On October 3rd 1820, Henry Brougham began his defence, in a display of oratory that instantly made him the most famous politician in Britain. Some orators use persuasion to win over an audience, others favour absolute sincerity, whilst others yet opt for an almost innate sense of tact, or studied eloquence. Brougham’s talents lay elsewhere.
At the heart lay Brougham’s rock-solid belief in himself, in his unshakeable sense of self-worth, an adamantine self-confidence that surpassed mere egotism. He used sarcasm, he used invective, but most of all he used a merciless, logical, blood-chillingly precise, analysis of the facts. And now, with a great speech expected of him, Brougham set about delivering just that. He began by outlining the duties of an advocate, not as a definition but as a threat; that he would expose every fact of the case in defence of his client. If that meant exposing every sin, every fault and every foible of those accusing his client, then so be it. He was simply doing what was expected of the most inexperienced counsel.
|A Going - Caricature of Caroline as 'a brazen statue'|
The assembled Lords murmured, some in anger, some in apprehension, all in full awareness of the menace. The Queen, he admitted, had sought the company of foreigners, but whose fault was that? Why, the very same nobles assembled here to judge her now, those who had sought her company when she arrived in this country, attended her court, sought preferment when it was hers to offer, then abandoned her when there was a change, leaving instead for other places where their ambitions might be satisfied.
Of course she had consorted with foreigners, when the English nobility had closed their doors to her. He sketched lightly her situation abroad, how she had been excluded from her own daughter’s marriage, how news of that daughter’s death had reached her by accident and how that death had been immediately followed by the Milan Commission, with its spies, its bribes and its intrigues.
|Mother Red Cap in opposition to the King's Head|
Brougham then turned his attention to the details of the witnesses, and with forensic precision, he pointed out the inconsistencies, the differences between what they had said to the Milan Commission and what the very same witnesses had said when they were examined by their Lordships. Times and dates did not match, one witness contradicted another, details about what happened when varied, depending on whose testimony you believed. He poured contempt on the words of servants, poor menials offered money to concoct whatever stories these English milords wanted to hear, brought over from Italy to live now in luxury and idleness. There was no conspiracy against the Queen, he said, but instead it was
‘a grave and serious design accidentally formed.’
|Caroline and Pergami|
The Milan Commission was dismissed as
‘that great receipt of perjury - that store house of false swearing and all iniquity,’
and parallels were drawn with another royal divorce case, that of Henry VIII, who had consulted Italian universities to verify the legality of his claim, which had their unanimity in favour of the King rewarded with more than adequate recompense.
Majocchi’s conveniently unreliable memory was the next item to be ridiculed by Brougham’s acid tongue, a man who said ‘Non mi recordo’ when asked if he had tried to regain his position after being dismissed, but when asked at another time, ‘Did you apply to Count Schiavini to be taken back?’ had replied, ‘I did.’
This was a man who could recall where every member of the Queen’s suite had slept in the Villa d’Este, but could not recall whether a new wing had been added to that building or not. The other witnesses were subjected to Brougham’s thunderbolts, their characters destroyed, their evidence torn to remnants, in an unrelenting tirade of scorn and derision. He summed up and concluded by urging the Lords to save the country, save the people, save themselves, but most of all to save the honour of the Queen of England.
“I pray heaven for her! And here I pour forth my fervent supplication at the throne of mercy, that mercies may descend on the people of this country richer than its rulers have deserved; and that your hearts may be turned to justice.”
|Henry Brougham (in later life)|
Exhausted, he took his seat, and for several minutes the House of Lords sat in stunned silence.
Tomorrow - The Defence defends itself