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The Commandership-in-Chief. 245
which too great proximity to the person and counsels of the Sovereign must be productive, at the least, of constitutional embarrassment, and, in critical times, of real political difficulty. The grave thought given by the Prince to the whole of the question obliged him to recognise that his true position must be one which implied any amount of confidence, help, representation, and counsel, but which in no case could place the Prince Consort in a situation which might under any conceivable circumstances become one of constitutional antithesis either to the Queen or to Parliament. It is the more satisfactory to learn, from the Prince's correspondence with respect to this matter, that he appreciated to the full the undoubted constitutional position which is the only tolerable one for the husband or wife of a reigning monarch to occupy in this country, as it can scarcely be denied that,—whether on account of his being overborne by political zeal, or through a restlessness of temperament, or through the unwise counsels of those near him who had been brought up in a Continental school of thought,—he did at certain times personally intervene in the political contests of the day between the Queen's ministers and Parliament, and between the Queen's ministers and the Opposition party in the House of Commons, in. a way and to a degree whicb the Constitution does not permit to the Queen herself, and whicb could only be attributed to the private action of the Prince Consort himself independently of the Queen.
The subject of the Commandership-in-Chief seems originally to have been mooted in 1842, when, says Mr. Martin,'the appointment of the Prince to the office of 'Commander-in-Chief, in the event of the demise of 'the Duke of Wellington, had been privately contem'plated by the Ministry, and was even discussed at the 'same interview between Lord Aberdeen and Baron 'Stockmar.'1 Mr. Martin says that Baron Stockmar at once expressed his decided disapproval of the project, and on nearly the same grounds which led the Prince to decline the office when its acceptance was pressed upon him by the Duke himself in 1850. In March, 1845, the Prince Consort relates, in a letter to Baron Stockmar, that he had discussed with Sir Robert Peel, then Prime Minister, the question of the Commandership-inChief, and that Sir Robert Peel had said, in regard to the Commandership-in-Chief,'that the army would be 'greatly pleased by it,—that politically it would be the 'best arrangement, but that I should have to do the 'whole work myself, and must not delegate it to any'body else, if I am to be a real gainer by the appoint'ment,—that this would absorb all my time and atten'tion, and it is a question whether it is right to sacrifice 'for such an offer the duties which I owe to Victoria 'and to the education of our children.'4
It is curious to gather from this account that Sir Robert Peel seems scarcely to have apprehended the true constitutional difficulties in the way of the Prince assuming the office under consideration. These difficulties were far more exactly appreciated by the Prince himself in a letter which he wrote to the Duke of Wellington on the 6th of April, 1850, when a similar proposal had been made. The letter itself has a further interest as showing in adequate language the true constitutional position of a Prince Consort.
1 Life of the Prince Conior , vol. i. p. 150. * Id. vol. i. p. 259.
Letter of the Prince.
'My dear Duke,—The Queen and myself have 'thoroughly considered your proposal to join the offices 'of Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General into 'one of a Chief of the Staff, with a view to facilitate 'the future assumption of the command of the army by 'myself. The question whether it will be advisable 'that I should take the command of the army or not 'has been most anxiously weighed by me, and I have 'come to the conclusion that my decision ought en'tirely and solely to be guided by the consideration 'whether it would interfere with or assist my position 'of Consort of the Sovereign, and the performance of 'the duties which this position imposes upon me. This 'position is a most peculiar and delicate one. Whilst 'a female sovereign has a great many disadvantages in 'comparison with a king, yet, if she is married, and her 'husband understands and does his duty, her position, 'on the other hand, has many compensating advantages, • and, in the long run, will be found even to be stronger 'than that of a male sovereign. But this requires that 'the husband should entirely sink his own individual 'existence in that of his wife—that he should aim at 'no power by himself or for himself—should shun all 'contention, assume no separate responsibility before the 'public, but make his position entirely a part of hers— 'fill up every gap which, as a woman, she would naturally 'leave in the exercise of her regal functions—continu'ally and anxiously watch every part of the public 'business, in order to be able to advise and assist her 'at any moment in any of the multifarious and difficult 'questions or duties brought before her, sometimes 'international, sometimes political, or social, or personal. 'As the natural head of her family, superintendent of 'ber household, manager of her private affairs, sole 'confidential adviser in politics, and only assistant in 'her communications with the officers of the Govern'ment, he is, besides, the husband of the Queen, the 'tutor of the royal children, the private secretary of 'the Sovereign, and her permanent minister.'1
The Prince goes on to ask how far it would be consistent with his position to undertake the management and administration of a most important branch of the public service, and the individual responsibility attaching to it—becoming an executive officer of the Crown, receiving the Queen's commands through her Secretaries of State, and the like. Further on, he intimates that, while the theory of the British Constitution is that the Sovereign commands the army, and this has hitherto been the practice also, it is a source of great weakness to the Crown that the Sovereign, being a lady, cannot exercise that command as she ought, and give the Commander-in-Chief that support which he requires under ordinary circumstances; and that consequently it became his additional and special duty to supply the wants in this respect, and to bestow particular care and attention on the affairs of the army.
It is a striking illustration of the justness of the apprehensions entertained by the Prince in this letter, that five years afterwards (in December, 1855) the Prince, as occupying a position very subordinate to that of Commander-in-Chief, and in fact almost purely honorary,—that of Colonel of the Grenadier Guards,— became the victim of a public misunderstanding which was calculated to perplex his constitutional relations to
1 Life of the Prinvc Consort, vol. ii. pp. 2C9, 260.
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-inC'hief, 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.