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Considering the personal relationships which are by courtesy held to exist, and do largely exist in fact between the Sovereigns of Europe and their families, it is no doubt a matter of considerable difficulty to restrict the communications which may pass between one member of the regal group and another, and to prevent the language of friendly correspondence occasionally passing into that of international diplomacy. Indeed, a claim has of late been set up in this country, by the advocates of an extension of the Royal prerogative, which, if conceded, would go far to establish the occupant of the Throne for the time being as his or her own Foreign Minister, without responsibility either to Par6 and the majority of its members, arrived at the conclusion that
the resistance would be ineffectual, and they determined to succumb. • The Peelites adhered to their text; and, as the minority, they in • form resigned, but in fact, and of necessity, they were driven from
their offices. Into the rights of the question we shall not enter; .but, undoubtedly, they were condemned by the general opinion out
of doors. Moreover, as in the letting out of water, the breach, once • made, was soon and considerably widened. They had been parties • in the Cabinet, not only to the war, but to the extension, after the • outbreak had taken place, of the conditions required from Russia. • But when it appeared that those demands were to be still further • extended, or were to be interpreted with an unexpected rigour, and that the practical object of the Ministerial policy appeared to be a great military success in prosecuting the siege of Sebastopol to a • triumphant issue, they declined to accompany the Ministry in their • course. Again they met with the condemnation of the country; 6 and the Prince Consort, while indicating his high opinion of the • men, has recorded his adverse judgment. One admission may
perhaps be made in their favour. In the innumerable combina. * tions of the political chess-board, there is none more difficult for
an upright man than to discern the exact path of duty, when he • has shared in bringing his country into war, and when, in the . midst of that war, he finds, or believes himself to find, that it is • being waged for purposes in excess of those which he had approved.' Gleanings of last years,, vol. i. p. 124.
Foreign Correspondence of the Prince. 261
liament or the country. The discussion as to the nature and value of such a claim belongs to the general subject of the Royal prerogative, which will be entered upon in the next section. In the meantime it is obvious in this case, as in the other cases of political intervention already noticed, that a Prince Consort cannot with propriety extend the character of his communications with foreign Powers beyond the limit permitted to the Sovereign, and that, if he attempts to do so, he thereby creates a personality wholly unknown to the Constitution. The Prince Consort, indeed, in all his communications of a political bearing with foreign Powers, is distinctly credited by his biographer with having taken anxious care to submit his letters to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the day. But by doing so, and securing their formal approval, he was none the less constituting himself an agent of Her Majesty's Government, to whose acts and initiatory suggestions the criticism of Parliament could in no case extend. When the result of these informal despatches or negotiations was satisfactory, the biographer of the Prince naturally reports them with fulness, and evidently takes pleasure in imputing the success achieved to the Prince's intervention. But should any hitch have occurred in the correspondence, or sensibilities have been wounded, or misunderstandings created, it is easy to see that the Ministry of the day would have had before them a most arduous task in obliterating the effects of these extraofficial communications, and in putting Parliament into possession of all the facts out of which possibly a strained condition of international relations may have arisen. There is no doubt that the Prince Consort himself was a keen student of politics, and was an emi
nently sagacious, an astute, and,-excepting always his unconscious invasions of the Constitution,-a cautious man. But if the precedent set by him were generally admitted as the rule of conduct for every one hereafter in his position, the fortunes of the country might be made to turn not on the tried stability of firmly settled institutions and practices, but on the accidental character and qualifications of one individual person. It is needless to point out that one chief portion of the whole struggle of English constitutional history has been to rest the fabric of the State upon fixed institutions as a substitute for the sandy foundation of personal character.
A leading instance of the sort of informal political agency which the Prince Consort consented to undertake in his communications with foreign Powers, is supplied by the correspondence conducted by the Prince with the Emperor of the French in 1857, on the receipt of a letter of congratulation from the Emperor on the birth of the Princess Beatrice. The Emperor's letter touched upon the vexed question of Neuchâtel, and alluded to the approaching visit to Paris of the Grand Duke Constantine. “I am grieved, the Emperor wrote,
to see that the English attach a significance to this • visit which does not belong to it. We are grati• fied here by the goodwill and courtesy shown to us by • Russia, but this in no way weakens the interest and • the feelings by which we are bound to England. Mr. Martin records that, as the letter touched upon politics, • it was as a matter of course passed on by the Prince to the Foreign Secretary. It seemed to Lord Claren
don, and also to Lord Palmerston, to furnish an op'portunity for opening the Emperor's eyes to the fact,
Letter to the Emperor Napoleon.
6 of which they were well aware through authentic 'intelligence from other quarters, that the bons procédés of Russia meant something more than the
courtesy of courtly friendship, and were part of a • well-studied scheme for undermining the Anglo-French
alliance. They also thought it well he should be told that it was not wholly without reason that the English * Press were suspicious of the obsequious advances of
the Russian Court to a Sovereign whom that Court • had treated at the outset of his reign with studied 'indignity, and with whom, or the political creed of whose people, they could not have any natural sympathy. Accordingly, acting upon their suggestioni, the Prince drew up the following reply. It was well • known that the Emperor attached the greatest value 'to his good opinion. Neither was any one more likely
to influence a mind which was already beginning to • cast about for the means of carrying into effect his · favourite projects for the readjustment of the boun
daries of Europe, and which, in the matter of the • Danubian Principalities, about which a keen diplomatic controversy was now raging, had shown a disposition to fall in with the views of Russia rather than with those of Austria and England. Mr. Martin then reproduces a great part of the Prince's reply, thus written to a great extent at the dictation of the Government, but yet exempt from all Parliamentary or other responsibility. The Prince says,-in a somewhat patronising way, it must be allowed:-Your Majesty does well to cultivate the friendship of all the reigning families of Europe, and of the peoples over whom “they rule. The greatest good may result from rela
tions of' this kind; and our alliance would be a veri
• table bondage if from jealous motives it asked you to ‘renounce for its sake every other friendship. It is a • sincere pleasure to the Queen and to myself that your • Majesty should be more known and understood. But the impression which this interchange of courtesies
with Russia may produce, both' upon Russia herself • and upon the rest of the European public, is quite
another matter, and is well worthy of consideration.' The Prince then goes on minutely to argue in favour of these propositions, with all the care and precision of a diplomatic despatch. He shows what is likely to be the effect of the Emperor's interview with the Grand Duke upon European opinion, French opinion, and English opinion ; and, in view of a conceivable Russian alliance, he points out that such an alliance could have nothing for its basis but an external and purely political motive. Immediately all Europe sets to work to (reflect, and asks itself what this motive is, confidence • is shaken; England naturally is the first to take the 6 alarm, which is soon shared equally by the rest of the
world. The Queen and myself personally are con• vinced that your Majesty has no intention of this kind, ' and so far as we are concerned, the fresh assurances on this subject which your Majesty has been pleased to give in your last letter were superfluous. At the * same time I have thought it well to explain the cause
of the susceptibility of the public and the press, which 'in my judgment has its origin in the very idea which is at the bottom of our alliance.'
Mr. Martin appends to this letter the following pertinent words : This letter, before being despatched, was submitted in the usual way to the consideration of the Prime Minister and Lord Clarendon. By them