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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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committee's decision would not be final. There might be differences of opinion about
the best mode of proceeding ; but, for God's sake, if their lordships differed, let it be
understood that they all had the same object in view, and that their difference was
only about the best mode of effecting it.

On the same evening Mr. Wilberforce proposed, in the House of
Commons, an adjournment of the debate on the king's message, in
order to give time for negotiation and compromise. After some cor-
respondence between Lord Liverpool and Mr. Brougham, her majesty
authorized Mr. Brougham and Mr. Denman, on her part, to meet the
Duke of Wellington and Lord Castlereagh on the part of the ministry,
for the purpose of discussing the terms of an adjustment.

Meanwhile, Lord Eldon writes thus to his daughter, Mrs. E.
Bankes :

(June, 1320.)
" My dearest Fan,

" As nobody here talks about anybody but the Q., so nobody here can write about
any thing but the Q., save what they write in the expression of love and affection for
those to whom they write. You will see by the impressions of the seal on this scrap,
that cabinets are quite in fashion ; daily, nightly, hourly cabinets are in fashion. The
lower orders here are all queen's folks ; few of the middling or higher orders, except
the profligate, or those who are endeavouring to acquire power through mischief.
The bulk of those who are in Parliament are afraid of the effect of the disclosures and
discussions which must take place, if there is not some pacific settlement: the queen
is obstinate and makes no propositions tending to that at least as yet; the king is
determined, and will hear of none of nothing but thorough investigation, and of
what he, and those who consider themselves more than him, think and talk of
thorough exposure of the Q., and divorce. To this extent Parliament will not go
but, amidst this mess of difficulties, something must arise in a few days, or it will
happen, I think, in a few days, that the K. will try whether he cannot find an admi-
nistration which can bring Parliament more into his views than the present ministers;
I don't see how matters can go on a week longer with the present administration
remaining; I think no administration, who have any regard for him, will go the length
he wishes, as an administration and if they will, they cannot take Parliament along
with them. That body is afraid of disclosures not on one side only which may
affect the monarchy itself. There is certainly an inclination to disquiet among the
lower orders, but it is so well watched that there is no great cause for uneasiness on
that account. Alderman Wood, who has the queen still in his house, has, in South
Audley Street, before that house, a pretty numerous levee of the family of John and
my lady, as Townsend denominates them."*

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

" June 10th, 1820.

"The newspapers give long accounts of riots here, window breaking, &c., and it's
true that the mob have insisted upon three nights' illuminations (which concluded on
Thursday night) to give importance to the queen's arrival.

" Hardly any body would comply with the commands of the sovereign mob, and,
therefore, more windows have been broken than upon occasions of illumination
usually takes place. The multitudes in the streets never came so far towards Hyde
Park Corner as our house, and therefore we were not molested; and patrols of horse
soldiers between the Duke of Wellington's and kept us very comfortable and quiet.
Last night there was not the least appearance of any disquiet in almost any part of
the town and I think it is all over. At all events, in our part of the town, all will
be as safe as if we were at dear Encombe. Our nightly cabinets don't agree with
mamma, and she, you know, will never go to bed when I am out; but, upon the
whole, 1 think she has had less headache than usual in ordinary times.

" It seems to me that both Houses of Parliament are determined to have an end
of this business between K. and Q. without inquiry and disclosure. All seemed to
be agreed that she shall not live in this country, but there is nothing but difference of
opinion how she is to be treated abroad. The ministers will be compelled to give

John Bull and wife the men and women of England.


way to Parliament and they are in a pretty state: if they give way, the K. will
remove them if they do not," they will be outvoted in Parliament and cannot remain.
At least I don't see my way honourably out of this difficulty. I comfort myself to-
day by a good dinner at Merchant Tailors' Hall, where I am going, as soon as I finish
this scrap, to assist as a tailor in making the Marquis Camden a brother tailor. To-
morrow will be a very busy day, if the Q. means to make any propositions for
arrangement. The K. will make none and, if he can find an administration that
will fight every thing to the last moment at any risk, he will receive none.

"God bless you. We have not been, and now we shall not be, disturbed the Q.
has gone from South Audley Street to Portman Street, quite out of our neighbour-

Under the authority before mentioned, Mr. Brougham and Mr.
Denman met the Duke of Wellington and Lord Castlereagh to dis-
cuss an adjustment. This conference took place on the 15th of
June, when it was laid down as a preliminary, that the queen must
not be understood to admit, nor the king to retract, any thing; and
that the questions to be examined were,*

1. The future residence of the queen abroad.

2. The title which her majesty might think fit to assume when
travelling on the continent.

3. The non-exercise of certain rights of patronage in England,
which it might be desirable that her majesty might desist from exer-
cising should she reside abroad ; arid,

4. The suitable income to be assigned for life to the queen resid-
ing abroad.

This fourth topic the queen desired might be altogether laid aside
in these conferences ; and the differences which arose upon the first
proposition prevented any discussion on the second and third. The
first proposition was one to which the queen's advisers stated that
she had no insuperable objection ; but they required that it should be
accompanied with such arrangements as would prevent any inference
unfavourable to her honour. For this purpose, they suggested that
her majesty should be officially introduced by the king's ministers
abroad to foreign courts ; or, at least, to the court of some one state
which she might select for her residence; and that her majesty's name
should be restored to the Liturgy, or something conceded by way
of equivalent ; the nature of which, however, was not specified by her

It was answered, that on the subject of the Liturgy there could be
no change of what had been resolved ; that with respect to her resi-
dence in any foreign state, the king, although he could not properly
require of any foreign power to receive at its court any person not
received at the court of England, would, however, cause official
notification to be made of her legal character as queen ; and that a
king's yacht or a ship of war, should be provided, to convey her to
the port she might select. These conditions were wholly declined by
the queen, and on the 19th of June the negotiations were broken up.
On the 22d, two resolutions were passed by the House of Commons,
declaring their opinion that when such large advances had been
made toward an adjustment, her majesty, by yielding to the wishes

* Annual Register, p. 159, note.


of the House and forbearing to press further the propositions, on
which a material difference yet remained, would not be understood
as shrinking from inquiry, but only as proving her desire to acquiesce
in the authority of Parliament. A deputation waited upon her with
these resolutions ; but she answered, that she could not consent to
sacrifice any essential privilege, nor withdraw her appeal to the prin-
ciples of public justice, the safeguard alike of the highest and the

This put an end to all hope of adjustment.

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


"Great curiosity to learn what the Q. will do now.

" She said, as I hear, to one of her counsel who called upon her the other clay, just
after prayers, when she was eating, ' This praying makes me very hungry ; if they
put me in the Liturgy, I shall be absolutely famished.'"

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

" June 27th, 1820.

" We had a teazing day yesterday. The queen sent to me, to say she meant to
come in person to the House of Lords. I told her messengers that they must apply
to the House and not to me, for, as speaker, I could admit no ladies during debate
without leave. (Note, when you and other ladies have heard debates, the constitu-
tional supposition is that the chancellor did not know that you were there.) So
we managed that proposition, which, if carried into effect, would have brought John
and my lady, and all the family of John, down to Parliament. Then they desired that
I would deliver a message from her to the House. This I told them I could not do,
as the House did not receive messages from any body but the king, unless they were
sent as answers to addresses from the House. Then they brought a petition from her,
to be presented to the House by me: this I declined also; and for this Messrs. Grey,
Lansdowne and Holland abused me pretty handsomely. However, I don't think I
suffered much by all that, and I am resolved I will not be employed in any way by
this lady. Her petition was presented by Lord Dacre, and it was to beg that her
counsel might be heard, in support of her request, that we would postpone all pro-
ceedings for two months. Brougham and Denrnan were heard: and our debate was
postponed till this evening. If the House comply with her request, her friends will
circulate any number of lies for two months, and she will have prevented any truths
being told in the mean time. I think the House, therefore, can't comply."

The secret committee of the House of Lords, which had been bal-
lotted on the 8th of June, had forborne to meet during the attempts
at compromise ; but it was now become necessary to determine whe-
ther their investigations into her majesty's conduct should proceed.
Lord Grey, on the 27th, moved that the order for their meeting should
be discharged, objecting upon principle against the reference of the
subject to a secret committee, the members of which might afterwards
have to act in a judicial capacity upon the subject of their own report.

The lord chancellor said that this argument had never before been advanced
against the ancient and undoubted right which their lordships possessed, and had been
accustomed to exercise, of appointing a committee preliminary to an investigation
by the whole House, whether in cases of impeachments, of bills of pains and penal-
ties, or of bills of attainder. It was an argument not at all confined to the case of a
secret committee, but applicable, if at all, against any committee whatever. For his
own part, if further proceedings in this important inquiry should be deemed neces-
sary, he should enter upon them in the spirit so ably described by an eminent Eng-
lish judge, who declared that he had made a covenant with God and himself, that
neither affection nor any other undue principle should ever make him swerve from
the strict line of his duty. In that spirit he had always endeavoured to act during
the past, and should endeavour to act in the future. The consciousness of doing so


would be the best consolation he could possess, if he should appear to the friends
whom he esteemed to act wrongly, and would form his best title for pardon at the
hands of that God before whose tribunal all. mankind must sooner or later stand to
be judged.

(Lord Eldon to Ike Hon. Mrs. E. Bankes.') (Extract.)

(End of June, 1820.)

"The committee met yesterday, and the green bag was opened. Whether the lady
was well advised, time will show."

On the 4th of July the committee reported that the charges in the
documents laid before them appeared so deeply to affect the charac-
ter of the queen, the dignity of the crown and the moral feeling and
honour of the country, that, in their opinion, it was indispensable that
these charges should become the subject of a solemn inquiry. And
on the following day a petition was presented by Lord Dacre to the
House of Lords from the queen, praying to be heard on that day by
her counsel, on the subject of this report. This petition having been
supported by Lord Grey,

The chancellor declared that he entered on this question as he would on every
other connected with the present proceedings, with an impartiality which could not
be affected by any thing that might have occurred in the late investigation. With
regard to the present question, he would be glad to know where, in the history of
Parliament, it was to be found, that counsel were ever admitted to be heard against
a measure of some kind or other not yet submitted to their lordships, but which some
noble lord was expected to propose. Would their lordships consider for a moment
what would be the consequence of such a practice 7 He did not go the length of
saying that a bill must, on every occasion, be received on its being offered to their
lordships' consideration, but their practice differed thus much from that of the other
House of Parliament, that when a noble lord had to present a bill, he did not ask leave
to bring it in. Now, let the subject who petitioned be high or low, he would ask their
lordships whether they were prepared to hear counsel against the privilege of a peer
to present a bill?

The prayer of the queen's petition having been rejected, Lord
Liverpool introduced a bill of pains and penalties against her, founded
on the committee's report. The preamble recited that she had car-
ried on a criminal intercourse with a menial of her own, named
Bergami, and the bill proposed to enact that she should therefore be
degraded from the title and station of queen, and that her marriage
should be annuled.

Next day, the 6th, another petition was presented from her
majesty, again desiring that her counsel might be heard. The chan-
cellor did not treat this prayer as wholly inadmissible in the stage
which the proceeding had now reached, but contended that counsel
ought to be instructed to confine themslves to the mode of proceeding
which was to be had upon the bill, and the time when such proceed-
ing was to take place. This restriction the House, after some debate,
adopted, and Mr. Brougham and Mr. Denman, as her majesty's attor-
ney and solicitor-general, were heard accordingly ; but without effect
upon the decision of the House to proceed with the bill. Mr. Brough-
am, in the course of his speech, made a trial of his strength against
the body he was addressing, by an attempt to break through the re-
striction just prescribed. The chancellor at once interposed.

He was of opinion that in pursuing that line of argument, the learned counsel had


not complied with the instructions which had been notified to him as the commands
of their lordships. If their lordships thought fit to allow such a latitude of argument,
they certainly had it in their power to do so; but, as a peer of Parliament, he must
say that he would not sit upon the woolsack to listen to it.

Mr. Brougham resumed :

He would persist in making the attempt to pursue that line of argument until he
was silenced by the authority of their lordships. In doing so he was only performing
a sacred duty, which he owed to his illustrious client, and which his conscience in-
formed him that no difficulty or danger ought to induce him to neglect. If prevented
from performing it, he must certainly bend before their lordship's power. Their lord-
ships, however, were used to be just.

The lord chancellor

Their lordships are just, and have made their present order for the purpose of con-
tinuing so.

Upon this second check, Mr. Brougham gave a different direction
to his argument.

Some discussion respecting the course of proceeding took place on
the 10th, when it was arranged that the next stage of the bill should
be taken on the 17th of August. On the 14th of July, Lord Erskine
moved that the queen should be furnished with a list of the witnesses
against her : which motion was opposed by the chancellor and other
peers, and refused. The next application was by petition from herself,
presented by Lord Erskine on the 24th, requesting a specification of
the place or places in which the criminal acts imputed to her were
charged to have been committed. This prayer also was opposed by
the chancellor, among other peers, and rejected. In both refusals,
the chancellor proceeded upon the general rules of law, denying the
' ' a lgy of the peculiar proceedings in high treason.

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

(Probably July, 1820.)

"I hope and trust justice will be done in the inquiry; and, for myself, I am deter-
mined to look neither to the right nor to the left, to court no favour from any party,
but, doing my duty faithfully and to the best of an unbiased judgment, to preserve
that state of comfort in my own mind which I have hitherto laboured not to forfeit.

(The same to the same.')

(July 15th, 1820.)

"It is not yet publicly known, though the fact is so, that Lincoln goes to Winches-
ter. Exeter is most bitterly disappointed, and it is rumoured that the K. had repeat-
edly promised it to him, whenever it should be vacant. But you know I have always
said that king's promises are not to be relied upon : in fact, they have less will of their
own than any of their subjects have, and they are ill used when they are reproached
for breach of promise. For, in the nature of the thing, their promises can mean no
more than that they will express a wish about the matter to the minister for the time
being; for no minister could remain if he had not, to use a vulgar expression, his say
about such a thing as the bishopric of Winchester."

Two bills mitigating the criminal law, by the abolition of capital
punishment in certain cases, were debated on the 17th and 18th, and,
after some alterations by the chancellor, were passed into law. They
are chapters 115 and 116 of the 1st of Geo. 4.

A bill was read a second time on the 13th of July for amending
the Marriage Act, by giving validity, retrospectively, in certain cases
of hardship, to marriages invalid by the existing law.


The chancellor resisted this bill. He admitted, that relief had been properly given
with respect to marriages in chapels which were not consecrated before the Marriage
Act, because those marriages had been universally believed to be good, and the legis-
lature had acted on the principle that "communis error facit jus." But this bill
would have the most injurious operation, by shaking those rights of succession to
property on which the parties had calculated under the existing law.

The second reading having been carried, the chancellor again op-
posed the bill on the 19th, when a motion was made for its re-com-

He said that if this measure did not amount to a total repeal of the old Marriage
Act, he knew not what would. The mischievous effects of the proposed retrospect
would go back not merely to yesterday nor to ten nor twenty years ago but to the
year 1723. It made all marriages contracted since 1723 (however invalid and illegal
they might have been,) good and valid ones, unless the parents and guardians of the
parties (although it might very well happen that many of them had no parents nor
guardians at all) should have interfered and proceeded to prevent them. This bill, it
appeared to him, went to take away the advantages of legitimacy from those who were
legitimate issue, and to confer them upon the illegitimate. His lordship concluded
by expressing his conviction, that it was a measure calculated to affect the whole
mass of private property in this kingdom, both as to succession and possession ; and
upon these grounds it was, that, striving rather to revise it than to defeat its primary
object, he most humbly, most earnestly, and most solemnly, entreated their lordships
gravely to consider the objects and nature of the bill, and to allow it to be brought
forward in an amended shape at an early period of the ensuing session.

These arguments prevailed, and the bill was defeated for that ses-

The queen's trial, as it was usually called, that is, the examination
before the House of Lords into the truth of the recitals set forth in the
preamble of the bill of pains and penalties, stood appointed for the
17th of August. The popular excitement continued unabated, and
was even supposed to involve some personal danger to all who were
connected with the proceedings. The present Lord Eldon says :

" Having then been at home for my holydays as a schoolboy, I well
remember Townsend, the Bow Street officer, coming to Hamilton
Place more than once previous to the day of the trial, and begging
the chancellor not to expose himself to the danger of driving by the
Mall and through the Horse Guards as usual, but to go by Birdcage
Walk, which was not then a public carriage road, stating that he him-
self would appoint persons with the key of Storey's Gate to meet him
there, whence he might more easily proceed to the House of Lords.
But the Lord Chancellor Eldon of 1820 treated the whole matter as
quietly as the Attorney-General Sir John Scott had treated the busi-
ness of 1794; and on the appointed morning, the 17th of August,
taking with him his surviving son and his grandson, the only persons
in existence through whom his title could descend, and accompanied
likewise by one of his official attendants, he drove down in perfect
security, by his usual route, to the House of Lords. My uncle ac-
companied Lord Eldon on that occasion, naturally from his own wish
as a protection to his father in case of danger, but I could not have
been of much service, being less than fifteen years of age ; I had, how-
ever, been in the habit of accompanying him when he drove to the
courts of Westminster or Lincoln's Inn, and as I wished to see, from
the residence of Mr. Bankes, in Palace Yard, the arrival of the queen


and the peers at the House of Lords, he readily permitted me to take
my usual place in his carriage. The populace, that morning, broke
the barriers which had been meant to exclude them from Palace
Yard ; nor were they removed thence by the Horse Guards who were
called in to repress them. But this did not occur until after Lord
Eldon had gone into the House of Lords, nor was it attended with
any material consequences."

The House of Lords being assembled for the purpose of proceeding
with the bill, counsel were called in, and some preliminary arguments,
debates, and divisions occupied the House until Saturday the 19th,
on which day the attorney-general, Sir R. Gifford, entered upon the
charges which constituted the preamble of the bill. On the Monday
the examination of witnesses began, and the case for the crown went
forward till the 7th of September, when it was summoned up by the
solicitor-general, Sir John Copley. On the 8th and 9th the course
of further proceeding was discussed, after which, on the latter day,
the House adjourned to the 3d of October in order to give time to the
queen for the preparation of her defence.

The privation of pecuniary means was not among the hardships
inflicted on her majesty. On the contrary, she was furnished from
the treasury with ample resources, both for her defence and for her
personal comfort. It was arranged, also, that a residence should be
purchased for her by the government ; and the house at first suggested
for this purpose was one in Hamilton Place, next door to that occupied
by Lord Eldon. The intelligence of this proposal annoyed him inex-
pressibly, both on his own account, and, still more, on Lady Eldon's.
Constant crowds would be gathering under his very windows, and
they would be persons of a class very likely to make him the object
of their noisy molestation. This he at once resolved that he would
not endure, and he wrote to Lord Liverpool as follows :

" My dear Lord,

" I understand, upon inquiry, that the transaction as to the Hamilton Place house
cannot take effect without government making themselves a party to it. I should be
very unwilling to state any thing offensively, but I cannot but express my confidence

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 8 of 65)