was returned from the House of Lords, with certain important amendments, in April 1700. To displace him accordingly became the prime object of the country party, and to that end an attempt was made to saddle him with responsibility for the piratical acts of Captain William Kidd (d. 1701) [q. v.] He was one of the undertakers who had procured Kidd his commission, equipped his ship, and were jointly interested in such ships and cargoes as he might capture from the pirates. When, therefore, instead of making war on the pirates, the captain hoisted the black flag himself, the undertakers were credited with an accurate foresight of events, and were denounced as aiders and abettors of piracy. The agitation culminated on 10 April 1700 in a motion in the House of Commons for an address to the king for the lord-chancellor's perpetual exclusion from his councils and presence. It was defeated, but by so small a majority that William thought it expedient that Somers should retire. He was not unwilling to do so, but urged that his resignation would be interpreted as an acknowledgment of guilt. The king therefore sent him the usual warrant, upon which, on 17 April, he surrendered the great seal. After an interval, during which the seal went a-begging, he was succeeded by Sir Nathan Wright [q. v.]
In retirement Somers found leisure to recruit health long since shattered by excessive application to public business, and to concern himself more actively with the transactions of the Royal Society. He kept, however, a watchful eye on public affairs; and ‘Several Orations of Demosthenes to encourage the Athenians to oppose the exorbitant power of Philip of Macedon, englished from the Greek by several Hands,’ which appeared under his direction in 1702 (London, 24mo), had at that juncture a more than academic interest. Meanwhile he did not escape the consequences of the implicit confidence which, in the matter of the partition treaties, he had reposed in the king. The death of the king of Spain, 1 Nov. 1700, N.S., was followed by the publication of a will, signed by him under French influence, by which he nominated as his successor Philip, duke of Anjou, the second son of the dauphin. Louis XIV at once pronounced in favour of the will, formally recognised the duke as king of Spain, and occupied the Spanish Netherlands. In England he had the tories on his side, while the whigs rallied to the imperial cause. After the general election of January 1700–1 the tories soon gained the upper hand. In the House of Lords an address to the king for disclosure of all treaties negotiated since the peace of Ryswick brought the partition treaties under discussion (14 March). The negotiations were censured as both unconstitutional and impolitic. Portland, who bore the brunt of the attack, sought to share his responsibility with Somers and his friends. In the result the lords voted an address to the king unequivocally condemning the policy of the treaties and deprecating for the future the practice of negotiating without the advice of his natural-born subjects. A similar address was voted by the commons, who loudly demanded the impeachment of Portland, Somers, Orford, and Halifax. Released from his oath of secrecy by the king, Somers obtained leave to attend the lower house, and was heard in his defence on 14 April. He laid his letter of 28 Aug. 1698 on the table, and the whole responsibility for the negotiations upon the king, whose mandate he pleaded in justification of the transmission of the blank commission under the great seal, and the subsequent affixing of the great seal to the ratification, ignoring the fact that the mandate was not peremptory, but conditional on the treaty being approved. The enrolment of the documents in chancery he denied to be part of his duty.
The limits of the royal prerogative were then so ill defined that Somers must be acquitted of grave delinquency; but his defence was not such as could safely be admitted, and a resolution to proceed with his impeachment was carried, though only by a small majority. A motion was also carried for an address to the king for the immediate and perpetual exclusion of the impeached lords from his councils and presence. But to this attempt to snatch judgment before trial, William, fortified by a counter-address from the House of Lords, paid no heed. In May the impeachment, swollen in Somers's case to fourteen articles, by inclusion of the stale charge concerning his connection with Kidd and some other fictitious accusations, came before the House of Lords. The minor charges Somers triumphantly rebutted; the rest of the indictment was not pressed; and, after a wrangle between the houses about procedure, his acquittal, which carried with it that of the other lords, was formally pronounced on 17 June. The turbulent scenes which attended these proceedings evoked Swift's ‘Discourse of the Contests and Dissensions between the Nobles and the Commons in Athens and Rome, with the consequences they had upon both those States,’ in which (chap. ii.) a parallel is drawn between Somers and Aristides.
On the recognition of the Pretender as king of England by Louis XIV, William,