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Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 3


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It is now necessary to ask by what right these two kings, namely, of France and England, undertook to divide and give away the Spanish monarchy? Were they the direct heirs to the crown? Not at all. Their only right was that which had led to all the robberies and partitions of kingdoms since the foundation of the world. The kingdom of Spain was expressly bequeathed, in case the present king had no issue, by Philip IV., the present king's father, to the emperor of Germany, who claimed the throne, both in right of his mother Maria, who was a daughter of Philip III., and as the true male heir of Ferdinand and Isabella, the founders of the monarchy. This was an undoubtedly valid claim; but as the union of two such empires as those of Germany and Spain might well alarm the rest of Europe, the emperor had already pledged himself to renounce his own right and that of his eldest son, in favour of his second son, the archduke Charles. Thus, the bugbear of the union of the crowns of Germany and Spain which Louis had conjured up to alarm William, was a mere phantom: the prospect of any such union did not exist. The monarchs of Europe had therefore nothing to do, to secure the even and due balance of the continent, but to see that this proposal was reduced to a formal international compact. But nothing was farther from Louis's intentions than any such simple and righteous arrangement. He laid claim to the throne of Spain himself in the right of his wife, the infanta Maria Theresa, the aunt of the present king of Spain, and for the dauphin, who was the son of the said Maria Theresa. There were only two circumstances against this claim, but they were fatal ones. The crown of Spain was already confirmed by the will of Philip IV. to the true heir, the emperor; and Louis and the infanta Maria Theresa, at the time of their marriage, had most solemnly, and by the most binding documents, surrendered all right to the throne of Spain, both for themselves and their posterity.

This, in a condition of things in which kings paid any regard to their oaths and engagements, would have been final; but kings in general hold the opinion of Hudibras that

Oaths are but words,
And words are wind;

and Louis XIV. of France especially cared no more for an oath or for justice than he did for any other moral obligation. He was resolved to set up a claim to Spain - aye, the whole of it; but this he did not yet let William know. It was his business at present to drag William into the dirt of diplomatic crime, to leave his character for justice irremediably damaged, and his hands so befouled that he could never again stand up like an honest man to oppose his most villanous designs. To effect this, he set himself first to frighten him by holding before him the position of Holland if the emperor of Germany should become possessor of Spain. Immense power would then fall into his hands, and Holland would he directly betwixt his territories of Germany and Flanders. Now William knew as well as Louis himself that the emperor was ready to bind himself and his eldest son not to take Spain, but to let it pass to his second son as a distinct kingdom; and his answer, had he been the high- principled man which some modern historians have laboured hard to represent him, should have been that what Louis professed to fear never would take place, since the emperor was ready to bind himself to the contrary. But what really terrified William was, not that the crowns of Germany and Spain should become united, but those of France and Spain. He knew that Louis had been steadily keeping his eye on the Spanish monarchy for the last thirty years, resolving to seize upon it the moment the present king should expire. He saw, therefore, in imagination, Holland, not lying betwixt Germany and Flanders, and both of those countries in the hands of the same person, but Holland lying on the frontiers of a France stretching from the straits of Gibraltar to the very neighbourhood of Amsterdam.

This was the terror which absorbed all that was heroical in the faculties or principles of William. He knew that neither principles, nor oaths, nor treaties could bind Louis. He expressed this conviction freely in his letters to Heinsius: - "The greatest hardship," he says, "that appears to me on this business is, that so little reliance is to be made on engagements with France. Her power," he adds, "will be thereby so much more considerable, that she will be at liberty to pay just as much regard to the treaties as may suit her convenience, of which we have had but too much experience. On the other hand, I do see a possibility of preventing France from putting herself in possession of the monarchy of Spain, in case the king should happen to die soon." Yet, seeing all this, William was weak enough to enter into Louis's pretended scheme of partition of the territories of Spain, in order to free himself of the bugbear of having France and Spain wholly united. He was weak enough to attempt to bind a man like Louis by a secret treaty, who was bound by no treaty, and was at this moment seeking to violate the recent treaty of Ryswick in the most vital part. And yet, even had Louis carried out this proposed secret treaty of partition faithfully, what would be the situation of Holland? It would still be laid on the edge of a France which would have real possession of Flanders and Italy in the name of the dauphin.

The bait by which this master of finesse, Louis, drew William with his eyes thus open to commit the very worst action that a king can commit - that of conspiring in secret to give away and carve up the possessions of his neighbours - was this: - There was a third claimant to the crown of Spain; this was the electoral prince of Bavaria, the son of the elector of Bavaria. This prince was the son of Maria Antonietta, the niece of the present Spanish king, Charles II., by his sister Margaret, late wife of the emperor Leopold I. Maria Antonietta was dead; but at the time of her marriage to the elector of Bavaria, she had, like her aunt, Maria Theresa, renounced all claims on the Spanish crown. The prince's grandfather Leopold, therefore, justly declared the claim of the prince his grandson wholly groundless; yet it was this young man's empty claim which Louis now brought forward against that of the emperor his grandfather, fie proposed that this prince should have Spain itself and the colonies, to the prejudice of the archduke Charles, the emperor's second son, as proposed by the emperor; and William was caught by this specious pretence for separating Spain both from France and Austria. He therefore went into this unprincipled scheme with a man in whom he had no faith, and yet fondly hoped that he was averting a war, whilst he was laying the foundations of one of the longest and most bloody wars which ever desolated Europe.

The negotiations were carried on in England in closest secrecy betwixt William and Tallard, William entering into engagements which most momentously affected England as well as all Europe, without taking a particle of advice from his council, much less seeking the advice of parliament, a proceeding utterly unconstitutional and reprehensible.

William's excuse for this proceeding was that he could not assume a martial attitude, and was, therefore, compelled to effect what he could by secret treaty. Writing to Heinsius in March, he said, "The invincible difficulties that appear in the thing itself, the unprepared state the allies are in to begin a war, and the bad situation of Spain, make me shudder when I consider the affair; for certainly France is in a condition to take possession of that monarchy before we shall be able to concert measures to oppose it. The constitution here is such that I shall be able to contribute little towards the land forces, but I will do something towards the marine, for the people here will, I believe, be inclinable to it, though we shall have great want of money." He adds that expert ministers must be sent to Madrid, and the nations must do all they could to remain armed, and he wished he could do so too.

The fact was, that William's English subjects were sick of war, especially continental war, where they had to pay for defending nations too inert to defend themselves, under the pretence of defending England, which was sufficiently defended by her navy. At this moment, whilst William was longing to be at the head of armies again, his lord chancellor Somers was writing that the nation never was less disposed for any new war; that they were tired out with taxes, and to a degree that was not fully discovered till the elections which had been going on, when they would support no candidate that would not pledge himself to peace, economy, and a reduction of taxation. And, in reality, it was not fear for England but for Holland that agitated William. In his earlier interviews with Tallard in England, he gave him to understand, he says in a letter to Heinsius, that he foresaw no accommodation unless at least all the Spanish possessions in Italy should be ceded to the emperor, and the Spanish Netherlands to the elector of Bavaria, not in the condition they then were, but with a stronger and greater barrier. He also threw out a plea for a slice of the property for England, "some ports in the Mediterranean and in the West Indies for the security of our commerce." So soon as William had let Somers into the secret of this negotiation, which was about this time, that statesman had told him how much it would endear him to the English if he could procure some advantages to them in the Spanish colonies, and William seems to have made use of the idea. But he must have soon found that Louis had very different views of arrangement, for he did not listen to anything but to the elector having Spain and the dauphin Italy and Flanders, and William gave way. Historians have asked what, indeed, he could do under such circumstances? There was one thing which he could have done - remained dignifiedly and nobly passive on the occasion. If he was not prepared to fight, he could at least have refused to soil his hands with making over the lands and cities of other nations to the ambitious and unprincipled man whose designs of the kind he had spent so much blood and wealth to withstand. It was the part of a weak man or of a dishonourable politician to stoop to the base office of assisting the robbers of kingdoms to take forcible possession of them, and to break all the rightful claims of his contemporary princes. A great man would have reposed his trust on that supreme arbiter of nations who makes a way for right where profound diplomatists see none, and who leaves those who dare not trust in or who willingly desert the solid principles of equity, in a worse condition after their crooked schemes than before. If William had refused to sanction Louis's lawless plans, and given fair notice to the emperor and the other states to be on the watch to defend their rights, it would then have been their own fault if they had not done it. At all events, he would have stood erect in his unsullied fame, and the wily Louis would have borne all the odium alone. If the continent had come, as come it must, to a struggle, it would then have been the honourable part of England to protest against the iniquitous attempts of France; to assist the struggling nations as a great maritime power could and ought to assist them. As it was, Louis succeeded in making William an accomplice to his pretended design of a base partition of a Spanish monarchy; thus destroyed his moral power, and then, deriding his dupe, marched forward towards his real purpose.

When William quitted England after the dissolution of parliament, it was only the more unobservedly to complete this extraordinary business. Tallard followed him to Loo, and they were soon after joined by Portland. It was now about the middle of August, and William wrote to Somers, desiring him to send him full powers under the great seal to complete the negotiation, leaving the names in blanks. He said he had ordered Portland to write to Vernon, the secretary of state, to draw out the commission with his own hand, so that no creature should know anything of it except Somers and one or two of the other most trusted ministers. He told Somers that it was confidently believed that the king of Spain could not outlive the month of October - might die much sooner, and, therefore, not a moment was to be lost.

In consequence of this communication, Somers, who was seeking health at Tunbridge Wells, immediately called into his counsels Russell, now lord Orford, Montague, and Shrewsbury. He informed William that Montague and secretary Vernon had come down to him at Tunbridge; they had seriously discussed this very momentous question, and that it seemed to them that it might be attended with very many ill consequences if the French did not act a sincere part; that the people of England would undoubtedly resent being drawn into any fresh war; and that it required deep consideration what would be the condition of Europe should this proposed partition be carried out. To them it seemed that, if Sicily were in French hands, they would become entire masters of the Levant trade; that if they obtained Ferrol and the other Spanish ports on that coast, Milan would be so entirely shut in from independent intercourse or commerce by sea and land, that it would be utterly powerless; that if France had Guipuzcoa and the other Spanish places on the French side of the Pyrenees, the rest of Spain would be as completely open to French invasion as Catalonia now was; and, finally, if this negotiation was concluded, what security had William for the king of France's faithful execution of it? Were England and Holland to sit still and see France enforce this partition? "If that be so," says Somers, "what security ought we to expect from the French that, while we are neuter, they will confine themselves to the terms of the treaty, and not attempt to take further advantages?"

These considerations, apart from the moral ones, ought to have made William pause. In obedience to the king's orders, Somers sent the carte blanche with the great seal affixed; but he had failed in inducing Vernon to give him a warrant for affixing the seal. The secretary was too well aware of the unconstitutional character of this proceeding to issue such a warrant, and Somers was obliged to content himself with keeping the king's letter as his authority for the act. Undeterred by the plain suggestions of Somers and the other ministers as to the total want of security which William had for Louis's observance of this treaty, and the dangerous power it conferred on France, William was in such haste to conclude the treaty, that the earl of Portland and Sir Joseph Williamson had signed a rough draught before Somers's carte blanche arrived; and on the 11th of October, or about six weeks after its receipt, the formal treaty was signed by Portland, Williamson, Tallard, and Heinsius.

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