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Reign of William and Mary page 15


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On the 2nd of October William opened the new session of parliament. He was received with the warmest demonstrations of attachment. He had shown himself strong, and James had shown himself weak. The country had been alarmed by the menace of invasion, and all parties were disposed to rally round the monarch who gave them every promise of security and pre-eminence. In his speech he paid the highest tribute to the bravery of the army, and declared that, had his affairs allowed him to have begun the campaign earlier, he should have been able to clear the whole country of the enemy. In order to do that in the ensuing campaign, and to put a check on the too conspicuous designs of the French, it would be essential to grant liberal supplies. He reminded them of the dishonour which had befallen our flag, and of the necessity of promptness in parliament to enable him to wipe away this stain, and to secure the reputation and the liberties of England by crushing the efforts of the king of France. " Whoever goes about to obstruct your application to these matters," he said, " preferably to all others, can neither be my friend nor the kingdom's."

His speech was received with loud acclamations. Thanks were voted for his achievements in Ireland, and to the queen for her able administration during his absence; and the commons proceeded to vote supplies on a scale which had yet no example. The army was fixed at sixty-nine thousand men, of whom twelve thousand were to consist of cavalry. The navy was to consist of twenty-eight thousand men; and the cost of the whole, including ordnance, was estimated at four million pounds. In return for this unprecedented force and unprecedented allowance for it, the commons demanded that they should appoint a commission of nine to examine and bring, forward the accounts; the commissioners to be all members of their own house. The proposition was acceded to without opposition by both the peers and the king, and a bill, including the appointment of the commissioners, was prepared and passed. On the 15th of November a bill received the royal assent for doubling the excise on beer, ale, and other liquors; and on the 20th of December another bill passed for granting certain duties upon East India goods, wrought silks, and other merchandise; and a second bill for increasing the duties on wine, vinegar, and tobacco.

In considering ways and means, the commons proposed, as they had laid so many burdens on themselves, that the persons of all those who had been engaged in the rebellion in Ireland should be attainted, and their estates confiscated, and the proceeds be applied to the discharge of the expenses of the war; and they brought in and passed a bill for that purpose. But the lords did not appear disposed to sanction so wholesale a confiscation of the estates of all the catholics of Ireland, as this would have amounted to; nor could it be very acceptable to the king, though they proposed to place a considerable portion of the forfeitures at his disposal. The lords allowed the bill to lie on their table, notwithstanding several urgent reminders from the commons, and so at last it dropped. This must have been what William particularly desired, for it was contrary to his natural clemency to let loose the fiends of party fury after the sufficiently deadly evils of war, and it was contrary to his promises to many who had submitted on assurances of impunity; and having got the chief supplies which he wanted, he sought to shorten the session as much as possible, by telling the parliament that, by a certain day, it was necessary for him to leave for Holland on important affairs. Yet, after the liberal votes of the commons, still keeping in memory the disgrace of the navy, he added that, if some annual provision could be made for augmenting the navy, and building some new men-of- war, " it would be a very necessary care for that time, both for the honour and safety of the nation."

The commons thought so much the same that they voted an additional five hundred thousand pounds expressly for building new ships of war. But they felt, too, that they must not only have good ships, but good commanders; and they therefore determined on bringing lord Torrington to trial for his conduct at Beachy Head. Torrington had been sent to the Tower directly after the battle, and a bill was now brought into the upper house to remove the cause from the peers to a court-martial. When this bill was before the commons, Torrington prayed to be heard at the bar of the house in his own defence; and he there endeavoured, in the style of our own times, to throw the blame anywhere from himself. He laid it on the court of admiralty, on the secretary of state, but especially on the Dutch, who had notoriously done the real fighting of the day. His defence did not mend his case, and he was sent down to be tried by court-martial on board ship at Sheerness. There the court committed the fatal mistake of permitting the Dutch rear- admiral and officers to appear as his chief accusers; and his friends, who were on the alert to seize on every circumstance which might turn opinion in his favour, immediately raised the cry that the whole thing was a conspiracy to sacrifice our own brave countryman to the spite of the jealous Dutch. The effect was certain on the then temper of the nation; Torrington was acquitted, and even praised by some of his abettors for his caution in saving the fleet from damage! - as if that was the chief glory of an English admiral. William, however, was not to be so duped. He dismissed so very cautious an admiral from his service, and never would employ him again. Torrington, notwithstanding, had the assurance to sail up the Thames in his barge in a kind of triumph, and took his seat in the house of lords j but the peers looked coolly on him. He next presented himself at court, but was not admitted to the royal presence.

The last proceeding which marked this session was the discovery of a fresh Jacobite plot. The tory minister Caermarthen had long been the object of the particular enmity of the whigs, and they were doings everything possible to undermine his influence. Their efforts appeared to be growing palpably perceptible. The king had introduced into the* ministry one after another men to whom Caermarthen had a particular aversion, or who were particularly hostile to his; power. Godolphin was made first lord of the treasury; Marlborough was rising fast in the military department; and Sidney was sent for by William from Ireland without consulting Caermarthen, and appointed secretary of state. His enemies were eagerly watching for the favourable moment to come down on the declining minister and complete his ruin, when he suddenly, at the very close of the year and the session, laid before William all the particulars 1 of a desperate plot of the Jacobites, which showed that a minister of such vigilance was not to be lightly dispensed with. Fortune, however, rather than his own sagacity, had favoured the prime minister.

The anticipated absence of William from England in the spring appeared to offer a favourable conjuncture for James making another attempt for the recovery of his throne. The Jacobites, therefore, had met and concluded to send three of their number to St. Germains to consult with the court there on the best means of effecting this object. It was proposed that James should make great protestations of his determination to allow of and secure the political and religious rights of all his subjects, and that he should come attended only by so moderate a force that it should not look like a French invasion. The opinions of the leading Jacobites were to be conveyed by these messengers in a packet of letters to be carefully concealed; and amongst the writers of these letters were the earl of Dartmouth, viscount Preston - so-called - and the earl of Clarendon. This weak man, whom William had warned through Rochester of his knowledge of his practices, and who had declared that he would never again meddle with treason, was here as busy as ever. A vessel was engaged, called "The James and Elizabeth," to carry over the three agents, namely, Preston, Ashton, and Elliot, who were to come on board on the last night of the year. The skipper of the James and Elizabeth, though offered extraordinary pay for the trip, suspecting what was the nature of his passengers, gave notice of the fact to Caermarthen, who sent and boarded the vessel at midnight, when the traitors were all aboard, secured them and their papers, and conveyed them to the secretary of state's office at Whitehall, where Caermarthen and Nottingham passed the night in examining the contents of the fatal packet, and the next morning laid them before the king.

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Pictures for Reign of William and Mary page 15

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