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Reign on James II


James's Speech on his Accession - Levies Duties without Authority - Openly practices Catholicism - Applies, like Charles, for money to the French King - Parliaments held in England and Scotland - Persecution of the Covenanters - The Invasion of Argyll and Monmouth - They are defeated and executed - Jeffreys' Campaign in the West-Executions of Mrs. Lisle and of the Rebels - Opposition in both Lords and Commons - Intrigues of the Ministers - The Affairs of the Countess of Dorchester - An Ambassador sent to Rome - The King's Dispensing Power affirmed by the Judges - New Ecclesiastical Commission - Catholic Chapels opened - An Army on Hounslow Heath - Catholic Privy Councillors - Disgrace of Rochester - Proceedings in Scotland - The King dispenses with the Test - Proclaims Liberty of Conscience - His Reception in Scotland - Clarendon Lord Lieutenant of Ireland - Superseded by Tyrconnel - Tyrconnel's Policy.
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To the reign of merry cruelty now succeeded the reign of gloomy, ascetic, undisguised ferocity. Charles could laugh and sport with his ladies whilst his subjects were ground and tortured; James, who never laughed, pursued the diabolic bent with a settled, butcher-like mood, and would have extirpated nations, were it in his power, to restore a bigot creed, and establish the political absolutism adored by the Stuarts. Yet he began the reign of the inquisition with the hypocrisy of the Jesuit. When the breath had left the body of Charles, James retired for a quarter of an hour to his chamber, and then met the privy council with a speech which promised everything that he was most resolved not to perform. He began by eulogising the deceased as " a good and gracious king." If he really thought his late merry, debauched, * and despotic brother good and gracious, it was an evil omen for the nation whose ruler had such conceptions of what was good and gracious. He then added, "I have been reported to be a man fond of arbitrary power; but that is not the only falsehood which has been reported of me; and I shall make it my endeavour to preserve this government, both in church and state, as it is by law now established. I know the principles of the church of England are favourable to monarchy, and the members of it have shown themselves good and loyal subjects; therefore I shall take care to defend and support it. I know, too, that the laws of England are sufficient to make the king as great a monarch as I can wish; and as I shall never depart from the just rights and prerogatives of the crown, so I shall never invade any man's property. I have often before ventured my life in defence of this nation, and shall go as far as any man in preserving it in all its just rights and liberties."

This was, indeed, a gracious-sounding speech; but then Charles had sent as gracious a declaration from Breda, and all the world knew how it had been kept. No man had been more steady in advising him to crush the liberties of the nation, and rob and imprison the people on account of their religion, than this same fair-spoken James. It was only too well known what he had done to the covenanters in Scotland, and with what satisfaction he had gloated over the smashing of legs and thumbs in the iron boots and thumbscrews. Wondrous, therefore, must have been the credulity of those who could really believe that the royal tiger which had already tasted so much blood, was going to grow all at once mild and lamb-like when feeding on the stimulating aliment of royal power. Yet the council received these bland promises with raptures of delight, and the king was humbly entreated to have his speech published. He replied that it had sprung from the impromptu expression of his heart; he had not waited to commit anything to paper. Heneage Finch, the solicitor-general, however, declared that it had made such a profound impression on Iiis heart, that he could remember every word of it, and, with the royal permission, would write it down. This was graciously accorded, and the written speech, receiving the full approbation of the king, was immediately published.

Casks of wine were simultaneously rolled into the streets, and the people were expected to be clamorous with joy over the halcyon prospects of the new reign, but the occasional shouts which were called forth were deemed by the spectators to be rather faint, and to owe more to the enjoyment of the wine than to the exhilaration of the promises. On the following Sunday, however, the pulpits of the establishment resounded with exulting eulogies on the new monarch, on the injustice which had been shown to such a man by unworthy suspicions of him, by attempts to exclude him from the throne, and by calumnies on the severity of his temper. The triumphant preachers now declared that the church and the nation had the most ample promises of security and favour "on the word of a king who never broke his word." A very little time taught these jubilant preachers a different note.

The first thing which scandalised the nation was the miserable economy of the late king's funeral. It was declared scarcely befitting a private gentleman, and the Scottish covenanters declared that the dead tyrant had been treated as the Scriptures declared tyrants should be, to "the burial of an ass." The first thing which James set about was the rearrangement of the cabinet. There was but one man in the cabinet of the late king who had his entire confidence - that was Rochester, the second son of the late lord Clarendon. To him he gave the office of lord high treasurer, thus constituting him prime minister; to Godolphin, who had held this office, he gave that of chamberlain to the queen; Halifax was deprived of the privy seal, and was made president of the council, a post both less lucrative and less influential, a circumstance which highly delighted Rochester, who now saw the wit who said he had been kicked upstairs, served precisely the same \ Sunderland, the late secretary of state, was suffered to retain his office. He had both intrigued and acted against James; both he and Godolphin had supported the exclusion bill, but Sunderland now, with his usual supple artifice, represented that he could have no hope of the king's favour but from the merit of his future services, and as he possessed some dangerous secrets, he was permitted to retain his place. He did not, however, content himself with this, but cherished the ambition of superseding Rochester as lord treasurer, and therefore represented himself to the catholics as their stanch friend, whilst they knew that Rochester was the champion of the church of England. For the present, nevertheless, from having been at high feud with both Rochester and Clarendon, he cultivated a strong friendship with them to make his position firm with the king. Halifax had opposed the exclusion bill, but he had become too well known to be a decided enemy of popery and of the French ascendancy. James, therefore, only tolerated him for the present; and whilst he assured him that all the past was forgotten, except the service he had rendered by his opposition to the exclusion bill, he told Barillon, the French ambassador, that he knew him too well to trust him, and only gave him the post of president to the council, to show how little influence he had.

The great seal was retained also by lord Guildford, who, though he was by no means a friend of liberty, was too much a stickler for the law to be a useful tool of arbitrary power. James secretly hated him, and determined to associate a more unscrupulous man with him in the functions of his office. This was his most obedient and most unflinching creature, the lord chief justice Jeffreys, of whose unexampled villainies we shall soon hear too much. Guildford was by the overbearing Jeffreys at once thrust back into the mere routine of a judge in equity, and all his state functions and patronage were usurped by this daring man. At the council board Jeffreys* treated him with the most marked contempt, and even insult, and poor Guildford soon saw all influence and profit of the chancellorship, as well as the chief justiceship, in the hands of Jeffreys, and himself reduced to a cipher.

But the most ungenerous proceeding was that of depriving the old and faithful lord Ormond of the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland. Ormond had not only stood firmly by Charles I., but had suffered unrepiningly the evil fortunes of Charles II. He had shared his exile, and had done all in his power for his restorations He had opposed all the endeavours by the popish plot and the exclusion bill to get rid of James, and was highly respected in his office in Ireland. He had lately lost his eldest son, lord Ossory, and, though aged, was still vigorous and zealous in discharge of his duties. But he had the unpardonable faults of being a firm protestant and as firm advocate for the constitutional restrictions of the crown. James recalled him from his lord-lieutenancy on the plea that he was wanted at court in his other office of lord steward of the household. But the ancient chief felt the ungrateful act, and at a farewell dinner at Dublin to the officers of the garrison, and in toasting the health of the king, filled a cup of wine to the brim, and holding it aloft without spilling a drop, declared that whatever the courtiers might say, neither hand, heart, nor reason yet failed him, - that he knew no approach of dotage.

Having made these changes in the ministry, James lost no time in letting his subjects see that he meant to enjoy his religion without the restraints to which he had been accustomed. He had been used to attend mass with the queen in her oratory, with the doors carefully closed; but the second Sunday after his accession he ordered the chapel doors to be thrown wide open, and went thither in procession. The duke of Somerset, who bore the sword of state, stopped at the threshold. James bade him advance, saying, "Your father would have gone further." But Somerset replied, "Your majesty's father would not have gone so far." At the moment of the elevation of the host, the courtiers were thrown into a strange agitation. The catholics fell on their knees, and the protestants hurried away. On Easter Sunday mass was attended with still greater ceremony. Somerset stopped at the door, according to custom, but the dukes of Norfolk, Northumberland, Grafton, Richmond, and many other noblemen accompanied the king as far as the gallery. Godolphin and Sunderland also complied, but Rochester absolutely refused to attend. Not satisfied with proclaiming his Catholicism, James produced two papers, which he said he had found in the strong box of the late king, wherein Charles was made to avow his persuasion that there could be no true church but the Roman, and that all who dissented from that church, whether communities or individuals, became heretic. James declared the arguments to be perfectly unanswerable, and challenged Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, to attempt it. This was not very consistent with his speech as it regarded the church of England, and his next step was as little so as regarded his assurances in it that he would not invade any man's property. Funds for carrying on the government were necessary, and James declared that as the customs and part of the excise had only been granted to Charles for his life, they had now lapsed, and that it would produce great inconvenience to wait for the meeting of parliament for their re-enactment. Nothing prevented him calling parliament at once, but James undoubtedly had a fancy for trying his father's favourite measure of levying taxes without parliament. It was contended that as no law for customs or excise now existed, all goods fresh imported would come in duty free, and ruin all the merchants who had to sell goods which had paid the duty. North, lord Guildford, recommended that the duties should be levied as usual, but the proceeds kept in the exchequer till parliament met and authorised their appropriation; but Jeffreys was a counsellor much more after the king's heart. He recommended that an edict should at once be issued, ordering the duties to be paid as usual to his majesty, and this advice was carried, every one being afraid of being declared disloyal, or a trimmer, who voted against it. The proclamation was issued, but to render it more palatable, it announced that a parliament would be very soon called, and as many addresses as possible from public bodies, sanctioning the measure, were procured. The barristers and students of the Middle Temple, in their address, thanked the king for preserving the customs, and both they and both the universities expressed the most boundless obedience to the king's sovereign and unlimited power. But the public at large looked on with silent foreboding. "The compliments of these bodies," says Dalrymple, "only serving to remind the nation that the laws had been broken."

Before venturing to assemble parliament, James endeavoured to render Louis of France acquiescent in this measure. He knew from the history of the late reign how averse Louis was to English parliaments, which were hostile to his designs against the continental nations. He therefore had a private interview with Barillon, in which he apologised most humbly for the necessity of calling a parliament. He begged him to assure his master of his grateful attachment, and that he was determined to do nothing without his consent. If the parliament attempted to meddle in any foreign affairs, he would send them about their business. Again he begged him to explain this, and that he desired to consult his brother of France in everything, but then he must have some money by some means. This hint of money was followed up the next day by Rochester, and Barillon hastened to convey the royal wishes. But Louis had lost no time in applying the effectual remedy for a parliament, the moment the assembling of one became menaced. He sent over five hundred thousand crowns, which Barillon carried in triumph to Whitehall, and James wept over the accursed bribe tears of joy and gratitude. But he and his ministers soon hinted that the money, though most acceptable, would not render him independent of parliament, and Barillon pressed his sovereign to send more with an urgency which rather offended Louis, and rendered it probable that the ambassador had a pretty good percentage out of what he obtained. James sent over to Versailles captain Churchill, already become lord Churchill, and in time to become known to us and all the world as the duke of Marlborough. He was to express James's gratitude and his assurances of keeping in view the interests of France, and so well did the proceedings of Churchill 011 that side of the channel, and of Barillon on this, succeed, that successive remittances, amounting to two millions of livres, were sent over. But of this, besides four hundred and seventy thousand livres, the arrears of the late king's pension, and about thirty thousand pounds for the corruption of the house of commons, Louis strictly forbade Barillon paying over more at present to James without his orders. In fact, he was no more assured of the good faith of James than he had been of that of Charles; and he had ample reason for his distrust, for at the very same time James was negotiating a fresh treaty with his son-in-law, the prince of Orange.

It is impossible to comprehend the full turpitude of this conduct of James without keeping steadily in view the aims of both James and Louis. James's, like that of all the Stuarts, was simply to destroy the British constitution and to reign absolute. To do this they must have the money of France to render them independent of parliaments, and a prospect of French troops should the English at length rebel against these attempts at their enslavement. The object of Louis was to keep England from affording any aid to any power on the continent, whilst he was endeavouring to overrun them with his armies, and anticipate the later endeavours of Napoleon to make Europe and France synonymous. To such a height had Louis carried his endeavours, that he had nearly absorbed Flanders, and kept Spain, Holland, Germany, and even Italy in perpetual alarm. Whether at peace or at war, this lawless monarch was in a constant position of aggression. He was constantly encroaching and disregarding treaties. For this reason catholic princes, Austrians, Spaniards, and Italians, the pope himself, looked anxiously to England for aid. The ancient religious antipathies were forgotten in the more imminent danger. Holland, besides the sympathies of protestantism, was allied closely by marriage with England, yet Holland was also sacrificed for the accursed gold of Louis; and England, which under the Tudors and under the commonwealth could hold the balance of Europe, under this detestable national treason of the Stuarts, was sunk to a condition of the utmost contempt amongst the nations. James, like his brother Charles, played on the fears and jealousies of Louis to extract all that he could; and when Barillon was obliged to refuse further supplies, he assumed a haughty air, and received Marshal de Lorge as Louis had received Churchill, seated and covered. When de Lorge reported this, Louis laughed and said, "The king, my good ally, is proud, but he loves my pistoles even more than his late brother did."

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Pictures for Reign on James II

Great Seal of James II
Great Seal of James II >>>>
James Receiving the French bribe
James Receiving the French bribe >>>>
Monmouth Advancing on Taunton
Monmouth Advancing on Taunton >>>>
Flight of Monmouth
Flight of Monmouth >>>>
Reception of Monmouth by the ladies of Taunton
Reception of Monmouth by the ladies of Taunton >>>>
Burning of Elizabeth Gaunt
Burning of Elizabeth Gaunt >>>>
William of Orange
William of Orange >>>>
Monmouth exchanging clothes with a shepherd
Monmouth exchanging clothes with a shepherd >>>>

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