The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW

Military


The Sale of Honours

There is a further characteristic of the English nobility which deserved special notice, as it marked an honourable distinction between them and the nobility of France, and in the nobility. main of Germany also. Even when the barons were the only political power in the State, they had in view something more than themselves and their own rights. They early felt their vocation as a national corporation to defend the rights and guard the freedom of the nation in the general interests of the public. Magna Charta contains many and important clauses to this effect. Standing between the king and the mass of the people, not powerful enough to rule for themselves, and too independent to obey every impulse from below or every humour from above, they maintained the freedom and rights of both from encroachment and abuse. It had none of the invidious character of a caste. It was constantly receiving members from the people and constantly sending down members to mingle with the people. The yeoman was not inclined to murmur at dignities to which his own children might rise. The grandee wag not inclined to insult a class into which his own children must descend.

The long-established custom of purchasing titles, either by hard money or the more circuitous influence of boroughs, tended to mix aristocratic feelings with the views of the trader ; and the apparent openness of honours to all men made even the humblest shopkeeper, aova rich, think of sending his son to College, not that he may become a wiser man or a better man, but that he may perhaps become my lord bishop or my lord chancellor. In most other countries the middle classes, rarely possessing the riches of the nobility, have offered to the latter no incentive for seeking their alliance. But wealth was the greatest of all levellers, and the highest of the English nobles willingly repaired the fortunes of hereditary extravagance by intermarriage with the families of the banker, the lawyer, and the merchant: this, be it observed, lent to extend the roots of their influence among the middle classes, which in other countries were the natural barrier of the aristocracy, it was the ambition of the rich trader to obtain the alliance of nobles; and he loved, as well as respected, those honors to which himself or his children may aspire.

The Peerage was from time to time enlarged and enlivened by the creation of new peers. The privilege of creating them was reserved for the king as "the source of all political honours". He alone could add new members to the nobility and confer the rights of a peer upon them, with the title of Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron. But in the nature of things this political dignity was only conferred on men who had distinguished themselves by their public services as generals or statesmen, and who possessed or now received enough property to satisfy the claims of their position.

This constant supply of new and really aristocratic forces saved the English aristocracy from the danger of stagnation and incapacity. The ablest and most gifted men in the nation could thus look forward to raising themselves and their families by their public service to the sunny heights of political life. Thus, from 1700 to 1800, 34 dukes, 29 marquises, 109 earls, 85 viscounts, 248 barons were created. At the same time more than 500 baronetcies were conferred. Rich citizens who bought large estates in the country counted among the country gentry, though without a title of nobility.

Under King James I [r. 1603-1625], everybody with a certain amount of money thought himself good enough to be a baron or an earl ; and James, forgetting that, by flooding an hereditary house with new creations, he would make two enemies for every friend that he gained, fancied that the more barons and earls he created, the greater would be his influence in the House of Lords. Since the dissolution of parliament, in 1611, James had attempted, as usual, to raise loans by writs under the great seal; but the merchants, to whom he principally applied, refused him the accommodation. He opened a market for the sale of honors; sold several peerages for large sums; and created a new order of knights called baronets, whose honors were hereditary, and who paid 1000 each for their patents under the great seal. Some of these new honorable men (whose wives' pride and their own prodigalities had pumped up to it) were so drained that they had not moisture to maintain the radical humor, but withered to nothing. This money, thus raised, is pretended for planting the north of Ireland, but it found many other channels before it came to that sea. And though, at our king's first access to the crown, there was a glut of knights made, yet after some time he held his hand, lest the kingdom should be cloyed with them; and the world thrived so well with some, that the price was afterward brought up to 300 a-piece.

At all events, he would find in the purses of these ambitious men the means of replenishing his own, and of rewarding the needy courtiers who complained that since the fashion of economy had been set, he had nothing left to give away. Just as, after Salisbury's attempt to introduce order into the finances, courtiers had asked for a recusant to squeeze, instead of petitioning for a grant of lands or of money, so now that the negotiations for the Spanish marriage had made it more necessary to be careful of the feelings of the Catholics, the demand for a recusant was superseded by the demand for a baron. The person whose request was granted immediately looked about for some one who was ready to pay him the sum which he chose to ask. As a matter of course, unless he had been singularly unfortunate in his selection, the nomination was accepted, and a new member was added to the peerage.

A good example of the way in which James disposed of the highest honours may be found in the creation of four new earls in the summer of 1618. Lord Lisle, the brother of Sir Philip Sydney, became Earl of Leicester, and his appointment was attributed not so much to his late services as commander of the garrisons of the cautionary towns, as to the recommendation of the Queen, whose chamberlain he was. Lord Compton, the brother of Lady Buckingham's husband, appears to have bought his promotion to the earldom of Northampton from the King or from the favourite. About the motives which led to the elevation of the other two there is no mystery whatever. The King wanted money with which to defray the expenses of his annual progress, and he preferred the sale of two peerages to the loss of his hunting. For 10,000 apiece, Lord Cavendish and Lord Rich exchanged their baronies for the earldoms of Devonshire and Warwick. So little shame did James feel about the matter that he actually allowed the greater part of the price to be entered in the receipt-books of the Exchequer.

The Duke of Buckingham, in the reign of Charles I [r. 1625-1649], was impeached on thirteen articles, and the ninth article was the sale of honours; He was impeached for the sale of a peerage to Lord Roberts for 10,000. The House of Commons, in support of the impeachment, stated the heinousness of perverting the ancient and honourable way of obtaining titles of honour. They urged the crime of taking away from the Crown the fair and frugal way of rewarding great and deserving servants. They stated the crime of shuffling promiscuously and confusedly together, those of inferior alloy, with those of the purest and most generous metal.

For many years (1714-1761) the arts of corruption were practiced with astonishing success by a group of clever Whig politicians. It was to their most conspicuous leader, Sir Robert Walpole, that the first two Georges intrusted the conduct of affairs; and Walpole filled the important offices of state with his Whig friends.

Besides the friends he purchased, George III possessed a considerable number of enthusiastic and conscientious supporters. The country squires and clergy who believed in the Anglican Church and looked with distrust upon the power of corrupt Whig politicians in Parliament, were quite willing that a painstaking and gentlemanly monarch should do his own ruling. Such persons formed the backbone of the Tory party and sometimes called themselves the "king's friends." With their support and by means of a liberal use of patronage, George III was able to keep Lord North, a minister after his own heart, in power twelve years (1770-1782).

William Pitt the Younger was the most striking figure and the most dazzling statesman of his time. On 18 December 1783 George III turned to William Pitt to form a new Ministry, and afor an unbroken period of seventeen years William Pitt was Chief Minister. Almost the only questionable step to which Pitt resorted for strengthening his power was the lavish creation of peers. Though he was personally disinterested in appeals for his patronage, he did not hesitate to allow his lieutenants to manage patronage and bribery on a massive scale, especially at critical moments. In the graphic words of Disraeli: "He created a plebeian aristocracy and blended it with the patrician oligarchy. He made peers of second-rate squires and fat graziers. He caught them in the alleys of Lombard Street, and clutched them from the counting-houses of Cornhill. When Mr. Pitt in an age of bank restriction declared that every man with an estate of ten thousand a-year had a right to be a peer, he sounded the knell of "the cause for which Hampden had died on the field, and Sydney on the scaffold."

When the French aristocracy were leading a life which was so entirely divorced from the aspirations of the people as to produce the French Revolution, that was the very moment that Mr. Pitt saw the danger of the Government of this country falling into hands which were of too patrician a character. He thought that the House of Commons was composed too entirely of patricians. I do not know what he would have thought of the last House of Commons. He got a plebeian aristocracy and blended it with the patrician oligarchy in the House of Lords. The result was to make the House of Lords a Tory stronghold and to greatly lower the average intelligence of that body. This was the price paid for breaking up the Whig oligarchy.

Pitt's policy on creations did not always earn the respect or agreement of traditionalists in regard to the House of Lords. Certainly he had an open hand at the till in this respect and left a House of Lords with more Peers in proportion to the population than there are today. At the Revolution of 1688 the number of temporal peers was one hundred and fifty, at the accession of George III there were only one hundred and seventy-five. Previous to 1783 the creations and promotions under George III aggregated seventy-two, while Pitt in nineteen years added one hundred and forty.

The passage of the Reform Bill and other legislation led to a breakup of society; the older bourgeoisie fared badly, losing their homes and drilling to debtors' prisons and workhouses; and a new middle class rose to wealth and power.

The growth of the peerage set up a new standard of nobility, a new form of the nobility of office. The peer - in strictness, the peer in his own person only, not even his children - became the only noble; the ideas of nobility and gentry thus became divorced in a way in which they are not in any other country. Those who would elsewhere have been counted as the nobility, the bearers of coat-armour bygood right, were hindered from forming a class holding any substantial privilege. In a word, the growth of the peerage hindered the existence in England of any nobility in the continental sense of the word. The esquires, knights, lesser barons, even the remote descendants of peers, that is, the noblesse of other countries, in England remained gentlemen, but not noblemen.

On February 20, 1790, the Right Hon. Henry Rattan moved for a select committee to enquire into the corrupt agreements for the sale of peerages, and the purchase of seats in the House of Commons, which he termed "the project to govern this country by corruption". The sale of honours is an impeachable offence; the crime speaks itself. Had the ministers of the Crown only agreed to sell one peerage, and apply the money to purchase one seat, they had been guilty of an impeachable offence; but it is not otie or two instances; it is a traffic they have introduced; a trade or commerce, or rather brokerage of honours, and thus have established in the money arising from that sale, a fund for corrupting representation.

The Peerage was from time to time enlarged and enlivened by the creation of new peers. The privilege of creating them was reserved for the king as 'the source of all political honours.' He alone could add new members to the nobility and confer the rights of a peer upon them, with the title of Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron. But in the nature of things this political dignity was only conferred on men who had distinguished themselves by their public services as generals or statesmen, and who possessed or now received enough property to satisfy the claims of their position. This constant supply of new and really aristocratic forces saved the English aristocracy from the danger of stagnation and incapacity. The ablest and most gifted men in the nation could thus look forward to raising themselves and their families by their public service to the sunny heights of political life. Thus, from 1700 to 1800, 34 dukes, 29 marquises, 109 earls, 85 viscounts, 248 barons were created. At the same time more than 500 baronetcies were conferred. But rich citizens who buy large estates in the country, counted among the country gentry, though without a title of nobility.

Money remained the great political agglutinant in the sale of honours and the adaptation of policy to contributions. In 1888 Mr Labouchere, who knew most things that were to be known about the seamy side of politics, asked for a rider to the Corrupt Practices Bill, making it illegal to obtain a title by promoting any person's election. The insinuation was heatedly challenged. At once Lord Randolph Churchill suplied two notorious instances. Sir R. Green-Price was made a baronet in 1869 by the Liberals for vacating the Radnorshire Boroughs to provide a safe seat for Lord Hartington. Sir H. Johnstone got a peerage in 1880 for resigning Scarborough in favour of Mr Dodson. Mr Gladstone warmly assured the House that there had been no "transaction" in either case. Any person who cares to run over the records will find a remarkable number of these instances of post hoc, sed non propter hoc.

Of the hundred and fifty-five who had received hereditary honours in two years, a large proportion were members of Parliament or journalistic supporters of the Prime Minister. Perhaps Brigadier-General Croft strains our credulity a little when he says that Mr Lloyd George had recently said, in answer to one who censured his honours lists: "I am no worse than Walpole." It would be strange if the twentieth century produced a statesman equal to Walpole in the corrupt management of the House. There is no longer a frank sale of honours as there was in the days of Sir Thomas Lawrence. That enables political leaders to say, with some sort of conscience, that they never sell honours or bend their policy at the dictation of the rich. But the whole world knows what does happen. Give a fat cheque, in four or five figures, to the funds of your party, and the Whip will see that your merits are studied with a microscope, or your son shall get a foot on the golden stairs.



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list



 
Page last modified: 16-07-2016 15:42:27 ZULU