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Reign of George I page 11

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There was another point, however, which king George had in view, and without which the treaty was not likely to be accomplished - the port of Mardyk. By the peace of Utrecht France was bound to destroy the port of Dunkirk; but, with true French finesse, having carried out that demolition, she began to construct another port, even better and stronger, at Mardyk, at a short distance from Dunkirk. The English ministry had protested against this barefaced evasion of the treaty of Utrecht on that point both before and since the present king's accession, but with no effect. The French replied that they had faithfully observed the treaty; that they had destroyed the port of Dunkirk, and that Mardyk was not Dunkirk, nor Dunkirk Mardyk. But however much George I. desired the proposed alliance and mutual guarantee for the two successions, he was resolved not to conclude it without the suppression of the new port of Mardyk. It was now that the regent, reflecting on the casualties of his own position and the augmented strength of England, resolved to concede something, if not the whole, regarding Mardyk to achieve the other object. He therefore withdrew the negotiation on this point from M. Chateneuf, the French resident at the Hague, and placed it in the more able and willing hands of the abbé Dubois.

The abbé was at once the most infamous and the most adroit man of his time. The son of a poor apothecary near Limoges, he had contrived to mount by degrees into the confidence of the duke of Orleans, in whose service he had filled the post which Chiffinch filled to Charles H. - the manager of his infamous amours, the panderer to his vices, the paid seducer of women into his toils. This he did whilst he was the tutor of Orleans, and this he continued when he was regent and duke of Chartres. But he was not only the agent of that profligate man's pleasures; he was also his diplomatic envoy, first at one court and then at another. We have seen him coming and going betwixt England and France in the negotiations both regarding the peace of Utrecht and the pretender. Like Talleyrand of our time, he had trained himself to an impenetrable concealment of his feelings and his real sentiments, and was so thorough a rogue that when the regent, in spite of the public clamour against such a man being put in his council, had ventured to do it, he was obliged to say to him, "I do beg, my dear abbé, you will endeavour to be a little honest."

This model of a minister was now sent to Hanover to manage the treaty with the king, and to get a guarantee for the regent's succession, whilst he gave up as little as possible. Such are the strange bedfellows which politics, as well as poverty, make people acquainted with, that, on arriving at Hanover, the virtuous and respectable Stanhope received the abbé as a guest at his house. The return which the accomplished abbé made for his hospitality was what Stanhope, of course, expected. He did all in his power to overreach him in his negotiations. As for Mardyk, which the English court was most anxious about, he had brought a huge pile of sketches, plans, and papers with him, with which he endeavoured to entrap and confuse Stanhope; but the English minister was quick enough to perceive that all that the abbé offered was to alter the direction of the sluices, but to leave the port just as capacious and as deep in water as before. As for the parts of the treaty regarding the succession, he-endeavoured to bring that in, not as the principal matter, but as a mere accessory, and at the same time to do it in the form of a guarantee to the treaty of Utrecht, the sixth article of which, he said, contained everything that related to the crown of France. That was a good reason for no treaty at all, but worse than none whatever for guaranteeing the treaty of Utrecht, which would cover these whig ministers with disgrace, for they had denounced the treaty as most unpatriotic and scandalous.

But Stanhope was too clear-headed to be duped by the wily Frenchman. He politely but firmly adhered to the demands of England for the suppression of Mardyk as a port, and the abbé then tried the expedient of being angry, and threatening to go away. This, however, failed him too, for Stanhope took his bluster very coolly; and he therefore came down to these conclusions - That in the articles fourth, fifth, and sixth in the treaty of Utrecht between France and England, and the thirty-first between France and Holland, the two former of which relate only to the succession of England, and the two latter containing everything which concern that of France and the renunciation upon which it is founded. This Dubois signed, but not till after three days' wrangling, and then without including Mardyk, the article about which was to be settled in London. Thus the French plenipotentiary had got the better, after all, of his English rival; and when the preliminaries were sent to London, lord Townsliend expressed his satisfaction with the treaty as far as it went, but expressed his doubt whether they should ever get the article regarding Mardyk completed. This opinion was fully confirmed when they came to discuss the matter with M. Ibeville, the French agent in London, it being plain to the ministers that the French were determined to retain a depth of water sufficient to admit men-of-war and privateers into Mardyk. This was a great disappointment; but suddenly, three days after, Ibeville gave way, urged by some cause from home which was not very clear, but which, no doubt, regarded the security of the regent. He consented that the sluices of Mardyk should be confined to sixteen feet in width, which would, of course, wholly exclude ships-of-war and privateers. This sudden turn greatly delighted the English ministry. The preliminaries were concluded, and the Dutch included in them; but the treaty was not ratified till January, 1717.

But though this difficulty was tided over, there remained a still greater one with the northern nation. Charles XII. of Sweden, overthrown by the czar Peter at the battle of Pultowa, had fled into Turkey, and obstinately remained at Bender, though the czar and his allies were all the time overrunning and taking possession of all the Swedish territories on the eastern side of the Baltic. Russians, Norwegians, Danes, Saxons, and Prussians were all busy gorging the spoil. The king of Denmark, amongst the invasions of Swedish territory, had seized on the rich bishoprics of Bremen and Verden, which had been ceded to Sweden at the peace of Westphalia. These bishoprics, which lay contiguous to Hanover, had always been an object of desire to that state. And now Charles of Sweden, suddenly ruined by the proceedings of his vulture neighbours, rending limb from limb his kingdom, galloped away from Bender, and, in November, 1714, startled all his enemies by appearing at Stralsund. Denmark, seeing a tempest about to burst over its head, immediately tempted the English king to enter into alliance with him, by offering him the stolen bishoprics of Bremen and Verden on condition that he should pay a hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and join the alliance of the northern ruffians against Sweden. The bait was greedily swallowed by the virtuous George, and England was immediately called upon to pay the costs of this nefarious transaction.

Here was immediately seen the wisdom of those statesmen who, admitting the petty prince of Hanover to the throne of England, had endeavoured to prevent the kingdom being dragged into the dirty squabbles and dishonest rapacities and complicities of this little German electorate. And here, at the same time, was seen how totally inefficient are all human precautions to prevent such mischief. The second article of the Act of Settlement provided - that in case any foreigners came to the throne of these kingdoms, this nation should not be obliged to engage in any wars for the defence of any dominions that did not belong to the crown of England without consent of parliament.

What was the immediate consequence of this treaty betwixt George of Hanover and Denmark for the cession of the usurped bishoprics of Bremen and Verden? Without waiting for any consent of parliament, Sir John Norris was sent with a fleet to the Baltic, under the pretence of protecting our trade there, but with the real object of compelling Sweden to cede the bishoprics, and to accept a compensation in money for them. Thus we were at once thrown into a hostile attitude towards Sweden, an ancient ally, which was intimately connected with us in trade, which we had assisted this very Charles XII. to defend against former encroachments of Denmark. But now we were made to sanction George of Hanover's unprincipled bargain for a petty addition to his petty electorate; to become, in reality, at war with our late ally, and to join one of the most rapacious and thievish confederations with the northern princes which ever existed. Under the pretence that the possession by Hanover of these towns on the Elbe and the Weser was important to British commerce, we were to encourage the gigantic aggressions of Peter the Muscovite in the Baltic, which infinitely more menaced our future commerce in those waters. Such were the immediate fruits of placing on the throne a small German prince - fruits to be followed by far greater indignities, debts, wars, and embarrassments from the same source - an alliance which has led the little protestant states of Germany to look on this country as a sort of promised land of rich and well- pensioned wives, subsidies, and honours, and which made Englishmen rejoice when circumstances at length cut loose the little barge of Hanover once more from the wake of the great British vessel.

At the same time that we were thus dragged into hostilities with Sweden, and made to favour the encroachments of the czar, we were brought into hostilities with the czar too in defence of this troublesome state of Hanover. The czar had married his niece to the duke of Mecklenburg, who was on bad terms with his subjects, and the czar was only too glad to get a footing in Germany by sending a large body of troops into the duchy. Denmark became immediately alarmed at such a dangerous and unscrupulous neighbour, and remonstrated; whereupon the czar informed the Danish king that if he murmured he would enter Denmark with his army too. Of course the king of Denmark called on his ally, George of Hanover, for the stipulated aid; and George, who hated the czar mortally, and was hated by the czar as intensely in return, at once sent his favourite, Bernsdorff, to Stanhope, with a demand that" the czar should be instantly crushed, his ships secured, his person seized, and kept till he should have caused his troops to evacuate both Denmark and Germany." These were the little matters which England was immediately to do for the honour of having the elector of that important little spot, Hanover, for its king. Stanhope was confounded by these peremptory demands. He went to the king, and found him resolved to have them carried out. Orders were to be sent forthwith to Sir John Norris to that effect. But Stanhope replied that he could not take upon himself measures of such moment. He could only refer them to the other ministers in England; and he wrote to Townshend in a manner which showed his embarrassment, but with no more than a minister's average principle. "I shall check my own nature, which was ever inclined to bold strokes, till I can hear from you. But you will easily imagine how I shall be daily pressed to send orders to Sir John Norris. The truth is, I see 110 daylight through these affairs. We might easily master the czar if we go briskly to work, and this be thought a right measure: but how far Sweden may be thereby enabled to disturb us in Britain you may judge. If the czar be let alone, he will not only be master of Denmark, but with the body of troops which he has still behind on the frontiers of Poland, may take quarters where he pleases in Germany. How far the king of Prussia is concerned with him we do not know, nor will that prince explain himself. The king now wishes, and so does your humble servant, very heartily, that we had secured the king of France."

Such were the disgraceful and impolitic affairs into which England was dragged by Hanover. Her clear and honest course was to have maintained her alliance with Sweden. By this means the designs of the czar, so far as our prospects of trade were concerned in the Baltic, would have been kept in check. But now to do the dirty work of Hanover, we had let loose the czar by mortally offending Sweden. George of Hanover had not only secured Bremen and Verden which Denmark had robbed Sweden of, but had marched a large body of troops into Pomerania, to unite with the Danes and Prussians, who had reduced the islands of Rügen and Uledon, and attacked Charles at Stralsund. Enraged at this conduct of George and of the English cabinet in sending Norris to the Baltic, Charles XII. immediately entered into alliance with the pretender, and engaged to invade Scotland with twelve thousand veteran Swedes. Thus this kingdom was menaced with an attack in its least defencible quarter by one of the most skilful generals of Europe, converted from our ally into an implacable enemy, simply by our being dragged into the aggressions of Hanover, swelling itself like the frog in the fable, and presuming in the most unprincipled manner, in reliance on the power of poor, humiliated, degraded England.

The receipt of such proposals in England produced the utmost consternation in the cabinet. The least reflective member of it could not avoid perceiving the undignified entanglements in which we were involved by this long-cherished protestant succession. Townshend, in an " absolutely secret" answer to Stanhope, expressed the concern both of himself and the prince of Wales at the prospect of a rupture with the czar, who would seize the British ships and subjects in Russia, and prohibit the supply of naval stores from his kingdom, and that especially at a crisis when England was threatened with an invasion from Sweden and a rising of the Jacobites. He did not deny that there was a great danger of both these kingdoms and the German empire being exposed to imminent danger by the designs of the czar on the whole coast of the Baltic, a danger which he might, had he dared, truly have attributed to George's own deeds by offending Sweden, instead of uniting with it to counterbalance the czar's plan of aggrandisement. But Townshend, not being able to say so much, ended by offering very crooked advice, which was that, although he could not openly at first sanction the king of Denmark in attacking the czar, he might do it secretly, and openly when once the blow was struck. It is impossible to contemplate the predicament, and the dishonourable policy to which these pitiful Hanoverian involvements reduced British statesmen, without blushing and indignation.

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