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Reign of George I page 3

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This was the first direct announcement of the ministers' intention to call their predecessors to account, and secretary Stanhope, in the course of the debate, confirmed it, observing that it had been industriously circulated that the present ministers never designed to bring the late ministers to trial, but only to pass a general censure on them; but he assured the house that, though active endeavours had been used to prevent a discovery of the late treasonable proceedings, by conveying away papers from the secretaries' offices, yet government had sufficient evidence to enable them to bring to justice the most corrupt ministry that ever sate at the helm; and that it would appear that a certain English general had acted in concert with, if not received orders from, marshal Villars.

The tories endeavoured to oppose the address, as reflecting on the memory of the queen, but the whigs replied that nothing was farther from their intentions; on the contrary, they desired to vindicate her memory by exposing and punishing those evil counsellors who deluded her into pernicious measures, and now sought to excuse themselves I by throwing on the good, pious, and well-meaning princess all the blame and odium of their evil counsels. The address was carried by a majority of two hundred and forty-four to one hundred and thirty-eight.

It was now clear that the ministers meant to impeach Oxford, Bolingbroke, and Ormonde, the general alluded to. Oxford acted with his usual sluggish impassiveness; he awaited quietly the event. Bolingbroke affected to despise the menaced attack, and declared in conversation that he found that he could be unfortunate without being unhappy. Swift even affected to congratulate him on his fall, writing to him thus: - u I hope your lordship, who was always kind to me while you were a servant, will not forget me now in your greatness. I give you this caution, because I verily believe you will be apt to be exalted in your new station of retirement, which was the only honourable part that those who gave it you were capable of conferring." But this was all bravado. The treason of that man was too enormous to leave him at ease. He was guilty, and knew it, and he was all this time meditating his retreat. These brags of himself and his shadow, Swift, were only the camp-fires left burning whilst the retreat was made. He was informed that Prior, who had been recalled from Paris, was induced to disclose all he knew; and though this proved false, it quickened his movements. He attended Drury Lane theatre on the 26th of March, and at the close of the play ordered another for the next night, as was the custom with great men at that time. He then disguised himself as a servant of La Vigne, a messenger of the king of France, and got safe to Paris, where he soon after engaged himself wholly in the pretender's service as his secretary of state. It was the first time for many years that he had occupied an honest position. He was now an avowed enemy of the Hanoverian house; before he had been busy ruining and disgracing his country under the guise of its minister.

As for the duke of Ormonde, he carried his parade of defiance still farther. He kept a sort of opposition court at Richmond, where he seemed to vie with royalty itself in the splendour of his establishment and of his entertainments. He allowed his name to be tossed about in the riots with the words "high church," and openly allied himself with the Jacobites. Yet the ministry had no such bitterness of resentment against him as they had against Oxford and Bolingbroke; and, as he had a strong body of friends, would, it is evident, have been willing to let him pass without further notice, but for his daring them, as it were, to do their worst. It was suggested to Marlborough whether some means might not be found of bringing him over, and inducing him to own that he had been misled; in which case the ministers appeared disposed to waive any prosecution in his case.

On the 9th of April secretary Stanhope laid before the house the papers, instructions, memorials, &c., connected with the withdrawing from the allies and the peace of Utrecht. They filled twelve hound volumes and three small books. As they were so voluminous, he moved that they should be referred to a committee of twenty-one persons. The motion was carried without opposition; the committee met that evening, and appointed Walpole chairman. They pursued their inquiries with all diligence for two months. Whilst this was going on, the opposite parties in the house could not refrain from breaking out in almost every debate into heats, which showed the fiendish condition of the house. On one occasion Sir William Wyndham broke forth into strong terms of reprobation of the king's proclamation in January, which he declared was dangerous to the very existence of parliament. He was fiercely called upon to explain, and, on his refusing, there was a loud cry of u To the Tower! - to the Tower!" But Walpole parried so unwise an act of rigour by declaring that he would not gratify the member's desire of being sent to the Tower - that would make the young man of too much importance; and he rather desired to see him in his place when they came to inquire into the measures of his friends. On another occasion Wyndham denounced the grant of so large a civil list, declaring that the late queen could afford out of the same sum to pay fifty thousand pounds a year to the widow of king James. This was an unlucky slip, and it was instantly seized on by Stanhope, who begged the house to mark well what had fallen from that gentleman, as it confirmed matters which the committee had discovered amongst his papers entrusted to them.

On the 1st of June, Shippen, a leading Jacobite, threw out a taunt, that he believed all the labours of the secret committee must end in smoke. But Boscawen, one of the committee, replied that, so far from that, the committee was prepared to chastise the insolence of a certain set of men by making its report. Walpole followed, declaring that he "wanted words to express the villany of the late Frenchified ministry;" and Stanhope, that he wondered that men who were guilty of such enormous crimes had still the audaciousness to appear in the public streets."

The report was accordingly brought up on the 9th. It was brought up by Walpole in a clear and masterly style, and was read by himself. It took five hours for the perusal, and was read a second time the next day by the clerk. It was supported by seventy-one extracts from the correspondence of the late ministry; and, by its details of the shameful conditions of the peace of Utrecht, of the line of conduct prescribed to Ormonde on the occasion, of the most infamous betrayal of the Catalans to the vengeance of Spain, the wanton gift of Tournay to the French, and the whole conduct of Bolingbroke in these transactions, it roused the most unspeakable indignation in the house. It was ordered to be printed, and Sir Thomas Hanmer moved that it should be printed, and its consideration postponed till the 21st; but such was the feeling of the house that this was opposed by Walpole, Stanhope, and all the whigs, and Hanmer's motion was rejected by two hundred and eighty votes to one hundred and sixty.

Walpole then rose and moved the impeachment of Bolingbroke of high treason. The friends of Bolingbroke were deprived of the power of defending him by his flight; for though the report had most strikingly proved the infamy of the peace of Utrecht, and of the conduct of the ministry to the allies, it was far weaker in the charges regarding his correspondence with the pretender, many papers having been secretly conveyed away. These papers have since, and many of them recently, come to light, and establish in the broadest daylight the whole of the guilt of those ministers. Yet, as that evidence was to a great degree wanting at the moment, it afforded ground for defence; but, except some observations from Mr. Hungerford and general Ross, asserting that there was nothing in the evidence against lord Bolingbroke amounting to high treason, the whole of the Jacobite party was silent, and the motion passed without a division. Lord Coningsby then rose and said – "The worthy chairman has impeached the hand, and I do impeach the head; he has impeached the clerk, and I the justice; he has impeached the scholar, and I the master. I impeach Robert, earl of Oxford and earl Mortimer, of high treason, and other high crimes and misdemeanours."

There was a more spirited defence of Oxford than there had been of Bolingbroke. Mr. Harley and Mr. Foley, Oxford's brother-in-law, warmly defended their relative, and Sir Joseph Jekyll, a member of the committee, admitting that they had evidence to convict Bolingbroke, doubted whether they had evidence enough to convict Oxford. But other members stated that, besides the report, they had a quantity of living evidence in readiness, and the motion was carried without a division. On the 21st Stanhope impeached Ormonde. There was in the duke's case a strong array of defence. The debate continued nine hours and a half. His correspondence with the pretender was not so well proved as that of the two ministers, though there was no question of his guilt being equal; but it was contended by his friends that he had only obeyed orders in withdrawing the troops from the allies, as he was bound to do; that the guilt, if any, rested with the ministers who issued these orders. Jekyll also spoke in his favour, and the motion was only carried by a majority of forty-seven. The next day the earl of Strafford was impeached by Mr. Aislabie, as one of the plenipotentiaries at Utrecht, not of high treason, but of high crimes and misdemeanours; and, as no charge was brought against Robinson, bishop of Lincoln, the other plenipotentiary, Mr. Hungerford sarcastically observed that it seemed he was to enjoy the benefit of clergy.

Much effort was made on behalf of Ormonde, in which the duke of Devonshire took the lead, to reconcile him to the court, in which case the prosecution would have been dropped; and his Jacobite friends warmly urged him to accept this offer, because they were anxious to retain him in England with a view to his services in plans of fresh treason. There was a scheme for a rising in the west, and Ormonde was already deep in it; but he was too honourable to adopt the hollow part recommended by his friends, and he therefore followed the example of Bolingbroke, and fled. Before taking his departure, he is reported to have visited Oxford in the Tower, and advised him by all means to effect his escape too; but when he found the ex-lord treasurer insensible to his arguments, he said, "Farewell, Oxford without ahead;" to which Oxford replied, "Farewell, duke without a duchy." Bolingbroke was destined to revisit England, but Ormonde never. He lived and died in exile, at the age of eighty, in 1745. Lady Mary Wortley Montague saw him at Avignon, where, she says, he kept an assembly, where all the best company met twice a week; lived in great magnificence; was quite inoffensive, and seemed to have forgotten every part of his past life, and to be of no party.

The impeachment of Oxford immediately followed. On the 9th of July lord Coningsby, attended by a great part of the commons, carried up to the lords the articles against him, sixteen in number, to which afterwards six more were added. The first fifteen related to the peace of Utrecht; the sixteenth to the sudden creation of twelve peers in 1711, in order to create a tory majority, by which it charged him with highly abusing the constitution of parliament and the laws of the kingdom. When the articles had been read, it was doubted whether any of the charges amounted to high treason. To decide this as a legal point, it was moved that the judges should be consulted; but this motion was rejected, and another was made to commit him to the Tower; and, though reprieved a few days on account of an indisposition, he was committed accordingly, having made a very solemn plea of his innocence, and of having only obeyed the orders of the queen, without at all convincing the house.

Matthew Prior and Thomas Harley were arrested on the 10th of June. They were examined by the secret committee, and Prior, refusing to betray his principals by revealing his correspondence with them during his employment by them in Paris, was on the 17th of the same month, on the motion of Walpole for his impeachment, committed to custody; and in the following year he was found not only still lying in confinement at the mercy of the house, but was omitted in an act of grace passed then. Soon after, however, he was discharged, and quietly retired into the country, where he passed the remainder of his days, either at his own villa of Doun Hall, or at Wimpole, a seat of the earl of Oxford, where he died on the 18th of December, 1721. It was the misfortune of Prior, who appears to have been an active and skilful diplomatist, to have been employed in the worst of causes, and by the worst ministers who had for a long time been intrusted with power. Oxford continued to lie in the Tower for two years before he was brought to trial, matters of higher public interest intervening.

Whilst these proceedings were in agitation, the tory and Jacobite party, which had at the king's accession appeared stunned, now recovering spirit, began to foment discontent and sedition in the public mind. They set the pulpits to work, and the high church clergy lent themselves heartily to it. They maligned the king in their sermons; they represented him as of a morose and gloomy temper; his religion as presbyterian, and that the old tyranny of that religion was to be restored; they drew the most insidious distinctions betwixt a foreign prince and an English prince; they declared that we should be eaten up by Hanoverian rats and other foreign vermin. The cries were soon raised of "High church and Ormonde forever!" "Down with the puritans!" "Down with the dissenters!" When Oxford was conducted to the Tower, he was followed by vast mobs cheering and crying, '' High church, Oxford, and Ormonde for ever!" The mobs were soon set to pull down the meeting-houses of the dissenters. Many buildings were destroyed, and many dissenters insulted. They did not pause there, but they blackened the character of the king, and denied his right to the crown, whilst the most fascinating pictures were drawn of the youth, and grace, and graciousness of the rightful English prince, who was wandering in exile to make way for the usurper. To such a length did matters go, that the riot act, which had been passed in the reign of Mary, and limited to her own reign, which was again revived by Elizabeth, and had never since been called into action, was now made perpetual, and armed with increased power. It provided that if twelve persons should unlawfully assemble to disturb the peace, and any one justice should think proper to command them by proclamation to disperse, and should they, in contempt of his orders, continue together for one hour, it should be felony without benefit of clergy. A subsequent clause was added, by which pulling down chapels or houses, even before proclamation, was made subject to the same penalties. Such is the act in force at this day.

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