LORD JOHN RUSSELL wrote of his family, which had served Britain since the Tudors, that "in all times of popular movement the Russells have been on the 'forward' side." He was fifty-three years old when he formed his first ministry in 1846. He had represented six different constituencies in his long political career and had been Paymaster General, Home Secretary, Secretary for War and the Colonies, and was now Prime Minister. Eight of his fifteen ministers were hereditary peers.
Lord Palmerston had also given his life to politics. He had been a minister at twenty-two and now, at sixty-one, he became the Queen's Foreign Minister. He was powerful and arrogant, but his bold talents had won the regard of the country. He was a man who loved the dangers of his work almost as much as the prospect of peaceful solution. He was a ruthless cynic, designed in every way to antagonize the Queen and Prince Albert.
The Queen and the Prince tried to conquer their prejudices. On August 9, 1846, Prince Albert wrote to Lord Palmerston, in answer to a letter, that the Queen begged him never to hesitate in sending her "such private communications," however unreserved they might be in their language. It was "their chief wish" that, by hearing all parties, they might "arrive at a just, dispassionate and correct opinion upon the various political questions." It was not in Lord Palmerston's makeup to be "dispassionate." On April 17, 1847, the Queen had to reprimand him for sending drafts to Lisbon without submitting them to her first. Lord John Russell was also scolded some time later, for appointing a Physician in Ordinary without consulting the Queen.
This was the spirit of the relationship between the Queen and her ministers during these years of change, when Europe was to be devastated by revolution, when Ireland was on the verge of "rebellion and civil war," with 3,000,000 being fed by the government, 1,000,000 dying of starvation and another 1,000,000 preparing for the great migration to the United States, in the following five years. In England, wheat was selling at 102 shillings a quarter. The Queen wrote,
"The price of bread is of an unparalleled height; we have been obliged to reduce every one to a pound per day, and only secondary flour to be used in the Royal kitchen. "