William the Third: Part 5

It is very probable, indeed it may be said to be certain, that the total value of these forfeitures was grossly exaggerated by the commissioners; it is possible that it was to some extent wilfully exaggerated for party purposes. The lands forfeited in Ireland during the Revolution may have been worth "nearer half a million sterling than two millions and a half." It does not seem to me, however, that this is a point of the importance which Macaulay seems to attach to it. Even if it could be shown that the proportion of the royal grants to the total forfeitures was unduly magnified through an over-estimate of the value of the former, I cannot see that it would affect the merits of the case. The real gist of the charge against William in respect of these grants--a.s.suming, that is to say, that he was justified in making them at all without the sanction of Parliament--is to be sought not in a comparison of the royal benefactions with the amount of the property at his disposal, but in an examination of their proportions _inter se_.

Even if it be shown that he distributed property of the value not of a million sterling, but of only a fifth of that sum, it remains equally true in either case, that more than one-tenth of his bounty went to a single favourite who had little or no public services to show for them, and very nearly an eighth to a young man whose only claim upon him was that of being an able and faithful servant's eldest son. The grants to Albemarle and Woodstock are impossible to defend, and the latter almost impossible to explain. William had already loaded Portland with benefits, and to the vast estates he had bestowed upon him in England his eldest son would, in the natural course of events, succeed. On what ground, either of justice or even of sentiment, it could have been thought well to enrich the expectant heir of so much English landed property with 135,820 acres of forfeited Irish land is a mystery which has never been satisfactorily explained. As to the grant to Albemarle, it was of even worse example. Woodstock was at least the son of a counsellor to whom William owed much, and whom he might conceivably have regarded himself as rewarding in the person of his heir; but what had Keppel, a mere favourite, a young courtier with no other recommendations but his youth, his good looks, and his complaisance, a personality too closely recalling that of a "minion" of Henri Trois, and which in the Jacobite libels, not wisely to be thus supplied with colourable pretexts for their calumnies, was openly so described--what, one cannot but ask, had Keppel done to deserve a grant of 106,633 acres of the forfeited Irish land? Compare these two largesses, Woodstock's and Albemarle's, with those bestowed on Lord Romney, an ex-Secretary of State, and one of the leaders of the movement which brought William to England; on Lord Athlone, the stout Dutch soldier who, as General Ginkel, had given and taken many a hard knock in his master's service; on Lord Galway, that gallant Marquis de Ruvigny who had turned the flank of the Irish on the b.l.o.o.d.y day of Aghrim. Albemarle's, the smaller of the two, is more than twice that of Romney, nearly thrice that of Galway, more than four times that of Athlone. It was impossible for William to contend in the face of this evidence that he had simply been using the forfeited lands of Irish rebels to reward those public servants who had done most by valour in the field, or wisdom in the council-chamber, to establish firmly on the throne of England, the Prince chosen by the nation; and that therefore he was merely antic.i.p.ating the national reward which would have been conferred upon them, and virtually drawing upon one national fund in relief of prospective charges upon another. He could not even contend, as we have seen, that this was the _main_ use to which he had put the forfeitures; for though wisdom and valour had come in for a share of the spoils, their share was lamentably smaller than that which was won by mere arts of courtiership. There is, in short, no denying the fact that while William applied a part of this property to strictly public objects, or, in other words, to objects to which, but for such application of it, the public would have to contribute in another shape, he devoted far too large a portion of it to purposes of purely private benefaction, for which he would otherwise have had to resort to drafts upon his Civil List.[21]

But even this does not exhaust all the disagreeable elements in the transaction. Had the Irish forfeitures been simply in the nature of property "within the order and disposition" of the sovereign, and impressed with only a constructive trust for the benefit of the nation, the King's dealings with it would have been open to grave reprehension.

As a matter of fact, however, the property in question was the subject not of a mere constructive trust, but of an express recognition on William's part of its fiduciary character, and of a distinct promise that Parliament, as representing the _cestui que trust_, should have an opportunity of deciding on the proper mode of its application. On the 5th of January 1691 the King had closed the short autumn with a speech, in which he a.s.sured the Houses that he would not "make any grant of the forfeited lands in England and Ireland till there be another opportunity of settling that matter in Parliament, in such manner as shall be thought most expedient." This undertaking had reference to a Bill which had actually pa.s.sed the Commons for applying the Irish forfeitures, and which only failed to become law because William, who was due at the Congress then about to meet at the Hague, was compelled to prorogue Parliament before the Lords had had time to consider the measure. It is vain to contend that this promise was fulfilled, because several "opportunities" were given to Parliament to deal with the question--in the sense that several sessions were allowed to pa.s.s without Parliament moving in the matter--before William himself proceeded to grant away the forfeited lands. William was not ent.i.tled, under the circ.u.mstances, to infer any surrender of parliamentary control over the forfeitures from mere parliamentary inaction. Such an inference would in any case have been a somewhat questionable one; but this was a case in which the wishes of one branch of the Legislature had already been recorded in the form of a distinct legislative project. The King knew, in short, that the Commons desired to make Irish rebellion as far as possible pay for its own suppression; he knew that they looked to the value of the rebels' lands to afford partial relief to the English tax-payer from the heavy imposts to which he was being subjected; and when, knowing this, he proceeded to grant away large tracts of these lands, thus affected to the national service, at his own will and pleasure, and in many cases to persons whom the nation would never have consented to endow so munificently out of its own pocket, he was unquestionably dealing with his Parliament and people after a fashion which, in the case of a private individual standing in a.n.a.logous relation to other parties, would be severely condemned. If he intended to ignore his promise of January 1691 altogether, his grants were mere high-handed usurpations of right; if he relied upon the mere "allowance of opportunities" in the manner above mentioned as being a fulfilment of that promise, then he was guilty of something which can only be described in modern phraseology as sharp practice.

Undoubtedly the House of Commons might have proceeded with more moderation than they displayed, but the majority in that House felt that they had a good, and what was still better, a popular case against the King and his advisers; they knew that the country was sore with the weight of taxation, and jealous of the amount of royal favour bestowed upon foreigners; and they felt that they might rely upon the combined force of these two sentiments to support them in extreme measures.

Having gained their first triumph in the committal to the Tower of Sir Richard Levinge, one of the dissentient commissioners who had charged his colleagues with speaking disrespectfully of the sovereign in connection with these benefactions, they introduced the famous Resumption Bill, a measure by which all the royal grants were invalidated, and the whole of the alienated property resumed to the use of the State. In the Bill sent up to the Lords from the Lower House in 1690 it had been proposed to reserve a third part of the forfeitures to the King, and William was not without hopes that this reservation, which would just about have covered his grants to Woodstock, Albemarle, and the three other peers whose names have been mentioned above, would be renewed. The imperious majority, however, refused to hear of any such modification of their demands. They rejected a clause moved by Ministers for reserving at least some portion of the forfeitures to the King; and they carried resolutions to the effect that "the advising, procuring, and pa.s.sing of the grants in Ireland had been the occasion of contracting great debts, and laying heavy burdens upon the people; that the said grants reflected highly upon the King's honour; and that the officers and instruments concerned in procuring and pa.s.sing them had highly failed in the performance of their duty." These resolutions were presented to William at Kensington by the Speaker and leaders of the Opposition. William replied that he had thought himself bound to reward out of the forfeited property those who had served him well, and especially those who had borne a princ.i.p.al part in the reduction of Ireland. The war, he said, had undoubtedly left behind it a heavy debt, and he should be glad to see that debt reduced by just and effectual means.

The answer, though undoubtedly weak enough, seems scarcely open to one of the criticisms which Macaulay p.r.o.nounces upon it[22]. It would have been not so much injudicious as absurd on William's part to "hint" that the Irish forfeitures "could not justly be applied to the discharge of the public debts." His meaning could only have been that it would not be just to the grantees to resume their property in order to apply it to public uses. It would appear, however, that the House of Commons understood his words in the wider and less defensible sense. The Resumption Bill was pushed vigorously through the House of Commons, and in order to paralyze the expected resistance of the Lords, the expedient of tacking was again resorted to. The Bill was tacked to a Land Tax Bill for raising two shillings in the pound for the service of the next year, and then sent to the Upper House. It pa.s.sed its second reading by a considerable majority, but in committee and on the third reading several amendments were carried. It is highly significant, however, that though William was known to be very solicitous to obtain the confirmation of at least some of his Irish grants, and though the majority in the Lords in favour of the amendment may be supposed desirous of doing all that they reasonably could to gratify him, the Bill as regards his dealings with the Irish forfeitures was left untouched. The majority contented themselves with modifying certain arbitrary and inequitable provisions whereby the Lower House had sought to usurp jurisdiction over property which had never come to the Crown by forfeiture at all, and to grant estates and sums of money of their own authority, and without the const.i.tutional intermediation of the Crown, to certain favoured individuals. Thus amended, the Bill was sent back to the Lower House, where it met of course with the very reception which the expedient of tacking was designed, in the event of its coming back with amendments, to secure for it. Parties had been much divided as to the policy of tacking the Resumption Bill to a money Bill; but as to the duty of resisting an attempt on the part of the Lords to amend a Bill sent up to them in this fashion parties were united. The amendments were rejected _nemine dissentiente_, and at the conference which followed the Lords were informed by the managers of the Commons that the point of const.i.tutional practice was too well settled to be arguable, and that the Bill was left in their hands along with the responsibility of all the serious consequences which must follow its rejection. The Lords nevertheless for a time stood firm; they resolved by a majority of thirteen to adhere to their amendments, and on the following day the Bill was, on a second conference, returned once more to the Commons, by whom it was once more sent back to the Lords, with an intimation that the determination of the Lower House was unalterable. This was on the 10th of May, and the whole of that day and night the greatest public excitement prevailed. The deadlock between the two Houses had reached such a point that if both refused to give way, and the supplies were consequently lost, a complete dislocation of the national business, accompanied in all probability by dangerous popular disturbance, would have a.s.suredly followed.

From this peril the country was saved at the critical moment by the good sense and magnanimity of William. His behaviour was the more creditable to him because not only was he eager, as has been said, for the rejection of the Resumption Bill, but he had taken so active a part in the attempt to bring about that result that surrender must necessarily subject him to additional humiliation. There can be no doubt from the account given by Burnet, whose own painful perplexity between the claims of courtiership and patriotism increases the value of his testimony on the subject, that William had tried hard to procure the defeat of the measure. "The King," says the Bishop, "seemed resolved to venture on all the ill consequences that might follow the losing this Bill, though these would probably have been fatal. As far as we can judge either another session of that Parliament or a new one would have banished the favourites and begun the Bill anew with the addition of obliging the grantees to refund all the mesne profits. Many in the Lords, that in all other things were very firm to the King, were for pa.s.sing the Bill, notwithstanding the King's earnestness for it, since they apprehended the ill consequences that were like to follow if it was lost." On the 5th of April he told Portland that if the Bill was not stopped in the Upper House he should count all lost; and on the same day he declared that he was resolved not to pa.s.s the Bill, and that the only question was whether he should prorogue the Parliament on that day or on the following Monday. On or before the 10th of April he had reflected more maturely on the situation, and with that intuitive recognition of when to give way, which only strong rulers ever seem to exhibit, and which the masterful Elizabeth had displayed before him, he saw that the time had arrived to yield. He took steps to have it conveyed to his adherents in the Upper House that he desired the Bill to pa.s.s; and on the sitting of the following day, May 11, the Lords withdrew their amendments and accepted the Bill in its original form. Thus pa.s.sed away a most perilous crisis, and William, by the fine temper and moral courage with which he thus submitted to perhaps the most galling rebuke ever inflicted upon a monarch by a legislative a.s.sembly, must be admitted to have gone far to atone for the serious error of his previous action. He was, however, and not unnaturally, of opinion that he had done enough in the cause of the peace, and the next day, in order to prevent the presentation to him of an address from the Commons, praying that no person not a native, except Prince George of Denmark, should be admitted to his Majesty's Councils in England or Ireland, he came down and prorogued Parliament without a speech.

The whole of the year 1700 was destined to abound in fresh troubles for this sorely-tried and now fast waning life. No sooner had the English Parliament separated than the Scotch Parliament met; and their first business was to espouse the cause of their foolish and unlucky countrymen who had taken part in the famous "Darien expedition," and were now under detention by the Spanish Government at Carthagena. The notable scheme in which these men had thus lost their liberty, and so many thousands of other Scotchmen their property, was originated by an adventurer of the name of Paterson, and depended for its success on the double a.s.sumption that the territorial owners of the country on which they proposed to found a trading station for the avowed purpose of diverting trade from these owners' hands into their own would respect their occupancy, and that the burning heat and malarious climate of an equatorial region would spare their lives. Neither of these a.s.sumptions had been realised. The sun and the swamps had thinned the number of the settlers to a handful, and this remnant had been besieged, forced to capitulate, and expelled from the isthmus by the forces of Spain.

William promised, in reply to an address from the Edinburgh legislators, to demand the release of the Carthagena prisoners; but when the Scotch Parliament proceeded to pa.s.s a resolution affirming that the colony in Darien was a legal and rightful settlement, and that the Parliament would maintain and support the same, the King thought it high time to put a check on their proceedings. This he endeavoured to do through the royal commissioner by means of repeated adjournments carried to such an extent as to cause riots in Edinburgh, and at last, by dint of conciliatory replies to their resolutions, and possibly by gratifications of a more substantial kind, succeeded not only in pacifying his northern subjects on this matter, but in bringing them, before the close of the session at the end of the year, into a state of such loyal complaisance that, unlike their English brethren, the Scotch legislators voted for keeping on foot the whole of the land forces that existed in the kingdom when the session began.

The time was now fast approaching when William's military policy was to be justified by events. Throughout the whole of this year the struggle of rival Powers over the fast decaying body of the unhappy Charles had gone spiritedly forward at the Court of Madrid. The combatants, however, were unequally matched. On the side of France were enlisted the services of Cardinal Portocarrero, who soon succeeded in removing the King's confessor--an Austrian instrument--and subst.i.tuting another in the French interests. The terrors of religion were then brought to bear upon the wretched sovereign in a strength sufficient to overcome his natural leanings in the matter of the disposition of his crown and kingdom towards his own Austrian flesh and blood. They persuaded the unhappy imbecile that he had been bewitched through Austrian agency; they persuaded the populace of Madrid that the partisans of Austria had brought about a famine. Having at last succeeded in utterly discrediting the rival party, and working upon the superst.i.tion of Charles until he believed that if he ousted his Bourbon heir from the succession he would be inevitably d.a.m.ned, the French faction finally induced him to sign a will appointing Philip, Duke of Anjou, universal successor to the Spanish monarchy. A month afterwards this miserable slave of the priest and the plotter at last obtained his manumission. He died on the 1st of November 1700, and William then learnt for the first time that the months of laborious negotiations spent on the successive framing of two carefully-drawn treaties had been completely thrown away. For a brief s.p.a.ce of time, indeed, he remained in doubt whether Louis really intended to play him false, but before the middle of the month of November all uncertainty was at an end. Louis threw over the Part.i.tion Treaty and adopted the will. The Duke of Anjou was despatched into Spain with the historic exclamation touching the effacement of the Pyrenees--mountains certainly not in this instance removed by "faith,"--and William had the intolerable chagrin of discovering not only that he had been befooled, but that his English subjects had no sympathy with him or animosity against the royal swindler who had tricked him. "The blindness of the people here," he writes sadly to the Pensionary Heinsius, "is incredible. For though the affair is not public, yet it was no sooner said that the King of Spain's will was in favour of the Duke of Anjou, than it was the general opinion that it was better for England that France should accept the will than fulfil the Treaty of Part.i.tion."

FOOTNOTES:

[20] It was justly contended by the dissentient commissioners that these lands had pa.s.sed to William by his father-in-law's abdication in 1688, and did not therefore come properly within the purview of an inquiry limited to forfeitures occurring since February 13, 1689. The majority of the commission insisted, however, paradoxically enough, that James's Irish estates were only forfeited on, and by, his invasion of Ireland in March of the latter year.

[21] The grants to Lady Orkney, of which so much was made by the country party at the time, raised a totally different question on another level, so to speak, of political morality. These grants were made out of William's inheritance from his predecessor; and though Macaulay is no doubt abstractedly right in arguing that William should have pensioned his mistress out of economies effected in his Civil List than by alienating his hereditary revenue, the remark is from the practical point of view somewhat of an anachronism. In our day, when the lands of the Crown are formally vested in commissioners by the sovereign in consideration of his Civil List at the commencement of each reign, the quasi-national character of this property is fixed and emphasised. But no sovereign before William's time had regarded it in this light, or recognised any implied restraint upon alienation; and William, with Charles II.'s grants to his numerous mistresses before his eyes, may well be excused for thinking his gift to Lady Orkney not only justifiable but laudably moderate.

[22] The context of the pa.s.sage, "The Commons murmured, etc., 'His Majesty tells us,' they said, 'that the debts fall to us, and the forfeitures to him'" (_Hist. Eng._ v. 271), appears clearly to show that Macaulay supposed William to be speaking of the whole of the forfeitures as not justly applicable to the public debt. His own previous words will just admit (though not in strict grammar) of the construction that the King was referring only to the "one-fifth part of these estates" which had pa.s.sed to deserving grantees; but if this is to be its construction, Macaulay's favourite boast that he had written no sentence capable of being misunderstood would have to be abandoned.

CHAPTER XV

1701-1702

English indifference on the Spanish question--Death of James II. and Louis's recognition of the Pretender--Reaction in England--Dissolution of Parliament--Support of William's policy by its successor--The Treaties--Accident to William --His illness and death--Character--The Whig legend examined --His great qualities as man and ruler--Our debt to him.

The insensibility of Englishmen to a danger which weighed heavily on the mind of William was exactly matched by his own indifference to one which appeared extremely serious to them. William dreaded the idea of a Bourbon reigning at Madrid, but he saw no very grave objection, as the two treaties showed, to Naples and Sicily pa.s.sing into French hands.

With his English subjects the exact converse was the case. They strongly deprecated the a.s.signment of the Mediterranean possessions of the Spaniard to the Dauphin; but they were undisturbed by the sight of the Duke of Anjou seating himself on the Spanish throne. It has been said that on their own principles they ought to have disliked the will even more than the Part.i.tion Treaties, because the former doc.u.ment, in devising _all_ the possessions of Spain to the Duke of Anjou, "gave precisely the same advantages to France on the Mediterranean" as she would have obtained under the Treaties. But this argument obviously begs the whole question against the English view by a.s.signing to the word "France" a meaning which it was of the essence of that view to repudiate. The very gist of the English case was that "France" and "the second son of the French Dauphin barred from the succession to the French Crown" were not convertible terms. Had Englishmen in general so regarded them, they would perhaps have been as jealous of the Duke of Anjou's succession to the Spanish throne as was William himself. They held, however,--whether rightly or wrongly, and I have already stated my reason for thinking that at the time and in the circ.u.mstances they were wrong--that the elevation of Louis's grandson to the Spanish throne did not mean the "solidarity" of France and Spain.[23] But while the Duke of Anjou, considered as the owner of the two Sicilies, did not in their opinion stand for "France," the Dauphin, who was to have had them under the Part.i.tion Treaties, undeniably did. The heir to the Crown of France of course is France, not as a matter of opinion, but as a matter of fact. The English view therefore, however mistaken on the point of policy, was una.s.sailable on the ground of logic; and its inherent plausibility, in addition to the national dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Treaties had been negotiated, would, in all probability, have made it impossible for William to carry the country with him in a war policy directed against France.

But just as, under a discharge from an electric battery, two repugnant chemical compounds will sometimes rush into sudden combination, so at this juncture the King and the nation were instantaneously united by the shock of a gross affront. The hand that liberated the uniting fluid was that of the Christian king. On the 16th of September 1701 James II.

breathed his last at St. Germains, and, obedient to one of those impulses, half-chivalrous, half-arrogant, which so often determined his policy, Louis XIV. declared his recognition of the Prince of Wales as _de jure_ King of England. No more timely and effective a.s.sistance to the policy of its _de facto_ king could possibly have been rendered. Its effect upon English public opinion was instantaneous; and when William returned from Holland on the 4th of November, he found the country in the temper in which he could most have wished it to be. Still he hesitated for a while as to whether or not he should dissolve Parliament. Sunderland, for whose astuteness and profound knowledge of English politics William entertained a respect unqualified, as was usual with that cool and cynical observer of men, by any repugnance he might have felt for the ex-Minister's political profligacy, had been consulted by him on this point through Somers both before and since the death of James; and this sagacious counsellor had urgently recommended a dissolution, predicting that it would result in a signal triumph of the Whigs. On the 7th of November William laid the question before his Privy Council, who were divided in opinion, and, acting on his own judgment, he then determined to dissolve. On the 11th of the month the royal proclamation to that effect was issued, and the new Parliament summoned to meet on the 31st of December. The result did not, indeed, completely bear out Sunderland's prediction, but it proved that a marked change had taken place in the opinion of the country; for, though the Tories managed still to hold their own in the smaller boroughs, the Whigs carried most of the counties and great towns. Their opponents, however, were strong enough to re-elect Harley to the Speakership, his nomination being seconded by his afterwards yet more famous political ally, Henry St. John, the future Lord Bolingbroke. William addressed the Houses in a speech of unusual length and earnestness, in which he recalled the "high indignity" offered to himself and the nation by Louis's recognition of the pretended Prince of Wales as King of England, and the dangers with which England and Europe were threatened by the elevation of his grandson to the Spanish throne. To obviate these dangers he had, he told them, concluded several alliances, and treaties for the conclusion of others were still pending. He went on to remind them that the eyes of all Europe were upon this Parliament, and "all matters at a standstill until their resolution was known. Therefore," said he, "no time ought to be lost; you have an opportunity, by G.o.d's blessing, to secure to you and your posterity the quiet enjoyment of your religion and liberties, if you are not wanting to yourselves, but will exert the ancient vigour of the English nation; but I tell you plainly my opinion is, if you do not lay hold on this occasion you have no reason to hope for another."

He concluded with an exhortation, almost pa.s.sionate for him, to lay aside "the unhappy fatal animosities" which divided and weakened them.

"Let me conjure you to disappoint the only hopes of our enemies by your unanimity. I have shown, and will always show, how desirous I am to be the common father of my people; do you in like manner lay aside parties and divisions; let there be no other distinction heard of among us in future but of those who are for the Protestant religion and the present Establishment, and of those who mean a Popish prince and a French Government."

This stirring speech produced its due effect. Opposition in Parliament--in the country it was already inaudible--was completely silenced. The two Houses sent up addresses a.s.suring the King of their firm resolve to defend the succession against the pretended Prince of Wales and all other pretenders whatsoever. The Commons declared independently--in those days addresses from the two Houses were not as now identical in terms--that they would to the utmost of their power enable his Majesty to make good all such alliances as he had made--an omission from the address of the Upper House which their Lordships subsequently supplied. Nor did the goodwill of Parliament expend itself in words. The Commons accepted without a word of protest the four treaties const.i.tuting the new Grand Alliance, though the inequality of some of their conditions as regarded England, and the self-seeking motives which actuated one at least of their continental signatories, were apparent on the face of them. The votes of supply were pa.s.sed unanimously, and ere the Parliament had well completed the first fortnight of its existence a Bill of Attainder against the Prince of Wales--in which the Lords endeavoured, but in vain, to include Mary of Modena--had pa.s.sed both Houses. But the King's a.s.sent to this, as also to an Abjuration Bill directed to the same object, had to be given by commission; for William was now already sickening to his death. His always feeble health had become feebler during the winter; his constant asthma had told heavily upon the condition of his lungs; his legs had swollen to an extent which led his doctors, though erroneously it would seem, to suspect dropsy; he had, in fact, arrived at that state of body in which any accident might be fatal. On Sat.u.r.day, the 21st of February, he set out from Kensington on horseback to hunt, according to his weekly custom, at Hampton Court. On the road his horse stumbled over a molehill,[24] and fell with his rider, who fractured his right collar-bone. William was taken to Hampton Court, where the bone was set, and the surgeon, finding him feverish, recommended bleeding. This he declined, and, contrary to advice, insisted on returning that evening to Kensington, where it appeared that the setting of the bone had been displaced by the motion of the carriage, and the operation had to be repeated. William slept well, and for a few days no signs of mischief appeared. But, as was afterwards shown by the autopsy, the fall from his horse had violently detached a diseased portion of his lungs from its adhesion to the walls of the thoracic cavity, and this had set up pulmonary inflammation. On the 28th of February he found himself unable to attend Parliament in person, and accordingly conveyed to the Houses by way of message his last recommendation of a project which, ever since the beginning of his reign, he had had much at heart--that, namely, of effecting a legislative union between England and Scotland.

On the next day alarming symptoms appeared. The a.s.sent to the Prince of Wales's Attainder Bill was given by commission, and a week later, on the 7th of March, when it became necessary to issue another commission for a similar purpose, William was past the power of subscribing the sign-manual, which had to be affixed by a stamp. "_Je tire vers ma fin_," he murmured to Albemarle, who had arrived from Holland the same night; and, as the perversity of fate had willed it, he who had from boyhood sought death everywhere, had not for years perhaps been so little prepared to meet it. "Sometimes he would have been glad, he told Portland, to have been delivered out of all his troubles, but he confessed now he saw another scene, and could wish to live a little longer." It was another scene indeed--the whole web of his Spanish policy unravelled, his great enemy once more powerful for mischief, the whole work of his life to do again!

He lived through the night, but that was all. Burnet and Tillotson had gone to him that morning and did not quit him till he died. The Archbishop prayed with him some time, but he was then so weak that he could scarcely articulate. "About five o'clock on Sat.u.r.day morning he desired the Sacrament, and went through the office with great appearance of seriousness, but could not express himself; when this was done he called for the Earl of Albemarle and gave him a charge to take care of his papers. He thanked M. Auverquerque for his long and faithful services. He took leave of the Duke of Ormond, and called for the Earl of Portland, but before he came his voice quite failed; so he took him by the hand and carried it to his heart with great tenderness. Between seven and eight o'clock the rattle began; the commendatory prayer was said for him, and as it ended he died."

More than one hundred and eighty years have pa.s.sed since that morning; but though the fierce political controversies which raged around the person and character of the dead man, leaving, perhaps, no quality but his courage una.s.sailed, have long since subsided, some into utter silence, others into moderation, it is impossible to say that their disturbing force is altogether spent. A faint echo from those furious clamours may still be heard mingling with the voice of History; a ripple from those distant billows still breaks the mirror of her judgment. It could hardly be otherwise. The principles of which William was in part the voluntary and in part the unchoosing champion have triumphed so completely that they find nowadays no avowed opponent, and scarcely even any secret enemy; but it was William's destiny to have been identified in the promotion and defence of them with an English political party whose many excellent qualities as statesmen and citizens have been always a.s.sociated with a moral and intellectual temper which, for a century and a half, has offered a standing provocation to men of every other political school. Fate made William of Orange a Whig hero, and in arranging his preliminary condition ordained also by inevitable sequence his exposure to some measure of the polemical resentments which his votaries have never failed to concentrate upon themselves. That the Whigs of his own day should have behaved as they did, on many occasions exceedingly ill to him, is no more unnatural than that they should have unduly exaggerated his virtues after his death. Both their ill-treatment and their excessive eulogy of him were, in different ways, the expression of the same modest confidence in their own civil deserts. The Whigs believed themselves ent.i.tled not only to an exclusive interest in a living Whig-made king, but also to as much capital as could be made out of his posthumous renown. If they behaved ill to him at times during his life, it was to a.s.sert the just claims of the Whig party; if they over-praised him when dead, it was by way of just tribute to the Whig virtues.

Far be it from me to suggest that William of Orange needs any such artificial additions to his legitimate glory. They are mentioned merely to account for and excuse the fact that an impartial review of his career and character needs to be commenced with what might otherwise seem words of captious disparagement. It is absolutely necessary to strip off the draperies of partisanship in order to see the real man beneath; but that truly heroic figure can well afford it.

William of Orange, I maintain then, is not to be regarded as altogether that "patriot king," that "sovereign of the people," which it has pleased his Whig devotees to discover in him, still less as that sort of antic.i.p.atory and prophetic political philosopher for which he pa.s.ses in the legend of some Whig const.i.tutionalists. No doubt he had a distinct popular fibre in his nature. The great-grandson of his great-grandfather can hardly have been wanting in sympathy with popular aspirations, or in belief in the might and virtue of popular forces. But such sentiments have been the birthright of many a man whose instincts were the very reverse of democratic; and there is no reason to think that William either foresaw or would have relished that growth of the democratic element in English government to which he inevitably contributed so powerful a stimulus. He was not, it must be remembered, a democrat even in his own country; on the contrary, his strongest impulses were essentially of aristocratic origin. It was not his Protestant enthusiasm, though this was ardent enough, nor his love of his country and his hatred of foreign dictation, though these pa.s.sions were strong and sincere enough, which were the dominant influences in moulding his youthful character. It was pride of ancestry, the memory of William the Silent, resentment at the fallen fortunes of his house, and resolution to restore them. These it was which first inspired him with an ambition essentially personal in its character, and it was not till this ambition had been gratified by his elevation to higher dignities even than his forefathers, that the other impulses of birth or training can be said to have begun to sway him at all. And until that ambition was gratified he was not only capable of all the virtues of the ambitious, but an adept in their vices also. He was but sixteen when he taught his mother the wisdom of disarming the suspicion of the Pensionary De Witt by pretended cordiality, and earned the criticism of the shrewd French envoy d'Estrades that he was "a great dissembler, and omitted nothing to gain his ends." So, too, one can hardly doubt that it was ambition rather than zeal for liberty and Protestantism that first inspired him with that design of intervention in England, which must have just taken shape in his mind shortly after the return of Dykvelt from his mission of 1687. His succession, or rather his wife's succession, was safe enough if Mary of Modena bore no male issue to James. But she might and did bear such issue, in a child whose claims could only be set aside by a revolution; and even had no heir apparent been born to the throne, the position of William accepting the English crown conjointly with his wife in his capacity as liberator of the English people would be something very different from that of a king-consort, which was all he could otherwise have hoped to be. It is surely not unjust to a man of William's antecedents to believe that from the hour that he learned the strength of his party in England, down to the hour when he was presented with the crown in the banqueting chamber at Whitehall, he had eyes for little else than the great European future which would open before him as King of England; and that any hesitations he may have shown in accepting the sovereignty were as purely politic as those of Caesar at the Lupercal.

As regards his att.i.tude towards English political inst.i.tutions in general, and the _voluntary_ element in his share in developing them, the Whig legend appears to me more purely mythical still. At no time in his life did William show the slightest personal predilection for or even faith in parliamentary inst.i.tutions, still less in party government. He looked upon the English Parliament as a clumsy and irritating instrument, blunt at one part, dangerously double-edged at another, which he was nevertheless bound to work with and make the best of. That he was the first to try the system of a party ministry and party government is, as I have essayed to show, a fact of little significance. He tried it as he tried other means of managing the apparently otherwise unmanageable, as he had at first tried dividing offices of State among the leading men of both parties, and as he had tried and continued to try the method of corruption for the rank and file. As to any preference of one English party to another there is no trace of such a feeling in his mind. From the moral point of view, I imagine, he regarded most of the leaders of both parties with an equal, and, it may be, with an equally just, contempt; but with his intellectual appreciations he never allowed his moral judgment to interfere. He used the unscrupulous Tory Marlborough and the unscrupulous Whig Sunderland with an impartial indifference to their political profligacy. He made trial, in fact, of all English public men and of all political expedients to serve his European ends, which were sometimes but not always English ends also; and thus it was that though he experimentalised with the strict party system in order to secure a Parliament which would support the war energetically in 1695, yet in the next Parliament, his immediate object being gained, he showed no disposition to prosecute that experiment on abstract political grounds.

It is impossible to represent a ruler of this kind, however wise and moderate, as _consciously_ training our parliamentary inst.i.tutions upon the peculiar lines of growth which they subsequently followed.

Yet after all these deductions there remains to William, both as a European statesman and as a benefactor to our country, an ample margin of renown. Of his moral and mental stature as a man it is scarcely necessary to speak. It must be patent to all but the dullest prejudices of our day as it was to all but the fiercest pa.s.sions of his own. It is the highest praise of his high qualities to say that our impression of them easily survives the reaction from idolatry, and that after we have thrown aside the magnifying-gla.s.s of Whiggism the objects which it was used to exaggerate still fill the eye. If William had not all the virtues which belong to the patriot and philosopher, he had all that go to the making of the hero. Even Macaulay, who has over painted both his king-craft and his statesmanship, has not laid on the colours of his heroism with too bold a hand. Sagacious as he undoubtedly was in counsel, dexterous as he was in the management of men, keen as was his outlook on European politics, and resourceful as he was in meeting its exigencies, it is possible to contend that his Whig eulogist has credited him with far more than the keenness and sagacity, the dexterity and resource, which he possessed. But such eulogy does not, for it could not, materially exaggerate his great features as a man--his patience of delay and disappointment, his fort.i.tude under disaster, his imperturbable composure in moments of crisis, his lofty magnanimity, which from its high place seemed literally to overlook rather than to forgive injuries, his haughty courage, which thought it equal shame to glance aside at the lurking a.s.sa.s.sin and to turn away from the open foe.

His character was stern, forbidding, unamiable, contemptuously generous, as little fitted to attract love as it was a.s.sured of commanding respect; but it bears in every lineament the unmistakable stamp of greatness. And his achievements were as great as his character. His record as a ruler pure and simple, as a mere expert in the art of governing, has never been surpa.s.sed, perhaps never equalled, in history.

The showy administrative exploits of a Napoleon with vast armies at his back, and the pen of a despotism in his hand, appear to me to sink into insignificance when compared with those of this ruler of four nations--a const.i.tutional sovereign in England and Scotland, the chief of a republic in Holland, and a military autocrat, governing by the sword alone, in Ireland,--who for eleven years successfully directed the affairs of these alien and often mutually hostile communities, and who throughout all that time held in one hand the threads of a vast network of European diplomacy, and in the other the sword which kept the most formidable of European monarchs at bay. Nor should we omit from the comparison that he did all this under moral restraints and physical disadvantages to which Napoleon was a total stranger, impeded by obligations to law, munic.i.p.al and international, which Napoleon set cynically at defiance, and distressed throughout his life by bodily ailments which never troubled the Corsican's iron frame.

Nor in what has been written in criticism of the Whig legend would I for a moment be suspected of undervaluing the debt which Englishmen owe to William of Orange. It is not necessary to exalt him into a divinely inspired progenitor of the British Const.i.tution in order to recognise fully the greatness of the services which he rendered to it. He was not "Father of the Const.i.tution" in the sense in which the poet is the father of his poem, or the philosopher of his theory; but a.s.suredly he was so in the sense in which we say that a child has found a "second father" in an upright guardian, who, while not, it may be, comprehending his character, or in sympathy with his spirit, or foreseeing his future, has yet been his vigilant protector through the perils of childhood, and has accounted for his patrimony to the uttermost farthing. That William stood in this relation to our modern English polity throughout his too short reign, and that he loyally discharged its obligations, is indisputable. The virtues which enabled him to do so were mainly three, which are essential to all good and faithful guardianship, whether of children or const.i.tutions--the virtues of good sense, self-restraint, and honesty. And the greatest of these three is honesty. William's practical wisdom always told him the moment when to yield in a struggle with his Parliament; and when that moment arrived his naturally pa.s.sionate temper never failed to answer to the rein. But even at those moments there would often have been an evil alternative open to him, from which the fundamental integrity of his nature always turned aside.

He scrupled not to use all the arts of political "management" which were sanctioned by the lax morality of his day; he exerted his prerogative freely to gain his ends; but he knew that the compact between him and his people was that in the last resort the will of the people should prevail, and this compact he never attempted either to violate or to evade. Here he was as emphatically a _Re Galantuomo_, a "King Honest-man," as was Victor Emmanuel himself.

"Hos ante effigies majorum pone tuorum, Praecedant ipsas illi, te consule, virgas."

Rulers who have earned this name may justly rank it, if only for its rarity, above every other t.i.tle of honour--even though, themselves the creators or regenerators of nations, they can look back upon the splendid achievements of the Counts of Na.s.sau, or the long ancestral glories of the House of Savoy.

FOOTNOTES:

[23] That Louis intended it to mean this is pretty obvious from his remark about the effacement of the Pyrenees.

[24] The nature of the impediment lives for history in the Jacobite toast which so grimly reflects the brutal pa.s.sions of the time--"To the little gentleman in black velvet that works underground."

THE END

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