Page images
PDF
EPUB

The measure for suppressing them was one of the most tyrannical enacted in the eighteenth century, and it appears especially shameful from the fact that those who took the most prominent part in carrying it were acting without the excuse of religious bigotry. Bolingbroke, who introduced it in the Lords, and Windham, who introduced it in the Commons, were both men of the laxest principles, and of the laxest morals, and it was finally defended by the former mainly on the ground that it was necessary for the party interest of the Tories to prevent the propagation of Dissent. As carried through the House of Commons it provided that no one, under pain of three months' imprisonment, should keep either a public or a private school, or should even act as tutor or usher, unless he had obtained a licence from the Bishop, had engaged to conform to the Anglican liturgy, and had received the sacrament in some Anglican church within the year. In order to prevent occasional conformity it was further provided that if a teacher so qualified were present at any other form of worship he should at once become liable to three months' imprisonment, and should be incapacitated for the rest of his life from acting as schoolmaster or tutor. In order to prevent latitudinarian Anglicans from teaching Dissenting formularies, a clause was carried, making any licensed teacher who taught any catechism other than that of the Church of England liable to all the penalties of the Act. The Bill was supported by the whole weight of the Tory ministry, and was carried in the House of Commons by 237 to 126 votes. In the House of Lords the feeling against it was very strong, but the recent creation of twelve peers had weakened the ascendancy of the Whigs. It is remarkable, however, that on this occasion Nottingham himself spoke on the side of religious liberty. The Dissenters petitioned to be heard by counse! against the Bill, but their petition was rejected. The measure having been defended, among other reasons, by the allegation that many children of Churchmen had been attracted to Non

1 Bolingbroke, Letter to Windham.

conformist schools, Halifax moved that the Dissenters might have schools for the exclusive education of children of their own persuasion, but he was defeated by 62 against 48, and the Bill was finally carried through the Lords by 77 to 72. Some important clauses, however, were introduced by the Whig party qualifying its severity. They provided that Dissenters might have schoolmistresses to teach their children to read; that the Act should not extend to any person instructing youth in reading, writing, or arithmetic, in any part of mathematics relating to navigation, or in any mechanical art only; that tutors in the houses of noblemen should be exempt from the necessity of obtaining an episcopal licence; and that the infliction of penalties under the Act should be removed from the jurisdiction of the justices of the peace, and placed under that of the superior courts.

The facility with which this atrocious Act was carried, abundantly shows the danger in which religious liberty was placed in the latter years of the reign of Queen Anne. There can, indeed, be little doubt that, had the Tory ascendancy been but a little prolonged, the Toleration Act would have been repealed, and it is more than doubtful whether the purely political conquests of the Revolution would have survived. The more, indeed, those very critical years are examined the more evident it becomes on how slender a chain of causes the political future of England then depended. There can be little doubt that if, while the Pretender remained a Catholic, a son of Anne had survived, he would have mounted the throne amid the acclamations of the English people, and would have been the object of an enthusiasm of unqualified loyalty even more intense than that which was subsequently bestowed upon George III. There can also, I think, be little doubt that if, after the death of the children of Anne, the Pretender had consented to conform to the English Church, the immense majority of the people would have reverted irresistibly to the legitimate heir. It is less certain, but far from improbable, that if the life of the Queen had been prolonged for a single year, the Act of Settlement would have been disregarded, and the Pretender, in

spite of his Catholicism, would have been brought back by a Tory ministry. In order, however, to understand the position of parties at the time of the death of the Queen it will be necessary to turn from domestic affairs to foreign politics, and to give a brief outline of the chief work of the Tory ministry— the negotiation of the Peace of Utrecht.

At the time when this momentous measure was carried, the political aspects of the war had in some respects very materially changed. When the Whig ministry fell, the chances of Philip of Spain inheriting the crown of France were so remote that they might have been almost disregarded, but the shadows of death soon fell darkly around the French King. In February 1710-11 the Dauphin fell sick of small-pox complicated with fever, and after a short illness he died, leaving as his heir the young pupil of Fénelon, whose virtues and solid. acquirements had inspired ardent hopes, only too soon to be overcast. In February 1711-12 the wife of the new Dauphin was seized with a deadly sickness, and in a few days she expired. A week had hardly passed when her husband followed her to the tomb, and in another month the elder of her two children was also dead. Thus, by a strange fatality which gave rise to the darkest suspicions, three successive heirs to the French throne, representing three successive generations, had, in little more than a year, been swept away, and the old King and a sickly infant alone remained between Philip and the crown of France. On the Austrian side the change was even more important. The Emperor Leopold I., who began the war, had died in May 1705. His successor, Joseph I., died in April 1711, leaving no son, and Charles, the Austrian claimant, now wore the Imperial

crown.

The military conditions in the meantime had not been very seriously modified. France was still reduced to extreme and abject wretchedness. Her finances were ruined. Her people were half starving. Marlborough declared that in the villages through which he passed in the summer of 1710, at least half the inhabitants had perished since the beginning of the pre

ceding winter, and the rest looked as if they had come out of their graves. All the old dreams of French conquests in the Spanish Netherlands, in Italy, and in Germany were dispelled, and the French generals were now struggling desperately and skilfully to defend their own frontier. The campaign of 1709 had been marked by the capture of Menin and Tournay by the allies, by the bloody victory of Malplaquet, in which the losses of the conquerors were nearly double the losses of the conquered, and finally by the capture of Mons. In 1710, while the Whig ministry was still in power, but at a time when it was manifestly tottering to its fall, Lewis had made one more attempt to obtain peace by the most ample concessions. The conferences were held at the Dutch fortress of Gertruydenberg. Lewis declared himself ready to accept the conditions exacted as preliminaries of peace in the preceding year, with the exception of the article compelling Philip within two months to cede the Spanish throne. He consented, in the course of the negotiations, to grant to the Dutch nearly all the fortresses of the French and Spanish Netherlands, including among others Ypres, Tournay, Lille, Furnes, and even Valenciennes, to cede Alsace to the Duke of Lorraine, to destroy the fortifications of Dunkirk, and those on the Rhine from Bâle to Philipsburg. The main difficulty was on the question of the Spanish succession. The French urged that Philip would never voluntarily abdicate unless he received some compensation in Italy or elsewhere, and the Dutch and English ministers now seemed inclined to accept the proposition, but the opposition of the Emperor and of the Duke of Savoy was inflexible. The French troops had already been recalled from Spain, and Lewis consented to recognise the Archduke as the sovereign, to engage to give no more assistance to his grandchild, to place four cautionary towns in the hands of the Dutch as a pledge for the fulfilment of the treaty, and even to pay a subsidy to the allies for the continuance of the war against Philip. The allies, however, insisted that

1 Coxe's Marlborough, ch. lxxxviii. See, too, the striking description of

the country by Fénelon, in Martin, Hist. de France, xiv. 528-529.

1

he should join with them in driving his grandson by force of arms from Spain, and on this article the negotiations were broken off.1 The English ministers in this negotiation showed themselves a little more moderate in their inclinations than on former occasions, but they yielded to the wish of the allies, and the war was for a third time needlessly and recklessly prolonged. It is always an impolitic thing to impose on a great power conditions so ignominious and dishonouring as to produce enduring resentment, and it would be difficult to exaggerate either the folly or the injustice of the course which on this occasion was pursued. England and Holland had absolutely no advantage to expect from the war, which Lewis was not prepared to concede. They prolonged it in order to impose on the Spaniards a sovereign they hated, and to deprive them of a sovereign they adored, in order to obtain the Spanish dominions for a prince who was now the heir to the Austrian throne, though a revival of the Empire of Charles V. would have disturbed the whole balance of European power. If a general peace was not signed, the war might have at least been narrowed into a duel between Austria and Spain, and in any case its object was almost unattainable. Spain is not, and never has been, one of those centralised countries in which the capture of the capital implies the subjugation of the nation. Stanhope, who knew it well, frankly declared that armies of 20,000 or 30,000 men might walk about that country till doomsday, that wherever they came the people would submit to Charles out of terror, and as soon as they were gone proclaim Philip V. again out of affection; that to conquer Spain required a great army, to keep it a greater.' 2 The fortunes of the war had more than once fluctuated violently, but no success of the allies had abated the hostility of the great body of the Spaniards. When Lewis withdrew his troops from Spain, the cause of Charles was for a brief period completely triumphant; but when, after the

Compare Mémoires de Torcy, i. 352-428. Martin, Hist. de France, ziv. 525-527. Coxe's Life of Marl

borough, ch. lxxxviii.

2 Bolingbroke's Sketch of the History of Europe.

« PreviousContinue »