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The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 5

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The tory ministers were determined now to be rid of Marlborough. He not only stood at the head of the whigs at home, and threw his great military reputation into the scale against them in this question of peace or war, but whilst he retained his command of the army, he immensely strengthened the opposition of the allies to the present terms of pacification. It was resolved that he should be dismissed, a measure which they felt would destroy much of his influence. The whigs, moreover, at this crisis fell into a snare laid for them by the earl of Nottingham, which extremely damaged them, and in the same proportion benefited the tories. He persuaded them that if they would only consent to the passing of the occasional conformity bill, there were numerous persons of influence ready to quit the ranks of Oxford and St. John; and though they were entirely opposed in principle to this illiberal and unjust measure, they were weak enough, in the hope of strengthening their party, to permit it to pass. The dissenters, greatly exasperated at this treachery, abandoned the whig cause; the promised proselytes did not come over, and lord Dartmouth adds that " lord Nottingham himself had the mortification afterwards to see his bill repulsed with some scorn, and himself not much better treated."

In this state of affairs closed the year 1711. During the Christmas holiday the ministry matured several measures for the advancement of their party. It was necessary to augment the number of their friends in the house of lords. The Scotch lords had generally voted with them as tories, and there had been an attempt to increase their number in that house, by giving English titles to such Scotch peers as had not seats in the lords. The whigs saw this stratagem, and resolutely opposed it. The duke of Hamilton was created duke of Brandon, but when he went to take his seat as an English peer, there was a strong opposition. The whig lords represented that their house might soon be crowded by Scotch lords with English names, for there were plenty of them poor enough to be ready to take bribes and vote as government pleased. They declared the constitution to be in danger, and that there ought to be no extension of the number of Scottish peers qualified to sit in that house, prescribed by the act of union. The right of the duke to take his seat was rejected by a majority of five. The whigs had not been so rigorous when the duke of Queensberry claimed his seat on being made duke of Dover; and the Scottish lords were so greatly incensed at this partiality, and at the remarks on the poverty and venality of their order, that they absented themselves for some time both from court and parliament; and it was only by well applied blandishment, on the part of the queen, and, as it was asserted, as well applied money, that they were won back again.

But, with the aid of the Scottish peers, the ministers were still in a minority in the lords, and they sought to remedy this by inducing the queen to create twelve new peers. Lord Dartmouth, in his notes to Burnet, expresses his astonishment on seeing the queen suddenly take from her pocket a list of twelve new lords, and ordering him to bring warrants for them. Dartmouth, unprepared for so sweeping a measure, asked whether her majesty intended to have them all made at once; and Anne replied, Certainly; that the whigs and lord Marlborough did all they could to distress her; that she had made fewer lords than any of her predecessors, and that she must help herself as well as she could. Amongst these new peers were again two Scotchmen, but not peers, only the sons of peers, and the husband of her favourite, Mrs. Masham. The claims of the favourite herself to this distinction were not remarkable, but they were quite as good as lady Marlborough's had been, for she was precisely of the same family and original standing; but Masham himself had no victories like Marlborough's to plead in his favour. He was the very poor son of a ruined cavalier baronet, and, though he was made a general, he was of the feather-bed school only; and, if we are to trust lady Marlborough's not good authority where the Mashams are concerned, he was " a soft, good-natured, insignificant man always making low bows to everybody, and ready to skip to open a door." He was, however, of royal descent, being descended legitimately from George Plantagenet, duke of Clarence, through Margaret, countess of Salisbury. Anne, therefore, was fully justified in this respect.

The twelve were lord Compton, eldest son of the earl of Northampton; lord Bruce, eldest son of the earl of Aylesbury; lord Duplin, eldest son of the earl of Kinnoul, who was married to one of the lord treasurer's daughters, made baron Hay; Thomas, viscount Windsor of Ireland, made baron Mountjoy in the Isle of Wight; the son of lord Paget, made baron Burton; Sir Thomas Mansell, of Margam, county of Glenmorgan, made baron Mansell; Sir Thomas Willoughby, of Nottingham, made baron Middleton; Sir Thomas Trevor, chief justice of common pleas, made baron Trevor; George Grenville, made baron Lansdowne, of Biddeford, in Cornwall; Samuel Masham, of Oates, in Essex, made baron Masham; Thomas Foley, of Whitby, in Worcestershire, made baron Foley; and Allen Bathurst, of Battlesdon, in the county of Bedford, made baron Bathurst. A motion of adjournment to the 14th of the month being made immediately after the introduction of these new peers, to which the opposition was opposed, they enabled the government to carry it by all voting for it. The witty lord Wharton did not spare a joke upon them at the time, by asking one of them, when the question was put, whether " they voted by their foreman? " as though they had been a jury.

The disgrace of Marlborough was now completed. On the 21st of December he had been charged in the house of commons with having made use of his command of the army to make enormous sums of money at the expense of the men; that he had appropriated more than half a million by taking two and a half per cent, out of the pay of the foreign troops maintained by England, and sixty-three thousand pounds from Sir Solomon de Medina and Antonio Alvarez Machado, the Jew contractors for bread for the army; that his secretary, Cardonel, had exacted five hundred gold ducats from the contractors each time a new contract was signed, all which had to be taken out of the quality of the food or clothing of the soldiers.

In order to move the queen's indignation, care was taken that some of the soldiers who had returned from the Netherlands should throw their old clothing over the wall of the queen's garden, and equal care was taken that these miserable garments should be brought to the queen to let her see what sort of defence the avarice of the general and of the contractors had provided for the poor soldiers against the damp and cold of the marshy low countries; and Anne is said to have wept over them. She was consequently soon moved to forget all the glory which the victories of Marlborough had shed on her reign, and to remember only his sins. She therefore wrote to him, informing him that, as there was a serious charge made against him by the commissioners of accounts, she thought it best to dismiss him from all his employments in order that the matter might be impartially investigated. Nor did she neglect to add that the conduct of his wife towards herself had made her more willing to adopt this measure.

Marlborough, in defence, pleaded to the queen as he had to the commissioners of inquiry, that he had appropriated nothing which had not been the established perquisites of the commander-in-chief of the army in the low countries both before the revolution and since; and that, whatever sums he had received from those sources, he had employed in the service of the public in keeping secret correspondence, and in getting intelligence of the enemy's motions and designs; and that, and he could certainly say it with justice, he had employed this money so successfully, that he had on no occasion suffered himself to be surprised, but had often been able to surprise and defeat the enemy. To this cause, next to the blessing of God and the bravery of the troops, he attributed most of the advantages of the war.

There can be little doubt that Marlborough made the best of the power granted him for appropriating these sums; that was his weak point; but he does not appear to have exceeded the letter of his warrant; and the truth is that the system itself was more in fault than the general. This enormous power of raising money at the cost of the comfort of the troops had long existed, and has, in fact, come down to our own times, as the exposures subsequent to the Crimean war have shown. And, whilst condemning Marlborough, there is no evidence that the ministers, in then- virtuous indignation against him, took the slightest measures to prevent similar abuses in future. They were merely using these charges to destroy the great commander, at a moment when the country had more than ever occasion for his services to complete what he had so well done to that point; and the Jew contractors were now made to turn upon him in the house of commons, in order to win the favour of the new ministers, and future pickings from them in consequence. It must also be added that, when the soldiers were examined whether they had not been supplied with very bad bread, they denied it. Marlborough complained in his letter to the queen that he thought his dismissal and the attempt to load him with such calumnies was a poor return for his long services, and that he felt that he had yielded to the malignity of his enemies rather than to her better sentiments. His two daughters, the countess of Sunderland and lady Railton, resigned their places of ladies of the bedchamber.

But, notwithstanding Marlborough's proofs that his appropriations were according to long-established custom, the commons admitted no such plea. They voted that the two and a half per cent, deducted by him from the pay of the foreign troops was public money, and that he ought to account for it. They threatened to institute proceedings for its recovery through the law officers of the crown, and they expelled Cardonel, the duke's secretary, from the house for his receipt of the fees mentioned in the contracts. They had the satisfaction, also, of punishing Robert Walpole, one of Marlborough's most stanch defenders, for taking five hundred guineas, and a note for five hundred more, on the signing of a contract for forage for her majesty's troops quartered in Scotland when secretary of war. The deed deserved punishment, but it was one which all secretaries perpetrated equally with Walpole, as he showed, and which would never have been noticed had Walpole yielded to the tory entreaties and carried his great abilities to their side. They, however, voted the fact a high breach of trust, and of notorious corruption, and ordered his expulsion from the house and his committal to the Tower. The borough of Lynn, which Walpole represented, immediately re-elected him; but the commons pronounced him incapable of sitting in that parliament, and declared the election void. Many of the members of the house added that expulsion and imprisonment were wholly inadequate punishments; that he ought to be hanged; but Walpole was destined to escape hanging for long years of more flagrant corruption in the coming days of his own power, when he more truly deserved it.

The houses of parliament reassembled on the 17th of January, and the queen sent a message stating that she was not able to attend in person, not having recovered sufficiently from her attack of the gout. She announced that the plenipotentiaries were now assembled at Utrecht, and were already engaged in endeavouring to procure just satisfaction to all the allies according to their several treaties, and especially with relation to Spain and the Indies. This was a delusion, for, by our treaty with the emperor, we had engaged to secure Spain and the Indies for his son; and it was now, notwithstanding the assurance in her message regarding them, fully determined to give them up to Philip. There was a strong protest in the message against the evil declarations that there had been an intention to make a separate peace, though nothing was more notorious than that the ministers were resolved, if the allies did not come to their terms, to go on without them. The message did not end without recommending one of the ever favourite measures of the tories - a restriction of the liberty of the press. Much alarm was expressed at the great license taken in publishing false and scandalous libels, though the ministers had in their employ some of the most vindictive and unscrupulous writers, and, above all, Jonathan Swift, who was working hard, by the most virulent abuse of the whigs, for a bishopric. Unfortunately, the malice of Swift, one of the most bitter and cold-blooded men that ever lived, was so exuberant that he scattered his venomous witticisms without sufficient foresight, and some of his arrows rebounded upon himself when he least expected it. The tories at this time ' were bent on getting the duke and duchess of Somerset out of favour. It was well known that both of them were strongly opposed to the peace, and the preference shown to the duke after the debate in the lords on that question made the ministers dread an attempt to patch up a party with the Somers division of the whigs. The duke, however, resigned his post of master of the horse, but the duchess retained her place as mistress of the robes; and the whole rancour of the ministry was now turned upon her. Swift was employed to make her ridiculous. The duchess, being the heiress of the house of Percy, had been the victim of two marriages of convenance before she married the duke. She was married at about eleven years of age to lord Ogle, the son of the duke of Newcastle. Ogle died when she was only thirteen, and she was wearing widow's weeds at Charles II.'s court at that infantile age, the monarch calling her la triste heritiere. She was again married to a man of immense wealth, Thomas Thynne, of Longleat. Being seen by a German fortune- hunter, count Koningsmark, this adventurer shot Thynne in his carriage in the Haymarket. Being a widow again at little more than fourteen, she was married to the duke of Somerset. These particulars afforded subjects for Swift's envenomed pen; and, endeavouring to make the duchess guilty of having been accessory to her husband's assassination, he wrote the following lines and handed them about, showing them to the favourite, Mrs. Masham, not forgetting the red hair of the duchess. The verses are called "A Windsor Prophecy," and equally libelled the earl of Nottingham and the duke of Marlborough, saying -

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