Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 64

IN my last Chapter I detailed to you the consequences of the Union, and told you how the unfair, unkind, and disparaging — reception which the English afforded to the Scottish members in the Houses of Lords and Commons, although treating them in their private capacities with every species of kindness, had very nearly occasioned the breach of the treaty. I must now retrace the same ground, to give you a more distinct idea how Britain stood in general politics, independent of the frequent and fretful bickerings between England and Scotland in the British Parliament.

King William, as I have already told you, died in 1701, little lamented by his subjects, for though a man of great ability, he was too cold and phlegmatic to inspire affection, and besides he was a foreigner. In Scotland his memory was little reverenced by any party. The Highlanders remembered Glencoe, the Lowlanders could not forget Darien; the Episcopalians resented the destruction of their hierarchy, the Presbyterians discovered in his measures something of Erastianism, that is, a purpose of subjecting the Church to the State.

Queen Anne, therefore, succeeded to her brother-in-law, to the general satisfaction of her subjects. Her qualities, too, were such as gained for her attachment and esteem. She was a good wife, a most affectionate mother, a kind mistress, and, to add to her domestic virtues, a moat confiding and faithful friend.

The object of her attachment in this latter capacity was Lady Churchill, who had been about her person from a very early period. This woman was so high-spirited, haughty, and assuming, that even her husband (afterwards the celebrated Duke of Marlborough), the conqueror in so many battles, frequently came off less than victorious in any domestic dispute with her. To this lady, Anne, for several years before her succession to the crown, had been accustomed in a great measure to yield up her own opinions. She left the house of her father, James II., and mingled in the Revolution at the instance of Lady Churchill. At her accession Queen Anne was rather partial to the Tories. both from regarding their principles as more favourable to monarchy, and because, though the love of power, superior to most other feelings, might induce her to take possession of the throne, which by hereditary descent ought to have been that of her father or brother, yet she still felt the ties of family affection, and was attached to that class of politicians who regarded the exiled family with compassion, at least, if not with favour. All these, Queen Anne’s own natural wishes and predilections, were overborne by her deference to her favourite’s desires and interest. Their intimacy had assumed so close and confidential a character, that she insisted that her friend should lay aside all the distinctions of royalty in addressing her, and they corresponded together in terms of the utmost equality, the sovereign assuming the name of Morley, the servant that of Freeman, which Lady Churchill, now Countess of Marlborough, chose as expressive of the frankness of her own temper. Sunderland and Godolphin were ministers of unquestionable talent, who carried on with perseverance and skill the scheme formed by King William for defending the liberties of Europe against the encroachments of France. But Queen Anne reposed her confidence in them chiefly because they were closely connected with Mrs Freeman and her husband. Now, this species of arrangement, my dear boy, was just such a childish whim as when you and your little brother get into a basket, and play at sailing down to A — to see grandpapa. A sovereign cannot enjoy the sort of friendship which subsists between equals, for he cannot have equals with whom to form such a union; and every attempt to play at make-believe intimacy commonly ends in the royal person’s being secretly guided and influenced by the flattery and assentation of an artful and smooth-tongued parasite, or tyrannized over by the ascendance of a haughtier and higher mind than his own. The husband of Queen Anne, Prince George of Denmark, might have broken off this extreme familiarity between his wife and her haughty favourite; but he was a quiet, good, humane man, meddling with nothing, and apparently considering himself as unfit for public affairs, which agreed with the opinion entertained of him by others. The death of Queen Anne’s son and heir, the Duke of Gloucester, the sole survivor of a numerous family, by depriving her of the last object of domestic affection, seemed to render the Queen’s extreme attachment to her friend more direct, and Lady — Marlborough’s influence became universal. The war which was continued against the French, had the most brilliant success, and the general was loaded with honours; but the Queen favoured Marlborough less because he was the most accomplished and successful general at that time in the world, than as the husband of her affectionate Mrs Freeman. In short, the affairs of England, at all times so influential in Europe, turned altogether upon the private friendship between Mrs Freeman and Mrs Morley.

At the moment when it seemed most completely secure, this intimacy was overthrown by the influence of a petty intrigue in the Queen’s family. The Duchess of Marlborough, otherwise Mrs Freeman, had used the power with which her mistress’s partiality had invested her, far too roughly She was avaricious and imperious in her demands, careless, and even insolent in her conduct towards the Queen herself. For some time this was endured as an exercise of that frank privilege of equality with which her Majesty’s friendship had invested her. For a much longer space it may be supposed, the Queen tolerated her caprice and insolence, partly because she was afraid other violent temper, partly because she was ashamed to break off the romantic engagement which she had herself formed. She was not, however, the less impatient of the Duchess of Marlborough’s yoke, or less watchful of an opportunity to cast it off. The Duchess had introduced among the Queen’s attendants, in the capacity of what was called a dresser, a young lady of good birth, named Abigail Hill, a kinswoman of her own. She was the reverse of the Duchess in her temper, being good-humoured, lively, and, from disposition and policy, willing to please her mistress in every manner possible. She attracted by degrees first the Queen’s favour, and at length her confidence; so that Anne sought, in the solicitous attentions and counsels of her new friend, consolation from the rudeness with which the Duchess treated her both in private and public life. The progress of this intimacy was closely watched by Harley, a statesman of talents, and hitherto professing the principles of the Whigs. He had been repeatedly Speaker of the House of Commons, and was Secretary of State in the existing Whig administration. But he was ambitious of higher rank in the cabinet, being conscious of superior talents, and he caballed against the Duchess of Marlborough, in consequence of her having repulsed his civilities towards her with her usual insolence of manner. The partner of Harley’s counsels was Mr Henry St John (afterwards Lord Bolingbroke), a young man of the most distinguished abilities, and who subsequently made a great figure both in politics and in literature. Harley lost no time in making advances to intimacy with the new favourite; and as he claimed some kindred with Miss Hill’s family, this was easily accomplished. This lady’s interest with the Queen was now so great, that she was able to procure her cousin private audiences with the Queen, who, accustomed to the harshness of the Duchess of Marlborough, whose tone of authority had been adopted by the Whig Ministers of the higher class, was soothed by the more respectful deportment of these new counsellors. Harley was more submissive and deferential in his manners, and conducted himself with an attention to the Queen’s wishes and opinions, to which she had been hitherto little accustomed. It was undoubtedly his purpose to use the influence thus acquired, to the destruction of Godolphin’s authority, and to accomplish his own rise to the office of first Minister. But his attempt did not succeed in the first instance. His secret intrigues and private interviews with the Sovereign were prematurely discovered, and Harley and his friends were compelled to resign their offices; so that the Whig administration seemed more deeply rooted than ever. About the same time, Miss Hill was secretly married to Mr Masham; a match which gave great offence to the Duchess of Marlborough, who was beginning to feel that her relation had superseded her in her mistress’s affections. As this high-tempered lady found the Queen’s confidence was transferred from her, she endeavoured to maintain her ascendency by threats and intimidation, and was for a time successful in ruling the mind of her late friend by means of fear, as she did formerly by affection. But a false step of the Whig administration enabled Queen Anne at last to shake off this intolerable bondage.

A silly and hot-headed clergyman, named Sacheverel, had preached and printed a political sermon, in winch he maintained high Tory principles, and railed at Godolphin, the Lord High Treasurer, and head of Queen Anne’s Administration, whom he termed Volpone, after an odious character so named in one of Ben Jonson’s Plays. The great majority of the landed gentlemen of England were then addicted to Tory principles, and those of the High Church. So bold and daring a sermon, though it had no merit but its audacity to recommend it, procured immense popularity amongst them. The Ministers were incensed beyond becoming moderation. The House of Commons impeached the preacher before the tribunal of the House of Lords, and his trial came before the Peers on 27th February, 1710. The utmost degree of publicity was given to it, by the efforts of the Whigs to obtain Doctor Sacheverel’s conviction and a severe sentence, and by the corresponding exertions of the Tories to screen him from punishment. The multitude took up the cry of High Church and Sacheverel, with which they beset the different members of both Houses as they went down to Parliament. The trial, which lasted three weeks, excited public attention, in a degree hitherto almost unknown. The Queen herself attended almost every day, and her sedan chair was surrounded by crowds, shouting, “ God bless the Queen and Doctor Sacheverel I we hope your Majesty is for High Church and Sacheverel.” The mob arose, and exhibited their furious zeal for the church by destroying’ the chapels and meeting-houses of dissenters, and committing similar acts of violence. The consequence was, that the Doctor was found guilty indeed by the House of Peers, but escaped with being suspended from preaching for three years; a sentence so slight,1 that it was regarded by the accused and his friends as an acquittal, and they triumphed accordingly. Bonfires, illuminations, and other marks of rejoicing appeared in celebrating of the victory.

As these manifestations of the public sentiment were not confined to the capital, but extended over all England, they made evident the unpopularity of the Whig government, and encouraged the Queen to put in execution the plan she had long proposed to herself, of changing her Ministry, and endeavouring to negotiate a peace, and terminate the war, which seemed to be protracted without end. Anne, by this change of government and system, desired also to secure the church, which her old prejudices taught her to believe was in danger — and, above all, to get rid of the tyranny of her former friend, Mrs Freeman. A new Administration, therefore, was formed under Harley and St John, who, being supported by the Tory interest, were chiefly, if not exclusively, governed by Tory principles. At the same time, the Duchess of Marlborough was deprived of all her offices about the Queen’s person, and disgraced, as it is termed, at court, that is, dismissed from favour and employment. Her husband’s services could not be dispensed with so easily; for while the British army were employed, no general could supply the place of Marlborough, who had so often led them to victory. But the Tory Ministers endeavoured to lower him in the eyes of the public, by an investigation into certain indirect emoluments taken in his character as general-inchief, and to get rid of the indispensable necessity of his military services, by entering into negotiations for peace. The French Government saw and availed themselves of the situation in which that of Britain was placed. They perceived that peace was absolutely necessary to Oxford and Bolingbroke’s existence as ministers, even more so than it was to France as a nation, though her frontiers had been invaded, her armies repeatedly defeated, and even her capital to a certain degree exposed to insult. The consequence was, that the French rose in their terms, and the peace of Utrecht, after much negotiation, was at length concluded, on conditions which, as they respected the allies, and the British nation in particular, were very much disproportioned to the brilliant successes of the war. That article of the treaty, which was supposed by all friends of Revolution principles to be most essential to the independence and internal peace of Great Britain, seemed indeed to have been adjusted with some care. The King of France acknowledged, with all formality, the right of Queen Anne to the throne, guaranteed the Act of Succession settling it upon the House of Hanover, and agreed to expel from his territories the unfortunate son of James II. . This was done accordingly. Yet notwithstanding that the Chevalier de St George was compelled to remove from the territories of his father’s ally, who, on James’s death, had formally proclaimed him King of England, the unhappy Prince had perhaps at the moment of his expulsion more solid hopes of being restored to his father’s throne, than any which the favour of Louis could hare afforded him. This will appear from the following considerations.

Queen Anne, as we have already stated, was attached to the High Church establishment and clergy; and the principles with which these were embued, if not universally Jacobitical, were at least strongly tinctured with .1 respect for hereditary right. These doctrines could not be supposed to be very unpleasing to the Queen herself, as a woman or as a sovereign, and there were circumstances in her life which made her more ready to admit them. We have already said, that the part which Anne had taken at the Revolution, by withdrawing from her father’s house, had been determined by the influence of Lady Churchhill, who was now, as Duchess of Marlborough, the object of the Queen’s hatred, as much as ever she had been that of her affection in the character of Mrs Freeman, and her opinions and the steps which they had led to, were not probably recollected with much complacency. The desertion of a father, also, however coloured over with political argument, is likely to become towards the close of life a subject of anxious reflection. There is little doubt that the Queen entertained remorse on account of her filial disobedience; more especially, when the early death of her children, and finally that of a hopeful young prince, the Duke of Glocester, deprived her of all chance of leaving” the kingdom to an heir of her own. These deprivations seemed an appropriate punishment to the disobedient daughter, who had been permitted to assume for a time her father’s crown, but not to transmit it to her heirs. As the Queen’s health became broken and infirm, it was natural that these compunctious thoughts should become still mere engrossing, and that she should feel no pleasure in contemplating the prospect which called the Prince of Hanover, a distant relation, to reign over England at her decease; or that she should regard with aversion, almost approaching to horror, a proposal of the Whig party, to invite the Electoral Prince to visit Britain, the crown of which was to devolve upon him after the decease of its present possessor. On the other hand, the condition of the Chevalier de St George, the Queen’s brother, the only surviving male of her family, a person whose restoration to the crown of his fathers might be the work of her own hand, was likely to affect the Queen with compassionate interest, and seemed to afford her at the same time an opportunity of redressing such wrongs as she might conceive were done to her father, by making large though late amends to his son.

Actuated by motives so natural, there is little doubt that Queen Anne, so soon as she had freed herself from the control of the Duchess of Marlborough, began to turn her mind towards fixing the succession of the crown on her brother, the Chevalier de St George, after her own death, to the prejudice of the act which settled it on the Electoral Prince of Hanover. And she might be the more encouraged to nourish some hopes of success, since a great portion of her subjects of the Three Kingdoms were Jacobites upon principle, and others had but a short step to make from the extremity of Tory sentiments to those which were directly favourable to the Mouse of Stewart. Ireland, the last portion of the British dominions which adhered to King James the Second, could not be supposed indifferent to the restoration of his son. In England, a very great proportion of the High Church clergy, the Universities, and the Tory interest, which prevailed among the country gentlemen, entertained the same bias, and were at little pains to conceal it. In Scotland men were still bolder in avowing their opinions, of which there occurred the following instance. The Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, that is to say, the incorporated society of lawyers entitled to practise at the bar, are a body even of more weight and consequence than is attached to them in most countries from the nature of their profession. In the beginning of the 18th century, especially, the Faculty comprehended almost all the sons of good family who did not embrace the army as their choice; for the sword or gown, according to the ideas of that time, were the only occupations which could be adopted by a gentleman. The Advocates are possessed of a noble library, and a valuable collection of medals. To this learned body, Elizabeth, Duchess of Gordon (by birth, a daughter of the noble house of Howard, and a keen Jacobite), sent the present of a medal for their cabinet. It bore on the one side the head of the Chevalier de St George, with the motto, Cujus est? (Whom does it represent?) and on the reverse the British Isles, with the legend, Reddite (Restore them). The Dean of Faculty having presented this very intelligible emblem to his brethren, a debate arose, whether or not it should be received into their collection, which was carried on in very warm language,1 and terminated in a vote, which, by a majority of sixty-three to twelve, resolved on the acceptance of the medal. Two advocates were deputed to express, in the name of the learned body, their thanks to the Duchess; and they failed not to do it in a manner expressing pointedly their full comprehension of the import of her Grace’s compliment. They concluded, by stating their hope, that her Grace would soon have a farther opportunity to oblige the Faculty, by presenting them with a second medal on the subject of a restoration. But when the proceeding became public, the Advocates seem to have been alarmed for the consequences, and at a general meeting of the Faculty (27th July, 1711), the medal was formally refused, and placed in the hands of the Lord Advocate, to be restored to the Duchess of Gordon. The retractation, however, could not efface the evidence, that this learned and important public body, the commentators on the laws of Scotland, from whom the guardians of her jurisprudence are selected, had shown such boldness as to give a public mark of adherence to the Chevalier de St George. It was also remarked, that the Jacobite interest predominated in many of the Scottish elections.

While the Queen saw a large party among her subjects in each kingdom well disposed to her brother’s succession, one at least of her ministers was found audacious enough to contemplate the same measure, though in doing so, he might be construed into impeaching his mistress’s own right to the sovereign authority. This was Henry St John, created Lord Viscount Bolingbroke. He was a person of lively genius and brilliant parts — a scholar, an orator, and a philosopher. There was a reverse to the fair side of the picture. Bolingbroke was dissipated in private life, daringly sceptical in theological speculation, and when his quick perception showed him a chance of rising, he does not appear to have been extremely scrupulous concerning the path which he trode, so that it led to power. In the beginning of his career as a public man he attached himself to Harley; and when that statesman retired from the Whig Administration, in 1708, St John shared his disgrace, and lost the situation of Secretary at War. On the triumph of the Tories, in 1710, when Harley was made Prime Minister, St John was named Secretary of State. Prosperity, however, dissolved the friendship which had withstood the attacks of adversity; and it was soon observed that there was a difference of opinion as well as character between the Premier and his colleague.

Harley, afterwards created Earl of Oxford, was a man of a dark and reserved character — slow, timid, and doubtful, both in counsel and action, and apparently one of those statesmen who affect to govern by balancing the scales betwixt two contending factions, until at length they finally become the objects of suspicion and animosity to both. He had been bred a Whig, and although circumstances had disposed him to join, and even to head, the Tories, he was reluctantly induced to take any of the violent party measures which they expected at his hand, and seems, in return, never to have possessed their full confidence or unhesitating support. However far Oxford adopted the principles of Toryism, he stopped short of their utmost extent, and was one of the political sect then called Whimsicals, who were supposed not to know their own minds, because they avowed principles of hereditary right, and at the same time desired the succession of the line of Hanover. In evidence of his belonging to this class of politicians, it was remarked that he sent his brother, Mr Harley, to the court of Hanover, and through him affected to maintain a close intercourse with the Elector, and expressed much zeal for the Protestant line of succession.

All this mystery and indecision was contrary to the rapid and fiery genius of St John, who felt that he was not admitted into the private and ultimate views of the colleague with whom he had suffered adversity. He was disgusted, too, that Harley should be advanced to the rank of an earl, while he himself was only created a viscount. His former friendship and respect for Oxford was gradually changed to coldness, enmity, and hatred, and he began, with much art, and a temporary degree of success, to prepare a revolution in the state, which he designed should end in Oxford’s disgrace, and his own elevation to the supreme authority. He entered with zeal into the ulterior designs of the most extravagant Tories, and, in order to recommend himself to the Queen, did not, it is believed, spare to mingle in intrigues for the benefit of her exiled brother.

It was remarked, that the Chevalier de St George, when obliged to leave France, found refuge in the territories of the Duke of Lorraine; and that petty German Prince had the boldness to refuse an application of the British Government, for the removal of his guest from his dominions. It was believed that the Duke dared not have acted thus unless he had had some private assurance that the application was only made for an ostensible purpose, and that the Queen did not, in reality, desire to deprive her brother of this place of refuge. Other circumstances led to the same conclusion, that Anne and her new ministers favoured the Jacobite interest. It is more than probable that the Duke of Hamilton, whom we have so often mentioned, was to have been deeply engaged in some transactions with the French court, of the most delicate nature, when, in 1713, he was named ambassador extraordinary to Paris; and there can be little doubt that they regarded the restoration of the line of Stewart. The unfortunate nobleman hinted this to his friend, Lockhart of Carnwath, when, parting with him for the last time, he turned back to embrace him again and again, as one who was impressed with the consciousness of some weighty trust, perhaps with a prescient sense of approaching calamity. Misfortune, indeed, was hovering over him, and of a strange and bloody character. Having a lawsuit with Lord Mohun,1 a nobleman of debauched and profligate manners, whose greatest achievement was having, a few years before, stabbed a poor play-actor, in a drunken frolic, the Duke of Hamilton held a meeting with his adversary, in the hope of adjusting their dispute. In this conference, the Duke, speaking of an agent in the case, said the person in question had neither truth nor honour, to which Lord Mohun replied he had as much of both qualities as his Grace. They parted on the exchange of these words. One would have thought that the offence received lay on the Duke’s side, and that it was he who was called upon to resent what had passed, in case he should think it worth his while. Lord Mohun, however, who gave the affront, contrary to the practice in such cases, also gave the challenge. They met at the Ring in Hyde Park, where they fought with swords, and in a few minutes Lord Mohun was killed on the spot; and the Duke of Hamilton, mortally wounded, did not survive him for a longer space. Mohun, who was an odious and contemptible libertine, was regretted by no one; but it was far different with the Duke of Hamilton, who, notwithstanding a degree of irresolution which he displayed in politics, his understanding, perhaps, not approving the lengths to which his feelings might have carried him, had many amiable, and even noble qualities, which made him generally lamented. The Tories considered the death of the Duke of Hamilton as so peculiar, and the period when it happened as so critical, that they did not hesitate to avow a confident belief that Lord Mohun had been pushed to sending the challenge by some zealots of the Whig party, and even to add, that the Duke fell, not by the sword of his antagonist, but by that of General Macartney, Lord Mohun’s second. The evidence of Colonel Hamilton, second to the Duke, went far to establish the last proposition; and General Macartney, seeing, perhaps, that the public prejudice was extreme against him, absconded, and a reward was offered for his discovery. In the subsequent reign, he was brought to trial, and acquitted, on evidence which leaves the case far from a clear one. The death of the Duke of Hamilton, however, whether caused by political resentment or private hatred, did not interrupt the schemes formed for the restoration of the Stewart family. Lord Bolingbroke himself went on a mission to Paris, and it appears highly probable he then settled secret articles explanatory of those points of the Utrecht treaty, which had relation to the expulsion of the Pretender from the dominions of France, and the disclamation of his right of succession to the crown of Britain. It is probable, also, that these remained concealed from the Premier Oxford, to whose views in favour of the Hanoverian succession they were distinctly opposed.

Such being the temper of the Government of England, divided, as it was, betwixt the dubious conduct of Lord Oxford, and the more secret, but bolder and decided intrigues of Bolingbroke, the general measures which were adopted with respect to Scotland indicated a decided bias to the Jacobite interest, and those by whom it was supported.


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