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Reign of Charles II. (Continued)


Insurrection in Scotland - Secret Treaty with Louis XIV. - The Dutch Beet in the Thames - The Peace of Breda - The Fall of Clarendon - His Banishment - Treaty. of Aix-la-Chapelle - Disputes betwixt the two Houses of Parliament - Licentiousness at Court - Intrigues of Buckingham -. Secret Negotiations with France - The Duke of York an avowed Catholic - New Conventicle Act and Persecutions of the Nonconformists - Schemes to alter the Succession in favour of Monmouth - Death of the Duchess of Orleans - Death of Monk - Attempt to steal the Crown - Death of the Duchess of York - The Cabal - Declaration of Indulgence-War with Holland - Recall of the Indulgence, and passing of Test Act - Disgrace of Shaftesbury - Impeachment of Arlington - Intrigues of Monmouth - Danby's Nonresisting Test - Affairs of Scotland and Ireland - Congress of Nimeguen - Charles a French Pensioner - General Peace - Titus Oates's Plot - Accusation of the Queen - Trials and Executions - Impeachment of Danby - Duke of York forced to quit England - Proposed Bill of Exclusion - Execution of Mitchell in Scotland - Murder of Archbishop Sharpe - Conflicts with the Covenanters - Execution of five Jesuits - Bill of Exclusion lost in the Lords - Trial and Execution of Lord Stafford.
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The career of vice which Charles had run since his restoration to the throne of England, the scandalous scenes and ruinous extravagance at court, the loose women and debauched courtiers who figured there, and the great calamities which had latterly fallen on the nation, and, as it was generally believed, in consequence of the flagrant wickedness of the ruling persons, had by this time produced a profound impression on the public mind. Unprecedented sums had been voted for the prosecution of the Dutch war, and some terrible battles had been fought at sea; but these, so far from bringing any solid advantage to the nation, had ruined its finances, and greatly damaged the navy. Besides this, there was a general and well-founded belief, that the money which should have gone to fit out the navy and pay the brave seamen, had been squandered on and peculated by the royal mistresses and minions. The sailors had been left in destitution, and remained so; their tickets, which had been given them as tokens of their demands for wages, had to a great extent never been redeemed, whilst the effeminate courtiers made fortunes.

When parliament met again on the 21st of September of this year, more money was demanded, and the commons liberally voted one million eight hundred thousand pounds, but on several conditions - namely, that the laws should be put in force against the catholics, who were suspected t6 have fired the capital; and though a committee of inquiry was appointed into that particular, which signally failed, yet the cry remained, and Charles was compelled to order by proclamation all priests and Jesuits to quit the kingdom all recusants to be proceeded against according to the law; all papists to be disarmed, and officers' and soldiers to be dismissed from the army who should refuse the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. 2ndly, There was a demand from the aristocracy and their tenants in England in 1663, to prevent the importation of cattle from Ireland. This was one of those aristocratic and agricultural pieces of selfishness which in our time produced the corn laws. The landlords panted high rents, and the tenants cried out that they could not pay them if they were to be undersold by the Irish; as if Ireland were not a part of the empire as well as England, and justly entitled to the same privileges. It was in vain that the more liberal and enlightened members asked how Ireland was to purchase our manufactured goods, if we would not take her raw produce. The bill was passed, and sixty thousand beeves and a large quantity of sheep were thus refused entrance annually at our ports. To obviate this difficulty, the Irish slaughtered the cattle, and sent them over as dead carcasses. This was violently opposed, and this session a bill passed, also excluding the meat. But the 6rd and last demand on Charles was the most alarming. It was no other than that a parliamentary commission should be appointed to examine and audit the public accounts. It was well known that not only the king's mistresses, but many other persons about the court had made very free with the public revenue with the connivance of Charles. Lady Castlemaine was commonly declared to carry on a great trade in selling favours, and receiving bribes from the subjects, and lavish grants from the king.

The alarm which the passing of a bill for this commission of inquiry through the commons carried into all the courtly accesses of corruption, was excessive. The whole court was in a turmoil of consternation; there was a terrible outcry that if this were allowed, there was an end of the prerogative. Lord Ashley, the treasurer of the prize money, and Carteret, the treasurer of the navy, were aghast, and implored Charles to declare openly that he would never consent to it. The grave and virtuous lord Clarendon strenuously supported them, telling the king that he must not "suffer parliament to extend their jurisdiction to cases that they had nothing to do with." That "this was such a new encroachment as had no bottom; and that the scars were yet too fresh and green of those wounds which had been inflicted on the kingdom from such a usurpation." He desired the king to. "be firm in the resolution he had taken, and not to be put from it." And he promised when the bill came into the lords he would oppose it with all his power. And this was the advice of a man who himself tells you in his "Life" of the corruptions practised - of the corruptions of these very men, Ashley and Carteret; of the-good round sums taken from the privy purse by "the lady," as she was called, and of the extensive grants to her of lands in Ireland, where they were not so likely to be inquired about; of the miserable condition of the navy, the dissolute life of the king, his own remonstrances, and the constant endeavours of the courtiers to divert the king's attention from anything serious.

But there was a cause much more influential than public good or public virtue which forwarded the bill, spite of the court. The duke of Buckingham had a quarrel with "the lady," and the lady prejudiced the king against him, and the duke was determined to have his revenge by exposing "the lady's" gross peculations. The bill, therefore, passed the commons, and came into the lords, where Buckingham and his party supported it, and Clarendon and the guilty courtiers opposed it. Buckingham himself was as dissolute and unprincipled a man as any about court, not even excepting the king and the licentious lord Rochester. He knew all the secrets of that den of loathly creatures - the court, and therefore was the more dangerous. The bill passed, and the king, in his resentment, disgraced Buckingham, deprived him of all his employments, and ordered his committal to the Tower, which he only avoided by absconding. Buckingham, however once out of the way, the king and his virtuous chancellor soon managed to be allowed to appoint the commission of inquiry themselves, by which the whole affair was converted into a mockery, and came to nothing, for, says Clarendon, the king "was not willing that such a strict account or examination should be made, especially into the receipts of lord Ashley for the prizes, that all the world should know what money had been issued, and by his own immediate orders, and to whom."

During this session of parliament, wild work had been going on in the west of Scotland. The people there had resisted the ejectment of their ministers from their pulpits by episcopalian clergy; they received them with curses, and often with showers of stones. When the act against conventicles was passed, they still met with their old pastors in barns and moorlands, and then the soldiery under Sir James Turner were let loose upon them. They flew to arms and fought the soldiers, and made prisoner of Turner himself. Their ministers, Semple, Maxwell, Welsh, Guthrie, and others, incited them to wield the sword of the Lord and of Gideon, and to resist the malignants to the death. Lauderdale was in London, and the ministers told the people that the fire of London had given enough to the government to do at home. But Sharpe was in Scotland, und he put himself at the head of two troops of horse and a regiment of foot guards, and assisted by Dalziel, a man of considerable military reputation, he pursued the covenanters to Rullion Green, in the Pentlands. There, on the 28th of November, they came to a pitched battle, in which the covenanters were defeated, fifty of them being killed, and a hundred and thirty taken prisoners. The covenanters had treated Turner and all others who fell into their hands with great lenity, but none was shown to them by Sharpe. Ten of them were hanged on one gallows in Edinburgh, and thirty- five were sent to Galloway, Ayr, and Dumfries, and there gibbeted in the face of their own friends. The implacable archbishop, with all the fury of a renegade, made keen search after all who had been concerned in the affair; it was declared that eternal damnation was incurred by the rebels against the church, and all the horrors of the rack, thumbscrews, and iron boot were put rigorously into operation again. A young preacher, Maccail, whom Sir Walter Scott has represented under the name of Macbriar, was hideously tortured, but died in a rapture of joy, not a syllable of disclosure escaping him. Dalziel, a brutal and drunken captain, revelled in cruelty and outrage amongst the whigs or whiggamores, as they were called; hanged a man because he would not betray his own father, quartered his soldiers on them to ruin them, and perpetrated such atrocities that the earls of Tweeddale and Kincardine went up to court to warn the king against driving the people once more to desperation. Their representations were not without effect, but this leniency was of short duration.

The war with the Dutch and French being still continued, it was necessary for Charles to put his fleet once more in order; but his exchequer exhibited its usual emptiness, and the parliamentary supply would be some time before it reached the treasury. The usual resource had been to send for the bankers and capitalists of London, and make over to them some branches of the public revenue for immediate advances, these advances to be at the rate of eight per cent., and to be repaid by the taxes till all were discharged. But' the losses by the fire had incapacitated the money lenders at this crisis, and Charles, therefore, most unwisely listened to the suggestion of Sir William Coventry, to lay up the principal ships in ordinary, and send out only two light squadrons to interrupt the enemy's trade in the channel and the German Ocean. The duke of York at once declared that this was directly to invite Holland to insult the English coasts, and plunder the maritime counties; but the want of money overruled the duke, and the consequences were precisely what he foresaw.

Charles hoped to evade the danger of this unguarded state by a peace. Louis of France, who was anxious to conquer Flanders, made overtures through lord Jermyn, now earl of St. Albans, who lived at Paris, and was said to be married to the queen-mother, and he also at the same time opened negotiations with Holland, to enforce an abstinence of assistance to the Flemings from that quarter, and to make peace betwixt Holland and England. These measures effected, he would be set free from any demands of Holland to assist them against England, and he would bind Charles to afford no aid to the Spaniards. Charles was perfectly willing to accede to these plans, so that he might not be called on for more money, and after a time it was agreed that commissioners should meet at Breda to settle the terms of peace. France was to restore the West Indian islands taken from England, and England was to oppose no obstacle to Louis's designs against Spain. But hostilities were not suspended, De Witt, the Dutch minister, still burning for revenge for the injuries committed by the English on the coast of Holland, declared that he would still " set such a mark upon the English coast as the English had left upon that of Holland."

He knew the unprotected state of the Thames, and he ordered the Dutch fleet, to the amount of seventy sail, to draw together at the Nore. The command was intrusted to De Ruyter and the brother of De Witt. The English, roused by the danger, threw a chain across the Medway at the stakes, mounted the guns on the batteries, and got together a number of fireships: but here the consequence of the heartless conduct of the government to the seamen and workmen who had been employed by them hitherto and defrauded of their pay became apparent. No sense of patriotism could induce them to work for the government. The commissioners of the navy were nine hundred thousand pounds in debt, notwithstanding the liberal supplies of parliament, and the merchants would not furnish further stores except for ready money. One portion of the Dutch fleet sailed up as far as Gravesend, the other was ordered to destroy the shipping in the Medway. The fort at Sheerness was in such a miserable condition, that the Dutch guns quickly levelled it to the ground Monk had been sent down to defend the mouth of the Medway, and he raised batteries, sunk fire ships in the narrowest part of the channel before the boom, and placed guard-ships for its protection. But the Dutch found out another channel accessible at high water, and running their fire-ships on the boom, broke the chain, silenced the batteries, and burnt the guard-ships. Monk retreated, to Upnor Castle, but the Dutch soon appeared before it with their squadron; the castle was not supplied with powder, and few of the ships in the river had any in them. The Royal Charles was taken, the finest ship in the English fleet, the Royal James, xhe Oak, and the London were burnt. A still greater mortification, was to find numbers of the incensed English sailors manning the Dutch vessels, who shouted, Before we fought for tickets, now we fight for dollars." Had De Ruyter pushed on for London, he might have destroyed all the merchant ships in the river; but Prince Rupert at Woolwich having sunk a number of ships to block up the channel, and raised batteries to sweep the passage, it was easier to commit devastations on the southern coast, and this squadron, under Van Ghent, dropped down to the Nore and joined the main fleet. For six weeks the Hollanders sailed proudly along our coasts, harassing the inhabitants, and attempting to burn the ships at Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Torbay» Twice De Ruyter attempted again to ascend the Thames, but by this time, in addition to the force of Rupert, Sir Edward Spragge was posted with eighteen sail of the line to oppose him.

But the panic on land was inconceivable. "The people of Chatham," says Clarendon, "which is naturally an array of seamen and officers of the navy, who might and ought to have secured all those ships, which they had time enough to have done, were in distraction; their chief officers have applied all those boats and lighter vessels, which should have towed up the ships, to carry away their own goods and household, stuff, and given what they left 'behind for lost. Nothing," he says, "would have been easier than to have destroyed Chatham, and all the ships which lay higher up the river. But London was still worse. The noise of this, and the flames of the ships which were burning, made it easily believed in London that the enemy had done all that they might have; they thought they were landed in many places, and that their fleet was come up as far as Greenwich. Nor was the confusion there less than it was in the court itself, where they who had most advanced the war, and reproached all those who had been against it aß men who had no public spirit, and were not solicitous for the honour and glory of the nation - and who had never spoken of the Dutch but with scorn and contempt, as a nation rather to be cudgelled than fought, with - were now the most dejected men that can be imagined; railed very bitterly at those who had advised the king to enter into that war, which had already sacrificed so many gallant men, and would probably ruin the kingdom, and wished for a peace on any terms." All the world, he says, rushed to Whitehall, and entered at pleasure, some advising the court to quit the metropolis, and "a lord, who would be thought one of the greatest soldiers in Europe, to whom the Tower was committed, lodging there only one night, declared that it was not tenable,' and desired not to be charged with it, whereupon those who had taken their money there, carried it away again."

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