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Lords Chamber

Volume 89: debated on Friday 25 January 1901

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House Of Lords

Friday, 25th January, 1901.

Several Lords took the Oath.

The Earl of Harrow by sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

The Death Of Queen Victoria

Message From The King

Delivered by the Marquess of Salisbury and read by the Lord Chancellor, as follows:—

Edward Rex

The King is fully assured that the House of Lords will share in the deep sorrow which has befallen His Majesty and the Nation by the lamented death of His Majesty's mother, the late Queen. Her devotion to the welfare of Her country and Her people, and Her wise and beneficent rule during the sixty-four years of Her glorious reign will ever be held in affectionate memory by Her loyal and devoted subjects throughout the dominions of the British Empire.

My Lords, I have to move that "an humble address be presented to His Majesty to assure His Majesty that this House deeply sympathises in the great sorrow which His Majesty has sustained by the death of our beloved Sovereign, the late Queen, whose unfailing devotion to the duties of her high estate and to the welfare of her people will ever cause her reign to be remembered with reverence and affection; to submit to His Majesty our respectful congratulations on his accession to the Throne, and to assure him of our loyal attachment to his person; and further to assure him of our earnest conviction that his reign will be distinguished, under the blessing of Providence, by an anxious desire to maintain the laws of the kingdom and to promote the happiness and liberty of his subjects." My Lords, in making this motion, I have to perform by far the saddest duty that has ever befallen me, and you in voting it will be animated by similar feelings. We are echoing the accents of sorrow which reach us from every part of the Empire and every part of the globe, and which express the deep and heartfelt feeling—a feeling deeper than I ever remember—of sorrow at the singular loss which, under the dispensation of Divine Providence, we have suffered, and of admiration for the glorious reign and the splendid character of the Sovereign whom we have lost. My Lords, the late Queen had so many titles to our admiration that it would occupy an enormous time to glance at them even perfunctorily; but that on which I think your Lordships will most reflect, and which will chiefly attach to her character in history is that, being a constitutional Monarch with restricted powers, she reigned by sheer force of character, by the lovableness of her disposition, over the hearts of her subjects, and exercised an influence in moulding their character and destiny which she could not have done more if she had had the most despotic power in her hands. She has been a great instance of government by example, by esteem, by love; and it will never be forgotten how much she has done for the elevation of her people, not by the exercise of any prerogative, not by the giving of any commands, but by the simple recognition and contemplation of the brilliant qualities which she has exhibited in her exalted position. My Lords, it may be, perhaps, proper that those who, like noble Lords opposite and myself, have had the opportunity of seeing the close workings of her character in the discharge of her duties as a Sovereign, should take this opportunity of testifying to the great admiration she inspired and the great force which her distinguishing characteristics exercised over all who came near her. The position of a constitutional Sovereign is not an easy one. Duties have to be reconciled which sometimes seem far apart. Much has to be accepted which it may not be always pleasant to accept; but she showed a wonderful power, on the one hand, of observing with the most absolute strict- ness the limits to her action which the Constitution draws, and, on the other band, of maintaining a steady and persistent influence on the action of her Ministers in the course of legislation and government which no one could mistake. She was able to accept some things of which, perhaps, she did not entirely approve, but which she thought it her duty in her position to accept. She always maintained and practised a rigorous supervision over public affairs, giving to her Ministers the benefit of her advice and warning them of danger if she saw there was danger ahead: and she certainly impressed many of us with a profound sense of the penetration, almost intuition, with which she saw the perils with which we might be threatened in any course it was thought expedient to adopt. She left upon my mind, she left upon our minds, the conviction that it was always a dangerous matter to press on her any course of the expediency of which she was not thoroughly convinced; and, without venturing to go into details, which, of course, I cannot do, I may say with confidence that no Minister in her long reign ever disregarded her advice, or pressed her to disregard it, without afterwards feeling that he had incurred a dangerous responsibility. She had an extraordinary knowledge of what her people would think—extraordinary because it could not have come from any personal intercourse. I have said for years that I always thought that when I knew what the Queen thought I knew pretty certainly what view her subjects would take, and especially the middle classes of her subjects. Such was the extraordinary penetration of her mind. Yet she never adhered to her own conceptions obstinately. On the contrary, she was full of concession and consideration; and she spared no effort—I might almost say she shrank from no sacrifice—to make the task of conducting this difficult Government more easy to her advisers than it would otherwise have been. My Lords, I feel sure that the testimony I have borne will be abundantly sustained by all those who have been called to the counsels of the Crown. We owe her gratitude in every direction—for her influence in elevating the people, for her power with foreign Courts and Sovereigns to remove difficulties and misapprehension which sometimes might have been dangerous: but, above all things, I think, we owe her gratitude for this, that by a happy dispensation her reign has coincided with that great change which has come over the political structure of this country and the political instincts of its people. She has bridged over that great interval which separates old England from new England. Other nations may have had to pass through similar trials, but have seldom passed through them so peaceably, so easily, and with so much prosperity and success as we have. I think that future historians will look to the Queen's reign as the boundary which separates the two states of England—England which has changed so much—and recognise that we have undergone the change with constant increase of public prosperity, without any friction to endanger the peace or stability of our civil life, and at the same time with a constant expansion of an Empire which every year grows more and more powerful. We owe all these blessings to the tact, the wisdom, the passionate patriotism, and the incomparable judgment of the Sovereign whom we deplore. I have also to move that we present, our congratulations to His Majesty on his accession to the 'Throne, and to convey the assurance to His Majesty of our loyal attachment to his person, and, further, of our earnest conviction that his reign will be distinguished, under the blessing of Providence, by an anxious desire to maintain the laws of the kingdom and to promote the happiness and liberty of his subjects. His Majesty, indeed, comes to the Throne with great advantages, He has before him the greatest example he could have to follow. He has been familiar with our political and social life for more than one generation: he enjoys a universal and enormous popularity; he is beloved in foreign countries and foreign Courts almost as much as he is at home; and be has that profound knowledge of the working of our institutions and the conduct of our affairs that be begins with provision and security against mistakes that few Sovereigns have enjoyed. We may tender him our allegiance with earnest sincerity and with the belief that he will adorn the Throne to which he is called, and that he will not be an unworthy successor of the most illus- trious Sovereign that has over adorned the Throne of England.

Moved, That an humble address be presented to His Majesty:

To assure His Majesty, That this House deeply sympathises in the great sorrow which His Majesty has sustained by the death of our beloved Sovereign the late Queen, whose unfailing devotion to the duties of Her high estate and to the welfare of Her people will ever cause Her Reign to be remembered with reverence and affection;

To submit to His Majesty our respectful congratulations on His accession to the Throne, to assure His Majesty of our loyal attachment, to His person; and, further, to assure Him of our earnest conviction that His Reign will be distinguished, under the blessing of Providence, by an anxious desire to maintain the Laws of the Kingdom, and to promote the happiness and liberty of his subjects.

My Lords, I beg leave to second the motion made by the noble Marquess. I am sure there is not a Member of this House who will not feel that on this occasion it is not a mere formal motion which we make as loyal subjects on the death of our Sovereign. It is something much more; it is an occasion when our in most feelings are touched by remembrance of her happy, glorious reign. I agree with every word that has been said, and well said, by the noble Marquess opposite. He has had unique experience, as a powerful Prime Minister, of intercourse with the Sovereign, which, naturally, I have never enjoyed; but it does so happen that my first intercourse with the Queen as a Minister—a subordinate Minister—dates back even further than that of the noble Marquess. I may perhaps be forgiven for mentioning that I occupied the position of Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the last days of 1852. Of course, I was not at that time a responsible Minister, but as Under Secretary I did on more than one occasion come into immediate contact with the Sovereign, and even to some extent upon matters of business. She treated me with that, extraordinary consideration and kindness which always marked her intercourse with all who came near her. From the very first—though I do not claim to have any special insight—I was struck with the extraordinary qualities the Queen displayed, and as years went on my experience of this increased, and I can corroborate every word that has been said by the noble Marquess. The position of a constitutional Sovereign is one which may not be of great direct power, but the Queen has shown that it may be one of far-reaching and most beneficent influence. I suppose no Sovereign who ever sat on the Throne of this kingdom exercised so wide an influence or was so greatly beloved, and her influence extended not merely to the people of this country and the extensive dominions over which she reigned—it extended to every civilised country throughout the world. I should think there is no precedent whatever where a Sovereign—I might almost say any individual—has been so greatly, so sincerely, so universally mourned as in the case of our late Queen. My Lords, that circumstance shows that she must have possessed qualities of the most remarkable kind. Those who have had the great advantage of coming into immediate contact with her must have been, like the noble Marquess, struck with the extraordinary and profound knowledge which she possessed of public affairs. I must say I was always amazed at the sound and real knowledge which she possessed of almost all the important affairs which engrossed our attention from time to time. It was not, as is the case with many, that she had, as she naturally would have, made special inquiry into these matters and put herself in a position to discuss them with her Ministers. It was something much more. You came in contact with one who was profoundly acquainted with all these affairs—probably far more, in many cases, than the Minister who had to transact business with her; and the more you transacted business with her the more you were astonished at the depth of her knowledge and the acuteness of her judgment. She possessed, if I may say so, in a pre-eminent degree, the qualities possessed by women of great ability; but she possessed also that which I have never met with before in a woman—the calm judgment and the wisdom which we generally think are only the property of men. The Queen was a I wise statesman, if I may use an expression which, of course, in itself is inaccurate; and I must say for myself that I never conversed with her on business—and I have had a good many conversations with her—without being struck with her ability and her extraordinary foresight and judgment. But, my Lords, there was something much more than that. The noble Marquess touched upon the subject. As a constitutional Sovereign of course, as a rule, she was bound to follow the advice of her Ministers, and I have, even in my own humble case, known instances where the judgment of Her Majesty and my own opinion differed, and I had a long argument with her on the subject, during which not for one single moment did she in any way display any kind of resentment at my not agreeing with her. She argued the question temperately and with moderation and great wisdom. The noble Marquess alluded to the fact, which. I. might not otherwise have mentioned, that, as I suppose has happened in the experience of several of us, there have been cases where the Queen's judgment was better than ours. I remember well a. case which I cannot refer to, in which, unfortunately, I entirely differed from the opinion which Her Majesty held, and, of course, I felt it to be my duty, holding the opinion strongly, to press it, and the Queen ultimately, though with great reluctance, gave way to me. She warned me that I should lament the consequences. The event proved that the Queen was right and that I was wrong; and I well remember that afterwards, when I met her, I said, "Well, Ma'am, I am bound to admit that your judgment was sounder than my own. The apprehensions you entertained have been fulfilled, unluckily, in this case." I only mention that to show how intimate her acquaintance with affairs was, and how wise she was in these matters. It was not only that one consulted her, as one was bound to do, as the Sovereign of this country, but you consulted her because she was a person of the greatest and widest knowledge, and of calm and sound judgment. And I remember very well an old chief of mine, a very able man, Lord Clarendon, then the Foreign Minister, saying to me when I was Under Secretary, after discussing some matter of importance, "Well, let us have the Queen's opinion. The Queen's opinion is always worth hearing, even if you do not agree with it"; and that expresses my own opinion with regard to it. My Lords, a more sagacious Sovereign never reigned in this country; and if you consider the widespread influence which she has exercised as a constitutional Sovereign—if you consider that, year by year, her influence increased, and that year by year, up to the time of her lamented death, the affection of all classes in the country was more and more displayed—I think you will say that the noble Marquess did not exaggerate when he said no more successful, no more beloved Sovereign ever sat upon the Throne of this country. But there is something more to be. said. Her influence and the admiration of her qualities extended far beyond this country. In India that great Empire from which she derived one of her titles—in India, by all accounts, there is the greatest sorrow for her loss and the greatest sympathy expressed by all the native Princes, and, I have no doubt, all the native population. I have mentioned what is the feeling in all foreign countries, and observe how remarkable, how singular this sympathy is. I am not going, on an occasion like this, to touch, even in the remotest degree, on any question of our relations with foreign countries, but relations with foreign countries naturally and necessarily involve us very often in disputes, and sometimes one nation is less friendly than another, as must occur; but on this occasion the feeling of all these countries has been shown to be one of sympathy with the death of our Sovereign, quite independently, as far as I can see, of the particular relations that may exist at this time. I am not aware that there is any instance in history where the influence of one person has been so great as to overcome the feelings which arise from the political relations existing between the different nations of the world. That alone shows how unique and beneficent was the influence which she exercised. My Lords, I have said enough of Her Majesty's relations with public affairs. The noble Marquess has, with more experience than I have, expressed, and in more admirable language, what we all feel on that sub- ject; but I think there is one other side on which I may say a word. It is this—the extent to which Her Majesty inspired all those who had the great privilege of intercourse with her with a feeling of personal affection which was most remarkable. In the event of any calamity befalling us, no one expressed their sympathy in more kindly and feeling terms, no one conveyed to her subjects sympathy in terms which touched the heart more deeply than Her Majesty; and anyone who has suffered any bitter sorrow will know that from none came more touching words of consolation than from our late Sovereign. I have nothing further to add, but I confess I feel most strongly—and I hope I am not exceeding the bounds of what should be said by any public man when I confidently assert this—that, not only in my own opinion, but in that of many others, our feeling was not merely that of the highest respect for the Sovereign of this country and for her great and eminent qualities, but we felt, as far as it was possible in such a case in our relations with our Sovereign, that she was a personal friend, and we deplore her loss as such. The noble Marquess has also included in his motion an expression of the feeling which we all entertain to wards the successor of the Queen. We have many of us for a long time had an opportunity of witnessing the career of the Prince of Wales. He is now our Sovereign, and I believe myself that his knowledge of affairs, and his tact and good judgment, will enable him to walk in the footsteps of his august mother; and no greater wish can I. express than that he should walk in her steps, and nothing do I more desire, not only for his own reputation, but for the benefit of the great Empire over which he has been called upon to rule.

My Lords, I desire to be allowed to say a few words upon this matter as representing the Church of England, which, as your Lordships are aware, is connected by closer ties with the Sovereign in this country than in almost any other. For myself, it is impossible to look back over Her Majesty's reign without a deep sense of gratitude to God for having given us such a Sovereign to reign over us, a Sovereign whose powers of statesmanship and powers of advising those who had the government in their hands have been already spoken of, but whose influence as a woman, and, I may add, as a truly religious woman, was far greater than anything which could be exercised by the wisest statesman or the cleverest administrator. Her influence, the character of her Court, the character of the domestic life, of which her subjects were allowed to know something, had a penetrating power which reached far beyond the possibility of our being able to trace it. There can be no question that all society has been the better because the Queen has reigned. There cannot be a question that it has been a blessing to very, very many who knew not from whence the blessing flowed. Thousands upon thousands, I have no doubt at all, are living better lives, although they know not the reason, simply because there was such a Sovereign on the Throne, a Sovereign who gave the people all her intellectual powers, who gave the people all her extraordinary knowledge of what affected their interests, but who also gave the people her very heart, the loving sympathy with which on all occasions she spoke—to those who needed such sympathy-the words by which she made us all feel that she cared for every one of us, the readiness with which she responded to every call made upon her as not only a woman, but a loving woman, amongst her people whose love she longed to win. The influence which such a Sovereign exercised it would be difficult to find anywhere in the history that is past. It would be difficult to find the equal of it; it would be impossible to find anything that could surpass it. She was a religious woman. She prayed for her people. She was a good woman. She set up a, true standard of such lives as Christians ought to live. She made us all feel that we were hers and that she desired to be ours, and so throughout the country good people are lamenting her departure. Throughout the country I do not think there is a single heart that is not penetrated by a sense of gratitude that Cod has given us such a Queen; and we look forward and we trust that the influence which she exercised will not die with her. We trust that the Sovereign who has succeeded her will follow in her footsteps as he has told us he means to do; and, whilst our sorrow at the moment seems stronger than any other feeling, we are yet able to add to that sorrow an expression of true loyalty towards the Sovereign who has succeeded.

On Question, agreed to, nemine dissentiente, and ordered accordingly: The said Message to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.

The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House that he had received messages of sympathy on the death of the late Queen from the Roumanian Senate and the Greek Chamber of Deputies, of which the following are translations:—

1. The Roumanian Senate, profoundly touched by the calamity which has just fallen upon you, associate itself with the grief of the great people which is now mourning Queen Victoria, one of the most glorious of Sovereigns.

( Signed) BOERESCO,

President of the Senate.

2. The Greek Chamber of Deputies, respectfully desiring to associate it self with the grief and mourning of England, has charged me to transmit to you, and through you to the House of Lords, their most earnest and sincere condolences. The Hellenic people will always honour and will always preserve a grateful memory of the glorious Queen who in the most difficult moment deigned to testify to it her sympathy and goodwill.

( Signed) BOURHIDIS,

President of the Chamber of Deputies.

The same were ordered to be entered on the Journals of the House.

Judicial Business

Ordered, That for the purposes of the Judicial Business of the House, Thursday, the 14th day of February next, be deemed the "first sitting day of the next ensuing Meeting of the House."

House adjourned at ten minutes past Five of the clock, to Thursday, the 14th of February next.