IV. Oppositions, 1742-4 and 1747-51

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

As soon as Walpole decided to resign, Newcastle and Hardwicke opened negotiations with Pulteney and Carteret for the formation of a new Whig Administration. On this a meeting of the two opposition parties was called to consider the Duke of Argyll’s rival plan ‘to extinguish party names and lay the foundation of government so large or broad that all who have opposed the Court may find their account in it,’ including the Tories. Before the meeting took place it was learned that Argyll’s plan was supported by Wilmington, who was believed to be able to influence enough members of the court party to counterbalance those of the Opposition carried off from it by Pulteney and Carteret.1 On 9 Feb. Sir Dudley Ryder found Walpole, now Earl of Orford,

under a good deal of distress. He said things were very unsettled at court. There are two parties formed, viz. lord chancellor with the Duke of Newcastle, Pulteney and Lord Carteret on one side; the Duke of Argyll and Lord Wilmington on another. The two parties had yesterday a meeting, wherein the former put it very humbly to the lord president to know upon what foundation he apprehended he was capable of supporting the place of the head of the Treasury, what party of commoners he could influence. He has taken time for two or three days to give an answer.
This put the King into great fright. He asked Earl of Orford whether he was to be King any longer or not, and cried.
The Duke of Argyll grows more furious than ever, pretends that the Earl of Orford does more mischief now behind the curtain than when he acted openly. And lord president told him in plain terms that a great part of the party cry out for vengeance, and he would not deceive him, he did not know whether he could protect him but would do what he could.

On 12 Feb. 1742

there was a very great meeting at the Fountain Tavern in the Strand of the Members of Parliament and Lords who have been in the Opposition. Duke of Argyll, Duke of Bedford, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Mr. Pulteney and Sandys and many others there to the amount of about 230 commoners and 35 lords. The Duke of Bedford was in the chair. Many speeches were made, in which several reflections cast upon Sandys and Pulteney and others that had come in to the Government without the privity of the rest. They justified themselves. Pulteney declared he would not take any post or any title, that he had pulled down the ministry but he would not pull down the King. That he did what he did for the sake of the public. That this business was his, they had brought him out of [sic, ? ‘into’] power to support the Government and not distress it. That there was no other way by which the misfortunes attending it could be resolved.
The speeches principally turned on two things:
1. The establishment of a ministry on a broad bottom, as the term was, by which they meant to take the Tories into the Administration. They talked of extinguishing parties with their names, and having but one party. And Pulteney came into the same thing, but he said he was for doing it by proper degrees as occasion should happen. He was not for forcing the King into it.
2. The inquiry into the causes of our misfortunes and the punishment of the authors. Pulteney was of that opinion, and said nobody should come more seriously into the discovery and punishment of offenders than he if any gentleman would lead the way and point out a method of doing it. They came to no resolution.

Next day, 13 Feb., Wilmington told Ryder that

nothing hardly was yet settled. The Treasury was not, the Admiralty was not. That the Duke of Argyll stands out, and insists he will come into no accommodation till some of his friends are brought in, and particularly that Lord Gower, Lord Bathurst, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and Sir John Hynde Cotton are provided for. He will not wait for the doing this hereafter, though he will for others. That he believed the Prince was brought into the same resolution and that he could be brought in upon no other terms. And he himself doubted whether it was possible to carry on the Government without it. But he was afraid this would disgust some Whigs and make a separation there.

On 17 Feb., the day before Parliament was to re-assemble, Hardwicke told Ryder that

there was a meeting between him, Lord Wilmington, Lord Harrington, the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Carteret, Mr. Pulteney and Mr. Sandys, in order to settle matters for the Prince’s reconciliation. Mr. Pulteney went backwards and forwards to and from the Prince with messages. He met at the Prince’s, with him the Duke of Argyll, Lord Chesterfield, Lord Cobham, Lord Scarbrough and two more [Lords Gower and Bathurst], and in the presence of the Prince debated with them about the expediency of his submitting to the King. He soon brought over Lord Scarbrough. The Prince was inclinable himself, but the rest disinclined. In general, most of the Prince’s servants were strongly for a reconciliation, and at last all of them came over to Mr. Pulteney’s opinion, and it was agreed the Prince should this morning write a letter of submission to the King.
He did so accordingly, and the King agreed to receive him this morning. He accordingly came with almost all his servants.2

It was also agreed that Argyll should be restored to his former offices; that Lord Cobham should have a regiment with the rank of field-marshal; and that Lords Bathurst, Chesterfield and Gower should be provided for as soon as suitable vacancies occurred.3 No stipulation was made for the Prince, who, however, secured his extra £50,000 a year, though the King could not be for a long time prevailed upon to grant it.4 On 22 Feb. Sandys, the new chancellor of the Exchequer, said ‘that the whole party were till very lately in a disposition to break to pieces, through the too eager desire of many to get places, but now they were all friends again’.5This state of affairs lasted only till 10 Mar., when Argyll resigned because the King would not accept his nomination of Sir John Hynde Cotton to the new Admiralty.6 Though Argyll soon afterwards withdrew from politics,7 his resignation led to a split in the Whig opposition, a minority of whom, thenceforth known as New Whigs, followed the Prince, Carteret, and Pulteney, leaving the rest to start a new opposition in conjunction with the Tories.

The effect of these transactions on party strengths in the House of Commons is shown by a list of Members to be invited to the customary meeting of ministerial supporters on the eve of the opening of a new session to hear the King’s Speech read. The list, drawn up in October by Henry Pelham, who had succeeded to the position of minister for the House of Commons on Pulteney’s elevation to the Lords as Earl of Bath, consisted of 295 Members,32 of whom were New Whigs, including 15 followers of the Prince, seven of Carteret, and ten of Bath, all with places, except two, whose brothers were in the Cabinet. The rest consisted of the old court party, known as the old corps of Whigs, plus a few Members previously classed as opposition. Of those not included in the list, 84 were opposition Whigs, 148 Tories, and 25 doubtfuls, 6 seats being vacant. Thus, assuming that the doubtfuls cancelled one another out, the Government had an estimated majority of about 63.8

When Parliament reassembled in November 1742, the Opposition made a dead set at the New Whigs. On 1 Dec. a ministerial Member reports that

Mr. Lyttelton with all his eloquence proposed in the same words as last year to appoint a secret committee on Sir Robert Walpole now Earl of Orford’s conduct for the last ten years, which they intended rather as a reproach on the new ministers, who they knew would not now come into their measures, so after five hours debate we carried the negative by 253 to 186, majority 67 ... All this was intended to blacken the new ministers ... and no doubt their pamphlets will ring of it, and their weekly papers.9

Two days later the Opposition re-introduced a place bill which had been supported by the New Whigs in the previous session, but was now opposed by Sandys, who ‘was again so plainly pointed at that the Speaker took down Lord Barrington and Alderman Heathcote’.10 Apart from baiting the New Whigs, the main opposition attack was directed against the decision of the Government to hire 16,000 Hanoverian troops for the army which was being assembled in Flanders to support the Queen of Hungary.

Hanover [Horace Walpole wrote] is the word given out for this winter; there is a most bold pamphlet come out, said to be Lord Marchmont’s, which affirms that, in every treaty made since the accession of this family, England has been sacrificed to the interests of Hanover and consequently insinuates the incompatibility of the two. Lord Chesterfield says ‘that if we have a mind effectually to prevent the Pretender from ever obtaining the crown we should make him Elector of Hanover, for the people of England will never fetch another King from thence’.11

On 10 Dec., after an eight hours’ debate, lasting till ten at night, a motion for the pay of the Hanoverians was carried by 260 to 193, 70 Whigs voting in the minority.12

Reporting on these debates, Thomas Carte, the Jacobite historian, observed that the bad relations between the two sides of the ministry were shown ‘by the satisfaction expressed in the House of Commons, by the partisans of the old, when they hear Sandys (who is sunk to the lowest degree of contempt and would be turned out immediately were it not for a point of honour) and others of the new baited and exposed’. He goes on to say of the old ministers that,

having got over the reputed heads of the Opposition they fancied there would be none of the party able to manage a debate in the House ... Pulteney had assumed the part of managing a debate but he owed a great part of his reputation to the assistance given by Waller and Dodington, who had not used to speak unless what the other had advanced upon their information chanced to be disputed. Now, making use of their own fund, they distinguish themselves and prove excellent speakers ... particularly W. Pitt, who is allowed by everybody to be the finest and best debater that ever sat in the House of Commons and to be ten time superior to Pulteney and even to Lord Bolingbroke.13

At the end of the session another Jacobite, James Erskine, wrote of the New Whigs: ‘It is certain they have been so dexterous as to draw the general hatred and execration on themselves more in the space of one year than Lord Orford purchased to himself in twenty.’14 About this time Orford told Ryder ‘that the present ministry were undermining one another, and things in so much confusion nobody could know where that would end ... and he advised Mr. Pelham to take the Treasury, and turn out the whole present set, and bring in Pitt and Lyttelton’.15 On succeeding to the Treasury after Wilmington’s death in July 1743, Pelham followed Orford’s advice by opening negotiations with the opposition chiefs, Chesterfield, Cobham, and Gower. At the beginning of October the negotiations broke down on an ultimatum from Pelham to the following effect:

First that he is engaged in honour, though not in conscience, not to break with his new allies [Carteret and Bath] in case they will submit, as he believes they will do, and as, by what he told me, I believe they will.
Secondly that he will not take in the few Tories proposed, upon the coalition, but only upon a personal foot, and that even he would rather have ’em without their followers than with, for fear of offending the old Whig corps.
Thirdly that the places vacant at present were at our service, upon the foregoing principle, and that he saw no great likelihood of any more being vacant unless his new allies broke all measures with him, which he did not think they would.
Fourthly that as to public measures, a peace should be made if it could, but in case a continuance of the war was inevitable, a continuation of the Hanover troops was so too, and that upon their present foot without those correctives and qualifications which I hinted as the only expedients that could enable us (and that but awkwardly too) to vote for ’em.

Whereupon Chesterfield proposed that, ‘this being the case, all that we have to do, in my opinion, is to prepare for battle, to procure an early and universal attendance of all our people, and to blow the Hanover flame to the height,’16 which they proceeded to do in their weekly newspapers with such violence that Orford wrote to Pelham, 20 Oct. 1743: ‘Surely the Cobhams are not the authors, or patrons, of the Constitutional Journal! That is such express and confessed Jacobitism that he must be gone as far as the late Duke of Argyll was, if they are in that scheme’.17 In fact Cobham was one of the council of regency appointed by the Pretender in December 1743,18when he and Gower resigned their offices.

During the recess, which the King spent with the army in Germany, Carteret, as minister in attendance, ‘never sent any intelligence to the Duke of Newcastle or Pelham or chancellor. Said he did not because he was sole minister’.19 After George II’s return to England, Orford told Ryder

that Carteret gets ground more and more with the King by falling in with his foible of favour to Hanover, whereas the Pelhams and chancellor oppose this and lose ground by that means. He told me that if he had not shown the present ministry the necessity of keeping the Hanover troops, they would have been given up.20

On 10 Jan. 1744 the Hanoverians were carried by 271 to 226, a majority 22 less than in 1742, 88 Whigs voting in the minority, compared with 70 on the previous occasion.21

At the end of the session, during which the country had been threatened with a French invasion to restore the Pretender, the Pelhams and Hardwicke

[were] under great difficulties on account of the King’s supposed intent to go beyond seas and take Lord Carteret with him, from whom they expected the same usage as last year. And they consulted Lord Orford about their design to resign in this case, who told them they must not resign, it was too dangerous a time.

During the summer, which the King after all spent in England, they ‘differed exceedingly’ from Carteret on the conduct of the war, which was going badly. According to Ryder: ‘He settles no scheme, talks big, but does nothing. Lord chancellor told me in confidence the situation they were in and the impossibility of acting together.’22 At the beginning of November 1744, three weeks before Parliament was due to reassemble, they gave the King notice, in the name of the majority of the Cabinet, that they could no longer serve with Carteret, now Lord Granville.23 Before capitulating, George II made every effort to save Granville, by ‘closeting’ his opponents separately, summoning Orford from Houghton to make up matters in the ministry, and finally authorizing an offer of carte blanche to Chesterfield, Cobham, and Gower, who, having already come to terms with the Pelhams,

returned a short answer that they could not think of accepting any terms whilst Granville continued in power. The treaty being thus abruptly broke off, this hunted minister, at present an outcast from all parties, was obliged to resign [24 Nov.], having first laid the foundation of future merit and favour by giving assurances that himself and his friends would heartily concur in supporting the war and even outgo the ministers on that head.24

On hearing of Granville’s resignation, Speaker Onslow rejoiced that ‘this Parliament has torn two favourite ministers from the throne’.25

The terms made by the opposition leaders were that enough New Whigs should be turned out to make room for themselves and their followers, thenceforth known as New Allies. In the event 13 members of the Bath-Granville squadron and two Old Whigs were displaced in favour of 15 of the Opposition, five peers and ten commoners. The object of the transaction, apart from getting rid of Granville, was expressed by Hardwicke’s statement to George II that ‘if your Majesty looks round the House of Commons, you will find no man of business or even of weight left, capable of heading or conducting an opposition’. But far from being placated by this argument, the King made it plain by his behaviour that he intended to bring Granville back to office as soon as it was possible to form a ministry without the Pelhams, whom in the meantime he treated so badly that before he left for Hanover in May they represented to him ‘the impossibility of our opening another session of Parliament if his Majesty, at his return, should not have a more favourable opinion of us, and our endeavour for his service, than he has at present’. Only the outbreak of the Forty-five rebellion prevented them from resigning when he returned in September, still resolved to change his ministry at the first favourable opportunity. It was not till February 1746, when the rebellion was regarded as virtually over, that they carried out their intention, along with most of the ministry, only to be recalled to office four days later on its being found that a Bath-Granville ministry could not ‘depend upon more than 31 lords and 80 commoners’.26

The strength of the reconstituted ministry was shown on 11 Apr. 1746, when a motion for the cost of re-engaging the Hanoverians was carried by 255 to 122, ‘Pitt, Lyttelton, three Grenvilles and Lord Barrington all voting roundly for them, though the eldest Grenville two years ago had declared in the House that he would seal it with his blood that he never would give his vote for a Hanoverian’.27 A ministerial list of Members compiled on the occasion shows that the total number of government supporters was reckoned as 341, consisting of 258 Old Whigs, 52 New Whigs, and 31 New Allies, 36 more being classed as doubtful.28 Thus, assuming that the doubtfuls cancelled one another out, the ministry had a majority of 160, so long as the New Whigs continued to support them.

The first sign of the withdrawal of this support came in a debate on Pelham’s scheme for a war loan of £3,000,000, 10 Mar. 1746, when all the Prince’s servants voted against the Government, except Edward Bayntun Rolt, who was immediately turned out; ‘the Earl of Bath’s friends voted against the court or minister’s scheme, but the Earl of Granville’s friends voted for it, for he considered the consequence of being secure of the supply, and therein pleased the King.’29 The stages of the development of a new opposition headed by the Prince are recorded by Ryder:

17 Oct. 1746. The Prince begins already to work for securing elections of his friends in next Parliament, though the time of the present not out till 1748. And at last general election he took in subscriptions, and his friends most of them paid from £1,200 to £1,500 apiece for their elections.
15 Nov. Pelham and solicitor-general [William Murray] told me the Prince interests himself much in elections and closets many persons on that head.
22 Jan. 1747. Lord Baltimore moved for committee to enquire into the navy debt, and agreed to, but rejected as to being a select committee 184 against 143, in which the Prince’s party and Tories joined, and Prince turned out Lord Archibald Hamilton from being his cofferer for voting against the question, and immediately put in Lord Baltimore ... Solicitor-general told me the Prince has declared his intended opposition to the King’s measures, that he will continue it as long as he is Prince.
26 Jan. Vote in committee of supply for the expenses of the war in Flanders and Italy ... carried without opposition from the Prince’s party or Tories, it being understood that the Tories were not to oppose foreign measures and the Prince to join them in opposing domestic ones.
17 Feb. Motion by [George] Bowes for committee to enquire into quartering officers, seconded by Dr. Lee ... rejected by 197 against 150. This was looked on as a motion on purpose to try the Prince’s strength.
10 Mar. Mr. Pelham told me the Prince had told some of the ministers that there was no way for the Prince of Wales to make a figure here but in war or by opposition. He, being precluded the former, would use the latter.
4 June 1747. The King has just taken resolution to dissolve the Parliament at end of this sessions. The view is to disappoint the Prince, who is beginning to intermeddle in most of the boroughs against the next Parliament in order to set up a violent opposition. But this measure will deprive him of a year’s preparation and the flame intended to be raised next sessions by popular bills.30

The general election resulted in the return of 338 ministerial supporters, 97 opposition Whigs and 117 Tories, six seats being unfilled owing to double returns. In Scotland 35 of the candidates proposed in a list drawn up by Pelham, in consultation with Ilay, now Duke of Argyll, were returned, reducing the opposition Members there to 10, compared with 26 in 1741. In Cornwall, where Lord Falmouth’s influence was now on the government side, the Opposition won only 19 seats, compared with 29 in 1741. ‘Above all’, in Ryder’s words, ‘the elections for London, Westminster, Southwark, and the county of Middlesex have gone all for Whigs. The eyes of people are much opened by rebellion.’31 62 contested elections, the lowest number for the period, produced 17 petitions, resulting in the displacement of five opposition Whigs and two Tories by government candidates, who were also successful in all six double returns, so that the final figures were 351 government supporters, 92 opposition Whigs, and 115 Tories, a ministerial majority of 144.32

The core of the new Whig opposition in the new House of Commons consisted of 18 Prince’s servants, whose number was gradually increased to 28, mainly by the creation of new offices. In addition, the Prince’s party was reinforced by Members attracted by the promise of offices when he came to the throne. As Henry Pelham observed to Newcastle, 18 May 1750: ‘The Opposition is headed by [the Prince], who has as much to give in present as we have, and more in reversion.’33 When the Prince died in 1751 his party was estimated at about 60.34

The Prince’s opposition, at first headed by Lord Baltimore and Dr. Lee, was ineffective till the beginning of 1749, when Ryder was told by his fellow law officer, William Murray, that a division was ‘forming among the friends of the ministry, that will before this Parliament ends give the Prince a majority. That the Duke of Cumberland was growing unpopular in the army by his rough treatment of the officers, who would some of them show their resentment, in the House, and would make clamours there’ against new provisions which had been introduced by Cumberland, as captain-general, with a view to tightening up discipline in the army.35 These grievances were exploited by a new recruit to the Opposition, the 2nd Lord Egmont, who thenceforth became the Prince’s chief political adviser, specializing in attacks on the mutiny bill. Outside Parliament he was active in promoting the Prince’s campaign to blacken his younger brother by depicting him as aiming at establishing military government, if not at usurping the throne. ‘It was the lies they told, and particularly this Egmont, against my son for the service he did this country’, George II said to Newcastle, ‘which had raised that clamour against him.’36

In April 1749 Egmont was commissioned by the Prince to prepare plans for his accession, so that he should not be caught unprepared as George II had been when he came to the throne. For this purpose Egmont, in consultation with the Prince, drew up an accession book setting out the steps to be taken during each of the first fifteen days of the new reign; a survey of each constituency, according to which 413 Members of the new House of Commons would be supporters of the ministry formed by the Prince on his accession; and finally, lists of persons to be appointed to offices at the opening of the new reign. The plans provided for a clean sweep of the old ministry, including Cumberland, who was to cease being captain-general and to lose his regiment of Guards. The Pelhams and Hardwicke were to be replaced by Egmont as secretary of state, Lee as chancellor of the Exchequer, and lord chief justice Willes as lord chancellor. Pelham was to be made, if possible, to go to the Lords. Pitt and Fox were to be got rid of by giving them profitable places incompatible with a seat in the House of Commons. Lord Barrington, the Grenvilles, Legge and George Lyttelton were to be ‘kept out’. Murray was to be disposed of by making him lord chief justice of the commons pleas vacated by Willes. Onslow, in Egmont’s opinion, would be

a very inconvenient man to stay in the House of Commons if not continued Speaker, which can hardly be, for he is of an overbearing temper and has acquired great authority. His bias will draw him towards the routed faction and his vanity will make him constantly puzzle our Speaker and our chairmen of committees in points of order, which in reality he will know [no] better than they, but which at least he will persuade many to think he does, In such circumstances it is incredible how much trouble he may give. Suppose he was sent into the House of Lords with a teller’s place, where if gained by that treatment, he would have weight and dignity to serve us. Paymaster and a peerage would effectually gain him, I believe,

on which the Prince commented, ‘but this may be thought too much, as undoubtedly it is’. All political and household offices were to be filled by opposition Members, including a sprinkling of Tories, though, as Egmont himself recognized, this would mean that the new Administration would consist of persons who had never been in great offices, or indeed in most cases, including his own, in any office at all.37

Besides preparing for the Prince’s accession, Egmont acted as the leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, where his aggressive tactics were disapproved of by other members of the party, such as Robert Nugent, who held that

the Prince had two great ends to obtain: one to have the influence due to his rank; the other to have it in his power, when King, to choose such ministers as he chose to confide in. In order to both these he must begin by attaching to himself such men as had, and were thought to have, honesty and abilities to carry on the business in Parliament and in office; and that the merit, and not the number, of such was to be considered ... that those attached to the Prince should already act as ministers, by carrying on the system which the Prince intended to follow when King, and therefore should not oppose; and that a settled opposition was become impracticable.38

Similar views were expressed in a memorial presented to the Prince by Dodington in 1749, deprecating the pursuit of a majority in Parliament as

impossible to gain; and if it could be gained, I am entirely at a loss to guess what advantageous use to your Royal Highness could be made of it; on the contrary, I think it the thing of all others the least to be wished. For if we were a sufficient majority to drive out the present ministry, your Royal Highness would not, I presume, have us take their places; that were to drive us from you indeed; for in the present unhappy disposition of the royal family, you well know that to keep the places into which we had intruded we must act like our predecessors, very dishonourably and disgracefully to ourselves, indeed, but certainly very offensive to your Royal Highness. Besides, if we were that majority, with all the emoluments and temptations full within reach and in our power, is your Royal Highness very sure you could stop us all short and hinder us from rushing into the plunder?

For these reasons Dodington recommended that the party should not attempt to force themselves into office during the current reign, but should confine themselves

to the honour of one day carrying your great designs into execution; till that time to ask for nothing, to accept of nothing, but devote themselves to watch over the public and prevent, as far as they can, any further encroachments being made upon it, till, by becoming the glorious instruments of your gracious intentions, they can redeem all the grievances they have not been able to prevent.39

At the beginning of 1751, the Prince’s party, ‘composed of the refuse of every party’, is described as divided into three rival factions, headed respectively by Egmont, Nugent, and Dodington, the last including Lord Bute, who had recently resigned a secret service pension to become a lord of the Prince’s bedchamber.40 On 12 Mar. Egmont discussed these divisions with the Prince, who said they were ‘very ruinous’ but that ‘the time would come when they should all follow me’. They then talked about the King’s health and the plans for the Prince’s accession, on which the Prince

said he was now thoroughly resolved and perfectly prepared in every instance if the King should die, and he assisted by me and I supported by him should carry the glorious plan into execution, which he was convinced would not miscarry and gave me his hand that whatever difficulties might be met with he would not fail me.41

But in the event it was the Prince, not the King, who died, 20 Mar. 1751, whereupon most of his party, led by Lee, went over to the Government, leaving Egmont almost alone in opposition, which by the end of the session had virtually ceased.42

The Prince’s death also put an end to a negotiation which had been proceeding since the previous November, when Egmont records that Newcastle, then at odds with his brother over foreign affairs, had ‘been long paying a secret court to the Prince’, with whom Pitt was also negotiating secretly through Lyttelton’s brother-in-law, Dr. Ayscough, Prince George’s preceptor,

and the Prince encouraging Ayscough. Pitt plainly declared his attachment to any King, the father and son in their turns, magnified Newcastle, gave up Pelham, intimated that Newcastle and or Harrington would be joint secretaries of state, Dr. Lee chancellor of the Exchequer, and then, thinking to speak to the passions of the Prince, said jointly we might ruin the Duke of Cumberland.43

Early in the next session, on a government motion that the number of seamen should be reduced from 10,000 to 8,000, Horace Walpole reports that Pitt

who, with his faction, was renewing his connexions with the Prince of Wales, as it was afterwards discovered, and impatient to be secretary of state, which he expected to carry, as he had his other preferments, by storm ... said (without previously acquainting Mr. Pelham with his intention) that if the motion had been made for ten thousand he should have preferred the greater number. Potter immediately moved for them and Pitt agreed with him. Mr. Pelham seemed to acquiesce, but when the question was put, Lord Hartington, a favourite by descent of the Old Whigs, to show Pitt that he would not be followed by them if he deserted Mr. Pelham, divided the House, and the eight thousand were voted by 167 to 107, only Pitt, Lyttelton, the three Grenvilles, Colonel Conway, and eight more, going over to the minority.44

On 20 June next Ryder learned that

Mr. Lyttelton wrote [a] letter just after the Prince’s death to his father, in which he laments his death, for that he and Pitt had just settled matters with the Prince. This letter by mistake had no address and [was] therefore opened at the post office and communicated and now [is] commonly known and talked of.45

According to Horace Walpole Pelham would have hushed the matter up, but it came to the ears of the King

who grew outrageous and could not be hindered from examining Shelvocke, the secretary of the post office, himself. Here he got very little further light, for Shelvocke had been instructed to affirm that the letter was sent back to Mr. Lyttelton unopened; but Lyttelton, who had not been so well instructed in his own secret, avowed it.46

In fact, from a report by Shelvocke to Pelham on the matter its appears that what the post office were instructed to say was that, to the best of their recollection, Lyttelton’s letter ‘contained only the common topics of the conversation of the time and some matters merely relating to his own private interest and that of his friends and relations, together with a profession of his desire to support his Majesty’s ministers and government upon all occasions’.47 In the draft of an unpublished pamphlet written about 1757, Egmont states that only the Prince himself knew how far this negotiation had proceeded and that ‘the secret is buried with him in his grave’.48 Its possibilities are illustrated by the last opposition of the reign in 1755-6, when Pitt, with the support of the heir-apparent, overturned the Newcastle government.

Thus by the end of the reign of George II oppositions on the lines of that originated by Walpole in 1717-20 had in practice become a part of the working machinery of the constitution. So had Walpole’s other innovation, that of a leader of the House of Commons combining the offices of first lord of the Treasury, chancellor of the Exchequer, and prime minister. When Newcastle in 1754 tried to revert to the pre-Walpole practice of appointing a peer to the Treasury with a subordinate minister under him in the Commons he was told by Pitt that ‘there must be a minister with the King in the House of Commons’. After the collapse of this attempt Hardwicke drew the moral:

The precedents of my Lord Godolphin’s and my Lord Sunderland’s time have been overruled by the long habits of seeing Sir Robert Walpole and Mr. Pelham [in the Commons] which go as far back as the memory of most people now sitting there, or indeed in business, now reaches.49

Similar experiments made by Bute and Chatham in the next reign were equally unsuccessful. It was not till George III found in North a minister with the qualities required for working Walpole’s system that he was able to form a stable ministry. From this aspect his reign may be compared to George II’s read backwards, with Bute as its Newcastle, North as its Pelham, and the younger Pitt as its Walpole.

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Romney R. Sedgwick

End Notes

  • 1. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 249-52.
  • 2. Harrowby mss 10 (L. Inn), 9-17 Feb. 1742.
  • 3. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 253.
  • 4. Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn), 22 Mar. 1742.
  • 5. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 255.
  • 6. Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn).
  • 7. See p. 72.
  • 8. Owen, Pelhams, 146-7; see also note XXXI.
  • 9. John Drummond to Earl of Morton, 2 Dec. 1742, Morton mss, SRO.
  • 10. D.W. (unidentified) to Earl of Morton, 4 Dec. 1742, Morton mss, SRO.
  • 11. To Mann, 9 Dec. 1742.
  • 12. See notes XXXII and XXXIII, pp. 104-5.
  • 13. To Daniel O’ Brien, 22 Dec. 1742, Stuart mss 246/72.
  • 14. To Lord Sempill, [Apr.] 1743, Stuart mss 249/53
  • 15. Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn).
  • 16. A.S. Foord, His Majesty’s Opposition, 247-8.
  • 17. Coxe, Pelham, i. 105.
  • 18. See p. 73.
  • 19. Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn).
  • 20. Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn), 2 Jan. 1744.
  • 21. See notes XXXII and XXXIII, p. 104-5.
  • 22. Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn), May and 20 June 1744.
  • 23. Owen, Pelhams, 232-6; A. S. Foord, Opposition, 252-5; Coxe, Pelham, i. 177.
  • 24. Yorke, Hardwicke, i. 336.
  • 25. Walpole to Mann, 26 Nov. 1744.
  • 26. Owen, Pelhams, 250, 277, 279, 295.
  • 27. Walpole to Mann, 15 Apr. 1746; see also notes XXXII and XXXIII, pp.104-5.
  • 28. Add. 33034, ff. 110-11.
  • 29. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 315.
  • 30. Harrowby mss 21, pts. 1 and 2 (L. Inn).
  • 31. Harrowby mss 21, pt. 2 (L. Inn), July 1747.
  • 32. See notes XXXIV, XXXV and XXXVII.
  • 33. Add. 32720, f. 348.
  • 34. Add. 47073; see also note XXXVI, p.107.
  • 35. Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn), 6 Feb. 1749.
  • 36. Newcastle to Hardwicke, 12 Oct. 1755, Add. 32860, f. 13; Walpole,Mems. Geo. II, i. 9, 35, 427-9.
  • 37. Add. 47035, 47073, 47092, 47097.
  • 38. Marchmont Pprs. i. 231-2.
  • 39. Dodington Diary, 481-3.
  • 40. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 47; Pelham to Newcastle, 19 Oct. 1750, Add. 32723, f. 176.
  • 41. Add. 47073.
  • 42. Walpole, II, i. 213, 228.
  • 43. Add. 47073.
  • 44. Mems. Geo. II, i. 12-13.
  • 45. Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn).
  • 46. Mems. Geo. II, i. 202.
  • 47. Shelvocke to Pelham, 28 June 1751, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 48. Add. 47097.
  • 49. Yorke, Hardwicke, ii. 245; iii. 38-39.