Hands up who REALLY wants an inquiry?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Robert Waithman’s City of London Address to the King calling for an inquiry into the failure of the Walcheren Expedition. At the end of the post, I quoted Richard Ryder’s letter to his brother Lord Harrowby explaining that the City Address marked the moment when Walcheren’s military commander, Lord Chatham, realised an inquiry of some sort into his conduct was more or less guaranteed.[1]

Chatham knew many people thought his inactivity and incompetence were mostly to blame for the failure of the expedition. He also suspected there was a conspiracy among his cabinet colleagues — he was still Master-General of the Ordnance — to make sure he ended up carrying the can for everyone. He wanted to make it entirely clear he had nothing to hide. The result, two days after the City of London presented their Address to the Throne, was the following defiant and completely unsolicited letter to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Liverpool:

22 December 1809

My Lord,

Having perused the Address of the City of London, presented to His Majesty on Wednesday last, together with the answer which His Majesty was advised to return thereto, I feel it my duty to represent to Your Lordship, as One of His Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, in order to its being laid before His Majesty, that I am as perfectly ready to submit every part of my Conduct to any Military Investigation which His Majesty may be pleased to order, as I am, and ever have professed myself to be, most earnestly and anxiously desirous, that, whenever Parliament shall assemble, … the whole of my Conduct and of the Expedition to ye Scheld [sic], shou’d undergo the fullest and strictest enquiry, being perfectly conscious of having discharged with zeal and fidelity, the trust which His Majesty was graciously pleased to confide to me, and feeling that all that is necessary to vindicate my conduct from ye secret Attacks which have been with so much industry made upon it, is that it shou’d be fully known and fairly understood. I have the honor to be, etc etc.

Chatham.[2]

robert_banks_jenkinson

Lord Liverpool

Liverpool duly passed the letter on to the King on the 23rd, as Chatham had requested, and on the 24th received the King’s permission to lay Chatham’s letter before the rest of the cabinet.[3] It was at this point that someone actually read Chatham’s letter, whereupon the proverbial excrement hit the proverbial fan.

Possibly what happened was this:

Liverpool: And here’s the letter Lord Chatham wrote to me expressing his willingness to lay his conduct before an inquiry, which I forwarded on to the King.

Perceval:

Liverpool: What?

Perceval: Have you even read this?

Liverpool: Yes, why?

Perceval: The answer His Majesty was advised to return? “Secret attacks” on his conduct? HE’S EARNESTLY AND ANXIOUSLY DESIROUS FOR AN INQUIRY?

Liverpool: ….. Ah.

Obviously this letter, whether submitted to the King or not, could not possibly be allowed to go down in the record as Chatham’s official sentiments. Not only did he imply his distrust in his own colleagues and their motives, but he was also expressing pretty openly his desire for an inquiry, something the King had just informed the City of London would be a matter for Parliament to decide.

Chatham was well within his rights expressing his wish for an inquiry, and he was right that putting that wish down in an official document was the only thing to do at this stage of the game. But prime minister Perceval couldn’t let this document into the public eye, or there would be some very uncomfortable questions to answer. Liverpool, therefore, was sent away with strict instructions to get more information out of Chatham.

On 30 December, Liverpool wrote, somewhat circuitously:

My Lord,

According to Your Lordship’s Desire, I have laid your Letter of the 22d Inst before the King, and I have since communicated it with His Majesty’s Permission, to those of HM’s Confidential Servants, who were in Town.

After having made this Communication, I am desirous, in answering your Letter, to say, that if Your Lordship means, that in the Event of an Enquiry either Military, or Parliamentary, being judged expedient, respecting the Expedition to the Scheldt, on Publick Grounds, you were anxious that no Consideration of a Nature, Personal to yourself, should enduce His Majesty’s Govt to resist it, but that in such case you were ready to submit your Conduct, to the fullest, and strictest Investigation, It is nothing more than what we have always understood to be Your Lordship’s Feelings, and indeed what We might be assured, must, under all the Circumstances, have been that feeling.

But if Your Lordship’s Meaning is, (whether on Publick or Private Considerations) that it would be the Duty of His Majesty’s Government to assent to any Motion, which may be made in Parliament for enquiry, or that you would feel it your own Duty, to express by yourself in the House of Lords, or through some Person authorised for that Purpose in the House of Commons, your Desire that such Enquiry should take place, I am confident Your Lordship will see, how important it is, that His Majesty’s Government should not be acting, under any Uncertainty or Misapprehension, of Your Lordship’s views, and Intentions upon this Subject.

… I have the honor to be etc etc

Liverpool.[4]

On receiving this Chatham clearly thought “Eh?” His reply, dated 31 December, can be summarised as “Unless you are replying on the King’s behalf, you can drop off the edge of a cliff”, but in its fullest form it made it quite clear that he felt it his duty to speak up on the subject of an inquiry. He began with an entirely Chatham-typical swipe at Liverpool’s lapse in official form, replying as an individual rather than as Secretary of State for War:

You must excuse me, if I can not admit, any letter from you as an Official answer to mine, unless written by the King’s Command. I certainly did not expect to receive any, unless it shou’d have been His Majesty’s Pleasure, that a Military Investigation shou’d take place into my conduct.

Chatham’s response clearly showed his idea of how an inquiry should be handled differed markedly from the prime minister’s, which was not surprising, as up till now Perceval had been putting off the idea of an inquiry rather than facing it head-on:

You will I think … agree with me, that as the King’s Answer did not confine itself to the Enquiry asked for by ye Address of the City of London, but went further and directly pointed to a Proceeding in Parliament, it was not unnatural, that I shou’d not be wholly silent on that Point. With regard to the line which it may be proper for His Majesty’s Government to take in Parliament on the subject of the Expedition to the Scheld [sic], it must as I conceive, somewhat depend on circumstances, but whenever that question is brought under the consideration of the King’s Servants, I shall be happy to discuss it with my Colleagues at the Cabinet, or individually with any of them who may be so disposed.[5]

Liverpool was aghast. He promptly showed the letter to his cabinet colleagues, who were equally horrified. The meeting of Parliament was only three weeks away: what with the difficulties the government was under already, it was a very bad time for the Master-General of the Ordnance to go off half-cocked. “It seems to me to make it necessary to have a Cabinet soon to take this most important point into consideration, and to learn his real sentiments,” Richard Ryder wrote to Lord Harrowby.[6] Chatham, meanwhile, continued being intractable. When Liverpool wrote to him suggesting a cabinet meeting to discuss the matter further, Chatham bluntly informed him “for the sake of correctness on a point which seems to require it … that when the purport of my letter and the caracter [sic] in which I addressed you are considered, any answer to me … must have been to signify to me, not what you term the determination of Government, but His Majesty’s Pleasure”.[7]

spencer_perceval

Spencer Perceval

Perceval now stepped in, conscious that this was about to become really silly. A cabinet was called on 5 January to discuss the matter, but Chatham claimed he was too ill to attend. Guessing that he probably didn’t want to discuss his grievances in full before colleagues whose good opinion he suspected, Perceval and Liverpool agreed to meet him privately. The meeting was inconclusive: Chatham agreed his words had been too strong, but did not agree to write another.[8]

The problem was that Chatham and Perceval both wanted different things. Chatham wanted an inquiry that would clear him: Perceval wanted an inquiry he could control, and had no intention of helping Chatham clear his name until he was sure doing so would not backfire. On 9 January Perceval and Chatham met again, this time one on one. Chatham at last agreed to rewrite his letter, but still clung to the phrase “anxiously desirous”.

Perceval knew he had to be firm and stop Chatham committing the government to a course it did not want to pursue. He wrote back on the 10th, gently but firmly trying to persuade Chatham that he hadn’t actually meant what he had really said:

I enter fully into all your feelings upon this occasion, and it is with great reluctance that I lean against any expression by which you would prefer to convey these feelings.

But I think the expression ‘anxiously desirous’ would compel you & your Friends, in consistency with that Expression to urge & press for Enquiry; not to talk of it as of a proceeding which you were ready to meet, if others on any ground thought it necessary or expedient, but as one which you thought the occasion required, either with a view to the protection of your own Character, or for the satisfaction of the Public. It is because I think that Expression conveys or at least implies such an Opinion on your part that I wish you to avoid it. … There are no words which I should object to, however strong, if they only express your readiness, to meet enquiry, when stirred by others, provided they do not express or imply a desire to stir it yourself, or an opinion, that it should be instituted.[9]

To Perceval’s relief, Chatham caved in. The offensive phrases were all dropped, and the final version printed in the official Papers laid before the Walcheren Inquiry was as follows. The edited bits are in bold:

Having perused the Address of the City of London, presented to His Majesty on Wednesday last, together with His Majesty’s Answer thereto, I feel it my duty to represent to Your Lordship, as One of His Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, in order to its being laid before His Majesty, that I am most entirely ready to submit every Part of my Conduct to any such Military Investigation as His Majesty may be pleased to direct, and that I shall not be less so, whenever Parliament may assemble, to meet any Enquiry, which in their wisdom they may judge it fit to institute into my Conduct, being perfectly conscious of having discharged with zeal and with fidelity the important trust which HM was graciously pleased to confide to me.[10]

Which was a lot of paper to produce one tiny — but significant — paragraph.

 

References

[1] Ryder to Lord Harrowby, 5 January 1810, quoted in A. Aspinall, The Later Correspondence of George III, vol. 5, p. 480 n. 1

[2] Chatham to Lord Liverpool (draft), 22 December 1809, PRO 30/8/364 f. 30

[3] Liverpool to the King, 23 December 1809; the King to Liverpool, 24 December 1809, quoted in Aspinall V, pp. 477-8

[4] Liverpool to Chatham, 30 December 1809, PRO 30/8/368 f. 7

[5] Chatham to Liverpool (draft), 31 December 1809, PRO 30/8/364 f. 32

[6] Ryder to Lord Harrowby, 1 January 1810, quoted in Aspinall V, pp. 478-9 n. 1

[7] Liverpool to Chatham, 2 January 1810, PRO 30/8/368 f. 9; Chatham to Liverpool (draft), 2 January 1810, PRO 30/8/364 f. 34

[8] This is inferred from letters from Richard Ryder to Lord Harrowby, 4-5 January 1810, quoted in Aspinall V, p. 480 n. 1

[9] Chatham to Perceval, [9 January 1810], Cambridge University Library Add.8713/VII/B/5; Perceval to Chatham, 10 January 1810, PRO 30/8/368 f. 125

[10] A Collection of papers relating to the expedition to the Scheldt, presented to Parliament in 1810 (London, 1811), pp. 126-7

Lord Grenville on parliamentary reporting

In 1818 George Pretyman-Tomline, Bishop of Lincoln, Pitt’s old friend and executor, was putting the finishing touches to the book that would later be published in part as the first official biography of Pitt the Younger. He sent his draft to various of Pitt’s friends and connections to read over. One of them was Lord Grenville, Pitt’s cousin and former Foreign Secretary.

Grenville sent back a lengthy critique of the work. He included some interesting thoughts on the role of parliamentary reporting during Pitt’s time as prime minister. His fear (not entirely unreasonable) was that Tomline’s heavy reliance on official publications such as the Parliamentary Register would affect the public’s view of Pitt’s oratory, and consequently of his opinions. Grenville’s point, essentially, was that parliamentary debates were inaccurately reported. The following is from the Stanhope MSS in Kent RO, U1590/S5/O12.

“I lament to think how much your work will tend to accredit an error already much too prevalent. The practice of reporting the Parliamentary debates from day to day is as you know an innovation of our own times, & one of most extensive consequence both good & evil. At first it was pretty generally understood how very inaccurate such representations are, & must necessarily be. By degrees a contrary impression is taking possession of the public mind, & it is now commonly said, even by those who ought to know better, that these reports though not correctly accurate, are yet, substantially, fair representations of the opinions & arguments which they purport to convey. This opinion is in itself quite erroneous; it is destructive of the truth of history, highly injurious to all public men, &, as it happens, most paticularly so to Mr. Pitt, & those who acted with him in his first administration.

It is impossible that such reports can be even substantially accurate. What justice can a reporter, with the most upright intentions, do to the opinions or reasonings of statesmen on subjects which they have deeply studied, & of which he is often entirely & completely ignorant? What report could you or I make of a pleading in Chancery, a debate in the College of Physicians, or of the deliberations of a Council of War on the attack or defence of a place of which we never even saw a map? Just such are the reports of newspaper reporters, on Plans of Finance, on Measures of Revenue or Commerce, or foreign treaties of trade, alliance, or war, and on legal & constitutional questions of great intricacy, & deep research.

This is true, even if we admit on the part of the Reporter the impartiality of a Judge, & the attention of a sworn Juryman. But you surely must remember that, for reasons too long to be here detailed, there was a considerable period, during which no such impartiality existed towards Mr Pitt & his friends, in the Mass of those who were concerned in these reports. … Justice was rarely, if ever, done to him & to his cause.”

Add MS 41856 f 96: Dialogue between Mr. Addington & Bonaparte

I have been going through my old MSS notes in a bid to find all the relevant information I once collected for my novel in one place. In the process I found the following: a poem, possibly written by Lord Carlisle, either after the peace preliminaries that became the treaty of Amiens were signed in the autumn of 1801 or (more likely) early 1803 before war broke out between Britain and France again.

Carlisle was a member of Lord Grenville’s parliamentary faction. The Grenvilles considered the Peace of Amiens to be a disaster for Britain. Britain pledged to hand back all her wartime conquests except for Trinidad and Ceylon, to restore Egypt to the Ottoman Empire and to give Malta back to the Knights of St John. In return France was to evacuate Italy and her Portuguese territories, but the Grenvilles were unequivocal in their opinion that Britain had made all the sacrifices. The Prime Minister, Henry Addington, they considered to be foolish and inept. The poem has to be read with this in mind.

“Dialogue between Mr Addington and Bonaparte”

Mr. A—.

With a friendship most hearty

To you great Bonaparte

I open my pitiful case.

If by Peace you don’t aid me,

By the God who has made me,

I shan’t keep a moment my place.

Bona.

And wherefore thus sad in tone

My good Mr. Addington;

I wish you to govern yr. Nation.

I’ll do all that I can,

To preserve such a Man

As yourself, in that high situation.

Only Give me my share,

(What you’ll very well spare)

All Italy, Holland, & Spain.

With Switzerland too,[1]

Tis a trifle to you,

While you keep the rule of the Main.

Mr. A.

Lord for this my dear Chief,

I should hang like a thief:

O grant me an Island, or two!

A free port [2], that with ease,

You may shut when you please,

And something for Jenky [3] to chew.

Bona.

Well, I’ll give you Ceylon,

Tis a hundred to one

That this may prove dust for your rabble;

Trinidad may impose,

So dont turn up your nose,

I know you don’t venture to squabble. [4]

Did not Hawkesbury state,

(Many thanks to his prate),

How all nations refused you their aid.

Then to War if you’re led

Pitt jumps over your head:

And a fine piece of work you’ll have made.

But I smell all the trick,[5]

Pitt expects us to break:

And that he’ll have to manage the war.

But I know how to fit him; [6]

Take my Peace, and then quit him;

Let your place, not the terms be your care.[7]

[1] Over the course of 1802 and early 1803, Napoleon declared himself President of the Cisalpine Republic [Italy] and sent troops into Switzerland. He also remodelled the Dutch government. Much of this was in contravention to Amiens, and also to previous treaty engagements with Austria (Luneville, 1801)

[2] The Cape of Good Hope. Amiens made this into a free port

[3] Robert Bankes Jenkinson, Lord Hawkesbury, the Foreign Secretary. Later Lord Liverpool.

[4] Altered to “I well know that you don’t dare to squabble”

[5] Altered to “But beware of this trick”

[6] Altered to “But the best way to fit him”

[7] Altered to “Be your place, not your peace your first care”

Pitt the Younger was not a Tory

“Oh! It makes me sick to think that … they [Lord Liverpool and George Canning] must even bring discredit to his [Pitt’s] memory by attributing to him a line of conduct he never pursued. To think of Canning’s going about and saying, ‘This is the glorious system of Pitt’; and the papers echoing his words—‘This is the glorious system of Pitt!’”

(Charles Meryon, Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope (London, 1845), III, 168)

Lady Hester, I salute you. You may have been barmy as a sackful of squirrels but you saw something that many of your contemporaries had lost sight of, and most historians too.

I have been recently getting quite hot under the collar about this topic (always sure to raise my blood pressure), so much so that I am contemplating getting a huge flashing neon sign pinned up on every single social network platform I frequent reading “PITT THE YOUNGER WAS NOT A TORY”.

Can I say that again? PITT THE YOUNGER WAS NOT A TORY. (Yes, I am shouting. So shoot me.)

I’m not just talking about his self-identification as an “Independent Whig” — something he declared publicly only once to my knowledge, and which was less a statement of his Whiggery (which he would have taken for granted, much as, say, I take for granted the fact that I am female) than a declaration that he was attached to no other political leader available at the time.

Perhaps historiography has moved on a little in the past ten years since I studied this academically, and I would be very grateful if anyone could pass any more recent references my way, but to my mind Jennifer Mori in William Pitt and the French Revolution, J.J. Sack in From Jacobite to Conservative and his super article “The memory of Burke and the memory of Pitt” (Historical Journal 30(3) 1987), and Michael Duffy’s biography Pitt the Younger have it covered. In sum, Pitt’s ideologies were drawn from very traditional Whig sources (unsurprisingly). Conservative (with a small “c”), yes, undoubtedly; rooted in tradition, absolutely; not very creative perhaps either—but Tory? Big T Tory? “Founder of the modern-day Conservative Party” (……..and at this point I would like to bitch-slap William Hague) Tory? No.

Even Pitt’s immediate followers struggled to fit him into the strait-jacket of party political ideals. Even in his own lifetime Pitt (during the short time he spent in opposition to Henry Addington between 1803 and 1804) drove Canning half-mental by refusing to shackle himself to a particular line of conduct, going out of his way to stay aloof to such an extent that he managed to drive off half his old political following by the time he ended up back in office. (Incidentally John Ehrman deals with this confusing period excellently in his chapter of The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle entitled “The pursuit of ‘Character’”). When the old “Pittite” following was splintering and reforming itself in the 1820s Pitt’s stance on parliamentary reform, abolition of the slave trade and Catholic Emancipation (to name only the most important) allowed men who identified with him to invoke his name in support of all sorts of diametrically opposed political positions. At the annual Pitt Club dinner Pitt was toasted as the opponent of religious toleration, which I find especially ironic as Pitt’s support of the issue led to his resignation in 1801. True enough the modern-day Conservative Party traces its ancestry back to Pitt, but not directly by any means, and to say “But modern Tories come from Pitt” is like saying Gladstone was a Liberal Democrat.

So what was Pitt? The question would have astounded him. Why, he was a Whig, of course. And it wasn’t his fault that Fox’s followers were much more ideologically organised than his own were, and able to lay claim to that label far more successfully.

(And incidentally, WHY is Lord Grenville described as a “Whig” when he was MUCH more ideologically conservative than Pitt was? Is it because he was in government coalesced with the Foxites? Give me strength!)

So, are we clear? 🙂

/soapbox

By the way I welcome any discussion of the above points. I’m sure many of you have a very different opinion. 🙂

Was John, 2nd Earl of Chatham a waste of space? (Part One)

Now, before you all jump up and shout “Yes! Next question!”, bear with me.

My friends and acquaintances will all know that I have a “Thing” (yes, with a capital T) about John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham. This “Thing” has grown and developed over the years since I found myself, somewhat to my own surprise, writing a novel about him.

Perhaps I shouldn’t need to justify my choice of him as a subject, but sometimes I feel that I do. A few months ago I bought a letter off an antiques dealer written by John in 1802. I took it to an art shop to frame. “Very nice,” the man said as he measured it up for me. “But this Earl of Chatham…. what did he do?” This is a question I get asked a lot….

I think I mentioned before that Sir Tresham Lever in “The House of Pitt” wrote John off as “stupid and useless”. Most historians agree: he’s described, variously, as “intelligent but incurably idle” (Wendy Hinde, “Castlereagh” (London, 1981) p. 117); “charming and indolent, slightly over-burdened by the weight of his illustrious name … an incompetent general and a wretched administrator” (Joan Haslip, “Lady Hester Stanhope” (London, 1987) p. 23); “amiable … [but] exhibited signs of a natural lethargy which proved incurable” (Robin Reilly, “Pitt the Younger” (London, 1978) p. 10)… etc etc etc, you get the idea. Even Ehrman, while he admits John “was not untalented” (damned by faint praise!), reports the rumours of John’s slothfulness, drunkenness, incapacity and so on (John Ehrman, “The Younger Pitt: The Reluctant Transition” (London, 1983) p. 379.

I’m not yet ready to write my full “John was not as bad as all that” tirade (hence this is Part One only); that will have to wait till I’ve gone through all my notes. I think it is certainly beyond any historian to suggest that John was not so laid back he was pretty much horizontal. Lots of emotions complicated his relationship with his younger brother William (…. and let’s face it, being an impoverished older brother thoroughly dependent on his younger brother’s influence must have been a weird enough inversion of normality) but jealousy did not feature much, if at all. John was quite happy to let William reap all the political plaudits. Whether things would have been different had John not had a younger brother I do not know, but he never spoke once in the House of Lords that I can find and probably would not have got involved in politics at all had his brother not dragged him in.

So yes, lazy he almost certainly was. And yet when he was appointed to the Cabinet in 1788, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he seems (judging from the newspapers) to have knuckled down to the task with some degree of diligence. Cabinet meetings were held at his house (…. OK, maybe an excuse to be able to roll out of bed and go straight to work); he is often reported at Admiralty Board meetings; he was one of the Commissioners appointed during the Regency Crisis to draw up and present the Regency Bill to Parliament. He was a regular attender of court functions (and it seems George III quite liked him), not just the fun ones but the business ones too. Not, perhaps, a picture of overwhelming zeal, but certainly not one of a complete slacker.

So where did it start to go wrong? Ehrman traces it to the summer of 1793, in other words around the time when the First Coalition assault on the revolutionary French in Flanders was starting to go rather wrong. Chatham’s navy received the blame (along with the Duke of Richmond’s Ordnance) for not supplying the army well enough. Chatham defended himself by pointing out the government had split its pins between Flanders and Toulon, and the navy could not be expected to defend both fronts equally well. He escaped censure on that occasion, but when the Duke of Portland and his followers came over to Pitt from the Foxite side in the summer of 1794 they seem to have made it an express condition that one of their own would take over the Admiralty. Pitt held out five months; in December 1794 he moved his brother to the responsibility-lite post of Lord Privy Seal. Portland Whig Lord Spencer took Chatham’s place at the Admiralty.

Over the summer of 1794 I have seen a number of reports and rumours about John cropping up in newspapers and diaries (Ehrman refers to them, as I noted above). Was the Admiralty as badly run as was suggested? I’m afraid I haven’t done enough research to tell you. Rumour had it that John attended to no business before noon, kept naval officers waiting, and never opened his letters. I haven’t managed to trace any of these rumours to anything concrete (the one about the not opening letters, which is reported in N.A.M. Rodger, “The Command of the Ocean” (London, 2004) p. 363, I have traced to one of Spencer’s underlings, writing thirty or more years after the event). Obviously they all come from people who were not on John’s side, although that fact in itself means very little. As for John, he had little or no doubt he had been stabbed in the back by the Portland Whigs; he feared for his reputation, and it seems he has been right to do so.

What to conclude, therefore? John was not a naval man in any case. He was a military man, and (after Richmond resigned in early 1795) the only military man in a wartime cabinet. He seems to have given plenty of advice on military topics even when it wasn’t his remit: Castlereagh, for example, wrote to John requesting advice on military matters in October 1805 (Castlereagh Correspondence vol 6 (London 1851), 19). Lord Eldon famously said John was the ablest man in the Cabinet, and although it seems this was a throwaway remark I doubt he would have said it had he not thought John at least slightly clever. It is Chatham’s main misfortune that his whole life was blighted by the Walcheren campaign, which he commanded in 1809 and which ended in utter failure. That, however, is quite another story.

I don’t think I need to say here that I do not think John was a waste of space. You’ve worked that out by now, and 400 pages of novel certainly suggests I find him interesting. What I think is most interesting about him— to answer the question asked by the art dealer who framed my John letter— is not what he *did*, but *who he was*. He was a man who had the good fortune, or perhaps the ill fortune, to be the eldest son and elder brother of two very famous, important and brilliant public figures. He must have lived his entire life in their shadow. I hope to bring him out a bit, and round out the “late Lord Chatham” (as he was nicknamed) as a personality in his own right.

And that’s enough blathering on. Humour me. As I said, I have a Thing.