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Reign of Queen Anne (Continued) page 5


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The time was now approaching, however, for her liberation from the heavy yoke of Sarah of Marlborough. This said Sarah, originally Sarah Jennings, had not only taken care of herself but of her daughters. One she had married to the son of lord Godolphin, the prime minister; another to the earl of Sunderland, whom she had forced on the queen as lord privy seal, and afterwards secretary of state, in which offices he soon was guilty of gross peculations. Besides this, the all-engrossing duchess had planned, whenever she should resign her offices in the household, to fix her daughters in them, with salaries and perquisites of from six to eight thousand pounds a year.

But the duchess, in the midst of power and pride, had still for some time felt the ground mysteriously gliding from under her feet. The suspicion that there was some one who had got to the ear of the queen in spite of all her vigilance, broke upon the duchess and her party; but for some time they were totally at a loss to conceive who it could be. The duchess suggested that it might be George Churchill, the favourite of the prince of Denmark; but Marlborough him-, self rejected this idea, saying that the queen certainly had such a poor opinion of his brother George that she never spoke to him. Light, however, as to the true source began to break. Mrs. Danvers, who thought she was dying, and whose daughter had been made a bedchamber woman instead of one Mrs. Vain, whom the duchess wished to put in, sent for the duchess, and implored her after her death to let her daughter retain her place. In this conversation Mrs. Danvers spoke a great deal against Mrs. Hill - or Miss Hill, as Abigail would now be called - and of her secret enmity to the duchess. This turned the thoughts of the jealous duchess towards her niece; and a circumstance soon satisfied her that she had discovered her secret enemy. The duchess says - u Being with the queen, to whom I had come very privately by a secret passage from my lodging to the royal bedchamber, on a sudden this woman, Abigail, not knowing I was there, came in with the boldest and gayest air possible; but, upon the sight of me, stopped, and immediately asked, making a most solemn curtsey, 'Did your majesty ring?' and then went out again. This singular behaviour needed no interpreter now to make it understood." The whole fury of the impetuous duchess was at once turned on her niece, whom she had so unluckily for herself introduced into the royal household. She describes her as being the daughter of one Hill, a merchant of London, who had married her own aunt, one of two-and-twenty children; that this Hill had ruined himself, and that application had been made to her to assist the family; that she took Abigail first into her own house, and then put her into the place of a bedchamber woman to the queen, never suspecting in the poor girl a most fatal rival, destined to become lady Masham, and the queen's favourite as absolute as she was now herself. The duchess also placed the other sister as laundress in the family of the young duke of Gloucester, and after his death got her a pension of two hundred pounds out of the privy purse. One of the boys she got into the customs, and the other, known by the familiar name of "honest Jack Hill," was first made page to the prince of Denmark, then groom of the bedchamber to the duke of Gloucester, and finally an officer in the army, and aide-de-camp to Marlborough himself, who, however, seems to have thought him a very poor creature.

After all this it may be imagined what was the denunciation of Abigail Hill for base ingratitude by the infuriated duchess. It was in vain that the poor niece pleaded that she had done nothing to prejudice the queen against the duchess; the incensed lady now pursued the inquiry into her rival's proceedings with indefatigable zeal, and she speedily came upon still more astounding circumstances. She found that Abigail Hill was, in reality, no longer Abigail Hill; that she had for a whole year been privately married to Mr. Masham, groom of the bedchamber to the prince of Denmark, and that the queen herself had honoured this secret marriage by her presence at Dr. Arbuthnot's lodgings, at which time Anne, the duchess now remembered, had called for a round sum from the privy purse. In short, the duchess herself tells us that, in less than a week after the inquiries, she discovered that her cousin "was become an absolute favourite." What was still more alarming, when she upbraided Mrs. Mashain with these things, she received a letter from her, written in so splendid a style, that she was sure only Harley could have composed it. Though she was no doubt mistaken in this, for Mrs. Masham wrote far more elegantly than either Harley or the duchess, yet it seemed to open up to the duchess's imagination the wider and more appalling ramifications of the plot. Harley, in fact, was in league with Mrs. Masham, and through her was operating on the queen so as to utterly overthrow the influence with Anne of the duchess, the duke, and all the whigs. Mrs. Masham, the duchess discovered, was in the habit of going continually to the queen when the prince was asleep, and was generally two hours every day in private with her, and that, beyond all dispute, "Mr. Harley's correspondence and interest at court was by means of this woman."

The alarmed duchess wrote to the duke to inform him of these ominous discoveries, and the great general could return her no better answer than to speak to Mrs. Masham about her interviews with the queen, as he said she must be grateful; as if the great courtier as well as general was not well aware how little gratitude or any other restraint avails where the alluring countenance of a sovereign is concerned. It was a mere catching at straws by the drowning. For some time the queen seemed divided betwixt the old affection for the duchess and the new one for Mrs. Masham; but the duchess certainly did her best, by annoying the queen with her angry and insolent letters, to alienate the royal mind from her. Anne, with all her indolence and good nature, and the old propensity inherent in her family for favouritism, had yet a spirit of stubborn resentment in her when once moved. And the duchess had wounded the queen unpardonably in her self-love, when she was not aware of it. Anne had overheard her railing at her to Mrs. Masham, and expressing an utter loathing and hatred of her. person. This was before she knew that Abigail was in the queen's favour. Not only, however, did the duchess contrive, amidst all her violence and insolence, to importune

the queen for a restoration to her old affection, and for the dismissal of Mrs. Masham, but she employed lord Godolphin on the same errand. Anne still professed all her wonted regard for her dear Mrs. Freeman, but every day Mrs. Masham took deeper hold on the queen's fancy, and the duchess felt that she was fast losing that hold. The writer of the " Other side of the Question," supposed to be Ralph, the historian, who was employed to answer the duchess's "Account of her Conduct," says, "The grand inference your grace draws is, that you were betrayed, but the inferences of the world are such as these: - That the queen was a captive and you her gaoler; that she was neither mistress of her power nor free to express her inclinations; that she was so far overawed by a length of oppression, as to dread the very approach of her tormentress; that she was forced to unbosom herself by stealth; and that she durst not enter upon a contest with your grace, even to set herself free from your unsupportable tyranny, a situation so terrible that no private person would, for any consideration, submit to it, and consequently, what a sovereign might justly endeavour, at almost any rate, to be delivered from."

This was true enough, but it may still be doubted whether Anne would have had sufficient firmness in the end to break with the Marlboroughs, had she not been kept up to it by the acts of Harley. Through the medium of his rising cousin, Mrs. Masham, he had frequent interviews with the queen, without the knowledge of the ever-watchful duchess, who, whatever her pride and her temper, was a formidable antagonist on account of her abilities. She had been the making of her own husband, for, as she did not hesitate te say, had she not cleared the way for him, his military talents would have had no opportunity to display themselves, and now she was all eyes, ears, and vigilance to regain her lost influence, and damage the enemies, who, with equal subtlety, were operating against her. In these labours they had a zealous coadjutor in the duke's brother, admiral Churchill, who was a red-hot tory, and though not intending to injure his own family did this by doing all in his power to overthrow the whigs. Marlborough, who cared nothing for parties, except as they contributed to his power and gain, was quite ready to abandon the whigs himself, if he could make sure of Harley and Mrs. Masham. But as he could not trust them, and as they meant to get rid of him and his wife, there was nothing for it but still endeavouring to win back the queen's good will. For this purpose Marlborough entreated his angry wife to be calm and politic; but calmness was not in the duchess's nature. She continued to annoy the queen by her interviews and letters, which were full of hard thrusts at the Masham; and Anne continued to protest all her ancient regard for Mrs. Freeman, though more and more determined never to come under the yoke any more.

At this crisis an unlucky incident for the cunning Harley occurred. He had in his office one William Greg, a clerk who was detected in a treasonable correspondence with Chamillart, the French minister. He was arrested and thrown into the Old Bailey. The whigs hoped to be able to implicate Harley himself in this secret correspondence. There had just been an attempt to get lord Godolphin dismissed from his office, and he, lord Marlborough, his son-in- law Sunderland, and their party now seized eagerly on this chance to expel Harley and his acute coadjutor, St. John, from the cabinet. Seven lords, including these, and all whigs, were deputed to examine Greg in prison, and are said to have laboured hard to induce Greg to accuse Harley; but they were disappointed. Greg remained firm, was tried, condemned, and hanged. Alexander Valiere, John Bara, and Claude Baude, the secretary of the ambassador to the duke of Savoy, with that minister's consent, were also imprisoned on the charge of carrying Greg's correspondence to the governor and commissioners of Calais and Boulogne. On the scaffold Greg was said to have delivered a paper to the ordinary, clearing Harley altogether; but this was not produced till Harley was once more in the ascendant. The lords deputed to examine Greg, and the smugglers Bara and Valiere, declared that Greg had informed them that Harley had employed these men to carry correspondence, and that all the papers in the office of Harley lay about so openly that any one might read them. Both these assertions, and the paper said to have been left by Greg, had much that is doubtful about them. The one statement proceeded from the whigs evidently to destroy Harley; the Greg paper, on the other hand, not being produced till Harley was out of danger, was quite as evidently the work of Harley to clear his character. The charges, however, were sufficient to drive Harley and St. John from office for the time. When the council next met, the duke of Somerset rose, and pointing to Harley, said rudely to the queen, that if she suffered that fellow to treat of affairs in the absence of Marlborough and Godolphin, he could not serve her. Marlborough and Godolphin continued to absent themselves from the council, and the queen was compelled to dismiss Harley. With him went out St. John, the secretary of war, and Mr. Robert Walpole, a young man, whose name was destined to fill a large space of history under the Georges, was put into his place. This supersedence St. John never forgave Walpole, and a fierce hatred raged betwixt them so long as St. John lived. Besides these leaders, Sir Simon Harcourt, the attorney-general, a strong partisan of Harley, went out, and was succeeded by Mr. Henry Boyle, chancellor of the exchequer, who was succeeded in that office by Mr. Smith, the speaker of the commons. Sir Thomas Monsell, comptroller of the household, was also displaced. The leading whigs even instigated the house of commons to petition the queen to dismiss Mrs. Masham; but the house had too much consciousness of its own dignity to condescend to so petty a malice as urging the dismissal of a mere toilette woman of the queen's. There can be little doubt that the duchess was at the bottom of this attempt, for at the same time lord Marlborough threatened to throw up his command of the army: as neither the queen nor the nation were yet prepared for this, it was felt by the duke and duchess to be a great blow in their favour; and the duchess immediately followed it up by going to the queen, and saying that she perceived that the duke of Marlborough and lord Godolphin would very soon be obliged to quit her majesty's service, and in that case it would be impossible for herself to remain in it, and therefore she hoped her majesty would allow her to resign her offices in favour of her daughters, lady Rialton, the daughter-in- law of Godolphin, and lady Sunderland. This was a master stroke, for if the queen consented, she had secured these opulent offices in her family, and could, through her daughters, always penetrate into and meddle with everything in the royal household as much as if she was there herself. Anne, who perceived her cunning, replied that this could never be, because she had resolved never to part with the duchess herself. But the pertinacious duchess was not thrown out by this manoeuvre; she replied that if the duke should be obliged to quit her service, she must be obliged to quit it too, and in that case she hoped her majesty would give her posts to her daughters. And whatever was Anne's answer to get rid of her importunity, the duchess declared that the queen did promise this, and afterwards demanded the fulfilment of the promise with most undaunted vociferation. The duchess was not deceived by Harley's dismissal. She felt that it was only temporary, and that through Mrs. Masham he could still influence the mind of the queen as he pleased; and the event ere long proved her sagacity.

Whilst things were on this footing, the nation was alarmed by an attempt at invasion. Louis XIV. had at length been persuaded that a diversion in Scotland would have a very advantageous effect, by preventing England sending so many troops and supplies against him to the continent. Early in February, therefore, an emissary was sent over to Scotland in the person of Charles Fleming, brother of the earl of Wigton. He was to see the leading Jacobites, and assure them that their king was coming immediately, and that as soon as the French fleet appeared in sight they were to proclaim the king everywhere, raise the country, seize arms, and open up again their previous communications with persons within the different forts and garrisons - thus proving that they had tampered with the troops and garrisons of Scotland, and that, as asserted by different historians, the regular troops in that country, about two thousand five hundred, were not to be trusted by the English. They were also to seize the equivalent money, which was still lying in the castle of Edinburgh.

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