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The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 2

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The commons, however, were, during this time, busied in making a show of patriotism; but, in reality, they were seeking only to damage the whigs. They appointed a committee to examine all the grants made by king William, to estimate their value, and to take some measures regarding them; but the lords threw this out. They then began an examination of the public accounts, in order to charge the mal administrations on lord Godolphin. They asserted that above five-and-thirty millions of money granted by parliament remained unaccounted for, though a considerable sum of this extended to the reigns of Charles II, and James II; but Mr. Bridges, the paymaster, soon showed that all except three millions had been accounted for. They next inquired into the debts of the navy, which exceeded five millions; and these, with other debts, amounting to about nine millions and a half, were funded, bearing interest at six per cent. They also inaugurated a company called the South Sea Company, with a delusive privilege of trading to the coasts of Peru, the members of which were holders of navy bills, debentures, and other public securities. Having thus laid the foundation of the great South Sea bubble which exploded so ruinously nine years afterwards, and voted six millions and a half for the continuation of the war, though they had so severely censured the whigs for their extravagance, parliament was prorogued on the 12th of June.

The interests of the church had not been neglected during this session. The commons passed a bill, at the instigation of the convocation, for the building of fifty new churches in the suburbs of London and Westminster; and to furnish the necessary funds, they continued the duty on coals brought into London, granted for the building of St. Paul's, which was to remain till it had netted the sum of three hundred and eighty thousand pounds. Convocation had busied itself chiefly with abusing the whig ministry for its conduct to the church, and condemning the Arian opinions of Mr. Whiston, the mathematical professor of Cambridge, who, however, set its authority at nought, and published a work in four volumes, declaring the apostolical constitutions to be both canonical and of higher authority than the epistles and the gospels.

Marlborough had set out for Holland in the month of February. The state of affairs at home gave him no motive for lingering there, whilst the malice of his enemies gave him every motive for conducting the war with his utmost skill. He knew that everything would be done to weaken his command, and render abortive his efforts. He did not leave England until he had obtained assurances from the queen that the army should be regularly paid. But it had been robbed of its full force to send fresh troops to the now utterly hopeless war in Spain, and to send others with the redoubtable Jack Hill to Quebec. On the other hand, the French, amid all their misery and destitution, continued to flock to the standard of king Louis; and they were elated by the rumours industriously circulated, that Marlborough was now out of power; that he would no longer be able to command such force against them as he had done, but that he would be soon recalled and peace made. The latter rumour had real foundation. During the last year secret negotiations had been carried on by Harley with the French court through the abbe Gualtier, a profligate priest, whom Harley seems to have taken into favour instead of Guiscard, and probably to the irritation of that emissary. This negotiation was for no other object than the restoration of the pretender on the death of Anne. By this means Harley obtained the support of the Jacobites in England, who, secretly instructed from St. Germains, went over to him. The returning audacity of the French was still further nourished by the unaccountable negligence of the English cabinet of the measures for reducing France to an extremity. Whilst we had been spending so much life and money in the campaigns of Flanders and Spain, we had maintained a vast fleet to very little purpose. The trade of France and Spain to the West Indies and South American colonies was left almost without interruption; and thus money and many necessaries of life were poured into these two countries, which we might, by a vigilant naval system of operations, have entirely cut off. Had this been done, France would have been reduced to the last extremity, and compelled long ago to have accepted the terms of the allies.

Under great discouragements Marlborough opened the campaign which was to prove his last. Whilst his enemies before him were filled with revived spirit, his enemies behind - those of his own country - were, with unpatriotic anxiety, hoping for his defeat, or, at least, for a campaign so little efficient as to be a defeat in its effects on his reputation; but he determined to disappoint them. He assembled his army at Orchis, between Lisle and Douay, about the middle of April, and marshal Villars encamped betwixt Cambray and Arras. The duke soon after passed the Scarpe, and took post betwixt Douay and Bouchain, where he was joined by his faithful comrade in arms, prince Eugene; but that great general was soon compelled to leave him to repel the French forces which were directed against Germany on the Upper Rhine. The army of marshal Villars was a very numerous one, and he had defended his lines with redoubts and other works so formidably, that he styled them the ne plus ultra of Marlborough. These lines extended from Bouchain, on the Scheldt, along the Sanset and the Scarpe to Arras, and thence along the Upper Scarpe to Canche. But Marlborough did not despair of entering them by stratagem, of not by force. He ordered a great quantity of fascines to be prepared, and made a pretence of a direct attack on the lines where he was; but he at the same time secretly dispatched the generals Cadogan and Hompesch to surprise the passage of the Sanset at Arleux. Brigadier Sutton was also dispatched with the artillery and pontoons to lay bridges over the canals near Goulezen, and over the Scarpe at Vitry. By the time that these operations could be effected, Marlborough suddenly quitted his position at nine in the evening, marched the whole of his army through the night, and by five in the morning had crossed the Scarpe at Vitry. There, receiving the information that Hompesch had secured the passes of the Sanset and the Scheldt, Marlborough continued his march on Arleux; and, after a march of ten leagues without halting, was encamped on the Scheldt between Estrun and Ois. Thus, by this unexampled dexterity and exertion, he was completely within the boasted impregnable lines of Villars. This general, on becoming aware of his opponent's motions, pursued him with headlong haste, but he arrived too late to prevent his design; and, whilst the duke of Marlborough was extolled as a general of consummate ability, Villars was ridiculed even by his own officers for suffering himself to be outwitted.

The Dutch deputies this time, so far from retarding the duke's enterprise, were desirous that he should at once attack Villars; but he would not hazard a battle whilst his men were fatigued by their enormous march. He determined, on the contrary, to commence the siege of Bouchain. The place was remarkably strong, and difficult of access from its situation in a marsh; yet, by the 10th of August, he had compelled it to surrender, the garrison of six thousand becoming prioners of war. With this exploit the duke of Marlborough closed his brilliant career. His enemies at home, Oxford, St. John, Dartmouth, and the tories in general, had fondly hoped that he was going this campaign to certain defeat and disgrace; but, spite of all his disadvantages, he had placed the allied armies, by this conquest of Bouchain, on the highway to Paris. The allies were in possession of the Meuse, almost as far as the Sambre; of the Scheldt from Tournay; and of the Lys as far as it is navigable. They had reduced Spanish Guelderland, Limburg, Brabant, and Flanders, with the greatest part of Hainault, and were in a position, by one more vigorous campaign, to carry the war to the very gates of Louis's capital. Such a triumph, however, the malice of the tories had determined that this country and the world should not witness. After the capture of Bouchain, the allied armies went into quarters in the frontier towns, ready for the campaign of the spring; and in the middle of November Marlborough returned to England.

In Spain, whither the duke of Argyll had been sent to command the English forces, nothing had been done, from the want of everything to carry on the war. Argyll had been chosen for this service, chiefly because he had long been at variance with the duke of Marlborough, and one million five hundred thousand pounds had been voted for that service; but when Argyll landed at Barcelona he found the army in the utmost distress from want of mere subsistence. It was in vain that he urged the dispatch of supplies; none came, and Argyll was at length compelled to borrow money on his own credit. The army of the duke de Vendöme was in a condition little better, and a well equipped and maintained force might at least have done some brilliant service, though it could never recover Spain. Staremberg, the imperial general, advanced against Vendöme to the pass of Prato del Rey, where there was some fighting. The duke of Argyll was there seized with a violent fever, and was conveyed back to Barcelona. Vendöme after this invested the castle of Cardona, whence Staremberg attacked him, killed two thousand of his troops, and took a great quantity of artillery, baggage, and ammunition. Staremberg, however, was unable to follow up this success, being ill-supplied himself, and unsupported by the English, the duke of Argyll still being left, in spite of all his remonstrances, without remittances. In despair he, therefore, returned to England, having been unable to accomplish anything from the utter neglect of government, which was too much occupied in domestic intrigues, and endeavours to obtain a peace which should render barren all the laurels of Marlborough.

Meantime the expedition of the miserably-incompetent Jack Hill to Quebec had met with the fate which might have been expected. This expedition had been planned by colonel Nicholson, who had taken possession of Nova Scotia, and garrisoned Porte Royal. He had brought to England four American Indians to excite attention, and represented the great advantages which would accrue from the conquest of Canada, and the expulsion of the French from that part of the world. The idea was excellent, and, had it been carried out with ability, might have anticipated the policy of lord Chatham and the victory of Wolfe; but the ministers were not hearty in the cause. Harley is said to have been utterly averse to it, and St. John to have advocated it because he saw that it would gratify Mrs. Masham. In an ill-advised hour, therefore, the command of this important expedition was confided to a man against whose total unfitness for command of every sort Marlborough so earnestly warned them.

At Boston, in New England, the expedition was joined by two regiments of colonists and about four thousand men, consisting of American planters, palatines, and Indians, encamped at Albany, in order to march by land into Canada, whilst the fleet advanced up the river St. Lawrence.

The squadron had already entered the river, when, on the 21st of August, it was assailed by a violent tempest. Eight transports were driven aground and wrecked, and eight hundred men perished, some by drowning, others by the tomahawks of the Indians and the muskets of the French colonists. The damage, however, was of no important extent to a really able commander; but the poor, witless Hill, thrust into responsibility by favouritism, was utterly confounded. The fleet put back to Spanish River Bay, where a council was held; and, as the forces were only victualled for six weeks, it was determined to return home. The poor general Hill, less to blame than those who sent him out, returned ignominiously to Portsmouth, where he landed in October, and was scarcely on shore when the admiral's ship, a fine seventy-four, blew up with every sailor on board. To increase the popular indignation at this disgraceful business, there were loud demands for an account of the money which had been issued from the treasury for this expedition, but none was ever given; and such was the general corruption of the court, that none of the impudent embezzlers of the cash were ever brought to justice.

Nothing of consequence took place in Savoy or Germany, except that king Charles went from Barcelona to Savoy to make a reconciliation with the duke, which he effected; and that prince Eugene lay at Frankfort to protect the electors assembled from interruption by the French whilst they deliberated on the choice of an emperor, Joseph I. being dead; and Charles, so-called king of Spain, was elected to that dignity.

But whilst Marlborough had been ably preparing the way in Flanders for finishing the war in triumph, and compelling the king of France to make such a peace as should secure the peace of Europe and indemnify England for all that she had suffered and expended for that object, the tory ministers and the queen had been as busy undermining and rendering abortive all his plans and exertions. They were determined to make peace at any cost, so that the whigs should receive nothing but reproaches from the nation for having led it into so long and bloody a war without any real results. The tories were to render the war useless, and the whigs to bear the blame of it.

St. John was clearly ready to admit the pretender instead of the house of Hanover, and had been in close correspondence with the court of St. Germains; and there is every reason to believe that it was with the cognizance and approval of the queen, who hated the house of Hanover. But Harley was bent on maintaining the protestant succession, whilst he was equally determined on the achievement of a peace damaging to the whigs. He knew too well that, however the queen might lean towards the restoration of her brother the pretender, the nation would never submit to it. He therefore entered into a secret negotiation with France on another basis to that of St. John.

Nothing is more certain than that the queen was strongly inclined to admit the claims of her brother, James Stuart, the so-called pretender, if he could be brought to renounce the catholic religion, and that she entered into a correspondence on this head. It is true that she continued to express doubts of his being really her brother, yet she every now and then let slip observations which showed that at bottom she really believed him to be so. It was on the ground of this conviction that she corresponded with him regarding his succession to the crown, and was only compelled to give up his claim because she could not bring him to abandon his attachment to popery. Amongst those who supported the claims of the pretender were her uncle Rochester, and marshal Tallard - still prisoner of war at Nottingham, and kept there by Louis on the understanding that he was more useful there as a secret negotiator than he would be anywhere else at the head of an army. Rochester, no doubt, fostered a hope that the pretender would see the necessity of preferring the crown of England to popery, and Louis, as well as the pretender, calculated much on Rochester's services with the queen, though, like her, he was an unswerving champion for the Anglican church. Louis testified this on hearing of Rochester's death, by exclaiming, "Rochester dead! then there is not a man of probity and counsel equal to him in the world."

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