Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 2
On Newcastle's resignation Bute placed himself at the head of the treasury, and named Grenville secretary of state - a fatal nomination, for Grenville lost America. Lord Barrington, though an adherent of Newcastle, became treasurer of the navy, and Sir Francis Dashwood chancellor of the exchequer. Bute, who, like all weak favourites, had not the sense to perceive that it was necessary to be moderate to acquire permanent power, immediately obtained a vacant garter, and thus parading the royal favours, augmented the rapidly growing unpopularity which his want of sagacity and honourable principle was fast creating. He was beset by legions of libels, which fully exposed his incapacity, and as freely dealt with the connection betwixt himself and the mother of the king.
Amongst these libellers now started into notice John Wilkes, a name destined to figure before the public for many long years, and to draw around it the enthusiasm of the people, as the great champion of political liberty. Wilkes was one of those demagogues with a certain amount of talent, and any amount of audacity, who are forced into notoriety by the folly and despotism of governments. He was the son of a distiller in Clerkenwell, who had received a classical education, translated parts of Anacreon, and published editions of Theophrastus and Catullus, by which he acquired the acquaintance of Pitt, lord Temple, and other persons of rank and distinction. But his character was by no means of a stamp to recommend him. He was notorious for his excesses and dissipation. He had ill-used and quarrelled with his wife, and separated from her under disgraceful circumstances, being only compelled by law to allow her an annuity. He was at this time member of parliament for Aylesbury, and had just commenced a newspaper called "The North Briton," in opposition to one published in defence of Bute's administration, called "The Briton." Parliament was prorogued on the 2nd of June, and Wilkes's paper appeared immediately, and was excessively abusive, not only of Bute, but of Scotland and Scotchmen generally.
Amongst his most active coadjutors was Charles Churchill, the satirist, a man of much caustic vigour, as his works testify, but, like Wilkes, a most dissipated rake, though a clergyman, who, like Wilkes, had also separated from his wife, and lived by satirising the actors, in his "Rosciad;'' Dr. Johnson, in "The Ghost;" Hogarth, in an Epistle to that great painter, and by aiming his missives at all sorts of persons and parties. Churchill, by the encouragement of Wilkes, published his "Prophecy of Famine, a Scots' Pastoral," which he inscribed to Wilkes. In this satire he describes Scotland as the most barren and miserable of countries, and in terms which showed that he had never seen it, for he makes its rivers, the most lovely of mountain streams, dull and stagnant: -
Where, slowly winding, the dull waters creep,
And seem themselves to own the power of sleep.
Famine appears to "the poor, mean, despised race" of Scotchmen, and tells them to quit an accursed country, where -
Far as the eye could reach no tree was seen;
Earth clad in russet scorned the lively green;
The plague of locusts certain to defy,
For in three hours a grasshopper must die;
No living thing, whate'er its food, feeds there,
But the chameleon, who can feast on air.
She bids them quit this poverty-stricken country, and points them to the rich plains and lucrative offices of England, where Bute, that son of Fortune, is opening the way for them; where, she says, instead of
A barren desert, we shall seize rich plains,
Where milk with honey flows, and plenty reigns;
With some few natives joined - some pliant few,
Who worship int'rest, and one track pursue,
There shall we, though the wretched people grieve,
Ravage at large, nor ask the owners' leave.
The success of these two congenial friends was soon conspicuous, and they managed to fan the spirit of animosity betwixt England and Scotland to a degree only inferior to the rancour which they fostered betwixt the political parties. We shall soon have to trace the effects of this literary war, in the measures taken by ministers to put down Wilkes, but which only made him the idol of the people.
On the 12th of August the queen was delivered of a son, the future George IV., the first-born of a family of fifteen - nine sons and six daughters.
Whilst Bute had been depriving Frederick of Prussia of his usual subsidy, a wonderful turn of fortune occurred to that monarch, and liberated him from his difficulties. The admiration of Peter III. of Russia had caused him to send an army of twenty thousand men into Silesia to the aid of Frederick. These were commanded by general Czernicheff, and enabled the Prussian king to assume the aggressive against the Austrians, compelling marshal Daun to take up the very position occupied by Frederick the year before - a strong entrenched camp for the defence of Schweidnitz. Frederick and the Russian general were on the point of making a joint attack oil this camp, when, on the 19th of July, Czernicheff waited on the Prussian king with astounding tidings. There had been a revolution in Russia. Peter III. was murdered; his wife Catherine had usurped the throne, and had recalled the Russian army.
This revolution, so fatal to the hopes of Frederick, had been in a great measure produced by Peter's absurd passion for everything connected with Frederick. Peter had not contented himself with making peace with him, and sending forces to help him; he endeavoured to introduce Prussian regulations and fashions into both the state and army. He ordered the much more graceful Russian uniform to be set aside, and the stiff and formal one of Prussia to be adopted; he affected Frederick's contempt for religion, and attempted innovations in the church - amongst other things compelling the clergy to shave off their beards. But there were other causes than his Prussian mania which excited the resentment of his subjects. Like George of England with Hanover, he regarded himself with more complacency as duke of Holstein than as emperor of Russia. He prepared to make war on Denmark for its treatment of Holstein, and, what eventually became the most fatal to him, he quarrelled with and slighted his wife, a princess of the German house of Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, and gave himself up to the society of his mistress, a niece of the chancellor Woronzow, and a sister of the princess Deschkow.
The czarina Catherine was not a woman to brook indignity. She was a person of the most determined character, the most powerful passions, which converted her afterwards into a modern Messalina. She suddenly left the emperor with his mistress at his country palace of Peterhof, at Oranienbaum, hastened to the capital, and, availing herself of the general discontent, gathered around her a number of resolute partisans, at the head of whom was Gregory Orloff, her paramour, and his brother Alexis, officers of the guards. The Orloffs gathered a body of the guards around her, to whom they had communicated their plan, and, on the 9th of July, 1762, they declared the emperor deposed. The troops who were called out raised a loud hurrah, supposing his son was about to be proclaimed. But presently a manifesto was read, announcing that the Russian people had deposed Peter as the sworn enemy of the country and the church, and had elected the empress, by the name of Catherine II., as the czarina. Brandy and beer were plentifully given to the soldiers; the priests were sent for to consecrate the empress, which was done by the archbishop of Novogorod. In the course of a forenoon the revolution was complete. The news flew to Oranienbaum, and count Münnich advised Peter to fly instantly to Cronstadt, where he would be secure in the great fortress, and where the fleet would enable him to bring the insurgents in the city to obedience. They were about embarking, when Peter's Holstein guards arrived, and he deemed himself too strong to have any cause of fear. The news that Catherine was approaching with twenty thousand men again alarmed him, and he sailed for Cronstadt, but too late: the czarina had won it over. He returned to Oranienbaum, and there weakly gave himself up to his treacherous wife, though Münnich earnestly implored him to flee to Frederick of Prussia.
Catherine shut him up in a country house at Robshak, and a week afterwards he was murdered by one or both of the Orloffs, the court giving out that he died of haemorrhoidal colic. Such sudden deaths are frequent amongst Russian monarchs. Peter had, amongst the generous things which, with all his eccentricity, he did, taken out of prison the boy Ivan, whom the czarina Anna had appointed her heir, but whom the czarina Elizabeth had set aside. Catherine again seized and shut him up in prison, where he also was afterwards murdered. In the original manifesto issued by Catherine, Frederick of Prussia was declared to be "the worst enemy of Russia." The order by Peter to evacuate Prussia as foes and to assist Frederick was countermanded; but, on examining Peter's papers, a letter of Frederick's was discovered, advising the czar to more prudent conduct, and to a more honourable treatment of his wife. This greatly mollified the disposition of Catherine towards Frederick, and she contented herself alone with the recall of the forces, but without violating the peace.
Confounded as Frederick was by this change of affairs, he prevailed on Czernicheff to keep secret the imperial order for three days,, whilst he attacked Daun's outposts on the heights of Burkersdorf and Leutmannersdorf, which he drove in with brilliant success, taking a great number of prisoners, and seventeen pieces of cannon. This affair is frequently called the battle of Reichenbach. Czernicheff contributed essentially to the victory, though he did not fight; for his troops, being drawn out as spectators, kept a great body of Daun's men in inaction, watching them. On the following day Czernicheff took a friendly leave of Frederick, who presented him with valuable presents, and he commenced his march homewards.
On the 8th of August Frederick sat down before Schweidnitz, which cost him much trouble, expense, and bloodshed before it surrendered, on the 9th of October. In Saxony, meantime, the king's brother had defeated at Freyberg the united forces of Austria and the empire, and thus terminated the campaign which had been altogether disastrous to Maria Theresa, though at its commencement Frederick had appeared in the last extremity.
Ferdinand of Brunswick maintained the struggle manfully in Westphalia, notwithstanding the change of policy in England tended to cast a damp on the war. Still, the pay for the army had not been withdrawn, as Frederick's subsidy had, and Ferdinand exerted himself with his usual spirit. He had still to contend with two French armies. The one before commanded by Broglie was now commanded by D'Estrees; the other, as before, by prince Soubise. Prince Xavier commanded a separate detachment, and the prince of Conde headed a reserve on the Lower Rhine. Ferdinand attacked the enemy on the 24th of June at Wilhelmsthal, and drove them to Cassel, with a loss of four thousand men. Towards the end of July he defeated, by the help of lord Granby, prince Xavier at Lüttemberg, and finally took Göttingen and Cassel. Ferdinand's success was complete; but, on the other hand, his nephew, the hereditary prince, was defeated by Conde, at Johannisberg, with heavy loss.
England, as Pitt had foreseen, was now called on to defend her ancient ally from the attacks of Spain, and the renewed attack of France. The kings of Spain had long desired to absorb Portugal, and embody it permanently as a part of their own country. Supported by France, which promised to give her faithful aid in the enterprise, Spain now called on Emanuel Joseph, the king of Portugal, to renounce the English alliance. Spain and France designated the English as the common enemies of all maritime states; insisted that he should order all English merchants to quit his kingdom, and all English ships his ports. Under pretence of defending him against the vengeance of England, they offered to garrison his ports and fortresses with French and Spanish soldiers. The king of Portugal could regard this proposal as nothing less than an attempt to seize his kingdom, under the show of protecting it. He had strictly maintained the neutrality with these nations, and he now refused to comply with this imperious demand. Four days only were allowed for his answer, and, on receiving his decided negative, the Spanish and French ambassadors quitted Lisbon, and the Spanish troops on the frontiers began their march for the invasion.
Portugal was in the worst possible condition to resist an enemy. The earthquake in 1755, and a conspiracy in 1758, had reduced the country to a much feebler condition than usual. The king was a lawless debauchee, and the conspiracy had been excited by his licentious conduct. He had dishonoured the marchioness of Tavora, and the duchess of Aveiro and her daughter. He had narrowly escaped with his life in one of these scandalous adventures, and he had sanguinarily avenged the conspiracy of the houses of Aveiro and Tavora, by beheading the chiefs of these houses, who had sought to punish the outrage committed against them, and by burning the Jesuit, Malagrida, at the stake.
Besides the disaffection arising from these causes, the country was suffering from the want of government. The finances were in the most deplorable condition; the army, such as it was, did not exceed twenty thousand; the fortresses were in ruins; the army did not possess a single commander of note; and the fleet numbered only six ships of the line, and a few frigates. The conde de Oeyras, afterwards the celebrated marquis de Pombal, was beginning, but only beginning, to institute the necessary reforms. Spain, therefore, calculated on making an easy prey of the country; but, fortunately for Portugal, Spain itself was in little better condition. Lord Tyrawley, who was then in Portugal, wrote to Mr. Pitt that, such was the condition of the two countries, an army on the frontiers between them might take its choice whether it would march to Lisbon or Madrid. Still more fortunate was it for Portugal that she possessed the alliance of England, which was at this very time attacking the Spanish colonies both east and west, and capturing her treasure ships on the home-bound voyage.
The Spaniards, with twenty thousand men, under the marquis of Saria, entered the Tras os Montes, and took the towns of Miranda, Braganza, and Chaves, with Torre de Moncorvo. Another party of Spaniards penetrated south of Douro into Beira, and took Almeida. They were, however, bravely resisted by the peasantry, who withstood them more effectually than the regular troops, being commanded by some British officers. These peasants they hanged and shot whenever they fell into their hands; and their incensed comrades committed, in return, the most merciless barbarities on their prisoners.
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