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Reign of William III page 7

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Sir John Friend and Sir John Parkyns were tried next. Friend asked also for counsel, but it was denied him, and yet no man had more need of it. He was a weak and very ignorant man, and utterly unable to make a fair defence in a public court. He declared that to him it was quite a new and unintelligible doctrine that the king's subjects could depose or dethrone him for any cause whatever; that he had nothing whatever to do with schemes of assassination, but abhorred them; that he was a protestant, and that the witnesses against him were papists, who had received dispensations from their priests for perjury - as if any papists would assist in destroying the servants of the papist king. But poor Sir John, by some curious process of reasoning, persuaded himself that he was about to die because he was a good protestant - an honest, non-juring protestant. "For this," said he, "I suffer and for this I die." Surely it would have been much more to the credit of William to have allowed such a poor, tangle-headed man an advocate.

Parkyns, also, and in vain, demanded counsel, but he had been bred to the bar, and to him it was of less consequence. He contended that he had not been personally engaged in the conspiracy to kill the king - but this was a mere quibble; he was not to be there, but he was to furnish his party of bravos ready equipped. There was a delay in their execution from the expectation that they would reveal some higher personages as implicated than were known to the other conspirators; but they stood firm, and were executed at Tyburn on the 3rd of April. On the scaffold with them appeared three non-juring clergymen, Shadrach Cook, William Snatt, and the famous Jeremy Collier. Just before the hangman turned them off, the prisoners knelt, and the three clergymen laid their hands on their heads, and Collier pronounced their absolution in the name of Christ for all their sins, to which the others said, Amen. This very justly occasioned a loud outcry; for it was, in fact, fully approving and justifying the deed. A warrant was issued for their apprehension, and Snatt and Cook were taken and cast into prison, but Collier, who was well accustomed to hiding, was not to be found; but still he was near enough to hear all that was said against him, and to answer the charge that he advocated assassination. This he denied, and probably denied honestly; but certainly his act favoured a directly contrary opinion. There was a multitude of replies to his defence, amongst others one from the two archbishops, and by twelve bishops, the whole number then in London, including even Crewe of Durham and Sprat of Rochester. They very justly remarked that the prisoners had expressed no sorrow or repentance for their great crime against the monarch and the state; that Parkyns had been actively engaged in the business of the assassination if Friend had not, and yet he had expressed no penitence or contrition for the deed; that to absolve such men was directly contrary to the canons and creed of the church, was a gross abuse of the power conferred on his ministers by Christ, and was an apparent proof that the divines who absolved them from all their sins did not number assassination amongst sins. Collier rejoined, endeavouring to defend himself by quotations, the acts of councils, and the writings of the fathers. Not being forthcoming, he was outlawed.

The last prisoners tried were Cranburne, Lowick, Rookwood, and Cook. They were tried under the new act, and had counsel, but were all convicted and condemned. Porter, De la Rue, Fisher, Goodman, Bertram, Harris, and Pendergrast were evidence against them. Lowick protested in strong terms his entire innocence, and there was made much interest in his favour as a mild, good-natured, inoffensive man, but without avail. Cook was the son of Sir Miles Cook. Goodman charged him with having been present at two meetings at the King's Head tavern, Leadenhall Street, with Fenwick, Friend, Parkyns, and the lords Montgomery and Aylesbury; but the landlord contradicted this evidence, and this probably saved his life, for, though condemned, his sentence was mitigated to banishment. The others were executed. All died denying any orders from James for their proceedings, and the writer of James's Memoirs repeats this assertion.. He declares that, though applied to several times, he always discouraged any schemes of assassination; but he does not deny that he did authorise the attempt to seize and carry off William, in confirmation of which the minute of a warrant dated 1693 has been found by M. Mazure ordering such an attempt. The reader, however, weighing all the circumstances of the case - the avowal of Charnock, the wording of the commission issued to Barclay, the knowledge of the duke of Berwick of the whole plan of assassination, the waiting of James at Calais, and his return in dejection and despair to St. Germains as soon as the failure of the attempt became known - will have no difficulty in deciding how far the denials of James and his adherents are worthy of credit.

The association into which the commons had entered for the defence of the king had not yet been made law, but they now brought in a bill for that purpose. Out of the five hundred and thirteen members of the commons, four hundred had signed it; but on its reaching the lords exception was made by the tories to the words "rightful and lawful sovereign" as applied to William. Even Nottingham, who had so long and faithfully served William, declared that he could not accept them; that William was king de facto he admitted, but not king by rightful succession. He was supported by Rochester, Normandy, and others; but on the duke of Leeds proposing that the words "rightful and lawful" should be altered to "having right by law," and no other person having such right, singularly enough the tories acquiesced in the change, though it would not be easy for minds in general to perceive a distinction betwixt being a rightful and lawful sovereign and a sovereign who had a full and, indeed, exclusive right by law. The commons retained their own form and the lords theirs. The bill of the commons was passed on the 4th of April. It provided that all such persons as refused the oaths to his majesty should be liable to the forfeitures and penalties of papist recusants; that all who questioned William's being " a lawful and rightful sovereign" should be subject to heavy penalties; that no person refusing to sign this association should be capable of holding any office, civil or military; of sitting in parliament, or being admitted into the service of the prince or princess of Denmark. All magistrates, of course, were included in the requirements, and some who refused to sign were dismissed. The lords were to use their own form, and with this understanding it passed their house without delay. The bishops drew up a form for themselves, and, according to Burnet, not above a hundred clergymen all over England refused to sign. The people everywhere signed the bond with almost universal enthusiasm, even in the most papist districts, as Lancashire and Cheshire.

Before this remarkable session closed, a bill was brought in to check the corruption of elections. It was now become common for moneyed men to go down to country boroughs and buy their way into parliament by liberal distribution of their gold. It was, therefore, proposed to introduce a property qualification for members of parliament; that a member for a county should be required to possess five hundred pounds a year in land, and a member for a town three hundred pounds a year in land. It was even proposed to adopt the ballot, but that was rejected. The bill itself was carried through both houses, but William declined to ratify it. The towns abounded with whigs, and had stood stoutly by him, and it appeared to be a sweeping infringement on their privileges to debar them from electing men in whom they had confidence because they were not landed proprietors, though they might otherwise be wealthy as well as duly qualified for such duties. William did not consider the corruption so extensive as to warrant the shutting out all but landowners from parliament.

He ratified, however, another bill intended for the benefit of the landed gentry. This was for the establishment of Hugh Chamberlayne's land-bank. Unsound and delusive as the principles of this scheme were, it had the great attraction to the landowners of offering them extensive accommodation and a fancied accession of wealth, and to William the further advance of a large sum for his wars. The bank of England had only furnished him with one million at eight per cent.; this land-bank was to lend him two millions and a half at seven per cent. It was ratified by William, and the parliament was prorogued the same day, April the 27th.

Whilst parliament had been engaged with the measures just noticed, king James, prostrated by the defeat of his schemes of invasion and assassination, was doing penance amongst the monks of La Trappe, and was fasting and flagellating himself to bring back, if possible by such means, the favour of heaven. But every hope was really growing further off from him. Louis, sick of the war, was already making secret overtures to William for a peace, and admiral Russell and Sir Cloudesley Shovel were committing fresh devastations on the French ports, which made the French people curse the war and James to boot. Early in March Sir Cloudesley Shovel bombarded Calais and blockaded the coast, and the unfortunate inhabitants ascribed all their miseries to the protection of James, under whose imbecile management they declared no enterprise could ever succeed.

Whilst our fleet was thus distressing the French coast, our army in Flanders, indignant at the attempted murder of the king, determined to show their resentment by some decisive blow. Louis, in expectation that all the energies of England would be required to defend its own coast from the proposed invasion, had calculated on being able to make advantage of it in the Netherlands. He had, therefore, collected vast supplies of arms, ammunition, and provisions at Givet, intending, while the allies were left in feebleness by the absence of the English troops, to make himself master of a good many towns in Flanders. But in the beginning of March the earl of Athlone and Cohorn, the great engineer, sent a detachment of horse from Brussels and the neighbouring garrisons to amuse the French in the vicinity of Charleroi, and this ruse succeeding, they suddenly marched, with a powerful force, well supplied with cannon, mortars, and ammunition, upon Givet. They commenced a furious cannonade upon the place, and in a few hours destroyed the whole of the stores and ammunition collected there. This was a truly brilliant and effective exploit, conceived and executed more in the spirit of Louis himself than of the allies, and utterly crippling him in that quarter for that campaign.

On the 1st of May Signors Soranzo and Venier arrived from Venice to acknowledge William as rightful king of England, and had gracious audience of him. Under these flattering circumstances, William embarked on the 7th at Margate, and landed at Orange-Polder in the evening. But the affair of Givet remained the only important affair in the campaign of 1696. William, indeed, put himself at the head of his army, which lay near Ghent, and Villeroi and Boufflers were already in the field, but neither army had the means of proceeding to active operations. The destruction of the magazines of Givet had swept away the provisions and ammunition of the French army. Three or four millions of rations for the men, and all the provender of the horses, had perished, and France was in no condition to replace them. She was exhausted, and her people famishing, William was equally helpless, but from a different cause. England was never more flourishing, and parliament had voted him most ample supplies; but the order to call in the old money and issue new had completely paralysed the national currency. True, there had been several millions of silver poured into the Treasury to be taken as taxes, or to be exchanged for new milled money; but the new money, notwithstanding all the exertions at the different mints in London, Bristol, York, Exeter, and Norwich, did not produce the new money in anything like the necessary speed to meet the demands of William in payment of his army, and of the English public in discharging its daily liabilities. In Flanders, therefore, both William and the French were compelled to lie still.

At home the confusion and distress were indescribable, and lasted all the year. In the spring and till autumn it was a complete national agony. The last day for the payment of the clipped coin into the Treasury was the 4th of May. There was a violent rush as that day approached to the exchequer to pay in the old com and get new. But there was very little new ready, and all old coin that was not clipped was compelled to be allowed to remain out some time longer. Notwithstanding this, the deficiency of circulating medium was so great that even men of large estate had to give promissory notes for paying old debts, and take credit for procuring the necessaries of life. The notes of the new Bank of England and of the Lombard Street money-changers gave also considerable relief; but the whole amount of notes and coin did not suffice to carry on the business of the nation. Numbers of work-people of all kinds were turned off because their employers had not money to pay them with. The shopkeepers could not afford to give credit to every one, and, as their trade stagnated in consequence, they were compelled to sacrifice their commodities to raise the necessary sums to satisfy their own creditors. There was a heavy demand on the poor rates, and the magistrates had orders to have sufficient force in readiness to keep down rioting. This distress was aggravated by those who had new milled money, hoarding it up lest they should get no more of it, or in expectation that its scarcity would raise its value enormously, and that they could pay their debts to a great advantage, or purchase what they wanted at still greater advantage.

The Jacobites were delighted with this state of things, and did all they could to inflame the people against the government, which they said had thus needlessly plunged the nation in such extreme suffering. There were numbers of exciting tracts issued for this purpose, -and especially by a depraved priest named Grascombe, who urged the people to kill the members of parliament who had advocated the calling in of the silver coin. To make the calamity perfect, the land-bank had proved as complete a bubble as Montague and other men of discernment had declared it would. The landed gentry wanted to borrow from it, not to invest in it; its shares remained untaken; and it found, when the government demanded the two million six hundred thousand pounds which it had pledged itself to advance, that its coffers were empty and it ceased to exist, or rather to pretend to have any life in it.

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