Plots against William III
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
... continued from the previous article ...
As a natural consequence the dissolution of parliament and a general election brought a considerable accession of strength to William and the Whigs. But though the king's hands were strengthened for the purposes of the war, the Whigs themselves became more insistent upon party demands which were not to the king's liking. William was obliged to cancel large grants which, he had made to his most intimate friend and adviser, the Dutchman Bentinck, now Duke of Portland, who, like all William's Dutch companions and servants, was the object of English jealousy.
Somewhat reluctantly also he had to accept a Treasons Bill, which required not only that there should be two witnesses to some kind of treason, but two witnesses to any specific charge; while in other respects it secured to the accused rights which we should now regard as elementary, but which had hitherto been denied; so that there could be no repetition of the old scandals in connection with the Rye House Plot.
A reaction in William's favour, however, was caused by the discovery of Barclay's plot for the assassination of the king, which had been tacked on to a plot for a French invasion. William was never vindictive, and indeed carefully avoided too close enquiry and too much knowledge of the persons concerned in plots against his person; on this occasion he displayed his usual half-contemptuous leniency, but parliament and the public were stirred to an unwonted loyalty. As in the reign of Elizabeth plots had recoiled upon the head of Mary Stuart, so now plots recoiled upon the head of James II, and again, as in Elizabeth's reign, a National Association was formed for the defence of the king.
The war however suffered, for the panic created by the alarm of invasion led to the recall of the Mediterranean fleet and the recovery of French ascendency in those waters. Savoy withdrew from the coalition, and France was relieved from any further fighting in Italy.
Act of Attainder
Two other consequences of the plot are to be noted in England. One of the prisoners, Sir John Fenwick, revealed intrigues with the Jacobites, already known to and ignored by William, on the part of Shrewsbury, Marlborough, and Godolphin. Marlborough had already been removed from public employment, although his intriguing ceased with the death of Mary, which ensured the succession of Anne, whom he could count upon controlling through his wife. Shrewsbury and Godolphin both resigned, Godolphin being the only member of the Tory party who had continued till this time to retain high office. A purely Whig ministry was thus brought to completion.
The second consequence was that the Whigs themselves resorted to an Act of Attainder to prevent the escape of Fenwick himself, since one of the two witnesses required by the law which they themselves had passed to bring about his condemnation had been bribed to leave the country.
The Treaty of Ryswick
Although the Whigs were as loyal as ever in providing supplies for the war, it dragged on ineffectively through 1696. Both sides in fact were exhausted and anxious for peace. Negotiations through the winter and the following spring bore fruit in the Treaty of Ryswick. For William the chief gain was his definite recognition as King of England by Louis XIV, who pledged himself to give no active support to the Jacobite cause, though he refused to deny his hospitality to the exiles.
The treaty altogether was a demonstration that France could do no more than hold her own against a coalition which included England; whereas, before the Revolution, when she could practically count upon the neutrality if not the support of England, every treaty had brought her a fresh accession of territory and strength. But the War had served as a binding force in English politics, and disintegration followed upon the peace.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.