Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 50.djvu/96

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


seven or eight debates upon the state of the navy and the granting of supplies, and was persistent in urging that money should not be voted, except it were appropriated to the use of the fleet. He acted as one of the commissioners of the commons in several conferences with the lords upon a quarrel which Shaftesbury had stirred up between the two houses, and showed himself ‘very zealous’ in defending the rights of that to which he belonged. In February 1676–7, after the prorogation of fifteen months, Lords Russell and Cavendish, in the hope of forcing a dissolution, raised the question whether parliament was still legally in existence, and Sacheverell, who saw the unwisdom of such a proceeding, risked his popularity with his party by opposing them. He continued to urge the necessity of a return to the policy of the triple alliance, and, after the surrender of St. Omer and Cambray, an address to that effect was voted at his instance. This attempt to dictate a foreign policy made the king exceedingly angry; parliament was prorogued, and by the royal command the speaker immediately adjourned the house, though Powle, Sacheverell, Cavendish, and others had risen to protest. The incident led, when parliament met again, to a fierce onslaught by Sacheverell upon Sir Edward Seymour, the speaker, whom he accused of ‘making himself bigger than the House of Commons.’ The charge was supported by Cavendish, Garroway, Powle, and a majority of members, but eventually, after several adjournments, was allowed to lapse without a division.

In January 1677–8 the commons were again summoned, and were informed in the king's speech that he had concluded alliances of the nature they desired. Sacheverell, however, had his suspicions, and did not hesitate to say that he feared they were being deceived, and that a secret compact had been negotiated with the French. Upon being assured that the treaties were, in all particulars, as they desired them, Sacheverell, still protesting that war was not intended, moved that such a supply should be granted as would put the king into condition to attack the French should he decide to do so. Ninety ships, thirty-two regiments, and a million of money were voted, but when the treaties which had been so often inquired for were produced at last, it was found that they were intended to make war impossible. From this moment the leaders of the country party abandoned as hopeless their struggle for a protestant foreign policy, and Sacheverell was one of the most resolute in demanding the disbandment of the forces which had been raised, and the refusal of money for military purposes.

In October 1678 Oates's discovery of a pretended popish plot furnished the opponents of the court with a new cry and a new policy. Sacheverell, like Lord Russell, was honestly convinced of the reality of the plot, and from the very commencement of the parliamentary inquiry he took a prominent part in investigating it. He served upon the committees to provide for the king's safety, to inquire into the murder of Godfrey and the particulars of the conspiracy, to translate Coleman's letters, to prepare a bill to exclude papists from sitting in either house of parliament, and to draw up articles of impeachment against Lord Arundel of Wardour and the five popish lords. He was elected chairman of committees to examine Coleman, to examine Mr. Atkins in Newgate, to present a humble address that Coleman's letters might be printed and published, to prepare and draw up the matter to be presented at a conference between the two houses, and of several others. He was one of the commissioners of the commons in several conferences, one of the managers of the impeachment of the five popish lords, and the first named of the two members to whom the duty was assigned of acting as counsel for the prosecution of Lord Arundel. He apparently presided also for some time over the most important committee of all, that of secrecy, making four or five reports from it to the house, including the results of the examinations of Dugdale, Bedloe, and Reading.

Sacheverell, though he believed that ‘the Duke of York had not been the sole cause of the insolence of the papists,’ was ready and eager to attack the duke, and the compromising facts announced in his report of Coleman's examination furnished his party with the desired opportunity. A week later, on 4 Nov. 1678, Lord Russell moved to address the king that James might be removed from the royal presence and counsels, and in the debate that followed—‘the greatest,’ as was said at the time, ‘that ever was in parliament’—Sacheverell suggested the exclusion of the duke from the succession to the throne. This proposal he continued vigorously to advocate, though Cavendish, Russell, and the other leaders of the country party were not yet prepared even to consider so desperate a remedy. Sacheverell was one of those who pressed for the impeachment of Danby, and he served upon the committee which drew up the articles. At the general election of February 1678–9 he and his colleague, Lord Cavendish, were returned again for Derby-