« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Petition of the Grenadier Guards. 249
the Crown on the one hand and the country on the other. The officers of the Grenadier Guards had memorialised Her Majesty for the purpose of getting redress for an alleged act of injustice by which, owing to the operation of a Royal Warrant of the 6th of October, 1854, Lieutenant-Colonels, after three years' service in actual command of a battalion, became by right full Colonels if officers of the Line, but not if they were officers of the Guards. The Prince, as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, had appended his name to the memorial, and thereupon a general attack was made upon him in the Times newspaper, making mention of 'a general 'assertion that the Prince exercised much influence in 'military matters, especially as respects the highest mili'tary appointments,' and saying that it was intolerable that the Queen should be 'placed in the ungracious 'position of refusing the prayer of one who ought to be 'careful how he sues, where he should not sue in vain,' inasmuch as his name to the petition ' gave a force to 'the prayer which almost converted it into a com'mand.'1
In contrast to the clear theoretical view of his position to which the Prince Consort from time to time gave expression, in reference to the Commandership-inChief, it is necessary to notice with some particularity a few illustrative instances in which he practically vindicated for himself a position which either implied an unprecedented extension of the functions of Royalty in the matter of interference with the practical conduct of the Government, or the interposition between the Crown and its Ministers of a wholly novel personality,
1 Life of the Prince Contort, vol. iii. p. 412.
independent of the Crown, and not subject, as are the Ministers of the Crown, to the control of Parliament. So far as these acts of interference implied an extension of the functions of Royalty, the subject belongs properly to the consideration of the general topic of the Royal prerogative and of the recent controversies relating to it, which will be discussed in the next section. So far as these acts point to a novel claim generally to interpose in administrative action, put forward, whether in theory or practice, by the Prince Consort, as occupying a position distinct from that of the mere agent or confidential representative of the Crown, it needs only to recall some of the circumstances of these acts of intervention to demonstrate how far they are incompatible with the structure and working of the English Constitution in its historic and legal form.
The political inconvenience resulting from any appearance of concern on the part of a Prince Consort in the result of a party conflict in the Houses of Parliament, as well as the harassing position in which he may be placed by any exhibition of such sympathy, may be understood from what took place when the Prince Consort appeared in the House of Commons on the 27th of January, 1846, while Sir Robert Peel was developing, in a series of resolutions, his scheme of financial policy, which included a total abolition of the Corn Laws at the end of three years. The time was one of no ordinary political excitement, inasmuch as the indignation of the Tories against Sir Robert Peel for what was regarded by them as his treachery had just reached feverpoint. Mr. Disraeli, in his life of Lord George Bentinck, recalled with manifest approval the strong language of Lord George Bentinck in deprecation of the Prince's Debate on the Repeal of the Corn-Laws. 251
conduct; and the passage cited from the speech is of the greater importance because neither Lord Beaconsfield nor Lord George Bentinck could at any time in his career be accused of disloyalty or of want of the most faithful attachment to the English monarchy and to monarchical institutions generally. 'If,' said Lord George Bentinck, speaking on the twelfth night of the debate, ' so humble an individual as myself might be 'permitted to whisper a word in the ear of that illus'trious and royal personage, who, as he stands nearest, 'so is he justly dearest to her who sits upon the throne, 'I would take leave to say that I cannot but think he 'listened to ill advice when, on the first night of this 'great discussion, he allowed himself to be seduced by 'the first minister of the Crown to come down to this 'House to usher in, to give iclat, and, as it were, by 'reflection from the Queen, to give the semblance of a 'personal sanction of Her Majesty to a measure, which, 'be it for good or for evil, a great majority, at least, of 'the landed aristocracy of England, of Scotland, and of 'Ireland, imagine fraught with deep injury, if not ruin, 'to them—a measure, which, not confined in its opera'tion to this great class, is calculated to grind down 'countless smaller interests engaged in the domestic 'trades and interests of the Empire, transferring the 'profits of all these interests—English, Scotch, Irish, 'and Colonial—great and small alike, from Englishmen, 'from Scotchmen, and from Irishmen, to Americans, 'to frenchmen, to Russians, to Poles, to Prussians, and 'to Germans.'
Mr. Disraeli records that the fact that ' many mode'rate men on both sides' were disquieted by the incident of the Prince's presence in the House was enough to satisfy the Prince that he had been better away.1 It i3 proper to notice that to his account of the transaction Mr. Martin adds 'a note by the Queen,' which is as follows: 'The Prince merely went, as the Prince of 'Wales and the Queen's other sons do, for once to hear 'a fine debate, which is so useful to all princes. But 'this he naturally felt unable to do again.'
It is well known with what strained and unintermittent attention both the Queen and the Prince Consort watched the events of the Crimean war. It was no doubt unavoidable, even were it matter for regret, that both the one and the other studied, in the way described in Mr. Martin's third volume, every political and military circumstance which from month to month determined the progress of the war, and that they not only were always ready to give the help of their counsel to the Government of the day in cases of real perplexity, but were on occasions eager to take the initiative in suggesting a policy and plan of military action for which the Government was not yet prepared. Nevertheless, while making all allowances for the promptings of an eager and patriotic spirit, it is impossible, not to descry in some acts of the Prince Consort during this period a disposition to overstep the limits which a due regard to the working of the Constitution must affix both to the exercise of the Royal prerogative and to the freedom of independent action conceded to a Prince Consort. In such matters as proffered advice, suggestions, exhortations, warnings, and the like, the line is undoubtedly a fine one which could be drawn for the purpose of separating a commendable human solicitude in a matter at
1 Life of Lord George Bentinok, by B. Disraeli, p. 106.
The Crimean War.
once of the deepest importance and of a peculiarly close personal concern from the cautious, self-restrained, and purely tentative suggestiveness which could alone befit either a Sovereign, who is known to the Constitution only through the Ministers of the Crown, or an extrinsic counsellor who has no other constitutional relations to those Ministers than such as are necessarily implied in personal intimacies and friendly associations. However difficult it may be to draw this line, no unprejudiced reader of the Prince's biography could deny that at certain crises during the Crimean war he assumed a position of consciously directed influence, and indeed exerted a pressure over the counsels of the Cabinet and, indirectly, over the actions of Parliament, which, if it had proceeded from a King such as George III., would in the present day have met with the sternest constitutional remonstrance; and which, if defended on the ground of its being solely appropriate to the situation of a Prince Consort, must render the discharge of such political functions incompatible with the existence of harmonious relations between the Cabinet and Parliament, and with the free and unrestrained internal action of the Cahinet in view of these relations. It is not necessary to supply more than two or three instances of what is meant by these assertions.
At the close of the year 1854, when the worst accounts had arrived from the Crimea, and Lord Raglan had reported that, even although Sebastopol should be taken, it was doubtful whether he could keep his forces in the Crimea during the winter, the Prince Consort wrote on the 11 th of November a letter to Lord Aberdeen, in which, after reviewing what he regarded as the causes of the disasters, he says: 'The time is