Farsi    Arabic    English   

The House of Lords and the Duke of York's Monument[439]

Karl Marx

At the very time that Lord John Russell

"The minimus of hind'ring knot-grass made,"[a]

amused the House of Commons with one of his dwarfish mock-schemes for the education of that giant called the people, his fellows in the House of Lords were exhibiting a practical specimen of the education enjoyed by the heaven-born rulers of Great Britain. The subject of their debates was a report of the Committee of the House of Commons, recommending for local purposes, the removal of the Duke of York's monument from Waterloo Place[b]. On that occasion the Marquis of Clanricarde said,

"The Duke of York was not only eminent from his illustrious birth, but he had performed great professional services to the Crown and the country.... The regret for his death was not confined merely to the circle of his friends, but was universally felt. All parties concurred in bearing testimony to the zeal which he had displayed in the discharge of the duties committed to him."[c]

According to the Marquis of Lansdowne

"a memorial erected some years ago to the memory of an illustrious individual whorn they all respected, should not be lightly disposed of or set away."

Aberdeen, the travelled Thane, called the monument "in a certain manner sanctified." The Earl of Malmesbury

"concurred entirely in what had fallen from the noble earl with respect to what might be called the sentimental view of the case."

Let us cast a retrospective view at the life of the royal hero thus canonized by the Lords.

The most memorable event in the Duke of York's lifetime—his birth—happened to occur in 1763. Twenty-six years later he contrived to draw the attention of the world to his person by renouncing the state of single blessedness, and getting a married man. The Anti-Jacobin war afforded the royal prince an opportunity of becoming a royal captain. If, during his ever-famed campaign of Flanders, and his no less famed campaign of the Fielder, the English army was regularly beaten, it had the constant satisfaction of beholding its royal commander returning to his home again in a whole skin. It is known how cleverly he ran away before Houchard at Hondscho, and how his siege of Dunkirk in some sort outjested the siege of Troy[440]. Such was the distinguished celebrity he won in his Flanders campaigning that Pitt, growing jealous of his renown, caused the war-minister Dundas, to send despatches to his Royal Highness with the urgent intimation to come home, to reserve the display of his personal bravery to times of greater hazard, and to remember the old Fabian maxim: famae etiam jactura facienda est pro patria[d]. An officer of the name of Cochrane Johnstone, to whom by and by we shall return, was the person selected to be the bearer of these despatches and—says an author of those bygone times—

"Johnstone performmed this service with a degree of celerity and resolution that entitled him to the admiration of the army."[e]

Greater still than the Duke's military exploits during this same campaign, turned out his financial ones, a convenient fire at every depot, settling for ever the accounts of all his commissaries, contractors, and in-supers. These successes notwithstanding, we find his Royal Highness again in 1799 at the head of the Helder expedition which, in the British papers under Pitt's avowed patronage, was represented as a mere holiday march, it being thought a rather preposterous idea that an army of 45,000 men, with the squadron commanding the Zuyder Zee at its back, with an offspring of the royal house of Brunswick at its head, was not by its mere appearance to scatter to the winds a rabble of about 20,000 Frenchmen,

"commanded by a printer's boy of Limousin, one Brune, who had received his military and political education in the Tennis Courts of the French Revolution."

However, with that blunt cynicism peculiar to those Jacobin generals, the printer's boy of Limousin had the impudence to beat his Royal Highness hollow, whenever he happened to board him, and when his Royal Highness, considering it still more meritorious to live for one's country than to die for it, strove to get back to the Helder, Brune was so discourteous as not to let him before he had signed the famous capitulation of Alkmaar[441], stipulating the surrender of eight thousand French and Dutch seamen then prisoners of war in England.

The Duke of York had now had enough in the shape of campaigns, and wisely condescended for a while to shroud his name in the obscurity naturally enveloping the commander-in-chief at the Horse-Guards[f]. Yet in that position he found himself placed over a department costing the nation £23,000,000 a year, and entrusting to him, under the King's sole control, the absolute power of promoting or cashiering any number of about 12,000 commissioned and staff officers.

His Royal Highness did not fail to engross a very large portion of public gratitude by his enlightened general orders regarding the cashiering the queues of all the privates and non-commissioned officers; the addition of a sponge to their appointments, for the purpose of keeping their heads clean, the dressing right and left, the quick and slow step; the locking up and the opening of ranks, the wheeling and facing, the tossing of the firelock, the hair-cutting and the black-legging, and the polishing of arms and accoutrements; the screwing up of John Bull's broad chest in tight jerkins, and the crowning his blockhead with an Austrian cap, and the covering his large back with a faceless coat—and all that sort of important affairs, making up the drill-serjeant's science. At the same time he exhibited the higher qualities of a strategist and a tactician in his domestic campaign against Colonel Cochrane Johnstone, the officer who had been commissioned by Pitt to cut short his victorious campaigns in Flanders. Johnstone, in the year 1801, Colonel of the 8th West India regiment (blacks) and Governor of the island of Dominica, was called home in consequence of a mutiny that had broken out in the regiment. He preferred charges against John Gordon, the major of his regiment, who was in immediate command of it at the time of the mutiny. This Major Gordon, as well as a Colonel Gordon, the Duke's secretary, belonged to that distinguished family that has stocked the world with great men—such as Gordon, the Adrianople treaty-monger[442], the travelled Thane Aberdeen, and his no less illustrious son, Colonel Gordon, of Crimean memory. The Duke of York, then, had to wreak his vengeance, not only on a slanderer of the Gordons, but above all on the bearer of the delicate despatch. Notwithstanding Colonel Johnstone's importunities, John Gordon was not brought to a court-martial till the month of January 1804. Although the court pronounced his conduct to have been irregular, culpably negligent, and highly censurable, the Duke of York maintained him in full possession of his rank and pay, while he omitted from a promotion of brevet-major-generals in Oct. 1803, the name of Colonel Johnstone, who saw the names of officers, his juniors, preferred to him. On his complaints to the Duke, Johnstone, at the end of nine weeks, on Dec. 10, 1803, received the answer from his Royal Highness that he was not included in the general brevet-promotion because

"there existed charges against him, the merit of which had not been decided."[g]

He failed to obtain any further satisfaction until 28th of May, 1804, when he became informed that Major Gordon was his accuser. His trial was put off from one term to the other; the court-martial which was to try him being ordered now to Canterbury, now to Chelsea, and it only took place in March 1805. Johnstone being fully and honourably acquitted by the court, applied for restoration to his rank, but met with a refusal from his Royal Highness on May 16, 1805. On June 28th General Fitzpatrick, one of the Fox coterie[443], announced in Parliament that in the interest of Johnstone, the injuries inflicted upon whom "had spread the greatest alarm throughout the whole army," he should propose a specific proceeding at the commencement of the next session of parliament[h]. The next session came, but having in the meantime been transformed into a war-minister, Fitzpatrick stated from the Treasury-bench that he should not bring forward the threatened motion. Some time afterwards this Secretary of war—a carpet-knight who had never seen an enemy, who had sold his company in the guards twenty years before, and never served a single day since—had a regiment given to him by the Duke of York; Fitzpatrick, the war-minister, having thus to audit the account of Fitzpatrick the Colonel. By dint of such stratagems the Duke of York succeeded in crushing Colonel Johnstone and thus asserted his strategical talents.

That notwithstanding a certain dullness, hereditary in the illustrious house of Brunswick, the Duke was a sharp fellow in his own way, is sufficiently shown by the fact that he figured as the chief of George III's "domestic cabinet," the closet and family-council, and as the head of the court-party, called the King's friends[444]. It is not less shown by the fact that, with an annual income of £61,000 he contrived to squeeze £54,000 as a loan out of the ministry, and in spite of this public credit not to pay his private debts. To perform such feats, a man must needs be of nimble spirits. As it is generally known how "upon place and greatness many eyes are stuck,"[i] it will be easily understood that the Grenville Administration was not ashamed to propose to his Royal Highness to relieve him from some subordinate duties of his office—which relief, as is complained in a pamphlet paid by the duke[j], would have reduced the commander-in-chief to a mere cipher. Lansdowne, be it remarked, served in the same cabinet, under the name of Lord Henry Petty. That same administration threatened to clog the illustrious warrior with a military council, falsely pretending that "the nation" would be lost, unless the inexperience of the commander-in-chief was assisted by a body of officers. Thus far was the duke pressed by this unworthy cabal as to demand an inquiry into his conduct at the Horse Guards. Happily this intrigue of the Grenville party was defeated by the immediate interposition, or rather command, of George III who, although a notorious idiot, had wit enough to understand the genius of his son.

In the year 1808 the brave and patriotic sentiments of the royal captain induced him to solicit the command of the British armies in Spain and Portugal, but then the general dread of the masses to behold England bereft of such a home-commander, at so critical a moment, burst out in most noisy, indiscreet, and almost indecent demonstrations. He was warned to remember his former ill-fortune abroad, to keep him in reserve for the enemy at home, and to beware of public execration. Nothing daunted, the magnanimous duke had a pamphlet published, to prove his hereditary claim to be beaten in Portugal and Spain, as he had been in Flanders and Holland. But, alas! the Morning Chronicle of that period states that,

"in the present instance it is notorious that ministers and people, ins and outs, are fully agreed in opinion."

Yea, the talked-of appointment of the duke seemed to threaten England with a regular row. Thus, one may read in a London weekly paper of that time:—

"Not to the inns, the coffee-houses, the marts, the malls, and the settled gossiping-shops, has the conversation upon the subject been confined. It has entered into all private circles; it has been a standing dish at the dinner and tea-table; men stop each other to talk about the Duke of York's going to Spain; the eager Londoner stops even on his way to Change, to ask whether it be really true that the Duke of York is going to Spain; nay, in the very church porches of the country. among the smock-frocked politicians, whose conversation as to the public matters seldom went beyond the assessed taxes, you see half a score faces thrust almost to the point of contact in order to know for 'zarten if the Duke of York be a gooen to be zent to Spain.'"[k]

It is evident, then, in spite of the numerous efforts of his envious deprecators, that it was impossible to keep the past deeds of the Duke hidden from the world. What a satisfaction for one single man, this unanimous anxiety of a whole people to keep him at home. The Duke, of course, could not but give his gallant mind the extreme pain of chilling his martial ardour, and quietly staying at the Horse Guards.

Before passing to the brightest period of this monumental life, we must stop a moment and show that as early as 1806, the Duke was fully and publicly appraised by his father's loyal subjects. In his Political Register of that year, Cobbett says:

"He rendered himself famous for nothing but running away, and bringing infamy upon the arms of England [...]; [...] at once half an idiot, and yet master of the utmost degree of low cunning; [...] equally conspicuous for feminine weakness and fiendlike cruelty, for pride and for abjection, for prodigality and rapaciousness. [...] While he had the command of the soldiers, he made a vile job of his trust, and, through the means thereof, shamefully robbed the people whom he was amply paid to defend. [...] Having previously bribed or intimidated every one, from whom he might apprehend exposure, he gave way to his numerous and conflicting vices, and rendered himself the object of universal, though whispering, execration."[l]

On the 27th January, 1809, Colonel Wardle rose in the House of Commons, to make a motion "for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the conduct of the Commander-in-chief, with regard to promotions and exchanges in the army"[m]. In a speech lacking all sense of delicacy, detailing all the cases he had to bring forward in support of his motion, and giving the names of all the witnesses he was to call upon for substantiating his cases, he accused the pet hero of the present House of Lords that his concubine, a certain Mrs. Clarke, possessed the power of military promotion, that the military exchanges also were at her disposal, that her influence extended to appointments in the staff of the army, that she was endowed with the privilege of augmenting the military force of the country, that she received pecuniary consideration from all these sources, that the Commander-in-chief was not only a secret party to all her transactions, did not only save his own purse by her supplies, but had even endeavoured to derive himself, through her means, pecuniary accommodations, independently of Mrs. Clarke's advantages. In one word, he contended that the royal captain not only kept his mistress at the expense of the British army, but allowed himself to he kept by her in return. Upon this motion the house resolved[n] to have an examination of the witnesses at the bar. The examination having lasted to the 22nd Feb., confirmed point for point the ungracious slander of Colonel Wardle. It was proved that the real office of the Horse Guards did not exist at Whitehall[o] but at Mrs. Clarke's establishment in Gloucester Street, consisting of a splendid house, with a variety of carriages, and a long retinue of footmen, musicians, singers, players, dancers, parasites, pimps, and bawds. This Horse Guard of his own, the Royal captain had mounted in 1803. Although such a house could not be maintained for £20,000 a year—and there was besides a country establishment at Wybridge—it was proved from the witnesses' evidence that Mrs. Clarke never got from the duke's own pocket, more than £12,000 a year, a sum scarcely sufficient to pay wages and purchase liveries. The rest was procured from the wholesale traffic in petticoat commissions. There was produced before the House a written scale of Mrs. Clarke's prices. The regular price for a majority being £2,600, Mrs. Clarke sold it at 900; a company for £700, instead of the regulation price of £1,500, etc. Nay there existed actually in the city, a public office for the sale of Commissions at the same reduced prices, and the managing agents of that office stated to be the commissioners of the favourite mistress. Whenever she complained of pecuniary embarrassments, the duke told her "she had greater interest than the queen, and she ought to use it." In one case the zealous commander-in-chief punished an individual by reducing him to half-pay for non-performance of a nefarious contract with his mistress; in another he reserved to himself a bonus of £5,000; in another case, he appointed on her interference boys actually at school to lieutenancies, and surgeons who were never called upon to leave their shops to join their companies. One Colonel French obtained from Mrs. Clarke a letter of service, i.e. an authority for raising 5,000 men for the army. On this occasion the following dialogue between the Duke and his mistress was stated before the house to have taken place.

The Duke.—I am continually worried by Mr. French about this levy. He is always wanting something more to be done in his favour. [...] How does he behave to you darling?

Mrs. Clarke.—Middling, not very well.

The Duke.—Master French must mind what he is about, else I will soon cut up him and his levy too.

There were also produced some love letters of the illustrious duke mixed up with mercantile-military transactions. One of them dated Aug. 4, 1803 commences thus.

"How can I sufficiently express to my sweetest, my darling love, the delight which her dear, her pretty letter gave me, or how much I feel all the kind things she says to me in it; millions and millions of thanks for it my angel."

After this sample of the Duke's style it is not to be wondered at that the learned gentlemen of St. John's College, Oxford, presented his Royal Highness with the diploma of an L.L.D. Not content with military commission, the lovers also hit upon trafficking in bishoprics and deaneries.

Other points turned up not less honourable to the illustrious scion of the House of Brunswick; for instance that an officer, named Dowler, had for years been Mrs. Clarke's paramour, and that in his company she sought for a compensation for the grudgery, the disgust, and loathing experienced in the duke's society.

The Duke's friends scolding his angel "an infamous woman, an impudent baggage,"[p] pleaded for their tender juvenile of about 50, for the husband of twenty years' standing, the paramount power of passion. Which passion, by the by, did not prevent the duke, 7 months after his separation from Mrs. Clarke, withholding from her the annuity convened between them, and on her demands becoming urgent, threatening her with the pillory and the bastile. This very threat became the next cause of Mrs. Clarke's disclosures to Colonel Wardle.

It would be tedious to wade through the whole proceedings of the Commons, with all its sordid incidents, or to expostulate on the gallant duke's begging letter dated 23rd February (1809) in which he solemnly declared, to the House of Commons "on the honour of a prince," that he knew of nothing, even of what was proved by letters in his own handwriting. It may suffice to say that General Ferguson declared in the House "that it was not for the honour of the army that the duke should remain in command;" that the Chancellor of Exchequer, Mr. Perceval, announced on March 20th, the Duke's resignation of his office, and that upon this announcement the House accepted Lord Althorp's motion that "his Royal Highness the Duke of York, having resigned the command of the army, the House did not now think it necessary to proceed any further," etc. Lord Althorp grounded his motion on his wish

"to place the duke's resignation on the journal of the House, in order to record that the Duke had forfeited the confidence of the country for ever, and in consequence he must abandon all hopes of ever returning again to that situation."

As a tribute for his bold proceedings against the duke, Colonel Wardle was deluged with thanks—addresses transmitted from every county, city, town and borough of Great Britain.

One of the first acts of the Regency of the Prince of Wales—afterwards George the Fourth—in 1811, was York's restoration to his position as commander-in-chief—an initiatory step quite in keeping with the whole reign of that royal Caliban[q] who, because the last of mankind, was called the first gentleman of Europe.

This Duke of York, then, whose monument would grace a dung-hill, is the Marquis of Clanricarde's "eminent commander-in-chief," Lord Lansdowne's "illustrious and all-respected individual;" and the very same personage represented by the Earl of Aberdeen's "sanctified monument"—in one word the guardian angel of the House of Lords. The worshippers are worthy of the saint.

Written about April 25, 1856
First published in The People's Paper, No. 208, April 26, 1856


[a] Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III, Scene 2.—Ed.

[b] A road was to be built across St. James's Park.—Ed.

[c] The speeches of Clanricarde, Lansdowne, Aberdeen and Malmesbury in the House of Lords on April 10, 1856were reported in The Times, No. 22339, April 11, 1856.—Ed.

[d] Even glory should be sacrificed for the Fatherland.—Ed.

[e] [W. Cobbett,] "Mr. Cochrane Johnstone" [I], Cobbett's Weekly Political Register, Vol. X, No. 1, July 5, 1806.—Ed.

[f] I.e., the headquarters of the British army.—Ed.

[g] [W. Cobbett,] "Mr. Cochrane Johnstone" [I], Cobbett's Weekly Political Register, Vol. X, No. 1, July 5, 1806.—Ed.

[h] Fitzpatrick's speech in the House of Commons, June 28, 1805. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates [First Series], Vol. V, London, 1812.—Ed.

[i] Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act IV, Scene 2 (paraphrased).—Ed.

[j] This refers to the anonymous pamphlet, A Plain Statement of the Conduct of the Ministry and the Opposition, towards His Royal Highness the Duke of York, London, 1808.—Ed.

[k] [W. Cobbett,] "Duke of York", Cobbett's Weekly Political Register, Vol. XIV,No. 8, August 20, 1808.—Ed.

[l] [W. Cobbett,] "Mr. Cochrane Johnstone" [II], Cobbett's Weekly Political Register, Vol. X, No. 8, August 23, 1806.—Ed.

[m] Hansard's Parliamentary Debate. [First Series], Vol. XII, London, 1812. This volume also contains material of the House of Commons inquiry proposed by Wardle and held in February 1809. Excerpts from it are quoted below in this article.—Ed.

[n] On January 31, 1809.—Ed.

[o] The seat of a number of government offices in London, including the army headquarters, the Admiralty and various ministries.—Ed.

[p] From Beresford's speech in the House of Commons on February 3, 1809. Excerpts from it and also from the speeches of Ferguson on March 17, 1809 and Perceval and Althorp on March 20, 1809 are quoted according to Hansard's Parliamentary Debates [First Series], Vols. XII and XIII, London, 1812.—Ed.

[q] A character in Shakespeare's The Tempest.—Ed.

[439] Marx's authorship of this article, published in The People's Paper anonymously, is evident from his letter to Engels of April 26, 1856 (see present edition, Vol. 40) where the article is mentioned in the list of items enclosed. "In it I imitate, tant bien que mal, the style of old Cobbett," he writes.

[440] A reference to the Duke of York's part in the wars of the First and Second European coalitions (1792-97 and 1799-1800) against the French republic. In 1793 the British army commanded by the Duke unsuccessfully besieged Dunkirk and, following the defeat of the coalition forces at Hondschoote on September 6-8 of that year, narrowly escaped annihilation by hastily retreating without a fight. Later the Duke of York commanded the British corps of the Anglo-Russian army that landed at Helder (Northern Holland) at the end of August 1799. In October the allied troops were defeated by a Franco-Dutch army commanded by Brune.

[441] The convention of Alkmaar was signed on October 18, 1799 after the defeat in Holland (then the Batavian Republic) of the Anglo-Russian forces commanded by the Duke of York. It provided for the withdrawal from Holland of the forces of the anti-French coalition and the release of the French and Dutch prisoners.

[442] The Treaty of Adrianople was concluded by Turkey and Russia in September 1829 following the war of 1828-29. Under the treaty Russia obtained the Danube delta including the islands, and a considerable part of the eastern Black Sea coast south of the Kuban estuary. Turkey was to recognise the autonomy of Moldavia and Wallachia, granting them the right to elect their own hospodars (rulers). Their autonomy was to be guaranteed by Russia. The Turkish government also undertook to recognise the independence of Greece, whose only obligation to Turkey was to pay an annual tribute to the Sultan, and abide by all the previous treaties relating to the autonomy of Serbia, which was to be formalised by a special firman.

The Balta-Liman Treaty, concluded by Russia and Turkey on May 1, 1849, laid down conditions for the continued presence of their troops in Moldavia and Wallachia, which had been occupied to suppress the revolutionary movement. Under the treaty, the occupation was to continue until the threat of revolution had been fully eliminated (the foreign troops were not withdrawn until 1851), for a certain period the hospodars were to be appointed by the Sultan in agreement with the Tsar. A series of measures by Russia and Turkey, including another occupation, were envisaged to provide for the eventuality of another revolution.

[443] A reference to the group of Whig radicals headed by Charles James Fox. They opposed the war against the French republic and advocated a reform of Parliament favouring the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie.

[444] "Friends of the King"—a group of close associates of George III, mostly extreme Tories. They supported George III's attempts to extend the Royal prerogative at the expense of Parliament and establish his personal rule. Members of the group repeatedly headed the government and held ministerial posts between 1760 and the early 1780s.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.662-671), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0974en.html