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Reign of Queen Anne (Continued) page 12


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The motion made by Mr. Dolben in regard to Sacheverel in the house of commons was seconded by Sir Peter King, one of the aldermen of London, who had listened to the sermon in St. Paul's with astonishment and indignation. He denounced it as abounding with matter false, injurious, impious, and tending to sedition and schism in the church. This had not been the case with all the city dignitaries on that occasion. Sir Gilbert Heathcote had indeed been equally astonished at it, and declared that the preacher ought to be called to account for it; but the lord mayor, Sir Samuel Garrard, had applauded it, and had allowed it to be published with his sanction. Neither was it the first of the kind which had been preached in London. One Francis Higgins had been haranguing on the same topics in the pulpits all over the metropolis with the most outrageous declamations on the dangers of the church. Sacheverel, however, had brought the fever to a crisis. The most violent paragraphs were read in the house of commons, and voted scandalous and seditious libels. The doctor was summoned to the bar of the house, and having acknowledged the authorship of the sermons, pleaded the encouragement which he had received to print that on "The Perils of a False Brother" by the lord mayor. Sir Samuel Garrard, who was a member of the house, now repudiated his encouragement, and the doctor being ordered to withdraw, it was resolved that he should be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanours at the bar of the lords, and Mr. Dolben was ordered to conduct his impeachment. A committee was appointed to prepare the articles, and Sacheverel was taken into custody.

The commons at the same time resolved that the Rev. Benjamin Hoadley, rector of St. Peter-le-Poor, who, as well as bishop Burnet, and the queen's ministers, had been been severely reflected on by Sacheverel in his sermons, had honourably justified the principles on which the revolution and the throne of the queen were founded, and deserved well of the nation. They, moreover, presented an address to the queen, praying her to bestow some dignity in the church on Hoadley for his eminent services to both church and state. Hoadley had preached a sermon before the lord mayor, demonstrating the right to resist and depose bad kings, and defending the revolution, and had done far more than that, had published a treatise called "The Measure of Obedience to the Civil Magistrate," in which the same principles were advocated. These had drawn down on him Sacheverel's censure, and that of a far more powerful adversary, Dr. Atterbury, a high tory divine. The queen gave the commons a civil answer, but was by no means inclined to patronise Hoadley or his doctrines; for, though sitting on a revolution throne, she was as little pleased with the notion of dethroning sovereigns as her father had been. A private patron, however, a lady, came forward, and gave him the living of Streatham, and on the accession of George I. Hoadley rapidly rose to the bench, first to the bishopric of Bangor, and thence to those of Hereford, Salisbury, and Winchester in succession.

There was a busy stir at court regarding Sacheverel's sermons, as well as in the commons. Godolphin, the lord treasurer, who had been severely handled by the preacher at St. Paul's, under the name of Volpone, flew to the queen in a great rage, and insisted on Sacheverel being prosecuted for the attack on the principles of the revolution, which he contended reflected even on her, and the safety of her crown. The queen, however, knew that she had been spoken of by the preacher in the most flattering style, and as the attack was really against the whigs, whom she was trying to get rid of, she professed to be offended by the sermon, but was not eager to adopt severe measures. Marlborough, who knew very well what was aimed at, seconded Godolphin with all his power, declaring that if such men were allowed to go on, they would soon preach them all out of the kingdom. The law officers of the crown thought the best manner of treating the offender was to burn his book and shut him up in prison during the session. Others were of the same opinion, but the violent whigs were bent on his impeachment, Somers dissenting from this, and Sunderland decidedly for it. But the commons had settled the question for them. There had been some opposition to the impeachment in the commons itself, and Harley, who was at the bottom of the whole movement, had endeavoured to get rid of the prosecution by representing Sacheverel as a man too inconsiderable to be prosecuted by impeachment, and that, as to the sermon at St. Paul's, it might contain some things that one could not approve, but nothing great enough to warrant a charge of high crimes and misdemeanours, the whole affair being "a circumgyration of incoherent words, without any order."

When the impeachment was carried up to the lords, Sacheverel petitioned to be admitted to bail, but this was refused. The commons committed him to the custody of the deputy-usher of the black rod, but the lords afterwards admitted him to bail. The articles were carried up to the lords on the 13th of January, 1710, and Sacheverel drew up an answer, in which he wholly denied some of the articles, and endeavoured to justify himself in respect to the rest. The commons made a reply, and declared themselves ready to prove the charge. A long delay, however, took place before the day of trial could be fixed. Marlborough and his friends now appeared as indifferent to the prosecution as they were eager for it before, and Marlborough made his preparations to join the army in Flanders. The truth was, that there was a violent struggle going on at court which influenced the conduct of Marlborough. The queen was more than suspected of being favourable to Sacheverel, as influenced by Harley, Mrs. Masham, and the tories. When the doctor appeared before the commons, he was attended by Dr. Lancaster, the vice-chancellor of Oxford, and above a hundred of the most distinguished clergymen of London and other towns, conspicuous amongst them being several of the queen's own chaplains. From the moment that Sacheverel was taken into custody by the commons, the church and tory party had set all their engines to work to raise the populace. These agents were everywhere, distributing money, treating the mob to ale, and spreading the most alarming rumours - that the puritans, the pres- byterians, and the dissenters were all combined to pull down the church and restore the old republican practices - that the prosecution of Sacheverel was a trial of their strength. The pulpits resounded in all quarters with these alarms, with the intention of working up the people to a pitch of desperation, and they succeeded. The mob became furious, and paraded the streets and round the palace, crying, "God save the queen and Dr. Sacheverel! Queen and high church!"

Marlborough, aware of the queen's intention to dismiss lord Sunderland from his office, was doing his best to keep him there. He was almost daily mortified by seeing appointments, however, go to the other party. The earl of Essex dying, he asked the queen to bestow the lieutenancy of the Tower, which he had held, oh the duke of Northumberland, a son of Charles II. The queen informed him that she had given it to lord Rivers, who was familiarly styled by the whigs, "Tyburn Dick." But there was a Jack, too, namely, Jack Hill, as he was called, the brother of Mrs. Masham, to whom the queen desired Marlborough to give the colonelcy of Essex's regiment. Hill was totally unfit for the command, and Marlborough had a strong ground upon which to resist this piece of favouritism - so especially unpalatable to him; and he begged leave to lay down his own command; whereupon the queen told him that he might do as he pleased with the colonelcy. Marlborough, feeling the ground sliding from under him, prayed the queen that she would allow the duchess to retire from her offices in the household on the conclusion of peace, and that she would be good enough to transfer the offices to his daughters. This was a point which the duchess had been urging before. The answer of the queen was evasive, but Marlborough represented it in his favour. This was probably the reason why he did not wish to drive matters to extremities by continuing to oppose Sacheverel, whom he. saw the queen favoured; and he determined to depart before the trial came on.

But his subtle enemies about the queen took care not to allow his affected moderation to do him any good. Marlborough had once ventured to ask the queen to grant him the supreme command of the army for life in reward of his great victories - a request which only alarmed her majesty with the idea, if she did so, of setting over her a dictator. And now Harley and his party, through Mrs. Masham, informed the queen that the victorious army commanded by the duke was getting up a petition in order to place him in the life-long command that he aspired to. Greatly terrified at the information, and seeing in Marlborough another Oliver Cromwell gradually striding towards the dictatorship, Anne summoned her council, and made it a personal request to them, "that they would be mindful of their duty to her, and neither agree to any petition from the army which the duke should present to parliament, nor suffer Mrs. Masham to be taken from her." For this latter design was also attributed to Marlborough to add to her terror.

Marlborough took his departure "for Holland, and the trial of Sacheverel was fixed for the 27th of February in Westminster Hall. The scene was arranged exactly in the form of the house of lords, with seats for the peers in their due order. Near the throne a box furnished with curtains was placed for the queen, so that she could witness the whole in a state of incognita. On one side of the hall were ranged benches for the members of the house of commons, and on the other for peeresses and other ladies. A platform was erected for the members of the commons who conducted the impeachment, and another below the bar for the prisoner and his counsel. Opposite to the whole were galleries for the mass of spectators, which were so crowded that those beneath were in terror lest the whole should come down on their heads. The whole of Westminster Hall was densely thronged at an early hour, and there were great crowds outside. The mob pressed round the queen's sedan as she was carried to the hall, and cried, " God bless your majesty and the church!" while others added, "We hope your majesty is for God and Dr. Sacheverel! "

The noble ladies, who all crowded to take possession of the seats prepared for them, and who came in all their splendour of dress and beauty, prepared to see and be seen, yet, says Cunningham, expressed much anxiety lest the "Tatler" or the "Observator" should turn their costume into ridicule for the amusement of the London breakfast tables. Even in this busy and engrossing scene, lady Marlborough did not forget to assert her dignity and annoy the queen. Her office entitled her to take her place amongst the queen's personal attendants, and near to the royal person. As the queen had now for a long time steadily kept her at bay, and had not allowed her to come into her presence, this was an opportunity not to be lost. As she observed that the ladies-in-waiting all continued standing, although, as the queen was incognita, etiquette did not require it, she stepped to the queen's box, and whispered to her that she thought her majesty had forgotten to order the ladies to be seated, as was customary on such occasions. Anne, in a timid manner, said, "Oh, by all means, sit.'' The ladies obeyed except lady Hyde, the queen's kinswoman, who continued standing all the time behind the queen's chair; and the next day the duchess of Somerset, having royal blood in her own veins, and heiress of the great estates and honours of the house of Percy,, did the same, notwithstanding the duchess of' Marlborough told her that it made the other ladies look as though they were doing something improper.

The managers for the commons were the lords William Paulet and Coningsby, Sir Thomas Parker, Sir Joseph Jekyl, Sir John Hollis, Sir John Holland, Sir James Montague, Sir Peter King, recorder of the city of London, Mr. Robert Eyre, solicitor-general, Messieurs James Stan hope, Robert Walpole, Spencer Cowper, John Smith, John Dolben, and William Thompson. The prisoner was defended by Sir Simon Harcourt and Mr. Constantino Phipps, and was attended by Drs. Smallridge and Atterbury. The lord chancellor Cowper demanded of the lords whether it was their pleasure that Dr. Sacheverel should be called before them; and the answer being in the affirmative, he was placed at the bar, his friends Atterbury and Smallridge standing at his side. Silence being ordered, the doctor was asked whether he was ready to take his trial, to which he answered with great confidence that he was, and should always be ready to obey the laws of the land. The articles of impeachment were then read. They accused him of having publicly reflected on the late revolution, and suggested that it was brought about by odious and unjustifiable means; of having defamed the act of toleration, and cast scurrilous reflections on those who advocated religious toleration; of asserting that the church was in great peril from her majesty's administration; of maintaining the civil constitution of the country also was in danger; of stigmatising many of the dignitaries of the church - some of whom her majesty herself had placed in their important stations - as false brethren; and of libelling her majesty's ministers, and especially branding the lord high treasurer with the name of "Volpone;" and, finally, with having, in discharge of his sacred office, wickedly wrested and perverted the Holy Scriptures.

These charges were well supported by various members of the commons, and amongst these Robert Walpole particularly distinguished himself. The counsel for the doctor then pleaded in his behalf, and endeavoured to answer the arguments adduced against him. Sacheverel, however, was not contented with this; he delivered a defence himself which has been generally considered to be the work of Atterbury, and probably with good reason. In this he dwelt much on his responsibility as a clergyman,- and represented the interests of all his brethren and of the church as involved in this attack made upon them through his person. He expressed the utmost loyalty towards the queen and the constitution; denied having called in question the revolution, though he had certainly condemned in the strongest terms the resistance by which it was achieved. He declared himself in favour of the protestant succession, and asserted that, as his principle was that of non-resistance in all cases, he could not by any word or act of his own endanger the government as by law established; as if his very declaration of the principle of non-resistance and passive obedience did not condemn in toto the revolution, the means by which the queen came to the throne, and encourage all those who were seeking to restore popery and the Stuarts as the rightful religion and rightful possessors of the throne, both of which had been, according to his doctrines, forced from their legitimate place by ungodly and un-Christian violence; and he concluded by calling on God and his holy angels to witness that he had never been guilty of the wicked, seditious, or malicious acts imputed to him in the impeachment.

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