Reign of Queen Anne (Continued)
Overtures by Louis XIV. for Peace, but rejected - France threatened with total Ruin - Defeat of the Allies at Almanza - Abortive Attempt on Toulon - Wreck of Sir Cloudesley Shovel on the Scilly Rocks - Interview of Charles XII. of Sweden and Marlborough - Inactive Campaign in-tho Netherlands - Meeting of the. first British Parliaments-Inquiry into the Conduct of the War in Spain - Harley resigns - Pretender embarks at Dunkirk for Scotland - His Design defeated - Parliament dissolved - French take Ghent and Bruges, but are routed at Oudenarde - Defeat of the French at Wynendale - Bavaria besieges Brussels - Lisle surrendered to the Allies; Ghent and Bruges retaken - Conquest of Minorca - Rupture betwixt the Pope and the Emperor - Death of George of Denmark - New Parliament - Abortive Negotiations for Peace - The Allies take Tournay - Victory of Malplaquet - Surrender of Möns - The Spanish Campaign - Offers of Peace by France rejected by the States-General - Dr. Sacheverel impeached by the Commons - His Trial - Debates upon it in the House of Lords - He is silenced for three Years - Conferences at Gertruydenburg - Seizure of Douay, Bethune, Aire, and St. Venant by the Allies - Charles of Austria defeats Philip and enters Madrid - Battle of Villaviciosa - Fall of the "Whig Ministry - Dissolution of Parliament and Meeting of a new one - Marlborough coolly received in England.Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
The great event of the union of the kingdoms has carried us somewhat past the course of general events. After the last disastrous campaign, Louis XIV., humbled to a degree that he was hitherto unacquainted with, employed the elector of Bavaria to propose a congress to the duke of Marlborough and the States-General. He had already presented a memorial to the Dutch government through the marquis DAlegre; and he besought the pope to use his influence to this end. The terms which Louis offered in the moment of his alarm were such as well merited the attention of the allies. He proposed to cede either Spain and the West, Indies to king Charles, or Milan, Naples, and Sicily; to grant a barrier to the Dutch of fortified towns on the frontiers of the Spanish Netherlands, and to indemnify the duke of Savoy for the ravages committed on his territories. Never since the commencement of the war had the allies such an opportunity of closing the war triumphantly. They could thus balance the powers of France and Austria by dividing the Spanish monarchy, and give to the Dutch all they asked - a secure frontier. But the great doubt was whether Louis was in earnest, or only seeking to gain time during which he might continue to divide the allies. Long experience had impressed on all men the utterly slippery character of the man, and his very proposals seemed of themselves to produce this effect; for the emperor, alarmed at the idea of the allies acceding to such terms, determined to make himself master of Naples before any terms for its cession to France in exchange for Spain should be entered into. This was further seen in the circumstance of the emperor in the following winter concluding a separate treaty with Louis, by which he evacuated Milan, and thus liberated his troops to use them against the allies in Spain and the Netherlands.
But the allies, were by no means eager to accept Louis's offers. The Dutch were greatly elated by Marlborough's astonishing victories, and Marlborough himself was in no humour to stop in the mid career of his glory. He is said to have induced the grand pensionary, Heinsius - who was now as much devoted to him as he had formerly been to
king William - to keep the Dutch high in their demands; whilst Marlborough induced the English court to demand indemnity for the immense sums which England had expended in these wars. Under these circumstances the offers of France were declined under the plea that England could not enter into any negotiations except in concert with the allies; and no means were taken to summon a congress. Had the English people known of the offers, there would have probably been a loud demand for peace; but these were kept secret, and the attention of the nation being then greatly engrossed by the question of the union, the matter was passed over. This was not, however, without exciting fresh resentment against Marlborough amongst the tory leaders, who had some knowledge of these affairs. They looked on Marlborough with sufficiently hostile eyes for having deserted their ranks, and they now regarded him as a selfish man, who was endeavouring to protract the war for his own interested purposes, reckless of the pressure of taxation and the sufferings of the people.
In opening parliament on the 3rd of December, 1706, the queen had dwelt much on the glorious successes of her arms, and especially in the battle of Ramillies, and asserted that the war only now required continuing with vigour to compel France to submit to terms which should secure the peace of Europe for a very long time. Not a word was whispered of the liberal offers made by Louis; on the contrary, the queen and government were so elated by their successes that they now imagined that France might not only be resisted but conquered, and even compelled to give up so many of its provinces as should disable her for ever from troubling the peace of Europe. Both the lords and commons presented addresses to her majesty advocating the vigorous pursuit of the war, and intimating that nothing but the restoration of Spain to Austria ought to satisfy the allies.
Both houses voted thanks to the duke of Marlborough for his magnificent services. The lords delivered to him their formal compliments through the lord keeper; and now parliament was in haste to confer on him those substantial marks of their approbation which they had rejected when the queen solicited them prematurely. They not only granted him the pension of five thousand pounds a year which they had before refused, and which Anne had, however, bestowed on him for life out of the post-office, but they made this permanent to his posterity. They also brought in a bill to settle the honours and manor of Woodstock and the house of Blenheim, by consent of her majesty, with all the duke's honours and titles, on his heirs for ever, whether male or female. The duke had lost his only son, the marquis of Blandford, and, therefore, the female line was introduced, these honours and estates descending to the daughters according to priority of birth, and to the heirs male of their bodies.
During this session the queen was prayed by the commons to re-settle the islands of St. Nevis and St. Christopher, which had been ravaged by the enemy; to take steps for extirpating a nest of pirates which had located itself in Madagascar, and impeded our commerce in those seas; likewise to recover and preserve the ancient possession, trade, and fisheries of Newfoundland, invaded by the French. The French refugees also entreated her majesty to assist their brethren the protestants of the south of France, who were horribly persecuted by the government and the priests. The Russians also entreated the queen's good offices with the king of Sweden on behalf of their minister, count Patkull, who had been treacherously surrendered to Charles XII. by Augustus of Saxony on making peace with that monarch; but the queen's interference was not successful, for the Swedish king put the count to death, contrary to the usages of civilised nations.
The convocation all this time had continued its wranglings, and the lower house, whilst the union with Scotland was under discussion by parliament, intimating its intention to urge the commons to resist it at the instance of the queen, the archbishop prorogued it, much to its indignation. On the 24th of April, 1707, the queen prorogued the parliament, informing them that she would continue the lords and commons already assembled as members in the first British parliament, which would be summoned to meet on the 23rd of October. The Scots on the completion of the union repaired to London, where they were received with much courtesy by the queen. The duke of Queensberry was met by a great body of noblemen and gentlemen in coaches and on horseback, and conducted into London. The title of duke was conferred on the earls of Roxburgh and Montrose; and that the change of government might not appear too abrupt in Scotland, the queen appointed a new privy council, to be in force till the meeting of the first British parliament.
During this session, too, the ministry had been growing more completely whig. Through the influence of lady Marlborough rather than of the duke, who was strongly averse to the free principle and free language of his son-in- law, the earl of Sunderland that nobleman was made one of the secretaries of state in the place of Sir Charles Hedges. This change was equally repugnant to Harley, the other secretary, who was now the only tory minister left in the cabinet. The three tory commissioners of the board of trade - Prior, the poet, being one - were removed, and three whigs were introduced. Sir James Montague, the brother of the earl of Halifax, was made solicitor-general; and Sir George Rooke and the few remaining tory privy councillors had their names erased. Harley was thus left, apparently without support, a tory in a cabinet all besides himself whig. But Harley was that kind of man that he not only managed to maintain his place, but eventually ruined and scattered the whole whig party. He was a man of low stature, rather deformed, of a heavy countenance, and of awkward manner. He was by no means a man of genius, though he affected the company of such men. Pope, Swift, Bolingbroke, Arbuthnot, and Prior were his friends and associates. His intellect was narrow and commonplace, but it was persevering; and though he was a wretched and confused speaker, yet he continually acquired more and more influence in the house of commons, and ultimately raised himself to the peerage and for many years to the chief direction of the national affairs. The secret of this was that he had made himself master of the laws and practices of parliament, and on all disputed questions could clear up the point past dispute, so that he came to be regarded as far more profound than he was. He had the art, too, of reticence of mind; of keeping his plans to himself, and of wearing a mysterious and reserved air, as though he were charged with deep and momentous secrets. In short, he was a thorough, plodding, scheming, and persisting politician, and thus contrived to secure much influence by a very ordinary show of understanding. No man, says Mackay, "knew better all the tricks of the house." He was brought up a regular roundhead and whig; helped with his father to bring in king William, and then took a deep hatred to him, because he did not consider himself sufficiently favoured by him. While professing still to be a whig, he was constantly found acting with the tories, and at length became, by imperceptible degrees, an arrant tory. Yet, adds Mackay, though "bred a presbyterian, he joins with the church in everything. He never fails to have a clergyman of each sort at his table on Sunday; his family go generally to the meeting." Such was the man destined, with his ally, St. John, to grind to powder the whole closely-compacted whig party; to become the prime minister of England, and, by the peace of Utrecht, to wipe out all the results of the victories of Marlborough, and of the blood and money expended by England in almost every quarter of Europe.
The duke of Marlborough, relying on the support of the whig cabinet which the influence of his contriving wife had created, set out in the month of April for the continent. The condition to which his successes had reduced France was such that the allies were in the highest spirits. The French treasury was exhausted; and, in the absence of real money, Louis endeavoured to supply the deficiency by mint bills, in imitation of the bank of England bills; but they were already at a discount of fifty-three per cent. The lands lay uncultivated, manufacturers were at a pause for want of capital, the people were perishing with famine, and nothing could be more deplorable than the state of France. Nothing could have saved Louis at this crisis but want of unity amongst the allies, and already the artful Louis had contrived to get in the wedge of disunion. The emperor, allured by the prospect of the evacuation of Italy, and of seizing Naples for himself, had come to a secret understanding with the French king, which was equally treacherous and suicidal; for the direct result, as any man but the stolid emperor would have foreseen, was to liberate the French forces from the north of Italy, to reinforce those in the Netherlands and those endeavouring to drive his brother Charles from Spain.
Marlborough, on his part, did everything that he could to keep the allies together, and to combine them into a victorious strength; but it had always been his misfortune, as it had been that of William, to have to suffer from their regard rather to their own petty jealousies than to the grand object in view. He set out directly from the Hague to visit Hanover, and stimulate the young elector to active assistance. He then set out to pay a visit to Charles XII. of Sweden, who was encamped at Alt Ranstadt, only a few marches from the court of Hanover. The Swedish military madman, neglecting the Czar Peter, who was making continual inroads on his Finnish and Esthonian territories, and was now actually laying the foundations of a new capital and seaport on the shores of the Baltic, had pursued, with blind and inveterate hatred, Augustus, the elector of Saxony, who had presumed to allow himself, in spite of the Swedish king, to be elected king of Poland. He had succeeded in dethroning Augustus, and setting up Stanislaus in his stead. But not contented with this, he had now pursued Augustus into Saxony, and was laying that ßtate under contributions. Such a firebrand in that quarter was only too sure to attract the attention of Louis of France. He was just the character to turn against the emperor, who had always favoured Augustus; and accordingly his agents were at work to turn the arms of this victorious Swede against Austria, which would be the most advantageous circumstance for Louis which at this time could be conceived. Marlborough determined, therefore, to visit the Swedish king, and endeavour to avert this evil. He carried with him a letter from queen Anne, and reached his camp on the 28th of April. The eccentric monarch was in the habit of refusing bluntly to see ambassadors sent to him, when he thought they were seeking to draw him from his own self-willed schemes; but he had a great curiosity to see the hero of Blenheim and Ramillies. It was immediately, however, evident to Marlborough that those about the king were already tampered with by the French. On arriving, he first demanded an audience of count Piper, Charles's ohief counsellor, but he was suffered to wait half an hour before the count came down to him, on the plea that he was then engaged. This was not what Marlborough was accustomed to, even from crowned heads themselves, and therefore, when the great Piper did appear, the duke coolly put on his hat, walked past the count without saluting him, and after having taken a turn or two, came up and addressed him. He was soon issued into the presence of Charles, whom he found in that uncouth and even sordid dress, his huge jack boots and coarse coat with huge buttons, which he never changed. Marlborough, who rightly conceived that this 41 madman of the north " was most easily accessible on the side of his martial vanity, addressed him in a strain of high-flown adulation, which would have disgusted a less egotistic person. "Sire," he said, "I present to your majesty a letter, not from the chancery, but from the heart of the queen, my mistress, and written with her own hand. Had not her sex prevented her taking so long a journey, she would have crossed the sea to see a prince admired by the* whole universe. I esteem myself more happy in this particular, of being able personally to assure your majesty of my regard, and I should think it a greater happiness, if my affairs would allow me, to learn under so great a general what I yet want to know in the art of war."
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