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Reign of William III page 10

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The stubbornness of Fenwick soon received an explanation. His wife had managed to corrupt Goodman, the second witness against him. An annuity of five hundred pounds a year had been offered him to abscond, accompanied by the menace of certain assassination if he refused. He consented to flee, and was accompanied by an agent named O'Brien to St. Germains. Fenwick now believed himself safe, as no man could be condemned on a charge of high treason upon one single witness. But the vengeance of his enemies was not thus to be defeated. Sir John might have recollected how often the end in such cases had been obtained by a bill of attainder. Fenwick himself had been a zealous advocate for such a bill against Monmouth. When it became known that Goodman was spirited away, the exasperation of the commons was extreme. On the 6th of November Russell vehemently demanded of the house that it should examine and decide whether the accused parties were guilty or not. Before proceeding to extremities the commons, however, called Sir John before them, and offered to intercede with the king on his behalf if he made a full and immediate confession. But he would not consent to become the informer against his own party, and was remanded. It was then resolved, by a hundred and seventy-nine votes to sixty-one, that a bill of attainder should be brought in. The two parties put forth all their strength, and the bill was not carried till the 26th. For twenty days all the eloquence and influence of the house was in violent agitation. The tories were seen now contending for the liberty of the subject, which they had so often overridden by such bills, and the whigs as vehemently pressed on the measure as they had formerly denounced similar ones when directed against those of their own party.

During the debates the depositions of Goodman made before the grand jury, fully implicating Sir John in the conspiracy, were laid before the house in support of the evidence of Porter; Goodman's absence was proved, to the satisfaction of the house, to be owing to the inducements and exertions of Fenwick's friends; and two of the grand jurymen were examined, and detailed the evidence received by them from Goodman on his examination, fully agreeing with that sent in writing. Some petty jurymen, also, who had decided the case of another conspirator, confirmed this evidence. The commons had proof enough of his guilt, though it might want the legal formality of two direct witnesses.

In the lords the earl of Monmouth made an adroit movement in favour of Sir John. He defended him warmly, at the same time that he sent to him in prison, through the duchess of Norfolk, his cousin, a scheme for defeating his enemies. He advised him to assert positively the truth of his confession; to declare that he derived his information from high quarters, and to pray the king to demand of the earls of Portland and Romney whether the information in their possession against these noblemen did not correspond with his own; that the king should be prayed to lay before parliament the evidence on which he had suddenly dismissed Marlborough, and any letters intercepted on their way from St. Germains to these parties. This would have been a thunderbolt to the government and the accused, and Mon- month awaited in exultation its effect. But Sir John disappointed him. He feared to exasperate further the king and his judges the lords, to whom the accused belonged, and did not take the hint. Monmouth, incensed, then turned against him himself. Marlborough exerted himself with all his power to condemn him, even getting the prince of Denmark to go and vote against him. The bishops remained, and voted eight of them against the passing of the bill. Burnet and Tennison, however, both spoke and voted for it, with little regard to the practice that the prelates should take no part in advocating measures of blood. The lords Godolphin and Bath, though both amongst those accused by Fenwick, voted in his favour, and Shrewsbury absented himself from the debate. The duke of Devonshire, too, to whom he had carried his confession, voted against the bill. Sir John offered to make a full disclosure on condition of receiving a full pardon, but this was not accorded him, and he refused further confession on any other terms. At length, on the 27th of December, the bill was carried, but only by a majority of seven - sixty-eight votes to sixty-one. Forty- one lords, including eight bishops, entered a protest on the journal against the decision.

Unfortunately for Monmouth, the friends of Sir John were so incensed at his turning round against him, that the earl of Carlisle, lady Fenwick's brother, produced to the house the papers which he had sent to Sir John in prison, and stated the censures on the king with which he had accompanied them. A tempest suddenly burst over his head of indescribable fury. The whigs were exasperated at his endeavouring to sacrifice Russell and Shrewsbury to save Fenwick, and the tories at his endeavouring to sacrifice Marlborough and Godolphin, and at his treacherously deserting Sir John for not following his advice. He was committed to the Tower, deprived of all his places, and his name erased from the list

Parliament, having passed this act, adjourned for the Christmas holidays, and every exertion was made to obtain a pardon for the condemned. His wife threw herself at the feet of William, but he only replied that he must consult his ministers before he could give an answer. On the 11th of January he put his signature to the bill. When parliament met again she presented a petition to the house of lords, praying them to intercede with the king to commute the sentence to perpetual banishment, but without success. On the 28th of January he was conducted to execution on Tower Hill. On the scaffold he delivered to the sheriff a sealed paper, in which he complained of the irregularity of the proceeding against him, denied any participation in the plan of assassination, but confessed his attachment to king James, and his belief in the right of the prince of Wales after him.

After an abortive attempt to pass a bill establishing a property qualification for the commons, another to put the press again under the licensing system, and another to abolish those dens of protected crime, the Savoy and Whitefriars, parliament was prorogued on the 16th of April.

Whilst this desperate conflict had been going on betwixt whig and tory in England, in Scotland a most useful measure had passed the Scottish parliament, namely, an act establishing a school and schoolmaster in every parish. To this admirable act Scotland owes the superior intelligence of its working classes; and it is a singular fact that England to this hour has not been able to achieve the same privilege. At the same time the rigid bigotry of the clergy perpetrated one of the most revolting acts in history. A youth of eighteen, named Thomas Aikenhead, had picked up some of the sceptical notions of Hobbes and Tindal, and was arrested, tried, and hanged for blasphemy betwixt Leith and Edinburgh. It was in vain that he expressed the utmost repentance for his errors, the ministers were as impatient for his death as the Jews were for the death of our Saviour, and he died accordingly, to the disgrace of the presbyterian church and the whole country.

William embarked for Holland on the 26th of April, having before his departure made several promotions. To the disgust of many, Sunderland was appointed one of the lords-justices and lord chamberlain. The protestants wondered that a man who had apostatised when there was a popish king, should find such favour with a presbyterian one; and the honourable-minded that a man who had stooped to so many dirty acts and arts should be thus exalted by a prince of sober morals. But William's only excuse was that all his ministers were so bad that there was little to choose in their principles, and that he employed them not for their virtues but their abilities. Russell was rewarded for running down Fenwick with the title of earl of Orford; the lord-keeper Somers was elevated to the full dignity of lord chancellor, and created baron Somers of Evesham. Montague was made first lord of the treasury, in place of Godolphin; lord Wharton, in addition to his post of comptroller of the household, was appointed chief justice in Eyre, south of the Trent? and his brother, Godwin Wharton, became a lord of the admiralty.

The campaign in Flanders was commenced by the French with an activity apparently intended to impress upon the allies their ample ability to carry on the war, although, in fact, never had France more need of peace. Its finances were exhausted, its people were miserable; but far more than the sufferings of his subjects to Louis were the ambitious projects which he was now particularly cherishing. John Sobieski, the brave deliverer of Vienna from the Turks, the king of Poland, was dead, and Louis was anxious to place the prince of Conti on the throne of that kingdom. There had been, as usual, various competitors for the crown - the duke of Lorraine, the prince of Baden, Don Livio Odeschalchi, nephew to the pope; but the chief candidates were Conti and Augustus, elector of Saxony. French money so far prevailed that Conti was elected, and proclaimed king by the primate of Poland, who had Te Deum sung in the cathedral of Warsaw on the occasion. But the emperor of Germany, alarmed at having a French power thus erected in his immediate neighbourhood, brought forward the elector of Saxony, who changed his religion to obtain the crown, and agreed to distribute eight millions of florins amongst the Poles, to confirm their privileges, and to defend their country from attack with his Saxon army. His claims were powerfully supported by Peter, the czar of Muscovy, who had, in return for assistance to John Sobieski against the Turks, obtained from him a great part of the Ukraine, and was quite as unwilling as the emperor to see a French kingdom so near him and his now soaring designs. Augustus was chosen by this party. Peter marched an army to the frontiers of Lithuania, to overawe the partisans of Conti. Louis, however, continued to support the claims of Conti, and sent a fleet with him to Dantzic. Conti landed at Dantzic with a great supply of money, but he met no encouragement either there or at Marienburg, to which place he proceeded, and returned to France with his treasure. This repulse had mortified Louis at the time of the opening of the present campaign; but as the prince of Conti had still a strong party in Poland, and the condition of that country was uncertain, he still cherished his ambitious design of restoring Conti and the French power there, which he might much better effect if relieved from the pressure of this general war.

He had, however, a still more weighty motive for peace. The king of Spain, the sickly and imbecile Charles II., was fast hastening to the tomb. The emperor of Germany, as head of the house of Austria, had claims of direct descent on the throne of Spain. Charles II. was childless; no provision was made by the Spanish government for filling the throne, and Louis of France was equally watching for the death of Charles, who was the son of Louis's niece, whilst Louis himself was married to the aunt of the Spanish king; for a man like Louis, ample pretensions to the Spanish crown. Now, if the throne of Spain fell vacant during the alliance, the allies, and William amongst them, would out of policy support the emperor's claims. It was, therefore, equally to the interest of the emperor to prolong the war, and of Louis to be rid of it.

Spain and Germany, therefore, were averse to peace. William and Louis were the only parties, each for his own purposes, really anxious for it. Louis, early in the spring, had made overtures to Dykvelt through Caillieres, which were really surprising. They were no less than to relinquish all the conquests made by him during the war, to restore Lorraine to its duke, Luxembourg to Spain, Strasburg to the empire, and to acknowledge William's title to the crown of England without condition or reserve. Such terms the allies never could have expected. They were a complete renunciation by the ambitious Louis of all that he had been fighting for so many years - of all that he had drained his kingdom of its life and wealth to accomplish. That he contemplated maintaining the peace any longer than till he had secured Spain and Poland is not to be supposed. If he obtained peace now, these objects were more feasible, and William, his most formidable enemy, he knew would have disbanded his army, and must create a new one and a new alliance before he could take the field again to oppose him.

These undoubtedly were Louis's notions, and it was plausibly urged by Spain and Austria that it was better now to press him as he was sinking till he was perfectly prostrate, and then bind him effectually. But, on the other hand, William felt that England and Holland had to bear the brunt of the war; that it was all very well for Spain and Germany to cry Keep on, but the fact was, they did little or nothing towards keeping on. The Germans had no union, and, therefore, no strength. They sent excuses instead of their contingents, and instead of money to pay their share of the cost of the war. When they did rouse, they were nearly always behind their time and divided in their counsels. As for Spain, it literally did nothing to defend its own territories. The whole of Flanders would have been lost but for William and his Dutch and English troops. Catalonia would have been lost but for Russell and his fleet, and it had, without consulting the allies, joined in a treaty with Savoy and France to save its Milanese territory, and to their extreme prejudice, by releasing the French armies from Italy to increase the force in Flanders. William was greatly incensed by the endeavours of these powers to continue the war. and Louis, as the best spur to their backwardness, determined to seize Brussels, and show a mien as if bent on active aggression.

Catinat, relieved from his command in Savoy, had now joined Villeroi and Boufflers in Flanders, and these generals determined to surprise Brussels. They first advanced on the little town of Aeth, and William, who was but just recovering from an attack of illness, uniting his forces with those of the elector of Bavaria, endeavoured to prevent them. He was, however, too late; but he marched hastily towards Brussels to defend it against the attack of Villeroi and Boufflers. He passed over the very ground since the site of the battle of Waterloo, and posted himself on the height whence Villeroi had bombarded the city two y ears before. Neither side, however, were anxious to engage and incur all the losses and miseries of a great battle, with the prospect of a near peace. They therefore entrenched themselves and continued to lie there for the rest of the summer, awaiting the course of events. Louis, however, attacked the king of Spain in another quarter - Catalonia. There Vendome attacked the viceroy and defeated him, and invested Barcelona, which, though bravely defended by the prince of Hesse-Darmstadt, was obliged to capitulate. At the same time came the news of another blow. Louis had sent out a squadron under admiral Pointes to attack the Spanish settlements in the West Indies, and he had sacked and plundered the town of Carthagena, and carried home an immense treasure. These disasters made Spain as eager for peace as she had before been averse, and the emperor of Germany was obliged to cease talking of returning to the position of the peace of Westphalia - a state of things totally out of the power of the allies to restore.

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