Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

declined to take office, and prolonged for two years the regime of his opponents, solely because the Queen refused to remove certain ladies of her bedchamber who had been appointed by the Government he was called upon to supersede. The whole affair has been dwelt upon from so many points of view (including that presented by Mr. Disraeli in his novel of ' Coningsby'), that there is little now to be said about it, except to notice the necessity and the difficulty which the Constitution experiences in providing for the Sovereign a sanctum of personal liberty, while guarding against the introduction at Court of influences which, however feeble in the case of a mature and experienced Sovereign, might be omnipotent in the case of one j ust called to the throne; and which might afford, as some of the worst periods of English history abundantly demonstrate, a dangerous and chronic counterpoise to the counsels of the constitutional advisers of the Crown. The whole transaction can be best understood in the light of the circumstances in which the Royal Household was originally constituted at the time of the Queen's accession ; and it would appear that the arrangements were carefully made by concert between Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister, and Lord Lansdowne, the President of the Council. Mr. Torrens quotes the following interesting letter, addressed by Lord Melbourne to Lord Lansdowne on the 22nd of June, 1837: 'It is very necessary that 'some of the situations in the Queen's household, such 'as some of her ladies, and the Privy Purse, should 'be settled without further delay. It appears by 'Chamberlayne's " Present State of England," which is * the only authority we can as yet find upon the subject, 'that Queen Anne had a Privy Purse, a Groom of the Settlement of the Queen s Household. 235

'Stole, a first Lady of the Bedchamber, and ten other 'ladies of the Bedchamber. The Queen thinks that 'such an establishment of ladies would at present be 'unnecessarily large, and she is disposed to think that 'the establishment of Queen Consort would be sufficient 'for her, viz., one Mistress of the Robes, and six Ladies 'in Waiting. I told her what you desired me upon 'the part of Lady Lansdowne, and she was much grati'fied by it. If Lady Lansdowne thinks herself not 'equal in point of health to be the Mistress of the 'Robes, could she in the first instance take that of the 'first Lady in Waiting, with the understanding that 'she should be allowed to spare herself; for instance, 'some other lady might be got to take the. waitings at 'the first drawing rooms?'

In a letter written the next day, Lord Melbourne says: 'I saw the Queen last night, and the arrange'ment which she seems to approve is, that if Lady 'Lansdowne will take the situation of first Lady in 'Waiting, with the understanding that she is not to 'give any formal attendance, she would then appoint a 'Mistress of the Robes, a first Lady in Waiting, and 'six other ladies for the ordinary duty. She is desirous 'that the Duchess of Sutherland should be the Mistress 'of the Robes if she will undertake it. Lady Tavistock 'will be one of her ladies,—Lady Rosebery, I am sorry 'to say, declines. If this arrangement will suit Lady 'Lansdowne, I will write to the Duchess of Sutherland.'

It has been in some quarters suspected that the Queen's refusal to make the changes in her Household required by Sir Robert Peel proceeded from the advice of Lord Melbourne and the outgoing Cabinet, while the demand to make the change proceeded as much from the Duke of Wellington as from Sir Robert Peel himself, so that the whole affair was in essence a mere party conflict outside the walls of Parliament. But Mr. Torrens, in his ' Life of Lord Melbourne,' calls attention to Lord Melbourne's speech in the House of Lords, in which he justified his conduct and repudiated most distinctly all share in advising Her Majesty as to her treatment of Sir Robert Peel's demand. In the course of his speech Lord Melbourne said: 'It is a bad thing to have 'nothing to oppose to charges and imputations of this 'kind, but one's own mere personal assertion. But when 'I parted with Her Majesty on the morning of Wednes'day last, I thought it my duty to tender such advice 'as I gave her with respect to the persons to whom she 'ought to apply, and to the course which it was incum'bent on her to follow. I thought it, I say, my duty 'to tender such advice to Her Majesty, considering the 'novelty and difficulty in which she was placed. But 'I most distinctly assure your Lordships,—not using 'any asseverations or protestations; for mere asse* verations and protestations might possibly produce on 'the minds of your Lordships the same effect which 'they would produce on mine, and might rather in'duce a doubt of the veracity of the party using them. 'But I most distinctly assure you, that as to the ladies 'of the household I gave Her Majesty no advice what'ever; for I fairly declare to you, my Lords, that I did 'not expect, that I did not anticipate, I could not con'ceive that this proposition could be made. There are 'many reasons why this proposition should not be made 'to Her Majesty. They are so obvious that I need not 'particularise them.'1'

1 Memoirs of Lord MeWowrne, vol. ii. pp. 303, 304.

Ministerial Changes in the Household. 237

Mr. Gladstone, in his lately republished criticism of Mr. Martin's first volume,1 says that the record of the transaction given in * Hansard' rests mainly upon two letters, one from the Queen, and the other from Sir Robert Peel; and these two letters do not fully harmonise in their representation of the facts. The Queen in her letter mentions and refuses the proposal of Sir Robert Peel 'to remove the ladies of her bedchamber.' Sir Robert Peel, in his answer, speaks only of his desire to remove a portion of them. The Queen's letter is as follows: 'The Queen, having considered the proposal 'made to her yesterday by Sir Robert Peel, to remove 'the ladies of her bedchamber, cannot consent to adopt 'a course which she conceives to be contrary to usage, * and which is repugnant to her feelings.' Mr. Gladstone says that 'it is very difficult to understand why 'Sir Robert Peel did not dispel, if only for his own 'sake, the misapprehension under which the Queen's 'letter may have been written. At present the docu'mentary evidence only shows that Her Majesty refused 'an unreasonable demand; and that he retired from 'his high position because he adhered to a demand 'which, whether necessary or not, was not unreasonable. 'If in truth the matter turned upon Her Majesty's re'sistance to this narrower request, it is quite possible 'that it was an error on the one side to press the request 'to extremity, and on the other to refuse it. Had it 'been upon the wider stipulation, all would surely have 'admitted that there was full warrant for the refusaL' The practice as now settled is, as Mr. Gladstone describes it, for the Mistress of the Robes, who is not periodically resident at the Court, but only an atten1 Gleaningt of Past Yean, vol. i. p. 40.

dant on great occasions, to change with the Ministry; while the Ladies in Waiting, who, by virtue of their office, enjoy much more of personal contact with the Sovereign, are appointed and continue in their appointments without regard to the political connexions of their husbands.1

5. The history of the late Prince Consort throws a good deal of light on certain constitutional questions which, in parallel circumstances, may again be mooted, and for the solution of which certain controversies which that history records will certainly be cited as precedents. The personal character and conduct of the Prince, and the details of the political conflicts by which the constitutional issues from time to time at stake were too often shrouded, are now sufficiently known to all by the help of Mr. Theodore Martin's elaborate biography. It is fortunately, however, quite possible to separate the accidental, personal, and political details from the matters which were and are of lasting constitutional interest.

Writing to the Queen on the 10th of December preceding his marriage in the February of 1840, the Prince discloses a clear apprehension of the purely non-party character which, constitutionally speaking, it behoved a Royal Consort to assume. With respect to the selection of members of his household, he writes: 'I should wish 'particularly that the selection should be made without 'regard to politics, for if I am really to keep myself 'free from all parties, my people must not belong ex'clusively to one side. ... It is very necessary they 'should be chosen from both sides—the same number 'of Whigs as of Tories.'3

1 See Qnizot's Life of Sir Robert Peel, p. 81.

* Martin's Life of tlte Prinoe Contort, vol i. p. 54.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »