Gloomy prospects of 1808—King's Speech—Droits of the Admiralty—Regulation of Cotton Spinners' wages—Riots in the Cotton districts—Battle of Vimiera—Convention of Cintra—Its unpopularity—Articles of the Convention.

THE YEAR 1808 opened very gloomily. Parliament met on the 21st of January, and was opened by Commission. The “King's Speech,” on this occasion sketches the political situation better than any pen of a modern historian can do. I therefore take some portions of it, not sufficient to weary the reader, but to give him the clearest idea of the state of Europe at this period.

The King informed Parliament,[28] “that, no sooner had the result of the Negotiations at Tilsit,[29] confirmed the influence, and control, of France over the Powers of the Continent, than His Majesty was apprized of the intention of the enemy to combine those Powers in one general confederacy, to be directed either to the entire subjugation of this kingdom, or to the imposing upon His Majesty, an insecure and ignominious peace. That for this purpose, it was determined to force into hostility against His Majesty, States which had hitherto been allowed by France to maintain, or to purchase, their neutrality, and to bring to bear against different points of His Majesty's dominions, the whole of the Naval Force of Europe, and specifically the Fleets of Portugal and Denmark. To place these fleets out of the power of such a confederacy became, therefore, the indispensable duty of His Majesty.

“In the execution of this duty, so far as related to the Danish Fleet, his Majesty has commanded us to assure you, that it was with the deepest reluctance that His Majesty found himself compelled, after his earnest endeavours to open a Negotiation with the Danish Government had failed, to authorize his commanders to resort to the extremity of force; but that he has the greatest satisfaction in congratulating you upon the successful execution of this painful but necessary service.

“We are commanded further to acquaint you, that the course which His Majesty had to pursue with respect to Portugal, was, happily, of a nature more congenial to His Majesty's feelings: That the timely and unreserved communication, by the Court of Lisbon, of the demands, and designs of France, while it confirmed to His Majesty the authenticity of the advices which he had received from other quarters, entitled that Court to His Majesty's confidence in the sincerity of the assurances by which that communication was accompanied. The fleet of Portugal was destined by France to be employed as an instrument of vengeance against Great Britain; that fleet has been secured from the grasp of France, and is now employed in conveying to its American dominions [30] the hopes, and fortunes, of the Portuguese monarchy. His Majesty implores the protection of Divine Providence upon that enterprize, rejoicing in the preservation of a Power so long the friend, and ally, of Great Britain, and, in the prospect of its establishment in the New World, with augmented strength and splendour.

“We have it in command from His Majesty to inform you, that the determination of the enemy to excite hostilities between His Majesty, and his late Allies, the Emperors of Russia and Austria, and the King of Prussia, has been but too successful, and that the ministers from those Powers have demanded, and received, their passports. This measure, on the part of Russia, has been attempted to be justified by a statement of wrongs, and grievances, which have no real foundation. The Emperor of Russia had, indeed, proffered his mediation between His Majesty and France: His Majesty did not refuse that mediation; but he is confident you will feel the propriety of its not having been accepted, until His Majesty should have been able to ascertain that Russia was in a condition to mediate impartially, and, until the principles, and the basis, on which France was ready to negotiate, were made known to His Majesty. No pretence of justification has been alleged for the hostile conduct of the Emperor of Austria, or for that of his Prussian Majesty. His Majesty has not given the slightest ground of complaint to either of those sovereigns, nor even at the moment when they have respectively withdrawn their ministers, have they assigned to His Majesty any distinct cause for that proceeding.”

On the other hand, the King congratulates his people on still retaining the friendship of the Porte, and the King of Sweden; and that he had concluded a “Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation” with the United States of America: but these were hardly fair offsets against the powerful European Confederation. Virtually, England was single-handed to fight the world; but there was no flinching—and history records our success.

War takes money, and taxation makes every one feel the burden, directly, or indirectly, so that it must have been with a sigh of relief that the nation read that portion of the King's Speech which related to finance. “Gentlemen of the House of Commons, His Majesty has directed the Estimates for the year to be laid before you.... His Majesty has great satisfaction in informing you, that, notwithstanding the difficulties which the enemy has endeavoured to impose upon the commerce of his subjects, and upon their intercourse with other nations, the resources of the country have continued, in the last year, to be so abundant, as to have produced both from the permanent, and temporary, revenue, a receipt considerably larger than that of the preceding year. The satisfaction which His Majesty feels assured you will derive, in common with His Majesty, from this proof of the solidity of these resources, cannot be greatly increased, if, as His Majesty confidently hopes, it shall be found possible to raise the necessary supplies for the present year without material additions to the public burdens.”

This, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was enabled to do, by taking half a million of money from unclaimed Dividends, and by other means, shown by the following resolutions of the Court of Directors of the Bank of England:

“January 14, 1808. Resolved, That the proposal of Chancellor of the Exchequer, to take £500,000, from the unclaimed Dividends, in addition to the former sum of £376,397, be acceded to by this Court....

“Resolved, That the Court of Directors do accede to the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lend, for the use of government, £3,000,000, on Exchequer bills, without interest, during the war, provided it is stipulated to be returned within six months after the ratification of a treaty of peace, and under the complete understanding, that all transactions between the public, and the Bank, shall be continued in the accustomed manner, even though the amount of public balances should exceed the sum of ten millions.”

On the 9th of February, Sir Francis Burdett asked a very pertinent question in the House, anent the presentation of £20,000 by His Majesty to the Duke of York, out of Droits of Admiralty. He said that “it had been stated in the public prints that His Majesty had granted large sums out of the proceeds of property belonging to nations not at war with this country, to several branches of the Royal Family, and particularly to the Duke of York. What he wished to know was, whether this statement was correct; and, if so, upon what ground it was that His Majesty could seize the property of nations not at war with this country?”

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Right Hon. Spencer Perceval) was willing to give the hon. baronet every information he required on the subject. But first, he must apprize the hon. baronet of a misapprehension which he seemed to labour under, with respect to the principle upon which His Majesty's right to the property in question was founded. It was true that the property had been seized previous to His Majesty's formal declaration of war, but war had since been declared, and the question respecting the property had been referred to the competent tribunal, and condemned. The right of His Majesty, therefore, grounded upon such a decision, was incontrovertible. It was true that His Majesty had granted a certain sum out of the proceeds of such property to each of the junior male branches of the Royal Family, and to the Duke of York amongst the rest.

These Droits of the Admiralty  formed a very convenient fund upon which the King drew, as occasion required, when it was impolitic to ask Parliament for an increase of the Civil List; but Sir Francis did good service in calling attention to it, and, after its being mentioned on more than one occasion, it was settled that an account should be laid before the House, of the net proceeds paid into the Registry of the Court of Admiralty, or to the Receiver-General of Droits, of all property condemned to His Majesty as Droits, either in right of his Crown, or in right of the office of Lord High Admiral, since the 1st of January, 1793, and of the balance in hand.

The Cotton trade at Manchester was very dull, owing to the limited trade with the Continent, and some distress prevailed among the operatives. On the 19th of May, Mr. Rose asked leave of the House of Commons to bring in a bill to fix a minimum of wages, which the workpeople should receive. He said they were now suffering peculiar hardships, and, at the same time, supporting them with a patience and resolution, which did them credit. A short debate took place on this proposition, which, afterwards, was withdrawn. One member opined that the distress arose, not from the wages being too low, but through their having been, at one time, too high, which had caused a great influx of labour, thus overstocking the market. Sir Robert Peel said that the great cause of the distress was, not the oppression of the masters, but the shutting-up of the foreign markets; and the fact was, that masters were now suffering from this cause still more than the men. And then, as far as Parliament went, the matter dropped.

But not so at Manchester. The demands of the men were absurd, and preposterous; they wanted an advance of 6s. 8d. in the pound, or 33⅓ per cent. Of course, with failing trade, and a bad market, the masters could not grant this extraordinary rise; but, after a meeting among themselves they offered an immediate advance of 10 per cent. on all kinds of cotton goods weaving, to take effect that day (June 1st), and a further rise of 10 per cent. on the 1st of August. The men refused to take this offer, and would be satisfied with nothing less than their original demand, and some 60,000 looms lay idle, whilst the operatives perambulated the streets or rushed into house, cellar, or garret, where any shuttle was going, and deprived that man of his means of living.

On the 30th of May there had been some disturbance among the weavers at Rochdale, and some were apprehended, and put in prison; but the mob forced the gaol, released the prisoners, and set fire to the New Prison. Thus it will be seen that it was necessary for the law to step in, and vindicate its majesty, and, consequently, cavalry was freely employed in and about Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale, and Bury; and, on the 6th of June, a raid was made upon a house in Manchester, which resulted in the lodging of about twenty men in the New Bayley.

Still they went on with disorderly meetings, and destruction of industrious men's looms, and work, compelling the troops to be always on the alert. Of course they burnt the manufacturers in effigy, the women amongst them, relying on their sex, being the most turbulent and mischievous, acting not quite as petroleuses, but getting as near that type as opportunity afforded, for vitriol, or aquafortis, was squirted on to the looms, through broken panes in the windows, or dropped upon the bags containing pieces which the industrious, and well-disposed, weaver had worked hard at, for himself, and employer. It is satisfactory to know that they did not obtain their demands, and, after much simmering, and frothing, the scum subsided, and honest, and hard-working, men were once more enabled to pursue their avocation in peace.

On the 22nd of August was fought the famous battle of Vimiera, which thoroughly crippled Napoleon's power in Portugal, completely defeated Junot's fine army, and led to the Convention of Cintra, which so disgusted the English people, and called down on the head of Sir Hugh Dalrymple a formal declaration of His Majesty's displeasure. A commission sat at Chelsea, to report upon his conduct, and they exonerated him. Still, the general public were indignant. The Park and Tower guns were fired at night on the 15th of September, and, next day, came out an Extraordinary Gazette, with the text of the Convention. The accompanying illustration, by Ansell, brings to our mind far more vividly than is possible to do by any verbal description, the astonishment, and disgust, with which the news was received in the City. The scene is outside Lloyd's Coffee House, in Lombard Street, and it shows us this commercial institution as it was in its youth, with its modest premises, and two bow windows with red moreen dwarf blinds.


The print, itself, is in two parts, one called “The Tower Guns. Surprize the First.” Here, John Bull and his wife are in their happy home; J. B. smoking his pipe, and enjoying his tankard. A servant enters with “Law, sir, if there isn't the big guns at the Tower going off!” John kicks up his heels, waves his nightcap, and pipe, crying out, “The Tower Guns at this time of Night! Extraordinary  News arrived! By Jupiter, we've sent Juno to the Devil, and taken the Russian Fleet! Illuminate the House! Call up the Children, and tap the Gooseberry Wine, Mrs. Bull; we'll drink to our noble Commanders in Portugal.”

The companion to this is the illustration given, and it is called “The Gazette. Surprize the Second.” Here, opposite Lloyd's, an old merchant is reading to his confrères  an Extraordinary Gazette. “Art. IV. The French Army shall carry with it all its artillery of French calibre, with the horses belonging to it, and the tumbrils supplied with sixty rounds per gun. All oth....” Universal indignation prevails, and one calls out, “What! carry away Sixty Pounds a man, that ought to have been in the pockets of our brave fellows. D—n me if I ever believe the Tower Guns again.”

The Articles in this Convention which excited popular indignation were—

II. The French Troops shall evacuate Portugal with their arms and baggage; they shall not be considered as prisoners of war, and, on their arrival in France, they shall be at liberty to serve.

III. The English Government shall furnish the means of conveyance for the French Army, which shall be disembarked in any of the ports of France between Rochefort, and l'Orient, inclusively.

IV. The French Army shall carry with it, all its artillery of French calibre, with the horses belonging to it, and the tumbrils supplied with sixty rounds per gun. All other artillery, arms, and ammunition, as also the Military and Naval Arsenals, shall be given up to the British army and navy, in the state in which they may be, at the period of the ratification of the Convention.

V. The French Army shall carry with it all its equipments, and all that is comprehended under the name of property of the army; that is to say, its military chest, and carriages attached to the Field Commissariat, and Field Hospitals, or shall be allowed to dispose of such part of the same, on its account, as the Commander-in-chief may judge it unnecessary to embark. In like manner, all individuals of the army shall be at liberty to dispose of their private property, of every description, with full security, hereafter, for the purchasers.”

On the 29th of August of this year, the Queen of France joined her husband here; where they continued, living in privacy, until their restoration.

Consols began at 64⅜, and left off at 66⅛, having reached 70⅜ in June and July.

Wheat ranged from 69s. per quarter in January, to 81s. in July, and 91s. in December. The quartern loaf varied from 11d. to 1s. 2d.

[28]“Parliamentary Debates,” vol. x.

[29]Napoleon met the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia at Tilsit. His historical meeting with the former took place on the 25th of June, 1807, on a barge, or raft, sumptuously appointed, moored in the middle of the river Niemen.

[30]The King of Portugal, and his family, fled to the Brazils, protected by a British squadron, November 29, 1807.