On some important points there appeared to be no difference of opinion in the legislature. The Commons unanimously resolved that they would stand by the King in the work of reconquering Ireland, and that they would enable him to prosecute with vigour the war against France. With equal unanimity they voted an extraordinary supply of two millions. It was determined that the greater part of this sum should he levied by an assessment on real property. The rest was to be raised partly by a poll tax, and partly by new duties on tea, coffee and chocolate. It was proposed that a hundred thousand pounds should be exacted from the Jews; and this proposition was at first favourably received by the House: but difficulties arose. The Jews presented a petition in which they declared that they could not afford to pay such a sum, and that they would rather leave the kingdom than stay there to be ruined. Enlightened politicians could not but perceive that special taxation, laid on a small class which happens to be rich, unpopular and defenceless, is really confiscation, and must ultimately improverish rather than enrich the State. After some discussion, the Jew tax was abandoned.
The Bill of Rights, which, in the last Session, had, after causing much altercation between the Houses, been suffered to drop, was again introduced, and was speedily passed. The peers no longer insisted that any person should be designated by name as successor to the crown, if Mary, Anne and William should all die without posterity. During eleven years nothing more was heard of the claims of the House of Brunswick.
The Bill of Rights contained some provisions which deserve special mention. The Convention had resolved that it was contrary to the interest of the kingdom to be governed by a Papist, but had prescribed no test which could ascertain whether a prince was or was not a Papist. The defect was now supplied. It was enacted that every English sovereign should, in full Parliament, and at the coronation, repeat and subscribe the Declaration against Transubstantiation.
It was also enacted that no person who should marry a Papist should be capable of reigning in England, and that, if the Sovereign should marry a Papist, the subject should be absolved from allegiance. Burnet boasts that this part of the Bill of Rights was his work. He had little reason to boast: for a more wretched specimen of legislative workmanship will not easily be found. In the first place, no test is prescribed. Whether the consort of a Sovereign has taken the oath of supremacy, has signed the declaration against transubstantiation, has communicated according to the ritual of the Church of England, are very simple issues of fact. But whether the consort of a Sovereign is or is not a Papist is a question about which people may argue for ever. What is a Papist? The word is not a word of definite signification either in law or in theology. It is merely a popular nickname, and means very different things in different mouths. Is every person a Papist who is willing to concede to the Bishop of Rome a primacy among Christian prelates? If so, James the First, Charles the First, Laud, Heylyn, were Papists. Or is the appellation to be confined to persons who hold the ultramontane doctrines touching the authority of the Holy See? If so, neither Bossuet nor Pascal was a Papist.
What again is the legal effect of the words which absolve the subject from his allegiance? Is it meant that a person arraigned for high treason may tender evidence to prove that the Sovereign has married a Papist? Would Whistlewood, for example, have been entitled to an acquittal, if he could have proved that King George the Fourth had married Mrs. Fitzherbert, and that Mrs. Fitzherbert was a Papist? It is not easy to believe that any tribunal would have gone into such a question. Yet to what purpose is it to enact that, in a certain case, the subject shall be absolved from his allegiance, if the tribunal before which he is tried for a violation of his allegiance is not to go into the question whether that case has arisen?
The question of the dispensing power was treated in a very different manner, was fully considered, and was finally settled in the only way in which it could be settled. The Declaration of Right had gone no further than to pronounce that the dispensing power, as of late exercised, was illegal. That a certain dispensing power belonged to the Crown was a proposition sanctioned by authorities and precedents of which even Whig lawyers could not speak without respect; but as to the precise extent of this power hardly any two jurists were agreed; and every attempt to frame a definition had failed. At length by the Bill of Rights the anomalous prerogative which had caused so many fierce disputes was absolutely and for ever taken away.
In the House of Commons there was, as might have been expected, a series of sharp debates on the misfortunes of the autumn. The negligence or corruption of the Navy Board, the frauds of the contractors, the rapacity of the captains of the King's ships, the losses of the London merchants, were themes for many keen speeches. There was indeed reason for anger. A severe inquiry, conducted by William in person at the Treasury, had just elicited the fact that much of the salt with which the meat furnished to the fleet had been cured had been by accident mixed with galls such as are used for the purpose of making ink. The victuallers threw the blame on the rats, and maintained that the provisions thus seasoned, though certainly disagreeable to the palate, were not injurious to health. The Commons were in no temper to listen to such excuses. Several persons who had been concerned in cheating the government and poisoning the sailors were taken into custody by the Serjeant. But no censure was passed on the chief offender, Torrington, nor does it appear that a single voice was raised against him. He had personal friends in both parties. He had many popular qualities. Even his vices were not those which excite public hatred. The people readily forgave a courageous openhanded sailor for being too fond of his bottle, his boon companions and his mistresses and did not sufficiently consider how great must be the perils of a country of which the safety depends on a man sunk in indolence, stupified by wine, enervated by licentiousness, ruined by prodigality, and enslaved by sycophants and harlots.
The sufferings of the army in Ireland called forth strong expressions of sympathy and indignation. The Commons did justice to the firmness and wisdom with which Schomberg had conducted the most arduous of all campaigns. That he had not achieved more was attributed chiefly to the villany of the Commissariat. The pestilence itself it was said, would have been no serious calamity if it had not been aggravated by the wickedness of man. The disease had generally spared those who had warm garments and bedding, and had swept away by thousands those who were thinly clad and who slept on the wet ground. Immense sums had been drawn out of the Treasury: yet the pay of the troops was in arrear. Hundreds of horses, tens of thousands of shoes, had been paid for by the public: yet the baggage was left behind for want of beasts to draw it; and the soldiers were marching barefoot through the mire. Seventeen hundred pounds had been charged to the government for medicines: yet the common drugs with which every apothecary in the smallest market town was provided were not to be found in the plaguestricken camp. The cry against Shales was loud. An address was carried to the throne, requesting that he might be sent for to England, and that his accounts and papers might be secured. With this request the King readily complied; but the Whig majority was not satisfied. By whom had Shales been recommended for so important a place as that of Commissary General? He had been a favourite at Whitehall in the worst times. He had been zealous for the Declaration of Indulgence. Why had this creature of James been entrusted with the business of catering for the army of William? It was proposed by some of those who were bent on driving all Tories and Trimmers from office to ask His Majesty by whose advice a man so undeserving of the royal confidence had been employed. The most moderate and judicious Whigs pointed out the indecency and impolicy of interrogating the King, and of forcing him either to accuse his ministers or to quarrel with the representatives of his people. "Advise His Majesty, if you will," said Somers, "to withdraw his confidence from the counsellors who recommended this unfortunate appointment. Such advice, given, as we should probably give it, unanimously, must have great weight with him. But do not put to him a question such as no private gentleman would willingly answer. Do not force him, in defence of his own personal dignity, to protect the very men whom you wish him to discard." After a hard fight of two days, and several divisions, the address was carried by a hundred and ninety five votes to a hundred and forty six. The King, as might have been foreseen, coldly refused to turn informer; and the House did not press him further. To another address, which requested that a Commission might be sent to examine into the state of things in Ireland, William returned a very gracious answer, and desired the Commons to name the Commissioners. The Commons, not to be outdone in courtesy, excused themselves, and left it to His Majesty's wisdom to select the fittest persons.
In the midst of the angry debates on the Irish war a pleasing incident produced for a moment goodhumour and unanimity. Walker had arrived in London, and had been received there with boundless enthusiasm. His face was in every print shop. Newsletters describing his person and his demeanour were sent to every corner of the kingdom. Broadsides of prose and verse written in his praise were cried in every street. The Companies of London feasted him splendidly in their halls. The common people crowded to gaze on him wherever he moved, and almost stifled him with rough caresses. Both the Universities offered him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Some of his admirers advised him to present himself at the palace in that military garb in which he had repeatedly headed the sallies of his fellow townsmen. But, with a better judgment than he sometimes showed, he made his appearance at Hampton Court in the peaceful robe of his profession, was most graciously received, and was presented with an order for five thousand pounds. "And do not think, Doctor," William said, with great benignity, "that I offer you this sum as payment for your services. I assure you that I consider your claims on me as not at all diminished."
It is true that amidst the general applause the voice of detraction made itself heard. The defenders of Londonderry were men of two nations and of two religions. During the siege, hatred of the Irishry had held together all Saxons; and hatred of Popery had held together all Protestants. But, when the danger was over, the Englishman and the Scotchman, the Episcopalian and the Presbyterian, began to wrangle about the distribution of praises and rewards. The dissenting preachers, who had zealously assisted Walker in the hour of peril, complained that, in the account which he published of the siege, he had, though acknowledging that they had done good service, omitted to mention their names. The complaint was just; and, had it been made in language becoming Christians and gentlemen, would probably have produced a considerable effect on the public mind. But Walker's accusers in their resentment disregarded truth and decency, used scurrilous language, brought calumnious accusations which were triumphantly refuted, and thus threw away the advantage which they had possessed. Walker defended himself with moderation and candour. His friends fought his battle with vigour, and retaliated keenly on his assailants. At Edinburgh perhaps the public opinion might have been against him. But in London the controversy seems only to have raised his character. He was regarded as an Anglican divine of eminent merit, who, after having heroically defended his religion against an army of Popish Rapparees, was rabbled by a mob of Scotch Covenanters.
He presented to the Commons a petition setting forth the destitute condition to which the widows and orphans of some brave men who had fallen during the siege were now reduced. The Commons instantly passed a vote of thanks to him, and resolved to present to the King an address requesting that ten thousand pounds might be distributed among the families whose sufferings had been so touchingly described. The next day it was rumoured about the benches that Walker was in the lobby. He was called in. The Speaker, with great dignity and grace, informed him that the House had made haste to comply with his request, commended him in high terms for having taken on himself to govern and defend a city betrayed by its proper governors and defenders, and charged him to tell those who had fought under him that their fidelity and valour would always be held in grateful remembrance by the Commons of England.
About the same time the course of parliamentary business was diversified by another curious and interesting episode, which, like the former, sprang out of the events of the Irish war. In the preceding spring, when every messenger from Ireland brought evil tidings, and when the authority of James was acknowledged in every part of that kingdom, except behind the ramparts of Londonderry and on the banks of Lough Erne, it was natural that Englishmen should remember with how terrible an energy the great Puritan warriors of the preceding generation had crushed the insurrection of the Celtic race. The names of Cromwell, of Ireton, and of the other chiefs of the conquering army, were in many mouths. One of those chiefs, Edmund Ludlow, was still living. At twenty-two he had served as a volunteer in the parliamentary army; at thirty he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant General. He was now old; but the vigour of his mind was unimpaired. His courage was of the truest temper; his understanding strong, but narrow. What he saw he saw clearly: but he saw not much at a glance. In an age of perfidy and levity, he had, amidst manifold temptations and dangers, adhered firmly to the principles of his youth. His enemies could not deny that his life had been consistent, and that with the same spirit with which he had stood up against the Stuarts he had stood up against the Cromwells. There was but a single blemish on his fame: but that blemish, in the opinion of the great majority of his countrymen, was one for which no merit could compensate and which no time could efface. His name and seal were on the death warrant of Charles the First.
After the Restoration, Ludlow found a refuge on the shores of the Lake of Geneva. He was accompanied thither by another member of the High Court of Justice, John Lisle, the husband of that Alice Lisle whose death has left a lasting stain on the memory of James the Second. But even in Switzerland the regicides were not safe. A large price was set on their heads; and a succession of Irish adventurers, inflamed by national and religious animosity, attempted to earn the bribe. Lisle fell by the hand of one of these assassins. But Ludlow escaped unhurt from all the machinations of his enemies. A small knot of vehement and determined Whigs regarded him with a veneration, which increased as years rolled away, and left him almost the only survivor, certainly the most illustrious survivor, of a mighty race of men, the conquerors in a terrible civil war, the judges of a king, the founders of a republic. More than once he had been invited by the enemies of the House of Stuart to leave his asylum, to become their captain, and to give the signal for rebellion: but he had wisely refused to take any part in the desperate enterprises which the Wildmans and Fergusons were never weary of planning.
The Revolution opened a new prospect to him. The right of the people to resist oppression, a right which, during many years, no man could assert without exposing himself to ecclesiastical anathemas and to civil penalties, had been solemnly recognised by the Estates of the realm, and had been proclaimed by Garter King at Arms on the very spot where the memorable scaffold had been set up forty years before. James had not, indeed, like Charles, died the death of a traitor. Yet the punishment of the son might seem to differ from the punishment of the father rather in degree than in principle. Those who had recently waged war on a tyrant, who had turned him out of his palace, who had frightened him out of his country, who had deprived him of his crown, might perhaps think that the crime of going one step further had been sufficiently expiated by thirty years of banishment. Ludlow's admirers, some of whom appear to have been in high public situations, assured him that he might safely venture over, nay, that he might expect to be sent in high command to Ireland, where his name was still cherished by his old soldiers and by their children. He came and early in September it was known that he was in London. But it soon appeared that he and his friends had misunderstood the temper of the English people. By all, except a small extreme section of the Whig party, the act, in which he had borne a part never to be forgotten, was regarded, not merely with the disapprobation due to a great violation of law and justice, but with horror such as even the Gunpowder Plot had not excited. The absurd and almost impious service which is still read in our churches on the thirtieth of January had produced in the minds of the vulgar a strange association of ideas. The sufferings of Charles were confounded with the sufferings of the Redeemer of mankind; and every regicide was a Judas, a Caiaphas or a Herod. It was true that, when Ludlow sate on the tribunal in Westminster Hall, he was an ardent enthusiast of twenty eight, and that he now returned from exile a greyheaded and wrinkled man in his seventieth year. Perhaps, therefore, if he had been content to live in close retirement, and to shun places of public resort, even zealous Royalists might not have grudged the old Republican a grave in his native soil. But he had no thought of hiding himself. It was soon rumoured that one of those murderers, who had brought on England guilt, for which she annually, in sackcloth and ashes, implored God not to enter into judgment with her, was strutting about the streets of her capital, and boasting that he should ere long command her armies. His lodgings, it was said, were the head quarters of the most noted enemies of monarchy and episcopacy. The subject was brought before the House of Commons. The Tory members called loudly for justice on the traitor. None of the Whigs ventured to say a word in his defence. One or two faintly expressed a doubt whether the fact of his return had been proved by evidence such as would warrant a parliamentary proceeding. The objection was disregarded. It was resolved, without a division, that the King should be requested to issue a proclamation for the apprehending of Ludlow. Seymour presented the address; and the King promised to do what was asked. Some days however elapsed before the proclamation appeared. Ludlow had time to make his escape, and again hid himself in his Alpine retreat, never again to emerge. English travellers are still taken to see his house close to the lake, and his tomb in a church among the vineyards which overlook the little town of Vevay. On the house was formerly legible an inscription purporting that to him to whom God is a father every land is a fatherland; and the epitaph on the tomb still attests the feelings with which the stern old Puritan to the last regarded the people of Ireland and the House of Stuart.
Tories and Whigs had concurred, or had affected to concur, in paying honour to Walker and in putting a brand on Ludlow. But the feud between the two parties was more bitter than ever. The King had entertained a hope that, during the recess, the animosities which had in the preceding session prevented an Act of Indemnity from passing would have been mitigated. On the day on which the Houses reassembled, he had pressed them earnestly to put an end to the fear and discord which could never cease to exist, while great numbers held their property and their liberty, and not a few even their lives, by an uncertain tenure. His exhortation proved of no effect. October, November, December passed away; and nothing was done. An Indemnity Bill indeed had been brought in, and read once; but it had ever since lain neglected on the table of the House. Vindictive as had been the mood in which the Whigs had left Westminster, the mood in which they returned was more vindictive still. Smarting from old sufferings, drunk with recent prosperity, burning with implacable resentment, confident of irresistible strength, they were not less rash and headstrong than in the days of the Exclusion Bill. Sixteen hundred and eighty was come again. Again all compromise was rejected. Again the voices of the wisest and most upright friends of liberty were drowned by the clamour of hotheaded and designing agitators. Again moderation was despised as cowardice, or execrated as treachery. All the lessons taught by a cruel experience were forgotten. The very same men who had expiated, by years of humiliation, of imprisonment, of penury, of exile, the folly with which they had misused the advantage given them by the Popish plot, now misused with equal folly the advantage given them by the Revolution. The second madness would, in all probability, like the first, have ended in their proscription, dispersion, decimation, but for the magnanimity and wisdom of that great prince, who, bent on fulfilling his mission, and insensible alike to flattery and to outrage, coldly and inflexibly saved them in their own despite.
It seemed that nothing but blood would satisfy them. The aspect and the temper of the House of Commons reminded men of the time of the ascendency of Oates; and, that nothing might be wanting to the resemblance, Oates himself was there. As a witness, indeed, he could now render no service: but he had caught the scent of carnage, and came to gloat on the butchery in which he could no longer take an active part. His loathsome features were again daily seen, and his well known "Ah Laard, ah Laard!" was again daily heard in the lobbies and in the gallery. The House fell first on the renegades of the late reign. Of those renegades the Earls of Peterborough and Salisbury were the highest in rank, but were also the lowest in intellect: for Salisbury had always been an idiot; and Peterborough had long been a dotard. It was however resolved by the Commons that both had, by joining the Church of Rome, committed high treason, and that both should be impeached. A message to that effect was sent to the Lords. Poor old Peterborough was instantly taken into custody, and was sent, tottering on a crutch, and wrapped up in woollen stuffs, to the Tower. The next day Salisbury was brought to the bar of his peers. He muttered something about his youth and his foreign education, and was then sent to bear Peterborough company. The Commons had meanwhile passed on to offenders of humbler station and better understanding. Sir Edward Hales was brought before them. He had doubtless, by holding office in defiance of the Test Act, incurred heavy penalties. But these penalties fell far short of what the revengeful spirit of the victorious party demanded; and he was committed as a traitor. Then Obadiah Walker was led in. He behaved with a pusillanimity and disingenuousness which deprived him of all claim to respect or pity. He protested that he had never changed his religion, that his opinions had always been and still were those of some highly respectable divines of the Church of England, and that there were points on which he differed from the Papists. In spite of this quibbling, he was pronounced guilty of high treason, and sent to prison. Castlemaine was put next to the bar, interrogated, and committed under a warrant which charged him with the capital crime of trying to reconcile the kingdom to the Church of Rome.
In the meantime the Lords had appointed a Committee to Inquire who were answerable for the deaths of Russell, of Sidney, and of some other eminent Whigs. Of this Committee, which was popularly called the Murder Committee, the Earl of Stamford, a Whig who had been deeply concerned in the plots formed by his party against the Stuarts, was chairman. The books of the Council were inspected: the clerks of the Council were examined: some facts disgraceful to the Judges, to the Solicitors of the Treasury, to the witnesses for the Crown, and to the keepers of the state prisons, were elicited: but about the packing of the juries no evidence could be obtained. The Sheriffs kept their own counsel. Sir Dudley North, in particular, underwent a most severe cross examination with characteristic clearness of head and firmness of temper, and steadily asserted that he had never troubled himself about the political opinions of the persons whom he put on any panel, but had merely inquired whether they were substantial citizens. He was undoubtedly lying; and so some of the Whig peers told him in very plain words and in very loud tones: but, though they were morally certain of his guilt, they could find no proofs which would support a criminal charge against him. The indelible stain however remains on his memory, and is still a subject of lamentation to those who, while loathing his dishonesty and cruelty, cannot forget that he was one of the most original, profound and accurate thinkers of his age.
Halifax, more fortunate than Dudley North, was completely cleared, not only from legal, but also from moral guilt. He was the chief object of attack; and yet a severe examination brought nothing to light that was not to his honour. Tillotson was called as a witness. He swore that he had been the channel of communication between Halifax and Russell when Russell was a prisoner in the Tower. "My Lord Halifax," said the Doctor, "showed a very compassionate concern for my Lord Russell; and my Lord Russell charged me with his last thanks for my Lord Halifax's humanity and kindness." It was proved that the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth had borne similar testimony to Halifax's good nature. One hostile witness indeed was produced, John Hampden, whose mean supplications and enormous bribes had saved his neck from the halter. He was now a powerful and prosperous man: he was a leader of the dominant party in the House of Commons; and yet he was one of the most unhappy beings on the face of the earth. The recollection of the pitiable figure which he had made at the bar of the Old Bailey embittered his temper, and impelled him to avenge himself without mercy on those who had directly or indirectly contributed to his humiliation. Of all the Whigs he was the most intolerant and the most obstinately hostile to all plans of amnesty. The consciousness that he had disgraced himself made him jealous of his dignity and quick to take offence. He constantly paraded his services and his sufferings, as if he hoped that this ostentatious display would hide from others the stain which nothing could hide from himself. Having during many months harangued vehemently against Halifax in the House of Commons, he now came to swear against Halifax before the Lords. The scene was curious. The witness represented himself as having saved his country, as having planned the Revolution, as having placed their Majesties on the throne. He then gave evidence intended to show that his life had been endangered by the machinations of the Lord Privy Seal: but that evidence missed the mark at which it was aimed, and recoiled on him from whom it proceeded. Hampden was forced to acknowledge that he had sent his wife to implore the intercession of the man whom he was now persecuting. "Is it not strange," asked Halifax, "that you should have requested the good offices of one whose arts had brought your head into peril?" "Not at all," said Hampden; "to whom was I to apply except to the men who were in power? I applied to Lord Jeffreys: I applied to Father Petre; and I paid them six thousand pounds for their services." "But did Lord Halifax take any money?" "No, I cannot say that he did." "And, Mr. Hampden, did not you afterwards send your wife to thank him for his kindness?" "Yes, I believe I did," answered Hampden; "but I know of no solid effects of that kindness. If there were any, I should be obliged to my Lord to tell me what they were." Disgraceful as had been the appearance which this degenerate heir of an illustrious name had made at the Old Bailey, the appearance which he made before the Committee of Murder was more disgraceful still. It is pleasing to know that a person who had been far more cruelly wronged than he, but whose nature differed widely from his, the nobleminded Lady Russell, remonstrated against the injustice with which the extreme Whigs treated Halifax.
The malice of John Hampden, however, was unwearied and unabashed. A few days later, in a committee of the whole House of Commons on the state of the nation, he made a bitter speech, in which he ascribed all the disasters of the year to the influence of the men who had, in the days of the Exclusion Bill, been censured by Parliaments, of the men who had attempted to mediate between James and William. The King, he said, ought to dismiss from his counsels and presence all the three noblemen who had been sent to negotiate with him at Hungerford. He went on to speak of the danger of employing men of republican principles. He doubtless alluded to the chief object of his implacable malignity. For Halifax, though from temper averse to violent changes, was well known to be in speculation a republican, and often talked, with much ingenuity and pleasantry, against hereditary monarchy. The only effect, however, of the reflection now thrown on him was to call forth a roar of derision. That a Hampden, that the grandson of the great leader of the Long Parliament, that a man who boasted of having conspired with Algernon Sidney against the royal House, should use the word republican as a term of reproach! When the storm of laughter had subsided, several members stood up to vindicate the accused statesmen. Seymour declared that, much as he disapproved of the manner in which the administration had lately been conducted, he could not concur in the vote which John Hampden had proposed. "Look where you will," he said, "to Ireland, to Scotland, to the navy, to the army, you will find abundant proofs of mismanagement. If the war is still to be conducted by the same hands, we can expect nothing but a recurrence of the same disasters. But I am not prepared to proscribe men for the best thing that they ever did in their lives, to proscribe men for attempting to avert a revolution by timely mediation." It was justly said by another speaker that Halifax and Nottingham had been sent to the Dutch camp because they possessed the confidence of the nation, because they were universally known to be hostile to the dispensing power, to the Popish religion, and to the French ascendency. It was at length resolved that the King should be requested in general terms to find out and to remove the authors of the late miscarriages. A committee was appointed to prepare an Address. John Hampden was chairman, and drew up a representation in terms so bitter that, when it was reported to the House, his own father expressed disapprobation, and one member exclaimed: "This an address! It is a libel." After a sharp debate, the Address was recommitted, and was not again mentioned.
Indeed, the animosity which a large part of the House had felt against Halifax was beginning to abate. It was known that, though he had not yet formally delivered up the Privy Seal, he had ceased to be a confidential adviser of the Crown. The power which he had enjoyed during the first months of the reign of William and Mary had passed to the more daring, more unscrupulous and more practical Caermarthen, against whose influence Shrewsbury contended in vain. Personally Shrewsbury stood high in the royal favour: but he was a leader of the Whigs, and, like all leaders of parties, was frequently pushed forward against his will by those who seemed to follow him. He was himself inclined to a mild and moderate policy: but he had not sufficient firmness to withstand the clamorous importunity with which such politicians as John Howe and John Hampden demanded vengeance on their enemies. His advice had therefore, at this time, little weight with his master, who neither loved the Tories nor trusted them, but who was fully determined not to proscribe them.
Meanwhile the Whigs, conscious that they had lately sunk in the opinion both of the King and of the nation, resolved on making a bold and crafty attempt to become independent of both. A perfect account of that attempt cannot be constructed out of the scanty and widely dispersed materials which have come down to us. Yet the story, as it has come down to us, is both interesting and instructive.
A bill for restoring the rights of those corporations which had surrendered their charters to the Crown during the last two reigns had been brought into the House of Commons, had been received with general applause by men of all parties, had been read twice, and had been referred to a select committee, of which Somers was chairman. On the second of January Somers brought up the report. The attendance of Tories was scanty: for, as no important discussion was expected, many country gentlemen had left town, and were keeping a merry Christmas by the chimney fires of their manor houses. The muster of zealous Whigs was strong. As soon as the bill had been reported, Sacheverell, renowned in the stormy parliaments of the reign of Charles the Second as one of the ablest and keenest of the Exclusionists, stood up and moved to add a clause providing that every municipal functionary who had in any manner been a party to the surrendering of the franchises of a borough should be incapable for seven years of holding any office in that borough. The constitution of almost every corporate town in England had been remodelled during that hot fit of loyalty which followed the detection of the Rye House Plot; and, in almost every corporate town, the voice of the Tories had been for delivering up the charter, and for trusting every thing to the paternal care of the Sovereign. The effect of Sacheverell's clause, therefore, was to make some thousands of the most opulent and highly considered men in the kingdom incapable, during seven years, of bearing any part in the government of the places in which they resided, and to secure to the Whig party, during seven years, an overwhelming influence in borough elections.
The minority exclaimed against the gross injustice of passing, rapidly and by surprise, at a season when London was empty, a law of the highest importance, a law which retrospectively inflicted a severe penalty on many hundreds of respectable gentlemen, a law which would call forth the strongest passions in every town from Berwick to St. Ives, a law which must have a serious effect on the composition of the House itself. Common decency required at least an adjournment. An adjournment was moved: but the motion was rejected by a hundred and twenty-seven votes to eighty-nine. The question was then put that Sacheverell's clause should stand part of the bill, and was carried by a hundred and thirty-three to sixty-eight. Sir Robert Howard immediately moved that every person who, being under Sacheverell's clause disqualified for municipal office, should presume to take any such office, should forfeit five hundred pounds, and should be for life incapable of holding any public employment whatever. The Tories did not venture to divide. The rules of the House put it in the power of a minority to obstruct the progress of a bill; and this was assuredly one of the very rare occasions on which that power would have been with great propriety exerted. It does not appear, however, that the parliamentary tacticians of that age were aware of the extent to which a small number of members can, without violating any form, retard the course of business.
It was immediately resolved that the bill, enlarged by Sacheverell's and Howard's clauses, should be ingrossed. The most vehement Whigs were bent on finally passing it within forty-eight hours. The Lords, indeed, were not likely to regard it very favourably. But it should seem that some desperate men were prepared to withhold the supplies till it should pass, nay, even to tack it to the bill of supply, and thus to place the Upper House under the necessity of either consenting to a vast proscription of the Tories or refusing to the government the means of carrying on the war. There were Whigs, however, honest enough to wish that fair play should be given to the hostile party, and prudent enough to know that an advantage obtained by violence and cunning could not be permanent. These men insisted that at least a week should be suffered to elapse before the third reading, and carried their point. Their less scrupulous associates complained bitterly that the good cause was betrayed. What new laws of war were these? Why was chivalrous courtesy to be shown to foes who thought no stratagem immoral, and who had never given quarter? And what had been done that was not in strict accordance with the law of Parliament? That law knew nothing of short notices and long notices, of thin houses and full houses. It was the business of a representative of the people to be in his place. If he chose to shoot and guzzle at his country seat when important business was under consideration at Westminster, what right had he to murmur because more upright and laborious servants of the public passed, in his absence, a bill which appeared to them necessary to the public safety? As however a postponement of a few days appeared to be inevitable, those who had intended to gain the victory by stealing a march now disclaimed that intention. They solemnly assured the King, who could not help showing some displeasure at their conduct, and who felt much more displeasure than he showed, that they had owed nothing to surprise, and that they were quite certain of a majority in the fullest house. Sacheverell is said to have declared with great warmth that he would stake his seat on the issue, and that if he found himself mistaken he would never show his face in Parliament again. Indeed, the general opinion at first was that the Whigs would win the day. But it soon became clear that the fight would be a hard one. The mails had carried out along all the high roads the tidings that, on the second of January, the Commons had agreed to a retrospective penal law against the whole Tory party, and that, on the tenth, that law would be considered for the last time. The whole kingdom was moved from Northumberland to Cornwall. A hundred knights and squires left their halls hung with mistletoe and holly, and their boards groaning with brawn and plum porridge, and rode up post to town, cursing the short days, the cold weather, the miry roads and the villanous Whigs. The Whigs, too, brought up reinforcements, but not to the same extent; for the clauses were generally unpopular, and not without good cause. Assuredly no reasonable man of any party will deny that the Tories, in surrendering to the Crown all the municipal franchises of the realm, and, with those franchises, the power of altering the constitution of the House of Commons, committed a great fault. But in that fault the nation itself had been an accomplice. If the Mayors and Aldermen whom it was now proposed to punish had, when the tide of loyal enthusiasm ran high, sturdily refused to comply with the wish of their Sovereign, they would have been pointed at in the street as Roundhead knaves, preached at by the Rector, lampooned in ballads, and probably burned in effigy before their own doors. That a community should be hurried into errors alternately by fear of tyranny and by fear of anarchy is doubtless a great evil. But the remedy for that evil is not to punish for such errors some persons who have merely erred with the rest, and who have since repented with the rest. Nor ought it to have been forgotten that the offenders against whom Sacheverell's clause was directed had, in 1688, made large atonement for the misconduct of which they had been guilty in 1683. They had, as a class, stood up firmly against the dispensing power; and most of them had actually been turned out of their municipal offices by James for refusing to support his policy. It is not strange therefore that the attempt to inflict on all these men without exception a degrading punishment should have raised such a storm of public indignation as many Whig members of parliament were unwilling to face.
As the decisive conflict drew near, and as the muster of the Tories became hourly stronger and stronger, the uneasiness of Sacheverell and of his confederates increased. They found that they could hardly hope for a complete victory. They must make some concession. They must propose to recommit the bill. They must declare themselves willing to consider whether any distinction could be made between the chief offenders and the multitudes who had been misled by evil example. But as the spirit of one party fell the spirit of the other rose. The Tories, glowing with resentment which was but too just, were resolved to listen to no terms of compromise.
The tenth of January came; and, before the late daybreak of that season, the House was crowded. More than a hundred and sixty members had come up to town within a week. From dawn till the candles had burned down to their sockets the ranks kept unbroken order; and few members left their seats except for a minute to take a crust of bread or a glass of claret. Messengers were in waiting to carry the result to Kensington, where William, though shaken by a violent cough, sate up till midnight, anxiously expecting the news, and writing to Portland, whom he had sent on an important mission to the Hague.
The only remaining account of the debate is defective and confused. But from that account it appears that the excitement was great. Sharp things were said. One young Whig member used language so hot that he was in danger of being called to the bar. Some reflections were thrown on the Speaker for allowing too much licence to his own friends. But in truth it mattered little whether he called transgressors to order or not. The House had long been quite unmanageable; and veteran members bitterly regretted the old gravity of debate and the old authority of the chair. That Somers disapproved of the violence of the party to which he belonged may be inferred, both from the whole course of his public life, and from the very significant fact that, though he had charge of the Corporation Bill, he did not move the penal clauses, but left that ungracious office to men more impetuous and less sagacious than himself. He did not however abandon his allies in this emergency, but spoke for them, and tried to make the best of a very bad case. The House divided several times. On the first division a hundred and seventy-four voted with Sacheverell, a hundred and seventy-nine against him. Still the battle was stubbornly kept up; but the majority increased from five to ten, from ten to twelve, and from twelve to eighteen. Then at length, after a stormy sitting of fourteen hours, the Whigs yielded. It was near midnight when, to the unspeakable joy and triumph of the Tories, the clerk tore away from the parchment on which the bill had been engrossed the odious clauses of Sacheverell and Howard.
Emboldened by this great victory, the Tories made an attempt to push forward the Indemnity Bill which had lain many weeks neglected on the table. But the Whigs, notwithstanding their recent defeat, were still the majority of the House; and many members, who had shrunk from the unpopularity which they would have incurred by supporting the Sacheverell clause and the Howard clause, were perfectly willing to assist in retarding the general pardon. They still propounded their favourite dilemma. How, they asked, was it possible to defend this project of amnesty without condemning the Revolution? Could it be contended that crimes which had been grave enough to justify resistance had not been grave enough to deserve punishment? And, if those crimes were of such magnitude that they could justly be visited on the Sovereign whom the Constitution had exempted from responsibility, on what principle was immunity to be granted to his advisers and tools, who were beyond all doubt responsible? One facetious member put this argument in a singular form. He contrived to place in the Speaker's chair a paper which, when examined, appeared to be a Bill of Indemnity for King James, with a sneering preamble about the mercy which had, since the Revolution, been extended to more heinous offenders, and about the indulgence due to a King, who, in oppressing his people, had only acted after the fashion of all Kings.
On the same day on which this mock Bill of Indemnity disturbed the gravity of the Commons, it was moved that the House should go into Committee on the real Bill. The Whigs threw the motion out by a hundred and ninety-three votes to a hundred and fifty-six. They then proceeded to resolve that a bill of pains and penalties against delinquents should be forthwith brought in, and engrafted on the Bill of Indemnity.
A few hours later a vote passed that showed more clearly than any thing that had yet taken place how little chance there was that the public mind would be speedily quieted by an amnesty. Few persons stood higher in the estimation of the Tory party than Sir Robert Sawyer. He was a man of ample fortune and aristocratical connections, of orthodox opinions and regular life, an able and experienced lawyer, a well read scholar, and, in spite of a little pomposity, a good speaker. He had been Attorney General at the time of the detection of the Rye House Plot; he had been employed for the Crown in the prosecutions which followed; and he had conducted those prosecutions with an eagerness which would, in our time, be called cruelty by all parties, but which, in his own time, and to his own party, seemed to be merely laudable zeal. His friends indeed asserted that he was conscientious even to scrupulosity in matters of life and death; but this is an eulogy which persons who bring the feelings of the nineteenth century to the study of the State Trials of the seventeenth century will have some difficulty in understanding. The best excuse which can be made for this part of his life is that the stain of innocent blood was common to him with almost all the eminent public men of those evil days. When we blame him for prosecuting Russell, we must not forget that Russell had prosecuted Stafford.
Great as Sawyer's offences were, he had made great atonement for them. He had stood up manfully against Popery and despotism; he had, in the very presence chamber, positively refused to draw warrants in contravention of Acts of Parliament; he had resigned his lucrative office rather than appear in Westminster Hall as the champion of the dispensing power; he had been the leading counsel for the seven Bishops; and he had, on the day of their trial, done his duty ably, honestly, and fearlessly. He was therefore a favourite with High Churchmen, and might be thought to have fairly earned his pardon from the Whigs. But the Whigs were not in a pardoning mood; and Sawyer was now called to account for his conduct in the case of Sir Thomas Armstrong.
If Armstrong was not belied, he was deep in the worst secrets of the Rye House Plot, and was one of those who undertook to slay the two royal brothers. When the conspiracy was discovered, he fled to the Continent and was outlawed. The magistrates of Leyden were induced by a bribe to deliver him up. He was hurried on board of an English ship, carried to London, and brought before the King's Bench. Sawyer moved the Court to award execution on the outlawry. Armstrong represented that a year had not yet elapsed since he had been outlawed, and that, by an Act passed in the reign of Edward the Sixth, an outlaw who yielded himself within the year was entitled to plead Not Guilty, and to put himself on his country. To this it was answered that Armstrong had not yielded himself, that he had been dragged to the bar a prisoner, and that he had no right to claim a privilege which was evidently meant to be given only to persons who voluntarily rendered themselves up to public justice. Jeffreys and the other judges unanimously overruled Armstrong's objection, and granted the award of execution. Then followed one of the most terrible of the many terrible scenes which, in those times, disgraced our Courts. The daughter of the unhappy man was at his side. "My Lord," she cried out, "you will not murder my father. This is murdering a man." "How now?" roared the Chief Justice. "Who is this woman? Take her, Marshal. Take her away." She was forced out, crying as she went, "God Almighty's judgments light on you!" "God Almighty's judgment," said Jeffreys, "will light on traitors. Thank God, I am clamour proof." When she was gone, her father again insisted on what he conceived to be his right. "I ask" he said, "only the benefit of the law." "And, by the grace of God, you shall have it," said the judge. "Mr. Sheriff, see that execution be done on Friday next. There is the benefit of the law for you." On the following Friday, Armstrong was hanged, drawn and quartered; and his head was placed over Westminster Hall.
The insolence and cruelty of Jeffreys excite, even at the distance of so many years, an indignation which makes it difficult to be just to him. Yet a perfectly dispassionate inquirer may perhaps think it by no means clear that the award of execution was illegal. There was no precedent; and the words of the Act of Edward the Sixth may, without any straining, be construed as the Court construed them. Indeed, had the penalty been only fine or imprisonment, nobody would have seen any thing reprehensible in the proceeding. But to send a man to the gallows as a traitor, without confronting him with his accusers, without hearing his defence, solely because a timidity which is perfectly compatible with innocence has impelled him to hide himself, is surely a violation, if not of any written law, yet of those great principles to which all laws ought to conform. The case was brought before the House of Commons. The orphan daughter of Armstrong came to the bar to demand vengeance; and a warm debate followed. Sawyer was fiercely attacked and strenuously defended. The Tories declared that he appeared to them to have done only what, as counsel for the Crown, he was bound to do, and to have discharged his duty to God, to the King, and to the prisoner. If the award was legal, nobody was to blame; and, if the award was illegal, the blame lay, not with the Attorney General, but with the Judges. There would be an end of all liberty of speech at the bar, if an advocate was to be punished for making a strictly regular application to a Court, and for arguing that certain words in a statute were to be understood in a certain sense. The Whigs called Sawyer murderer, bloodhound, hangman. If the liberty of speech claimed by advocates meant the liberty of haranguing men to death, it was high time that the nation should rise up and exterminate the whole race of lawyers. "Things will never be well done," said one orator, "till some of that profession be made examples." "No crime to demand execution!" exclaimed John Hampden. "We shall be told next that it was no crime in the Jews to cry out 'Crucify him.'" A wise and just man would probably have been of opinion that this was not a case for severity. Sawyer's conduct might have been, to a certain extent, culpable: but, if an Act of Indemnity was to be passed at all, it was to be passed for the benefit of persons whose conduct had been culpable. The question was not whether he was guiltless, but whether his guilt was of so peculiarly black a dye that he ought, notwithstanding all his sacrifices and services, to be excluded by name from the mercy which was to be granted to many thousands of offenders. This question calm and impartial judges would probably have decided in his favour. It was, however, resolved that he should be excepted from the Indemnity, and expelled from the House.
On the morrow the Bill of Indemnity, now transformed into a Bill of Pains and Penalties, was again discussed. The Whigs consented to refer it to a Committee of the whole House, but proposed to instruct the Committee to begin its labours by making out a list of the offenders who were to be proscribed. The Tories moved the previous question. The House divided; and the Whigs carried their point by a hundred and ninety votes to a hundred and seventy- three.
The King watched these events with painful anxiety. He was weary of his crown. He had tried to do justice to both the contending parties; but justice would satisfy neither. The Tories hated him for protecting the Dissenters. The Whigs hated him for protecting the Tories. The amnesty seemed to be more remote than when, ten months before, he first recommended it from the throne. The last campaign in Ireland had been disastrous. It might well be that the next campaign would be more disastrous still. The malpractices, which had done more than the exhalations of the marshes of Dundalk to destroy the efficiency of the English troops, were likely to be as monstrous as ever. Every part of the administration was thoroughly disorganized; and the people were surprised and angry because a foreigner, newly come among them, imperfectly acquainted with them, and constantly thwarted by them, had not, in a year, put the whole machine of government to rights. Most of his ministers, instead of assisting him, were trying to get up addresses and impeachments against each other. Yet if he employed his own countrymen, on whose fidelity and attachment he could rely, a general cry of rage was set up by all the English factions. The knavery of the English Commissariat had destroyed an army: yet a rumour that he intended to employ an able, experienced, and trusty Commissary from Holland had excited general discontent. The King felt that he could not, while thus situated, render any service to that great cause to which his whole soul was devoted. Already the glory which he had won by conducting to a successful issue the most important enterprise of that age was becoming dim. Even his friends had begun to doubt whether he really possessed all that sagacity and energy which had a few months before extorted the unwilling admiration of his enemies. But he would endure his splendid slavery no longer. He would return to his native country. He would content himself with being the first citizen of a commonwealth to which the name of Orange was dear. As such, he might still be foremost among those who were banded together in defence of the liberties of Europe. As for the turbulent and ungrateful islanders, who detested him because he would not let them tear each other in pieces, Mary must try what she could do with them. She was born on their soil. She spoke their language. She did not dislike some parts of their Liturgy, which they fancied to be essential, and which to him seemed at best harmless. If she had little knowledge of politics and war, she had what might be more useful, feminine grace and tact, a sweet temper, a smile and a kind word for every body. She might be able to compose the disputes which distracted the State and the Church. Holland, under his government, and England under hers, might act cordially together against the common enemy.
He secretly ordered preparations to be made for his voyage. Having done this, he called together a few of his chief counsellors, and told them his purpose. A squadron, he said, was ready to convey him to his country. He had done with them. He hoped that the Queen would be more successful. The ministers were thunderstruck. For once all quarrels were suspended. The Tory Caermarthen on one side, the Whig Shrewsbury on the other, expostulated and implored with a pathetic vehemence rare in the conferences of statesmen. Many tears were shed. At length the King was induced to give up, at least for the present, his design of abdicating the government. But he announced another design which he was fully determined not to give up. Since he was still to remain at the head of the English administration, he would go himself to Ireland. He would try whether the whole royal authority strenuously exerted on the spot where the fate of the empire was to be decided, would suffice to prevent peculation and to maintain discipline.
That he had seriously meditated a retreat to Holland long continued to be a secret, not only to the multitude, but even to the Queen. That he had resolved to take the command of his army in Ireland was soon rumoured all over London. It was known that his camp furniture was making, and that Sir Christopher Wren was busied in constructing a house of wood which was to travel about, packed in two waggons, and to be set up wherever His Majesty might fix his quarters. The Whigs raised a violent outcry against the whole scheme. Not knowing, or affecting not to know, that it had been formed by William and by William alone, and that none of his ministers had dared to advise him to encounter the Irish swords and the Irish atmosphere, the whole party confidently affirmed that it had been suggested by some traitor in the cabinet, by some Tory who hated the Revolution and all that had sprung from the Revolution. Would any true friend have advised His Majesty, infirm in health as he was, to expose himself, not only to the dangers of war, but to the malignity of a climate which had recently been fatal to thousands of men much stronger than himself? In private the King sneered bitterly at this anxiety for his safety. It was merely, in his judgment, the anxiety which a hard master feels lest his slaves should become unfit for their drudgery. The Whigs, he wrote to Portland, were afraid to lose their tool before they had done their work. "As to their friendship," he added, "you know what it is worth." His resolution, he told his friend, was unalterably fixed. Every thing was at stake; and go he must, even though the Parliament should present an address imploring him to stay.
He soon learned that such an address would be immediately moved in both Houses and supported by the whole strength of the Whig party. This intelligence satisfied him that it was time to take a decisive step. He would not discard the Whigs: but he would give them a lesson of which they stood much in need. He would break the chain in which they imagined that they had him fast. He would not let them have the exclusive possession of power. He would not let them persecute the vanquished party. In their despite, he would grant an amnesty to his people. In their despite, he would take the command of his army in Ireland. He arranged his plan with characteristic prudence, firmness, and secrecy. A single Englishman it was necessary to trust: for William was not sufficiently master of our language to address the Houses from the throne in his own words; and, on very important occasions, his practice was to write his speech in French, and to employ a translator. It is certain that to one person, and to one only, the King confided the momentous resolution which he had taken; and it can hardly be doubted that this person was Caermarthen.
On the twenty-seventh of January, Black Rod knocked at the door of the Commons. The Speaker and the members repaired to the House of Lords. The King was on the throne. He gave his assent to the Supply Bill, thanked the Houses for it, announced his intention of going to Ireland, and prorogued the Parliament. None could doubt that a dissolution would speedily follow. As the concluding words, "I have thought it convenient now to put an end to this session," were uttered, the Tories, both above and below the bar, broke forth into a shout of joy. The King meanwhile surveyed his audience from the throne with that bright eagle eye which nothing escaped. He might be pardoned if he felt some little vindictive pleasure in annoying those who had cruelly annoyed him. "I saw," he wrote to Portland the next day, "faces an ell long. I saw some of those men change colour with vexation twenty times while I was speaking."
A few hours after the prorogation, a hundred and fifty Tory members of Parliament had a parting dinner together at the Apollo Tavern in Fleet Street, before they set out for their counties. They were in better temper with William than they had been since his father in law had been turned out of Whitehall. They had scarcely recovered from the joyful surprise with which they had heard it announced from the throne that the session was at an end. The recollection of their danger and the sense of their deliverance were still fresh. They talked of repairing to Court in a body to testify their gratitude: but they were induced to forego their intention; and not without cause: for a great crowd of squires after a revel, at which doubtless neither October nor claret had been spared, might have caused some inconvenience in the presence chamber. Sir John Lowther, who in wealth and influence was inferior to no country gentleman of that age, was deputed to carry the thanks of the assembly to the palace. He spoke, he told the King, the sense of a great body of honest gentlemen. They begged His Majesty to be assured that they would in their counties do their best to serve him; and they cordially wished him a safe voyage to Ireland, a complete victory, a speedy return, and a long and happy reign. During the following week, many, who had never shown their faces in the circle at Saint James's since the Revolution, went to kiss the King's hand. So warmly indeed did those who had hitherto been regarded as half Jacobites express their approbation of the policy of the government that the thoroughgoing Jacobites were much disgusted, and complained bitterly of the strange blindness which seemed to have come on the sons of the Church of England.
All the acts of William, at this time, indicated his determination to restrain, steadily though gently, the violence of the Whigs, and to conciliate, if possible, the good will of the Tories. Several persons whom the Commons had thrown into prison for treason were set at liberty on bail. The prelates who held that their allegiance was still due to James were treated with a tenderness rare in the history of revolutions. Within a week after the prorogation, the first of February came, the day on which those ecclesiastics who refused to take the oath were to be finally deprived. Several of the suspended clergy, after holding out till the last moment, swore just in time to save themselves from beggary. But the Primate and five of his suffragans were still inflexible. They consequently forfeited their bishoprics; but Sancroft was informed that the King had not yet relinquished the hope of being able to make some arrangement which might avert the necessity of appointing successors, and that the nonjuring prelates might continue for the present to reside in their palaces. Their receivers were appointed receivers for the Crown, and continued to collect the revenues of the vacant sees. Similar indulgence was shown to some divines of lower rank. Sherlock, in particular, continued, after his deprivation, to live unmolested in his official mansion close to the Temple Church.
And now appeared a proclamation dissolving the Parliament. The writs for a general election went out; and soon every part of the kingdom was in a ferment. Van Citters, who had resided in England during many eventful years, declared that he had never seen London more violently agitated. The excitement was kept up by compositions of all sorts, from sermons with sixteen heads down to jingling street ballads. Lists of divisions were, for the first time in our history, printed and dispersed for the information of constituent bodies. Two of these lists may still be seen in old libraries. One of the two, circulated by the Whigs, contained the names of those Tories who had voted against declaring the throne vacant. The other, circulated by the Tories, contained the names of those Whigs who had supported the Sacheverell clause.
It soon became clear that public feeling had undergone a great change during the year which had elapsed since the Convention had met; and it is impossible to deny that this change was, at least in part, the natural consequence and the just punishment of the intemperate and vindictive conduct of the Whigs. Of the city of London they thought themselves sure. The Livery had in the preceding year returned four zealous Whigs without a contest. But all the four had voted for the Sacheverell clause; and by that clause many of the merchant princes of Lombard Street and Cornhill, men powerful in the twelve great companies, men whom the goldsmiths followed humbly, hat in hand, up and down the arcades of the Royal Exchange, would have been turned with all indignity out of the Court of Aldermen and out of the Common Council. The struggle was for life or death. No exertions, no artifices, were spared. William wrote to Portland that the Whigs of the City, in their despair, stuck at nothing, and that, as they went on, they would soon stand as much in need of an Act of Indemnity as the Tories. Four Tories however were returned, and that by so decisive a majority, that the Tory who stood lowest polled four hundred votes more than the Whig who stood highest. The Sheriffs, desiring to defer as long as possible the triumph of their enemies, granted a scrutiny. But, though the majority was diminished, the result was not affected. At Westminster, two opponents of the Sacheverell clause were elected without a contest. But nothing indicated more strongly the disgust excited by the proceedings of the late House of Commons than what passed in the University of Cambridge. Newton retired to his quiet observatory over the gate of Trinity College. Two Tories were returned by an overwhelming majority. At the head of the poll was Sawyer, who had, but a few days before, been excepted from the Indemnity Bill and expelled from the House of Commons. The records of the University contain curious proofs that the unwise severity with which he had been treated had raised an enthusiastic feeling in his favour. Newton voted for Sawyer; and this remarkable fact justifies us in believing that the great philosopher, in whose genius and virtue the Whig party justly glories, had seen the headstrong and revengeful conduct of that party with concern and disapprobation.
It was soon plain that the Tories would have a majority in the new House of Commons. All the leading Whigs however obtained seats, with one exception. John Hampden was excluded, and was regretted only by the most intolerant and unreasonable members of his party.
The King meanwhile was making, in almost every department of the executive government, a change corresponding to the change which the general election was making in the composition of the legislature. Still, however, he did not think of forming what is now called a ministry. He still reserved to himself more especially the direction of foreign affairs; and he superintended with minute attention all the preparations for the approaching campaign in Ireland. In his confidential letters he complained that he had to perform, with little or no assistance, the task of organizing the disorganized military establishments of the kingdom. The work, he said, was heavy; but it must be done; for everything depended on it. In general, the government was still a government by independent departments; and in almost every department Whigs and Tories were still mingled, though not exactly in the old proportions. The Whig element had decidedly predominated, in 1689. The Tory element predominated, though not very decidedly, in 1690.
Halifax had laid down the Privy Seal. It was offered to Chesterfield, a Tory who had voted in the Convention for a Regency. But Chesterfield refused to quit his country house and gardens in Derbyshire for the Court and the Council Chamber; and the Privy Seal was put into Commission. Caermarthen was now the chief adviser of the Crown on all matters relating to the internal administration and to the management of the two Houses of Parliament. The white staff, and the immense power which accompanied the white staff, William was still determined never to entrust to any subject. Caermarthen therefore, continued to be Lord President; but he took possession of a suite of apartments in Saint James's Palace which was considered as peculiarly belonging to the Prime Minister. He had, during the preceding year, pleaded ill health as an excuse for seldom appearing at the Council Board; and the plea was not without foundation, for his digestive organs had some morbid peculiarities which puzzled the whole College of Physicians; his complexion was livid; his frame was meagre; and his face, handsome and intellectual as it was, had a haggard look which indicated the restlessness of pain as well as the restlessness of ambition. As soon, however, as he was once more minister, he applied himself strenuously to business, and toiled every day, and all day long, with an energy which amazed every body who saw his ghastly countenance and tottering gait.
Though he could not obtain for himself the office of Lord Treasurer, his influence at the Treasury was great. Monmouth, the First Commissioner, and Delamere, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, two of the most violent Whigs in England, quitted their seats. On this, as on many other occasions, it appeared that they had nothing but their Whiggism in common. The volatile Monmouth, sensible that he had none of the qualities of a financier, seems to have taken no personal offence at being removed from a place which he never ought to have occupied. He thankfully accepted a pension, which his profuse habits made necessary to him, and still continued to attend councils, to frequent the Court, and to discharge the duties of a Lord of the Bedchamber. He also tried to make himself useful in military business, which he understood, if not well, yet better than most of his brother nobles; and he professed, during a few months, a great regard for Caermarthen. Delamere was in a very different mood. It was in vain that his services were overpaid with honours and riches. He was created Earl of Warrington. He obtained a grant of all the lands that could be discovered belonging to Jesuits in five or six counties. A demand made by him on account of expenses incurred at the time of the Revolution was allowed; and he carried with him into retirement as the reward of his patriotic exertions a large sum, which the State could ill spare. But his anger was not to be so appeased; and to the end of his life he continued to complain bitterly of the ingratitude with which he and his party had been treated.
Sir John Lowther became First Lord of the Treasury, and was the person on whom Caermarthen chiefly relied for the conduct of the ostensible business of the House of Commons. Lowther was a man of ancient descent, ample estate, and great parliamentary interest. Though not an old man, he was an old senator: for he had, before he was of age, succeeded his father as knight of the shire for Westmoreland. In truth the representation of Westmoreland was almost as much one of the hereditaments of the Lowther family as Lowther Hall. Sir John's abilities were respectable; his manners, though sarcastically noticed in contemporary lampoons as too formal, were eminently courteous; his personal courage he was but too ready to prove; his morals were irreproachable; his time was divided between respectable labours and respectable pleasures; his chief business was to attend the House of Commons and to preside on the Bench of Justice; his favourite amusements were reading and gardening. In opinions he was a very moderate Tory. He was attached to hereditary monarchy and to the Established Church; but he had concurred in the Revolution; he had no misgivings touching the title of William and Mary; he had sworn allegiance to them without any mental reservation; and he appears to have strictly kept his oath. Between him and Caermarthen there was a close connection. They had acted together cordially in the Northern insurrection; and they agreed in their political views, as nearly as a very cunning statesman and a very honest country gentleman could be expected to agree. By Caermarthen's influence Lowther was now raised to one of the most important places in the kingdom. Unfortunately it was a place requiring qualities very different from those which suffice to make a valuable county member and chairman of quarter sessions. The tongue of the new First Lord of the Treasury was not sufficiently ready, nor was his temper sufficiently callous for his post. He had neither adroitness to parry, nor fortitude to endure, the gibes and reproaches to which, in his new character of courtier and placeman, he was exposed. There was also something to be done which he was too scrupulous to do; something which had never been done by Wolsey or Burleigh; something which has never been done by any English statesman of our generation; but which, from the time of Charles the Second to the time of George the Third, was one of the most important parts of the business of a minister.
The history of the rise, progress, and decline of parliamentary corruption in England still remains to be written. No subject has called forth a greater quantity of eloquent vituperation and stinging sarcasm. Three generations of serious and of sportive writers wept and laughed over the venality of the senate. That venality was denounced on the hustings, anathematized from the pulpit, and burlesqued on the stage; was attacked by Pope in brilliant verse, and by Bolingbroke in stately prose, by Swift with savage hatred, and by Gay with festive malice. The voices of Tories and Whigs, of Johnson and Akenside, of Smollett and Fielding, contributed to swell the cry. But none of those who railed or of those who jested took the trouble to verify the phaenomena, or to trace them to the real causes.
Sometimes the evil was imputed to the depravity of a particular minister: but, when he had been driven from power, and when those who had most loudly accused him governed in his stead, it was found that the change of men had produced no change of system. Sometimes the evil was imputed to the degeneracy of the national character. Luxury and cupidity, it was said, had produced in our country the same effect which they had produced of old in the Roman republic. The modern Englishman was to the Englishman of the sixteenth century what Verres and Curio were to Dentatus and Fabricius. Those who held this language were as ignorant and shallow as people generally are who extol the past at the expense of the present. A man of sense would have perceived that, if the English of the time of George the Second had really been more sordid and dishonest than their forefathers, the deterioration would not have shown itself in one place alone. The progress of judicial venality and of official venality would have kept pace with the progress of parliamentary venality. But nothing is more certain than that, while the legislature was becoming more and more venal, the courts of law and the public offices were becoming purer and purer. The representatives of the people were undoubtedly more mercenary in the days of Hardwicke and Pelham than in the days of the Tudors. But the Chancellors of the Tudors took plate and jewels from suitors without scruple or shame; and Hardwicke would have committed for contempt any suitor who had dared to bring him a present. The Treasurers of the Tudors raised princely fortunes by the sale of places, titles, and pardons; and Pelham would have ordered his servants to turn out of his house any man who had offered him money for a peerage or a commissionership of customs. It is evident, therefore, that the prevalence of corruption in the Parliament cannot be ascribed to a general depravation of morals. The taint was local; we must look for some local cause; and such a cause will without difficulty be found.
Under our ancient sovereigns the House of Commons rarely interfered with the executive administration. The Speaker was charged not to let the members meddle with matters of State. If any gentleman was very troublesome he was cited before the Privy Council, interrogated, reprimanded, and sent to meditate on his undutiful conduct in the Tower. The Commons did their best to protect themselves by keeping their deliberations secret, by excluding strangers, by making it a crime to repeat out of doors what had passed within doors. But these precautions were of small avail. In so large an assembly there were always talebearers ready to carry the evil report of their brethren to the palace. To oppose the Court was therefore a service of serious danger. In those days of course, there was little or no buying of votes. For an honest man was not to be bought; and it was much cheaper to intimidate or to coerce a knave than to buy him.
For a very different reason there has been no direct buying of votes within the memory of the present generation. The House of Commons is now supreme in the State, but is accountable to the nation. Even those members who are not chosen by large constituent bodies are kept in awe by public opinion. Every thing is printed; every thing is discussed; every material word uttered in debate is read by a million of people on the morrow. Within a few hours after an important division, the lists of the majority and the minority are scanned and analysed in every town from Plymouth to Inverness. If a name be found where it ought not to be, the apostate is certain to be reminded in sharp language of the promises which he has broken and of the professions which he has belied. At present, therefore, the best way in which a government can secure the support of a majority of the representative body is by gaining the confidence of the nation.
But between the time when our Parliaments ceased to be controlled by royal prerogative and the time when they began to be constantly and effectually controlled by public opinion there was a long interval. After the Restoration, no government ventured to return to those methods by which, before the civil war, the freedom of deliberation has been restrained. A member could no longer be called to account for his harangues or his votes. He might obstruct the passing of bills of supply; he might arraign the whole foreign policy of the country; he might lay on the table articles of impeachment against all the chief ministers; and he ran not the smallest risk of being treated as Morrice had been treated by Elizabeth, or Eliot by Charles the First. The senator now stood in no awe of the Court. Nevertheless all the defences behind which the feeble Parliaments of the sixteenth century had entrenched themselves against the attacks of prerogative were not only still kept up, but were extended and strengthened. No politician seems to have been aware that these defences were no longer needed for their original purpose, and had begun to serve a purpose very different. The rules which had been originally designed to secure faithful representatives against the displeasure of the Sovereign, now operated to secure unfaithful representatives against the displeasure of the people, and proved much more effectual for the latter end than they had ever been for the former. It was natural, it was inevitable, that, in a legislative body emancipated from the restraints of the sixteenth century, and not yet subjected to the restraints of the nineteenth century, in a legislative body which feared neither the King nor the public, there should be corruption.
The plague spot began to be visible and palpable in the days of the Cabal. Clifford, the boldest and fiercest of the wicked Five, had the merit of discovering that a noisy patriot, whom it was no longer possible to send to prison, might be turned into a courtier by a goldsmith's note. Clifford's example was followed by his successors. It soon became a proverb that a Parliament resembled a pump. Often, the wits said, when a pump appears to be dry, if a very small quantity of water is poured in, a great quantity of water gushes out: and so, when a Parliament appears to be niggardly, ten thousand pounds judiciously given in bribes will often produce a million in supplies. The evil was not diminished, nay, it was aggravated, by that Revolution which freed our country from so many other evils. The House of Commons was now more powerful than ever as against the Crown, and yet was not more strictly responsible than formerly to the nation. The government had a new motive for buying the members; and the members had no new motive for refusing to sell themselves. William, indeed, had an aversion to bribery; he resolved to abstain from it; and, during the first year of his reign, he kept his resolution. Unhappily the events of that year did not encourage him to persevere in his good intentions. As soon as Caermarthen was placed at the head of the internal administration of the realm, a complete change took place. He was in truth no novice in the art of purchasing votes. He had, sixteen years before, succeeded Clifford at the Treasury, had inherited Clifford's tactics, had improved upon them, and had employed them to an extent which would have amazed the inventor. From the day on which Caermarthen was called a second time to the chief direction of affairs, parliamentary corruption continued to be practised, with scarcely any intermission, by a long succession of statesmen, till the close of the American war. Neither of the great English parties can justly charge the other with any peculiar guilt on this account. The Tories were the first who introduced the system and the last who clung to it; but it attained its greatest vigour in the time of Whig ascendency. The extent to which parliamentary support was bartered for money cannot be with any precision ascertained. But it seems probable that the number of hirelings was greatly exaggerated by vulgar report, and was never large, though often sufficient to turn the scale on important divisions. An unprincipled minister eagerly accepted the services of these mercenaries. An honest minister reluctantly submitted, for the sake of the commonwealth, to what he considered as a shameful and odious extortion. But during many years every minister, whatever his personal character might be, consented, willingly or unwillingly, to manage the Parliament in the only way in which the Parliament could then be managed. It at length became as notorious that there was a market for votes at the Treasury as that there was a market for cattle in Smithfield. Numerous demagogues out of power declaimed against this vile traffic; but every one of those demagogues, as soon as he was in power, found himself driven by a kind of fatality to engage in that traffic, or at least to connive at it. Now and then perhaps a man who had romantic notions of public virtue refused to be himself the paymaster of the corrupt crew, and averted his eyes while his less scrupulous colleagues did that which he knew to be indispensable, and yet felt to be degrading. But the instances of this prudery were rare indeed. The doctrine generally received, even among upright and honourable politicians, was that it was shameful to receive bribes, but that it was necessary to distribute them. It is a remarkable fact that the evil reached the greatest height during the administration of Henry Pelham, a statesman of good intentions, of spotless morals in private life, and of exemplary disinterestedness. It is not difficult to guess by what arguments he and other well meaning men, who, like him, followed the fashion of their age, quieted their consciences. No casuist, however severe, has denied that it may be a duty to give what it is a crime to take. It was infamous in Jeffreys to demand money for the lives of the unhappy prisoners whom he tried at Dorchester and Taunton. But it was not infamous, nay, it was laudable, in the kinsmen and friends of a prisoner to contribute of their substance in order to make up a purse for Jeffreys. The Sallee rover, who threatened to bastinado a Christian captive to death unless a ransom was forthcoming, was an odious ruffian. But to ransom a Christian captive from a Sallee rover was, not merely an innocent, but a highly meritorious act. It would be improper in such cases to use the word corruption. Those who receive the filthy lucre are corrupt already. He who bribes them does not make them wicked: he finds them so; and he merely prevents their evil propensities from producing evil effects. And might not the same plea be urged in defence of a minister who, when no other expedient would avail, paid greedy and lowminded men not to ruin their country?
It was by some such reasoning as this that the scruples of William were overcome. Honest Burnet, with the uncourtly courage which distinguished him, ventured to remonstrate with the King. "Nobody," William answered, "hates bribery more, than I. But I have to do with a set of men who must be managed in this vile way or not at all. I must strain a point or the country is lost."
It was necessary for the Lord President to have in the House of Commons an agent for the purchase of members; and Lowther was both too awkward and too scrupulous to be such an agent. But a man in whom craft and profligacy were united in a high degree was without difficulty found. This was the Master of the Rolls, Sir John Trevor, who had been Speaker in the single Parliament held by James. High as Trevor had risen in the world, there were people who could still remember him a strange looking lawyer's clerk in the Inner Temple. Indeed, nobody who had ever seen him was likely to forget him. For his grotesque features and his hideous squint were far beyond the reach of caricature. His parts, which were quick and vigorous, had enabled him early to master the science of chicane. Gambling and betting were his amusements; and out of these amusements he contrived to extract much business in the way of his profession. For his opinion on a question arising out of a wager or a game at chance had as much authority as a judgment of any court in Westminster Hall. He soon rose to be one of the boon companions whom Jeffreys hugged in fits of maudlin friendship over the bottle at night, and cursed and reviled in court on the morrow. Under such a teacher, Trevor rapidly became a proficient in that peculiar kind of rhetoric which had enlivened the trials of Baxter and of Alice Lisle. Report indeed spoke of some scolding matches between the Chancellor and his friend, in which the disciple had been not less voluble and scurrilous than the master. These contests, however, did not take place till the younger adventurer had attained riches and dignities such that he no longer stood in need of the patronage which had raised him. Among High Churchmen Trevor, in spite of his notorious want of principle, had at this time a certain popularity, which he seems to have owed chiefly to their conviction that, however insincere he might be in general, his hatred of the dissenters was genuine and hearty. There was little doubt that, in a House of Commons in which the Tories had a majority, he might easily, with the support of the Court, be chosen Speaker. He was impatient to be again in his old post, which he well knew how to make one of the most lucrative in the kingdom; and he willingly undertook that secret and shameful office for which Lowther was altogether unqualified.
Richard Hampden was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. This appointment was probably intended as a mark of royal gratitude for the moderation of his conduct, and for the attempts which he had made to curb the violence of his Whig friends, and especially of his son.
Godolphin voluntarily left the Treasury; why, we are not informed. We can scarcely doubt that the dissolution and the result of the general election must have given him pleasure. For his political opinions leaned towards Toryism; and he had, in the late reign, done some things which, though not very heinous, stood in need of an indemnity. It is probable that he did not think it compatible with his personal dignity to sit at the board below Lowther, who was in rank his inferior.
A new Commission of Admiralty was issued. At the head of the naval administration was placed Thomas Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, a high born and high bred man, who had ranked among the Tories, who had voted for a Regency, and who had married the daughter of Sawyer. That Pembroke's Toryism, however, was not of a narrow and illiberal kind is sufficiently proved by the fact that, immediately after the Revolution, the Essay on the Human Understanding was dedicated to him by John Locke, in token of gratitude for kind offices done in evil times.
Nothing was omitted which could reconcile Torrington to this change. For, though he had been found an incapable administrator, he still stood so high in general estimation as a seaman that the government was unwilling to lose his services. He was assured that no slight was intended to him. He could not serve his country at once on the ocean and at Westminster; and it had been thought less difficult to supply his place in his office than on the deck of his flagship. He was at first very angry, and actually laid down his commission: but some concessions were made to his pride: a pension of three thousand pounds a year and a grant of ten thousand acres of crown land in the Peterborough level were irresistible baits to his cupidity; and, in an evil hour for England, he consented to remain at the head of the naval force, on which the safety of her coasts depended.
While these changes were making in the offices round Whitehall, the Commissions of Lieutenancy all over the kingdom were revised. The Tories had, during twelve months, been complaining that their share in the government of the districts in which they lived bore no proportion to their number, to their wealth, and to the consideration which they enjoyed in society. They now regained with great delight their former position in their shires. The Whigs raised a cry that the King was foully betrayed, and that he had been induced by evil counsellors to put the sword into the hands of men who, as soon as a favourable opportunity offered, would turn the edge against himself. In a dialogue which was believed to have been written by the newly created Earl of Warrington, and which had a wide circulation at the time, but has long been forgotten, the Lord Lieutenant of a county was introduced expressing his apprehensions that the majority of his deputies were traitors at heart. But nowhere was the excitement produced by the new distribution of power so great as in the capital. By a Commission of Lieutenancy which had been issued immediately after the Revolution, the train bands of the City had been put under the command of staunch Whigs. Those powerful and opulent citizens whose names were omitted complained that the list was filled with elders of Puritan congregations, with Shaftesbury's brisk boys, with Rye House plotters, and that it was scarcely possible to find, mingled with that multitude of fanatics and levellers, a single man sincerely attached to monarchy and to the Church. A new Commission now appeared framed by Caermarthen and Nottingham. They had taken counsel with Compton, the Bishop of the diocese; and Compton was not a very discreet adviser. He had originally been a High Churchman and a Tory. The severity with which he had been treated in the late reign had transformed him into a Latitudinarian and a rebel; and he had now, from jealousy of Tillotson, turned High Churchman and Tory again. The Whigs complained that they were ungratefully proscribed by a government which owed its existence to them; that some of the best friends of King William had been dismissed with contumely to make room for some of his worst enemies, for men who were as unworthy of trust as any Irish Rapparee, for men who had delivered up to a tyrant the charter and the immemorial privileges of the City, for men who had made themselves notorious by the cruelty with which they had enforced the penal laws against Protestant dissenters, nay, for men who had sate on those juries which had found Russell and Cornish guilty. The discontent was so great that it seemed, during a short time, likely to cause pecuniary embarrassment to the State. The supplies voted by the late Parliament came in slowly. The wants of the public service were pressing. In such circumstances it was to the citizens of London that the government always looked for help; and the government of William had hitherto looked especially to those citizens who professed Whig opinions. Things were now changed. A few eminent Whigs, in their first anger, sullenly refused to advance money. Nay, one or two unexpectedly withdrew considerable sums from the Exchequer. The financial difficulties might have been serious, had not some wealthy Tories, who, if Sacheverell's clause had become law, would have been excluded from all municipal honours, offered the Treasury a hundred thousand pounds down, and promised to raise a still larger sum.
While the City was thus agitated, came a day appointed by royal proclamation for a general fast. The reasons assigned for this solemn act of devotion were the lamentable state of Ireland and the approaching departure of the King. Prayers were offered up for the safety of His Majesty's person and for the success of his arms. The churches of London were crowded. The most eminent preachers of the capital, who were, with scarcely an exception, either moderate Tories or moderate Whigs, exerted themselves to calm the public mind, and earnestly exhorted their flocks not to withhold, at this great conjuncture, a hearty support from the prince, with whose fate was bound up the fate of the whole nation. Burnet told a large congregation from the pulpit how the Greeks, when the Great Turk was preparing to besiege Constantinople, could not be persuaded to contribute any part of their wealth for the common defence, and how bitterly they repented of their avarice when they were compelled to deliver up to the victorious infidels the treasures which had been refused to the supplications of the last Christian emperor.
The Whigs, however, as a party, did not stand in need of such an admonition. Grieved and angry as they were, they were perfectly sensible that on the stability of the throne of William depended all that they most highly prized. What some of them might, at this conjuncture, have been tempted to do if they could have found another leader, if, for example, their Protestant Duke, their King Monmouth, had still been living, may be doubted. But their only choice was between the Sovereign whom they had set up and the Sovereign whom they had pulled down. It would have been strange indeed if they had taken part with James in order to punish William, when the worst fault which they imputed to William was that he did not participate in the vindictive feeling with which they remembered the tyranny of James. Much as they disliked the Bill of Indemnity, they had not forgotten the Bloody Circuit. They therefore, even in their ill humour, continued true to their own King, and, while grumbling at him, were ready to stand by him against his adversary with their lives and fortunes.
There were indeed exceptions; but they were very few; and they were to be found almost exclusively in two classes, which, though widely differing from each other in social position, closely resembled each other in laxity of principle. All the Whigs who are known to have trafficked with Saint Germains belonged, not to the main body of the party, but either to the head or to the tail. They were either patricians high in rank and office, or caitiffs who had long been employed in the foulest drudgery of faction. To the former class belonged Shrewsbury. Of the latter class the most remarkable specimen was Robert Ferguson. From the day on which the Convention Parliament was dissolved, Shrewsbury began to waver in his allegiance: but that he had ever wavered was not, till long after, suspected by the public. That Ferguson had, a few months after the Revolution, become a furious Jacobite, was no secret to any body, and ought not to have been matter of surprise to any body. For his apostasy he could not plead even the miserable excuse that he had been neglected. The ignominious services which he had formerly rendered to his party as a spy, a raiser of riots, a dispenser of bribes, a writer of libels, a prompter of false witnesses, had been rewarded only too prodigally for the honour of the new government. That he should hold any high office was of course impossible. But a sinecure place of five hundred a year had been created for him in the department of the Excise. He now had what to him was opulence: but opulence did not satisfy him. For money indeed he had never scrupled to be guilty of fraud aggravated by hypocrisy; yet the love of money was not his strongest passion. Long habits had developed in him a moral disease from, which people who make political agitation their calling are seldom wholly free. He could not be quiet. Sedition, from being his business, had become his pleasure. It was as impossible for him to live without doing mischief as for an old dram drinker or an old opium eater to live without the daily dose of poison. The very discomforts and hazards of a lawless life had a strange attraction for him. He could no more be turned into a peaceable and loyal subject than the fox can be turned into a shepherd's dog, or than the kite can be taught the habits of the barn door fowl. The Red Indian prefers his hunting ground to cultivated fields and stately cities: the gipsy, sheltered by a commodious roof, and provided with meat in due season, still pines for the ragged tent on the moor and the meal of carrion, and even so Ferguson became weary of plenty and security, of his salary, his house, his table and his coach, and longed to be again the president of societies where none could enter without a password, the director of secret presses, the distributor of inflammatory pamphlets; to see the walls placarded with descriptions of his Person and offers of reward for his apprehension; to have six or seven names, with a different wig and cloak for each, and to change his lodgings thrice a week at dead of night. His hostility was not to Popery or to Protestantism, to monarchical government or to republican government, to the House of Stuart or to the House of Nassau, but to whatever was at the time established.
By the Jacobites this new ally was eagerly welcomed. They were at that moment busied with schemes in which the help of a veteran plotter was much needed. There had been a great stir among them from the day on which it had been announced that William had determined to take the command in Ireland; and they were all looking forward with impatient hope to his departure.--He was not a prince against whom men lightly venture to set up a standard of rebellion. His courage, his sagacity, the secrecy of his counsels, the success which had generally crowned his enterprises, overawed the vulgar. Even his most acrimonious enemies feared him at least as much as they hated him. While he was at Kensington, ready to take horse at a moment's notice, malecontents who prized their heads and their estates were generally content to vent their hatred by drinking confusion to his hooked nose, and by squeezing with significant energy the orange which was his emblem. But their courage rose when they reflected that the sea would soon roll between him and our island. In the military and political calculations of that age, thirty leagues of water were as important as three hundred leagues now are. The winds and waves frequently interrupted all communication between England and Ireland. It sometimes happened that, during a fortnight or three weeks, not a word of intelligence from London reached Dublin. Twenty English counties might be up in arms long before any rumour that an insurrection was even apprehended could reach Ulster. Early in the spring, therefore, the leading malecontents assembled in London for the purpose of concerting an extensive plan of action, and corresponded assiduously both with France and with Ireland.
Such was the temper of the English factions when, on the twentieth of March, the new Parliament met. The first duty which the Commons had to perform was that of choosing a Speaker. Trevor was proposed by Lowther, was elected without opposition, and was presented and approved with the ordinary ceremonial. The King then made a speech in which he especially recommended to the consideration of the Houses two important subjects, the settling of the revenue and the granting of an amnesty. He represented strongly the necessity of despatch. Every day was precious, the season for action was approaching. "Let not us," he said, "be engaged in debates while our enemies are in the field."
The first subject which the Commons took into consideration was the state of the revenue. A great part of the taxes had, since the accession of William and Mary, been collected under the authority of Acts passed for short terms, and it was now time to determine on a permanent arrangement. A list of the salaries and pensions for which provision was to be made was laid before the House; and the amount of the sums thus expended called forth very just complaints from the independent members, among whom Sir Charles Sedley distinguished himself by his sarcastic pleasantry. A clever speech which he made against the placemen stole into print and was widely circulated: it has since been often republished; and it proves, what his poems and plays might make us doubt, that his contemporaries were not mistaken in considering him as a man of parts and vivacity. Unfortunately the ill humour which the sight of the Civil List caused evaporated in jests and invectives without producing any reform.
The ordinary revenue by which the government had been supported before the Revolution had been partly hereditary, and had been partly drawn from taxes granted to each sovereign for life. The hereditary revenue had passed, with the crown, to William and Mary. It was derived from the rents of the royal domains, from fees, from fines, from wine licenses, from the first fruits and tenths of benefices, from the receipts of the Post Office, and from that part of the excise which had, immediately after the Restoration, been granted to Charles the Second and to his successors for ever in lieu of the feudal services due to our ancient kings. The income from all these sources was estimated at between four and five hundred thousand pounds.
Those duties of excise and customs which had been granted to James for life had, at the close of his reign, yielded about nine hundred thousand pounds annually. William naturally wished to have this income on the same terms on which his uncle had enjoyed it; and his ministers did their best to gratify his wishes. Lowther moved that the grant should be to the King and Queen for their joint and separate lives, and spoke repeatedly and earnestly in defence of this motion. He set forth William's claims to public gratitude and confidence; the nation rescued from Popery and arbitrary power; the Church delivered from persecution; the constitution established on a firm basis. Would the Commons deal grudgingly with a prince who had done more for England than had ever been done for her by any of his predecessors in so short a time, with a prince who was now about to expose himself to hostile weapons and pestilential air in order to preserve the English colony in Ireland, with a prince who was prayed for in every corner of the world where a congregation of Protestants could meet for the worship of God? But on this subject Lowther harangued in vain. Whigs and Tories were equally fixed in the opinion that the liberality of Parliaments had been the chief cause of the disasters of the last thirty years; that to the liberality of the Parliament of 1660 was to be ascribed the misgovernment of the Cabal; that to the liberality of the Parliament of 1685 was to be ascribed the Declaration of Indulgence, and that the Parliament of 1690 would be inexcusable if it did not profit by a long, a painful, an unvarying experience. After much dispute a compromise was made. That portion of the excise which had been settled for life on James, and which was estimated at three hundred thousand pounds a year, was settled on William and Mary for their joint and separate lives. It was supposed that, with the hereditary revenue, and with three hundred thousand a year more from the excise, their Majesties would have, independent of parliamentary control, between seven and eight hundred thousand a year. Out of this income was to be defrayed the charge both of the royal household and of those civil offices of which a list had been laid before the House. This income was therefore called the Civil List. The expenses of the royal household are now entirely separated from the expenses of the civil government; but, by a whimsical perversion, the name of Civil List has remained attached to that portion of the revenue which is appropriated to the expenses of the royal household. It is still more strange that several neighbouring nations should have thought this most unmeaning of all names worth borrowing. Those duties of customs which had been settled for life on Charles and James successively, and which, in the year before the Revolution, had yielded six hundred thousand pounds, were granted to the Crown for a term of only four years.
William was by no means well pleased with this arrangement. He thought it unjust and ungrateful in a people whose liberties he had saved to bind him over to his good behaviour. "The gentlemen of England," he said to Burnet, "trusted King James who was an enemy of their religion and of their laws; and they will not trust me by whom their religion and their laws have been preserved." Burnet answered very properly that there was no mark of personal confidence which His Majesty was not entitled to demand, but that this question was not a question of personal confidence. The Estates of the Realm wished to establish a general principle. They wished to set a precedent which might secure a remote posterity against evils such as the indiscreet liberality of former Parliaments had produced. "From those evils Your Majesty has delivered this generation. By accepting the gift of the Commons on the terms on which it is offered Your Majesty will be also a deliverer of future generations." William was not convinced; but he had too much wisdom and selfcommand to give way to his ill humour; and he accepted graciously what he could not but consider as ungraciously given.
The Civil List was charged with an annuity of twenty thousand pounds to the Princess of Denmark, in addition to an annuity of thirty thousand pounds which had been settled on her at the time of her marriage. This arrangement was the result of a compromise which had been effected with much difficulty and after many irritating disputes. The King and Queen had never, since the commencement of their reign, been on very good terms with their sister. That William should have been disliked by a woman who had just sense enough to perceive that his temper was sour and his manners repulsive, and who was utterly incapable of appreciating his higher qualities, is not extraordinary. But Mary was made to be loved. So lively and intelligent a woman could not indeed derive much pleasure from the society of Anne, who, when in good humour, was meekly stupid, and, when in bad humour, was sulkily stupid. Yet the Queen, whose kindness had endeared her to her humblest attendants, would hardly have made an enemy of one whom it was her duty and her interest to make a friend, had not an influence strangely potent and strangely malignant been incessantly at work to divide the Royal House against itself. The fondness of the Princess for Lady Marlborough was such as, in a superstitious age, would have been ascribed to some talisman or potion. Not only had the friends, in their confidential intercourse with each other, dropped all ceremony and all titles, and become plain Mrs. Morley and plain Mrs. Freeman; but even Prince George, who cared as much for the dignity of his birth as he was capable of caring for any thing but claret and calvered salmon, submitted to be Mr. Morley. The Countess boasted that she had selected the name of Freeman because it was peculiarly suited to the frankness and boldness of her character; and, to do her justice, it was not by the ordinary arts of courtiers that she established and long maintained her despotic empire over the feeblest of minds, She had little of that tact which is the characteristic talent of her sex; she was far too violent to flatter or to dissemble: but, by a rare chance, she had fallen in with a nature on which dictation and contradiction acted as philtres. In this grotesque friendship all the loyalty, the patience, the selfdevotion, was on the side of the mistress. The whims, the haughty airs, the fits of ill temper, were on the side of the waiting woman.
Nothing is more curious than the relation in which the two ladies stood to Mr. Freeman, as they called Marlborough. In foreign countries people knew in general that Anne was governed by the Churchills. They knew also that the man who appeared to enjoy so large a share of her favour was not only a great soldier and politician, but also one of the finest gentlemen of his time, that his face and figure were eminently handsome, his temper at once bland and resolute, his manners at once engaging and noble. Nothing could be more natural than that graces and accomplishments like his should win a female heart. On the Continent therefore many persons imagined that he was Anne's favoured lover; and he was so described in contemporary French libels which have long been forgotten. In England this calumny never found credit even with the vulgar, and is nowhere to be found even in the most ribald doggrel that was sung about our streets. In truth the Princess seems never to have been guilty of a thought inconsistent with her conjugal vows. To her Marlborough, with all his genius and his valour, his beauty and his grace, was nothing but the husband of her friend. Direct power over Her Royal Highness he had none. He could influence her only by the instrumentality of his wife; and his wife was no passive instrument. Though it is impossible to discover, in any thing that she ever did, said or wrote, any indication of superior understanding, her fierce passions and strong will enabled her often to rule a husband who was born to rule grave senates and mighty armies. His courage, that courage which the most perilous emergencies of war only made cooler and more steady, failed him when he had to encounter his Sarah's ready tears and voluble reproaches, the poutings of her lip and the tossings of her head. History exhibits to us few spectacles more remarkable than that of a great and wise man, who, when he had combined vast and profound schemes of policy, could carry them into effect only by inducing one foolish woman, who was often unmanageable, to manage another woman who was more foolish still.
In one point the Earl and the Countess were perfectly agreed. They were equally bent on getting money; though, when it was got, he loved to hoard it, and she was not unwilling to spend it. The favour of the Princess they both regarded as a valuable estate. In her father's reign, they had begun to grow rich by means of her bounty. She was naturally inclined to parsimony; and, even when she was on the throne, her equipages and tables were by no means sumptuous. It might have been thought, therefore, that, while she was a subject, thirty thousand a year, with a residence in the palace, would have been more than sufficient for all her wants. There were probably not in the kingdom two noblemen possessed of such an income. But no income would satisfy the greediness of those who governed her. She repeatedly contracted debts which James repeatedly discharged, not without expressing much surprise and displeasure.
The Revolution opened to the Churchills a new and boundless prospect of gain. The whole conduct of their mistress at the great crisis had proved that she had no will, no judgment, no conscience, but theirs. To them she had sacrificed affections, prejudices, habits, interests. In obedience to them, she had joined in the conspiracy against her father; she had fled from Whitehall in the depth of winter, through ice and mire, to a hackney coach; she had taken refuge in the rebel camp; she had consented to yield her place in the order of succession to the Prince of Orange. They saw with pleasure that she, over whom they possessed such boundless influence, possessed no common influence over others. Scarcely had the Revolution been accomplished when many Tories, disliking both the King who had been driven out and the King who had come in, and doubting whether their religion had more to fear from Jesuits or from Latitudinarians, showed a strong disposition to rally round Anne. Nature had made her a bigot. Such was the constitution of her mind that to the religion of her nursery she could not but adhere, without examination and without doubt, till she was laid in her coffin. In the court of her father she had been deaf to all that could be urged in favour of transubstantiation and auricular confession. In the court of her brother in law she was equally deaf to all that could be urged in favour of a general union among Protestants. This slowness and obstinacy made her important. It was a great thing to be the only member of the Royal Family who regarded Papists and Presbyterians with an impartial aversion. While a large party was disposed to make her an idol, she was regarded by her two artful servants merely as a puppet. They knew that she had it in her power to give serious annoyance to the government; and they determined to use this power in order to extort money, nominally for her, but really for themselves. While Marlborough was commanding the English forces in the Low Countries, the execution of the plan was necessarily left to his wife; and she acted, not as he would doubtless have acted, with prudence and temper, but, as is plain even from her own narrative, with odious violence and insolence. Indeed she had passions to gratify from which he was altogether free. He, though one of the most covetous, was one of the least acrimonious of mankind; but malignity was in her a stronger passion than avarice. She hated easily; she hated heartily; and she hated implacably. Among the objects of her hatred were all who were related to her mistress either on the paternal or on the maternal side. No person who had a natural interest in the Princess could observe without uneasiness the strange infatuation which made her the slave of an imperious and reckless termagant. This the Countess well knew. In her view the Royal Family and the family of Hyde, however they might differ as to other matters, were leagued against her; and she detested them all, James, William and Mary, Clarendon and Rochester. Now was the time to wreak the accumulated spite of years. It was not enough to obtain a great, a regal, revenue for Anne. That revenue must be obtained by means which would wound and humble those whom the favourite abhorred. It must not be asked, it must not be accepted, as a mark of fraternal kindness, but demanded in hostile tones, and wrung by force from reluctant hands. No application was made to the King and Queen. But they learned with astonishment that Lady Marlborough was indefatigable in canvassing the Tory members of Parliament, that a Princess's party was forming, that the House of Commons would be moved to settle on Her Royal Highness a vast income independent of the Crown. Mary asked her sister what these proceedings meant. "I hear," said Anne, "that my friends have a mind to make me some settlement." It is said that the Queen, greatly hurt by an expression which seemed to imply that she and her husband were not among her sister's friends, replied with unwonted sharpness, "Of what friends do you speak? What friends have you except the King and me?" The subject was never again mentioned between the sisters. Mary was probably sensible that she had made a mistake in addressing herself to one who was merely a passive instrument in the hands of others. An attempt was made to open a negotiation with the Countess. After some inferior agents had expostulated with her in vain, Shrewsbury waited on her. It might have been expected that his intervention would have been successful; for, if the scandalous chronicle of those times could be trusted, he had stood high, too high, in her favour. He was authorised by the King to promise that, if the Princess would desist from soliciting the members of the House of Commons to support her cause, the income of Her Royal Highness should be increased from thirty thousand pounds to fifty thousand. The Countess flatly rejected this offer. The King's word, she had the insolence to hint, was not a sufficient security. "I am confident," said Shrewsbury, "that His Majesty will strictly fulfil his engagements. If he breaks them I will not serve him an hour longer." "That may be very honourable in you," answered the pertinacious vixen, "but it will be very poor comfort to the Princess." Shrewsbury, after vainly attempting to move the servant, was at length admitted to an audience of the mistress. Anne, in language doubtless dictated by her friend Sarah, told him that the business had gone too far to be stopped, and must be left to the decision of the Commons.
The truth was that the Princess's prompters hoped to obtain from Parliament a much larger sum than was offered by the King. Nothing less than seventy thousand a year would content them. But their cupidity overreached itself. The House of Commons showed a great disposition to gratify Her Royal Highness. But, when at length her too eager adherents ventured to name the sum which they wished to grant, the murmurs were loud. Seventy thousand a year at a time when the necessary expenses of the State were daily increasing, when the receipt of the customs was daily diminishing, when trade was low, when every gentleman, every farmer, was retrenching something from the charge of his table and his cellar! The general opinion was that the sum which the King was understood to be willing to give would be amply sufficient. At last something was conceded on both sides. The Princess was forced to content herself with fifty thousand a year; and William agreed that this sum should be settled on her by Act of Parliament. She rewarded the services of Lady Marlborough with a pension of a thousand a year; but this was in all probability a very small part of what the Churchills gained by the arrangement.
After these transactions the two royal sisters continued during many months to live on terms of civility and even of apparent friendship. But Mary, though she seems to have borne no malice to Anne, undoubtedly felt against Lady Marlborough as much resentment as a very gentle heart is capable of feeling. Marlborough had been out of England during a great part of the time which his wife had spent in canvassing among the Tories, and, though he had undoubtedly acted in concert with her, had acted, as usual, with temper and decorum. He therefore continued to receive from William many marks of favour which were unaccompanied by any indication of displeasure.
In the debates on the settling of the revenue, the distinction between Whigs and Tories does not appear to have been very clearly marked. In truth, if there was any thing about which the two parties were agreed, it was the expediency of granting the customs to the Crown for a time not exceeding four years. But there were other questions which called forth the old animosity in all its strength. The Whigs were now in a minority, but a minority formidable in numbers, and more formidable in ability. They carried on the parliamentary war, not less acrimoniously than when they were a majority, but somewhat more artfully. They brought forward several motions, such as no High Churchman could well support, yet such as no servant of William and Mary could well oppose. The Tory who voted for these motions would run a great risk of being pointed at as a turncoat by the sturdy Cavaliers of his county. The Tory who voted against those motions would run a great risk of being frowned upon at Kensington.
It was apparently in pursuance of this policy that the Whigs laid on the table of the House of Lords a bill declaring all the laws passed by the late Parliament to be valid laws. No sooner had this bill been read than the controversy of the preceeding spring was renewed. The Whigs were joined on this occasion by almost all those noblemen who were connected with the government. The rigid Tories, with Nottingham at their head, professed themselves willing to enact that every statute passed in 1689 should have the same force that it would have had if it had been passed by a parliament convoked in a regular manner; but nothing would induce them to acknowledge that an assembly of lords and gentlemen, who had come together without authority from the Great Seal, was constitutionally a Parliament. Few questions seem to have excited stronger passions than the question, practically altogether unimportant, whether the bill should or should not be declaratory. Nottingham, always upright and honourable, but a bigot and a formalist, was on this subject singularly obstinate and unreasonable. In one debate he lost his temper, forgot the decorum which in general he strictly observed, and narrowly escaped being committed to the custody of the Black Rod. After much wrangling, the Whigs carried their point by a majority of seven. Many peers signed a strong protest written by Nottingham. In this protest the bill, which was indeed open to verbal criticism, was impolitely described as being neither good English nor good sense. The majority passed a resolution that the protest should be expunged; and against this resolution Nottingham and his followers again protested. The King was displeased by the pertinacity of his Secretary of State; so much displeased indeed that Nottingham declared his intention of resigning the Seals; but the dispute was soon accommodated. William was too wise not to know the value of an honest man in a dishonest age. The very scrupulosity which made Nottingham a mutineer was a security that he would never be a traitor.
The bill went down to the Lower House; and it was full expected that the contest there would be long and fierce; but a single speech settled the question. Somers, with a force and eloquence which surprised even an audience accustomed to hear him with pleasure, exposed the absurdity of the doctrine held by the high Tories. "If the Convention,"--it was thus that he argued,--"was not a Parliament, how can we be a Parliament? An Act of Elizabeth provides that no person shall sit or vote in this House till he has taken the old oath of supremacy. Not one of us has taken that oath. Instead of it, we have all taken the new oath of supremacy which the late Parliament substituted for the old oath. It is therefore a contradiction to say that the Acts of the late Parliament are not now valid, and yet to ask us to enact that they shall henceforth be valid. For either they already are so, or we never can make them so." This reasoning, which was in truth as unanswerable as that of Euclid, brought the debate to a speedy close. The bill passed the Commons within forty-eight hours after it had been read the first time.
This was the only victory won by the Whigs during the whole session. They complained loudly in the Lower House of the change which had been made in the military government of the city of London. The Tories, conscious of their strength, and heated by resentment, not only refused to censure what had been done, but determined to express publicly and formally their gratitude to the King for having brought in so many churchmen and turned out so many schismatics. An address of thanks was moved by Clarges, member for Westminster, who was known to be attached to Caermarthen. "The alterations which have been made in the City," said Clarges, "show that His Majesty has a tender care of us. I hope that he will make similar alterations in every county of the realm." The minority struggled hard. "Will you thank the King," they said, "for putting the sword into the hands of his most dangerous enemies? Some of those whom he has been advised to entrust with military command have not yet been able to bring themselves to take the oath of allegiance to him. Others were well known, in the evil days, as stanch jurymen, who were sure to find an Exclusionist guilty on any evidence or no evidence." Nor did the Whig orators refrain from using those topics on which all factions are eloquent in the hour of distress, and which all factions are but too ready to treat lightly in the hour of prosperity. "Let us not," they said, "pass a vote which conveys a reflection on a large body of our countrymen, good subjects, good Protestants. The King ought to be the head of his whole people. Let us not make him the head of a party." This was excellent doctrine; but it scarcely became the lips of men who, a few weeks before, had opposed the Indemnity Bill and voted for the Sacheverell Clause. The address was carried by a hundred and eighty-five votes to a hundred and thirty-six.
As soon as the numbers had been announced, the minority, smarting from their defeat, brought forward a motion which caused no little embarrassment to the Tory placemen. The oath of allegiance, the Whigs said, was drawn in terms far too lax. It might exclude from public employment a few honest Jacobites who were generally too dull to be mischievous; but it was altogether inefficient as a means of binding the supple and slippery consciences of cunning priests, who, while affecting to hold the Jesuits in abhorrence, were proficients in that immoral casuistry which was the worst part of Jesuitism. Some grave divines had openly said, others had even dared to write, that they had sworn fealty to William in a sense altogether different from that in which they had sworn fealty to James. To James they had plighted the entire faith which a loyal subject owes to a rightful sovereign; but, when they promised to bear true allegiance to William, they meant only that they would not, whilst he was able to hang them for rebelling or conspiring against him, run any risk of being hanged. None could wonder that the precepts and example of the malecontent clergy should have corrupted the malecontent laity. When Prebendaries and Rectors were not ashamed to avow that they had equivocated, in the very act of kissing the New Testament, it was hardly to be expected that attorneys and taxgatherers would be more scrupulous. The consequence was that every department swarmed with traitors; that men who ate the King's bread, men who were entrusted with the duty of collecting and disbursing his revenues, of victualling his ships, of clothing his soldiers, of making his artillery ready for the field, were in the habit of calling him an usurper, and of drinking to his speedy downfall. Could any government be safe which was hated and betrayed by its own servants? And was not the English government exposed to the dangers which, even if all its servants were true, might well excite serious apprehensions? A disputed succession, war with France, war in Scotland, war in Ireland, was not all this enough without treachery in every arsenal and in every custom house? There must be an oath drawn in language too precise to be explained away, in language which no Jacobite could repeat without the consciousness that he was perjuring himself. Though the zealots of indefeasible hereditary right had in general no objection to swear allegiance to William, they would probably not choose to abjure James. On such grounds as these, an Abjuration Bill of extreme severity was brought into the House of Commons. It was proposed to enact that every person who held any office, civil, military, or spiritual, should, on pain of deprivation, solemnly abjure the exiled King; that the oath of abjuration might be tendered by any justice of the peace to any subject of their Majesties; and that, if it were refused, the recusant should be sent to prison, and should lie there as long as he continued obstinate.
The severity of this last provision was generally and most justly blamed. To turn every ignorant meddling magistrate into a state inquisitor, to insist that a plain man, who lived peaceably, who obeyed the laws, who paid his taxes, who had never held and who did not expect ever to hold any office, and who had never troubled his head about problems of political philosophy, should declare, under the sanction of an oath, a decided opinion on a point about which the most learned Doctors of the age had written whole libraries of controversial books, and to send him to rot in a gaol if he could not bring himself to swear, would surely have been the height of tyranny. The clause which required public functionaries to abjure the deposed King was not open to the same objections. Yet even against this clause some weighty arguments were urged. A man, it was said, who has an honest heart and a sound understanding is sufficiently bound by the present oath. Every such man, when he swears to be faithful and to bear true allegiance to King William, does, by necessary implication, abjure King James. There may doubtless be among the servants of the State, and even among the ministers of the Church, some persons who have no sense of honour or religion, and who are ready to forswear themselves for lucre. There may be others who have contracted the pernicious habit of quibbling away the most sacred obligations of morality, and who have convinced themselves that they can innocently make, with a mental reservation, a promise which it would be sinful to make without such a reservation. Against these two classes of Jacobites it is true that the present test affords no security. But will the new test, will any test, be more efficacious? Will a person who has no conscience, or a person whose conscience can be set at rest by immoral sophistry, hesitate to repeat any phrase that you can dictate? The former will kiss the book without any scruple at all. The scruples of the latter will be very easily removed. He now swears allegiance to one King with a mental reservation. He will then abjure the other King with a mental reservation. Do not flatter yourselves that the ingenuity of lawgivers will ever devise an oath which the ingenuity of casuists will not evade. What indeed is the value of any oath in such a matter? Among the many lessons which the troubles of the last generation have left us none is more plain than this, that no form of words, however precise, no imprecation, however awful, ever saved, or ever will save, a government from destruction, Was not the Solemn League and Covenant burned by the common hangman amidst the huzzas of tens of thousands who had themselves subscribed it? Among the statesmen and warriors who bore the chief part in restoring Charles the Second, how many were there who had not repeatedly abjured him? Nay, is it not well known that some of those persons boastfully affirmed that, if they had not abjured him, they never could have restored him?
The debates were sharp; and the issue during a short time seemed doubtful; for some of the Tories who were in office were unwilling to give a vote which might be thought to indicate that they were lukewarm in the cause of the King whom they served. William, however, took care to let it be understood that he had no wish to impose a new test on his subjects. A few words from him decided the event of the conflict. The bill was rejected thirty-six hours after it had been brought in by a hundred and ninety-two votes to a hundred and sixty-five.
Even after this defeat the Whigs pertinaciously returned to the attack. Having failed in one House they renewed the battle in the other. Five days after the Abjuration Bill had been thrown out in the Commons, another Abjuration Bill, somewhat milder, but still very severe, was laid on the table of the Lords. What was now proposed was that no person should sit in either House of Parliament or hold any office, civil, military, or judicial, without making a declaration that he would stand by William and Mary against James and James's adherents. Every male in the kingdom who had attained the age of sixteen was to make the same declaration before a certain day. If he failed to do so he was to pay double taxes and to be incapable of exercising the elective franchise.
On the day fixed for the second reading, the King came down to the House of Peers. He gave his assent in form to several laws, unrobed, took his seat on a chair of state which had been placed for him, and listened with much interest to the debate. To the general surprise, two noblemen who had been eminently zealous for the Revolution spoke against the proposed test. Lord Wharton, a Puritan who had fought for the Long Parliament, said, with amusing simplicity, that he was a very old man, that he had lived through troubled times, that he had taken a great many oaths in his day, and that he was afraid that he had not kept them all. He prayed that the sin might not be laid to his charge; and he declared that he could not consent to lay any more snares for his own soul and for the souls of his neighbours. The Earl of Macclesfield, the captain of the English volunteers who had accompanied William from Helvoetsluys to Torbay, declared that he was much in the same case with Lord Wharton. Marlborough supported the bill. He wondered, he said, that it should be opposed by Macclesfield, who had borne so preeminent a part in the Revolution. Macclesfield, irritated by the charge of inconsistency, retorted with terrible severity: "The noble Earl," he said, "exaggerates the share which I had in the deliverance of our country. I was ready, indeed, and always shall be ready, to venture my life in defence of her laws and liberties. But there are lengths to which, even for the sake of her laws and liberties, I could never go. I only rebelled against a bad King; there were those who did much more."
Marlborough, though not easily discomposed, could not but feel the edge of this sarcasm; William looked displeased; and the aspect of the whole House was troubled and gloomy. It was resolved by fifty-one votes to forty that the bill should be committed; and it was committed, but never reported. After many hard struggles between the Whigs headed by Shrewsbury and the Tories headed by Caermarthen, it was so much mutilated that it retained little more than its name, and did not seem to those who had introduced it to be worth any further contest.
The discomfiture of the Whigs was completed by a communication from the King. Caermarthen appeared in the House of Lords bearing in his hand a parchment signed by William. It was an Act of Grace for political offences.
Between an Act of Grace originating with the Sovereign and an Act of Indemnity originating with the Estates of the Realm there are some remarkable distinctions. An Act of Indemnity passes through all the stages through which other laws pass, and may, during its progress, be amended by either House. An Act of Grace is received with peculiar marks of respect, is read only once by the Lords and once by the Commons, and must be either rejected altogether or accepted as it stands. William had not ventured to submit such an Act to the preceding Parliament. But in the new Parliament he was certain of a majority. The minority gave no trouble. The stubborn spirit which had, during two sessions, obstructed the progress of the Bill of Indemnity had been at length broken by defeats and humiliations. Both Houses stood up uncovered while the Act of Grace was read, and gave their sanction to it without one dissentient voice.
There would not have been this unanimity had not a few great criminals been excluded from the benefits of the amnesty. Foremost among them stood the surviving members of the High Court of Justice which had sate on Charles the First. With these ancient men were joined the two nameless executioners who had done their office, with masked faces, on the scaffold before the Banqueting House. None knew who they were, or of what rank. It was probable that they had been long dead. Yet it was thought necessary to declare that, if even now, after the lapse of forty- one years, they should be discovered, they would still be liable to the punishment of their great crime. Perhaps it would hardly have been thought necessary to mention these men, if the animosities of the preceding generation had not been rekindled by the recent appearance of Ludlow in England. About thirty of the agents of the tyranny of James were left to the law. With these exceptions, all political offences, committed before the day on which the royal signature was affixed to the Act, were covered with a general oblivion. Even the criminals who were by name excluded had little to fear. Many of them were in foreign countries; and those who were in England were well assured that, unless they committed some new fault, they would not be molested.
The Act of Grace the nation owed to William alone; and it is one of his noblest and purest titles to renown. From the commencement of the civil troubles of the seventeenth century down to the Revolution, every victory gained by either party had been followed by a sanguinary proscription. When the Roundheads triumphed over the Cavaliers, when the Cavaliers triumphed over the Roundheads, when the fable of the Popish plot gave the ascendency to the Whigs, when the detection of the Rye House Plot transferred the ascendency to the Tories, blood, and more blood, and still more blood had flowed. Every great explosion and every great recoil of public feeling had been accompanied by severities which, at the time, the predominant faction loudly applauded, but which, on a calm review, history and posterity have condemned. No wise and humane man, whatever may be his political opinions, now mentions without reprehension the death either of Laud or of Vane, either of Stafford or of Russell. Of the alternate butcheries the last and the worst is that which is inseparably associated with the names of James and Jeffreys. But it assuredly would not have been the last, perhaps it might not have been the worst, if William had not had the virtue and the firmness resolutely to withstand the importunity of his most zealous adherents. These men were bent on exacting a terrible retribution for all they had undergone during seven disastrous years. The scaffold of Sidney, the gibbet of Cornish, the stake at which Elizabeth Gaunt had perished in the flames for the crime of harbouring a fugitive, the porches of the Somersetshire churches surmounted by the skulls and quarters of murdered peasants, the holds of those Jamaica ships from which every day the carcass of some prisoner dead of thirst and foul air had been flung to the sharks, all these things were fresh in the memory of the party which the Revolution had made, for a time, dominant in the State. Some chiefs of that party had redeemed their necks by paying heavy ransom. Others had languished long in Newgate. Others had starved and shivered, winter after winter, in the garrets of Amsterdam. It was natural that in the day of their power and prosperity they should wish to inflict some part of what they had suffered. During a whole year they pursued their scheme of revenge. They succeeded in defeating Indemnity Bill after Indemnity Bill. Nothing stood between them and their victims, but William's immutable resolution that the glory of the great deliverance which he had wrought should not be sullied by cruelty. His clemency was peculiar to himself. It was not the clemency of an ostentatious man, or of a sentimental man, or of an easy tempered man. It was cold, unconciliating, inflexible. It produced no fine stage effects. It drew on him the savage invectives of those whose malevolent passions he refused to satisfy. It won for him no gratitude from those who owed to him fortune, liberty and life. While the violent Whigs railed at his lenity, the agents of the fallen government, as soon as they found themselves safe, instead of acknowledging their obligations to him, reproached him in insulting language with the mercy which he had extended to them. His Act of Grace, they said, had completely refuted his Declaration. Was it possible to believe that, if there had been any truth in the charges which he had brought against the late government, he would have granted impunity to the guilty? It was now acknowledged by himself, under his own hand, that the stories by which he and his friends had deluded the nation and driven away the royal family were mere calumnies devised to serve a turn. The turn had been served; and the accusations by which he had inflamed the public mind to madness were coolly withdrawn. But none of these things moved him. He had done well. He had risked his popularity with men who had been his warmest admirers, in order to give repose and security to men by whom his name was never mentioned without a curse. Nor had he conferred a less benefit on those whom he had disappointed of their revenge than on those whom he had protected. If he had saved one faction from a proscription, he had saved the other from the reaction which such a proscription would inevitably have produced. If his people did not justly appreciate his policy, so much the worse for them. He had discharged his duty by them. He feared no obloquy; and he wanted no thanks.
On the twentieth of May the Act of Grace was passed. The King then informed the Houses that his visit to Ireland could no longer be delayed, that he had therefore determined to prorogue them, and that, unless some unexpected emergency made their advice and assistance necessary to him, he should not call them again from their homes till the next winter. "Then," he said, "I hope, by the blessing of God, we shall have a happy meeting."
The Parliament had passed an Act providing that, whenever he should go out of England, it should be lawful for Mary to administer the government of the kingdom in his name and her own. It was added that he should nevertheless, during his absence, retain all his authority. Some objections were made to this arrangement. Here, it was said, were two supreme Powers in one State. A public functionary might receive diametrically opposite orders from the King and the Queen, and might not know which to obey. The objection was, beyond all doubt, speculatively just; but there was such perfect confidence and affection between the royal pair that no practical inconvenience was to be apprehended.
As far as Ireland was concerned, the prospects of William were much more cheering than they had been a few months earlier. The activity with which he had personally urged forward the preparations for the next campaign had produced an extraordinary effect. The nerves of the government were new strung. In every department of the military administration the influence of a vigorous mind was perceptible. Abundant supplies of food, clothing and medicine, very different in quality from those which Shales had furnished, were sent across Saint George's Channel. A thousand baggage waggons had been made or collected with great expedition; and, during some weeks, the road between London and Chester was covered with them. Great numbers of recruits were sent to fill the chasms which pestilence had made in the English ranks. Fresh regiments from Scotland, Cheshire, Lancashire, and Cumberland had landed in the Bay of Belfast. The uniforms and arms of the new corners clearly indicated the potent influence of the master's eye. With the British battalions were interspersed several hardy bands of German and Scandinavian mercenaries. Before the end of May. the English force in Ulster amounted to thirty thousand fighting men. A few more troops and an immense quantity of military stores were on board of a fleet which lay in the estuary of the Dee, and which was ready to weigh anchor as soon as the King was on board.
James ought to have made an equally good use of the time during which his army had been in winter quarters. Strict discipline and regular drilling might, in the interval between November and May, have turned the athletic and enthusiastic peasants who were assembled under his standard into good soldiers. But the opportunity was lost. The Court of Dublin was, during that season of inaction, busied with dice and claret, love letters and challenges. The aspect of the capital was indeed not very brilliant. The whole number of coaches which could be mustered there, those of the King and of the French Legation included, did not amount to forty. But though there was little splendour there was much dissoluteness. Grave Roman Catholics shook their heads and said that the Castle did not look like the palace of a King who gloried in being the champion of the Church. The military administration was as deplorable as ever. The cavalry indeed was, by the exertions of some gallant officers, kept in a high state of efficiency. But a regiment of infantry differed in nothing but name from a large gang of Rapparees. Indeed a gang of Rapparees gave less annoyance to peaceable citizens, and more annoyance to the enemy, than a regiment of infantry. Avaux strongly represented, in a memorial which he delivered to James, the abuses which made the Irish foot a curse and a scandal to Ireland. Whole companies, said the ambassador, quit their colours on the line of march and wander to right and left pillaging and destroying; the soldier takes no care of his arms; the officer never troubles himself to ascertain whether the arms are in good order; the consequence is that one man in every three has lost his musket, and that another man in every three has a musket that will not go off. Avaux adjured the King to prohibit marauding, to give orders that the troops should be regularly exercised, and to punish every officer who suffered his men to neglect their weapons and accoutrements. If these things were done, His Majesty might hope to have, in the approaching spring, an army with which the enemy would be unable to contend. This was good advice; but James was so far from taking it that he would hardly listen to it with patience. Before he had heard eight lines read he flew into a passion and accused the ambassador of exaggeration. "This paper, Sir," said Avaux, "is not written to be published. It is meant solely for Your Majesty's information; and, in a paper meant solely for Your Majesty's information, flattery and disguise would be out of place; but I will not persist in reading what is so disagreeable." "Go on," said James very angrily; "I will hear the whole." He gradually became calmer, took the memorial, and promised to adopt some of the suggestions which it contained. But his promise was soon forgotten.
His financial administration was of a piece with his military administration. His one fiscal resource was robbery, direct or indirect. Every Protestant who had remained in any part of the three southern provinces of Ireland was robbed directly, by the simple process of taking money out of his strong box, drink out of his cellars, fuel from his turf stack, and clothes from his wardrobe. He was robbed indirectly by a new issue of counters, smaller in size and baser in material than any which had yet borne the image and superscription of James. Even brass had begun to be scarce at Dublin; and it was necessary to ask assistance from Lewis, who charitably bestowed on his ally an old cracked piece of cannon to be coined into crowns and shillings.
But the French king had determined to send over succours of a very different kind. He proposed to take into his own service, and to form by the best discipline then known in the world, four Irish regiments. They were to be commanded by Macarthy, who had been severely wounded and taken prisoner at Newton Butler. His wounds had been healed; and he had regained his liberty by violating his parole. This disgraceful breach of faith he had made more disgraceful by paltry tricks and sophistical excuses which would have become a Jesuit better than a gentleman and a soldier. Lewis was willing that the Irish regiments should be sent to him in rags and unarmed, and insisted only that the men should be stout, and that the officers should not be bankrupt traders and discarded lacqueys, but, if possible, men of good family who had seen service. In return for these troops, who were in number not quite four thousand, he undertook to send to Ireland between seven and eight thousand excellent French infantry, who were likely in a day of battle to be of more use than all the kernes of Leinster, Munster and Connaught together.
One great error he committed. The army which he was sending to assist James, though small indeed when compared with the army of Flanders or with the army of the Rhine, was destined for a service on which the fate of Europe might depend, and ought therefore to have been commanded by a general of eminent abilities. There was no want of such generals in the French service. But James and his Queen begged hard for Lauzun, and carried this point against the strong representations of Avaux, against the advice of Louvois, and against the judgment of Lewis himself.
When Lauzun went to the cabinet of Louvois to receive instructions, the wise minister held language which showed how little confidence he felt in the vain and eccentric knight errant. "Do not, for God's sake, suffer yourself to be hurried away by your desire of fighting. Put all your glory in tiring the English out; and, above all things, maintain strict discipline."
Not only was the appointment of Lauzun in itself a bad appointment: but, in order that one man might fill a post for which he was unfit, it was necessary to remove two men from posts for which they were eminently fit. Immoral and hardhearted as Rosen and Avaux were, Rosen was a skilful captain, and Avaux was a skilful politician. Though it is not probable that they would have been able to avert the doom of Ireland, it is probable that they might have been able to protract the contest; and it was evidently for the interest of France that the contest should be protracted. But it would have been an affront to the old general to put him under the orders of Lauzun; and between the ambassador and Lauzun there was such an enmity that they could not be expected to act cordially together. Both Rosen and Avaux, therefore, were, with many soothing assurances of royal approbation and favour, recalled to France. They sailed from Cork early in the spring by the fleet which had conveyed Lauzun thither. Lauzun had no sooner landed than he found that, though he had been long expected, nothing had been prepared for his reception. No lodgings had been provided for his men, no place of security for his stores, no horses, no carriages. His troops had to undergo the hardships of a long march through a desert before they arrived at Dublin. At Dublin, indeed, they found tolerable accommodation. They were billeted on Protestants, lived at free quarter, had plenty of bread, and threepence a day. Lauzun was appointed Commander in Chief of the Irish army, and took up his residence in the Castle. His salary was the same with that of the Lord Lieutenant, eight thousand Jacobuses, equivalent to ten thousand pounds sterling, a year. This sum James offered to pay, not in the brass which bore his own effigy, but in French gold. But Lauzun, among whose faults avarice had no place, refused to fill his own coffers from an almost empty treasury.
On him and on the Frenchmen who accompanied him the misery of the Irish people and the imbecility of the Irish government produced an effect which they found it difficult to describe. Lauzun wrote to Louvois that the Court and the whole kingdom were in a state not to be imagined by a person who had always lived in well governed countries. It was, he said, a chaos, such as he had read of in the book of Genesis. The whole business of all the public functionaries was to quarrel with each other, and to plunder the government and the people. After he had been about a month at the Castle, he declared that he would not go through such another month for all the world. His ablest officers confirmed his testimony. One of them, indeed, was so unjust as to represent the people of Ireland not merely as ignorant and idle, which they were, but as hopelessly stupid and unfeeling, which they assuredly were not. The English policy, he said, had so completely brutalised them, that they could hardly be called human beings. They were insensible to praise and blame, to promises and threats. And yet it was pity of them; for they were physically the finest race of men in the world.
By this time Schomberg had opened the campaign auspiciously. He had with little difficulty taken Charlemont, the last important fastness which the Irish occupied in Ulster. But the great work of reconquering the three southern provinces of the island he deferred till William should arrive. William meanwhile was busied in making arrangements for the government and defence of England during his absence. He well knew that the Jacobites were on the alert. They had not till very lately been an united and organized faction. There had been, to use Melfort's phrase, numerous gangs, which were all in communication with James at Dublin Castle, or with Mary of Modena at Saint Germains, but which had no connection with each other and were unwilling to trust each other. But since it had been known that the usurper was about to cross the sea, and that his sceptre would be left in a female hand, these gangs had been drawing close together, and had begun to form one extensive confederacy. Clarendon, who had refused the oaths, and, Aylesbury, who had dishonestly taken them, were among the chief traitors. Dartmouth, though he had sworn allegiance to the sovereigns who were in possession, was one of their most active enemies, and undertook what may be called the maritime department of the plot. His mind was constantly occupied by schemes, disgraceful to an English seaman, for the destruction of the English fleets and arsenals. He was in close communication with some naval officers, who, though they served the new government, served it sullenly and with half a heart; and he flattered himself that by promising these men ample rewards, and by artfully inflaming the jealous animosity with which they regarded the Dutch flag, he should prevail on them to desert and to carry their ships into some French or Irish port.
The conduct of Penn was scarcely less scandalous. He was a zealous and busy Jacobite; and his new way of life was even more unfavourable than his late way of life had been to moral purity. It was hardly possible to be at once a consistent Quaker and a courtier: but it was utterly impossible to be at once a consistent Quaker and a conspirator. It is melancholy to relate that Penn, while professing to consider even defensive war as sinful, did every thing in his power to bring a foreign army into the heart of his own country. He wrote to inform James that the adherents of the Prince of Orange dreaded nothing so much as an appeal to the sword, and that, if England were now invaded from France or from Ireland, the number of Royalists would appear to be greater than ever. Avaux thought this letter so important, that he sent a translation of it to Lewis. A good effect, the shrewd ambassador wrote, had been produced, by this and similar communications, on the mind of King James. His Majesty was at last convinced that he could recover his dominions only sword in hand. It is a curious fact that it should have been reserved for the great preacher of peace to produce this conviction in the mind of the old tyrant. Penn's proceedings had not escaped the observation of the government. Warrants had been out against him; and he had been taken into custody; but the evidence against him had not been such as would support a charge of high treason: he had, as with all his faults he deserved to have, many friends in every party; he therefore soon regained his liberty, and returned to his plots.
But the chief conspirator was Richard Graham, Viscount Preston, who had, in the late reign, been Secretary of State. Though a peer in Scotland, he was only a baronet in England. He had, indeed, received from Saint Germains an English patent of nobility; but the patent bore a date posterior to that flight which the Convention had pronounced an abdication. The Lords had, therefore, not only refused to admit him to a share of their privileges, but had sent him to prison for presuming to call himself one of their order. He had, however, by humbling himself, and by withdrawing his claim, obtained his liberty. Though the submissive language which he had condescended to use on this occasion did not indicate a spirit prepared for martyrdom, he was regarded by his party, and by the world in general, as a man of courage and honour. He still retained the seals of his office, and was still considered by the adherents of indefeasible hereditary right as the real Secretary of State. He was in high favour with Lewis, at whose court he had formerly resided, and had, since the Revolution, been intrusted by the French government with considerable sums of money for political purposes.
While Preston was consulting in the capital with the other heads of the faction, the rustic Jacobites were laying in arms, holding musters, and forming themselves into companies, troops, and regiments. There were alarming symptoms in Worcestershire. In Lancashire many gentlemen had received commissions signed by James, called themselves colonels and captains, and made out long lists of noncommissioned officers and privates. Letters from Yorkshire brought news that large bodies of men, who seemed to have met for no good purpose, had been seen on the moors near Knaresborough. Letters from Newcastle gave an account of a great match at football which had been played in Northumberland, and was suspected to have been a pretext for a gathering of the disaffected. In the crowd, it was said, were a hundred and fifty horsemen well mounted and armed, of whom many were Papists.
Meantime packets of letters full of treason were constantly passing and repassing between Kent and Picardy, and between Wales and Ireland. Some of the messengers were honest fanatics; but others were mere mercenaries, and trafficked in the secrets of which they were the bearers.
Of these double traitors the most remarkable was William Fuller. This man has himself told us that, when he was very young, he fell in with a pamphlet which contained an account of the flagitious life and horrible death of Dangerfield. The boy's imagination was set on fire; he devoured the book; he almost got it by heart; and he was soon seized, and ever after haunted, by a strange presentiment that his fate would resemble that of the wretched adventurer whose history he had so eagerly read. It might have been supposed that the prospect of dying in Newgate, with a back flayed and an eye knocked out, would not have seemed very attractive. But experience proves that there are some distempered minds for which notoriety, even when accompanied with pain and shame, has an irresistible fascination. Animated by this loathsome ambition, Fuller equalled, and perhaps surpassed, his model. He was bred a Roman Catholic, and was page to Lady Melfort, when Lady Melfort shone at Whitehall as one of the loveliest women in the train of Mary of Modena. After the Revolution, he followed his mistress to France, was repeatedly employed in delicate and perilous commissions, and was thought at Saint Germains to be a devoted servant of the House of Stuart. In truth, however, he had, in one of his journeys to London, sold himself to the new government, and had abjured the faith in which he had been brought up. The honour, if it is to be so called, of turning him from a worthless Papist into a worthless Protestant he ascribed, with characteristic impudence, to the lucid reasoning and blameless life of Tillotson.
In the spring of 1690, Mary of Modena wished to send to her correspondents in London some highly important despatches. As these despatches were too bulky to be concealed in the clothes of a single messenger, it was necessary to employ two confidential persons. Fuller was one. The other was a zealous young Jacobite called Crone. Before they set out, they received full instructions from the Queen herself. Not a scrap of paper was to be detected about them by an ordinary search: but their buttons contained letters written in invisible ink.
The pair proceeded to Calais. The governor of that town furnished them with a boat, which, under cover of the night, set them on the low marshy coast of Kent, near the lighthouse of Dungeness. They walked to a farmhouse, procured horses, and took different roads to London. Fuller hastened to the palace at Kensington, and delivered the documents with which he was charged into the King's hand. The first letter which William unrolled seemed to contain only florid compliments: but a pan of charcoal was lighted: a liquor well known to the diplomatists of that age was applied to the paper: an unsavoury steam filled the closet; and lines full of grave meaning began to appear.
The first thing to be done was to secure Crone. He had unfortunately had time to deliver his letters before he was caught: but a snare was laid for him into which he easily fell. In truth the sincere Jacobites were generally wretched plotters. There was among them an unusually large proportion of sots, braggarts, and babblers; and Crone was one of these. Had he been wise, he would have shunned places of public resort, kept strict guard over his lips, and stinted himself to one bottle at a meal. He was found by the messengers of the government at a tavern table in Gracechurch Street, swallowing bumpers to the health of King James, and ranting about the coming restoration, the French fleet, and the thousands of honest Englishmen who were awaiting the signal to rise in arms for their rightful Sovereign. He was carried to the Secretary's office at Whitehall. He at first seemed to be confident and at his ease: but when Fuller appeared among the bystanders at liberty, and in a fashionable garb, with a sword, the prisoner's courage fell; and he was scarcely able to articulate.
The news that Fuller had turned king's evidence, that Crone had been arrested, and that important letters from Saint Germains were in the hands of William, flew fast through London, and spread dismay among all who were conscious of guilt. It was true that the testimony of one witness, even if that witness had been more respectable than Fuller, was not legally sufficient to convict any person of high treason. But Fuller had so managed matters that several witnesses could be produced to corroborate his evidence against Crone; and, if Crone, under the strong terror of death, should imitate Fuller's example, the heads of all the chiefs of the conspiracy would be at the mercy of the government. The spirits of the Jacobites rose, however, when it was known that Crone, though repeatedly interrogated by those who had him in their power, and though assured that nothing but a frank confession could save his life, had resolutely continued silent. What effect a verdict of Guilty and the near prospect of the gallows might produce on him remained to be seen. His accomplices were by no means willing that his fortitude should be tried by so severe a test. They therefore employed numerous artifices, legal and illegal, to avert a conviction. A woman named Clifford, with whom he had lodged, and who was one of the most active and cunning agents of the Jacobite faction, was entrusted with the duty of keeping him steady to the cause, and of rendering to him services from which scrupulous or timid agents might have shrunk. When the dreaded day came, Fuller was too ill to appear in the witness box, and the trial was consequently postponed. He asserted that his malady was not natural, that a noxious drug had been administered to him in a dish of porridge, that his nails were discoloured, that his hair came off, and that able physicians pronounced him poisoned. But such stories, even when they rest on authority much better than that of Fuller, ought to be received with great distrust.
While Crone was awaiting his trial, another agent of the Court of Saint Germains, named Tempest, was seized on the road between Dover and London, and was found to be the bearer of numerous letters addressed to malecontents in England.
Every day it became more plain that the State was surrounded by dangers: and yet it was absolutely necessary that, at this conjuncture, the able and resolute Chief of the State should quit his post.
William, with painful anxiety, such as he alone was able to conceal under an appearance of stoical serenity, prepared to take his departure. Mary was in agonies of grief; and her distress affected him more than was imagined by those who judged of his heart by his demeanour. He knew too that he was about to leave her surrounded by difficulties with which her habits had not qualified her to contend. She would be in constant need of wise and upright counsel; and where was such counsel to be found? There were indeed among his servants many able men and a few virtuous men. But, even when he was present, their political and personal animosities had too often made both their abilities and their virtues useless to him. What chance was there that the gentle Mary would be able to restrain that party spirit and that emulation which had been but very imperfectly kept in order by her resolute and politic lord? If the interior cabinet which was to assist the Queen were composed exclusively either of Whigs or of Tories, half the nation would be disgusted. Yet, if Whigs and Tories were mixed, it was certain that there would be constant dissension. Such was William's situation that he had only a choice of evils.
All these difficulties were increased by the conduct of Shrewsbury. The character of this man is a curious study. He seemed to be the petted favourite both of nature and of fortune. Illustrious birth, exalted rank, ample possessions, fine parts, extensive acquirements, an agreeable person, manners singularly graceful and engaging, combined to make him an object of admiration and envy. But, with all these advantages, he had some moral and intellectual peculiarities which made him a torment to himself and to all connected with him. His conduct at the time of the Revolution had given the world a high opinion, not merely of his patriotism, but of his courage, energy and decision. It should seem, however, that youthful enthusiasm and the exhilaration produced by public sympathy and applause had, on that occasion, raised him above himself. Scarcely any other part of his life was of a piece with that splendid commencement. He had hardly become Secretary of State when it appeared that his nerves were too weak for such a post. The daily toil, the heavy responsibility, the failures, the mortifications, the obloquy, which are inseparable from power, broke his spirit, soured his temper, and impaired his health. To such natures as his the sustaining power of high religious principle seems to be peculiarly necessary; and unfortunately Shrewsbury had, in the act of shaking off the yoke of that superstition in which he had been brought up, liberated himself also from more salutary bands which might perhaps have braced his too delicately constituted mind into stedfastness and uprightness. Destitute of such support, he was, with great abilities, a weak man, and, though endowed with many amiable and attractive qualities, could not be called an honest man. For his own happiness, he should either have been much better or much worse. As it was, he never knew either that noble peace of mind which is the reward of rectitude, or that abject peace of mind which springs from impudence and insensibility. Few people who have had so little power to resist temptation have suffered so cruelly from remorse and shame.
To a man of this temper the situation of a minister of state during the year which followed the Revolution must have been constant torture. The difficulties by which the government was beset on all sides, the malignity of its enemies, the unreasonableness of its friends, the virulence with which the hostile factions fell on each other and on every mediator who attempted to part them, might indeed have discouraged a more resolute spirit. Before Shrewsbury had been six months in office, he had completely lost heart and head. He began to address to William letters which it is difficult to imagine that a prince so strongminded can have read without mingled compassion and contempt. "I am sensible,"--such was the constant burden of these epistles,--"that I am unfit for my place. I cannot exert myself. I am not the same man that I was half a year ago. My health is giving way. My mind is on the rack. My memory is failing. Nothing but quiet and retirement can restore me." William returned friendly and soothing answers; and, for a time, these answers calmed the troubled mind of his minister. But at length the dissolution, the general election, the change in the Commissions of Peace and Lieutenancy, and finally the debates on the two Abjuration Bills, threw Shrewsbury into a state bordering on distraction. He was angry with the Whigs for using the King ill, and yet was still more angry with the King for showing favour to the Tories. At what moment and by what influence, the unhappy man was induced to commit a treason, the consciousness of which threw a dark shade over all his remaining years, is not accurately known. But it is highly probable that his mother, who, though the most abandoned of women, had great power over him, took a fatal advantage of some unguarded hour when he was irritated by finding his advice slighted, and that of Danby and Nottingham preferred. She was still a member of that Church which her son had quitted, and may have thought that, by reclaiming him from rebellion, she might make some atonement for the violation of her marriage vow and the murder of her lord. What is certain is that, before the end of the spring of 1690, Shrewsbury had offered his services to James, and that James had accepted them. One proof of the sincerity of the convert was demanded. He must resign the seals which he had taken from the hand of the usurper. It is probable that Shrewsbury had scarcely committed his fault when he began to repent of it. But he had not strength of mind to stop short in the path of evil. Loathing his own baseness, dreading a detection which must be fatal to his honour, afraid to go forward, afraid to go back, he underwent tortures of which it is impossible to think without commiseration. The true cause of his distress was as yet a profound secret; but his mental struggles and changes of purpose were generally known, and furnished the town, during some weeks, with topics of conversation. One night, when he was actually setting out in a state of great excitement for the palace, with the seals in his hand, he was induced by Burnet to defer his resignation for a few hours. Some days later, the eloquence of Tillotson was employed for the same purpose. Three or four times the Earl laid the ensigns of his office on the table of the royal closet, and was three or four times induced, by the kind expostulations of the master whom he was conscious of having wronged, to take them up and carry them away. Thus the resignation was deferred till the eve of the King's departure. By that time agitation had thrown Shrewsbury into a low fever. Bentinck, who made a last effort to persuade him to retain office, found him in bed and too ill for conversation. The resignation so often tendered was at length accepted; and during some months Nottingham was the only Secretary of State.
It was no small addition to William's troubles that, at such a moment, his government should be weakened by this defection. He tried, however, to do his best with the materials which remained to him, and finally selected nine privy councillors, by whose advice he enjoined Mary to be guided. Four of these, Devonshire, Dorset, Monmouth, and Edward Russell, were Whigs. The other five, Caermarthen, Pembroke, Nottingham, Marlborough, and Lowther, were Tories.
William ordered the Nine to attend him at the office of the Secretary of State. When they were assembled, he came leading in the Queen, desired them to be seated, and addressed to them a few earnest and weighty words. "She wants experience," he said; "but I hope that, by choosing you to be her counsellors, I have supplied that defect. I put my kingdom into your hands. Nothing foreign or domestic shall be kept secret from you. I implore you to be diligent and to be united." In private he told his wife what he thought of the characters of the Nine; and it should seem, from her letters to him, that there were few of the number for whom he expressed any high esteem. Marlborough was to be her guide in military affairs, and was to command the troops in England. Russell, who was Admiral of the Blue, and had been rewarded for the service which he had done at the time of the Revolution with the lucrative place of Treasurer of the Navy, was well fitted to be her adviser on all questions relating to the fleet. But Caermarthen was designated as the person on whom, in case of any difference of opinion in the council, she ought chiefly to rely. Caermarthen's sagacity and experience were unquestionable; his principles, indeed, were lax; but, if there was any person in existence to whom he was likely to be true, that person was Mary. He had long been in a peculiar manner her friend and servant: he had gained a high place in her favour by bringing about her marriage; and he had, in the Convention, carried his zeal for her interests to a length which she had herself blamed as excessive. There was, therefore, every reason to hope that he would serve her at this critical conjuncture with sincere good will.
One of her nearest kinsmen, on the other hand, was one of her bitterest enemies. The evidence which was in the possession of the government proved beyond dispute that Clarendon was deeply concerned in the Jacobite schemes of insurrection. But the Queen was most unwilling that her kindred should be harshly treated; and William, remembering through what ties she had broken, and what reproaches she had incurred, for his sake, readily gave her uncle's life and liberty to her intercession. But, before the King set out for Ireland, he spoke seriously to Rochester. "Your brother has been plotting against me. I am sure of it. I have the proofs under his own hand. I was urged to leave him out of the Act of Grace; but I would not do what would have given so much pain to the Queen. For her sake I forgive the past; but my Lord Clarendon will do well to be cautious for the future. If not, he will find that these are no jesting matters." Rochester communicated the admonition to Clarendon. Clarendon, who was in constant correspondence with Dublin and Saint Germains, protested that his only wish was to be quiet, and that, though he had a scruple about the oaths, the existing government had not a more obedient subject than he purposed to be.
Among the letters which the government had intercepted was one from James to Penn. That letter, indeed, was not legal evidence to prove that the person to whom it was addressed had been guilty of high treason; but it raised suspicions which are now known to have been well founded. Penn was brought before the Privy Council, and interrogated. He said very truly that he could not prevent people from writing to him, and that he was not accountable for what they might write to him. He acknowledged that he was bound to the late King by ties of gratitude and affection which no change of fortune could dissolve. "I should be glad to do him any service in his private affairs: but I owe a sacred duty to my country; and therefore I was never so wicked as even to think of endeavouring to bring him back." This was a falsehood; and William was probably aware that it was so. He was unwilling however to deal harshly with a man who had many titles to respect, and who was not likely to be a very formidable plotter. He therefore declared himself satisfied, and proposed to discharge the prisoner. Some of the Privy Councillors, however, remonstrated; and Penn was required to give bail.
On the day before William's departure, he called Burnet into his closet, and, in firm but mournful language, spoke of the dangers which on every side menaced the realm, of the fury or the contending factions, and of the evil spirit which seemed to possess too many of the clergy. "But my trust is in God. I will go through with my work or perish in it. Only I cannot help feeling for the poor Queen;" and twice he repeated with unwonted tenderness, "the poor Queen." "If you love me," he added, "wait on her often, and give her what help you can. As for me, but for one thing, I should enjoy the prospect of being on horseback and under canvass again. For I am sure I am fitter to direct a campaign than to manage your House of Lords and Commons. But, though I know that I am in the path of duty, it is hard on my wife that her father and I must be opposed to each other in the field. God send that no harm may happen to him. Let me have your prayers, Doctor." Burnet retired greatly moved, and doubtless put up, with no common fervour, those prayers for which his master had asked.
On the following day, the fourth of June, the King set out for Ireland. Prince George had offered his services, had equipped himself at great charge, and fully expected to be complimented with a seat in the royal coach. But William, who promised himself little pleasure or advantage from His Royal Highness's conversation, and who seldom stood on ceremony, took Portland for a travelling companion, and never once, during the whole of that eventful campaign, seemed to be aware of the Prince's existence. George, if left to himself, would hardly have noticed the affront. But, though he was too dull to feel, his wife felt for him; and her resentment was studiously kept alive by mischiefmakers of no common dexterity. On this, as on many other occasions, the infirmities of William's temper proved seriously detrimental to the great interests of which he was the guardian. His reign would have been far more prosperous if, with his own courage, capacity and elevation of mind, he had had a little of the easy good humour and politeness of his uncle Charles.
In four days the King arrived at Chester, where a fleet of transports was awaiting the signal for sailing. He embarked on the eleventh of June, and was convoyed across Saint George's Channel by a squadron of men of war under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovel.
The month which followed William's departure from London was one of the most eventful and anxious months in the whole history of England. A few hours after he had set out, Crone was brought to the bar of the Old Bailey. A great array of judges was on the Bench. Fuller had recovered sufficiently to make his appearance in court; and the trial proceeded. The Jacobites had been indefatigable in their efforts to ascertain the political opinions of the persons whose names were on the jury list. So many were challenged that there was some difficulty in making up the number of twelve; and among the twelve was one on whom the malecontents thought that they could depend. Nor were they altogether mistaken; for this man held out against his eleven companions all night and half the next day; and he would probably have starved them into submission had not Mrs. Clifford, who was in league with him, been caught throwing sweetmeats to him through the window. His supplies having been cut off, he yielded; and a verdict of Guilty, which, it was said, cost two of the jurymen their lives, was returned. A motion in arrest of judgment was instantly made, on the ground that a Latin word indorsed on the back of the indictment was incorrectly spelt. The objection was undoubtedly frivolous. Jeffreys would have at once overruled it with a torrent of curses, and would have proceeded to the most agreeable part of his duty, that of describing to the prisoner the whole process of half hanging, disembowelling, mutilating, and quartering. But Holt and his brethren remembered that they were now for the first time since the Revolution trying a culprit on a charge of high treason. It was therefore desirable to show, in a manner not to be misunderstood, that a new era had commenced, and that the tribunals would in future rather err on the side of humanity than imitate the cruel haste and levity with which Cornish had, when pleading for his life, been silenced by servile judges. The passing of the sentence was therefore deferred: a day was appointed for considering the point raised by Crone; and counsel were assigned to argue in his behalf. "This would not have been done, Mr. Crone," said the Lord Chief Justice significantly, "in either of the last two reigns." After a full hearing, the Bench unanimously pronounced the error to be immaterial; and the prisoner was condemned to death. He owned that his trial had been fair, thanked the judges for their patience, and besought them to intercede for him with the Queen.
He was soon informed that his fate was in his own hands. The government was willing to spare him if he would earn his pardon by a full confession. The struggle in his mind was terrible and doubtful. At one time Mrs. Clifford, who had access to his cell, reported to the Jacobite chiefs that he was in a great agony. He could not die, he said; he was too young to be a martyr. The next morning she found him cheerful and resolute. He held out till the eve of the day fixed for his execution. Then he sent to ask for an interview with the Secretary of State. Nottingham went to Newgate; but, before he arrived, Crone had changed his mind and was determined to say nothing. "Then," said Nottingham, "I shall see you no more--for tomorrow will assuredly be your last day." But, after Nottingham had departed, Monmouth repaired to the gaol, and flattered himself that he had shaken the prisoner's resolution. At a very late hour that night came a respite for a week. The week however passed away without any disclosure; the gallows and quartering block were ready at Tyburn; the sledge and axe were at the door of Newgate; the crowd was thick all up Holborn Hill and along the Oxford Road; when a messenger brought another respite, and Crone, instead of being dragged to the place of execution, was conducted to the Council chamber at Whitehall. His fortitude had been at last overcome by the near prospect of death; and on this occasion he gave important information.
Such information as he had it in his power to give was indeed at that moment much needed. Both an invasion and an insurrection were hourly expected. Scarcely had William set out from London when a great French fleet commanded by the Count of Tourville left the port of Brest and entered the British Channel. Tourville was the ablest maritime commander that his country then possessed. He had studied every part of his profession. It was said of him that he was competent to fill any place on shipboard from that of carpenter up to that of admiral. It was said of him, also, that to the dauntless courage of a seaman he united the suavity and urbanity of an accomplished gentleman. He now stood over to the English shore, and approached it so near that his ships could be plainly descried from the ramparts of Plymouth. From Plymouth he proceeded slowly along the coast of Devonshire and Dorsetshire. There was great reason to apprehend that his movements had been concerted with the English malecontents.
The Queen and her Council hastened to take measures for the defence of the country against both foreign and domestic enemies. Torrington took the command of the English fleet which lay in the Downs, and sailed to Saint Helen's. He was there joined by a Dutch squadron under the command of Evertsen. It seemed that the cliffs of the Isle of Wight would witness one of the greatest naval conflicts recorded in history. A hundred and fifty ships of the line could be counted at once from the watchtower of Saint Catharine's. On the cast of the huge precipice of Black Gang Chine, and in full view of the richly wooded rocks of Saint Lawrence and Ventnor, were mustered the maritime forces of England and Holland. On the west, stretching to that white cape where the waves roar among the Needles, lay the armament of France.
It was on the twenty-sixth of June, less than a fortnight after William had sailed for Ireland, that the hostile fleets took up these positions. A few hours earlier, there had been an important and anxious sitting of the Privy Council at Whitehall. The malecontents who were leagued with France were alert and full of hope. Mary had remarked, while taking her airing, that Hyde Park was swarming with them. The whole board was of opinion that it was necessary to arrest some persons of whose guilt the government had proofs. When Clarendon was named, something was said in his behalf by his friend and relation, Sir Henry Capel. The other councillors stared, but remained silent. It was no pleasant task to accuse the Queen's kinsman in the Queen's presence. Mary had scarcely ever opened her lips at Council; but now, being possessed of clear proofs of her uncle's treason in his own handwriting, and knowing that respect for her prevented her advisers from proposing what the public safety required, she broke silence. "Sir Henry," she said, "I know, and every body here knows as well as I, that there is too much against my Lord Clarendon to leave him out." The warrant was drawn up; and Capel signed it with the rest. "I am more sorry for Lord Clarendon," Mary wrote to her husband, "than, may be, will be believed." That evening Clarendon and several other noted Jacobites were lodged in the Tower.
When the Privy Council had risen, the Queen and the interior Council of Nine had to consider a question of the gravest importance. What orders were to be sent to Torrington? The safety of the State might depend on his judgment and presence of mind; and some of Mary's advisers apprehended that he would not be found equal to the occasion. Their anxiety increased when news came that he had abandoned the coast of the Isle of Wight to the French, and was retreating before them towards the Straits of Dover. The sagacious Caermarthen and the enterprising Monmouth agreed in blaming these cautious tactics. It was true that Torrington had not so many vessels as Tourville; but Caermarthen thought that, at such a time, it was advisable to fight, although against odds; and Monmouth was, through life, for fighting at all times and against all odds. Russell, who was indisputably one of the best seamen of the age, held that the disparity of numbers was not such as ought to cause any uneasiness to an officer who commanded English and Dutch sailors. He therefore proposed to send to the Admiral a reprimand couched in terms so severe that the Queen did not like to sign it. The language was much softened; but, in the main, Russell's advice was followed. Torrington was positively ordered to retreat no further, and to give battle immediately. Devonshire, however, was still unsatisfied. "It is my duty, Madam," he said, to tell Your Majesty exactly what I think on a matter of this importance; and I think that my Lord Torrington is not a man to be trusted with the fate of three kingdoms." Devonshire was right; but his colleagues were unanimously of opinion that to supersede a commander in sight of the enemy, and on the eve of a general action, would be a course full of danger, and it is difficult to say that they were wrong. "You must either," said Russell, "leave him where he is, or send for him as a prisoner." Several expedients were suggested. Caermarthen proposed that Russell should be sent to assist Torrington. Monmouth passionately implored permission to join the fleet in any capacity, as a captain, or as a volunteer. "Only let me be once on board; and I pledge my life that there shall be a battle." After much discussion and hesitation, it was resolved that both Russell and Monmouth should go down to the coast. They set out, but too late. The despatch which ordered Torrington to fight had preceded them. It reached him when he was off Beachy Head. He read it, and was in a great strait. Not to give battle was to be guilty of direct disobedience. To give battle was, in his judgment, to incur serious risk of defeat. He probably suspected,--for he was of a captious and jealous temper,--that the instructions which placed him in so painful a dilemma had been framed by enemies and rivals with a design unfriendly to his fortune and his fame. He was exasperated by the thought that he was ordered about and overruled by Russell, who, though his inferior in professional rank, exercised, as one of the Council of Nine, a supreme control over all the departments of the public service. There seems to be no ground for charging Torrington with disaffection. Still less can it be suspected that an officer, whose whole life had been passed in confronting danger, and who had always borne himself bravely, wanted the personal courage which hundreds of sailors on board of every ship under his command possessed. But there is a higher courage of which Torrington was wholly destitute. He shrank from all responsibility, from the responsibility of fighting, and from the responsibility of not fighting; and he succeeded in finding out a middle way which united all the inconveniences which he wished to avoid. He would conform to the letter of his instructions; yet he would not put every thing to hazard. Some of his ships should skirmish with the enemy; but the great body of his fleet should not be risked. It was evident that the vessels which engaged the French would be placed in a most dangerous situation, and would suffer much loss; and there is but too good reason to believe that Torrington was base enough to lay his plans in such a manner that the danger and loss might fall almost exclusively to the share of the Dutch. He bore them no love; and in England they were so unpopular that the destruction of their whole squadron was likely to cause fewer murmurs than the capture of one of our own frigates.
It was on the twenty-ninth of June that the Admiral received the order to fight. The next day, at four in the morning, he bore down on the French fleet, and formed his vessels in order of battle. He had not sixty sail of the line, and the French had at least eighty; but his ships were more strongly manned than those of the enemy. He placed the Dutch in the van and gave them the signal to engage. That signal was promptly obeyed. Evertsen and his countrymen fought with a courage to which both their English allies and their French enemies, in spite of national prejudices, did full justice. In none of Van Tromp's or De Ruyter's battles had the honour of the Batavian flag been more gallantly upheld. During many hours the van maintained the unequal contest with very little assistance from any other part of the fleet. At length the Dutch Admiral drew off, leaving one shattered and dismasted hull to the enemy. His second in command and several officers of high rank had fallen. To keep the sea against the French after this disastrous and ignominious action was impossible. The Dutch ships which had come out of the fight were in lamentable condition. Torrington ordered some of them to be destroyed: the rest he took in tow: he then fled along the coast of Kent, and sought a refuge in the Thames. As soon as he was in the river, he ordered all the buoys to be pulled up, and thus made the navigation so dangerous, that the pursuers could not venture to follow him.
It was, however, thought by many, and especially by the French ministers, that, if Tourville had been more enterprising, the allied fleet might have been destroyed. He seems to have borne, in one respect, too much resemblance to his vanquished opponent. Though a brave man, he was a timid commander. His life he exposed with careless gaiety; but it was said that he was nervously anxious and pusillanimously cautious when his professional reputation was in danger. He was so much annoyed by these censures that he soon became, unfortunately for his country, bold even to temerity.
There has scarcely ever been so sad a day in London as that on which the news of the Battle of Beachy Head arrived. The shame was insupportable; the peril was imminent. What if the victorious enemy should do what De Ruyter had done? What if the dockyards of Chatham should again be destroyed? What if the Tower itself should be bombarded? What if the vast wood of masts and yardarms below London Bridge should be in ablaze? Nor was this all. Evil tidings had just arrived from the Low Countries. The allied forces under Waldeck had, in the neighbourhood of Fleurus, encountered the French commanded by the Duke of Luxemburg. The day had been long and fiercely disputed. At length the skill of the French general and the impetuous valour of the French cavalry had prevailed. Thus at the same moment the army of Lewis was victorious in Flanders, and his navy was in undisputed possession of the Channel. Marshal Humieres with a considerable force lay not far from the Straits of Dover. It had been given out that he was about to join Luxemburg. But the information which the English government received from able military men in the Netherlands and from spies who mixed with the Jacobites, and which to so great a master of the art of war as Marlborough seemed to deserve serious attention, was, that the army of Humieres would instantly march to Dunkirk and would there be taken on board of the fleet of Tourville. Between the coast of Artois and the Nore not a single ship bearing the red cross of Saint George could venture to show herself. The embarkation would be the business of a few hours. A few hours more might suffice for the voyage. At any moment London might be appalled by the news that thirty thousand French veterans were in Kent, and that the Jacobites of half the counties of the kingdom were in arms. All the regular troops who could be assembled for the defence of the island did not amount to more than ten thousand men. It may be doubted whether our country has ever passed through a more alarming crisis than that of the first week of July 1690.
But the evil brought with it its own remedy. Those little knew England who imagined that she could be in danger at once of rebellion and invasion; for in truth the danger of invasion was the best security against the danger of rebellion. The cause of James was the cause of France; and, though to superficial observers the French alliance seemed to be his chief support, it really was the obstacle which made his restoration impossible. In the patriotism, the too often unamiable and unsocial patriotism of our forefathers, lay the secret at once of William's weakness and of his strength. They were jealous of his love for Holland; but they cordially sympathized with his hatred of Lewis. To their strong sentiment of nationality are to be ascribed almost all those petty annoyances which made the throne of the Deliverer, from his accession to his death, so uneasy a seat. But to the same sentiment it is to be ascribed that his throne, constantly menaced and frequently shaken, was never subverted. For, much as his people detested his foreign favourites, they detested his foreign adversaries still more. The Dutch were Protestants; the French were Papists. The Dutch were regarded as selfseeking, grasping, overreaching allies; the French were mortal enemies. The worst that could be apprehended from the Dutch was that they might obtain too large a share of the patronage of the Crown, that they might throw on us too large a part of the burdens of the war, that they might obtain commercial advantages at our expense. But the French would conquer us; the French would enslave us; the French would inflict on us calamities such as those which had turned the fair fields and cities of the Palatinate into a desert. The hopgrounds of Kent would be as the vineyards of the Neckar. The High Street of Oxford and the close of Salisbury would be piled with ruins such as those which covered the spots where the palaces and churches of Heidelberg and Mannheim had once stood. The parsonage overshadowed by the old steeple, the farmhouse peeping from among beehives and appleblossoms, the manorial hall embosomed in elms, would be given up to a soldiery which knew not what it was to pity old men or delicate women or sticking children. The words, "The French are coming," like a spell, quelled at once all murmur about taxes and abuses, about William's ungracious manners and Portland's lucrative places, and raised a spirit as high and unconquerable as had pervaded, a hundred years before, the ranks which Elizabeth reviewed at Tilbury. Had the army of Humieres landed, it would assuredly have been withstood by almost every male capable of bearing arms. Not only the muskets and pikes but the scythes and pitchforks would have been too few for the hundreds of thousands who, forgetting all distinction of sect or faction, would have risen up like one man to defend the English soil.
The immediate effect therefore of the disasters in the Channel and in Flanders was to unite for a moment the great body of the people. The national antipathy to the Dutch seemed to be suspended. Their gallant conduct in the fight off Beachy Head was loudly applauded. The inaction of Torrington was loudly condemned. London set the example of concert and of exertion. The irritation produced by the late election at once subsided. All distinctions of party disappeared. The Lord Mayor was summoned to attend the Queen. She requested him to ascertain as soon as possible what the capital would undertake to do if the enemy should venture to make a descent. He called together the representatives of the wards, conferred with them, and returned to Whitehall to report that they had unanimously bound themselves to stand by the government with life and fortune; that a hundred thousand pounds were ready to be paid into the Exchequer; that ten thousand Londoners, well armed and appointed, were prepared to march at an hour's notice; and that an additional force, consisting of six regiments of foot, a strong regiment of horse, and a thousand dragoons, should be instantly raised without costing the Crown a farthing. Of Her Majesty the City had nothing to ask, but that she would be pleased to set over these troops officers in whom she could confide. The same spirit was shown in every part of the country. Though in the southern counties the harvest was at hand, the rustics repaired with unusual cheerfulness to the musters of the militia. The Jacobite country gentlemen, who had, during several months, been making preparations for the general rising which was to take place as soon as William was gone and as help arrived from France, now that William was gone, now that a French invasion was hourly expected, burned their commissions signed by James, and hid their arms behind wainscots or in haystacks. The Jacobites in the towns were insulted wherever they appeared, and were forced to shut themselves up in their houses from the exasperated populace.
Nothing is more interesting to those who love to study the intricacies of the human heart than the effect which the public danger produced on Shrewsbury. For a moment he was again the Shrewsbury of 1688. His nature, lamentably unstable, was not ignoble; and the thought, that, by standing foremost in the defence of his country at so perilous a crisis, he might repair his great fault and regain his own esteem, gave new energy to his body and his mind. He had retired to Epsom, in the hope that quiet and pure air would produce a salutary effect on his shattered frame and wounded spirit. But a few hours after the news of the Battle of Beachy Head had arrived, he was at Whitehall, and had offered his purse and sword to the Queen. It had been in contemplation to put the fleet under the command of some great nobleman with two experienced naval officers to advise him. Shrewsbury begged that, if such an arrangement were made, he might be appointed. It concerned, he said, the interest and the honour of every man in the kingdom not to let the enemy ride victorious in the Channel; and he would gladly risk his life to retrieve the lost fame of the English flag.
His offer was not accepted. Indeed, the plan of dividing the naval command between a man of quality who did not know the points of the compass, and two weatherbeaten old seamen who had risen from being cabin boys to be Admirals, was very wisely laid aside. Active exertions were made to prepare the allied squadrons for service. Nothing was omitted which could assuage the natural resentment of the Dutch. The Queen sent a Privy Councillor, charged with a special mission to the States General. He was the bearer of a letter to them in which she extolled the valour of Evertsen's gallant squadron. She assured them that their ships should be repaired in the English dockyards, and that the wounded Dutchmen should be as carefully tended as wounded Englishmen. It was announced that a strict inquiry would be instituted into the causes of the late disaster; and Torrington, who indeed could not at that moment have appeared in public without risk of being torn in pieces, was sent to the Tower.
During the three days which followed the arrival of the disastrous tidings from Beachy Head the aspect of London was gloomy and agitated. But on the fourth day all was changed. Bells were pealing: flags were flying: candles were arranged in the windows for an illumination; men were eagerly shaking hands with each other in the streets. A courier had that morning arrived at Whitehall with great news from Ireland.