Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter iv.

His Highness the Prince.

As regards politics, I declare that I know nothing at all of what went on in London or anywhere else; but, as for Northumberland, I can safely assert that I have never known a time when there were not, continually, whisperings in corners, mysterious communications, breathless suspense, a coming and going of strangers or of gentlemen whom I knew to be in some way connected with the cause of the Prince. There were always great things going to happen, if we were to believe the people who made it their business to keep up a racket through the country in order to sustain and stimulate the loyalty of the party. His Highness was about to embark; a great many thousand French soldiers were collecting for him; everything was ready; the country was strong for the Prince. According to these gentry, there never was any doubt at all about the voice of the country. Why, when after many years I journeyed to London, I was amazed to think of our own ignorance in believing all these statements. I do Mr. Hilyard the justice of saying that he never did believe them. He was, I know, a Whig by birth; but, like a good servant, he became a Jacobite because we, in whose service he was, were of that cause. What did London think? That was ever his cry. Not London of the coffee-houses and St. James’s Street, but London of the City. Why, how strong and resolute must be the Protestant party of this present day, seeing that it has been strong enough to stomach a King who knew no word of English, so resolute as to keep him with his ill manners, his ugly mistresses, and his German Court, rather than have a Papist, even with all the Christian graces —— though of these unfortunately the Prince hath few, which one says with shame. This was not understood in the north; many friends of the Protestant gentry were Catholics; they were English, however, first, and Catholics next; not servants of the Pope first, and English next.

‘Why,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘these are not the Papists we in the south have been taught to fear. Their priests are courteous gentlemen of good English families; they show no wish to roast us at the stake; they are all for toleration. I doubt whether if London knew Northumberland, the country would any longer fear a Catholic King. I hear there are some in Scotland who believe that the King would be converted by his coronation, which I doubt. But his advisers, if they were English priests, not foreigners, would surely do the country little harm.’

Mr. Hilyard always put London before any other part of England: doubtless with reason, as being the centre of all. And he acknowledged that the people of England will never forget the blood and fire of Queen Mary, nor will they cease to ask what security there is that another Papist Sovereign will not surround himself with other Bonners and Gardiners. Listening daily to the talk, I conceived a plan by which everything might be set right. Like all children’s plans, it was impossible: for it was nothing less than that the Prince should imitate the example of Henry IV. of France, and for his crown change his faith. This, in my eyes, was all the easier, from the circumstance that, while Henry left the right for the wrong, our King would leave the wrong for the right. Wrong or right, it must have been choking to King James to hear, when he went to live in Rome —— even in Rome, where he might look for applause and support, if anywhere —— to hear, I say, as he is said to have heard, a Cardinal —— one of the Holy College —— whisper to another, with scorn unworthy of his sacred profession and dignity, ‘Behold the King who threw away three crowns —— for a mass!’

There were busybodies who went up and down the country in these days whispering, reporting, conveying letters, drawing up lists, with a mighty fuss and pretence of secrecy. Some of them were disguised; some sent letters by the hands of countrymen, and even gipsies, on whom they could depend; some were Irish, who are ever ready to embark in any mad scheme; some were country gentlemen or younger sons; some, even, were High Church clergy; some were Roman Catholic priests of the intriguing kind, who dressed as laymen —— by dispensation, one may suppose. As for the sum of these whisperings, it was always the same. The country was ripe; at a word, at the signal, the rising would be general; the Prince was always ready. A brave captain, too, who had shown his valour at Oudenarde and Malplaquet (where, indeed, he was fighting against his own countrymen); one who was eager to lead his brave followers to victory, and to reward them generously with the spoil of the Whigs. These things were industriously spread abroad among the Jacobite gentry, especially of Lancashire and Northumberland; it was firmly believed that the party was irresistible. And if the gentlefolk believed this, how much more the common people and the ignorant Scotch, who ran after their chieftains to their own destruction? Yet the events of the year 1707 ought to have opened the eyes of the party when they saw a French fleet, well manned, well found, well armed, with six thousand soldiers on board, fly ignominiously at the mere appearance of Admiral Byng and his ships. The Prince was on board the French commander’s ship. He prayed to be landed on the coast of Scotland —— no one, whatever side he may have taken, can doubt the gallantry of His Highness in those days —— but the prayer was refused, so that he returned to France, and presently, notwithstanding the French King’s solemn engagements, was driven out of that country into the Papal Dominions. These things prove the value of the Grand Monarque’s word, and also that the English will not have a King forced upon them by French bayonets.

‘We wait our time,’ Tom said. ‘When that time comes, the unanimous rising of the country gentlemen will be accepted as the voice of the people.’

‘Happy the man,’ said Mr. Hilyard, stroking his chin, ‘who rises the last.’

‘What? And leave others the glory and the honours?’

He was still a lad under age, but in this way he talked; he and his companions.

‘It will be the Protestant gentry,’ he said grandly, ‘though we shall allow the Catholics to join us, who will restore His Sacred Majesty. Then we shall find for him, perhaps out of Northumberland, counsellors wise enough to assure the country’s safety.’

These were our dreams. Fatal dreams they were, which in the end destroyed so many.

But always, in all these talks, the gentlemen spoke of the young Lord Derwentwater and his return. He would lead the Catholics of the whole country. He was a man of whose opinions, though no one had yet seen him and he was but a boy, there could be no doubt; his loyalty was beyond all possible question, he was rich, he was young and ardent, he was reported to be possessed of every virtue. I heard so much talk of this young gentleman that he became in my imagination a person more important even than the Prince, concerning whom elder ladies already whispered and shook their heads. Besides, His Royal Highness stood too far away for a girl to think much about him. The kings of the earth are like the gods of the ancients —— one does not picture them except on coins and in statues. But as for Lord Derwentwater, who would certainly some day return to his own people, he must be as beautiful as David, as noble as Arthur, as splendid as Adonis, and as valiant as Orlando, or any of the Seven Champions. He was to one young damsel, and doubtless to many others, the Prince of the old wife’s story. There are many such stories, but only one Prince for all of them. He is young and handsome, so was Lord Derwentwater; he hath a noble and flourishing estate, so had my lord; he hath a generous heart and a lavish hand, so had the young Earl; he is unmarried and free to become a lover —— a thing which always pleases a girl, though she need not be so foolish as to think him likely to become her own lover —— thus was my lord. To these qualities add that he had been the youthful friend, the companion, the sharer of the studies, even the cousion of that young Prince, now our lawful King, the rightful Sovereign of Great Britain and Ireland, acknowledged by most of the subjects (that is to say by all honest men) in these islands. He would tell the simple country folks when he came home of the appearance and countenance of His Royal Highness; he would come as a messenger, or an ambassador —— say rather a Lieutenant–Governor —— to the North Country, to keep their loyalty alive.

The origin of the Radcliffes is so remote as to be unknown. Many of our northern gentry boast a descent from the Norman Conquerors. They, however, were nobles in still earlier times. It was not till two hundred years ago, or thereabouts, that a Radcliffe first came from Cumberland to the neighbouring county, when Sir William married the heiress of Dilston. The first Earl, Sir Francis, was created on the marriage of his eldest son Edward, in the year 1686, with Lady Mary Tudor, daughter of Charles II. It was an unhappy marriage, but as to the reasons of the unhappiness, one need not inquire. It becomes not a mere private gentlewoman to pass judgment on the actions of Earls and Countesses; yet it must not be forgotten that the Countess, within two years of the Earl’s death, married two more husbands in succession.

After the separation the Earl remained in London, in no way furthering (so far as I have learned) the cause of his rightful Sovereign. The Countess, however, took her four children to St. Germain’s, where she brought them up in the Court, and among the personal friends, of the Prince. It was feared by some that their French training would have made them become Frenchmen in habits and in mind. This was not so, however, for it may be averred that there never were three young men who more ardently desired the greatness of their country, and more loved liberty and Constitutional Government, than these three.

We were kept regularly informed of the Earl’s movements and those of his brothers by the kindness of Sir William and Lady Swinburne, of Capheaton, who received and sent letters from London, Newcastle, and even St. Germain’s. They were from the Earl himself, Sir William’s cousin, from the Countess, and from Colonel Thomas Radcliffe, who chiefly lived in Newcastle. Sir William Swinburne’s father married the first Earl’s half-sister, and the union was blessed by the birth of four-and-twenty children. Considering that the first Earl of Derwentwater had eight daughters and four sons, while his father had six sons and seven daughters, all by his wife Isabel, daughter of Sir Ralph Grey, of Chillingham, there were plenty in the north who could call the young Lord Derwentwater cousin.

We learned, therefore, from their letters, year by year, how the Earl and his brothers were in the hands of tutors, and were already showing great promise; how they were pages to the Prince; that it was decided not to let them carry arms in the French King’s service; that they would come to England as soon as the Earl was of age, and so on, the news always keeping up our curiosity about this young nobleman.

To pass over several years, we learned, in course of time, that his lordship was now fully grown; that he was a comely, well-proportioned, and handsome young man, accomplished in all manly exercises, fond of reading, and well instructed, acquainted with the names and pedigrees of the Northumberland families, who were all his cousins; and that he was coming home to England without delay. Then the intriguers sent word of this, as of a most important event, about the country; the messengers rode north and south with letters; there was a stir in the north, and it was felt that now the time would shortly arrive for something to be done.

‘But,’ said Tom, ‘we Protestants may not be led by a Catholic. My lord must be content with being second.’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32