Town Radicals' part in a right royal affair

Robert Blakey (1795-1878) was a furrier and hatter in Morpeth, but also an enthusiastic Radical.

Sunday, 6th January 2019, 11:37 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 4:18 pm

Caroline of Brunswick was the estranged wife of George, Prince of Wales.

He forbade her from visiting their daughter, Princess Charlotte. She adopted a boy called William Austin, giving rise to speculation, but a “delicate investigation” found in the Queen's favour.

In 1810, she went abroad and lived scandalously. It was generally believed that her major-domo, Bartolomeo Bergami, was her lover, and in 1818 the Prince sent three agents, known as the Milan Commission, to gather evidence against her.

George III died in January 1820, and Caroline hurried back to claim her rights as Queen of England. The Prince, now George IV, began divorce proceedings.

“In 1820," says Blakey, "the whole kingdom was in a state of convulsion on account of the trial of Queen Caroline.

“In my own town we had a regular address drawn up to Her Majesty, which was presented to her by Sir Cam Hobhouse...”

It was Robert Blakey who organised it. His two letters to Sir John Cam Hobhouse, later Baron Broughton, are held in the British Library.

The first is dated July 12, 1820: “Sir, as an admirer of your able and independent public conduct, I humbly and respectfully beg leave to know if you could... present an Address, from this Town, to her Majesty the Queen, which is very numerously and respectably signed...

“If you can favour me with an answer by return of post, I would thank you, as I am wishful for the Address to be sent to Majesty (sic) as early as possible.

“I Remain, Sir, Your Most Obt. humble servant, Robt. Blakey.”

It has no envelope, but is fastened with a wax seal. Being directed to an MP, it is marked “Free/15JY15/1820”.

The Black Dwarf, of August 2, 1820, has a letter from someone called ‘Z’, almost certainly Robert Blakey: “At Morpeth, a chosen band of public spirited patriots (have) expressed their attachment to the wife of their King, though this place is one of the most flagrantly corrupt boroughs in England...”

In November, the Lords passed the bill to dissolve the Queen’s marriage, but the majority was so small that the Government dropped the case, being sure it could not pass the Commons. The country went wild.

Blakey says: “There was... a public dinner, and an illumination of nearly the whole town, both of which were successfully carried out.

“There was no breach of the peace, with the exception of a few panes of glass broken belonging to the windows of a few malcontents, who remained in darkness.”

Although he calmly dismisses the breakages, it could not have been pleasant for the people who got their windows broken.

This is what he wrote at the time: “Mr Wm. Nairn, spirit merchant, had a portrait of her Majesty, and also of Mr Brougham. Mrs Stephenson, Black Bull Inn, shone forth very brilliantly.

"At Mr Robson's ironmonger, there appeared in one of the windows, 'The Queen saved by the spirit and virtue of the people'. Mr Robt. Fenwick's house was very tastefully lighted up, as were also the Rev Geo. Atkin's, Dr Trotter's, Mrs Widdrington's, and many others...

“There was a party dinner at the Black Bull to commemorate her Majesty's triumph. During the night several people's windows were broken — except this, everything terminated peaceably.”

Earl Grey was now even more of a hero than before.

The Durham Chronicle has this report, again almost certainly by Robert Blakey: “Morpeth.— On Friday last, the 17th instant, as Earl Grey approached this town, on his way to Howick, he was met by a large concourse of people (preceded by a white flag with a figure of liberty thereon) who took the horses from his carriage, and drew him into and through the town, amidst deafening and repeated huzzas, and other demonstrations of joy...

“At the north end of the town where the procession halted was a figure of Majocchi with a Green-Bag in his hand, hung upon a tree.

“The Effigy and Green-Bag were afterwards carried in triumph to a bonfire at Bullersgreen Cross, in Morpeth, and burnt amidst the laudable execrations of... his Majesty’s loyal subjects.”

Teodoro Majocchi, one of the Queen’s servants, was a prosecution witness. He so often said “Non mi ricordo” (I can’t remember) under cross-examination that it became a national joke.

The green bag (actually two bags) held the report of the Milan Commission. Only 15 members of the House of Lords were allowed to see it.

In December, Blakey goes on: “I drew up an address to Earl Grey, which I read at the head of a deputation of the tradesmen of the town, at the Queen’s Head Inn.

“His lordship replied in an eloquent speech. I observed that (he) suffered under the influence of a nervous trepidation for a few moments at the commencement of his address. This I believe was a slight rhetorical infirmity, observed by others who were in the habit of hearing this really eloquent statesman.”

The address is preserved in the Grey Papers at Durham University. It carries a hundred or more signatures and is very much an ordinary people’s document, with no gentry, clergy, solicitors, etc.

The names include Thomas Bowser, Robert Browell, Mitford Bullock, Thomas Halden, Robert Jobling, Thomas Lishman, Mark Lowes, John Robertson Jun., George Sanderson, ‘Gardner’, and John Thompson.

The Early Christian Landscape of the Wansbeck Valley, 48 pages, illustrated, is now on sale at Newgate News and Morpeth TIC, price £6.