Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

1

husband, who replied to her inflated complaints with the same calmness and good sense which had aided him in attaining the top of the ladder of ambition. His letter is dated from his camp, Meldest, in Low Germany, June 3, 1707 :

“ The wisest thing is to have to do with as few people as possible. If you are sure Mrs. Masham speaks of business to the queen, I should think you might, with some caution, tell her of it, which would do good. For she certainly must be grateful, and will mind what you say.”

The duchess did not heed the temperate advice of her astute husband, but inflamed her mind with cogitations on the barbarity, ingratitude, and wickedness of the “queen's intrigues" with her cousin

a homely dresser, or chamberwoman. It is difficult to imagine how the word “intrigues,” could apply to her majesty's conversations with her authorized servant, during the day-slumbers of her invalid and declining husband, since it was on Abigail Masham all personal assistance that the queen, required in attending on him devolved; and at night she slept on a pallet, in the ante-chamber to her majesty's bed-room, within call;' the queen often supported prince George when he was labouring under his dreadful attacks of asthma, and she required some help beyond what her own strength could-afford.

Very much perplexed seems the duchess of Marlborough to have been in her endeavour to make out a case of injury, to herself or to any one else, from the queen's intimacy with Abigail Masham. In the course of her investigation, she says, “My reflection quickly brought to my mind many passages which had seemed odd, but had left no impressions of jealousy. Particularly, I remembered, that a long while before this occurred, being with the queen—to whom I had gone very privately by a secret passage from my lodging to the royal bed-chamber—on a sudden this woman, Abigail

, not knowing I was there, came in with the boldest and gayest air possible. But upon the sight of me, stopped, and immediately asked, making a most solemn courtesy, • Did your majesty ring?' and then went out again. This singular behaviour needed no interpreter now to make it understood.”

3 Ibid.

1 Conduct, p. 185. 2 Lord Dartmouth's Notes.

- Conduct, by the duchess of Marlborough.

All these important reminiscences and investigations were part and parcel of the delights of the summer seclusion at stately Windsor. The queen and her attendant had already been taken to task, and duly lectured for the stolen marriage. Her majesty's portion of the objurgation being administered in the following manner:-“ The next opportunity I had of being alone with the queen, I could not forbear putting her in mind, “That she used to say, when she was desired to keep anything a secret, she would however tell it to me, because, according to Montaigne's observation, telling a thing to a friend, is only telling it to oneself;' but yet she had kept the secret of my cousin Hill marrying Mr. Masham, a long time from me. But the only thing I was concerned at, that it plainly showed a change in her majesty towards me, as I had once before observed to her. When the queen was pleased to say that it was not she that was changed, but me, and that if I was the same to her she was sure she was to me;' the queen added, with a good deal of earnestness, 'I believe I have spoken to Masham a hundred times, to tell you of her marriage, but she would not.' This startled me, and blind as I had been before, I began to open my eyes when I came to reflect

upon

these words, which plainly implied, that Mrs. Masham had often had consultations with the queen, though she would not have been thought to presume to speak to her majesty about this or anything else. When I asked her about her secret marriage, she Mrs. Masham) told me, "She believed the bedchamber women had told the queen of it.”

191 So far was she from owning to her inquisitor that the queen had acted as witness of the same.

It is indeed remarkable, in the course of the fierce scrutiny henceforth instituted by the imperious duchess, on the condoling gossiping between the queen and Mrs. Masham, in the sick room of the declining prince, how she betrays the system of espionage kept up by her on these important palace-secrets." When the queen went privately to Abigail's wedding in the Scotch doctor's chamber,"

says the duchess, the fact was discovered by a boy belonging to one of the under-servants, who saw her (the queen)

Coxe Papers. Letter of the duchess of Marlborough to Mr. Hutchinson, Brit. Museum, inedited. The same scene is printed in the Conduct, but the MS. has far more matter and circumstance.

going alone. After this,” continues the duchess, “ I went three or four nights together to the queen, hoping to do some good with her, but I generally found Mrs. Masham in the waiting-room ready to go in as I came out. One of these times, as I passed by her, I told her that I had a desire to have some talk with her, and she answered me with a low courtesy and a great deal of humility, ‘that she would wait upon me.'”

The duchess changed her mind in regard to her first intention of giving the party suspected” of ill offices with the queen, a sound personal rating, instead of which she wrote to her an angry letter from Woodstock Palace. The superior style of the answer astonished her, and she became convinced that the serving-maid kinswoman had been prompted by her other cousin, the statesman, Harley. Here the far-seeing duchess was mistaken, for Mrs. Masham wrote in a better style than secretary Harley, or the duchess, or any of the courtiers of the era, as any one may ascertain who compares their respective compositions. It is likewise undeniable that her letters surpass those of the authors and poets among whose correspondence they are found.2 Mrs. Masham had a large red nose, was very plain, and had miserable health; but she was a person of talent, and must have educated herself amidst the privations and miseries of her early life.

It does not appear that she was guilty of any of the circumventing ingratitude regarding her royal mistress on which the duchess rails, in theatrical rant, using the words “barbarous," “ horrid,” and even “ghastly!"3 Much trouble would have been saved to the queen, if she had authorized Mrs. Masham to say to her cousin—"The confidential intimacy between the queen and myself originated with yourself, for the queen, by accident, overheard you railing on her to me, and expressing loathing and hatred to her person without provocation, about a mere trifle; hence the change in her heart and affections towards you.” But this was never done, and the duchess continued to search and strike in the dark, like a blind person enraged. Perhaps ifshe had known and even believed the cause, her self-sophistry

Coxe Papers. MS. Letter before cited. Hitherto inedited. 2 See the Swift correspondence. Swift himself speaks very bighly of her abilities.

3 Ibid.

would have explained it away,—as, for instance, she knew the abusive and taunting letter she had written to the queen, in her rage at finding her majesty unwilling to appoint her son-in-law, lord Sunderland, secretary-of-state; and yet she could wonder that the queen loved her no longer, whilst she laid the fault of the change on her cousin, who certainly had no concern with that epistle !

The queen's attention was at last aroused from these grovelling wranglings by the alarming state into which her favourite measure of the Union had plunged Scotland. Yet, in all justice, it ought to be added, that the discontents arose from the flagrant perversion of a large sum the English parliament had voted, as “equivalent ” to Scotland, to the purposes of private interest and peculation, for no tittle of which was the sovereign accountable.

The “equivalent money,” which was to smooth all impediments to the practical working of the Union of Scotland with England, consisted of 398,0851. 10s., paid to Scotland, as indemnity for a certain portion of the national debt then first saddled on Scotland, which henceforth bore an equality of taxation with England, for the purposes of paying the interest. Unfortunately, none of the « equivalent” found its way into the possession of the great body of the people, or even of the middle-class tax-payers, who forthwith had to pay taxes on malt, salt, and all the endless inflictions of the excise. The poor commonalty showed their indignation by pelting the twelve wagons which carried the

equivalent money,” graciously sent by the queen's ministry, through Edinburgh to the gates of the castle. Although it was guarded by a party of Scotch dragoons, this pitiless pelting could not be averted; indeed, the military escort, as well as the money-carts, took refuge in the sheltering walls of the castle, thoroughly encased and encrusted with mud. No sooner was the treasure safely lodged in the castle, than a plot was forthwith hatched to seize it by force or fraud, and effect a division somewhat different from that intended by the queen's ministry. John Kerr of Kersland, Esq., the leader of the Cameronians, was one of those persons who, like Marlborough, Godolphin, and the rest of the aristocracy, intrigued on

1

Life of Edmund Calamy, vol. ii. p. 64.

both sides, and made ready to swim, either as Jacobite or revolutionist, as the tide set the strongest; he obtained information of this scheme, or rather, it is supposed, contrived it himself, and forthwith denounced it to the duke of Queensberry, who was to receive the largest slice of the equivalent. The duke seemed surprised, but requested the informer “to go into the measures of the conspirators ;" and that he might do so with security, the duke obtained for him a privy-seal from the queen.'

“ Anne R. Whereas we are fully sensible of the fidelity and loyalty of John Kerr of Kersland, Esq., and of the services he performed to us and to our government, we therefore grant him this, our royal leave and licence to keep company and associate himself with such as are disaffected to us, and to our government, in such way and manner as he shall judge most for our service.

“ Given under our royal band, at our Castle of Windsor, the 7th of July, 1707, of our reign, the sixth year,

" Anne R.Queen Anne's hand is not expected to be found among dark and treacherous schemes which recal to memory the turbulent under-currents of plots which agitated not only public, but domestic life, in the two preceding centuries.

There is little doubt that this spy would have tempted many of his countrymen to their ruin, only he was seen coming out of Godolphin's house in St. James's Square, by a Scotch Jacobite, who wrote the news to the circle of the duchess of Gordon. Kerr's treachery was then suspected.3

In order to regain the confidence of his party, Kerr of Kersland contrived to draw the Cameronians into a protestation against queen Anne. He therefore convened a formidable muster of those fierce sectarians, the followers of “preacher Macmillan," who, at the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh, (the scene of many previous political freaks,)

1

Calamy, vol. ii. p. 65.

2 Ibid. p. 65–67. 3 Among other benefits of the Union, that measure extirpated the market for bribery, which had caused a base portion of the Scotch aristocracy to sell their influence for whatsoever they could get from England or Francesometimes to both.

“ The equivalent” seems the last bribe, and this plot, conducted by John Kerr, one of the last schemes of a species as disgraceful to the government as it was to their hired spy, who hoped to lead on those who trusted him to their destruction. Twenty or thirty of his associates were to appear on the Castle Hill at noon, when company was usually promenading. The conspirators were to wear swords, and to have pistols privately about them. The leader was to inquire for some officer in the castle, it mattered not who he might be. As soon as the gate was opened (which was never refused to any gentleman), the Jacobite leader was to pistol the sentinel ; his

« AnteriorContinua »