THE death of King Charles the Second took the nation by surprise. His frame was naturally strong, and did not appear to have suffered from excess. He had always been mindful of his health even in his pleasures; and his habits were such as promise a long life and a robust old age. Indolent as he was on all occasions which required tension of the mind, he was active and persevering in bodily exercise. He had, when young, been renowned as a tennis player, and was, even in the decline of life, an indefatigable walker. His ordinary pace was such that those who were admitted to the honour of his society found it difficult to keep up with him. He rose early, and generally passed three or four hours a day in the open air. He might be seen, before the dew was off the grass in St. James's Park, striding among the trees, playing with his spaniels, and flinging corn to his ducks; and these exhibitions endeared him to the common people, who always love to see the great unbend.
At length, towards the close of the year 1684, he was prevented, by a slight attack of what was supposed to be gout, from rambling as usual. He now spent his mornings in his laboratory, where he amused himself with experiments on the properties of mercury. His temper seemed to have suffered from confinement. He had no apparent cause for disquiet. His kingdom was tranquil: he was not in pressing want of money: his power was greater than it had ever been: the party which had long thwarted him had been beaten down; but the cheerfulness which had supported him against adverse fortune had vanished in this season of prosperity. A trifle now sufficed to depress those elastic spirits which had borne up against defeat, exile, and penury. His irritation frequently showed itself by looks and words such as could hardly have been expected from a man so eminently distinguished by good humour and good breeding. It was not supposed however that his constitution was seriously impaired.
His palace had seldom presented a gayer or a more scandalous appearance than on the evening of Sunday the first of February 1685. Some grave persons who had gone thither, after the fashion of that age, to pay their duty to their sovereign, and who had expected that, on such a day, his court would wear a decent aspect, were struck with astonishment and horror. The great gallery of Whitehall, an admirable relic of the magnificence of the Tudors, was crowded with revellers and gamblers. The king sate there chatting and toying with three women, whose charms were the boast, and whose vices were the disgrace, of three nations. Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, was there, no longer young, but still retaining some traces of that superb and voluptuous loveliness which twenty years before overcame the hearts of all men. There too was the Duchess of Portsmouth, whose soft and infantine features were lighted up with the vivacity of France. Hortensia Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin, and niece of the great Cardinal, completed the group. She had been early removed from her native Italy to the court where her uncle was supreme. His power and her own attractions had drawn a crowd of illustrious suitors round her. Charles himself, during his exile, had sought her hand in vain. No gift of nature or of fortune seemed to be wanting to her. Her face was beautiful with the rich beauty of the South, her understanding quick, her manners graceful, her rank exalted, her possessions immense; but her ungovernable passions had turned all these blessings into curses. She had found the misery of an ill assorted marriage intolerable, had fled from her husband, had abandoned her vast wealth, and, after having astonished Rome and Piedmont by her adventures, had fixed her abode in England. Her house was the favourite resort of men of wit and pleasure, who, for the sake of her smiles and her table, endured her frequent fits of insolence and ill humour. Rochester and Godolphin sometimes forgot the cares of state in her company. Barillon and Saint Evremond found in her drawing room consolation for their long banishment from Paris. The learning of Vossius, the wit of Waller, were daily employed to flatter and amuse her. But her diseased mind required stronger stimulants, and sought them in gallantry, in basset, and in usquebaugh. While Charles. flirted with his three sultanas, Hortensia's French page, a handsome boy, whose vocal performances were the delight of Whitehall, and were rewarded by numerous presents of rich clothes, ponies, and guineas, warbled some amorous verses. A party of twenty courtiers was seated at cards round a large table on which gold was heaped in mountains. Even then the King had complained that he did not feel quite well. He had no appetite for his supper: his rest that night was broken; but on the following morning he rose, as usual, early.
To that morning the contending factions in his council had, during some days, looked forward with anxiety. The struggle between Halifax and Rochester seemed to be approaching a decisive crisis. Halifax, not content with having already driven his rival from the Board of Treasury, had undertaken to prove him guilty of such dishonesty or neglect in the conduct of the finances as ought to be punished by dismission from the public service. It was even whispered that the Lord President would probably be sent to the Tower. The King had promised to enquire into the matter. The second of February had been fixed for the investigation; and several officers of the revenue had been ordered to attend with their books on that day. But a great turn of fortune was at hand.
Scarcely had Charles risen from his bed when his attendants perceived that his utterance was indistinct, and that his thoughts seemed to be wandering. Several men of rank had, as usual, assembled to see their sovereign shaved and dressed. He made an effort to converse with them in his usual gay style; but his ghastly look surprised and alarmed them. Soon his face grew black; his eyes turned in his head; he uttered a cry, staggered, and fell into the arms of one of his lords. A physician who had charge of the royal retorts and crucibles happened to be present. He had no lances; but he opened a vein with a penknife. The blood flowed freely; but the King was still insensible.
He was laid on his bed, where, during a short time, the Duchess of Portsmouth hung over him with the familiarity of a wife. But the alarm had been given. The Queen and the Duchess of York were hastening to the room. The favourite concubine was forced to retire to her own apartments. Those apartments had been thrice pulled down and thrice rebuilt by her lover to gratify her caprice. The very furniture of the chimney was massy silver. Several fine paintings, which properly belonged to the Queen, had been transferred to the dwelling of the mistress. The sideboards were piled with richly wrought plate. In the niches stood cabinets, the masterpieces of Japanese art. On the hangings, fresh from the looms of Paris, were depicted, in tints which no English tapestry could rival, birds of gorgeous plumage, landscapes, hunting matches, the lordly terrace of Saint Germains, the statues and fountains of Versailles. In the midst of this splendour, purchased by guilt and shame, the unhappy woman gave herself up to an agony of grief, which, to do her justice, was not wholly selfish.
And now the gates of Whitehall, which ordinarily stood open to all comers, were closed. But persons whose faces were known were still permitted to enter. The antechambers and galleries were soon filled to overflowing; and even the sick room was crowded with peers, privy councillors, and foreign ministers. All the medical men of note in London were summoned. So high did political animosities run that the presence of some Whig physicians was regarded as an extraordinary circumstance. One Roman Catholic, whose skill was then widely renowned, Doctor Thomas Short, was in attendance. Several of the prescriptions have been preserved. One of them is signed by fourteen Doctors. The patient was bled largely. Hot iron was applied to his head. A loathsome volatile salt, extracted from human skulls, was forced into his mouth. He recovered his senses; but he was evidently in a situation of extreme danger.
The Queen was for a time assiduous in her attendance. The Duke of York scarcely left his brother's bedside. The Primate and four other bishops were then in London. They remained at Whitehall all day, and took it by turns to sit up at night in the King's room. The news of his illness filled the capital with sorrow and dismay. For his easy temper and affable manners had won the affection of a large part of the nation; and those who most disliked him preferred his unprincipled levity to the stern and earnest bigotry of his brother.
On the morning of Thursday the fifth of February, the London Gazette announced that His Majesty was going on well, and was thought by the physicians to be out of danger. The bells of all the churches rang merrily; and preparations for bonfires were made in the streets. But in the evening it was known that a relapse had taken place, and that the medical attendants had given up all hope. The public mind was greatly disturbed; but there was no disposition to tumult. The Duke of York, who had already taken on himself to give orders, ascertained that the City was perfectly quiet, and that he might without difficulty be proclaimed as soon as his brother should expire.
The King was in great pain, and complained that he felt as if a fire was burning within him. Yet he bore up against his sufferings with a fortitude which did not seem to belong to his soft and luxurious nature. The sight of his misery affected his wife so much that she fainted, and was carried senseless to her chamber. The prelates who were in waiting had from the first exhorted him to prepare for his end. They now thought it their duty to address him in a still more urgent manner. William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, an honest and pious, though narrowminded, man, used great freedom. "It is time,' he said, "to speak out; for, Sir, you are about to appear before a Judge who is no respecter of persons." The King answered not a word.
Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, then tried his powers of persuasion. He was a man of parts and learning, of quick sensibility and stainless virtue. His elaborate works have long been forgotten; but his morning and evening hymns are still repeated daily in thousands of dwellings. Though, like most of his order, zealous for monarchy, he was no sycophant. Before he became a Bishop, he had maintained the honour of his gown by refusing, when the court was at Winchester, to let Eleanor Gwynn lodge in the house which he occupied there as a prebendary. The King had sense enough to respect so manly a spirit. Of all the prelates he liked Ken the best. It was to no purpose, however, that the good Bishop now put forth all his eloquence. His solemn and pathetic exhortation awed and melted the bystanders to such a degree that some among them believed him to be filled with the same spirit which, in the old time, had, by the mouths of Nathan and Elias, called sinful princes to repentance. Charles however was unmoved. He made no objection indeed when the service for the visitation of the sick was read. In reply to the pressing questions of the divines, he said that he was sorry for what he had done amiss; and he suffered the absolution to be pronounced over him according to the forms of the Church of England: but, when he was urged to declare that he died in the communion of that Church, he seemed not to hear what was said; and nothing could induce him to take the Eucharist from the hands of the Bishops. A table with bread and wine was brought to his bedside, but in vain. Sometimes he said that there was no hurry, and sometimes that he was too weak.
Many attributed this apathy to contempt for divine things, and many to the stupor which often precedes death. But there were in the palace a few persons who knew better. Charles had never been a sincere member of the Established Church. His mind had long oscillated between Hobbism and Popery. When his health was good and his spirits high he was a scoffer. In his few serious moments he was a Roman Catholic. The Duke of York was aware of this, but was entirely occupied with the care of his own interests. He had ordered the outports to be closed. He had posted detachments of the Guards in different parts of the city. He had also procured the feeble signature of the dying King to an instrument by which some duties, granted only till the demise of the Crown, were let to farm for a term of three years. These things occupied the attention of James to such a degree that, though, on ordinary occasions, he was indiscreetly and unseasonably eager to bring over proselytes to his Church, he never reflected that his brother was in danger of dying without the last sacraments. This neglect was the more extraordinary because the Duchess of York had, at the request of the Queen, suggested, on the morning on which the King was taken ill, the propriety of procuring spiritual assistance. For such assistance Charles was at last indebted to an agency very different from that of his pious wife and sister-in-law. A life of frivolty and vice had not extinguished in the Duchess of Portsmouth all sentiments of religion, or all that kindness which is the glory of her sex. The French ambassador Barillon, who had come to the palace to enquire after the King, paid her a visit. He found her in an agony of sorrow. She took him into a secret room, and poured out her whole heart to him. "I have," she said, "a thing of great moment to tell you. If it were known, my head would be in danger. The King is really and truly a Catholic; but he will die without being reconciled to the Church. His bedchamber is full of Protestant clergymen. I cannot enter it without giving scandal. The Duke is thinking only of himself. Speak to him. Remind him that there is a soul at stake. He is master now. He can clear the room. Go this instant, or it will be too late."
Barillon hastened to the bedchamber, took the Duke aside, and delivered the message of the mistress. The conscience of James smote him. He started as if roused from sleep, and declared that nothing should prevent him from discharging the sacred duty which had been too long delayed. Several schemes were discussed and rejected. At last the Duke commanded the crowd to stand aloof, went to the bed, stooped down, and whispered something which none of the spectators could hear, but which they supposed to be some question about affairs of state. Charles answered in an audible voice, "Yes, yes, with all my heart." None of the bystanders, except the French Ambassador, guessed that the King was declaring his wish to be admitted into the bosom of the Church of Rome.
"Shall I bring a priest?" said the Duke. "Do, brother," replied the Sick man. "For God's sake do, and lose no time. But no; you will get into trouble." "If it costs me my life," said the Duke, "I will fetch a priest."
To find a priest, however, for such a purpose, at a moment's notice, was not easy. For, as the law then stood, the person who admitted a proselyte into the Roman Catholic Church was guilty of a capital crime. The Count of Castel Melhor, a Portuguese nobleman, who, driven by political troubles from his native land, had been hospitably received at the English court, undertook to procure a confessor. He had recourse to his countrymen who belonged to the Queen's household; but he found that none of her chaplains knew English or French enough to shrive the King. The Duke and Barillon were about to send to the Venetian Minister for a clergyman when they heard that a Benedictine monk, named John Huddleston, happened to be at Whitehall. This man had, with great risk to himself, saved the King's life after the battle of Worcester, and had, on that account, been, ever since the Restoration, a privileged person. In the sharpest proclamations which had been put forth against Popish priests, when false witnesses had inflamed the nation to fury, Huddleston had been excepted by name. He readily consented to put his life a second time in peril for his prince; but there was still a difficulty. The honest monk was so illiterate that he did not know what he ought to say on an occasion of such importance. He however obtained some hints, through the intervention of Castel Melhor, from a Portuguese ecclesiastic, and, thus instructed, was brought up the back stairs by Chiffinch, a confidential servant, who, if the satires of that age are to be credited, had often introduced visitors of a very different description by the same entrance. The Duke then, in the King's name, commanded all who were present to quit the room, except Lewis Duras, Earl of Feversham, and John Granville, Earl of Bath. Both these Lords professed the Protestant religion; but James conceived that he could count on their fidelity. Feversham, a Frenchman of noble birth, and nephew of the great Turenne, held high rank in the English army, and was Chamberlain to the Queen. Bath was Groom of the Stole.
The Duke's orders were obeyed; and even the physicians withdrew. The back door was then opened; and Father Huddleston entered. A cloak had been thrown over his sacred vestments; and his shaven crown was concealed by a flowing wig. "Sir," said the Duke, "this good man once saved your life. He now comes to save your soul." Charles faintly answered, "He is welcome." Huddleston went through his part better than had been expected. He knelt by the bed, listened to the confession, pronounced the absolution, and administered extreme unction. He asked if the King wished to receive the Lord's supper. "Surely," said Charles, "if I am not unworthy." The host was brought in. Charles feebly strove to rise and kneel before it. The priest made him lie still, and assured him that God would accept the humiliation of the soul, and would not require the humiliation of the body. The King found so much difficulty in swallowing the bread that it was necessary to open the door and procure a glass of water. This rite ended, the monk held up a crucifix before the penitent, charged him to fix his last thoughts on the sufferings of the Redeemer, and withdrew. The whole ceremony had occupied about three quarters of an hour; and, during that time, the courtiers who filled the outer room had communicated their suspicions to each other by whispers and significant glances. The door was at length thrown open, and the crowd again filled the chamber of death.
It was now late in the evening. The King seemed much relieved by what had passed. His natural children were brought to his bedside, the Dukes of Grafton, Southampton, and Northumberland, sons of the Duchess of Cleveland, the Duke of Saint Albans, son of Eleanor Gwynn, and the Duke of Richmond, son of the Duchess of Portsmouth. Charles blessed them all, but spoke with peculiar tenderness to Richmond. One face which should have been there was wanting. The eldest and best loved child was an exile and a wanderer. His name was not once mentioned by his father.
During the night Charles earnestly recommended the Duchess of Portsmouth and her boy to the care of James; "And do not," he good-naturedly added, "let poor Nelly starve." The Queen sent excuses for her absence by Halifax. She said that she was too much disordered to resume her post by the couch, and implored pardon for any offence which she might unwittingly have given. "She ask my pardon, poor woman!" cried Charles; "I ask hers with all my heart."
The morning light began to peep through the windows of Whitehall; and Charles desired the attendants to pull aside the curtains, that he might have one more look at the day. He remarked that it was time to wind up a clock which stood near his bed. These little circumstances were long remembered because they proved beyond dispute that, when he declared himself a Roman Catholic, he was in full possession of his faculties. He apologised to those who had stood round him all night for the trouble which he had caused. He had been, he said, a most unconscionable time dying; but he hoped that they would excuse it. This was the last glimpse of the exquisite urbanity, so often found potent to charm away the resentment of a justly incensed nation. Soon after dawn the speech of the dying man failed. Before ten his senses were gone. Great numbers had repaired to the churches at the hour of morning service. When the prayer for the King was read, loud groans and sobs showed how deeply his people felt for him. At noon on Friday, the sixth of February, he passed away without a struggle.
At that time the common people throughout Europe, and nowhere more than in England, were in the habit of attributing the death of princes, especially when the prince was popular and the death unexpected, to the foulest and darkest kind of assassination. Thus James the First had been accused of poisoning Prince Henry. Thus Charles the First had been accused of poisoning James the First. Thus when, in the time of the Commonwealth, the Princess Elizabeth died at Carisbrook, it was loudly asserted that Cromwell had stooped to the senseless and dastardly wickedness of mixing noxious drugs with the food of a young girl whom he had no conceivable motive to injure. A few years later, the rapid decomposition of Cromwell's own corpse was ascribed by many to a deadly potion administered in his medicine. The death of Charles the Second could scarcely fail to occasion similar rumours. The public ear had been repeatedly abused by stories of Popish plots against his life. There was, therefore, in many minds, a strong predisposition to suspicion; and there were some unlucky circumstances which, to minds so predisposed, might seem to indicate that a crime had been perpetrated. The fourteen Doctors who deliberated on the King's case contradicted each other and themselves. Some of them thought that his fit was epileptic, and that he should be suffered to have his doze out. The majority pronounced him apoplectic, and tortured him during some hours like an Indian at a stake. Then it was determined to call his complaint a fever, and to administer doses of bark. One physician, however, protested against this course, and assured the Queen that his brethren would kill the King among them. Nothing better than dissension and vacillation could be expected from such a multitude of advisers. But many of the vulgar not unnaturally concluded, from the perplexity of the great masters of the healing art, that the malady had some extraordinary origin. There is reason to believe that a horrible suspicion did actually cross the mind of Short, who, though skilful in his profession, seems to have been a nervous and fanciful man, and whose perceptions were probably confused by dread of the odious imputations to which he, as a Roman Catholic, was peculiarly exposed. We cannot, therefore, wonder that wild stories without number were repeated and believed by the common people. His Majesty's tongue had swelled to the size of a neat's tongue. A cake of deleterious powder had been found in his brain. There were blue spots on his breast. There were black spots on his shoulder. Something had been put in his snuff-box. Something had been put into his broth. Something had been put into his favourite dish of eggs and ambergrease. The Duchess of Portsmouth had poisoned him in a cup of chocolate. The Queen had poisoned him in a jar of dried pears. Such tales ought to be preserved; for they furnish us with a measure of the intelligence and virtue of the generation which eagerly devoured them. That no rumour of the same kind has ever, in the present age, found credit among us, even when lives on which great interest depended have been terminated by unforeseen attacks of disease, is to be attributed partly to the progress of medical and chemical science, but partly also, it may be hoped, to the progress which the nation has made in good sense, justice, and humanity.
When all was over, James retired from the bedside to his closet, where, during a quarter of an hour, he remained alone. Meanwhile the Privy Councillors who were in the palace assembled. The new King came forth, and took his place at the head of the board. He commenced his administration, according to usage, by a speech to the Council. He expressed his regret for the loss which he had just sustained, and he promised to imitate the singular lenity which had distinguished the late reign. He was aware, he said, that he had been accused of a fondness for arbitrary power. But that was not the only falsehood which had been told of him. He was resolved to maintain the established government both in Church and State. The Church of England he knew to be eminently loyal. It should therefore always be his care to support and defend her. The laws of England, he also knew, were sufficient to make him as great a King as he could wish to be. He would not relinquish his own rights; but he would respect the rights of others. He had formerly risked his life in defense of his country; and he would still go as far as any man in support of her just liberties.
This speech was not, like modern speeches on similar occasions, carefully prepared by the advisers of the sovereign. It was the extemporaneous expression of the new King's feelings at a moment of great excitement. The members of the Council broke forth into clamours of delight and gratitude. The Lord President, Rochester, in the name of his brethren, expressed a hope that His Majesty's most welcome declaration would be made public. The Solicitor General, Heneage Finch, offered to act as clerk. He was a zealous churchman, and, as such, was naturally desirous that there should be some permanent record of the gracious promises which had just been uttered. "Those promises," he said, "have made so deep an impression on me that I can repeat them word for word." He soon produced his report. James read it, approved of it, and ordered it to be published. At a later period he said that he had taken this step without due consideration, that his unpremeditated expressions touching the Church of England were too strong, and that Finch had, with a dexterity which at the time escaped notice, made them still stronger.
The King had been exhausted by long watching and by many violent emotions. He now retired to rest. The Privy Councillors, having respectfully accompanied him to his bedchamber, returned to their seats, and issued orders for the ceremony of proclamation. The Guards were under arms; the heralds appeared in their gorgeous coats; and the pageant proceeded without any obstruction. Casks of wine were broken up in the streets, and all who passed were invited to drink to the health of the new sovereign. But, though an occasional shout was raised, the people were not in a joyous mood. Tears were seen in many eyes; and it was remarked that there was scarcely a housemaid in London who had not contrived to procure some fragment of black crepe in honour of King Charles.
The funeral called forth much censure. It would, indeed, hardly have been accounted worthy of a noble and opulent subject. The Tories gently blamed the new King's parsimony: the Whigs sneered at his want of natural affection; and the fiery Covenanters of Scotland exultingly proclaimed that the curse denounced of old against wicked princes had been signally fulfilled, and that the departed tyrant had been buried with the burial of an ass. Yet James commenced his administration with a large measure of public good will. His speech to the Council appeared in print, and the impression which it produced was highly favourable to him. This, then, was the prince whom a faction had driven into exile and had tried to rob of his birthright, on the ground that he was a deadly enemy to the religion and laws of England. He had triumphed: he was on the throne; and his first act was to declare that he would defend the Church, and would strictly respect the rights of his people. The estimate which all parties had formed of his character, added weight to every word that fell from him. The Whigs called him haughty, implacable, obstinate, regardless of public opinion. The Tories, while they extolled his princely virtues, had often lamented his neglect of the arts which conciliate popularity. Satire itself had never represented him as a man likely to court public favour by professing what he did not feel, and by promising what he had no intention of performing. On the Sunday which followed his accession, his speech was quoted in many pulpits. "We have now for our Church," cried one loyal preacher, "the word of a King, and of a King who was never worse than his word." This pointed sentence was fast circulated through town and country, and was soon the watchword of the whole Tory party.
The great offices of state had become vacant by the demise of the crown and it was necessary for James to determine how they should be filled. Few of the members of the late cabinet had any reason to expect his favour. Sunderland, who was Secretary of State, and Godolphin, who was First Lord of the Treasury, had supported the Exclusion Bill. Halifax, who held the Privy Seal, had opposed that bill with unrivalled powers of argument and eloquence. But Halifax was the mortal enemy of despotism and of Popery. He saw with dread the progress of the French arms on the Continent and the influence of French gold in the counsels of England. Had his advice been followed, the laws would have been strictly observed: clemency would have been extended to the vanquished Whigs: the Parliament would have been convoked in due season: an attempt would have been made to reconcile our domestic factions; and the principles of the Triple Alliance would again have guided our foreign policy. He had therefore incurred the bitter animosity of James. The Lord Keeper Guildford could hardly be said to belong to either of the parties into which the court was divided. He could by no means be called a friend of liberty; and yet he had so great a reverence for the letter of the law that he was not a serviceable tool of arbitrary power. He was accordingly designated by the vehement Tories as a Trimmer, and was to James an object of aversion with which contempt was largely mingled. Ormond, who was Lord Steward of the Household and Viceroy of Ireland, then resided at Dublin. His claims on the royal gratitude were superior to those of any other subject. He had fought bravely for Charles the First: he had shared the exile of Charles the Second; and, since the Restoration, he had, in spite of many provocations, kept his loyalty unstained. Though he had been disgraced during the predominance of the Cabal, he had never gone into factious opposition, and had, in the days of the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Bill, been foremost among the supporters of the throne. He was now old, and had been recently tried by the most cruel of all calamities. He had followed to the grave a son who should have been his own chief mourner, the gallant Ossory. The eminent services, the venerable age, and the domestic misfortunes of Ormond made him an object of general interest to the nation. The Cavaliers regarded him as, both by right of seniority and by right of merit, their head; and the Whigs knew that, faithful as he had always been to the cause of monarchy, he was no friend either to Popery or to arbitrary power. But, high as he stood in the public estimation, he had little favor to expect from his new master. James, indeed, while still a subject, had urged his brother to make a complete change in the Irish administration. Charles had assented; and it had been arranged that, in a few months, there should be a new Lord Lieutenant.
Rochester was the only member of the cabinet who stood high in the favour of the King. The general expectation was that he would be immediately placed at the head of affairs, and that all the other great officers of the state would be changed. This expectation proved to be well founded in part only. Rochester was declared Lord Treasurer, and thus became prime minister. Neither a Lord High Admiral nor a Board of Admiralty was appointed. The new King, who loved the details of naval business, and would have made a respectable clerk in a dockyard at Chatham, determined to be his own minister of marine. Under him the management of that important department was confided to Samuel Pepys, whose library and diary have kept his name fresh to our time. No servant of the late sovereign was publicly disgraced. Sunderland exerted so much art and address, employed so many intercessors, and was in possession of so many secrets, that he was suffered to retain his seals. Godolphin's obsequiousness, industry, experience and taciturnity, could ill be spared. As he was no longer wanted at the Treasury, he was made Chamberlain to the Queen. With these three Lords the King took counsel on all important questions. As to Halifax, Ormond, and Guildford, he determined not yet to dismiss them, but merely to humble and annoy them.
Halifax was told that he must give up the Privy seal and accept the Presidency of the Council. He submitted with extreme reluctance. For, though the President of the Council had always taken precedence of the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Privy Seal was, in that age a much more important officer than the Lord President. Rochester had not forgotten the jest which had been made a few months before on his own removal from the Treasury, and enjoyed in his turn the pleasure of kicking his rival up stairs. The Privy Seal was delivered to Rochester's elder brother, Henry Earl of Clarendon.
To Barillon James expressed the strongest dislike of Halifax. "I know him well, I never can trust him. He shall have no share in the management of public business. As to the place which I have given him, it will just serve to show how little influence he has." But to Halifax it was thought convenient to hold a very different language. "All the past is forgotten," said the King, "except the service which you did me in the debate on the Exclusion Bill." This speech has often been cited to prove that James was not so vindictive as he had been called by his enemies. It seems rather to prove that he by no means deserved the praises which have been bestowed on his sincerity by his friends.
Ormond was politely informed that his services were no longer needed in Ireland, and was invited to repair to Whitehall, and to perform the functions of Lord Steward. He dutifully submitted, but did not affect to deny that the new arrangement wounded his feelings deeply. On the eve of his departure he gave a magnificent banquet at Kilmainham Hospital, then just completed, to the officers of the garrison of Dublin. After dinner he rose, filled a goblet to the brim with wine, and, holding it up, asked whether he had spilt one drop. "No, gentlemen; whatever the courtiers may say, I am not yet sunk into dotage. My hand does not fail me yet: and my hand is not steadier than my heart. To the health of King James!" Such was the last farewell of Ormond to Ireland. He left the administration in the hands of Lords Justices, and repaired to London, where he was received with unusual marks of public respect. Many persons of rank went forth to meet him on the road. A long train of equipages followed him into Saint James's Square, where his mansion stood; and the Square was thronged by a multitude which greeted him with loud acclamations.
The Great Seal was left in Guildford's custody; but a marked indignity was at the same time offered to him. It was determined that another lawyer of more vigour and audacity should be called to assist in the administration. The person selected was Sir George Jeffreys, Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench. The depravity of this man has passed into a proverb. Both the great English parties have attacked his memory with emulous violence: for the Whigs considered him as their most barbarous enemy; and the Tories found it convenient to throw on him the blame of all the crimes which had sullied their triumph. A diligent and candid enquiry will show that some frightful stories which have been told concerning him are false or exaggerated. Yet the dispassionate historian will be able to make very little deduction from the vast mass of infamy with which the memory of the wicked judge has been loaded.
He was a man of quick and vigorous parts, but constitutionally prone to insolence and to the angry passions. When just emerging from boyhood he had risen into practice at the Old Bailey bar, a bar where advocates have always used a license of tongue unknown in Westminster Hall. Here, during many years his chief business was to examine and crossexamine the most hardened miscreants of a great capital. Daily conflicts with prostitutes and thieves called out and exercised his powers so effectually that he became the most consummate bully ever known in his profession. Tenderness for others and respect for himself were feelings alike unknown to him. He acquired a boundless command of the rhetoric in which the vulgar express hatred and contempt. The profusion of maledictions and vituperative epithets which composed his vocabulary could hardly have been rivalled in the fishmarket or the beargarden. His countenance and his voice must always have been unamiable. But these natural advantages,--for such he seems to have thought them,--he had improved to such a degree that there were few who, in his paroxysms of rage, could see or hear him without emotion. Impudence and ferocity sate upon his brow. The glare of his eyes had a fascination for the unhappy victim on whom they were fixed. Yet his brow and his eye were less terrible than the savage lines of his mouth. His yell of fury, as was said by one who had often heard it, sounded like the thunder of the judgment day. These qualifications he carried, while still a young man, from the bar to the bench. He early became Common Serjeant, and then Recorder of London. As a judge at the City sessions he exhibited the same propensities which afterwards, in a higher post, gained for him an unenviable immortality. Already might be remarked in him the most odious vice which is incident to human nature, a delight in misery merely as misery. There was a fiendish exultation in the way in which he pronounced sentence on offenders. Their weeping and imploring seemed to titillate him voluptuously; and he loved to scare them into fits by dilating with luxuriant amplification on all the details of what they were to suffer. Thus, when he had an opportunity of ordering an unlucky adventuress to be whipped at the cart's tail, "Hangman," he would exclaim, "I charge you to pay particular attention to this lady! Scourge her soundly man! Scourge her till the blood runs down! It is Christmas, a cold time for Madam to strip in! See that you warm her shoulders thoroughly!" He was hardly less facetious when he passed judgment on poor Lodowick Muggleton, the drunken tailor who fancied himself a prophet. "Impudent rogue!" roared Jeffreys, "thou shalt have an easy, easy, easy punishment!" One part of this easy punishment was the pillory, in which the wretched fanatic was almost killed with brickbats.
By this time the heart of Jeffreys had been hardened to that temper which tyrants require in their worst implements. He had hitherto looked for professional advancement to the corporation of London. He had therefore professed himself a Roundhead, and had always appeared to be in a higher state of exhilaration when he explained to Popish priests that they were to be cut down alive, and were to see their own bowels burned, than when he passed ordinary sentences of death. But, as soon as he had got all that the city could give, he made haste to sell his forehead of brass and his tongue of venom to the Court. Chiffinch, who was accustomed to act as broker in infamous contracts of more than one kind, lent his aid. He had conducted many amorous and many political intrigues; but he assuredly never rendered a more scandalous service to his masters than when he introduced Jeffreys to Whitehall. The renegade soon found a patron in the obdurate and revengeful James, but was always regarded with scorn and disgust by Charles, whose faults, great as they were, had no affinity with insolence and cruelty. "That man," said the King, "has no learning, no sense, no manners, and more impudence than ten carted street-walkers." Work was to be done, however, which could be trusted to no man who reverenced law or was sensible of shame; and thus Jeffreys, at an age at which a barrister thinks himself fortunate if he is employed to conduct an important cause, was made Chief Justice of the King's Bench.
His enemies could not deny that he possessed some of the qualities of a great judge. His legal knowledge, indeed, was merely such as he had picked up in practice of no very high kind. But he had one of those happily constituted intellects which, across labyrinths of sophistry, and through masses of immaterial facts, go straight to the true point. Of his intellect, however, he seldom had the full use. Even in civil causes his malevolent and despotic temper perpetually disordered his judgment. To enter his court was to enter the den of a wild beast, which none could tame, and which was as likely to be roused to rage by caresses as by attacks. He frequently poured forth on plaintiffs and defendants, barristers and attorneys, witnesses and jurymen, torrents of frantic abuse, intermixed with oaths and curses. His looks and tones had inspired terror when he was merely a young advocate struggling into practice. Now that he was at the head of the most formidable tribunal in the realm, there were few indeed who did not tremble before him. Even when he was sober, his violence was sufficiently frightful. But in general his reason was overclouded and his evil passions stimulated by the fumes of intoxication. His evenings were ordinarily given to revelry. People who saw him only over his bottle would have supposed him to be a man gross indeed, sottish, and addicted to low company and low merriment, but social and goodhumoured. He was constantly surrounded on such occasions by buffoons selected, for the most part, from among the vilest pettifoggers who practiced before him. These men bantered and abused each other for his entertainment. He joined in their ribald talk, sang catches with them, and, when his head grew hot, hugged and kissed them in an ecstasy of drunken fondness. But though wine at first seemed to soften his heart, the effect a few hours later was very different. He often came to the judgment seat, having kept the court waiting long, and yet having but half slept off his debauch, his cheeks on fire, his eyes staring like those of a maniac. When he was in this state, his boon companions of the preceding night, if they were wise, kept out of his way: for the recollection of the familiarity to which he had admitted them inflamed his malignity; and he was sure to take every opportunity of overwhelming them with execration and invective. Not the least odious of his many odious peculiarities was the pleasure which he took in publicly browbeating and mortifying those whom, in his fits of maudlin tenderness, he had encouraged to presume on his favour.
The services which the government had expected from him were performed, not merely without flinching, but eagerly and triumphantly. His first exploit was the judicial murder of Algernon Sidney. What followed was in perfect harmony with this beginning. Respectable Tories lamented the disgrace which the barbarity and indecency of so great a functionary brought upon the administration of justice. But the excesses which filled such men with horror were titles to the esteem of James. Jeffreys, therefore, very soon after the death of Charles, obtained a seat in the cabinet and a peerage. This last honour was a signal mark of royal approbation. For, since the judicial system of the realm had been remodelled in the thirteenth century, no Chief Justice had been a Lord of Parliament.
Guildford now found himself superseded in all his political functions, and restricted to his business as a judge in equity. At Council he was treated by Jeffreys with marked incivility. The whole legal patronage was in the hands of the Chief Justice; and it was well known by the bar that the surest way to propitiate the Chief Justice was to treat the Lord Keeper with disrespect.
James had not been many hours King when a dispute arose between the two heads of the law. The customs had been settled on Charles for life only, and could not therefore be legally exacted by the new sovereign. Some weeks must elapse before a House of Commons could be chosen. If, in the meantime, the duties were suspended, the revenue would suffer; the regular course of trade would be interrupted; the consumer would derive no benefit, and the only gainers would be those fortunate speculators whose cargoes might happen to arrive during the interval between the demise of the crown and the meeting of the Parliament. The Treasury was besieged by merchants whose warehouses were filled with goods on which duty had been paid, and who were in grievous apprehension of being undersold and ruined. Impartial men must admit that this was one of those cases in which a government may be justified in deviating from the strictly constitutional course. But when it is necessary to deviate from the strictly constitutional course, the deviation clearly ought to be no greater than the necessity requires. Guildford felt this, and gave advice which did him honour. He proposed that the duties should be levied, but should be kept in the Exchequer apart from other sums till the Parliament should meet. In this way the King, while violating the letter of the laws, would show that he wished to conform to their spirit, Jeffreys gave very different counsel. He advised James to put forth an edict declaring it to be His Majesty's will and pleasure that the customs should continue to be paid. This advice was well suited to the King's temper. The judicious proposition of the Lord Keeper was rejected as worthy only of a Whig, or of what was still worse, a Trimmer. A proclamation, such as the Chief Justice had suggested, appeared. Some people had expected that a violent outbreak of public indignation would be the consequence; but they were deceived. The spirit of opposition had not yet revived; and the court might safely venture to take steps which, five years before, would have produced a rebellion. In the City of London, lately so turbulent, scarcely a murmur was heard.
The proclamation, which announced that the customs would still be levied, announced also that a Parliament would shortly meet. It was not without many misgivings that James had determined to call the Estates of his realm together. The moment was, indeed. most auspicious for a general election. Never since the accession of the House of Stuart had the constituent bodies been so favourably disposed towards the Court. But the new sovereign's mind was haunted by an apprehension not to be mentioned even at this distance of time, without shame and indignation. He was afraid that by summoning his Parliament he might incur the displeasure of the King of France.
To the King of France it mattered little which of the two English factions triumphed at the elections: for all the Parliaments which had met since the Restoration, whatever might have been their temper as to domestic politics, had been jealous of the growing power of the House of Bourbon. On this subject there was little difference between the Whigs and the sturdy country gentlemen who formed the main strength of the Tory party. Lewis had therefore spared neither bribes nor menaces to prevent Charles from convoking the Houses; and James, who had from the first been in the secret of his brother's foreign politics, had, in becoming King of England, become also a hireling and vassal of France.
Rochester, Godolphin, and Sunderland, who now formed the interior cabinet, were perfectly aware that their late master had been in the habit of receiving money from the court of Versailles. They were consulted by James as to the expediency of convoking the legislature. They acknowledged the importance of keeping Lewis in good humour: but it seemed to them that the calling of a Parliament was not a matter of choice. Patient as the nation appeared to be, there were limits to its patience. The principle, that the money of the subject could not be lawfully taken by the King without the assent of the Commons, was firmly rooted in the public mind; and though, on all extraordinary emergency even Whigs might be willing to pay, during a few weeks, duties not imposed by statute, it was certain that even Tories would become refractory if such irregular taxation should continue longer than the special circumstances which alone justified it. The Houses then must meet; and since it was so, the sooner they were summoned the better. Even the short delay which would be occasioned by a reference to Versailles might produce irreparable mischief. Discontent and suspicion would spread fast through society. Halifax would complain that the fundamental principles of the constitution were violated. The Lord Keeper, like a cowardly pedantic special pleader as he was, would take the same side. What might have been done with a good grace would at last be done with a bad grace. Those very ministers whom His Majesty most wished to lower in the public estimation would gain popularity at his expense. The ill temper of the nation might seriously affect the result of the elections. These arguments were unanswerable. The King therefore notified to the country his intention of holding a Parliament. But he was painfully anxious to exculpate himself from the guilt of having acted undutifully and disrespectfully towards France. He led Barillon into a private room, and there apologised for having dared to take so important a step without the previous sanction of Lewis. "Assure your master," said James, "of my gratitude and attachment. I know that without his protection I can do nothing. I know what troubles my brother brought on himself by not adhering steadily to France. I will take good care not to let the Houses meddle with foreign affairs. If I see in them any disposition to make mischief, I will send them about their business. Explain this to my good brother. I hope that he will not take it amiss that I have acted without consulting him. He has a right to be consulted; and it is my wish to consult him about everything. But in this case the delay even of a week might have produced serious consequences."
These ignominious excuses were, on the following morning, repeated by Rochester. Barillon received them civilly. Rochester, grown bolder, proceeded to ask for money. "It will be well laid out," he said: "your master cannot employ his revenues better. Represent to him strongly how important it is that the King of England should be dependent, not on his own people, but on the friendship of France alone."
Barillon hastened to communicate to Lewis the wishes of the English government; but Lewis had already anticipated them. His first act, after he was apprised of the death of Charles, was to collect bills of exchange on England to the amount of five hundred thousand livres, a sum equivalent to about thirty-seven thousand five hundred pounds sterling. Such bills were not then to be easily procured in Paris at day's notice. In a few hours, however, the purchase was effected, and a courier started for London. As soon as Barillon received the remittance, he flew to Whitehall, and communicated the welcome news. James was not ashamed to shed, or pretend to shed, tears of delight and gratitude. "Nobody but your King," he said, "does such kind, such noble things. I never can be grateful enough. Assure him that my attachment will last to the end of my days." Rochester, Sunderland, and Godolphin came, one after another, to embrace the ambassador, and to whisper to him that he had given new life to their royal master.
But though James and his three advisers were pleased with the promptitude which Lewis had shown, they were by no means satisfied with the amount of the donation. As they were afraid, however, that they might give offence by importunate mendicancy, they merely hinted their wishes. They declared that they had no intention of haggling with so generous a benefactor as the French King, and that they were willing to trust entirely to his munificence. They, at the same time, attempted to propitiate him by a large sacrifice of national honour. It was well known that one chief end of his politics was to add the Belgian provinces to his dominions. England was bound by a treaty which had been concluded with Spain when Danby was Lord Treasurer, to resist any attempt which France might make on those provinces. The three ministers informed Barillon that their master considered that treaty as no longer obligatory. It had been made, they said, by Charles: it might, perhaps, have been binding on him; but his brother did not think himself bound by it. The most Christian King might, therefore, without any fear of opposition from England, proceed to annex Brabant and Hainault to his empire.
It was at the same time resolved that an extraordinary embassy should be sent to assure Lewis of the gratitude and affection of James. For this mission was selected a man who did not as yet occupy a very eminent position, but whose renown, strangely made up of infamy and glory, filled at a later period the whole civilized world.
Soon after the Restoration, in the gay and dissolute times which have been celebrated by the lively pen of Hamilton, James, young and ardent in the pursuit of pleasure, had been attracted to Arabella Churchill, one of the maids of honour who waited on his first wife. The young lady was plain: but the taste of James was not nice: and she became his avowed mistress. She was the daughter of a poor Cavalier knight who haunted Whitehall, and made himself ridiculous by publishing a dull and affected folio, long forgotten, in praise of monarchy and monarchs. The necessities of the Churchills were pressing: their loyalty was ardent: and their only feeling about Arabella's seduction seems to have been joyful surprise that so homely a girl should have attained such high preferment.
Her interest was indeed of great use to her relations: but none of them was so fortunate as her eldest brother John, a fine youth, who carried a pair of colours in the foot guards. He rose fast in the court and in the army, and was early distinguished as a man of fashion and of pleasure. His stature was commanding, his face handsome, his address singularly winning, yet of such dignity that the most impertinent fops never ventured to take any liberty with him; his temper, even in the most vexatious and irritating circumstances, always under perfect command. His education had been so much neglected that he could not spell the most common words of his own language: but his acute and vigorous understanding amply supplied the place of book learning. He was not talkative: but when he was forced to speak in public, his natural eloquence moved the envy of practiced rhetoricians. His courage was singularly cool and imperturbable. During many years of anxiety and peril, he never, in any emergency, lost even for a moment, the perfect use of his admirable judgment.
In his twenty-third year he was sent with his regiment to join the French forces, then engaged in operations against Holland. His serene intrepidity distinguished him among thousands of brave soldiers. His professional skill commanded the respect of veteran officers. He was publicly thanked at the head of the army, and received many marks of esteem and confidence from Turenne, who was then at the height of military glory.
Unhappily the splendid qualities of John Churchill were mingled with alloy of the most sordid kind. Some propensities, which in youth are singularly ungraceful, began very early to show themselves in him. He was thrifty in his very vices, and levied ample contributions on ladies enriched by the spoils of more liberal lovers. He was, during a short time, the object of the violent but fickle fondness of the Duchess of Cleveland. On one occasion he was caught with her by the King, and was forced to leap out of the window. She rewarded this hazardous feat of gallantry with a present of five thousand pounds. With this sum the prudent young hero instantly bought an annuity of five hundred a year, well secured on landed property. Already his private drawer contained a hoard of broad pieces which, fifty years later, when he was a Duke, a Prince of the Empire, and the richest subject in Europe, remained untouched.
After the close of the war he was attached to the household of the Duke of York, accompanied his patron to the Low Countries and to Edinburgh, and was rewarded for his services with a Scotch peerage and with the command of the only regiment of dragoons which was then on the English establishment. His wife had a post in the family of James's younger daughter, the Princess of Denmark.
Lord Churchill was now sent as ambassador extraordinary to Versailles. He had it in charge to express the warm gratitude of the English government for the money which had been so generously bestowed. It had been originally intended that he should at the same time ask Lewis for a much larger sum; but, on full consideration, it was apprehended that such indelicate greediness might disgust the benefactor whose spontaneous liberality had been so signally displayed. Churchill was therefore directed to confine himself to thanks for what was past, and to say nothing about the future.
But James and his ministers, even while protesting that they did not mean to be importunate, contrived to hint, very intelligibly, what they wished and expected. In the French ambassador they had a dexterous, a zealous, and perhaps, not a disinterested intercessor. Lewis made some difficulties, probably with the design of enhancing the value of his gifts. In a very few weeks, however, Barillon received from Versailles fifteen hundred thousand livres more. This sum, equivalent to about a hundred and twelve thousand pounds sterling, he was instructed to dole out cautiously. He was authorised to furnish the English government with thirty thousand pounds, for the purpose of corrupting members of the New House of Commons. The rest he was directed to keep in reserve for some extraordinary emergency, such as a dissolution or an insurrection.
The turpitude of these transactions is universally acknowledged: but their real nature seems to be often misunderstood: for though the foreign policy of the last two Kings of the House of Stuart has never, since the correspondence of Barillon was exposed to the public eye, found an apologist among us, there is still a party which labours to excuse their domestic policy. Yet it is certain that between their domestic policy and their foreign policy there was a necessary and indissoluble connection. If they had upheld, during a single year, the honour of the country abroad, they would have been compelled to change the whole system of their administration at home. To praise them for refusing to govern in conformity with the sense of Parliament, and yet to blame them for submitting to the dictation of Lewis, is inconsistent. For they had only one choice, to be dependent on Lewis, or to be dependent on Parliament.
James, to do him justice, would gladly have found out a third way: but there was none. He became the slave of France: but it would be incorrect to represent him as a contented slave. He had spirit enough to be at times angry with himself for submitting to such thraldom, and impatient to break loose from it; and this disposition was studiously encouraged by the agents of many foreign powers.
His accession had excited hopes and fears in every continental court: and the commencement of his administration was watched by strangers with interest scarcely less deep than that which was felt by his own subjects. One government alone wished that the troubles which had, during three generations, distracted England, might be eternal. All other governments, whether republican or monarchical, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, wished to see those troubles happily terminated.
The nature of the long contest between the Stuarts and their Parliaments was indeed very imperfectly apprehended by foreign statesmen: but no statesman could fail to perceive the effect which that contest had produced on the balance of power in Europe. In ordinary circumstances, the sympathies of the courts of Vienna and Madrid would doubtless have been with a prince struggling against subjects, and especially with a Roman Catholic prince struggling against heretical subjects: but all such sympathies were now overpowered by a stronger feeling. The fear and hatred inspired by the greatness, the injustice, and the arrogance of the French King were at the height. His neighbours might well doubt whether it were more dangerous to be at war or at peace with him. For in peace he continued to plunder and to outrage them; and they had tried the chances of war against him in vain. In this perplexity they looked with intense anxiety towards England. Would she act on the principles of the Triple Alliance or on the principles of the treaty of Dover? On that issue depended the fate of all her neighbours. With her help Lewis might yet be withstood: but no help could be expected from her till she was at unity with herself. Before the strife between the throne and the Parliament began, she had been a power of the first rank: on the day on which that strife terminated she became a power of the first rank again: but while the dispute remained undecided, she was condemned to inaction and to vassalage. She had been great under the Plantagenets and Tudors: she was again great under the princes who reigned after the Revolution: but, under the Kings of the House of Stuart, she was a blank in the map of Europe. She had lost one class of energies, and had not yet acquired another. That species of force, which, in the fourteenth century had enabled her to humble France and Spain, had ceased to exist. That species of force, which, in the eighteenth century, humbled France and Spain once more, had not yet been called into action. The government was no longer a limited monarchy after the fashion of the middle ages. It had not yet become a limited monarchy after the modern fashion. With the vices of two different systems it had the strength of neither. The elements of our polity, instead of combining in harmony, counteracted and neutralised each other. All was transition, conflict, and disorder. The chief business of the sovereign was to infringe the privileges of the legislature. The chief business of the legislature was to encroach on the prerogatives of the sovereign. The King readily accepted foreign aid, which relieved him from the misery of being dependent on a mutinous Parliament. The Parliament refused to the King the means of supporting the national honor abroad, from an apprehension, too well founded, that those means might be employed in order to establish despotism at home. The effect of these jealousies was that our country, with all her vast resources, was of as little weight in Christendom as the duchy of Savoy or the duchy of Lorraine, and certainly of far less weight than the small province of Holland.
France was deeply interested in prolonging this state of things. All other powers were deeply interested in bringing it to a close. The general wish of Europe was that James would govern in conformity with law and with public opinion. From the Escurial itself came letters, expressing an earnest hope that the new King of England would be on good terms with his Parliament and his people. From the Vatican itself came cautions against immoderate zeal for the Roman Catholic faith. Benedict Odescalchi, who filled the papal chair under the name of Innocent the Eleventh, felt, in his character of temporal sovereign, all those apprehensions with which other princes watched the progress of the French power. He had also grounds of uneasiness which were peculiar to himself. It was a happy circumstance for the Protestant religion that, at the moment when the last Roman Catholic King of England mounted the throne, the Roman Catholic Church was torn by dissension, and threatened with a new schism. A quarrel similar to that which had raged in the eleventh century between the Emperors and the Supreme Pontiffs had arisen between Lewis and Innocent. Lewis, zealous even to bigotry for the doctrines of the Church of Rome, but tenacious of his regal authority, accused the Pope of encroaching on the secular rights of the French Crown, and was in turn accused by the Pope of encroaching on the spiritual power of the keys. The King, haughty as he was, encountered a spirit even more determined than his own. Innocent was, in all private relations, the meekest and gentlest of men: but when he spoke officially from the chair of St. Peter, he spoke in the tones of Gregory the Seventh and of Sixtus the Fifth. The dispute became serious. Agents of the King were excommunicated. Adherents of the Pope were banished. The King made the champions of his authority Bishops. The Pope refused them institution. They took possession of the Episcopal palaces and revenues: but they were incompetent to perform the Episcopal functions. Before the struggle terminated, there were in France thirty prelates who could not confirm or ordain.
Had any prince then living, except Lewis, been engaged in such a dispute with the Vatican, he would have had all Protestant governments on his side. But the fear and resentment which the ambition and insolence of the French King had inspired were such that whoever had the courage manfully to oppose him was sure of public sympathy. Even Lutherans and Calvinists, who had always detested the Pope, could not refrain from wishing him success against a tyrant who aimed at universal monarchy. It was thus that, in the present century, many who regarded Pius the Seventh as Antichrist were well pleased to see Antichrist confront the gigantic power of Napoleon.
The resentment which Innocent felt towards France disposed him to take a mild and liberal view of the affairs of England. The return of the English people to the fold of which he was the shepherd would undoubtedly have rejoiced his soul. But he was too wise a man to believe that a nation so bold and stubborn, could be brought back to the Church of Rome by the violent and unconstitutional exercise of royal authority. It was not difficult to foresee that, if James attempted to promote the interests of his religion by illegal and unpopular means, the attempt would fail; the hatred with which the heretical islanders regarded the true faith would become fiercer and stronger than ever; and an indissoluble association would be created in their minds between Protestantism and civil freedom, between Popery and arbitrary power. In the meantime the King would be an object of aversion and suspicion to his people. England would still be, as she had been under James the First, under Charles the First, and under Charles the Second, a power of the third rank; and France would domineer unchecked beyond the Alps and the Rhine. On the other hand, it was probable that James, by acting with prudence and moderation, by strictly observing the laws and by exerting himself to win the confidence of his Parliament, might be able to obtain, for the professors of his religion, a large measure of relief. Penal statutes would go first. Statutes imposing civil incapacities would soon follow. In the meantime, the English King and the English nation united might head the European coalition, and might oppose an insuperable barrier to the cupidity of Lewis.
Innocent was confirmed in his judgment by the principal Englishmen who resided at his court. Of these the most illustrious was Philip Howard, sprung from the noblest houses of Britain, grandson, on one side, of an Earl of Arundel, on the other, of a Duke of Lennox. Philip had long been a member of the sacred college: he was commonly designated as the Cardinal of England; and he was the chief counsellor of the Holy See in matters relating to his country. He had been driven into exile by the outcry of Protestant bigots; and a member of his family, the unfortunate Stafford, had fallen a victim to their rage. But neither the Cardinal's own wrongs, nor those of his house, had so heated his mind as to make him a rash adviser. Every letter, therefore, which went from the Vatican to Whitehall, recommended patience, moderation, and respect for the prejudices of the English people.
In the mind of James there was a great conflict. We should do him injustice if we supposed that a state of vassalage was agreeable to his temper. He loved authority and business. He had a high sense of his own personal dignity. Nay, he was not altogether destitute of a sentiment which bore some affinity to patriotism. It galled his soul to think that the kingdom which he ruled was of far less account in the world than many states which possessed smaller natural advantages; and he listened eagerly to foreign ministers when they urged him to assert the dignity of his rank, to place himself at the head of a great confederacy, to become the protector of injured nations, and to tame the pride of that power which held the Continent in awe. Such exhortations made his heart swell with emotions unknown to his careless and effeminate brother. But those emotions were soon subdued by a stronger feeling. A vigorous foreign policy necessarily implied a conciliatory domestic policy. It was impossible at once to confront the might of France and to trample on the liberties of England. The executive government could undertake nothing great without the support of the Commons, and could obtain their support only by acting in conformity with their opinion. Thus James found that the two things which he most desired could not be enjoyed together. His second wish was to be feared and respected abroad. But his first wish was to be absolute master at home. Between the incompatible objects on which his heart was set he, for a time, went irresolutely to and fro. The conflict in his own breast gave to his public acts a strange appearance of indecision and insincerity. Those who, without the clue, attempted to explore the maze of his politics were unable to understand how the same man could be, in the same week, so haughty and so mean. Even Lewis was perplexed by the vagaries of an ally who passed, in a few hours, from homage to defiance, and from defiance to homage. Yet, now that the whole conduct of James is before us, this inconsistency seems to admit of a simple explanation.
At the moment of his accession he was in doubt whether the kingdom would peaceably submit to his authority. The Exclusionists, lately so powerful, might rise in arms against him. He might be in great need of French money and French troops. He was therefore, during some days, content to be a sycophant and a mendicant. He humbly apologised for daring to call his Parliament together without the consent of the French government. He begged hard for a French subsidy. He wept with joy over the French bills of exchange. He sent to Versailles a special embassy charged with assurances of his gratitude, attachment, and submission. But scarcely had the embassy departed when his feelings underwent a change. He had been everywhere proclaimed without one riot, without one seditions outcry. From all corners of the island he received intelligence that his subjects were tranquil and obedient. His spirit rose. The degrading relation in which he stood to a foreign power seemed intolerable. He became proud, punctilious, boastful, quarrelsome. He held such high language about the dignity of his crown and the balance of power that his whole court fully expected a complete revolution in the foreign politics of the realm. He commanded Churchill to send home a minute report of the ceremonial of Versailles, in order that the honours with which the English embassy was received there might be repaid, and not more than repaid, to the representative of France at Whitehall. The news of this change was received with delight at Madrid, Vienna, and the Hague. Lewis was at first merely diverted. "My good ally talks big," he said; "but he is as fond of my pistoles as ever his brother was." Soon, however, the altered demeanour of James, and the hopes with which that demeanour inspired both the branches of the House of Austria, began to call for more serious notice. A remarkable letter is still extant, in which the French King intimated a strong suspicion that he had been duped, and that the very money which he had sent to Westminster would be employed against him.
By this time England had recovered from the sadness and anxiety caused by the death of the goodnatured Charles. The Tories were loud in professions of attachment to their new master. The hatred of the Whigs was kept down by fear. That great mass which is not steadily Whig or Tory, but which inclines alternately to Whiggism and to Toryism, was still on the Tory side. The reaction which had followed the dissolution of the Oxford parliament had not yet spent its force.
The King early put the loyalty of his Protestant friends to the proof. While he was a subject, he had been in the habit of hearing mass with closed doors in a small oratory which had been fitted up for his wife. He now ordered the doors to be thrown open, in order that all who came to pay their duty to him might see the ceremony. When the host was elevated there was a strange confusion in the antechamber. The Roman Catholics fell on their knees: the Protestants hurried out of the room. Soon a new pulpit was erected in the palace; and, during Lent, a series of sermons was preached there by Popish divines, to the great discomposure of zealous churchmen.
A more serious innovation followed. Passion week came; and the King determined to hear mass with the same pomp with which his predecessors had been surrounded when they repaired to the temples of the established religion. He announced his intention to the three members of the interior cabinet, and requested them to attend him. Sunderland, to whom all religions were the same, readily consented. Godolphin, as Chamberlain of the Queen, had already been in the habit of giving her his hand when she repaired to her oratory, and felt no scruple about bowing himself officially in the house of Rimmon. But Rochester was greatly disturbed. His influence in the country arose chiefly from the opinion entertained by the clergy and by the Tory gentry, that he was a zealous and uncompromising friend of the Church. His orthodoxy had been considered as fully atoning for faults which would otherwise have made him the most unpopular man in the kingdom, for boundless arrogance, for extreme violence of temper, and for manners almost brutal. He feared that, by complying with the royal wishes, he should greatly lower himself in the estimation of his party. After some altercation he obtained permission to pass the holidays out of town. All the other great civil dignitaries were ordered to be at their posts on Easter Sunday. The rites of the Church of Rome were once more, after an interval of a hundred and twenty-seven years, performed at Westminster with regal splendour. The Guards were drawn out. The Knights of the Garter wore their collars. The Duke of Somerset, second in rank among the temporal nobles of the realm, carried the sword of state. A long train of great lords accompanied the King to his seat. But it was remarked that Ormond and Halifax remained in the antechamber. A few years before they had gallantly defended the cause of James against some of those who now pressed past them. Ormond had borne no share in the slaughter of Roman Catholics. Halifax had courageously pronounced Stafford not guilty. As the timeservers who had pretended to shudder at the thought of a Popish king, and who had shed without pity the innocent blood of a Popish peer, now elbowed each other to get near a Popish altar, the accomplished Trimmer might, with some justice, indulge his solitary pride in that unpopular nickname.
Within a week after this ceremony James made a far greater sacrifice of his own religious prejudices than he had yet called on any of his Protestant subjects to make. He was crowned on the twenty-third of April, the feast of the patron saint of the realm. The Abbey and the Hall were splendidly decorated. The presence of the Queen and of the peeresses gave to the solemnity a charm which had been wanting to the magnificent inauguration of the late King. Yet those who remembered that inauguration pronounced that there was a great falling off. The ancient usage was that, before a coronation, the sovereign, with all his heralds, judges, councillors, lords, and great dignitaries, should ride in state from the Tower of Westminster. Of these cavalcades the last and the most glorious was that which passed through the capital while the feelings excited by the Restoration were still in full vigour. Arches of triumph overhung the road. All Cornhill, Cheapside, Saint Paul's Church Yard, Fleet Street, and the Strand, were lined with scaffolding. The whole city had thus been admitted to gaze on royalty in the most splendid and solemn form that royalty could wear. James ordered an estimate to be made of the cost of such a procession, and found that it would amount to about half as much as he proposed to expend in covering his wife with trinkets. He accordingly determined to be profuse where he ought to have been frugal, and niggardly where he might pardonably have been profuse. More than a hundred thousand pounds were laid out in dressing the Queen, and the procession from the Tower was omitted. The folly of this course is obvious. If pageantry be of any use in politics, it is of use as a means of striking the imagination of the multitude. It is surely the height of absurdity to shut out the populace from a show of which the main object is to make an impression on the populace. James would have shown a more judicious munificence and a more judicious parsimony, if he had traversed London from east to west with the accustomed pomp, and had ordered the robes of his wife to be somewhat less thickly set with pearls and diamonds. His example was, however, long followed by his successors; and sums, which, well employed, would have afforded exquisite gratification to a large part of the nation, were squandered on an exhibition to which only three or four thousand privileged persons were admitted. At length the old practice was partially revived. On the day of the coronation of Queen Victoria there was a procession in which many deficiencies might be noted, but which was seen with interest and delight by half a million of her subjects, and which undoubtedly gave far greater pleasure, and called forth far greater enthusiasm, than the more costly display which was witnessed by a select circle within the Abbey.
James had ordered Sancroft to abridge the ritual. The reason publicly assigned was that the day was too short for all that was to be done. But whoever examines the changes which were made will see that the real object was to remove some things highly offensive to the religious feelings of a zealous Roman Catholic. The Communion Service was not read. The ceremony of presenting the sovereign with a richly bound copy of the English Bible, and of exhorting him to prize above all earthly treasures a volume which he had been taught to regard as adulterated with false doctrine, was omitted. What remained, however, after all this curtailment, might well have raised scruples in the mind of a man who sincerely believed the Church of England to be a heretical society, within the pale of which salvation was not to be found. The King made an oblation on the altar. He appeared to join in the petitions of the Litany which was chaunted by the Bishops. He received from those false prophets the unction typical of a divine influence, and knelt with the semblance of devotion, while they called down upon him that Holy Spirit of which they were, in his estimation, the malignant and obdurate foes. Such are the inconsistencies of human nature that this man, who, from a fanatical zeal for his religion, threw away three kingdoms, yet chose to commit what was little short of an act of apostasy, rather than forego the childish pleasure of being invested with the gewgaws symbolical of kingly power.
Francis Turner, Bishop of Ely, preached. He was one of those writers who still affected the obsolete style of Archbishop Williams and Bishop Andrews. The sermon was made up of quaint conceits, such as seventy years earlier might have been admired, but such as moved the scorn of a generation accustomed to the purer eloquence of Sprat, of South, and of Tillotson. King Solomon was King James. Adonijah was Monmouth. Joab was a Rye House conspirator; Shimei, a Whig libeller; Abiathar, an honest but misguided old Cavalier. One phrase in the Book of Chronicles was construed to mean that the King was above the Parliament; and another was cited to prove that he alone ought to command the militia. Towards the close of the discourse the orator very timidly alluded to the new and embarrassing position in which the Church stood with reference to the sovereign, and reminded his hearers that the Emperor Constantius Chlorus, though not himself a Christian, had held in honour those Christians who remained true to their religion, and had treated with scorn those who sought to earn his favour by apostasy. The service in the Abbey was followed by a stately banquet in the Hall, the banquet by brilliant fireworks, and the fireworks by much bad poetry.
This may be fixed upon as the moment at which the enthusiasm of the Tory party reached the zenith. Ever since the accession of the new King, addresses had been pouring in which expressed profound veneration for his person and office, and bitter detestation of the vanquished Whigs. The magistrates of Middlesex thanked God for having confounded the designs of those regicides and exclusionists who, not content with having murdered one blessed monarch, were bent on destroying the foundations of monarchy. The city of Gloucester execrated the bloodthirsty villains who had tried to deprive His Majesty of his just inheritance. The burgesses of Wigan assured their sovereign that they would defend him against all plotting Achitophels and rebellions Absaloms. The grand jury of Suffolk expressed a hope that the Parliament would proscribe all the exclusionists. Many corporations pledged themselves never to return to the House of Commons any person who had voted for taking away the birthright of James. Even the capital was profoundly obsequious. The lawyers and the traders vied with each other in servility. Inns of Court and Inns of Chancery sent up fervent professions of attachment and submission. All the great commercial societies, the East India Company, the African Company, the Turkey Company, the Muscovy Company, the Hudson's Bay Company, the Maryland Merchants, the Jamaica Merchants, the Merchant Adventurers, declared that they most cheerfully complied with the royal edict which required them still to pay custom. Bristol, the second city of the island, echoed the voice of London. But nowhere was the spirit of loyalty stronger than in the two Universities. Oxford declared that she would never swerve from those religious principles which bound her to obey the King without any restrictions or limitations. Cambridge condemned, in severe terms, the violence and treachery of those turbulent men who had maliciously endeavoured to turn the stream of succession out of the ancient channel.
Such addresses as these filled, during a considerable time, every number of the London Gazette. But it was not only by addressing that the Tories showed their zeal. The writs for the new Parliament had gone forth, and the country was agitated by the tumult of a general election. No election had ever taken place under circumstances so favourable to the Court. Hundreds of thousands whom the Popish plot had scared into Whiggism had been scared back by the Rye House plot into Toryism. In the counties the government could depend on an overwhelming majority of the gentlemen of three hundred a year and upwards, and on the clergy almost to a man. Those boroughs which had once been the citadels of Whiggism had recently been deprived of their charters by legal sentence, or had prevented the sentence by voluntary surrender. They had now been reconstituted in such a manner that they were certain to return members devoted to the crown. Where the townsmen could not be trusted, the freedom had been bestowed on the neighbouring squires. In some of the small western corporations, the constituent bodies were in great part composed of Captains and Lieutenants of the Guards. The returning officers were almost everywhere in the interest of the court. In every shire the Lord Lieutenant and his deputies formed a powerful, active, and vigilant committee, for the purpose of cajoling and intimidating the freeholders. The people were solemnly warned from thousands of pulpits not to vote for any Whig candidate, as they should answer it to Him who had ordained the powers that be, and who had pronounced rebellion a sin not less deadly than witchcraft. All these advantages the predominant party not only used to the utmost, but abused in so shameless a manner that grave and reflecting men, who had been true to the monarchy in peril, and who bore no love to republicans and schismatics, stood aghast, and augured from such beginnings the approach of evil times.
Yet the Whigs, though suffering the just punishment of their errors, though defeated, disheartened, and disorganized, did not yield without an effort. They were still numerous among the traders and artisans of the towns, and among the yeomanry and peasantry of the open country. In some districts, in Dorsetshire for example, and in Somersetshire, they were the great majority of the population. In the remodelled boroughs they could do nothing: but, in every county where they had a chance, they struggled desperately. In Bedfordshire, which had lately been represented by the virtuous and unfortunate Russell, they were victorious on the show of hands, but were beaten at the poll. In Essex they polled thirteen hundred votes to eighteen hundred. At the election for Northamptonshire the common people were so violent in their hostility to the court candidate that a body of troops was drawn out in the marketplace of the county town, and was ordered to load with ball. The history of the contest for Buckinghamshire is still more remarkable. The whig candidate, Thomas Wharton, eldest son of Philip Lord Wharton, was a man distinguished alike by dexterity and by audacity, and destined to play a conspicuous, though not always a respectable, part in the politics of several reigns. He had been one of those members of the House of Commons who had carried up the Exclusion Bill to the bar of the Lords. The court was therefore bent on throwing him out by fair or foul means. The Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys himself came down into Buckinghamshire, for the purpose of assisting a gentleman named Hacket, who stood on the high Tory interest. A stratagem was devised which, it was thought, could not fail of success. It was given out that the polling would take place at Ailesbury; and Wharton, whose skill in all the arts of electioneering was unrivalled, made his arrangements on that supposition. At a moment's warning the Sheriff adjourned the poll to Newport Pagnell. Wharton and his friends hurried thither, and found that Hacket, who was in the secret, had already secured every inn and lodging. The Whig freeholders were compelled to tie their horses to the hedges, and to sleep under the open sky in the meadows which surround the little town. It was with the greatest difficulty that refreshments could be procured at such short notice for so large a number of men and beasts, though Wharton, who was utterly regardless of money when his ambition and party spirit were roused, disbursed fifteen hundred pounds in one day, an immense outlay for those times. Injustice seems, however, to have animated the courage of the stouthearted yeomen of Bucks, the sons of the constituents of John Hampden. Not only was Wharton at the head of the poll; but he was able to spare his second votes to a man of moderate opinions, and to throw out the Chief Justice's candidate.
In Cheshire the contest lasted six days. The Whigs polled about seventeen hundred votes, the Tories about two thousand. The common people were vehement on the Whig side, raised the cry of "Down with the Bishops," insulted the clergy in the streets of Chester, knocked down one gentleman of the Tory party, broke the windows and beat the constables. The militia was called out to quell the riot, and was kept assembled, in order to protect the festivities of the conquerors. When the poll closed, a salute of five great guns from the castle proclaimed the triumph of the Church and the Crown to the surrounding country. The bells rang. The newly elected members went in state to the City Cross, accompanied by a band of music, and by a long train of knights and squires. The procession, as it marched, sang "Joy to Great Caesar," a loyal ode, which had lately been written by Durfey, and which, though like all Durfey's writings, utterly contemptible, was, at that time, almost as popular as Lillibullero became a few years later. Round the Cross the trainbands were drawn up in order: a bonfire was lighted: the Exclusion Bill was burned: and the health of King James was drunk with loud acclamations. The following day was Sunday. In the morning the militia lined the streets leading to the Cathedral. The two knights of the shire were escorted with great pomp to their choir by the magistracy of the city, heard the Dean preach a sermon, probably on the duty of passive obedience, and were afterwards feasted by the Mayor.
In Northumberland the triumph of Sir John Fenwick, a courtier whose name afterwards obtained a melancholy celebrity, was attended by circumstances which excited interest in London, and which were thought not unworthy of being mentioned in the despatches of foreign ministers. Newcastle was lighted up with great piles of coal. The steeples sent forth a joyous peal. A copy of the Exclusion Bill, and a black box, resembling that which, according to the popular fable, contained the contract between Charles the Second and Lucy Walters, were publicly committed to the flames, with loud acclamations.
The general result of the elections exceeded the most sanguine expectations of the court. James found with delight that it would be unnecessary for him to expend a farthing in buying votes. He said that, with the exception of about forty members, the House of Commons was just such as he should himself have named. And this House of Commons it was in his power, as the law then stood, to keep to the end of his reign.
Secure of parliamentary support, be might now indulge in the luxury of revenge. His nature was not placable; and, while still a subject, he had suffered some injuries and indignities which might move even a placable nature to fierce and lasting resentment. One set of men in particular had, with a baseness and cruelty beyond all example and all description, attacked his honour and his life, the witnesses of the plot. He may well be excused for hating them; since, even at this day, the mention of their names excites the disgust and horror of all sects and parties.
Some of these wretches were already beyond the reach of human justice. Bedloe had died in his wickedness, without one sign of remorse or shame. Dugdale had followed, driven mad, men said, by the Furies of an evil conscience, and with loud shrieks imploring those who stood round his bed to take away Lord Stafford. Carstairs, too, was gone. His end had been all horror and despair; and, with his last breath, he had told his attendants to throw him into a ditch like a dog, for that he was not fit to sleep in a Christian burial ground. But Oates and Dangerfield were still within the reach of the stern prince whom they had wronged. James, a short time before his accession, had instituted a civil suit against Oates for defamatory words; and a jury had given damages to the enormous amount of a hundred thousand pounds. The defendant had been taken in execution, and was lying in prison as a debtor, without hope of release. Two bills of indictment against him for perjury had been found by the grand jury of Middlesex, a few weeks before the death of Charles. Soon after the close of the elections the trial came on.
Among the upper and middle classes Oates had few friends left. The most respectable Whigs were now convinced that, even if his narrative had some foundation in fact, he had erected on that foundation a vast superstructure of romance. A considerable number of low fanatics, however, still regarded him as a public benefactor. These people well knew that, if he were convicted, his sentence would be one of extreme severity, and were therefore indefatigable in their endeavours to manage an escape. Though he was as yet in confinement only for debt, he was put into irons by the authorities of the King's Bench prison; and even so he was with difficulty kept in safe custody. The mastiff that guarded his door was poisoned; and, on the very night preceding the trial, a ladder of ropes was introduced into the cell.
On the day in which Titus was brought to the bar, Westminster Hall was crowded with spectators, among whom were many Roman Catholics, eager to see the misery and humiliation of their persecutor. A few years earlier his short neck, his legs uneven, the vulgar said, as those of a badger, his forehead low as that of a baboon, his purple cheeks, and his monstrous length of chin, had been familiar to all who frequented the courts of law. He had then been the idol of the nation. Wherever he had appeared, men had uncovered their heads to him. The lives and estates of the magnates of the realm had been at his mercy. Times had now changed; and many, who had formerly regarded him as the deliverer of his country, shuddered at the sight of those hideous features on which villany seemed to be written by the hand of God.
It was proved, beyond all possibility of doubt, that this man had by false testimony deliberately murdered several guiltless persons. He called in vain on the most eminent members of the Parliaments which had rewarded and extolled him to give evidence in his favour. Some of those whom he had summoned absented themselves. None of them said anything tending to his vindication. One of them, the Earl of Huntingdon, bitterly reproached him with having deceived the Houses and drawn on them the guilt of shedding innocent blood. The Judges browbeat and reviled the prisoner with an intemperance which, even in the most atrocious cases, ill becomes the judicial character. He betrayed, however, no sign of fear or of shame, and faced the storm of invective which burst upon him from bar, bench, and witness box, with the insolence of despair. He was convicted on both indictments. His offence, though, in a moral light, murder of the most aggravated kind, was, in the eye of the law, merely a misdemeanour. The tribunal, however, was desirous to make his punishment more severe than that of felons or traitors, and not merely to put him to death, but to put him to death by frightful torments. He was sentenced to be stripped of his clerical habit, to be pilloried in Palace Yard, to be led round Westminster Hall with an inscription declaring his infamy over his head, to be pilloried again in front of the Royal Exchange, to be whipped from Aldgate to Newgate, and, after an interval of two days, to be whipped from Newgate to Tyburn. If, against all probability, he should happen to survive this horrible infliction, he was to be kept close prisoner during life. Five times every year he was to be brought forth from his dungeon and exposed on the pillory in different parts of the capital. This rigorous sentence was rigorously executed. On the day on which Oates was pilloried in Palace Yard he was mercilessly pelted and ran some risk of being pulled in pieces. But in the City his partisans mustered in great force, raised a riot, and upset the pillory. They were, however, unable to rescue their favourite. It was supposed that he would try to escape the horrible doom which awaited him by swallowing poison. All that he ate and drank was therefore carefully inspected. On the following morning he was brought forth to undergo his first flogging. At an early hour an innumerable multitude filled all the streets from Aldgate to the Old Bailey. The hangman laid on the lash with such unusual severity as showed that he had received special instructions. The blood ran down in rivulets. For a time the criminal showed a strange constancy: but at last his stubborn fortitude gave way. His bellowings were frightful to hear. He swooned several times; but the scourge still continued to descend. When he was unbound, it seemed that he had borne as much as the human frame can bear without dissolution. James was entreated to remit the second flogging. His answer was short and clear: "He shall go through with it, if he has breath in his body." An attempt was made to obtain the Queen's intercession; but she indignantly refused to say a word in favour of such a wretch. After an interval of only forty-eight hours, Oates was again brought out of his dungeon. He was unable to stand, and it was necessary to drag him to Tyburn on a sledge. He seemed quite insensible; and the Tories reported that he had stupified himself with strong drink. A person who counted the stripes on the second day said that they were seventeen hundred. The bad man escaped with life, but so narrowly that his ignorant and bigoted admirers thought his recovery miraculous, and appealed to it as a proof of his innocence. The doors of the prison closed upon him. During many months he remained ironed in the darkest hole of Newgate. It was said that in his cell he gave himself up to melancholy, and sate whole days uttering deep groans, his arms folded, and his hat pulled over his eyes. It was not in England alone that these events excited strong interest. Millions of Roman Catholics, who knew nothing of our institutions or of our factions. had heard that a persecution of singular barbarity had raged in our island against the professors of the true faith, that many pious men had suffered martyrdom, and that Titus Oates had been the chief murderer. There was, therefore, great joy in distant countries when it was known that the divine justice had overtaken him. Engravings of him, looking out from the pillory, and writhing at the cart's tail, were circulated all over Europe; and epigrammatists, in many languages, made merry with the doctoral title which he pretended to have received from the University of Salamanca, and remarked that, since his forehead could not be made to blush, it was but reasonable that his back should do so.
Horrible as were the sufferings of Oates, they did not equal his crimes. The old law of England, which had been suffered to become obsolete, treated the false witness, who had caused death by means of perjury, as a murderer. This was wise and righteous; for such a witness is, in truth, the worst of murderers. To the guilt of shedding innocent blood he has added the guilt of violating the most solemn engagement into which man can enter with his fellow men, and of making institutions, to which it is desirable that the public should look with respect and confidence, instruments of frightful wrong and objects of general distrust. The pain produced by ordinary murder bears no proportion to the pain produced by murder of which the courts of justice are made the agents. The mere extinction of life is a very small part of what makes an execution horrible. The prolonged mental agony of the sufferer, the shame and misery of all connected with him, the stain abiding even to the third and fourth generation, are things far more dreadful than death itself. In general it may be safely affirmed that the father of a large family would rather be bereaved of all his children by accident or by disease than lose one of them by the hands of the hangman. Murder by false testimony is therefore the most aggravated species of murder; and Oates had been guilty of many such murders. Nevertheless the punishment which was inflicted upon him cannot be justified. In sentencing him to be stripped of his ecclesiastical habit and imprisoned for life, the judges exceeded their legal power. They were undoubtedly competent to inflict whipping; nor had the law assigned a limit to the number of stripes. But the spirit of the law clearly was that no misdemeanour should be punished more severely than the most atrocious felonies. The worst felon could only be hanged. The judges, as they believed, sentenced Oates to be scourged to death. That the law was defective is not a sufficient excuse: for defective laws should be altered by the legislature, and not strained by the tribunals; and least of all should the law be strained for the purpose of inflicting torture and destroying life. That Oates was a bad man is not a sufficient excuse; for the guilty are almost always the first to suffer those hardships which are afterwards used as precedents against the innocent. Thus it was in the present case. Merciless flogging soon became an ordinary punishment for political misdemeanours of no very aggravated kind. Men were sentenced, for words spoken against the government, to pains so excruciating that they, with unfeigned earnestness, begged to be brought to trial on capital charges, and sent to the gallows. Happily the progress of this great evil was speedily stopped by the Revolution, and by that article of the Bill of Rights which condemns all cruel and unusual punishments.
The villany of Dangerfield had not, like that of Oates, destroyed many innocent victims; for Dangerfield had not taken up the trade of a witness till the plot had been blown upon and till juries had become incredulous. He was brought to trial, not for perjury, but for the less heinous offense of libel. He had, during the agitation caused by the Exclusion Bill, put forth a narrative containing some false and odious imputations on the late and on the present King. For this publication he was now, after the lapse of five years, suddenly taken up, brought before the Privy Council, committed, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be whipped from Aldgate to Newgate and from Newgate to Tyburn. The wretched man behaved with great effrontery during the trial; but, when he heard his doom, he went into agonies of despair, gave himself up for dead, and chose a text for his funeral sermon. His forebodings were just. He was not, indeed, scourged quite so severely as Oates had been; but he had not Oates's iron strength of body and mind. After the execution Dangerfield was put into a hackney coach and was taken back to prison. As he passed the corner of Hatton Garden, a Tory gentleman of Gray's Inn, named Francis, stopped the carriage, and cried out with brutal levity, "Well, friend, have you had your heat this morning?" The bleeding prisoner, maddened by this insult, answered with a curse. Francis instantly struck him in the face with a cane which injured the eye. Dangerfield was carried dying into Newgate. This dastardly outrage roused the indignation of the bystanders. They seized Francis, and were with difficulty restrained from tearing him to pieces. The appearance of Dangerfield's body, which had been frightfully lacerated by the whip, inclined many to believe that his death was chiefly, if not wholly, caused by the stripes which he had received. The government and the Chief Justice thought it convenient to lay the whole blame on Francis, who; though he seems to have been at worst guilty only of aggravated manslaughter, was tried and executed for murder. His dying speech is one of the most curious monuments of that age. The savage spirit which had brought him to the gallows remained with him to the last. Boasts of his loyalty and abuse of the Whigs were mingled with the parting ejaculations in which he commended his soul to the divine mercy. An idle rumour had been circulated that his wife was in love with Dangerfield, who was eminently handsome and renowned for gallantry. The fatal blow, it was said, had been prompted by jealousy. The dying husband, with an earnestness, half ridiculous, half pathetic, vindicated the lady's character. She was, he said, a virtuous woman: she came of a loyal stock, and, if she had been inclined to break her marriage vow, would at least have selected a Tory and a churchman for her paramour.
About the same time a culprit, who bore very little resemblance to Oates or Dangerfield, appeared on the floor of the Court of King's Bench. No eminent chief of a party has ever passed through many years of civil and religious dissension with more innocence than Richard Baxter. He belonged to the mildest and most temperate section of the Puritan body. He was a young man when the civil war broke out. He thought that the right was on the side of the Houses; and he had no scruple about acting as chaplain to a regiment in the parliamentary army: but his clear and somewhat sceptical understanding, and his strong sense of justice, preserved him from all excesses. He exerted himself to check the fanatical violence of the soldiery. He condemned the proceedings of the High Court of Justice. In the days of the Commonwealth he had the boldness to express, on many occasions, and once even in Cromwell's presence, love and reverence for the ancient institutions of the country. While the royal family was in exile, Baxter's life was chiefly passed at Kidderminster in the assiduous discharge of parochial duties. He heartily concurred in the Restoration, and was sincerely desirous to bring about an union between Episcopalians and Presbyterians. For, with a liberty rare in his time, he considered questions of ecclesiastical polity as of small account when compared with the great principles of Christianity, and had never, even when prelacy was most odious to the ruling powers, joined in the outcry against Bishops. The attempt to reconcile the contending factions failed. Baxter cast in his lot with his proscribed friends, refused the mitre of Hereford, quitted the parsonage of Kidderminster, and gave himself up almost wholly to study. His theological writings, though too moderate to be pleasing to the bigots of any party, had an immense reputation. Zealous Churchmen called him a Roundhead; and many Nonconformists accused him of Erastianism and Arminianism. But the integrity of his heart, the purity of his life, the vigour of his faculties, and the extent of his attainments were acknowledged by the best and wisest men of every persuasion. His political opinions, in spite of the oppression which he and his brethren had suffered, were moderate. He was friendly to that small party which was hated by both Whigs and Tories. He could not, he said, join in cursing the Trimmers, when he remembered who it was that had blessed the peacemakers.
In a Commentary on the New Testament he had complained, with some bitterness, of the persecution which the Dissenters suffered. That men who, for not using the Prayer Book, had been driven from their homes, stripped of their property, and locked up in dungeons, should dare to utter a murmur, was then thought a high crime against the State and the Church. Roger Lestrange, the champion of the government and the oracle of the clergy, sounded the note of war in the Observator. An information was filed. Baxter begged that he might be allowed some time to prepare for his defence. It was on the day on which Oates was pilloried in Palace Yard that the illustrious chief of the Puritans, oppressed by age and infirmities, came to Westminster Hall to make this request. Jeffreys burst into a storm of rage. "Not a minute," he cried, "to save his life. I can deal with saints as well as with sinners. There stands Oates on one side of the pillory; and, if Baxter stood on the other, the two greatest rogues in the kingdom would stand together."
When the trial came on at Guildhall, a crowd of those who loved and honoured Baxter filled the court. At his side stood Doctor William Bates, one of the most eminent of the Nonconformist divines. Two Whig barristers of great note, Pollexfen and Wallop, appeared for the defendant. Pollexfen had scarcely begun his address to the jury, when the Chief Justice broke forth: "Pollexfen, I know you well. I will set a mark on you. You are the patron of the faction. This is an old rogue, a schismatical knave, a hypocritical villain. He hates the Liturgy. He would have nothing but longwinded cant without book;" and then his Lordship turned up his eyes, clasped his hands, and began to sing through his nose, in imitation of what he supposed to be Baxter's style of praying "Lord, we are thy people, thy peculiar people, thy dear people." Pollexfen gently reminded the court that his late Majesty had thought Baxter deserving of a bishopric. "And what ailed the old blockhead then," cried Jeffreys, "that he did not take it?" His fury now rose almost to madness. He called Baxter a dog, and swore that it would be no more than justice to whip such a villain through the whole City.
Wallop interposed, but fared no better than his leader. "You are in all these dirty causes, Mr. Wallop," said the Judge. "Gentlemen of the long robe ought to be ashamed to assist such factious knaves." The advocate made another attempt to obtain a hearing, but to no purpose. "If you do not know your duty," said Jeffreys, "I will teach it you."
Wallop sate down; and Baxter himself attempted to put in a word. But the Chief Justice drowned all expostulation in a torrent of ribaldry and invective, mingled with scraps of Hudibras. "My Lord," said the old man, "I have been much blamed by Dissenters for speaking respectfully of Bishops." "Baxter for Bishops!" cried the Judge, "that's a merry conceit indeed. I know what you mean by Bishops, rascals like yourself, Kidderminster Bishops, factious snivelling Presbyterians!" Again Baxter essayed to speak, and again Jeffreys bellowed "Richard, Richard, dost thou think we will let thee poison the court? Richard, thou art an old knave. Thou hast written books enough to load a cart, and every book as full of sedition as an egg is full of meat. By the grace of God, I'll look after thee. I see a great many of your brotherhood waiting to know what will befall their mighty Don. And there," he continued, fixing his savage eye on Bates, "there is a Doctor of the party at your elbow. But, by the grace of God Almighty, I will crush you all."
Baxter held his peace. But one of the junior counsel for the defence made a last effort, and undertook to show that the words of which complaint was made would not bear the construction put on them by the information. With this view he began to read the context. In a moment he was roared down. "You sha'n't turn the court into a conventicle." The noise of weeping was heard from some of those who surrounded Baxter. "Snivelling calves!" said the Judge.
Witnesses to character were in attendance, and among them were several clergymen of the Established Church. But the Chief Justice would hear nothing. "Does your Lordship think," said Baxter, "that any jury will convict a man on such a trial as this?" "I warrant you, Mr. Baxter," said Jeffreys: "don't trouble yourself about that." Jeffreys was right. The Sheriffs were the tools of the government. The jurymen, selected by the Sheriffs from among the fiercest zealots of the Tory party, conferred for a moment, and returned a verdict of Guilty. "My Lord," said Baxter, as he left the court, "there was once a Chief Justice who would have treated me very differently." He alluded to his learned and virtuous friend Sir Matthew Hale. "There is not an honest man in England," answered Jeffreys, "but looks on thee as a knave."
The sentence was, for those times. a lenient one. What passed in conference among the judges cannot be certainly known. It was believed among the Nonconformists, and is highly probable, that the Chief Justice was overruled by his three brethren. He proposed, it is said, that Baxter should be whipped through London at the cart's tail. The majority thought that an eminent divine, who, a quarter of a century before, had been offered a mitre, and who was now in his seventieth year, would be sufficiently punished for a few sharp words by fine and imprisonment.
The manner in which Baxter was treated by a judge, who was a member of the cabinet and a favourite of the Sovereign, indicated, in a manner not to be mistaken, the feeling with which the government at this time regarded the Protestant Nonconformists. But already that feeling had been indicated by still stronger and more terrible signs. The Parliament of Scotland had met. James had purposely hastened the session of this body, and had postponed the session of the English Houses, in the hope that the example set at Edinburgh would produce a good effect at Westminster. For the legislature of his northern kingdom was as obsequious as those provincial Estates which Lewis the Fourteenth still suffered to play at some of their ancient functions in Britanny and Burgundy. None but an Episcopalian could sit in the Scottish Parliament, or could even vote for a member, and in Scotland an Episcopalian was always a Tory or a timeserver. From an assembly thus constituted, little opposition to the royal wishes was to he apprehended; and even the assembly thus constituted could pass no law which had not been previously approved by a committee of courtiers.
All that the government asked was readily granted. In a financial point of view, indeed, the liberality of the Scottish Estates was of little consequence. They gave, however, what their scanty means permitted. They annexed in perpetuity to the crown the duties which had been granted to the late King, and which in his time had been estimated at forty thousand pounds sterling a year. They also settled on James for life an additional annual income of two hundred and sixteen thousand pounds Scots, equivalent to eighteen thousand pounds sterling. The whole Sum which they were able to bestow was about sixty thousand a year, little more than what was poured into the English Exchequer every fortnight.
Having little money to give, the Estates supplied the defect by loyal professions and barbarous statutes. The King, in a letter which was read to them at the opening of their session, called on them in vehement language to provide new penal laws against the refractory Presbyterians, and expressed his regret that business made it impossible for him to propose such laws in person from the throne. His commands were obeyed. A statute framed by his ministers was promptly passed, a statute which stands forth even among the statutes of that unhappy country at that unhappy period, preeminent in atrocity. It was enacted, in few but emphatic words, that whoever should preach in a conventicle under a roof, or should attend, either as preacher or as hearer, a conventicle in the open air, should be punished with death and confiscation of property.
This law, passed at the King's instance by an assembly devoted to his will, deserves especial notice. For he has been frequently represented by ignorant writers as a prince rash, indeed, and injudicious in his choice of means, but intent on one of the noblest ends which a ruler can pursue, the establishment of entire religious liberty. Nor can it be denied that some portions of his life, when detached from the rest and superficially considered, seem to warrant this favourable view of his character.
While a subject he had been, during many years, a persecuted man; and persecution had produced its usual effect on him. His mind, dull and narrow as it was, had profited under that sharp discipline. While he was excluded from the Court, from the Admiralty, and from the Council, and was in danger of being also excluded from the throne, only because he could not help believing in transubstantiation and in the authority of the see of Rome, he made such rapid progress in the doctrines of toleration that he left Milton and Locke behind. What, he often said, could be more unjust, than to visit speculations with penalties which ought to be reserved for acts? What more impolitic than to reject the services of good soldiers, seamen, lawyers, diplomatists, financiers, because they hold unsound opinions about the number of the sacraments or the pluripresence of saints? He learned by rote those commonplaces which all sects repeat so fluently when they are enduring oppression, and forget so easily when they are able to retaliate it. Indeed he rehearsed his lesson so well, that those who chanced to hear him on this subject gave him credit for much more sense and much readier elocution than he really possessed. His professions imposed on some charitable persons, and perhaps imposed on himself. But his zeal for the rights of conscience ended with the predominance of the Whig party. When fortune changed, when he was no longer afraid that others would persecute him, when he had it in his power to persecute others, his real propensities began to show themselves. He hated the Puritan sects with a manifold hatred, theological and political, hereditary and personal. He regarded them as the foes of Heaven, as the foes of all legitimate authority in Church and State, as his great-grandmother's foes and his grandfather's, his father's and his mother's, his brother's and his own. He, who had complained so fondly of the laws against Papists, now declared himself unable to conceive how men could have the impudence to propose the repeal of the laws against Puritans. He, whose favourite theme had been the injustice of requiring civil functionaries to take religious tests, established in Scotland, when he resided there as Viceroy, the most rigorous religious test that has ever been known in the empire. He, who had expressed just indignation when the priests of his own faith were hanged and quartered, amused himself with hearing Covenanters shriek and seeing them writhe while their knees were beaten flat in the boots. In this mood he became King; and he immediately demanded and obtained from the obsequious Estates of Scotland as the surest pledge of their loyalty, the most sanguinary law that has ever in our island been enacted against Protestant Nonconformists.
With this law the whole spirit of his administration was in perfect harmony. The fiery persecution, which had raged when he ruled Scotland as vicegerent, waxed hotter than ever from the day on which he became sovereign. Those shires in which the Covenanters were most numerous were given up to the license of the army. With the army was mingled a militia, composed of the most violent and profligate of those who called themselves Episcopalians. Preeminent among the bands which oppressed and wasted these unhappy districts were the dragoons commanded by John Graham of Claverhouse. The story ran that these wicked men used in their revels to play at the torments of hell, and to call each other by the names of devils and damned souls. The chief of this Tophet, a soldier of distinguished courage and professional skill, but rapacious and profane, of violent temper and of obdurate heart, has left a name which, wherever the Scottish race is settled on the face of the globe, is mentioned with a peculiar energy of hatred. To recapitulate all the crimes, by which this man, and men like him, goaded the peasantry of the Western Lowlands into madness, would be an endless task. A few instances must suffice; and all those instances shall be taken from the history of a single fortnight, that very fortnight in which the Scottish Parliament, at the urgent request of James, enacted a new law of unprecedented severity against Dissenters.
John Brown, a poor carrier of Lanarkshire, was, for his singular piety, commonly called the Christian carrier. Many years later, when Scotland enjoyed rest, prosperity, and religious freedom, old men who remembered the evil days described him as one versed in divine things, blameless in life, and so peaceable that the tyrants could find no offence in him except that he absented himself from the public worship of the Episcopalians. On the first of May he was cutting turf, when he was seized by Claverhouse's dragoons, rapidly examined, convicted of nonconformity, and sentenced to death. It is said that, even among the soldiers, it was not easy to find an executioner. For the wife of the poor man was present; she led one little child by the hand: it was easy to see that she was about to give birth to another; and even those wild and hardhearted men, who nicknamed one another Beelzebub and Apollyon, shrank from the great wickedness of butchering her husband before her face. The prisoner, meanwhile, raised above himself by the near prospect of eternity, prayed loud and fervently as one inspired, till Claverhouse, in a fury, shot him dead. It was reported by credible witnesses that the widow cried out in her agony, "Well, sir, well; the day of reckoning will come;" and that the murderer replied, "To man I can answer for what I have done; and as for God, I will take him into mine own hand." Yet it was rumoured that even on his seared conscience and adamantine heart the dying ejaculations of his victim made an impression which was never effaced.
On the fifth of May two artisans, Peter Gillies and John Bryce, were tried in Ayrshire by a military tribunal consisting of fifteen soldiers. The indictment is still extant. The prisoners were charged, not with any act of rebellion, but with holding the same pernicious doctrines which had impelled others to rebel, and with wanting only opportunity to act upon those doctrines. The proceeding was summary. In a few hours the two culprits were convicted, hanged, and flung together into a hole under the gallows.
The eleventh of May was made remarkable by more than one great crime. Some rigid Calvinists had from the doctrine of reprobation drawn the consequence that to pray for any person who had been predestined to perdition was an act of mutiny against the eternal decrees of the Supreme Being. Three poor labouring men, deeply imbued with this unamiable divinity, were stopped by an officer in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. They were asked whether they would pray for King James the Seventh. They refused to do so except under the condition that he was one of the elect. A file of musketeers was drawn out. The prisoners knelt down; they were blindfolded; and within an hour after they had been arrested, their blood was lapped up by the dogs.
While this was done in Clydesdale, an act not less horrible was perpetrated in Eskdale. One of the proscribed Covenanters, overcome by sickness, had found shelter in the house of a respectable widow, and had died there. The corpse was discovered by the Laird of Westerhall, a petty tyrant who had, in the days of the Covenant, professed inordinate zeal for the Presbyterian Church, who had, since the Restoration, purchased the favour of the government by apostasy, and who felt towards the party which he had deserted the implacable hatred of an apostate. This man pulled down the house of the poor woman, carried away her furniture, and, leaving her and her younger children to wander in the fields, dragged her son Andrew, who was still a lad, before Claverhouse, who happened to be marching through that part of the country. Claverhouse was just then strangely lenient. Some thought that he had not been quite himself since the death of the Christian carrier, ten days before. But Westerhall was eager to signalise his loyalty, and extorted a sullen consent. The guns were loaded, and the youth was told to pull his bonnet over his face. He refused, and stood confronting his murderers with the Bible in his hand. "I can look you in the face," he said; "I have done nothing of which I need be ashamed. But how will you look in that day when you shall be judged by what is written in this book?" He fell dead, and was buried in the moor.
On the same day two women, Margaret Maclachlin and Margaret Wilson, the former an aged widow, the latter a maiden of eighteen, suffered death for their religion in Wigtonshire. They were offered their lives if they would consent to abjure the cause of the insurgent Covenanters, and to attend the Episcopal worship. They refused; and they were sentenced to be drowned. They were carried to a spot which the Solway overflows twice a day, and were fastened to stakes fixed in the sand between high and low water mark. The elder sufferer was placed near to the advancing flood, in the hope that her last agonies might terrify the younger into submission. The sight was dreadful. But the courage of the survivor was sustained by an enthusiasm as lofty as any that is recorded in martyrology. She saw the sea draw nearer and nearer, but gave no sign of alarm. She prayed and sang verses of psalms till the waves choked her voice. After she had tasted the bitterness of death, she was, by a cruel mercy unbound and restored to life. When she came to herself, pitying friends and neighbours implored her to yield. "Dear Margaret, only say, God save the King!" The poor girl, true to her stern theology, gasped out, "May God save him, if it be God's will!" Her friends crowded round the presiding officer. "She has said it; indeed, sir, she has said it." "Will she take the abjuration?" he demanded. "Never!" she exclaimed. "I am Christ's: let me go!" And the waters closed over her for the last time.
Thus was Scotland governed by that prince whom ignorant men have represented as a friend of religious liberty, whose misfortune it was to be too wise and too good for the age in which he lived. Nay, even those laws which authorised him to govern thus were in his judgment reprehensibly lenient. While his officers were committing the murders which have just been related, he was urging the Scottish Parliament to pass a new Act compared with which all former Acts might be called merciful.
In England his authority, though great, was circumscribed by ancient and noble laws which even the Tories would not patiently have seen him infringe. Here he could not hurry Dissenters before military tribunals, or enjoy at Council the luxury of seeing them swoon in the boots. Here he could not drown young girls for refusing to take the abjuration, or shoot poor countrymen for doubting whether he was one of the elect. Yet even in England he continued to persecute the Puritans as far as his power extended, till events which will hereafter be related induced him to form the design of uniting Puritans and Papists in a coalition for the humiliation and spoliation of the established Church.
One sect of Protestant Dissenters indeed he, even at this early period of his reign, regarded with some tenderness, the Society of Friends. His partiality for that singular fraternity cannot be attributed to religious sympathy; for, of all who acknowledge the divine mission of Jesus, the Roman Catholic and the Quaker differ most widely. It may seem paradoxical to say that this very circumstance constituted a tie between the Roman Catholic and the Quaker; yet such was really the case. For they deviated in opposite directions so far from what the great body of the nation regarded as right, that even liberal men generally considered them both as lying beyond the pale of the largest toleration. Thus the two extreme sects, precisely because they were extreme sects, had a common interest distinct from the interest of the intermediate sects. The Quakers were also guiltless of all offence against James and his House. They had not been in existence as a community till the war between his father and the Long Parliament was drawing towards a close. They had been cruelly persecuted by some of the revolutionary governments. They had, since the Restoration, in spite of much ill usage, submitted themselves meekly to the royal authority. For they had, though reasoning on premises which the Anglican divines regarded as heterodox, arrived, like the Anglican divines, at the conclusion, that no excess of tyranny on the part of a prince can justify active resistance on the part of a subject. No libel on the government had ever been traced to a Quaker. In no conspiracy against the government had a Quaker been implicated. The society had not joined in the clamour for the Exclusion Bill, and had solemnly condemned the Rye House plot as a hellish design and a work of the devil. Indeed, the friends then took very little part in civil contentions; for they were not, as now, congregated in large towns, but were generally engaged in agriculture, a pursuit from which they have been gradually driven by the vexations consequent on their strange scruple about paying tithe. They were, therefore, far removed from the scene of political strife. They also, even in domestic privacy, avoided on principle all political conversation. For such conversation was, in their opinion, unfavourable to their spirituality of mind, and tended to disturb the austere composure of their deportment. The yearly meetings of that age repeatedly admonished the brethren not to hold discourse touching affairs of state. Even within the memory of persons now living those grave elders who retained the habits of an earlier generation systematically discouraged such worldly talk. It was natural that James should make a wide distinction between these harmless people and those fierce and reckless sects which considered resistance to tyranny as a Christian duty, which had, in Germany, France, and Holland, made war on legitimate princes, and which had, during four generations, borne peculiar enmity to the House of Stuart.
It happened, moreover, that it was possible to grant large relief to the Roman Catholic and to the Quaker without mitigating the sufferings of the Puritan sects. A law was in force which imposed severe penalties on every person who refused to take the oath of supremacy when required to do so. This law did not affect Presbyterians, Independents, or Baptists; for they were all ready to call God to witness that they renounced all spiritual connection with foreign prelates and potentates. But the Roman Catholic would not swear that the Pope had no jurisdiction in England, and the Quaker would not swear to anything. On the other hand, neither the Roman Catholic nor the Quaker was touched by the Five Mile Act, which, of all the laws in the Statute Book, was perhaps the most annoying to the Puritan Nonconformists.
The Quakers had a powerful and zealous advocate at court. Though, as a class, they mixed little with the world, and shunned politics as a pursuit dangerous to their spiritual interests, one of them, widely distinguished from the rest by station and fortune, lived in the highest circles, and had constant access to the royal ear. This was the celebrated William Penn. His father had held great naval commands, had been a Commissioner of the Admiralty, had sate in Parliament, had received the honour of knighthood, and had been encouraged to expect a peerage. The son had been liberally educated, and had been designed for the profession of arms, but had, while still young, injured his prospects and disgusted his friends by joining what was then generally considered as a gang of crazy heretics. He had been sent sometimes to the Tower, and sometimes to Newgate. He had been tried at the Old Bailey for preaching in defiance of the law. After a time, however, he had been reconciled to his family, and had succeeded in obtaining such powerful protection that, while all the gaols of England were filled with his brethren, he was permitted, during many years, to profess his opinions without molestation. Towards the close of the late reign he had obtained, in satisfaction of an old debt due to him from the crown, the grant of an immense region in North America. In this tract, then peopled only by Indian hunters, he had invited his persecuted friends to settle. His colony was still in its infancy when James mounted the throne.
Between James and Penn there had long been a familiar acquaintance. The Quaker now became a courtier, and almost a favourite. He was every day summoned from the gallery into the closet, and sometimes had long audiences while peers were kept waiting in the antechambers. It was noised abroad that he had more real power to help and hurt than many nobles who filled high offices. He was soon surrounded by flatterers and suppliants. His house at Kensington was sometimes thronged, at his hour of rising, by more than two hundred suitors. He paid dear, however, for this seeming prosperity. Even his own sect looked coldly on him, and requited his services with obloquy. He was loudly accused of being a Papist, nay, a Jesuit. Some affirmed that he had been educated at St. Omers, and others that he had been ordained at Rome. These calumnies, indeed, could find credit only with the undiscerning multitude; but with these calumnies were mingled accusations much better founded.
To speak the whole truth concerning Penn is a task which requires some courage; for he is rather a mythical than a historical person. Rival nations and hostile sects have agreed in canonising him. England is proud of his name. A great commonwealth beyond the Atlantic regards him with a reverence similar to that which the Athenians felt for Theseus, and the Romans for Quirinus. The respectable society of which he was a member honours him as an apostle. By pious men of other persuasions he is generally regarded as a bright pattern of Christian virtue. Meanwhile admirers of a very different sort have sounded his praises. The French philosophers of the eighteenth century pardoned what they regarded as his superstitious fancies in consideration of his contempt for priests, and of his cosmopolitan benevolence, impartially extended to all races and to all creeds. His name has thus become, throughout all civilised countries, a synonyme for probity and philanthropy.
Nor is this high reputation altogether unmerited. Penn was without doubt a man of eminent virtues. He had a strong sense of religious duty and a fervent desire to promote the happiness of mankind. On one or two points of high importance, he had notions more correct than were, in his day, common even among men of enlarged minds: and as the proprietor and legislator of a province which, being almost uninhabited when it came into his possession, afforded a clear field for moral experiments, he had the rare good fortune of being able to carry his theories into practice without any compromise, and yet without any shock to existing institutions. He will always be mentioned with honour as a founder of a colony, who did not, in his dealings with a savage people, abuse the strength derived from civilisation, and as a lawgiver who, in an age of persecution, made religious liberty the cornerstone of a polity. But his writings and his life furnish abundant proofs that he was not a man of strong sense. He had no skill in reading the characters of others. His confidence in persons less virtuous than himself led him into great errors and misfortunes. His enthusiasm for one great principle sometimes impelled him to violate other great principles which he ought to have held sacred. Nor was his rectitude altogether proof against the temptations to which it was exposed in that splendid and polite, but deeply corrupted society, with which he now mingled. The whole court was in a ferment with intrigues of gallantry and intrigues of ambition. The traffic in honours, places, and pardons was incessant. It was natural that a man who was daily seen at the palace, and who was known to have free access to majesty, should be frequently importuned to use his influence for purposes which a rigid morality must condemn. The integrity of Penn had stood firm against obloquy and persecution. But now, attacked by royal smiles, by female blandishments, by the insinuating eloquence and delicate flattery of veteran diplomatists and courtiers, his resolution began to give way. Titles and phrases against which he had often borne his testimony dropped occasionally from his lips and his pen. It would be well if he had been guilty of nothing worse than such compliances with the fashions of the world. Unhappily it cannot be concealed that he bore a chief part in some transactions condemned, not merely by the rigid code of the society to which he belonged, but by the general sense of all honest men. He afterwards solemnly protested that his hands were pure from illicit gain, and that he had never received any gratuity from those whom he had obliged, though he might easily, while his influence at court lasted, have made a hundred and twenty thousand pounds. To this assertion full credit is due. But bribes may be offered to vanity as well as to cupidity; and it is impossible to deny that Penn was cajoled into bearing a part in some unjustifiable transactions of which others enjoyed the profits.
The first use which he made of his credit was highly commendable. He strongly represented the sufferings of his brethren to the new King, who saw with pleasure that it was possible to grant indulgence to these quiet sectaries and to the Roman Catholics, without showing similar favour to other classes which were then under persecution. A list was framed of prisoners against whom proceedings had been instituted for not taking the oaths, or for not going to church, and of whose loyalty certificates had been produced to the government. These persons were discharged, and orders were given that no similar proceeding should be instituted till the royal pleasure should be further signified. In this way about fifteen hundred Quakers, and a still greater number of Roman Catholics, regained their liberty.
And now the time had arrived when the English Parliament was to meet. The members of the House of Commons who had repaired to the capital were so numerous that there was much doubt whether their chamber, as it was then fitted up, would afford sufficient accommodation for them. They employed the days which immediately preceded the opening of the session in talking over public affairs with each other and with the agents of the government. A great meeting of the loyal party was held at the Fountain Tavern in the Strand; and Roger Lestrange, who had recently been knighted by the King, and returned to Parliament by the city of Winchester, took a leading part in their consultations.
It soon appeared that a large portion of the Commons had views which did not altogether agree with those of the Court. The Tory country gentlemen were, with scarcely one exception, desirous to maintain the Test Act and the Habeas Corpus Act; and some among them talked of voting the revenue only for a term of years. But they were perfectly ready to enact severe laws against the Whigs, and would gladly have seen all the supporters of the Exclusion Bill made incapable of holding office. The King, on the other hand, desired to obtain from the Parliament a revenue for life, the admission of Roman Catholics to office, and the repeal of the Habeas Corpus Act. On these three objects his heart was set; and he was by no means disposed to accept as a substitute for them a penal law against Exclusionists. Such a law, indeed, would have been positively unpleasing to him; for one class of Exclusionists stood high in his favour, that class of which Sunderland was the representative, that class which had joined the Whigs in the days of the plot, merely because the Whigs were predominant, and which had changed with the change of fortune. James justly regarded these renegades as the most serviceable tools that he could employ. It was not from the stouthearted Cavaliers, who had been true to him in his adversity, that he could expect abject and unscrupulous obedience in his prosperity. The men who, impelled, not by zeal for liberty or for religion, but merely by selfish cupidity and selfish fear, had assisted to oppress him when he was weak, were the very men who, impelled by the same cupidity and the same fear, would assist him to oppress his people now that he was strong. Though vindictive, he was not indiscriminately vindictive. Not a single instance can be mentioned in which he showed a generous compassion to those who had opposed him honestly and on public grounds. But he frequently spared and promoted those whom some vile motive had induced to injure him. For that meanness which marked them out as fit implements of tyranny was so precious in his estimation that he regarded it with some indulgence even when it was exhibited at his own expense.
The King's wishes were communicated through several channels to the Tory members of the Lower House. The majority was easily persuaded to forego all thoughts of a penal law against the Exclusionists, and to consent that His Majesty should have the revenue for life. But about the Test Act and the Habeas Corpus Act the emissaries of the Court could obtain no satisfactory assurances.
On the nineteenth of May the session was opened. The benches of the Commons presented a singular spectacle. That great party, which, in the last three Parliaments, had been predominant, had now dwindled to a pitiable minority, and was indeed little more than a fifteenth part of the House. Of the five hundred and thirteen knights and burgesses only a hundred and thirty-five had ever sate in that place before. It is evident that a body of men so raw and inexperienced must have been, in some important qualities, far below the average of our representative assemblies.
The management of the House was confided by James to two peers of the kingdom of Scotland. One of them, Charles Middleton, Earl of Middleton, after holding high office at Edinburgh, had, shortly before the death of the late King, been sworn of the English Privy Council, and appointed one of the Secretaries of State. With him was joined Richard Graham, Viscount Preston, who had long held the post of Envoy at Versailles.
The first business of the Commons was to elect a Speaker. Who should be the man, was a question which had been much debated in the cabinet. Guildford had recommended Sir Thomas Meres, who, like himself, ranked among the Trimmers. Jeffreys, who missed no opportunity of crossing the Lord Keeper, had pressed the claims of Sir John Trevor. Trevor had been bred half a pettifogger and half a gambler, had brought to political life sentiments and principles worthy of both his callings, had become a parasite of the Chief Justice, and could, on occasion, imitate, not unsuccessfully, the vituperative style of his patron. The minion of Jeffreys was, as might have been expected, preferred by James, was proposed by Middleton, and was chosen without opposition.
Thus far all went smoothly. But an adversary of no common prowess was watching his time. This was Edward Seymour of Berry Pomeroy Castle, member for the city of Exeter. Seymour's birth put him on a level with the noblest subjects in Europe. He was the right heir male of the body of that Duke of Somerset who had been brother-in-law of King Henry the Eighth, and Protector of the realm of England. In the limitation of the dukedom of Somerset, the elder Son of the Protector had been postponed to the younger son. From the younger son the Dukes of Somerset were descended. From the elder son was descended the family which dwelt at Berry Pomeroy. Seymour's fortune was large, and his influence in the West of England extensive. Nor was the importance derived from descent and wealth the only importance which belonged to him. He was one of the most skilful debaters and men of business in the kingdom. He had sate many years in the House of Commons, had studied all its rules and usages, and thoroughly understood its peculiar temper. He had been elected speaker in the late reign under circumstances which made that distinction peculiarly honourable. During several generations none but lawyers had been called to the chair; and he was the first country gentleman whose abilities and acquirements had enabled him to break that long prescription. He had subsequently held high political office, and had sate in the Cabinet. But his haughty and unaccommodating temper had given so much disgust that he had been forced to retire. He was a Tory and a Churchman: he had strenuously opposed the Exclusion Bill: he had been persecuted by the Whigs in the day of their prosperity; and he could therefore safely venture to hold language for which any person suspected of republicanism would have been sent to the Tower. He had long been at the head of a strong parliamentary connection, which was called the Western Alliance, and which included many gentlemen of Devonshire, Somersetshire, and Cornwall.
In every House of Commons, a member who unites eloquence, knowledge, and habits of business, to opulence and illustrious descent, must be highly considered. But in a House of Commons from which many of the most eminent orators and parliamentary tacticians of the age were excluded, and which was crowded with people who had never heard a debate, the influence of such a man was peculiarly formidable. Weight of moral character was indeed wanting to Edward Seymour. He was licentious, profane, corrupt, too proud to behave with common politeness, yet not too proud to pocket illicit gain. But he was so useful an ally, and so mischievous an enemy that he was frequently courted even by those who most detested him.
He was now in bad humour with the government. His interest had been weakened in some places by the remodelling of the western boroughs: his pride had been wounded by the elevation of Trevor to the chair; and he took an early opportunity of revenging himself.
On the twenty-second of May the Commons were summoned to the bar of the Lords; and the King, seated on his throne, made a speech to both Houses. He declared himself resolved to maintain the established government in Church and State. But he weakened the effect of this declaration by addressing an extraordinary admonition to the Commons. He was apprehensive, he said, that they might be inclined to dole out money to him from time to time, in the hope that they should thus force him to call them frequently together. But he must warn them that he was not to be so dealt with, and that, if they wished him to meet them often they must use him well. As it was evident that without money the government could not be carried on, these expressions plainly implied that, if they did not give him as much money as he wished, he would take it. Strange to say, this harangue was received with loud cheers by the Tory gentlemen at the bar. Such acclamations were then usual. It has now been, during many years, the grave and decorous usage of Parliaments to hear, in respectful silence, all expressions, acceptable or unacceptable, which are uttered from the throne.
It was then the custom that, after the King had concisely explained his reasons for calling Parliament together, the minister who held the Great Seal should, at more length, explain to the Houses the state of public affairs. Guildford, in imitation of his predecessors, Clarendon, Bridgeman, Shaftesbury, and Nottingham, had prepared an elaborate oration, but found, to his great mortification, that his services were not wanted.
As soon as the Commons had returned to their own chamber, it was proposed that they should resolve themselves into a Committee, for the purpose of settling a revenue on the King.
Then Seymour stood up. How he stood, looking like what he was, the chief of a dissolute and high spirited gentry, with the artificial ringlets clustering in fashionable profusion round his shoulders, and a mingled expression of voluptuousness and disdain in his eye and on his lip, the likenesses of him which still remain enable us to imagine. It was not, the haughty Cavalier said, his wish that the Parliament should withhold from the crown the means of carrying on the government. But was there indeed a Parliament? Were there not on the benches many men who had, as all the world knew, no right to sit there, many men whose elections were tainted by corruption, many men forced by intimidation on reluctant voters, and many men returned by corporations which had no legal existence? Had not constituent bodies been remodelled, in defiance of royal charters and of immemorial prescription? Had not returning officers been everywhere the unscrupulous agents of the Court? Seeing that the very principle of representation had been thus systematically attacked, he knew not how to call the throng of gentlemen which he saw around him by the honourable name of a House of Commons. Yet never was there a time when it more concerned the public weal that the character of Parliament should stand high. Great dangers impended over the ecclesiastical and civil constitution of the realm. It was matter of vulgar notoriety, it was matter which required no proof, that the Test Act, the rampart of religion, and the Habeas Corpus Act, the rampart of liberty, were marked out for destruction. "Before we proceed to legislate on questions so momentous, let us at least ascertain whether we really are a legislature. Let our first proceeding be to enquire into the manner in which the elections have been conducted. And let us look to it that the enquiry be impartial. For, if the nation shall find that no redress is to be obtained by peaceful methods, we may perhaps ere long suffer the justice which we refuse to do." He concluded by moving that, before any supply was granted, the House would take into consideration petitions against returns, and that no member whose right to sit was disputed should be allowed to vote.
Not a cheer was heard. Not a member ventured to second the motion. Indeed, Seymour had said much that no other man could have said with impunity. The proposition fell to the ground, and was not even entered on the journals. But a mighty effect had been produced. Barillon informed his master that many who had not dared to applaud that remarkable speech had cordially approved of it, that it was the universal subject of conversation throughout London, and that the impression made on the public mind seemed likely to be durable.
The Commons went into committee without delay, and voted to the King, for life, the whole revenue enjoyed by his brother.
The zealous churchmen who formed the majority of the House seem to have been of opinion that the promptitude with which they had met the wish of James, touching the revenue, entitled them to expect some concession on his part. They said that much had been done to gratify him, and that they must now do something to gratify the nation. The House, therefore, resolved itself into a Grand Committee of Religion, in order to consider the best means of providing for the security of the ecclesiastical establishment. In that Committee two resolutions were unanimously adopted. The first expressed fervent attachment to the Church of England. The second called on the King to put in execution the penal laws against all persons who were not members of that Church.
The Whigs would doubtless have wished to see the Protestant dissenters tolerated, and the Roman Catholics alone persecuted. But the Whigs were a small and a disheartened minority. They therefore kept themselves as much as possible out of sight, dropped their party name, abstained from obtruding their peculiar opinions on a hostile audience, and steadily supported every proposition tending to disturb the harmony which as yet subsisted between the Parliament and the Court.
When the proceedings of the Committee of Religion were known at Whitehall, the King's anger was great. Nor can we justly blame him for resenting the conduct of the Tories. If they were disposed to require the rigorous execution of the penal code, they clearly ought to have supported the Exclusion Bill. For to place a Papist on the throne, and then to insist on his persecuting to the death the teachers of that faith in which alone, on his principles, salvation could be found, was monstrous. In mitigating by a lenient administration the severity of the bloody laws of Elizabeth, the King violated no constitutional principle. He only exerted a power which has always belonged to the crown. Nay, he only did what was afterwards done by a succession of sovereigns zealous for Protestantism, by William, by Anne, and by the princes of the House of Brunswick. Had he suffered Roman Catholic priests, whose lives he could save without infringing any law, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered for discharging what he considered as their first duty, he would have drawn on himself the hatred and contempt even of those to whose prejudices he had made so shameful a concession, and, had he contented himself with granting to the members of his own Church a practical toleration by a large exercise of his unquestioned prerogative of mercy, posterity would have unanimously applauded him.
The Commons probably felt on reflection that they had acted absurdly. They were also disturbed by learning that the King, to whom they looked up with superstitious reverence, was greatly provoked. They made haste, therefore, to atone for their offence. In the House, they unanimously reversed the decision which, in the Committee, they had unanimously adopted. and passed a resolution importing that they relied with entire confidence on His Majesty's gracious promise to protect that religion which was dearer to them than life itself.
Three days later the King informed the House that his brother had left some debts, and that the stores of the navy and ordnance were nearly exhausted. It was promptly resolved that new taxes should be imposed. The person on whom devolved the task of devising ways and means was Sir Dudley North, younger brother of the Lord Keeper. Dudley North was one of the ablest men of his time. He had early in life been sent to the Levant, and had there been long engaged in mercantile pursuits. Most men would, in such a situation, have allowed their faculties to rust. For at Smyrna and Constantinople there were few books and few intelligent companions. But the young factor had one of those vigorous understandings which are independent of external aids. In his solitude he meditated deeply on the philosophy of trade, and thought out by degrees a complete and admirable theory, substantially the same with that which, a century later, was expounded by Adam Smith. After an exile of many years, Dudley North returned to England with a large fortune, and commenced business as a Turkey merchant in the City of London. His profound knowledge, both speculative and practical, of commercial matters, and the perspicuity and liveliness with which he explained his views, speedily introduced him to the notice of statesmen. The government found in him at once an enlightened adviser and an unscrupulous slave. For with his rare mental endowments were joined lax principles and an unfeeling heart. When the Tory reaction was in full progress, he had consented to be made Sheriff for the express purpose of assisting the vengeance of the court. His juries had never failed to find verdicts of Guilty; and, on a day of judicial butchery, carts, loaded with the legs and arms of quartered Whigs, were, to the great discomposure of his lady, driven to his fine house in Basinghall Street for orders. His services had been rewarded with the honour of knighthood, with an Alderman's gown, and with the office of Commissioner of the Customs. He had been brought into Parliament for Banbury, and though a new member, was the person on whom the Lord Treasurer chiefly relied for the conduct of financial business in the Lower House.
Though the Commons were unanimous in their resolution to grant a further supply to the crown, they were by no means agreed as to the sources from which that supply should be drawn. It was speedily determined that part of the sum which was required should be raised by laying an additional impost, for a term of eight years, on wine and vinegar: but something more than this was needed. Several absurd schemes were suggested. Many country gentlemen were disposed to put a heavy tax on all new buildings in the capital. Such a tax, it was hoped, would check the growth of a city which had long been regarded with jealousy and aversion by the rural aristocracy. Dudley North's plan was that additional duties should be imposed, for a term of eight years, on sugar and tobacco. A great clamour was raised. Colonial merchants, grocers, sugar bakers and tobacconists, petitioned the House and besieged the public offices. The people of Bristol, who were deeply interested in the trade with Virginia and Jamaica, sent up a deputation which was heard at the bar of the Commons. Rochester was for a moment staggered; but North's ready wit and perfect knowledge of trade prevailed, both in the Treasury and in the Parliament, against all opposition. The old members were amazed at seeing a man who had not been a fortnight in the House, and whose life had been chiefly passed in foreign countries, assume with confidence, and discharge with ability, all the functions of a Chancellor of the Exchequer.
His plan was adopted; and thus the Crown was in possession of a clear income of about nineteen hundred thousand pounds, derived from England alone. Such an income was then more than sufficient for the support of the government in time of peace.
The Lords had, in the meantime, discussed several important questions. The Tory party had always been strong among the peers. It included the whole bench of Bishops, and had been reinforced during the four years which had elapsed since the last dissolution, by several fresh creations. Of the new nobles, the most conspicuous were the Lord Treasurer Rochester, the Lord Keeper Guildford. the Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys, the Lord Godolphin, and the Lord Churchill, who, after his return from Versailles, had been made a Baron of England.
The peers early took into consideration the case of four members of their body who had been impeached in the late reign, but had never been brought to trial, and had, after a long confinement, been admitted to bail by the Court of King's Bench. Three of the noblemen who were thus under recognisances were Roman Catholics. The fourth was a Protestant of great note and influence, the Earl of Danby. Since he had fallen from power and had been accused of treason by the Commons, four Parliaments had been dissolved; but he had been neither acquitted nor condemned. In 1679 the Lords had considered, with reference to his situation, the question whether an impeachment was or was not terminated by a dissolution. They had resolved, after long debate and full examination of precedents, that the impeachment was still pending. That resolution they now rescinded. A few Whig nobles protested against this step, but to little purpose. The Commons silently acquiesced in the decision of the Upper House. Danby again took his seat among his peers, and became an active and powerful member of the Tory party.
The constitutional question on which the Lords thus, in the short space of six years, pronounced two diametrically opposite decisions, slept during more than a century, and was at length revived by the dissolution which took place during the long trial of Warren Hastings. It was then necessary to determine whether the rule laid down in 1679, or the opposite rule laid down in 1685, was to be accounted the law of the land. The point was long debated in both houses; and the best legal and parliamentary abilities which an age preeminently fertile both in legal and in parliamentary ability could supply were employed in the discussion. The lawyers were not unequally divided. Thurlow, Kenyon, Scott, and Erskine maintained that the dissolution had put an end to the impeachment. The contrary doctrine was held by Mansfield, Camden, Loughborough, and Grant. But among those statesmen who grounded their arguments, not on precedents and technical analogies, but on deep and broad constitutional principles, there was little difference of opinion. Pitt and Grenville, as well as Burke and Fox, held that the impeachment was still pending. Both Houses by great majorities set aside the decision of 1685, and pronounced the decision of 1679 to be in conformity with the law of Parliament.
Of the national crimes which had been committed during the panic excited by the fictions of Oates, the most signal had been the judicial murder of Stafford. The sentence of that unhappy nobleman was now regarded by all impartial persons as unjust. The principal witness for the prosecution had been convicted of a series of foul perjuries. It was the duty of the legislature, in such circumstances, to do justice to the memory of a guiltless sufferer, and to efface an unmerited stain from a name long illustrious in our annals. A bill for reversing the attainder of Stafford was passed by the Upper House, in spite of the murmurs of a few peers who were unwilling to admit that they had shed innocent blood. The Commons read the bill twice without a division, and ordered it to be committed. But, on the day appointed for the committee, arrived news that a formidable rebellion had broken out in the West of England. It was consequently necessary to postpone much important business. The amends due to the memory of Stafford were deferred, as was supposed, only for a short time. But the misgovernment of James in a few months completely turned the tide of public feeling. During several generations the Roman Catholics were in no condition to demand reparation for injustice, and accounted themselves happy if they were permitted to live unmolested in obscurity and silence. At length, in the reign of King George the Fourth, more than a hundred and forty years after the day on which the blood of Stafford was shed on Tower Hill, the tardy expiation was accomplished. A law annulling the attainder and restoring the injured family to its ancient dignities was presented to Parliament by the ministers of the crown, was eagerly welcomed by public men of all parties, and was passed without one dissentient voice.
It is now necessary that I should trace the origin and progress of that rebellion by which the deliberations of the Houses were suddenly interrupted.