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Reign of William III page 5


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William took great offence at this proposal; he declared it an attempt to usurp his prerogative, and he and his immediate advisers suspected that if this council were once established, it would soon enlarge its powers, if nominated by parliament, proceed in a while to appoint convoys and cruisers on pretence of protecting trade, which would only require another step to include the affairs and the payment of the navy. What greatly piqued William was, that Sunderland, who had lately been received into his favour, was one of the most zealous advocates of this rival power in the executive. But from this danger the king was rescued by another, which at first appeared formidable, but which eventually served to restore his popularity.

This was no other than a great Jacobite plot for his assassination, with which the year 1696 opened. James had tried the effect of declarations proposing to protect the liberties of the subject and the rights of the established church, and nobody believed him, and with good reason. Even Bossuet, the celebrated bishop of Meaux, had been induced, at the command of Louis, to give his opinion, that James might fairly promise all this with a secret determination to break his word the moment that he was firmly restored. The infamous Melfort had written to cardinal Janson, inclosing Bossuet's opinion, to get him to procure the pope's sanction to this Jesuitical ruse, but, from some cause, the packet never went, and has been discovered in the archives of Versailles. And this letter of Melfort's was written at the same time that James signed the declaration declaring that he intended to come to England "to vindicate his own right, and to establish the liberties of his people," and praying God to give him success in his enterprise, as he "sincerely intended to keep his word." His prayer was, in fact, heard; for, as he never meant to keep his word, so he had never any chance of breaking it. Seeing, therefore, that empty pretences availed nothing, he thought seriously of invasion, and of something worse, of preparing his way by the assassination of William. During the winter of 1695-6 Louis fell into his schemes. In 1694 two emissaries, Crosley and Parker, had been sent over from St. Germains to London to excite the Jacobites to insurrection; but they had been discovered and imprisoned. Parker contrived to escape out of the Tower, but Crosley was examined; but, nothing being positively proved against him, he was liberated on bail. It was now resolved to send over fresh and more important agents - one of these no less a person than the duke of Berwick, James's son, and Sir George Barclay.

The fact was that there were two parts of the scheme. As in the conspiracy of Grey and Raleigh in the time of James I., there was "the main plot" and "the bye plot," so there was here a general scheme for an invasion, and a particular scheme for the assassination of the king. This assassination was to come off first, and an army and transports were to be ready on the French coast, to take advantage of the consternation occasioned by the murder. The management of the general plot was confided to Berwick, and of the murder plot to Barclay. Berwick must be supposed to be well aware of the assassination scheme from the first, for both James and Louis undoubtedly were, and the whole movements of the army and navy were made dependent on it. But if Berwick did not know of it at first, he was made acquainted with it in London, as we shall see; but it was the policy of both Louis, James, and Berwick, to avoid* all appearance of a cognisance, which would have covered them with infamy; - that was to fall on the lesser tools of their diabolical scheme, and they were to reap the benefit of it.

A mode of communication betwixt the court of St. Germains and the Jacobites in England had long been established through a man named Hunt, who was a noted smuggler. This man had a house about half a mile from the Sussex" coast, on Romney Marsh. The whole country round was a boggy and dreary waste, therefore having scarcely an inhabitant, was admirably adapted to both the smuggling in of French goods and French plots. There Barclay landed in January and proceeded to London. He was followed in a few days by the duke of Berwick, and very soon by about twenty coadjutors, some of whom were troopers of James's guard, amongst them one named Cassels, another brigadier Ambrose Rookwood, one of a family which had been in almost every plot since the gunpowder plot, and a major John Bernardi, a man of Italian origin.

James saw and instructed many of these men himself before their leaving St. Germains, and furnished them with funds. He had given Barclay eight hundred pounds to pay expenses and engage coadjutors, which Barclay complained of as a miserable and insufficient sum. These men were now informed that they must put themselves under the orders of Barclay, and they would easily discover him at evening walking in the piazza of Covent Garden, and might recognise him by his white handkerchief hanging from his pocket. Meantime, Barclay had begun to open communication with the most determined Jacobites. The first of these were Charnock, who had originally been a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, but had apostatised, become a violent papistical agitator, and finally an officer in James's army; and Sir William Parkyns, a lawyer and officer of the court of chancery, for whilst plotting against the king, he had sworn fidelity to him, and was receiving his pay. These men most gladly united with Barclay, for they had been engaged in the very same design for some time. They assured him that there was no chance of effecting an invasion without preceding it by dispatching William. But to do this they wanted first an authority from the king, James, and to know that it would be followed up. Hereupon Barclay showed them his commission from James. This commission, according to the Jacobite Memoir of James itself, ran thus: - " James R. - Our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby fully authorise, strictly require, and expressly command our loving subjects to rise in arms and make war upon the prince of Orange, the usurper of our throne, and all his adherents, and to seize for our use all such forts, towns, strongholds, within our dominion of England, as may serve to further our interest, and to do, from time to time, such other acts of hostility against the prince of Orange and his adherents, as may conduce most for our service, we judging this the properest, justest, and most effectual means of procuring our restoration and their deliverance; and we do hereby indemnify them for what they shall act in pursuance of this our royal command. Given at our court of St. Germains en Liege, the 27th of December, 1695."

Louis, James, and the Jacobites contended, when the conspiracy was discovered, that this commission gave no warrant, and was intended to give none, to assassination, but only to general warfare; but it spoke as plainly as the royal authors of such a scheme could venture to speak; it was immediately understood by those to whom it was shown to mean killing William by any "act of hostility " that should best serve; and that this was more fully explained by private instructions, there can be no doubt. The whole proceeding turned on this proposed murder. The army and fleet at Calais waited for it; James and Louis waited for it before putting these in motion, and when the attempt at assassination failed, James abandoned the intended invasion in despair, thus showing that the whole hope of success depended on the assassination.

As Barclay's myrmidons arrived from France his hopes grew high; he called them his Janissaries, and said he trusted they would win a star and garter for him. He wanted forty for his purposes, and these men made up at once half the number. One of the earliest persons to whom the plot was confided, was Sir John Friend, a great brewer, who was a flaming Jacobite, and had received a colonel's commission from James; but Friend, though ready to promote an invasion, would have nothing to do with assassination, but promised to keep the secret. Charnock, however, promised to bring in eight or ten stout conspirators, and amongst these was George Porter, a low, debauched fellow, given up to all kinds of filthy dissipations, and supposed to be both a clipper of coin and a highwayman. Barclay endeavoured to decline such an ally, whose character was too notorious to be concealed, but Charnock and his friends declared that their lives were as dear to them as Barclay's was to him, and that they would not have trusted Porter if they knew him to be a drunkard and a blab. Porter was accordingly admitted, and expressed the utmost zeal in the undertaking. But he had a servant, Thomas Keyes, who had been a trumpeter in the Blues, and had been out in Monmouth's insurrection. He was declared by Porter to be a most desirable coadjutor, for he had still acquaintance amongst the Blues, who were inclined, unlike other household troops, to disaffection, and could bring them accurate news of the king's movements. After Keyes, came in Lowick, who had been a major in James's Irish army, and captain Knightley, who told Barclay that himself, one Durance, and others had for some time had a design to kill the king as he went to hunt in Richmond Park; that they had surveyed the ground several times and found it admirable. He introduced Durance, and the three went to the place, and found it a hunting-house kept by one Latten.

Barclay did not approve of the place, but proposed another, and they were joined by one captain Fisher, who lived in King Street, Westminster, and who proposed to kill one of the coach-horses with his own hand. Knightley now introduced King, and King a Frenchman named De la Rue, a blustering, gambling fellow.

It was evident that the number of conspirators was getting far too numerous, and far too indiscriminate in character for safety. It was necessary to use dispatch, and Barclay tells us that he was constantly studying how and where best to accomplish their object. He set Durance and another to haunt the neighbourhood of the palace, and to learn through Keyes the king's motions; that he went to Kensington and to every place which William frequented, to find out the best spot and opportunity. A major Holmes was his chief companion on these occasions. At last they fixed on Turn- ham Green as the best for their purpose. They learned that when William returned from hunting he crossed the river there by the ferry-boat, not getting out of his carriage, and that he did not wait for his guards, but drove on from the water-side till they overtook him. It was a low, swampy place, hidden amongst bushes at the western end of the green. The conspirators were now thirty-five, while the king had rarely more than twenty-five guards with him. The day fixed was Saturday, the 15th of February, for it was on Saturdays that William made these hunting excursions. As soon as they knew that the king went,' the conspirators were to follow in different bodies, and from different directions, so as to avoid observation. They were to remain at small public-houses near the crossing- place, and as soon as their scouts gave them notice of the king's party approaching the Surrey side of the river, they were to put themselves in side lanes, to be ready to intercept him. They were to divide into four sets, one headed by Porter, one by Charnock, a third by Rookwood, I and the fourth by Barclay himself. Two parties were simultaneously to rush upon the coach as it passed a cross road, one from each side; Rookwood was to come from his hiding-place in the rear, and Barclay to appear in front, and to him the death of the king was assigned. Horses and arms were purchased by Barclay for the occasion, and the horses were kept in different stables, so as to excite no suspicion.

All was now in readiness. The duke of Berwick had remained in London till matters were in this position. He had been equally busy in endeavouring to induce the Jacobite leaders to rise in arms. He told them that his father, with ten thousand soldiers, was lying at Calais ready to cross when this movement was made, but that the king of France would not consent to the army crossing till the English had given proof of their being in earnest to receive king James in arms. Nor could they think this unreasonable; he had twice sent expeditions to co-operate with them, once in 1690, when De Tourville landed in Devonshire, and again in 1692, when his fleet had come up to our very shores in expectation of being joined by the English fleet, but, on the contrary, had been attacked by that fleet, and the losses at La Hogue suffered in consequence. They could not expect Louis to venture his ships and troops again till he saw a real demonstration for James in England; then his army would cross at once. But these representations were all lost on the Jacobites; they continued to say, Only let James land with an army, and they were ready to join him. Berwick returned.

France, and hastened to inform James, whom he met on the way to Calais to join the invading army, that there was no chance of a rising in England till a French army landed, but that he had a confident hope that the conspirators would succeed in dispatching William, and then would be the time to cross over. James went on to Calais to the army which Boufflers was called from Flanders to command, and Berwick went on to Versailles to communicate to Louis the state of affairs, and all parties waited for the falling of the blow in England.

Such was now the position of these two monarchs and the duke of Berwick, whom the Jacobite writers have so confidently endeavoured to clear of the crime of participating in this base scheme of assassination. True, Berwick whilst in England would have nothing to do with the conspiracy itself, because, he declared, it was - not criminal, no, that was not his objection - but it was too dangerous, and would probably cause all engaged in it to be hanged. On the safe side of the water, therefore, whilst the humbler ruffians were risking their necks for them, these three arch-assassins waited for the signal that the deed was done - a fire which was to be lit on one of the Kentish hills,

Meantime the conspiracy was suffering, as might have been expected, from the admission of too many colleagues. As the time approached, Fisher, who had boasted that he would himself kill one of the king's coach-horses, went and informed Portland that there was a design of taking the king's life. Portland at first paid little attention to this information, but it was soon confirmed in a manner which left him no alternative but to apprise the king of it. On the evening of the 14th a Mr. Pendergrast, a catholic gentleman of Hampshire, waited on Portland and assured him that if the king went on the morrow to hunt he was certain to be assassinated. Pendergrast said the king was the enemy of his religion, but that his religion would not permit him to see such a thing done without giving him a warning, and he entreated Portland to induce the king not to go out on any account. When pressed to name his accomplices, he declined, saying they were his friends, and one of them his benefactor; he would not betray them.

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Pictures for Reign of William III page 5

The bombardment of Brussels
The bombardment of Brussels >>>>
Presentation of an Address to William III. at Oxford
Presentation of an Address to William III. at Oxford >>>>
The hotel De Ville
The hotel De Ville >>>>
Examination of Pendergrast
Examination of Pendergrast >>>>
Arrest of Sir John Fenwick
Arrest of Sir John Fenwick >>>>
Destruction of Givet
Destruction of Givet >>>>
Peter the Great
Peter the Great >>>>

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