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Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 11

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The electress Sophia of Hanover, the next in succession to Anne, was the daughter of Frederick, the prince palatine, and Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia, therefore granddaughter of James I. No sooner did Sophia hear of the death of the duke of Gloucester, than she took with her her daughter, the electress of Brandenburg, and made a visit to William at Loo. She had a twofold object, to obtain his promise of favouring her succession to the crown of England, and his acknowledgment of Brandenburg as a kingdom under the name of Prussia, a favour which the emperor, as we have Eecn had already conceded. William seems to have assured her of his intention to support both her claim to the English crown, and that of her daughter to the title of queen of Prussia, and immediately left for England. At the same time the court of St. Germains was on the alert to get the prince of Wales accepted, and the Jacobites of England dispatched Mr. F. Graham, a brother of the late lord Preston, to James, to make certain proposals regarding the succession of the prince of Wales. It was proposed that he should be sent to England and there educated in protestantism; but this condition James was certain not to agree to, and accordingly the whole scheme fell to the ground. It is said that the princess Anne was favourable to the prince's succession could he have been brought up a protestant; but his parents declared that they would rather see him dead.

The tories, who were averse to a new continental war, appear to have held a large meeting, to propose an address to his majesty, praying him to acknowledge the new king of Spain; and had they done this, they would probably have found the king ready to listen to them, for the States were urging him to do the same thing. But though the proposition was warmly advocated, a Mr. Monckton happening to say that if they carried this motion, the next he supposed would be to recommend the acknowledgment of the prince of Wales, the idea appeared to startle the meeting, and the matter was dropped. But the whig party was still inclined to a war. They had been the advocates and supporters of the former one; they knew that William was strongly inclined to it, and that to support him was the way to regain his favour. Besides, Marlborough was anxious to distinguish himself at the head of an army; he had now secretly gone over to the whigs, and had their support. The whigs saw the fast-failing health of William, and looked towards the rising sun - the princess Anne, with whom the Marlboroughs were everything. A strong spirit of war, therefore, manifested itself in the commons in spite of the inclinations of ministers. Secretary Vernon, writing to the earl of Manchester at Paris, told him that so great a spirit had rarely been seen in the house of commons for supporting the interests of England and Holland; and this was fully borne out by a unanimous vote of the house on the 24th of February, declaring that it would stand by the king and support him in all such measures as went to maintain the independence of England, the security of the protestant religion, and the peace of Europe. The question, however, of the best mode of maintaining peace, whether by conceding the French claims on Spain, or arming to resist them, was warmly debated by the different factions. William was agreeably surprised at the tone of the house, and on the 17th he informed them of his satisfaction at their assurances, which he took to be important for the honour and safety of England, for William always talked of the honour of England when he meant that of Holland. He then handed to them the pressing memorial of the States-General to him, to acknowledge the duke of Anjou as the king of Spain. They had themselves agreed to do this, in terror lest the French should march over their naked frontiers; yet they told William that they would do nothing without his consent and approbation. They counted, however, fully on this, and painted earnestly the dangers to which they wer a exposed by any opposition to France, and called on him to supply the English aid secured to them by treaty.

To rouse the John Bullism of the commons, a weak, vain-glorious, and maudlin sentiment of false magnanimity, which is so easily kindled in the English mind, and which has been so fatally employed by statesmen on all occasions, to plunge the nation into ruinous and useless wars for thankless neighbours, who ought to have taken care of themselves, William, at the same time that he presented the Dutch memorial, also presented a letter of the contemptible lord Melfort. This was addressed to his brother, the earl of Perth, the governor of the prince of Wales. The letter had been mislaid, and came by accident in the English mail. It expressed the opinion that this was a noble opportunity for a fresh descent on England; that William was hated by all classes of his subjects, that France was exasperated at him for his opposition to the Spanish succession, and was actually fitting out a vast fleet; that this fleet would be absolute master of the seas for the whole of the summer, because the English had reduced their naval force to a mere cypher, and even were they otherwise ready, would lose the whole summer in long debates on the matter instead of getting ready; that the Dutch, unsupported by the English, dare not stir out of port - they were trembling even for their safety on land; that there was plenty of money, plenty of stores, and plenty of men full of zeal for the undertaking; that in private conversations with Madame de Maintenon, the king of France's mistress, he learnt that Louis was ready to second all James's wishes, if he could only be persuaded that James himself and his subjects were agreed on the matter. The only thing, Melfort said, that was wanting, was that James should have some one of ability and information who should make out statements of the feasibility of the enterprise, which would convince Louis and Madame, and show not only how easy it would be, but how glorious to France, and beneficial to the catholic religion. He represented lord Middleton, James's minister, as wholly unfitted for this task; as "lazy in his temper, an enemy to France by inclination, tainted with commonwealth principles, and against the king's returning by any other power than that of the people of England, and upon terms; one suspected of giving out to the compounders, if not worse." He recommended Mr. Caryl for this important function, and to manage it entirely unknown to Middleton, for if he had any hand in it, "neither the true church of England party, the catholics, nor the earl of Arran, with whom lay the best game the king had to play, would have anything to do with it."

This contemptible letter of a most contemptible man - which ought to have been treated as it deserved, with silent scorn - had all the effect that William could have desired, and far more than he expected. Both houses, for to both, was the letter submitted, united in a storm of indignation upon it. The slightest reflection would have satisfied them that Louis had too much to do on the continent, to attempt at this juncture an invasion of England. That however much he might desire to strike a blow at William, it was not on English ground that it was to be done. That every attempt to help the imbecile and incorrigible James had most miserably failed, and that that monarch was now far more than ever incapacitated for heading such an enterprise, or maintaining himself on a protestant throne if he ever got there. He was sunk into all the habits of a monk of La Trappe, given up to bead-telling and penances, and fitter for a cell and a tonsure than a crown.

Yet the commons voted on this ridiculous document that it was necessary to put the kingdom into a state of defence, authorised the exchequer to borrow five hundred and fifty thousand pounds at six per cent, for the service of the fleet and army, and raised the vote for seamen from seven thousand to thirty thousand. They voted an address to the king, and carried it up in a body, praying him to take such measures with the States-General as should seem necessary for the safety of the kingdom, and of Holland too, and promised to support him in the performance of all the conditions of the treaty entered into with the States- General in 1677.

William must have been most agreeably surprised at this success of his attempt to revive the war-spirit by Melfort's foolish letter. This vehement outburst of indignation, far exceeding all cause, delighted him exceedingly. The parliament had pledged itself to the old involvement in the continental feuds, and William, eagerly seizing hold on it, expressed his hearty thanks, and assured them that he would immediately instruct his ministers abroad to enter into negotiations to attain the ends they desired. The nation stood pledged once more to fight the battles of all those nations who, if their independence was worth having, were numerous enough to defend it. But the lords even went further; they called, indeed, for the treaties which had been formerly entered into with the continental nations, that they might know their real nature; but they did not wait for a full examination of them, but prayed his majesty to renew his alliances with all those nations who were willing to unite for the preservation of the balance of power, and promising him their most energetic support in maintaining the honour of England and the peace of Europe. They recommended that the laws should be put in force against papists; that they should all be banished from London; that their houses and arms should be seized, and search-warrants issued to make quest after the provisions for war which the letter described as being in readiness, and they urged the preparation of the fleet with all expedition.

The French ministers both in London and in Paris expressed their surprise that the English court and parliament should be led to sow jealousies and misunderstanding betwixt the two nations on the faith of a letter of such a man as Melfort. They declared that he was banished from the court of James, and was regarded at that of Versailles as no better than a fool and a madman; that as to his pretended private interviews, they were merely to get two of his daughters into the Maintenon establishment of St. Cyr; that he had no access to or credit with the French ministers, but was merely endeavouring to regain favour with king James and damage Middleton; that he had been strictly questioned, and admitted that he had written a letter to his brother, the earl of Perth, which had been lost, but that it was totally different from that produced to the British parliament, and that probably that letter produced might be a mischievous forgery, but, whether so or not, Melfort had no authority from the king of France or king James for any pretences about invasion; that as to a fleet, undoubtedly they were preparing a strong fleet, but this was simply because the Dutch were preparing a numerous fleet, working night and day, and even on Sundays at it. They added, the production of the letter attributed to Melfort, and its being cried about the streets, looked much more like a wish on the part of England to break with France. To show that they were in earnest, the French court arrested Melfort by lettre-de-cachet, and committed him to the castle of Angers.

The parliament now entered on the great deliberation of the session, the appointment of the successor to the crown after the princess of Denmark. It was a subject which the king had recommended from the throne at the commencement of the session, and which the failing health of William and the prospect of great agitations all over Europe warned them not to defer. This important business, however, was set about in an extraordinary manner. Roger Coke says a whig member meant to bring in a bill to fix the succession on the house of Brunswick, but that the tories, becoming aware of it, set Sir John Bowles, one of their own party, to bring one in. This Bowles was a half crazy man, and in the end became altogether insane; and the bill being put into his hands looked as though the tories meant to cast contempt upon it. The bill was sent into committee, and Bowles was put in the chair; but whenever the discussion was brought in the members hastened out of the house, and the matter seemed to hang for several weeks as though no one would proceed with it under the present management. But at length Harley took it up in earnest, and remarked that there were some very necessary preliminary questions to be settled before they proceeded to vote the different clauses of the bill; that the nation had been in too great haste when it settled the government on the previous occasion, and had consequently overlooked- many securities to the liberties of the nation which might have been obtained; that now they were under no immediate pressure, and it would be inexcusable to fall into the same error. Before, therefore, they proceeded to nominate the person who should succeed, they ought to settle the conditions under which he and his descendants should succeed. This advice was taken, much to the surprise of William, who found the tories, now in the ascendant, endeavouring to curtail the royal prerogative, and by every one of their restrictions casting a decided censure upon him. The public, likewise, was so much puzzled by this conduct, that they suspected that the motion of Harley was intended to defeat the Brunswick succession altogether. But the terms on which William and Mary had been admitted to the throne were the work of the whigs, and the tories could not let slip this opportunity of showing how negligent they had been of the rights of the nation.

Accordingly, after great discussions carried on for about three months, the following resolutions were agreed to and embodied in the bill: - "That whoever should hereafter come to the possession of this crown shall join in communion with the church of England as by law established; that in case the crown and dignity of this realm shall hereafter come to any person not being a native of this kingdom of England, this nation be not obliged to engage in any war for the defence of any dominions or territories which do not belong to the crown of England without the consent of parliament; that no person who shall hereafter come to the possession of the crown shall go out of the dominions of England, Scotland, or Ireland without consent of parliament; that from and after the time that further limitations by this act shall take effect, all matters and things relating to the well-governing of this kingdom, which are properly cognisable in the privy council by the laws and customs of the realm, shall be transacted there, and all resolutions taken thereupon shall be signed by such of the privy council as shall advise and consent to the same; that after the limitations shall take effect, no person born out of the kingdom of England, Scotland, or Ireland, or the dominions thereunto belonging, although he be naturalised and made a denizen, except such as are born of English parents, shall be capable to be of the privy council, or a member of either house of parliament, or to enjoy any office or place of trust, either civil or military, or to have any grant of lands, tenements, or hereditaments from the crown to himself, or to any other in trust for him; that no person who has an office or place of profit under the king, or receives a pension from the crown, shall be capable of serving as a member of the house of commons; that after the limitation shall take effect, judges' commissions shall be made quamdiu se bene gesserint, and their salaries ascertained and established, but, upon the address of both houses of parliament, it may be lawful to remove them; that no pardon under the great seal of England be pleadable to an impeachment by the commons in parliament." Having settled these preliminaries, the bill provided that the princess Sophia, duchess dowager of Hanover, be declared the next in succession to the crown of England in the protestant line after his majesty and the princess Anne, and the heirs of their bodies respectively, and that the further limitation of the crown be to the said princess Sophia and the heirs of her body, being protestants.

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