Diary of the times of Charles II/Volume 1/Mr. Godolphin to Mr. Sidney, August 18

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Windsor, August 18, 1679.

I know not why I give you the trouble of a letter from hence, unless it be either to let you see my own dulness, or else to convince you that other places have their share of it as well as the Hague. The truth is, here is very little matter for a letter, and no discourse but of elections, who is like to carry it, and who to lose it. Our friend, Colonel Birch,[2] is, I am told, not like to come in, which many people please themselves much with, but, for my part, I would be as glad to see him there as your brother Algernon, without offence be it spoken. The King talks of going to Newmarket the 18th or 20th of next month. The Queen is to be there, and all the court. Lady Anne is to go to-morrow towards Brussels. The Duchess of Cleveland is coming to reside here, to solicit her affairs, which as yet have not made any great progress. These are the only things talked of here, which I ask your pardon for troubling you with, and remain,

ever most faithfully yours,

Sidney Godolphin.

  1. Sidney Godolphin, afterwards Earl Godolphin, and Lord High Treasurer of England, was the third son of Francis Godolphin, of a very ancient family in Cornwall. He had great natural abilities, and was liberally educated. He was made one of the Grooms of the Bedchamber by Charles II. In 1678, he was twice sent as Envoy to the Hague; the next year he was made one of the Commissioners of the Treasury, and a member of the Privy Council. In 1680, he openly declared for the Bill of Exclusion, and, in the debate in council whether the Duke should return to Scotland before the Parliament met, he joined with Lord Sunderland in advising his going there, in which the King acquiesced. In 1684, he was appointed one of the Secretaries of State, which he soon resigned for that of Chief Commissioner of the Treasury, when he was created Baron Godolphin of Railton, in Cornwall. On the accession of James, he was appointed Lord Chamberlain to the Queen, and, on the removal of the Earl of Rochester, was again made one of the Commissioners of the Treasury. He was one of the three Commissioners sent by James to treat with the Prince of Orange. He voted for the Regency; nevertheless, he was appointed one of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury and a Privy Councillor; and, in 1690, he was made First Lord of the Treasury.
    On the accession of Queen Anne, he became the Lord High Treasurer, a post which he had refused to accept till pressed to it by the Duke of Marlborough, who declared that he could not go the continent to command the armies, unless the Treasury were put into his hands. He filled this office with high honour and ability, and it was Lord Godolphin who prevailed upon Queen Anne to settle her revenue of the first fruits and tenths for the augmentation of small livings.
    In 1704, he was made Knight of the Garter; and, in 1706, he was created Earl Godolphin. He was removed from his office of Lord High Treasurer in 1710, and died two years afterwards. Bishop Burnet says "that he was the silentest and modestest man who was perhaps ever bred in a court. He had a clear apprehension, and despatched business with great method, and with so much temper that he had no personal enemies. But his silence begot a jealousy which hung long upon him. His notions were for the Court, but his incorrupt and sincere way of managing the concerns of the Treasury created in all people a very high esteem for him. He loved gaming the most of any man of business I ever knew, and gave one reason for it, because it delivered him from the obligation to talk much. He had true principles of religion and virtue, and never heaped up wealth. So that, all things laid together, he was one of the worthiest and wisest men who was employed in that age." — Chalmers' Univ. Biog. Subsequent discoveries, by which it appears that Godolphin, whilst in the service of his master, William III., kept up a correspondence with James, would have probably induced Burnet to qualify this high praise.
    Godolphin and Evelyn were great friends. There is a curious letter written by Evelyn to Godolphin when he was first Commissioner of the Treasury, in 1696, in which he touches upon matters not a little interesting in the present day. Amongst many suggestions there offered, he says, "There is certainly wanting a Council of Trade . . . . composed of a wise, publique-spirited, active, and noble President, a select number of Assessors, sober, industrious, and dextrous men, of consummate experience in rebus agendis . . . . . . To these should likewise be committed the care of the manufactures of the kingdom, with stock for employment of the poore: by which might be moderated that unreasonable statute for their relief (as now in force), occasioning more idle persons, who charge the public without all remedy, than otherwise there would be, insufferably burdening the parishes, by being made to earn their bread honestly, who now eate it in idleness, and take it out of the mouths of the truly indigent, much inferior in number, and worthy objects of charity." Again, "Truly, my Lord, I cannot but wonder, and even stand amazed, that Parliaments should have sate from time to time, so many hundred years, and value their constitution to that degree as the most sovereign remedy for the redress of public grievances, whilst the greatest grievance still remains unreformed and untaken away. Witnesse the confused, debauched, and riotous manner of electing members qualified to become the representatives of a nation, with legislative power to dispose of the fate of kingdomes, which should be composed of worthy persons, of known integrity and ability in their respective counties, who would still serve them generously, and as their ancestors have done, but are not able to fling away a son or a daughter's portion to bribe the votes of a drunken multitude, more resembling a Pagan Bacchanalia, than an assembly of Christians and sober men met upon the most solemn occasion that can concern a people, and stand in competition with some rich scrivener, brewer, banker, or one in some gainful office, whose face or name, perhaps, they never saw before." Lastly, he says, "Immoderate fees, tedious and ruinous delays, and tossings from court to court before an easy cause, which might be determined by honest gentlemen and understanding neighbours, can come to any final issue, may be numbered amongst the most vexatious oppressions that call aloud for redress."—Evelyn's Memoirs, ii. 276-277.
  2. "Col. Birch," says Burnet, "was a man of peculiar character. He had been a carrier at first, and retained still, even to an affectation, the clownishness of his education. He got up in the progress of the wars to be a colonel, and to be concerned in the Excise. And at the Restoration he was found to be so useful in managing the Excise, that he was. put in a good place. He was the roughest and boldest speaker in the House, and talked in the language and phrases of a carrier, but with a beauty and eloquence that was always acceptable. I heard Coventry say, he was the best speaker to carry a popular assembly before him that he had ever known. He spoke always with much life and heat, but judgment was not his talent." Of his powers of repartee and his coarseness. Lord Dartmouth gives two instances: he says, "Sir Edward Seimour reflected upon him very grossly, once in a debate, for his former profession; to which he answered very calmly, that it was true he had been a carrier, and he believed if that worthy gentleman had ever been so, he would have been so still. King Charles the Second told him, upon something he had moved in the House of Commons, that he remembered forty-one; to which he replied, that he remembered forty-eight. For which the Duke of Monmouth would have had him sent to the porter's lodge, but the King would not suffer it."—Burnet's History, ii. 80.