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Reign of Queen Anne (Continued) page 13


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At this daring apostrophe the countess of Sunderland, Marlborough's second daughter, and a lady of very different character to that of her mother - celebrated equally for her beauty and piety - was observed to be so shocked, knowing the appeal to God to be utterly false, and, therefore, impious, that she burst into tears. Very different, however, was the conduct of the ladies and of the spectators in general. The queen herself was felt to be in favour of Dr. Sacheverel as the representative of high churchism and toryism, as the instrument of Harley and his faction, who was by this and a score of other means crushing the whig power. Her chaplains had been crowding about the prisoner and openly supporting him by their presence. Numbers of the court ladies testified their sympathy by the most palpable signs; and the duchess of Hamilton made herself a most zealous partisan in asserting the doctor's innocence.

As the doctor went to and from the hall, his chair was thronged round by dense crowds, which attended him to his lodgings in the Temple, or thence to Westminster Hall. Numbers pressed forward to kiss his hand; they lifted their hats to him with the utmost reverence. The windows were crowded by ladies and gentlemen, who cheered him vociferously, and many flung down presents to him. The doctor returned the salutations by continual bows and smiles, and seemed wonderfully elated by his sudden consequence. His chairmen seemed to partake of his glory, and stepped on as proudly as if they had been carrying the queen. "This huzzaing," says Defoe, "made the doctor so popular, that the ladies began to talk of falling in love with him; but this was only a prelude to the high church affair. An essay was to be made on the mob, and the huzzaing of the rabble was to be artfully improved." Accordingly, after the trial the next day, February 28th, the mob assembled in dense masses - sweeps, link-boys, butchers, by a sturdy guard of whom the doctor was always escorted to and from the hall, collected in the city - and began to cry, "Down with the dissenters! high church for ever!" And they soon put their cries in practice by assaulting the dissenting chapels, and began to sack their interiors. The tory writers of the time pretend that the rioters did this of their own accord, as the mobs had destroyed the catholic chapels in 1688; but this was not the case. The proceedings of the mob were stimulated and directed by gentlemen, who followed them in hackney coaches, according to Cunningham, who is the only writer who has furnished us with full details of these outrages. He says there were other gentlemen in disguise mingling with the crowds, and inciting the rabble by distributing money amongst them. There was no legal proof of this, he says; " but, amongst others, there were some of her majesty's guards and watermen taken in the very act of rioting, so that the court itself was not free from suspicion.

The mob began their attack on the chapel of Mr. Burgess, a dissenting minister, near Lincoln's Inn Fields. They toro down all the benches, pews, and the pulpit itself, and carried them, with the cushions, bibles, sconces, &c., into Lincoln's Inn Fields, where they made a bonfire of them, shouting, " High Church and Sacheverel! " If they could have found the venerable old minister himself they vowed they would kill him; but he had fled to a friend's house, where he lay concealed. The rioters then proceeded to Mr. Earl's chapel in Long Acre; Mr. Bradbury's, in New Street, Shoe Lane; Mr. Tayler's, in Leather Lane; Mr. Wright's, in Blackfriars; Mr. Hamilton's, in Clerkenwell; all of which they ransacked in the same way. In Clerkenwell they committed a blunder, which showed their ignorance of who really were dissenters and who not, for they saw the episcopal chapel of St. John's parish without a steeple, and setting it down for a dissenting chapel, they pulled it down in their blind fury. They then directed their rage against the house of bishop Burnet, which stood on the other side of St. John's Square, and attempted to demolish it. This they must have done under instructions from their disguised instigators, for Burnet was hated by the high church and tory party for the distinguished part which he had borne in the revolution, for his i constant attachment to king William and Iiis measures, and especially for his advocacy of toleration. They vowed they would put the low church bishop to death if they could catch him; but the respectable inhabitants vigorously interposed in defence of the bishop's house and life, and the mob were compelled to desist.

So long as the rioters were only burning and ruining the dissenting chapels, the court remained most calmly quiescent; but when the news came that they were beginning to attack "low church as by law established," there was a bustle and a fright at St. James's. This fright was wonderfully increased when Sunderland rushed into the presence of the queen and announced that the mob was on the march to pull down and rifle the Bank of England in honour of "high church and Dr. Sacheverel." At this news the queen turned deadly pale, and trembled. She bade Sunderland send instantly the horse and foot guards and disperse the rioters. Captain Horsey, the officer on duty at St. James's, was summoned into the royal presence, and Sunderland delivered to him the queen's order to disperse the mob, but to use discretion, and not to proceed to extremities. Horsey was one of the anti-Marlborough faction, and received the command in evident dudgeon. "Am I to preach to the mob, or am I to fight them?" he asked. "If you want preaching, please to send some one with me who is a better hand at holding forth than I am; if you want fighting, it is my trade, and I will do my best."

Sunderland could only reiterate the order to use discretion and avoid bloodshed, except in case of absolute necessity. Horsey found no difficulty in dispersing the rabble, who were more valiant against peaceable dissenters than against soldiers. In one or two places they seemed as though they would make a stand; but on any attempt of the guards to charge them they flew like leaves before the wind. The queen, on finding that several of her own guards, trumpeters, and watermen were taken amongst the mob, declared that she would repair all the damage they had done at her own cost, and that the offenders should stand their trials without any favour on her part. The men, however, showed no concern whatever. Like the mob, they were persuaded that they had only been rioting for the queen and Dr. Sacheverel; and the next day some of the implicated guards declared that the same demonstrations would be made all over the kingdom. Cunningham, the historian, was so disgusted with what he called the inconsistency of the queen in at once countenancing and discountenancing these popular demonstrations, that he breaks forth into a fierce tirade against the rule of women altogether, declaring that it is nothing wonderful that women should be inconsistent, since their wills are nothing but humour or fancy, which is rendered peevish by old age, and apt to turn to revenge on an affront; and he highly praises France for barring them from the throne by the Salic law.

The guards, however, were doubled the next day at the palace, and the train-bands of Westminster were ordered to remain under arms during the trial. The commons prayed her majesty to take all necessary measures for securing the public peace against papists, non-jurors, and other enemies of the crown and realm. The rioters who were seized were tried, and two of them condemned to death, but both were reprieved.

The trial lasted for three weeks, and every day the same crowds assembled, the same hurraing of Sacheverel, the same appeals to the queen on behalf of God, the church, and Dr. Sacheverel, a strange trinity, were shouted by the mob. No one scarcely dared to appear abroad without an artificial oak-leaf in his hat, which was considered the badge of restored monarchy, and all the time the doctor carried the air of a conqueror. The punishment, if rigorously carried out, in case of conviction, might deprive him of his ears, and shut him up in prison for some years. Eight years after this, when the whigs were in power, another clergyman, Mr. Bisse, was set twice in the pillory, imprisoned four years, and fined six hundred pounds for seditious sermons, and Defoe had lost his ears for much less. But none of these things troubled the doctor, who revelled in the glory of his popularity. The duchess of Marlborough has left us one of her sharply marked sketches of him during the trial, which is worth preserving. "It must be owned that a person more fitted for a tool could not have been picked out of the whole nation, for he had not learning enough to write or speak true English, as all his compositions witness, but a heap of bombast, ill-connected words at command, which do excellently well with such as he was to move. He had so little sense as even to design and effect that popularity, which now became his portion, and which a wise and good man knows not how to bear with. He had a haughty, insolent air, which his friends found occasion after to complain of; but it made his presence more graceful in public. His person was framed well for the purpose, and he dressed well. A good assurance, clean gloves, white handkerchief well managed, with other suitable accomplishments, moved the hearts of many at his appearance; and the solemnity of the trial added much to a pity and concern which had nothing in reason or justice to support them. The weaker part of the ladies were more like mad or bewitched than like persons in their senses. A speech, exquisitely contrived to move pity, was put into his mouth, full of an impious piety, denying the greater part of the charge, which the man had been known to boast of before, with solemn appeals to God, and such applications of scripture as would make any serious person tremble."

At length, on the 10th of March, the lords adjourned to their own house to consider this point, raised by the counsel for Sacheverel, whether in prosecutions by impeachments, the particular words supposed to be criminal should be expressly specified in such impeachments. The question was referred to the judges, who decided that the particular words ought to be so specified. It was objected that the judges had decided according to the rules of Westminster Hall, and not according to the usages of parliament, and it was resolved to adhere to the usages of parliament, lest it should become a practice for the judges to decide on questions of parliamentary right and privilege. On the 16th of March the lords came to the consideration of their judgment, and the queen attended incognita to hear the debate, which was long and earnest. The great point was that which had been raised by Sacheverel's sermons, how far revolution and resistance were justifiable. Many of the tory lords and bishops thought the less said about the revolution the better. Of this opinion, especially, was the earl Ferrars, and Hooper, bishop of Bath and Wells, who thought that resistance might be resorted to in some extraordinary cases, but that the maxim should be concealed from the people, who were naturally only too apt to resist. That the revolution was not a thing to be boasted of, but rather for a mantle to be thrown over, and that it had better be called a vacancy or an abdication. Others again took lower ground, unwilling to discuss the great principles, but contended that Sacheverel had said many foolish things, which, however, did not amount to a misdemeanour, or if they did, should be tried at common law. Amongst these were the archbishop of York, the duke of Buckingham, the earl Ferrars, and other tory leaders. On the other hand lord Wharton and the duke of Leeds defended the revolution in the fullest manner. Wharton said that the doctor's speech was a full condemnation of his sermon. That all that he had advanced about non-resistance and unlimited obedience, were false and sheer nonsense. That the churchmen had shown plain enough, when there was occasion, that passive obedience was not their practice; and that if the revolution was not lawful, members in that house, and a vast number without, were guilty of murder and bloodshed, and that the queen herself was no sovereign, for her title was founded altogether on the revolution.

The duke of Leeds, in an eloquent speech, exclaimed, "What, king William set down in sermons as a usurper! The revolution a rebellion! If that enterprise had not succeeded, then, indeed, both these assertions would have been made, and the judges would have pronounced all of us who then stood up in defence of our country, our religion, and our laws, rebels. But the prince of Orange's cause has been pronounced by God and man just; and since he has been acknowledged in our public records to be the deliverer, guardian, and preserver of our nation, and his enterprise to be most glorious, and the establishment of our present government, how can there be any debate amongst your lordships about this matter?" And the old man declared that as he had taken an active part in promoting the revolution, he was still ready, if need were, to meet those who took an opposite view, not only in parliament upon it, but in the field. The duke of Argyll said that the clergy in all ages had delivered up the rights and privileges of the people, preaching up the king's power in order the more easily to govern him, and that, therefore, they ought not to be suffered to meddle with politics. But this, at least, was not true in this case, for some of the bishops warmly defended the revolution and the principle of it, particularly the bishop of Salisbury, who severely handled the doctor. In the end, however, Sacheverel was pronounced guilty by a majority of seventeen; but four-and- thirty peers entered a protest against the judgment, and his sentence bore no proportion to the usual ones in such cases. He was merely suspended from preaching for two years, and his sermons condemned to be burnt by the common hangman.

This gentle sentence was regarded by the people and the tories as a real triumph. It was proof of the ascendancy of the whig party, and of the fear of offending the public. The event was celebrated by Sacheverel's mob friends by bonfires, and by the inhabitants of London and Westminster by illuminations. There was plenty of beer supplied to the populace from some quarter, and every one passing along was compelled to drink the health of Dr. Sacheverel, the champion of the church. Sacheverel himself went from house to house in a state of triumph to thank the lords and gentlemen who had taken his side. From some of these, as the duke of Argyll, he met with a rebuff, but the great doctor, with a roaring mob at his heels, was generally flatteringly received, and he took care to boast that after his sentence it was clear that the whigs were down and the church was saved. The University of Oxford, which had received a snub from the lords by their ordering its famous decree, asserting the absolute authority and indefeasible right of princes, to be burnt with Sacheverel's sermons, was loud in professed triumph and sympathy for the doctor. The house of commons was indignant at the lenity of his treatment, and declared that his sentence was an actual benefit to him, by exempting him from the duties of his living, and enabling him to go about fomenting sedition.

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