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Reign of George I page 13

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When the news of lord Townshend's removal reached London, it excited a great sensation. Townshend was considered pre-eminently an English minister, above all foreign influences, and this change was regarded as a Hanoverian cabal, a proof that no man could stand with the king and those about him, who would not fall in with the continental plans of that court. Townshend and the Walpoles were greatly exasperated, and this feeling was aggravated by a very intemperate letter of Sunderland's to lord Orford, in which he accused Townshend, Robert Walpole, and the lord chancellor of having entered into engagements with the prince and the duke of Argyll against the king's authority. This revealed the ground on which Townshend was really removed, and as he knew himself to be quite innocent in that respect, he denied the charge in no measured terms, as being an "infamous accusation," originating in "the villany and infatuation" of lord Sunderland. He declared that Sunderland wrote his letters in "frenzy fits."

To the king Townshend wrote, declining the offer of Ireland, saying, "My private affairs would not permit me to remove to Ireland, any more than common honesty would permit me to put the profits of that employment in my pocket without going over to do the duties of it." This was aimed at Sunderland, who had done so. To Stanhope both Townshend and Walpole wrote, violently accusing him of having changed towards his sworn friends. Stanhope replied, calmly repelling the charge, and still urging Walpole to keep his place, and Townshend to accept Ireland. On his way home the king spent a few days at the Hague, and there the Dutch ministers, who were warm friends of Townshend, and especially Slingeland, to whom Townshend had written, stating the whole affair, used their offices to disabuse the mind of the king with good effect. The king's presence at the Hague also facilitated the signing of the treaty by the Dutch, which was done a few days after he left, and thus became The Triple Alliance.

On the arrival of George in London he received Townshend very cordially, and so softened him as to induce him to accept the lord-lieutenancy, and to do the very thing he had declared it was not common honesty to do - accept the post and still remain in London, acting with the rest of the cabinet. His political adherents, including Methuen, Pulteney, the Walpoles, lord Oxford, and the duke of Devonshire, were contented to remain in office. The only change was that Methuen was made one of the two secretaries along with Stanhope. It was thus imagined that the great schism in the whig party was closed; but it was far from being the case: the healing was only on the surface.

Thus entered the year 1717. It had been intended to open parliament immediately on the king's return, but the discovery of a new and singular phase of the Jacobite conspiracy compelled its postponement. We have seen that the paltry and unprincipled trafficking of George with Denmark for the bishoprics of Bremen and Verden, reft in the king of Sweden's absence from his possession, had justly incensed that monarch, and made him vow that he would support the pretender and march into Scotland with twelve thou sand men. Such a menace on the part of a general like Charles XII. was not likely to pass unnoticed by the Jacobites. The duke of Berwick had taken up the idea very eagerly. He had held several conferences upon it with baron Spaar, the Swedish minister at Paris, and he had sent a trusty minister to Charles at Stralsund, with the proposal that a body of seven or eight thousand Swedes, then encamped near Gothenburg, should embark at that port, whence, with a favourable wind, they could land in Scotland in eight and forty hours. The pretender agreed to furnish one hundred and fifty thousand livres for their expenses. At that time, however, Charles was closely besieged by the Danes, Prussians, and their new ally, George of Hanover, purchased by the bribe of Bremen and Verden. Charles was compelled by this coalition to retire from Stralsund, but only in a mood of deeper indignation against the king of England, and therefore more favourable to his enemies.

The invasion of Scotland was again brought under his notice, and strongly recommended by his chief confidant and minister, baron Gortz. Charles now listened with all his native spirit of resentment, and Gortz immediately set out on a tour of instigation and arrangement of the invasion. Gortz was by birth a Franconian, an adventurer whom many ups and downs and secret intrigues had made acute and destitute of every principle that might impede his objects, before he attracted the notice and the favour of the hero of Sweden. Among other clever spirits whom he had sought to enlist in his cause, was Voltaire, who, in his history of Charles XII., says he was equally lavish of gifts and promises, of oaths and lies. Gortz now hastened to Holland, where he corresponded with count Gyllenborg, the Swedish ambassador at London, and baron Spaar, the Swedish minister at Paris. He put himself also into communication with the pretender and the duke of Ormonde. The scheme of Gortz was able and comprehensive. A peace was to be established betwixt Charles and his great enemy and rival, Peter of Russia. They both hated George of Hanover and England, and by this union might inflict the severest injuries on him. Next a conspiracy was to be excited against the regent of France, so as to prevent his aiding England according to the recent treaty, and all being thus prepared, Charles XII. was himself to conduct the army of twelve thousand veterans destined to invade Scotland, and, if supported by the Jacobites, England.

The Jacobites were in ecstasies at this new phase of their old enterprise. By Charles's adhesion, their scheme was stripped of all those prejudices which had ensured its ruin with the English. It had no longer the unpopular aspect of a French invasion; it was no longer headed by a popish but a protestant leader; it was no longer consigned to an untried or doubtful general, but to one of the most victorious monarchs living, who came as a protestant to call on a protestant nation to receive their rightful king. Money was not wanting. Spain remitted to baron Spaar a million of livres for the expedition, and the court of the pretender offered sixty thousand pounds.

But unfortunately for the pretender, at the moment that the Swedish hero should prepare his armament for the earliest spring, the conspiracy exploded. Whilst the leaders of it had been flattering themselves that it was conducted with the profoundest secresy, the English ministry were in possession of its clue. So early as October they had found reason to induce them to intercept the correspondence of Gyllenborg, and had come at once on the letters of Gortz. The matter was kept close, and as nothing was apprehended in winter, ministers used the time to improve their knowledge of the scheme from the inspected letters passing betwixt Gortz and Gyllenborg. On the king's return it was resolved to act, and accordingly Stanhope laid the information regarding this formidable conspiracy before the council, and proposed that the Swedish minister, who had clearly, by conspiring against the government to which he was accredited, violated the law of nations, and deprived himself of its protection, should be arrested. The cabinet at once assented to the proposal, and General Wade, a man of firm and resolute military habits, was ordered to make the arrest of the ambassador. The general found count Gyllenborg busy making up his dispatches, which, after announcing laconically his errand, Wade took possession of, and then demanded the contents of his escritoire.

The ambassador vehemently denounced the violation of his privilege, declared the laws of nations insulted in his person, and insisted upon sending for the Spanish ambassador, the marquis de Monteleone; but the general told him that he had strict orders not to allow any person to speak with him, and as he refused to give up the key, ordered the escretoire to be broken open, although the countess protested that it contained nothing but her plate and linen. The bursting open of the escritoire, however, told another tale. It revealed a mass of papers, which Wade also sealed up and carried away, leaving the ambassador, under a sufficient guard, prisoner in his own house. The same day Mr. Caesar, a creature of lord Oxford's, with whom Gyllenborg had passed most of the preceding summer in Hertfordshire, was arrested, as well as Sir Jacob Banks, formerly member for Minehead, who were suspected of being engaged in the conspiracy.

Stanhope then addressed a circular letter to all the representatives of foreign powers in London, informing them of the grounds for this arrest. None of them expressed any dissatisfaction at the proceeding except the Spanish ambassador, whose government had implicated itself in the conspiracy by sending money to support it. To make all the world aware of the facts, the government published the letters which had been seized in the post or at the house of the Swedish ambassador, in themselves a complete justification of this bold measure. Gyllenborg was found saying in his letters, "There is no medium. Either Bremen or the Hanoverian must be sacrificed. The latter is not so difficult, considering the general discontent. Ten thousand men would be sufficient. The malcontents require but a body of forces, to which they may join themselves. That body being transported in the month of March, when the easterly winds reign, and when it will not at all be dreamt of, will cause a general revolt."

This model of an ambassador, who was plotting against the government to which he was sent, then took another view of affairs, for any view which suited the convenience of his master was alike to him. He put the case, whether it would not be quite as well to make an arrangement with king George about Bremen, and thus bribe him to see what he would do in assisting to wrest some advantage from the czar. "But," continued this pliant diplomatist, "if we do not come to such terms, your excellency may be assured that, as well to justify their past actions, as to force us to a compliance, they will prevail upon the mercenary parliament which they have at present, to take vigorous resolutions, and perhaps even to declare war against us. The English ministers do not mince the matter, and they have already made it appear that they will stick at nothing. They are all furious persons. Sunderland, who, in a manner, is at the head of affairs, has got all the interest that he has with the king of England, by consenting to what has been done against us. Your excellency, therefore, will find that we ought to make use of this opportunity to enter into measures against people who certainly will not do anything by halves. We must either ruin them or be undone ourselves. My friends are now in town: an express which came to them yesterday from the pretender will put them into a better condition for forming a plan. To-day they are going about it."

The letters of Gortz were equally plain. He declared that before leaving Sweden he had strongly recommended this invasion to the king, and that the more he saw, the more he was convinced of the excellency of the plan. "There is, therefore," he went on, "now no other question but of the best means to satisfy our just desire of revenge. For several months past we have had some preliminary negotiation upon these matters with the court of Avignon; and which way can the king of Sweden better secure to himself the recovery and possession of the duchy of Bremen, than by reducing king George to be nothing more than an elector of the empire?"

In one of the letters to Gyllenborg there were words which throw suspicions on various persons, and amongst the rest, on Walpole, as if, on account of his brother-in-law lord Townshend's dismissal, he had been ready to join the Jacobites. "I do not know," says Gyllenborg, "whether Mr. Walpole's expressions were the effect of his first rage on account of his brother-in law my lord Townshend's being removed, or whether they came from his heart." But this was only the eager conspirator catching at straws. Walpole might use some indignant expressions regarding the dismissal of Townshend, but he was far too politic to think for a moment of going over to a desperate cause.

Gortz, the arch-conspirator, had a narrow escape. He had already reached Calais on his way to England to complete the conspiracy in person, when he heard of the arrest of Gyllenborg. He drew back just in time, but he did not escape. He and his two secretaries were taken into custody by order of the States, on the application of England, at Arnheim. The arrest of Charles XII.'s prime minister, and that on a foreign soil, was a still bolder measure than the arrest of Gyllenborg; but his secret plotting against the country, and his encouraging the Swedish ambassador to break so shamefully the law of nations for the betrayal of the country, were too flagrant for justifying, and the headstrong Charles, the "madman of the north," did not venture to remonstrate against it. He preserved a sullen silence, neither acknowledging nor repudiating the acts of his ministers; but he seized Mr. Jackson, the British resident in Sweden, in retaliation. Towards the Dutch he was still more forbearing, for he wished to conciliate them, and only, therefore, forbade the Dutch ambassador his presence. All parties, indeed, thought the sooner the affair of the Swedish minister was done with - their scheme being frustrated - the better. At the intercession of the regent of France, who, on the part of Charles, declared that the king of Sweden had never intended to disturb the tranquillity of Great Britain, count Gyllenborg was discharged, but ordered to leave the kingdom. Gortz and his secretaries were liberated in Holland, and Mr. Jackson was set free by the Swedish court, in return for Gyllenborg.

When parliament met, however, on the 20th of February, and this conspiracy was laid before it, it excited great indignation. One member demanded that war should be declared against Sweden; but this met with no support, it being very properly observed that it would be soon enough to do that if Charles acknowledged the proceedings of his ministers. As we have seen, however, he soon, in effect, denied them. The two houses voted cordial addresses to his majesty, and for a while there was an air of harmony. But the fires of discontent were smouldering beneath the surface, and, on a motion being made in April, in consequence of a royal message, to grant the king an extraordinary supply in order to enable his majesty to contract alliances with foreign powers, that he might be prepared to meet any attempts at invasion which the Swedes might, after all, be disposed to make, the heat broke forth. The supply moved for was fixed at two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. It was expected that Walpole, having had his name suspiciously mentioned in Gyllenborg's correspondence, would take this opportunity to wipe off all doubt by his zeal and co-operation. On the contrary, he never appeared so lukewarm. Both he and his brother Horace, indeed, spoke in favour of the supply, but coldly; and Townshend and all their mutual friends openly joined the tories and Jacobites in voting against it; so that it was only carried by a majority of four. This could not pass; and the same evening Stanhope, by the king's order, wrote to Townshend, acknowledging his past services, but informing him that he was no longer lord lieutenant of Ireland.

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