1902 Encyclopedia > George William Frederick Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon

George William Frederick Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon
Diplomat and statesman
(1800-70)




GEORGE WILLIAM FREDERICK VILLIERS, FOURTH EARL OF CLARENDON, diplomatist and statesman, was born in London 12th January 1800, and died 27th June 1870. He was the eldest son of the Honourable George Villiers, brother of the third earl of Clarendon (second creation), by Theresa, only daughterof the first Lord Boringdon,and granddaughter of the first Lord Grantham. The earldom of the Lord Chancellor Clarendon became extinct in 1756 by the death of the fourth earl, his last male descendant. Jane Hyde, countess of Essex, the sister of that nobleman (who died in 1724), left two daughters ; of these the eldest, Lady Charlotte, became heiress of the Hyde family. She married Thomas Villiers, second son of the second earl of Jersey, whoserved with distinction as English minister in Germany, and in 1776 the earldom of Clarendon was revived in his favour. Theconnection with the Hyde family wastherefore in the female line and somewhat remote. But a portion of the pictures and plate of the great chancellor was pre-served to this branch of the family, and remains at the Grove, their family seat at Hertfordshire, to this day.
Young George Villiers, the subject of this notice, entered upon life under circumstances which gave small promise of the brilliancy of his future career. He was well born ; he was heir presumptive to an earldom; and his mother was a woman of great energy, admirable good sense, and high feeling. But the means of his family were contracted ;
his education was desultory and incomplete ; he had not the advantages of a training either at a public school or in the House of Commons. He went up to Cambridge at the early age of sixteen, and entered St John's College on the 29th June 1816. In 1820, as the eldest son of an earl's brother with royal descent, he was enabled to take his M.A. degree under the statutes of the university then in force ; and in the same year he was appointed attache" to the British embassy at St Petersburg, where he remained three years, and acquired that practical knowledge of the business of diplomacy which was of so much use to him in after-life. He had received from nature a singularly hand-some person, a polished and engaging address, a ready command of languages, and a remarkable power of com-position.
Upon his return to England in 1823, Mr Villiers was appointed to a commissionership of customs, an office which he retained for about ten years. Part of this time was spent in Ireland in the work of fusing the revenue boards of England and Ireland into those of the United Kingdom. It was the period of the liveliest excitement that preceded Catholic Emancipation, and the young English official incurred the censure of the Tory Government of the day for having presumed to cultivate the acquaintance of the most accomplished of the Catholic leaders. These official duties trained Mr Villiers in the business of civil administration, and likewise enabled him to acquire some useful experience of the Irish character. In 1831 he was despatched to France to negotiate a commercial treaty, which, however, led to no result.
The time was come which was to open to him a wider and more congenial field of action in the politics of Europe. On the 16th of August 1833 Mr Villiers was appointed minister at the court of Spain. Ferdinand VIE died within a month of his arrival at Madrid, and the infant queen Isabella, then in the third year of her age, was placed by the old Spanish law of female inheritance on her contested throne. Don Carlos, the late king's brother, claimed the crown by virtue of the Salic law of the House of Bourbon which Ferdinand had renounced before the birth of his daughter. Isabella II. and her mother Christina, the queen regent, became the representatives of constitutional monarchy, Don Carlos of Catholic absolutism. The conflict which had divided the despotic and the constitutional powers of Europe since the French Revolution of 1830 broke out into civil war in Spain, and by the Quadruple Treaty, signed on April 22, 1834, France and England pledged themselves to the defence of the constitutional thrones of Spain and Portugal. For six years Mr Villiers continued to give the most active and intelligent support to the Liberal Government of Spain. He was accused, though unjustly, of having favoured the revolution of La Granja, which drove Christina, the queen mother, out of the kingdom, and raised Espartero to the regency. He undoubtedly supported the chiefs of the Liberal party, such as Olozaga and Espartero against the intrigues of the F'reneh Court; but the object of the British Government was to establish the throne of Isabella on a truly national and liberal basis and to avert those compli-cations, dictated by foreign influence, which eventually proved so fatal to that princess. Spain never forgot what she owed in those years to the youthful and energetic minister of Great Britain, and he, on his part, retained a cordial interest in her welfare. He re-ceived the Grand Cross of the Bath in 1838 in acknowledgment of his services, and succeeded, on the death of his uncle, to the title of earl of Clarendon ; in the following year, having left Madrid, he married Katharine, eldest daughter of James Walter, first earl of Verulam.
In January 1840 he entered Lord Melbourne's administration as Lord Privy Seal, and from the death of Lord Holland in the autumn of that year, Lord Clarendon also held the office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster until the dissolution of the ministry in 1841. In this capacity he made his first appearance in parliament, and although he always regretted the want of a previous training in the House of Commons, he was from the first listened to by the House of Peers as a speaker well qualified to assist the deliberations of parliament on questions of foreign policy. But on these questions he was not heartily united with the spirit that then animated the Foreign Office. Deeply convinced that the maintenance of a cordial understanding with France was the most essential condition of peace and of a liberal policy in Europe, he reluctantly concurred in the measures proposed by Lord Palmerston for the expulsion of the pasha of Egypt from Syria ; he strenuously advocated, with Lord Holland, a more conciliatory policy towards France ; and he was only restrained from sending in his resignation by the dislike he felt to break up a cabinet he had so recently joined. Lord Palmerston's policy (as is shown by his own published letters) was constantly governed by the belief that France must be regarded by England as a rival and an enemy, with whom war was, sooner or later, inevitable. Lord Clarendon, on the contrary, regarded France as a rival, but a friend; he relied on the good sense and common interests of the two nations to maintain amicable relations ; and he succeeded in drawing closer for a period of thirty years, from 1840 to 1870, the ties which still happily remain unbroken between them. That was his great object, and the proudest result of his political life ; and the difficulties he had to encounter were at times as great on his own side of the Channel as on the other.
The interval of Sir Robert Peel's great administration (1841-1846) was to the leaders of the "Whig party a period of repose ; but Lord Clarendon took the warmest interest in the progressive triumph of the principles of free trade and in the ultimate repeal of the corn-laws, of which his brother, Mr Charles Pelham Villiers, had been the earliest, the most constant, and the most able advo-cate. For this reason, upon the formation of Lord John Russell's first administration, Lord Clarendon accepted the office of Pre-sident of the Board of Trade. Twice in his career the Governor-Generalship of India was offered him, and once the Governor-Generalship of Canada;—these he refused from reluctance to withdraw from the politics of Europe. But in 1847 a sense of duty compelled him to take a far more laborious and uncongenial appointment. The desire of the cabinet was to abolish the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland, and Lord Clarendon was prevailed upon to accept that office, with a view to transform it ere long into an Irish Secretaryship of State. But he had not been many months in Dublin before he acknowledged that the difficulties then existing in Ireland could only be met by the most vigilant and energetic authority, exercised on the spot. The crisis was one of extraordin-ary peril. Agrarian crimes of horrible atrocity had increased threefold. The Catholic clergy were openly disaffected. This was the second year of a famine which had desolated Ireland. The popula-tion, decimated by starvation and disease, lived upon the poor-rate and the alms of England, and extraordinary measures were required to regulate the bounty of the Government and the nation. In 1848 the French Revolution let loose fresh elements of discord, which culminated in an abortive insurrection, and for a lengthened period Ireland was a prey to more than her wonted symptoms of disaffection and disorder. During those five years Lord Clarendon held the reins of the vice-regal government; a task more entirely repugnant to his own predilections and more certain to be repaid with un-merited obloquy could not have been imposed upon him. But he bore up against that flood of hostile passions and difficulties with unshaken firmness. He fed the starving ; he subdued the factious ; he crushed the rebellious. He left behind him permanent marks of improvement in the legislation of Ireland ; and he practised, as far as possible, the broadest toleration of races and of creeds. If any name is associated in Ireland with the recollection of a government at once firm, far-sighted, and liberal, it should be that of Lord Clarendon. His services were expressly acknowledged by her Majesty in the Speech to both Houses of Parliament from the throne, on September 5, 1848,—this being the first time that any civil services obtained that honour ; and he was made a Knight of the Garter (retaining also the Grand Cross of the Bath by special order of her Majesty) on the 23d March 1849. Looking back to that period, after an interval of more than twenty years, it must be acknowledged that from this crisis dates the regeneration of Ireland. The population, reduced in numbers, has never ceased to advance in prosperity ; wages have risen ; the land has been freed from secular incumbrances ; crime has diminished ; and treason itself has never recovered the.crushing defeat of Smith O'Brien and Meagher. Lord Clarendon had a large share in promoting these results ; but he hailed with no common satisfaction the change of Government which released him from those arduous duties in 1852.
Upon the formation of the coalition ministry between the Whigs and the Peelites, in 1853, under Lord Aberdeen, the premier placed, without hesitation, the foreign office in the hands of Lord Clarendon ; but incredulous himself of the peril of war, which was already casting its dark shadow over the East, Lord Aberdeen sought rather to check than to stimulate the decisions which might possibly have arrested the course of hostilities. It can hardly now be doubted that the hesitation which appeared to mark the successive steps of the Western allies encouraged the czar to more daring aggressions; and Lord Clarendon confessed, in an expression which was never forgotten, that we " drifted" into war, which a more prompt defiance and an open alliance between the Western powers and the Porte might have arrested. But the war once begun Lord Clarendon continually urged the prosecution of it with the greatest energy. He employed every means in his power to stimulate and assist the war departments, and above all he maintained the closest relations with our French allies, on whose cooperation everything depended. The Emperor Nicholas had speculated on the impossibility of the sustained joint action of France and England in council and in the field. It was mainly by Lord Clarendon at Whitehall and by Lord Raglan before Sebastopol that such a combination was rendered practicable, and did eventually triumph over the enemy. The diplomatic conduct of such an alliance for three years between two great nations jealous of their military honour and fighting for no separate political advantage, tried by excessive hardships and at moments on the verge of defeat, was certainly one of the most arduous duties ever performed by a minister. No one will ever know all the labour it cost; but the result was due in the main to the confidence with which Lord Clarendon had inspired the emperor of the French, and to the affection and regard of the empress, whom he had known in Spain from her childhood.
In 1856 Lord Clarendon took his seat at the Congress of Paris convoked for the restoration of peace, as first British Plenipotentiary, invested with full powers. It was the first time since the appearance of Lord Castlereagh at Vienna that a secretary of state for foreign affairs had been present in person at a congress on the Continent. Lord Clarendon's first care was to obtain the admission of Italy to the council chamber as a belligerent power, and to raise the barrier which still excluded Prussia as a neutral one. But in the general anxiety of all the powers to terminate the war there was no small danger that the objects for which it had been undertaken would be abandoned or forgotten. It is due, we may say, en-tirely to the firmness of Lord Clarendon that the principle of the neutralization of the Black Sea was preserved, that the Russian attempt to trick the allies out of the cession in Bessarabia was defeated, and that the results of the war were for a time secured. The Congress was easer to turn to other subjects, and perhaps the most important result of its deliberations was the celebrated Declaration of the Maritime Powers, which abolished privateering, defined the right of blockade, and limited the right of capture to enemy's property in enemy's ships. Lord Clarendon has been accused of an abandonment of what are termed the belligerent rights of this country, which were undoubtedly based on the old maritime laws of Europe. But he acted in strict conformity with the views of the British cabinet, and the British cabinet adopted those views because it was satisfied that it was not for the benefit of the country to adhere to practices which exposed the vast mercantile interests of Britain to depredation, even by the cruisers of a secondary maritime power, and which, if vigorously enforced against neutrals, could not fail to embroil her with every maritime state in the world. The experi-ence of 1780, when the armed neutrality of the North reacted so fatally on the American war, is the most con-clusive demonstration of the fatal results of such a system of policy ; and the more enlightened views of the present day have shown that a commercial belligerent nation would lose far more than she would gain by the suppression of the neutral trade, even if such a suppression were possible.
Upon the reconstitution of the Whig administration in 1859, Lord John Russell made it a condition of his acceptance of office under Lord Palmerston that the Foreign Department should be placed in his own hands, which implied that Lord Clarendon should be excluded from office, as it would have been inconsistent alike with his dignity and his tastes to fill any other post in the Government. The consequence was that from 1859 till 1864 Lord Clarendon remained out of office, and the critical relations arising out of the civil war in the United States were left to the guidance of Earl Russell. But he re-entered the cabinet in May 1864 as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; and upon the death of Lord Palmerston in 1865, Lord Russell again became prime minister, when Lord Clarendon returned to the Foreign Office, which was again confided to him for the third time upon the formation of Mr Gladstone's administration in 1868. To the last moment of his existence, Lord Clarendon continued to devote every faculty of his mind and every instant of his life to the public service; and he expired surrounded by the boxes and papers of his office on the 27th June 1870, within a few days of that great catastrophe which was about to change the face of Europe, and which he, if any body, might possibly have retarded or averted. His death called forth expressions of the deepest sympathy and regret from all the courts and statesmen of both hemispheres; and these manifesta-tions of more than official sorrow were collected and laid before parliament by order of the Queen. This is not the place to enlarge on the charm of Lord Clarendon's personal demeanour, or on the playfulness and grace he threw over the conduct of great affairs. We must content ourselves with a brief record of what he did in public life. But no man owed more to the influence of a generous, unselfish, and liberal disposition. If he had rivals he never ceased to treat them with the consideration and con-fidence of friends, and he cared but little for the ordinary prizes of ambition in comparison with the advancement of the great cause of peace and progress in the world.
A notice of Lord Clarendon, by a friendly hand, was printed in
Fraser's Magazine for August 1870, from which we have borrowed
some details. No other biography of this eminent and accomplished
statesman has been published. (H. R.)


Footnotes

The Crimean War and the peace of 1856 had results highly bene-ficial to the politics of Europe. They rescued Turkey from the inimical grasp of Russia, and gave to the Ottoman empire twenty years of peace and security, which might, under abler rulers, have restored it to real independence and prosperity. They overthrew the preponderance which the Emperor Nicholas had asserted in Europe ; they cemented the alliance of France and England ; and they led the way to the sub-sequent changes which followed in Italy and Germany. These were all objects which Lord Clarendon had at heart, and although no minister can hope to have a permanent influence on the course of human affairs, the events of the last twenty-five years have not been uninfluenced by his liberal and conciliatory views.







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