Smith, Matthew (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

SMITH, MATTHEW (fl. 1696), informer, nephew of Sir William Parkyns [q. v.], was connected with several good Jacobite families. He obtained an ensigncy in Viscount Castleton's regiment of foot in May 1693, but he was discharged from the regiment in the following January. Thereupon he took rooms in the Middle Temple, sought the society of Jacobites, and acquired knowledge of their intrigues. During the summer of 1695 he signified to Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury [q. v.], and to James Vernon [q. v.], then under-secretary of state, that he was willing to traffic in such information as he possessed. In December (seven or eight weeks, that is to say, before it was revealed by Thomas Prendergast [q. v.]) he threw out a number of obscure but unmistakable hints of a plot for the assassination of William; but Shrewsbury's vigilance was benumbed by a guilty consciousness of his own intrigues with the exiles. When the conspiracy had been proved, Smith accused Shrewsbury and Vernon of crassly neglecting the intelligence which he had furnished. The charge would have had little consequence but for the fact that it coincided with the damaging statements which were being circulated by Sir John Fenwick [q. v.] and his wife, and with the strenuous efforts being made by Lord Monmouth (afterwards Earl of Peterborough) to convict the whig leaders (and especially Shrewsbury and Marlborough) of complicity in Jacobite intrigue [see Mordaunt, Charles]. Monmouth's aim was to graft the facts supplied by Smith, and which contained a substratum of truth, upon Fenwick's confession, by which means he hoped to obtain a powerful leverage against his enemies. Smith, however, was a weak tool, and his main object was to blackmail Shrewsbury and Vernon, whose correspondence during October and November 1696 was full of anxiety as to his proceedings. The king himself relieved them from suspicions which he could not afford to entertain. He told Smith that he had been cognisant of his warnings, but had decided to ignore them; at the same time he sent him 50l. through Portland, and promised him a place in Flanders. So reckless, however, was Smith in exploiting his new sources of wealth, that before a week had elapsed he was thrown into the Fleet prison for debt. Thence Somers rescued him and ‘quieted him,’ and on 10 Dec. Vernon gave him another twenty guineas. It was indispensable to keep him in a good humour pending his examination by the House of Lords. This took place on 11 and 13 Jan. 1697, when Smith held his tongue as to anything that he knew to the disadvantage of Shrewsbury and Marlborough. He was also extremely reticent as to his relations with Monmouth, but complained of the ingratitude with which his revelations had been received. The house decided that his reward was sufficient, inasmuch as his object had been to keep well both with the conspirators and the government. His patron Monmouth was shortly afterwards committed to the Tower, on the presumption that he had endeavoured to suborn false witnesses against his private enemies. Smith, in the meantime, withdrew into retirement, and published his ‘Memoirs of Secret Service … humbly offered to the Hon. the House of Commons’ (London, 1699, 8vo), in which he bitterly complains of his treatment by Shrewsbury and Vernon. It caused a sensation by its outspoken language, and in spite of some attempts made by Peterborough to screen his discreditable ally, Smith was on 12 Dec. 1699 committed to the Gatehouse by order of the upper house. His book was answered by Richard Kingston in 1700, whereupon Smith retorted in ‘A Reply to an Unjust and Scandalous Libel’ (1700), and Kingston followed suit with ‘Impudence, Lying, and Forgery detected and chastised, in a Rejoinder to a Reply’ (1700), in which he stigmatised his adversary as a squire of Alsatia, while he attributed his adroit use of invective to the assistance of a skilled hand, that of the ‘Infamous Town-poet, Tom Brown,’ who had, however, little, if anything, to do with the controversy. Nothing further is known of Matthew Smith.

[Vernon Correspondence, ed. James, passim; House of Lords' Journals, xvi. 63–5; Dalton's English Army Lists, i. 331; Luttrell's Brief Hist. Relation, iv. 591; Burnet's Own Time; Macaulay's Hist. of England; Stebbing's Peterborough, pp. 30 seq.; Smith's Memoirs; Brit. Mus. Cat.; see art. Prendergast or Pendergass, Sir Thomas.]

T. S.