Montagu was under no obligation to protect the minister from the consequences of a betrayal of the secret negotiation. He had no personal liking for Danby, who combined with 'his excellent natural parts' (according to Evelyn) no sense of generosity or gratitude (Evelyn, Diary, ii. 293). When, therefore, Montagu invited his influence to secure for him the post of secretary of state, Danby manifested an unwillingness to aid him. Soon after Montagu received Danby's letters, he moreover, involved himself in a personal quarrel with the king's former mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland. Dismissal from office followed, and Montagu, crediting Danby with responsibility for his misfortunes, flung himself into the arms of the opposition. He easily convinced Barillon, the French ambassador in London, that Danby was at heart an enemy of France, and that Louis XIV would benefit by his downfall, which he, if subsidised, could bring about. A liberal sum of money was at once placed by Barillon at Montagu's disposal, and Montagu obtained a seat in parliament, in order to carry out his part of the bargain. Danby, who suspected his intentions, tried to foil them by issuing an order in council early in December 1678 for the seizure of all Montagu's papers. But he had lost control of the House of Commons, and it was at once voted, contrary to his wish, that the sequestered papers should be examined at Westminster. On 20 Dec. Montagu moved that the two incriminating documents sent him by Danby early in the year should be read by the speaker, as 'he conceived they might tend very much to the safety of his majesty's person, and the preservation of the Kingdom.' The king's postscripts were not read, and the house at once resolved that the correspondence supplied sufficient matter for an impeachment. Next day articles impeaching the lord treasurer were drawn up.
The commons professed to perceive only the misconduct of the minister. But the king's authority for the despatch of the corrupt letters to Montagu was undeniable, and was evidenced by his own handwriting. The commons, therefore, in impeaching Danby, went a great way towards establishing the principle that no minister can shelter himself behind the throne by pleading obedience to the orders of the sovereign (Hallam). Danby's grave offence sprang from a desire to retain power. Removal and exclusion from office he thoroughly deserved. That a capital charge of treason could be justly reared on the basis of the letters was doubtful. But Danby's personal unpopularity silenced all scruples. According to Burnet, he was 'the most hated minister that had ever been about the king.' Charles himself had no misapprehension on that score, and told him soon after he had become treasurer that he had only two friends in the world — the royal favour and his own merit (Letters to Williamson, p. 64). The king's relations, which had always been friendly, had grown more intimate since the king's natural son, the Earl of Plymouth, married at Wimbledon Danby's daughter Bridget, on 13 July 1678. But it was not in Charles's nature to exert himself in behalf of a threatened minister, especially when the minister was being held up to public execration by pamphleteers and ballad writers. Danby's corrupt practicea, his alleged dependence on his wife, his personal appearance, his bad health, and his pale face were all ridiculed unceasingly in coarse lampoons :
He is as stiff as any stake,
And leaner Dick than any rake ;
Envy is not so pale.
And though by selling of us all
He has wrought himself into Wbitehall
He looks like bird of gaol.
('The Chequer Inn,' State Poems, 1703; cf. Marvell, Poems, ed. Aitken, ii. 2(V)). Lord Mulgrave, afterwards Duke of Buckinghamshire, in his 'Essay on Satyr,' described him as 'that great false jewel,' who was thought exceeding wise 'only for taking pains and telling lies;' while the Earl of Dorset, in his 'Young Statesmen,' 1680), credited Danby with 'matchless impudence.' Dryden, to whom both these poems are often wrongly ascribed, was one of Danby's few literary admirers, and dedicated to him his 'All for Love' in 1678.
The public temper had, moreover, been madly excited since the autumn by the pretended revelations of Titus Gates [q. v.], and was readily disposed to detect in every deviation from public duty some complicity with 'the horrid plot.' Danby's enemies in parliament, in order to expose their victim with certainty to the peril of punishment by death, charged him directly with encouraging the alleged conspiracy. From the first Danby had discredited Oates's story, and that circumstance supplied his enemies with the sole pretence for connecting him with the 'plot.' One of the articles of impeachment, absurdly describing him as 'popishly affected,' I declared that he had 'traitorously concealed the late horrid plot' after he had notice of it. Roger North's contention that he had at first given some countenance to Gates, and soon perceived that he had got a wolf by the ears which he could neither hold nor let go, is