Reign of William and Mary. - (Continued.) page 4
For his services in this war Ginckell received from parliament its solemn thanks, and from the king and queen the title of baron Aghrim and earl of Athlone.
On the 19th of October William arrived from Holland, and on the 22nd he opened parliament. He congratulated it on the happy termination of the war in Ireland, and on the progress of our arms generally, both at land and sea. It was true that on the continent there had been no very decisive action, but the allies had compelled the French to retreat before them, and to confess their power by avoiding a general engagement with them. At sea, though perhaps not so much had been effected in some directions as might have been hoped, yet the French had been driven from the sea to their own ports, and an English fleet had conveyed a great merchant fleet from the Mediterranean in safety. This was very different to previous years, when their cruisers had made great captures of our merchantmen. We had also sent a fleet up the Shannon, which prevented them aiding the insurgents in Ireland, and were now in undisputed supremacy again on the ocean. Of course William had to demand great supplies to maintain the fleet in this position, and to pursue the war with vigour against Louis. All this the members of both houses listened to with apparent satisfaction, and voted him cordial thanks.
On the 6th of November it was unanimously voted in the commons that the supplies asked for by the crown should be granted; and first they voted £1,575,898 for the service of the navy, including the building of three new docks at Portsmouth, one dry and two wet ones. On the 16th they resolved that the army, in compliance with William's recommendation, should be raised to 64,924 men; and on the 4th of January they voted £2,100,000 for the maintenance of the army, of which Ireland was to pay £165,000. Thus the army and navy alone cost this year no less than £3,676,685 - much more than the whole business of government had often cost in the reigns of Charles and James. But we are now entered on that stupendous system of continental interference, which grew and grew from William's time, till, towards the close of the Buonaparte wars, we spent in a single year, not three or four millions, but three or four hundred millions!
But though a large majority in both houses supported warmly the endeavour to curb the inordinate ambition of Louis XIV., these sums were not passed by the commons without searching inquiries into the accounts and into the abuses which, notwithstanding William's vigilance, abounded in all departments of government. No doubt the party in opposition, as is generally the case, did much of this work of reform more to gratify their private resentments, and to make their rivals' time of office anything but agreeable, than from genuine patriotism; but at the same time there was plenty of ground for their complaints. There were serious charges made against admiral Russell for his lukewarm conduct at sea, and of the management of the admiralty. The fact was that Russell, as was strongly suspected, and as we now know from documents since come to light, was no less a traitor than Torrington, Dartmouth, and Marlborough. He was in active correspondence with James, and ready, if some turn in affairs should serve to make it advantageous, to go over to him with the fleet, or as much of it as would follow him, and others of the admirals; for Delaval, Killigrew, and other admirals and naval officers were as deep in the treason.
There were loud complaints of the vileness of the commissariat still, and it was declared that far more of our men fell by disease from bad and adulterated food than in battle. The complaints against Russell, who was called to the bar of the house, he threw upon the admiralty, and the admiralty on the commissariat department. Russell complained also of the ministry, and particularly of the earl of Nottingham; and thus, by this system of mutual recrimination, exactly resembling what we have seen lately, all parties contrived to escape. The commons, however, were not so to be silenced. They charged on the officers of the army, on its commissariat, on the men in office, and on the government officials almost universally, the same monstrous system of corruption, peculation, and negligence of everything but making money for themselves. They insisted on a rigorous examination of all the accounts by their own members, and they voted that all salaries and profits arising from any place or places under the crown should not amount to more for any one person than five hundred pounds, except in the cases of the speaker of the house of commons, the commissioners of the great seal, the judges, ambassadors, and officers of the army and navy.
There were plenty of posts in which this restriction would have been most salutary, for people in some of the most trivial and useless of them were pocketing many thousands a year; but it was soon found that the whole nation could not furnish sufficient people patriotic enough to serve their country for five hundred pounds a year each; and, therefore, in a few weeks a fresh resolution was taken, which negatived this.
The business of the year 1691 closed by the passing a bill to exclude all catholics, in pursuance of the treaty of Limerick, from holding any office in Ireland, civil, military, or ecclesiastical, or from practising in any profession, or sitting in the Irish parliament, before they had taken the oath of allegiance. The commons attempted by this bill to make it necessary for a catholic to take also the oath of supremacy, and the oath against transubstantiation; but the lords showed that this was contrary to the first article of the treaty of Limerick, and this clause was struck out, and the bill then passed. When the agitation for catholic emancipation commenced, loud complaints were made that by this bill the treaty of Limerick had been violated. But this was a mistake: the violation of it took place some years afterwards by another bill. The first article of the treaty provided that on a catholic taking the oath of allegiance, he should be admitted to all the privileges specified, according to the law in Charles II.'s time; and this law, whether always enforced or not, empowered the crown to tender this oath to all subjects.
The year 1692 was opened by parliament bringing forward several important bills, which were, however, too much contested to be carried this year. The first of these was a bill for regulating the trade of the East India Company, increasing the number of shareholders, restricting the amount of stock in the hands of individuals, and incorporating a new company, which had sprung up with the old one. The East India Company had become a most flourishing concern. From the restoration to this time, only twenty-three years, its annual imports had risen in value from eight thousand pounds to three hundred thousand pounds. Its capital amounted only to three hundred and seventy thousand pounds, but it yielded an annual profit of thirty per cent., besides having, up to 1676, doubled the value of the whole capital. The company, however, instead of increasing in shareholders, was rapidly sinking into a monopoly of a few individuals. Amongst these Sir Josiah Child, whom we lately quoted in our review of the commerce of the period, stood chief, and was become, as it were, the king and despot of the whole concern. Five members were said to possess or hold a sixth of all the votes, and amongst these Child had the predominant amount. His income from the company was stated at twenty thousand pounds a year, and his word was law in it.
These enormous profits naturally called forth a rival company, and the contest betwixt these companies grew from year to year, till it came to occupy and divide the spirit of the whole mercantile world. The new company insisted on the right of trading also to many parts of India, the old one stood on their charter as a charter of exclusion to all others. The favour of government was purchased by the old company by well-applied gifts of money to government, and by sharing with government the profitable patronage. The question was now brought before parliament and hotly debated; but the bill was dropped for the present, and a proposition to William to grant a charter to the new company was evaded, on the plea of requiring deep consideration.
The next important bill was for regulating trials in cases of high treason. It was high time that great reforms should take place on this head. During the Stuart times men had been most easily and conveniently put out of the way, by counsel being refused them under charge of high treason, and by refusal to allow them the perusal of the bill of indictment previous to the trial. Juries were packed by sheriffs, and state prisoners were thus murdered at will. The same gross injustice extended to prisoners charged with other offences; but the great strain towards injustice was in the case of those charged by the state with treason, and against whom it employed the ablest lawyers of the realm. By this machinery, all through the reigns of the Stuarts, as well as of their predecessors, whole throngs of men, and many of them of extraordinary endowments and high rank, had been judicially destroyed. The proposed bill, therefore, provided that every person charged with high treason should be allowed to have his own counsel, to have a copy of the indictment, ten days before the trial, delivered to him, along with a list of the freeholders from whom his jury were to be selected, that he might have opportunity to challenge any of them. The bill was most desirable, but it was frustrated for the time by the lords insisting on an extension of their own privileges regarding such trials. Instead of being tried by the court of the lord high steward - who could summon twelve or more peers at his discretion if the parliament was not sitting - they demanded that, during the recess, as during the session, every peer should be summoned to attend any such trial. The commons somewhat unreasonably opposed this very proper reform, on the ground that the peers had too many privileges already, and the bill dropped for the time.
Besides these the commons sent up various other bills, which were nearly all rejected by the lords. There was a bill for reducing the rate of interest on money; a bill investing in the king the forfeited estates in both England and Ireland as a fund for the war; a bill to proportion the pay in the army to the real complement of men; for there was a practice, in which Marlborough was especially engaged, of returning regiments as complete which were far from complete, and pocketing the pay of the men wanting. There was a bill to continue the commissioners of public accounts, most unreasonably rejected by the lords, whilst they allowed to pass an act which has always been regarded with peculiar hostility in England - a poll-tax, levying on all persons, except servants, children, and paupers, a shilling a quarter; on every peer of parliament, ten pounds; on non-jurors, twenty pounds; on all persons possessing income from any sum of three hundred pounds a year, ten shillings, and on all gentlemen of three hundred pounds a year income from real property, and on all clergymen or teachers with incomes of eighty pounds, one pound each. On the 29th of February William prorogued the parliament, and made active preparations for his departure for the continent. Before he took his leave, however, he made various changes in his cabinet and ministry, which showed that the whigs were still losing ground with him, and the tories, or the "Trimmers," who veered, according to circumstances, to one party or the other, acquiring favour. The earl of Rochester, younger brother of lord Clarendon, one of Mary's uncles; lord Ranelagh, lord Cornwallis, and Sir Edward Seymour, who had all along hitherto opposed the king, were made members of the privy council, and the earl of Pembroke privy seal. Charles Montague was made a commissioner of the treasury, and Sidney lord lieutenant of Ireland. But the circumstance which occasioned the greatest sensation, and wonder, and mystery was the sudden dismissal of lord Marlborough from all his offices under the king, both in the court and the army. As Marlborough had been manifestly rising in William's estimation from the successful display of his military talents, this abrupt dismissal excited the keenest curiosity of both court and country, which William took no means to gratify, and for which he has been greatly blamed, even by historians most laudatory to him. But, from what we now know of the causes of' this striking expression of William's displeasure, we can well understand that there was more in it than William could, without implicating the princess Anne, make known.
We have seen that Marlborough all along, whilst courting the favour of William, was endeavouring to recover that of James. He had been one of the very first to abandon that monarch when trusted by him, but he had written letters expressing the bitterest repentance and remorse for that treason, whilst he was thus prepared, if necessary, to perpetrate a new one. But Marlborough, as he had a genius capable of the very highest achievements, had one also capable of the most complicated treacheries in politics. It was not enough for him to be serving William and vowing secretly to James that he was only watching his opportunity to serve him, but he had a third and more alluring treason. He and his wife had the ductile and yet obstinate princess Anne completely in their hands. They lived with her at Whitehall, they drew largely from her income, they selected her friends, they moulded her likings and her antipathies; she was a complete puppet in their keeping. From his lucrative station as keeper of Anne's purse, person, and conscience, through his clever and unprincipled wife, Marlborough watched intently the temper of the nation. He saw that there was an intense jealousy of the Dutch, not only amongst the people on account of trade and national rivalry, but in the parliament and aristocracy, on account of William's preference for his Dutch friends. Bentinck, Ginckell, Auverquerque, and Zuleystein were the only men in whom he reposed entire confidence. On them he heaped wealth, estates, and honours. Ginckell was just now elevated to an earldom, and a large grant of lands was contemplated for him in Ireland. On Portland rich grants had been profusely bestowed, and more anticipated. William's continual absences on the continent, his cold reserve whilst here, the large expenditure of men and money for the prosecution of the continental war, though really for the liberties of Europe, were represented by the discontented as a wholesale draft upon the country for the aggrandisement of Holland.
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