Графични страници
PDF файл

and a bill passed in a moment of great danger, and much greater alarm, has since become dearer to many than any part of our constitution.

On the 25th, the Commons resolved, upon a message from the throne requesting advice, that the forces raised since I677 should be disbanded. On the 30th, the King

Nov. 30.

came to the House, and gave the royal assent to the bill for disabling Papists to sit in Parliament, but refused it to the Militia Bill. This was a bill for calling out the militia, and keeping them embodied forty days. The King said it put the militia for so many days out of his power, which he would not consent to, even for half an hour. His conduct was both prudent and constitutional, especially as he afterwards offered to consent to any other bill for the security of the kingdom, by the militia, which should leave him the power of calling them out, continuing or not continuing them together during the time limited. *

After some preliminary votes aimed at the Lord Treasurer, the Commons resolved upon ah D impeachment against him. This was the consequence of a discovery which

* Mr. Fox remarks, that the King " made his stand upon the same point in which his father had done ; a circumstance which, if events had taken a turn against him, would not have failed of being much noticed by historians."

requires some elucidation. Lord Danby came into office with sentiments of hostility to France, and an inclination to promote the real interest of the kingdom: but he soon found that his master would not be served in this bold and honest manner; and he preferred entering into the schemes popular at court, though still without soiling his own personal integrity, to a surrender of the power and emoluments of office. During the late negociations at Paris, he had, unknown to the Secretary of State, carried on a correspondence with Mr. Montague, the ambassador, with a view of obtaining money for his master. In his letters, though always expressing a reluctance, no doubt very sincere, to engage in ties so dishonourable, he nevertheless condescended to truckle and higgle for sums which were to be paid for the neutrality of England, as well as others for her mediation of a general peace. Mr. Montague, the King's chief agent in this shameful traffic, was a candidate for the place of Secretary of State, but finding it was destined for Sir William Temple, he conceived the most violent animosity against the Treasurer. In order to execute his purpose, he sought out an astrologer in Paris, in whom the King had great faith, and found means to corrupt him. He then proposed to the Duchess of Cleveland to send him over to England, to

predict to the King a total ruin if he followed the advice of their enemies, and a glorious reign if he dismissed them. By this contrivance he hoped to be not only Secretary of State but prime minister. But upon some quarrel with the Duchess of Cleveland, she betrayed the whole to the King; and brought Montague into disgrace. * However, he came over to England without leave, and by means of the Treasurer's good offices was admitted to kiss the King's hand. At the same time, he showed to Lord Russell, and other opposition members, the letters which implicated the Treasurer, and obtained from the French court a large sum for compassing his ruin. Lord Danby, hearing of his meetings with the Opposition, tried to find some means of getting possession of his papers, and for this purpose, it is supposed, made Sir Leoline Jenkins write from abroad that he had a correspondence with the Pope's nuncio. With this letter in his hand, he obtained an order from the Council, for seizing Montague's papers.

Upon a message from the King to the House of Commons, informing them of this order, a warm debate arose on the legality of seizing papers. Montague sat for some time silent, and

* See Duchess of Cleveland's Letter. Appendix to Harris's Life of Charles II.

then rising up, informed the House he had letters in his possession implicating a great minister. Lord Russell owned that the contents of some of these papers had been imparted to him, and that Montague had secured copies of them, though he could not then come at the originals. Upon this information, Mr. Harbord and others were sent to a place where Montague directed them, and brought back a box full of papers. Montague selected out of these two letters, which were read by the Speaker. T!iey were addressed by Lord Danby to Mr. Montague, when at Paris. One of them, dated March 25th, contained the following passage: —" In case the conditions of peace shall be "accepted, the King expects to have six "millions of livres yearly, for three years, from "the time that this agreement shall be signed "between His Majesty and the King of France, "because it will be two or three years before he "can hope to find his Parliament in humour to "give him supplies, after your having made "any peace with France." At the bottom were these words: "This letter is writ by my "order. C. R."

This discoveiy naturally excited both anger and alarm. It was remarked, that on the 20th March, an act had passed for a war with F ance, and an army raised in pursuance of it, afterwards kepi up. * Mr. Bennet moved an impeachment, which, on a division, was carried by 179 to 116; nor was it to any purpose that Lord Danby showed the next day, by letters of Montague, that the accomplice was the more guilty of the two. The Commons justly thought, that the minister who possessed the royal confidence, and gave the royal orders, was the more dangerous object. The articles of impeachment were six in number. Amongst other crimes, the Treasurer was accused of being popishly inclined, and of concealing the Popish Plot; though it was sufficiently evident that he was entirely innocent of both charges. But mankind are too apt to join in their undistinguishing censure, the most odious acts with the most odious persons; and as favouring Popery was then the greatest offence, it is not surprising, the accusers should impute it to the greatest offender.

In the same disposition of mind, the House voted to impeach the Treasurer for high treason, though none of the facts, if proved, amounted to that crime. Solicitor Winnington, indeed, laboured hard to show, that Parliament, making use of a proviso in the statute of Edward, ought to declare, that obtaining money for the purpose

* See the remarks on Lord Russell's conduct in the two preceding chapters.

« ПредишнаНапред »