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to the Treaty-namely, that it was a design, on the part of France, to detach England, by the temptation of a mercantile advantage, from her ancient alliance with Holland and her other continental connections-Mr. Burke bore testimony, as far as himself was concerned, by repeating the same opinions, after an interval of ten years, in his testamentary work, the "Letters on a Regicide Peace."
The other important question which I have mentioned as engaging, during the session of 1787, the attention of Mr. Sheridan, was the application to Parliament for the payment of the Prince of Wales's debts. The embarrassments of the HeirApparent were but a natural consequence of his situation; and a little more graciousness and promptitude on the part of the King, in interposing to relieve His Royal Highness from the difficulties under which he laboured, would have afforded a chance of detaching him from his new political associates, of which, however the affection of the Royal parent may have slumbered, it is strange that his sagacity did not hasten to avail itself. A contrary system, however, was adopted. The haughty indifference both of the monarch and his minister threw the Prince entirely on the sympathy of the Opposition. Mr. Pitt identified himself with the obstinacy of the father, while Mr. Fox and the Opposition committed themselves the irregularities of the son; and the proceed
ings of both parties were such as might have been expected from their respective connections—the Royal mark was but too visible upon each.
One evil consequence, that was on the point of resulting from the embarrassed situation in which the prince now found himself, was his acceptance of a loan which the Duke of Orleans had proffered him, and which would have had the perilous tendency of placing the future Sovereign of England in a state of dependence, as creditor, on a Prince of France. That the negociations in this extraordinary transaction had proceeded farther than is generally supposed, will appear from the following letters of the Duke of Portland to Sheridan:
Sunday noon, 13 Dec.
"Since I saw you I have received a confirmation of the intelligence which was the subject of our conversation. The particulars varied in no respect from those I related to you—except in the addition of a pension, which is to take place immediately on the event which entitles the creditors to payment, and is to be granted for life to a nominee of the D. of OThe loan was
mentioned in a mixed company by two of the Frenchwomen and a Frenchman (none of whose names I know) in Calonne's presence, who interrupted them, by asking, how they came to know any thing of the matter, then set them right in two or three particulars which they had mistated, and afterwards begged them, for God's sake, not to talk of it, because it might be their complete ruin.
"I am going to Bulstrode-but will return at a moment's notice, if I can be of the least use in getting rid of this odious engagement, or preventing its being entered into, if it should not be yet completed. "Yours ever,
66 · P."
"I think myself much obliged to you for what you have done. I hope I am not too sanguine in looking to a good conclusion of this bad business. I will certainly be in town by two o'clock.
Bulstrode, Monday, 14. Dec.
Mr. Sheridan, who was now high in the confidence of the Prince, had twice, in the course of the year 1786, taken occasion to allude publicly to the embarrassments of His Royal Highness. Indeed, the decisive measure which this Illustrious Person himself had adopted, in reducing his establishment, and devoting a part of his income to the discharge of his debts, sufficiently proclaimed the true state of affairs to the public. Still, however, the strange policy was persevered in, of adding the discontent of the Heir-Apparent to the other weapons in the hands of the Opposition; and, as might be expected, they were not tardy in turning it to account. In the spring of 1787, the embarrassed state of His Royal Highness's affairs was brought formally under the notice of parliament by Alderman Newenham.
During one of the discussions to which the sub
ject gave rise, Mr. Rolle, the member for Devonshire, a strong adherent of the ministry, in deprecating the question about to be agitated, affirmed that "it went immediately to affect our Constitution in Church and State." In these solemn words it was well understood, that he alluded to a report at that time generally believed, and, indeed, acted upon by many in the etiquette of private life, that a marriage had been solemnized between the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Fitzherbert-a lady of the Roman Catholic persuasion, who, with more danger to her own peace than to that of either Church or State, had for some time been the distinguished object of His Royal Highness's affection.
Even had an alliance of this description taken place, the provisions of the Royal Marriage Act would have nullified it into a mere ceremony, inefficient, as it was supposed, for any other purpose than that of satisfying the scruples of one of the parties. But that dread of Popery, which in England starts at its own shadow, took alarm at the consequences of an intercourse so heterodox; and it became necessary, in the opinion of the Prince and his friends, to put an end to the apprehensions that were abroad on the subject.
Nor can it be denied that, in the minds of those who believed that the marriage had been actually 37
solemnized, there were, in one point of view, very sufficient grounds of alarm. By the Statute of William and Mary, commonly called the Bill of Rights, it is enacted, among other causes of exclusion from the throne, that “ every person who shall marry a Papist shall be excluded, and for ever be incapable to inherit the crown of this realm.”—In such cases (adds this truly revolutionary Act)" the people of these realms shall be and are hereby absolved of their allegiance." Under this Act, which was confirmed by the Act of Settlement, it is evident that the Heir-Apparent would, by such a marriage as was now attributed to him, have forfeited his right of succession to the throne. From so serious a penalty, however, it was generally supposed, he would have been exempted by the operation of the Royal Marriage Act (12 George III.), which rendered null and void any marriage contracted by any descendant of George II. without the previous consent of the King, or a twelvemonth's notice given to the Privy Council.
That this Act would have nullified the alleged marriage of the Prince of Wales there is, of course, no doubt;-but that it would have also exempted him from the forfeiture incurred by
* Horne Tooke, in his insidious pamphlet on the subject, presumed so far on this belief as to call Mrs. Fitzherbert "Her Royal Highness."