2,500l.) His pretext for preferring such a claim was the (pretended) success that had crowned his efforts in demanding the return to England of the three British regiments, which had been in Dutch pay since 1678; and he fortified this cool proposal by promises of further aid, more particularly in keeping down his master's own pecuniary claims upon Louis. The effrontery of the request astounded Barillon, but he would have been still more astonished had he known that through his wife and her gallant, Henry Sidney, Sunderland was regularly supplying the Prince of Orange with information as to the most secret transactions of the English court.
For the present, however, the success of these two manœuvres postponed any resolution that Sunderland may have dallied with to desert James at this juncture. He was beginning to see that the alienation of the episcopal party had proceeded too far. He nevertheless, on 8 June, signed the committal of the seven bishops. Personally he would have preferred the matter to be laid before the carefully packed parliament which was in contemplation for the spring of 1689. He was not a little impressed by the demeanour of the people upon the progress of the bishops to the Tower. But the charges of lukewarmness which were brought against him at the council board made it necessary for him to give decisive proof of his devotion. He had already compounded for his own delay by causing his eldest son to abjure protestantism, and now, in the week of the bishop's trial, he made public his own renunciation of the protestant religion. A little later, on 13 July, he appeared at mass in the king's chapel. During the bishops' trial, though suffering acutely from gout, he appeared in a wheel-chair to give evidence against the defendants. On 17 June, a week after the birth of the prince, he went to St. James's and pledged the king to the infant's health, in company with the papal nuncio. As soon as possible he paid his addresses to the queen, over whom he exerted a great ascendency, and impressed her with the idea that, now that she had a son, moderation was above all desirable, and that the conversion of England need not now be pressed, but should rather be proceeded with ‘very gently’ (Burnet). But, though assured of the queen's confidence, Sunderland was nevertheless cautiously preparing for the vicissitudes of revolution. Early in August Russell wrote to the Prince of Orange of a ‘Mr. Roberts, whose reign at court can hardly last a month, and who has grown so warm in your interests that I can hardly prevail on him to stay for his being turned out. … He has desired me to assure your highness of his utmost service.’ There seems excellent ground for identifying ‘Mr. Roberts’ with Robert Spencer, whose reign at court was threatened with curtailment by the intrigues of Petre.
The approach of danger impelled Sunderland to give free play to his duplicity. Princess Anne formed at this juncture a juster estimate of his character than of his motives. ‘You may remember,’ she says in a letter to her sister dated 13 March 1687–8, ‘I have once before ventured to tell you that I thought Lord Sunderland a very ill man, and I am more confirmed every day in that opinion. Everybody knows how often this man turned backwards and forwards in the last king's time, and now, to complete all his virtues, he is working with all his might to bring in popery. He does not go publicly to mass, but hears it privately at a priest's chamber, and never lets anybody be there but a servant of his; he is perpetually with the priests, and stirs up the king to do things faster than I believe he would of himself. His wife, adds the princess, ‘is just as extraordinary in her kind; for she is a flattering, dissembling, false woman, but with such a fawning and endearing manner that she will deceive anybody. Yet she will cheat, though it be for a little; and she has her gallants. … Sure there never was a couple so well matched as her and her good husband; for she is the greatest jade that ever lived, so he is the subtellest, workinest villain on the face of the earth.’
Sunderland's attitude and conduct when the crisis arrived were enigmatic. He laughed at Barillon's warnings, and when Bevil Skelton [q. v.] apprised the king of the threatened invasion, he ridiculed it as a chimera. More than any one else he was responsible for James's fateful refusal to accept aid from Louis in the form of a defensive squadron of French ships. He subsequently desired to take credit for this refusal from the Prince of Orange. His real motive was much more probably fear of the contemplated parliament, should it be discovered that, while in receipt of French money, he had admitted French ships into an English harbour. As in the time of the Exclusion Bill, he seems to have had a very imperfect idea of the state of feeling in the nation at large. Macaulay well calls him quick-sighted rather than far-sighted. With the fate of Monmouth before him, he was thoroughly sceptical about the success of an invasion. A much more brilliant prospect was indeed afforded him by the chance of giving a remedial turn to James's measures