Imágenes de páginas

essential to marriage. She early suffered from his violence, though she so far complied with his fancies as to ride with him in male apparel, and even with buckskin breeches--an indecorum for which she was sharply reprehended by her mother, the Princess-Dowager of Wales, in a short interview between them, during a visit which that Princess paid to her brother at Gotha, after an uninterrupted residence of thirty-four years in England. The King had suffered the Russian minister at Copenhagen to treat her with open rudeness. He disgraced his favourité cousin, the Prince of Hesse, for taking her part. He never treated her with common civility, till they were reconciled by Struensee, at that period of overflowing good-nature when that minister obtained the recal from banishment of the ungrateful Rantzau. The evidence against her consisted in a number of circumstances (none of them incapable of an innocent explanation) sworn to by her attendants, who were employed as spies on her conduct. She owned that she was guilty of much imprudence; but in her dying moments she declared to M. Roques, pastor of the French church at Zell, that she never had been uni faithful to her husband.* It is true, that her own signature affixed to a confession was alleged against her. But if General Falkenskiold was rightly informed, (for he has every mark of honest intention), that signature proves nothing but the malice and cruelty of her enemies. Schack, the counsellor sent to interrogate her at Cronenbourg, was received by her with indignation when he spoke to her of connexion with Struensee. When he showed Struensee's confession to her, he artfully intimated that the fallen minister would be subjected to a very cruel death if he was found to have falsely criminated the Queen. . What !' she exclaimed, do you believe that if I was to confirm this declara,

tion, I should save the life of that unfortunate man?' Schack answered by a profound bow. The Queen took a pen, wrote the first syllable of her name, and fainted away. Schack completed the signature, and carried away the fatal document in triumph, Struensee himself, however, had confessed his intercourse to the commissioners. It is said that his confession was obtained by threats of torture, facilitated by some hope of life, and in, fluenced by a knowledge that the proceeding against the Queen could not be carried beyond divorce. But his repeated and deliberate avowals to Dr Munter do not (it must be owned) al. low of such an explanation. Scarcely any supposition favourable to this unhappy Princess remains, unless it should be

* Communicated by M. Roques to M. Secretan, the editor of Falkenskiold, on the 7th March 1780. Falk. 234.

thought likely, that as Dr Munter's narrative was published under the eye of her oppressors, they might have caused the confessions of Struersee to be inserted in it by their own agents, without the consent, perhaps without the knowledge of Münter, whose subsequent life is so little known, that we cannot determine whether he ever had the means of exposing the falsification. It must be confessed, that internal evidence does not favour this hypothesis; for the passages of the narrative, which contain the avowals of Struensee, have a striking appearance of genu. ineness. If Caroline betrayed her sufferings to Struensee; if she was led to a dangerous familiarity with a pleasing young man who had rendered essential services to ber; if mixt mo. tives of confidence, gratitude, disgust and indignation, at last plunged her into an irretrievable fault; the reasonable and virtuous will reserve their abhorence for the conspirators, who, for the purposes of their own ambition, punished her infirmity by ruin, endangered the succession to the Crown, and disgraced their country in the eyes of Europe. It is difficult to contain the indignation which naturally arises from the reflection, that at this very time, and with a full knowledge of the fate of the Queen of Denmark, the Royal Marriage Act was passed in England, for the avowed purpose of preventing the only marriages of preference, which a princess at least, has commonly the opportunity of forming. Of a monarch, who thought so much more of the pretended degradation of his brother than of the cruel misfortunes of his sister, less cannot be said than that he must have had more pride than tenderness. Even the capital punishment of Struensee, for such an offence, will be justly condemned by all but English lawyers, who ought to be silenced by the consciousness that the same barbarous disproportion of a penalty to an offence is sanctioned in the like case by their own law,

Caroline Matilda died at Zell about three years after her imprisonment. The last tidings which reached the PrincessDowager of Wales on her deathbed, was the imprisonment of this ill-fated daughter, which was announced to her in a letter dictated to the King of Denmark by his new masters, and subscribed with his own hand. Two days before her death, though in a state of agony, she herself wrote a letter to the nominal sovereign, exhorting him to be at least indulgent and lenient towards her daughter. After hearing the news from Copenhagen she scarcely swallowed any nourishment. The intelligence was said to have accelerated her death; but the dreadful malady under which she suffered, neither needed the co-operation of sorrow, nor was of a nature to be much affected by it.

We may now return, for a moment, to Falkenskiold, the writer

of these Memoirs, the victim and narrator of the Revolution. He was apprehended at five o'clock in the morning of the 17th of January, by Colonel Eichstedt, who read aloud an order, appointing himself governor of Copenhagen, and a warrant for the apprehension of Falkenskiold, with two other officers. Falkenskiold examined these documents, which, together with the signature purporting to be that of the King, appeared to be written by Eichstedt himself. Remonstrance was, however, vain. He was thrown into a dungeon of ten feet squares in a naval prison, used for the vilest criminals, where he remained seven weeks, without fire, without books, without correspondence or other intercourse with the world. He was refused clean linen and water for washing; he was obliged to carve and eat with his fingers; he was not allowed wine; he was at last deprived of tea, and even tooth-powder, by means of which it was said that he might poison himself. In April he was examined by an inferior commission; and the interrogatories alone are sufficient to show that there never was any colour of a charge against him ;- that his whole offence consisted in having served the public, under the administration of Struensee; and that his apprehension, as well as that of most of the others, was for the sole purpose of giving an appearance of reality and strength to the supposed conspiracy, by the numbers who thus seemed to be involved in it. One of the accusations against him was, that when playing at cards, while the King, who was on foot, spoke to him, he made answer without rising from his chair, after the King had particularly desired that none of the party should stand up when addressed by him! He never was tried; but in June it was announced to him, that the King had directed that he should be imprisoned for life. The particulars of his sufferings on the Rock of Munkholm, are related with simplicity and calmness. The memorials of former prisoners, who had preceded him on this rock, served to attest the exaetness of the picture drawn by Molesworth, of the cruel administration which had prevailed in Denmark since the establishment of absolute monarchy. Count Griffinfeld, Chancellor of the kingdom in the latter part of the seventeenth century (the very period of which the honest and eloquent Molesworth writes), had, like Struensee, been condemned to death by his successors in office, to justify their conspiracy against him. On the scaffold his punishment was changed into perpetual imprisonment; and he endured the horrors of the most rigorous confinement for nineteen years, at Munkholm, when he died of the stone, which the waters of that place are said to occasion. Falkenskiold was released in 1776, and spent the greater part of his remaining life at Lausanne, where he enjoyed the friendship of Gibbon, of Tissot the celebrated physician, and of Reverdil, who, as the true author of the enfranchisement of the Danish peasants, deserves a place in the first class of benefactors of the human species. The candour of his narrative, and the temper with which he speaks of his oppressors, give great weight to his testimony, and prove him to have been worthy of the friendship of good men. He relates, without triumph, the retributive justice with which the present king, when admitted into the Council in 1784, marked his entrance into power, by the expulsion of Guldberg, the ringleader in the conspiracy, which branded the character, and shortened the life of his mother-a man, we speak it with regret and shame, of some note as a Danish writer. :

What effects were produced by the interference of the Bri. tish Minister for the Queen-how far the conspirators were influenced by fear of the resentment of King George III.-and in what degree that monarch himself may have acquiesced in the measures finally adopted towards his sister,--are questions which must be answered by the historian from other sources than those from which we reason on the present occasion. The only legal proceeding ever commenced against the Queen, was a suit for divorce, which was in form perfectly regular; for in all Protestant countries but England, the offended party is entitled to release from the bands of marriage by the ordinary tribunals. It is said that two legal questions were then agitated in Denmark, and even occasioned great debates among the Commis• sioners; 1. Whether the Queen, as a Sovereign, could be le. • gally tried by her subjects; and, 2.. Whether, as a foreign • Princess, she was amenable to the law of Denmark?' But it is quite certain on general principles, assuming that no Danish law had made their Queen a partaker of the sovereign power, or otherwise expressly exempted her from legal respon, sibility) that, however, high in dignity and honour, she was still a subject, and that, as such, she, as well as every other person wherever born, resident in Denmark, was, during her residence at least, amenable to the laws of that country.

It is certain that there was little probability of hostility from England. Engaged in a contest with the people at home, and dreading the approach of a civil war with America, Lord North was not driven from an inflexible adherence to his pacific sys, tem by the partition of Poland itself. An address for the production of the diplomatic correspondence respecting the French conquest, or purchase of Corsica, was moved in the House of Commons on the 17th of November 1768, for the purpose of condemning that unprincipled transaction, and with a view in

directly to blame the supineness of the English ministers respecting it. The motion was negatived by a majority of 230 to 84, on the same ground as that on which the like motions respecting Naples and Spain were resisted in 1822 and 1823, that such proposals were too little if war was intended, and too much if it was not. The weight of authority, however, did not coin, cide with the power of numbers. Mr Grenville, the most exa perienced statesman, and Mr Burke, the man of greatest genius and wisdom in the House, voted in the minority, and argued in support of the motion. Such, said the latter, was the general zeal for the Corsican, that if the ministers would withdraw the proclamation issued by Lord Bute's government, forbidding British subjects to assist the Corsican rebels,' (a measure similar to our · Foreign Enlistment Act'), private individuals would supply the brave insurgents with sufficient means of defence. The young Duke of Devonshire, then at Florence, had sent four hundred pounds to Corsica, and raised two thousand pounds more for the same purpose by a subscription among the English in Italy. * A Government which looked thus passively at such breaches of the system of Europe on occasions when the national feeling was favourable to a more generous, perhaps a more wise policy, would hardly have been diverted from its course by any indignilies or outrages which a foreign government could offer to an individual of however illustrious rank. Little, how, ever, as the likelihood of armed interference by England was, the apprehension of it might have been sufficient to enable the more wary of the Danish conspirators to contain the rage of their most furious accomplices. The ability and spirit displayed by Sir Robert Murray Keith, on behalf of the Queen of Denmark, was soon after rewarded by his promotion to the embassy at Vienna, always one of the highest places in English diplomacy. His vigorous remonstrances in some measure compensated for the timidity of his government, and he powerfully aided the cautious policy of Count Osten, who moderated the passions of his colleagues, though he gave the most specious colour to their acts in his official correspondence with foreign powers.

Contemporary observers of enlarged minds considered these events in Denmark, not so much as they affected individuals, or

* These particulars are not to be found in the printed debate, which copies the account of this discussion given in the Annual Register by Mr Burke, written, like his other abstracts of Parliamentary proceedings, with a brevity and reserve, produced by his situation as one of the most important parties in the argument, and by the severe notions then prevalent on such publications.

« AnteriorContinuar »