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A.D. 1676.]

INTRIGUE OF RUVIGNY.

89

was become the yearly pensioner of another monarch ; he was no longer the arbiter of his own conduct; he had bound himself to consult, with respect to foreign powers, the master whose money he received. Perhaps he might console himself with the notion, that it was less disgraceful to depend on a powerful monarch, from whose alliance he could disengage himself at pleasure, than on the party among his own subjects, which constantly opposed him in parliament: perhaps he felt a malicious pleasure in defeating the machinations of his adversaries, whom he knew to be, in pecuniary transactions, not more immaculate than himself. For it is a fact, that several among those who claimed the praise of patriotism by their opposition to the court, were accustomed to sell their services for money. It seemed as if the votes of the members of parliament were exposed for sale to all the powers of Europe. Some received bribes from the lord treasurer on account of the king ; some from the Dutch, Spanish, and Imperial ambassadors in favour of the confederates; some even from Louis at the very time when they loudly declaimed against Louis as the great enemy of their religion and liberties. For that prince, notwithstanding the recent treaty, did not implicitly rely on the faith of Charles: he sought in addition to secure the good will of those who, by their influence in parliament, might have it in their power to withdraw the king from his promise of neutrality. Ruvigny was instructed to seek adherents among them, to offer to them presents on condition that they should refuse supplies to Charles, and to co-operate with them in their attempts to ruin Danby, whom they considered as their political enemy, and Louis knew to be the stanch friend of the prince of Orange. His efforts were successful, and, though we have not the means of tracing the progress of the intrigue, we know that he was made acquainted with the counsels and projects of the party. But Ruvigny was recalled ; Courtin succeeded him, and the accounts: of Courtin will reveal the names of the patriots who sold themselves to France, and of the price at which their services were valued *.

During the long prorogation, and with the aid of his foreign pension, the necessitous monarch enjoyed a sea sonable relief from the cares and agitation in which he had lived for several years. Age and satiety had blunted his appetite for pleasure, and the enjoyment of ease was become the chief object of his wishes. He retired to Windsor, where he spent his time in the superintendence of improvements, the amusement of fishing, and the company and conversation of his friends. His neutrality in the great contest which divided the powers of the continent, whatever might be its real motive, found a sufficient justification in the numerous benefits which it conferred on the country. While almost every other nation in Europe complained of the privations and charges of war, England enjoyed the blessings of peace. She was free from the pressure of additional taxation, and knew nothing of those evils which necessarily accompany the operations of armies. Her mariners monopolised the carrying trade of Europe ; new channels of commerce were daily opened by the enterprise of her merchants; and their increasing prosperity gave a fresh stimulus to the industry of her inhabitants •f. It was, however, the care of the popular leaders to keep alive, as far as they were able, the spirit of discontent. Political clubs were established ; pamphlets, renewing the old charges against the government, were published; the ears of men were perpetually assailed with complaints of the growth of popery, and of the progress of arbitrary power; their eyes were A.D. 1676.] PROCLAMATION AGAINST COFFEE-HOUSES. 91. directed to the theatre of war on the continent, as the great arena on which the fate of their liberty and religion was to be decided; and the preservation of these was described as depending on the humiliation of France, though France was aided in the contest by the protestant state of Sweden, and opposed by the two great catholic powers, Austria and Spain.

• Brisbane io Danby's Letters, 309. 312. 314. 324. Dalrymple, ii. 110, 111. 129.

+ " The king,” says Brisbane in a letter to the earl of Danby, hath “ succeeded in the improvement of trade and navigation beyond the “ hopes of those who talked of it seventeen years ago : .::

and now the “trade of England is at such a height, that it is as hard to think it can con""tinue so, as it was hard to believe once it would ever rise to it." 25th June, 1677. Danby's Letters, 315.

The members of the council were not slow to oppose these arts of their adversaries. They had recourse to the press in vindication of their conduct; they warned the people in the king's name against the authors and retailers of false and disloyal reports; and they resolved to put down the coffee-houses, as seminaries of sedition, and the constant resort of agents employed to spread among

the
company

libels

against the sovereign and the government. Though the owners of these establishments had taken out licences in conformity with the law, it was discovered that the statute made no mention of the time during which the licence should remain in force; and from this omission a conclusion was drawn, that it must be considered revocable at pleasure. The judges, who did not agree, would give no opinion : but the question was argued before the council, and the attorney-general received instructions to prepare a proclamation, ordering all coffee-houses to be shut up; “ because in such houses, and by the meeting of disaf

fected persons in them, divers false, malicious, and “ scandalous reports were devised and spread abroad, to the defamation of his majesty's government, and the "disturbance of the quiet and peace of the realm.” The remedy, however, was productive of more mischief than the evil which it sought to abate. It gave a real foundation to charges which before rested merely on conjecture. It was with reason described as an unjust and cruel proceeding towards the occupiers of the houses; as a violation of the right of Englishmen to meet and discuss political subjects; and as an unanswerable proof of the arbitrary projects secretly cherished by the court.

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Its authors, repenting of their precipitancy, had the prudence to retrace their steps; and on the presentation of a petition to that effect, a general licence was granted to re-open the coffee-houses, but with this condition, that the keepers of such establishments should prevent in them the reading and publication of libels against the

king and his government *. May Another subject of complaint was furnished by the 31. alleged depredations of the French cruisers on the Eng

lish commerce. In the course of seven months fiftythree sail had been captured and carried into the French ports under the pretence that the ships or their cargo were Dutch property, which it had been fraudulently attempted to cover with the English flag. Charles, though he looked on this as an unavoidable evil during a maritime war, ordered the most energetic remonstrances to be made at the French court; and Louis, whose interest it was to avoid a quarrel with England, gave orders that justice should be done between the captors and the claimants. Some ships were restored, many were condemned.

The sufferers complained ; their complaints were echoed by the writers of the popular party; and it was insinuated that the members of government derived advantage from the losses of the merchant. These charges directed the attention of the council to the conduct of sir Ellis Leighton, the secretary to the embassy in Paris, to whose care the interests of the petitioners had been intrusted. He was once the confidant of Buckingham, and is described as "the “ most corrupt man of the age.” A warrant was signed for his committal to the Tower ; but he escaped from the officers, and the charges against him were never submitted to judicial investigation .

Preparatory to the opening of the next session, * Kennet, 307. North, 138. Ralph, 297.

+ State Tracts, i. Marvell, 323, Kennet, 309. North, 487. Gazette, 1124, 1141. 1150. Correspondence of Clarendon and Rochester, i: %. I shall for brevity refer to this collection by the title of Clarendon Corre

ce.

CHAP. 1.]

OPENING OF THE SESSION.

93

once

Shaftesbury and his friends arranged a new plan of
opposition. It was discovered that what they had so
fruitlessly laboured to effect by their own efforts, had
been unwittingly accomplished for them by the igno-
rance or imprudence of the court. The king, it was
maintained, by the long prorogation, had in fact dissolved
the parliament. If that assembly did not sit, its ex-
istence could be continued only by adjournment or
prorogation: now the late parliament had not been
adjourned, but prorogued, and that for fifteen months :
but such a prorogation was contrary to law, because
was incompatible with two statutes of Edward III.,
which ordained that a parliament should be held “
"a-year, or oftener, if need be ;" whence they inferred,
that, as a prorogation contrary to law was of no effect,
the parliament had in fact ceased to exist; it had been
suffered to die a natural death. This novel and extra-
ordinary opinion they laboured, by all the artifices in
their power, to impress on the minds of the people: it
was made the subject of discourse in every company; it
was discussed in public and private, in clubs and in
drawing-rooms; and men looked forward with intense
interest to the debate which it was expected to provoke,
at the opening of the approaching session.

On the appointed day, the 15th of February, multi- 1677. tudes of people were observed at an early hour hast- Feb. ening to the parliament house; and in a short time 15. Westminster Hall, the painted chamber, the court of requests, the lobbies and avenues, were crowded with strangers. These men, if we may believe one party, had been led there by curiosity to witness the result; but, according to the other, had been brought there from Southwark and Wapping, to intimidate the adherents of the court *. Charles addressed the two houses in a speech which elicited the applause even of his adversaries. If, he said, any additional securities were • North, 66. L Journ. xii. 44. James adds that many of them were old officers from the army of the commonwealth. Macpher. i. 84.

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