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Reign of William and Mary page 9


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The whigs next brought in a bill to restore to the corporations their charters, which had been taken away by Charles II.; but, not content with the legitimate fact of the restoration of these ancient rights, they again seized on this as an opportunity for inflicting a blow on the tories. They introduced, at the instigation of William Sacheverell, a clause disqualifying for seven years every mayor, recorder, common councilman, or other officer who had been in any way a party to the surrender of those charters. They added a penalty of five hundred pounds and perpetual disqualification for every person who, in violation of this clause, should presume to hold office in any corporation. They declared that if the lords should hesitate to pass this bill, they would withhold the supplies till it was acquiesced in.

But William did not hesitate to express his displeasure with the bill, and with the indecent hurry with which it was pushed forward. A short delay was interposed, and meantime the news of the intended passing of the bill was carried into every quarter of the kingdom, and the tories, peers and commons, who had gone down to their estates for Christmas, hastened up to town to oppose it. The battle was furious. The whigs flattered themselves that, if they carried this bill, the returns to the next parliament would be such that they should be able to exclude their opponents from all power and place. After a fierce and prolonged debate, the bill was thrown out, and the tories, elated by their victory, again brought forward the indemnity bill; but this time they were defeated in turn, and the whigs immediately proceeded with their design of converting this bill into one of pains and penalties; and to show that they were in earnest, they summoned Sir Robert Sawyer before the house for his part in the prosecution of the whigs in the last reign. He had been attorney-general, and conducted some of the worst cases which were decided under Jeffreys and his unprincipled colleagues, with a spirit which had made him peculiarly odious. The case of Sir Thomas Armstrong was in particular brought forward - a very flagrant one. Sir Thomas had been charged with being engaged in the Rye House plot. He had escaped to the, Netherlands, but the authorities having been bribed to give him up, he was brought back, and hanged, without a hearing, as an outlaw. It was a barbarous case, and deserved the severest condemnation; but it was pleaded, on the other hand, that Sawyer had rendered great services to the whig cause; that he had stoutly resisted the attempts of James to introduce popery and despotism; that he had resigned his office rather than advocate the dispensing power, and had undertaken the defence of the seven bishops. No matter; he was excepted from indemnity and expelled the house. A committee of the whole house proceeded to make out a complete list of all the offenders to be excluded from the benefit of the bill.

This brought William to a resolve which, if carried into effect, would have given a death-blow to the whig party, and have neutralised the glory of their accomplishment of the revolution. He sent for his chief ministers, and announced to them his determination to relinquish the fruitless task of endeavouring to govern a country thus torn to pieces by faction; that he was weary of the whole concern, and would return to Holland, never more to meddle with English affairs, but abandon them to the queen; that for ten months he had been vainly endeavouring to make peace betwixt the rabid factions of whig and tory, and to prevent them rushing at each other's throats; that they clearly regarded nothing but their mutual animosities, for in their indulgence they utterly neglected the urgent affairs of the nation. Their enemy was in Ireland, yet it had no effect in bringing them to their senses. Still worse, every department of the government was overrun with corruption, peculation, and neglect. The public service was paralysed; the public peace was entirely destroyed; and that, as for himself, with far from robust health and with the duty of settling the government upon him, it was useless further to contend; he could contend no longer. A squadron was ready to bear him away, and he could only hope that they would show more regard to the wishes of the queen than they had to his.

Whether William was in earnest, or whether he only had recourse to a ruse to bring the combatants to their senses, the effect was the same. The ministers stood confounded. To drive the king from the country by their quarrels, and that at a time when the old and implacable enemy of protestantism and liberty was at their doors, would be a blow to freedom and to their own credit from which the most disastrous consequences must flow. They entreated him on their knees and with tears to forego this design, promising all that he could desire. William at length consented to make one more trial; but it was only on condition that the bill of indemnity should pass, and that he should himself proceed to Ireland, and endeavour, by his own personal and determined effort, to drive James thence.

Accordingly, on the 27th of January, he called together the two houses, and, announcing his intention to proceed to Ireland, declared the parliament dissolved, amid the utmost signs of consternation in the whigs, and shouts of exultation from the tories. This act of William's to defeat the malice of the whigs, and his continued firm resistance to their endeavours to fine and disqualify the tories, had a wonderful effect on that party. A numerous body of them deputed Sir ' John Lowther to carry their thanks to the king, and assure him that they would serve him with all their hearts and influence. Numbers of them who had hitherto stood aloof began to appear at court, and attended the levee to kiss the king's hand. William gave orders to liberate those whom the whigs had sent to prison on charges of treason.

On the 1st of February the hour arrived in which all ecclesiastics who had neglected to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy would be deposed. A considerable number of them came in in time; but Sancroft, the primate, and five of his bishops, stood out, and were deprived of their bishoprics, but were treated with particular lenity.

It was soon found that the conduct of the whigs had alienated a great mass of the people. Their endeavours, by Sacheverell’s clause, to disqualify all who had consented to the surrender of the corporation charters, had made mortal enemies of those persons, many of whom were at the moment the leading members of the corporations, and therefore possessing the highest influence on the return of members to the new parliament. The same was the case in the country, amongst those who had been sheriffs or other officers at that period. The consequence was that the tories returned a decided majority to the new house, and amongst them came up Sir Robert Sawyer from Cambridge, whilst the violence of Hampden had excluded him.

The revival of the tory influence introduced great changes in the ministry. Halifax resigned the privy seal; Mordaunt - now earl of Monmouth - Delamere, Sidney Godolphin, and admiral Herbert - now earl of Torrington - were dismissed; Caermarthen was continued lord president of the council, and prime minister; Sir John Lowther was appointed first lord of the treasury, in place of Monmouth; Nottingham retained his post as secretary of state; and Thomas Herbert, earl of Pembroke, was placed at the head of the admiralty, Torrington having, to his great discontent, to yield that position, but retaining that of high admiral, and being satisfied by a splendid grant of ten thousand acres of crown land in the Peterborough fens. Delamere, too, was soothed on his dismissal by being created earl of Warrington. Richard Hampden became chancellor of the Exchequer.

Parliament met on the 20th of March, and the commons, under the new tory influence, elected Sir John Trevor speaker, who was besides made first commissioner of the great seal. In this man is said to have commenced that system of government corruption of parliament - the buying up, or buying off members, which grew to such a height, attained its climax under Sir Robert Walpole, and which has not yet ceased to operate. Trevor was an unscrupulous tory, and Burnet says he was "furnished with such sums of money as might purchase some votes." He undertook, accordingly, to manage the party in the house. The whigs were in the worst of humours, but they had now learnt that it was not wise to push matters with the crown too far, and as a body they watched their opportunity for recovering by degrees their ascendancy. Some of the more violent, however, as the earl of Shrewsbury and the notorious Ferguson, entered into immediate correspondence with James.

William, in his opening speech, dwelt chiefly on the necessity of settling the revenue, to enable him to proceed to Ireland, and on passing the bill of indemnity; and he was very plain in expressing his sense of the truculent spirit of party which, in endeavouring to wound another, wounded and embarrassed his government still more. He informed them that he had drawn up an act of grace, constituting the bill of indemnity, and should send it t$ them for their acceptance; for it is the practice for all such acts to proceed from the crown, and then to be voted by the peers, and finally by the commons; and he added - " A further reason which induceth me to send you this act at this time is because I am desirous to leave no colour of excuse to any of my subjects for the raising of disturbances in the government, and especially in the time of my absence. And I say this, both to inform you, and to let some ill-affected men see that I am not unacquainted how busy they are in their present endeavours to alter it. Among other encouragements which I find they give themselves, one of the ways by which they hope to compass their designs, is by creating differences and disagreements in your counsels, and which I hope you will be careful to prevent; for be assured that our greatest enemies can have no better instruments for their purposes than those who shall any way endeavour to disturb or delay your speedy and unanimous proceeding upon these necessary matters."

He then informed them that he left the administration during his absence in Ireland in the hands of the queen; and he desired that if any act was necessary for the confirmation of that authority, that they would pass it. The commons at once passed a vote of thanks, and engaged to support the government of their majesties by every means in their power. On the 27th of March they passed unanimously the four following resolutions - namely, that all the hereditary revenues of king James, except the hearth-tax, were vested now in their present majesties; that a bill should be brought in to declare and perpetuate this investment; that the moiety of the excise granted to Charles and James should be secured by bill to their present majesties for life; and finally, that the customs which had been granted to Charles and James for their lives should be granted for four years from the next Christmas.

William was much dissatisfied with the last proviso, and complained that the commons should show less confidence in him, who had restored their liberties, than in Charles and James, who destroyed them. Sir John Lowther pressed this point on the commons strongly, but in vain; and Burnet told king William that there was no disrespect meant towards him, but that the commons wished to establish this as a general principle, protective of future subjects from the evils which the ill-judged liberality of past parliaments had produced.

There was, moreover, a demand for the reform of the pension list, and the salaries of office; and Sir Charles Sedley, the poet, who had now zealously embraced the patriotic side, distinguished himself in the debate on this subject. He said - Truly, Mr. Speaker, it is a sad reflection that some men should wallow in wealth and places, while others put away in taxes the fourth part of their revenue for the support of the same government. We are not upon equal terms for his majesty's service. The courtiers and great officers charge, as it were, in armour. They feel not the taxes by reason of their places; while the country gentlemen are shot through and through by them. The king is pleased to lay his wants before us, and, I am confident, expects our advice upon it; we ought, therefore, to tell him what pensions are too great, what places may be extinguished during the time of war and public calamity. His majesty sees nothing but coaches and six and great tables, and therefore cannot imagine the want and misery of the rest of his subjects. He is a brave and generous prince, but he is a young king, encompassed and hemmed in by a company of crafty old courtiers. To say no more, some have places of three thousand pounds, some of six thousand pounds, others of eight thousand pounds per annum; and I am told the commissioners of the treasury had one thousand six hundred pounds per annum apiece. Certainly, public pensions, whatever they have been formerly, are much too great for the present want and calamity that reigns everywhere else." He contended that they must, therefore, first save the king what they could, and then give him what they were able.

Finally, the amount of supply was fixed that, from that time to the next Michaelmas, it should be one million two hundred thousand pounds, of which one million should be raised on the credit of the bills for settling the revenue, and the remainder on another tax. In settling the royal revenue there was one circumstance which occasioned a strong debate, and which excited strong feelings of enmity betwixt the king and queen and the princess Anne. This was a demand made by the tories in parliament on the part of Anne for an augmentation of her annuity chargeable on the civil list. Anne was receiving thirty thousand pounds a year - in those times an enormous income for a princess of the royal family; but now a proposition for seventy thousand pounds a year was put forward. The house of commons was astonished; William and Mary were still more so. To them it was a matter of wonder how Anne could ever spend her thirty thousand pounds; but Anne, though not expensive herself in her habits, was in the hands of people who could absorb any amount of money; these were the Marlboroughs. The Countess of Marlborough - originally Sarah Jennings - a most ambitious and domineering woman, had managed to acquire a most absolute ascendancy over the not very bright Anne. Anne's husband, the prince of Denmark, a gourmand and a sot, was a still more passive tool than Anne. He had no influence over his wife, and she, perhaps, still less over him; but Sarah Churchill could sway Anne any way that she pleased. She ruled Anne absolutely, and she ruled her own husband, the earl of Marlborough, too. The great I general was but the second person, his wife was the first; ' she ruled Anne as princess, and long afterwards as queen; and Marlborough, whose great passion was avarice, was all 1 the more willing to give precedence to her, because she managed, through the princess, to open up the fountains of promotion and affluence.

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Pictures for Reign of William and Mary page 9

Death of Dundee
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