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A.D. 1760. APPOINTED LORD CHANCELLOR. 325
guilty, he would not interfere.” Last week my Lord Keeper very good-naturedly got out of a gouty bed to present another: the King would not hear him. “Sir,’ said the Keeper, “I do not come to petition for mercy or respite, but that the 4000l. which Lord Ferrers has in India bonds may be permitted to go, according to his disposition of it, to his mistress, his children, and the family of the murdered man.”—“With all my heart,’ said the King, “I have no objection; but I will have no message carried to him from me.” However, this grace was notified to him, and gave him great satisfaction.” "
After this trial, although the Lord Keeper was now entitled to speak and vote as a Peer, he was still treated rather contumeliously by his colleagues, and he does not appear to have taken any part in debate or in political intrigue till a new field was opened to him by the accession to the throne of the youthful Sovereign, to whom and to whose father he had been so much devoted.
CONTINUATION OF THE LIFE OF LORD NORTHINGTON TILL HE RESIGNED THE GREAT SEAL.
THE death of George II. made a very auspicious change in the position of the Lord Keeper. Hitherto he had been received coldly at Court, and he had been without any political oct. 25, weight. The new King regarded him with great ". favour as a steady adherent of Leicester House, who might assist Lord Bute in the contemplated change in the administration. On the 16th of January, 1761, on his surrendering the Great Seal into his Majesty's hands, he received it back with the title of “Lord Chancellor,” instead of “Lord Keeper,”" and he was afterwards created Earl of Northington," and appointed Lord Lieutenant of the county of Southampton.*
s Letter to Sir Horace Mann, in which there is an extremely interesting account of the execution.
* 1 Geo.3, 16th January, 1761. Memorandum—That the Right Honourable Robert Lord Henley, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of Great Britain, delivered the Great Seal to his Majesty in Council, when his Majesty was graciously pleased to re-deliver to him the said Great Seal, with the title of Lord Chan
cellor of Great Britain. Whereupon his Lordship, then in council, took the oaths appointed to be taken instead of the oaths of allegiance, and also the oath of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.—Cr. Off. Min., No. 2, p. 1. By another entry, No. 2, p. 4, it appears, that on the first day of the following Hilary Term he took all the oaths over again in the Court of Chancery in Westminster Hall.
He took the earliest opportunity to avail himself of the partiality of the reigning monarch, by asking his permission to discontinue the evening sittings in the Court of Chancery on Wednesdays and Fridays. George III. made a good story, which he used to tell for the rest of his reign, of what passed between him and his Chancellor on this occasion. “I asked him,” said his Majesty, “his reason for wishing that these sittings should be abolished.—‘Sir,’ answered he, “that I may be allowed comfortably to finish my bottle of port after dinner; and your Majesty, solicitous for the happiness of all your subjects, I hope will consider this to be reason sufficient.’” The permission was graciously accorded—we may suppose an explanation being added that post-prandian sittings were becoming generally unpopular, and were unsuited to the changed manners of society.”
Lord Bute being at first sworn of the Privy Council—then made Secretary of State—next forcing Mr. Pitt to resign—and, at a short interval, becoming himself Prime Minister, before he had ever spoken in Parliament," and while only a Scotch Peer, the Leicester House party, to which Lord Northington had so steadily adhered, was for a brief space triumphant. Although he now had a good deal of influence in the disposal of places, and he took a part in the factious conflicts which divided the Court, still he was not prominent as a politician. He does not seem to have been much consulted about the treaty of peace which it was the great object of Lord Bute's administration to negotiate ; and, severely as the preliminaries of Fontainebleau were attacked by Lord Hardwicke, I cannot find that he gave any assistance to defend them. He was even silent on the Cider Bill. He spoke, when permitted, in such trenchant fashion, and was so apt to give an advantage to the adversary, that I suspect he was strongly cautioned to remain quiet.
* 19th May, 1764.—By this title I shall Rolls, pursued another remedy, by ordering
hereafter call him. his dinner—with a bottle of Madeira and a . * 21st August, 1761. bottle of port—to be ready for him at the y According to other accounts, the Lord Piazza Coffee House, atten at night, when the Chancellor's answer was still more blunt: — sittings were over. “that I may get drunk, please your Majesty;” * It is a curious fact, that when he made or, “because at that time I am apt to be his maiden speech he was Prime Minister. drunk.” His most public previous effort had been in
* Sir William Grant, when Master of the private theatricals.
A.D. 1763–65. TRIAL OF LORD BYRON. 327
When Lord Bute, having obtained peace abroad and thrown all England into an uproar, suddenly resigned, and the Duke of Bedford was supposed to be Minister, Lord Northington retained the Great Seal; but while this arrangement continued he seems strictly to have confined himself to the judicial duties of his office. Having received a personal order from the King that Wilkes should be prosecuted, he left the matter entirely in the hands of the law officers of the Crown." The general warrants were issued by Lord Halifax to arrest the printer and publisher of No. XLV. of the “North Briton,” and the successive foolish steps were adopted which brought the Demagogue into such notoriety and importance, without the head of the law being at all consulted.
George Grenville, who was intended to act only a subordinate part in this government, had established a great A.D. 1763– ascendency, and, acting upon the contracted notions 17°5. of the constitution of the country which he had imbibed when studying for the bar in a special pleader's office, he threw every thing into confusion at home, and he sowed the seeds of that terrible conflict which, after he was in his grave, led to the dismemberment of the British Empire. It is little to the credit of Lord Northington, that, while he was Chancellor, the ill-omened plan was adopted of taxing America by the British parliament, and the too famous American Stamp Act was passed. A constitutional lawyer in the cabinet, like Lord Camden, would have reprobated such a measure on principle; and a wary one, like Lord Mansfield, would have disapproved of it as dangerous. But Lord Northington, allowed to enjoy the sweets of his office, gave himself no trouble either about the domestic or colonial policy of the government.
In the midst of the conflicts of faction, the town was amused for a short time by the trial of a Peer on a capital charge. William Lord Byron, uncle of the illustrious author of “CHILDE HAROLD,” having killed a gentleman of the name of Chaworth in a duel fought in a tavern, an indictment for murder was found against him by a grand jury of the county of Middlesex, and was removed, by certiorari, into the House of
b “Lord Chancellor told me he had men- In consequence of which, he had spoken to tioned the “North Briton’ to the King, and Lord Shelburne to have a case prepared for that his Majesty had desired him to give the opinion of the Attorney and Solicitordirections for the printers being prosecuted. General”—Journal of the Duke of Grafton.
Lords. Thereupon the trial was ordered to take place in Westminster Hall, and the Earl of Northington was appointed to preside as Lord High Steward. On the day appointed, the noble prisoner appearing, attended by the gentleman gaoler and the axe, with the edge turned from him, his Grace addressed to him the following preliminary admonition and comfort:
“William Lord Byron, your Lordship is unhappily brought to this bar to answer a heavy and dreadful accusation, for you are charged with the murder of a fellow-subject. The solemnity and awful appearance of this judicature must naturally embarrass and discompose your Lordship's spirits, whatever internal resource you may have in conscience to support you in your defence. It may be, therefore, not improper for me to remind your Lordship that you are to be tried by the fixed and settled laws of a free country, framed only to protect the innocent, to distinguish the degrees of offence, and vindictive only against malice and premeditated mischief. Homicide, or the killing of a fellow-creature, is, by the wisdom of law, distinguished into classes: if it ariseth from necessity or accident, or is without malice, it is not murder; and of these distinctions, warranted by evidence, every person, though accused by a grand jury of the highest offence, is at full liberty to avail himself. As an additional consolation, your Lordship will reflect that you have the happiness to be tried by the supreme jurisdiction of this nation; that you can receive nothing from your peers but justice, distributed with candour, —delivered, too, under the strongest obligation upon noble minds — honour. These considerations will, I hope, compose your Lordship's mind, fortify your spirits, and leave you free for your defence.”
All the Peers present having agreed in a verdict of “Manslaughter,” except four, who said Not Guilty generally, and privilege of peerage being pleaded in bar of sentence, the Lord High Steward, without, as usual, giving a warning that such a plea could not be available on a second conviction, merely informed the prisoner that he was entitled to be discharged,— broke his white wand in a manner which could not be considered an imitation of Garrick in Prospero, and abruptly adjourned the House.
Now, as at the trial of Lord Ferrers, he was too regardless of forms, but he committed no material mistake of which the accused or the public could complain."
When, at last, the King was so sick of being ruled and lec
A.D. 1766. REPEAL OF THE STAMP ACT. 329
tured by George Grenville, that he preferred Lord Rockingham and the Whigs, without the aid of Mr. Pitt, a great mistake was committed by them in not insisting on a new Chancellor. They did make Chief Justice Pratt a Peer, by the title of Lord Camden; but if they had given him the Great Seal, they might, from his talents and popularity, have weathered the perils to which they were exposed, and the country, enjoying the benefit of their sound constitutional principles, might have escaped the anarchy and misgovernment which soon followed. But Lord Northington hated them;-while he sat in the cabinet with them, he watched them with jealousy, and at last he plotted, and he effected, their ruin. As they were to repeal the American Stamp Act, and to censure the proceedings against Wilkes which he had sanctioned, one does not well understand how he should have wished or been permitted to continue in office. But he was a “friend” of the King, and some were silly enough to think that he might secure to the Government the royal favour and confidence. The Stamp Act having produced the discontents and disturbances in America which might have been expected from it, much against the King's wishes, it was to be repealed; but, to mollify him, a preliminary resolution was moved, “that Parliament had full power and right to make laws of sufficient force to bind the colonies.” When this came to be debated in the House of Peers, it was objected to by Lord Camden as being not only ill-timed, but as being untrue, on the ground that it might, in its general language, include the power and right to taa: the colonies, which he strongly denied. “My Lords,” he proceeded, “he who disputes the authority of any supreme legislature treads upon very tender ground. It is therefore necessary for me, in setting out, to desire that no inference may be drawn from anything I shall advance. I deny that the consequences of my reasoning will be, that the colonies can claim independence, or that they have a right to oppose acts of the legislature in a rebellious manner, even although the legislature has no right to make such acts. In my opinion, my Lords, the legislature had no right to make this law. The sovereign authority, the omnipotence of the legislature, is a favourite doctrine, but there are some things which you cannot do. You cannot enact anything against the Divine law. You cannot take away any man's private property, without making him a compensation. You have no right to