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Reign of William III

Inquiries into Abuses in the Army - The Commons expel some of their Members for Corruption - Examination of Cooke, Acton, and others- Impeachment of the Duke of Leeds - Session of Scottish Parliament - Inquiry into the Massacre of Glencoe - Parliament of Ireland - Siege of Namur - Boufflers seized - Duke of Savoy takes Casal - Bombardment of St. Malo - Wilmot's Expedition to the West Indies - Commons remonstrate against a Grant to the Earl of Portland - Conspiracy to assassinate William - Land-Bank established - Louis makes Peace with the Duke of Savoy - Sir John Fenwick beheaded - Earl of Monmouth sent to the Tower - French take Barcelona - Neville's Abortive Expedition to the West Indies - Elector of Saxony chosen King of Poland - Peter the Czar travels in Disguise with his own Ambassadors - The Peace of Ryswick.
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The death of queen Mary raised marvellously the hopes of the Jacobites and the court of St. Germains. Though the Jacobites had charged Mary with ascending the throne contrary to the order of succession, they now asserted that William had no right thereto, and that Mary's claim, however weak, had been his only colourable plea for his usurpation. Mary it was whose amiability and courtesy had reconciled the public to the government of her husband. His gloomy and morose character and manners, and his attachment to nothing but Holland and Dutchmen, they said, had thoroughly disgusted the whole nation, and would now speedily bring his reign to an end. He spent a great part of the year on the continent; Mary had managed affairs admirably in his absence, but who was to manage them now? They must soon go into confusion, and the people be glad to bring back their old monarch.

And truly the wholesale corruption of his parliament and ministers served to give some force to their anticipations. Never was there a time when dishonesty and peculation, hideous as they have been in most periods of our government, were more gross, general, and unblushing than amongst the boasted whigs who had brought about the revolution. From the highest to the lowest they were insatiably greedy, unprincipled, and unpatriotic - if want of patriotism is evidenced by abusing the institutions and betraying the honour of the nation. One of the best of them died just now, namely, George Seville, marquis of Halifax. He bore the name of "the Trimmer," but rather because parties had changed than that he himself had changed. He had discouraged extreme measures, especially such as were bloody and vindictive. He had endeavoured to save the heads of both Stafford and Russell; he had opposed the virulence of the whigs in the days of the popish plot, and of the tories ill that of the Rye House plot. But even he had not kept himself clean from intriguing with St, Germains. Compared, however, with the unclean beasts which he left behind, he was a saint.

The sink of corruption was first opened up in the army. The inhabitants of Royston complained to the commons that the officers of colonel Hastings' regiment, which lay there, exacted subsistence money under threat of military execution. The commons, highly incensed at this unconstitutional proceeding, summoned the officers of the regiment, and Pouncefort, the agent for the regiment, before them. But it soon appeared that the money thus exacted by Pouncefort and the agents for the officers and men had not been paid to them. Pouncefort was committed to the Tower, and Guy, the secretary to the Treasury, and a member of the house also, for receiving a bribe of two hundred guineas from Pouncefort to get the king's bounty. The house sent a strong address to the king on these corruptions, who dismissed Hastings, the colonel, and appointed a council of officers to sit weekly, and hear the complaints of officers and men who had been defrauded. But the commons were now on the scent of still deeper villanies, and they went on. They committed James Craggs, an army contractor, because he refused to answer questions put to him in the course of research into the frauds practised by the contractors on government. This Craggs, who will figure largely in the approaching period, had been originally a barber and then a footman, but was now rapidly growing into wealth and distinction by his successful acts and speculations. The commons brought in a bill to compel both him and Harnage, another contractor, as well as Pouncefort and his brother, to account for the sums paid to them on account of the army, or to punish them for refusal.

But whilst the commons were busy with this affair, a petition from another defrauded class opened up another despicable scene of rascality. The hackney-coachmen complained that they had been shamefully fleeced by the commission for licensing their coaches, which had come into power the preceding session. The wrongs and insults which these men had endured, not only from these base commissioners but from their servants, and from the kept mistress of one of them, were something extraordinary. Three of the commissioners were summarily dismissed.

The tide of inquiry was now, however, flowing fast, and higher delinquents were reached by it every day. Scarcely was Craggs lodged in prison, when there was a charge made against Sir John Trevor, speaker of the house of commons, for receiving a bribe of one thousand guineas to insure the passing of the city orphans' bill. This was a bill to enable the corporation of London to make a sort of funded debt of the money of the orphans of freemen which had been left in their charge, and which they had spent. To carry this bill and cover their criminality, bribes had been given, not only to Trevor, but to Hungerford, chairman of the grand committee, and many others. Trevor was ejected from the chair of the house, where he had long made a regular trade by selling his influence to the amount of at least six thousand pounds per annum, besides his salary of four thousand pounds. For his insolence and greediness he was become universally hated, and there was great rejoicing over his exposure and expulsion. Paul Foley, the chairman of the committee of inquiry, was elected speaker of the house in his stead. Hungerford was also expelled, and Seymour came into question. His overbearing manners had created him plenty of enemies, and on his remarking on the irregular conduct of a member, the indignant individual replied that it was certainly wrong to talk during a discussion, but it was far worse to take money for getting a bill passed. The hint thrown out was quickly seized, and on examining the books of the East India Company, to which enormous bribery also was traced, it was found that Seymour had received a bribe of ten thousand pounds, but under the artful cover of selling him two hundred tons of saltpetre for much less than its value. It was, moreover, sold ostensibly to a man named Colston, but really to Seymour, so that the house could not expel him; but a public mark was stamped on his character.

But the examination of the books of the East India Company laid bare a series of bribery of ministers and parliament men, which made all the rest dwindle into insignificance. In previous years there were found items in the books of one thousand two hundred and eighty-four pounds, and two thousand and ninety-six pounds; but in the past year, during the great contest with the new company, Sir Thomas Cook, who, we have seen, was empowered to bribe at his discretion, had expended on ministers and members no less a sum than one hundred and sixty-seven thousand pounds. Wharton, himself a most profligate man, pursued these inquiries on the part of the commons with an untiring avidity. In order to damp this inquiry, the guilty parties caused it to be whispered about that it was best not to press the matter too far, as a large part of the money might have been given to the king through Portland. But nothing could stop the inquest, and it turned out that large sums had been offered to the king, but had been refused, and fifty thousand pounds to Portland, but refused. Nottingham had also refused ten thousand pounds, but others had not been so scrupulous. Cook refused for a time to disclose the names of those who had received the money, but he was threatened with a bill to compel him on terms which, had he persisted, would have totally ruined him. He then offered to disclose all on condition that a clause in the bill should indemnify him against the consequences of his disclosures. This was done, and immediately Sir Basil Firebrace was named as receiving a sum of forty thousand pounds. When pressed to explain what had become of this money, the worthy knight fell into great confusion and loss of memory; but he was compelled to account for the cash, and then it came oat that he had, through a Mr. Bates, paid five thousand five hundred guineas to the new duke of Leeds (Danby). The duke denied having had the money, and then Bates said he had left it with one Robarts, a foreign servant of the duke's, to count it out for him, and that with the duke's permission. Robarts, however, was so bad at counting coin, that he had taken half a year to do it in, and only brought it back # on the very morning that the committee of inquiry was formed.

The duke did not deny that he had got all the money that he could through Bates from the company for others; but this, according to the morals of that age, was considered quite pardonable. To take a bribe himself was criminal if found out, to assist others in selling their votes was venial. The commons impeached the duke, but then his servant Robarts was missing, and as Leeds insisted on his presence as evidence for him, the impeachment remained unearned out. In fact, William, who, though suffering perpetually from the gross corruption all around him, was always the first to screen great offenders, now hastened parliament to a conclusion. The exposures were so numerous that nobody but the triumphant whigs desired to see the matter probed yet deeper. Who could say to whom the inquiry might not reach? William was tender, too, of Leeds, from the remembrance of the regard which his late queen had entertained for him, and the active services which he rendered her in his absence. He did not even remove him from being lord president of the council, but he advised him not to show himself there; but he never again recovered his position in the court, and William, in appointing the lords justices to exercise the government in his absence, left out his name. The parliament was prorogued on the 3rd of May. It had witnessed a marvellous display of the want of moral principle in its members; and the industrious endeavours of Wharton had placed the whigs safely and completely on the seat of power.

In the following week the Scottish parliament commenced its session, after an interval of two years. The duke of Hamilton was dead, and John Hay, marquis of Tweeddale, was appointed lord high commissioner, a man in years, and of fair character. The question which immediately seized the attention of the estates was the massacre of Glencoe. That sanguinary affair had now come to the public knowledge in all its perfidy and barbarity, and there was a vehement demand for inquiry and for justice on the perpetrators. The facts which had reached the queen long ago regarding this dark transaction, had greatly shocked her, and she had been earnest for a searching inquiry; but William, who by this time must have been fully aware that the matter would not bear the light very well, had not been too desirous to urge it on. The Jacobites, however, never ceased to declaim on the fearful theme; and the presbyterians, who hated the Master of Stair, who under James had been one of their worst persecutors, and was a man without any real religion, were not the less importunate for its unveiling. Seeing that the parliament would now have it dragged to the light, William made haste to make the movement his own. He signed a commission appointing Tweeddale its head, and sent it down with all haste to Edinburgh. The parliament expressed great thanks to the king for this act of justice, but it deceived nobody, for it was felt at once that no commission would have issued but for the public outcry, and it was now meant to take it out of the earnest hands of the estates and defeat it as far as possible; and this turned out to be the case. The report of the commission was long in appearing, and had not the estates been very firm, it might have been longer, and have been effectually emasculated, for the lord high commissioner was on the point of sending it to William, who was now in the Netherlands, and deeply immersed in the affairs of the campaign. The estates insisted on its immediate production, and Tweeddale was compelled to obey. It then appeared that several of the Macdonalds had been admitted to give their evidence on the atrocities committed in their glen; and the conclusion was come to that it was a barbarous murder. The king's warrant, however, was declared to have authorised no such butchery, and the main blame was thrown on the Master of Stair and the earl of Breadalbane.

Undoubtedly Sir John Dalrymple, the master of Stair, had urged on by his letter the massacre of the clan with unflinching cruelty; but William contented himself with merely dismissing him from his office.. Nothing short of this man's execution for his crime could exempt William from the imputation of ordering, or at least favouring, this wholesale and detestable murder - detestable because perpetrated under such circumstances of revolting treachery. But, as we have observed, William seems to have had very little sense of the crimes and cruelties committed by those who were serviceable to him. On all occasions, instead of showing a virtuous indignation and a feeling of pity for the sufferers, he treated the criminals with impunity. It was thus with Ginckel, Coningsby, and other oppressors in Ireland; it was the same again here, where the most odious charges lay against himself and his agents. The earl of Breadalbane was found to have encouraged the clans in their adhesion to James, at the very time that he was employed to distribute money amongst them to reconcile them to William, telling them that he was himself all the while just as firmly attached to James himself. William resented this, and Breadalbane was arrested and committed to the castle of Edinburgh; but well did one of his contemporaries know the man, when he said that he was subtle as a serpent and slippery as an eel, and had no attachment to anything but his own interest, for he immediately declared that he had only told them so to get into their confidence, that he might find out James's secrets for William; and William seems to have at once accepted this rogue's plea, for he set him at liberty and granted him a new pardon. As to the subordinate instruments of the massacre, major Hamilton, captain Drummond, Glenlyon, lieutenant Lindsay, and sergeant Barbour, they were plainly pronounced murderers, though they had only acted according to the orders of the men so lightly let off, and there was a royal order sent down to seize and prosecute them; but no doubt there were also secret orders of another kind, for they appear never to have been proceeded against. The whole of this transaction, therefore, from first to last, leaves a black stain on the character of William; for, if he did not expressly order the massacre with a full knowledge of its injustice, when he had the most perfect knowledge of all its diabolical particulars, he treated it as a very venial affair.

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