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Reign of Queen Anne (Continued) page 4


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The first parliament of Great Britain met on the 23rd of October, 1707. It became a question whether this should be deemed a new parliament or not. It was contended, on the one hand, that it was a new parliament because it had been let fall and had been revived by a proclamation, and that, therefore, all who had received places must be reflected. On the other hand, it was maintained that it was not a new parliament because it had not been summoned by a new writ. Harley asserted that it was merely the old parliament, but the duke of Marlborough contended that it ought to be considered a new one, and it was so far admitted that the speakership was put to the vote, and Mr. Smith was again elected. The queen, in her speech, endeavoured to make the best of the last unfortunate summer's military operations. The retreat of the imperialist troops on the Rhine was freely admitted, but it was considered an encouraging circumstance that the command there was now in the hands of the elector of Hanover, and it was announced that measures were taken for strengthening the forces in that quarter. Little could be said of the proceedings in the Netherlands, and less of those in Spain, including the fatal battle of Almanza; but the most was made of the attack upon and the bombardment of Toulon. But the speech promised renewed vigour in every quarter, and called for augmented supplies. The deficiencies of military and naval action - for we had also Buffered a considerable defeat at sea from the celebrated French admiral, Du Guai Trouin, off the Lizard Point, in which two ships of the line were taken and a third blown up - were endeavoured to be covered by dwelling on the happy event of the union.

The commons in their address seized on this salient point of congratulation, and declared it a mark of the Divine goodness that her majesty had been made the glorious instrument of this happy union, which would so strengthen the kingdom as to make it a terror to all its enemies. They spoke with great confidence of repairing the disasters of the last year, and promised to stand by her till she had recovered the whole Spanish monarchy. In the lords, however, matters did not go so smoothly. Lord Wharton moved that, before addressing the crown, they should appoint a committee of inquiry into the state of the nation. He dwelt strongly on the depression of trade, the great scarcity of money, and the gross mismanagement of the navy. In this he was supported by lord Somers, who, with Wharton, was desirous to get the incapable prince of Denmark removed from the admiralty, and to drive the tories Harley and St. John from office. The tories, who were blinded by their equal eagerness to ruin the duke of Marlborough, lord Godolphin, and the whigs generally, not perceiving the drift of Wharton and Somers, supported this motion, and it was carried. A day was then fixed for receiving a deputation from the sheriffs and merchants of London, who complained of the losses at sea for want of cruisers and convoys; and there was only too much truth in the complaint, which they supported by plenty of evidence.

The report of the committee was sent to the lord-admiral, and an official reply in the usual style, smoothing over the complaints, was returned by him. The tories then endeavoured to lay the blame on the ministry, but this was overruled. The commons went into a similar inquiry with little better result, for the head of the admiralty was too near to the crown for the inquiry to be properly pushed. They, however, passed a bill for the better protection of the commerce of the kingdom. They prepared another bill for abolishing the Scottish act of security; and as the Scottish privy council, which was to sit only till the meeting of the British parliament, displayed no haste in terminating its own existence, they passed a bill, which Somers had prepared and carried in the lords, for formally putting an end to that council, and establishing only one council for the whole kingdom.

When the queen gave her assent to these bills, she recommended an increase in the aids and auxiliaries granted to the king of Spain and the duke of Savoy. This produced a debate in the house of lords. Lord Peterborough, the only man who had done anything distinguished in the Spanish war, and who could have done wonders there if he had been properly encouraged, had, on the contrary, been coldly looked upon at court, in consequence of the complaints which the imbecile king Charles had made of him, for Peterborough had been very free in expressing his indignation as to the miserable management of the war. The queen had refused to see him, and he now demanded a parliamentary inquiry into his conduct. Accordingly, the question was entertained in both houses. The whole of his military proceedings, his negotiations for funds to support the war in Spain, and his disposal of the remittances furnished from home, were passed under review, and he produced such vouchers for his justification, both of living witnesses and original papers, that he was triumphantly acquitted by the prevailing sense of both houses, and the subject was dropped, though without proceeding to any formal resolution.

The earl of Rochester and lord Haversham, as well as other tory peers, declared the military genius displayed by lord Peterborough to be inferior to that of no general of the age, and they made some sharp reflections on the conduct of the earl of Galway. There can, indeed, be little doubt that I the brilliant military genius of the earl of Peterborough was! sacrificed to that of Marlborough. The court, where Marlborough's influence yet prevailed, and the whole body of the whigs, with whom Marlborough was allied, studiously kept Peterborough in the background. If he had been supported in Spain by armies even far inferior to those which Marlborough commanded in the Netherlands, he would have overrun all Spain, driven out the French, and finished the war in a few months. But finding himself left destitute of the necessary means, and exposed to the senseless opposition of the wretched Charles and his Austrian friends, he gave up the command, and could afterwards only witness the mismanagement of the war without any power to alter it. He now contended that they ought to contribute nine shillings in the pound rather than to make peace on any terms; and he offered to return to Spain and serve even under the earl of Galway, so that the war were but carried on in Spain with proper spirit. But his advice was quietly ignored. The earls of Rochester and Nottingham recommended that the campaign for one season in the Netherlands should be maintained merely on the defensive, in order to send twenty thousand men to Catalonia; but this, of course, Marlborough opposed with all his power. He contended that every man would be required in the Netherlands in order to retain the towns they had gained, and that any failure there would rouse the opposition party in Holland, which was already too strong, and was complaining heavily of the expenses of the war. Being asked by Rochester then, how troops were to be found for Spain and Savoy, he assured the house that measures were already concerted for raising the army under the duke of Savoy to forty thousand men, and also for sending powerful reinforcements to Spain. This finished the debate, and the lords now joined with the commons in an affectionate address to her majesty, declaring that the only means of obtaining an honourable peace was the entire recovery of Spain. To support these assurances by deeds, the commons voted the enormous sum of six millions for the supplies.

The queen, encouraged by this display of loyal support, wrote to the emperor, proposing that the chief command in Spain should be conferred on prince Eugene; but with this the court of Vienna did not think fit to comply, but sent instead count Staremberg, the general who in Austria was regarded as next in military genius to the prince.

We now come to a great revolution - a revolution in the ruling powers at court, which soon extended itself to the ruling powers in the field, which altered the whole policy of England, and produced consequences which continued to influence the fortunes of this country and of all Europe for a long period. Such a revolution, it might be supposed, originated with nothing less than the most powerful and gifted men of the nation, with the greatest statesmen and diplomatists. Nothing of the kind: like many such mighty events affecting the prosperity of nations and the happiness of millions, it originated simply on the backstairs of the palace, and in the queen merely changing her favourite. The duchess of Marlborough had introduced into the palace when she was groom of the stole, mistress of the robes, and more queen than the queen herself, a poor relation of her own, one Abigail Hill, her niece. Abigail, from whose position as a bedchamber woman, and from whose singular rise and fortunes all women of low degree and intriguing character have derived the name of Abigails, being placed so near the queen, soon caught her eye, took her fancy, and speedily became prime favourite. Harley, the tory minister, being also her uncle as lady Marlborough was her aunt, with equal tact, discovered her to be a useful tool for him. By working with her he eventually upset the reign of the Marlboroughs, drove the duchess from her long domination over the palace, drove Marlborough from the head of the army, a feat that Louis XIV. himself could not achieve; drove the whigs from power, reversed the whole policy of the nation, and just as Marlborough had completely beaten the French in the Netherlands, and brought the proud Louis of France to his knees, and the allied army might have marched to Paris as we did in our days, and have dictated its own terms for the peace of Europe, and indemnification for the past, the tories, to destroy all the whig triumphs, and those of the whig general, Marlborough, released Louis from all his troubles by the peace of Utrecht, rendered abortive all the blood which had been spilled since the revolution of 1688, all the money spent in these wars, and all the results of the splendid but now useless victories of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet. And the whole of these wonderful reactionary measures thus sprang from what Shakespeare calls "a trick not worth an egg;" from a young woman with empty pockets but a scheming brain, a red nose and a smooth tongue, being accidentally introduced as an "Abigail" in the queen's bedchamber. From such causes spring many of the most astounding changes of empires; to such influence are subjected the lives and fortunes of the swarming majority of nations.

The duchess of Marlborough, trusting to her long absolute sway over the mind of queen Anne, begun when she was a princess; to the firm establishment of the whig faction in power, her own work, because the tories had opposed the five thousand pounds a year which the queen, at the instigation of the duchess, demanded for Marlborough before he had even won the battle of Blenheim; and finally, relying on the great services which Marlborough had now rendered, had become intolerable in her tyranny over the queen. The manner in which she wrote and spoke to the queen in their style of calling one another Mrs. Morley and Mrs. Freeman, is unexampled in the history of courts and crowned heads. The Marlboroughs all this time were making use, not only of their position to enjoy power, but to scrape up money with an insatiable and unblushing avarice. They had got the noble crown property of Woodstock made over for ever to them; the government was expending enormous sums in building and adorning Blenheim for them; the duke had his ten thousand pounds a year as commander of the allied armies in Flanders, and minted money out of his post, his opportunities, and out of the poor soldiers by every possible means; he received large bribes for the sale of commissions over the heads of meritorious but unpatronised officers; he made large sums by returning regiments complete which were very incomplete, pocketing the pay of all the soldiers who stood in the catalogues of the regiments, but existed nowhere else; and deriving great emolument from contracts for the army, by which the poor soldiers were defrauded of their proper quantity of food, clothes, bedding, and everything. The duchess meantime held the privy purse in her unrelaxing grasp, keeping the queen so poor that she had the utmost difficulty in making the smallest present, or presenting the customary gratuities on various occasions. It was remarked that queen Anne never gave such munificent sums as presents as her predecessors; the fact being that she had not the means. Whenever she wanted a sum from her privy purse for any such purpose, the haughty duchess would tell her "it was not fit to squander away money whilst so heavy a war lasted;" at the same time that she and her husband were grasping the most enormous sums; had acquired an income of no less than ninety-four thousand pounds per annum - the duke's salaries and emoluments amounting to sixty-four thousand pounds. At the same time the duchess never rested till she had obtained a grant of a portion of the ground adjoining St. James's palace, on which the Marlboroughs built the present Marlborough House; but, luckily for the country, obtained the grant only for fifty years. The duchess is believed - and, we think, on sufficient grounds - to have appropriated all the contents of the privy purse that were not inexorably demanded for the royal establishment; the queen, except in mere food, clothing, and lodging, being as poor as her poorest subject. And even her clothes were all claimed by the duchess of Marlborough as keeper of the robes and groom of the stole, and appropriated to her own use, except a few articles of inferior value, which she doled out to the bedchamber women.

On one occasion queen Anne wished to give fifty guineas to a Mrs. Dalrymple, who had brought her from Scotland a fine japanned cabinet of more than that value; but it was more than six months before she could procure the money. On another occasion she learned that Sir Andrew Foster, a gentleman who had been totally ruined by his devoted adhesion to her father's fortunes, had perished of absolute starvation in his old age in some wretched place in London, and she ordered his remains to be decently interred; but she had to borrow twenty guineas for this purpose from lady Fretcheville, one of her ladies in waiting.

The queen, reduced to this miserable state of slavery by her imperious and insatiable bedchamber woman, groaned under the degrading thraldom without having strength to break her bondage. Anne was a woman of a really good-natured disposition, but indolent, self-indulgent, and, in consequence, of a corpulent and gouty frame. She was always anxious, if possible, to soothe the two furious factions of whig and tory, by which the peace of her life, like that of her predecessor, was rent to fragments. Her constant exhortation in her speeches to them was to come to terms of accord for the good of the country. She abhorred all cruelty, and never would, if she could avoid it, sign a warrant for any one's execution. Yet her mild temper was so far overruled that, during her reign, Defoe, the immortal author of "Robinson Crusoe," had his ears cut off, besides having to stand thrice in the pillory; and Edmund Curl, the publisher, lost first one ear, then the other, and lastly the remains of both. But these barbarities were not with the good-will of Anne; whilst, on the other hand, kept as she was, by a most insolent virago, in poverty, she gave one of the most munificent gifts ever made by a monarch - the tenths and first- fruits to the poor clergy; and achieved the most beneficial national event which any monarch had yet done - the union of the kingdoms.

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