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Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 17


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But though William was detained in Holland, he was busily corresponding with that wily statesman, Sunderland, on the subject of the ministry and parliament; and the Hardwicke State Papers let us into the views of William and this subtle and unprincipled diplomatist, as well as of Somers and other leaders of the whig party. The family of Sunderland had made an alliance with that of Marlborough. Sunderland's eldest son, lord Spenser, had, in January of this year, married Marlborough's second daughter, to whose children the ducal title eventually descended. Lady Sunderland had contracted a great intimacy with lady Marlborough, and there was strong interest exerted to bring the party into power which was in favour of the war, and, therefore, of Marlborough's chance of distinguishing himself. Though professing himself still a tory, Marlborough was leaning to and acting secretly with the whigs. We find Sunderland, therefore, using all his eloquence for the restoration of the whigs. William wrote to him from Loo in September, asking his advice regarding his difficulties with his ministers and parliament, and having evidently more confidence in his political sagacity than in any one else's. He expressed his uncertainty about dismissing his parliament, notwithstanding the manner in which it attacked him and his ministers. The tories, he said, made him great promises, and that he was advised to pass an act of indemnity as a means of putting an end to the party violence which disgraced the last session. This inclined him, he added, to try again what the present ministers and their party would do, with a resolution to change on the first occasion they should give.

In reply to this, Sunderland informed him that the ministry grew more detested every day; which was a pretty good indication of Sunderland's coming advice. He then went on: - " It is said the king is persuaded still to try the same party and the same ministers, because, if he changes and fails, there will be no resource; which is as much as to say, Continue in the hands of your enemies, for, if they do not save you, you may return to your friends, who will; which is a sort of reason which ought not to be answered, but hissed." He then went on sarcastically to tell the king that if the king tries the whigs and they cannot help him, he can always have the tories at a price - that of completely stultifying himself; by altering the lieutenancy of London, giving up all attempts to check the encroachments of France, and breaking the ecclesiastical commission, which was a commission consisting of two archbishops and four bishops, for managing the church patronage, which the high church party and the tories detested. Winding up, this man, who had played many parts, and many of them very cautious and creeping ones, now assumed a tone of such boldness and freedom as is rarely used towards a king, and could be dictated only by a knowledge that only a striking portraiture of his position could rouse the king to act in his wavering mood. "Another dangerous opinion," he argues, "which the king is led into by flams and lies, is, that if those he now depends on do not act as they promise, he can try new measures in the middle of a session, which is impossible; and that he must know if he pleases to reflect. He will be wheedled, and complimented, and cheated and, at the latter end, ruined. Can he forget how the tories agreed to the ten thousand men, and the address to enter into the alliance with the emperor? Was it not because it could have been done without them, and that they were frightened out of their wits, and to oblige hirn to thank them at last, that they might go into the country with safety? Are not their promises on the same account, and because they dread a new parliament? Can he forget the pains that were taken, after the king of Spain's death, to persuade the world that all was well, and that nothing would be so fatal as war? What a fine speech was made for him at the opening of parliament four months after the king of Spain died, and a fortnight after the French were actually masters of Flanders? Or that, during the session, the ministers told him every day they nor their party never would come into a war; of which mind they are so much now, that yet they continue to say, It will undo us? And if they are anyways forced into it, it will be with a design of raising money, which shall both be insufficient and laid so as to be most uneasy to the people that is possible. But to what purpose is it so much as to think of anything of the kind, when, after a thirteen years' experience, the king will not judge right of things he knows, but will be undone infallibly by believing himself more cunning than a whole party by whom he is beset, and who wheedle him every day, and of which, in his whole reign, he never yet could gain any one man? The king ought to consider that, most luckily for him, the whole moderate church-party who are not Jacobites are joined with the whigs, but he will be deceived if he reckons that they will help to establish this ministry, which they think would ruin England and hang them."

Sunderland, after this plain speaking, told the king that he approved of the act of indemnity, though he warned him that neither party would like it, as the tories would not be satisfied without ruining Somers, nor the whigs without ruining the tories. He then advised him to lose no time in coming to England and sending for Somers. "For," said he, "he is the life, the soul, and spirit of his party, and can answer for it - not like the present ministers, who have no credit with theirs, any further than they can persuade the king to be undone." He counsels him to speak plainly to Somers, and tells him that he may rely upon him; that he will take as much care not to perplex the king's affairs as his present ministers do to confound them; that if he cannot serve the king, he will remain still zealously affectionate to his person and government; and he throws in this concluding bon bouche: - "It is a melancholy thing that the king, who has more understanding than anybody who comes near him, is imposed on by mountebanks, or by such as he himself knows hate both his person and his government."

Sunderland sent a copy of this letter to Somers himself, and there followed a brisk correspondence betwixt the two whig statesmen. Somers thought Sunderland's counsel admirable, but urged him to accept the premiership instead of himself. To this Sunderland would not listen; he probably felt that the people remembered too much of his antecedents; and in accordance with this idea he hints that he intends to keep in the background for some time yet. William on the 10th of October wrote to Somers, and also sent to him the Huguenot Ruvigny, now earl of Galway, to talk the matter over. Somers, in consequence, promised largely for the whigs, and as pointedly threw suspicion on the tories. To trust the tories, he said, was to put the fate of Europe into their hands; and he asked whether it was likely that a party made up greatly of Jacobites would take effectual measures against France or the prince of Wales? If the tories, he contended, abandoned the Jacobites, they would remain no party at all, unable to carry anything; if they did not abandon them, they could only serve their objects; and nothing could induce the whigs to support a tory ministry which had neither mercy nor justice.

The reasonings of Sunderland and Somers seem to have determined William. He arrived in England on the 4th of November, where he found the two factions raging against each other with unabated rancour, and the public in a ferment of indignation at the proclamation of the king of the French, acknowledging the pretender, and still more at an edict which Louis had published on the 16th of September, prohibiting all trade with England, except in beer, cider, glass bottles, and wool, and the wearing of any English manufacture after the 1st of November next. William closeted himself with some of his ministry whom he still hoped might be disposed to different measures; but finding them still as determined as ever to pursue their former course, and to insist on their impeachments, he dissolved parliament on the 4th of November, and called a new one for the 31st of December.

The two parties went to the election for the new parliament with the same fierce bitterness with which they had fought through the last session. The bribery, corruption, and intimidation were of the most open and shameless kind; but the whigs, having the monied interest in their favour, carried the day. During the elections Sunderland did his best to spur on the king to a decided and determined contest against the tories. He declared that nothing was more dangerous than to let either party think the king was wavering; that it was injurious to his own peace and the prosperity of his policy to give the tories any countenance, even in his closet; that nothing ought he to convince himself of so much as that it was utterly hopeless to expect to win a tory heartily to his cause. Let him consider, he said, writing to Somers, whether he had ever succeeded in doing so in thirteen years. He reminded Somers of the course taken during the elections in 1696; that many depended on the king, and that he ought to speak to them, and tell them how to vote, and that he would admit of no excuse. The tories, he told him, were better speakers in the house of commons than the whigs, and that, therefore, the whigs should endeavour to secure such advantages as would counterbalance that, and that the choice of the speaker was one of the most important of these measures; that he should put promising and capable men into employment, and by all means pass the act of grace; for, if he did not, the quarrels would go on as furiously as ever, and though the whigs might have a majority at starting, the tories would recover it in a fortnight; that an act of abjuration of the prince of Wales ought to be passed, and ought to proceed from the commons.

Sunderland omitted nothing which might contribute to commencing the session with effect. "As soon," he said, "as the speaker's named, endeavours should be made to thank the king for his speech; and it would be well for the king to give order to two of the cabinet to prepare the speech, as the duke of Devonshire and secretary Vernon, and bid them consult in private lord Somers, rather than bring the cabinet a speech already made." He even pointed out the proper topics of the speech, and especially dwelt on the pernicious consequences of the division between the two houses, which, added to the late period of meeting, rendered the last session of parliament almost useless for the public good; that such differences should be strongly reprobated, a good dispatch of the business recommended, not neglecting the exhortation to the payment of the debts, as tending to maintain credit, together with suitable remarks on supporting and defending the protestant religion, both at home and abroad. He next pointed out the most proper persons for the new ministry, marking them by their initials; and he recommended that none of these should be admitted to the cabinet council, except such as had a sort of prescriptive right to be there from their office, as the archbishop of Canterbury, the lord keeper, the lord president, the privy seal, the lord steward, the lord chamberlain, the first commissioner of the treasury, the two secretaries of state, and, if in England, the lord lieutenant of Ireland. If the king wished for more, they should be the first commissioner of the admiralty and the master of the ordnance; but, if the king excluded these, no other person could take it ill if he were not admitted, and the king could send and consult them when anything in their department was under consideration. Last of all, he laid particular emphasis on a particular in which William had been culpably and impolitically negligent, and to which he owed much of his unpopularity. "It would be much for the king's service if he brought his affairs to be debated at that council." William had grossly neglected this in regard to the partition treaties, and he had felt the evil effects of it.

There was not a circumstance or a topic that this consummate master of state business did not touch on; and though the new ministry was not altogether such as he recommended, in all the rest, even to the drawing up of the speech, his advice seems to have been scrupulously followed as the very essence of diplomatic wisdom; and some of his recommendations, as that regarding the cabinet and the prompt address of thanks on the king's speech, and the drawing up of the speech, not by the king, but by some well-qualified members of the cabinet, became, as it were, the stereotyped practice from this time. All this correspondence, however, was carried on in profound secresy, the king being denoted frequently not by name, but by "No. 12," and Sunderland by "No. 33," Sunderland to the last resisting all importunities to take the premiership. Probably he dreaded engaging openly in the rude fight which would take place, for he was truly called "the fox" for his subtlety, and this is pretty clearly indicated by his own words: - "When 12 has put his affairs into some order, 33 may, perhaps, be of some use; and as soon as that is, he will desire to be sent for as much as he now desires to be forgot."

The new ministry was immediately put in preparation. On the 24th of December Charles Howard, the earl of Carlisle, was appointed first lord of the treasury, in place of lord Godolphin. On the 4th of January Charles Montague, earl of Manchester, who had been ambassador at Paris, was made secretary of state in place of Sir Charles Hedges; on the 18th the earl of Pembroke was transferred from the presidency of the council, and made lord high admiral; and Charles Seymour, duke of Somerset, took the presidency. Henry Boyle, afterwards earl of Carleton, was appointed chancellor of the exchequer; the privy seal having been in commission since the death of the earl of Tankerville, remained so. The cabinet thus consisted of the personal friends of the king, and the whigs had strengthened their party, having carried the elections in most of the counties and chief boroughs; yet they found themselves so far from a commanding majority that they were immediately defeated in the election of the speaker. The king was desirous of seeing Sir Thomas Littleton in the chair, but the tories managed to elect Harley; Henry St. John, afterwards lord Boling- broke, who was sent up from Wootton Basset, seconding the motion for Harley. The speech, which was drawn up by Somers according to Sunderland's advice, was then read by William.

In this speech, which was greatly admired, the king said that he trusted that they had met together with a full sense of the common danger of Europe, and of that resentment of the conduct of the French king which had been so strongly and universally expressed in the loyal addresses of the people; that in setting up the pretended prince of Wales as king of England they had offered to him and to the nation the highest indignity, and put in jeopardy the protestant religion and the peace and security of the realm, and he was sure they would take every means to secure the crown in the protestant line, and to extinguish the hopes of all pretenders and their abettors; that the French king, by placing his grandson on the throne of Spain, had put himself in a condition to oppress the rest of Europe, and, under the pretence of maintaining it as a separate monarchy, had yet made himself master of the dominions of Spain, placed it entirely under his control, and so surrounded his neighbours that, though the name of peace continued, they were put to the expense and inconvenience of war; that this endangered the whole of our trade, and even our peace and safety at home, and deprived us of that position which we ought to maintain for the preservation of the liberties of Europe; that to obviate these calamities he had entered into several alliances according to the encouragement given him by both houses of parliament, and was still forming others. And he then said emphatically, "It is fit I should tell you that the eyes of all Europe are upon this parliament. All matters are at a stand till your resolutions are known; therefore no time ought to be lost. You have yet an opportunity, by God's blessing, to secure to you and your posterity the quiet enjoyment of your religion and liberties if you are not wanting to yourselves, but will exert the ancient vigour of the English nation; but I tell you plainly my opinion is, if you do not lay hold on this occasion, you have no reason to hope for another."

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Pictures for Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 17

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