Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/478

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

364, the duchess gives it to be understood that her resignation was at last her own act). The letter and the pleadings with which Marlborough presented it had no effect. The queen declared that she could not change her resolution, and must insist upon the duchess's key of office being returned within two days (17 Jan. 1710–11). It was returned on the same evening. The vacant offices of mistress of the robes and groom of the stole were conferred upon the Duchess of Somerset, while the privy purse was given to Mrs. Masham.

In the meantime the course of events had favoured the prospects of peace. The ministry had continued to take advantage of the popular feeling so thoroughly in unison with the sentiments of the queen against the whigs and the captain-general, and in favour of the recently endangered church. The House of Lords, however, rejected both a proposal for a commission of inquiry into grants made since the revolution of 1688 (30 April), and a bill to repeal the act for the general naturalisation of protestants. The former device was to have filled the exchequer at the expense of the whig magnates, the latter to have gratified the popular dislike of the ‘poor Palatines,’ to whom the queen had formerly been munificent. Afterwards, in March 1712, she renewed her charity to the Palatines settled in Ireland; but the experiment was not saved from ending as a failure (Treasury Papers, 1708–14, 475). A worthier sign of church zeal than this demonstration against the dissenters was the act passed on the recommendation of the queen for the building of fifty new churches in London, the cost of which was to be defrayed from part of the duty on coals hitherto devoted to Wren's reconstruction of St. Paul's. The queen's message was brought into the House of Commons by St. John while Harley was recovering from the murderous attack made on him by Guiscard (8 March). It was even reported that the terrible adventurer had formed a design against the person of the queen, and precautions were taken to insure the safety of her residence at St. James's Palace (Luttrell, vi. 705). Burnet says that her health was at this time much shaken; besides suffering from the gout she had three attacks of the ague, which appear to have been caused or intensified by her agitation about public business. Much later in the year (December 1711) we find convocation congratulating her on her recovery from an illness which had in some quarters, possibly by design, been represented as extremely dangerous (Luttrell, v. 374; cf. Wentworth Papers, 210, 215). She had never been more popular, and her birthday this year was celebrated with great rejoicings (Luttrell, vi. 688). Her absence from court on the anniversary of her accession was attributed to the dangers surrounding her; much to her credit she personally forbade the indecent show made of Guiscard's body after his execution (Craik's Swift, 213 and 216 note).

The principal task of the administration of which Harley, now Earl of Oxford and lord treasurer, stood at the head, was carried on in secret. There were at this time not less than five secret agents of France in England, who, though acting separately, were all guided by the same hand (Mesnager, 109–10). The British ministers were not less discreetly served; so that they were able to make the Dutch believe that whatever proposals might be brought to London, they would not be dealt with till after consultation with the states. Mesnager was in the midst of his labours presented at Kensington to the queen, who told him: ‘'Tis a good work; pray God succeed you in it. I am sure I long for peace; I hate this dreadful work of blood’ (ib. 134). Torcy declares (Mémoires, ii. 43–44) that she did her best to forward the negotiations. After having declared, on 25 Aug., that there was no French plenipotentiary in London, she made things pleasant for Mesnager in his incognito, and even expressed a wish to defray his expenses. And Mesnager himself attributes the success of the negotiations mainly to two causes, viz. ‘the steadiness of the queen, guided by her own aversions to some of the other people, and especially by her resentments of the affronts which it is said had been offered her by some of the women about her person,’ and ‘the exquisite management of the treasurer’ (Mesnager, 182). After the signature of the preliminaries she received Mesnager graciously in a secret audience (so Torcy, ii. 73–4), and continued to give effectual support to the action of her ministry, even when they sailed dangerously near the wind. A different set of preliminary articles, which included a barrier for the Dutch, and was otherwise more careful of the interests of the allies, had been communicated to the states and to Count Gallas, an imperial diplomatist residing in London under the designation of ambassador of the king of Spain; and when Gallas, indignant even at this version, published it in the newspapers, and loudly denounced the conduct of the queen and her government, she forbade him the court, notwithstanding her personal regard for him (Torcy, ii. 102), and requested Charles VI to send another ambassador in his place.

On 17 Nov. 1711 Marlborough landed in