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Reign of William III page 8

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The bursting of the land-bank bubble was severely trying to the new Bank of England. The failure of the one alarmed the public as to the stability of the other, and the Jacobites and the Lombard Street rival money-lenders lent their cordial aid to increase the panic. The Lombard Street bankers made a vigorous run upon the bank. They collected all its paper that they could lay hands on, and demanded instant payment in hard cash. Immediately after the 4th of May, when the government had taken in the bulk of the money and had issued out very little, they made a dead set against the bank. One goldsmith alone presented thirty thousand pounds in notes. The bank resolved to refuse the payment of the notes thus obviously presented in order to ruin it, and then the Lombard Street bankers exultingly announced everywhere that the boasted new institution was insolvent. But the bank, leaving the Lombard Street goldsmiths to seek a remedy at law, continued to give cash for all notes presented by the fair creditors, and the public continued to support them in this system, and condemned the selfish money-dealers. Montague also contrived to relieve the tightness to a considerable extent by availing himself of a clause in the act of the land-bank, empowering government to issue a new species of promissory notes, bearing interest on security of the annual taxes. These bills, called now and henceforward "exchequer bills," were issued from a hundred pounds to five pounds, and were everywhere received with avidity. They also urged on the mints in the production of the new coinage, and to facilitate this they made Sir Isaac Newton master of the mint, who exerted himself in his important office with extraordinary zeal and patriotism.

In August, William sent Portland over from Flanders to bring him money for the subsistence of his troops by some means. The failure of the land-bank made his demand appear hopeless; but the government applied to the Bank of England, and, notwithstanding its own embarrassments, it advanced to the government two hundred thousand pounds on the 15th of August, and that in hard cash, for it was plainly told that its paper was of no use in Flanders. Yet to such extremities was the bank reduced that at the same time it was obliged to pay its demands by three- fourths the value of its notes in cash, marking that amount as paid on the notes, and returning them into circulation reduced to one-fourth of their original value. As the bank, however, so bravely supported the government, the government determined as firmly to support it; and the public confidence, which had never entirely failed it, from this moment grew stronger and stronger. As the year drew towards a close, the rapidly-increasing issue of the new coin began to reduce the intensity of the distress, and the forbearance of creditors of all kinds enabled the nation to bear up wonderfully, much to the chagrin of its enemies both at home and abroad, where the most wonderful stories of English poverty and ruin were circulated.

As there was no fighting to be done, William quitted his camp early, leaving the command to Athlone and the elector of Bavaria, and retired to Loo. There, however, he had no real quiet, for many things were going on in different parts of the continent to create the deepest anxiety. Louis, weary of the war, was trying on all sides to break up the alliance. He sent Caillieres to Holland to tamper with the Louvestein faction, which had always been hostile to William, and offered through it certain mercantile advantages to induce Holland to demand a peace. To this the Dutch convention of estates listened favourably, but refused to treat without the concurrence of William and the rest of the allies. To render the allies more prompt to treat, Louis put his arms in motion in Catalonia to do all the damage they could. The duke of Vendome attacked the Spaniards at Ostalric, and defeated them, but was soon after compelled to retreat. In Germany the duke de Lorges again crossed the Rhine into Baden, but was again forced back. At this crisis Peter the Czar of Muscovy took the town and garrison of Azoph, and the Russians were now brought so much into the eye of Europe that the emperor of Germany entered into an alliance with them. The imperial army encountered the Turks on the river Breque, and defeated them, but with such loss to themselves that they did not pursue their success. These movements, however, tended to weaken the force of the allies in the Netherlands; and now came to light a grand defection of one of the allied powers which occasioned much chagrin and consternation. Savoy had fallen from the league. The duke had been wavering for some time. The French had persuaded him that England would be invaded and James unquestionably restored. He made a pretended pilgrimage to Loretto, and there met the agents of France disguised as monks. Louis engaged to give him four millions of livres in reparation of the damages sustained, and to defend him against all his enemies; that the duke of Burgundy, the son of the dauphin, should marry the princess of Savoy, when at a proper age, and the treaty was guaranteed by the pope and the Venetians, who were anxious to see the Germans driven out of Italy. News of this treaty being in agitation, William and the emperor no sooner heard of it than they sent emissaries to dissuade the duke. The emperor offered him the king of the Romans in marriage with the princess of Savoy, and an increase of his subsidy and the forces to defend him. The duke protested the rumours were totally groundless, till Catinat appeared in the plains of Turin at the head of fifty thousand men, when he threw off the mask, and excused himself by saying he was no longer able to maintain himself against the power of France. He wrote to all the allies except William, giving them his reasons for his change, and pressing them to follow his example. On the 23rd of August he signed in public the treaty he had already signed in private. Prince Eugene, the duke's kinsman, was highly incensed at this conduct, and the young prince de Commerci so much so that he challenged the duke, but the duel was prevented by their friends. One of the conditions of the treaty was that the allies should be compelled to quit Piedmont. The duke had waited till most of the allies had sent in their subsidies; but lord Galway managed to intercept that sent by William, and applied it to the payment of the British troops in the service of the Milanese. The duke then put himself at the head of a French force, and marched into the duchy of Milan and invested Valencia. The courts of Spain and of the emperor, believing themselves unable to resist France under these altered circumstances, joined the neutrality, and William saw himself left almost alone. The distresses of England owing to the change in the coin were mistaken both by friends and enemies abroad for exhaustion of her wealth, and Caillieres assumed a higher tone at the Hague. He had been commissioned by Louis to offer to recognise William's right to the throne of England, but he now drew back, and evinced an arrogant indifference to the treaty. In fact, the necessity no longer existing of maintaining a large army in Savoy, and the engaged neutrality of the emperor, so elated Louis, that he again thought himself a match for England.

It was under such gloomy circumstances that William returned home. He landed at Margate on the 6th of October. During his absence little had been done by the fleet. Lord Berkeley had insulted the coast of France, pillaged and burnt several villages on the islands Grouais, Houat, and Heydic, made prize of about twenty vessels, bombarded St. Martin's, on the isle of Rhe, and set fire to the town Olonne. These ravages compelled the French to keep an army of sixty thousand men on those coasts, and to erect above a hundred batteries betwixt Brest and Goulet. Rear-admiral Benbow made an attempt to blockade the famous pirate Du Bart in Dunkirk, but he gave him the slip and attacked the Dutch fleet in the Baltic, and got back safe with fifteen captured vessels.

But, except the trouble arising from the coinage, the great event during William's absence had been the capture of Sir John Fenwick, and his examination, with the view of tracing the further ramifications of the conspiracy in which he had been engaged. Fenwick, if not engaged in the assassination scheme, was charged by Porter and the other king's evidence with being fully privy to it, and deep in the plot for the invasion. He was a man of high birth, high connections, being married to a sister of the earl of Carlisle, had held high office in the state, and was a most indefatigable and zealous traitor. During the king's absence, and when the Jacobites were in high spirits, hoping to drive out William, he had shown the most marked and unmanly disrespect to the queen. It was not, therefore, likely that he would escape the just punishment of his treason if he were caught. For a long time he managed to conceal himself, and during his concealment he and his friends were hard at work to remove the only witnesses that he dreaded. These were Porter and Goodman. The earl of Aylesbury, who was also in the Tower on a similar charge, was equally anxious to have these two men out of the way, and the friends of both of them united to get rid of them by bribery. For this purpose, besides the active personal exertions of lady Fenwick, they employed two Irishmen of their party - one Clancey, a barber, and Donelagh, a disbanded captain.

Clancey met Porter at a tavern, and offered him three hundred guineas down, three hundred more as soon as he landed in France, and an annuity of one hundred pounds a year. Porter was greatly tempted by the offer, and at length consented to accept it. A day was fixed for the payment of the first three hundred guineas at the tavern, but, on reflection in the interval, he did not like the prospect of having to face at St. Germains the king whose agents he had betrayed to death, and the friends and associates of those agents. He saw that nothing could obtain their forgiveness, or prevent them taking mortal revenge on him. He therefore posted to the secretary of state, and revealed the whole affair. The necessary measures were taken, and Porter attended punctually at the meeting with Clancey. He received the three hundred guineas, and then, giving a concerted signal, the officers of government rushed in and secured Clancey, who was tried for subornation, convicted, and set in the pillory.

This discovery, through the double treachery of Porter, alarmed Fenwick for his personal safety. He no longer deemed himself secure in the kingdom, for he had taken such part in the attempt to bring over Porter - writing a letter for him to take with him to St. Germains to secure his good reception there - that it was too obvious that he was not far off. Porter was indemnified for his loss of the promised annuity by a much better one from William's government - no less than two hundred and fifty pounds a year - and would undoubtedly, if possible, hunt out Fenwick. Sir John, therefore, made prompt arrangements for his own escape to France. There was no time to be lost; he was indicted at the next sessions in the city for treason-. Porter and Goodman gave evidence before the grand jury, who returned a true bill. Sir John managed to escape to near Romney Marsh, where a vessel was to take him off, but, unfortunately, on the way met an officer, who had been apprehending two smugglers. The man knew him, and offered the smugglers a pardon and reward to assist in seizing him. Sir John fled, and they pursued; and he is said to have been taken in the end near Slyfield Mill, betwixt Stoke Dabernon and Bookham, in Surrey.

Sir John had contrived, after being taken, to write a letter to his wife, by one Webber who was with him, in which he declared that all was now over unless she could get her relatives the Howards to intercede for him. They might promise for him that he would spend his life abroad, and would pledge himself never to draw a sword against the present government. If that could not be done, the only chance left was to bribe a juryman to starve out the jury - a practice which, it seems, was pretty well known then, and which has arrived at so frightful a height in our time, that the alteration of our jury law to that long possessed by Scotland, making valid the verdict of a majority instead of an unanimous verdict, can alone protect our lives and properties.

This letter was intercepted, and when Sir John was brought before the lords-justices at Whitehall, and he appeared very high, and denied the charges against him indignantly, it was laid before him to his sudden terror and confusion, He saw how completely he had committed himself by his confession, and he turned pale, and seemed half inclined to admit his guilt. In the silence of his prison he revolved another scheme, and on the 10th of August, two months after his apprehension, he presented a memorial to the duke of Devonshire, offering to disclose to the king all that he knew of the plots, with every one concerned in them, and throwing himself on the mercy of the king. Having so fully betrayed his own guilt, this seemed the only chance of obtaining a lenient judgment. Devonshire sent over the memorial to William in Holland, and was desired by him to receive Fenwick's confession.

This was in due time written down and delivered, and, had it been a real revelation of the plots and their agents, would have probably obtained considerable indulgence for him. But it revealed nothing that was not already well known to William. Passing over all the other parties who were secretly engaged in labouring for the overthrow of William's government and the restoration of James - persons whose names and doings would have been of the utmost value to the government - he merely accused Marlborough, Russell, Godolphin, and Shrewsbury. The intrigues of all these were far more familiar to William and his intimate friends than they were to Fenwick. William and Devonshire were disappointed. The whole thing had the air of a ruse to hide the still undiscovered delinquents, and make a merit of a stale and useless piece of information. Devonshire, on forwarding the list, observed that, whatever these noblemen had been, they were, to all appearance, very firm to the king now. William, on reading Fenwick's paper, was incensed. "I am astonished," he wrote to Shrewsbury, "at the fellow's effrontery. Observe this honest man's sincerity: he has nothing to say, except against my friends. Not a word about the plans of his brother Jacobites." He ordered the prisoner to be brought to trial without delay.

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