Page images
PDF
EPUB

A.D. 1678.] DANBY'S DESPATCHES READ.

169

over that of the minister. He was not, however, without apprehension. He knew that the charge which he had brought might be retorted with tenfold energy against himself, and that the letters, in which he had originally suggested, and afterwards advised, the measure, were still in existence: but he gave credit to his adversary for a more delicate sense of honour than he possessed himself, and trusted that Danby would be restrained from the publication of those docuinents by the fear of betraying at the same time the secret views and negociations of the sovereign. In this respect he argued correctly ; for out of the whole correspondence the treasurer could find but two letters, which he might produce in his vindication without compromising the king. Both were forwarded to the house. The first, dated Jan. 1, N. S. gave information that Ruvigny was sent to London to treat through lord Russell with the popular leaders; the other of the 18th contained a proposal from Montague respecting a demand of money on a conclusion of peace, and a request that he might be furnished with instructions on that head. They were Dec. publicly read by the speaker, but no attention was paid 20. to them by the house, nor were they entered on the journals. The next day the impeachment was voted,

21. and sir Henry Capel received orders to carry it to the house of lords *.

* Danby says that the letters were not read (Danby, 102); but this, it appears from the journals (Dec. 20), is a mistake. They were moreover entered; and, what is still more extraordinary, the entry of Danby's letters omits the very important postscript in the hand of the king, testifying that the letter was written by his order. Was it then intended to keep this circumstance from the knowledge of the house? It has been answered no: that the letter, which had been read, and was entered, was a copy enly, wanting the postscript : for lord Russell said, “ Montague cannot "come at the originals now, but he has a copy of them." Whether that copy had, or had not the postscript, is immaierial: for lord Russell spoke before the messengers were sent for the box, and meant to inform the house that, if the originals had been seized, yet there was still a copy at their service. But no use was made of that copy because the messengers returned with the box, out of which Montagne himself took the originals, and delivered them to the speaker, who read them to the house. Mr. Williams immediately asked, "will any member aver this to be the treasurer's " letter?" Montague replied, " I conceive it to be his hand; for I have

This instrument accused the earl of Danby of high treason and other high crimes, misdemeanors, and offences; and in particular 1. of traitorously "accroching" to himself regal power by acting without communication with the secretaries of state and the other counsellors; 2. of endeavouring to subvert the ancient government by keeping on foot a standing army; 3. of negotiating a peace in favour of France to the prejudice of England, that he might in return obtain money from France for the support of that army; 4. of being popishly inclined, and of having concealed the popish plot; 5. of having wasted the royal treasure in secret services and useless pensions; and, lastly, of having obtained for himself grants from the crown contrary to the act of parliament*.

Of Montague's perfidy and baseness in this proceeding there can be but one opinion. He had charged the counsels, of which he was himself the author, on one by whom they had always been opposed; he had betrayed the confidence reposed in him by his sovereign, and had sold his services to that very power, whose intrigues he had been commissioned to watch and unravel. Nor can much be said in favour of the leaders by whom he was supported. They lent their powerful aid to the malice of a disappointed individual and the policy of a foreign court; they sought to interest the passions of the house by clamour and misrepresentation ; they voted charges which were, on the very face of them, false and absurd ; they affixed the penalties of treason to an offence which, . when fully proved, could amount to no more than a misdemeanor; and this sacrifice of honour, truth, and justice, they made for the paltry purpose of ruining the adverse leader of a political party. Their intemperance, however, had its usefulness. It taught succeeding ministers to recollect that, besides the sovereign whom they

had several letters from him in the same hand." Parl. Hist. iv. 1061. Hence it is plain that the original letters were read : and probable, that the postscript, as it was not afterwards entered, had been suppressed at the reading.

. C. Journ. Dec. 21.

A.D. 1678.]

DANBY S DEFENCE.

171

served, there existed another power, before which they might be compelled to answer, if, through obsequiousness to the royal will, they should presume to violate the existing laws, or to act in opposition to the acknowledged interests, of the country.

In the house of lords Danby defended himself with spirit and eloquence. It was, he owned, a misfortune to Dec.

23. lie under an impeachment by the house of commons; yet even with that misfortune upon him he deemed himself more happy than his accuser, abhorred as that accuser must be by every honest man, for his duplicity, his perfidy, and his ingratitude. Of the charges against him he spoke with contempt. He denied them all: he defied his adversaries to the proof: he asked for nothing but an equal and a speedy trial. The commons insisted that he should be committed a prisoner to the Tower ; but it was argued that not one of the offences specified in the impeachment amounted in law to high treason : after an adjourned debate the demand was refused, and a day was appointed on which the treasurer should give 27. his answer *.

The parliament had now lasted eighteen years. In its infancy it had been distinguished by a habit of blind obsequiousness, in its more mature age by a system of determined hostility, to the court. The duke of York long ago advised a dissolution: but Charles had listened to the contrary suggestions of the minister, who felt little for the personal embarrassments of the king's brother, as long as he hoped by promises and bribes to mould the majority to his own purposes. Now, however, this hope had vanished. An impeachment was hanging over his head: he could have no certain reliance on his innocence, at a time when the jealous and vengeful passions of the people were in the keeping of his adversaries; and there was reason to fear that the king, however resolute he might-profess to be at the moment, would ultimately

• L. Journ. xiii. 432–435, 441. Parl. Hist. iv. 1069. Reresby, 78.

yield to his habitual love of ease, and his constitutional apprehension of resistance. The treasurer's best chance of safety depended on an immediate termination of the session. It would, indeed, be accompanied with an inconvenience, the loss of a bill of supply for 640,0001. for the disbanding of the army: but for this might be sub

stituted the surplus revenue of the year and a loan from Dec.

the prince of Orange. Danby ventured to bring forward 30. the proposal in the council; and Charles readily pro

rogued the parliament for the space of five weeks *.

* L. Journ. 447. Rereshy, 78. The savings to the amount of 600,0001. had hitherto been applied towards the gradual extinction of the debt in. curred by the stoppage of the exchequer in 1672. Reresby, 67. Parl Hist. iv. 1063. 1071.

CHAPTER III.

CHARLES II.

The duke of York quits the kingdom-Danby parıloned by the king, but

imprisoned-New council-Debate on the bill of exclusion-Prorogation Execution of Mitchell in Scotland-Murder of archbishop SharpVictory and defeat of the Covenanters—Trial and execution of five Jesuits Of Langhorne-Acquittal of Wakeman-Dissolution of parlia. ment-Petitioners and abhorrers-Bill of exclusion lost in the house of lords-Trial and execution of viscount Stafford.

From the prorogation the lord treasurer derived this 1679. important benefit: it suspended the proceedings against him, and afforded him a breathing time to provide for his own security.

His first care was to break the combination of his enemies by entering into a private treaty with some of the leaders: the lord Holles in one house, and Lyttleton in the other, were induced to make to him, under certain conditions, a promise of neutrality, if not of support, on the question of impeachment; and the king by his advice dissolved the parliament, summoning Jan. at the same time another to meet at the expiration of forty

24. days. Never perhaps did a general election take place at a season of more intense excitement. The flame kindled in the capital had spread to the remotest corners of the country; and the minds of men'were agitated by rumours and jealousies the most extraordinary and unfounded. They believed at the same time that the king was a party to the conspiracy, and that his death was one of the great objects of the conspirators; they suffered their judgments to be swayed by words instead of facts, but by words apparently of tremendous import, though

« PreviousContinue »