Prince Albert Memorandum 2

Prince Albert from Windsor Castle, October 16th

“We saw Lord Aberdeen yesterday. He went with us through the whole of the proceedings of the last six weeks with respect to the Eastern Question. … 

“He acknowledged the disadvantage of the course adopted by the Cabinet, which left the Turks at liberty to do as they pleased; he had to concede this to the Cabinet, which would otherwise have been broken up by Lord John [the Leader of the Whig Party, in the Cabinet as Leader of the House] and Lord Palmerston [the Home Secretary].

“Had he known what the Queen’s opinion was, he might have been more firm, feeling himself supported by the Crown, but he had imagined from her letters that there was more animosity against Russia and leaning to war in her mind.

“Yet, under all the adverse circumstances Lord Aberdeen saw still reason for hope that a peaceable settlement could be obtained. The French were ready to do anything we pleased, go to war, remain at peace, etc., etc.; in fact, Louis Napoleon had experienced the great advantage for his position of the Alliance with England…

“[Ambassador] Lord Stratford was thoroughly frightened, and had made a proposal himself, which accordingly he would support con amore. The Emperor of Russia had failed in his attempt to form a Northern League against the Western Powers…

“The Emperor [of Russia] complained bitterly of the conduct of the Powers, who had disgraced him before the world by making him accept a Note, and sanctioning its alteration by Turkey; “now they should do what they pleased and settle matters with Turkey first, and bring him only what was settled and fixed, he was wearied of the whole business, and anxious to get rid of it for ever.” 

“What Lord Aberdeen now proposed was to follow the Emperor’s advice and agree with Turkey upon a Note, leaving out all that she had objected to in the Vienna Note as [Ambassador] Lord Stratford recommended, and taking as much as possible Redschid Pasha’s own words to found the proposal of it upon the declaration made by the Emperor at Olmütz to the Powers, that he sought for no new right, privilege, or advantage, but solely for the confirmation of the legal status quo, but accompanying this with a declaration, that if Turkey created needless difficulties and tried to evade a peaceful settlement the Powers would withdraw their support and leave her to fight her own battle.

“We went over the Documents which are not yet settled, even between Lord Aberdeen and [Foreign Secretary] Lord Clarendon, and will require the greatest caution in their wording. It is evident that the Turks have every inducement not to let this opportunity slip in going to war with Russia, as they will probably never find so advantageous a one again, as the whole of Christendom has declared them in the right, and they would fight with England and France actively on their side!

“At home, Lord Aberdeen said matters do not stand much better. [The Leader of the Whig Party] Lord John has convinced himself that, under present circumstances it would not do for him to ask Lord Aberdeen to retire from the Prime Ministership and let him step in in his place; perhaps he has found out also that the Peelites will not serve under him; his own Whig colleagues would very much regret if not object to such a change, and that Lord Palmerston could not well submit to the arrangement. So he told Lord Aberdeen that he had given up that idea; it was clear, however, that he was now looking for an opportunity to break up the Government on some popular ground, which it was impossible to hope that he should not find. He now had asked for the immediate summoning of Parliament, called for by the state of the Oriental Question. This would create the greatest alarm in the country, and embarrassment to the Government, and was therefore resisted. Lord Aberdeen told Lord John quite plainly he knew what the proposal meant – he meant to break up the Government. “I hope not,” was Lord John’s laughing reply. 

“The Queen taxed Lord Aberdeen with imprudence in talking to Lord John of his own readiness to leave office, which he acknowledged, but called very natural in a man of seventy. Lord John was dissatisfied with his position;… upon Lord Aberdeen telling him that he had the most powerful and honourable position of any man in England as leader of the House of Commons, he answered, “Oh, there I am quite happy!” 

“I asked how under such circumstances that all-important measure of Parliamentary Reform, upon which the future stability and well-being of the Country so much depended, was to be matured and brought forward? Lord Aberdeen replied that Lord John had it all ready and prepared in his pocket, and told Lord Aberdeen so, adding, however, that under present circumstances there was no use in bringing it forward, to which Lord Aberdeen added: “You mean unless you sit in the chair which I now occupy?” Lord John laughed. 

“We discussed the probable consequences of Lord John’s retirement. Lord Aberdeen thought that Lord Palmerston, Lord Lansdowne, and even Lord Clarendon would secede with him, but this by no means implied that the whole party would; Lord Palmerston would not coalesce with Lord John, but try for the lead himself; Lord Clarendon quite agreed with Lord Aberdeen, and had been very angry with Lord John, but was personally under great obligations to him, and Sir James Graham had (as he said) been very much struck with the change of tone in Lord Clarendon at the last meeting of the Cabinet. Most of the Liberals seemed very much pleased with their situation. Sir James Graham had, of his own accord, told Lord Aberdeen that, in the event of Lord John’s secession, he himself could not well sit in the House of Commons under so much younger a man as Mr Gladstone as Leader. He knew that there would be objections to his assuming the lead himself, but he would be quite ready to go to the House of Lords to support Lord Aberdeen.”