Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 28.djvu/388

This page has been validated.
Hyde
Hyde
382

400). The narrative of transactions in Africa, laid before parliament on 24 Nov. 1664, was probably his work. After the war began Clarendon talked openly of requiring new cessions from the Dutch, and asserted in its extremest form the king's dominion over the British seas (Lords' Journals, xi. 625, 684; Lister, iii. 424; Ranke, iii. 425; Pepys, 20 March 1669). Rejecting the offered mediation of France, he dreamt of a triple alliance between England, Sweden, and Spain, 'which would be the greatest act of state and the most for the benefit of Christendom that this age hath produced' (Lister, iii. 422; Lords' Journals, xi. 488). Later still, when France had actively intervened on the side of Holland, Clarendon's eyes became open to the designs of Louis XIV on Flanders, and he claims to have prepared the way for the triple alliance (Cont. p. 1066). But the belief that he was entirely devoted to French interests was one of the chief obstacles to the conclusion of any league between England and Spain (Klopp, Der Fall des Hauses Stuart, i. 145, 192; Courtenay, Life of Temple, i. 128). Nor was that belief—erroneous though it was—without some justification. When Charles attempted to bring the war to an end by an understanding with Louis XIV, Clarendon drew the instructions of the Earl of St. Albans (January 1667); and though it is doubtful whether he was cognisant of all his master's intentions, he was evidently prepared to promise that England should remain neutral while France seized Flanders.

In June 1667 the Dutch fleet burnt the ships in the Medway, and on 21 July the treaty of Breda was concluded. Public opinion held Clarendon responsible for the ill-success of the war and the ignominious peace. On the day when the Dutch attacked Chatham, a mob cut down the trees before his house, broke his windows, and set up a gibbet at his gate (Pepys, 14 June 1667; cf. ib. 24 June). According to Clarendon's own account, he took very little part in the conduct of the war, 'never pretending to understand what was fit to be done,' but simply concurring in the advice of military and naval experts (Cont. p. 1026). Clarendon's want of administrative skill was, however, responsible for much. He disliked the new system of committees and boards which the Commonwealth had introduced, and clung to the old plan of appointing great officers of state, as the only one suitable to a monarchy. He thought it necessary to appoint men of quality who would give dignity to their posts, and underrated the services of men of business, while his impatience of opposition and hatred of innovations hindered administrative reform.

As the needs of the government increased, the power of the House of Commons grew, and Clarendon's attempt to restrict their authority only diminished his own. He opposed the proviso for the appropriation of supplies (1665) 'as an introduction to a commonwealth and not fit for a monarchy.' He opposed the bill for the audit of the war accounts (1666) as 'a new encroachment which had no bottom,' and urged the king not to 'suffer parliament to extend its jurisdiction. He opposed the bill for the prohibition of the Irish cattle trade (1666) as inexpedient in itself, and because its provisions robbed the king of his dispensing power; spoke slightingly of the House of Commons, and told the lords to stand up for their rights. In 1666, finding the House of Commons 'morose and obstinate,' and 'solicitous to grasp as much power and authority as any of their predecessors had done,' he proposed a dissolution, hoping to find a new house more amenable. Again, in June 1667 he advised the king to call a new parliament instead of convening the existing one, which had been prorogued till October (Cont. pp. 964, 1101; Lister, ii. 400). This advice and the immediate prorogation of parliament when it did meet (25-9 July 1667) deeply incensed the commons, and gave Clarendon's enemies an opportunity of asserting that he had advised the king to do without parliaments altogether (Pepys, 25 July 1667; Lister, ii. 402). Still more serious, with men who remembered the Protectorate, was the charge that he had designed to raise a standing army and to govern the kingdom by military power. What gave colour to the rumour was that, during the invasion of June 1667, Clarendon had recommended the king to support the troops guarding the coast by the levy of contributions on the adjacent counties until parliament met (Cont. p. 1104). In private the king himself owned the charge was untrue, but refused to allow his testimony to be used in the chancellor's defence. Popular hatred turned against Clarendon, and poets threatened Charles with the fate of his father unless he parted with the obnoxious minister (Marvell, Last Instructions to a Painter, 1. 870).

The court in general had long been hostile to Clarendon, and the king's familiar companions took every opportunity of ridiculing him. Lady Castlemaine and he were avowed enemies. The king suspected him of frustrating his designs on Miss Stewart, and was tired of his reproofs and remonstrances. 'The truth is,' explained Charles to Ormonde, 'his behaviour and humour was grown so