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Of Patriots

Of Patriots, Kings & Scoundrels - Part 1
by | Sunday, 21st February 2010
A people may choose, or hereditary succession may raise, a bad prince to the throne; but a good king alone can derive his right to govern from God.  The reason is plain: good government alone can be in the divine intention.  God has made us to desire happiness; he has made our happiness dependent on society; and the happiness of society dependent on good or bad government.  His intention, therefore, was, that government should be good... A divine right in kings is...a divine right to govern well, and conformably to the constitution at the head of which they are placed.  A divine right to govern ill, is an absurdity to assert it, is blasphemy... The office of kings is, then, of right divine, and their persons are to be reputed sacred.  As men, they have no such right, no such sacredness belonging to them: as kings, they have both, unless they forfeit them. - Henry St John, Lord Bolingbroke, "The Idea of a Patriot King"

Introduction

In the years between the "Glorious revolution" and the death of Queen Anne in 1714, England was a chaotic nation, wracked by political, religious and economic turmoil. The overthrow of the Stuart dynasty, while apparently relieving the nation of one particulary overt form of autocratic ruling tyranny, had also witnessed the birth of a far greater and more pernicious yolk around the necks of the people - the foundation of the Bank of England. Within a few short years, the nation was engaged in a long, debilitating war with France, against which, in 1711, Jonathan Swift savagely polemicised in his "The Conduct of the Allies", taking the Duke of Marlborough and his Venetian "War Party" faction to task by name for their geopolitical schemes and profiteering from the sordid enterprise.

Unless The Forfeit Them...

Leaping forward to 2009, in the wake of the passage of the Treaty of Lisbon, and the rapid descent of much of Europe into a state of political ungovernability, our present predicament presses us most urgently to explore this particular chapter of our national history, and cast a new set of eyes over the people, events and political forces that laid the foundations of those fundamental constitutional structures to which we must now turn for our succour. For as this article series intends to prove, the essential nature of the political and economic calamities we face today can only be fully comprehended by tracing them back to their source, in the throes of the titanic struggle for the soul of the new nation of Great Britain that occurred during those short and turbulent years of the reign of Queen Anne and her loyal ministers. In doing so, I shall proceed as did Dr Swift himself, when, in his account of the last four years of the Queen, he wrote "Neither shall I mingle panegyrik or satire, with a history intended to inform posterity, aswell as to instruct those of the present age, who may be ignorant or misled ; since facts, truly related, are the best applauses, or most lasting reproaches."

As the leading quote suggests, the motivation underlying this report serves a very specific purpose, towards the ends of which the gentleman in question strides boldly forth from the fog of these great historical intrigues, to offer some very valuable insight. But, while much has been written about Henry St John, as the adage "to the victor goes the spoils" cautions, we must be careful to examine such commentaries with an extremely critical eye, for there is a great deal that remains hidden from the casual observer. However, what is beyond debate is that his was a life spent immersed in political, literary and diplomatic battles which entangled the leading members of the wider European intelligensia, over issues of paramount importance to world history, and to the future liberty and wellbeing of the people of his own country.

It should therefore come as no great surprise that as I persued my investigation into the life and times of Lord Bolingbroke, I quickly found myself confronted with a lack of reliable contemporary biographical source material with which to work. I therefore resolved to refer only to primary source documents, personal letters and other political treatises, that are now availabe in the public domain. After some extensive digging, I finally settled on "Memoirs of the life and ministerial conduct of the late Lord Bolingbroke", published in 1753, by his editor David Mallet, which gives a relatively balanced - although for reasons that will become apparent later in this series, not entirely above reproach  - exposition of our noble Lord and his family history.

Our Noble Lord

According to Mr Mallet, the St John family date back to the times of William the Conqueror, where it is recorded in the Roll of Battle-Abbey that William de St John was Quarter-Master general of the army of William, Duke of Normandy. His younger brother was one of the twelve knights who, in the reign of William Rufus, undertook an expedition against the Welsh, by which he acquired the Castle of Falmont in Glamorganshire. In due course he became possessed of lands granted to the family in England, around Stanton in Oxfordshire. Many centuries later, in the reign of James I, Oliver de St John was enobled as the first Earl of Bolenbroke, a title which remained in one branch of the family or another from that point onwards. During the English civil war, the St John family had protagonists on both sides fighting for and against King Charles, with the patriarch of one branch of Royalists, John St John, losing three sons to the conflict. One of his surviving sons, was Walter St John, the grandfather of Henry St John, Lord of Battersea. It was here that his Son, Henry St John, later to be Lord Bolingbroke was born, on the 1st October 1678.

In his early years, young Henry exhibited much of the joi de vivre common to his class and station, accompanied with a healthy dose of rebellious licentiousness. As befitting an education at Eton, where he crossed paths with his future nemesis Robert Walpole, but also forged alliances with such as his friend and collaborator William Wyndham, Henry St John demonstrated a great genius for oratory and swiftly rose to prominence in literary and political circles.

A Nation Is Born

Taking up the family seat of Wootton Bassett, Henry St John first entered politics in 1701, at the remarkably young age of twenty. Quickly, he became attached to Lord Robert Harley, and was tasked with the passage of the Act of Settlement through the Parliament, in which he was successful the same year. The Act itself had been necessitated by a crisis of the succession, resulting from the failure of the House of Orange to sire an heir, and the tragic deaths of all of the children of Queen Anne, the last of whom, Prince William, had died in 1700 aged eleven. Not least due to the chain of events that lead to the Act of Union in 1707, the Act of Settlement remains, as it was described by Henry Hallam "the great seal of our constitutional laws".

With the change of ministry, from the Whig to Tory factions in 1710, Harley and Bolingbroke came to power and began in earnest their offensive on behalf of bringing an end to the war of the Spanish succession, and hostilities with France, which was finally concluded with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During the course of these events, in a 1711 letter to the Earl of Orrery concerning the establishment of the "Brother's Club" (which will include both Harley and Swift), Bolingbroke writes:  "I must, before I sent this letter, give your lordship an account of a club which I am forming, and which, as light as the design may seem to be, I believe will prove to be of real service.  We shall begin to meet in a small number; and that will be composed of some who have wit and learning to recommend them; of others who, from their own situations or from their relations, have power and influence; and of others who, from accidental reasons, may be properly taken in.  The first regulation proposed, and that which must be most inviolably kept, is decency.  None of the extravagance of the Kit Cat [the Hell Fire crowd], none of the drunkeness of the Beefsteak, is to be endured.  The improvement of friendship and the encouragement of letters are to be the two great ends of our society". It was the establishment of this literary society, and its sibling, the "Scriblerus Club", dedicated to the uplifting of the intellectual climate within the country, which was the source of much of the political intelligence that informed such timeless classics as "Gullivers Travels" and "The Memoires of Martinus Scriblerus".

The Great Unravelling

However, despite these momentous achievements, it was not until 1715, and the accession of George I, of the House of Hanover, that the disastrous consequences of the 1700 succession crisis were to strike Bolingbroke and his collaborators with the full force of tragedy. For George I was no friend of the Tory faction, having openly gone over to the cause of Walpole, Godolphin and Marlborough, and their intended continuation of the wars with France, years before his accession to the English throne. Within days of the coronation, Bolingbroke was dismissed from office and returned to his estates in Bucklebury, where he set to writing a response to the charge of Jacobitinism that had been laid against him. Later, in March of 1715, on hearing of the intentions of the new Walpole administration to attack the instigators of the Peace of Utrecht, he fled to France, where he remained in exile for ten years, before returning to England in 1725.

It was during the early years of his exile, in a letter to William Wyndam, that Lord Bolingbroke was to write: "The Bank, the East India Company, and in general the moneyed interest, had certainly nothing to apprehend like what they feared, or affected to fear, from the Tories - an entire subversion of their property. Multitudes of our own party would have been wounded by such a blow. The intention of those who were the warmest seemed to me to go no farther than restraining their influence on the Legislature, and on matters of State; and finding at a proper season means to make them contribute to the support and ease of a government under which they enjoyed advantages so much greater than the rest of their fellow-subjects. The mischievous consequence which had been foreseen and foretold too, at the establishment of those corporations, appeared visibly. The country gentlemen were vexed, put to great expenses and even baffled by them in their elections; and among the members of every parliament numbers were immediately or indirectly under their influence. The Bank had been extravagant enough to pull off the mask; and, when the Queen seemed to intend a change in her ministry, they had deputed some of their members to represent against it. But that which touched sensibly even those who were but little affected by other considerations, was the prodigious inequality between the condition of the moneyed men and of the rest of the nation. The proprietor of the land, and the merchant who brought riches home by the returns of foreign trade, had during two wars borne the whole immense load of the national expenses; whilst the lender of money, who added nothing to the common stock, throve by the public calamity, and contributed not a mite to the public charge."

And so, with this striking image of the problem we still face today in Great Britain, the conversion of a sovereign nation into nothing more than a base for the operations of international financial parasites, we shall return to our series and tell the tale of the battle royale within the court of Queen Anne, and its aftermath, in Part II.

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