The Political History of England - Vol. X.
by William Hunt
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In Germany the war was not marked by any great event. France was much distressed by domestic troubles. Public credit failed; and Pitt, speaking on Grey's motion for peace, argued that France was near the end of her resources. Food was scarce and half Paris was only kept alive by distributions of bread and meat at low prices. The jacobins of Paris were crushed by the thermidoriens, and in the south-east a sanguinary movement of the enemies of the republic, the "white terror," pursued its course unchecked. In August a new constitution was adopted of a far less democratic character than that of 1793; the executive was vested in a directory of five and the legislative in two assemblies. An insurrection in Paris on October 5 was quelled mainly by the fire of a few cannon under the command of Bonaparte, and the revolution assumed an organised and settled form. Three years of war had brought Austria also to a state of exhaustion. Active operations, therefore, did not begin until late. Luxemburg surrendered after a blockade; and in the autumn Jourdan and Pichegru led two armies across the Rhine at different points. Jourdan drove the Austrians back and invested Mainz; Pichegru occupied Mannheim. Clairfait, however, forced Jourdan to abandon the siege of Mainz and cut the two French generals off from one another. Mannheim was retaken and both the French armies were pushed back across the Rhine.


In the war on the Italian frontier the British fleet in the Mediterranean bore some part. In Hood's absence it was commanded by Admiral Hotham, a distinguished officer, though lacking in dash and resolution. The French threatened Corsica with their Toulon fleet. Hotham engaged them on March 13 and 14, and cut off their two rearmost ships, but in Nelson's opinion lost an opportunity of destroying the whole fleet. The attempt on Corsica, however, was abandoned. Both fleets were reinforced; for the watch on Brest was slackly kept and six ships were allowed to leave the port and sail to Toulon. Another engagement in Hyeres bay on July 13 only resulted in the destruction of one French ship, and was another lost opportunity. The command of the sea, which would have carried with it the control of the Italian states, was not secured. Meanwhile an Austrian army, acting with the Sardinians and relying on the co-operation of the British fleet, forced the French to evacuate Vado. The two armies faced one another, the Austrians waiting until the French should be compelled to retire by want of provisions; for as they were cut off from Genoa they depended on supplies by sea. Hotham detached Nelson with a small squadron to intercept their supplies and co-operate with the Austrians. He performed his duty with characteristic energy, but the ships which Hotham allowed him were too few for the work he had to do. The French army was strongly reinforced and was supplied by coasting vessels. The allies were totally defeated in the battle of Loano on November 23. The Austrians retreated beyond the Apennines, and the French had no further difficulty in obtaining provisions.

[Sidenote: QUIBERON.]

Before the end of 1794 Pitt was persuaded by the Count de Puisaye, a leader of the Breton Chouans, to send an expedition to support them. The expeditionary force was to consist of French emigrants headed by the Count of Artois, the youngest brother of Louis XVI. Emigrants were enlisted in England and from the force lately serving on the Rhine, and the government supplied arms and money. It was hoped that an unexpected descent on the coast would enable the royalists in the west to gain an immediate success, which was to be followed up by an invasion of a British force under Lord Moira. The plan became known, and in June it was necessary to act at once. The first body of emigrants, about 3,500 men, under Puisaye and Hervilly, with large supplies of all kinds and specially of arms for future recruits, sailed on the 16th in a squadron commanded by Sir John Warren. The Brest fleet was on the watch for them, and Warren sent for help to Lord Bridport, then in command of the channel fleet. Bridport caught the French, who were inferior in strength, off the Ile de Groix and captured three of their line of battle, but allowed the rest to escape into L'Orient. On the 27th the emigrants were landed on the peninsula of Quiberon and, with some help from the squadron, took the fortress of Penthievre which commanded it. A large number of Chouans joined them and arms were distributed among the peasantry.

Puisaye and Hervilly quarrelled. Time was wasted, and Hoche, who was in command in Brittany, drove in the Chouans from their advanced posts and shut the whole force up in the peninsula. They made an attempt to break out on July 16; Hervilly was wounded and his troops retreated under cover of the fire from British gunboats. A second party landed under Sombreuil. More quarrelling ensued and then treachery, for Hervilly had enlisted some who were republicans at heart. These men betrayed their companions, and with their help Hoche stormed the fort of Penthievre, and fell on the royalists in the peninsula. Many were slaughtered; others fled. It blew hard, and for a time the British ships could do little for the fugitives. At last they were able to take off Puisaye and some 3,500 others. Sombreuil and about a thousand under him were cut off, and laid down their arms. Sombreuil was tried and executed at Vannes, and over 700 were shot in batches on successive days in a field near Auray. The fugitives were landed on the islands of Houat and Haedik which were covered by the squadron. Then the Count of Artois with a third division of the expedition and a body of British troops appeared, took possession of the Ile d'Yeu, and seemed about to cross over to the mainland to co-operate with the Vendeans. However nothing further was done of any importance, and in October the troops were embarked for England. The Vendeans, who had hoped in vain to receive help, and to be headed by Artois, were again crushed, and the only result of this ill-planned and deplorable expedition was the ruin of the royalist cause in the west.

Nor were events cheering in the West Indies during 1795. The reconquest of Guadaloupe, due to the insufficiency of the British force sent out in 1794, led to disastrous consequences. The French firmly established themselves in the island and made it a centre for operations, St. Lucia was taken, and insurrections of French inhabitants, negroes, and native races were fomented and supported in St. Vincent's, Grenada, and Dominica. An insurrection of the Maroons caused much trouble in Jamaica, and the government of the island imported bloodhounds from Cuba to track the fugitive insurgents. Great indignation was expressed in parliament at this measure, and it was asserted that the dogs tore the natives in pieces. Dundas explained that the home government was not responsible for the importation of the dogs, and promised that if they were used for such a horrid purpose the practice should be stopped. In 1796 a large force was sent to the West Indies under Sir Ralph Abercromby and Admiral Christian. St. Lucia was retaken and the British power re-established in the Antilles. The French, however, retained Guadaloupe, and privateers both from that island and Cuba did much damage to the West India trade. England gained largely by the alliance between Holland and France, for it threw the Dutch colonies open to attack. Their rich settlements in Ceylon, Malacca, and on the Malabar coast; the Cape (September, 1795); Demarara, Essequibo, and the Moluccas (1796) were taken without difficulty.

England's naval power was already forwarding the increase of her trade, and the total loss of commerce with France, Holland, and the Belgian Netherlands was more than counterbalanced by its increase with Germany, Russia, and the United States. With the United States some serious difficulties with respect to neutral rights were happily settled in 1794 by a treaty which was negotiated on their part by Jay, and finally ratified in 1796. Yet the year 1795 was one of great distress among the poor. Two bad harvests in succession raised the average price of wheat, which in 1792 had been 43s., to 75s. 2d. Bread riots broke out in Sussex, in Birmingham, Nottingham, Coventry, and other places. Bills were passed with the object of husbanding the supply of wheat; liberal bounties were granted on importation, and the members of parliament entered into an agreement to curtail the use of wheaten flour in their own households. A bill for the regulation of wages, introduced by Whitbread, the brewer, and advocated by Fox, was opposed by Pitt and was rejected. Starving men are quick to believe assertions that their sufferings are caused by ill-government, and the corresponding society, encouraged by the failure of the prosecutions in 1794, was active in spreading political discontent. At a large meeting held in St. George's Fields on July 29, an address to the king was voted and resolutions were passed demanding annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and above all peace, as remedies for the high price of food. Parliament was summoned for October 29. On the 26th, a meeting in Copenhagen Fields, Mary-le-bone, at which 150,000 persons are said to have been present, adopted a strongly worded "remonstrance" to the king, praying for parliamentary reform, the dismissal of the ministers, and a speedy peace. When the king went to open parliament a large crowd greeted him with hisses and cries of "Bread! Peace! No Pitt!" His carriage was pelted, and a missile, probably from an air-gun, broke the glass. On his return the same cries were raised; there was more pelting, and the king was only rescued from the crowd by the arrival of some horse-guards. George, than whom no braver man lived in his dominions, remained perfectly calm throughout these scenes, read the royal speech without a sign of excitement, and the next night went with the queen and the princesses to Covent Garden theatre, where he was received with enthusiasm. The soldiers also acted admirably and abstained from hurting any one.


The insult to the king and the proceedings of the corresponding society were met by repressive measures. Proclamations relating to the outrage and to seditious assemblies were followed by two bills, one introduced in the lords by Grenville, the other in the commons by Pitt. The first, the treasonable practices bill, extended the crime of treason to spoken and written words not followed by any overt act, and created a new crime by subjecting to heavy penalties any one convicted of inciting others to hatred of the sovereign or the established government. The second, the seditious meetings bill, forbade all political meetings of which notice had not previously been given by resident householders, and empowered any two justices to dissolve a legally constituted meeting at their discretion by using the riot act. Both these measures were grievous encroachments on liberty. Apart from its extension of the law of treason, the first might be used to prevent all discussion of political reforms; the second checked the public expression of opinion on public affairs. The ministry, however, was acting in accordance with the will of parliament and of the vast majority of the respectable part of the nation, who were alarmed and indignant at the success of seditious agitators in exciting political discontent among the uneducated classes. England was engaged in a struggle for existence, and could not afford to tolerate sedition. Looking back on issues then incalculable, we may think that repression was carried farther than was necessary; but anything was better than the least sign of weakness in dealing with seditious practices. Excited meetings, over one of which Fox presided, were held to condemn the bills. Numerous petitions, mostly got up by the corresponding society, were presented against them; and many were presented in their favour. They were violently opposed by the minority in parliament, and Fox declared that if they became law, obedience would no longer be a question of duty but of prudence, a direct incitement to rebellion only to be excused as uttered in the heat of debate, an excuse which is also needed for some foolish and intemperate language on the other side. The sedition bill, which was limited to three years, was amended by giving up the clause empowering magistrates to dissolve meetings at their discretion as dangerous to the public peace. The two bills were passed in both houses by overwhelming majorities. The treason act was only to last during the king's life, and both acts proved quite harmless, for neither was ever called into operation.

Pitt's budget for 1796 included another loan of L18,000,000 and several new taxes, one of them on salt. He proposed duties on legacies and on collateral successions to real estate. The first was easily carried, but Fox, in spite of his democratic professions, seized on the proposal to make landed estates equally liable with other property to taxation, as an opportunity for thwarting the government by exciting the selfishness of the landed gentry, and Pitt found that so many of his supporters were hostile to the tax that he withdrew his proposal. Nor was the inequality redressed until 1853, when Gladstone, following Pitt's lead, made all successions alike liable to duty. As at the end of the session in May parliament was near the term of its natural life, a new parliament was elected. The returns showed that the government had lost no ground in the confidence of the country: as a rule, the large constituencies elected supporters of Pitt; indeed, twenty-three of Fox's small following were returned for nomination boroughs.

The policy of England in 1796 was closely connected with the course of the war between her Austrian ally and the French. In March Bonaparte took the command of the army of Italy. He defeated the Austrians at Montenotte, and compelled the Sardinian king to abandon the coalition. He crossed the Po, forced the passage of the Adda at Lodi, and occupied Milan on May 14. The Austrians fell back behind the Mincio, and garrisoned the strong fortress of Mantua. Bonaparte levied contributions on the Dukes of Parma and Modena, forced the papal states to submission, occupied Leghorn, which was thus closed against our ships, and reduced the Grand Duke of Tuscany to obedience. In June Ferdinand of Naples and the pope made armistices with France. The Austrian power in Italy depended on the possession of Mantua. Wurmser forced Bonaparte to raise the siege, and the Austrians though defeated at Lonato and Castiglione, regarrisoned the place. A second attempt by Wurmser to relieve it was defeated in August, and he was shut into Mantua. If Hotham had destroyed the French fleet in the Mediterranean, Bonaparte would not have carried everything before him in the Italian states south of the Po. As it was, his success had an unfortunate effect on England's naval war.


After 1795 the French made no more attempts to cope with an English fleet. They employed their navy only in military expeditions and in the destruction of British commerce.[265] The watch upon their ports was slackly kept and ships constantly left them. Much damage was done to England's trade, specially by privateers; her navy was largely employed in convoy duty, and actions between small squadrons and single ships were frequent. In this year a French squadron cruelly ravaged the coast of Newfoundland, another captured part of a West India convoy, and a third made some prizes in the Levant. Warfare of this kind, though troublesome to England, could not affect her maritime supremacy. That was impaired by the results of Bonaparte's campaign in Italy. In December, 1795, the command in the Mediterranean was taken by Sir John Jervis, a fine seaman and a strict disciplinarian, who soon brought the fleet to a high state of efficiency. He kept a strict watch on Toulon, and employed Nelson in intercepting the French communications by sea. By the end of June the ports of Tuscany, Naples, and the papal dominions were shut against his ships; Corsica was restless, and the fleet was in danger of being left without a base. In July Nelson, who was then blockading Leghorn, occupied Elba in order to gain a harbour and establish a place of stores at Porto Ferrajo. A new danger, however, threatened the fleet, for Spain, influenced by Bonaparte's successes, made an offensive and defensive alliance with France by a treaty signed on August 19; and as the Spaniards had over fifty ships of the line, the position of the British fleet became critical. And there was work for it elsewhere, for Portugal was in need of help. The Austrian cause in Italy seemed almost hopeless, and Jervis received orders to evacuate the Mediterranean.

Then better news came to England; the Austrians had achieved a signal success in Germany. Two French armies under Jourdan and Moreau crossed the Rhine in the summer and acted independently of each other. After a campaign of about two months Jourdan was defeated by the Archduke Charles at Amberg, and again near Wurzburg on September 3, and was forced to recross the Rhine. Moreau advanced as far as Munich, for Bonaparte intended, after the fall of Mantua, which he believed would not be delayed, to effect a junction with him in Bavaria. Jourdan's overthrow left Moreau in a critical position, and he only saved his army by a masterly retreat through the Black Forest. Bonaparte's hope that he would soon bring the war to an end by marching into Bavaria, and on Vienna, was disappointed. His army was kept on the Mincio, for Mantua remained untaken, and another army under Alvinzi was preparing to march to its relief. Italy was not conquered yet, and on October 19 the cabinet decided that the fleet should remain in the Mediterranean.[266] It was then too late. Corsica and Elba were abandoned; Ferdinand of Naples made peace with France, and Jervis sailed for Lisbon. After three years in the Mediterranean the fleet retired from its waters; its departure left that sea closed to British commerce, assured Bonaparte's communications, and strengthened his hold over Italy.


Pitt, driven into war against his will, was sincerely anxious for peace. He had entered on the war for political reasons, and would not be deterred from negotiation by dislike of the French republican government. His views were not shared by all his colleagues; Windham and Pitt's whig supporters generally were averse from peace because they desired the overthrow of the revolutionary system. The king fully sympathised with them, and their sentiments were stimulated and expressed by Burke, whose first Letter on a Regicide Peace appeared in the autumn. Pitt believed that the new French government would be willing to treat, and that it would remain in power, so that a stable peace might be hoped for. The king's speech at the opening of parliament in October, 1795, stated that the government would be willing to treat, and this was emphatically declared in a royal message to parliament on December 8. Sorely against the king's will, an attempt at negotiation was made in the early spring through Wickham, the British ambassador at Berne. His overtures were scornfully rejected, the directors replying that no proposition for the surrender of any of the countries declared by France to be "re-united" to herself would be entertained. This was final; for England was bound by treaty to maintain the integrity of the Austrian dominions, and could treat only on the basis of the surrender of the Austrian Netherlands by France.

In July the cabinet determined to make another attempt. A strong party in France desired peace, and the friends and agents of the British government abroad represented that the directors would be unable to resist its demands. The expenses of the war were enormous, for Austria clamoured for financial support; and it seemed possible that the emperor, pressed by the double French invasion of Germany and by Bonaparte's victories in Italy, might make a separate peace.[267] England's naval successes had given her much that Pitt could offer. And he would offer much, for he was in earnest in his attempt. If it did not succeed he would at least show the nation that he desired peace, and the rejection of his offers would wound its pride, rouse its spirit, and encourage it to bear the burden of the war. George believed that the attempt would fail, and consented to it because he reckoned that its failure would have this effect on the nation. In September the cabinet requested the Danish ambassador in Paris to ask for a passport for an English minister. The directors rejected his mediation, but the strength of the peace party prevented them from declining all negotiation, and they offered to receive a minister if the British government made an official request. Great Britain was, in fact, to sue for peace. The government acquiesced, and Malmesbury was sent over to Paris. England offered all that she had conquered from France for a peace which should include her allies, if France would surrender the Austrian Netherlands either to the emperor or in exchange for some equivalent which he would accept, and restore the Milanese. The surrender of the Netherlands was refused, and on December 19 Malmesbury was ordered to leave Paris in twenty-four hours. This abrupt termination was connected with the death of Catherine of Russia on November 17, soon after she had agreed to support Austria with an army of 60,000 men to be paid by England. Her half-crazy son and successor, Paul, declared himself neutral. On the part of the directory, however, the negotiations were illusory, undertaken merely to appease domestic discontent. The French declared that England's offers were insincere. Fox and his party adopted the same line, and their attacks on the government left them with thirty-seven supporters in the commons and eight in the lords.

This ineffectual negotiation roughly coincides with the beginning of an awful period of stress and depression. The directory designed to isolate England, reduce her to bankruptcy by destroying her commerce, and complete her ruin by invasion. Already Austria, her one efficient ally, was nearly exhausted; her commerce was shut out from the Mediterranean, and, though vigorously pushed in other quarters, was constantly harassed, and a plan of invasion was ripe for prosecution. Pitt met the prospect of invasion by proposals for increasing the army and navy by parochial levies, and for the formation of militia reserves and irregular cavalry. Fox asserted that the French did not contemplate an invasion, and that the immediate duty of parliament was to guard the freedom of the people against its domestic enemies, the ministers. This disgraceful speech roused the indignation of the peace-loving Wilberforce, who declared that Fox and his friends seemed to wish that just so much evil should befall their country as would bring them into office. Though the government easily carried its proposals for defence, it was embarrassed by financial difficulties. Pitt had granted an advance of L1,200,000 to the emperor without the consent of parliament. He was justly blamed for this unconstitutional act, and eighty-one members voted against the government. In his budget of December 7 he proposed another loan of L18,000,000. The public debt already exceeded L400,000,000; the 3 per cents. had fallen with its growth, and in September were at 53. In the dangerous position of the country, financiers would have declined the loan, and Pitt offered it to the public at 5 per cent. and L112 10s. stock for L100 money. Liberal as these terms may seem, they were exiguous at that critical time, and the stock was at 4 per cent. discount before the deposit was paid. Pitt, however, appealed to the loyalty of the country. Patriotic enthusiasm was aroused, and the "loyalty loan" was promptly subscribed. Twenty-nine new items of taxation were imposed during the session; one of them raised the stamp duty on newspapers, which Pitt described as a luxury, from 2d. to 3-1/2d., and was calculated to produce L114,000.


The threats of invasion were not vain; a descent on Ireland was attempted. The government, though withholding emancipation, had made an effort to conciliate the catholics. While the penal code was in force Irish priests were educated abroad. Burke held that they required a special education, and that seminaries should be established for them in Ireland as a means of keeping them from disloyalty. The destruction of the French seminaries by the republicans left no choice between a priesthood educated at home and one without education, and therefore likely to be dangerous to civil order. Camden met the difficulty by favouring the foundation of the college of Maynooth. Religious animosity had broken out afresh since the recall of Fitzwilliam, and many outrages were committed on both sides. On September 1, 1795, the defenders and peep-of-day boys fought near a village called Diamond, in Armagh, and the defenders were worsted with some slaughter. Immediately afterwards the Orange society was founded to maintain the protestant cause. In 1796 protestant mobs assuming the name of Orangemen, persecuted the catholics in Armagh, and drove them from their homes, bidding them go "to hell or Connaught". The magistrates gave the catholics little help, and the government minimised the outrages of the protestants.

Religious hatred changed the position of parties. The United Irishmen no longer attempted to unite men of the two religions; they encouraged the catholics to believe that the protestants were determined to destroy them and conquer the land for themselves. There was much anarchy. Catholic disloyalty was increased by the feeling that the government favoured the Orangemen, and attacks were made on royal troops in Connaught. A stringent insurrection act was passed, which gave the magistrates power to send on board the fleet those attending unlawful assemblies or otherwise acting disloyally, and in the autumn the habeas corpus act was suspended. Corps of yeomanry and infantry were formed by the gentry for their own protection, and were accepted by the crown. The defenders coalesced with the United Irishmen, and the society adopted a military organisation. On different pretexts, such as a potato-digging, funerals, or football matches, large bodies of men assembled in military array; guns were collected, and pike-heads forged. Leading members of the United Irishmen pressed the directory to send an expedition to Ireland, representing that the catholic peasantry and the dissenters of Ulster were alike ripe for revolt. Among the most active of these agents were Wolfe Tone, Arthur O'Connor, and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a son of the Duke of Leinster, a young man of romantic disposition and no special abilities, who had married a lady of great beauty, well known in French society, Pamela, supposed to be a daughter of Madame de Genlis by the Duke of Orleans.

The directors appointed Hoche to command an invading force, and a fleet of seventeen ships of the line, thirteen frigates, and other vessels sailed from Brest on December 15 with 15,000 troops and a supply of arms for distribution. Though an invasion was expected, the fleet met with no enemy, and evaded a squadron which was on the look-out off Ushant. Some of the ships, however, were separated from the others, and one of seventy-four guns was wrecked through the incapacity of the French naval officers. On the 21st thirty-five ships of the fleet arrived at the mouth of Bantry bay, "in most delicious weather," wrote Tone, who accompanied the expedition. Then the wind changed and blew hard. Only fifteen ships managed to enter the bay, and five of them were forced by the gale to put out to sea again. The ship on which Hoche sailed did not arrive. No landing was effected, and, on January 17, the battered fleet returned to Brest, less five ships lost, six captured by some British ships lying at Cork, and one of seventy-four guns, which was attacked on its way home by two English frigates off Ushant, driven ashore, and wrecked.

If the wind had remained light and favourable, or if the French had been better seamen, and their force had landed, Ireland would probably have been conquered for a time, for the country was drained of regular troops. Between Bantry and Cork were only 4,000 men hastily collected at Bandon, and stores and artillery were virtually non-existent. That a French fleet should have been able to leave Brest, remain five days on the Irish coast, and return without being attacked by the channel fleet caused great alarm in England, and was due to Bridport's slackness. The Irish of all classes behaved with exemplary loyalty; the country people afforded every assistance in their power to the troops at Bandon, and no symptom of disaffection appeared in Dublin. It was evident that many who had joined the disloyal societies had been driven to do so by fear, and that the catholics as a body were not as yet ready to revolt.[268] Either merely to harass England, or to prove the feasibility of a more serious invasion, two frigates and two other vessels were despatched from Brest in February with about 1,200 men, half of them convicts. After destroying some merchantmen in the Bristol channel, they anchored in Fishguard bay. The troops landed on the 23rd, and were, it is said, much alarmed through mistaking a body of Welshwomen in their red cloaks and beaver hats for soldiers. The next day Lord Cawdor, captain of the Pembrokeshire yeomanry, appeared with a force of local troops and country folk, and they at once surrendered. The two frigates which brought them were captured on their way back to Brest.


The expenses of the war, loans and subsidies to foreign princes, and bills drawn by British agents abroad caused a continual drain of specie from the bank of England. By 1795 the exchange became unfavourable, and since then the drain had been enormous. Pitt anticipated taxes and borrowed heavily. Believing that an invasion was imminent, many small tradesmen and others were eager to turn their property into cash; a run on country banks set in, and some failed. The bank of England was pressed for gold. On Saturday, February 25, the floating debt owed to it by government was about L7,500,000, and its stock of coin and bullion, which in 1794 was over L8,500,000, was reduced to L1,272,000; and a sharp run was expected on Monday. The bank itself, and the private banks which depended on it, were threatened with immediate stoppage, and the consequences to the country would have been disastrous. The directors applied to Pitt. He called the king to London; a privy council was held on Sunday, and an order was issued suspending cash payments at the bank until the will of parliament was expressed. The leading merchants and bankers at once declared that they would accept bank of England notes.

Committees of both houses of parliament reported that the bank was in a thoroughly stable condition, and, after much debating, during which Fox asserted that Pitt deserved impeachment for defrauding the public creditor, a bill was passed on May 3 prohibiting the bank from issuing cash, except in sums below L1, until six months after the end of the war. Cash payments were not resumed until 1819. A fair, though constantly decreasing amount of gold remained in circulation for some years, and was supplemented by the issue of one pound notes. The bank was moderate in its issues, and, except in 1800, there was no appreciable difference between the value of its paper and gold until 1808. The government was undoubtedly justified in saving the bank from the effects of panic. Whether the suspension should have been continued after the restoration of public confidence is another matter. It was continued chiefly because it enabled the bank to make large advances to government without incurring a drain of bullion. Currency was at once expanded, and Pitt obtained a new loan of L14,500,000; it was raised mainly in the 3 per cents., and created a debt of L175 for each L100 cash. Pitt therefore paid, including the provision for long annuity, at the rate of L6 7s. per cent. The imperial loan of L1,620,000 was raised on even more onerous terms.


In the midst of anxiety and financial depression England was cheered by a great naval victory. France called on Spain to form a junction of fleets. It was the old idea of 1779 when the two Bourbon powers were to destroy the channel fleet and lay England open to invasion. The Spanish fleet, twenty-seven ships of the line, under Admiral de Cordova, sailed from Carthagena for Cadiz on February 1. Jervis was then cruising off Cape St. Vincent, and before dawn on the 14th he received tidings that the Spaniards were near. He had only fifteen ships of the line, but his squadron was in splendid order, and among its commanders were Commodore Nelson and Captains Collingwood, Troubridge, and Saumarez. The Spaniards were eager to get to port, and ten of their ships were far ahead of the rest on the leeward side. He made for the gap and attacked the main body of seventeen ships, keeping the nine lee ships (one had got away) in check meanwhile. After some cannonading and manoeuvring the Spaniards attempted to join their lee division. They were stopped by Nelson who, on his own responsibility, wore his ship, the Captain (74), took her out of the line, crossed the bows of five Spaniards, and promptly supported by Troubridge in the Culloden (74), engaged the gigantic Spanish flagship, the Santisima Trinidad (130), and two others. His daring manoeuvre threw the enemy into confusion and enabled the British to come to close quarters.

During the fight the Captain was crippled, "her wheel and foretopmast gone and not a sail or rope left". She was engaged by several of the enemy, particularly by the San Nicolas (80) and the San Josef (112), whose mizzen-mast she had shot away. Collingwood pushed his ship, the Excellent (74), between her and the San Nicolas, gave the Spaniard a broadside within pistol shot, and passed on. The San Nicolas "luffing and the San Josef's mizzen-mast being gone, they fell on board of each other". Nelson boarded the San Nicolas and captured her. From her he and his men boarded the San Josef, which also surrendered, and on her deck he received the swords of the Spanish officers. Four of the enemy's ships were taken and the Santisima Trinidad surrendered but was not secured.[269] The fight lasted until evening, and though the Spaniards had ten ships which had not been closely engaged and eight more uncrippled, they drew off in the night. They showed an utter lack of seamanship in the action. The number of their fleet, the size and quality of their ships, and the weight of metal they carried place this battle of St. Valentine's Day, or Cape St. Vincent, among the splendid victories of the British navy. Its moral effect was excellent; it helped the nation to pass through the banking crisis with calmness, and raised its spirits. The long-standing belief that Spain was a first-rate maritime power was destroyed at last. Jervis was created Earl of St. Vincent and received a pension of L3,000 a year, and Nelson, already gazetted rear-admiral, a pension of L1,000 and the order of the Bath. About the same time Admiral Harvey, commanding in the Leeward islands, and Sir Ralph Abercromby captured Trinidad from the Spaniards, but failed in an attack on Puerto-rico.

It was well that England should be encouraged, for darker days were at hand. The Austrian attempt in Italy in the autumn of 1796 ended in disaster. Although Alvinzi beat the French at Caldiero on November 12, he was no match for Bonaparte in generalship, and the Austrians were defeated in a three days' battle at Arcola on the 15th-17th. A last attempt to save Mantua was foiled by Bonaparte's victory at Rivoli on January 14, and on February 2 the great fortress was surrendered by Wurmser. Bonaparte led his victorious army into Carinthia, overcame the Austrian resistance with the help of Massena and Joubert, and advanced to Leoben about 100 miles from Vienna. The death of Catherine had deprived the emperor of his hopes of help from Russia, and on April 18 preliminaries of peace were signed at Leoben. Francis renounced his rights over the Netherlands and agreed to a congress for the conclusion of a peace with the empire. By secret articles he promised to surrender his territories west of the Oglio and to accept in exchange the terra firma of Venice from the Oglio eastward, with Venetian Dalmatia and Istria. Lombardy and the rest of the Venetian terra firma were to be constituted an independent republic by France, and Venice was to be indemnified by the Legations, Romagna, Ferrara, and Bologna. The emperor negotiated apart from Great Britain and without sending any notice of his intentions to London,[270] and England suddenly found herself deprived of her one efficient ally.


Her enemies were preparing to close in upon her. Three fleets threatened her with invasion. A French fleet lay at Brest, inadequately watched by Bridport; a Spanish fleet at Cadiz was closely blockaded by Jervis; and Duncan with the North sea fleet kept watch for a fleet which the Dutch at the bidding of France were fitting out in the Texel. The safety of the realm depended on the navy, and the navy mutinied. Both soldiers and sailors had just grievances, specially as regards their pay. Seditious pamphlets were distributed among the soldiers by the democratic societies, and, it was believed, among the sailors also.[271] The discontent in the army, which for a time appeared likely to have serious consequences, was allayed through the influence of the Duke of York. The pay of privates of the line was raised from 8-1/4d. to 1s. a day, though a deduction on account of the existing high price of provisions reduced the actual increase to 2d.; and other advantages were granted.[272]

The sailors had no royal duke to speak for them. Mutinies had broken out sporadically in the navy during the American war and temporary concessions had been made, but there was no general removal of grievances. The pay remained as it was fixed in the reign of Charles II. at 22s. 6d. a month (of twenty-eight days) for able seamen and 19s. for ordinary seamen, though the cost of living had risen, the men said, 30 per cent., so that they could not provide for their families. The system on which they were paid was unfair to them; a deduction of two ounces in the pound was made in their rations by the admiralty to balance waste of stores; the medical service was disgracefully bad, and they complained bitterly of the shameful practice of not providing them with fresh vegetables as a protection from scurvy when in English ports. Punishments were sometimes frightfully severe and a tyrannical captain could make a ship a floating hell. A mutiny, only remotely connected with the general movement, was provoked on the Hermione (32) on the Jamaica station by the insane cruelty of Pigot, the captain; the crew murdered him and the other officers, and delivered the ship to the Spaniards from whom it was afterwards retaken. Owing to the large demand for men in war time many crews contained a large number of bad characters, criminals whose sentences were remitted on condition of entering the navy, and such like, and on some ships there were many Irishmen who had imbibed disaffection on shore. Such men would naturally be inclined to mutiny. A ship's crew, however, took its tone from the able seamen, the A.B.'s, from whom the petty officers were chosen. At that time they were often not more than a fourth of the crew, and unfortunately they had special grievances. They were skilled men, and might have been mates with good pay on a merchant ship. They were forced to serve in the navy by impressment, and when in port were refused leave to visit their families for fear they should desert. In the winter of 1796-97 the able seamen in the channel fleet seem to have combined to obtain a redress of grievances. Anonymous petitions were sent to Lord Howe, who forwarded them to the admiralty where they were disregarded.


On April 15 the fleet, which was then at Spithead, was ordered to put to sea. The crews instead of weighing anchor manned the yards, cheered, and hoisted the red flag, the usual signal for battle. They were joined by the marines. No personal disrespect was shown to the officers, but the ships were taken out of their command. The admiralty board went down to Portsmouth and held an interview with the delegates from the ships, who presented a list of their demands. The commissioners haggled; the men stood firm, and further demanded that officers accused of tyranny should be dismissed their ships. On the 25th the commissioners gave way on all points; the pay of able seamen was to be the same as that of privates in the army, though without deductions, 1s. a day, or a rise of 5s. 6d. a month; ordinary seamen were to receive a rise of 4s. 6d.; their other grievances were to be redressed; and a promise was given that the fleet should not be sent to sea until the increase of pay had been voted by the house of commons, and the king's pardon had been proclaimed. Various hindrances, which might perhaps have been overcome if the government had appreciated the need of promptitude, delayed the application to parliament. Days passed by; the sailors heard nothing of a bill for the rise in their wages or of a proclamation of pardon, and an ill-judged order sent by the admiralty to the captains with reference to stores and to mutinous conduct roused their suspicions. They believed that they had been cajoled. Hitherto their conduct had been as blameless as the nature of the case allowed. It was so no longer. Two of the ships remained at Spithead; the rest had gone to St. Helen's. On May 7 all the crews again mutinied and most of the officers were sent ashore. A struggle took place on board the London; a mutineer was shot dead, and a midshipman and a marine officer were wounded. Pitt proposed a grant for the increase of pay on the 8th, and, as discussion might be mischievous, asked for a silent vote. To their shame, Fox and his friends used this crisis as an opportunity for a violent party attack on the government.[273] The money was voted, and on the 10th Howe, the sailors' favourite "Black Dick," went down to the fleet with the vote and the king's proclamation. The men were pacified; more than 100 officers to whom they objected were removed from the ships; discipline was restored, and the fleet put to sea.

The admiralty commissioners, after contesting the just demands of the men, had yielded to a dangerous point by removing officers at the dictation of mutineers. Their vacillation encouraged the idea that mutiny paid, and mutiny accordingly spread. On the 12th it broke out in the ships lying at the Little Nore with reinforcements for the North sea fleet. These ships contained a large number of London roughs and some disaffected Irishmen. Unlike the mutiny at Spithead, it was a violent and criminal movement. It was directed by Richard Parker, a seaman of some education on board the Sandwich (90), who is said to have entered the navy as a midshipman, to have been dismissed his ship for immorality, and as mate to have been broken for insubordination; he had been imprisoned for debt at Perth, and had volunteered for the navy in order to obtain his release. Delegates were chosen; the red flag was hoisted, and the officers were deprived of command. From the first an element of weakness existed in the movement, for the men were not unanimous; two loyal frigates were forced to join the mutiny, and there was a loyal minority on the others. The squadron moved out to the Great Nore, and the mutineers paraded Sheerness with a red flag. Lord Spencer and his colleagues went down to Sheerness and had an interview with the delegates; they failed to persuade them to return to their duty, and Parker treated them with insolence. Besides the demands made by the channel fleet, which were already granted, the mutineers required that no officer that had been removed from his ship should again be employed in her without the consent of the ship's company, and that the articles of war should be revised. Demands of that kind, of course, could not be discussed. The first sign of weakness in the movement appeared on the 29th; the two loyal frigates left the squadron and, though fired on by the rest, made good their escape. The mutineers, however, soon received an accession of strength which encouraged them to proceed to further acts of rebellion.

The mutiny spread to Duncan's fleet then in Yarmouth Roads. The men knew that the Dutch fleet was preparing for an invasion of the kingdom, and they left the way open. All the ships, save Duncan's flagship and one other, deserted him and joined the mutineers at the Nore. Nevertheless, the stouthearted admiral sailed with his two ships to his station off the Texel, determined if the Dutch came out to fight them. While there he concealed his weakness from the enemy by making signals as though his fleet lay in the offing. England was in imminent danger, and Count Vorontsov (Woronzow), the tsar's ambassador, directed the Russian squadron, then at Yarmouth and under orders for home, to delay its departure and join Duncan until he could be reinforced from Spithead, the greatest service, wrote Grenville, that England has ever received from any nation.[274] Happily, the Dutch fleet was not ready to put to sea. The mutinous crews attempted to intimidate the government by blockading the Thames, and trading vessels were stopped at the entrance of the river. Some officers were ill-treated. Farmhouses on the coast were sacked. The country was greatly alarmed, and the 3 per cents. fell to a trifle over 48. The government acted with vigour; the garrison at Sheerness was strongly reinforced; furnaces for heating shot were made ready in the forts on the Thames; gunboats were fitted out, and the buoys at the mouth of the river were taken up to prevent the escape of the mutineers. In response to a royal message, parliament passed bills on June 3 and 6 providing that incitement to mutiny should be punishable with the highest penalties of misdemeanour, and that intercourse with the mutinous ships should be a capital felony.


The mutineers "ordered" captain Lord Northesk, who was virtually imprisoned on his ship, to go to London and lay their demands before the king. An official answer was returned requiring unconditional surrender. They grew uneasy, and their doubts of success were increased by addresses sent from the seamen of the channel fleet, severely reprobating their conduct. Cut off from communication with the shore and without hope of support from the channel fleet, they soon lost heart altogether. Parker became unpopular. Ship after ship either left the squadron or signalled a return to obedience, and finally, on the 14th, the crew of the Sandwich brought her under the battery at Sheerness, and surrendered Parker. He was tried by a court-martial, and hanged at the yard-arm of his ship. About forty were condemned to death, and some others were flogged. The government was inclined to mercy, for the bulk of the men had been deluded by Parker and other scoundrels; only fourteen seamen and four marines were executed; the other condemned men were pardoned by the king after the next great naval victory.

A mutinous spirit appeared in other divisions of the navy. The squadron at the Cape was brought to order by Lord Macartney, the governor, who threatened to sink the ship most forward in the movement by bombarding her from the shore. One of the ships off Cadiz began a mutiny; St. Vincent, a rigid disciplinarian, though, as the men knew, careful for their welfare, was equal to the occasion; the ringleader was sentenced by a court-martial, and St. Vincent surrounded the ship with gunboats, and forced the crew to hang him themselves, and that on a Sunday morning, which, being against all precedent, deeply impressed the sailors. Convinced that the idleness attending a long blockade was bad for discipline, he kept his ships employed as much as possible, and, in July, detached a squadron under Nelson to attack Santa Cruz. The attack was unsuccessful, and cost Nelson his right arm. England never passed through darker days than those of the mutinies.[275] The lessons they teach are that a country which neglects the legitimate grievances of its defenders pursues a course not less perilous than shabby; and that mutinous conduct of every kind should at once be met with exemplary severity. Neither impressment nor flogging was included in the seamen's grievances, but they complained of unjust treatment by officers. Since 1797 their condition steadily though slowly improved, and they were treated both by their officers and the admiralty with more of the consideration to which their splendid services entitled them. To Nelson the health and contentment of his seamen were always matters of care and pride.


Pitt, seeing England destitute of efficient allies, threatened with invasion, short of money, burdened with debt and taxation, with public credit at a low ebb, and with her fleets in mutiny, was set on peace, if it could be had on reasonable terms. He was encouraged by the state of parties in France, for in May the moderates or royalists who desired to put an end to the war gained a majority in the legislative councils. On June 1 the government proposed a negotiation for preliminaries of a peace which should be definitely arranged at a future congress. The proposal was rejected by the directors, who would not allow any concert between Great Britain and Austria, or any discussion of the general interests of Europe, and insisted that England should negotiate for a definite and separate peace. Grenville considered that this would be humiliating to England, and would have resigned rather than consent to it if he had not felt it his duty not to embarrass the government. The king heartily agreed with him, and so did Lord Liverpool (Hawkesbury) and Windham.[276] Pitt was too strong for them, and Malmesbury was sent to meet the French commissioners at Lille. He had scarcely arrived there when Burke, who by voice and pen had so long warned England to have no peace with France, died on July 9. Here, wrote Canning, "there is but one event, but that is an event for the world—Burke is dead". One of the five French directors was a constitutional royalist, another, Carnot, was inclined to that side, the other three were jacobins. A struggle was impending between this jacobin triumvirate and the majority in the councils. The success of Malmesbury's mission depended on its issue. England's need of peace may be gauged by Pitt's offers of the recognition of the French sovereignty over Belgium, Luxemburg, Savoy, and Nice, of the cession of all her conquests from France, Spain, and Holland, except Trinidad and the Cape, and of an exchange for Ceylon. In the discussions of the cabinet Grenville opposed Pitt's pacific policy, and as he found that the contents of Malmesbury's despatches became known out of doors, and that Pitt was enabled to support his opinions by the opinions of others, he arranged that Malmesbury's specially secret communications should be withheld from his colleagues generally, and they were only seen by himself, Pitt, and Canning,[277] the under-secretary for foreign affairs. Difficulties were raised by the French as to the royal style "King of Great Britain and France," the restitution of, or an equivalent for, the ships taken or destroyed at Toulon, and the retention of any conquests from the Dutch.

The negotiations were prolonged, for Malmesbury hoped that the majority in the councils would prove stronger than the triumvirate, and the triumvirs would not break them off before they had secured their position. During their progress Portugal, England's sole remaining ally, made a separate peace. A coup d'etat was effected by the army on September 4 (18th Fructidor); the royalist and moderate deputies were condemned to transportation, two new directors were chosen, and the jacobin, or war party, was established in power. New commissioners were sent to Lille, and on the 14th Malmesbury was asked if he would agree to the restitution of every conquest made from France and her allies. He replied that that was beyond his powers, and was ordered to depart in twenty-four hours. After this abrupt termination of Malmesbury's mission the former friendly and confidential relations between Pitt and Grenville were fully restored. The coup d'etat baffled Pitt's efforts. It was followed by the conclusion of a definite peace between France and the emperor, which destroyed all hope of a concert between Great Britain and Austria. After the preliminaries of Leoben, Bonaparte declared war on Venice, procured the overthrow of its ancient constitution, and established a new municipality. By the treaty of Campo Formio, concluded October 17, he betrayed the Venetians by handing over their city to Austria, along with Istria, Dalmatia, and the Venetian terra firma as far west as the Adige, while France took the Ionian islands for herself. The emperor resigned the Belgic provinces, and by a secret article promised to use his influence in the empire to secure to France the left bank of the Rhine. The directors looked forward to an invasion of England. While her navy was engaged with the fleets of Spain and Holland, a French force was to cross the channel and march on London; Ireland would revolt; England would accept a democracy, and Tipu would destroy her power in India.[278]

The futility of their arrogant hopes was already exhibited. Another invasion of Ireland was planned in the spring. A Dutch fleet was to carry over a land force, and was to be followed by Hoche and the Brest fleet. The United Irishmen eagerly expected a French invasion. Though the Dutch fleet was not ready until the crisis of the mutinies was over, Duncan's force was still small. Week after week the wind prevented the Dutch from leaving the Texel. Provisions ran short, and Duncan's fleet was again in force. The great opportunity had passed by. Fresh plans were made for descents on Ireland and Scotland in concert with a French expedition; but the hopes of the United Irishmen received a further blow in the death of Hoche. At last, on October 6, the Dutch fleet left the Texel.

Duncan received the news at Yarmouth on the 9th, and on the 11th came up with the enemy off Camperdown. In number of ships the fleets were about equal, but the British were the stronger. Duncan attacked in two divisions, broke through the Dutch line in two places and engaged to leeward, cutting them off from their coast. He signalled for each ship to engage its opponent, as in Howe's action of the First of June. Mistakes led to a concentration of force on the Dutch rear, which had good results.[279] The Dutch fought with splendid courage, and the carnage on both sides was terrible. Nine Dutch ships, including the Vrijheid (74), the flagship of their admiral, De Winter, were taken. The shattered remainder of their fleet put back into the Texel. The British admiral was created Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, and received a pension of L3,000 a year. The victory was of incalculable importance. Three fleets threatened the kingdom, and Camperdown, as Grenville said, broke the right wing of the invasion.[280] It raised the spirits of the nation. Won by the fleet so lately in mutiny, it proved that England could again, as of old, rely on the loyalty of her navy. It reasserted her supremacy at sea, which, in spite of the victories of Howe and Jervis, seemed weakened by the evacuation of the Mediterranean and the mutinies. Supreme at sea, she carried the trade of the world. Since the great drop of 1793 her commerce had increased year by year until it again declined in 1797. From that year, fostered by the demands of war and fed by the activity of British manufactures, it increased with extraordinary rapidity.


In parliament the opposition gained no ground. On May 26, Grey again brought forward the question of reform, and this time propounded a scheme. He proposed that the counties should return 113 instead of 92 members, that they should be divided into districts each with one member, and that the franchise should be extended to leaseholders and copyholders, that in boroughs householders only should have votes, that polls should be held simultaneously, and that, if possible, no one should record more than one vote; that all landowners, traders, and "professors of science" should be qualified for a seat, and that parliaments should be triennial. Pitt declared that the country did not desire reform, and the motion was lost by 252 to 91. When parliament met in November, Fox and some of his chief supporters in both houses seceded, attending only on special occasions. Their conduct was unconstitutional and ill-advised. It is the duty of a member of parliament to attend its proceedings, and in the commons his attendance can be enforced. Secession is a betrayal of a public trust and a declaration against the constitution. In this case it was partial, and therefore specially futile. It caused a division among the little band of the opposition, and injured the seceders in the opinion of the country; their conduct was considered unpatriotic, and Fox's absence from parliament when the thanks of the house were voted to Duncan was particularly blamed. The secession of their leaders gave some whigs of less standing an opportunity of coming to the front. In Fox's absence the remnant of the opposition was led by Tierney, a clever financier and a brilliant speaker with a bitter tongue. From the beginning of the war constant motions had been made for peace with France. They were discontinued after 1797; for it was generally recognised that Pitt would gladly welcome peace. Wit came to the support of the government; Gillray bitterly caricatured Fox and the opposition, and in November the Anti-Jacobin began its brilliant mockery of democratic principles and politics. Its most telling verses were the work of Canning, who entered the ministry as under-secretary for foreign affairs in January, 1796. The threats of invasion roused the spirit of the country. Danger was no longer to be apprehended from English disloyalty; the nation was justly proud of the achievements of its navy and was full of loyalty and courage.

Pitt took advantage of this spirit. Parliament met on November 3, and he brought in his budget on the 24th. All hope of a speedy termination of the war ended with the rupture of the negotiations at Lille. He therefore declared that though it was impossible to raise the whole of the supplies in the year, it was the duty of the nation to contribute its full share towards the expenses of the war in order that posterity might not be burdened with an unfair accumulation of debt. The service of the year amounted to L25,500,000, and a deficiency of L19,000,000 had to be supplied. He proposed to borrow L12,000,000 and to raise L7,000,000 by taxation, chiefly by a measure generally known as trebling the assessed taxes, by which the amounts already charged in respect of these taxes were augmented on a scale graduated according to income. Praiseworthy as his effort was to keep down debt, his plan was open to serious objection. Assessed taxes are essentially an optional expense, in that they can be avoided by those who do not choose to incur them. Pitt's plan made the payments of the preceding year an arbitrary standard of taxation, increasing them by one quarter to treble and progressively to quadruple their amounts. This was really an income tax in disguise, with the special drawback that it forced those who reduced their style of living to pay on the basis of their former expenditure. Fox returned to parliament to oppose the bill, and in one division the minority numbered 75. Some feeling was excited against Pitt out of doors. When, on December 19, the king and queen went in state to St. Paul's to return thanks for the three great naval victories won by Howe over the French, St. Vincent over the Spaniards, and Duncan over the Dutch, Pitt was hooted by the London mob, and as he returned home was guarded by a party of horse. This outbreak of ill-temper was of no important significance. The nation was fully determined to support the government in its efforts to maintain the safety and honour of England.


[264] Dropmore Papers, iii., 25-30, 50.

[265] Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution, i., 178, 201.

[266] Dropmore Papers, iii., 261.

[267] Perregaux to Lord "Courton" [Auckland], July 16, 1796, Rose to Auckland, July 29, Auckland Corr., iii., 350-52; Pitt to Grenville, June 23, Dropmore Papers, iii., 214.

[268] Pelham to Duke of York, Sept. 22 and Dec. 26, 1796, and Jan. 4, 1797, Add. MS., 33,113; Beresford to Auckland, Jan. 28, 1797, Auckland Corr., iii., 375-77.

[269] Logs of the Great Sea Fights, i., 232, 239.

[270] Grenville to Starhemberg, May 3, 1797, Dropmore Papers, iii., 317 sqq.

[271] Parl. Hist., xxxiii., 799, 806.

[272] Annual Register, xxxix. (1797), i., 222; ii., 252.

[273] Parl. Hist., xxxiii., 477-516.

[274] Grenville to Woronzow, June 5 and 22, Dropmore Papers, iii., 328, 335.

[275] An excellent narrative of the mutinies is given in a series of articles by Mr. D. Hannay in the Saturday Review, June 6 to July 4, 1891.

[276] Letters of George III. and Grenville, June 1, 16 and 17, Dropmore Papers, iii., 327, 329-30; Malmesbury, Diaries, iii., 590, 595.

[277] Canning to Grenville, July 31, 1797, Dropmore Papers, iii., 337; see also pp. 341-43; Malmesbury, Diaries, iii., 416, 465.

[278] Sorel, L'Europe et la Revolution Francaise, v., 259-60.

[279] Logs of the Great Sea Fights, i., 258-60, 265 sqq.; Brenton, Naval History, i., 347-55.

[280] Grenville to Woronzow, Oct. 16, 1797, Dropmore Papers, iii., 381.



In spite of Duncan's victory the French directors were set on an invasion of England. All their vague designs for the extension of French supremacy led up to the ruin of the power which they recognised as their most formidable enemy. From the Adriatic to the North sea a vast republic was to furnish the armies of France with recruits. Europe was to be united in a coalition against England. The Mediterranean was to be a French lake. Every port was to be shut against England's ships; England's commerce was to be destroyed and her pride humbled. A quicker means of bringing her into subjection seemed possible. On a foggy night an army might be carried across the Channel unobserved by her fleet. What a Norman duke had done might be done by a mighty republic, and the English crown might be lost in a second battle of Hastings. The victors would march on London, and be received as deliverers by a people groaning under the oppression of "that monster Pitt". They failed to understand that Pitt had the nation at his back, and that even the most violent whigs would resist to the death an invasion of their country. They formed an "army of England," and appointed Bonaparte to command it. On his return to Paris in December, 1797, he set himself to prepare for the invasion. Transports for over 24,000 men were soon ready at Boulogne, Ambleteuse, Calais, and Dunkirk, and boat-builders were hard at work. In February he made a tour of the coast from Etaples to Ostend and heard what sailors said about the scheme. On the 23rd he told the directors that France could not gain supremacy by sea for some years, and that without that no operation could be more hazardous than an invasion of England, that a surprise was possible only in the long winter nights, and that their naval preparations were too backward for such an attempt to be made that year.[281] He turned to other projects of conquest which might lead to the destruction of England's commerce in the east and of her power in India. For some while longer he ostensibly devoted himself to preparations for invasion. The "army of England," which in April numbered 56,000 men, was quartered in the towns of the north, and every port from Havre to the Texel was crowded with transports. But by that time the army had lost its commander and the great scheme was definitely abandoned. Nevertheless, the directors determined to be ready if an opportunity for invasion should occur, and maritime preparations were continued. In May a flotilla from Havre attacked the islands of St. Marcouf, which had been seized by Sir Sidney Smith in 1795, and was beaten back by the little garrison. Equally feeble efforts were made by England to check the preparations for invasion. On tidings that the transports built at Flushing were to be conveyed to Ostend by canal in order to avoid the British fleet, a force of 1,200 men was sent to destroy the sluices of the Bruges canal. They landed near Ostend and blew up the great sluice. A storm prevented them from re-embarking and, after a smart engagement, they were all taken prisoners. If the thing was worth doing, a sufficient force should have been sent to do it.


The threatened invasion rallied the nation to the support of the government. Though Fox and the other seceders had ceased to attend parliament, they kept up an agitation against the ministry. Fox's birthday, January 24, was celebrated by a public dinner. The Duke of Norfolk in proposing his health said that Washington began the war of independence with only 2,000 men, yet America was free; he saw that number before him, let them apply his words. He afterwards called on the company to drink "our sovereign's health, the majesty of the people". Considered in connexion with the circumstances of the time his words were in the highest degree seditious. The government, strong in the support of the nation, took up the silly and insolent challenge, and the duke was deprived of his lord-lieutenancy and the command of his militia regiment. In May, Fox repeated the toast at a meeting of the whig club. The ministers discussed what notice should be taken of his offence. It is not pleasant to find Pitt considering whether he might be led on to utter similar words in parliament and be sent to the Tower for the rest of the session. With all his greatness Pitt lacked the generosity which was a redeeming trait in Fox's character. The anxieties of the past year, combined with his unfortunate failing, had shaken his health and his temper had suffered. It was finally decided that Fox should be removed from the privy council, and the king struck his name out of the council book with his own hand.

The belief that the country was in danger evoked patriotic enthusiasm, and L2,300,000 was subscribed to augment the produce of the triple assessment. Pitt's supplementary budget announced a further loan of L3,000,000 and imposed fresh taxes. Chiefly as a means of supporting credit he brought forward a scheme for the commutation of the land tax. For many years the tax had been granted at four shillings in the pound; he proposed to make it perpetual at that rate, to enable landowners to redeem it, and to apply their payments to the reduction of debt. The bill, though opposed in both houses on the plea that it was unfair to the landed interest, was carried by large majorities. The alien act and the suspension of habeas corpus were revived, for with the enemy threatening the country disloyalty was intolerable. With a view to the organisation of defence the government was empowered to ascertain the number of men who were prepared to take up arms in case of invasion, to instruct each as to what he should do, and to arrange for the removal of helpless persons, cattle, and other property from the coast.

It was a time of overwhelming anxiety to the ministers, for, in addition to the expected invasion, they had to meet rebellion in Ireland. With so great a strain upon him, Pitt was unable to bear with patience the attempts of Tierney, the leader of the non-seceding section of the opposition, to thwart his measures. On May 25 he brought in a bill to abrogate certain exemptions from naval service, and asked the house to pass it through all its stages in one day. Tierney objected, and Pitt accused him of desiring to obstruct the defence of the country. The speaker ruled that the imputation was unparliamentary. Pitt repeated his words, haughtily declaring that he would "neither retract from nor explain them". The next day Tierney sent him a challenge. They met on Sunday afternoon, the 27th, on Putney heath, Pitt accompanied by his friend Dudley Ryder, afterwards Lord Harrowby, the paymaster of the forces, and Tierney by Colonel Walpole. Two shots were exchanged on each side without effect, Pitt firing his second shot into the air. Honour was then declared to be satisfied. Wilberforce, in common with many other religious people, was much shocked, and gave notice of a motion against duelling by members of the house, but was persuaded to withdraw it, for Pitt threatened to resign if it was carried. The king expressed his disapproval, telling Pitt with characteristic good sense that a public man should remember his duty to his country before what was due to himself. Not until that generation had well-nigh passed away was duelling virtually extinguished by the condemnation of society. In contrast to the lack of moral perception on that point stands the quickening of the public conscience with reference to the slave trade. Wilberforce again brought in his annual motion for its abolition. It was seconded by Pitt and vigorously supported by Fox, who pertinently asked why the minister did not use his majority to accomplish the end he professed to desire. It was lost only by four votes. The rest of the session was largely taken up by the affairs of Ireland.

There, as we have already seen, religious animosity strengthened the party of rebellion. Its leaders also took advantage of agrarian and other grievances to allure the peasantry. The catholic peasants were little moved by the questions which weighed with their more educated neighbours and with the dwellers in towns. They were not enamoured of the republican sentiments which appealed to the Ulster presbyterians, and did not care a straw about parliamentary reform for its own sake, nor for catholic emancipation. Their motives were more personal. They were poor and oppressed. The national parliament, though it refused to grant political reforms, had done much to improve the condition of the country by subsidies for promoting manufactures, fisheries, and canals, and by bounties on exported corn. The financial position of Ireland was bettered, but the lot of the peasantry grew worse. Corn bounties and the high prices of war time caused a rise in the value of land. Holdings were subdivided, and, as the agricultural population was large, were eagerly taken at high rents. The tenants could not make a living, especially as they were ignorant and generally thriftless. The chief cause of their discontent was the system of tithe which pressed heavily on the small cultivators. They believed that a reformed parliament would rid them of that intolerable burden. Finding that reform was withheld, they readily listened to men who bade them look for relief to France, where tithe had been abolished. High rents, exacted by the agents of absentee landlords or by middle-men, who rented large tracts of land and sublet them in small holdings, were another though lesser grievance from which they hoped to be delivered by revolution. Sentiment urged them in the same direction. Proud and sensitive they resented the dominance of an alien race; they held the wrongs of their forefathers in remembrance, and looked back with mournful longing to the age, invested by their poetic imagination with glory and happiness, when Ireland was yet unconquered. The United Irishmen told them that a fresh conquest would be attempted, that the Orangemen, encouraged by government, designed to rob them of their land and destroy them. They looked to France for protection and were ready to take up arms against the crown.


The government was determined to nip rebellion in the bud, and struck first at conspiracy in Ulster, where it was mainly engineered by protestant leaders. In the spring of 1797 the province was almost in open revolt. Martial law was proclaimed, and on May 18 soldiers were empowered to act without authority from a civil magistrate. An active search was made for arms. It was carried out mainly by yeomanry and militia, for the regular troops were few and mostly stationed in towns. The catholic districts were ruthlessly harried. A fierce resistance was made. Many outrages were committed by the soldiers, specially by a Welsh regiment of mounted fencibles, the Ancient Britons. Houses were burned and peasants were slaughtered. Crowds were imprisoned without process of law and many were sent off to serve in the fleet. These severities which lasted for several months crushed the life out of the conspiracy in Ulster. The government was justified in using force to suppress rebellion, but it was lamentable that the work should have been entrusted to troops which were little better than banditti. An earnest attempt was made to restrain them by Sir Ralph Abercromby, who succeeded Lord Carhampton as commander-in-chief in November. He issued an order declaring that the army was in a state of "licentiousness," and forbidding soldiers to act without the civil authority. This order was contrary to the proclamation of May 18, and gave great offence to the party of repression in the Irish government headed by Lord Clare, and to the British ministry. A proclamation of March 30, 1798, re-established martial law; Abercromby resigned his command, and was succeeded by General Lake.

The British government upheld the Irish ministers. Early in 1797 the Prince of Wales wished the king and Pitt to send him to Ireland as lord-lieutenant to carry out a policy of concession. If he had been wholly different from what he was, such a step, though it would not perhaps have averted the coming rebellion, would have probably rendered it less formidable by detaching some of the leaders of the conspiracy. The prince was not a man to be trusted, and his offer was refused. The internal affairs of Ireland were not under English direction; the ministers knew nothing of them except through reports from the castle and left them to the Irish government. Addresses in favour of conciliation were moved in the lords by the prince's friend, Lord Moira, an Ulster magnate, and in the commons by Fox. They were resisted as attacks on the government and were rejected. Moira laid the excesses of the soldiers before the lords in November and again in February, 1798. The government refused to credit his accounts, or to interfere with the measures taken by the Irish ministers to suppress rebellion.

The progress of the conspiracy was reported by informers, of whom there was no lack. Great preparations were, as we have seen, made in France for a possible invasion of England; the United Irishmen expected that the French would land in Ireland in the spring, and an organised army was ready to co-operate with them, under the command of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The conspiracy was directed by a committee in Dublin. One of its leaders, Arthur O'Connor, a priest named O'Coighly, and three more were arrested at Margate while on their way to France to make further arrangements. O'Coighly was hanged for treason. Fox, Sheridan, and other members of the opposition bore witness to O'Connor's character, and he and the rest were acquitted. He was arrested on another charge and was sent to Dublin. After the rebellion he, in common with the other political prisoners, gave evidence as to the conspiracy, and they were eventually released. No government is worthy of the name that sits still and allows conspiracy to ripen unchecked. The Irish government did not do so. It adopted measures of repression which wrecked the plans of the conspirators and caused secret conspiracy to break prematurely into open rebellion. It was thus enabled to put an end to a prolonged state of danger before it could be augmented by the anticipated foreign invasion. It struck swiftly at the heads of the conspiracy. In pursuance of information from an officer of the rebel army named Reynolds, fifteen of them were arrested together in Dublin on March 12. Fitzgerald escaped for the time. A reward of L1,000 was offered for his detection, and in May his hiding-place was betrayed. He made a desperate resistance, mortally wounded one of the officers sent to take him, and was himself wounded in the arm. He was conveyed to prison, where he died on June 4.


The government having crushed the head of rebellion in Ulster, proceeded to combat it in the midland and southern counties, where it was distinctly a catholic movement. Officers were ordered to enforce disarmament by summary methods; martial law was established, and they were enjoined to distribute their troops at free quarters where arms were supposed to be concealed. Scenes of cruelty sickening to contemplate followed. As soon as a district was proclaimed, troops took up free quarters in it, burned every house where a weapon was discovered, shot men without trial of any kind, put many to cruel torture either on suspicion of concealing arms or to extort evidence, and excited the bitterest feelings of revenge by outrages on women, cutting the petticoats from the backs of girls who showed any sign of sympathy with rebellion, such as wearing, it might be accidentally, a green ribbon. Men were commonly tortured by floggings of fearful severity, or by half-hanging. In imitation of the French republicans, the rebel party cut their hair short, and it was a pastime with the soldiers to torture "croppies" by fixing a covering lined with hot pitch, a "pitch-cap," on their heads, which could not be removed without tearing the scalp. More than one man died under the lash, and one from fear of the torture. No name is more closely associated with these horrors than that of Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, high-sheriff of Tipperary. Resolute, courageous, and energetic, he united with some fine qualities a violent temper and an insensibility to human suffering. Conspiracy was rife in Tipperary, and he was determined to stamp it out. One instance of his cruelties will suffice. A teacher of French named Wright was suspected of treason, and a note of a harmless kind, written in French, was found on him. Fitzgerald, who could not read it, brutally assaulted him, declared that he would have him first flogged and then shot; and failing to obtain a confession from him, caused him to receive 150 severe lashes and had him put in prison, where he lay for some days with his wounds uncared for. After the rebellion Wright sued him, and obtained L500 damages. Fitzgerald's severity and the courage with which he acted were effectual; Tipperary remained quiet. The government paid Wright's damages, and Fitzgerald's services were rewarded with a baronetcy.

The conspirators intended to wait for a French invasion. Their organisation was deranged by the arrests of March 12. A plan was made for seizing the castle and occupying Dublin. The city was proclaimed and violent measures of repression were adopted. A new rebel executive was broken up by the arrest of two brothers named Sheares, who were eventually hanged as traitors. An outbreak of rebellion was certain; it was forced on prematurely by drastic measures of repression. Though nothing can excuse the barbarities perpetrated under the shield of so-called martial law, severe repression was certainly necessary. Without it the conspiracy would have continued to grow, and a rebellion coincident with a foreign invasion would have been in the highest degree dangerous. The rebels lost their leaders; their movements were paralysed in some districts and crippled in others; they saw no hope except in an immediate outbreak, and were driven to it by intolerable severities. So far the system pursued by the government was successful. Yet in some districts the terror and rage it excited stimulated rebellion, and when rebellion broke out led to horrible reprisals. The rising began on an appointed day, May 23. Attacks were made on the garrisons at Naas, Clane, and other places in Kildare. Nearly everywhere they were repulsed with heavy loss, the catholics among the militia and yeomanry behaving with perfect loyalty. It was a sanguinary struggle. The rebels surprised a detachment of the North Cork militia by night, and slaughtered them, killing many of them in their beds. The troops gave little quarter; rebels taken in arms were commonly flogged, shot, or hanged without trial. The citizens of Dublin, where the rebels had been thoroughly cowed by floggings and hangings, were zealous in preparing to defend their city. On the south-west small bodies of troops routed the rebels with heavy loss at Carlow and Hacketstown. The communications of Dublin were secured on the north by a loyalist victory at Tara, where, on the 26th, about 400 yeomanry and fencibles defeated ten times their number of rebels, and on the west by another victory. By the 31st the rebels in Meath, Kildare, and Carlow had lost all heart.


By that time rebellion had broken out in the county of Wexford. There it soon took the form of a religious war, though the catholic troops remained faithful to their colours. There were only 600 regular troops and militia in the county, the loyalist force being composed chiefly of yeomanry, who were generally protestants. With and without the approval of the magistrates, they had begun to practise the usual methods of enforcing disarmament, burning houses and flogging and half-hanging suspected persons, and though these severities had not as yet been practised so widely as in some other districts, they excited violent terror and resentment. Led by a priest, Father John Murphy, whose house or chapel had been burnt, the rebels defeated a small number of militia at Oulart, and attacked Enniscorthy with a force of about 7,000 men. There and elsewhere they drove horses and cattle in front of them to disorder the ranks of their opponents. After a stout defence the survivors of the little garrison fled to Wexford, whither the loyal inhabitants of the neighbourhood were flocking for protection. The rebel army, swelled to the number of 15,000, advanced on the town. An attempt to relieve it having failed, the garrison made terms and evacuated the place, which was occupied by the enemy on the 30th. The rebels chose Bagenal Harvey, a protestant gentleman and one of the United Irishmen, as commander-in-chief, and leaving a garrison in Wexford, established a camp on Vinegar hill. Hoping to penetrate into Carlow and join the rebels there and in Wicklow and Kildare, they detached 5,000 men to take Newtownbarry. Colonel L'Estrange, who commanded there, retreated with the garrison, and the rebels rushed into the place. He was soon persuaded to return, surprised them as they were pillaging, and routed them with the loss of only two men.

In the camp on Vinegar hill priests were dominant; mass was said every morning, and the fury of the people was excited by violent sermons. Protestants were brought in from the surrounding country, and all who did not receive "protections" from the priests were butchered, sometimes with ghastly cruelty. Though the priests often interfered to save the captives, it is probable that at least 400 were slain in the camp.[282] The prime object of the rebel leaders was to establish communication with other counties. Their plans were ruined by lack of discipline and organisation, as well as by the extraordinary gallantry of the loyalist troops. After some fighting a detachment of rebels took Gorey in the north of the county. Instead of pressing on into Wicklow, they remained there feasting and plundering the neighbourhood. At the same time a large body under Harvey marched on New Ross, with the object of opening communication with Kilkenny and Waterford, where they believed that thousands were ready to rise in arms.[283] The town was attacked at daybreak on June 5, and was defended by General Johnston and about 1,600 men against thousands of rebels. Again and again the garrison, beaten back for a time by sheer weight of numbers, rallied and steadily faced the enemy. Lord Mountjoy was killed as he led a charge of militia. The rebels fought desperately, but as a mere mob. After a fierce struggle of ten hours they turned and fled through the burning town. No quarter was given. At least 2,000 of them were slain. The loss on the loyalist side was 230. During the battle some rebels fled to Scullabogue House, where their army had left 224 prisoners, nearly all protestants, under a strong guard. They declared that the day was lost, that the garrison were slaughtering the catholics, and that Harvey had ordered that the prisoners should be killed. Thirty-seven were massacred at the hall door, and 184, including some women and children, were shut into a barn and burned to death. Out of the whole number only three escaped.


After his defeat at New Ross, Harvey, who tried in vain to check the savagery of his followers, was deposed from his command, and was succeeded by a priest named Philip Roche. The rebels at Gorey had been wasting their time. They were largely reinforced, and on the 9th some 10,000 men attacked Arklow. Its capture would have thrown open the road to Dublin. The garrison under General Needham numbered about 1,500, and had some cannon. Mainly owing to the splendid courage of the Durham fencibles they defeated the rebels, who were much discouraged by the fall of one of their priests, for they believed that he and some of their other priestly leaders could not be harmed by shot or sword. Their defeat decided the issue of the rebellion. It was almost confined to Leinster. Connaught remained quiet, and it scarcely touched Munster. In Ulster, the chief seat of the conspiracy, there were only two outbreaks, in Antrim and Down, which were easily suppressed. Severity had nipped rebellion in the bud. Nor was this the only reason for the comparative inaction of the province. The presbyterians, whose republican sympathies had led them to look to France and seek the support of the catholics against England, found France fail them again and again; and they were bitterly incensed against the catholics on hearing how in Wexford they made the rebellion a religious war and were torturing and massacring the protestants. Nor were French politics any longer such as to allure republicans, for France was rapidly tending towards military rule, and was bringing the republics she had founded into subjection to herself. Before long Ulster became, as it has since remained, thoroughly loyal to the crown.

The rebellion was defeated by the gallantry of the Irish loyalists and the few English troops which supported them. No help had as yet been sent from England. Decisive as the battle of Arklow proved to be, the Irish ministers believed that the rebellion was still likely to grow, and wrote urgently for reinforcements. Five regiments were despatched, and several militia regiments volunteered for service in Ireland. The crown could not accept their offer without the consent of parliament. The opposition in the commons raised objections, and were defeated by a large majority. On the 21st Lake, at the head of an army of over 13,000 men, attacked the rebels on Vinegar hill. After a short resistance they fled in confusion. Enniscorthy was taken, and the royal army marched on Wexford. When the rebels occupied Wexford on May 30, they behaved with comparative moderation. There was some pillaging, but few acts of violence were committed. Many protestants were imprisoned, and the rest were confined to their houses and lived in mortal terror, for the lower class of catholics showed a savage spirit which was only kept in check by their leaders. It broke out on June 20, when nearly all the armed rebels had marched out against the royal forces. Infuriated by the news of disasters, the mob, under the leadership of a ruffian named Dixon and his equally savage wife, slaughtered ninety-seven of the prisoners. The next day the rebels offered to surrender the town on terms. They believed that their offer was accepted, and surrendered before they heard that Lake refused it. The rebel leaders and all found guilty of murder were executed. Philip Roche and, in spite of his humane exertions, Harvey were among the number. The remains of the rebellion were stamped out with fearful severity. Many excesses were committed. Every execution was hailed with exultation by the victorious party. Cornwallis, who had succeeded Camden as lord-lieutenant in June, was disgusted with their bloodthirsty and vengeful spirit. Seconded by the chancellor, he obtained from parliament an act of general indemnity with special exceptions, and did all in his power to restrain the ferocity of the troops.

The rebellion left Ireland burdened with debt. Throughout wide districts the land lay waste, houses were in ashes, the peasants homeless and starving. Old racial and religious hatreds were revived and were strengthened a thousandfold by the barbarities perpetrated by both parties. If Ireland was ever to be at peace, if Celts and Saxons, catholics and protestants, were ever to dwell together as one people, it could only be by her acceptance of the control of a single imperial parliament. A legislative union had long been contemplated by Pitt and by other English statesmen. That Pitt deliberately planned and fostered the rebellion, as Irishmen have actually asserted, in order to carry out a union is a charge so monstrous as scarcely to demand serious refutation. It is enough to say that he would certainly not have chosen to have Ireland in rebellion at a time so critical for England as the spring of 1798. That the policy of the government both in England and Ireland, which certainly conduced to the rebellion, was to some extent swayed by the desire for union is probable.[284] That is quite another matter. The rebellion made union absolutely necessary, and while the rebels were still in arms, Pitt began to prepare for it. The history of the union must be deferred to our next chapter.


The rebels' hopes of help from France were bitterly disappointed. A serious invasion was impossible without command of the sea; only small expeditions could be sent out by stealth. On June 16 certain Irish conspirators represented that if a small expedition landed on the north-west coast the independence of Ireland might be secured. The directors determined to send one immediately.[285] It was long delayed, for the navy was in disorder. At last, on August 6, when the rebellion was over, and Ireland was full of troops, General Humbert sailed from Rochelle with eighty-two officers and 1,017 men, together with supplies and arms for the natives, in three frigates under the command of Captain Savary. The ships took a long route to avoid the British fleet, and did not arrive in Killala bay until the 20th. Killala, which had a garrison of only 200 men, was occupied, and Ballina was taken. The French were joined by a large number of Irish, delighted at receiving arms, clothes, and food. Many of these recruits deserted, carrying away their guns, and those who remained were of little use. General Hutchinson, who commanded in Connaught, advanced against the invaders. He was joined by Lake, and their forces amounted to over 5,000 men. Lake posted a detachment to guard Castlebar. Humbert avoided it by crossing the mountains, and on the 27th, after a march of fifteen hours engaged the British, though vastly inferior to them in number. The militia were seized with panic, and though the artillery behaved well, the army was utterly routed and fled in disorder leaving nine guns in the enemy's hands.

After this shameful rout, called "the race of Castlebar," Cornwallis took the command in person at the head of a large army, and reached the neighbourhood of Castlebar on September 4. Early on that day Humbert left Castlebar to march on Sligo, for he heard that there were few troops in the counties of Sligo and Leitrim. He probably intended to maintain himself near the sea in order to meet reinforcements from France, and is said to have hoped to reach Dublin by a circuit to the north-east. Wild as this hope seems, it was encouraged by the news of insurrectionary movements. On reaching Colooney he was met by Colonel Vereker with a small force from Sligo, which he defeated after a smart engagement. He abruptly changed his course and marched to the south-east, either because he believed that Vereker's force was the vanguard of an army, or because he hoped to take advantage of a rebellion which had broken out in Granard, and of disaffection in Longford and Westmeath, and to reach Dublin through those counties.[286] On the 9th Lake attacked him with an overwhelming force at Ballinamuck, near Granard; Cornwallis was marching on his rear, and after a short resistance the French surrendered themselves prisoners. They then numbered ninety-six officers and 748 men. No terms were granted to their Irish allies of whom 500 are said to have been slain. The adventure, gallantry, and achievements of Humbert's little band form a notable episode in the military history of France. Their conduct was worthy of their country, for they committed no excesses. Killala was retaken from the rebels with great slaughter and the rebellion in Connaught was soon at an end.

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