‘Found guilty, the doctor was forbidden to preach for three years, his sermons being burned by the common hangman, but it was a Pyrrhic victory for the government.’
Extract taken from The King Over The Water: A Complete History of the Jacobites
By Desmond Seward
Published by Birlinn Ltd
Too long he’s been excluded,
Too long we’ve been deluded.
Anon, ‘Let our Great James come over’
The Bell Tavern in King Street was within strolling distance of the Palace of Westminster and from the early years of Anne’s reign High Tory MPs who belonged to the Country Party – the landed interest – had met there to drink vast quantities of October ale (so called from being brewed in that month). Although a portrait of the Queen hung in the room where they gathered, many toasts were drunk to ‘The King over the Water’, a name now used by Jacobites when drinking James III’s health as they passed their tankards over a decanter, a finger bowl or a glass filled with water.
Backwoodsmen of the sort caricatured by Joseph Addison in The Tory Foxhunter, they were High Churchmen who detested the ‘Rump’ (the Whig party), ‘Low Churchmen’ (Latitudinarians) and Dissenters. They wanted to purge Parliament by impeaching half a dozen Whig MPs – ‘get off five or six heads’, as Jonathan Swift put it – and opposed not only taxes for wars abroad but a standing army in time of peace. In 1709 the political wind began to blow their way.
On Guy Fawkes Day, Dr Henry Sacheverell of Magdalen College, Oxford, gave a sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral on ‘The Perils of False Brethren’ which attacked the Toleration Act, Low Churchmen and Dissenters, claiming the Church of England was in mortal danger. Although he ranted, he had a point. Since the Toleration Act of 1691 over 2,500 Dissenting chapels had been licensed and everywhere parsons were dismayed by the numbers who attended them instead of worshipping at the parish church.
Printed as a pamphlet, the sermon sold 100,000 copies. In a second sermon, Sacheverell belittled the Revolution, extolling passive obedience and referring to the Whig leader Godolphin as ‘Volpone’ – the sly villain of Ben Jonson’s comedy. Every High Churchman applauded him. There were roars of approval at the Bell Tavern, his health drunk in bumper after bumper.
The doctor was impeached for criticising ‘her Majesty and her government’ and tried at Westminster Hall, with General Stanhope insisting that the sermons favoured ‘a prince on the other side of the water’. Although she disapproved of him, the Queen attended his trial, her sedan chair greeted by a pro-Sacheverell crowd with shouts of ‘God bless your Majesty and the Church’. Mobs destroyed Dissenter meeting houses and did their best to set fire to the London residence of the Low Church Bishop of Salisbury, the aged Gilbert Burnet.
Found guilty, the doctor was forbidden to preach for three years, his sermons being burned by the common hangman, but it was a Pyrrhic victory for the government. Rewarded by an admirer with a rich living on the Welsh Border, Sacheverell’s coach was cheered all the way to Shropshire. What upset the Whigs was his attack on the Revolution, which they saw as a message of support for the Restoration. They were quite right – soon after, he wrote to King James, offering his services.
Dr Sacheverell’s friends were not confined to the Bell Tavern or the Country Party, but to be found in large numbers among the London mob and in the applauding crowds along the Great West Road – especially at Bath and Bristol.
James III’s baptism of fire 1709–10
In November 1709 Archbishop Fenelon of Cambray, a cleric of a very different sort from Rance or the Jansenists, met King James and was struck by his good sense and amiability. Soon a close friend, Fenelon gave him his own conviction that every man has an overriding duty to care for his neighbour. He may also have instilled Quietism – abandonment to God’s will to the point of never asking his help – which encouraged a mood akin to fatalism.
Notwithstanding Quietism, to gain combat experience the king served with the French army as the Chevalier de St George in the Maison du Roy (Louis XIV’s household brigade) and fought against Marlborough. He saw action at Oudenarde in 1708, admirably cool under fire, according to Berwick – he laughed when he saw Georg August of Hanover, the Elector’s son, have his horse shot under him. Afterwards, Marlborough openly expressed pleasure at hearing such a good account of James. But it was in September 1709 during the murderous bloodbath at Malplaquet, Marlborough’s last great victory over the French, that he really distinguished himself, charging twelve times with the Maison du Roy and being wounded. At one point he fought on foot at the head of the French grenadiers. Afterwards, English soldiers drank his health, Marlborough warmly praising his gallantry.
The war became unpopular in England, despite the Duke of Marlborough’s victories and Whig attempts to turn him into a national hero. Many resented his rewards, such as Blenheim Palace, and his thriftiness – at Bath he went on foot in the worst weather rather than pay 6d for a sedan chair. People wanted an end to spiralling war taxation, besides being shocked by the casualties. Queen Anne wailed, ‘Will this bloodshed never stop?’
She had transferred her affections from the Duchess of Marlborough to the ingratiating Abigail Masham, a distressed gentlewoman who had joined the royal household as a ‘dresser’ – a lady’s maid. The duchess responded to the takeover by hinting at lesbianism. Unruffled, Mrs Masham, a Tory (and secret Jacobite) undermined Anne’s confidence in Godolphin, securing his dismissal in August 1710.
At a general election in October the Tories won a big majority, partly because of Sacheverell’s trial but mainly from anger at never ending war and heavy taxes. They immediately formed a government. The Bell Tavern circle increased to over 150 MPs, naming itself the October Club in honour of the new ministry and its favourite beverage. It included a hundred known Jacobites, the most extreme of whom were nicknamed ‘Tantivies’.
The King Over The Water: A Complete History of the Jacobites by Desmond Seward is published by Birlinn Ltd, priced £25.00