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The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 14

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It is certain that a bold scheme of this kind, combined with all the other necessary arrangements, would have greatly startled the whig party, and might for a time have been successful. If the pretender had had a powerful armament ready in the ports of France; if the Highlands had been well prepared to make a descent on England, and the Jacobites and tories duly instructed to surround and support the pretender on his thus revealing himself in the very midst of London and of parliament, sanctioned by the queen, the consequences might have been extraordinary. But, had all these matters been perfectly arranged, there were a thousand chances against their being matured before their full detection took place. The whigs were a party powerful and alert; the highlands had been tested; the duke of Breadalbane had been sent down to Scotland, and it was spread through the hills that the pretender would be there before the end of May; and one Mackintosh, of Borlum, had been sent over from Bar-le-duc with a great number of commissions from the pretender. But it does not appear that these things had produced much sensation in the highlands. It would have been necessary for the chevalier to have gone thither in person to call forth the necessary enthusiasm of the Gaels, and that would not agree with his sudden appearance in London. Had he really made this startling appearance there, though this apparition might have paralysed the whigs for a moment, it would not have required long to enable them to recover themselves and prepare for resistance, at the same time that the Hanoverian tories would have been sure to join with them. A short civil war could have been the only result, ending in one more expulsion of the Stuart, in whose assurances of freedom and religious toleration the nation at large had no faith.

But there was another circumstance taken for granted in such a scheme which would never have been realised - the consent of the queen. Anne, like most other sovereigns, abhorred the idea of a successor. She never liked the contemplation of the occupation of her throne after death, much less did she relish the presence of a competitor during her lifetime. In her days of disease and weakness she had enough to do to manage her ministry, much less to encounter a prospect of divided authority either from Hanover or St. Germains. She would not admit a single member of the electoral house to her metropolis, much less one who must be regarded by his own party as the rightful king, and she as the usurper. There is no doubt that Anne was well convinced that the pretender was her own brother; that she was tormented in her mind, as her latter days drew on, with the reflection that she had joined in the base scheme of branding his birth as spurious, and was occupying the throne which was his proper claim so far as hereditary right was concerned. And although the nation had determined against hereditary right, and had justly excluded his father and himself from the throne on account of their adhesion to a faith which was hostile to the best interests of the country, yet Anne, surrounded by those who were zealously endeavouring to bring in this brother again, was haunted with secret remorse and pangs of conscience for what she only regarded as her usurpation. She would, in fact, have gladly given her consent to his being her successor could she have prevailed on him to become protestant; but, as she failed in this endeavour, it was not likely that she would ever be persuaded to adopt Berwick's chimerical scheme. She would not adopt it, because she was as firmly attached to the English church as her brother was to the Roman; and she would not adopt it, even had he consented to proselytise, for the reason stated - because she loved her power, and would not risk it for any consideration whilst she retained a spark of existence.

There was still another obstacle - the unsatisfactory conduct of Oxford, who had professed great zeal for the pretender till he got the peace of Utrecht signed, because this secured him the vote of the Jacobites, but who since then had trifled with them, and never could be brought to any positive decision. Berwick had sent over the abbe Gualtier to endeavour to bring Oxford to a point. Gualtier soon informed his employer that Oxford was actively corresponding with the house of Hanover, and, therefore, Berwick and De Torcy wrote a joint letter to him, putting the plain question, what measures he had taken to secure the interests of the pretender in case of the death of the queen, which no one could now suppose to be far off. Oxford, with unwonted candour this time, replied that, if the queen died soon, the affairs of the prince and of the cabinet too were ruined without resource. This satisfied them that he had never really been in earnest in the pretender's cause, or he would long ago have taken measures for his advantage, or would have told them that he found it impossible. They determined, therefore, to throw the interests of the Jacobites into the party of Bolingbroke, and this was another step in Oxford's fall. They managed to set lady Masham warmly against him, and this undermined him more than ever with the queen.

Berwick wrote to many of the Jacobites, and amongst them to Ormonde, telling them that now was the time to bestir themselves; that as the queen could not last long, they ought to be prepared with their measures; that it was necessary to awake from their lethargy, and not be taken by surprise; for if the queen died before they were ready, all was lost for ever; that their own interests were identical with those of the pretender; that there was no longer time for hesitation; they must choose betwixt his restoration and their own ruin. The pretender himself was all activity, for he was watched both from London and Hanover. In May he was at Plombieres, drinking the waters; but on the 1st of June, being informed that the electoral prince was about to embark for England, he suddenly returned to Bar-le-duc. It was reported by the secret agents that the duke of Berwick was there incognito, and that something of great interest was evidently in agitation. What it was, however, was kept profoundly secret; but there were whispers of the pretender's speedy departure with his immediate followers.

The scene grew every day more busy as the queen became more obviously failing. Harley, at Hanover, was plying the elector and his family with reasons why the prince ought not to go to England. The elector himself appeared quite of the same opinion, but not so the electress or her son. The electress, who was now nearly eighty-four, and who was undoubtedly a woman of a very superior character, still had that trace of earthly ambition in her, that she used frequently to say she should die contented if she could only once for a little while feel the crown of England on her head. She was the youngest daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, who had ruined her husband by a similar longing after a far less resplendent diadem. When pressed by Harley, the electress and her son presented him with a memorial, which he was desired to forward to the queen. In this they announced, on the good authority of their own agent, that the pretender was preparing an expedition to land in Scotland, where he was expected, calculating on the great deficiency of troops in Great Britain. Under these circumstances they represented the necessity of a member of the electoral family residing in England to give encouragement to the friends of the protestant religion, and that a pension and establishment should be granted by parliament as the nearest heir to the crown; that whilst the nation had been burdened with a war, their electoral highnesses had refrained from putting forward their natural claims, but that, as peace was now happily restored, they trusted that her majesty would order during this session of parliament a provision so just and customary, which was, indeed, but the legitimate consequence of all that she had already done for them. They concluded by requesting that her majesty would be pleased to grant the usual titles of the princes of the blood to such of the electoral family as had not yet received them.

The arrival of this memorial threw Anne into great agitation, and an aggravation of her complaints. She seems to have renewed her favour towards Oxford, as more influential with the Hanover family; and Cadogan wrote to the court of Hanover, as well as its own secretary, Galke, that Oxford now boasted that he could turn out Bolingbroke; and the lord treasurer's adherents did not hesitate to talk of Bolingbroke's design of bringing in the pretender. The baron de Wassenaer Duvensnerde wrote to Oxford from Hanover, urging him to take the necessary step of inducing the queen to permit the electoral prince to come over, declaring that all the friends of the protestant succession deemed this absolutely necessary; that the prince was inviolably attached to the queen, her ministers, and the constitution, and would take no measures which could in any way give uneasiness to her majesty. Meantime there were the most continual and urgent demands from the whigs in England that the prince should use his right - whether the queen willed it or not - come over, and act upon his writ.

Lord Anglesea, Sir Thomas Hanmer, Sir Richard Onslow, and other whigs wrote thus. They represented the insolent carriage of the Jacobites as the queen grew worse and the electoral prince delayed his coming; that the queen evidently favoured them; and when Dr. Bedford had been condemned for writing a pamphlet, proving that the electress had no claim to the English crown, the queen had pardoned him; that the queen was every day worse; that she was now attacked with erysipelas, and that mortification was expected; and that the Jacobites exultingly asked, " Where is your duke of Cambridge? Where is the succession? Is it not more than a month since the writ was demanded? " Marlborough, who was now again roused to exert himself on the side of Hanover, either from the neglect of the court of St. Germains, or that he saw the English nation bent on the maintenance of the protestant line, sent a friend of his, Mr. Molyneux, to Hanover, to urge the departure of the prince for London without delay. He represented to the electoral family the strange reconciliation of Oxford and Bolingbroke, or the sorcerer and his familiar, as he termed them, and that there was no safety for the succession but in the prince being on the spot and giving life to his friends.

Things were now come to such a crisis, that Anne contemplated nothing but the setting off of the prince, whether she opposed it or not, and this roused her to speak out plainly in forbiddance of it. On the 19th of May she had addressed a letter to the electress, telling her that she had never till then believed that she would fall into the idea of fixing a prince of the blood in her dominions during her lifetime; but, hearing that such was now the case, she thought it right to let her know that any such project would draw after it consequences dangerous to the succession itself; that there were, to her misfortune, a great many people seditiously disposed, and she left her to judge what tumults they might be able to raise if they only found a pretext for beginning; that she could not persuade herself that her aunt and cousin would do anything that should encourage this spirit, or disturb the repose of one who would do everything for the succession with zeal, provided it did not derogate from her dignity, which she was resolved to maintain. A similar note was addressed to the electoral prince.

Such was the embittered state of the queen's mind, that at this period she condescended to employ Tom D'Urfey, the song-writer of the time, to indite doggerel lyrics in ridicule of the octogenarian electress; and used to have him during her dinner hours stand by the sideboard to sing them. Fifty pounds is said to have been the fee for one of these, in which such stanzas as the following appeared: -

The crown's too weighty
For shoulders of eighty,
She could not sustain such a trophy;
Her hand, too, already
Has grown so unsteady,
She can't hold a sceptre –
So Providence kept her
Away from old dowager Sophy.

But as neither ridicule at home nor remonstrance abroad appeared availing to keep away the prince, on the 30th of May, N.S., Anne indited a more determined epistle to the elector himself: - "As the rumour increases that my cousin, the electoral prince, has resolved to come over to settle in my lifetime in my dominions, I do not choose to delay a moment to write to you about this, and to communicate to you my sentiments upon a subject of this importance. I then freely own to you that I cannot imagine that a prince who possesses the knowledge and penetration of your electoral highness can ever contribute to such an attempt, and that I believe you are too just to allow that any infringement shall be made on my sovereignty which you would not choose should be made on your own. I am firmly persuaded that you would not suffer the smallest diminution of your authority. I am no less delicate in that respect; and I am determined to oppose a project so contrary to my royal authority, however fatal the consequences may be. Your electoral highness is too just to refuse to bear me witness that I give on all occasions proofs of my desire that your family should succeed to my crown, which I always recommend to my people as the most solid support of their religion and their laws. I employ all my attention that nothing should efface these impressions from the hearts of my subjects; but it is not possible to derogate from the dignity and prerogative of the prince who wears the crown without making a dangerous breach on the rights of the successor, therefore I doubt not but, with your usual wisdom, you will prevent the taking such a step, and that you will give me an opportunity of renewing to you assurances of the most sincere friendship, with which I am," &c.

This put matters beyond all chance of mistake. The menace contained in it had such an effect on the aged electress that she was taken ill and died suddenly in the arms of the electoral princess, afterwards queen Caroline. If we are to believe Molyneux, the agent of Marlborough, the shock was made the greater by the express messenger keeping the letter from the day on which he arrived till the next, and meantime announcing that he was come to invite the prince over to England. Molyneux writes to Marlborough that he went, on the 28th of May, o.s., to Herrenhausen, the country seat of the court, and the first thing he heard was that the electress was dying in one of the public walks. He says: - "I ran up there, and found her just expiring in the arms of the poor electoral princess, and amid the tears of a great many of her servants, who endeavoured in vain to help her. I can give you no account of her illness, but I believe the chagrin of those villanous letters I sent you word of last post has been in a great measure the cause of it. The rheingravine, who has been with her these fifteen years, has told me she never knew anything make so deep an impression on her as the affair of the prince's journey, which I am sure she had to the last degree at heart; and she has done me the honour to tell me so twenty times. In the midst of this concern those letters arrived, and those, I verily believe, broke her heart, and brought her with sorrow to the grave."

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