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Reign of Charles II. (Continued) page 11


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On the 23rd of November, a Mr. Lloyd sought an interview with the king, and informed him that Titus Oates was in possession of information that would criminate the queen. Charles, who had shown more sense than any one through the whole business, and might have crushed it in a short time if he had had half the active exertion that he had shrewdness, expressed his decided disbelief, yet admitted Oates to make his statement. It was this - That he saw a letter in July, in which Wakeman, the queen's physician, asserted that her majesty had given her consent to the murder of the king. That he himself was at Somerset House one day in August, with several Jesuits, and was left in the antechamber whilst they went into the queen. That the door being ajar, he heard a female voice exclaim, "I will no longer suffer such indignities to my bed! I will join in his death and the propagation of the catholic faith." That when the Jesuits retired he looked into the room and saw there only the queen. Now Oates had repeatedly and distinctly declared that he knew of no other persons implicated except those he had informed of; and when he made the charge against Wakeman, had said not a word of this grave accusation. Charles was certain that it was altogether false, but to prove the man, sent the earls of Ossory and Bridgewater to make him point out the room and antechamber; but he could not do it. Charles again declared that the fellow had been instigated by some interested person, and ordered strict guard to be kept over him, and no one to be allowed to speak with him. Bedloe, however, was brought forward to confirm Oates's statement, and declared that he had overheard a conversation betwixt Catherine and lord Bellasis, Coleman, and some French gentlemen in the gallery of the queen's chapel, in which she, after shedding tears, consented to the king's murder. Bedloe had been careful not to point out any private rooms for this scene, because he had made a fatal blunder in laying the scene of Godfrey's murder in a room always occupied by the queen's footmen, and at the very time that the king was there; and not only was there a throng of persons all over the palace, but a sentinel was posted at every door, and a detachment of the guards was drawn out in the court.

Bedloe, however, delivered his charge in writing to the house of commons, and then Oates appeared at the bar, and brazenly, and with a loud voice, exclaimed, "I, Titus Oates, accuse Catherine, queen of England, of high treason." The astounded commons immediately sent an address to Charles, requesting that the queen might be removed from Whitehall, and desired a conference with the lords. The lords, however, were not so precipitate; they desired first to see the depositions made before the council, next summoned Oates and Bedloe, and strictly examined them. They particularly pressed them to explain why this monstrous charge had not been produced, before, and as they could give no sufficient reason, they declined any conference on the subject. Shaftesbury exerted himself to overrule this conclusion, but in vain; and the charge was dropped, the king observing, "They think I have a mind for a new wife; but for all that I won't pee an innocent woman abused." Impeachments, however, were received by the lords against the peers whom these miscreants had accused.

And now began the bloody work which these villains had remorselessly elaborated for a number of innocent persons, to serve the great end of their employers. The first victim, however, was one whom a third base wretch, thirsting for blood-money, a broken-down Scotchman, of the name of Carstairs, had accused. This was Stayley, a catholic banker, whom the man said he had heard telling a Frenchman of the name of Firmin, of Marseilles, in a tavern in Covent Garden, that the king was the greatest rogue in the world, and that he would kill him with his own hand. Carstairs had gone to Stayley and told him what he professed to have heard, but offered to suppress the fact for two hundred pounds. Stayley treated him with deserved contempt, but he was arrested within five days and tried for his life. Burnet, on hearing the name of the accuser, hastened to Sir William Jones, the attorney-general, and told him that this Carstairs was a man of the vilest character, and not to be believed on his oath; but Jones asked him who had authorised him to defame the king's witness, and Burnet timidly withdrew. Firmin could have decided what Stayley had really said, but he was kept in custody and not allowed to appear on the trial, and Stayley was condemned and hanged.

Coleman perished next, on the evidence of Oates and Bedloe, that he had been plotting with the French court; but he contended it was only to obtain money for restoring catholicism, and not to injure any person. It was clear that he had received money from the French king, and therefore was guilty of a serious crime, but it is equally clear that both Oates and Bedloe fabricated much falsehood against him. His own letters, however, were insurmountable evidence of his guilt. Next came Ireland, Fenwick, Grove, Whitbread, and Pickering. Ireland, a Jesuit priest, was accused of having signed, with fifty other Jesuits, a resolution to kill the king, and the others of having engaged to assist in the design. Oates swore to the guilt of the whole, Bedloe only to that of Ireland, Grove, and Pickering, who were condemned, and died protesting that they, before their apprehension, had never heard of such a thing as a plot, much less had any concern in one. Bedloe claimed to be the chief witness respecting the death of Godfrey; but though he had unscrupulously seconded the evidence of Oates, Oates would not support him in this case. He was obliged, therefore, to look out for a second witness, and it was two months before he could find one. At length, on the 21st of December, one Prance, a silversmith, who had worked for the queen's chapel, was apprehended on suspicion, he having absented himself from his house for several days about the time of Godfrey's murder. The moment Bedloe saw him, he exclaimed, "That man is one of the murderers." It was in vain that he denied it, equally vain that he brought witnesses to prove that he did not leave home at the time of Godfrey's death, but a week before. He was thrown into Newgate and loaded with irons; some say he was tortured, others that he was worked upon by threats and promises. He confessed, and accused three others - Hill, Green, and Berry, three servants in Somerset House. But scarcely had he done so, when he entreated to be brought before the king and council again, and there on his knees, and with every sign of agony and remorse, protested that all that he had said was false, that he knew nothing whatever of either the murder or the murderers. Afterwards, in prison, where he was chained to the floor, the horror of his feelings was such, that Dr. Lloyd, who preached Godfrey's funeral sermon, and now was become dean of Bangor, said that he was occasionally bereft of his reason. When urged to confess, he again, however, repeated his former statement, but with various and strange additions; then Dr. Lloyd declined to have anything more to do with it, but left him to Boyce, the gaoler, who, Prance afterwards said, wrote many things that he copied after him, and that he could find that Boyce had been with Bedloe and lord Shaftesbury, and that he was told that he must make his evidence agree with Bedloe's, or he would be sure to be hanged. The first story of Prance was, that they had killed Godfrey because he was an enemy to the queen's servants; that Green strangled him with a handerchief, and punched him on the breast with his knee; but finding him not dead, wrung his neck. That on the following Wednesday night, about twelve o'clock, the body was put into a sedan chair and taken to the Soho, and there conveyed on horseback before Hill to the place in the fields where he was found, and where they thrust his sword through him.

Hill, Green, and Berry stoutly denied the whole affair, and pointed out the gross contradictions betwixt the evidence of Bedloe and Prance; but chief justice Scroggs, who presided at all these trials, and showed himself a most brutal and unprincipled judge, overruled all that. Mrs. Hill, who brought witnesses into court in favour of her husband, complained vehemently that they were brow-beaten and laughed at. "My witnesses," she exclaimed, "are not rightfully examined; they are modest, and are laughed at." The unhappy victims were all condemned, and died still protesting their innocence. Berry, who was a protestant, was respited a week, with a promise of pardon if he would confess; but he would not - a sufficient proof of the man's innocence, who would not purchase life by a lie. Ralph, the historian, says, " A strong faith in the plot was the test of all political merit; not to believe was to be a political reprobate, and according to the zeal was the cruelty of the times. The terror excited by the plot had caused such a thirst for revenge, that nothing but blood could satiate; every supposed criminal was precondemned."

These victims having suffered, the drama of plots now produced a new act. It was one of the great objects, as we have said, not only to damage the succession of the duke of York and to alarm the king, but to ruin the prime minister, Danby, who had superseded the cabäl. Intrigues were entered into with Montague, the ambassador at Paris, for this purpose. Montague was, of course, in the secret of the money transactions betwixt the English and French courts, and could, if it were his interest, produce enough to destroy Danby, without letting too much light in upon the whole foul business; for not only the king on one side, but the patriots and the opposition on the other, were equally implicated. A fortunate incident facilitated their plans. Montague and Danby were at feud, and Danby only wanted a fair pretext to remove Montague from his post at Paris, In this position of things Montague furnished ample ground for his recall. He had made love to Charles's famous mistress, the duchess of Cleveland, now superseded by the duchess of Portsmouth. Cleveland was living in Paris a life as little creditable as her life had been in England. But Montague deserted her for her daughter, and on her resenting this, Montague threatened if she continued to annoy him, to expose her intrigues in the French court, for she was become a great political tool of Louis in his practices on England. But Cleveland was not a woman to submit to be snubbed and menaced even by a king, much less by a minister: she wrote at once to Charles a furious letter against Montague, for she had still great influence with him. She alleged that Montague, who had been employed by Charles to find out a certain astrologer, who had foretold accurately Charles's restoration and entry of London on the 29th of May, 1660, had bribed this man to give such answers to the king as suited his own purposes. That he had often told her that both the king and the duke were fools - one a dull, governable fool, and the other a wilful fool. That he wished the parliament would send them both on their travels again; that the king always chose a greater beast than himself to govern him, and much of the like kind.

Montague did not wait for the blow which was sure to follow this missive, but suddenly, without notice or permission, left Paris and appeared in England. He directly put himself in communication with Shaftesbury, and his party, and also with Barillon, the French ambassador, who would be only too glad to get Danby dismissed from office. Danby watched the motions of Montague with anxiety, knowing that he had the power to make fatal disclosures. To secure himself from the attack of the government, and at the same time to enable him to effect his purpose, he offered himself as a candidate for parliament at Grinstead, but was defeated by the influence of Danby; at Northampton he was returned by the mayor, Sir William Temple, - the government nominee, by the sheriff; but the popular party defended his election, and he gained his seat. It was agreed with the opposition that he should lay a charge against Danby of treasonable correspondence with France and other offences, and that they should move for his impeachment on these grounds. Besides this, Montague, who was a man thoroughly corrupt and despicable, had made a bargain with Barillon, that one hundred thousand livres should be paid to the most powerful of the opposition, for their endeavours to crush Danby, and one hundred thousand livres to Montague himself, or forty thousand livres of rentes on the Hotel de Ville, or a pension of fifty thousand livres - according to the decision of the king - if Danby were excluded from office.

Danby was not ignorant of the storm brewing, and it was thought best not to wait for its bursting; but the king sent and seized Montague's papers, on pretence that he had been intriguing with the pope's nuncio in Paris; and Erneley, the chancellor of the exchequer, announced this fact to the house. It was a very adroit proceeding, but Montague soon discovered that the precious casket containing the most important papers had been overlooked in the search. Montague stated to the house that Danby had missed his aim, that the papers were safe, and a deputation was despatched to fetch them. They returned with a small despatch box, and from this Montague produced two letters of Danby, one of them the letter in which Danby solicited a pension of six million livres, on condition that he procured a peace from the allies, and to which Charles had added the words, "This is writ by my order. - C. R."

On the reading of this letter the house was thrown into a violent agitation. The secret dealings of the king were partly brought to light. It was now seen that Charles's zeal for the war was only a pretence to extract money from the nation, and that obtained, he was ready to sell the honour and independence of the country to France -, and the minister was consenting to the infamous transaction. They immediately vöted Danby's impeachment by a majority of sixty-three, and appointed a committee - of which Montague was one - to draw up the articles. There was a danger that Danby would retort on Montague by producing letters of his own, proving that he was mixed up with these transactions from the beginning, and had indeed been made the medium of their proposal; but he trusted to the impossibility of detaching their evidence from such as would have thrown the country into a flame against the king. He was right; yet two of his letters were sent by Danby to the house, one giving information that Ruvigny was sent to London to treat through lord Russell with the opposition, and the other containing a proposal from Montague of a grant of money to Charles on the conclusion of peace. These, at another time, would have produced a wonderful sensation, but they were now cast aside to pursue the higher game, and the next day, December 21st, the impeachment of Danby was sent up to the lords.

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