Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/351

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


gave great offence to the high tories by endeavouring, by means of prosecutions, to stop high-church addresses to the crown, ‘so that they set all engines to work to get him removed’ (Boyer, ix. 187–9). He was considered the most active of the three secretaries of state, and was ‘implacably odious to Mr. Harley’ (Cunningham). Anne hesitated long before she ventured on the momentous step of dismissing one of the all-powerful junto; but the state of feeling in the country, as shown during the Sacheverell trial, gave her courage. Shrewsbury, Somerset, and Mrs. Masham combined to urge this step upon her, and the queen yielded to their solicitations in June 1710. Sunderland himself suspected Godolphin, but without reason. The lord treasurer in fact exerted to the utmost his influence with Anne in order to retain him in office, and as a last resource threatened his own resignation and that of Marlborough. Anne replied that no one knew better than himself the repeated provocations she had received from Sunderland (ib. iii. 83). On 20 June 1710 Marlborough sent a letter to Godolphin to be shown her, begging that Sunderland's removal might at least be deferred till the end of the campaign. A great meeting of whig ministers was held at Devonshire House on the 14th inst. to protest; but Anne had already drawn up the letter of dismissal, and told Godolphin that should he and Marlborough resign, any consequences to the public would lie at their door (ib. pp. 88–90). As no colourable charge could be brought against him, Sunderland was offered by the queen a pension of 3,000l. He refused it, ‘saying if he could not have the honour to serve his country he would not plunder it’ (Boyer, ix. 228–30; Luttrell, vi. 594; Wentworth Papers, p. 118, where the expression is softened). The anticipation that Sunderland's fall would be followed by that of Godolphin caused a panic in the city. These fears were soon realised. Parliament was dissolved in August 1710, and when a large tory majority was returned, though Anne was still anxious for a mixed administration, the whigs were soon wholly excluded. Lady Sunderland, however, did not resign her place as lady of the bedchamber till the fall of the Marlboroughs in January 1712 (Journal to Stella, 30 Jan. 1712; Wentworth Papers).

The extreme tories, who counted on St. John's support, were not long in attacking the late administration. A vote of censure on their conduct of the war in Spain passed the lords by 68 to 48 on 11 Jan. 1711, and Sunderland was especially singled out for attack (Luttrell, vi. 677). He admitted his responsibility, but urged that he shared it with his colleagues; and in the course of the debate the important constitutional point of the collective responsibility of ministers was raised (Parl. Hist. vi. 969–81). According to Burnet, Nottingham and the extreme tory party wished to impeach Sunderland; but Dartmouth, his tory successor as secretary of state, had refused to help them with material from his office. Unable to destroy Sunderland, Nottingham soon sought means of making him useful to him and his following. In the autumn he and a small clique of tories formed an alliance with Sunderland in opposition to the ministry. When, therefore, Nottingham brought forward a motion against the proposed peace on 7 Dec. 1711, Sunderland made a vehement speech supporting him; while, in return, Sunderland moved the introduction of the Occasional Conformity Bill, directed against his own friends, the dissenters. His conduct, says Cunningham, caused great discontent both in city and country. In 1713 he also entered into an intrigue with the Scottish lords, who were discontented with the Malt Bill, and on 1 June declared himself in favour of the repeal of the Scottish union ‘if it had not the good results expected,’ though he had been one of its framers. In the course of the debate he and Harley (now Lord Oxford) indulged in much personal recrimination (Parl. Hist. vol. vi. 1219–20).

During the last years of Anne, Sunderland was in constant communication with the court of Hanover and their agents in England and Holland. He had had his first interview with his future sovereign in 1706, and on 12 April had written protesting his attachment and recommending to him Halifax as having the confidence of the whigs (Macpherson, Orig. Papers, ii. 36; cf. Spence, Anecdotes, 1820, p. 313). In 1710 he and Halifax disclaimed republicanism (Macpherson, Orig. Papers, ii. 202). In 1713 the Hanoverian agent in London was approved for restraining ‘the excessive forwardness and vivacity of Lord Sunderland’ (ib. p. 466). On 10 March, however, the latter was consulted, together with Somers, Halifax, and Townshend, as to what steps should be taken on the queen's death (ib. p. 475). In reply he wrote to Bothmar at The Hague on 6 April, giving him their unanimous advice that the electoral prince should be sent to England, where he could appear without consent of parliament by virtue of his being a peer of the realm. He at the same time sent a form constituting the prince custos regni for the Electress