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But the King of France did not share in the feeling of Choiseul. He wrote to the King of Spain about this time, "My Minister wishes for war, but I do not!" In fact, changes had taken place in the Court of France which were about to precipitate Choiseul from his long-enjoyed favour. Madame de Pompadour was dead, and the king had become deeply enamoured of Madame du Barry. Choiseul was impolitic enough to despise her influence, and treated her with undisguised hauteur. He soon felt the consequence in an order from the king to resign his office and retire to his estate at Chanteloupe, in Touraine. The shock to the insolent Minister, who had so long ruled absolutely in the French Court, was the more unlooked for, because he thought himself now all the more safe from having secured the marriage of the king's heir, his eldest grandson, with the Austrian archduchess, Marie Antoinette. Choiseul was succeeded by the triumvirate d'Aiguillon, as Foreign Minister; Terray, as Minister of Finance; and Maupeou, as Minister of Jurisprudence; but all subject to the supreme influence of Madame du Barry. Louis XV. thenceforth became a cipher.On the 27th of November, only two days after the receipt of the news of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis, Parliament met. The king adverted to the unhappy event, but still declared that he should be betraying his trust, as sovereign of a free people, if he did not refuse to give up the contest; that he still trusted in Divine Providence, and he called for fresh, animated, and united exertions. He turned with more satisfaction to the successes in the East Indies, and the safe arrival of our principal mercantile fleets. In the Lords, the Earl of Shelburne attacked the Address, supported by the Duke of Richmond and the Lords Camden and Rockingham; but the most tempestuous burst of indignant eloquence from the Opposition took place in the Commons. Fox asserted that he had listened to the Address with horror and amazement. He declared himself confounded at the hardihood of Ministers, after such a consummation of their imbecile management, who dared to look the House of Commons in the face. He would not say that they were paid by France, for it was not possible for him to prove the fact; but, if they were not, he avowed that they deserved to be, for they had served the French monarch more faithfully and successfully than ever Ministers served a master. He especially singled out Lord Sandwich for reprobation, as the author of the wretched condition of our fleets, which were inferior in number of ships and their appointments to those of the enemy all over the globe. He called on the House to insist on the total and immediate change of Ministers, and urged the adoption of measures which should, if possible, repair the incalculable injuries they had inflicted on the nation. The Ministers, however, had strength enough to carry the Address by two hundred and eighteen votes against one hundred and twenty-nine; but the debate was resumed on the Address being reported, and then William Pitt delivered a most scathing speech, declaring that so far from our being warranted in pressing this ruinous war, he was satisfied that, if he went from one end of the Treasury bench to the other, such was the condition of the Ministry, he should find that there was not one man who could trust his neighbour; and the truth of this was becoming strikingly evident. Dundas, the Lord Advocate, hitherto one of the staunchest supporters of Lord North, spoke now as in astonishment at the language of the Ministers, declaring that some of them in Council clearly did not give their honest opinions. There were other like symptoms of defection; the sensitive placemen saw that the end of the North Administration was at hand. Lord North, perceiving the ground failing beneath him, lowered his tone, and, on Sir James Lowther, seconded by Mr. Powys, proposing a resolution that the war against America had been an utter failure, he explained that he did not advocate, in future, a continental warfare there, a marching of troops through the provinces, from north to south, but only the retention of ports on the coast, for the protection of our fleets in those seas, and the repulse of the French and Spaniards. Parliament was adjourned on the 20th of December till the 21st of January, and thus closed the year 1781.
He struck his pony with the fringed end of the horse-hair lariat that hung around his pommel, and cantered on in the direction of the post. The pony had been found among the foot-hills, without any[Pg 218] trouble. That, at any rate, had been a stroke of luck. He had led it into the fort just at the end of guard-mounting, and had met a party of riders going out.
The agitation which the queen underwent on the night of the 27th, when she dismissed Oxford after a long and fierce altercation, produced a marked change in her health. The Council was only terminated, having sat to consider who should be admitted into the new Ministry, by the queen falling into a swoon. Being got to bed, she passed the night, not in sleep, but in weeping. The next day another Council was held, but was again broken up by the illness of the queen, and was prorogued to the 29th of July. To Dr. Arbuthnot, her physician, Anne declared that the disputes of her Ministers had killed her; that she should never survive it. Lady Masham, struck by the queen's heavy and silent manner, apprehended the worst. Bolingbroke and his Jacobite colleagues were thunderstruck by this sudden crisis. They assembled in council at Kensington, in a room not far from that of the dying queen, but they were so stupefied by the blow that they could do nothing. On the other hand, the Whigs had been quite alert. Stanhope had made preparations to seize the Tower; to secure the persons of the Ministers and the leading Jacobites, if necessary, on the demise of the queen; to obtain possession of the outports, and proclaim the king. A proof of this concert was immediately given by the Dukes of Argyll and Somerset, who belonged to the Privy Council, but, of course, had not been summoned, suddenly entering the Council chamber, stating that, hearing of the queen's critical position, they had hastened, though not summoned, to offer their assistance. No sooner had they said this, than the Duke of Shrewsbury rose and thanked them for their courtesy. The Whig dukes immediately demanded that the queen's physicians should be called and examined as to her probable continuance. The physicians in general were of opinion that her Majesty might linger some time; but Dr. Mead declared that she could not live many days, perhaps not many hours; from the apoplectic symptoms she might be gone in one. Argyll and Somerset thereupon declared it absolutely necessary that the post of Lord Treasurer should be filled up, as it was requisite that, at such a moment, there should be a recognised Prime Minister, and proposed that the Duke of Shrewsbury should be nominated to that office. Bolingbroke felt that his power and his plans were at an end, and sat like one in a dream. The members of the Council then proceeded to the queen's apartment, and Bolingbroke followed them, as it were, mechanically. The queen was sensible enough to be made aware of their errand, and expressed her approval of it. Shrewsbury, however, with that singular hesitation which always characterised him, refused to take the White Staff, except from her Majesty's own hand. It was, therefore, handed to her, and she extended it towards Shrewsbury, saying, "For God's sake, use it for the good of my people!" Shrewsbury was already Chamberlain, and he presented the staff of that office in resignation of it; but the queen bade him retain both; and thus he was at once Lord Treasurer, Lord Chamberlain, and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.Kirby was without fear, but he was also without redress. He turned from them, his face contracted with the pain of his impotence, and walked back to the house. "I could order them off the ranch to-night," he told his wife, as he dropped on a chair, and taking up the hearth brush made a feint of sweeping two or three cinders from the floor; "but it's ten to one they wouldn't go and it would weaken my authoritynot that I have any, to be sureand besides," he flung down the brush desperately and turned to her, "I didn't want to tell you before, but there is a pretty straight rumor that Victorio's band, or a part of it, is in these hills. We may need the men at any time." Neither spoke of the two who should have been back hours ago. The night closed slowly down.