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the Whigs as extortionate taxers of the people and plunderers
of the public treasure. The Tories were powerfully assisted
by the popularity of the Queen and by her known attach-
ment to the Church. They met the imputation on their
patriotism by a straight pledge to support the war. In the
event they beat " the peevish party, "^ as Evelyn calls
their opponents, by a majority of two to one in a House of
513. Harley for the third time was elected Speaker.

This result augured well for the prospects of the new
ministry. But great majorities have always their dis-
advantages. Flushed with victory and conscious of their
overwhelming strength, the Tory hosts might be tempted
to pursue a revengeful policy, quite incompatible with the
system of Marlborough and Godolphin. It was known
that many supporters of that system had secured seats.
But many of a more vehement temper had also been re-
turned. If the Commons should be induced to enter upon
furious courses, the first result would be a colHsion with the
Upper House, where a small but reliable Whig majority was
strongly entrenched. It was evident therefore that the
popular assembly would require careful management. The
task was one which Godolphin and Marlborough, as members
of the House of Lords, were debarred from undertaking,
even if their other responsibilities had not absorbed the

^ Evelyn's Diary (Chandos Library), p. 584, June 27, 1702.


whole of their energy and time. But in Robert Harley, the
vSpeaker, they discovered a man exceptionally adapted to
this purpose.

Harley was a nominal Tory, and in old Evelyn's opinion
" an able gentleman."^ But there was little in his ante-
cedents to suggest close attachment to either Church or
King. His grandfather was a Herefordshire Puritan, a
member of the Long ParUament, and a defacer of Christian
art. His grandmother made good the family mansion
against the RoyaHst forces for six weeks. His father,
who also did battle for the Roundhead cause, but who
detested Oliver Cromwell, supported both the Restoration
and the Revolution. Harley himself was born in 1661 and
entered Parliament in 1689. Exhibiting no very pro-
nounced bias towards either party, he gradually acquired
a reputation on both sides of the House for practical
sagacity and profound knowledge of Parliamentary law
and practice. To these quaUties, associated as they were
with kindUness of disposition and an affable manner,
he owed his three elections to the Speakership. At the
outset of his political career he had passed as a Whig; but
his opposition to a standing army of any magnitude, his
advocacy of the creation of a land bank in the agricultural
interest, and his refusal of a Secretaryship of State, which
was twice offered him by William, rendered him extremely
popular among the Tories. He was now regarded as a
leader of that party. At the same time, his Puritan origin,
his tolerant attitude towards Dissenters, and the natural
amiability which he displayed in his public and private
relations, secured him the sympathetic regard of the Whigs.
Though never a brilliant or a powerful orator, he was
invariably heard with attention and respect. He had a
positive talent for the manipulation of Parliamentary
parties and the subtleties of Parliamentary tactics. In short
he was precisely the politician of whom Marlborough and
Godolphin had need. He readily fell in with their proposals ;
and in process of time he became a sort of ministerial ' wire-
puller ' and 'whip,' parts which in modern eyes must
appear singular ones for a Speaker to have played. Harley

^ Evelyn's Diary, p. 581, January 9, 1701.


played them so well that after twelve months it was arranged
by Godolphin, with Marlborough's approval, that the three
" should meet regularly at least twice a week, if not oftener,
to advise upon anything that shall occur. "^

No sooner had the new Parliament assembled than the
Tory majority began to show their teeth. In an address
of congratulation presented to the Queen, they declared that
" the protection and security of our trade, the vigorous
support of Your Majesty's allies, and the wonderful progress
of Your Majesty's arms under the conduct of the Earl of
]\Iarlborough, have signally retrieved the ancient honour
and glory of the EngHsh nation."^ The use of the word
" retrieved " was resented by the Whigs as a reflection on the
memory of William. They moved to substitute " main-
tained," but they were beaten on a division by i8o to 80.
In the matter of disputed elections, which the Tories re-
garded in the spirit of partisans rather than of judges, little
consideration was shown to the minority. But nothing was
so unpalatable to the Whigs as the fixed resolution of their
antagonists to investigate the public accounts. During the
reign of William the control of the national finances had
been mainly in Whig hands. It was notorious that great
confusion existed ; it was strongly suspected that malversa-
tions had occurred. Seven Tory Commissioners, of whom
St. John, the youthful member for Wooton Bassett was
one, were appointed to conduct the enquiry. Ranelagh,
the Paymaster-General, and Halifax himself were specially
selected for attack. The proceedings of the Commission in
regard to Halifax culminated in a conflict between the two

But however furiously they might rage against the men
and measures of the late reign, the Tory majority were as
steady as the Whigs in their support of the foreign policy
of Marlborough. B}^ Burnet's own admission " the House
of Commons very unanimously, and with great dispatch, . .,
voted all the supplies that were necessary for carrying on the
war."^ Together with the Peers, they attended the Sovereign

1 Portland MSS., vol. iv.: Godolphin to Harley, November 4, 1703
(Hist. MSS. Comm., 15th Report, Appendix iv.).

2 Lediard, vol. i., p. 205.
^ Burnet, vol. iii., p. 370.


on November 23, when she went in state to St. Paul's
to return thanks for the successes of her arms on land and
sea. Accompanied in her coach and eight by the Countesses
of Marlborough and Sunderland, the Queen was received
by the populace with remarkable demonstrations of affection
and delight. "There has not been," wrote Evelyn, "so
great an union in Parliament, Court and People, in memory
of man."^

Marlborough returned to England in the beginning of
December. A deputation of the Commons, headed by
Seymour, presented him with the thanks of that assembly.
In his reply the Earl ascribed his success to " God's
blessing "^ and " the great bravery "^ of the troops. The
Queen announced that she intended to make him a duke
" by the title of Marquis of Blandford and Duke of Marl-
borough."^ As she had already made him a Knight of
the Garter, this additional honour was criticised in some
quarters as excessive; and envious voices suggested that he
owed it more to the influence of his wife than to his own
services. These reflections were very unjust both to Sarah
and her husband. The offer of a dukedom had in fact
originated with the Queen herself. It found no favour
with the Countess. Sarah considered that the family
fortune was insufficient for the upkeep of so elevated a
rank; she dreaded the clamour of jealous and malicious
tongues, and she foresaw that the case might be used as a
precedent by every importunate angler in the fountain of
honour. The Queen met the first of these objections by the
promise of a pension of £5,000. But Sarah continued to
discountenance the proposition, and wrote to her husband,
while he was still at the Hague, to dissuade him from
accepting it. He admitted the soundness of her arguments.
But he also recognised that it was not so much a question
of his own merits or of Anne's personal wishes as of the
interest of the public service. Marlborough had taken the
place of William on the European stage. He was England's
plenipotentiary to the United Provinces. He was captain-
general of the Queen's forces, and commander-in-chief

^ Evelyn's Diary, November, 1702.

- Lediard, vol. i., p. 207. 3 Ibid. * Ibid.


of that Dutch army which sovereign princes had aspired to
lead. He corresponded with monarchs and collaborated
with ambassadors. Never before had a situation com-
parable to his been occupied by an English subject. Yet
there were English subjects whose social rank was superior
to Marlborough's. That fact tended to impair his authority
abroad, where mere titles have always been more esteemed
than in these islands. In the eyes of Europe the highest
grade in the English peerage was none too high for the
Englishman judged worthy to complete the military and
diplomatic work which William had begun. It was patent
to Heinsius that a dukedom would strengthen Marlborough's
hands upon the continent. Godolphin took the same view.
Knowing full well that they were right, Marlborough yielded
to their representations and accepted the Queen's offer.
Those English critics who consider that according to English
notions he had not yet earned the title have a right to
their own opinion. But nobody has any right to say that
his wife extorted this new distinction from the generous
weakness of the Queen. It was in opposition to his wife's
wishes, and solely in the interest of his country and the
Grand Alliance, that Marlborough reluctantly became a duke.
The Queen informed the Commons that she had settled
£5,000 a year out of the revenues of the Post Ofhce on the
victorious general. As she was not empowered to bind her
successors, she requested the House to take the necessary
steps to render the pension perpetual. This message was
very badly received. It was regarded, says Evelyn, " as
a bold and unadvis'd request " on Marlborough's part,
" as he had, besides his own considerable estate, above
£30,000 a year in places and employments, with £50,000 at
interest."^ This judgment overlooked the two important
facts that all his "places and employments" might be
taken from him at a moment's notice, as had happened in the
preceding reign, and that in England at any rate it was
no kindness to fasten a dukedom on a man whose assured
income, however respectable, was insufficient to maintain
the title in the magnificent fashion traditional in this
country. But those advocates of economy who dwelt upon

^ Evelyn's Diary, December, 1702.


the existing indebtedness and growing liabilities of the
nation were on firmer ground. In particular, the Tories,
who had so long denounced the extravagant generosity of
William to his favourites, could not with any show of
consistency approve the Queen's suggestion, made though
it was on behalf of a Tory general. Seymour, the Comp-
troller of the Household, who had headed the Commons'
deputation to Marlborough on his return from the continent,
spoke against the grant. Musgrave, Clerk of the Ordnance,
of which Marlborough was Master, expressed the opinion
that his chief's services, eminent as they undoubtedly
were, had been well rewarded. Others insinuated that a
single family was seeking to monopolise the royal favour.
Marlborough cut short this unpleasant discussion by in-
ducing the Queen to revoke her message. But the Commons
were determined to justify themselves in the eyes of a
Sovereign who possessed their true affection. They sent
her an address in which they declared their " unanimous
satisfaction " at the " just esteem " which she had expressed
for Marlborough's services. They reiterated their opinion
that he had " retrieved the ancient honour and glory of the
English nation." They alleged that his diplomatic suc-
cesses at the Hague " had vindicated the gentlemen of
England, who had, by the vile practices of designing men,
been traduced, and industriously represented as false to
Your Majesty's allies, because they were true to the in-
terest of their country." While lamenting the necessity of
opposing her wishes, they represented the danger "of making
a precedent for the alienations of the revenue of the Crown,
which has been so much reduced by the exorbitant grants
of the last reign." And finally they recorded their grati-
fication that the only way to obtain the Queen's favour, as
demonstrated by her treatment of the Duke of Marlborough,
was " to deserve well of the public."^

That the party which had published the black list should
join in the congratulations to " the gentlemen of England "
may at first sight seem strange. But viewed in the light
of that party's trafficking with France in the reign of
Charles H, it becomes tolerably intelligible.

1 Lcdiard, vol. i., pp. 208, 209.


Anne replied curtly: " I shall always think myself much
concerned to reward those who deserve well of me and of the
public. On this account I bestowed some favours on the
Duke of Marlborough, and I am glad to find you think they
are well placed."^

The sting of this speech lay less in what it said than in
what it left unsaid. Its dignified reticence showed that
the Queen was hurt. The Commons had wounded her in
two tender parts, her loyalty to her friends and her Stuart
pride. She told the Duchess that she would increase the
pension of £5,000 by a grant of £2,000 from the privy purse.
But this munificence, though strongly pressed by the
generous monarch, was resolutely decHned.

If the Queen was disappointed in the Tories, she was
soon to be incensed with the Whigs, Fearful lest, in the
event of her own death, Prince George should be left without
adequate provision, she requested the Commons to secure
him against this contingency. Both parties concurred in
voting him the unprecedented allowance of £100, ono a year.
The Tories inserted in the bill an amendment exempting
the Prince from the operation of that clause in the Act
of Succession which prohibited future sovereigns from
conferring lands and offices on naturalised aliens. This
amendment was superfluous, because the clause in question
did not refer to aliens already naturalised. But the Tories
desired to suggest that it did, and to frighten the foreign
favourites of William — Portland, Albemarle, Rochfort,
Grantham, and Schomberg. The Whig majority in the
House of Lords were speedily in arms. They denounced
the amendment as an example of the unconstitutional
practice of ' tacking,' and as an attempt to give a statutory
interpretation to the Act of Succession which it was never
intended to bear. The bill itself was seen to be in danger.
The Queen became angry and alarmed. Marlborough and
his friends exerted their utmost strength on behalf of the
measure. But his own son-in-law, Sunderland, was con-
spicuous among its assailants. The fury of the Duchess at
what she regarded as gross ingratitude towards the bene-
factress of the family into which the Earl had had the good

^ Ibid., p. 209.


fortune to marry, produced a breach which Lady Sunder-
land found it difficult to heal. Eventually the bill was saved
by a majority of one. Many of the Whigs, including Burnet
and Sunderland, set their names to a protest. Anne, whose
sense of wifely duty left nothing to be desired, never forgave
them for it. But she wrote to the Duchess: "I am sure
the prince's bill passing after so much struggle is wholly
owing to the pains you and Mr. Freeman have taken,
and I ought to say a great deal to both of you in return,
but neither words nor actions can ever express the true
sense Mr. Morley and I have of your sincere kindness on
this and all other occasions; and therefore I will not say
any more on this subject, but that to my last moment,
your dear unfortunate faithful Morley will be most pas-
sionately and tenderly yours."^

These trials of strength however were mere skirmishes
in comparison with the struggle which arose between the
parties and the Houses over the bill for the prevention of
Occasional Conformity. Occasional Conformity was a
practice which grew out of the conditions under which
Protestant Dissenters had been placed by statute. The
Toleration Act of 1689 had rewarded the Dissenters for their
part in the Revolution by granting them the right of public
worship. But the Corporation Act of i66t, which required
all corporate magistrates and office-bearers to take the
Sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England,
and the Test Act of 1673, which imposed the same obHga-
tion" on all servants of the Crown, both civil and military,
remained still in force.

The second of these statutes did not materially affect
Dissenters; but by the operation of the first, many prosperous
merchants and tradesmen were excluded from those
municipal honours which were the goal of their ambition,
and also from the exercise of much of that political power
which centred in the corporations. Cases had occurred
in which, to escape the:: '^'cabilities, known Dissenters had
received the Sacrament in their parish church and had
subsequently resumed attendance at their licensed chapels.
This practice, which was tending to become very frequent,

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 104.


was regarded in many quarters as a scandal, and was
distinctly unpopular. Law-abiding people disliked it as
deliberate evasion of the law. The majority of Churchmen,
both clergy and laity, denounced it as a sacrilege. Even
the more rigid Dissenters disapproved of it as a dereliction
of principle. That stalwart Puritan, Defoe, declared that
nobody who differed from the Church upon essentials could
conscientiously receive the Sacrament from her priests, and
that all who differed from her upon non-essentials were
guilty of the sin of schism.^ The new Parliament had not
been sitting a month before a bill for the prevention of
Occasional Conformity was introduced into the House of
Commons by the members for the two Universities and
St. John, an acknowledged free-thinker. It was a drastic
measure, imposing severe penalties upon Occasional Con-
formists and enlarging the scope of the Corporation Act
by the inclusion of freemen, who were an important section
of the electorate. It passed the Commons by big majorities,
and was sent to the Lords about the middle of December.

Modern opinion would excuse the Dissenters who were
guilty of the objectionable practice of Occasional Con-
formity and would condemn the laws which tempted them
to it. But modern opinion has nothing much in common
with the ideas of Stuart times. In one respect indeed
there has been little change. Then, as now, true toleration
was rare. For the rest, indifference posing as toleration
pronounces to-day its cheap and easy judgments on a
generation which, whatever else it may have done, sat
seldom at the feet of Gallio. The men and women of that
epoch really cared about religion. They cared so much
that all who adopted a type of Christianity different from
theirs seemed in their eyes to be in grievous peril, if not
in actual perdition. From these premises it was but a
logical step to the duty of persecution. A true believer
was bound to discourage, and if need be, to exterminate
the propagators of spiritual damnation. The government
which acted otherwise was inviting God's vengeance on the
people. These opinions were not merely speculative;
they were generally and actively translated into practice

^ Defoe, An Enquiry into the Occasional Conformity Bill (1704).


by the faithful of all denominations. The degree of perse-
cution was regulated mainly by the numerical and combative
strength of the persecuted. Thus in England, Roman
Catholics and Unitarians were 'altogether excluded from the
benefits of the Toleration Act. Miserable old women,
accused of witchcraft, were tortured by the populace and
burned at the stake. The Protestant Dissenters were
permitted to practise their religion, but they were punished
by the loss of local distinction and political power. The
Church of England had endured her share of suffering. In
1702 there were those still living who had seen the head of
a primate stricken off upon Tower Hill. Evelyn, and men
much younger than Evelyn, would remember the years
when to administer the Sacrament according to the rites of
the national church was a crime. It was matter of common
knowledge that the Queen's own grandfather would never
have lost his Hfe or his crown, had he only consented to
establish the ecclesiastical system of John Knox on the ruins
of Anglicanism. The majority of Churchmen were con-
vinced that, if the descendants of the Puritans were per-
mitted to acquire political power, neither the property nor
the liberty of the Church would ever be secure. Subsequent
history has by no means shown that this apprehension was

Marlborough was far too good a Churchman not to
sympathise with the bill, though his wife of course disliked
it. A Tory pamphlet on the subject was dedicated to the
Duke. But the question for Godolphin's ministry was not
one of personal sentiment. The bill was ardently desired
by the Queen, who induced her husband, himself an Oc-
casional Conformist, to vote for it ; it was backed by a great
majority in the Commons; and it was popular in the country.
The plain interest of the government was therefore to
support it.

The Whig majority in the House of Lords would have
rejected it, had they dared. Instead, they pursued the
equally effective course of modifying it beyond aU recogni-
tion. Prominent in the work were the latitudinarian
bishops, headed by Burnet. One amendment, which
restricted the application of the measure to evaders of the


Test Act, who for practical purposes did not exist, wliile
exempting from its operation those evaders of the Corporation
Act, who were the very persons struck at, was tantamount
to rejection. A great agitation arose. The pulpits rang
with denunciations of the Church's enemies. Henry
Sacheverell, a Fellow of Magdalen, boldly assailed the
latitudinarian bishops. The mob attacked the Dissenters'
chapels. A war of pamphlets was vigorously waged.
Defoe, who had exposed the Occasional Conformists as
either h3^ocrites or schismatics, was provoked by the
furious language of the Tory party into the publication
of that brilliant satire. The Shortest Way with the
Dissenters, which, thanks to its excessive irony, was at
first mistaken for a Tory tract. By Nottingham's orders
he was arrested and tried for libel. He was fined, im-
prisoned, and exposed in the pillory, where the same rabble
that wrecked the meeting-houses cheered him uproariously
and drank his health in pots of beer. Defoe's action was
damaging to the agitation. But the Lords lacked the
courage of their own opinions. To obscure the real issue,
they amended a clause relating to fines, with the object of
starting the old squabble on the question of money bills.
The Commons refused all the amendments. A conference
between the Houses ensued. Subsequently the Lords
adhered to all the amendments, though by a majority of
only one in each of three separate divisions. The Commons
stood firm; and the bill was lost.

The spectacle of the House of Lords as the fortress of
Whiggery and the bulwark of Dissent might well be re-
commended to those profound students of constitutional
questions, the modern electorate. They wiU doubtless be
properly pained to observe that in destroying by majorities
of one a measure which was strongly pressed by a newly
chosen House of Commons, the Whig peers made no con-
cealment of that contempt for a popular opinion which has
always been characteristic of self-styled popular parties.
Thoroughly to appreciate the situation, it must be remem-
bered that no fewer than five Lords in a House of 150
were foreigners by birth and professors of that continental
Protestantism which is the parent of EngUsh Dissent.


The conduct of the Whig peers had ultimate consequences
which they never foresaw, but which were very disagreeable
to the Whig party. The immediate effect was injurious
to the government, for the loss of the bill inflamed the
passion of the Tories and started an enduring discontent
among the clergy at the very moment when Godolphin and
Marlborough were striving to create an atmosphere of unity
and peace. The irritation of the Church's friends was
reflected in the temper of the Tory ministers. Rochester,
happily, was no longer in office. He had resigned the Lord
Lieutenancy of Ireland, because, as the Duchess of Marl-
borough observes, the Queen had been " so unreasonable
as to press him to go thither to attend the affairs of that

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 44)