The Political History of England - Vol XI - From Addington's Administration to the close of William - IV.'s Reign (1801-1837)
by George Brodrick
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Fox readily agreed to his own exclusion, which he had fully expected, and urged his followers to join Pitt, but Grenville and his friends refused to serve without Fox, while the friends of Fox and the more immediate followers of Addington refused to serve without their respective leaders. Addington always considered that Pitt had treated him ungenerously in driving him from office, when it was open to him to return to the head of affairs with the full consent of the existing ministers. More recently it has been the fashion to blame Pitt for bringing too little pressure to bear upon the king and thus losing the support of Fox and Grenville. Neither charge appears to be justified. Through the whole length of the Addington administration Pitt showed himself fully sensitive of what was due to the king, with whom he had worked cordially for eighteen years, to Grenville who had resigned in his cause, and to Addington who had assumed office under his protection. There was no trace of faction in Pitt's attitude towards the ministry. He merely opposed what he believed to be dangerous to the country, and when he was convinced of the necessity of removing Addington from a share in public business, he endeavoured to effect his purpose in such a way as to give the minimum of offence.

On the other hand, Pitt's intended combination in a supreme crisis of his country's destiny with his life-long antagonist, Fox, was a heroic experiment, perhaps, but still only an experiment. The failure of the ministry of "All the Talents" renders it exceedingly doubtful whether such an alliance would have proved successful, and Fox's lukewarm patriotism would have been dearly purchased at the expense of the alienation of the king, perhaps even of his relapse into insanity. Nor is it certain that the strongest pressure would have induced George III. to accept Fox at this date. Addington was still undefeated and might have remained in office if Pitt had refused to assume the reins of government without Fox. Grenville is undoubtedly more responsible than any one else for the weakness of Pitt's second administration. It was from a sense of loyalty to Grenville that Pitt had suffered the negotiations for his return to office in 1803 to fall through, and now when the two statesmen could return together, and when, if ever, a strong government was needed, either a quixotic sense of honour or a wounded pride induced Grenville not only to stand aloof from the new administration himself, but to do his utmost to prevent others from giving it their support.[25] The new cabinet was quickly formed. Pitt received the seals of office on May 10, and took his seat in parliament after re-election on the 18th, the very day on which Napoleon was declared emperor by the French senate.

This event, long foreseen, was doubtless hastened by the disclosure of the plot formed by Moreau, Pichegru, and Georges Cadoudal against the first consul. There was no proof of Moreau's complicity in designs on Napoleon's life, and the mysterious death of Pichegru in prison left the extent of his complicity among the insoluble problems of history, but there can be no doubt that Cadoudal was justly executed for plotting assassination. Unfortunately some of the under-secretaries in the Addington administration had not only shared the plans of the conspirators so far as they aimed at a rising in France, but had procured for them material assistance. They appear, however, to have been innocent of any attempt on Napoleon's life. Drake, the British envoy at Munich, was, however, deeper in the plot. The evidence of British complicity naturally received the very worst construction in Paris.[26] Napoleon himself certainly believed in an Anglo-Bourbon conspiracy, organised by the Count of Artois and other French royalists, when he caused the Duke of Enghien to be kidnapped in Baden territory and hurried off to the castle of Vincennes. He was, however, already aware of his prisoner's innocence when on March 21 he had him shot there by torch-light after a mock trial before a military commission. All Europe was shocked by this atrocious assassination, and though Napoleon sometimes attempted to shift the guilt of it upon Talleyrand, he justified it at other times as a measure of self-defence, and left on record his deliberate approval of it, for the consideration of posterity. Two months later he became Emperor of the French.

When Pitt resumed office on May 10, 1804, he was no longer the heaven-born and buoyant young minister of 1783, strong in the confidence of the king and the anticipated confidence of the nation, with a minority of followers in the house of commons, but with the brightest prospects of political success before him. Nor was he the leader of a devoted majority, as when he resigned in 1801 rather than abandon his convictions on the catholic question. He had been compelled to waive these convictions, without fully regaining the confidence of the king, and, while the adherents of Fox retained their deep-seated hatred of a war-policy, the adherents of Addington and Grenville were in no mood to give him a loyal support. Windham and Spencer were no longer at his side, and his ministry was essentially the same as that of Addington, with the substitution of Dudley Ryder, now Lord Harrowby, for Hawkesbury as foreign secretary, Melville for St. Vincent as first lord of the admiralty, Earl Camden for Hobart as secretary for war and the colonies, and the Duke of Montrose for Auckland as president of the board of trade. Hawkesbury was transferred to the home office, vacated by Yorke, and the new chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Lord Mulgrave, was given a seat in the cabinet. Of Pitt's eleven colleagues in the cabinet Castlereagh alone, who remained president of the board of control—a wretched speaker though an able administrator—had a seat in the lower house.


Military exigencies now engrossed all thoughts, and the king's speech, in proroguing parliament on July 31, foreshadowed a new coalition, for which the murder of the Duke of Enghien had paved the way. The preparations for an invasion of England had been resumed, and Napoleon celebrated his birthday in great state at Boulogne, still postponing his final stroke until he should be crowned, on December 2, at Paris by the helpless pope, brought from Italy for the purpose.[27] A month later he personally addressed another pacific letter to the King of England, who replied in his speech from the throne on January 15, 1805, that he could not entertain overtures except in concert with Russia and the other powers. Meanwhile, Pitt, conscious as he was of failing powers, retained his undaunted courage, and while he was organising a third coalition, did not shrink from a bold measure which could hardly be justified by international law. This was the seizure on October 5, 1804, of three Spanish treasure-ships on the high seas, without a previous declaration of war against Spain, though not without a previous notice that hostilities might be opened at any moment unless Spain ceased to give underhand assistance to France. The excuse was that Spain had long been the obsequious ally of France, and, as the alliance now became open, Pitt's act was sanctioned by a large majority in both houses of parliament in January, 1805. The parliamentary session which opened in this month found Pitt's ministry apparently stronger than it had been at the beginning of the recess. Despairing of any help from Grenville, except in a vigorous prosecution of the war, he had sought a reconciliation with Addington, who became Viscount Sidmouth on January 12 and president of the council on the 14th. Along with Sidmouth his former colleague Hobart, now Earl of Buckinghamshire, returned to office as chancellor of the duchy. To make room for these new allies, Portland had consented to resign the presidency of the council, though he remained a member of the cabinet, while Mulgrave was appointed to the foreign office, in place of Harrowby, who was compelled by ill-health to retire.

But this new accession of strength was soon followed by a terrible mortification which probably contributed to shorten Pitt's life. Melville, his tried supporter and intimate friend, was charged on the report of a commission with having misapplied public money as treasurer of the navy in Pitt's former ministry. It appeared that he had been culpably careless, and had not prevented the paymaster, Trotter, from engaging in private speculations with the naval balances. Although Trotter's speculations involved no loss to the state they were, nevertheless, a contravention of an act of 1785. Melville had also supplied other departments of government with naval money, but was personally innocent of fraud. There was a divergence of feeling in the cabinet as to the attitude to be adopted towards Melville. Sidmouth, himself a man of the highest integrity, was a friend of St. Vincent, the late first lord of the admiralty, and had not forgiven Melville for his part in the expulsion of himself and St. Vincent from office. He had therefore both public and private grounds to incline him against Melville. On April 8, Samuel Whitbread moved a formal censure on Melville in the house of commons. Pitt, with the approval of Sidmouth and his friends, moved the previous question on Whitbread's motion, and declared his intention of introducing a motion of his own for a select committee to investigate the charges. In spite of the support which Pitt derived from the followers of Sidmouth the votes were equally divided on Whitbread's motion, 216 a side. Abbot, the speaker, gave his casting vote in favour of Whitbread, and the announcement was received by the whig members with unseemly exultation.[28]


The censure was followed by an impeachment before the house of lords, where Melville was acquitted in the following year. Meanwhile, he had resigned office on April 9, the day after the vote of censure, and his place at the admiralty was taken by Sir Charles Middleton, who was raised to the peerage as Lord Barham. The appointment gave umbrage to Sidmouth, to whom Pitt had made promises of promotion for his own followers, and he was with difficulty induced to remain in the cabinet. Pitt was, however, irritated by the hostile votes of Sidmouth's followers, Hiley Addington and Bond, on the question of the impeachment, and regarded this as a reason for delaying their preferment. Sidmouth now complained of a breach of faith, as Pitt had promised to treat the question as an open one, and he resigned office on July 4. Buckinghamshire resigned next day. Camden was appointed to succeed Sidmouth as lord president, Castlereagh followed Camden as secretary for war and the colonies, retaining his previous position as president of the board of control, and Harrowby, whose health had improved since his resignation in January, took Buckinghamshire's place as chancellor of the duchy. Thus weakened at home, Pitt could derive little consolation from the aspect of continental affairs. On May 26, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy in the cathedral of Milan, and the Ligurian Republic became part of the French empire in the following month. The ascendency of France in Europe might well have appeared impregnable, and it might have been supposed that nothing remained for England but to guard her own coasts and recapture some of the French colonies given up by the treaty of Amiens.

But Pitt's spirit was still unbroken, and by the middle of July he succeeded in rallying three powers, Russia, Austria, and Sweden, into a league to withstand the further encroachments of France. Such a league had been proposed by Gustavus IV. of Sweden, early in 1804, but nothing definite was done till Pitt's ministry entered upon office. Meanwhile, the assassination of the Duke of Enghien had led to a rupture of diplomatic relations between France and Russia, though war was not declared. Negotiations were presently set on foot for a league, which, it was hoped, would be joined by Austria and Prussia in addition to Great Britain, Russia, and Sweden. An interesting feature in the negotiations was the tsar's scheme of a European polity, where the states should be independent and enjoy institutions "founded on the sacred rights of humanity," a foreshadowing, as it would seem, of the Holy Alliance. The discussion of details between Great Britain and Russia began towards the end of 1804. Difficulties, however, arose about the British retention of Malta and the British claim to search neutral ships for deserters. A treaty between the two powers was signed on April 11, 1805; but the tsar long refused his ratification, and it was only given in July, after a formal protest against the retention of Malta.

The object of this alliance was defined to be the expulsion of French troops from North Germany, the assured independence of the republics of Holland and Switzerland, and the restoration of the King of Sardinia in Piedmont; 500,000 men were to be provided for the war by Russia and such other continental powers as might join the coalition. Great Britain, instead of furnishing troops, was to supply L1,250,000 a year for every 100,000 men engaged in the war. After the close of the war an European congress was to define more closely the law of nations and establish an European federation. At the same time the allies disclaimed the intention of forcing any system of government on France against her will. It will be observed that the number of troops specified was far in excess of what Russia alone could place in the field; such numbers could only be obtained by the adhesion of Austria and of either Prussia or some of the smaller German states to the coalition. So far as Austria was concerned, Napoleon's Italian policy rendered war inevitable. Already in November, 1804, the Austrian court had entered into a secret agreement with Russia to make war on France in the event of further French aggressions in Italy. The coronation of Napoleon as King of Italy and the annexation of Liguria were, however, more than aggressions; they were open violations of the treaty of Luneville which had guaranteed the independence of the Cisalpine and Ligurian republics. Austria hereupon determined on war, and secretly joined the coalition on August 9, 1805. Sweden, which was not a member of it, concluded separate treaties of alliance both with Great Britain and with Russia. Greater difficulties had to be surmounted in the case of Prussia. Frederick William III. cherished no enthusiasm for European liberty, and vacillated under the influence of Napoleon's offer of Hanover on the one hand and his numerous petty insults on the other. Prussia in consequence remained neutral throughout the most decisive period of the ensuing war.


Long before the coalition was ready Napoleon's mind had recurred to his venturesome project for the invasion of England. An army, the finest that he ever led to victory, which, even after it had been transferred to another scene of action, he still saw fit to call the "army of England," was encamped near Boulogne. It was constantly exercised in the process of embarking on board flat-bottomed boats or rafts, which were to be convoyed by Villeneuve, admiral of the Toulon fleet, and Gantheaume, admiral of the Brest fleet, for whose appearance the French signalmen vainly scanned the horizon. In the meantime, Nelson had been engaged for two years, without setting foot on shore, in that patient and sleepless watch, ranging over the whole Mediterranean, which must ever rank with the greatest of his matchless exploits. At last, he learned in the spring of 1805, that Villeneuve, following a plan concerted by Napoleon himself, had eluded him by sailing from Toulon towards Cadiz, had there been joined by the Spanish fleet, and was steering for the West Indies. Nelson followed with a much smaller number of ships, and might have forced an action in those waters, but he was misled by false intelligence and missed the enemy, though his dreaded presence was effectual in saving the British islands from any serious attack.

The combined fleets of France and Spain recrossed the Atlantic and in accordance with Napoleon's plans made for Ferrol on the coast of Galicia. After being repulsed with some loss off Cape Finisterre by Sir Robert Calder, who was court-martialled and severely reprimanded for neglecting to follow up his victory, they put in first at Vigo, and then with fifteen allied ships at Coruna. But, instead of venturing to carry out Napoleon's orders by challenging Admiral Cornwallis's fleet off Brest, and making a desperate effort to command the channel, Villeneuve now took advantage of his emperors recommendation to return to Cadiz in event of defeat, and set sail for that port in the middle of August. Nelson, ignorant of his movements, had vainly sought him off the Straits of Gibraltar, and came home to report himself at the admiralty. Arriving at Spithead on August 18, he was in England barely four weeks, most of which he spent in privacy at Merton. During this brief respite he received a general tribute of admiration and affection from his countrymen, which anticipated the verdict of posterity. On September 15 he sailed from Portsmouth, with a presentiment of his own fate, after having described to Sidmouth the general design of his crowning sea fight: he would, he said, break the enemy's line in two places; and he did so. He joined Admiral Collingwood off Cadiz on the 29th, and on October 19 he received news that Villeneuve, smarting under the prospect of being superseded, had put to sea with the combined fleet. Complicated naval manoeuvres followed, but on the 21st the enemy was forced to give battle, a few leagues from Cape Trafalgar, and Nelson caused his immortal signal to be hoisted—"England expects that every man will do his duty".


The French and Spanish fleet comprised thirty-three ships of the line, of which eighteen were French and fifteen Spanish; the British had only twenty-seven, but among these were seven three-deckers as against four on the side of the allies. It had the additional advantage of superior discipline and equipment, to say nothing of the genius of its commander. The British fleet advanced in two divisions, Nelson leading the weather division of twelve, and Collingwood the lee division of fifteen ships. According to Nelson's plan Collingwood was to attack the rear of the enemy's line, while he himself cut off and paralysed the centre and van. Both divisions advanced without regular formation, the ships bearing down with all the speed they could command and without waiting for laggards. Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign, steering E. by N., broke through the allies' line twelve ships from the rear, raking the Santa Ana, Alava's flagship, as he passed her stern, with a broadside which struck down 400 of her men. For some fifteen minutes the Royal Sovereign was alone in action; then others of the division came up and successively penetrated the line of the allies, and engaging ship to ship completely disposed of the enemy's rear, their twelve rear ships being all taken or destroyed.

Meanwhile, Nelson in the Victory, who had reserved to himself the more difficult task of containing twenty-one ships with twelve, held on his course, advancing so as to keep the allied van stationary and yet to prevent the centre from venturing to help the rear. He designed to pass through the end of the line in order to cut the enemy's van off from Cadiz, but, finding an opportunity, changed his course, passed down the line and attacked the centre. He passed through the line of the allied fleet, closely followed by four other ships of his division, and the five British ships concentrated their attacks on the Bucentaure, Villeneuve's flagship, the gigantic Spanish four-decker, the Santisima Trinidad, which was next ahead of her, and the Redoutable, which supported her. The centre of the allies was crushed and the van cut off from coming to the help of the rear, which was being destroyed by Collingwood.

Before the battle ended, the naval force of France, and with it Napoleon's projects of invasion, were utterly and hopelessly ruined. Eighteen prizes were taken, and, though many of these were lost in a gale, four ships which escaped were afterwards captured, and the remainder lay for the most part shattered hulks at Cadiz. By this battle the supremacy of Great Britain at sea was finally established. Nelson, who, during the ship-to-ship engagement which followed his penetration of the enemy's line, was mortally wounded by a sharp-shooter from the mizzen-top of the Redoutable, died before the battle was over, though he was spared to hear that a complete victory was secure. His death is among the heroic incidents of history, and his last achievement, both in its conception and its results, was the fitting climax of his fame. The plan for the battle which he drew up beforehand for the instruction of his captains, and the changes which he made in it to meet the conditions of the moment are alike worthy of his supreme genius as a naval tactician. His arrangements were carried out by men who had learned to love and trust him, and who were inspired by the fire of his spirit, and hence it was that the allied fleet of France and Spain perished at the "Nelson touch".[29]

Very different were the fortunes of war in central Europe, where Napoleon himself commanded the "army of England". It was not until the end of August that Napoleon knew that Villeneuve would be unable to appear in the Channel, but no sooner did he abandon his project of invasion in despair than he resolved on a campaign scarcely less arduous, and gave orders for a grand march into Germany. Pitt, as we have seen, had successfully negotiated an alliance with Russia and Austria, whose armies were converging upon the plains of Bavaria and were to have been reinforced by a large Prussian contingent. Unhappily, they had not effected a junction when Napoleon crossed the Rhine near Strassburg and the Danube near Donauwoerth, while he detached large forces to check the advance of the Russians and the approach of reinforcements expected from Italy. One of these movements involved an open violation of Prussian territory, but he could rely on the well-tried servility of Frederick William. The first decisive result of his strategy was the surrender of Mack at Ulm, with 30,000 men and 60 pieces of ordnance. This event took place on October 20, the very day before the battle of Trafalgar, and opened the road to Vienna, which the French troops entered on November 13, occupying the great bridge by a ruse more skilful than honourable, during the negotiation of an armistice. Vienna was spared, while Napoleon pressed on to meet the remainder of the Austrian army, which had now been joined by a larger body of Russians near Bruenn. The allies numbered about 100,000 men; Napoleon's army was numerically somewhat less, but possessed the same kind of superiority as the British navy at Trafalgar. The result was the crushing victory of Austerlitz on December 2, followed by the peace of Pressburg, between France and Austria, signed on the 26th. The principal articles of this treaty provided for the cession of Venetia, Istria, and Dalmatia to the kingdom of Italy, and the aggrandisement of Bavaria and Wuertemberg, whose electors received the royal title as the price of their sympathetic alliance with France. Russia withdrew sullenly, having learned the hollowness of her league with Prussia, which had basely temporised while the fate of Germany was at stake, and whose minister, Haugwitz, suppressing the ultimatum which he was charged to deliver, had openly congratulated the conqueror of Austerlitz.

Great Britain had had no direct share in the conflict in Southern Germany and Moravia; she had, however, joined in two expeditions, the one in Southern, the other in Northern Europe. In spite of a treaty of neutrality between France and the Two Sicilies, ratified on October 8, an Anglo-Russian squadron was permitted to land a force of 10,000 British troops under Sir James Craig, and 14,000 Russians on the shore of the Bay of Naples. These troops effected nothing, and the violation of neutrality was, as we shall see, destined to involve the Neapolitan monarchy in ruin. The expedition to North Germany was planned on a larger scale. Hanover had been occupied by France since June, 1803. Its recovery was attempted by an Anglo-Hanoverian force under Cathcart, which was to have been supported by a Russian and Swedish force acting from Stralsund. The co-operation of Prussia was also expected. In order to secure this alliance the British government offered Prussia an extension of territory so as to include Antwerp, Liege, Luxemburg, and Cologne, in the event of victory. In November the expedition landed. In December Prussia had definitely given her protection to the Russian troops in Hanover and offered it to the Hanoverians. Pitt computed that at the beginning of the next campaign nearly 300,000 men would be available in North Germany. But the vacillation of Prussia ruined all. On December 15 Haugwitz signed the treaty of Schoenbrunn, by which Prussia was to enter into an offensive and defensive alliance with France and was to receive Hanover in return for Ansbach, Cleves, and Neuchatel. Frederick William could not yet stoop to such a degree of infamy, and therefore, instead of ratifying the treaty, resolved on January 3, 1806, to propose a compromise, which involved among other provisions the temporary occupation of Hanover by Prussia. In consequence of this determination he sent, on January 7, a request for the withdrawal of the British forces, which were accordingly recalled.[30]

[Pageheading: THE DEATH OF PITT.]

The collapse of his last coalition was the death-blow of Pitt, cheered though he was for the moment by the news of Trafalgar. The fatal consequences of Austerlitz were reported to him at Bath, whence he returned by easy stages to his villa at Putney in January, 1806. His noble spirit was broken at last by the defection of Prussia, and after lingering a while, he died on the 23rd of that month, leaving a name second to none among the greatest statesmen of his country. His sagacious mind grasped the advantage to be gained by freeing trade from unnecessary restrictions, and anticipated catholic emancipation, parliamentary reform, and the abolition of slavery. He gave the nation, in the union with Ireland, the one constructive measure of the first order achieved in his time, and only marred by the weakness of more pliable successors in a lesser age. His dauntless soul, which bore him up against the bitterest disappointments, the desertion of friends, and the depression of mortal disease, inspired the governing classes of England to endure ten more years of exhausting war, to save Europe (as he foretold) by their example, and to crown his own work at Waterloo. His lofty eloquence, which has been described as a gift independent of statesmanship, was indeed a product of statesmanship, for it consisted in no mere witchery of words, but in a luminous and convincing presentation of essential facts. He may have been inferior to his own father in fiery rhetoric, to Peel in comprehensive grasp of domestic policy, and to Gladstone in the political experience gained by sixty years of political life, but in capacity for command he was inferior to none. If he was not an ideal war minister, he was not a war minister by his own choice; his lot was cast in times which suppressed the exercise of his best powers; and he was matched in the organisation of war, though not in the field, against the greatest organising genius known to history. He must be judged by what he actually did and meditated as a peace minister; his conduct of the war must be compared with that of those able but not gifted men who strove to bend the bow which he left behind him; and we must assuredly conclude that none of his colleagues or rivals was his peer either in powers or in public spirit.


[13] Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii., 242; Lewis, Administrations of Great Britain, p. 225.

[14] Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii., 282-90; Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, ii., 113-31; Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., 20-39.

[15] See vol. x., p. 399.

[16] Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, ii., 145-47; Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., 88-93.

[17] For a list of Canning's squibs, belonging to this period, see Lewis, Administrations, p. 249, note.

[18] It was not fair to hold Addington entirely responsible for the promotion of his brother, who had been a junior lord of the treasury under Pitt. The taunt came with a particularly bad grace from Canning, who had himself been paymaster-general in the last administration.

[19] Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, ii., 250.

[20] Annual Register, xlvi. (1804), p. 34.

[21] Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., 135-44.

[22] See the letter in Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., appendix, pp. i.-iii.

[23] There is preserved a sketch in Pitt's handwriting of a combined administration with Melville, Fox, and Fitzwilliam as secretaries of state, and Grenville as lord president.

[24] Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., appendix, pp. xi., xii.

[25] The best account of Pitt's return to power is to be found in Stanhope, Life of Pitt, iv., 113-95; appendix, pp. i.-xiii. The story is told in a very spirited manner by Lord Rosebery, Pitt, pp. 238-44.

[26] Rose, Life of Napoleon I., i., 450-53.

[27] Napoleon actually crowned himself, although he had originally intended to be crowned by the pope.

[28] Malmesbury, Diaries, iv., 338.

[29] Nelson's tactics at Trafalgar are explained in a series of remarkable articles in The Times of September 16, 19, 22, 26, 28, 30, and October 19, 1905. For incidents of the battle see Mahan, Life of Nelson, ii., 363 sqq.

[30] Rose, Life of Napoleon I., ii., 53-57, 63-65.



The immediate effect of Pitt's death was the dissolution of his government. The king turned at first to Hawkesbury, afterwards destined as Earl of Liverpool to hold the office of premier for nearly fifteen years; but he then felt himself unequal to such a burden. He next sent for Grenville, who insisted on the co-operation of Fox, to which the king assented without demur, and the short-lived ministry of "All the Talents" was formed within a few days. It was essentially a whig cabinet, but it included two tories, Sidmouth as lord privy seal, and Lord Ellenborough, the lord chief justice. Grenville himself was first lord of the treasury, Fox foreign secretary, and Erskine lord chancellor. Charles Grey, the future Earl Grey, was first lord of the admiralty. Spencer home secretary, Windham secretary for war and the colonies, and Lord Henry Petty, the future Marquis of Lansdowne, chancellor of the exchequer. Fitzwilliam was lord president, and the Earl of Moira master-general of the ordnance. Ellenborough owed his place in the cabinet to the influence of Sidmouth. The appointment was a departure from the established constitutional practice. Since Lord Mansfield, who had ceased to be an efficient member in 1765, no chief justice had been a member of the cabinet, and it was argued in parliament by the opposition that a seat in the cabinet was inconsistent with the independence which a common law judge ought to maintain. It is also important to observe that Sidmouth when accepting office gave express notice to Grenville and Fox that under all circumstances "he would ever resist the catholic question".[31]

The friendly relations of the king with Fox were creditable to both of them, and in the last few months of his life Fox showed himself a statesman. Besides the abolition of the slave trade, his grand object was the restoration of peace on a durable basis. There were some grounds for believing that this was possible. France, under an emperor, seemed no longer to represent a new principle in European politics, and was not necessarily a menace to her neighbours; the coalition was fairly beaten on land, while British supremacy had been reasserted on sea, and Napoleon might well wish for peace to enable him to consolidate his position on land and regain the power of using the sea, just as he had done in 1801. Fox lost no time in renewing a pacific correspondence with Talleyrand, afterwards carried on through the agency of Lord Yarmouth, an English traveller detained in France, and Lord Lauderdale, who was sent over as plenipotentiary. The principle of the negotiation was that of uti possidetis, but it failed, as Whitworth's efforts had failed, because the pretensions of France were constantly shifting, and especially because France, anxious to isolate Great Britain, insisted on negotiating separately with Great Britain and Russia, while Fox very properly refused to make peace without our ally. Grey himself, now Lord Howick, afterwards declared that France showed no disposition to grant any terms which could be accepted by Great Britain. On September 13, Fox died, and was buried in Westminster Abbey almost side by side with his great rival.

While he was earnestly striving for peace, there was no cessation of warlike movements or political changes either in Central Europe or in Italy. In June, 1806, Napoleon converted the Batavian Republic into the kingdom of Holland, over which he set his brother Louis. In July the discord of Germany, which had long ceased to be a nation, was consummated by the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine, which separated all the western states from the Holy Roman empire, and united them under the protection and control of France. On August 6, Francis II., who had assumed the title of Emperor of Austria in 1804, formally renounced the title of Roman Emperor, and the Holy Roman Empire became extinct. The King of Prussia, with singular disregard of good faith and national interest, finally accepted on February 15 the bribe of Hanover for adhesion to France, but without the offensive and defensive alliance offered him in the previous December, and with the additional humiliation of being compelled to close his ports to English ships. He vainly strove to conceal this shameful bargain, and was, as will be seen, punished by the destruction of Prussian commerce. After all, he found himself overreached by Napoleon in duplicity, and was at last provoked into risking a single-handed contest with his imperious ally. He declared war on October 1, and within a fortnight the army of Prussia, inheriting the system and traditions of the great Frederick, was all but annihilated in the twin battles of Jena and Auerstaedt fought on October 14.


The British government, though not unwilling to forgive the perfidy of its former confederate, was powerless to strike a blow on his behalf until it was too late. Indeed, the only warlike operation undertaken by Great Britain in Europe during the year was in the extreme south of Italy. Ferdinand, King of the Two Sicilies, had been driven out of his capital to make way for Joseph Bonaparte, who entered Naples on February 15, and the exiled monarch took refuge in the island of Sicily. In accordance with the shortsighted policy of small expeditions, a British force under Sir John Stuart was landed in Calabria to raise the peasantry, and on July 4, defeated the French at the point of the bayonet in the battle of Maida. This action shook the confidence of Europe in the superiority of the French infantry, and saved Sicily from France, but the French troops remained in possession of the Italian mainland. The prestige of Great Britain was raised by the conquest of the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope in January by a naval and military force sent out by Pitt under the command of Sir Home Popham and General, now Sir David, Baird, but was damaged by a futile expedition to South America, undertaken by Popham without orders from the home government. The city of Buenos Ayres was taken, indeed, in June by General Beresford, but it was retaken by the Spaniards in August, and soldiers who could ill be spared from the European conflict now impending were lavished on a chimerical project on the other side of the Atlantic.

The short administration of Grenville, so inactive in its foreign policy, is memorable only for one redeeming measure of home-policy—the abolition of the slave trade. Before Fox's death, the attention of parliament had been divided mainly between Windham's abortive scheme for a vast standing army, to be raised on the basis of limited service, and the secret inquiry into the conduct of the Princess of Wales. This resulted in her being acquitted of the more scandalous charges against her, but on the advice of the cabinet, she was censured by the king for unseemly levity of behaviour. On October 24 parliament was dissolved. It was a foolish dissolution, for ministerial convenience only, and aimed not merely at strengthening the ministry, but at weakening the tory section within the ministry. The election was not well managed, and the king withheld the subscription of L12,000 with which he was accustomed to assist his ministers for the time being at a general election. Still the ministry obtained a considerable majority.[32] The new parliament met on December 15, and on March 25, 1807, the abolition bill, having passed the house of lords in spite of strong opposition, was carried in the commons by 283 to 16. Thus ended a philanthropic struggle, which began in 1783, when the quakers petitioned against the trade. Three years later Clarkson began his crusade. Two bills in favour of abolition were carried by the house of commons before the close of the eighteenth century, but were thrown out in the house of lords. The same fate befell a bill for a temporary suspension of the slave trade, which passed the commons in 1804 under the spell of Wilberforce's persuasive eloquence; but Pitt's government caused a royal proclamation to be issued, which at least checked the spread of the nefarious traffic in the newly conquered colonies. A larger measure failed to pass the house of commons in 1805, but in 1806 Fox and Grenville succeeded in committing both houses to an open condemnation of the trade. This was followed on March 25, 1807, by an enactment entirely prohibiting the slave trade from and after January 1, 1808, though it was not made felony to engage in it until a further act was carried by Brougham in 1811.


In default of important legislative tasks, the parliament which expired in 1806 devoted much attention to various features of the military system, as well as to proposed reforms in the public accounts. It sanctioned the principle of raising a great part of the war-expenses by special taxes rather than by loan. A property-tax of 10 per cent. was freely voted, and this was then represented to be its permanent limit. The assessed taxes were increased at the same time by 10 per cent., but with an allowance in favour of poorer taxpayers for every child above the number of two. It is worthy of notice that, while Grenville's ministry was in office, Whitbread brought forward an elaborate plan not only for reforming the poor laws but also for establishing a system of national education. Some changes in the cabinet were necessitated by the death of Fox. Howick became foreign secretary and was succeeded at the admiralty by Thomas Grenville, brother of the prime minister, most famous as a book-collector. Fitzwilliam retired at the same time on the ground of ill-health. He retained his seat in the cabinet, but was succeeded as lord president by Sidmouth, while Fox's nephew, Lord Holland, succeeded Sidmouth as lord privy seal.

The fall of the whig government in March, 1807, was due to a cause similar to that which had brought about the retirement of Pitt in 1801. The Duke of Bedford, who was lord lieutenant of Ireland, had urged the importance of making some concessions to Roman catholics. An Irish act of 1793 had opened commissions in the army as high as the rank of colonel to Roman catholics, and the ministry obtained the reluctant consent of the king to the extension of this concession to Roman catholics throughout his dominions. Without having fully ascertained the king's mind, Howick, on behalf of his colleagues, moved for leave to bring in a bill opening all commissions in the army and navy to Roman catholics. The king at once refused his sanction, and the government, finding that they could not carry their bill, agreed to withdraw it. This decision was announced to the king in a cabinet minute, drawn up at a meeting from which Ellenborough, Erskine, and Sidmouth, who sympathised with the king, were excluded, and from which Fitzwilliam and Spencer were absent owing to ill-health. The minute went on to record their adhesion to the policy embodied in the bill, reserving the right to advise the king on any future occasion in accordance with that policy. Thereupon, Sidmouth, who had already sent in his resignation, Eldon, Portland, and Malmesbury, with the concurrence of the Duke of York and Spencer Perceval, urged the king to make a stand upon his prerogative. He did so, by requiring the ministers who had signed the minute, to give him a written pledge that they would never press upon him further concessions, direct or indirect, to the Roman catholics. This pledge they properly declined, and accepted the consequence by resignation. Spencer was present at the meeting which arrived at this conclusion and concurred in the decision of his colleagues.[33]

A new administration was formed by Portland, as nominal head, but with Perceval as its real leader and chancellor of the exchequer, Canning as foreign secretary, Hawkesbury as home secretary, and Castlereagh as minister for war and the colonies. Camden, Eldon, Westmorland, and Chatham resumed the offices they had held before the death of Pitt, Mulgrave became first lord of the admiralty, and Earl Bathurst president of the board of trade. In this government, too, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, who had returned in 1805 from a brilliant military career in India, held office outside the cabinet as chief secretary for Ireland. Spencer Perceval was a half-brother of the Earl of Egmont and brother of Lord Arden. He enjoyed a large practice at the bar and had made his mark as a parliamentary debater when filling the offices, first of solicitor-general, and then of attorney-general under Addington. He had held the latter office again under Pitt. Not the least source of his influence was his steady and determined opposition to the Roman catholic claims.

[Pageheading: NON-INTERVENTION.]

After a short but animated debate on the important constitutional question raised by the circumstances of the change of ministers, parliament was again dissolved on April 27. The king's speech in closing the session was virtually a personal appeal to his people, and a majority was returned in favour of the new ministry. This result may be said to mark the last triumph of George III. in maintaining the principle of personal government. "A just and enlightened toleration" was announced as the substitute for catholic relief. Still, a certain revival of independent popular opinion may be traced in the return of Sir Francis Burdett and Lord Cochrane for Westminster. It was not until June 22 that parliament assembled, and the engrossing interest of foreign events left but little room for discussions on home-policy. A motion by Whitbread, however, bore fruit in a bill for establishing parochial schools, which Eldon successfully opposed in the house of lords, mainly on the ground that it would take popular education out of the hands of the clergy. The same not unnatural apathy about home affairs prevailed throughout the session of 1808, which began on January 31, and though a large number of acts were placed on the statute book in this and succeeding years, the mass of them, including many relating to Ireland, were essentially of a local or occasional character. An exception must be recognised in the partial success of a motion for the reform of the criminal law, which was proposed by Sir Samuel Romilly, famous for his efforts in the cause of humanity, and which resulted in the abolition of capital punishment for the offence of pocket-picking.

During this critical period, when Great Britain was gradually drifting into a position of isolation, the course of parliamentary history becomes inseparable from the progress of those mighty events on the continent, which Grenville's government would fain have treated as outside the sphere of British interests. For, notwithstanding Windham's schemes for a reconstruction of the army, that government had allowed the naval and military establishments of Great Britain to fall below their former standard. The leading idea of their policy was non-intervention, and at the opening of 1807, there was no longer any thought of sending a force to cope with Napoleon's veterans on the continent When in 1805 a British force was operating in North Germany, it was possible that if Prussia had been faithful to her engagements, the disaster of Austerlitz might at least have been partially retrieved. It was otherwise when, after the collapse of Prussia, France and Russia stood face to face with each other. The drawn battle of Eylau in East Prussia, marked by fearful carnage, was fought on February 8, 1807. This check, breaking the spell of Napoleon's victorious career, had a remarkable effect in raising the spirits of the allies, Russia, Sweden, and Prussia, some remains of whose army were still in the field. These powers now drew closer together, but they received a lukewarm support from Great Britain, which might have done much to save Europe by timely reinforcements and liberal subsidies. In reply to an urgent appeal from the tsar for a loan of L6,000,000, the Grenville ministry doled out L500,000 to Russia, and a still more pitiful gift to Prussia. No troops were sent to aid Sweden on the Baltic coast, although, when, at Napoleon's instigation, Turkey declared war against Russia, expeditions were despatched to Alexandria and the Dardanelles. The notion of making war on a large scale, in concert with allies, on the continent of Europe, as in the days of Marlborough, and even of Lord Granby, seems to have vanished from the minds of English statesmen, except Castlereagh, who always advocated concentrated action.

The succession of Portland and Canning to Grenville and Howick brought no immediate change in our insular policy and the new government had been in office for above three months before a British force at last appeared in the Swedish island of Ruegen. It arrived too late, Danzig surrendered in May, and on June 14 Napoleon obtained a decisive victory over the Russian army and its Prussian contingent at Friedland. Russia now gave a supreme example of that national selfishness, and contempt for the rights of independent states which had dominated the counsels of sovereigns ever since the first partition of Poland. Doubtless the tsar might plead that Great Britain, too, had been wasting her strength in selfish attempts to secure her mastery of the seas, and to open new markets for her trade. He also deeply resented her recent failure to aid him in the hour of his utmost need, while he still cherished the policy of the "armed neutrality," and was eager to prosecute his designs against Turkey. Dazzled and flattered by Napoleon, he welcomed overtures for peace at the expense of Great Britain, and there is no doubt that his imaginative nature indulged in the vision of a regenerated Europe, divided between himself as emperor of the east and Napoleon as emperor of the west. It is therefore far from surprising that he should have held a private interview with Napoleon, on a raft in the Niemen, which led to the treaty of Tilsit on July 7.

[Pageheading: THE TREATY OF TILSIT.]

This treaty, in which the King of Prussia shared as a helpless partner, contained both public and secret articles, but the distinction was not very material, for the secret articles almost immediately became known to Canning. The general effect of the whole agreement was the utter humiliation of Prussia, the recognition by that country and Russia of all Napoleon's acquisitions, and their combination with France against the maritime claims and conquests of Great Britain. The western provinces of Prussia were to be incorporated with other German annexations to form the new kingdom of Westphalia; Prussian Poland was to be converted into the duchy of Warsaw under the crown of Saxony, to which a right of passage through Silesia was reserved; and Berlin with other great Prussian fortresses were to remain in the hands of the French until an exorbitant war indemnity should have been paid.[34] At one stroke Prussia was thus reduced to a second-rate power, with a territory little greater than it possessed before the first partition of Poland. The rule of Joseph Bonaparte at Naples, that of Louis in Holland, and the confederation of the Rhine, were solemnly confirmed. Above all, Russia pledged herself to join France in coercing Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal into an adoption of the organised commercial exclusion, known as the "continental system," and hostility to Great Britain in the event of her resistance. If Sweden refused to join this league, Denmark was to be compelled to declare war on her.

No sooner did it receive information of this alliance than the British government despatched a naval armament to Denmark and landed troops, which were soon reinforced by those withdrawn from Ruegen. There had been no open rupture with Denmark, though much irritation existed between Denmark and Great Britain with reference to neutral commerce. But there were the best reasons for believing that the Danish fleet, as well as that of Portugal, would be demanded by France and Russia, to be employed against Great Britain, and it was certain that Denmark could not withstand such pressure. The British envoy, Jackson, was accordingly instructed to offer Denmark a treaty of alliance, of which one condition was to be the deposit of her fleet on hire with the British government. The proposal was accompanied by a threat of force, and the crown prince, with a spirit worthy of admiration, refused the terms. In consequence a peremptory summons to deliver up her ships of war and naval stores was addressed to the governor of Copenhagen by the British commanders, Admiral Gambier and Lord Cathcart, under whom Sir Arthur Wellesley was entrusted with the reserve. The surrender, if made peaceably, was to be in the nature of a deposit, and the fleet was to be restored at the end of the war. The governor returned a temporising reply, and a bombardment of Copenhagen followed (September 2); the fleet was brought to England as prize of war; and Denmark naturally became the enemy of Great Britain.[35] Sweden declined the proffered alliance of France and Russia, and actually invaded Norway, then a part of the Danish kingdom. The result was the loss of Finland and Swedish Pomerania. The king, Gustavus IV., resembled Charles XII. in quixotic temperament, but not in ability; and Sir John Moore, sent to his support with an army of 10,000 men, found it hopeless to co-operate with him. Shortly afterwards, his subjects formed the same opinion, and he was compelled to make way for his uncle, who succeeded as Charles XIII. with Marshal Bernadotte as crown prince. In consequence of this change Sweden became reconciled to Russia, and estranged from Great Britain.

The seizure of the Danish fleet, in time of so-called peace, roused great indignation throughout most of Europe, and, in some degree, strained the conscience of the British parliament itself. The justice and wisdom of it were strenuously challenged in both houses, especially by Grenville, Sidmouth, and Lord Darnley, who moved an address to the crown embodying an impressive protest against it. It was defended, however, by the high authority of the Marquis Wellesley, as well as by Canning and other ministers, on the simple ground of military necessity. Napoleon himself never ceased to denounce it as an international outrage of the highest enormity. This did not prevent his doing his best to justify it and to imitate it by sending Junot's expedition to Portugal, with instructions to seize the Portuguese fleet at Lisbon. It is strange that in the debates on this subject, peace with France was still treated on both sides as a possibility; but Canning declared that neither Russian nor Austrian mediation could have been accepted as impartial, or as affording the least hope of pacification. However, on September 25, the king addressed a declaration to Europe, in which, after justifying himself in regard to Copenhagen, he professed his readiness to accept conditions of peace "consistent with the maritime rights and political existence of Great Britain".


Still more reasonable attacks, supported by strong petitions, were made by the opposition upon the "orders in council," whereby the British government retaliated against Napoleon's "continental system". This system was founded on a firm belief, shared by the French people, that Great Britain, as mistress of the seas, was the one great obstacle to his imperial ambition, and the most formidable enemy of French aggrandisement, only to be crushed by the ruin of her trade. Prussia had, in conformity with her treaty of February 15, 1806, issued a proclamation on March 28 of that year, closing her ports, which would now include those of Hanover, against British trade. The British government replied by first laying an embargo on Prussian vessels in the harbours of Great Britain and Ireland, and by proclaiming a blockade of the coast of Europe from Brest to the Elbe. This was followed on May 14 by an order in council for seizing all vessels found navigating under Prussian colours. As yet the policy of commercial exclusion had not been carried to any great length, but the Berlin decree issued by Napoleon on November 21 after the battle of Jena proclaimed the whole of the British Isles to be in a state of blockade, prohibited all commerce with them from the ports of France and her dependent states, confiscated all British merchandise in such ports, and declared all British subjects in countries occupied by French troops to be prisoners of war. Howick replied by further orders in council in January, 1807, forbidding neutrals to trade between the ports of France and her allies, or between the ports of nations which should observe the Berlin decree, on pain of the confiscation of the ship and cargo. On the 27th another decree, issued at Warsaw, ordered the seizure in the Hanse Towns of all British goods and colonial produce. The reply of Great Britain was a stricter blockade of the North German coast.

The accession of Russia to Napoleon's commercial policy at Tilsit seemed to have brought the combination against British trade to its furthest development, and it was answered by new orders in council, treating any port from which the British flag was excluded as if actually blockaded, and further limiting the carriage by neutral vessels of produce from hostile colonies. The Milan decree issued on December 17, and further orders in council published during the same winter, carried to greater extremes, if possible, this intolerable form of commercial warfare, under which neutral commerce was gradually crushed out of existence. Great Britain, owing to her command of the sea, was more independent of this kind of commerce than her rival, and both the decrees and the orders in council inflicted far more damage on France and her allies than on Great Britain. But neither party was able to enforce completely its policy of commercial exclusion. Europe could not dispense with British goods or colonial produce carried in British vessels. The law was deliberately set aside by a regular licensing system, and evaded by wholesale smuggling; neutral ships continued to ply between continental ports, and Napoleon did not disdain to clothe his troops with 50,000 British overcoats during the Eylau campaign. Still, Great Britain was enabled to cripple, if not to destroy, the merchant shipping of all other countries, and the interests of consumers all over Europe were enlisted against the author of the continental system. On the other hand, a heavy blow was dealt to friendly relations between Great Britain and the United States, the chief victim of these belligerent pretensions.[36]


In the meantime, the prestige of Great Britain had been injured by three petty and abortive expeditions projected by the Grenville ministry. The first of these was sent out to complete the conquest of Buenos Ayres, the recapture of which was unknown in England. Sir Samuel Auchmuty, who commanded it, finding himself too late to occupy that city, attacked and took Monte Video by storm with much skill and spirit, on February 3, 1807. Shortly afterwards, he was superseded by General Whitelocke, bringing reinforcements, with orders to recover Buenos Ayres. In this he signally failed, owing to gross tactical errors. The British troops were almost passively slaughtered in the streets, and Whitelocke agreed to withdraw the remains of his force, and give up Monte Video, on condition of all prisoners being surrendered. On his return home, he was tried by a court-martial and cashiered, being also declared "totally unfit to serve his majesty in any military capacity whatever".

Equally ill-managed was the naval expedition, directed to support Russia, then in close alliance with Great Britain, by coercing the sultan into a rupture with France. Collingwood, who was not consulted, was required to entrust the command of this expedition, which started in February, 1807, to Sir John Duckworth. Everything depended on promptitude, and the admiral found little difficulty in forcing the passage of the Dardanelles, as it was then almost unfortified. Having reached Constantinople, he allowed himself to waste time in fruitless negotiations, contrary to Collingwood's earnest advice, and not only effected nothing but gravely imperilled his return. Instructed by the French minister Sebastiani, the Turks had armed their coasts, and erected batteries along the Dardanelles, through which the British fleet made its way with considerable loss. Instead of being detached from the French alliance, the Porte was thrown into its arms and became more embittered than ever against Russia. It was soon involved in a serious conflict with that country—for the possession of Wallachia and Moldavia—only to be deserted again by France under the compact made at Tilsit. The expedition to Egypt, planned in combination with the expedition to the Dardanelles, ended in a still worse disaster. Though General Fraser, its commander, was able to surprise Alexandria on March 30, he awaited in vain the expected news of Duckworth's success; he proceeded to attack Rosetta with as little generalship as Whitelocke had shown at Buenos Ayres, and encountered a similar repulse. An attempt to besiege the town met with no better fortune: the British troops submitted to a capitulation, evacuated Egypt, and sailed for Sicily in September, 1807. In an imperial manifesto addressed to the French nation at the end of this year, the British failures at Buenos Ayres, Constantinople, and Alexandria were paraded, together with our alleged crime against the rights of nations at Copenhagen.

In the early months of 1808 the continental system was extended by the establishment of French administration at Rome, and the annexation of the eastern ports of the Papal States to the kingdom of Italy. On February 18 of the same year Austria under French pressure adopted the system. Sweden and Turkey were now the only continental countries left outside it, but the retention of Sicily by the Bourbon king rendered it easy for British commerce to enter Italy through that island. The irritation of neutrals increased as the area of commercial exclusion widened, but the United States were now the only neutral power of any consequence. After April 17 Napoleon took the high-handed step of confiscating all American shipping in his ports. In spite of this aggression, the president and congress of the United States continued to favour France against Great Britain. The story of the commercial warfare between Great Britain and the United States will be related more fully hereafter. For the present, it is sufficient to mention that an act, placing an embargo on foreign vessels in American ports, was passed by congress on December 22, 1807, and another on March 1, 1809, forbidding commercial intercourse with Great Britain and France and the colonies occupied by them.

Meanwhile Great Britain continued to enforce her maritime rights, including that of searching American merchantmen for British-born sailors, and impressing them at the will of British naval officers. These grievances ultimately led to a war between Great Britain and America in 1812. The continental system, however, did not long remain so complete as in the beginning of 1808. Junot's expedition to Portugal had led to a French occupation of that country before the end of 1807. The conquest of Portugal was followed, as we shall see later, by a partial conquest of Spain. This threw the Spaniards back upon the British alliance and afforded an opportunity for the liberation of Portugal, so that from May, 1808, Great Britain once more had a large seaboard open to her commerce. The early success of the Spanish resistance to France, and other events in the peninsula hereafter to be recorded, encouraged Austria to arm again; and on the news of the capitulation of the French army at Baylen in July, she pushed forward her preparations with redoubled energy. A national movement arose simultaneously in North Germany, but the Prussian government dared not head it so long as Russia remained faithful to the French alliance.

[Pageheading: NAPOLEON AT ERFURT.]

Notwithstanding a peremptory declaration from the tsar after the seizure of the Danish fleet, Russia had nothing to gain by war with Great Britain. She was bound to France by the prospect held forth to her at Tilsit of the conquest of Finland and the partition of Turkey, but she was inwardly desirous of peace with Great Britain. Napoleon, on the other hand, saw in the partition of Turkey an opportunity of striking at India, and had actually given orders for naval preparations to be made in Spain, when all thought of eastern conquest had to be postponed owing to the success of the Spanish patriots. After a conference between Napoleon and the tsar at Erfurt a secret convention was signed on October 12, by which France sanctioned Russian conquests in Finland and the Danubian provinces, and Russia recognised the Bonaparte dynasty in Spain and promised to assist France in a defensive war against Austria. The two powers despatched a joint note to Great Britain inviting her to make peace, on the principle of uti possidetis. Canning replied that he was prepared to negotiate if his allies, especially Sweden and the Spanish patriots, who were at that time in actual possession of almost the entire country, were included in the peace. On November 19 Napoleon expressed his willingness to treat with the British allies, but not with the Spanish "rebels," as he styled them. Alexander took up a similar position, speaking of the Spanish "insurgents," and expressly recognising Joseph as King of Spain. Thus ended these pacific overtures, and on November 3 the official expose, annually issued in Paris, described Great Britain as "the enemy of the world".

The year 1808 is memorable in English history for the active intervention of Great Britain in the affairs of Spain which developed into the "Peninsular war".[37] This intervention was rendered possible and effective by the organisation of our army system in 1807, which was due to Castlereagh, though he received little credit for it. Under this system, the old constitutional force of the militia was made the basis of the whole military establishment. By the militia balloting bill and the militia transfer bill, that force, largely composed of substitutes, and bound only to home-service, was practically converted into a recruiting-ground for the regular army, and proved sufficient to make good all the losses incurred during the long campaigns in Portugal and Spain. The army thus raised contained, no doubt, many soldiers of bad character, whose misdeeds, after the furious excitement of an escalade, or under the heart-breaking stress of a retreat, sometimes brought disgrace upon the British name. But these men, side by side with steadier comrades, bore themselves like heroes on many a bloodstained field; they quailed not before the conquering legions of Austerlitz and Wagram; they could "go anywhere or do anything" under trusted leaders; and they restored the military reputation of their country before the eyes of Europe. To have forged such an instrument of war was no mean administrative exploit. To have maintained its efficiency steadily on the whole, though sometimes with a faint-hearted parsimony, and to have loyally supported its commander against the cavils of a factious opposition superior in parliamentary ability, for a period of seven years, must be held to redeem the tory government from the charge of political weakness.


At the beginning of 1809, however, the interest of parliament was less concentrated on Sir Arthur Wellesley's first campaign in Portugal, or even on the convention of Cintra, than on the scandals attaching to the office of commander-in-chief, held by the Duke of York. Though an incapable general, the duke had shown himself, on the whole, an excellent administrator, and in the opinion of the best officers had done much for the discipline and efficiency of the British army. Unfortunately, Mrs. Clarke, his former mistress, had received bribes for using her influence with the duke to procure military appointments. Colonel Wardle, an obscure member of parliament, to whom Mrs. Clarke had temporarily transferred herself after being discarded by the duke, animated by a desire to damage the ministry, came forward with charges directly implicating him in her corrupt practices, and incidentally brought similar accusations against Portland and Eldon. The government foolishly agreed to an inquiry on the Duke of York's behalf, and it was conducted before a committee of the whole house, which sat from January 26 to March 20. In the course of this inquiry, Sir Arthur Wellesley bore strong testimony in his favour, and the duke addressed a letter to the speaker, declaring his innocence of corruption. Though Wardle and his associates pressed for his dismissal, Perceval ultimately carried a motion acquitting him not only of corruption but of connivance with corruption. The majority, however, was small, and the duke thought it necessary to resign on March 20, whereupon the house of commons decided to proceed no further. A curious sequel of this case was an action against Wardle by an upholsterer, who had furnished a house for Mrs. Clarke by Wardle's orders, in consideration of her services in giving hostile evidence against her former protector. The plaintiff obtained L2,000 damages, and the law-suit was the means of producing a reaction in popular feeling in favour of the duke.

This scandal in high places quickened the zeal of parliament for general purity of administration, and led to a disclosure of some grave abuses. One of these, connected with the disposal of captured Dutch property, dated as far back as 1795. Others were found to exist in the navy department and the distribution of Indian patronage; others related to parliamentary elections. Perceval brought in a bill to check the sale and brokerage of offices, nor did Castlereagh himself escape the charge of having procured the election of Lord Clancarty to parliament by the offer of an Indian writership to a borough-monger. A frank explanation saved him from censure, especially as it appeared that the offer had never taken effect. The charge was renewed, in a different form, against both him and Perceval, and their accusers moved for a trial at bar. But as it turned out that undue influence rather than corruption was their alleged offence, and as the avowed object of the resolution was to force on parliamentary reform, it was negatived by an immense majority. Nevertheless, the object was not wholly defeated.

The removal of the Duke of York from the command of the army was singularly inopportune, for Sir David Dundas had scarcely been appointed as his successor when a juncture arose specially demanding a combination of energy and experience. The British government, already engaged in the Peninsular war, had at last resolved to take a vigorous part in the new and desperate struggle between France and Austria in Southern Germany. The latent spirit of German nationality, aroused by Napoleon's ruthless treatment of Prussia, and quickened into a flame by sympathy with the uprising in Spain, was embodied in the secret association of the Tugendbund; and Austria, smarting under a sense of her own humiliation, mustered up courage to assume the leadership of a national movement. South Germany, governed by old dynasties, which profited by the French alliance, displayed as yet no symptoms of disaffection to France; but in North Germany the old dynasties had been either humbled or deposed, and the general ferment among the people, needed, as the Austrians believed, only the presence of a regular army to break out into a national revolt against the foreigner. Prussia, it is true, was still unwilling to move, because Russia was hostile; but the Austrian court knew well the lukewarmness of Russia's attachment to France, and hoped that a national upheaval would carry the Prussian government along with it. No one, in fact, had played a more active part in rousing Northern Germany than the Prussian minister, Stein, whom Frederick William, by Napoleon's advice, had called to his councils after Tilsit, and who was now compelled to resign his office and take refuge in Austria.


The British government was aware of the situation in Germany when it received a request in January, 1809, for the despatch of a British force to the mouth of the Elbe. Austria was, however, still nominally at war with Great Britain, and George III., perhaps not unreasonably, refused to give her active military assistance till peace was concluded. Meanwhile a subsidy of L250,000 in bullion was despatched to Trieste, and inquiries were set on foot as to the means of supplying such a military expedition as Austria desired.[38] On March 22, Dundas, who had only been a few days in office as commander-in-chief, reported that 15,000 men could not be spared from home service, and, in consequence, no extensive preparations were made until the muster rolls in June showed that 40,000 troops might safely be employed abroad. This convinced the government that a large force could be sent without interfering with home defence, as Castlereagh had long contended; and throughout June and July the naval and military departments were busy in preparing for what has since left a sinister memory as the Walcheren expedition. Meanwhile, as if the passion of frittering away resources were irresistible, a smaller force was despatched, as a kind of feint, against the kingdom of Naples. It consisted of 15,000 British troops and a body of Sicilians. Bailing from Palermo early in June it captured the islands of Ischia and Procida and the castle of Scylla, and threw Naples into consternation. But the attack was not pushed, and it was too late to be of any assistance to the Austrians who had already been expelled from the Italian peninsula. At last, in July, the treaty of peace with Austria was signed and the great armament was ready to sail.

But Napoleon had not awaited the deliberations of British statesmen. Hurrying back from Spain, he remained in Paris only long enough to organise a campaign in South Germany, and left the capital to join his armies on April 13. A week earlier, the Archduke Charles, having remodelled the Austrian army, issued a proclamation affirming Austria to be the champion of European liberty. On the 9th Austria declared war against Bavaria, the ally of France, and her troops crossed the Inn. On the 17th, when Napoleon arrived at Donauwoerth, he found the archduke in occupation of Ratisbon. His presence turned the tide, and, after three victories, he was once more on the road to Vienna. The most important of these victories was that of Eckmuehl, and he regarded the manoeuvre by which it was won as the finest in his military career. On May 13 the French entered Vienna, but the Archduke Charles with an army of nearly 200,000 men was facing him on the left bank of the Danube. Napoleon's army crossed and encountered the Austrians on the great plain between Aspern and Essling. He was repulsed and fell back upon Lobau, between which and the Vienna side of the Danube the bridge of boats had been swept away by a rise of the river and by balks of timber floated down by the Austrians. In this dangerous position he remained shut up for several weeks. He finally succeeded in throwing across a light bridge by which his army regained the left bank on the night of July 4. Finding their position turned the Austrians took up their stand on the tableland of Wagram. On July 6 another pitched battle was fought, which, in the number of combatants engaged and in the losses inflicted on both sides, must rank with the later conflicts of Borodino and Leipzig. A hard won victory rested with the French, but it was not such a victory as that of Austerlitz or Jena, though it secured the neutrality, at least, of Austria for the next four years. Her army retreated into Bohemia, and on July 12 an armistice was signed at Znaim in Moravia, which formed the basis of a peace concluded at Vienna on October 14.

Nothing remained for Great Britain but to abandon the auxiliary enterprise so long planned, but so often delayed, or to carry it through independently, with little hope of a decisive issue. The latter alternative was adopted. The very day on which the news of the armistice arrived witnessed the departure of the greatest single armament ever sent out fully equipped from the shores of Great Britain. The deplorable failure of the Walcheren expedition has obscured both its magnitude and its probable importance had it only proved successful. The command of the fleet was given to Sir Richard Strachan, a competent admiral; that of the army to Chatham, who sat in the cabinet as master-general of the ordnance, an incompetent general, who owed his nomination to royal favour. This was the first blunder; the second was the utter neglect of medical and sanitary precautions against the notoriously unhealthy climate of Walcheren in the autumn months. The armament sailed from the Downs on July 28, in the finest weather and with a display of intense national enthusiasm. It consisted of thirty-five ships of the line, with a swarm of smaller war-vessels and transports, carrying nearly 40,000 troops, two battering-trains, and a complete apparatus of military stores. Its destination, though more than suspected by the enemy, had been officially kept secret at home. Castlereagh must be held largely responsible for the delays and for the unwise choice of a general which marred its success, but he showed true military sagacity in designating the point of attack. Inspired by him, the British government, distrusting the national movement in North Germany, had decided to strike at Antwerp, which Napoleon had supplied with new docks, and which, now that the mouth of the Scheldt had been reopened, threatened to become the commercial rival of London. The town was entirely unprepared, and a blow dealt here seemed the best way of doing as much harm as possible to France and at the same time gaining a national advantage for Great Britain.


Chatham had received very precise instructions from Castlereagh, the objects prescribed to him being, (1) the capture or destruction of the enemy's ships, either building or afloat at Antwerp or Flushing, or afloat in the Scheldt; (2) the destruction of the arsenals and dockyards at Antwerp, Terneuze, and Flushing; (3) the reduction of the island of Walcheren; (4) the rendering of the Scheldt no longer navigable to ships of war. These objects were named, as far as possible, in the order of their importance, and Chatham was specially directed to land troops at Sandvliet and push on straight to Antwerp, with the view of taking it by a coup de main. Napoleon, who clearly foretold the catastrophe awaiting the British troops in the malarious swamps of Walcheren, afterwards admitted that Antwerp could have been captured by a sudden assault. Chatham obeyed his general orders, but, instead of taking them in the order of importance, gave precedence to the objects which could most easily be accomplished. By prompt action the French fleet, which was moored off Flushing, might have been captured, but it was allowed to escape to Antwerp. By August 2 the British were in complete possession of the mouth of the Scheldt, and had taken Bath opposite Sandvliet, while Antwerp was still almost unprotected. But Chatham concentrated his attention on the siege of Flushing, which surrendered, after three days' bombardment, on August 16, contrary to Napoleon's expectation. Antwerp had meanwhile been put in a state of defence, and was now protected by the enemy's fleet, while French and Dutch troops were pouring down to the Scheldt. After ten days of inactivity, Chatham advanced his headquarters to Bath, found that further advance was impossible, and recommended the government to recall the expedition, leaving 15,000 men to defend the island of Walcheren. This advice was adopted, but the garrison left in Walcheren suffered most severely from fever in that swampy island. Eventually, on December 24, Walcheren was abandoned, the works and naval basins of Flushing having been previously destroyed. The destruction of Flushing was the sole result of this expedition.

The failure of the British to make any serious impression on the French either in the Low Countries or in Spain induced Austria to consent to peace with France. By the peace of Vienna, signed on October 14, she ceded Salzburg and a part of Upper Austria to Bavaria, West Galicia to the duchy of Warsaw, and a part of Carinthia with Trieste and the Illyrian provinces to France. A small strip of Galicia was ceded to the Russian tsar, who had rendered France some very half-hearted assistance and was further alienated by the extension of the duchy of Warsaw. Austria was enslaved to the will of Napoleon. She had abandoned the Tyrolese peasants whose loyal insurrection against the Bavarians was the most heroic incident in the war, and she now joined the other nations of the continent in excluding the commerce of Great Britain, which had made a powerful diversion in Spain and an imposing though futile diversion on the Scheldt to save her from national annihilation.

While the Walcheren expedition was preparing, two additions were made to the cabinet. Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, brother of the Marquis of Stafford, was admitted in June as secretary at war, and in July Harrowby, who was created an earl, became president of the board of control with a seat in the cabinet. After the fate of the expedition became known, though before its final withdrawal, a serious quarrel took place between Canning and Castlereagh. Personal jealousies had long existed between these two statesmen, both half-Irish, half-English, and of approximately the same age, yet widely different in character. Canning was the most brilliant orator of his day, and no less persuasive in private conversation than in public orations, gifted with an agile brain that leaped readily from one idea or one project to another, but cursed with a bitter wit which lightly aroused enduring enmities, and which, coupled with an excessive vanity, rendered him unpopular with his colleagues, and made it difficult for any one to take him seriously; while his rival, not less able, and much more steady and trustworthy, a skilful manager of men, was scarcely able to pronounce a coherent sentence. Early in April Canning pressed upon the Duke of Portland the transfer of Castlereagh to another office. Private communications followed between various members of the cabinet, and it was understood that Camden, as Castlereagh's friend, should apprise him of the prevailing view, which the king himself had approved under a threat of Canning's resignation. The duke, however, begged Camden to postpone the disclosure, and others of Castlereagh's friends urged Canning not to insist upon the change pending the completion of the Walcheren expedition.


As the scheme took shape in July Camden was to resign, and thus make possible a shifting of offices, which was to result in the Marquis Wellesley succeeding Castlereagh as secretary for war. At last, on September 6, the duke informed Canning of his own intention to retire on the ground of ill-health, and at the same time disclosed the fact that no steps had been taken to prepare Castlereagh for the proposed change in his position. Thereupon Canning promptly sent in his own resignation, the duke resigned the same day, and Castlereagh, learning what had passed, followed his example two days later.[39] Believing that Canning had been intriguing against him behind his back, under the guise of friendship, he demanded satisfaction on the 19th, and on the 21st[40] the duel was fought, in which Canning received a slight wound. Such events provoked little censure in those days, and it is pleasant to know that Canning and Castlereagh afterwards acted cordially together as colleagues. Their enmity broke up the government. The Duke of Portland did not long survive his withdrawal from office, and died on October 29; Leveson-Gower insisted on following Canning into retirement.

Perceval was entrusted with the task of forming an administration, but the new ministry was not formed without considerable negotiation. Canning vainly endeavoured to impress first on his colleagues and then on the king his own pretensions to the highest office, while attempts, to which the king gave a reluctant assent, had been made to enlist the co-operation of Grenville and Howick, who succeeded his father as Earl Grey, in 1807, but they failed as all later attempts were destined to fail. The most influential motive governing their conduct was, doubtless, their feeling that they would not as ministers possess the king's confidence. Sidmouth's following had also been approached. Sidmouth himself was considered too obnoxious to some of Pitt's followers to be a safe member of the new cabinet, but Vansittart was offered the chancellorship of the exchequer and Bragge, who had taken the additional surname of Bathurst, the office of secretary at war. They refused, however, to enter the ministry, unless accompanied by Sidmouth himself.

Perceval eventually became prime minister, retaining his former offices; Lord Bathurst, while remaining at the board of trade, presided temporarily at the foreign office, which was offered to the Marquis Wellesley, then serving as British ambassador to the Spanish junta at Seville, and taken over by him in December. Hawkesbury, now Earl of Liverpool, succeeded Castlereagh as secretary for war and the colonies, and was followed at the home office by Richard Ryder, a brother of Harrowby. Harrowby himself gave up the board of control in November to Melville's son, Robert Dundas, who, however, was not made a member of the cabinet. Lord Palmerston, who had been a junior lord of the admiralty under Portland, declined the chancellorship of the exchequer, and though he accepted Leveson-Gower's post as secretary at war, he was by his own desire excluded from the cabinet.


While the close of the year 1809 was darkened by national disappointment and political anxieties, the honour of British arms had been amply vindicated in the Spanish peninsula, and the brilliant exploit of Lord Cochrane in Basque Roads had recalled the glories of the Nile. Cochrane had already achieved marvels under Collingwood in the Mediterranean, and notably off the Spanish coast, when he was selected to conduct an attack by fireships on the French squadron blockaded under the shelter of the islands of Aix and Oleron. This he carried out on the night of April 11, with a dash and skill worthy of Nelson, and unless checked by Gambier, the admiral in command, who had been raised to the peerage after the seizure of the Danish fleet in 1807, he must have succeeded in destroying the whole of the enemy's ships. Gambier was afterwards acquitted by a court martial of negligence, but the verdict of the public was against him. In the autumn Collingwood reduced the seven Ionian islands, and gained an important advantage by cutting out a considerable detachment of the Toulon fleet in the Bay of Genoa. In the course of the year, too, all the remaining French territory in the West Indies, as well as the Isle of Bourbon in the Indian Ocean, was captured by the British navy. But this unchallenged supremacy on the high seas did not prevent the depredations of French gunboats on British merchantmen in the channel. Indeed after the battle of Trafalgar, the French "sea-wasps" infesting the Channel were more active and destructive than ever.

On October 25, being the forty-ninth anniversary of his accession, the jubilee of George III. was celebrated with hearty and sincere rejoicings. His popularity was not unmerited. He was politically shortsighted, but within his range of vision few saw facts so clearly; he was obstinate and prejudiced, but his obstinacy was redeemed by a moral intrepidity of the highest order, and his prejudices were shared by the mass of his people. Having lived through the seven years' war, the war of the American revolution, and the successive wars of Great Britain against the French monarchy and the French republic, he was now supporting, with indomitable firmness, a war against the all-conquering French empire—the most perilous in which this country was ever engaged. The colonial and Indian dominions of Great Britain, reduced by the loss of the North American colonies, had been greatly extended during his reign in other quarters of the globe. His subjects regarded him as an Englishman to the core; they knew him to be honest, religious, virtuous, and homely in his life; they justly believed him, in spite of his failings, to be a power for good in the land; and they rewarded him with a respect and affection granted to no other British sovereign of modern times before Queen Victoria. They had good cause to desire the continuance of his life and reason, knowing the character of his heir-apparent, and contrasting the domestic habits of Windsor with the licence of Carlton House.


[31] Colchester, Diary (Feb. 4, 1806), ii., 35, 36.

[32] Holland, Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii., 91-94.

[33] Holland, Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii., 173-205, 270-320; Colchester, Diary, ii., 92-115; Malmesbury, Diaries, iv., 357-72; Walpole, Life of Perceval, i., 223-33; Buckingham, Courts and Cabinets, iv., 117-50. Holland accuses the king of treachery and duplicity, and Lewis (Administrations of Great Britain, p. 294) repeats this charge in milder terms. But the documents quoted do not prove any want of straightforwardness, and the king's conduct was the logical consequence of his action in 1801.

[34] In the following year Napoleon consented to evacuate all the Prussian fortresses except three, on condition that the Prussian army should not exceed a total of 40,000 men.

[35] Annual Register, xlix. (1807), 249-70, 731-38; Rose, in English Historical Review, xi. (1896), 82-92.

[36] Captain Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, ii., 272-357, shows that the policy of the orders in council was essential to British safety.

[37] The course of this war is related continuously in chap. v.

[38] Rose, Life of Napoleon I., ii., 190, note.

[39] The best account of the quarrel, especially in its relation to the composition of the cabinet, is to be found in Walpole's Life of Perceval, vol. i., chap. ix., and vol. ii., chap. i. Lewis, Administrations, pp. 314-15, finds a double ground for Canning's resignation in his failure to obtain the removal of Castlereagh from the war office and in the refusal of the king and cabinet to allow him to succeed Portland as prime minister. It is quite clear, however, that at the time of Canning's resignation no decision had been come to about a successor to Portland. Some correspondence had passed between Canning and Perceval, in which each had refused to serve under the other, but that this correspondence was unknown to the cabinet as a whole is proved by Mulgrave's letters to Lord Lonsdale of September 11 and 15 (Phipps, Memoir of Ward, pp. 210-17); in the former of these he discusses Canning's probable conduct without referring to this correspondence, while in the latter he only knows of such negotiations as subsequent to the resignations of September 6 and 8. So, too, Eldon's letter to his wife of September 11 (Twiss, Life of Eldon, ii., 88-90), places the whole correspondence between Canning and Perceval after Portland's resignation on September 6. The king was not informed of Canning's views as to a successor to Portland till September 13, and the cabinet minute of September 18, advising co-operation with Grenville and Grey, mentions the selection of Canning as prime minister as a course open to the king.

[40] This is the date commonly given. The Annual Register, li. (1809), 239, gives the 22nd, while Perceval refers to the result of the duel in a letter dated the 20th (Colchester, Diary, ii., 209). It is clear, however, that Canning did not receive Castlereagh's challenge till the morning of the 20th (see his letter in Annual Register, loc. cit., 505, also his detailed statement to Camden, ibid., 525), and therefore the duel cannot have taken place till the 21st. Lord Folkestone in a letter dated the 21st refers to the duel as having been fought at "7 o'clock this morning" (Creevey Papers, i., 96).

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