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The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 3


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After the disgrace of Guiscard the abbe Gualtier became the agent of Harley for carrying on the proposals for peace with France. Gualtier was a man of very infamous life, but he was a more cautious and diplomatic man than Guiscard. He and Tallard urged on the pretender's claims to the last moment. So late as May of the present year 1711, the pretender addressed a long letter to queen Anne, to be seen in the Macpherson State Papers, in which, addressing her as his sister, he appeals to her by the natural affection which he bears her, and which he protests that their common father bore her till his death, to see him righted. He reminds her of her promises which she had made to her father on this head, and argues that, as he never would relinquish his just claims, the only way to prevent the continual excitement, disquietude, and wars injurious to the realm, is to admit his claim. And he concludes thus: - "And now, madam, as you tender your own honour and happiness, and the preservation and re-establishment of an ancient royal family, the safety and welfare of a brave people, who are almost sinking under present weights, and have reason to fear far greater, who have no reason to complain of me, and. whom I must still and do love as my own, I conjure you to meet me in this friendly way of composing our differences, by which only we can hope for those good effects which will make us both happy, yourself more glorious than in all the other parts of your life, and your memory dear to all posterity."

The pretender offered to give all liberty to the church and to the dissenters, but he would not abandon his own religion. On reading this letter, the disappointed queen said to the duke of Buckingham - who had married her half sister, James II.'s natural daughter Catherine, by Catherine Sedley, and who was in her confidence – "How can I serve him, my lord? You well know that a papist cannot enjoy this crown in peace. Why has the example of the father no weight with the son?" Here she acknowledged that the pretender was the son of James. But she added, ''He prefers his religious errors to the throne of a great kingdom; he must thank himself, therefore, for his exclusion." Still she begged Buckingham to try further to persuade him; it was in vain, and Anne gave up the hope of his restoration, and turned her whole mind to the conclusion of a peace including the protestant succession.

Gualtier was dispatched to Versailles secretly, and, to avoid detection, without any papers, but with full instructions relating to the proposals for peace. He introduced himself to De Torcy, the prime minister of Louis, and assured him that the English government was prepared to enter into negotiations for peace independent of the Dutch, whom De Torcy had found so immovable. This was delightful news to the French minister, who was overwhelmed with the necessities of France, which were come to that pass that peace on any terms or invasion appeared inevitable. In his own memoirs De Torcy says, that "to ask a French minister then whether he wished for peace, was like asking a man suffering under a long and dangerous malady whether he wished to be better." On being convinced that Gualtier was a bona fide agent of the English court, the French court was thrown into the most delightful astonishment. Gualtier told De Torcy that it was not necessary to commit himself by written documents on the matter; he had only to write a simple note to lord Jersey, saying that he was glad to have heard of his lordship's health through the abbe, and had charged him with his thanks; that this would give the English ministers to understand that their proposition had been favourably entertained, and that the negotiation would be gone into in earnest. De Torcy cannot express his surprise and delight at this wonderful overture at such a juncture, when Louis and France were brought to their knees, and, with a little further pressing, must have sued for any decent terms. "This peace," he says in his memoirs, "was as absolutely necessary to us as it was unexpected by us. All our negotiations and attempts at negotiation in Holland had only produced a greater animosity, and a more obstinate determination to continue war; and England, more than any other power, had hitherto blown the fire. Yet the new ministers of that crown now held a language totally different to that of their predecessors; and the advances which they were making were less open to any suspicion, as it was for their evident and personal interests that the war, the prop and credit of the whigs, their enemies, should finish immediately." Nor could this astute minister conceal his wonder at the unguarded manner in which this most unlooked-for concession was thrown at their heads: - "They asked," he says, "from the king no sort of engagement - no, not so much as the shadow of an engagement. Gualtier had orders to be satisfied with a simple letter of compliment, by which it would be understood that the general proposition had been favourably received in France." The letter to lord Jersey was given by the command of the delighted king of France, and verbal assurances that Louis, justly irritated at the obstinacy of the Dutch, would only treat with them through the medium of England.

It is evident that, notwithstanding all the ingenious arguments which have been advanced to vindicate the conduct of the tory ministers on this occasion, that there never was a more base and unpatriotic surrender of all the advantages won by England through the military genius of Marlborough. This great general was still in Flanders, and a very short time would have brought the news of his brilliant manoeuvre by which he entered the vauntedly impregnable lines of the French, and of the conquest of Bouchain, the key to the lands of France. As it was, Louis, who never omitted the slightest occasion to hang enormous pretensions upon, was able to bring forward, with much boast, the unfortunate battle of Almanza, and the surrender of the British forces. Had the ministers been inspired by a just and honest desire of peace, they would, for the sake of the reputation and the substantial advantages of England, have at least concealed their eagerness for it, and awaited the overtures which, if they were properly informed of the condition of France, they must have known could not have been long deferred. Without seeming, on the one hand, to be weakly anxious for peace, or, on the other, displaying a stubborn disposition to repel reasonable overtures for it, they would have sought to secure the best terms for themselves and their allies. England had suffered much, though not from invasion; Germany, Holland, and Flanders had suffered more, though they had not spent so much, through the invading armies of France, and all had a just claim for compensation and redress. Louis had laid waste whole districts with fire and sword, especially where the unhappy inhabitants had been protestants, as in the case of the Palatinate; and he ought not to have been suffered to escape without being compelled to make recompence, if not in money, in territory - a demand necessary to the future peace of Europe. Any English ministers, therefore, of whatever party, ought to have stood by their allies from a principle of justice, and by their own country from both justice and patriotism. Though the whigs had originated and carried on the war, that was no motive, with honourable men, for avenging their party enmities on their country. The whigs had brought the war to a point from which able management might soon have crowned it with ample success; and the glory of that success must in a degree have remained with those who finished it well, and extorted from the enemy the proper amends. But no such honest sentiments animated the tory faction of those days. They were blinded by their party rancour to everything but crushing with disgrace and mortification their political opponents; and to do this they hastened to abandon their allies, to sweep away at a blow all the glories of Marlborough and their country - for the glory ceased when the utility ceased - and to lay up for posterity a fresh recurrence of the same insolence, aggression, and destructive domination from the same country. Providence alone, not to be defrauded of its righteous retributions, reserved to itself the execution of the merited punishment on France by avenging the nations upon her in the fearful revolution of 1789, the seeds of which were sown in the miseries and despotism entailed by the wars of Louis XIV.

So far as the English ministers were concerned, they now rushed on with all that reckless impetuosity of which wily politicians like Louis and De Torcy were sure to take every advantage. Gualtier was authorised to write to De Torcy in the name of the English ministry, requesting his most Christian majesty would communicate to them the terms on which he would feel disposed to make a general peace - just as if England and not France was at an extremity, and in a condition not to dictate, but only accept of terms. Louis was so general in his answer, that it was necessary for Gualtier to make another journey to Versailles - thus giving the idea that it was England rather than France which was all anxiety for a peace. Gualtier returned with certain propositions, but Marlborough was now driving Villars before him, and was in possession of Bouchain, and prepared to make himself master of Paris in another campaign. We were entitled to make the amplest demands, and our allies were entitled to know what they were, and to enjoy the benefit of circumstances. Our ministers continued to negotiate without the Dutch and Germans, because they meant to accept terms which they knew they would not condescend to. But the intelligence of our proceedings soon reached the Hague, and the States-General quickly demanded an explanation, and at the same time announced again, through Petikum, to De Torcy, that they were prepared to treat in co-operation with England. The English ministers were thereupon compelled to communicate the French memorial to the States-General. Lord Raby, our ambassador at the Hague, wrote, urging the necessity of keeping faith with the Dutch, who were greatly incensed at our taking measures for a peace without them, and apprising them that every letter received from France conveyed the delight of the French in the prospect of being able to sow discord amongst the allies. The States soon informed the ministers of England that they were quite prepared to go along with them in the treaty for peace, but they would insist on the conditions being ample and satisfactory. In order to convert lord Raby, our ambassador, into a devoted advocate of our disgraceful and undignified policy, Mr. St. John wrote to inform him that it was her majesty's pleasure that he should come over to England, in order to make himself perfect master of the important subjects about to be discussed; and, as lord Raby was a Wentworth, nearly allied in descent to the earl of Strafford, who had lost his head in making himself head of his family, and had long been soliciting for himself the renewal of that title, St. John announced to him that, on his reaching London, it was her majesty's gracious intention to confer that honour upon him. This at once threw Raby into a fever of gratitude, and he made the most ardent professions of doing all in his power to serve her majesty.

These obstacles to their entering into a disgraceful peace being removed, Gualtier was once more despatched to Versailles, and this time accompanied by Matthew Prior, a poet of some pretension and much popularity, but much more distinguished as a diplomatist. He had lived in France, knew the French and French court well, having been secretary to the embassies of the earls of Portland and Jersey. Prior was a man of courtly and insinuating manners, and was most thoroughly devoted to Harley and the tory interests. The propositions which he brought from the queen as the basis of the peace were - that the Dutch should have a barrier in the Netherlands; the German empire another on the Rhine; that the Duke of Savoy should receive back all towns or territories taken during the war; that proper protection should be obtained for the trade of England and Holland; that France should acknowledge the title of Anne and the protestant succession; that the fortifications of Dunkirk should be destroyed; that Gibraltar and Port Mahon should continue in our possession; that Newfoundland and Hudson's Bay should also be acknowledged as ours, but that the French should be allowed to trade to Hudson's Bay; that in all other respects France and England should retain their possessions in America as they did before the war; that the Assiento, or contract for supplying the Spanish colonies of South America with slaves - which had formerly been held by the Portuguese, but, since 1702, by the French - should be made over to England, with four towns on the Spanish main, anywhere betwixt the straits of Magellan and California, as depots for the slaves when first brought over. This was the only paltry advantage which these strange diplomatists of England asked for in recompense of our enormous outlay and our enormous loss of men during the war the disgraceful distinction of being kidnappers-general for the Spaniards! This was the sole and scandalous benefit which Mr. Prior, a poet, and the friend of Pope and Addison, dwelt upon as the recompense for all our labours and our enormous debt in defence of the liberties of Europe - the power to lay waste the liberties and persons of Africa! In return for this singular and Satanic modesty - so far now from demanding the expulsion of Philip from the throne of Spain, much less that Louis should expel his grandson thence - the queen of England was ready not only to leave him there but to maintain him there. And all this without consulting the emperor of Germany, whose right to this kingdom we had acknowledged, and which we had so often assured him and the world we would never give up! Prior particularly dwelt on the sacrifices the queen was making, the emperor having engaged, by secret treaties, to admit the flag of England in all the ports of South America as freely as the flag of Spain. But De Torcy, being now aware of the impatience of England for peace, and of the party motives for it, made very light of these vaunted sacrifices. He told Prior that these promised advantages were mere empty dreams; that Philip was firmly seated on the Spanish throne, and that neither Spain nor the colonies would ever fall into the hands of Austria. He appealed to him triumphantly whether it was desirable for the peace of Europe that they should; that Louis was ready to guarantee, as he had ever been, that the crowns of France and Spain should never rest on the same head; that this Charles of Austria was now become emperor of Germany, and that, if his sway were to extend over Spain, the Indies, Naples, Sicily, and Milan, nothing could be more ominous for Europe than such a gigantic power. Were the allies, he asked, desirous again to see the colossal empire of Charles V. revive, with all the tyrannies and desolations of Europe created by that monarch and Philip II.? that Charles had made no promise of keeping separate the Spanish kingdom, if he obtained it, from the kingdom of Austria and the empire; whereas Louis had engaged that France and Spain should never be united.

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