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Reign of George I page 23

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This difficult business) being arranged, parliament was prorogued, the king, in his parting speech, telling the country that he had taken measures to relieve the sufferers by the South Sea scheme, and to punish the guilty; but the nation did not close its eyes to the fact that this punishment did not reach the king's German mistresses, nor others of the court who had been amongst the most flagrantly culpable of all.

On the 16th of June of this year died at Windsor Lodge, in his seventy-second year, the great warrior of this age - the duke of Marlborough. Having been attacked with paralysis in 1716, he had lived for six years in a state of retirement. He died enormously rich, and was honoured by a very splendid funeral in Westminster Abbey, though his remains were, after a time, removed thence to the palace of Blenheim, and laid in a grand mausoleum there. His duchess survived him two-and-twenty years. The character of Marlborough has been sufficiently traced in the preceding pages. If he was remarkable for many meannesses as it regarded money and political double dealing, he was still more remarkable for his military talents, no English general since our Henries and Edwards having spread over the world so widely and proudly the martial glory of England.

The discontents occasioned by the South Sea scheme and its issue, had caused the Jacobites to conceive fresh hopes of success, and their spirits were still more elevated by the birth of a son to the pretender. This child, named Charles Edward Louis Casimir, destined to be the hero of 1745, but never the king of England, was born at Rome at the end of the year 1720. Bishop Atterbury declared it to be the most acceptable news which could reach the ears of a good Englishman. Lord Oxford had been consulted as to the number and dignity of the persons who should be invited to be witnesses on the occasion; and the Jacobites were actually led to believe that a star appeared in the heavens at the happy moment of the birth of this prince without a kingdom. The pretender and his titular queen of England were assured by lord Lansdowne that there were great rejoicings on Lord Mayor's day, for that dignitary being named Stuart, the people took the occasion to express their real predisposition, and cried amain, "A Stuart! a Stuart! High Church and Stuart!"

To increase the supposed Stuart tendency amongst the populace, every opportunity was used to ridicule the ugliness of the king's German mistresses, and the king's own awkwardness. "Mist's Journal," of May 21,1721, declared that this country was governed by trulls, and not only so, but by very ugly old trulls. For this the publisher was fined and imprisoned by the commons, but the journal was continued under the name of "Fogg's Journal." The ungainly persons and habits of the English monarch and his favourites were placed in strong contrast with the assumed beauties, graces, and elegancies of the Stuart nominal king and queen, and heir-apparent.

The business of this faction was conducted in England by a junto or council, amongst the chief members of which were the earls of Arran and Orrery, lords North and Gower, and the bishop of Rochester. Lord Oxford had been invited to put himself at the head of this council of five, but everything of a decided nature was out of his character. He continued to correspond with the leaders of the faction, but he declined putting himself too forward. In fact, his habitual irresolution was now doubled by advancing infirmities, and he died two years afterwards. Though several of the junto were men of parliamentary, and North of military experience, Atterbury was the undoubted head of it. He was possessed of a fine person, a commanding eloquence, and great learning, but his ambition was directed to political rather than to ecclesiastical life. He had always been a busy champion of high church, and with all his sense and intelligence, he had that constitution of mind which prevented him perceiving what might have been thought most patent to any reflecting protestant Englishman, that the king and family which he would have introduced would be the certain ruin of the church of which he was a prelate, and of the constitution which gave security not only to his religion but to his civil rights and enjoyments. It was a strange sight to see a man, made what he was by protestantism and its church, continually plotting to bring in a man sworn to popery, and who would accept the British throne only with popery.

Little favourable as the temper of England was to the return of such a prince, the continent now offered scarcely a chance of foreign support. So long as France and Spain were at war with England, there were strong motives for their assisting an expedition to disturb it, and to drive out a protestant government. But now that both France and Spain were at peace with Britain, what prospect was there of any aid? Still this blind faction could not perceive this, and was as busy as ever plotting to obtain an armament from one of these countries, headed by the duke of Ormonde. That nobleman was intriguing for this in Spain, and general Dillon, an Irishman, who had taken service in France after the capitulation of Limerick, was the agent there. On this side Atterbury encouraged the insane hope of seizing the Tower, the Bank, the Exchequer, and other places where money was deposited, and proclaiming the pretender simultaneously in various parts of the kingdom. The period of confusion created by the South Sea agitation was first pitched on, then that of the general election, which had taken place in March; and finally, it was deferred till the king should have gone to Hanover, according to his custom, in the summer.

In preparation for this movement, James, the pretender, was to sail secretly to Spain, in readiness to cross to England; and he had already quitted his house in Rome, and removed to a villa, the more unobserved to steal away at the appointed moment. Ormonde, also, had left Madrid, and gone to a country seat half way to Bilboa, when the secret of the impending expedition was suddenly revealed by the French government to that of England. The conspirators had been mad enough to apply to the regent for five thousand troops, trusting that, notwithstanding his peaceful relations with this country, he would secretly enjoy creating it some embarrassment. But in this, as in all other views, they proved more sanguine than profound. Sir Luke Scraub, the English ambassador, was immediately informed of it, on condition, it was said, that no one should die for it.

Walpole was instantly on the alert on this startling discovery. He prevailed on the king to put off his journey to Germany. Troops were drawn round London, and a camp formed in Hyde Park. The king took up his residence at Kensington, in the very midst of the soldiers, and the prince of Wales retired to Richmond. General Macartney was dispatched for still more troops from Ireland; some suspected persons were arrested in Scotland; the states of Holland were solicited to have ships and soldiers in readiness; an order was obtained from the court of Madrid to forbid the embarkation of Ormonde; and general Churchill was dispatched to Paris to make all secure with the regent. This would have been ample preparation for the security of the country; but Walpole did not mean to stop short of the utter extirpation of the concealed mischief. All conceivable means of obtaining information of its fomenters and ramifications were set in motion. The letters of the conspirators were seized in the post, and, in order to throw the government on a wrong scent, the Jacobites wrote letters with assumed names and false news - but to little purpose; Walpole had already the names of the principal conspirators, and warrants were in prompt preparation for their arrest.

On the 21st of May Kelly, a nonjuring clergyman, was seized by two messengers at his lodgings in Bury Street. They came upon him by surprise, secured his sword and papers, which they foolishly laid in a window whilst they made further search. Kelly, who had twice their wit and courage, instantly recovered his sword and papers, and, threatening to run any one through who approached him, he burnt his papers in a candle with his left hand, whilst he held his drawn sword in his right. Having consumed the papers, he quietly surrendered himself. Neynoe, an Irish catholic priest, before the officers could force his house, tied together the blankets and sheets, and let himself down on a garden wall overlooking the Thames, whence he leaped into the water, but, not being able to swim, he was drowned. Layer, a young barrister of the Temple, also attempted escape, but unsuccessfully. Carte, the celebrated Jacobite historian, had secured his retreat in good time to France. Plunket, an Irish Jesuit, was seized with his papers. No sooner had lord North learned the arrest of Layer, the Templar, than he fled, for he had been in close correspondence with him. He reached the Isle of Wight, but was discovered and brought back. Lord Orrery and the duke of Norfolk, undoubtedly amongst the principal conspirators, were arrested and sent to the Tower; but they were soon released again, either because the evidence against them was insufficient, or that the government did not wish to convict them. It would seem, too, as if there was a desire to pass over Atterbury as well, for the warrant against him was not issued till the 24th of August, when he was arrested at the deanery at Bromley, in Kent. A very trivial circumstance tended to complete the evidence which rendered it necessary to apprehend him. A correspondence was discovered betwixt two individuals bearing the names of Jones and Illington; end through the circumstance of a lapdog of the late Mrs. Atterbury, called "Harlequin," being repeatedly mentioned in the correspondence, it was ascertained that "Illington" or "Jones" was no other than the bishop. When brought before the council, Atterbury refused to say anything, except irreverently using our Saviour's words before the high priest - "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I also ask you, you will not answer me, nor let me go." He was sent to the Tower.

No sooner was his imprisonment known than the high churchmen raised a terrible outcry. They declared the incarceration of a prelate an outrage upon the church; they protested that the plot was a mere sham, got up for the ruin of a political opponent. The clergy prayed for him in the churches, and a touching print was issued, representing the bishop looking through the bars in his prison, and holding in his hand a portrait of archbishop Laud. It was actively circulated that the bishop was, moreover, very severely treated in the Tower, but this treatment appears to have consisted in a rigid examination of his correspondence, and scrutiny of both persons and even pigeon-pies going to him, for the same purpose. The ferment without and the busy agitation of his partisans were the very cause of these vigilant measures. Whilst these things were in progress, the king and prince were advised to make a progress through the western counties to gain a little popularity there, and so prevent any countenance to rebellion in that quarter.

Parliament opened its first sitting on the 9th of October. The rumour of invasion, of course, gave the tone to the king's speech. He recited the leading facts of the conspiracy, and observed that he should the less wonder at them, had he in any one instance, since his accession to the throne of his ancestors, invaded the liberty or property of his subjects. He very justly described the Jacobites as creating the very evils they complained of. " By forming plots they depreciate all property that is vested in the public funds, and then complain of the low state of credit. They make an increase of the national expenses necessary, and then clamour at the burthen of taxes, and endeavour to impute to my government as grievances, the mischiefs and calamities which they alone occasion."

The very first act was to suspend the habeas corpus act for a year, after again placing Mr. Compton in the chair. Mr. Spencer Cowper and Sir Joseph Jekyll opposed its enactment for so unusually long a period; but it was carried by two hundred and forty-six votes against one hundred and ninety-three. The next matter which came under consideration was the declaration of the pretender, issued at Lucca on the 22nd of September. In this absurd proclamation, founded, no doubt, on very false information as to the public feeling in England, it was stated that if George would quietly retire to his proper dominions of Hanover, the title of king of those dominions should be conceded by king James, and that he would solicit all other states to confirm that title, and that, moreover, he would take measures to secure the king of Hanover's succession to the British crown should the direct line chance to fail. This declaration was characterised by both houses as most insolent, and ordered to be burnt by the common hangman; and a joint address was presented to his majesty, declaring the futility of the enemy's designs against a prince supported by a vigorous parliament and an affectionate people.

To punish the catholics and nonjurors, who were all regarded as implicated in this conspiracy, Walpole proposed to raise one hundred thousand pounds by a tax on their estates. Stanhope had proposed other, and undoubtedly wiser, because more conciliatory measures. He had seriously contemplated the removal of the penal laws against the catholics; but this liberal project had been interrupted by the bursting out of the South Sea excitement, and finally quashed by his death. Walpole took a much lower policy; and though the plan was vigorously resisted by Onslow, Jekyll, and their party as worthy only of past and persecuting times, and calculated to make those enemies who were not yet so, the bill was passed by two hundred and seventeen against one hundred and sixty-eight. The direct consequence was to produce a frightful amount of perjury. "I saw a great deal of it," says Onslow, the future speaker, "and it was a strange as well as a ridiculous sight to see people crowding at the quarter sessions to give a testimony of their allegiance to a government, and cursing it at the same time for giving them the trouble of so doing, and for the fright which they were put to by it; and I am satisfied more real disaffection to the king and his family arose from it than from anything which happened in that time."

Some till the Jacobites consulted the pretender how they should act on this occasion; but he seems to have ventured on no explicit advice, and the bulk of both Jacobites and nonjurors hastened to swear, as the least of two evils. They still retained all their own views and feelings, only the more confirmed by the necessity of perjuring themselves on their behalf.

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