** He neglected all business; he was seldom
to be understood ; when he did explain himself
she could not depend upon the truth of what he
^ Swift's Works y xvi. 164.
FALL OF HARLEY 167
said ; he never came to her at the time she
appointed ; he often came drunk ; lastly, to crown
all, he behaved himself toward her with bad
manners, indecency, and disrespect."
The blow having been struck, Harley suffered
it with an outward calm, characteristic of his
public demeanour throughout his life. This com-
posure came partly from temperament, partly from
a long course of self-restraint, by no means common
among his contemporaries. He announced his fall
to his sister with the same remarkable absence
of vexation as he did to Swift. This may by
some be regarded as affectation ; it was real, and
never throughout his most intimate correspondence
did he allude, except with calmness, to his loss of
power, or show either resentment or even annoy-
ance at the action of Anne, ** the dear Queen,"
as he writes of her on the eve of her funeral,^ and
once overthrown, he made no sustained attempt, as
a more ambitious man would have done, to rise.
Equally genuine was his idea of duty ; for in the
strange and difficult political circumstances of the
age he followed a consistent, if a somewhat question-
able, standard of political conduct.
** I hope," he writes on July 29th, "my dearest
sister was sufficiently prepared for what happened
^ Lord Oxford to Edward Harley, igtli August 17 14. Brampton
MSS., No. 117.
168 ROBERT HARLEY
on Tuesday night, that there was no need of my
writing by that post, if it had been possible.
*' I came in with the expectation of the treat-
ment I meet with. I thought it as much my duty
then to come in as now to be out, and it is my
comfort I do go out with as much honour and
innocency as I came in. Let me send you the
following imitation : â€”
" ' To serve with love,
And shed your blood,
Approved is above ;
But here below,
Th' examples show.
It is fatal to be good.'
** God preserve my dearest sister. Affectionate
service to Sister Harley. I pray God bless all the
little ones." ^
When most men would have been unable to
conceal their thoughts on the importance of the
event which had just occurred, Harley was osten-
tatiously interested in a childish rhyme. For he
says at the conclusion of a letter at the same time
to Swift, " I send you an imitation of Dryden
(composed) as I went to Kensington." They are
the same jingling lines which he despatched to his
Harley 's fall was the necessary result of his
desire to stand well with two deeply antagonistic
* Harley Papers^ iii. 477.
HARLEY'S SCHEME IN 1713 169
parties, of an incapacity boldly to sever himself
after the Peace of Utrecht from the Tories ; he lost
their confidence without gaining the support of their
opponents. That throughout the last two years of
his official life Harley was not only on the closest
terms of political intimacy with Halifax, but was
planning with him some kind of political combina-
tion, is now abundantly clear. " I shall wait upon
you to-morrow at St. James'," wrote Halifax on
the 27th of May 1713, ** with an earnest desire on
my part, and sufficient authority from others, to
make a perfect union with your Lordship to sup-
port the true interest of our country under your
directions." ^ The existence of some scheme for
such a union as that which Halifax indicates, a
union probably of the less virulent Whigs, led by
Halifax and Somers, with a small number of
Tories who Harley hoped would act with him, is
the most probable explanation of his conduct.
Had the Queen lived, a coalition might perhaps
have resulted ; but It was frustrated by the death
of Anne before it was ripe, and the political
edifices of Harley and of Bolingbroke were thus
alike laid low. By the extreme members of the
Tory party the professions of sympathy with the
Jacobite cause which Harley may have thrown out
in hints were fast becoming regarded as unreal ; by
a still larger number he was thought to be luke-
^ Harley Papers^ iii. 292. See also pp. 270, 271.
170 ROBERT HARLEY
warm in his attachment to the Church of England,
and to be a Dissenter in disguise. Men said too â€”
and this was not altogether untrue â€” that, having
secured for himself a high place in the peerage,
his ambition was satisfied. Thus at the end of his
administration he inspired no confidence as a party
leader ; losing the trust of the Tories, he lost also
that of the Queen, and, like Godolphin, he was
obliged to resort to the same system of expostula-
tion and of entreaty. Like Godolphin, his political
life was finally destroyed by Lady Masham. Why
she had ceased to be Harley's friend and ally, and
had become his enemy, is not quite clear. Every
one about the Court had a different reason to
give. Probably a conjunction of comparatively
unimportant causes â€” personal estrangement, dis-
satisfaction with what she regarded as persecution
of the Queen, the influence of Bolingbroke,
perhaps the fact that she had not received shares
in the South Sea Company, combined to produce
this change. It was sufficient, however, to become
the final cause of Harley's fall. As with Godol-
phin, so it was with Harley â€” one was watching to
succeed him. All things therefore tended towards
one result, and it was scarcely possible for Harley
to have escaped from this political catastrophe.^
^ The narrative of Harley's administration ought not to be left
without referring to the careful work of Dr. Felix Salamon, GcschichU
des letzten Ministeriums Konigin AnnaSy Gotha, 1894.
IMPEACHMENTâ€” IMPRISONMENTâ€” RETIREMENT
Harley's Position on Death of Queen Anneâ€” His Hopes
ON Accession of George i. â€” Proceedings against the Tory
Leadersâ€” Impeachment of Harleyâ€” Imprisonment in the
Towerâ€” Difference between the Two Housesâ€” Acquittal
â€” Harley and the Jacobitesâ€” Opposition to the Peerage
Bill â€” Indifference to Financial Distress resulting from
South Sea Schemeâ€” Harley and his Friendsâ€” Prior and
Swiftâ€” Deathâ€” Summary of his Character and Life.
NO political victory was ever more momentary
than that of Bolingbroke, for or. the ist of
August 1 7 14 the Queen died, and the power which
he had hardly grasped fell from his hands. With the
accession of the Elector of Hanover to the English
throne, the Whigs returned to power for a genera-
tion, and Harley's political career â€” whilst he was
still in the prime of life â€” was permanently con-
cluded. From boyhood somewhat delicate, his
health and vigour had been exhausted by the
critical and trying years â€” few though they were â€”
which had elapsed since he became Prime Minister
in 1 7 10. Many statesmen have remained in
supreme power for a longer period, but none for
172 ROBERT HARLEY
one which was more momentous' and memorable,
than the last four years of the reign of Anne.
Immediately after the Queen's death the fallen
Minister retired, first to Wimpole in Cambridge-
shire, the home by marriage of his eldest son, and
then to Brampton. There he interested himself
in the local elections for the new Parliament which
met in March 17 15, and which, unlike that just
dissolved, was entirely Whig in sentiment. For
a moment some hope seems to have arisen in his
mind that his experience and his moderation of
opinion, and the desire which, in his correspondence
with the Elector, he had always shown to stand
well with the new sovereign, might cause him to
be recalled to office. The King's ** unacquainted-
ness and partial information " would, he thought,
prevent him from forming a stable administration.
** Neither party of the two denominations separ-
ately," he wrote to his late colleague. Lord Dart-
mouth, "can form any such as is practicable, they
have not credit enough,"^ so "an understanding
must be found among those who wish a settlement
in England." The same dominating idea which
had possessed Harley through his whole career
still governed him, but in the belief which he thus
expressed to Dartmouth he showed a lack of
appreciation of the political situation and of the
1 Dartmouth MSS., Hist. MSS., nth Rept. App. part v. p. 321
(end of August 17 14).
ACCESSION OF GEORGE I. 173
strength of party bitterness. True, it was not he
who now was to be the moderator, it was Dart-
mouth's "healing hand" which was to apply the
remedy ; for which he thought there was a great
preparation and disposition everywhere. But this
hope did not last long, and before the Elector
arrived in England Harley perceived that there
was no possibility of his return to power.^
A fate very different from the formation of
Cabinets was to be his during the ensuing years,
for in the spring of 17 15 there began the famous
proceedings against the leaders of the late Tory
Ministry. Threats against them occupied a
prominent place in the Address in answer to the
Speech from the Throne. *' It appears," ran that
which was moved by Walpole in the Commons
referring to the action of the Pretender, *^ that his
hopes were built upon the measures that had been
taken for some time past in Great Britain. It
shall be our business to trace out those measures
whereon he placed his hopes, and to bring the
authors of them to condign punishment." ^ Boling-
broke, to escape from the impeachment which was
^ In a letter to his brother, Auditor Harley, from the Tower, of
13th February 1717 (Brampton MSS.), Harley says that on the
Queen's death he gave assurances to the King and his Ministers of
" my fixed resolution to retire, and I did put the same in practice
until my accusation called me out of the country." The letter to
Dartmouth was written at the end of August, and the King arrived on
1 8th September.
2 Pari Hist, vii. 4.
174 ROBERT HARLEY
impending, fled on the 26th of March to France,
and in July became Secretary of State to the
Pretender. It appeared to be a public avowal
of his intrigues with the Jacobites. Of this, at
any rate, there can be no doubt, it showed in
Bolingbroke extraordinary want of sagacity, it
suggested a close negotiation with the Pretender
before the death of the Queen, and it is the clearest
evidence of unpatriotism, because he could not
have intended to remain as Secretary of State
to a king without a kingdom, and that kingdom
could only be obtained at the cost of a civil war.
Bolingbroke's action therefore unquestionably tends
to justify Harley's opposition to him in the Cabinet,
because it is some proof, if not of actual Jacobite
intrigues, at any rate of unsound political judgment.
Harley, answering an urgent appeal from his brother
Edward â€” Auditor Harley â€” to hasten to London,
replied curtly, "The going away of Lord Boling-
broke is like his other practices. I thank God I was
never in his secret, and for late years out of his
way of converse, but only what was necessary." ^
By some it was thought that Bolingbroke's
flight would sufficiently satisfy the enemies of the
late Government, and that Harley would not be
molested ; but they were mistaken. On the 9th
of April a secret Committee, of which Walpole
was elected Chairman, was appointed to inquire
^ Harley Papers^ iii. 510
IMPEACHMENT OF HARLEY 175
into the late peace and other matters. On the
loth of June â€” the Committee having reported â€”
Walpole moved the impeachment of Bolingbroke,
which was carried without a division. Presently
Lord Coningsby ^ â€” a violent and unswerving Whig,
and a bitter local opponent of Harley â€” rose.
*' The worthy Chairman of the Committee," he
said, **has impeached the hand, but I do impeach
the head ; he has impeached the Clerk, and I the
Justice ; he has impeached the scholar, and I
the master : I impeach Robert Earl of Oxford
and Earl Mortimer of high treason and other
crimes and misdemeanours."^ It is doubtful
whether the Government intended to impeach
the late Lord Treasurer. If such had been their
policy, it was he who from his rank should have
been first proceeded against, and the motion
should have been made not by a private member,
but, as in the case of Bolingbroke and Ormond, by
the Chairman of the Committee or by one of the
Administration. After speeches from Harley's
relative, the Auditor, and Mr. Foley, Sir Joseph
Jekyll, Chief Justice of Chester and a staunch
Whig and one of the Committee, spoke, declaring
^Thomas Earl Coningsby (i656(?)-i729), M.P. for Leominster
1 679-1 710 and 171 5- 171 9, when he was raised to the English peerage
as Earl Coningsby, having been created an Irish peer in 1692. An
ardent supporter of William ill., he was by his side at the battle of
the Boyne, and held various official positions and also local dignities
in Herefordshire and Radnorshire.
2 Pari Hist.^ vii. 67.
176 ROBERT HARLEY
that there were no grounds for an impeachment.
Then the Whigs perceiving the weakness of
their case, *'a member of the Committee" rose
and declared that besides what had appeared in
their report, "they had other evidence viva voce"
In other words, the House was asked to pass the
motion not on the facts before it, but on something
undisclosed and unknown. Party spirit ran too
high for the majority to be judicial, and Harley's
friends doubtless thought that resistance at the
moment was inopportune ; so this theatrically
worded resolution was carried without a division,
and Harley on the 9th of July was committed to
The first articles of impeachment^ contained
charges which were no more than criticisms of
policy, and were wholly without weight as a
criminal indictment. In August, however, six
further articles were added, one of which was an
accusation of high treason, for it charged Harley,
vaguely enough, with aiding the Pretender. His
answers to the accusations against him took the
form of a general defence of his political actions,
and of his policy during the last four years of the
reign of Queen Anne. Throughout this defence
the modern idea of ministerial responsibility is
conspicuously absent. Every act of Harley was
done with the knowledge and the approbation â€” he
^ ParL Hist.y vii. 67, 74.
HARLEY IN THE TOWER 177
asserts â€” of his sovereign, and he shields himself
â€” if fault he has committed â€” behind the authority
of his mistress. So that in reading Harley's
elaborate apologia of his policy and conduct, we
are constantly reminded of the still embryonic
state of theories of political conduct which are
now accepted as axiomatic, and of the still un-
doubted influence of the Crown.
But the Ministers of the new sovereign had
more pressing business on hand than that of
carrying on a State trial, and from a party point
of view it was sufficient that the late Lord
Treasurer lay imprisoned under a charge of high
treason. Delay after delay ensued, and for two
years Harley remained a prisoner in the Tower.
When at last, on the 24th of June 17 17, he was
brought to the Bar within the historic walls
of Westminster Hall, his trial was dramatically
interrupted by his old colleague. Lord Harcourt,
who moved that the Peers do adjourn to their
own House. There Harcourt at once moved and
carried a resolution that the Commons be not
admitted to proceed with Harley 's trial for high
crimes and misdemeanours, **till judgment be first
given upon the articles for high treason." The
object of this step was obvious. It was impossible,
as had been evident from the beginning of the im-
peachment, that Harley could be convicted of high
treason ; and acquitted upon this charge, the whole
178 ROBERT HARLEY
sting of the prosecution would be gone. Moreover,
as the House of Commons were the accusers and
the House of Lords the judges, the Peers by this
motion were infringing the privileges of the Lower
House, and were thus creating a technical difficulty,
which could only be overcome by the withdrawal
of the motion or by the waiving of the Commons'
rights. As neither side would give way, the con-
ferences between the two Houses produced no
result, and a motion in the Commons on the ist
of July that the trial should proceed in the manner
indicated by Harcourt was negatived. This was
the virtual end of Harley's long-impending trial,
and on the 3rd of July, the Commons not appear-
ing, he was acquitted by the House of Lords, ^ the
1 The following are the steps in the impeachment of Harley : â€”
loth June. Resolution passed in House of Commons for impeach-
ment of the Earl of Oxford. â€” Pari. Hist., vii. 67.
7th July. Articles of impeachment agreed to by House of Commons
and sent to House of Lords. â€” Pari. Hist., vii. 74.
7th July. Order by House of Lords for committal of Earl of Oxford
to custody. â€” Pari. Hist., vii. 106.
1 2th July. Order for committal to the Tower. â€” Pari. Hist., vii.
2nd Aug. Six further articles of impeachment read and carried to
House of Lords. â€” Pari. Hist., vii. 114.
3rd Sept. Answer of Earl of Oxford delivered to House of Lords.
â€”Pari. Hist., vii. 158.
7th Sept. Answer sent to House of Commons and debate thereon.
â€” Pari. Hist., vii. 211.
nth Sept. Replication of House of Commons to the answer carried
to the House of Lords. â€” Pari. Hist., vii. 212, 213.
22nd May. Petition of Earl of Oxford that his case be taken into
END OF THE IMPEACHMENT 179
very body which during his Ministry had been his
most troublesome and determined enemy. The
time had in truth gone by when purely political
action on the part of a statesman, however odious
to his opponents, could bring him to the block.
Half a century later, Harley would never have
been impeached â€” a vote of censure would have
been his severest punishment ; a little more than
fifty years earlier he might have lost his head on
Tower Hill. Time, too, softens even the rancour
of party, and nearly two years of office had lessened
consideration and debate thereon in the House of
Lords. â€” Pari. Hist.^ vii. 462.
27th May. After debate, 13th of June appointed for trial. â€” Pari.
Hist.^ vii. 465.
1 2th June. Motion in House of Commons for postponement of trial.
â€” Pari. Hist.^ vii. 475.
24th June. Trial of Earl of Oxford opened in Westminster Hall, and
adjournment. â€” Pari. Hist., vii. 481.
24th June. Motion carried in House of Lords that the Commons be not
admitted to proceed till judgment be first given upon
the articles for high treason. â€” Pari. Hist.^ vii. 486.
27th June. Conference between the two Houses, and messages
between the two Houses. â€” Pari. Hist.^ vii. 487.
1st July. Motion in House of Commons that Harley's trial do proceed
as indicated by the House of Lords, lost on a division.
3rd July. Trial renewed (7 p.m.), and on the nonappearance of
Commons the Earl of Oxford was acquitted. â€” Pari.
Hist., vii. 494.
3rd July. Address to King carried in House of Commons to except
the Earl of Oxford from Act of Grace. â€” Pari. Hist.,
See also Howell's State Trials, xv. 1046, and The Whole Pro-
ceedings against Robert Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortifuer,
London, 171 5, which contains the first portion only of the proceed-
ings, the writer amiably expressing his hope that in a future publica-
tion he may describe Harley's condemnation and punishment.
180 ROBERT HARLEY
the resentment of many of the Whigs to a man
who had almost unwillingly been their antagonist.
By the people generally he had neither been loved
nor hated, but large numbers regarded him with
respect because of his admitted moderation of
character, and sympathised with him for an im-
prisonment which hei bore with dignity, courage,
and good temper. Thus his acquittal was received
with approval by the public. *' Our friend," wrote
Erasmus Lewis to Swift, on the day after Harley's
release, "has at present many more friends than
ever he had before in any part of his life." Under
these circumstances some men would have tried to
regain political power ; but though Harley did not
cease to take a part from time to time in parlia-
mentary business, he never made a vigorous
attempt to recover the important position which he
had held so long among contemporary statesmen.
In his own age, and in those which have
followed, there have been many who have con-
sidered that Harley was guilty of something hardly
distinguishable from treason. But the charges
which have been made against him appear to show
a complete misconception both of his policy and of
his character, even of the common methods of
contemporary party warfare. **You set up the
Church and Sacheverell against us ; and we set
up trade and the Pretender against you " ; ^ so said,
^ The behaviour of the Quceiis last Ministry y Swift, Works^ v. 313.
HARLEY AND THE JACOBITES 181
with much frankness, a person in great employment
to Swift. For a party policy such as this it was
necessary that suggestions and insinuations of
disloyalty should be spread abroad. To these,
collected in memoirs and biographies, too much
weight is apt to be attached in succeeding centuries.
Not a little has been made of a statement by
the Due de Berwick that the Abb6 Gaultier
brought him definite propositions from Harley
for the succession of the Pretender after the death
of Anne. But nothing is clearer than that the
Berwick Memoirs must be scrutinised closely before
they are accepted as historical authority. Berwick
thus begins his account : '* A la fin de 17 lo lAbb^
Gaultier, dont la cour de France se servit pour
traiter en secret de la paix avec lAngleterre, vint
me trouver a St. Germain de la part du Comte
d'Oxford, nouvellement fait grand tr^sorier."^
But Harley was not Earl of Oxford and Lord
Treasurer until May 171 1. In this passage there
is, therefore, a radical confusion, throwing suspicion
on the whole narrative, which throughout has the
appearance of a vague summary written at some
time long after the years of which it tells. A little
later, the narrative says â€”
** Apres ces pr^liminaires, nous entrames dans
le detail des moyens de parvenir au but; mais
^ Mimoires du Mardchal du Berwick^ Petitot Collection, Ixvi. 219.
182 ROBERT HARLEY
I'abb^ ne put pour cette premiere fois entrer dans
un grand detail, attendu que le tr^sorier ne lui avait
pas encore blen expllqu6 ses intentions, que meme
pr^alablement a tout il fallait que la paix ftit con-
clue ; sans quoi le ministere present n oserait
entamer une matiere si delicate a manager."
But if nothing could be done until peace was
concluded, one object of which was the safeguard-
ing of the Hanoverian succession, and the carrying
out of the Act of Settlement, it is obvious that
Harley never made any real proposals to the Due
de Berwick. Gaultier's business was to collect in-
formation, and it is probable that he constantly
placed on vague conversations definite meanings
which they were never intended to convey.
If the evidence of Harley's Jacobite intrigues
was confined to such statements as those of
Gaultier and to current rumours, it would scarcely
be worthy of a moment's consideration. It has,
however, been stated that while he was in the
Tower he communicated directly with the Pre-
tender. This assertion rests on a passage in a
letter from Harley among the Stuart papers, which
Sir James Macintosh appears to have seen, but
which has since disappeared. That Harley should
have written this letter is highly improbable. His
position at the moment was so powerless â€” he had
no partisans to please, no office to retain â€” it was so
HARLEY AND THE JACOBITES 183
essential for his safety at that time not to endanger
his chance of Hberty, that it is difficult to believe he
would venture on so dangerous a course. At that
very moment, also, he was assuring his relatives of
his innocence and of his honour. On 13th April
1 7 16 he wrote to his brother Nathaniel at
" I begin a letter to my dearest brother, though
I do not know that my weak hand will obey my
heart enough to write more than a very few lines.
You may be sure I have received the frequent
intelligence of your coming home with that joy
that can only be conceived by those who love each
other so entirely, that I know you will not be
displeased to receive a few lines from me, even
out of this place. I have been here since i6th
July 17 1 5, and desire only to come out with the
same honour, the same innocency, as I came in.
I know I have served my country successfully and
usefully, my Queen faithfully, and observed the
laws religiously and strictly, to which I have not
only the testimony of my own conscience, but the
applause of nine parts in ten of the nation, so that