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Reign of Queen Anne page 7

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The allied fleets had done nothing of importance during this summer. Sir George Rooke cruised in the channel to protect the English trade, and to keep the coast of France in alarm, as agreed with Marlborough, whilst Sir Cloudesley Shovel, with the great combined fleet, made sail for the Mediterranean. On the coast of Yalentia he made a landing ostensibly to proclaim king Charles, but really to obtain ivater; and having effected that necessary but inglorious exploit, and endeavoured, but in vain, to throw supplies into the Cevennes, he cruised in the Mediterranean, renewed the peace with the pirate state of Barbary, and returned home.

Another fleet, sent out to make conquests in the "West Indies, did much worse. Admiral Graydon was sent out with three ships to succeed Benbow. On his way out he met there a part of the squadron of Du Casse returning in bad condition, but richly laden. Instead of attacking them, he called off captain Cleland, of the u Montagu," who was in act to commence the fight, and kept on his way. Having taken up Nin's four regiments of soldiers, who had been sent out to the Leeward Islands under captain Walker and colonel Coddington, and had made a descent on Guadaloupe, but were in great distress, he proceeded to Jamaica, where he quarrelled with the planters, and then sailed to reduce the French settlement at Placentia, in Newfoundland. He, however, never reached the place, his ships being dispersed in a fog; and a council being called, it was concluded that they were not in a condition to attack the settlement if they reached it, and so returned home. For this miserable conduct, Graydon was examined by the house of lords, and, at their recommendation, dismissed the service.

The only thing like a naval success was performed by admiral Dilkes, who took or destroyed about forty French ships and their convoy off Granville.

The archduke Charles, having assumed the title of king of Spain, set out from Vienna about the middle of September, and reached Düsseldorf on the 16th of October, where he was met by the elector palatine and the duke of Marlborough, who was commissioned by queen Anne to offer his congratulations. The duke performed his duty in his most graceful manner, assuring Charles that he had just had the honour to put his majesty in possession of Limburg. Charles returned the courtesy by taking off his sword and presenting it to the duke, saying, "I am not ashamed to own myself a poor prince. I possess nothing but my cloak and sword; the latter may be of use to your grace; and I hope you will not think it the worse for my wearing it one day." "On the contrary," replied the duke, kissing the diamond hilt, "it will always put me in mind of your majesty's just right and title, and of the obligations I lie under to hazard my life in making you the greatest prince in Christendom."

Marlborough accompanied Charles of Austria to the Hague, where they were both received with high honours by the States-General. Marlborough then hastened over to England to be ready to receive the royal guest on his way to Portugal. On the 26th of December the new king of Spain arrived at Spithead in the Dutch squadron sent to convey him. The queen dispatched the dukes of Somerset and Marlborough to conduct him to Windsor, and prince George met him on the way at Petworth, the seat of the duke of Somerset, and conducted him to Windsor on the 29th. The king was entertained in great state for three days at Windsor, during which time he was politic enough to ingratiate himself with the queen's great favourite, lady Marlborough. When the duchess presented the bason and napkin after supper to the queen for her to wash her hands, the king gallantly took the napkin and held it himself, and on returning it to the duchess of Marlborough he presented her with a superb diamond ring.

After three days the king returned to Portsmouth, and on the 4th of January he embarked on board the fleet, commanded by Sir George Rooke, for Portugal, accompanied by a body of land forces under the duke of Schömberg. The voyage at that season was, however, a most stormy one, and when the fleet had nearly reached Cape Finisterre, it was compelled to put back to Spithead, where it remained till the middle of February. His next attempt was more successful, and he landed in Lisbon amid much popular demonstration, though the court itself was sunk in sorrow by the death of the infanta, whom he went to marry.

Before the arrival of Charles in England, it had been visited by one of the most terrible storms on record. The tempest began on the 27th of November, attended by such thunder and lightning as had never been experienced by any one living. The Thames overflowed its banks, standing several feet deep in Westminster Hall. The houses in London seemed shaken from their foundations, and many actually fell, burying the inhabitants in their ruins. The loss in London alone was estimated at a million sterling, and the storm raged with equal fury in other places. Bristol was a great sufferer; but the greatest destruction fell on the fleet. Thirteen ships of war were lost, and fifteen hundred seamen, including rear-admiral Beaumont, who foundered in the Downs. Many of the oldest trees in the parks were torn up, and the lead on the churches was rolled up in scrolls. This unparalleled storm raged most fiercely along the southern and western counties, being scarcely felt in the northern ones. The bishop of Bath and Wells with his wife was killed in the episcopal palace by the fall of a stack of chimneys.

The queen opened parliament on the 9th of November. She spoke of the new treaties with the duke of Savoy and the king of Portugal as subjects of congratulation, though the latter implied a fact which might well have startled her subjects if contemplated in its full extent. She informed them that it was the intention of the allies "to recover the monarchy of Spain from the house of Bourbon and restore it to the house of Austria." This was an announcement which went far beyond the objects of king William - namely, to defend the liberties and protestant religion of Europe, which had been so violently attacked by the tory ministers and members of both houses. It equalled in unjustifiable interference William's so much-censured scheme of the partition, for it went to interfere in the affairs of other nations' setting up and pulling down kings, which concerned them alone. The Spaniards made no complaints to us, asked no aid from us to expel an unauthorised king; and so long as that was the case, an interference was utterly contrary to the rights of nations. By this impolitic engagement we were about to be involved in a war of which the end could not be seen, and which was none of our proper business.

Anne admitted that these engagements would cause an immediate and great expense, but she declared that she would be careful to keep down her own expenses - as if any savings in the civil list could in any manner balance these enormous costs of war. In conclusion, she entreated the two houses to avoid heats or divisions, because they gave encouragement to the enemies of the church and state.

These same lords and commons who had loaded the memory of king William with so much execration for his foreign wars, on this occasion showed the utmost readiness to rush into the same evils themselves. Neither lords nor commons raised an objection to this scheme of setting the archduke Charles of Austria on the throne of Spain. On the contrary, on the 12th of November the lords presented an address to the queen, expressing their satisfaction at her having entered into these treaties, and even displayed a zeal beyond them. The commons on their part voted fifty-eight thousand soldiers and forty thousand sailors as the standard of the army and navy, and they granted the requisite supplies with the utmost readiness.

No sooner was this warlike demonstration made, than the commons again introduced the occasional conformity bill, and carried it through by a large majority, on pretence that the church was in danger; but the lords attacked it with still greater animosity, and threw it out.

At this moment the nation became alarmed with the rumour of a conspiracy amongst the Jacobites in Scotland, When the queen, on the 17th of December, went to the lords to give her assent to the land tax bill, she informed them that she had made discoveries of a seditious nature in Scotland, which, as soon as she could with prudence, she assured them should be laid before them. The lords, in their loyalty, were not disposed to wait for these disclosures, but appointed a committee to inquire into the Scottish plot, and even went so far as to take some of the parties implicated out of the hands of the queen's messengers, to examine them themselves.

This over-zeal was immediately seized upon by the commons, who were sore with the rejection of their occasional conformity bill. They addressed the queen, expressing their surprise at the conduct of the lords in wresting persons accused of treasonable practices out of her majesty's hands, in order to examine them themselves, without her majesty's leave or knowledge. They prayed her to suffer no diminution of her prerogative, and promised to support her in the just exercise of her power to the utmost of their ability. Anne, who dreaded far more the revival of the fierce war betwixt the two houses than any real infringement of her prerogative, replied that the cause of complaint was now at an end. But the offence had been given, and the lords would not let it pass. They addressed her majesty to the effect that they had a right, by the known laws of parliament, to take examinations of persons charged with criminal matters, whether they be in custody or not, and to order that such persons be taken into custody of her majesty's sworn officer attending their house. They declared the address of the commons to be unparliamentary, groundless, without precedent, and highly injurious to the house of peers. The queen could only reply that she was very sorry for these misunderstandings, and thanked them, as she had done the commons, for their great concern for the rights and prerogatives of the crown.

The evil genius which had given occasion for all these bickerings was the notorious Simon Frazer, lord Lovat, a man of the most infamous character. Frazer had violated the sister of the marquis of Athol, and had been in consequence compelled to fly to France, where, notwithstanding his crime and the vile tenor of his whole life, he had free access to the court of St. Germains. He there offered to excite an insurrection in the Highlands of Scotland in favour of the pretended prince of Wales, and to raise twelve thousand mountaineers for his service if provided with the necessary authority and funds. Louis XIV. listened to the project of this devil incarnate, but, as he knew the infamy of his character, he would only consent to send him, if accompanied by two other gentlemen, on whom he could rely. These gentlemen were instructed to sound the natives, and ascertain the real prospects of the prince for themselves.

The very first thing which Lovat did on reaching Scotland was to discover the whole scheme to the duke of Queensberry, the queen's commissioner, and proposed to him to inform him of all whom they should be able to bring over to their views in their tour through the Highlands. Queensberry, instead of seizing the base outlaw, and giving him up to justice, thought it a fine opportunity to make himself acquainted with all the disaffected, and to be able to fix on them the proof of their treason. Not reflecting that this Mephistophiles of the mountains would be just as likely to betray him as he had been to betray his first employers, he gave Frazer a pass to bear him safe through the Highlands in this devil's work of corrupting the queen's subjects, and he was to furnish Queensberry with a list of all the loyal and all the disaffected. Before setting out, Frazer executed a masterpiece of demoniacal art. His grand object in coming over was to take a signal vengeance on the marquis of Athol, whom he had so deeply injured, and who had driven him from the country. He delivered, therefore, to the duke of Queensberry a letter from the ex-queen Mary of Modena to the marquis of Athol. It was observed that the address was in a different hand to the letter itself, and therefore it was probable that Frazer had procured a general letter, which he might himself address to a particular person, as occasion served. The object was to ruin the marquis.

Having made his diabolical tour, Frazer represented what additional service he could render by returning to St. Germains, and there hunting out and conveying to Queensberry all the plots and the names of the plotters against the queen of England. Queensberry had communicated the particulars of information to the queen without revealing the name of his informant, which, for good reasons, he desired might be kept secret. That such a plot was in agitation was confirmed by the queen's own spies at St. Germains, and Frazer was furnished with a passport to Holland by the earl of Nottingham under a feigned name.

About the same time Sir John Maclean was arrested at Folkestone, with his wife, having been conveyed over from France in an open boat. He was the head of one of the clans, and being conveyed to London, he pretended that he had landed only with the intention of passing through England to Scotland, where he meant to take advantage of the queen's pardon, submit himself, and become a loyal subject. Being, however, told that he would be handled as a traitor unless he would purchase forgiveness by rendering real service, he confessed his knowledge of the plot, and gave the necessary information for apprehending one Keith, a nephew of one of the two persons appointed by Louis XIV. to accompany Frazer through the Highlands. This Keith alleged that there was no intention to bring in the prince of Wales until after the queen's death, on hearing which, bishop Burnet remarked to the queen that if that were so, they did not mean her to live any longer than till they thought their designs for the prince were well laid; on which Burnet observes, the queen answered very quickly, "There was no manner of doubt of that."

Nearly at the same time with Keith, David Lindsay, who had been under-secretary to lord Middleton for James II. and the prince of Wales, and James Boucher, who had been aide-de-camp to James's natural son, the duke of Berwick, were arrested. The latter was taken on the coast of Sussex just as he came from France. As for Lindsay, he was the same man who had been employed in bringing over letters during the insurrection of Dundee; and it was not doubted that he had come over now to manage the correspondence of the insurgents. He denied there being any plot at all against the queen and her government, but on being shown Frazer's commission as a colonel, signed by the pretended king, and countersigned by Middleton, he could not deny its genuineness, but observed that things of that kind were never communicated to him. These men, like Maclean, pretended that they were merely coming to live peaceably at home; and at this moment stepped forward Ferguson, that extraordinary presbyterian preacher who was out with Monmouth, and had been in every plot since. He evidently was employed to mystify the whole affair. He protested there was no plot at all; that the Jacobites were glad to see a Stuart on the throne in the person of the queen, and their only desire was to see things so arranged that her brother should succeed her. Frazer, he contended, had merely been employed by Queensberry to draw some persons into the guilt of high treason; but as for plot, there was none. These manoeuvres, however, had no effect in convincing the people of the non-existence of a plot. The arrival of so many suspicious persons about the same time, and the unquestionably genuine document of Frazer, proved clearly enough that there was a plot on foot, as certainly as there was two or three years later, in which the very same persons, Frazer and Athol, were engaged.

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