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The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 4

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There was great force in these representations; and, as Charles was now emperor, the allies had a right to demand of him that the Spanish monarchy should pass to some other prince; though there was nothing like the danger to Europe from a union of Austria and Spain, considering their distance, that there was from a union of France and Spain, which would become one great and overwhelming empire; yet the precaution against the union of Austria and Spain was necessary, and, in any probability of such a union, must have been enforced. None of these reasons, however, warranted a peace which should leave Spain and all its colonies virtually in the power of France; and such was the peace Harley and the tories were aiming at.

As Prior and Gualtier had no powers warranting them to accept terms from France, M. Mesnager, an expert diplomatist, deputy from Rouen to the board of trade in Paris, was dispatched to London with the English envoys. They were to return in all secrecy, and Mesnager was furnished with certain instructions wholly unknown to Prior and Gualtier. These were, that an equivalent for the destruction of the fortifications of Dunkirk was to be demanded; and that some towns in Flanders which the French had lost, particularly Lille and Tournay, should be restored. These demands he was to keep very close, and only cautiously but firmly open to the principal negotiators.

An unluckly incident befel these three private negotiators on landing at Deal. The information of the journey to Paris of Prior and Gualtier had reached the vigilant ears of John Mackay, the master of the packet-boats, who had been placed in that position by king William and the whigs, and had enjoyed in that office a liberal share of the secret service money. This was the Mackay who in his memoirs has furnished us with so many lively accounts of the transactions of these times, being deeply in the secret of them. He had discovered many treasons and correspondences betwixt the Jacobites of England and the courts of Versailles and St. Germains. Mackay remained in his office, perhaps, by an oversight, for his services were no longer used by the present government; but St. John, Harley, and the rest, as we have seen, had their own channels of communication. Mackay, having now come upon the traces of Prior and Gualtier, informed St. John of it, who bade him take no notice of it, but look out for their return; supposing, no doubt, that Mackay would immediately apprise him of that fact, and that he could at once set all right with this vigilant official. Mackay soon after became aware of the landing of the two persons in question at Deal, accompanied by a third; and, hastening to Canterbury, he found that they were no other than his old acquaintance, Prior, the abbe Gualtier, and M. Mesnager, and, to his astonishment, that they were travelling with a pass from St. John. This, no doubt, let a light in upon Mackay, for he at once dispatched a letter to Marlborough at Bouchain, informing him of the circumstance, and at the same time rode off to Tunbridge to inform the bishop of Winchester and lord Aylmer that they might apprise the earl of Sunderland of it. The alarm spread, and Mackay being found to be the person who had discovered all this to the whigs, the vengeance of the ministry was let loose upon him. He was dismissed from his post, he was thrown into prison, his creditors being hounded out upon him; he was threatened with hanging by St. John for keeping a correspondence with France; and the unfortunate man was still lying in gaol on the accession of George I.

The secret negotiators were speedily liberated by their friends in power, and proceeded to London, but the secret was out that a treaty was on foot with France, and the general opinion was, that the ministers were bent on making peace on any terms. The government, nevertheless, kept, the matter as much out of sight as possible. The queen sent Prior to apologise to Mesnager for his being received in so secret a manner, and Oxford, St. John, Jersey, and Shrewsbury were appointed to confer with him privately. On the 8th of October the English commissioners and Mesnager had agreed upon the preliminaries and signed them. Mesnager was then privately introduced to the queen at Windsor, who made no secret of her anxiety for peace, telling him she would do all in her power to complete the treaty and live in good fellowship with the king of France, to whom she was so closely allied in blood. At supper she said publicly that she had agreed to treat with France. The ministers were just as incautious, for Swift, who was a devoted fortune hunter at the elbows of Harley and St. John, and who had recently been introduced to the queen by them, was invited by St. John the same evening to sup with him and a small party in his apartments in "Windsor Castle. This party consisted of no other persons than Mesnager himself, Gualtier, and the infamous Abbe Dubois, tutor to the young duke of Orleans, this profligate having also been engaged in assisting Mesnager in the treaty. With them was Prior. All these particulars Swift wrote, as he wrote everything, to Stella, his mistress in Ireland. Yet when the preliminaries were handed to count Gallas, the imperial ambassador, who, in his indignation, immediately had them translated and inserted in one of the daily papers, the queen was so indignant, that she forbade his reappearing at court, and informed him that he could quit the kingdom as soon as he thought proper. He departed immediately, and the queen, to prevent an explosion on the part of the allies, wrote to the emperor to say that she should be happy to receive any other person that he might send. Raby, now earl of Strafford, was hurried to the Hague to announce to the States the fact of her having signed these preliminaries, and to desire them to appoint a spot where the plenipotentiaries of the allies and France should meet to discuss them. Both the Dutch and the emperor were startled and greatly confounded at the discovery of the nature of the terms accepted. They used every means to persuade the queen to draw back and accept no terms except those which had been offered to France after the battle of Malplaquet, but rather to push on the war vigorously, certain that they must very soon obtain all they demanded.

Nor was the excitement less at home. The news was out - the preliminaries were before the public by the act of the imperial ambassador, and the whigs were in a fury of indignation. They accused the ministers of being about to sacrifice the country, its power, and interests, to a shameful cowardice at the very moment that the labours and sufferings of years had brought it to the verge of triumph, and when Louis XIV. was old and tottering into the grave, leaving his kingdom exhausted and powerless. The tories, on the other hand, represented the whigs as insatiable for war and bloodshed, never satisfied to obtain honourable conditions when they could have them, but for their own selfish and sanguinary views seeking to reduce this country to the same depth of misery and poverty to which France was reduced. The press teemed with pamphlets: libels, Mesnager wrote, flew about as thick as bullets on a battlefield. The queen was in a great state of alarm and agitation; fell several times into fainting fits, and her agitation aggravated the gout, with which she was affected. Hearing that the apprentices of London were going to burn all the ministry in effigy on "Queen Bess's day," she issued an order in council forbidding the usual procession and bonfires. The whigs had hired Tom D'Urfey to write a song for the occasion, with the refrain, "Save the Queen;" and the prime minister represented as the devil, with the pope on one hand and the pretender on the other, was to be burnt in a great pyre at the foot of queen Elizabeth's statue, near Temple Bar. Swift, who was busy writing squibs and libels for the ministers, went to see these puppets, which he found figuring amid a crowd of other effigies of ministers, cardinals, Jesuits, and Franciscan friars placed round a great cross eighteen feet high.

But notwithstanding the violent opposition both at home and abroad, the ministers persisted in their course. The queen wrote to the electress Sophia of Hanover, entreating her and her son to use their exertions with the allies for the peace of Europe. She sent over the earl of Rivers to further her appeal; but the electoral prince, so far from dreading to endanger his succession, sent back a letter by earl Rivers to the queen, strongly condemning the terms on which the peace was proposed, and he ordered his ambassador, the baron von Bothmar, to present a memorial to the queen, showing the pernicious consequences to Europe of allowing Philip to retain Spain and the Indies. This bold and independent act greatly exasperated the queen and her ministers, and was extolled by the whigs. There had been attempts to influence the elector by offering him the command of the army in Flanders, in case of the removal of Marlborough, but that also he declined. Many of the tories were as much opposed to the terms of the treaty as the whigs, and it was proposed to unite in a strong remonstrance against the conduct of the ministers in being willing to accept them; but the intention getting wind, the queen suddenly prorogued parliament to the 7th of December, with the expectation of the arrival of absent Scottish peers, who were all tories, and a determination, if necessary, to create a batch of English tory peers. Notwithstanding all resistance, it was finally settled with the allies that their representatives should meet those of England and France, to treat for a general peace, at Utrecht, on the 1st of January, 1712.

The ministers, in the meantime, went on strengthening their position. Raby, now lord Strafford, whom Swift says was not worth the buying, being a man of no parts or learning, went to his post at the Hague. Sir Simon Harcourt was created baron Harcourt, and was raised from lord-keeper of the seal to lord chancellor; the duke of Buckingham was appointed president of the council in the room of lord Rochester, deceased; and was succeeded in his office of steward of the household by earl Paulet, who had quitted the treasury to make way for Harley's elevation to the treasurership. The duke of Newcastle dying, Robinson, bishop of Bristol, was made lord privy seal, a new thing for a churchman since the days of Wolsey and Laud. In Scotland the Jacobites were so much elated by the proceedings of the tories, and by whispers of what really took place, while Mesnager was in secret conference with the queen - namely, a zealous advocacy on his part of the setting aside the protestant succession, and the readmission of the pretender's claims - that they proceeded to great lengths. They were in the end so daring as to induce the faculty of advocates of Edinburgh to receive a medal of the pretender from the same ardent duchess of Gordon who had sent him word to come when he pleased, and to what port he pleased, and that he would be well received. This medal had on the obverse side a head of the pretender, with the words, "Cujus est?" and on the reverse the British isle and the word "Reddite." This they not only received, but sent hearty thanks to the duchess for it. The Hanoverian ambassador was made aware of it, and presented a memorial on the subject, which, however, only served to bring Sir David Dalrymple, a zealous whig and advocate for the Protestant succession, into trouble, on the plea that he ought to have prosecuted Mr. Dundas of Arniston, for returning public thanks for the medal, whilst Arniston himself, who went on boldly, and published a vindication of his conduct, was suffered to escape.

On the opening of parliament on the 7th of December, the queen announced that "notwithstanding the arts of those who delighted in war, both time and place were appointed for opening the treaty for a general peace." This was carrying into the royal speech the animus which the tories had shown against the whigs in all their speeches and pamphlets lately. They had endeavoured to make the whigs odious to the nation as a faction that was bent on war solely for its own selfish interests, regardless of the interests of the nation or the sufferings of mankind. Though the speech contained other matters, everything else passed without thought or notice. This declaration produced a vehement sensation, and roused all the party fire on both sides. The ministers were astonished to see the earl of Nottingham, who had hitherto gone with them, now adopt the whig side, in a very vigorous and telling speech. He denounced the preliminaries as basely surrendering the great objects of the war, and moved that a clause should be inserted in the address to the effect, that no peace could be safe or honourable to Great Britain or to Europe, if Spain and the Indies should be allotted to any branch of the house of Bourbon. In the discussion it was shown that it was utterly untrue what had been said in the queen's speech, that the allies were all prepared to adopt the preliminaries. The earl of Anglesey contended, on the other side, that it was high time to ease the nation of the monstrous burthens of the war; and he aimed some heavy blows at the duke of Marlborough, affirming that a good peace might have been effected after the battle of Ramillies, but for the private interests of certain persons.

This called up Marlborough in his own defence. He bowed towards the place where the queen was listening to the debate incognito, and appealed to her, much to her embarrassment, whether, when he had the honour to serve her majesty as plenipotentiary as well as general, he had not always faithfully informed her and her council of all the proposals of peace which had been made, and had desired instructions for his guidance in such affairs. He appealed also to God, in whose presence he expected soon to stand, and who was infinitely above all the powers of the earth, whether he was not always anxious for a safe, honourable, and lasting peace, and whether he was not always very far from entertaining any design of prolonging the war for his own private advantage, as his enemies had most falsely insinuated. When the question was put, the amendment of the earl of Nottingham was carried by a majority of sixty- two to fifty-four, that is of only eight, notwithstanding all the exertions of the court party, and much to its astonishment. It was observed that Oxford was not in his place to support the original address, but was all the time conversing with the queen. There was probably great occasion for this, for from what we find in Swift's journal on this occasion, there is every reason to believe that Anne was greatly alarmed by the spirit and the decision come to by the lords, if she were not convinced for the moment that her tory ministers were leading her into a disgraceful peace. When she was about to retire from the house, the duke of Shrewsbury, as lord chamberlain, asked her majesty "whether he or the great chamberlain, Lindsay, should lead her out?" She replied very curtly, "Neither of you," and gave her hand to the duke of Somerset, who had been more urgent than any one of the peers against the conditions of peace. Swift, with Dr. Arbuthnot, the queen's favourite physician, hurried to St. James's and to Mrs. Masham, and told her that either she and the lord treasurer had joined with the quee*1 to betray them, or that they too were betrayed bv the queen. Mrs. Masham protested that it was not Oxford. When Oxford came in, Arbuthnot asked him how he had managed not to procure a majority. Oxford replied, how could he help it if people would lie and forswear. Swift thereupon asked Oxford to lend him his white staff, which he did in a joke, and then Swift said, "If I could but be secured in possession of this for one week, I would set all to rights." "How?" asked Oxford. "I would turn out Marlborough, his two daughters, the duke and duchess of Somerset, and lord Cholmondeley." Oxford only replied that the hearts of kings were unsearchable, and he went home, called for a court list, and marked every one for expulsion who voted against him. This view of the matter is confirmed by the manner in which the queen received the address of the lords. She said she should be sorry if any one could think that she would not do her utmost to recover Spain and the Indies from the house of Bourbon. In the commons, however, the ministry had a stronger party, and there they assured the queen in their address, that they would do all in their power to disappoint as well the acts and designs of those who for private views might delight in war, as the hopes of the enemy conceived from the divisions amongst themselves. Walpole moved an amendment similar to that of the lords, and it was lost by a majority of two hundred and thirty-two to one hundred and six against it.

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