While the Minto family were still on their way home from Germany a startling incident occurred in English politics. One morning a paragraph appeared in the Times announcing the fact that the King had dismissed Lord Melbourne.
We have no authority (it ran) for the important statement which follows, but we have every reason to believe that it is perfectly true. We give it without any comment or amplification, in the very words of the communication, which reached us at a late hour last night. “The King has taken the opportunity of Lord Spencer’s death to turn out the Ministry, and there is every reason to believe the Duke of Wellington has been sent for. The Queen has done it all.”
(The authority upon which the Times was relying was that of the Lord Chancellor.)
So on coming down to breakfast that morning the Ministers, having received no private communication whatever, read to their amazement that they had been already dismissed. Brougham had surreptitiously conveyed the information in order to embarrass the Court. The general trend of political gossip at the time was expressed by Palmerston, who wrote:
It is impossible to doubt that this has been a preconcerted measure and that the Duke of Wellington is prepared at once to form a Government. Peel is abroad; but it is not likely he would have gone away without a previous understanding one way or the other with the Duke, as to what he would do if a crisis were to arise.
As a matter of fact there had been no concerted plan. It was the first and last independent step William IV ever took, and a most unconstitutional instance of royal interference. The Duke, summoned by the King, expressed his willingness to occupy any position His Majesty thought fit, but considering the Liberal majority in the House of Commons was two to one, and it was but two years since the Reform Bill passed, he did his best to dissuade the King from dismissing all his Ministers. During the interview the King’s secretary entered and called the attention of the King to the paragraph in the Times that morning, which concluded with the statement that the Queen had done it all. “There, Duke, you see how I am insulted and betrayed; nobody in London but Melbourne knew last night what had taken place here, nor of my sending for you: will your Grace compel me to take back people who have treated me in this way?”
Thereupon the Duke consented to undertake a provisional Government, while Mr. Hudson was sent off to Italy in search of Sir Robert Peel. He reached Rome in nine days; at that time very quick travelling. “I think you might have made the journey in a day less by taking another route,” is said to have been Peel’s only comment upon receiving the Duke’s letter. He returned at once to England to relieve the temporary Cabinet, and formed a Ministry in December. The same month Parliament was dissolved, and the Conservative party went to the country on the policy of “Moderate Reform” enunciated in Peel’s Tamworth manifesto. “The shameful report” referred to by Lady Fanny in the last chapter, and immediately contradicted by Lord Minto on his return to Scotland, was that he had joined the Peel Ministry.