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The History of England from the Accession of James II
By Thomas Babington MacAulay
Volume 5 Part 5


Sometimes he loitered alone, from sunrise to sunset, in the dreary and rugged wilderness which surrounds the Escurial. The hours which he did not waste in listless indolence were divided between childish sports and childish devotions. He delighted in rare animals, and still more in dwarfs. When neither strange beasts nor little men could dispel the black thoughts which gathered in his mind, he repeated Aves and Credos; he walked in processions; sometimes he starved himself; sometimes he whipped himself. At length a complication of maladies completed the ruin of all his faculties. His stomach failed; nor was this strange; for in him the malformation of the jaw, characteristic of his family, was so serious that he could not masticate his food; and he was in the habit of swallowing ollas and sweetmeats in the state in which they were set before him. While suffering from indigestion he was attacked by ague. Every third day his convulsive tremblings, his dejection, his fits of wandering, seemed to indicate the approach of dissolution. His misery was increased by the knowledge that every body was calculating how long he had to live, and wondering what would become of his kingdoms when he should be dead. The stately dignitaries of his household, the physicians who ministered to his diseased body, the divines whose business was to soothe his not less diseased mind, the very wife who should have been intent on those gentle offices by which female tenderness can alleviate even the misery of hopeless decay, were all thinking of the new world which was to commence with his death, and would have been perfectly willing to see him in the hands of the embalmer if they could have been certain that his successor would be the prince whose interest they espoused. As yet the party of the Emperor seemed to predominate. Charles had a faint sort of preference for the House of Austria, which was his own house, and a faint sort of antipathy to the House of Bourbon, with which he had been quarrelling, he did not well know why, ever since he could remember. His Queen, whom he did not love, but of whom he stood greatly in awe, was devoted to the interests of her kinsman the Emperor; and with her was closely leagued the Count of Melgar, Hereditary Admiral of Castile and Prime Minister.

Such was the state of the question of the Spanish succession at the time when Portland had his first public audience at Versailles. The French ministers were certain that he must be constantly thinking about that question, and were therefore perplexed by his evident determination to say nothing about it. They watched his lips in the hope that he would at least let fall some unguarded word indicating the hopes or fears entertained by the English and Dutch Governments. But Portland was not a man out of whom much was to be got in that way. Nature and habit cooperating had made him the best keeper of secrets in Europe. Lewis therefore directed Pomponne and Torcy, two ministers of eminent ability, who had, under himself, the chief direction of foreign affairs, to introduce the subject which the discreet confidant of William seemed studiously to avoid. Pomponne and Torcy accordingly repaired to the English embassy; and there opened one of the most remarkable negotiations recorded in the annals of European diplomacy.

The two French statesmen professed in their master's name the most earnest desire, not only that the peace might remain unbroken, but that there might be a close union between the Courts of Versailles and Kensington. One event only seemed likely to raise new troubles. If the Catholic King should die before it had been settled who should succeed to his immense dominions, there was but too much reason to fear that the nations, which were just beginning to breathe after an exhausting and devastating struggle of nine years, would be again in arms. His Most Christian Majesty was therefore desirous to employ the short interval which might remain, in concerting with the King of England the means of preserving the tranquillity of the world. Portland made a courteous but guarded answer. He could not, he said, presume to say exactly what William's sentiments were; but this he knew, that it was not solely or chiefly by the sentiments of the King of England that the policy of England on a great occasion would be regulated. The islanders must and would have their government administered according to certain maxims which they held sacred; and of those maxims they held none more sacred than this, that every increase of the power of France ought to be viewed with extreme jealousy.

Pomponne and Torcy answered that their master was most desirous to avoid every thing which could excite the jealousy of which Portland had spoken. But was it of France alone that a nation so enlightened as the English must be jealous? Was it forgotten that the House of Austria had once aspired to universal dominion? And would it be wise in the princes and commonwealths of Europe to lend their aid for the purpose of reconstructing the gigantic monarchy which, in the sixteenth century, had seemed likely to overwhelm them all?

Portland answered that, on this subject, he must be understood to express only the opinions of a private man. He had however now lived, during some years, among the English, and believed himself to be pretty well acquainted with their temper. They would not, he thought, be much alarmed by any augmentation of power which the Emperor might obtain. The sea was their element. Traffic by sea was the great source of their wealth; ascendency on the sea the great object of their ambition. Of the Emperor they had no fear. Extensive as was the area which he governed, he had not a frigate on the water; and they cared nothing for his Pandours and Croatians. But France had a great navy. The balance of maritime power was what would be anxiously watched in London; and the balance of maritime power would not be affected by an union between Spain and Austria, but would be most seriously deranged by an union between Spain and France.

Pomponne and Torcy declared that every thing should be done to quiet the apprehensions which Portland had described. It was not contemplated, it was not wished, that France and Spain should be united. The Dauphin and his eldest son the Duke of Burgundy would waive their rights. The younger brothers of the Duke of Burgundy, Philip Duke of Anjou and Charles Duke of Berry, were not named; but Portland perfectly understood what was meant. There would, he said, be scarcely less alarm in England if the Spanish dominions devolved on a grandson of His Most Christian Majesty than if they were annexed to the French crown. The laudable affection of the young princes for their country and their family, and their profound respect for the great monarch from whom they were descended, would inevitably determine their policy. The two kingdoms would be one; the two navies would be one; and all other states would be reduced to vassalage. England would rather see the Spanish monarchy added to the Emperor's dominions than governed by one of the younger French princes, who would, though nominally independent, be really a viceroy of France. But in truth there was no risk that the Spanish monarchy would be added to the Emperor's dominions. He and his eldest son the Archduke Joseph would, no doubt, be as ready to waive their rights as the Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy could be; and thus the Austrian claim to the disputed heritage would pass to the younger Archduke Charles. A long discussion followed. At length Portland plainly avowed, always merely as his own private opinion, what was the opinion of every intelligent man who wished to preserve the peace of the world. "France is afraid," he said, "of every thing which can increase the power of the Emperor. All Europe is afraid of every thing which can increase the power of France. Why not put an end to all these uneasy feelings at once, by agreeing to place the Electoral Prince of Bavaria on the throne of Spain?" To this suggestion no decisive answer was returned. The conference ended; and a courier started for England with a despatch informing William of what had passed, and soliciting further instructions. William, who was, as he had always been, his own Secretary for Foreign Affairs, did not think it necessary to discuss the contents of this despatch with any of his English ministers. The only person whom he consulted was Heinsius. Portland received a kind letter warmly approving all that he had said in the conference, and directing him to declare that the English government sincerely wished to avert the calamities which were but too likely to follow the death of the King of Spain, and would therefore be prepared to take into serious consideration any definite plan which His Most Christian Majesty might think fit to suggest. "I will own to you," William wrote to his friend, "that I am so unwilling to be again at war during the short time which I still have to live, that I will omit nothing that I can honestly and with a safe conscience do for the purpose of maintaining peace."

William's message was delivered by Portland to Lewis at a private audience. In a few days Pomponne and Torcy were authorised to propose a plan. They fully admitted that all neighbouring states were entitled to demand the strongest security against the union of the French and Spanish crowns. Such security should be given. The Spanish government might be requested to choose between the Duke of Anjou and the Duke of Berry. The youth who was selected would, at the utmost, be only fifteen years old, and could not be supposed to have any very deeply rooted national prejudices. He should be sent to Madrid without French attendants, should be educated by Spaniards, should become a Spaniard. It was absurd to imagine that such a prince would be a mere viceroy of France. Apprehensions had been sometimes hinted that a Bourbon, seated on the throne of Spain, might cede his dominions in the Netherlands to the head of his family. It was undoubtedly important to England, and all important to Holland, that those provinces should not become a part of the French monarchy. All danger might be averted by making them over to the Elector of Bavaria, who was now governing them as representative of the Catholic King. The Dauphin would be perfectly willing to renounce them for himself and for all his descendants. As to what concerned trade, England and Holland had only to say what they desired, and every thing in reason should be done to give them satisfaction. As this plan was, in the main, the same which had been suggested by the French ministers in the former conference, Portland did little more than repeat what he had then said. As to the new scheme respecting the Netherlands, he shrewdly propounded a dilemma which silenced Pomponne and Torcy.

If renunciations were of any value, the Dauphin and his posterity were excluded from the Spanish succession; and, if renunciations were of no value, it was idle to offer England and Holland a renunciation as a guarantee against a great danger. The French Ministers withdrew to make their report to their master, and soon returned to say that their proposals had been merely first thoughts, that it was now the turn of King William to suggest something, and that whatever he might suggest should receive the fullest and fairest consideration.

And now the scene of the negotiation was shifted from Versailles to Kensington. The Count of Tallard had just set out for England as Ambassador. He was a fine gentleman; he was a brave soldier; and he was as yet reputed a skilful general. In all the arts and graces which were priced as qualifications for diplomatic missions of the highest class, he had, among the brilliant aristocracy to which he belonged, no superior and only one equal, the Marquess of Harcourt, who was entrusted with the care of the interests of the House of Bourbon at Madrid.

Tallard carried with him instructions carefully framed in the French Foreign Office. He was reminded that his situation would be widely different from that of his predecessors who had resided in England before the Revolution. Even his predecessors, however, had considered it as their duty to study the temper, not only of the Court, but of the nation. It would now be more than ever necessary to watch the movements of the public mind. A man of note was not to be slighted merely because he was out of place. Such a man, with a great name in the country and a strong following in Parliament, might exercise as much influence on the politics of England, and consequently of Europe, as any minister. The Ambassador must therefore try to be on good terms with those who were out as well as with those who were in. To this rule, however, there was one exception which he must constantly bear in mind. With nonjurors and persons suspected of plotting against the existing government he must not appear to have any connection. They must not be admitted into his house. The English people evidently wished to be at rest, and had given the best proof of their pacific disposition by insisting on the reduction of the army. The sure way to stir up jealousies and animosities which were just sinking to sleep would be to make the French embassy the head quarters of the Jacobite party. It would be wise in Tallard to say and to charge his agents to say, on all fit occasions, and particularly in societies where members of Parliament might be present, that the Most Christian King had never been an enemy of the liberties of England. His Majesty had indeed hoped that it might be in his power to restore his cousin, but not without the assent of the nation. In the original draft of the instructions was a curious paragraph which, on second thoughts, it was determined to omit. The Ambassador was directed to take proper opportunities of cautioning the English against a standing army, as the only thing which could really be fatal to their laws and liberties. This passage was suppressed, no doubt, because it occurred to Pomponne and Torcy that, with whatever approbation the English might listen to such language when uttered by a demagogue of their own race, they might be very differently affected by hearing it from a French diplomatist, and might think that there could not be a better reason for arming, than that Lewis and his emissaries earnestly wished them to disarm.

Tallard was instructed to gain, if possible, some members of the House of Commons. Every thing, he was told, was now subjected to the scrutiny of that assembly; accounts of the public income, of the public expenditure, of the army, of the navy, were regularly laid on the table; and it would not be difficult to find persons who would supply the French legation with copious information on all these subjects. The question of the Spanish succession was to be mentioned to William at a private audience. Tallard was fully informed of all that had passed in the conferences which the French ministers had held with Portland; and was furnished with all the arguments that the ingenuity of publicists could devise in favour of the claim of the Dauphin.

The French embassy made as magnificent an appearance in England as the English embassy had made in France. The mansion of the Duke of Ormond, one of the finest houses in Saint James's Square, was taken for Tallard. On the day of the public entry, all the streets from Tower Hill to Pall Mall were crowded with gazers who admired the painting and gilding of his Excellency's carriages, the surpassing beauty of his horses, and the multitude of his running footmen, dressed in gorgeous liveries of scarlet and gold lace. The Ambassador was graciously received at Kensington, and was invited to accompany William to Newmarket, where the largest and most splendid Spring Meeting ever known was about to assemble. The attraction must be supposed to have been great; for the risks of the journey were not trifling. The peace had, all over Europe, and nowhere more than in England, turned crowds of old soldiers into marauders.12 Several aristocratical equipages had been attacked even in Hyde Park. Every newspaper contained stories of travellers stripped, bound and flung into ditches. One day the Bristol mail was robbed; another day the Dover coach; then the Norwich waggon. On Hounslow Heath a company of horsemen, with masks on their faces, waited for the great people who had been to pay their court to the King at Windsor. Lord Ossulston escaped with the loss of two horses. The Duke of Saint Albans, with the help of his servants, beat off the assailants. His brother the Duke of Northumberland, less strongly guarded, fell into their hands. They succeeded in stopping thirty or forty coaches, and rode off with a great booty in guineas, watches and jewellery. Nowhere, however, does the peal seem to have been so great as on the Newmarket road. There indeed robbery was organised on a scale unparalleled in the kingdom since the days of Robin Hood and Little John. A fraternity of plunderers, thirty in number according to the lowest estimate, squatted, near Waltham Cross, under the shades of Epping Forest, and built themselves huts, from which they sallied forth with sword and pistol to bid passengers stand. The King and Tallard were doubtless too well attended to be in jeopardy. But, soon after they had passed the dangerous spot, there was a fight on the highway attended with loss of life. A warrant of the Lord Chief justice broke up the Maroon village for a short time, but the dispersed thieves soon mustered again, and had the impudence to bid defiance to the government in a cartel signed, it was said, with their real names. The civil power was unable to deal with this frightful evil. It was necessary that, during some time, cavalry should patrol every evening on the roads near the boundary between Middlesex and Essex.

The state of those roads, however, though contemporaries described it as dangerous beyond all example, did not deter men of rank and fashion from making the joyous pilgrimages to Newmarket. Half the Dukes in the kingdom were there. Most of the chief ministers of state swelled the crowd; nor was the opposition unrepresented. Montague stole two or three days from the Treasury, and Orford from the Admiralty. Godolphin was there, looking after his horses and his bets, and probably went away a richer man than he came. But racing was only one of the many amusements of that festive season. On fine mornings there was hunting. For those who preferred hawking choice falcons had been brought from Holland. On rainy days the cockpit was encircled by stars and blue ribands. On Sundays William went to church in state, and the most eminent divines of the neighbouring University of Cambridge preached before him. He omitted no opportunity of showing marked civility to Tallard. The Ambassador informed his Court that his place at table was next to the royal arm chair, and that his health had been most graciously drunk by the King.

All this time, both at Kensington and Newmarket, the Spanish question was the subject of constant and earnest discussion. To trace all the windings of the negotiation would be tedious. The general course which it took may easily be described. The object of William was to place the Electoral Prince of Bavaria on the Spanish throne. To obtain the consent of Lewis to such an arrangement seemed all but impossible; but William manoeuvred with rare skill. Though he frankly acknowledged that he preferred the Electoral Prince to any other candidate, he professed. himself desirous to meet, as far as he honourably or safely could, the wishes of the French King. There were conditions on which England and Holland might perhaps consent, though not without reluctance, that a son of the Dauphin should reign at Madrid, and should be master of the treasures of the New World. Those conditions were that the Milanese and the Two Sicilies should belong to the Archduke Charles, that the Elector of Bavaria should have the Spanish Netherlands, that Lewis should give up some fortified towns in Artois for the purpose of strengthening the barrier which protected the United Provinces, and that some important places both in the Mediterranean sea and in the Gulf of Mexico should be made over to the English and Dutch for the security of trade. Minorca and Havanna were mentioned as what might satisfy England.

Against these terms Lewis exclaimed loudly. Nobody, he said, who knew with how sensitive a jealousy the Spaniards watched every encroachment on their colonial empire would believe that they would ever consent to give up any part of that empire either to England or to Holland. The demand which was made upon himself was altogether inadmissible. A barrier was not less necessary to France than to Holland; and he never would break the iron chain of frontier fastnesses which was the defence of his own kingdom, even in order to purchase another kingdom for his grandson. On that subject he begged that he might hear no more. The proposition was one which he would not discuss, one to which he would not listen.

As William, however, resolutely maintained that the terms which he had offered, hard as they might seem, were the only terms on which England and Holland could suffer a Bourbon to reign at Madrid, Lewis began seriously to consider, whether it might not be on the whole for his interest and that of his family rather to sell the Spanish crown dear than to buy it dear. He therefore now offered to withdraw his opposition to the Bavarian claim, provided a portion of the disputed inheritance were assigned to him in consideration of his disinterestedness and moderation. William was perfectly willing and even eager to treat on this basis. The first demands of Lewis were, as might have been expected, exorbitantly high. He asked for the kingdom of Navarre, which would have made him little less than master of the whole Iberian peninsula, and for the duchy of Luxemburg, which would have made him more dangerous than ever to the United Provinces. On both points he encountered a steady resistance. The impression which, throughout these transactions, the firmness and good faith of William made on Tallard is remarkable. At first the dexterous and keen witted Frenchman was all suspicion. He imagined that there was an evasion in every phrase, a hidden snare in every offer. But after a time he began to discover that he had to do with a man far too wise to be false. "The King of England," he wrote, and it is impossible to doubt that he wrote what he thought, "acts with good faith in every thing. His way of dealing is upright and sincere." "The King of England," he wrote a few days later, "has hitherto acted with great sincerity; and I venture to say that, if he once enters into a treaty, he will steadily adhere to it." But in the same letter the Ambassador thought it necessary to hint to his master that the diplomatic chicanery which might be useful in other negotiations would be all thrown away here. "I must venture to observe to Your Majesty that the King of England is very sharpsighted, that his judgment is sound, and that, if we try to spin the negotiation out, he will very soon perceive that we are trifling with him."

During some time projects and counterprojects continued to pass and repass between Kensington and Versailles. Something was conceded on both sides; and when the session of Parliament ended there seemed to be fair hopes of a settlement. And now the scene of the negotiation was again changed. Having been shifted from France to England, it was shifted from England to Holland. As soon as William had prorogued the Houses, he was impatient to be again in his native land. He felt all the glee of a schoolboy who is leaving harsh masters and quarrelsome comrades to pass the Christmas holidays at a happy home. That stern and composed face which had been the same in the pursuit at the Boyne and in the rout at Landen, and of which the keenest politicians had in vain tried to read the secrets, now wore an expression but too intelligible. The English were not a little provoked by seeing their King so happy. Hitherto his annual visits to the Continent had been not only pardoned but approved. It was necessary that he should be at the head of his army. If he had left his people, it had been in order to put his life in jeopardy for their independence, their liberty, and their religion. But they had hoped that, when peace had been restored, when no call of duty required him to cross the sea, he would generally, during the summer and autumn, reside in his fair palaces and parks on the banks of the Thames, or travel from country seat to country seat, and from cathedral town to cathedral town, making himself acquainted with every shire of his realm, and giving his hand to be kissed by multitudes of squires, clergymen and aldermen who were not likely ever to see him unless he came among them. It now appeared that he was sick of the noble residences which had descended to him from ancient princes; that he was sick even of those mansions which the liberality of Parliament had enabled him to build and embellish according to his own taste; that he was sick of Windsor, of Richmond, and of Hampton; that he promised himself no enjoyment from a progress through those flourishing and populous counties which he had never seen, Yorkshire and Norfolk, Cheshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. While he was forced to be with us, he was weary of us, pining for his home, counting the hours to the prorogation. As soon as the passing of the last bill of supply had set him at liberty, he turned his back on his English subjects; he hastened to his seat in Guelders, where, during some months, he might be free from the annoyance of seeing English faces and hearing English words; and he would with difficulty tear himself away from his favourite spot when it became absolutely necessary that he should again ask for English money. Thus his subjects murmured; but, in spite of their murmurs, he set off in high spirits. It had been arranged that Tallard should speedily follow him, and that the discussion in which they had been engaged at Kensington should be resumed at Loo.

Heinsius, whose cooperation was indispensable, would be there. Portland too would lend his assistance. He had just returned. He had always considered his mission as an extraordinary mission, of which the object was to put the relations between the two great Western powers on a proper footing after a long series of years during which England had been sometimes the enemy, but never the equal friend, of France. His task had been well performed; and he now came back, leaving behind him the reputation of an excellent minister, firm yet cautious as to substance, dignified yet conciliating in manner. His last audience at Versailles was unusually long; and no third person was present. Nothing could be more gracious than the language and demeanour of Lewis. He condescended to trace a route for the embassy, and insisted that Portland should make a circuit for the purpose of inspecting some of the superb fortresses of the French Netherlands. At every one of those fortresses the governors and engineers had orders to pay every attention to the distinguished stranger. Salutes were everywhere fired to welcome him. A guard of honour was everywhere in attendance on him. He stopped during three days at Chantilly, and was entertained there by the Prince of Condé with all that taste and magnificence for which Chantilly had long been renowned. There were boar hunts in the morning and concerts in the evening. Every gentleman of the legation had a gamekeeper specially assigned to him. The guests, who, in their own island were accustomed to give extravagant vails at every country house which they visited, learned, with admiration, that His Highness's servants were strictly forbidden to receive presents. At his luxurious table, by a refinement of politeness, choice cider from the orchards round the Malvern Hills made its appearance in company with the Champagne and the Burgundy.

Portland was welcomed by his master with all the kindness of old times. But that kindness availed nothing. For Albemarle was still in the royal household, and appeared to have been, during the last few months, making progress in the royal favour. Portland was angry, and the more angry because he could not but perceive that his enemies enjoyed his anger, and that even his friends generally thought it unreasonable; nor did he take any pains to conceal his vexation. But he was the very opposite of the vulgar crowd of courtiers who fawn on a master while they betray him. He neither disguised his ill humour, nor suffered it to interfere with the discharge of his duties. He gave his prince sullen looks, short answers, and faithful and strenuous services. His first wish, he said, was to retire altogether from public life. But he was sensible that, having borne a chief part in the negotiation on which the fate of Europe depended, he might be of use at Loo; and, with devoted loyalty, though with a sore heart and a gloomy brow, he prepared to attend William thither. Before the King departed he delegated his power to nine Lords Justices. The public was well pleased to find that Sunderland was not among them. Two new names appeared in the list. That of Montague could excite no surprise. But that of Marlborough awakened many recollections and gave occasion to many speculations. He had once enjoyed a large measure of royal favour. He had then been dismissed, disgraced, imprisoned. The Princess Anne, for refusing to discard his wife, had been turned out of the palace, and deprived of the honours which had often been enjoyed by persons less near to the throne. Ministers who were supposed to have great influence in the closet had vainly tried to overcome the dislike with which their master regarded the Churchills. It was not till he had been some time reconciled to his sister in law that he ceased to regard her two favourite servants as his enemies. So late as the year 1696 he had been heard to say, "If I had been a private gentleman, my Lord Marlborough and I must have measured swords." All these things were now, it seemed, forgotten. The Duke of Gloucester's household had just been arranged. As he was not yet nine years old, and the civil list was burdened with a heavy debt, fifteen thousand pounds was thought for the present a sufficient provision. The child's literary education was directed by Burnet, with the title of Preceptor. Marlborough was appointed Governor; and the London Gazette announced his appointment, not with official dryness, but in the fervid language of panegyric. He was at the same time again sworn a member of the Privy Council from which he had been expelled with ignominy; and he was honoured a few days later with a still higher mark of the King's confidence, a seat at the board of Regency.

Some persons imagined that they saw in this strange reconciliation a sign that the influence of Portland was on the wane and that the influence of Albemarle was growing. For Marlborough had been many years at feud with Portland, and had even--a rare event indeed--been so much irritated as to speak of Portland in coarse and ungentlemanlike terms. With Albemarle, on the other hand, Marlborough had studiously ingratiated himself by all the arts which a mind singularly observant and sagacious could learn from a long experience in courts; and it is possible that Albemarle may have removed some difficulties. It is hardly necessary, however, to resort to that supposition for the purpose of explaining why so wise a man as William forced himself, after some delay caused by very just and natural resentment, to act wisely. His opinion of Marlborough's character was probably unaltered. But he could not help perceiving that Marlborough's situation was widely different from what it had been a few years before. That very ambition, that very avarice, which had, in former times, impelled him to betray two masters, were now sufficient securities for his fidelity to the order of things which had been established by the Bill of Rights. If that order of things could be maintained inviolate, he could scarcely fail to be, in a few years, the greatest and wealthiest subject in Europe. His military and political talents might therefore now be used without any apprehension that they would be turned against the government which used them. It is to be remembered too that he derived his importance less from his military and political talents, great as they were, than from the dominion which, through the instrumentality of his wife, he exercised over the mind of the Princess. While he was on good terms with the Court it was certain that she would lend no countenance to any cabal which might attack either the title or the prerogatives of her brother in law. Confident that from this quarter, a quarter once the darkest and most stormy in the whole political horizon, nothing but sunshine and calm was now to be expected, William set out cheerfully on his expedition to his native country.


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