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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/231

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to suppose was really the case. Addison sang of

    Britain advanced and Europe's peace restored
    By Somers' counsels and by Nassau's sword.

(To His Majesty, 1695). But in fact it is extremely doubtful whether Somers was consulted at all by William during the negotiations which terminated in the Anglo-French peace of Ryswick. When the subsequent scheme for the partition of the inheritance of the childless and moribund king Charles II of Spain between England, France, the empire, and Holland took definite shape, William sent Somers the draft of the ‘first partition’ treaty. Moreover the king authorised him to confer with such of his colleagues as he might deem most worthy of trust, and directed him, in the event of the treaty being approved, to have the necessary commission under the great seal made out with such secrecy that even the clerks who engrossed it should not know its real effect, and transmitted to him, with blank spaces for the names of the commissioners. This letter, which was dated 25 Aug. 1698, N.S., reached Somers, then at Tunbridge Wells, only a few days before the draft treaty was signed by the plenipotentiaries (8 Sept., N.S.). He lost no time in taking counsel with Shrewsbury, Charles Montagu, James Vernon [q. v.], secretary of state for foreign affairs, and Edward Russell, earl of Orford, first lord of the admiralty. The treaty commended itself to none of the five statesmen. They thought it staked too much on the good faith of Louis XIV, and that the assignment of Spain, the Indies, and the Netherlands to the Electoral Prince of Bavaria (Joseph Ferdinand), and of the duchy of Milan to the Archduke Charles would prove no equivalent for the cession to the dauphin of the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, the marquisate of Finale, the Tuscan ports, and the Biscayan marches. They also thought that it would be prejudicial to the English Levantine trade, and enormously increase the maritime power of France, and they deprecated the assumption of new responsibilities by a country already overburdened with taxation.

The opinion of the council, which did but anticipate that of the country, and evinced a singularly just insight into the designs of the Grand Monarque, with whom the partition treaty was but a device for breaking up the grand alliance, was communicated by Somers to the king in a cautiously worded letter (28 Aug.). It caused William some uneasiness, but as it was accompanied by the required commission, and he had already gone too far to recede with honour, he stifled his misgivings and ratified the definitive treaty at Loo in November. To the ratification Somers affixed the great seal, taking care at the same time that neither it nor the commission was enrolled in chancery. Notwithstanding this precaution, however, the secret transpired almost immediately, and when William, on 6 Dec., met parliament with a speech composed by Somers, in which a modest increase of the army was proposed, an animated debate resulted in a bill for its reduction to a total of seven thousand men, all of whom were to be English (17 Dec. 1698). During the progress of this bill Somers was frequently closeted with the king, whose indignation he in vain attempted to appease. When it became certain that the measure would pass, William announced his determination to leave the island with his Dutch guard and pass the rest of his days in Holland. For once the chancellor lost his composure, almost his temper, as he dilated on the ‘extravagance,’ the ‘madness’ of the proposal, and implored the king to suffer it to go no further. William was obdurate, and Somers tendered his resignation. It was not accepted, but by the support which he gave the bill in the House of Lords Somers lost the king's confidence. At the same time he shared his growing unpopularity. He was the reputed author of ‘A Letter balancing the Necessity of keeping a Land Force in Times of Peace, with the Dangers that may follow it,’ a very modest argument for a small regular army, which had appeared anonymously in 1697 (State Tracts, ii. 585). He was suspected of being the king's adviser in the negotiations occasioned by the death of the Electoral Prince of Bavaria, 6 Feb. 1699, N.S., which resulted in the second partition treaty, by which Spain, the Indies, and the Netherlands were assigned to the Archduke Charles, and the duchy of Milan to the Duke of Lorraine, on condition of the cession of his duchy to the dauphin, who was to retain the territories allotted to him by the former treaty. But, beyond affixing the great seal to the commission, Somers appears to have known no more of the negotiation than the rest of the world until shortly before the second partition treaty was signed at London on 21 Feb. 1699–1700. He afterwards affixed the great seal to the ratification. As in the case of the former treaty, neither commission nor ratification was enrolled in chancery.

Somers was also supposed—and with no more reason—to be the life and soul of the opposition to the bill for the resumption of the grants of forfeited Irish estates, which