The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 11/From Charles Ford to Jonathan Swift - 8

LONDON, JULY 31, 1714.

I DO not doubt but you have heard the queen is dead, and perhaps we may be so unfortunate before this comes to you; but at present she is alive, and much better than could have been expected. I am just come from Kensington, where I have almost spent these two whole days. I am in great haste; but, till dinner comes up, I will write to you, and give you as full an account as I can of her illness.

Her disorder began between eight and nine yesterday morning. The doctors ordered her head to be shaved; and while it was doing, she fell into a fit of convulsion, or as they thought an apoplexy. This lasted near two hours, and she was speechless, and showed little sign of life during that time; but came to herself upon being blooded.

As soon as she recovered, my lord Bolingbroke went to her, and told her the privy council was of opinion, it would be for the publick service to have the duke of Shrewsbury made lord treasurer. She immediately consented, and gave the staff into the duke's hands. The great seal was put to the patent by four o'clock. She continued ill the whole day. In the evening I spoke to Dr. Arbuthnot, and he told me, he did not think her distemper was desperate. Radcliffe was sent for to Carshalton about noon, by order of council; but said he had taken physick, and could not come. In all probability he had saved her life; for I am told the late lord Gower had been often in the same condition with the gout in his head; and Radcliffe kept him alive many years after[1]. This morning, when I went there before nine, they told me she was just expiring. That account continued above three hours, and a report was carried to town, that she was actually dead. She was not prayed for, even at her own chapel at St. James's; and what is more infamous, stocks arose three per cent upon it in the city. Before I came away, she had recovered a warmth in her breast and one of her arms, and all the doctors agreed, she would in all probability hold out till to morrow, except Mead, who pronounced, several hours before, she could not live two minutes, and seems uneasy it did not happen so. I did not care to talk much to Arbuthnot, because I heard him cautious in his answers to other people; but, by his manner, I fancy he does not yet absolutely despair. The council sat yesterday all day and night, taking it by turns to go out and refresh themselves. They have now adjourned, upon what the doctors said, till five. Last night the speaker and my lord chief justice Parker were sent for, and the troops from Flanders. This morning the Hanoverian envoy was ordered to attend with the black box[2], and the heralds to be in readiness to proclaim the new king. Some of the whigs were at the council yesterday, but not one failed to day; and most of the members of that party, in each house, are already come to town. If any change happens before the post goes out, I will send you word in a postscript; and you may conclude her alive, if you hear no more from me, and have no better authority than post-letters to inform you of the contrary. For God's sake do not think of removing from the place where you are, till matters are a little settled. Ireland is the last retreat you ought to think of; but you can never be better than you are now, till we see how things go.

I had yours with the printed pamphlet, as well as the other, and should have sent it away to morrow. Pray let me hear from you. * * * * *[3].

Have you had all mine? I have failed you but one post (I think it was the last) for a fortnight or more.


The queen is something better, and the council again adjourned till eight in the morning.

  1. In the account that is given of Dr. Radcliffe, in the Biographia Britannica, it is said, that the queen was 'struck with death the twenty-eighth of July: that Dr. Radcliffe's name was not once mentioned, either by the queen or any lord of the council; only that lady Masham sent to him, without their knowledge, two hours before the queen's death.' In this letter from Mr. Ford to dean Swift, which is dated the thirty-first of July, it is said, that the queen's disorder began between eight and nine the morning before, which was the thirtieth; and that about noon, the same day, Radcliffe was sent for by an order of council. These accounts being contradictory, the reader will probably want some assistance to determine what were the facts. As to the time when the queen was taken ill, Mr. Ford's account is most likely to be true, as he was upon the spot, and in a situation, which insured him the best intelligence. As to the time when the doctor was sent for, the account in the Biographia is manifestly false; for if the doctor had been sent for only two hours before the queen's death, which happened incontestibly on the first of August, Mr. Ford could not have mentioned the fact on the 31st of July, when his letter was dated. Whether Radcliffe was sent for by lady Masham, or by order of council, is therefore the only point to be determined. That he was generally reported to have been sent for by order of council, is certain; but a letter is printed in the Biographia, said to have been written by the doctor to one of his friends, which, supposing it to be genuine, will prove, that the doctor maintained the contrary. On the fifth of August, four days after the queen's death, a member of the house of commons, a friend of the doctors, who was also a member, and one who always voted on the same side, moved, that he might be summoned to attend in his place, in order to be censured for not attending on her majesty. Upon this occasion the doctor is said to have written the following letter to another of his friends:

    "DEAR SIR,

    CARSHALTON, AUG. 7, 1714.

    I COULD not have thought, that so old an acquaintance, and so good a friend, as sir John always professed himself, would have made such a motion against me. God knows my will to do her majesty any service has ever got the start of my ability; and I have nothing that gives me greater anxiety and trouble than the death of that great and glorious princess. I must do that justice to the physicians that attended her in her illness, from a sight of the method that was taken for her preservation by Dr. Mead, as to declare nothing was omitted for her preservation; but the people about her, the plagues of Egypt fall on them, put it out of the power of physick to be of any benefit to her. I know the nature of attending crowned heads in their last moments too well to be fond of waiting upon them, without being sent for by a proper authority. You have heard of pardons being signed for physicians, before a sovereign's demise; however, ill as I was, I would have went to the queen in a horselitter, had either her majesty, or those in commission next to her, commanded me so to do. You may tell sir John as much, and assure him, from me, that his zeal for her majesty will not excuse his ill usage of a friend, who has drank many a hundred bottles with him; and cannot, even after this breach of a good understanding that ever was preserved between us, but have a very good esteem for him. I must also desire you to thank Tom Chapman for his speech in my behalf, since I hear it is the first he ever made, which is taken more kindly; and to acquaint him, that I should be glad to see him at Carshalton, since I fear (for so the gout tells me) that we shall never more sit in the house of commons together. I am, &c.

    But whatever credit may now be paid to this letter, or however it may now be thought to justify the doctor's refusal to attend her majesty, he became at that time so much the object of popular resentment, that he was apprehensive of being assassinated; as appears by the following letter directed to Dr. Mead, at Child's coffeehouse in St. Paul's Churchyard.

    "DEAR SIR,

    CARSHALTON, AUG. 3. 1714.

    I GIVE you, and your brother, many thanks, for the favour you intend me to morrow; and if there is any other friend, that will be agreeable to you, he shall meet with a hearty welcome from me. Dinner shall be on the table by two, when you may be sure to find me ready to wait upon you. Nor shall I be at any other time from home, because I have received several letters, which threaten me with being pulled to pieces, if ever I come to London. After such menaces as these, it is easy to imagine, that the conversation of two such very good friends is not only extremely desirable, but the enjoyment of it will be a great happiness and satisfaction to him, who is, &c.

    Radcliffe died on the first of November the same year, having survived the queen just three months; and it is said, that the dread he had of the populace, and the want of company in the country village, which he did not dare to leave, shortened his life. He was just sixty-four years old. He was carried to Oxford, and buried in St. Mary's church.

  2. Containing the instrument nominating the persons, in number thirteen, to be added as lords justices to the seven great officers of the realm.
  3. Six lines are here erased.