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her to restrain the exuberance of her natural emotions within strait and narrow limits, Her Majesty has never been an extinct volcano. This renders all the more marvellous the scrupulous conscientiousness with which the Queen has restrained herself within the limits of Constitutionalism. No Minister, since the famous bedchamber incident, can accuse her of having overstepped by as much as a hair's breadth the boundary of her authority. Had she lived in the sixteenth century she could have queened it as royally in that age of ruffles and furbelows as Queen Elizabeth herself. But as she lived in the nineteenth, she repressed the visible manifestation of her authority. She gave none of her Ministers any opportunity of complaining of her loyalty, but she nevertheless left none of them under the delusion that their Sovereign had not a will and judgment of her own. These lost none of their force by being dammed up within strictly Constitutional lines.
I begin the record by describing the Queen's one mistake-a mistake publicly admitted and apologised for-but one which illustrates better than any other episode of the reign how much a Sovereign can do in a moment of crisis.
Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister when the Queen came to the throne, had in the General Election of 1837 secured a majority in the House of Commons of twelve votes. He became the inseparable guide, philosopher, and friend of the young Queen. He saw her morning, noon, and night. She loved him as a daughter and followed him as a disciple. When in May, 1839, the Melbourne Government resigned, the blow fell upon her like a thunderclap. The cause hardly seemed to her to justify such a wrench. The Jamaican planters having abused their opportunity in that self-governed colony to thwart the will of the nation as to the treatment of their emancipated slaves, the Government proposed to suspend the Jamaican Constitution for five years. They expected to carry the second reading by twenty; they only escaped defeat by a majority of five. Thereupon they resigned. Lord John Russell was deputed to inform her of their decision.
Says Mr. Greville :
“ The Queen has not been prepared for this catastrophe and was completely upset by it. Her agitation and grief were very great. 'In her interview with Lord John Russell she was all the time dissolved in tears; and she dined in her own room and never appeared on the Tuesday evening.”
She was only nineteen. At one stroke she was to lose her beloved Melbourne, her trusty Lord John, and to be handed over to the austere ungracious Peel with his severe manners, and all for what?
A reduction of the majority of twelve to five. The Ministry had not even been defeated. No wonder she chased against what almost appeared a desertion.
The young Queen at this time was not merely a politician with strong personal sympathies—that she has always been and is to this day—but she was a thoroughgoing partisan ; as much a Whig as Lord Melbourne, and much more dogmatical. For she was not without a certain priggishness of the nursery in those days, as, for instance, when she is said to have replied to Lord Melbourne's mild remark as to the expediency of some course he was recommending, “I have been taught, my Lord, to judge between what is right and what is wrong, but expediency is a word I neither wish to hear nor to understand.” So hoity-toity a schoolgirl was she in those days.
The young Queen took sides sans phrase. Sir Theodore Martin in that monumental work of his which forms the great literary memorial of the first half of the reign, admits as much when he says :
“It cannot be denied that the young Queen's warm, personal regard for Lord Melbourne and for the adherents of his Administration, who had surrounded Her Majesty since her accession, had not unnaturally caused her to drift into political partisanship. . : . The continuance of the state of things to which this led must have been productive of consequences the most mischievous.”
No doubt. But the good Queen, with her pragmatical notions of right and wrong, her strong impulses, and the mounting pulse of Tudor blood, was not much given to count the cost. She wept, she entreated, not improbably she stormed, but Lord John Russell could only repeat that the Cabinet agreed they could not carry on, that the end had come, and that she would have to send for the other side. So he wrote out his resignation, to which the Queen replied as follows:
“The Queen received this morning Lord John Russell's letter, and she can assure him she never felt more pain than in learning from him yesterday that the Government had determined to resign. Lord John is well aware, without the Queen's expressing it, how much she was satisfied with the manner in which he performed his duties, which were performed in a manner which has greatly tended to the welfare and prosperity of this country.”
But as Melbourne refused to carry on, she acted on his advice and sent for the Duke of Wel
lington. The hero of Wa
terloo seventy years
old, and extremely deaf.
The Queen told
frankly she was very sorry
to part with her Ministers,
especially with Lord
Melbourne, who had been
to her almost a father.
The Duke, says Greville.
with her behaviour and
her frankness. On his part
he was not less frank. “I
too old and too deaf,"
he said, “to your
Majesty. The leader of the
House of Commons
Minister;" and he ad
vised her to send for Sir
Robert Peel and to give
him all her confidence.
“Will you desire him to THE QUEEN IN 1843.
come to me?" said the
(From a Miniature, dedicated to H.R.H. Prince Albert,
Queen. "Better write to
him yourself," said the Duke. “I will do so," she replied ; “but go and tell him to expect my letter."
Mr. Brett, in his charming and instructive little book, " The Yoke of Empire," has given us various descriptions of Peel, as he appeared in those days to Disraeli, to Carlyle, and to others. But he omits the picture of Peel to be found in Lord Shaftesbury's Diary, which perhaps helps us most to understand what subsequently occurred. We all know the kind of man Lord Shaftesbury was. His philanthropy has earned for him everlasting remembrance. But in those far-off days he was better known as a bigoted Protestant Evangelical, who wrote lamentations over the Queen's accepting the dedication of a book because it was written by a Unitarian, and who exulted greatly in rousing a popular frenzy on the subject of “ Papal Usurpations and the Spirit of Popery." Peel and Ashley took sweet counsel together on the delightful
subject of the approach of a great religious struggle—a kind of Papal-Protestant Armageddon. The Queen, without being giddy, was gay. Lord Melbourne was the last man in the world to inspire her with religious fanaticism. He was genial, easygoing, indifferent. To exchange him for Sir Robert Peel, with all his ill manners, his sombre, serious ways, and his anti-Papal forebodings, was almost more than she could bear. But to have to put up with Peel in the Closet, and Ashley in the Household, was really asking too much. Yet it was this, and nothing short of this, that confronted her when she refused to part with the Ladies of the Bedchamber. But this is anticipating
When the Queen received Sir Robert Peel she told him that she regretted the outgoing Ministers, and added, “You must not expect me to give up the society of Lord Melbourne." Peel acquiesced, not ungraciously. Then she said she hoped there would be no dissolution of Parliament. Peel demurred, with some surprise : it might be impossible to carry on without a dissolution. Then he began to talk of
some modification of the Ladies of the Household.” “The Queen stopped him at once, and declared she would not part with any of them.” But at that first interview Sir Robert Peel failed to realise how keenly the Queen felt on the subject. received him," says Greville “ (though she dislikes him) extremely well, and he was perfectly satisfied.” Next day he sent for Lord Ashley, and from the record of their interview, transcribed from the diary of the latter in Hodder's “ Life of the Earl of Shaftesbury," it is evident that he had no idea from that first conversation how determined the Queen was that he should not interfere with her ladies. The extract is as follows:
“On morning of 9th May (Thursday) received letter from Peel desiring my instant attendance. Went thither . he opened conversation by saying that the sense of his responsibility weighed him down. Here am I,' added he, • called on to consider the construction of the Queen's Household, and I wish very much to have your free and confidential advice on the subject. I remember that I am to provide the attendants and companions of this young woman, on whose moral and religious character depends the welfare of millions of human beings.' What shall I do? I wish to have those around her who will be, to the country and myself, a guarantee that the tone and temper of their character and conversation will tend to her moral improvement. The formation of a Cabinet, the appointment to public offices, is easy enough ; it is a trifle compared to the difficulties and necessities of this part of my business. Now,' said he, will you assist me ? Will you take a place in the Queen's household? Your character is such in the country, you are so connected with the religious societies and the religion of the country, you are so well known, and enjoy so high a reputation, that you can do more than any
I am ashamed,' he added with emphasis, “to ask such a thing of you; I know how unworthy any place about Court is of you; but you see what my position is.”
Lord Ashley, instead of being complimented at this proposal to make him keeper of the morals and religion of the Court and the Queen, “felt his vanity not a little wounded”—“a life at Court I had ever contemplated with the utmost horror.” The offer, in his eyes, “ involved the absolute and painful sacrifice of everything I valued in public and private life." ...“ Nevertheless,” he told Peel, “ that as I believed the interests, temporal and eternal, of many millions to be wrapped up in the success of his Administration, and no man should live for himself alone, but should do his duty in that state of life to which it should please God to call him, I would, if he really and truly thought I could serve his purpose, accept, if he wished it, the office of Chief Scullion.” “I thought he would have burst into tears."
Sir Robert Peel with Lord Ashley, the destined custodian of the faith and morals of the Court, then drove off together to Buckingham Palace, and on their way down they talked over the Ladies of the Bedchamber, agreeing to do no more than was absolutely necessary. They parted at the Palace gates. But inside the Palace the statesman found his Sovereign in no mood to submit to his interference with her “Your Majesty," said Peel, "must consider your Ladies in the same light as your Lords."
“No," she answered with quick decisiveness, “I have Lords besides, and these I give up to you."
Peel, dismayed at the resolute refusal, implored her not to be precipitate. Would Her Majesty see the Duke of Wellington ?
Certainly. Her Majesty did not shrink from seeing anybody, and having it out with them there and then.
The white-headed Duke came, but this time it was not he who held Hugoumont. It was in vain he laid down the law.
The Queen had made up her mind and stuck to it.
Sir Robert Peel returned. He tried to explain that he would not dream or making sweeping changes. But there were some great ladies of the household who were almost as much political personages as their husbands. Lady Normanton, for instance, was so closely related to the Irish Viceroy and Irish Secretary, that it was necessary that she at least must go. He could not, he said, when accepting office without a majority, at the same time allow the world to see a Court entirely officered by ladies whose husbands were his strongest political opponents. The Queen, however, appeared to think she must take her stand on principle, and not one Woman of the Bedchamber would she give up. Peel begged her not to be precipitate, and withdrew. After leaving her to consider his proposition calmly he returned. “Three successive times did he see her," says Lord Ashley. But Her Majesty stood to her guns, and Peel withdrew.
Then the Queen sat down, and wrote a note to Lord Melbourne: “Do not fear,” she said, " that I was not calm and composed. They wanted to deprive me of my Ladies, and I suppose they would deprive me next of my dressers and housemaids; they wished to treat me like a girl, but I will show them that I am Queen of England.”
The Cabinet was hurriedly summoned. Lord Grey recalled a precedent of 1830 when he left the Ladies of the Bedchamber undisturbed. Lord John Russell was anxious and eager to support the Queen. Lord Spencer said that as gentlemen they could not do other than stand by the Queen. Lord Melbourne," unwilling to abandon his Sovereign in a situation of difficulty and distress," agreed with his colleagues to advise the Queen to inform Sir Robert Peel that,
“ The Queen having considered the proposals made to her yesterday by Sir Robert Peel to remove the Ladies of the Bedchamber, cannot consent to a course which she considers to be contrary to usage and is repugnant to her feelings.”
This message was promptly transmitted to Sir Robert Peel, who there and then threw up the task of forming a Governmeut. When Lord Melbourne and Lord John went to see the Queen, she told them her whole story. The narrative lasted an hour, and at its close the Queen said, “I have stood by you; you must now stand by me.”
And stand by her they did. They said frankly that the principle for which the Queen contended was not maintainable, but they were bound as gentlemen, when the Queen had recourse to them, to support her.
So Lord Melbourne came back to office to remain Prime Minister two years longer; years during which was accomplished the most momentous event of his administration, the marrying the Queen to Prince Albert. That was a supremely important task; much more important than the accession of Sir Robert Peel to power in 1839 instead of 1841.
The Queen was constitutionally in the wrong. She afterwards frankly admitted it. “No one was to blame," she said, “but myself. It was my own foolishness." But considering that Sir Robert Peel intended to put her Court in charge of Lord Ashley, was she not justified by the event?
Lord Ashley was an excellent man, but in his eyes the Prince Consort would have been unacceptable as a German Rationalist. A man who in his old age could publicly declare that so innocent a book as Professor Seeley's “ Ecce Homo "was the worst book vomited from the mouth of Hell, would have decidedly been in the wrong place when the important business of the wooing of the Neologian was on the carpet. Read what Lord Ashley wrote a week after the crisis was over, and say whether it was not a premonitory instinct of self-preservation which led the Queen to ward off this Hot