CHAPTER VI. THE REGENCY IN FRANCE. - ALBERONI IN SPAIN. - POLICIES Of WALPOLE AND FLEURI. - WAR OF The POLISH SUCCESSION. - ENGLISH CONTRABAND TRADE IN SPANISH AMERICA. - GREAT BRITAIN DECLARES WAR AGAINST SPAIN. - 1715-1739.
The Peace of Utrecht was soon followed by the deaths of the rulers of the two countries which had played the foremost part in the War of the Spanish Succession. Queen Anne died August 1, 1714; Louis XIV. on the 1st of September, 1715.
The successor to the English throne, the German George I., though undoubtedly the choice of the English people, was far from being their favorite, and was rather endured as a necessary evil, giving them a Protestant instead of a Roman Catholic king. Along with the coldness and dislike of his own partisans, he found a very considerable body of disaffected men, who wished to see the son of James II. on the throne. There was therefore a lack of solidity, more apparent than real, but still real, in his position. In France, on the contrary, the succession to the throne was undisputed; but the heir was a child of five years, and there was much jealousy as to the possession of the regency, a power more absolute than that of the King of England. The regency was obtained and exercised by the next in succession to the throne, Philip, Duke of Orleans; but he had to apprehend, not only attempts on the part of rivals in France to shake his hold, but also the active enmity of the Bourbon king of Spain, Philip V., - an enmity which seems to have dated from an intrigue of Orleans, during the late war, to supplant Philip on the Spanish throne. There was therefore a feeling of instability, of apprehension, in the governments of England and France, which influenced the policy of both. As regards the relations of France and Spain, the mutual hatred of the actual rulers stood for a while in the way of the friendly accord Louis XIV. had hoped from family ties, and was injurious to the true interests of both nations.
The Regent Orleans, under the advice of the most able and celebrated French statesman of that day, the Abbe Dubois, made overtures of alliance to the King of Great Britain. He began first by commercial concessions of the kind generally acceptable to the English, forbidding French shipping to trade to the South Seas under penalty of death, and lowering the duties on the importation of English coal. England at first received these advances warily; but the regent would not be discouraged, and offered, further, to compel the Pretender, James III., to withdraw beyond the Alps. He also undertook to fill up the port at Mardyck, a new excavation by which the French government was trying to indemnify itself for the loss of Dunkirk. These concessions, all of which but one, it will be noted, were at the expense of the sea power or commercial interests of France, induced England to sign a treaty by which the two countries mutually guaranteed the execution of the treaties of Utrecht as far as their respective interests were concerned; especially the clause by which the House of Orleans was to succeed to the French throne, if Louis XV. died childless. The Protestant succession in England was likewise guaranteed. Holland, exhausted by the war, was unwilling to enter upon new engagements, but was at last brought over to this by the remission of certain dues on her merchandise entering France. The treaty, signed in January, 1717, was known as the Triple Alliance, and bound France to England for some years to come. While France was thus making overtures to England, Spain, under the guidance of another able churchman, was seeking the same alliance and at the same the developing her national strength with the hope of recovering her lost Italian States. The new minister, Cardinal Alberoni, promised Philip V. To put him in a position to reconquer Sicily and Naples, if granted five years of peace. He worked hard to bring up the revenues, rebuild the navy, and re-establish the army, while at the same time promoting manufactures, commerce, and shipping, and the advance made in all these was remarkable; but the more legitimate ambition of Spain to recover her lost possessions, and with them to establish her power in the Mediterranean, so grievously wounded by the loss of Gibraltar, was hampered by the ill-timed purpose of Philip to overthrow the regency of Orleans in France. Alberoni was compelled to alienate France, whose sea power, as well as that of Spain, was concerned in seeing Sicily in friendly hands, and, instead of that natural ally, had to conciliate the maritime powers, England and Holland. This he also sought to do by commercial concessions; promising promptly to put the English in possession of the privileges granted at Utrecht, concerning which Spain had so far delayed. In return, he asked favorable action from them in Italy. George I., who was at heart German, received coldly advances which were unfriendly to the German emperor in his Italian dominions; and Alberoni, offended, withdrew them. The Triple Alliance, by guaranteeing the existing arrangement of succession to the French throne, gave further offence to Philip V., who dreamed of asserting his own claim. The result of all these negotiations was to bind England and France together against Spain, - a blind policy for the two Bourbon kingdoms.