Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Cold supper at the launch of the Wellington administration?

Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, third marquess of Lansdowne.
  Illustrated London News, 14 February 1863.
As British politics lurches into an alarmist general election campaign already high on accusations of conspiracy siege mentalities, it might be as well to be reminded that sometimes governments can be more gently subverted.

At the end of January 1828, George IV succeeded in persuading Arthur Wellesley, first duke of Wellington, to form a government. The previous administration, led by Frederick Robinson, Viscount Goderich, had been weak domestically and incompetent overseas. The king judged correctly that Wellington, whom most of the population at all social levels regarded with awe if with differing quantities of respect for his political views, would be better at managing a coalition of fractious personalities. His new government had to hold back as far as possible demands for political reform, quelling allegations of corruption among office-holders, and restoring Britain's reputation as an arbiter of Europe after Goderich had nearly drifted into war with the Ottoman Empire.

Inviting new colleagues to dinner, would, one would think, be one of the easiest tasks for a new prime minister of imperial Britain. However, The Examiner of 27 January 1828 reported:

The new Ministers were on Tuesday in attendance at the Royal Lodge, to receive their appointments. They remained till near eight o'clock in the evening, expecting a Clerk of the Council to arrive, to enable them to hold a Privy Council, but the orders for summoning a Council had, through some omission, not been issued. The Ministers did not arrive in London till ten o'clock at night, when the dinner given by the Duke of Wellington had been kept waiting for three hours. The omission to summon a Council rests, it is understood, with the Home office. - Court Circular.

Wellington had been among the new ministers at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, expecting to be able to begin the formal business of government immediately. Several of the departing ministers had been at Royal Lodge immediately before Wellington, including the outgoing Home Secretary, Lord Lansdowne (Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, third marquess). Lansdowne was one of the leading whigs who had been willing to serve under George Canning and then under Goderich in the two short-lived ministries of 1827, but was no admirer of Wellington's conservatism. Perhaps failing to arrange for a privy council to be held immediately on the appointment of the new ministry was a deliberate snub. In a time well before microwaves, when a nobleman was judged by the quality of the food served on his table, there was perhaps no better revenge than letting food either go cold or be overdone.