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The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 7

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France and England being already agreed, independent of the consent of the rest of the allies, the conference began on a basis which was sure to lead to immediate confusion and contention. The Dutch plenipotentiaries were astonished to see the different tone displayed by the French ambassadors. They were no longer the humble and conceding personages that they had been at Gertruydenburg. The abbe Polignac, who was the chief speaker, assumed a high and confident manner. He knew that England was resolved to settle the peace on the terms agreed upon, and knew that the rest must come in or fight France themselves, and in that case France did not fear them. He knew, too, that, though the English army was still in the field, the terrible Marlborough was no longer with it, and that the commander had orders not to fight. The French envoys, therefore, when the Dutch deputies demanded that the treaty should be carried out on the basis of the terms offered at Gertruydenburg, told them plainly that matters were now quite altered, and that the conditions offered at Gertruydenburg could not be entertained by France at all, but those to which the queen of England had agreed in London; that unless the Dutch were willing to treat on these conditions, they would find their allies concluding peace without them, and that on the spot. The chief article to which the allies objected was the concession of Spain to Philip; and they were the more resolute on this head, because imminently necessary from the changes which had now taken place in France. The dauphin had died of the smallpox during the last year. The title had been conferred on his son, the duke of Burgundy; but the duke of Burgundy had just now expired too in the sixth year of his age; and of the dauphin's children there only now remained the duke of Anjou, a sickly child of two years old. This child was the only remaining obstacle to Philip, the king of Spain, mounting the throne of France. The danger was so obvious of the union of France and Spain in a very few years - to prevent which was the great object of the war - that the English government was compelled to demand from Philip a distinct renunciation of all claims on the French crown, and from France as distinct a one in the treaty that any such claim should be resisted. St. John entered into a correspondence with De Torcy, the French minister, on this head; and the answers of De Torcy must have shown the English government how perfectly useless it was thus attempting to bind

Frenchmen on any such matters. He replied that any such renunciation on the part of Philip or any French prince would be utterly null and void according to the laws; that on the king's death the next heir male of the royal blood succeeded, independently of any disposition or restriction of the late king, or any will of the people, or of himself, even; that he was, by the laws of France, sovereign by the right of succession, and must be so, spite of any circumstances to the contrary; that neither himself, the throne, nor the people had anything to do with it, but to obey the constitution. Therefore, even if Philip did bind himself to renounce the crown of France, should the present dauphin die, he would be king, independent of any circumstances whatever.

This was enough to have satisfied any prudent government of the folly of our asking for a renunciation, that nothing but the evacuation of the throne of Spain in case of the succession of Philip to that of France should be accepted. They had seen how easily Louis XIV., who was now tottering on the brink of the grave, had absolved himself from the oaths taken by himself on his marriage with an infanta of Spain, and that it was therefore certain that Philip would do the same. But St. John was satisfied with replying that it mattered not much to the English what notions were entertained in France of the right of succession, so long as in England the opinion was held that every man was at liberty to surrender his own rights; and as the allies in such a treaty bound themselves to compel its fulfilment by force of arms. This was the height of diplomatic absurdity; it was negotiating on the basis of compulsion, the futility of which the present situation of the allies most amply demonstrated. They had entered into this war of the succession to compel such a surrender, and here they were, negotiating because they had been unable to enforce it. Another expedient, however, was proposed by the English ministry, who must have seen clearly enough the folly of their treating on such hollow ground. That was, if Philip did not like to renounce the crown of France, he should at once quit the throne of Spain, and agree that the duke of Savoy should take it and the Indies, surrendering his own territories to Philip, to which should be added Naples, Sicily, Montserrat, and Mantua, all of which, whenever Philip succeeded to the French crown, should be annexed to France, with the exception, of Sicily, which should be made over to Austria. Louis XIV. professed to be delighted with this arrangement, but Philip would not listen to it, showing plainly that he meant, notwithstanding any renunciation, to retain his claim to both France and Spain.

On such utterly unsubstantial ground did the. English ministers continue this negotiation. They assured De Torcy that the queen of England insisted on Philip's renunciation of one throne or the other, and he at length renounced that of France, everybody seeing in what sense he renounced it, as in fact no renunciation at all, but a pretence to get the peace effected; and thus the English ministers, with their eyes open to the fraud, went on urging the allies to come into these most delusive and unsatisfactory terms. But as the renunciation of Philip did not arrive till after midsummer, the negotiators at Utrecht continued to talk without advancing, and the armies in the field continued to look at each other without fighting.

Marshal Villars, like the French plenipotentiaries, had made a great display of forces, pretty certain, from private information, that there was little fear of being attacked. The allies had a fine army of one hundred and twenty thousand men opposed to him; but so far as the English were concerned, their commander had his hands tied. The duke of Ormonde was sent to take the place of the duke of Marlborough - a certain indication that he was meant only for a mere show-general. He was a firm Jacobite, but no general of the talents or experience proper to succeed to a man like Marlborough. On arriving at the Hague he assured the States-General that his instructions were to act zealously with the allies, and especially the Dutch, and from his letters it would appear that such were his orders. But before his arrival, Mr. Thomas Harley, a relative of Oxford's, and the Abbe Gualtier, had reached the Hague, and had assured the plenipotentiaries that the government had determined on peace, and would not allow the army to fight. They also brought over with them the scheme of the treaty, which was not yet to be made known to the Dutch. But the States-General were too well aware of the hollow proceedings of the English court, and, disgusted at the withdrawal of Marlborough and the substitution of Ormonde, they would not intrust their troops to him, but appointed Eugene as their own general. Thus, instead of one generalissimo of consummate genius, the army was divided under two heads, and the best head, the prince Eugene, having the utmost contempt for the martial talents of his colleague. All on the part of England, both in the conference and in the army, was hollow, treacherous, and disgraceful. Yet, though there was to be no fighting, the pretence of it was kept up. The earl of Albemarle marched with a detachment of the army to Arras, where he burnt and destroyed some magazines of the French. Ormonde, too, joined prince Eugene on the 26th of May, and the united army passed the Scheldt, and encamped betwixt Haspre and Solennes. Eugene proposed to attack Villars in his lines, and Ormonde consented to it, but he immediately received a peremptory order from Mr. Secretary St. John against engaging in any siege or battle, and he was directed to keep this order profoundly secret from the allies. Ormonde was also instructed that if Villars should intimate that he was aware of these secret proceedings, he was to take no notice of it; nor was Villars long in letting him know that they might now consider each other as friends. The situation of Ormonde thus became one of extreme embarrassment. On the one hand, Eugene urged him to prepare for an engagement; on the other, the Dutch were impatient to see some stroke which should humble the French and make negotiation more easy; but Ormonde was as unable to move, notwithstanding previous assurances, as if he had been a mere image of wood. He wrote to St. John, expressing in strong terms the embarrassing nature of his situation, assuring him that the Dutch were exclaiming that they were betrayed; but St. John encouraged him to hold out as well as he could, and Ormonde condescended to play this false and degrading part, equally disgraceful to him as a general and a man of any pretences to honour. The prince urged forward the necessity of laying siege to Quesnoi, and Ormonde was allowed, for the sake of keeping up appearances, to furnish a considerable detachment for the purpose. But there was so evident a backwardness in the duke's movements, that the Dutch deputies complained vehemently to the English plenipotentiaries at Utrecht of his refusal to act in earnest against the enemy. Thereupon Robinson, the bishop, took high ground, and retorted that the States- General had met the queen's proposals for peace so strangely, that her majesty now felt herself released from any further obligation to maintain the treaties and engagements betwixt herself and them. This roused the States to great and indignant activity. They entered into communication with the electors of Hanover, of Hesse-Cassel, and other princes of the empire, regarding the effective service of their troops in the pay of Great Britain. They sent off warm remonstrances to the queen of England, and the queen was obliged to summon a council, in which it was agreed that Ormonde should appear as much as possible to concur with Eugene in the siege. The subject was brought to the knowledge of the whigs by the ambassadors of the allies, who presented letters from prince Eugene, and on the 7th of June that party took up the subject in the house of lords. The earl of Halifax moved for the production of the orders given to Ormonde, and that fresh commands should be issued to him to co-operate cordially with the prince. The lord treasurer declared that the orders could not be produced without mischief to the treaty pending; that Ormonde was only acting a prudent part in avoiding any serious engagement, which might have the effect to entirely defeat all the efforts at an honourable peace, and especially with such a monarch as Louis XIV., who was so apt to break his word. Lord Wharton replied that the king of France's disregard of his word was a strong reason for keeping no measures with him; and the duke of Marlborough, on Oxford saying that, notwithstanding, lord Ormonde had had orders to co-operate with the allies in the siege, asked how they were to carry on a siege and yet avoid a battle, in case the enemy should endeavour to relieve the place, unless the English were shamefully to abandon their posts. The duke of Argyll, to annoy Marlborough, declared that there had not been such a captain as Eugene since Julius Caesar, yet as the house of Austria had motives for war very different to any which England had, it might not be prudent to trust him with the chief command, lest he should render peace impossible. He threw out reproaches against Marlborough for not having taken Arras and Cam- bray two years ago, instead of wasting time on such petty places as Aire, Bethune, and St. Venant. But lord Paulet went further in invective against the great English general, and said that no one could doubt of the courage of the duke of Ormonde; but that he was not like a certain general, who led troops to the slaughter, and caused a great number of officers to be knocked on the head, that he might fill his pockets by disposing of their commissions. This murderous accusation was not likely to pass unnoticed by Marlborough. He suppressed his resentment in the house, but he immediately afterwards sent lord Mohun with a challenge to Paulet, who was much more valiant in speech than in action. He let his wife know of the challenge, so that the affair was quickly communicated to the secretary of state, who placed a couple of sentries at lord Paulet's door, and informed him that he was under arrest, whilst the earl of Dartmouth carried her majesty's command to Marlborough, that the affair should go no further, which Marlborough assured her should be punctually obeyed.

After the attack in the house of lords on Marlborough, the debate became very warm, but Oxford protested that there was no intention whatever of making a separate peace without the allies; that such a peace would be so base, so knavish, so villanous, that every one who served the queen knew that they must answer it with their heads to the nation. He contended that the nation would find that the peace intended would be a glorious peace, much more to the honour and interest of the nation than the first preliminaries insisted on by the allies: a most daring and unfounded assertion, the surrender of Spain being in the demands of the allies, but not in the treaty. The earl of Strafford, who had come over from Holland, asserted that the Dutch had made private offers at the conference at Gertruydenburg, which were kept from the knowledge of the allies, and should be the last to complain, and moved that the papers relating to the negotiations at the Hague and Gertruydenburg should be laid on the table, as they would show that the Dutch offered to make over Naples and Sicily to Philip, showing that they even then admitted the impossibility of regaining the whole Spanish monarchy. The motion of Halifax was negatived by a majority of sixty- eight to forty, but twenty-five peers entered a protest against it.

The same question was debated in the commons on the motion of Mr. Pulteney, and ministers were accused of carrying on clandestine and dishonourable negotiations with France independent of the allies. To this St. John replied in a high strain and in a very arrogant tone, trusting that it was not treachery to act for the good and advantage of Great Britain; that he gloried in his share of the proceedings, and that, whatever censure he might endure, he should feel a comfort his whole life in acting in it as he had done. The house called also for a copy of the transactions at the Hague and Gertruydenburg, and voted that the house had confidence in her majesty's promise to communicate to it the terms of peace before it should be concluded.

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