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ject gave rise, Mr. Rolle, the member for Devonshire, a strong adherent of the ministry, in deprecating the question about to be agitated, affirmed that it went immediately to affect our Constitution in Church and State.” In these solemn words it was well understood, that he alluded to a report at that time generally believed, and, indeed, acted upon by many in the etiquette of private life, that a marriage had been solemnized between the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Fitzherbert--a lady of the Roman Catholic persuasion, who, with more danger to her own peace than to that of either Church or State, had for some tiine been the distinguished object of His Royal Highness's affection.
Even had an alliance of this description taken place, the provisions of the Royal Marriage Act would have nullified it into a mere ceremony, inefficient, as it was supposed, for any other purpose than that of satisfying the scruples of one of the parties. But that dread of Popery, which in England starts at its own shadow, took alarm at the consequences of an intercourse so heterodox; and it became necessary, in the opinion of the Prince and his friends, to put an end to the apprehensions that were abroad on the subject.
Nor can it be denied that, in the minds of those who believed that the marriage had been actually
solemnized,* there were, in one point of view, very sufficient grounds of alarm. By the Statute of William and Mary, commonly called the Bill of Rights, it is enacted, among other causes of exclusion from the throne, that “ every person who shall marry a Papist shall be excluded, and for ever be incapable to inherit the crown of this realm.”- In such cases (adds this truly revolutionary Act) “ the people of these realms shall be and are hereby absolved of their allegiance.” Under this Act, which was confirmed by the Act of Settlement, it is evident that the Heir-Apparent would, by such a marriage as was now attributed to him, have forfeited his right of succession to the throne. From so serious a penalty, however, it was generally supposed, he would have been exempted by the operation of the Royal Marriage Act ( 12 George III. ), which rendered null and void any marriage contracted by any descendant of George II. without the previous consent of the King, or a twelvemonth's notice given to the Privy Council.
That this Act would have nullified the alleged marriage of the Prince of Wales there is, of course, no doubt ;- but that it would have also exempted him from the forfeiture incurred by
* Horne Tooke, in his insidious pamphlet on the subject, presumed so far on this bclicf as to call Mrs. Fitzherbert “Her Royal Highness."
marriage with a Papist, is a point which, in the minds of many, still remains a question. There are, it is well known, analogous cases in Law, where the nullity of an illegal transaction does not do away the penalty attached to it.* To persons, therefore, who believed that the actual solemnization of the marriage could be proved by witnesses present at the ceremony, this view of the case, which seemed to promise an interruption of the Succession, could not fail to suggest some disquieting apprehensions and speculations, which nothing short, it was thought, of a public and authentic disayowal of the marriage altogether would be able effectually to allay.
If in politics Princes are unsafe allies, in connections of a tenderer nature they are still more perilous partners; and a triumph over a Royal lover is dearly bought by the various risks and humiliations which accompany it. Not only is a lower standard of constancy applied to persons of that rank, but when once love-affairs are converted into matters of state, there is an end to all the
* Thus a man, by contracting a second marriage pending the first marriage, commits a felony; and the crime, according to its legal description, consists in marrying, or contracting a marriage-though what he does is no more a marriage than that of the Heir-Apparent would be under the circumstances in question.
The same principle, it appears, runs through the whole Law of Entails, both in England and Scotland ; and a variety of cases might be cited, in which, though the act done is void, yet the doing of it creates a forfeiture.
delicacy and mystery that ought to encircle them. The disavowal of a Royal marriage in the Gazette would have been no novelty in English history;* and the disclaimer, on the present occasion, though intrusted to a less official medium, was equally public, strong, and unceremonious.
Mr. Fox, who had not been present in the House of Commons when the member for Devonshire alluded to the circumstance, took occasion, on the next discussion of the question, and, as he declared, with the immediate authority of the Prince, to contradict the report of the marriage in the fullest and most unqualified terms :-it was, he said, “a miserable calumny, a low malicious falsehood, which had been propagated without doors, and made the wanton sport of the vulgar; -a tale, fit only to impose upon the lowest orders, a monstrous invention, a report of a fact which had not the smallest degree of foundation, actually impossible to have happened.” To an observation from Mr. Rolle, that “they all knew there was an Act of Parliament which forbade such a marriage; but that, though it could not be done under the formal sanction of the law, there were ways in which it might have taken place, and in which that law, in the minds of some per
* See in Ellis's Letters of History, vol. iii, the declarations of Charles II. with respect to his marriage with "
one Mrs. Walters,” signed by himself, and published in The London Gazette,
sons, might have been satisfactorily evaded,”Mr. Fox replied, that “ he did not deny the calumny in question merely with regard to certain existing laws, but that he denied it in toto, in point of fact as well as of law :-it not only never could have happened legally, but it never did happen in any way whatsoever, and had from the beginning been a base and malicious falsehood,”
Though Mr. Rolle, from either obstinacy or real distrust, refused, in spite of the repeated calls of Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Grey, to declare himself satisfied with this declaration, it was felt by the minister to be at least sufficiently explicit and decisive, to leave him no further pretext, in the eyes of the public, for refusing the relief which the situation of the Prince required. Accordingly, a message from the Crown on the subject of His Royal Highness's debts was followed by an addition to his income of 10,000l. yearly out of the Civil List; an issue of 161,000l. from the same source, for the discharge of his debts; and 20,000l. on account of the works at Carlton House.
In the same proportion that this authorised declaration was successful in satisfying the public mind, it must naturally have been painful and humiliating to the person whose honour was involved in it. The immediate consequence of this feeling was a breach between that person and Mr. Fox, which, notwithstanding the continuance,