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The Legacy Of Henry St John, Lord Bolingbroke

Of Patriots, Kings & Scoundrels - Part 2
by | Saturday, 1st May 2010
These are the great springs of national misfortunes. There have been monsters in other ages, and other countries, as well as ours ; but they have never continued their devastations long, when there were heroes to oppose them... They, who go about to destroy, are animated from the first by ambition and avarice, the love of power and money: fear makes them often desperate at last... A Parliament, nay one house of Parliament, is able at any time, and at once, to destroy any corrupt plan of power. - Henry St John, Lord Bolingbroke, "Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism"

A Prophetic Turning Point

In part I of our series, we shone a tentative light into the dark corners of an epic political struggle that ensued during the formative years of our nation. This was no petty domestic squabble, but a dramatic turning point in history, with international strategic implications not only for Europe but for what will eventually become an irreparable division between a Great Britain of Imperial intentions and the Great Republic of United States of America, which during these times was little more than a few scattered colonies on the eastern seaboard.

Having hereby situated our report with precise historical specificity, and chosen Lord Bolingbroke as the lens through which we mean to interpret these great events, we now return to embellish our story with the developments that occurred during the short but momentous reign of Queen Anne.

In my extensive research into this period of our national history, I chose for my reference point the “State Papers and Correspondence – Illustrative of the Social and Political State of Europe from the Revolution to the Accession of the House of Hanover” by John Kemble (1846), scion of a famous family of Shakespearean actors; and "The HISTORY of the Four last years of the Queen" by Jonathan Swift (1758). The choice of these two documents as sources will be self evident to any with the time and inclination to study them. For example however, the “State Papers” opens with a detailed exposition of the events leading up to the Peace of Westphalia, and ends with a spirited defence of Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz, the central figure around which the great issues of this era were to revolve in a maelstrom whose ripples still stir even the unquiet waters of our presently troubled age. For it was Leibniz, the great scientific genius, statesman, and educator of Princess Sophia of Hanover, who immediately prior to the accession of George I to the throne of England, said: “They would be very wrong at Hanover to attach themselves only to the Whigs; they ought to attach themselves to the bulk of the nation, and endeavour to abolish these factions."

These were profound and also prophetic words, for the factions in question were pitted against each other by outside forces, until, in their perpetual and increasingly vicious war for control of the national policy of Great Britain, they tore the very fabric of our nation to shreds, and plunged Europe into a political crisis from which it has never recovered.

Turbulence & Rancour

In order to gauge the social and political climate in the country as these struggles played themselves out on the stage of history, we should first cast our minds back to the events which brought the Tory faction of Robert Harley, Lord Oxford, to power in 1710.

The nation was weary of the long and debilitating war of the Spanish succession, and the heavy burden of taxation with which the people had been saddled, and unrest was simmering just below the surface. Meanwhile, as London gathered for its annual celebration of November 5th, a certain maverick preacher named Henry Sacheverell, had been selected by the Lord Mayor to give a rousing sermon to the notables of The City. In this sermon, Sacheverell not only lambasted the 1688 “Glorious Revolution”, but also many Bishops, ministers and institutions of the day. The Whig regime responded swiftly to this open provocation: Sacheverell was arrested, prosecuted and impeached without delay. But the government had badly miscalculated the depth of the popular disquiet in the country. A series of violent riots broke out, giving the Queen her opportunity to act in defence of the nation, to which she responded with the unceremonious dismissal of Lord Sidney Godolphin and the rest of the Whig Junto, in August 1710, forcing the collapse of the ministry.

The ensuing triumphant return of Lord Harley to government presented an historic opening through which the more moderate Tory faction could begin to redress the many excesses of the Whigs, and sue for peace throughout Europe. Immediately, Harley set about the business of government without thought of recrimination or reproach, bringing into his administration a number of key Whig leaders, with the intention of pursuing an enlightened policy of national unity.

But this healthy collaboration was brought to a sudden end by a series of provocations by agents of the Dutch-Venetian financial oligarchy, acting from within both parties to break up the potential for the kind of pragmatic policy that Leibniz and his operatives were working to bring about internationally. This was exemplified by the affair of Prince Eugene, who, being dispatched to England as emissary of the Emperor to secure the continuation and increase of funding for the war, found himself and his mission frustrated by the new administration of Harley, and was reported to have said “That the treasurer [to use his own expression] should be taken off a la negligence ; that this might be easily done, and pass for an effect of chance, if it were preceded by encouraging some proper people to commit small riots in the night”. As related by Swift, there followed a rash of violent incidents and outrages about the city at night. As a consequence, under the implied threat to the security of the realm and the person of the Queen, on 30th December 1711, the Duke of Marlborough was tried in the House of Lords and removed from office. A similar fate befell his close collaborator, Robert Walpole, who, after being impeached and expelled from the House of Commons, was imprisoned in the Tower for six months.

Princes & Sophists

These fractious events reach their dramatic conclusion in the “matter of the Writ”, an audacious and malicious attempt to bring the Prince Elector (later George II) into the House of Lords under the title of the Duke of Cambridge. This plot against the Queen is outlined quite shamelessly in a letter from a certain barrister, Roger Acherley Esq, to Leibniz on 12th October 1713. It is said that Princess Sophie, reading of this unpleasant turn of events in England, retired to her bed chamber and expired from grief. Harley, having thus been unfavourably exposed and even suspected of sympathising with the plot, made a great remonstrance in his defence to the Queen. But Anne had lost confidence in Harley and favoured Bolingbroke to lead the ministry. On 27th July 1714, Harley surrendered his staff of office and resigned from the government. But, only a few days later, on 1st August, Queen Anne herself passes away. Thus, in the span of just a few months, all hopes of the Tory faction for a more favourable mediation with the ascending Hanoverian dynasty were tragically smashed. On 20th October of that year, George I is crowned King and immediately purges the government of Lord Bolingbroke and his collaborators. The Whig “Venetian Party” triumph was now complete.

Acrimony, Exile & Tragedy

In striking contrast to the magnanimity of the Tory government during the previous transition of power under Queen Anne, the incoming administration wasted little time in setting about reaping their revenge on the vulnerable Tories in the most violent and uncompromising fashion. Their first act was to have Harley tried, convicted and imprisoned in the Tower, to where he was committed in July of 1715.

Back in Hanover, Leibniz, working through his top agents in London, led by Marshall von Schulenburg, was finally able to piece together the bigger picture and ascertain the treacherous intentions of both the Whigs and the Hanoverians in this crucial period. Leibniz himself, having become embroiled in the “matter of the Writ”, had been dismissed by George I and prevented from travelling to England as an advisor to the court of the new King. Lord Bolingbroke, having remained above reproach throughout the entire affair, had nonetheless been made the primary target of the vengeful Whigs following the trial and imprisonment of Harley, and was forced to flee the country under threat of impeachment, prosecution and perhaps even execution for his role in the treaty of Utrecht and accusations of Jacobinism.

It is no exaggeration to say that were history to have taken a different course, the combination of Leibniz and Bolingbroke as the leading intellectual force of a reformed British monarchy would have shaken world history by triggering a truly sublime English Renaissance. That this was prevented from occurring represents perhaps the most poignant tragedy, and salient lesson, in English history.

In his aforementioned history of the period, which remained suppressed for almost forty years, Swift was to write “I know very well the numberless prejudices of weak and deceived people as well as the malice those, who, to serve their own interest or ambition, have cast off all religion, morality, justice and common decency”.

Apotheosis & Revolution

However, even as these calamitous developments were gripping England, two key allies of Swift were appointed to governorships in the American colonies: Robert Hunter (New York) and Alexander Spotswood (Virgina). Spotswood launches a drive for industrial development all the way to the Mississipi river, while Hunter leads the thrust to break across the natural boundary of the Blue Ridge mountains to the west of New York. Spotswood is eventually forced out of power various by Venetian operations during the accession of George I, but a few years later, by what can only be described as a miracle of providence, Lord Thomas Fairfax VI is granted the proprietorship of a huge tract of land in and around the Chesapeake bay in Virginia. Lord Fairfax is a committed scholar and collector of the entire works of Swift, who, on relocating to America, just happens to move into the same neighbourhood as the young George Washington. In due course, they jointly form the Ohio Company and begin the development and fortification of the interior region, a project which was later to play a major role in ensuring the success of the American war of Independence.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, this was not some petty rebellion over “taxation without representation”, but the opening shot of a global war against the depredations of the British East India Company, which had consolidated unprecedented power over the British political system during the years of waning Tory influence. And so, while the great struggle against these forces of economic monopoly and tyranny was crushed here on our own shores, it was ultimately fought and won by the founding fathers of the United States of America, but not without their share of inspiration by the ideas which formed the “spirit of the age” of Lord Bolingbroke.

We shall return to review the tragic consequences of these turbulent times for Great Britain, in Part III.

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