Arthur Hassall.

Life of Viscount Bolingbroke online

. (page 4 of 20)
Online LibraryArthur HassallLife of Viscount Bolingbroke → online text (page 4 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

defensible as Marlborough's and Godolphin's.

St. John himself alludes to the intrigues in a letter to
Marlborough in November, 1706: —

"There are," he wrote, "some restless spirits, who are fooh'shly
imagined to be the heads of a party, who make much noise and have no
real strength, that expect the Queen, crowned with success abroad, and
governing without blemish at home, should court them at the expense of
her own authority."


It is very doubtful if St. John was at this time Harley's
accomplice. He ends the letter above quoted by assuring
the Duke that he has no interest in view but " the Queen's
service, and my gratitude and duty to you, who have tied
me, for ever." There is no ground beyond the suspicions
of the jealous Duchess for thinking that St. John was
acting basely. Marlborough was at the height of his power,
and, from the lowest point of view, a consideration of his
own interests would probably have kept St. John true to
his benefactor and friend. The intrigues, however, became
serious as time went on. The introduction into the Ministry
of Sunderland, Marlborough's son-in-law, as Secretary of
State in place of Hedges, tended to alienate the Queen still
more from the Duchess. "The only Tories of eminence,"
writes Mr. Leadam, "left in office were Harley and St. John."
All through 1707 it was obvious that Harley was the centre
of the intrigues which were opposed to the interests of
Marlborough and Godolphin. Sunderland, writing to
Marlborough, spoke of him as '* the author of all the tricks
played here " ; but Harley's own protestations completely
deceived the Duke, and he continued to form schemes
against the supremacy of Godolphin and Marlborough in
the Cabinet. When the first United Parliament of Great
Britain met in October, 1707, the Whigs, whose difficulties
had been greatly increased by the short-sighted and selfish
policy of the Emperor and the Dutch, had serious grounds
for complaint as well as for uneasiness. Anne had shown
her real leanings by appointing Tories to the sees of Chester
and Exeter, and a great loss had just been sustained by the
partial destruction of a convoy to Lisbon by a French

During this session, in which the plan of the war was
altered, St. John's labours were very great. The affairs of
Spain were under consideration, and he was closely exam-
ined as to the condition of the English troops in the Penin-


sula. He had to show a minute acquaintance with figures
and accounts. His frequent statements in Parhament gave
ample proof of great administrative powers and of very
considerable business qualities. All evidence seems to
show that his work had been satisfactorily done. Indeed,
throughout his life, distaste to hard work was never one of
his failings. Whatever he took in hand was always thor-
oughly accomplished. His great powers of concentration,
his wonderful memory, his power of writing clear business-
like letters, all combined to make him an excellent Secre-
tary-at-War. But his labours were drawing to an end.
Towards the close of the year Harley's intrigues seem to
have developed into a real Bedchamber Plot, the object of
which was, according to report, to replace Godolphin by a
more pronounced Tory. Swift alludes to this project as
" the greatest piece of court skill that has been acted these
many years." The Whigs were in a great state of alarm,
while in the city the rumour of the removal of Godolphin
caused a semi - panic. In this struggle, Harley, Mrs.
Masham, and the Queen were pitted against the tyranny
of the Marlboroughs backed by the Whig leaders.

On January 29th, 1708, St. John astonished Godolphin and
his colleagues by laying before the House of Commons the
muster rolls, which showed that at the Battle of Almanza
only 8,600 English troops instead of 29,595 were in Spain.
In spite of explanations the Ministry had suffered a serious

The Queen's influence on politics was so great that for a
time Godolphin and Marlborough, though supported by the
Whig leaders, could only remonstrate with her upon her
Tory predilections. Remonstrances having no effect, they
seized with alacrity upon the famous Gregg Scandal, which
proved that Harley had conducted his business as Secretary
of State with great negligence, and that the clerk Gregg,
who had been arrested on December 30th, 1707, had given


information to the French ministers. Supported by the
Whigs, Marlborough and Godolphin insisted on Harley's

On February the loth Harley resigned, and was followed
by Simon Harcourt the Attorney-General, Mansell, and
St. John. There is no difficulty in explaining St. John's
resignation. His close connection with Harley, coupled
with the complete ascendancy of the Whigs, to whom he
could not fail to be an object of suspicion, sufficiently
accounts for his action. He resigned, carrying with him
the reputation of being a brilliant and successful Secretary-
at-War. Marlborough had found him a most useful col-
league, and in a letter to St. John in October, 1709, he
expresses a hope that he may begin to entertain more
favourable thoughts of the world in which he " is qualified
to do so much good." He had clearly demonstrated that
he was the ablest man in the Tory ranks. During his
tenure of office, the English had won victories which have
made the reign of Queen Anne rival even that of Elizabeth
in splendour.

The objects of England in the war had been plain and
straightforward, such as commended themselves to all
moderate men. It was only at the end of 1707 (Decem-
ber 22nd) that the Whigs had boastfully and imprudently ex-
pressed the opinion that no Bourbon should be permitted to
rule in Spain, and had passed a resolution that no peace
would be safe or honourable if Spain, the West Indies, or
any part of the Spanish monarchy was suffered to remain
under the power of the House of Bourbon. It was well,
then, that St. John should retire before he became closely
associated with a policy which was doomed to failure. He
was succeeded as Secretary-at-War by the rising politician,
Robert Walpole, who had already secured the full confidence
of the Whig party.

Parliament was diesolved in April, 1708, and at the new


elections the nation declared itself strongly in favour of the
Whigs. An attempted Jacobite invasion of Scotland in the
spring had not only found the English Government unpre-
pared, but had clearly demonstrated the universal hatred
with which the English nation was regarded in Scotland.
The Jacobite chances of success were never so good as
in 1708. It was natural, therefore, that all advocates of the
Union should regard with alarm the possibility of the return
to office of Tories like Rochester, Nottingham, and Haver-
sham, who had protested against the Union. The firm
establishment of a united Whig administration meant the
resolute maintenance of the Union and the active prosecu-
tion of the war.

St. John did not seek re-election. He retired to his
country house at Bucklersbury, which had belonged to his
father-in-law, who had died in the previous year. It was
situated in Berkshire, about twenty-five miles from Windsor
and from Newbury ; formerly belonging to the Reading
Abbey, it had been granted after the Reformation to the
son of Jack of Newbury. There, for two years, St. John
devoted himself to the study of philosophy and literature.
The reasons for St. John's retirement from politics are not
difficult to fathom. Prudential motives, no doubt, played a
considerable part in his decision. His interests and those
of Harley were closely identified. Marlborough and
Godolphin had succeeded in forming a united Whig ad-
ministration, which included the great names of Somers,
Cowper, Orford, Halifax, and Sunderland, but in so doing
had lost the affection and esteem of the Queen. They had
definitely broken with the moderate Tories. It was impos-
sible for St. John to continue to act as Secretary-at-War
without throwing in his lot with the Whigs. Then, again, as
long as the nation was satisfied with the continuance of the
war and was still intent on the annihilation of the power of
France, it was useless to continue to oppose the Whigs in Par-



liament. It was better to watch events from outside. His
obligations to Marlborough must also have largely influenced
his decision. To Marlborough he owed his appointment as
Secretary- at-War ; with Marlborough he had, during his
tenure of office, been on the closest and most confidential
terms. Marlborough's power and influence showed no
signs of diminution. In July, 1708, Marlborough won the
battle of Oudenarde, and St. John wrote at once from
London to congratulate the great general. At the end of
the letter he says :

"The death of a grandfather" (Sir Walter St. John died at Battersea,
in 1708, at the ripe age of eighty-seven) "brought me to this place, from
whence I am preparing to return again to the country, in the midst of
which retreat I shall inviolably preserve in my heart that gratitude for all
your favours, that zeal for your service, and that true, unaffected love for
your person which I have never knowingly departed from.

" I am, with the greatest respect, my Lord, etc.,

"H. St. John."

To the astonishment of his friends and acquaintances, the
gay, worldly St. John, who by his wonderful oratory and
riotous life had become one of the best known men in
London, thus calmly withdrew from public life, and devoted
himself to quiet studies in his country retreat. He always
looked back on these two years of retirement at Bucklers-
bury with the greatest satisfaction. In his letter to Lord
Bathurst on The True Use of Retivement and Study, written
many years later, he speaks of his love of study and his
desire of knowledge :

" This love and this desire I have felt all my life, and I am not quite a
stranger to this industry and application. There has been something
always ready to whisper in my ear while I ran the course of pleasure and
of business, 'Solve senescentem mature sanus equum.' But my genius,
unlike the demon of Socrates, whispered so softly that very often I heard
him not, in the hurry of those passions by which I was transported. Some
calmer hours there were ; in them I hearkened to him. Reflection had
often its turn, and the love of study and the desire of knowledge have
never quite abandoned me." And he continues : "When we have secured


the necessaries, there may be time to amuse ourselves with the super-
fluities and even with the trifles of Hfe. ' Dulce est desipere,' said
Horace ; ' Vive la bagatelle !' says Swift, I oppose neither ; not the
Epicurean, much less the Christian philosopher ; but I insist that a
principal part of these amusements be the amusements of study and reflec-
tion, of reading and conversation."

Study, reflection, reading, and conversation occupied the
two years of St. John's enforced absence from the political
struggles in Parliament.

During his retirement, Louis XIV. made at the Hague,
in 1709, a very determined effort to procure peace. In his
later writings St. John strongly insists that peace should
certainly have been made between July, 1708, and the spring
of 1709.

*' It vi^as high time indeed to save our country from absolute insolvency
and bankruptcy by putting an end to a scheme of conduct which the pre-
judices of a party, the whims of some particular men, the private interest
of more, and the avarice and ambition of our allies . . . alone maintained."

But the chiefs of the Whig party were determined that
no peace should be made till they had secured what they
considered to be a complete triumph over Louis XIV. As
a complete triumph meant in their eyes not only the expul-
sion of Philip from Spain, but his expulsion at the hands of
his grandfather, it is a matter of little wonder that Louis
preferred to carry on the war. The war had become unjust
and unnecessary. In September, 1709, Malplaquet was
won, and the bond between the Maritime Powers was
tightened by the conclusion on October the 29th of the
Barrier Treaty. By the terms of this treaty the supremacy
of the Dutch republic was, it is said, established in North-
western Europe. In the spring of 17 10 Louis again tried,
at the Conference of Gertruydenburg, to come to terms
with the Allies. The English Ministers were this time
more inclined to treat, and the French King was prepared
to make enormous concessions. But he refused to assist
the allies in the expulsion of Philip from Spain, the negotia-


tions broke down in June, and the war continued. The
conduct of the Whigs was absolutely unjustifiable. The
Archduke Charles, for whom we were ostensibly fighting,
was now heir to the Austrian dominions. If he became
King of Spain, the Empire of Charles V. might be revived.
Philip was the chosen and adored King of the Spaniards.
The conquest of Spain was impossible, and England was
bearing the greater part of the expense of a war in which
our Allies sought their own ends.

During these years, St. John watched the course of
events, from his country seat. No sooner had a united
Whig Ministry been formed, than it began to lose favour
with the country. Outwardly it was strong, but, from a
variety of causes, its position was gradually undermined.
Anne had always disliked the Whigs, on account of their
religious and political opinions. Since the resignation of
Harley, she had broken with Godolphin and Marlborough,
and only retained them in her service till an opportunity
occurred to replace them by men she trusted. Her final
quarrel with the Duchess of Marlborough, too, contributed
not a little to encourage the enemies of the Whig junto,
just at the time when the ranks of those enemies were,
owing to St. John's advice and Harley's skill, reinforced by
such prominent names as those of Somerset, Argyll, and
Shrewsbury, Rochester, Harcourt, and Bromley. " You
broke the party," wrote St. John to Harley, " unite it again."
The influence of Somerset, Argyll, and Shrewsbury on the
history of the reign was immense. Nominally Whigs, they
were always opposed to the undisputed supremacy of one
party. They largely contributed to the fall of the Whigs
in 1710; they were the authors of the cotip d'etat at the end
of Anne's reign, which ruined the Tory party.

There was no doubt that the W^higs, at the beginning of
1710, had failed to secure the confidence of the Queen, and
had lost much of the support of the people. The middle


class had learned to regard the war administration with
disfavour. The ever-increasing burdens and the danger
of a financial crisis, brought home to them the necessity
of peace. It would appear from St. Johns expression of
his views at a much later period that he too shared the
general distrust of the funding system which had been
introduced at the Revolution, and that he too was as
ignorant as the majority of his countrymen of the capa-
bility of the nation to bear the burden of the National
Debt. " It is impossible," he says, in his Dissertation on
Parties^ " to look back without indignation at the mysterious
iniquity by which this system has been matured, or horror
to the consequences that may ensue from it " (Boling-
broke's Works, vol. iii. p. 296). The enormous increase
in the public debt under the influence of the funding
system had aroused almost universal apprehension at the
very moment when the motives of the Ministers in pro-
longing the war were being anxiously criticized. It was
thought that an honourable and profitable peace might
have been made at the Hague in 1709, or at Gertruyden-
burg in 1710. The suspicion was gaining ground that the
war was being unduly protracted for party purposes.

Marlborough, too, had temporarily lost much of his
popularity by his well-known love of wealth, by the large
amounts of public money absorbed by his connections, and
by his demand of the Captain-Generalship for life. Men
feared he might become a military dictator. " The shadow
of Cromwell," says Mr. Lecky, " fell darkly across the
path of Marlborough."

In London the Naturalization Act, passed early in 1709,
by which foreign Protestants could be naturalized, had
roused some excitement and indignation. The indignation
at the appearance of a great number of Germans, mostly
from the Palatinate, was due, not to social and economic
causes, but to a supposed danger to tha Church of


England, from their presence. These Germans, though
Protestants, were not Church of England men, and they
would, it was said, increase the ranks of the Noncon-
formists. The fanaticism of the masses was appealed to,
and London became strongly anti-Whig.

It was at this very time, when public feeling was run-
ning against the Whigs, that Godolphin made his momen-
tous and unfortunate decision to impeach Sacheverell.
This celebrated clergyman had preached sermons in 1709,
at Derby and at St. Paul's, in which he denounced the
Whigs, attacked Godolphin and Marlborough directly,
inveighed against toleration to Nonconformists, and in-
culcated plainly the duty of passive obedience. In spite
of the wish of Somerset and Marlborough not to make a
political matter of Sacheverell's sermons, the majority of
the Ministers persisted in seeing in those sermons a direct
impeachment of the principles of the Revolution. Entirely
underrating the strength of High Church Toryism, and
ignoring the immense influence of the ecclesiastical senti-
ment, they allowed their rage to get the better of their
discretion, and determined to assert the authority of Par-
liament over the Church. The prosecution of Sacheverell
roused a burst of enthusiasm on behalf of the Church from
one end of the country to the other. The war was for-
gotten. Men only remembered that their religion was in
danger. In the provinces the excitement was fully as
strong as that shown in London. The trial ended in
March, 17 10, and Parliament was prorogued early in April.
Taking advantage of the change of feeling in the country,
Anne, on April the 13th, then removed Kent, the Lord
Chamberlain, and appointed Shrewsbury in his place. The
same day she presented Sacheverell with the living of
St. Andrew's, Holborn. The astute Shrewsbury, who had
personal grievances against the Whigs, had for some time
past carried on secret intrigues with Harley. His un-


erring political instinct always led him to espouse the
winning cause, and his acceptance of office on April the
13th proved to be the first step in the downfall of the
Whig Ministry. In June, at Harley's suggestion, the un-
popular Sunderland was dismissed from office, and Dart-
mouth, a moderate Tory, received his appointment. In
August, Anne, at the instigation of her Tory advisers,
who now had ascertained that the nation had turned
against the Whigs, and that, come what might, there was
no fear of Marlborough's resignation, dismissed Godolphin;
with his fall, one of the most famous Ministries of the
annals of English history came to an end.

With the Sacheverell Trial Harley's intrigues with
Anne had undoubtedly assumed grave importance. Scribe's
" Un Verre d'Eau " gives an interesting, though unhis-
torical and exaggerated account of the influence of a
court intrigue upon the fate of Europe. There is little
evidence that St. John took any part in this intrigue. At
the end of 1709 there is a letter of the Duchess of Marl-
borough to Anne, in which that jealous and lynx-eyed lady
shows that she suspected the existence of some conspiracy.

"And who are those," she writes, "that you told me you had some-
where but a few inconsiderable men, that have undertaken to carry Mrs.
Masham up to a pitch of greatness, from which she would be thrown down
with infamy in a fortnight ? What did some people in your service ride
lately about from her to Mr. Harley at London, and thence to Mr.
St. John's in the country, and then back again to her, and so again to
London, as if they rid post all the while, but about some notable scheme,
which, I dare swear, would make the world very merry if it were known?"

St. John, no doubt, at this time, just as in 1707, was
fully aware of the private colloquies of Harley with the
Queen. That he was in their confidence is unlikely.
Neither Anne nor Harley had any wish to make a clean
sweep of the Whigs from the administration. A combina-
tion of moderate men chosen from both parties, and form-


ing " a new party, which should look to the sovereign in
person as its chief," would have suited their views ad-
mirably. St. John had so far shown no sympathy with
Harley's elaborate scheme for forming a mixed administra-
tion, and Harley had certainly shown no intention of giving
St. John a prominent position in the Ministry which he
had designed. Harley at first, with the entire concurrence
of Anne, and in accordance with his invariable views,
attempted to form a Coalition Ministry, including some of
the principal Whigs. If Cowper and Walpole would retain
their offices, he was ready to give St. John and Harcourt
only subordinate places. But, in his hour of triumph,
Harley found that all his hopes of forming an ideal
administration composed of men of both parties were
dashed to the ground. The Whigs refused to join him,
I or to entertain any idea of a compromise. He was com-
pelled to throw himself entirely on the Tories, and between
August and November a Tory Government was formed,
with Harley as virtual Prime Minister and Chancellor of
the Exchequer ; the other members being PouUett, Chief
Commissioner of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Ex-
chequer, June, 171 1 to November, 1713 ; Rochester, Presi-
dent of the Council ; Harcourt, Lord Keeper ; Ormonde,
Lord- Lieutenant of Ireland ; Newcastle (a Whig), Privy
Seal (succeeded in April, 171 1, by Robinson, Bishop of
Bristol) ; Dartmouth and St. John, Secretaries of State
respectively for the Southern and Northern Departments ;
Walpole, Treasurer of the Navy till January, 1711; and
Sir John Leake, First Lord of the Admiralty.



1710 1713.

Party spirit runs high — St. John's elevation to the post of Secretary of
State— Feelings of the Tory party— The elections of 17 10— Tory
foreign policy — Peace necessary — Difficulties in the way of peace — The
Examiner — Number Ten — Employment of Swift — Violence of the
Tory squires — The October Club — Discontent at Harley's indecision —
Guiscard's attack on Harley — Its effect — Harley becomes Earl of
Oxford — Growing rivalry between Oxford and St. John — Ergland's
true relation to the Allies considered — Negotiations opened with
France— Death of Joseph I., April, 171 1 — Failure of St. John's expe-
dition to North America — Arrival of Mesnager — Preliminary articles
signed in September — Discovery by the Allies of England's intention
to make peace — General excitement — St. John's measures — Publica-
tion of The Co7idnct of the Allies — The famous debate in the House
of Lords— Defeat of the Government — Dismissal of Marlborough^
Creation of Tory Peers — St. John continues his "strong remedies"-^
Opening of conferences at Utrecht, January 29, 1712— Protracted
character of the negotiations — St. John raised to the Peerage — Visits
Paris and sees Louis XIV. — Charges against Bolingbroke — Shrewsbury
sent to Paris, January, 17 13, to hasten the negotiations— Bolingbroke's
ultimatum — The treaties signed — Criticism of the Peace of Utrecht, of
the means by which it was brought about, and of its terms — The great-
ness of Bolingbroke's work — He anticipated the policy of Chatham — ■
Place occupied in English and French history by the Peace of Utrecht.

The history of the last four years of the reign of Anne has
yet to be written. Swift was too involved in the politics of
the time to write more than a party pamphlet, full of in-
accuracies, and partial from beginning to end. St. John
himself, after his return from exile, seiiously meditated
writing a history of Anne's reign, and sketched a general
plan of the proposed work. Unfortunately this idea was



never carried out, and his seventh and eighth Letters on

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryArthur HassallLife of Viscount Bolingbroke → online text (page 4 of 20)