The Political History of England - Vol. X.
by William Hunt
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Her foreign policy between 1784 and 1788 was chiefly concerned with the affairs of the United Provinces. Anxious to remove the restrictions imposed by treaties on the Austrian Netherlands, Joseph set aside the Barrier treaty of 1715, designed to check French aggression; and the Dutch withdrew their garrisons from the border fortresses. He pressed other claims upon them, relying on their weakness, for they paid dearly for provoking a war with England; and he demanded that the Scheldt, which was closed by the treaty of 1648, should be open to navigation. His claim concerned England, for though Austria could never become a great naval power even if Antwerp had access to the sea, the ports of the Netherlands and, indeed, of the United Provinces might fall under the control of some strong maritime state, such as France or Russia. Joseph's demand was backed by a recommendation from the Russian empress. He sent ships to sail up and down the river, and they were forcibly stopped by the Dutch. War seemed imminent. France, however, was then gaining great influence in Holland, and though she compelled the Dutch to assent to some of the emperor's demands, she upheld their refusal with regard to the Scheldt, and negotiated a treaty concluded at Fontainebleau in November, 1785, between the emperor and the republic, by which Joseph renounced his demand for the opening of the river.


He was already occupied in renewing a scheme, which had been defeated in 1778, for exchanging his Netherland provinces for Bavaria. This project was highly prejudicial to Prussian interests in Germany; and Frederick of Prussia baulked it by forming a Furstenbund, or alliance of princes, to maintain the integrity of the Germanic constitution. In February, 1785, he invited King George as Elector of Hanover to join in this projected alliance. George willingly assented, for the alliance was beneficial to Hanover; and in a letter to his Hanoverian minister he expressed the hope that his assent would lead to an understanding between England and Prussia. This was merely an expression of his private feelings; the Furstenbund was not a matter of English politics and did not, in fact, bring about an Anglo-Prussian alliance.[199] Such an alliance was highly desirable for England as a means of defeating the intrigues of France in the United Provinces. The more republican or "patriot" party in Holland, which had led the states to break their ancient friendly relations with England, was completely under French influence, and, relying on the support of France, designed to compel the stadholder, William V. of Orange, a feeble and irresolute prince, to resign his office. Their victory would have made the republic virtually a French province, and would have brought France a great accession of naval power. Sir James Harris, the British ambassador at the Hague, laboured to counteract their designs by encouraging the party in the republic opposed to the policy of Holland. The stadholder's wife, a princess of high spirit, was a niece of Frederick the Great, and Harris was anxious for an alliance between England and Prussia as a means of overthrowing the French party. Ewart, the ambassador at Berlin, shared his views, but the ambassadors were held back by Carmarthen. The cabinet, Harris declared, was wholly occupied by domestic matters.[200]

In May, 1785, it was evident that Austria was in accord with France, and the cabinet inquired what Frederick's intentions were, hoping that his desire that England would join in preventing the Bavarian exchange would induce him to oppose the ambitious designs of France, and to form a union of defence.[201] Frederick spoke freely to Ewart with reference to the Bavarian exchange, but would promise nothing as regards Holland.[202] The cabinet then made proposals to Catherine on the basis of her detaching Austria from France, and the formation of a triple alliance between England and the two imperial courts for the maintenance of peace.[203] Catherine replied that she would only agree on condition that England would not assent to the Furstenbund, which was a menace to her Austrian ally. Her demand was peremptory and threatening. George stood firm. The Furstenbund, he wrote to Pitt, concerned his "electoral capacity," it was a matter of Hanoverian, not of English, politics; he had already ratified it, and would not retreat.[204] A communication from the Prussian ambassador led the cabinet in September to send Lord Cornwallis to Frederick to ascertain his intentions. Frederick declared that the agreement between himself and England to check France would mean a general war in which England would have to meet the fleets of France, Spain, Holland, and perhaps Russia; and he would have on his hands the armies of France, Austria, and Russia; and that "though such a contest had been maintained, it was not a game to play often".[205] He was old and ill, and would not interfere. The action of France in negotiating the treaty of Fontainebleau strengthened the French party in Holland; the stadholder was forced to quit the Hague, but was supported by some of the other provinces. Frederick the Great died on August 17, 1786. The fortunes of the Orange party were at low ebb. France supplied the patriots with money; free corps were acting on their side; the stadholder was suspended from his office, and French agents advocated its abolition. It seemed as though Holland would become mistress of the Dutch republic and France the ruler of Holland.


The new Prussian king, Frederick William II., the brother of the Princess of Orange, deserted the purely German policy of Frederick for a more extended European policy. He did not, however, at once interfere in the affairs of Holland, for there was a strong French party at his court. Harris needed money to support the stadholder's cause, and Carmarthen proposed a subvention of L1,200 a year. George was anxious not to be drawn into another war, and said that as his family was growing expensive the money could not be spared from the civil list.[206] In May, 1787, the cabinet decided to put L20,000 at Harris's disposal. Matters came to a crisis in June. As the princess was on her way to the Hague she was arrested and turned back by a free corps. Frederick William demanded that satisfaction should be made for this insult, and as the states of Holland, relying on French support, refused his demand, he entered into a secret convention with England to restore the stadholder, the two powers agreeing, Prussia to send an army into Holland and England to prepare forty ships of the line to support it. A Prussian army under the Duke of Brunswick crossed the frontier and met with little resistance. Amsterdam surrendered on October 10, and the stadholder was restored. Meanwhile Montmorin, the French foreign minister, declared that his court would support the Dutch. Pitt, who was then personally directing foreign affairs, decided, with the full approval of the king, that if the French court would not agree to the restoration war was inevitable.[207] A treaty was made with the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel for the hire of troops, and the naval and military forces were augmented. On the 27th France definitely renounced her design of intervention, and on Pitt's demand the French navy was reduced to a peace-footing. The designs of France, which were fraught with danger to English interests, were defeated, and the party in Holland favourable to alliance with England was secured in power. Though the Furstenbund, a purely German system directed against Austrian ambition, failed to bring about an Anglo-Prussian alliance, the change in Prussian policy and, as an immediate cause, the insult to the Prussian king's sister, brought England and Prussia into active co-operation against the attempt of France to become mistress of the United Provinces, and in 1788 led to the formation of a triple alliance for mutual defence and the maintenance of peace between England, Prussia, and the republic which changed the political situation. England was no longer isolated; she was restored to her position of influence in the affairs of Europe. Harris was created Baron Malmesbury as a reward for his services at the Hague.


[186] George III. to Pitt, March 30, 1790, MS. Pitt Papers, 103.

[187] May, Constitutional History, i., 277-80, 321.

[188] George III. to Pitt, April 13 and May 1, 1784, MS. Pitt Papers, 103.

[189] George III. to Pitt, March 4, 1785, MS. Pitt Papers, 103, quoted in Stanhope's Life of Pitt, i., App. xv.

[190] Pulteney to Rutland, Feb. 10, 1785, Hist. MSS. Comm., Rutland Papers, iii., 177-78; Earl of Rosebery, Pitt, pp. 64-66.

[191] Parl. Paper, Accounts, xxxiii. (July, 1858).

[192] Rutland to Pitt, June 16, 1784, Correspondence of Pitt and Rutland, p. 17; see also pp. 76-79.

[193] Ibid., p. 19.

[194] Parl. Hist., xxv., 586.

[195] Pitt to Rutland, Jan. 6, 1785, Corr., p. 73.

[196] Rutland to Pitt, June 16, 1784, Corr., p. 22.

[197] Pitt to Rutland, May 21, 1785, Corr., p. 105; Stanhope, Life of Pitt, i., 275, 288-89.

[198] Count de Butenval in his Precis du Traite de Commerce, 1786, endeavours to prove that in the initiation of negotiations Pitt was acting in obedience to the will of Vergennes.

[199] F. Salomon, "England und der deutsche Furstenbund," Historische Vierteljahrsschrift, 1903, ii., 221-42.

[200] Malmesbury, Corr., ii., 102-6, 112-15, 116-18.

[201] Carmarthen to Ewart, May 14, 1785, MS. Prussia, R.O.; Political Memoirs of the Duke of Leeds, pp. 111-13; Salomon, u.s., pp. 231-33.

[202] Ewart to Carmarthen, May 26, 1785, MS. Prussia, R.O.

[203] Carmarthen to Fitzherbert, June 23, MS. Russia, Supplementary, R.O.

[204] George III. to Pitt, August 7 and 10, 1785, with Woronzow's (Vorontsov) statement, MS. Pitt Papers, 103, partially copied in Stanhope's Life of Pitt, i., App. xviii.

[205] Cornwallis, Corr., i., 199-211.

[206] George III. to Pitt, Sept. 22, 1786, and Jan. 8, 1787, MS. Pitt Papers, 103.

[207] Pitt to Eden, Sept. 14, 1787, Auckland Corr., i., 194-96; George III. to Pitt, Sept. 16, MS. Pitt Papers, 103.



The affairs of India, which played so large a part in raising Pitt to power, brought him a question fraught with embarrassment. Annoyed by reproofs sent out by the directors, and harassed by opposition in his council, by the independent attitude of the Madras government, and by difficulties arising from the conduct of officials both at Benares and Lucknow, Hastings in 1783 declared his intention of resigning office. His hope that the cabinet would request him to remain with extended powers was crushed by the speech with which Pitt introduced his India bill, and he left India in February, 1785, esteemed and honoured by the natives of all classes in the Bengal government. His wife came to England a year earlier, and though her conduct before her marriage with Hastings would have debarred other ladies from appearing at so strictly moral a court, she was received at St. James's, and the queen accepted presents from her. On the return of Hastings the directors thanked him for his eminent services, the king was gracious to him, the chancellor, Thurlow, who was in the royal confidence, was loud in his praise, and society generally smiled upon him. Pitt was cold; there was much in his conduct which needed defence. Preparations for an attack upon him were steadily pursued. Burke found a useful ally in Francis, who gratified his spite by giving him information to be used against his former antagonist. Fox and the opposition as a party adopted Burke's case. It was believed that Pitt would stand by Hastings in order to please the king. If he did so, they could represent him as shielding a criminal; if he joined in bringing him to trial, he would incur the risk of offending the king and alienating many of the supporters of the government.


During 1785 Burke went on accumulating facts which were distorted by his fervent imagination. The delay of the attack encouraged the friends of Hastings, and on the first day of the session of 1786 his parliamentary agent, Major Scott, an ill-advised person, challenged Burke to fulfil a pledge made the year before that he would bring charges against him. In February Burke announced that he would propose to impeach Hastings before the lords, and in April exhibited charges against him. Pitt insisted that a copy of them should be delivered to Hastings, and that he should be heard in his defence before the house voted upon them. Fox and Burke, who on every check to their proceedings accused the government of a design to screen Hastings, declared with much heat that Pitt's proposal was intended to quash the accusation. The house, however, determined to hear Hastings, and he read his defence, which occupied two days and wearied his audience with a number of unfamiliar details. On June 1 Burke moved the first charge, which related to the Rohilla war, and was ably supported by Fox. Pitt took no part in discussing the main subject of the debate. Dundas, the most prominent member of the India board, though condemning Hastings's conduct, refused to consider the war as affording ground for a criminal charge; and said that, as an act of parliament had subsequently reappointed Hastings as governor-general, the house had condoned his previous conduct; and he spoke of Hastings as "the saviour of India". The house rejected the charge by 119 to 67.

The second charge, with reference to the treatment of the raja of Benares, was moved by Fox with all his wonted ability. A treasury note invited the supporters of the government to vote against the motion. To the astonishment of all, and to the consternation of his supporters, Pitt announced that he agreed to the charge; he sharply criticised the misrepresentation of Hastings's opponents, and conclusively maintained that the raja was bound to furnish the troops and money demanded of him, but he considered the fine imposed on him "exorbitant, unjust, and tyrannical". Many of the government party voted against him, but about fifty followed his lead and the charge was accepted by 119 to 79. The next day Hastings attended the court on the presentation of a magnificent diamond sent by the nizam to the king, whose acceptance of the present gave rise to much ill-natured comment. Various motives have been suggested for Pitt's decision. None appear adequate save the most obvious and honourable one, that he acted in accordance with his conscience. Though his decision took the house by surprise, he clearly defined his attitude four months before: "he was neither a determined friend or foe to Mr. Hastings, and was resolved to support the principles of justice and equity".[208] He did not read the papers relating to Benares until the eve of the debate, and then, Dundas says, after reading them along with Hastings's defence, Pitt and he agreed that they could not resist the charge. The king in a friendly note gave Pitt credit for acting conscientiously, adding that for his part he did not think it possible in India "to carry on publick business with the same moderation that is suitable to an European civilized nation".[209] George was an eminently sensible man. There was no split between him and his minister.

In February, 1787, Sheridan brought forward the third charge, relating to the treatment of the begams of Oudh in a speech held by all who heard it to be a marvellous display of oratory. He described Hastings as "by turns a Dionysius and a Scapin," a tyrant and a trickster, with a mind in which "all was shuffling, ambiguous, dark, insidious, and little".[210] Indeed throughout the proceedings against Hastings his accusers constantly disregarded moderation and even decency of language. The third charge and other articles having been accepted by the commons, Burke, on May 11, impeached Hastings of high crimes and misdemeanours. An attempt was also made to bring an impeachment against Sir Elijah Impey, lately chief-justice of Bengal, on the ground of the execution of Nanda-Kumar and on other charges, but the commons, having heard his defence, refused to agree to the articles. The trial of Warren Hastings before the lords was opened in Westminster hall on February 13, 1788, with circumstances of dignity and splendour worthy of so great an occasion. Burke's speech on the case for the prosecution lasted for four days; it remains a magnificent specimen of rhetoric, though its vehement denunciations founded on occurrences in which the accused was not directly concerned, and its attempts to create prejudice were not likely to affect the opinions of men conscious of their responsibility as judges. The court sat during that session of parliament for thirty-five, and in 1789 for seventeen days. It became evident that the trial would last a long time and public interest in it soon flagged.


Cornwallis was chosen by Pitt in 1786 as governor-general of India under the new act, and assumed the government in 1788. Unfettered by his council, he was in a far better position than Hastings, and, in spite of many difficulties arising from abuses of long standing, he effected numerous reforms both in the civil and military services of the company during the first three years of his administration. Meanwhile Tipu, encouraged by his success in the late war and by the negligence of the Madras government, was preparing for another attempt to drive the English out of the Karnatic. He attacked their ally, the raja of Travancore, in 1789. Cornwallis secured the alliance of the nizam and the Marathas in 1790, and General Medows, the new governor of Madras, successfully invaded Mysore. As, however, no further progress was made, Cornwallis assumed the command; he carried Bangalore by storm in March, 1791, and having obtained the active co-operation of the nizam and the Marathas, laid siege to Seringapatam in 1792, and compelled Tipu to submit to a peace by which he surrendered half his dominions, engaged to pay a sum equal to L3,600,000, and gave two of his sons as hostages. The surrendered territory was divided between the peishwa and the nizam. Tipu's power was effectually broken, and the way was prepared for his final overthrow seven years later. Cornwallis was created a marquis as a reward for his splendid services, and resigned his office in 1793.

Though the government escaped the dangers in which the impeachment of Hastings threatened to involve it, a new question relating to India brought it into some peril. When, in October, 1787, war seemed likely to arise out of the intervention of England in the affairs of the Dutch republic, the India board sent four regiments to India, a measure of precaution which met with the full approval of the directors. The storm-clouds dispersed, and then the directors objected to pay the expense. Pitt held that the company was bound by the act of 1784 to pay for the transport and maintenance of any troops which the board judged to be necessary for the defence of the British possessions in India, and brought in a declaratory bill to that effect in February, 1788. The opposition was supported by the influence of the company, and made a vigorous resistance. Fox, whose downfall as minister had followed his attack on the company, appeared as a champion of its claims. The directors were heard by their counsel, one of whom, Erskine, afterwards lord chancellor, a strong whig, made a violent attack on Pitt. On the other side, Scott, also (as Lord Eldon) a future chancellor, contended as a member of the house that the bill was a true exposition of the act. The debate on the committal lasted till 7 A.M. Pitt had drunk heavily with Dundas the night before, and was too unwell towards the end of the debate to reply to his opponents. His majority of 57 was considered unsatisfactory, and so many of the regular supporters of government were adverse or lukewarm that an ultimate defeat was thought probable. With great tact he two days later adopted some amendments which met the chief arguments of the opposition without injuring the principle of the bill.[211] The danger was over, and the bill finally passed both houses. A severer conflict and a more signal triumph were at hand.

The retirement of the aged chief-justice, Lord Mansfield, in the June of that year, was followed by some legal appointments, which included those of Pitt's personal friend, Pepper Arden, as master of the rolls, and Scott as solicitor-general. Thurlow, who was annoyed by Pitt's assent to the impeachment of Hastings, strongly objected to Arden's appointment. The king tried to make peace between him and Pitt. Thurlow was forced to yield, and remained sulky and hostile. About the same time Howe, the first lord of the admiralty, who was constantly attacked with reference to matters which arose out of the reduction of the navy consequent on the peace, resigned office, because he considered that Pitt did not afford him adequate support. He was created an English earl on his retirement. In his place Pitt put his own elder brother Chatham, a favourite with the king, but, as it proved, an indolent and inefficient minister, and also appointed Hood to a seat on the new admiralty board.


For the most part things were going well with the king. He rejoiced in the successes of his ministers, and his victory over the coalition brought him popularity such as he had not enjoyed since his accession. His popularity was heightened by an attempt to stab him made by an insane woman named Margaret Nicholson on August 2, 1786. The poor woman was sent to Bedlam. George, who behaved with the utmost calmness, escaped unhurt, and the manifestations of loyalty evoked by the incident deeply gratified him. He was, however, much troubled by the ill conduct of the Prince of Wales. The prince drank, gambled, betted, and was addicted to debauchery; he showed no sense of honour in his dealings either with men or women, was thoroughly mean and selfish, and consorted with low companions. He was outrageously extravagant, and, in addition to the large sums lavished on his ordinary expenses, incurred enormous liabilities in altering and decorating his residence, Carlton house. The arrangement of his affairs in 1783 was not on a scale sufficient to meet his expenditure. By August, 1784, he was so deeply in debt that he informed his father that he intended to leave England and live abroad. George insisted that he should give up this scheme, which would have implied a public breach, and said that if he expected help he should send him a full statement of his debts and some assurance that he would keep within his income in the future. The prince was unwilling to send details of his debts, and when Sir James Harris tried to persuade him to please his father by ceasing to identify himself with the opposition and by marrying, declared that he could not give up "Charles" [Fox] and his other friends, and that he would never marry. When at last he sent his father the required statement, it showed liabilities amounting to L269,000, of which L79,700 was for completing the work at Carlton house. George was very angry, and the prince finding that his father would not help him stopped the work, dismissed his court officers, and sold his stud. There was an open quarrel between the father and son. "The king hates me," the prince said, and he did not consider how grievously he had provoked his father.[212]

His friends wished to obtain the payment of his debts from parliament, but were embarrassed by the report that he was secretly married to Mrs. Fitzherbert, a beautiful and virtuous lady, six years older than himself, who at twenty-seven was left a widow for the second time. After repeated solicitations, unmanly exhibitions of despair, and a pretended attempt at suicide, he had persuaded her to accept his offer of marriage, and they were married privately before witnesses by a clergyman of the established Church on December 21, 1785. This was a most serious matter, for Mrs. Fitzherbert was a Roman catholic, and the act of settlement provided that marriage with a papist constituted an incapacity to inherit the crown, while on the other hand the royal marriage act of 1772 rendered the prince's marriage invalid. In April, 1787, his friends in the house of commons took steps towards seeking the payment of his debts from the house. Pitt refused to move in the matter without the king's commands, and, notice of a motion for an address to the crown on the subject having been given, declared that he would meet it with "an absolute negative". In the course of debate, Rolle, a member for Devonshire, alluded to the reported marriage as a matter of danger to the Church and state. Fox explicitly denied the truth of the report, and on being pressed declared that he spoke from "direct authority". There is no doubt that he did so, and that the prince lied. Mrs. Fitzherbert was cruelly wounded, and in order to satisfy her the prince asked Grey to say something in the house which would convey the impression that Fox had gone too far. Grey peremptorily refused to throw a doubt on Fox's veracity, and the prince had to employ a meaner instrument: "Sheridan must say something". Accordingly, Sheridan in a speech in the house, while not insinuating that Fox had spoken without the prince's authority, "uttered some unintelligible sentimental trash about female delicacy".[213] Fox was indignant at the way in which the prince had treated him, and is said to have refused to speak to him for more than a year; but he evidently did not consider the prince's conduct such as ought to prevent him from again acting with him, and in about a year they appear to have been as friendly as before.

The denial of the prince's marriage was generally accepted. Pitt saw that there was a strong feeling that he ought to be relieved from his difficulties, and determined to anticipate a motion to that effect. He and Dundas arranged terms between the father and son. George agreed that the prince should receive an addition to his income of L10,000 a year from the civil list, and that a royal message should be sent to the commons requesting the payment of his debts; and he demanded that the prince should promise not to get into debt again. The promise was given, and a reference to it was inserted in the king's message. The commons, without a division, voted L161,000 for the payment of the debts and L20,000 for the completion of Carlton house. The father and son were reconciled, and appeared together in public. In spite of his protestations the prince did not amend his conduct. Early in 1788 he still took an active part with the opposition, and set up a gambling club, where he lost heavily. His example was followed by his younger brother Frederick, Duke of York. The duke, then a lieutenant-general, after receiving a military education in Germany, returned home in 1787, and lived a very fast life with so little regard to decency that "his company was thought mauvais ton".[214]


On November 5, 1788, the king, who for some time had been in bad health, became decidedly insane. At first it was believed that his life was in immediate danger, and that, even if he was spared, he would not recover his reason. The Prince of Wales stayed at Windsor, and assumed charge of the king's person, and it was universally recognised that he must be regent. Whether the king died or remained insane, Pitt's dismissal seemed certain, for not only was the prince closely allied with the opposition, but he was deeply offended at the line Pitt had taken with reference to his debts. The hopes of the opposition ran high. Fox, who was travelling in Italy with his mistress, Mrs. Armistead, was sent for in hot haste. In his absence Sheridan, whose convivial habits made him acceptable to the prince, busied himself with the affairs of the party. If they came into power Loughborough had an undoubted claim to the chancellorship. Thurlow, however, was ready to betray his colleagues if he were assured that he should retain his office. The prince and Sheridan arranged that he should have his price, and he secretly joined them. From the first Pitt decided on his course; the prince must be appointed regent by act of parliament, with such limitations as would secure the king, should he recover, from being hampered in the exercise of his rights.[215] For himself, embarrassed as his private affairs were, he looked forward calmly to the loss of office, and determined to practise as a barrister. According to the last prorogation, parliament was to meet on the 20th. The king's insanity rendered a further prorogation impossible; parliament met, and Pitt procured an adjournment until December 4, to see how it would go with the king.

Meanwhile Fox returned home and unwillingly agreed to the arrangement with Thurlow. The chancellor's colleagues were convinced that he betrayed their counsels, and one day when the cabinet met at Windsor, the fact that he had first had a private interview with the prince was disclosed through the loss of his hat; "I suppose," he growled, "I left it in the other place," the prince's apartment.[216] Pitt wisely took no notice of his treachery. On the 3rd the king's physicians were examined by the privy council; they stated that he was mentally incapable, that they believed that his illness was curable, and that they could not say how long it might continue. The opposition was anxious to make the worst of matters, for if the illness was likely to be a long one, it would be difficult to refuse the regent full powers. Accordingly, on the 4th, Fox urged that the physicians should be examined by a committee of the house. Pitt assented readily, for a new physician had been called in who took a favourable view of the case. This was Willis, a clergyman, who had become a doctor, and was a specialist in insanity; he took chief charge of the king, who was removed to Kew, pursued a new line of treatment, prohibited irritating restraints, and controlled him by establishing influence over him. He told the committee that he had found that such cases lasted on an average five months, and at worst about eighteen; the other doctors, though less hopeful, held that ultimate recovery was probable. The ministers were ready to proceed, and reckoned that another month would see the prince appointed regent, and that their own dismissal would follow at once.[217]


On the 10th Pitt moved for a committee to search for precedents. Fox objected; it was not for parliament, he maintained, to consider who should be regent; the Prince of Wales had a clear right to the regency, and parliament was only qualified to decide when he should exercise his right. When Pitt heard the authority of parliament thus called in question, he is said to have slapped his leg and to have exultantly exclaimed to the minister sitting beside him, "I'll unwhig the gentleman for the rest of his life!" He declared that Fox's doctrine was in the highest degree unconstitutional, and that no part of the royal authority could belong to the prince unless it was conferred on him by parliament; the question, he told the house, concerned its right of deliberation. Fox saw his mistake, and two days later stated that the prince put forward no claim of right; both sides agreed that he must be regent and that before he assumed the office he must be invited to do so by parliament; his right was an abstract question upon which it was no use to argue. Pitt was too good a tactician to allow him to minimise the point at issue; he denied "that the prince had any right whatever". The difference between an irresistible claim, which Pitt acknowledged, and an inherent right was not one merely of words; if the prince could claim the regency as of right, parliament could not restrict his power without his consent. The effect of Fox's false move was heightened by the folly of Sheridan who raised a storm of indignation by a threat of the danger of provoking the prince to assert his claim. Once again Fox made Pitt the champion of the king and the nation against the pretensions of a whig faction. The character of the struggle was understood, and bills were posted with the heading: "Fox for the prince's prerogative," and "Pitt for the privilege of parliament and the liberties of the nation". Yet in both houses several supporters of the government ratted, for the prince seemed the rising sun, and he and the Duke of York openly canvassed on Fox's side.

Nevertheless the commons approved Pitt's resolutions to the effect that, as the personal exercise of the royal authority was interrupted, it was the duty of the two houses to supply the defect, and that it was necessary to determine on means by which the royal assent might be given to bills for that purpose. None of the precedents adduced by the committee met the present case. Fox argued that to appoint a regent by a law was to treat the monarchy as elective, and that the two houses had no legislative power independently of the crown; and assuming that he was about to re-enter on office taunted the ministers with a design to weaken their successors by limiting the powers of the regent. The ministerial majority was 268 to 204. Pitt proposed to provide for the royal assent by placing the great seal in a commission with authority to affix it to the bill. This daring fiction, the only means by which a regency could be established by enactment, was approved by 251 to 178. On this question, and throughout the whole course of the struggle, Burke spoke with a violence and impropriety which injured his party and suggested a disordered mind. He called Pitt the prince's competitor, referred to the chancellor as Priapus and as "a man with a large black brow and a big wig," and later disgusted the house by speaking of the king as "hurled from his throne" by the Almighty. In the lords the proceedings followed the same lines as in the commons. Willis's account of the king convinced Thurlow that he was playing a wrong game, and when the question of the prince's right was discussed in the lords' he spoke strongly on the government side. Several members of the lower house were present to hear him. He referred to the favours he had received from the king, "When I forget them," he said, "may God forget me!" "Forget you!" said Wilkes with exquisite wit, "He will see you damned first." "The best thing that can happen to you," said Burke. Pitt left the house exclaiming, "Oh, the rascal!" On the 25th Thurlow formally severed his connexion with Fox. After a warm debate the ministerial resolutions were affirmed by the lords by 99 to 66.


The restrictions which the cabinet proposed to place on the power of the regent were laid before the prince. He was to be debarred from conferring peerages except on the king's issue of full age; from granting reversions or any office or pension except during pleasure, and from disposing of the king's property; and the charge of the king's person and the management of the household were to be in the queen's hands. These restrictions were based on the idea that the king would speedily recover; if his illness was prolonged they were to be open to revision by parliament. The prince promised to accept the regency, and stated his objections to the restrictions. The existence of the government seemed drawing to an end. Pitt was extremely popular, and the London merchants, expecting that he would soon be driven from office, offered him a gift of L100,000, which he declined to accept. Before he could bring the restrictions before the commons, the speaker, Cornwall, died, and on January 5, 1789, William Wyndham Grenville, joint-paymaster of the forces, was elected in his place. A fresh examination of the physicians was urged by the opposition. Willis told the committee that good progress was made; Dr. Warren's account was less favourable. Willis was represented by the prince's party as a charlatan, and Warren was pitted against him as the doctor of the opposition. After this delay Pitt laid the restrictions before the house as resolutions. They certainly impaired the power of the executive, and would have weakened any ministry appointed by the regent. No exact date was fixed for their duration, and it is conceivable that, after the regency had lasted for some years, the upper house would have refused to remove the restriction as to the creation of peers, and would, as in 1719, have attempted to limit their number by withholding from the regent a part of the royal prerogative. And as the management of the household would have placed a patronage of over L80,000 a year[218] at the disposal of the queen, who was hostile to Fox, a court influence might have been established in favour of Pitt and adverse to the new ministry. The queen was accused of intrigue and violently attacked by the opposition press. Fox urged his objections to the resolutions with much force, but they were adopted by both houses, and on the 31st the prince accepted the offer of the regency made by the lords and commons on those terms, on the understanding that the restrictions were temporary.

His party was in high glee; medals were struck to commemorate his regency, whig ladies wore regency caps and ribbons, and a list of new ministers was drawn up. The conduct of the prince and the Duke of York caused much scandal. Stories of the ill-treatment of the king while in the prince's charge may be dismissed as unfounded; it is alleged that the prince made sport of his father's ravings, it is certain that his associates did so, and that he and his brother behaved with brutal callousness and openly indulged in riotous merry-making during the king's illness.[219] Before the resolutions could be made law it was thought that a formal opening of parliament was necessary in order to invest it with legislative capacity, and this was effected on February 3 by a commission under the great seal. Pitt then brought in the regency bill, and while it was before the commons, agreed that all restriction should terminate in three years if the king remained ill so long. The bill passed the commons after warm debate, and had reached the committee stage in the lords when, on the 19th, the king was declared to be convalescent. His recovery progressed steadily, and on March 10 he announced to parliament, through commissioners, his complete restoration to health. Both on that night, and on April 23, when he returned thanks in St. Paul's, there were great rejoicings, for his illness enshrined him in the hearts of his people. The skill and temper which Pitt exhibited throughout the long crisis strengthened his position in parliament and his place in the esteem of the public, and from that time more cordial relations were established between him and the king, who warmly acknowledged his obligations to him. Though he was fortunate in the king's timely recovery, he owed much also to Fox's bad management. The hasty assertion of the prince's rights and the delays interposed in the proceedings in the commons put off the settlement of the regency until it was no longer needed, while the attack on the authority of parliament on behalf of the prince's prerogative and the reckless attempt of Fox and his party to displace a ministry which had the confidence of the nation, in order to obtain office for themselves, brought general censure upon them and added to Pitt's popularity.

In Ireland the parliament met in 1789 when the regency question was still before the English parliament. Buckingham, who as Earl Temple was lord-lieutenant in 1782-83, had succeeded Rutland in 1787. He hoped that the Irish would adopt the English plan. He was disappointed by their extreme jealousy of anything which might look like dependence. The functions of the viceroy rendered the question of restrictions of little importance, and, under the guidance of Grattan, an address was voted inviting the prince to assume the regency of the kingdom without limitations. Buckingham refused to forward it on the ground that it purported to invest the prince with a power not conferred on him by law; for the prince could not lawfully take any part of the royal authority without an act of parliament, and no Irish bill could be enacted without the royal assent under the great seal. The cabinet approved of his refusal. The parliament sent commissioners over with the address; but by the time that it was presented the king was virtually recovered, and the matter ended ineffectually. No serious consequences probably would in any case have arisen from the course adopted by the Irish parliament, but the difference between the two countries on so important a question enforced the need of a legislative union. Soon after the conclusion of this business Sydney resigned the home office. He differed from Pitt on the slave trade question, and Pitt was probably glad to get a colleague more thoroughly at one with him. He was succeeded by William Grenville on June 5, and Henry Addington was elected speaker in Grenville's place.


In the summer news of a revolution arrived from Paris. The reforming movement, in which all European states had some share, was promoted in France by ideas of constitutional government borrowed from England, by the attacks of Voltaire on medievalism and religious authority, by the advance of science, by the teaching of the encyclopaedists, by the exaltation of individual liberty by political economists, by Rousseau's romantic theories on the foundations of society, and by sympathy with the American revolution. It was supplied with practical aims by the misery of the poor, the injustice done to the lower classes, which alone paid the heaviest of the taxes, the privileges of the nobles and clergy, the harshness of the laws, and arbitrary methods of government. England, as we have seen, shared in the reforming movement. Here, however, it had no such violent results as in France. No sharp lines divided class from class; the laws were the same for all, there was no difference in taxation, and no privileged caste, for a peer's younger sons were commoners, as was his eldest son so long as his father lived. Parliamentary and other free institutions, imperfect as they were, secured the liberties of the people. The life of the agricultural poor though hard was not intolerable; landowners lived upon their estates and directed local affairs, and the poor were at least kept from starvation. France was almost bankrupt, ruined by the prodigality of her two last kings and their neglect of their duties to their people. Louis XVI. was forced to summon the states-general, which met at Versailles on May 4, 1789. Political discontent was rife and was rendered dangerous by the distress of the poor; the winter had been hard, prices were rising, and Paris was full of destitute persons, of labourers out of work, and along with them a large number of criminals and ruffians.

The deputies of the "third estate," who were about equal in number to those of the two privileged orders and were supported by a few nobles and a large minority of the clergy, demanded that the three estates should form a single chamber. The king upheld the privileged orders in their refusal. The third estate voted itself a "national assembly," and, after a struggle of six weeks, gained its point, and the estates were constituted as a single assembly. Paris was in a ferment of excitement. The king dismissed Necker, the minister of finance, who was trusted by the popular party, and refused to withdraw his troops from the city. A riot broke out, and on July 14 the Bastille, an ancient fortress and prison, then little used, which was guarded by a few Swiss and some old soldiers or invalides, was taken by the mob, and the governor and some others were murdered. The king's brother, the Count of Artois, the Prince of Conde, and several unpopular nobles fled from France. A new municipality was established and Lafayette was chosen to command a new civic militia or national guard. Disorder and rioting prevailed in the provinces, country-houses were burnt and pillaged, and many murders were committed. Louis was forced to assent to all the demands of the people; he recalled Necker, and showed himself at the Hotel de Ville wearing the national cockade or tricolour. The assembly voted decrees sweeping away the feudal system, abolishing the privileges of classes and corporations, and ecclesiastical tithes, and promulgated a flatulent declaration of the rights of man. Bread-riots broke out in Paris on October 5; a mob marched on Versailles and invaded the palace, and on the 6th the national guard brought the king and queen to Paris, where they remained in virtual captivity.


The first tidings of the movement were received in England with satisfaction. It was generally believed that the insurrection would shortly end in the establishment of constitutional government, that while the troubles lasted France would cease to be formidable, and that consequently a continuance of peace and relief from taxation might be expected. Before long, however, the acts of violence and the spoliation effected by the decrees of the assembly roused widespread disgust. As late as February, 1790, Pitt, while stigmatising the liberty proclaimed in France as "absolute slavery," believed that the commotions would end in order and true liberty. Burke from the first held that the outburst of "Parisian ferocity" proved that it was doubtful whether the French were fit for liberty; he maintained that, though the power of France might cease to be formidable, its example was to be dreaded, and expressed his abhorrence of the destruction of the institutions of the kingdom. Fox, on the other hand, as he had delighted in the American revolution, delighted in the revolution in France. Of the fall of the Bastille, which had made hardly any impression on French public opinion, he wrote: "How much the greatest event it is that has happened in the world; and how much the best!" While he regretted the bloodshed which accompanied the revolution, he constantly declared his exultation in its successes. A comparatively small party of democrats, supported by the political dissenters under the leadership of the Unitarian ministers Price and Priestley, noisily expressed their sympathy with the French democrats; and some men of high position, such as Lords Stanhope and Lansdowne, professed more or less republican principles. The revolution society under the presidency of Stanhope sent an address to the French assembly, and clubs were formed in many large towns "avowedly affiliated to the democratic clubs in France".[220]

The difference between Burke and Fox on this matter was openly declared in the debate on the army estimates in February, 1790. Fox in a mischievous speech referred to the part taken by the French army in forwarding the revolution, and said that it was a time when he should be least jealous of an increase in the army, since the example of France had shown that "a man by becoming a soldier did not cease to be a citizen". Burke declared that France was setting an example of anarchy, fraud, violence, and atheism, and that the worst part of its example was the interference in civil affairs of "base hireling mutineers" who deserted their officers "to join a furious licentious populace". He protested against a comparison between the revolution in France and the revolution of 1688, between the conduct of the soldiery on that occasion and the behaviour of some of the French troops. His speech, which was received with general applause, had a strong effect on opinion, and Pitt and others expressed their agreement with it. Fox answered him in a conciliatory tone. Sheridan fanned the flame; he taunted Burke with inconsistency, and pronounced a panegyric on the revolutionary leaders. Burke replied that thenceforth he and Sheridan were separated in politics. A rift in the opposition was started, and an attempt to close it by a conference two days later was ineffectual. The opinion of parliament on two other questions during the session was, seemingly, influenced by events in France. Fox renewed the attack on the test acts. He was opposed by Pitt; and Burke, whose speech, Fox said, filled him "with grief and shame," animadverted on the overthrow of the Church in France, and maintained that Price, Priestley, and other dissenters hoped to overthrow the Church of England. Fox's motion was defeated by 294 to 105. A motion for parliamentary reform by Flood, who then represented an English constituency, was opposed by Pitt, Windham, and Burke, and was rejected without a division. The session ended on June 10, and parliament was dissolved.


England reaped material benefit from the temporary extinction of France as a factor in the affairs of Europe, consequent on the proceedings of the assembly. Some difficulties with Spain had been removed by a convention arranged in 1786, by which Great Britain agreed to withdraw the settlers from the Mosquito coast, and the Spanish king allowed them to occupy a district in Honduras. As this compliance on the part of England checked the smuggling of goods into the Spanish colonies, it was well received by Spain. Hostile feelings towards England soon revived. Florida Blanca, the Spanish minister, was anxious to increase trade with the colonies, and was determined to keep it exclusively for the mother-country. It was impossible to prevent English ships from interfering with it. The colonies of Spanish America were discontented; some insurrections had been made with the object of gaining direct trade with other nations, and the malcontents hoped for help from England.[221] Florida Blanca believed that England sought first to establish direct commercial communication with her Spanish American colonies, and, finally, to separate them from the mother-country.[222] He was determined to prevent these designs, which had no existence in England, and was upheld in his purpose by the extravagant opinion held by himself and his nation as to the strength of their country. He found his opportunity in 1789. Some English merchants had established a settlement at Nootka Sound, off Vancouver's island, for trade in furs and ginseng with China. In April one of their ships with its cargo was seized in the Sound by a Spanish frigate, the officers and crew were maltreated, and two more ships were seized shortly afterwards. Satisfaction was demanded by the English government, and was refused by Spain on the grounds that all lands on the west coast of America as far as 60 deg. north latitude were under the dominion of Spain, and further that Nootka belonged to Spain, because it had been discovered and occupied by a Spanish captain four years before Cook visited those coasts.


The English government held that these pretensions were inadmissible, for there was no effective occupation by Spain; it refused to discuss them, and claimed that the king's subjects had a right to navigate and fish in those waters and settle on unoccupied lands.[223] Spain prepared for war, and Florida Blanca seems to have made overtures to Austria and Russia in the vain hope that they would enter into an active alliance with his court.[224] The affair was kept secret in England until May 3, when the preparations of Spain demanded immediate action. On that day an order in council was passed for pressing seamen in every port in the kingdom, and the commons unanimously agreed to a vote of credit of L1,000,000 for expenses. The matter was laid before the two other members of the triple alliance; the Dutch at once fitted out a squadron to act with the British fleet, and a favourable answer was received from the Prussian king. The French ministers, moved by the news of the naval preparations of Great Britain, and expecting to be called on to fulfil the obligation expressed in the family compact, ordered the armament of fourteen ships of the line. On this the national assembly voted that it had the right to decide on questions of war, and on May 22 declared that the French nation renounced wars of conquest. This grandiloquent decree destroyed the effect of the armament. Nevertheless, Spain was set on war; fleets were gathered at Ferrol and Cadiz, and a loan of L4,000,000 was arranged. Florida Blanca seems to have relied on help from the United States, and made some efforts to gain their good-will, but they did not respond to them.[225] From France he peremptorily demanded the assistance to which Louis was pledged by the family compact. His demand was laid before the national assembly, and on August 25 it was decided to substitute a new pacte national for the pacte de famille, and to invite the king to arm forty-five ships for defence, and to revise the treaty; and a suggestion was made to Spain that she might confirm the new compact by the cession of Louisiana. This was mere folly. The English ministers notified the French government that any help given to Spain would be promptly resented,[226] and Florida Blanca seeing that no reliance was to be placed on France entered into negotiations with England. During their progress a fresh cause of offence was given to England; for in September McDonald, captain of a British West Indiaman, reported that his ship had been stopped by a Spanish frigate in the Gulf of Florida, that he had been forced to go aboard the Spaniard, and had there been cruelly tortured, being set in the bilboes in the blazing sun.[227] For this outrage satisfaction was promptly made, and on October 28 a treaty was signed between Great Britain and Spain by which Spain yielded to the demands of the British court with reference to the Nootka Sound affair and restored the disputed territory. The submission of Spain marks a complete change in her policy; she sought by compliance towards England to gain the security no longer to be looked for from alliance with France. It was a signal triumph for Pitt, who as usual had directed the proceedings of the foreign office, for Carmarthen, who succeeded his father as Duke of Leeds in 1789, was a feeble person. Pitt had broken up the family compact and could reckon on the compliance of Spain. France was isolated and had exhibited her weakness before the eyes of Europe. The despicable proceedings of the national assembly saved England from a war, and dissolved the alliance which had so long threatened her.[228]


[208] Parl. Hist., xxv., 1094.

[209] George III. to Pitt, June 14, 1786, MS. Pitt Papers, 103, quoted in Stanhope's Life of Pitt, i., App. xix.

[210] Parl. Hist., xxvi., 287.

[211] Bulkeley to Buckingham, March 10, 1788, Court and Cabinets of George III., i., 360-61; Parl. Hist., xxvii., 115-27.

[212] Copies of correspondence relating to the Prince of Wales given by the king to Pitt in Jan., 1787, MS. Pitt Papers, 105; Malmesbury, Diaries, ii., 126-31.

[213] Holland, Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii., 123-42; Langdale, Memoirs of Mrs. Fitzherbert, pp. 28-30; Parl. Hist., xxvi., 1019, 1048-56, 1070, 1080.

[214] Court and Cabinets, i., 363-64; Auckland Corr., i., 456.

[215] Grenville to Buckingham, Nov. 13, 1788, Court and Cabinets, i., 448-49.

[216] Same to same, Nov. 30, ibid., ii., 23; Administrations of Great Britain, p. 122 n.

[217] Grenville to Buckingham, Dec. 9, 1788, Court and Cabinets, ii., 41.

[218] Parl. Hist., xxvii., 1010.

[219] Compare Massey, Hist., iii., 383-84, 388, with Jesse, Memoirs of George III., iii., 85 sqq., and Lecky, Hist., v., 147 sqq.; see also Court and Cabinets, ii., 12, 25, 122; Auckland Corr., ii., 306.

[220] Annual Register, xxxii. (1790), 65.

[221] Despatches and Papers, MS. Pitt Papers, 345.

[222] Fitzherbert to Leeds, June 16, 1790, MS. Spain, R.O.

[223] Del Campo to Leeds, Feb. 10, 1790; Memorial, Spain, 18; Leeds to Fitzherbert, Aug. 17, 1790, all MSS. Spain, R.O.

[224] Merry to Leeds, Feb. 8, 1790; Fitzherbert to Leeds, Nov. 8, 1790, MSS. Spain, R.O.

[225] Fitzherbert to Leeds, June 16, 1790, MS. Spain, R.O.; Bond to Leeds, Jan. 3, 1791, Letters of P. Bond.

[226] Leeds to Lord Gower, Sept. 1, 1790, MS. France, R.O.

[227] McDonald's Affidavit, Sept. 25, 1790, MS. For. var., 816, R.O.

[228] A. Sorel, L'Europe et la Revolution Francaise, ii., 84-95.



For the sake of clearness it will be convenient in this chapter to notice first some matters of domestic interest debated in parliament from 1790 to 1792, next to take a general view of English foreign policy, and, lastly, to trace the effects of the French revolution on English politics down to the outbreak of the war with France. The general election of 1790 proved that Pitt had thoroughly gained the confidence of the nation, for it increased his already large majority. The election presented one noteworthy incident; Horne Tooke, though in holy orders, and consequently supposed to be disqualified, presented himself for election at Westminster; he retired before the close of the poll, and the question of the qualification of clergymen to sit in parliament was not decided until 1801. In consequence of the hostility of the chancellor, Pitt needed some one to lead his party in the lords, and chose William Grenville, the secretary of state for home affairs, who was created Baron Grenville. The expenses of the armament against Spain amounted to nearly L3,000,000; the prosperity of the country warranted Pitt's decision not to allow any interruption in the progress of the reduction of debt; he obtained L500,000 from the Bank of England without interest, on the strength of unclaimed dividends, and proposed to obtain the remainder by taxation. The question was raised whether the dissolution put an end to the prosecution of Hastings. That an impeachment was not "abated" by a dissolution had been affirmed by the lords in the case of Lord Danby in 1679, but this decision was reversed in 1685. Precedents were obscure, and the great lawyers differed. Pitt, who on this question sided with Fox and Burke, argued on broad constitutional grounds that an act of the crown should not hinder the commons in the exercise of a right, and it was agreed by both houses that an impeachment should remain in statu quo from one parliament to another. The trial was resumed in 1791. After lasting for seven years it ended in 1795 in the acquittal of the accused on every count. The decision was generally approved. If in the midst of extraordinary difficulties Hastings did some things hard to justify, he was at the least a great ruler, firm, self-reliant, patient, and enlightened, who served his country well. He lived until 1818, honoured in his old age.


The relief granted to English Roman catholics in 1778 was extended in 1791. Though they were still precluded from sitting in parliament and holding public offices, a bill introduced by John Mitford, afterwards Lord Redesdale, gave complete freedom of worship and education, admission to the legal profession, and exemption from vexatious liabilities to all catholics who took an oath of an unobjectionable character. Pitt approved of the bill, and Fox supported it, though he wished that it had gone further, and declared his dislike of all tests. A bill placing Scottish catholics in virtually the same position as their co-religionists in England was passed in 1793. The confiscation of Church property in France strengthened the unwillingness of the commons to weaken the position of the Church at home. A motion to relieve the Scottish presbyterians from the obligation of the test act was lost by a large majority, and a motion for the relief of unitarians, which must be noticed later, also failed. Since 1789 Wilberforce had been working on a committee for collecting evidence with respect to the slave trade. In 1791 he made a motion for its abolition which was supported both by Pitt and Fox, but was defeated by 163 to 88. He repeated his motion in 1792. The king had at first favoured the cause, but a shocking massacre of the white population in the French portion of St. Domingo by the negroes, who were excited by the preaching of the "rights of man," turned him against it, and he thenceforward regarded abolition as jacobinical. Thurlow, Hawkesbury, and Dundas were strongly opposed to it. Pitt could not, therefore, make it a government measure without almost certainly wrecking his administration. He supported the motion with a speech of surpassing eloquence. Public opinion made a direct negative no longer possible; but the West India merchants and planters and the shipping interest were powerful, and the anti-abolitionists were strengthened by the king's known dislike to the cause. The motion was met by arguments for delay, and an amendment proposed by Dundas for gradual abolition was carried. A resolution was finally adopted that the trade should cease in 1796. The lords postponed the question. Year after year Wilberforce, supported by James Stephen, Zachary Macaulay, and others, carried on the struggle for the abolition of the trade with noble persistency. The victory was not attained until 1807.

Another measure on which Pitt and Fox were also in full accord was more successful. Lord Mansfield's pronouncement in the action against Almon, the bookseller, in 1770, which reserved the question of the criminality of a libel for the decision of the court, was, it will be remembered, widely condemned as an invasion of the rights of jurors. Of late years these rights had successfully been maintained by the famous advocate Erskine. When, for example, in 1789, in consequence of a motion by Fox, a publisher, Stockdale, was prosecuted by the crown for a libel on the promoters of the trial of Hastings, Erskine contended that the whole pamphlet in question should be considered by the jury, and procured an acquittal. Fox, who in his early days had jeered at the rights of jurors, introduced a bill in 1791 declaring their right to give a general verdict in a case of libel. His speech was one of his finest; he was ably seconded by Erskine; Pitt gave him his aid, and the bill was passed unanimously by the commons. Thurlow, who disliked the bill, prevailed on the lords to postpone it until the next session. When it was again sent up by the commons in 1792, he obtained a delay until the judges should have been consulted. Their opinion, though hesitating, was unfavourable to the bill. The aged Camden, however, spoke strongly in its favour, and it was carried in spite of the chancellor's opposition. This statute, of which Fox, Erskine, and Pitt share the credit, placed the liberty of the press in the hands of jurors.


From 1788 Pitt's foreign policy was directed towards the pacification of Europe and the maintenance of the balance of power by means of the triple alliance between Great Britain, Prussia, and Holland. Catherine of Russia, who was bent on the overthrow of the Turkish empire, and on strengthening her hold on Poland, pressed the Turks until they declared war in 1787. The next year the emperor Joseph declared war against them. Gustavus III. of Sweden allied himself with the Turks and invaded Finland. His expedition failed, and Denmark, the ally of Russia, invaded his kingdom. Sweden was in imminent danger; its overthrow would have given Russia absolute sway in the Baltic; the commerce of England and Holland would have been seriously affected, and the coast of Prussia endangered. The allied powers interfered, and a threat that Prussia would invade Holstein, and a British fleet sail for the Sound, compelled Denmark to cease hostilities, and saved the independence of Sweden. Catherine was deeply offended, and when the allies offered to mediate a peace between her and the Turks, returned a decided refusal. She pressed on the war with success, and the capture of Ochakov extended her dominions to the Dniester.

The emperor's war was unsuccessful. He was in great difficulties; for Hungary was restless and his Netherland provinces in revolt. The allies might have mediated a peace between him and the Turks on the basis of the status quo before the war, had it not been for the desire of Frederick William to use the difficulties of Austria for his own advantage. He designed to compel Austria to a peace by which she should restore Galicia to Poland, in order that in return Poland should cede to him Dantzig and Thorn; and he would have compensated Austria by allowing the emperor to conquer and retain Moldavia and Walachia. He hoped to accomplish this through his alliance with England and Holland, and in order further to weaken Austria proposed that the revolted Netherlands should be united to Holland as one republic, urging that they might otherwise fall into the hands of France. Pitt desired to arrange a peace on the status quo basis, and to extend the triple alliance by the inclusion of other powers; and, highly as he valued the Prussian alliance, he would not consent that, merely to aggrandise Prussia, England should lend herself to a policy which would almost certainly have led to a new war. Accordingly, the Duke of Leeds warned Frederick William that his plans went beyond the treaty of alliance, which was purely defensive. The death of the emperor Joseph, on February 20, 1790, changed the situation, for his successor, Leopold II., was a practical and wary statesman. Frederick William was bent on war against Russia and Austria, his minister signed a treaty with the Turks, and he pressed England to acknowledge the independence of the Austrian Netherlands. The English government took a decided line, made him clearly understand that in the event of a war he would be isolated, and proposed an immediate armistice.

Frederick William at last yielded to the representations of England and Holland. Through the mediation of the allies an armistice between Austria and the Turks was arranged on the basis of the status quo at a congress at Reichenbach in July, 1790, and a formal peace was concluded the next year at Sistova. The English government, anxious to prevent an alliance between the revolted Netherlands and France, desired the restoration of the Austrian power in the provinces, under conditions which would shut out French influence by satisfying the people; and accordingly the allies guaranteed the liberties of the provinces, and they were regained by the emperor. The ministry agreed with Prussia that support must be given to Sweden, which was exhausted by its war with Russia; a subsidy was promised and a squadron lay in the Downs ready to sail for the Baltic. As soon as Catherine heard of the issue of the conference at Reichenbach, she made a peace with Gustavus without the mediation of the allies, which was concluded at Werela in August. So far, then, in spite of serious difficulties arising from the ambition of the Prussian king, the triple alliance had enabled the government to carry out its policy with success. Its formation secured the Dutch from the ascendency of France; it strengthened the position of England in its quarrel with Spain, saved the independence of Sweden, mediated peace on the basis of the status quo between Austria and the Porte, hindered the spread of French influence in the Netherlands, and indirectly restored peace in the Baltic.


Pitt's policy, however, received one decided check. Catherine rejected the proposal of England that she should make peace with the Turks on the basis of the status quo before the war, and declared that she would keep Ochakov and the line of the Dniester. Pitt differed from the views held by his father, the whigs generally, and the coalition, with reference to Russia. They looked on Russia as the natural ally of England, both for commercial reasons and as a counterpoise to the Bourbon alliance, and Catherine owed much to England's good-will in her war with the Turks in 1770 and during her conquest of Crimea in 1783. Times had changed; and Pitt regarded with displeasure the establishment of Russia on the Black Sea and the prospect of the conquest of Constantinople, and held that the Turks were useful as a check on Russian aggrandisement. The possession of Ochakov was believed to be of the first importance in the struggle between the two powers. Frederick William urged that Catherine should be forced to resign it. In 1790 Pitt was opposing his wishes elsewhere; he was unwilling to alienate him altogether, and agreed to put pressure on Russia. The Turks were repeatedly defeated, and in December Suvorov (Suwarrow) took Ismail; 12,000 Russians and 28,000 Turks perishing in the storming and sack of the city, which are described in Byron's splendid verse. In the following March, in spite of some opposition, Pitt persuaded the cabinet to agree to send a fleet to the Baltic, and a squadron to the Black Sea to assist the Turks, while Frederick William invaded Livonia, and on the 27th an ultimatum was despatched to St. Petersburg.[229]

The next day a royal message to parliament announced the augmentation of the navy. Pitt sought to obtain a pledge that parliament would support the government in its proposed action. He met with strong opposition. Fox and others in both houses maintained that our true policy was to be on good terms with Russia, and that Russia had an undoubted right to retain Ochakov. "The balance of Europe," it was urged, could not be overset by its retention; it was a matter which did not concern England; a war with Russia would be disastrous to English trade and manufactures; if Russia became a power in the Mediterranean so much the better, as its fleet would be a check on the fleets of France and Spain. Burke vehemently protested against England embarking on an "anti-crusade" by assisting "destructive savages," as he called the Turks, against a Christian power. Four times, in one form or another, the question was debated in the commons. The government majorities were large, though less than normal. In the cabinet Grenville opposed the armament, and Pitt found that the feeling of the country generally, and specially of the city of London and the mercantile class, was strong on the same side. He yielded on April 16; a messenger was sent in hot haste to St. Petersburg to prevent the presentation of the ultimatum, and the Prussian king was informed that the fleet would not sail to the Baltic. Catherine was triumphant; she kept Ochakov and the line of the Dniester, made terms with the Turks without the intervention of other powers on August 11, 1791, and concluded a definite peace at Jassy in the following January. Freed from her wars with Sweden and the Porte, and from the danger of foreign intervention in both cases, she was again able to pursue her designs on Poland. She complimented Fox on the part he had played, and placed his bust in her palace between those of Demosthenes and Cicero. Pitt, who had lately refused the king's offer of the garter, sarcastically referred in parliament to the compliments his opponent received from a foreign sovereign.

Pitt's prestige was for a time seriously injured by this failure and people talked of a possible change of government. Leeds considered that as foreign secretary he was specially compromised, and resigned the seals. As it was more difficult to find a foreign than a home secretary, Pitt recommended that Grenville should be transferred to the foreign department, that Cornwallis should take Grenville's place, and that, until Cornwallis returned from India, Dundas should have the seals, and further suggested that Lord Hawkesbury (Jenkinson), then president of the board of trade, should be called to the cabinet. George agreed, but as Cornwallis declined the offer Dundas remained home secretary. Pitt learnt that Ochakov was not so important as he at first imagined; indeed the possession of it by the Turks would not have rendered Constantinople safe from attack nor protected Poland from further partition. His failure, however, to carry out his scheme of coercing Russia was a serious matter; it destroyed his hopes of an extension of the defensive alliance, and the triple alliance itself, on which his foreign policy had been built, virtually came to an end. Frederick William was deeply annoyed and, in order to strengthen his position with regard to Russia, made advances to Austria, which led to an alliance between the two powers and to their joint invasion of France.

The opinion of the great majority of the nation with regard to the revolution in France was decided by the publication of Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution in November, 1790. This famous work was primarily intended to rebut the assertions of Price and others that the revolution in France was a more perfect development of the ideas of the English revolution of 1688, that Englishmen had a right to choose their own governors, cashier them for misconduct, and frame a government for themselves. It describes the constitution as an inheritance to be handed down to posterity uninjured and, if needs be, improved, and exhibits and condemns the measures of the French assembly as precipitate, unjust, and doomed to failure. Splendid alike as a literary achievement and as a store-house of political wisdom, it is also remarkable as a proof of Burke's prescience, for though he wrote at an early stage of the revolution, before those savage excesses which have made it a by-word, he foretold its future course, not indeed without errors, but with wonderful sagacity. Superbly national in sentiment, the book met the propaganda of French ideas by appealing to the pride with which Englishmen regarded their own institutions. Its success was immense. Paine answered it in his Rights of Man, expressing revolutionary ideas with a crude force which influenced thousands too ignorant to detect its fallacies; and Mackintosh in his Vindiciae Gallicae expounded in polished sentences the position of the whig sympathisers with the revolution. Neither undid the effect of Burke's work. Of the well-to-do of all classes there was scarcely one man in twenty who did not become an ardent anti-jacobin.


Stimulated by the success of the Reflections, Fox lost no opportunity of declaring his admiration of the revolution in parliament, and his followers irritated Burke by thwarting his attempts to reply. At last the crisis came during a debate on a bill for the government of Canada. After the settlement of the United Empire Loyalists in western Canada, the demands of the British colonists for the repeal of the Quebec act of 1774 became urgent. Pitt recognised the value of the French population as a conservative force, a check on revolt, and in order to do justice to both peoples, introduced a bill dividing the dominion into two provinces, Upper and Lower Canada, each with its own governor, elective assembly, and legislative council. Burke supported this measure, which was passed, and is known as the constitutional act of 1791. Fox objected to the principle of the bill on the ground that the French and English inhabitants should coalesce, and to two special provisions in it, one that the sovereign might grant hereditary titles with a right to sit in the council, the other reserving certain crown lands for the support of the protestant clergy. He blamed the proposal to revive titles of honour in Canada when they had been abolished in France, and jeered at Burke's lament in the Reflections on the extinction of the spirit of chivalry among the French. A few days later, on May 6, Burke, after much baiting by Fox's party, spoke strongly of the danger of French propagandism, and declared that at the risk of the desertion of friends he would exclaim with his latest breath, "Fly from the French constitution!" "There is no loss of friends," Fox whispered. "Yes," he said, "there is a loss of friends. I have done my duty at the price of my friend; our friendship is at an end." When Fox rose to reply the tears trickled down his cheeks. The rupture was permanent. Burke stood alone. His former friends treated him as a renegade, and the whig newspapers showered abuse upon him. His answer was a powerful vindication of the consistency of his position in his Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, which had a decided effect on the opinions of many of Fox's party.

In June came the French king's flight to Varennes and his enforced return to Paris. His queen Marie Antoinette appealed to her brother the emperor for help. Leopold would do nothing save in concert with the other great powers, and learnt that England would take no part in a congress.[230] Pitt, always more interested in domestic reforms than in foreign politics, had no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of France. War would hinder the commercial progress of the country; he wanted fifteen years of peace to secure the full benefits of his economic reforms: his policy was one of strict neutrality. He shared in the general belief, so soon proved to be mistaken, that the revolution would prevent France from engaging in war and would ensure years of peace to England; the funds were high and commerce was flourishing. Leopold could only look to Prussia for co-operation. The attitude of England decided that of Spain. Gustavus of Sweden was, indeed, eager for a war of a crusading kind to re-establish the old regime, but this idea was contrary to the policy of both Austria and Prussia, and Gustavus allied himself with the French emigrant princes who commanded an army at Coblentz; themselves selfish and intriguing, their army undisciplined and ill-provided; Leopold rated them at their proper value and was on his guard against them. Frederick William, untrustworthy as he was, seems to have been sincerely anxious to help the French king. Leopold hoped to avoid war; he distrusted Prussia, and the designs of Catherine on Poland caused both sovereigns to hesitate. In August, however, the diet demanded that Leopold should support certain princes of the German empire against France. He held a conference with Frederick William at Pilnitz, and on the 27th the two monarchs signed a declaration that they would employ force on behalf of the French king, provided that the powers to which they applied would join them. Leopold knew that England would refuse, and the declaration was nugatory. It enraged the French, and was used by the emigres as though it promised the fulfilment of their hopes for an invasion of France by a foreign confederation. Calonne, who acted as their minister, applied to Pitt for an assurance of neutrality and for a loan. Pitt refused his requests and would not recognise him as having any formal authority. On September 13 Louis was forced to accept the new French constitution, and Leopold declared that his acceptance put an end to all need for intervention.


The French were not content to leave other peoples alone. To the more ardent revolutionists the revolution was not a mere political event in the history of their country; it was a religion which it was the mission of France to propagate. No part of France was to remain outside it; the feudal rights of princes of the empire in Alsace and Lorraine were abolished, and Avignon and the Venaissin were declared French territory. No people wishing to share in its benefits was to be left unenlightened, and French democrats were already intriguing with the factions in the Netherlands which were opposed to the Austrian rule. In England the propaganda had as yet made little way, though the democrats were noisy. At Birmingham, where Priestley had his chapel, they arranged to hold a dinner on July 14 to celebrate the fall of the Bastille, and a seditious address was circulated. In the evening of that day a violent riot broke out. The mob, with shouts of "Church and king," wrecked two dissenting chapels and seven houses belonging to prominent democrats, one of them Priestley's house, where they destroyed his library, philosophical apparatus, and papers. The riot lasted for two days and was finally quelled by dragoons. Three of the rioters were hanged, and over L26,000 was paid by the neighbouring hundreds as compensation to the sufferers.

Though both as a king and as a German prince George was indignant at the proceedings of the French revolutionists, he fully acquiesced in Pitt's determined neutrality. How little at the beginning of the session of 1792 Pitt expected to be driven from his position is shown by the line which he adopted in parliament. The king's speech declared that the state of Europe seemed to promise that the country would continue to enjoy tranquillity. The naval force was reduced to 16,000 men, and the proposed reductions in the two services amounted to L200,000. For the last four years there had been an average yearly surplus of L400,000, and Pitt proposed to add L200,000 a year to the sinking fund and to remit taxes to the same amount. He also instituted an additional system for the reduction of debt by providing that every new loan should carry a sinking fund of its own. When this scheme was before the lords, Thurlow poured ridicule upon it, and spoke of its author with contempt. The king wrote to Pitt, hoping that his old friend would own himself in the wrong, and that Pitt would overlook the offence. Pitt, who had borne long enough with Thurlow's sullen temper and constant opposition, told the king plainly that he must choose between him and the chancellor. George did not hesitate, and Thurlow, much to his surprise, received an order to give up the great seal. He retired at the end of the session, on June 15, and the great seal was put in commission. Pitt's ascendency in the cabinet was placed beyond dispute. The dismissal of Thurlow marks a step in the progress of the development of the cabinet system. It was no longer possible, as in the earlier years of the reign, for a minister to remain in office, through the king's favour, against the will of the prime minister. When a prime minister is dissatisfied with one of his colleagues he can insist on his resignation, for if he requests his dismissal, his request cannot be rejected unless the sovereign is prepared to take new advisers.


The loss of the chancellor was erroneously believed to have weakened the government. Some of the whig party, of which the Duke of Portland was the recognised head, busied themselves in devising a coalition government. Apart from the sweets of office, the condition of their party rendered the idea specially attractive to them. Burke's appeal to the whigs to maintain their old principles, which he urged in person at a meeting of the heads of the party on June 9, 1792, convinced them that unless Fox moderated "his tone and temper," it might become impossible for them to continue to work with him. A junction with the government might save them from disruption. It was proposed that Pitt should resign the treasury, that he and Fox should be joint secretaries of state and that the treasury should be held by the Duke of Leeds, as a neutral, who would be little more than a figure-head. This precious scheme, chiefly, at least, set on foot by Loughborough in the hope of gaining the chancellorship, was debated among them for weeks. Loughborough, who was not a man to be trusted, led them to believe that some of Pitt's confidential friends were in favour of it, and had assured him that Pitt would readily agree to it. Fox approved of the idea of coalition if he was to have an equal share with Pitt of power and patronage. Leeds mentioned the idea of a coalition to the king, who received it coldly, for George hated Fox; he did not intend to alter his government to suit the whig leaders, and he knew that they were mistaken as regards Pitt's attitude. At last Leeds spoke of the scheme to Pitt who drily told him that circumstances did not call for any alteration in the government and that no new arrangement had ever been in contemplation.[231] If the Portland whigs were to separate themselves from Fox and his friends and were to support the government, they would have to support the government of Pitt, and that after a while, as we shall see, they resolved to do.

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