Графични страници
PDF файл

The extreme enmity now subsisting between these two A.D. 1722– great men, is very strikingly proved by the advantage 1724. taken of the Lord Chancellor's detention at St. James's when he ought to have been present in the House of Lords, and the attempt to fix a stigma upon him for an unintentional irregularity." After a diligent search, I really can discover nothing more respecting Macclesfield's proceedings in the House of Lords for the seven years which elapsed between his being appointed Chancellor and his impeachment. During this period, as often as the King went abroad (which he did several months every year), the Chancellor was appointed a Lord Justice, and was at the head of those who acted in the regency. The Prince had been at first appointed sole guardian of the realm, no precedent being found for associating the heir apparent with others in a commission of regency; but he was now excluded from the appearance as well as the reality of power. The only political measure in which I find the Chancellor personally mixed up, arose out of these unhappy disputes between the father and the son. The resentment of the King was at last carried so far that, out of spite to his successor, he proposed, under pretence of consulting the good of the nation, that hereafter no one should be allowed to be Sovereign of this country without renouncing any foreign dominions to which he might be entitled—not held in right of the crown of England. The proposal seems to me very fair and salutary, and agreeable to well-established constitutional as well as international law; but we are told that the opinion of Lord Macclesfield being demanded in a conference on the subject, “the answer given by the Chancellor fully put a stop to the measure as inexpedient and impracticable, and liable to be followed by dangerous consequences.” “ Had it been adopted, it would have saved England much perplexity and expense, and some discredit, in the two following reigns. Happily, there is little danger of the recurrence of such a state of things; but for this reason, perhaps, now is the time to pass the law which was projected by the founder of the Hanoverian dynasty in England. When parliament met in the month of November, 1724, Lord Macclesfield seemed at the height of worldly success,

d Ante, vol. v., p. 333. 7 Parl. Hist. 960, feeling among law Lords at the present day. I am glad to think that there is a better e 2 Cor. Sir R. W. 13.


with the prospect of a long continuance of his greatness. From the union of genius for legal distinctions and unwearied industry, he had acquired with the public the highest possible reputation as a Judge, and, except by a few acquainted with the mysteries of the Court of Chancery, he was supposed to be immaculate." His levees were crowded by laity and clergy. At his newly-acquired country-seat, Shirburn Castle, he exercised a splendid hospitality; and he had been appointed Lord Lieutenant not only of Oxfordshire, in which it stood, but likewise of the adjoining county of Warwick, in which also he had acquired large possessions. Walpole, now the undisputed Prime Minister, had by his dexterous management in the last session almost annihilated opposition, and, for a time, Whigs, Tories, and Jacobites, without show of resistance, submitted to his rule. The Great Seal, under such a minister, was considered free from all the perils and anxieties which generally surround it. For a time all went well, and another very smooth session was anticipated. The Chancellor might himself have been thought an emblem of the joyous conjuncture which he described when, in the King's name, he pronounced these words—“My Lords and Gentlemen, I am persuaded you share with me in the satisfaction I feel at the prosperous situation of affairs: peace with all powers abroad; at home perfect tranquillity, plenty, and an uninterrupted enjoyment of all civil and religious rights, are most distinguishing marks of the favour and protection of Divine Providence. And these, with all their happy consequences, will, I doubt not, by the blessing of God upon our joint endeavours, be long continued.”* Whether Macclesfield had any misgivings or fatal anticipations respecting himself I know not, but his ruin was at hand. In a few days the storm of public indignation arose against him; in a few weeks he was deprived of his office, and in a few months he was a prisoner in the Tower, under sentence to pay a heavy fine by the unanimous judgment of the House of Lords,--while the vulgar insulted him with the oft-repeated saying that “Staffordshire had produced the three greatest rogues ever known in England, - Jack Sheppard, Jonathan Wild, and ToM PARKER!” Soon after the bursting of the South Sea Bubble, voices—at first ambiguous—were heard whispering that great frauds had been committed on the suitors in the Court of Chancery, and that their money had been made away with by the Masters to whose custody it had been intrusted till the interminably delayed decree should be pronounced. Rumours became louder and louder, and the Chancellor's name was proclaimed as having caused or connived at all the abuses which had been discovered. The whole Government was next involved in the obloquy, and the ever-watchful opponents of the Minister were ready to say that such enormities could only be sanctioned under Hanoverian auspices, under Whig rule, and under that section of the Whigs which had now usurped supreme power. Walpole, with his usual shrewdness and decision, immediately appointed a committee of the Privy Council in whom the public would place confidence, to investigate the subject, and to make a report to be laid before parliament. Assisted by three Judges and the Attorney and SolicitorGeneral, the Privy Councillors selected, after an examination of many witnesses, did make a report which showed that there were serious defalcations in the Masters' offices, and that there was a grave case of suspicion against the Lord Chancellor. His Lordship thereupon, in the hope of setting himself right with the public, immediately issued a very stringent order, by which every Master was required to send all the trust-monies and securities in his hands to the Bank of England, in a chest under three locks, one to be kept by the Master himself, another by the Six Clerks of the Court of Chancery, and the third by the Governor of the Bank." But this was considered rather an acknowledgment of past misconduct; the storm of indignation rose higher against the Lord Chancellor, and loud declarations were made that he could not decently occupy the judgment-seat longer till the charges against himself were investigated. The Ministry becoming afraid of being suspected of a wish to screen a guilty colleague, Lord Macclesfield was compelled to surrender the office of Lord Chancellor. Sir Peter King, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, was appointed

f No attention is to be paid to the line in Duke Wharton's satire on the lawyers,

“When Parker shall pronounce one right decree,”

as one of the impossibilities on which he

“Then shall I cease my charmer to adore,
And think of love and politics no more.”

For though he is right with respect to PAge,

and one or two more, he scatters his arrows
at random among political opponents, and
there cannot be a doubt that, till the very eve
of Parker's disgrace, he was as much re-
spected as any man who had ever sat in the
marble chair. The Duke went so far to
prove his personal enmity, as actually to sign
a protest against the leniency of the sentence
pronounced by the Peers on his victim.
8 8 Parl. Hist. 396. .

h 17th December, 1724. 1 Sanders. 465.

A.D. 1725.


to officiate as Speaker of the House of Lords, and the Great Seal was put into commission. When the Lords Commissioners —Sir Joseph Jekyll, Sir Geoffrey Gilbert, and Sir Robert Raymond—were sworn in before the Council, it was published to the world that the King thus addressed them :-‘‘I have had such experience of your integrity and ability that it is with pleasure I now put the Great Seal into your hands. You are fully informed of the state of the accounts of the Masters in Chancery. I earnestly recommend to you the taking effectual care that entire satisfaction be made to the suitors of the Court, and that they be not exposed to any dangers for the future; and I have such confidence in the faithful discharge of the trust I now repose in you, that I am persuaded you will look narrowly to the behaviour of all the officers under your jurisdiction, and will see that they act with the strictest regard to justice and to the ease of my subjects.”

Hopes were entertained that this proceeding would tranquillise the public mind, and that it would be left to the Lords Commissioners to grant relief for past wrongs, and to make regulations to guard the property of the suitors for the future. But it was found that the deficit could not be made up without the interference of Parliament, and many were of opinion that exemplary punishment should be inflicted on him who was considered the chief delinquent.

Proceedings were originated in the House of Commons by a petition from the Earl of Oxford and Lord Morpeth, guardians of Elizabeth, Duchess Dowager of Montague, a lunatic, stating that large sums paid to a Master in Chancery on her account had been embezzled, and praying such relief as the House should think fit. A debate arising, it was adjourned in the expectation of obtaining more information before any resolution should be passed. In a few days the following royal message was brought down:—


“His Majesty having reason to apprehend that the suitors of the Court of Chancery were in danger of losing a considerable sum of money from the insufficiency of some of the Masters, thought himself obliged, in justice and compassion to the said suitors, to take the most speedy and proper method the law would allow for inquiring into the state of the Masters' accounts, and securing their effects for the benefit of the suitors: and his Majesty having had several Reports laid before him in pursuance of the directions he had given, has ordered the said Reports to be communicated to this House, that this House may have as full and as perfect a view of this important affair as the shortness of the time, and the circumstances and nature of the proceedings, would admit of.” k

i 8 Parl. Hist. 417. WOL. VI. D

Soon after, Sir George Oxenden," having made a long speech upon the enormous abuses which had crept into the Court of Chancery, chiefly occasioned by the magistrate who was at the head of that court and whose duty it consequently was to prevent them, concluded by moving, “That Thomas, Earl of Macclesfield, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors.” The motion was seconded by Mr. Doddington, who said, “the misconduct of the late Chancellor was of the most dangerous consequence, since most of the estates in England, once in thirty years, pass through the Court of Chancery.” Mr. Pulteney and Sir William Wyndham took the opposite side, chiefly on the ground that the Reports laid on the table were no sufficient ground for an impeachment, and that the Commons were bound themselves first to institute an inquiry. But an immediate impeachment was voted by a majority of 273 to 164, and Sir George Oxenden Y. ordered forthwith to present it at the bar of the House of ords. When he had performed this duty, he brought in a bill to indemnify witnesses who should give evidence respecting the sale of offices in the Court of Chancery, and it speedily passed both Houses. Sir Philip Yorke and some of Lord Macclesfield's private friends made a feeble stand for him in the House of Commons, on a motion respecting the framing of the articles of impeachment, but were defeated, being bitterly opposed by Serjeant Pengelly, Sir Clement Wearg, and other Chancery lawyers, who considered that they had been personally ill-used by the late Chancellor. In the Lords there was a smart debate on the question, whether the trial should take place at the bar of their own House, or in Westminster Hall? and a majority preferring the former, there was a strong protest signed by several Peers, on the ground that all possible publicity and solemnity

k 8 Parl. Hist, 415. the recollection that Parker had taken a

* He was said to belong to the Leicester strong part against the Heir Apparent for House party; and, certainly, the Prince's the King. friends were eager in the prosecution, from

« ПредишнаНапред »