OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Reign of George I page 16

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 <16> 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

During this session, too, a circumstance occurred which showed that the merciful spirit of Anne no longer occupied the throne. A youth named James Shepherd, who had every appearance of being insane, was condemned and executed for professing his readiness to convey letters to his majesty in Italy, and then to smite the usurper, George, in his own palace.

The year 1717 terminated thus in blood, which "the good queen Anne" would have spared, and in busy preparation for more bloodshed abroad. The session of parliament terminated on the 21st of March, 1718, and the words of the king in dismissing the houses sounded, as Walpole observed, very like a declaration of war - a meaning only too well borne out by the active preparation of a large armament at Portsmouth, though the negotiations betwixt the great powers still continued.

The fact was that cardinal Alberoni, the Spanish minister, a man of wonderful spirit and activity, but of an ambition that led him to overrate the power and resources of Spain, was daring enough to imagine that he could cope with England, France, and Austria. He was preparing a great armament, and building and fitting out ships, to the astonishment of all Europe. Lord Stanhope thought it necessary to make a personal visit to Spain, to see whether he could not bring the cardinal to more reasonable views; and in order to liberate himself for this mission, various changes were made in the ministry. Stanhope had resigned the office of foreign secretary of state, and taken that of first lord of the treasury; but he had lived so much abroad, and had been engaged in diplomacy so much in the courts of Paris, Vienna, and the Hague, besides having fought in Spain, that the princes and ministers of those courts still continued to apply to him rather than to Sunderland, who now occupied the post of foreign minister. This could neither be agreeable to Sunderland, a very proud man, nor advantageous to the business of the country. Stanhope, therefore, resumed the foreign department, and Sunderland went to the treasury. The chancellorship of the exchequer, which Stanhope also held, was conferred on Aislabie. Addison, who was the home secretary, now resigned. Justly illustrious as a writer, Addison had never shone as a statesman. He now accepted a retiring pension of one thousand five hundred pounds a-year, and died fifteen months afterwards at Holland House. There can, therefore, be no doubt but that his failing health had rendered his discharge of his ministerial duties increasingly inefficient. James Craggs, a ready speaker, and a man of business, took his place. The whig cabinet also at this time lost the services of lord Cowper, who was opposed to the views of his colleagues on some important questions, and he resigned in some degree of dudgeon, though he was soothed by an earl's patent, Stanhope also receiving the same promotion. Lord Parker, chief justice of the King's Bench, afterwards earl of Macclesfield, succeeded to the woolsack. At this period, too, died the earl of Shrewsbury, who could not, however, be said to be any real loss to his party. Though greatly esteemed as a man, and sought after by his successive sovereigns from William III. to George I., with a singular faith in his great talents and probity, he had always exhibited a hesitating and timid disposition, which made him as persevering to retreat from office as it was forced upon him.

Government was, amongst its other changes, also released at this juncture from the perpetual nuisance of convocation. The constant quarrels of the clergy in convocation were so scandalous that the whole nation was ashamed of them. Through the reign of queen Anne these had grown to a most intolerable height; and on the accession of the present king the lower house of convocation had plunged with so much acrimony into what was called the Bangorian controversy - that is, into a dispute with Dr. Hoadley, bishop of Bangor, who had, in a sermon before the king, declared that the kingdom of Christ was a spiritual and not a temporal kingdom, thus, as it was asserted by the clergy, laying the axe to the royal supremacy - that, to put an end to this incessant squabbling, the government suddenly prorogued the convocation, and it has never since been called together by the sovereign. In our time it has again begun to meet, as it were by sufferance, but has no real authority.

These arrangements completed, Stanhope determined to make his journey to Spain, to endeavour in person to remove, if possible, the storm gathering there. He had used every exertion by means of correspondence, and of an ambassador, colonel Stanhope, in co-operation with Nancre, the French envoy, for that end. The endeavours of the ambassadors were fruitless, and the language of Alberoni to himself was most insolent. The inflated Italian denounced the peace of Utrecht as the work of the devil, and the endeavours to effect an alliance betwixt the different powers of Europe a hircocerf - a, goat-stag. He said, proudly, "The arm of the Lord was not shortened," and he went on with his preparations for a military and naval force with a vigour which amazed all parties who knew the wretched condition of Spain. He had now accumulated twenty-nine ships of war, with transports for thirty-five thousand veteran soldiers, a hundred pieces of battering cannon, forty mortars, and immense supplies of ammunition and provisions. A Spanish historian declared that so formidable an armament had not been sent forth by any former Spanish monarch, not even by the emperors Charles V. or Philip II.

The command of the fleet was given to Don Antonio Castaneta, who had originally been a ship-builder, and that of the army to the marquis de Lede, a Fleming, deformed in person, but of great military experience. This grand armament was now equipping in the harbour of Cadiz, but its destination no one had yet been able to penetrate; for Alberoni, though a very vain man, had that rare quality in association with vanity, a profound power of reticence, and no one except the ex-Jesuit Patiņo was in his confidence.

These preparations on the part of Spain were in one particular favourable to the king of England - they rendered the emperor much more conceding. The English envoy at that court - rather singularly a Swiss of the canton of Berne - the general de St. Saphorin, had found Staremberg, the emperor's minister, very high, and disinclined to listen to the proposals of the king of England regarding Bremen and Verden; but the news of the Spanish armament, and still more of its having sailed from Cadiz to Barcelona, produced a wonderful change. The imperial court not only consented to the demands of England, but accepted its mediation with the Turks, by which a considerable force was liberated for the service in Italy. The emperor acceded to the alliance proposed betwixt England, France, and Germany in order to compel Spain to terms, and which afterwards, when joined by the Dutch, was called the Quadruple Alliance. In France, however, all obstacles to this treaty were not yet overcome. There was a strong party, headed by the marshal d'Huxelles, chief of the council for foreign affairs, which strongly opposed this plan of coercing the grandson of Louis XIV. To overcome these obstacles, Stanhope went over to Paris, and had several conferences with king Philip; and, supported by lord Stair and Nancre, all difficulties were removed, and the alliance was signed in the succeeding August.

By this treaty Parma and Tuscany were ceded in reversion to the infant Don Carlos; Sicily was to be made over to the emperor, and in exchange for it Sardinia was to bo given to Victor Amadeus of Savoy. As Sardinia was an island of so much less extent and value than Sicily, the succession to the crown of Spain was guaranteed to the house of Savoy in case of Philip of Spain having no issue. Three months were allowed for the king of Spain and the duke of Savoy to come in, and after that, in case of their non-compliance, force was to be used to effect it. It was to avert such a result that Stanhope made his journey to Spain. Before setting out, however, admiral Byng had been dispatched to the Mediterranean with twenty-one ships of the line, and peremptory orders to attack the Spanish fleet whenever he should find it engaged in any hostile attempt against Sicily, Naples, or any other of the emperor's possessions in the Mediterranean. Byng sailed on the 4th of June, and soon after Stanhope, accompanied by Mr. Schaub, a Swiss, afterwards Sir Luke, continued his journey from Paris towards Madrid.

Meantime the Spanish fleet had sailed from Barcelona with sealed orders, which were to be opened at sea, and which then were found to direct that it should steer for Cagliari, and there open fresh orders. This being done, it was now made known that the object of the expedition was the invasion and conquest of Sicily. The object of this invasion was to act as a diversion with regard to England and France. Both these powers were bound by the treaty to guarantee the neutrality of Italy, but not of Sicily. Alberoni, therefore, reasoned that he could attack Sicily Without giving a casus belli to either of those powers, and that in the meantime the intrigues which he was carrying on with Russia and Sweden, might bring down a northern army on Great Britain, and those which he was fostering in France might produce an explosion there, by which he would find these two kingdoms enough to do without interference with Spain. Sicily, moreover, was a tempting object, from the great number of Spaniards or Spanish partisans there, and the feeble manner in which it was garrisoned by Savoy.

The plans of Alberoni appeared by the first success to be well laid. The Spanish fleet landed in the Bay of Solanto on the 1st of July, only four leagues distant from Palermo, the capital, amid the warm welcomes of the people. The marquis Maffei, the Piedmontese viceroy, who had only about one thousand five hundred soldiers, made a precipitate retreat, and the Spaniards marched in triumph. In a few days the citadel also surrendered, and they remained masters of the capital.

It was at this juncture that admiral Byng appeared off Cape St. Vincent, and sent a despatch to Madrid to colonel Stanhope, the British ambassador, with a copy of his instructions, and a list of his ships, which he was to lay before the Spanish government. But Alberoni was so elated by his success in Sicily, that he only treated the menaces of England with contempt. He denounced the quadruple alliance in most haughty terms, declared that the king his master would wage eternal war against the contractors of it, and used language fit only for a Spanish minister in the proudest days of that kingdom. He declared that Stanhope need not come to Spain with the hope of laying down the law to him, and he concluded by snatching the list of the British ships out of the hands of the British envoy, tearing it up, and trampling it in his rage. In a few days he sent word from the king that Byng might execute the orders of the king his master, if he dared.

Whilst Alberoni was in this temper, lord Stanhope arrived on the 12th of August in Madrid. The Spanish minister, notwithstanding his menaces, conducted himself with more deference than he had promised, but he held out no hopes of compliance. He represented to Stanhope that to make war in Lombardy for the establishment of the emperor's power, was to make that country the grave of the English and French; that so long as the Germans were in Italy, the Italians must be slaves; and it was the height of madness to put the archduke in possession of Sicily too, and thus to hope to set any bounds to the Austrian power.

There was only too much truth in all this, and Alberoni enforced his arguments by conduct very different to that which he had promised. He was extremely courteous to Stanhope; disclaimed any desire of conquests in Italy, so far as he was concerned. He threw the blame of Spanish policy on the obstinacy of the king, and on his hostility to the emperor and the regent of France. For himself, he declared that he was certain that the prosperity of Spain lay in its Indies and in improving its condition, and he parted with Stanhope in tears, protesting that he would do all that he could to have matters adjusted. But a great part, if not the whole of this, was only affected.

The most extraordinary circumstance connected with this mission of Lord Stanhope was that he was authorised to give up Gibraltar. For what considerations does not appear, but whilst Stanhope professed to regard the surrender of Gibraltar as a matter of no great consequence, we may feel certain that the quid pro quo was no trifle, for it was not accepted. It has been surmised that the equivalent demanded was a large territory in America. Whatever it was, it was refused, and Stanhope returned without accomplishing his object.

Meantime the Spaniards were pushing their advantages in Sicily. The people were greatly in their favour; they rose in Caltanisetto and massacred forty of the Piedmontese soldiers. There were only some half-dozen towns which could offer any serious opposition, and the chief of these were Syracuse, Trapani, Melazzo, and Messina. Maffie, the viceroy, had betaken himself to Syracuse, but Lede, leaving a detachment to blockade Trapani, directed his attack on Messina. This soon opened its gates to the invaders; but the citadel, containing a garrison of two thousand five hundred soldiers, stood out firmly. To prevent their surrender, count Daun, the viceroy of Naples, was anxious to carry over some imperial troops, for the king of Sicily was now daily expected to join the quadruple alliance, and had consented to admit imperial troops into the Sicilian fortresses. Fortunately for the enterprise, Admiral Byng anchored in the Bay of Naples on the very day after the investment of Messina, and offered to carry over Daun's detachment of two thousand German infantry. The offer was gladly accepted, and Byng landed them at Reggio. He, however, sent an officer to the marquis de Lede, on arriving before Messina, proposing a suspension of hostilities for two months, to which Lede courteously replied, that he had no authority to make such a convention. Byng, therefore, went in pursuit of the Spanish fleet, which he heard was lying at the other end of the strait, in the direction of Tarmina. He sailed through the strait, the people of both sides, Calabrians and Sicilians, watching his progress from their shores and mountains with intense interest. He soon came in sight of twenty-seven sail of the line, with fire-ships, ketches, bombs, and seven gallies, drawn up in line of battle between him and the shore.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 <16> 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Pictures for Reign of George I page 16

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About