The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 4/Some Considerations upon the Consequences hoped and feared from the Death of the Queen







AUGUST 9, 1714.

IN order to set in a clear light, what I have to say upon this subject, it will be convenient to examine the state of the nation, with reference to the two contending parties; this cannot well be done, without some little retrospection into the five last years of her late majesty's reign.

I have it from unquestionable authority that the duchess of Marlborough's favour began to decline very soon afer the queen's accession to the throne, and that the earl Godolphin's held not much above two years longer; although her majesty (no ill concealer of her affections) did not think fit to deprive them of their power, until a long time after.

The duke of Marlborough, and the earl of Godolphin, having fallen eady into the interests of the lower party, for certain reasons not seasonable here to be mentioned, (but which may deserve a place in the history of that reign) they made large steps that way upon the death of the prince of Denmark, taking several among the warmest leaders of that side, into the chief employments of state. Mr. Harley, then secretary of state, who disliked their proceedings, and had very near overthrown their whole scheme, was removed with the utmost indignation; and about the same time, sir Simon Harcourt, and Mr. St. John, with some others, voluntarily gave up their employments.

But the queen, who had then a great esteem for the person and abilities of Mr. Harley, (and in proportion of the other two, although at that time not equally known to her) was deprived of his service with some regret; and upon that, and other motives well known at court, began to think herself hardly used; and several stories ran about, whether true or false, that her majesty was not always treated with that duty she might expect. Meantime the church party were loud in their complaints; surmising, from the virulence of several pamphlets, from certain bills projected to be brought into parliament, from endeavours to repeal the sacramental test, from the avowed principles and free speeches of some persons in power, and other jealousies needless to repeat, that ill designs were forming against the religion established. These fears were all confirmed by the trial of Sacheverell; which drew the populace, as one man, into the party against the ministry and parliament.

The ministry were very suspicious that the queen had still a reserve of favour for Mr. Harley, which appeared by a passage that happened some days after his removal: for the earl of Godolphin's coach and his happening to meet near Kensington, the earl, a few hours after, reproached the queen, that she privately admitted Mr. Harley, and was not, without some difficulty, undeceived by her majesty's asseverations to the contrary.

Soon after the doctor's trial, this gentleman, by the queen's command, and the intervention of Mrs. Masham, was brought up the back stairs; and that princess, spirited by the addresses from all parts, which showed the inclinations of her subjects to be very averse from the proceedings in court and parliament, was resolved to break the united power of the Marlborough and Godolphin families, and to, begin this work by taking the disposal of employments into her own hands: for which an opportunity happened by the death of the earl of Essex, lieutenant of the Tower; whose employment was given to the earl Rivers, to the great discontent of the duke of Marlborough, who intended it for the duke of Northumberland, then colonel of the Oxford regiment, to which the earl of Hertford was to succeed. Some time after, the chamberlain's staff was disposed of to the duke of Shrewsbury, in the absence, and without the privity, of the earl of Godolphin. The earl of Sunderland's removal followed; and lastly, that of the high treasurer himself, whose office was put into commission, whereof Mr. Harley (made at the same time chancellor of the exchequer) was one. I need say nothing of other removals, which are well enough known and remembered; let it suffice, that in eight or nine months time the whole face of the court was altered, and very few friends of the former ministry left in any great stations there.

I have good reasons to be assured, that when the queen began this change, she had no intentions to carry it so far as the church party expected, and have since been so impatient to see. For, although she was a true professor of the religion established, yet the first motives to this alteration, did not arise from any dangers she apprehended to that, or the government; but from a desire to get out of the dominion of some, who, she thought, had kept her too much and too long in pupillage. She was in her own nature extremely dilatory and timorous; yet, upon some occasions, positive to a great degree. And when she had got rid of those who had, as she thought, given her the most uneasiness, she was inclined to stop, and entertain a fancy of acting upon a moderating scheme, whence it was very difficult to remove her. At the same time I must confess my belief, that this imagination was put into her head, and made use of as an encouragement to begin that work, after which, her advisers might think it easier to prevail with her, to go as far as they thought fit. That these were her majesty's dispositions in that conjuncture, may be confirmed by many instances. In the very height of the change, she appeared very loth to part with two great officers of state of the other party: and some whose absence the new ministers most earnestly wished, held in for above two years after.

Mr. Harley, who acted as first minister before he had the staff, as he was a lover of gentle measures, and inclined to procrastination, so he could not, with any decency, press the queen too much against her nature; because it would be like running upon the rock, where his predecessors had split. But, violent humours running both in the kingdom and the new parliament, against the principles and persons of the low church party, gave this minister a very difficult part to play. The warm members in both houses, especially among the commons, pressed for a thorough change; and so did almost all the queen's new servants, especially after Mr. Harley was made an earl and high treasurer. He could not, in good policy, own his want of power, nor fling the blame upon his mistress. And as too much secrecy was one of his faults, he would often, upon these occasions, keep his nearest friends in the dark. The truth is, he had likewise other views, which were better suited to the maxims of state in general, than to that situation of affairs. By leaving many employments in the hands of the discontented party, he fell in with the queen's humour; he hoped to acquire the reputation of lenity; and kept a great number of expectants in order, who had liberty to hope, while any thing remained undisposed of. He seemed also to think, as other ministers have done, that since factions are necessary in such a government as ours, it would be prudent not altogether to lay the present one prostrate, lest another more plausible, and therefore not easy so to grapple with[1], might arise in its stead.

However, it is certain that a great part of the load he bore, was unjustly laid on him. He had no favourites among the whig party, whom he kept in upon the score of old friendship or acquaintance; and he was a greater object of their hatred, than all the rest of the ministry together.

  1. This should be 'not so easily to be grappled with,' &c.