood.

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 65)