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Reign of George I page 10

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But although, on the whole, the insurgents taken in the act had been dealt with more leniently than they had a right to expect, yet the ministers showed a strong spirit of resentment against them, especially as catholics. Lord chancellor Cowper, in passing sentence on those condemned, advised them to choose other spiritual guides in their last moments; and no sooner were these disposed of, than the ministers resorted to the old system of attacks and coercions of the catholics under the idea of strengthening the throne. The pretender being an unbendable catholic, his exclusion from the throne being on anticatholic grounds, and his late supporters in the Highlands and elsewhere being chiefly catholics, it was deemed necessary anew to protect the crown against catholic machinations. On the 1st of March Lech- mere moved to bring in a bill to strengthen the protestant interest by enforcing the laws already in existence against papists. The bill was passed without any opposition, and one of the clauses was to punish exemplarily any papists who should dare to enlist themselves in his majesty's service!

But it was not enough to secure the throne by rejecting the services of catholics; the whigs were anxious to add fresh security to their own lease of office. At the last election they had procured the return of a powerful majority; but two years out of the triennial term had expired, and they looked with apprehension to the end of the next year, when a dissolution must take place, They were aware that there were still strong plottings and secret agitations for the restoration of the banished dynasty. By both the king and his ministers all tories were regarded as Jacobites, and it was resolved to keep them out of office, and, as much as possible, out of parliament. They had the power in their own hands in this parliament, and, in order to keep it, they did not hesitate to destroy that triennial act for which their own party had claimed so much credit in 1694, and substitute a septennial act in its place. They would thereby give to their own party in parliament more than a double term of the present legal possession of their seats. Instead of one year they would be able to look forward four years without any fear of tory increase of power through a new election. It would be a singular spectacle now-a-days to see the whigs exerting themselves to lengthen the duration of parliament, and tories zealously arguing for a greater limitation, as necessary for the independence of the subject; such, however, are the anomalies produced by the possession or non-possession of power. Had the tories been in, they would undoubtedly have willingly resorted to the same measure for the same object; but the whigs being in, they were induced, for self-security, to become the suicides of one of their own most popular acts, the Triennial Bill of 1694.

In order, however, that as little damage as possible might be done to the popularity of the members of the house where the change was to take place, they originated the measure i» the peers; and the duke of Devonshire, whose father had been one of the most active promoters of the triennial bill, was selected to propose its destruction. On the 10th of April Devonshire, lord steward of the household, moved the repeal of the triennial act, long lauded as one of the bulwarks of our liberties, under the now convenient plea that it had been "found very grievous and burthensome, by occasioning much greater and more continued expenses in order to elections of members to serve in parliament, and more lasting heats and animosities amongst the subjects of this realm than ever were known before the said clause was enacted." In the preamble to the new bill, the object of that extended bill was candidly avowed, namely, that, when "a restless and popish faction are designing and endeavouring to renew the rebellion in this kingdom and an invasion from abroad, it might be destructive to the peace and security of the government."

The bill was supported by the duke of Argyll, his brother, the earl of Isla, the lords Cowper, Dorset, Carteret, and others of the ministerial party. It was opposed zealously by all the tory lords, conspicuous amongst them the earl of Peterborough, the dukes of Buckingham, Somerset, and Shrewsbury. Somerset and Shrewsbury had taken strong ground now in the opposition - Somerset for reasons already explained; and Shrewsbury, who was always vacillating and drawing back, the more so when most warmly encouraged by his sovereign, was now, on the evidence of the Stuart papers, actively engaged in the very dubious interests of the pretender. The bill passed the lords by a large majority, the number when it went into committee being ninety-six to sixty; but thirty peers entered a protest against it.

It was sent down to the commons on the 24th of April. Walpole was confined by illness, and could take no public part in promoting it; but it was supported by all the power of the other members of the ministry in that house, by secretary Stanhope, lord Coningsby, Craggs, Aislabie, Jekyll, and others; in fact, by all the whigs in office or out of it. Steele took that side, and represented "the state of England like that of a vessel at sea ever since the Triennial Bill had been in operation; that at the commencement of a parliament members were, as it were, insolent and defiant in their attitude, in the middle quiescent, towards the end slavish towards their constituents." But really, this argument, well considered, told for the retention of the bill. If members felt themselves independent of their constituents at three years' distance from dissolution, what would they naturally be at seven? If they began to fear their constituents towards the end of the parliament, why should that salutary fear be diminished? On the other hand, the Triennial Bill found able defenders in Mr. Bromley, the late secretary of state, Mr. Shippen, the rising leader of the tories, Mr. Lechmere, lord Guernsey, and Sir Robert Raymond.

But the bill was not zealously supported out of the house by the boroughs, which had so strong an interest in retaining a hold on their members. All that petitioned for the continuance of triennial parliaments were Marlborough, Midhurst, Abingdon, Newcastle-under-Lyne, Horsham, Hastings, Westbury, Cardiff, Petersfield, and Cambridge - few of them of first-class importance. The fact was that the crisis for the change was well chosen, when the country was suffering from the late alarms, and regarded any measure which promised stability of protestant government with favour.

Perhaps the strongest argument against the Triennial Bill is one which was not likely to be much discussed in the house, because it applied to both whig and tory ministries alike - namely, that it had never availed to check the rapacity and corruption of cabinets, which had been as much or more unprincipled under the triennial act as they ever were before. But still this at bottom is no argument against short parliaments; for, if they cannot restrain corrupt ministries, longer ones are not likely to do it; and short parliaments, in times of more extended political knowledge and authority, bear in a very different measure on constituencies to what they did in those days.

When the bill went into committee in the commons, Shippen proposed a clause disqualifying all persons from sitting in parliament who held pensions at pleasure; but Stanhope objected to it as calculated to impede the progress of the bill, but promised to bring in a measure for that purpose, which was accordingly done under the management of Stanhope, Craggs, and Boscawen, and passed on the 8th of June. The Septennial Bill itself was passed on the 26th of April, when the minority amounted only to a hundred and twenty-one votes. One of the most remarkable facts connected with this retrograde legislation was that Somers, then very old and near his end, was said to have exclaimed to lord Townshend on seeing him directly after, that he was glad of the news; that he had never approved of the triennial act, and always considered it as the reverse of what it was intended. This, however, rests only on hearsay, and, if it be true, can only be received as a proof that Somers was now grown superannuated, or otherwise was not the profound statesman which his party had always represented him. That he was one of the ablest and most conscientious men of the time must be admitted; but his conduct in regard to the Partition Treaty showed that he was by no means above the courtly influences of his age.

Whilst parliament was busy with the Septennial Bill, George I. was very impatient to get away to Hanover. Like William III., he was but a foreigner in England; a dull, well-meaning man, whose heart was in his native country, and who had been transplanted too late ever to take to the alien earth. He had brought two or three of his fat mistresses with him, but they could not convert busy and wealthy England into a little, quiet Hanover. Their country was everything in their eyes except a money-getting country, and it was for that one advantage that they tolerated England; they were equally rapacious of money and titles. Madame Schulemberg was in her way very pious, being accustomed to drive round to several Lutheran chapels in one day, and endeavoured to get rid of the sinful nature of her position, being the chief of the king's harem, by privately fostering the delusive idea that she was married to George. For her benefit the post of master of the horse, vacated by the duke of Somerset, remained open for several years, that she might appropriate the emoluments. She also sold recommendations to all sorts of places, and made money enormously. Sir Robert Walpole, after the king's death, when he could speak out, declared that she would at any time have sold the king's honour for a shilling to the highest bidder. She was soon made duchess of Munster, and then duchess of Kendal. Next to her was the baroness Kilmansegge, younger, but equally fat and equally rapacious. Amongst George's male favourites were the barons Bothmar and Bernsdorff, Robethon, his private secretary, and several Turks - Mustapha, Mahomet, and others. All these people were so many harpies, insatiable of money, titles, and whatever they could get. Coming from a poor electorate into the English Goshen, they were not only greedy of gain and titles, but were followed by a flight of still poorer and more ravenous vultures than themselves. As William the Dutchman had thrown handfuls of estates at the heads of his Bentincks, Ginckels, and the rest, so these favourites expected nothing less, and were by no means scrupulous as to the means of obtaining them. Nobody could get at the king but through them; and they had the advantage of understanding his language, his tastes, and his weaknesses much better than any Englishman. There was not one of them more avaricious, mischievous, and meddling than Robethon, a man of French origin and ruined fortunes. He was always on the watch about the royal person to seize on advantages for himself, and infuse his poisonous slanders and prejudices against those whom he wished to keep at a distance.

The act of settlement provided that, after the Hanoverian accession, no reigning sovereign should quit the kingdom without permission of parliament. George and his creatures were not content to ask this permission, they insisted that the restraining clause itself should be repealed, and it was accordingly repealed without any opposition - of so little force are any of these ties on monarchs when surrounded by a servile ministry and parliament. There was one difficulty connected with George's absence from his kingdom which council or parliament could not so easily deal with; this was his excessive jealousy of his son. It was no new feeling; it had exhibited itself as strongly at Hanover as it did here. It had been one of the most effective preventives of the prince of Wales coming to England in Anne's time, for the elector had been as averse to his son's going to England as Anne was to see him there. This feeling became hereditary in the family; and all the four princes of Wales which appeared after the Hanoverian accession, ending in George IV., were at violent enmity with their parents or grandparents. "That family," said lord Carteret, one day in full council, "always has quarrelled, and always will quarrel from generation to generation." We may trust that the present happy reign will falsify this prediction. But at this moment it created a painful difficulty. The king could not take his departure in peace if the prince of Wales was to be made regent, according to custom, in his absence. He proposed, therefore, through his favourite, Bothmar, that the powers of the prince should be limited by rigorous provisions, and that some other persons should be joined with him in commission. Lord Townshend did not hesitate to express his sense of the impolicy of the king's leaving his dominions at all at such a crisis; but he also added that to put any other persons in commission with the prince of Wales was contrary to the whole practice and spirit of England. Driven from this, the king insisted that, instead of regent, the prince should be named u guardian and lieutenant of the realm" - an office which had never existed since the time of the Black Prince. Nor would he even permit him this title except under certain restrictions. He was extremely jealous of the counsels of the duke of Argyll, who had attached himself to the prince, and was his groom of the stole, and insisted on his being removed from his office and from about the person of the prince. Upon this pitiful display of a mean jealousy of his own son - a jealousy equally insulting to the nation, which had shown itself so careful of his rights and claims - George set sail for Hanover, a far less popular monarch than he came.

The retreat of George to Hanover was not merely to enjoy his native scenes and old associations; he felt himself insecure even on the throne of England, and the rebellion for the present quelled, and he was anxious to form or renew alliances on the continent to give strength to his position. The part which England had taken at the end of the war seemed to have alienated all her confederates of the grand alliance, and transferred their resentment to himself with his accession to the British crown. Holland was, perhaps, the least sensible of the past discords; she had kept the treaty, and lent her aid on the landing of the pretender; but she was now in a condition very different to that in which she was when William was stadtholder, and Fagel and Heinsius at the head of his administration. uThe government of the United Provinces," said Horace Walpole, now minister at the Hague, " was become a many-headed, headless government, containing as many masters as minds." That stupid obstinacy which had so often tried Marlborough had only increased as the vigour of their great minds had disappeared. As for the emperor, he was more feeble and sluggish than he had shown himself as the aspirant to the throne of Spain. He was a bigoted catholic, little disposed to trouble himself for securing a protestant succession, although it had expended much money and blood in defence of his own. On the contrary, he felt a strong jealousy of George, the elector of Hanover, as king of England, and therefore capable of introducing, through his augmented resources, aggressive disturbances in Germany. The king of Prussia, his son-in-law, was rather a troublesome and wrangling ally than one to be depended upon. Taking this view of his continental neighbours, George was driven to the conclusion that his only safety lay in firmly engaging France to relinquish the pretender. The means of the attainment of this desirable object lay in the peculiar position of the regent. Betwixt him and the throne of France stood only the weakly boy, Louis XV. Philip V. of Spain had, as we have seen, renounced solemnly all right to the succession in case of the decease of the infant king of France, but that circumstance gave no security to the regent's mind. He knew, as De Torcy had declared to Bolingbroke, that the hereditary practice of France sanctioned no such renunciations. He knew that Louis XIV. had renounced all claim on the Spanish throne on his marriage with the infanta, Maria Theresa; yet there was his grandson sitting on that throne in consequence of hereditary claim, and in defiance of that renunciation. He knew more, that Philip made the renunciation of the throne of France with mental reservation, and with a determination to assert his right to it in case of the decease of the young French king. It was, therefore, clearly the interest of the regent to strengthen his chance of succession by an alliance with England for support in case of a struggle; but then this alliance must be purchased by guaranteeing George's British throne against the pretender. So long as the chances of the pretender appeared tolerable, the regent had avoided the overtures on this subject, but the failure of the expedition to the Highlands had inclined him to give up the pretender, and he now sent the abbé Dubois to Hanover to treat upon the subject.

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