Reign of William and Mary. - (Continued.) page 8
On the 11th of May, a week after Marlborough was sent to the Tower, Russell sailed from the Downs in quest of the French fleet. He was at the head of ninety-nine sail of the line, the greatest force which had ever descended the British channel. Off Beachy Head he had met Carter and Delaval, who had been watching the French ports, and a fine fleet of Dutchmen was also in conjunction with him. There were between thirty and forty thousand sailors, Dutch and English, on board, and he was supported by the admirals Delaval, Ashley, Cloudesley Shovel, Carter, and Rooke. Van Almonde was in command of the Dutch squadron, with Callemberg and Vandergoes. James meantime was at La Hogue with the army, anxiously awaiting the fleet of De Tourville to carry it over. James confidently calculated on the disaffection of the English admirals, Russell, Delaval, Carter, and others. He sent an emissary to remind Russell of his promises, and to promise him and the other admirals high rewards in return. But Lloyd, the emissary, had found Russell wonderfully changed. The fatal declaration had produced the same effect on him as on others. He told the man that he was desirous to serve James, but that he must first grant a general pardon; and besides, if he met the French fleet, though James was aboard of it, he was determined to fight to the death; he would never allow himself to be beaten by the French.
In London the terror of this known disaffection had been great. The queen and her ministers consulted deeply what should be done. Should they send and arrest the traitors? The effect, they foresaw, would be to scatter terror through the whole fleet. They adopted a far more politic plan. On the 15th of May, as the combined fleet lay off St. Helen's, Russell called together the officers on board his own ship, and informed them that he had a letter from the queen to read them. In this she stated that she had heard rumours of disaffection amongst the officers, but would not believe it. She knew they would fight as became Englishmen for their country. The letter had an instant and wondrous effect. They immediately signed unanimously a declaration that they would live and die for the crown, the protestant religion, and the freedom of England. On the 18th the fleet sailed for the coast of France, and the next day descried the fleet of Tourville. Tourville had only sixty-three ships of the line, and he had orders, if he met the English fleet, to engage. But Louis had since learned the junction of thİ Dutch with the English, and dispatched messengers to warn him, but they were intercepted. Tourville, however, notwithstanding the preponderance of the enemy, determined to engage. He had been upbraided after the fight at Beachy Head as timid; his blood was roused, and, besides, he confidently believed that three-fourths of the English fleet were secretly for James, and would at the first brush come over to him. As he lay off Barfleur on the morning of the 19th he saw the long line of the enemy before him, and bore down upon them for battle.
At eleven o'clock the French admiral opened fire on part of the English fleet, the rest not being able to get up from the wind being contrary. The spirit with which the English received him at once dissipated Tourville's hopes of defection amongst them. The conflict continued with uncommon fury till one o'clock, when Russell was compelled to allow his flag-ship, the Rising Sun, carrying a hundred and four guns, to be towed out of the line from the damage she had received. But the fight continued furiously till three o'clock, when a fog parted the enemies. Soon after, however, a wind favourable to the English sprung up, and at the same time dispersed the fog. Fresh ships of the English came up, and the conflict continued to rage till eight in the evening. During this time Carter, who had been one of the most deeply pledged to James, but who had fought like a lion, fell mortally wounded; but, as he was carried down to his cabin, he cried to his men to fight the ship as long as she could swim. Tourville, who was now contending hopelessly against numbers, drew off, but was closely pursued, and the most terrible carnage was made of the men on board his great ship, the Royal Sun, the pride of the French navy. He fought, however, stoutly so long as the light continued; and then the whole French fleet made all sail for the French ports.
The next morning the English gave chase, and Russell's vessel was retarded for some time by the falling of the topmast, but soon they were once more in full pursuit. About twenty of the French ships escaped through the perilous Race of Alderney, betwixt that island and the coast of Cotentin, where the English dared not pursue them; and these vessels, by their desperate courage, escaped to St. Malo. Tourville had shifted his flag to the Ambitious, and the Royal Sun, battered and drenched in blood, made its way, and, with the Admirable and the Conquerant, managed to reach Cherbourg, whither Delaval pursued and burnt them, with several other vessels. Tourville himself and the rest of the fleet escaped into the harbour of La Hogue, where they drew themselves up in shallow water, close under the guns of the forts De Lisset and St. Vaast.
Here they flattered themselves that they were in safety. The army destined to invade England lay close at hand, and James, his son the duke of Berwick, the marshal Bellefond, and other great officers were in the forts. But Sir George Rooke, by the orders of Russell, embarked his men in all the light frigates and open boats that could be procured, and advanced boldly upon the French men-of-war as they lay drawn up upon the beach. Regardless of the fire from the forts and the ships, the English rushed to the attack with loud hurrahs, proud to beard the French under the eyes of the very army of French and renegade Irish which dared to dream of invading England. The daring of the deed struck such a panic into the French sailors, that they quickly abandoned the vessels which lay under fort Lisset. The fort and batteries seemed paralysed by the same event, and the English set fire to the vessels. In vain Tourville manned his boats and attempted to drive back the English sailors; his mariners jumped to land again. In vain the soldiers ashore hurried down and poured in a volley on the British seamen; they successfully burnt all the six vessels lying under Lisset, and returned to their ships without the loss of a man.
The next morning Rooke was again afloat with the tide, and leading his fleet of boats and his brave sailors against the vessels lying under the fort St. Vaast. The fort did more execution than the other fort the day before; but all was in vain. The British sailors climbed up the vessels; the French fled precipitately out of them, and they were all burnt to the water's edge, except a few smaller ones, which were towed away to the English fleet. When James saw these surprising acts, he is said to have involuntarily exclaimed, "See my brave English sailors." But guns of the exploding vessels going off killed some of the people standing near him, and he then, coming to a more sober reflection, said, "Heaven fights against me," and retired. There was an end of all hope of ever invading England, and he hastened back to St. Germains in deep dejection.
The news of this most brilliant and most important battle, which gave such a blow to the power and prestige of Louis, was received in London with transports of delight. England was once more safe; France was humbled; invasion at an end. Sixteen of the finest ships of France had been destroyed, and on the part of England only one fire-ship. The glory was England's, for, though the Dutch had fought well, it was the English who had borne the brunt and done the miracles of bravery at La Hogue. The joyful tidings were sped away to William's camp at Grammont, and set all the cannon roaring the exultation into the ears of Luxembourg and his army. At home there was now time to inquire into the particulars of the plot for which Marlborough and others had been shut up. Luckily for them there was found to have been a sham conspiracy got up by one Young, a debauched clergyman, who had been imprisoned for bigamy and for many other crimes. Like Oates and his compeers, and the more recent Fuller, he hoped to make money, and therefore had accused Marlborough, Sprat, the bishop of Rochester, and the rest, of being in it. On examination, the plot was found to be a mere barefaced forgery, got up by Young and another miscreant named Blackhead. They had written an engagement to bring in king James, and seize William, and forged to it the names of Marlborough, Corn- bury, Sancroft the ex-primate, and Sprat, bishop of Rochester. This document they had contrived to hide in a flower-pot at the bishop's house at Bromley. The bishop was arrested, but denied all knowledge of the plot, and then Blackhead confessed. Young, however, feigned another plot, and endeavoured to inveigle into it a poor man of the name of Holland, who also informed the earl of Nottingham. Young was imprisoned and pilloried, and ministers were glad to admit the accused to bail. For Marlborough and others this sham plot was a genuine godsend. They were deep in real treason, and this sham treason screened their reputations just at the moment when the power of James was being annihilated, and that of William rising in fresh vigour.
But the government was not satisfied with the success of the battle of La Hogue. It was too decisive to be left, they thought, in barren glory; it ought to be followed up by a more severe blow to France. Amid the public rejoicings, Sidney, Portland, and Rochester went down to Portsmouth to congratulate the fleet on its success. They distributed twenty-seven thousand pounds amongst the seamen, and gold medals were bestowed on the officers; and, to mark the sense of the king and queen of this great achievement of the sailors, it was announced that the wounded should be tended at the public charge in the hospitals of St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew; and, still more, that the palace of Greenwich, begun by Charles II., should be finished and appropriated for ever as the home of superannuated sailors. Thus sprung this noble institution, this home for our maimed or declining mariners, from the battle of La Hogue.
But for this honour conferred on the fleet, fresh exploits were demanded of it. That it should sail to St. Malo, bombard the town, and destroy the remainder of Tourville's fleet, which had taken shelter there. Accordingly, Rooke was dispatched to take soundings on the dangerous shores of Brittany, and Russell mustered his fleet, which, having taken on board transports of fourteen thousand troops under young Schomberg - now duke of Leinster - accompanied by Ruvigny - now earl of Gal way - and his Huguenots, and the earl of Argyll with his regiment, part of which had committed the melancholy massacre of Glencoe, he stood out to sea. Off Portland, however, a council of war was called, and it was contended, by a majority of both naval and military officers, that it was too late in the season - it was only the 28th of July - to attempt such an enterprise amid the dangerous rocks and under the guns of the forts and batteries of St. Malo. The fleet, therefore, returned to St. Helen's, much to the astonishment and disgust of the whole nation. High words arose betwixt the earl of Nottingham, the first lord of the admiralty, and Russell. The minister accused the admiral of cowardice and breach of duty in thus tamely giving up the enterprise against France.
Nottingham's hands were wonderfully strengthened by the deep discontent of the merchants, who complained that they were almost ruined by the so much vaunted victory of La Hogue; that before, we had a fleet in the Mediterranean and another out in the Channel protecting the traders; but that now the fleet had been concentrated to fight Tourville, and then, instead of taking up proper positions to check the French ships of war and privateers, had contemptibly returned to port; that the French, embittered by the defeat of La Hogue, had now sent out their men-of-war in every direction, and, finding our merchantmen defenceless, had committed the most awful havoc amongst them. Fifty vessels alone, -belonging to London and Bristol, had been taken by them. More than a hundred of our trading vessels had been carried into St. Malo, which Russell, by destroying that port, could have prevented or avenged. That Bart, of Dunkirk, had scoured the Baltic and our own northern coasts, and Trouin had actually ascended the Shannon, and committed frightful mischief in Clare.
Amid such expressions of discontent king William returned from Holland to England. He landed on the 18th of October. He had had little success in his campaign; La Hogue was the only bright spot of the year, and the scene which now met him on his return was lowering and depressing. There had been an earthquake in Jamaica, which, in three minutes, had converted Port Royal, the most flourishing city of the West Indies, into a heap of ruins, burying one thousand five hundred of the inhabitants, and extending the calamity to the merchants of London and Bristol. The distress in England itself was general and severe. A rainy season had ruined the harvest, and reduced the people to a state of extreme misery. Bread riots were frequent, and the complaints of the excessive burthen of taxation were loud and general. Burglaries and highway robberies were of the most audacious kind. William, however, was not a man to sit and brood over such things. He at once sent out parties of cavalry into the districts where the robberies were frequent, and, by bribing some of the thieves, got information of the rest, whom his police hunted out industriously. Their chief captain, one Whitney, was taken and hanged, and the highways and domestic hearths were soon as secure as ever.
He called together parliament on the 4th of November, where there was every reason to expect no little faction and difficulties. Parliament was not merely divided into ministerialists and opposition, it was broken into sundry parties, all exasperated by one cause or another. The whigs were sore with their loss of office to a great extent; the lords were nettled at the commons refusing their claims put forward in the lord high steward's court bill, and were urged to contention by Marlborough and the other lords who had been imprisoned, and who were loud in denouncing the proceeding as a breach of their privileges. There was a great jealousy of William's employment of so many Dutch in preference to Englishmen, and the commons were as discontented with the manner in which public business was conducted.
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