George III and the Earl of Bute
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The new king
George III was twenty-two years of age when he succeeded his grandfather. The old king had always been on the worst of terms with Frederick Prince, of Wales and his wife; their residence, Leicester House, had habitually been the headquarters of opposition to the king's government; and young George was brought up to hold his grandfather in contempt, and to set before himself very different monarchical ideals from those which George II. had, though not without reluctance, learnt to accept.
Young George's mind was full of ideas of the "patriot king" who ruled the destinies of his subjects with a beneficent hand. Every leading European government - every government except those of Poland, Holland, and Switzerland - was absolutist, with only very slight modifications; in Great Britain alone the system of constitutionalism or limited monarchy had prevailed. Strafford and Charles I had paid with their heads, and James II had paid with his crown, for attempting to establish in England a monarchy on the lines which triumphed on the continent.
There was no possibility of reviving the Stuart theory; the Crown would never again be able to override parliament. But parliament itself was not the free expression of the popular will; it was in the hands of managers, the group of great Whig families who, so long as they held together, could control majorities and dictate to the Crown. It was the young king's design to break up the Whig connection and to form a party of his own which should dominate parliament. After a ten years struggle his efforts were crowned with success. He formed a party which commanded a safe parliamentary majority and took its orders from the king.
There was another enemy to the existing government by the Whig connection. Pitt, who refused to be bound by party shackles, hated the system as heartily as George. But merely to substitute the ascendency in parliament of a court party for the ascendency of the Whig families, which was practically the aim of George III, would have been no improvement in the eyes of the great minister. The ultimate solution was to be found in a reform of the representation which should make parliament responsible neither to an oligarchy nor to the Crown, but to a free electorate; but this solution still lay in the remote future. In the meantime the king was no more disposed to submit to Pitt's ascendency, won by the sheer force of his personality, than to the ascendency of the Whig connection.
The success of the Crown was to be achieved by setting the Whigs at odds with each other and with Pitt, and by rallying to the support of the Crown the forces which had been kept in abeyance by the fear of Jacobitism, and the sentiment of loyalty to the king's person which had been concentrated upon the "king over the water" during the last two reigns. That sentiment could be attracted to the new king, who was born and bred in England under the influence of English and Scottish preceptors, and could declare that he "gloried in the name of Britain" (not "Briton," as is commonly stated).
George I had been an uncompromising German who could not even converse in English; George II was thirty before he had set foot in England; George III was the fellow countryman of his subjects. Moreover, now there was scarcely a flicker of Jacobitism to divert the sentiment of loyalty from a British king. James, now past seventy, had alienated the once ready devotion of his followers, and the promise of the youth of Charles Edward Stuart had already been drowned in debauchery and despair.
The Fall of Pitt
After George's mother the most intimate personal influence over the young king was exercised by the Earl of Bute, a gentleman of some accomplishments, eminently respectable, and without any qualifications for statesmanship. George intended to get rid of Newcastle, the manipulator of offices, and of Pitt, who could command but would not serve. Bute was to be the minister who would carry out his policy; but nothing could be done while the ministry was united. There were openings for dissension, because Pitt despised Newcastle, and Newcastle was both afraid and jealous of Pitt. The "Great Commoner" had carried the nation through a crisis to triumph; British victories had become a matter of course; but the war expenditure had been enormous, and the rewards of the struggle already secured appeared to be sufficient. A peace party was growing up among the ministers.
At the first, however, the new influences were brought to bear not for the displacement of Pitt, but to encourage and develop his antagonism to the Whig control. Although the king expressed himself strongly as to the war and his desire for peace, no attempt was made to check the vigour of the operations. In the early summer a British expedition captured and occupied Belle He, an island off the French coast which was of no particular importance in itself, but an extremely useful asset for purposes of negotiation, being actually French soil. British troops, led by Granby, again achieved brilliant distinction under Prince Ferdinand at the battle of Wellinghausen. In the West Indies the island of Dominica was taken from the French, and from India came the news of the fall of Pondichery.
Meanwhile, however, negotiations were passing, with France, though with very definite assertions from Pitt that Great Britain would not desert the king of Prussia. Moreover, he was extremely suspicious of the sincerity of the French proposals, believing with justice that France was in fact working not for immediate peace but to bring Spain into the field. On the one side Pitt s demands stiffened, while on the other France began to make demands on behalf of Spain, and Spain on behalf of France; and before the end of the summer Pitt had information of the existence of a new Family Compact, though the details were as yet unknown.
Newcastle, however, had already brought Bute into office as a Secretary of State. Pitt came to the conclusion that although there was no real casus Belli, war must be declared at once against Spain. He failed to carry the rest of the ministers with him in that view, whereupon in October he and his brother-in-law, Lord Temple, resigned, since he declined to retain office if the direction of affairs were taken out of his hands.
The Earl of Bute's Ministry
Spain had denied the imputation that she was acting in concert with France; she had in fact been anxious to avoid a breach before the arrival of the annual Plate Fleet. When the fleet came in the mask was dropped and the new Family Compact was published; Pitt's attitude was justified, but he was already out of office. At the beginning of 1762 Bute, as the king's representative, dominated the ministry, and' a few months later was able to force the resignation of Newcastle, who found his favourite business of exercising patronage entirely taken out of his hands.
During the past year it had seemed that Frederick's stubborn resistance must be gradually worn down. The Russians were in Pomerania, and the Austrians were slowly gaining ground in Silesia. It was fortunate for him that three months after his best supporter, Pitt, had lost the direction of affairs in England, the pressure from Russia was suddenly withdrawn by the death of Elizabeth and the accession to the Russian throne of a Tsar who idealised him as much as the Tsarina had hated him. For Bute had no perception of the national obligations of honour to the indomitable ally who had held Europe at bay while Britain destroyed her rival's power in America and in India. But when the Family Compact was published, even Bute could not evade war with Spain, and even Pitt's retirement could not check the tide of British victories.
In fact Spain had merely delivered herself as a prey to the power whom the Bourbons called the Tyrantof theSeas. Britain could strike where she would and when she would. The Bourbons tried to compel Portugal to join them; Portugal refused, and British troops were despatched to aid her in successfully defying Spanish coercion. A British fleet was engaged in appropriating one after another the French islands in the West Indies; one expedition deprived Spain of Havanna, and another in the East Indies, directed against the Philippine Islands, captured Manilla.
Bute refused to renew the subsidies to Prussia, but Frederick was more than compensated by the change in the attitude of Russia. If Pitt had been in power he would have dictated what terms he chose to France and Spain, and Austria would have been placed on the defensive. But Bute was too zealous for peace to dictate terms, and the Bourbons got from him a bargain very much better than was at all pleasing to the British nation. Preliminaries of peace, signed in November, were ratified by the Peace of Paris in February 1763. Frederick, deserted by his ally, was still enabled by the recent progress of his arms to make for himself a satisfactory treaty at Hubertsburg, though he never forgave what he and others regarded as the treachery of the British Government.
Bute had achieved the isolation of Great Britain by deliberately throwing away Prussia's goodwill. And for Great Britain herself, he threw, away practically the whole of the fruits of the last twelve months of the war. Had his course been dictated by magnanimity, by a belief that policy and chivalry combined to forbid the victor making too merciless a use of his triumph he would have been justified; but the attempts of the Government to portray the Treaty of Paris as a diplomatic triumph merely stamped it as a diplomatic defeat. Great Britain could have well afforded to be magnanimous, but magnanimity played no part in the concessions made by Bute's Government.
The general principle of the treaty was the retention or exchange of conquests made during the war; but by a somewhat remarkable concession conquests which had been made, but of which no official information had arrived at the moment when the treaty was signed, were surrendered. Consequently the capture of Manilla went for nothing. France had made a single conquest, that of Minorca at the opening of the war; this was exchanged for Belle Ile. Minorca was extremely useful, while Belle Ile was very little use to Great Britain; but French amour propre was so deeply concerned in its recovery that the exchange could not be regarded as unequal.
Spain, which had intervened without provocation in the last stage of the quarrel, escaped almost scot-free; since Britain accepted Florida in place of the infinitely more valuable Havanna, and France compensated Spain for this minor loss by ceding to her Louisiana, which remained in her hands till the end of the century, when it was retroceded to France, and was sold three years afterwards to the United States by Napoleon. For no very sufficient reason, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies and Goree on the African coast were given back to France. This completes the tale of the mere surrenders, for Bute himself could hardly give back what had actually been won before Pitt's retirement, though he gave way on points of detail where Pitt would undoubtedly have held firm, such as leaving to the French the fishing rights off Newfoundland which they had retained under the Treaty of Utrecht - ill-defined rights which were to be a source of complications down to the close of the nineteenth century.
But the acquisitions confirmed by the treaty were sufficient. All the French claims on the American continent were withdrawn; there was no check on the British expansion westward to the Pacific. The whole of Canada was ceded, and the French population, otherwise practically undisturbed, passed under the sovereignty of Great Britain instead of the sovereignty of France. In India the French factories were restored, but as factories and nothing more. No French troops were to be admitted beyond the very small number required for what were in effect police purposes, nor were the French to be permitted to enter into relations with the native courts.
Political power in the peninsula, so far as the European states were concerned, was entirely restricted to the British. In the East and in the West a British Empire was established at the Peace of Paris, not side by side with a French Empire, but to the total exclusion of all European rivals. By the simultaneous Peace of Hubertsburg, Britain's deserted ally, Frederick, secured to Prussia all that she had held before his invasion of Saxony in 1756.