Page images
PDF
EPUB

Comparison between Digby and Gondomar.

Whatever face he might put upon the matter in public, Digby knew that he had failed, and that the victory had been won by his Spanish rival. So signal, indeed, was his defeat, that, but for the credit which he subsequently acquired by his resistance to the arrogance of an unpopular favourite, his name would probably have passed out of the memory of all but a few diligent students of the bye-paths of history. Yet if the worth of a statesman be judged rather by that which he is than by that which he is permitted by circumstances to accomplish, it is absurd to think of a man like Gondomar as entering into competition with him for a moment. If it be the true test of statesmanship to know the wants of the age, and to remove gently and firmly the impediments which stand in the way of their satisfaction, then are all Gondomar's momentary triumphs beneath contempt. With great knowledge of human nature, and with a transcendent power of playing upon the hopes and passions of his instruments, he gained from fortune the fatal boon of success. He wrested the solution of the great European problem from the hands of the King of England, to transfer it to the hands of his own master. But that was all. In the unreal atmosphere in which he lived, in his utter blindness, not merely to the religious strength of Protestantism, but to the physical forces which it could command, he did his best to urge on the Spanish Government and nation to an impossible enterprise-to the conversion, half by force and half by cajolery, of all that remained Protestant in Europe. With what results to Spain the effort was attended

it is unnecessary to say.

To Digby's clear eye such a blunder was impossible. Weighing each element in the European crisis at its just value, detecting the strength and the weakness alike of friend and foe with singular impartiality, he turned neither to the right nor to the left, from love of popular sympathy or from the hope of royal favour. No statesman of his age held opinions so little in harmony with the theories which prevailed in the House of Commons. No minister of James refused so utterly to compromise his dignity by stooping to flatter Buckingham.

And now, in 1621, the chance was

1621

DIGBY'S STATESMANSHIP.

271

offered him, a chance which was never to return, of settling European society upon a permanent basis, whilst it was still unexhausted by the prolonged agony of the impending conflict. By fixing a territorial limitation to the two religions, he would have removed the causes of religious war. That he would have placed his own country at the head of European nations is indubitable. But he would have done more than that. He would have woven closely the bonds which still attached the hearts of the people to the throne of the Stuarts. James's love of peace, and the warlike zeal of the Lower House, would equally have served his purpose; for he would have taught the Sovereign and his subjects to work together for a common end, and to learn to bear each with the other's weakness, and to understand each the other's strength.

It may be that in any case all this would have been but a dream. Even Digby could hardly have hoped to bend all the opposing elements of the strife to his will. It was, perhaps, not merely James's petulant vanity which ruined his hopes; but at least he deserved success as few have ever done. When England looks around her for guides in the thorny path of foreign policy, it would be well for her to think for a moment of the forgotten statesman who, in more propitious times, would have graven his name upon the tablets of history in lines as firm as any which have been drawn by the Pitts and the Cannings, whose names have become amongst us as household words.

272

The new year.

CHAPTER XL.

THE WAR IN THE LOWER PALATINATE.

THE new year opened under unpropitious auspices. There were few who did not acknowledge with a sigh that the times were evil, and that reformation was slow in coming. "I am ready to depart," said the dying Sir Henry Saville, "the rather that having lived in good times, I foresee worse. The dissolution of Parliament fell like a blight upon all who had fancied that England was to be an instrument for good in Europe. Buckingham's passionate self-will, it seemed, was to rule supreme, so far at least as he was anything more than an unsuspecting tool in the hands of Gondomar.

plan for

"1

the Flemish

ports.

One success alone was wanting to crown the diplomatic career of the Spanish ambassador. He had, as everyone but Gondomar's James knew, made active interference in the Palatinate impossible. It would be a master-stroke of breaking the blockade of policy if he could embroil England with the Republic of the Netherlands. He had watched with pleasure the preparations which James was making in defence of what he called his honour in the narrow seas, and had constantly urged him to lose no time in breaking the Dutch blockade of the Flemish harbours. Nor was he content with trusting to the uncertain activity of James. Some English merchants, careless of public opinion, had proposed to allow the ambassador to hire from them eight or ten ships ready manned, to be employed in opening the ports. James at once gave his consent; and Gondomar, to whom anything was acceptable

1 Chamberlain to Carleton, Feb. 16, 1622, S. P. Dom. cxxvii. 101.

1621 JAMES'S QUARREL WITH THE DUTCH.

273

which would bring Englishmen into collision with the Dutch, threw himself heartily into the scheme. He had, however, forgotten to ask the consent of the English people. Not a sailor would agree to serve on board his vessels, and in the end he was compelled to abandon the design.1

Yet, if he was baffled here, Gondomar had still reason to hope that his work would be done by James. The Dutch Commis

November. The Dutch Commis sioners in England.

sioners, whose coming had been so long expected, arrived at last in November. After some delay a negotiation was opened for the restitution of the value of the English goods which had been seized in the East. The Commissioners professed their readiness to make good the losses of the East India Company; but as the articles in question had been brought to Europe by Dutch vessels, they claimed to make a deduction of 130l. per last for freight. By the English negotiators the justice of the demand was acknowledged in principle; but the amount claimed was pronounced to be exorbitant: 25l., or at most 281., it was said, was the usual payment. They were, however, ready, for the sake February. of peace, to go as far as 35l. The Dutch refused to abate a penny of their original demand, and, for the time at least, the negotiations were broken off."

1622.

January.

That James should have been deeply annoyed by the exorbitant pretensions of the Dutch, was only natural; but it showed little perception of the relative value of the Proposed objects for which he was striving, that he should, at the Nether- this critical moment, have revived the project for a lands. joint attack by England and Spain upon the territories of the Republic. Yet there can be no doubt that before the month of January was at an end, Digby had received instruc

attack upon

[blocks in formation]

Simancas MSS. 2518, fol. 20. The Dutch Commissioners to the StatesGeneral, Feb. 1, Add. MSS. 17,677 K. fol. 192.

II
21

2 The Dutch Commissioners to the States-General, Feb. Add. MSS. 17,677 K. fol. 192; Council Register, Feb. 9.

[blocks in formation]

tions to bring forward such a proposal at Madrid as soon as the marriage treaty was concluded.1

Attempt to seize two Dutch ships.

It would, however, be long before that period arrived; and in the meanwhile more legitimate efforts might be made to obtain redress. When James's ill-feeling was at its height, news came that two Dutch ships returning from the East had been seen passing Plymouth. Orders were accordingly given to Oxford, who had been appointed to the command of the fleet in the narrow seas, and who had hurried down to Dover to take the command, charging him to do his best to intercept them. But Oxford was either unlucky, or had no heart in the business, and the vessels found their way safely into a Dutch port.2

March.

Unsuccessful as the attempt had been, it was not without effect upon the Commissioners. They had no wish to see their East India ships running the gauntlet of a hostile squadron, and they wrote to the Hague, asking permission to yield the point at issue. Their request was at once Capture of a granted. No sooner had the answer arrived, than third ship. they went through the form of demanding an audience of James, and of assuring him that they withdrew their pretensions, in deference to his superior wisdom. They were just in time. Scarcely had the concession been made when news arrived that a Dutch East Indiaman had been captured in the Channel by two ships of the royal navy. Fortunately, James was now again in a good humour. He told the Commissioners that their ship had been taken called. by mistake; that it should be immediately restored; that he had recalled the Earl of Oxford; and that he wished

Oxford re

66

1 The fourth point of his instructions, wrote Gondomar to Philip IV. on Jan. 1 'es tratar con V. Mag. de la reducion de las provincias de 31' Olanda, y hazer para esto muy estrecha liga offensiva y deffensiva, dandole V. Magd. algo á este Rey desta empeñada." The statement is corroborated by frequent cautious allusions in Digby's despatches, and by a paper of instructions to him and to Buckingham, which will be mentioned in its proper place.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »