Reign of William III. (Continued.)
State of Parties - Standing Army reduced to Ten Thousand - A Revenue for Life granted to the King - Fraudulent Endorsements of Exchequer Bills - Charter granted to the New East India Company - Proceedings against Molyneux' Book in Ireland - Portland resigns - William disowns the Scottish Company - Goes to Holland - First Treaty of Partition - Intrigues of France at Madrid - William obliged to dismiss his Dutch Guards - Expedition to Darien - Spanish Remonstrance against the Treaty of Partition - Inquiries into the Expedition of Captain Kidd, and into the Irish Forfeitures - New Charter of Old East India Company - Dismissal of Somers - Death of the Duke of Gloucester - Expedition to the Baltic - Second Treaty of Partition - Death of the King of Spain - France claims Spain on the Authority of the King's Will - Philip, Duke of Anjou, acknowledged King of Spain by the States-General - Commons and Court not friendly - Succession settled on the Princess Sophia of Hanover - William acknowledges the Duke of Anjou King of Spain - Impeachment of Portland, Oxford, Somers, and Halifax - Progress of Prince Eugene in Italy - Treaty of Alliance between the Emperor and the Maritime Powers - Death of King James - Louis acknowledges the Prince of Wales as King of England - Harmony restored betwixt the King and Parliament - Bill of Abjuration - Affairs of Ireland - Proposed Union of Scotland and England - Death of King William.Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
William met his parliament on the 3rd of December. He congratulated it on the achievement of a peace in which the confederates had accomplished all they had fought for - the repression of the ambitious attempts of France to bring under its yoke the rest of the kingdoms of the continent. She had been compelled to yield up everything which she had seized from the commencement of the war. But he reminded them that this had not been accomplished except at a heavy cost. They had supported him nobly in furnishing that cost, and he trusted they would not now be less prompt to discharge the remaining unpaid claims, and in taking measures to liquidate by degrees the debts incurred. He expressed his hope that they would provide him for life with a sufficient civil list to maintain the necessary dignity of the crown. Though the war was over, he reminded them that there were many reasons why the army and navy should yet be maintained on a respectable footing.
The commons voted him an address, in which they united in the congratulations on the restoration of peace, but passed over the subject of the army. "William noticed the omission, and felt it deeply. Nobody was more aware than himself that, though they had bound France by the treaty of Ryswick, no bonds of that kind ever held Louis XIV. any longer than it suited his necessities or his schemes of aggrandisement. He observed that Louis still kept on foot his large armies, that he still retained the ex-king and his court at St. Germains in open violation of the treaty; and the circumstances of Spain, whose king was gradually dying childless, with Louis intently watching to pounce on his dominions, filled him, as every far-seeing man, with deep anxiety. Though no king ever less sought to infringe the liberties of his subjects, yet William, naturally fond of an army and of military affairs, was especially anxious at this crisis for the retention of a respectable force. He knew that Europe, though freed from actual war, was, through the restless ambition of Louis, still living only in an armed peace.
The commons did not leave him long in suspense. In a few days they went into the subject of the proposal to keep up the army. The spirit of the house was high against a standing army. All the old arguments were produced - That a standing army was totally inconsistent with the liberties of the people; that the moment you put the sword into the hands of mercenaries, the king became the master of the rights of the nation, and a despot. They asked, if a standing army were to be maintained, what should they have gained by the revolution? The tories, who were anxious to damage the whigs, and the Jacobites, who were anxious to damage William's government altogether, were particularly eloquent on these topics. The true patriots, and they were few, were eloquent from principle.
It was in vain that the friends of William represented that it was a very different thing to maintain an army under particular circumstances, which depended on the will of parliament, to maintaining one at the sole pleasure of the king. The opponents of a standing army contended that a militia was the natural force for internal defence, which could be brought to nearly as much perfection as regular troops, and could be called out when wanted, and that the navy was our proper army, and that, if kept in due efficiency, it was able not only to protect us and our trade, but to render all such assistance to other nations as became a generous and Christian nation. By a division of a hundred and eighty-five votes against a hundred and forty-eight, the house resolved that all the forces raised Since 1686 should be disbanded. This fell with an appalling shock on William. By this, at one blow, all his army of gallant mercenaries, his Dutch guards, his Huguenot cavalry, must be sent away. He would, it was found, be left only with about eight thousand regular troops. Never was there such a stripping of a martial monarch, who had figured at the head of upwards of a hundred thousand men against the greatest military power of Europe. He made little remark publicly, but he poured out his grief to his great correspondent, the Dutch grand pensionary, Heinsius, and to Burnet. To him he said that it would make his alliance of so little value, his state so contemptible, that he did not see how he was to carry on the government; that he never could have imagined, after what he had done for the nation, that they would treat him thus; and that, had he imagined it, he would never have meddled with the affairs of England; that he was weary of governing a country which had rather lay itself open to its enemies than trust him, who had acted all his life so faithfully for them.
But it was useless complaining; the country was resolved on having no standing army, and every attempt of ministers to modify or enlarge the resolution was disregarded. They proposed that the bill should be committed, because it would leave the king in the hands of the old tory regiments; and again, that five hundred thousand pounds per annum should be granted for the maintenance of guards and garrisons. Both motions were negatived. There was a strong feeling excited against Sunderland, on the supposition that he had strengthened the king in his desire for a large army, because he warmly argued for it, and that minister, equally odious to both parties, felt it safest to retire. He therefore resigned his post of lord chamberlain, though William did all he could to dissuade him from it, and sought the seclusion of his princely abode of Althorp.
If the commons sternly refused the king a large army, they at all events granted him a large income. They raised the civil list from £600,000 to £700,000 a year; they voted £2,700,000 to take up the exchequer bills; they granted £2,348,102 to pay off arrears, subsistence, general officers, guards, and garrisons, and £1,400,000 to make up other deficiencies. Here was a total of £7,148,000 to pay the expenditure of the year - a sum never voted before, and voted now with a liberal, ungrudging spirit, considering what was yet behind. Besides the floating, funded debt of £5,000,000, they now found a debt owing for the navy, £1,392,742; for the ordnance, £204,157; for the transport debt contracted by the reduction of Ireland and other services, £464,493; and there was £49,929 for quartering and clothing the army, raised by one act of parliament in 1677 and disbanded by another in 1679. There were again upwards of two millions of war debt to deal with, and to meet its liquidation the land tax was continued, and new additions of tonnage and poundage in addition to the old, and to the hereditary excise, and other imposts to maintain the civil list. The £50,000 for Mary of Modena's jointure was admitted in these sums, and a pension for the establishment of the young duke of Gloucester. William, however, to the great wrath of the Jacobites, refused to pay the jointure- money so long as James and his queen continued, in defiance of the treaty, at St. Germains; and he would not allow more than £15,000 a year for the use of the duke of Gloucester, who was but in his ninth year, and he appointed Burnet his tutor.
Well might the house of commons be anxious to be rid of so expensive an army, and their desire to free themselves from it blinded them to the fact, so clear to William, that Louis would immediately presume on the reduced force of England. Whilst discussing these measures, however, the house had come upon several gross frauds in the government officers, which heightened their severity. They found that Charles Duncombe, receiver-general of the excise, Burton, a man who had a post at the same board, Knight, treasurer of the customs, and Marriot, deputy-teller of the exchequer, had colleagued in a system of fraudulently endorsing exchequer bills, in which they made a great trade. The house sent Duncombe and Knight, both of whom were members of it, to the Tower, and the other delinquents to Newgate. It brought in and passed bills of pains and penalties against them, but the lords threw them out, partly through the aristocratic connections of Duncombe, and partly through his free application of his money, for he was very rich. The lords discharged Duncombe from the Tower, but the commons recommitted him, and he was kept there for the remainder of the session.
A motion was then made to reclaim all the improper grants of crown property, and apply the proceeds to the public service; but as this would have touched both whigs and tories, and the grants under the Stuarts as well as under William, it was successfully opposed. It was brought to light in the debate that Montague had received a grant from William, which was held in trust by one Railton for him; but the commons themselves voted that they held the chancellor of the exchequer well deserving, by his public services, of this mark of his majesty's favour.
These were the last transactions of the English government in 1697; but there was at this moment a person residing in this country, who was destined to produce greater changes in the face of Europe and in its relations than any who had gone before him. This was Peter, the czar of Muscovy, who was at this time residing at Sayes Court, a house of the celebrated John Evelyn, at Deptford, and studying the fleet and ship-building of England, in order to create a naval power for himself. He was only a youth of five-and-twenty, and was the monarch of a country then sunk in barbarism, which was unrepresented at all the courts of Europe, was little heard of by the rest of the continent, and whose merchants were forbidden, on pain of death, to trade with other countries. Yet already Peter had raised a regular army, and something of a navy, putting them under the management of Scotch and French officers. By means of these, in 1696, he had besieged and taken Azoph. He had put himself through all the ranks of the army, beginning as a common soldier, and he had then determined to see personally the chief maritime nations, Holland and England, and learn all that he could of the arts that made them so powerful. He set out with only twelve attendants, amongst whom were his two chief princes, Menzikoff, who had been originally a pieman, and Galitzin. These were to act as his ambassadors to the courts of Holland and England, he himself remaining incognito. He first settled at Saardam, in Holland, where he lived in a small lodging, dressed and worked with his attendants as ship-carpenters, learning to forge the iron-work of ships as well as to prepare their woodwork. He had a yacht on the Zuyder Zee, and practised its management, and studied rope-making and sail-making. He found himself too much crowded about and stared at on his removal to London, where he spent his time chiefly in the dockyards of Deptford, Woolwich, and Chatham. William used to go and see him at Sayes Court, and sent the marquis of Caermarthen to attend upon him, where they are said to have drunk brandy and pepper together during the long winter evenings. In the ensuing April disturbances at home called him away, but not before he had destroyed Evelyn's fine holly hedges by driving over them in the deep snows in his sledge, to Evelyn's great mortification. From this singular guest and his vast plans have sprung the present power and status of Russia, the bugbear and incubus of Europe.
At the opening of the year 1698, all appeared peace in Europe, but it was the quiet only which lies in the bosom of a volcano. Enormous expenditure of blood and treasure had been made to repel the unprincipled schemes of Louis XIV. Europe seemed to have triumphed over him. He had suddenly surrendered all that he had striven for, as if he perceived the impossibility of his aspirations. Nothing was less the fact. Never was he so boundless and daring in his plans of aggrandisement as at this moment. Why should he continue to drain his kingdom of its population and its substance to grasp merely at Flanders, when, by exerting the arts of diplomacy, he might possess himself not only of Flanders, but of all Spain, the north of Italy, the Sicilies, the South American and Indian dependencies? That was an ambition worthy of the Grand Monarque, and that Louis had now resolved to compass. The imbecile Charles II. of Spain was fast sinking to the tomb. He had no children and his dominions were bequeathed by his father, Philip IV., to the emperor of Germany, the Austrian house, nearest to the succession. No matter; Louis XIV. had married the infanta, Maria Theresa, the sister of Philip IV., and aunt of Charles, and had children by her. On marrying her he had sworn to renounce all claims to the Spanish throne through her; but that weighed nothing with Louis. He resolved that a son of the dauphin, that is, his grandson through Maria Theresa, had the best right, and should have the throne. To secure a succession, he had before married his niece, the beautiful Louisa of Orleans, eighteen years ago; but there was no issue, and Charles was now married to a princess of the Austrian house, Maria Ann, sister of the emperor's late wife. Notwithstanding, Louis determined th at the house of Austria should be set aside, and his own issue occupy the Spanish throne, from which moment France, in fact, stretching from the straits of Gibraltar to Flanders, and including a large share of Italy, would be able to give law to the continent, and swallow up Flanders and Holland, if not Germany too.
This was the mighty danger which filled the mental vision and wrought on the anxious heart of William at this moment; and we shall see that, through the terror of it, and with a fond hope of avoiding it, he was ere long drawn by the crafty Louis to sink his hitherto fair fame as a far-seeing and honest diplomatist, and to play into the very hands of this grand master of Macchiavelianism. Before entering on these affairs, which laid the foundation of fresh and long wars, we must touch on domestic matters of themselves sufficiently embarrassing.
Montague, in the height of his popularity, undertook and carried a measure which eventually, however, did the whigs infinite mischief. Ministers had applied to the East India Company for a loan. The company offered to lend them seven hundred thousand pounds, to be repaid out of the supplies at the convenience of government. The new company, which had so long been striving after a charter, hearing of the proposal, immediately out bade the old company, offering to lend the government two million pounds at eight per cent. The bait was too tempting to resist; a bill was brought into the commons, and passed its first reading by a large majority. The old company, alarmed, petitioned the house, stating the claims it had, from having been encouraged by so many royal charters to invest its capital and to create a great trade with India. It begged the house to consider that a thousand families depended on the stock, and that the great property of the company in India, producing an annual revenue of forty-four thousand pounds, would all be destroyed or reduced to trifling value. They deposed that they had expended a million of money in fortifications alone; that during the war they had lost twelve ships and cargoes worth fifteen hundred thousand pounds; that since the last subscription they had paid two hundred and ninety-five thousand pounds for customs, and above eighty-five thousand pounds in taxes. They had furnished ten thousand barrels of gunpowder when the government was greatly pressed for it, and taken eighty thousand pounds'-worth of exchequer bills. The house weighed the proposal, but was persuaded by Montague to give the preference to the new company. On this the old company offered, notwithstanding their great losses, to advance two millions to government, on condition that the charter to the new company was not granted. The offer came too late; the bill for the new company was passed and carried also in the lords, but with considerable opposition, and a protest from one-and-twenty peers. This act was, notwithstanding, deemed a very unjust and arbitrary measure; and the arguments of the whigs for a standing army, their wholesale embezzlements in the government offices, and by most flagrant contracts, sunk greatly their popularity. In fact, a more greedy and corrupt set of men never existed than the whigs of this period.
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