by  Winston  Churchill

The Popish Plot

T'HE meeting of Parliament in February of 1673 had apprised Charles of his subjects' loathing for the war against the Dutch Protestant Republic, in which he had allowed himself to become engaged, not as the champion of English commerce, but as ujfiftlackey of Louis XTV. Resentment of the Dutch affronts at sea and jealousy of their trade were overridden by the fear and hatred of Papist France and her evergrowing dominance in Europe. Whispers ran afoot through London that the King and his Ministers had been bribed by France to betray the freedom and the faith of the Island. The secret article in the Dover Treaty had only to be known to create a political explosion of measureless violence. Shaftesbury, though not privy to it, must have had his suspicions. Early in 1673 Arlington seems to have confessed the facts to him. With dexterity and promptitude Shaftesbury withdrew himself from the Government, and became the leader of an Opposition which was ultimately as violent as that of Pym. The growing antagonism of the Commons to France, the fear of the returning tides of Popery, the King's "laxity towards Papists," the conversion of the Duke of York to Rome, all stirred, a deep and dangerous agitation throughout the whole country, in which the dominant Anglican forces were in full accord with Presbyterian and Puritan feeling. Everywhere there was the hum of political excitement. Coffee-houses buzzed; pamphlets circulated; by-elections were scenes of uproar. A Bill was forced upon the. King for a Test. No man could hold office or a King's commission afloat or ashore who would not solemnly declare his disbelief in the doctrine of Transubstantiation. This purge destroyed the Cabal. Clifford, a Catholic, refused to forswear himself; Arlington was dismissed because of his unpopularity; Buckingham had a personal quarrel with the King. Shaftesbury had already voted for the Test Act, and was the leader of the Opposition. Lauderdale alone remained, cynical, cruel, and servile, master of Scotland.

All eyes were now fixed upon James, Duke of York. His marriage, after the death of his first wife, Anne Hyde, to the Catholic princess Mary of Modena had rendered him suspect......

The struggle centred upon the Exclusion Bill. To keep the Papist heir from the throne was the main object of the majority of the nation. Anything rather than that. But who then should succeed? Shaftesbury looked to William of Orange; but he also looked, with more favour, upon the Duke of Monmouth, Charles's illegitimate son by Lucy Waters. Here was a young man, charming, romantic, brave, gleaming, our beloved Protestant Duke—was he born in wedlock or was he a bastard? Some form of marriage it was widely believed had been solemnised between the King and Lucy. There was a "black box" in which the marriage lines were said to repose. It had been spirited away by emissaries of the Pope. What had now become the more powerful party in England longed to establish Monmouth's legitimacy. They wanted a King, a Protestant King, an Anglican King bred in constitutional ways, with a strain of common blood to give him sense, and a clear-cut policy of organising Protestantism against the Catholic overlordship of Europe which Louis XIV was trying to achieve. Only one man could decide this issue. Charles had only to recognise Monmouth as his heir to free himself from every trouble and assure the future of his country. Nothing would induce the King to betray the succession. Sensualist, libertine, agnostic, dilettante, he had one loyalty—the royal blood, the legitimate succession. However painful it might be for himself and his realm, he conceived it his sacred duty to pass the crown to a brother whose virtues and whose vices alike rendered him of all others the man, as he knew well, least fitted to wear it. Nevertheless the legend of the "black box" has persisted, and in our own time we have been told how a Duke of Buccleuch, descended from the unfortunate Monmouth, discovered and destroyed, as dangerous to the monarchy, the marriage certificate of Lucy Waters.

The new House of Commons met more fierce than the old one had parted. There was an overwhelming anti-Catholic majority. It proceeded immediately to impeach, and, when this lagged, to attaint Danby. It concentrated its efforts upon the Exclusion Bill. There was grave logic behind this measure. When Papists were excluded by law from every post in the realm,  how  should  the kingly  power  and  prerogative  be wielded by one of the proscribed faith? Charles laboured to! present a compromise. He could not admit that Parliament! should alter the lineal succession to the Crown. Out of such courses had sprung the Wars of the Roses. But he offered remarkable limitations which, were they accepted, and could they/be enforced, would create a narrowly limited constitutional monarchy in England. All ecclesiastical patronage would be withdrawn from a Popish sovereign. No Papist should sit in either House of Parliament, or hold any office or place of trust The Parliament sitting at the King's death should remain sitting for a certain time, or reassemble without further summons if was not in session. The judges should only be appointed' with the consent of Parliament. Finally, he formally abandoned the claim for which his father had fought so long—the power of the sword. Lord-Lieutenants who controlled the militia, their deputies, and the officers of the Navy would be nominated by Parliament. But in the prevailing temper no one, would believe that any restrictions could be imposed upon a Popish King. The Exclusion Bill passed its second reading by an overwhelming vote, and the King descended upon the Parliament with another dissolution.

Nevertheless this short-lived legislature left behind it a monument. It passed a Habeas Corpus Act which confirmed and strengthened the freedom of the individual against arbitrary arrest by the executive Government. No Englishman, however great or however humble, could be imprisoned for more than a few days without grounds being shown against him in open court according to the settled law of the land. The King did not object to this. The balance of forces in the country at this time seemed so equal that his own courtiers, servants, or former Ministers might well have need of this protection. He pronounced the traditional words in Norman French, "Le Roi le veult," and wherever the English language is spoken in any part of the world, wherever the authority of the British Imperial Crown or of the Government of the United States prevails, all law-abiding men breathe freely. The descent into despotism which has engulfed so many leading nations in the present age has made the virtue of this enactment, sprung from English political genius, apparent even to the most thoughtless, the most ignorant, the most base.

The Protestant tide again swept the country, and in all parts men voted against the Duke of York becoming King. Earnest and venerable divines tried to induce James to return to the Church of his fathers and his future subjects. He remained obdurate. To the warrior quality of his nature was added the zeal of a convert. Not for him the worldly-wise compliances to which Henry of Navarre had stooped to gain an earthly crown. Better exile, poverty, death, for himself; better the ruin of the land by civil war. The dominant motives of both sides deserve a high respect, and led inexorably to vast and long distresses. In these days, when the Catholic Church raises her immemorial authority against secular tyranny, it is hard to realise how different was the aspect which she wore to the England of 1679, with lively recollection of the fires of SmithfieldJ the Massacre of St Bartholomew, the Spanish Armada, and the Gunpowder Plot.

The Catholic King

THE struggle between Crown and Parliament which had dominated English life since the reign of James I had now come back to its starting point. Eighty years of fearful events and the sharpest ups and downs of fortune had brought the monarchy, in appearance and for the practical purposes of the moment, to almos^ Tudor absolutism. In spite of Marston Moor and Nasefey; after the execution of a King, after Oliver Cromwell, after the military anarchy, after the enthusiasm of the Restoration, after the savage incipient revolution which raged around the Popish Plot, Charles II had been able to reign for three years without the aid of Parliament and to transmit the crown of a Protestant country to a Catholic successor. So vital did the institution of monarchy appear to those who had lived in this strenuous age that even the barrier of a hostile religion could not prevent the lawful heir from ascending the throne amid the respectful homage of his British subjects.

For the last two years of his brother's reign James had played a leading part in the realm. He had exploited the victory which Charles, by compliance, by using time, by an ignominious foreign policy, had gained for the house of Stuart. His accession to the throne seemed to him to be the vindication of the downright conceptions for which he had always stood. All he thought he needed to make him a real king, on the model now established in Europe by Louis XIV, was a loyal Fleet and a standing Army, well trained and equipped. Warlike command appealed strongly to his nature. He had fought under Turenne; he had fought the forefront of bloody actions at sea. To form land and sea forces devoted to the royal authority and to his person was his first object. Here was the key by which all doors might be opened. Prating Parliaments, a proud, politically minded nobility, the restored, triumphant Episcopacy, the blatant Whigs, the sullen, brooding Puritans, all would have to take their place once the King of England possessed a heavy, tempered, sharpened sword. Everyone was awestruck or spellbound by the splendour of France under absolute monarchy. The power of the French nation, now that its quarrels were stilled and its force united under the great king, was the main fact of the age. Why should not the British islands rise to equal grandeur by adopting similar methods?

But behind this there swelled in the King's breast the hope that he might reconcile all his people to the old faith and heal the schism which had rent Christendom for so many generations. He was resolved that there should at least be toleration among all English Christians. It is one of the disputes of history whether toleration was all he sought. James was a convert to Rome. He was a bigot, and there.was no sacrifice he would not make for Inis faith. He lost his throne in consequence, and his son carried on after him the conscientious warfare, to his own exclusion. Toleration was the natural first step to the revival of Catholicism. The King was determined that the Catholics should not be persecuted, and for tactical reasons, at a later date, he extended his protection to the Dissenters. It is possible that he fortified himself inwardly by asserting that all he wanted was toleration, and by the enlightened use of the dispensing power to be the true father of all his people.

These large plans filled James's resolute and obstinate mind. Protestant opinion has never doubted that if he had gained despotic power he would have used it for his religion in the same ruthless manner as Louis XIV. In the very year of James's accession the King of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, and by the persecutions known as the Dragonnades quelled the last resistance of the Huguenots. James, in letters which are still preserved, approved the persecutions practised by the French monarch. On the other hand, in his reign he never dared transgress the limits of toleration. He was hurled from his throne before he could complete the first phase of his policy, so that it cannot be proved that it would not have been final. Afterwards in exile her entered into a correspondence, of which sixty letters have been preserved, with Ranee, the Prior of the Trappists, in which devotion to the Catholic faith is combined with toleration. But by then toleration was the most he could hope for if he ever returned to England. The English Protestant nation would have been very foolish to trust themselves to the merciful tolerances of James II once he had obtained the absolute power he sought.......

James was now at the height of his power. The defeat of the rebels and the prevention of another civil war had procured a nation-wide rally to the Crown. Of this he took immediate advantage. As soon as Jeffreys' "campaign," as James called it, was ended he proposed to his Council the repeal of the Test Act and the Habeas Corpus Act. These two hated relics of his brother's reign seemed to him the main objects of assault. In the emergency he had given many commissions to Catholic officers. He was determined to retain them in his new, tripled army. Halifax, as Lord President of the Council, pointed to the statutes which this would affront; Lord Keeper North warned his master of the dangers he was incurring. Halifax was removed, not only from the Presidency of the Council, but from the Privy Council altogether; and when North died soon alter, Chief Justice Jeffreys, red-handed from "the Bloody AsSizes," was made Lord Chancellor in his stead. Robert Spencer, Earl of Sunderland, later in the year became Lord President in the place of Halifax, as well as Secretary of State, and was henceforward James's chief Minister. Sunderland is a baffling figure who served in turn Charles, James, and later William III. He throve by changing sides. Now he had become a Papist to please his master. No one knew better than he the politics and inclinations of the leading families in the country, and that is what made him indispensable to successive sovereigns.

Parliament met for its second session on November 9, and the King laid his immediate purpose before it. In his blunt way he declared, with admitted reason, that the mijitia was useless. They had twice run away before Monmouth's half-armed peasantry. A strong standing Army was indispensable to the peace and order of the realm. He also made it plain that he would not dismiss his Catholic officers on the morrow of' their faithful services. These two demands shook the friendly Parliament to its foundations. It was deeply and predominantly imbued with the Cavalier spirit. Its most hideous nightmare was a standing Army, its dearest treasure the Established Church. Fear and perplexity disturbed all Members, assaulted both in their secular and religious feelings; and beneath their agitatiotf anger grew. While the old loyalties, revived by recent dangers, still inspired the Tory nobles and country gentlemen, the doctrine of nonresistance dominated the Church. Both were prepared to condone the breach of the Test Act committed by Catholic officers during the rebellion. The Commons offered an additional grant of £700,-000 to strengthen the royal forces. They only asked, with profuse expressions of devotion, for reassurance that Acts of Parliament should not be set aside by the Prerogative, and for comforting words about the security of the Protestant religion. The King gave a forbidding answer.

In the House of Lords Devonshire, the hardy Whig; Halifax, the renowned ex-Minister; Bridgwater and Nottingham, actually members of the Privy Council; and, not the least, Henry Compton, Bishop of London, son of a father who had died for Charles I at Newbury, asserted the rights of the nation. A day was fixed for further discussion, and the judges were invited to pronounce upon the lawfulness of the King's proceedings. James had not yet packed the Bench with his partisans. He saw plainly that the declaration which must now be expected from the judges and the House of Lords would constitute a massive obstacle to that very dispensing power for the relief and preferment of the Catholics upon which his heart was set. He therefore repeated the stroke by which Charles II had dispersed the Parliament at Oxford in 1681. On November 20 he suddenly appeared in the House of Lords, summoned the Commons to the Bar, and prorogued Parliament. It never met again while he was King.

Freeing himself from Parliamentary opposition by repeated prorogations, King James proceeded throughout 1686 to relieve his fellow religionists. First he desired to dispense with the Test against Catholics in the Army. The judges whom he consulted were adverse, but after various dismissals and appointments the Bench assumed a new complexion, and a test case. Hales versus Godden, was arranged. Hales, a Catholic, appointed Governor of Portsmouth, was sued by collusion, by his coachman, Godden, who claimed £500 reward as a common informer against a violator of the Test Act. Hales pleaded the royal dispensing power as his defence. The court agreed. Thus armed, James granted a dispensation to the Curate of Putney, although he had become a Catholic, to continue in his benefice. At the same time Roman Catholic peers were admitted to the Privy Council. The King went further. He §et up an Ecclesiastical Commission, almost identical with the old Court of High Commission destroyed by the Long Parliament, the main function of which was to prevent Anglican clergy from preaching against Catholicism. Bishop Compton had already been dismissed from the Privy Council. He was now suspended from his functions as Bishop of London.

These actions disturbed the whole realm. The methods of absolutism were being used to restore the Catholic religion, more dreaded than absolutism itself. Lawyers discerned that a direct conflict between statutory law and Royal Prerogative had arisen. Moreover, they now asserted that the King should not only be under the law, but under the law made in Parliament, the law of statute. The Common Lawyers all ranged themselves behind the new claim.

By the end of the year James had driven away many of his most faithful friends and disquieted everybody. Halifax, who had saved him from the Exclusion Bill, was brooding in the country. Danby, only liberated from the Tower in 1684, had perforce abandoned his dream of Church and King. He saw it could never be realised wih a Papist sovereign. Albemarle, son of General Monk, had quitted the royal service. The loyal Parliament which had rallied to James against Monmouth and Argyll could be brought together no more without the certainty of a quarrel. Its lords and squires sat sullen and anxious amidst their tenantry. The Church, the bulwark of legitimacy, the champion of nonresistance, seethed with suppressed alarms, and only the powerful influence of Lawrence Hyde, now Earl of Rochester, upon the bishops and clergy prevented a vehement outburst. It was plain that the King, with all the downright resolution of his nature, was actively and of set purpose subverting the faith and Constitution of the land.

Turing the whole of 1686 and 1687 James held Parliament in abeyance, and used his dispensing power to introduce Roman Catholics into key positions. Whigs and Tories drew closer together. James was uniting the party that had challenged his brother with the party that had rallied so ardently to his brother's defence. He now embarked upon a political manoeuvre at once audacious, crafty, and miscalculated. Hitherto he had striven only to relieve his Catholic subjects. He would now bid for the aid of the Dissenters, who were equally oppressed. If Whigs and Tories were combined he would match them by a coalition of Papists and Nonconformists under the armed power of the Crown. In William Penn, the Quaker courtier and foohder of the state of Pennsylvania across the seas, influential in both this and the former reign, he found a powerful and skilled agent. Thus did the King break down the national barriers of his throne and try to shore it up with novel, ill-assorted, and inadequate props.

In January 1687 came the fall of the Hydes. For a long time both had been unhappy in their offices. Clarendon, the elder brother, in Ireland, had been overawed by James's faithful follower, the Roman Catholic Earl of Tyrconnel; Rochester, in Whitehall, was subdued by Sunderland. On January 7, 1687, Rochester was dismissed from the Treasury, and three days later Clarendon was replaced by Tyrconnel. The friend of the Hydes who governed Scotland in His Majesty's name was superseded by two Catholics. These changes marked another definite stage in the reign of James II. The prorogation of Parliament at the end of 1685 had been the beginning of Cavalier and Anglican discontent against the Crown. With the dismissal of Rochester began the revolutionary conspiracy.

Meanwhile James was raising and preparing his Army. Charles II's forces of about seven thousand men had cost £280,000 a year. Already James was spending £600,000 upon the upkeep of more than twenty ''thousand men. Three troops of Life Guards, each as strong as a regiment, the Blues, ten regiments of horse or dragoons, two battalions of foot-guards and fifteen of the line, besides garrison troops, were under arms by February 1686. Every summer a great camp was formed at Hounslow to impress the Londoners. In August 1686 this contained about ten thousand men. A year later Feversham could assemble fifteen thousand men and twenty-eight guns. The King went often to the camp, seeking to make himself popular with the officers and all ranks. He allowed Mass to be celebrated in a wooden chapel borne on wheels and placed in the centre of the camp between the horse and foot. He watched the drill of the troops, and dined with Feversham, Churchill, and other generals. He continued his infusion of Catholic officers and Irish recruits. He had a parson, Johnson, pilloried and whipped from Newgate to Tyburn for a' seditious pamphlet addressed to Protestant soldiers. He comforted himself with the aspect of this formidable Army, the like of which had not been seen since Cromwell, and against which: nothing could be matched in England. He increasingly promoted Catholics to key posts. The Duke of Berwick, now fflghteen years old, was made Governor of Portsmouth, and Catholics commanded at both Hull and Dover. Eventually a Catholic admiral ruled the Channel Fleet.