Read Agnes Strickland's Queens of England Online

Authors: 1796-1874 Agnes Strickland,1794-1875 Elizabeth Strickland,Rosalie Kaufman

Tags: #Queens -- Great Britain

Agnes Strickland's Queens of England (30 page)

BOOK: Agnes Strickland's Queens of England
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Louis then informed the king that he had something of the greatest importance to communicate, whereupon the attendants began to withdraw; but Louis exclaimed, " Let no one retire ! " Then turning to James again, he continued : " I am come, sir, to acquaint you that whenever it shall please God to call your majesty out of this world, I will take your family under my protection, and will recognize your son, the Prince of Wales, as heir of your three realms." At these words, all present, both English and French, threw themselves at the feet of the powerful sovereign, who mingled his tears with those that were shed around him.

The dying king extended his arms to embrace his royal friend, and said : " Thank God, I die with perfect resignation, and forgive all the world."

He then begged as a last favor that there might be no pomp at his funeral ceremonies. " That is the only favor I cannot grant," replied Louis. James begged that any money King Louis might feel disposed to spend for that purpose should be employed for the relief of his followers, whom he commended to that monarch's care.

The queen was so grieved that she was often obliged to

hide herself so that her husband might not witness her tears. His bed was situated in an alcove, and she would spend hours on the other side of the curtains, anxiously waiting for any sound from the dying king. While Louis XIV. was communicating his comforting news, Mary Beatrice sent for her son and bade him throw himself at the feet of the kind-hearted monarch, and express his gratitude. Louis raised the boy and embraced him tenderly; then leading him into an adjoining room, conversed with him a long while, gave him some excellent advice, and promised to act the part of a father towards him.

King James had already taken leave of his children, but they were permitted to see him several times before he died; and he always smiled lovingly, even though he could not speak to them. The day before he expired King James bade farewell to the queen, and requested her to write to his daughter, the Princess Anne, and assure her of his forgiveness ; also to charge her to atone to her brother for the injury she had done him. Then he gave some advice about the prince ; and when Mary Beatrice was overcome with emotion, he asked tenderly : " Why is this ? Are you not flesh of my-flesh, and bone of my bone — are you not a part of myself? How is it, then, that one part of me should feel so differently from the other ? I in joy and you in despair. My joy is in the hope I feel that God in his mercy will forgive me my sins and receive me into his beatitude, and you are afflicted at it. I have long sighed for this happy moment, and you know it well: cease, then, to lament for me. I will pray for you, —farewell! "

This was the last interview the queen had with her husband, for he sank into a state of unconsciousness, and died the next afternoon at three o'clock. It was Father Ruga, the queen's confessor, who informed her when all was over. Although the blow was expected, it was hard to bear; for

Mary Beatrice had hoped to the last that her husband might still be spared to her. Her resignation to the will of God was perfect; but her sorrow was heartfelt and bitter.

Crowds of French and English of all degrees passed in and out to take a last look at the dead king, who had requested that his chamber door might be left open for that purpose. Then all the courtiers went to the prince and saluted him as king, and at the same time he was proclaimed at the gates of St. Germain by the title of James III., King of England, Scotland, Ireland, and France.

Court etiquette required that the queen also should offer the homage of a subject to her boy. She said to him : " Sir, I acknowledge you for my king; but I hope you will not forget that you are my son." She was so overcome by this ceremony that she retired at once, and was driven to the convent of Chaillot, where she desired to pass the first days of her widowhood in complete solitude, refusing to see any one whatsoever.

The chapel had all been hung in black by the nuns as soon as the king's death was announced, and when the tolling of the bell warned them of Mary Beatrice's approach, they went in procession to receive her at the convent gate. She descended from her coach in silence, followed by four noble ladies who had accompanied her. The nuns gathered around her without speaking, the abbess kissed the hem of her robe, some of the sisters embraced her knees, and others respectfully pressed their lips to her hand, but no one ventured to offer a word of comfort.

The queen passed straight into the chapel; she was bowed down with grief, though she did not shed a tear. That time was passed, and she seemed stupefied. One of the nuns approached and asked in the words of the psalmist, " My soul, will you not be subject to God ?"

" His will be done," replied the queen, in a tremulous voice. Prostrating herself before the altar, she remained long in prayer. At last the nuns begged her to eat, for she had partaken of no food since the night before, and they feared she would faint. She was led to her bedroom, but insisted on hearing more prayers, and complained that she could not weep, saying " that even that solace was denied her."

Her attendants were sent to bed, but two of the nuns passed the night with the queen, who moaned and sighed and prayed by turns with scarcely a moment's repose. The next night the king's heart was conveyed to Chaillot and placed near that of his mother; but by King Louis's order it was received so quietly that Mary Beatrice was not excited by it. However, a few hours later she assured the abbess that she felt it was near her, and spoke a great deal about her dead husband. Among other things, she said: "That he had felt his humiliation, and above all the injustice he had experienced, very keenly; but that the love of God had changed all his calamities into blessings."

Mary Beatrice would have liked to pass the rest of her days at Chaillot, but she had other duties to perform and many more years to live.

In his will King James had directed that he should be buried with his ancestors at Westminster Abbey; therefore the queen ordered that the funeral service should be performed in France, but that the body should remain un-buried until the restoration of her son, which she fondly hoped would soon take place.

It was therefore at the chapel of the Benedictine Monks that the corpse of King James remained covered with the pall for many years, until all hope for the Stuart family had vanished forever.

The queen remained at Chaillot only four days, for her

children needed her at St. Germain, and she returned to them on the nineteenth of September.

The next day King Louis called on her, and she received him in a darkened room hung with black. He tried very hard to console the widowed queen by kind offers of protection to her and her son, and insisted upon her receiving the same courtesy from his ministers as though she had been queen regent really and not only in name.

[A.D. 1702.] However King James's will had given her that title, and her first steps was to publish a manifesto in the name of her son, setting forth his claim to the crown of Great Britain. It made little impression in England, but those who were opposed to King William in Scotland were anxious to bring the young king forward. So Lord Belhaven was sent to consult the queen as to what was best to do, and told her that if only her young son would declare himself a Protestant he should be proclaimed King of Scotland without waiting either for the death of William or the consent of parliament. Her majesty replied : "That she would never be the means of persuading her son to barter his hopes of Heaven for a crown." Then Lord Belhaven was willing to compromise, and said, " That if the prince would not change his religion, would he not agree that only a limited number of Romish priest, should enter his kingdom, and that he would make no attempt to alter the established religion ?" This the queen freely promised in the name of her son, and then the lord declared that he and his party would do all in their power to establish King James's heir on the throne.

Mary Beatrice would have resigned herself to fate if she had not felt convinced that her son's rights were denied him so long as any Stuart claimed the crown. At the time of the prince's birth, parliament had decided that he should succeed his father, James IL, and a new interest was

awakened in him on account of the sympathy felt in England for him and his widowed mother. Alarmed that such would be the state of affairs, William hired a notorious fellow to prove that the Prince of Wales was not the son of James II. and Mary Beatrice at all, but that one Mrs. Mary Grey was his real mother, who had been murdered in Paris shortly after his birth. A copy of the book containing a full account of this matter was presented to the lords, the ministers of state, and the lord mayor. Of course this statement was utterly false and absurd, and raised the indignation of the House of Commons to such a degree that Fuller, the man who got out the book, underwent the disgrace of the pillory. But as he had often been employed by William III. as a spy and had been punished more than once for perjury, he did not sink under the disgrace as an honest man would have done.

As soon as the news of King James's death reached William III. he was prepared with a blow to aim at his orphan cousin that he was determined should not fail if he could help it. It was an accusation of high treason, in which Mary Beatrice was also included. The bill, as William presented it to his parliament, did not designate his uncle's widow as the queen dowager, because he had pocketed her dower, and he desired to deprive her even of the honors due a royal lady. So she is called " Mary, late wife of the late King James."

Without describing all the scenes enacted in parliament while this disgraceful bill was under consideration, it is only necessary for us to know that it passed the House of Lords; but when it was laid before the Commons, they pitched it under the table.

The very last act of William III. was to afBx the royal seal to the bill that he had exerted every means to have executed against the young Prince of Wales. He was on

his death-bed when it was presented for his signature, but controlled his almost paralyzed fingers enough for the accomplishment of this last act of hatred.

He expired the next day.

Mary Beatrice was so ill when this event occurred that no one ventured to speak of it in her presence. Her life hung on a thread for many days and depended for its continuance on absolute repose. Therefore she could take no steps towards claiming the crown of England for her son at the proper moment; and by the time she was convalescent her step-daughter Anne was peacefully settled on the throne, and all hope for the young prince vanished forever. But Simon Fraser, generally called Lord Lovat, had proclaimed the prince King of Scotland, in the county of Inverness as soon as the death of William HI. was known there. When Mary Beatrice was well enough to attend to business, this man presented himself at St. Germain as the representative of a large party in his native land, and urged the queen-mother to send her son to Scotland to fight for his rights. He said that an army of twelve thousand men could easily be raised in the Highlands, provided the King of France would assist with arms and money, and that the Scottish people would spare no efforts if they coiTld only see the prince for whom they were t-o fight in their midst. But Mary Beatrice considered her boy too young to undertake such a perilous enterprse; and the very thought of the fate that awaited him, should he fall into the hands of his enemies, caused her to refuse to let him leave her. Ambition was not the leading trait of the fallen queen.

[A.D. 1703.] In the autumn Lord Lovat applied to Mary Beatrice again, and represented affairs in Scotland and Ireland as so favorable to the interest of the prince that she was thoroughly deceived, and without consulting any of her

friends, sold all the jewels she had left, and gave the money to this treacherous creature. It was afterwards proved that Lovat was the bribed instrument of Queen Anne's cabinet, by whom all his expenses had been paid, while he pretended to be serving the Prince of Wales. He did a great deal of mischief, but like many knaves, bribed and intrigued until he overstepped the mark, and was arrested the next time he appeared in France. He was shut up at the Castle of Angouleme, where he was kept a close prisoner for several years.

[A.D. 1704.] In August Mary Beatrice attended a grand f^te at Marli, given by Louis XIV. to celebrate the birth of a great-grandson. The King and Princess Louisa were present also, and were given the places of honor after their mother, who always sat at the right hand of Louis XIV. Poor Mary Beatrice had little heart for festivities of any sort, for she was suffering from an incurable malady which often compelled her to keep her bed for several days at a time, and her son's health was so delicate as to render him a constant source of anxiety to her. He was just seventeen years of age, and the Princess Louisa was thirteen. The latter had inherited all her mother's grace and beauty, and was considered quite an ornament at the French cdurt.

[A.D. 1705.] The young king opened a ball at Marli with his sister, and all the time they were dancing the King of France stood as a mark of respect. He would have done the same every time had not the queen-mother, who sat at his side, persuaded him to sit down.

At all the festivals Mary Beatrice was placed between Louis XIV. and her son, while Princess Louisa and the immediate members of the French royal family occupied seats at the same table. But King Louis was not willing to risk more money or men in an attempt to raise an in-

surrection against Queen Anne's government in Scotland. Even had he consented to do so, his ministers would have opposed it. All this time Godolphin, who in former days had felt so proud at being permitted to hand the queen to her chair in the royal chapel, was in secret correspondence with Mary Beatrice, and constantly flattered her with false hopes. If he had possessed sufficient courage to make a demand of Queen Anne and her cabinet for the payment of the royal widow's dower and all the money due her that William III. had appropriated to his own use, no doubt the claim would have been allowed. But fear lest certain crooked acts of his life might be disclosed rendered him irresolute and anxious to publicly maintain a neutral ground.

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