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Territoires de diplomatie: Le monde anglo-américain et ses relations extérieures

“Plain Mat / Has been doing at Paris, The Lord knows what”: Matthew Prior and Harleyite diplomacy in the year 1711

Alice Monter

Résumés

En 1711, deux questions dominaient la diplomatie du gouvernement Harley-St John : la crise du crédit générée par le changement de gouvernement de 1710, et la renégociation de l’engagement Britannique dans la guerre de Succession d’Espagne. Ces deux problèmes étaient intimement liés et leur résolution illustre bien les spécificités de la vision politique de Robert Harley, un modéré pragmatique dans un âge de partis, et le rôle de la propagande dans son exercice du pouvoir. Cet article se concentre sur la figure de Matthew Prior, poète, diplomate et propagandiste, et la gestion de crise entourant la révélation des négociations secrètes entre la France et la Grande Bretagne à l’été 1711. S’appuyant sur une histoire secrète, des ballads, mais aussi des extraits de presse, nous nous proposons d’examiner les stratégies de diffusion du scandale entourant les négociations, la communication de l’administration Harley au sujet de l’affaire, et les conséquences politiques de cet incident diplomatique.

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Texte intégral

The contexts of Harleyite diplomacy in 1711

1In the year 1711, two issues dominated Harleyite diplomacy: the credit crisis precipitated by the ministerial change of 1710, and the matter of the British engagement in the War of the Spanish Succession (Hill, Harley, 134; Sperling, South Sea, 2-4). These issues were intimately linked, and their resolution well illustrates both Robert Harley’s political vision as a cross-partisan moderate heading a Tory majority, and his manipulation of public opinion for political gain. This article focuses on the role of Matthew Prior – poet, diplomat and propagandist – and the crisis generated by the revelation of secret peace negotiations between France and Britain in the summer of 1711. Based on extracts from the press, ballads, and a secret history, this article discusses the intermingling of politics and literature, the communication strategies put in place by the Harley administration and its opposition, and the context and consequences of this diplomatic incident. As such, this piece aims to widens the perception of a known historical event and international incident by integrating a discussion of its immediate political and cultural resonance in the public sphere, and shed light on early modern public communication practices, in Britain. We will first look at the economic and international contexts influencing Robert Harley’s rationale vis-à-vis France and the Allied forces, before introducing Prior and the pro-ministerial propaganda surrounding his mission. Having analysed Swift’s partisan rhetoric in support of the Harley administration, we will turn to Arthur Mainwaring’s denunciation of the ministry’s policies, before concluding on the evolving dynamic between Britain’s political elite and its general population.

2Started at the very end of 1701 and instrumentalising European coalitions into an armed defence of clashing societal models over religious, economic and governance issues, the War of the Spanish Succession epitomized England’s strategy towards Louis XIV’s France over the course of William III’s reign. By 1710, however, Anne’s Britain was notoriously war-weary and it is in great part this sentiment that propelled the Tories into leadership in 1710, denying further support to the war-championing and Whig-associated Godolphin-Marlborough administration. War-weariness, however, was not in itself sufficient to paper over the stigma attached to peace-making with France, an enemy still incarnating evils Britain had striven to rid itself of in 1688, and threatening its cohesion and succession by harbouring James II’s supporters and court. Although Harley’s Tory majority had been elected on a pro-peace agenda in 1710, the ideological pressure to remain engaged in the conflict – both at home and abroad – was enormous, despite its costs. The Harley administration was in a very precarious situation, having to fend off Whig accusations of covert Jacobitism levelled by the home opposition, and foreign pressure exercised by the Allied forces, while being compelled to find the necessary resources to finance a conflict it meant to end.

  • 1 Sunderland, Marlborough’s son in law, was the first casualty of Harley’s growing influence over Ann (...)
  • 2 In retaliation, Heathcote was to lose his parliamentary seat the following month, while Hoare was r (...)
  • 3 The unsuccessful candidates were to form the pool out of which Harley picked the board members of t (...)

3The Queen’s Speech of November 1710 provides a clear indication of both Harley’s foreign and economic policies, and of the government’s precarious financial situation. If “safety”, as well as “[t]he carrying of the War [...] particularly in Spain [...] to procure a safe and Honourable Peace for Us, and all our Allies” were put forward, Anne urged the “Gentlemen of the House of Commons [to vote] the necessary Supplies for the next Year’s Service” and to address the condition of “the Navy and other Offices [...] burthened with heavy Debts [in order] to find some way to answer those Demands, and to prevent the like for the Time to come”, ultimately singling out “the Justice of Parliament in satisfying former Engagements, [as] being the certain Way for preserving and establishing National Credit” (Stuart, 39). Partisanship played a determining role in the ministry’s difficulties in securing credit, both parties being keenly aware that control over the world of finance was a key component to governmental stability (Speck, 136, 148). The problem of government expenditure and debt, especially during war time, was a recurring one: early eighteenth-century Britain functioned on a system of deficit finance that made the funding of debt (and the mustering of credit) a fundamental issue, as state expenditures outweighed state revenues (Speck, 142). In order to mitigate the state’s reliance on temporary measures such as lotteries and the sale of annuities – as a means to fill in the gaps in tax revenues – the Bank of England was created in 1694 (Jones, 11-12). Through the years, this predominantly Whig institution came to hold a great deal of political power and influence, as a consequence of the state’s reliance on its lending capacity. The Godolphin administration’s association with the Whig Junto, from 1704/5 till 1710, can be interpreted as a strategic acknowledgment of this influence (Sundstrom; Holmes, “Harley, St John”, 150). Gilbert Heathcote’s attempts to weigh in on ministerial composition in reaction to the dismissal of the Whig Earl of Sunderland, in June 1710, give a sense of the power relationship between the City and the Crown during the period.1 Though the Queen held strong and her rebuff of Heathcote’s demand underlined her longing for a change of administration that would vow to protect her independence, the matter of the Crown’s reliance on the Bank of England’s lending capacity remained, and the appointment of Harley as Chancellor of the Exchequer in August 1710 did little to alleviate the City’s doubts and defiance. The London mayoral elections of September 1710, in which Heathcote, the Whig candidate and the Governor of the Bank of England, beat Richard Hoare, the Tory candidate and one of Harley’s key financial advisors – and a future director of the South Sea Company – well exemplify the permeability between the worlds of politics and finance in the period, and the various issues at stake.2 The unsuccessful Tory attempts at gaining influence within the Bank of England and the East India Company, in April 1711 – very few Tory candidates were elected to the Board of Directors of the East India Company, and none within the Bank of England – is a further confirmation of this partisan struggle over the world of finance, but also a reminder of the milieu’s marked, and enduring, resistance to the new ministry’s influence (Sperling, “Division”, 195).3

  • 4 A special commission was created in January 1711 to investigate the financial management of the pre (...)
  • 5 The initial idea for a joint-stock company that would convert government debt into company stock wa (...)
  • 6 The eighteenth-century designation of the “South Sea” corresponded to the South Pacific Ocean (from (...)
  • 7 On Blunt, and the Hollow Sword Blade Company, see Bell, 623-38, and Hill, Harley, 150-51. On the Gu (...)

4Harley’s immediate challenge was thus to secure the confidence of the state’s historic creditors in order to face the mounting cost of the War of the Spanish Succession effort. His initial strategy to stabilise the national credit was multiple, attempting to capitalise on the previous administration’s pre-existing requests to the Bank of England, as well as relying on private banking via the Furnese and Hoare families, and ultimately launching two lotteries in the spring of 1711 (Hill, Harley, 134-45; Hill, “Loss of the City”, 395-413; Carswell, 40-59). Though in the event these arrangements gave some respite to the government, they were only temporary measures, and highlighted Harley’s uncomfortable, and ultimately untenable, position, especially when his fragile governmental cohesion started to crumble under the assault of the radical Tories of the October Club.4 Harley needed to find a way to secure a long-term and reliable means to ensure the payment of public debt, and thus the economic, and to some extent political, stability of the country. As Hill remarked, though “finance was an administrative problem [and] credit a political one[,] the two were mutually dependent” (Harley, 142). In the absence of an obvious partner – the Bank of England having manifested its hostility – and with the help of his financial entourage, the Chancellor of the Exchequer devised his own financing tool.5 The South Sea Company was conceived as a public-private partnership: the company would take over the remaining unsecured, or “floating”, £9,000,000 government debts – thus stabilising it – whilst the government would pay a yearly 6% interest rate plus running costs to the Company, and would grant it the exclusive right to trading in the South Sea.6 The idea was to attract both careful buyers – reassured by a yearly steady income and the guarantee that the government could not default itself – and more adventurous investors interested in the prospects of making a profit in the South Sea trade (Paul, 46, 54-57). Working with John Blunt, the financier behind the Sword Blade Company and soon to be one of the directors of the South Sea Company, Harley finalised the project in March-April 1711 while recovering from an assassination attempt by a French spy, Antoine de Guiscard, and presented it to the Commons on his return to Parliament, on 2 May; it was given royal ascent on 12 June 1711.7 However, if the approval of the scheme was a prerequisite, the success of Harley’s plan still depended on the Company’s capacity to interest buyers in its stock, and this is where matters of diplomacy intervene, and the interdependence between economic stability, foreign policy and public opinion can really be seen.

5If the origin of the South Sea Company was intimately linked to the war (it had been designed to incorporate the Navy Debts), its future as a trading company depended on its capacity to effectively break into the Spanish South American trade. This could be achieved in two ways. The first possibility was for Britain to persevere in its war effort in the hope of securing the South Sea trade by force. Though this would have met with the approval of the allied forces and the pro-war Whig lobby, it would assuredly have added to the national debt, and further antagonised the traditional Tory electorate and the landed interests, burdened by the cost of the land tax which served to finance the war. The second possibility was to secure a British right to trade in the South Sea as part of a general peace brokering with France, and turn the French-held asiento rights into a British spoil of war. If such a prospect carried with it the seeds of both long-term prosperity and political stability for Britain, it was sure to alienate her Dutch allies who would inevitably find themselves on the losing side of such a deal. Peace-making was the mandate on which the Tory party had been elected and the Queen’s Speech insisted on the honour of pursuing peace; but a unilateral British disengagement from the Grand Alliance would hardly qualify as such a thing. The Whigs were accusing the new ministry of reverting to the pre-1688 revolution Stuart ways of courting the French and ignoring their protestant allies, the Dutch, whom the previous administration had accommodated with the negotiation of a special Barrier Treaty in 1709; they also accused the Tories of short-selling Marlborough’s victories and the British war effort. If such claims could potentially be explained as political divergences, and fended away by propagandists, the fact that Britain was legally bound by treaty to the Dutch United Provinces and the rest of the Allies forming part of the Grand Alliance could be glossed over only with difficulty (Holmes, British Politics, 70, 75-76). Effectively illegal, and assuredly sensitive, Harley decided that peace overtures towards France – at this juncture – demanded very careful political management, and shielding from public scrutiny.

Fact and fiction in Prior’s journey

6Initiated by Harley and the Duke of Shrewsbury in August 1710, contacts with the Marquis de Torcy, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, were thus initially kept away from all but a chosen few. Edward Villiers, the earl of Jersey, provided an excellent entry point to the ministry: as a Jacobite and a former Secretary of State he had excellent contacts in France and his personal chaplain, the Abbé Gaultier, served as an intermediary. William Legge, the earl of Dartmouth and Secretary of State for the Southern Department, a moderate Tory loyal to Harley, and Laurence Hyde, the earl of Rochester – a seasoned Tory and the Queen’s uncle – knew of the endeavour as well (MacLachlan, 207). Henry St John, however, was deliberately kept in the dark; his fierce anti-Dutch sentiment, association with the October Club, and private ambition having marked him out as too hot a spirit. He only found out with the rest of the cabinet, on 26 April 1711, when the Queen informed them that the basis for an agreement had been found (Hill, “Oxford, Bolingbroke”, 243-46; McInnes, 131-34). Ultimately, however, it was Matthew Prior who was to be the vessel for Harley’s secret negotiations and covert diplomacy with France.

  • 8 Working under the direction of Lord Dursley, Lord Villiers, Lord Portland, and the Earl of Jersey, (...)
  • 9 Although Prior’s poetry could be openly political – Carmen Seculare for the year 1700 (1718), for e (...)

7The modest son of a joiner, Prior first illustrated himself as a poet and a courtier, initially rising in society through political and literary association with Whig milieux. Classically trained under the patronage of the Earl of Dorset, first at Westminster School and later in St John’s College, Cambridge – where he benefited from a scholarship established by the Duchess of Marlborough – the young Matthew developed strong ties with the Montagu brothers and George Stepney. Of Prior’s early verses, the most famous remain The Hind and the Panther Transvers'd to the Story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse (1687), a biting satire of Dryden’s The Hind and the Panther (1687), a political fable in support of the Roman Catholic faith. Composed with Charles Montagu, later to become Earl of Halifax, the piece ensured Prior’s public fame within Whig and literary circles. His classical education, mastery of romance languages, and political connections led Prior to various positions as secretary throughout the late 1690s, first in the Hague and then Paris, acquiring first-hand experience of diplomatic negotiations and proceedings (Mayhew Rippy, 2-3, 10-19; Merians, 15).8 Although he remained a firm Williamite all his life, Prior’s political association fluctuated in the last years of William III’s reign. He ran as a “Moderate” MP for Cambridge in 1701 and effectively lost the backing and patronage of his Whig political network when he sided with the court interests, voting for the impeachment of notorious Whig figureheads during the vote of censure on the Partition Treaty of the Hague (1698), which he had helped negotiate. Although the early years of the reign of Anne were more favourable to his literary than political career, this period drew Prior closer to his next political patron, Robert Harley. Both men’s political allegiances, though often read as fickle by the opposition, actually stemmed from a deeply rooted sense of duty to both monarch and constitution over parties. Writing for the Examiner in the early months before Jonathan Swift assumed its editorship, and the author of a panegyric depicting Harley as a national hero and true patriot following Guiscard’s assassination attempt, Prior was, by 1710, widely recognised as a pro-ministerial writer of the highest calibre and an acclaimed poet (Mayhew Rippy, 26-27). Prior was a man used to tread between the worlds of politics and poetics, constantly having to balance the flamboyant wit of a poet and courtier with the subservience his modest extraction and subordinate position as a secretary required.9 Such a combination of skills, ambition, and social precariousness made him an ideal messenger, and tool, for Harley’s strategy, in July 1711.

  • 10 Partial publication of the French reports can be found in Wickham Legg, in addition to items 7MD/17 (...)

8The content of the negotiations between Prior and Jean-Baptiste Colbert – principally concerned with fishing rights, trading monopolies and Dutch influence – are available in transcripts in both French and British archives.10 It is the public revelation of the act of negotiating itself, and its consequences, that is of particular interest to us in this article. Although Prior and Gaultier left for France incognito, in early July 1711, their departure failed to go unnoticed, and Prior was arrested on his return journey, when landing in Deal, thus compromising the secret nature of his mission (Merians, 84-85). As Alsop demonstrated, Prior’s arrest – long presented as the unfortunate blunder of an “overzealous custom officer” – needs to be read in light of St John’s power jostling within the Harley administration (Alsop, 61; Mayhew Rippy, 28). More than a mere custom officer, the man who arrested Prior, John Macky, was a government spy who had written to St John upon discovering that an “unidentified English gentleman has taken passage for France”; St John’s reply urged vigilance in return (Alsop, 61-63). Macky knew Prior personally, recognised him upon landing and, fully aware of the political value of such information, wrote to the Duke of Marlborough, Commander of Queen Anne’s army, to inform him of the situation. The information quickly passed on to Charles Spencer, earl of Sunderland, Marlborough’s son in law and a fervent opponent of the peace and personal enemy of Harley, who, in turned, informed the Allies (Alsop 62-63; Ellis, POAS, 505-507). Though Macky famously incurred St John’s wrath for arresting Prior and divulging state secrets to the ministry’s political enemies, there is ample scope for discussing the idea that St John may have entertained the thought that outing Harley’s secret negotiations – out of which he had been kept for 10 months – could have precipitated the downfall of his rival and his own rise within the administration, and he subsequently decided to shoot the messenger in a reverse course of action (Alsop, 64-65). To counter the damage of this leak, ensure the rapid progression of the negotiations, and limit the risk of a Dutch intervention in the meantime, Harley decided to tone down his demands, and Britain’s territorial claims in South America were abandoned in the process. Though he remained firm in his targeting of the asiento rights, which would secure the South Sea Company’s medium- to long-term trading objectives, Harley let go of the prospects of establishing British colonies in the South Sea area, thus effectively damaging the Company’s short-term trading prospects (Hill, Harley, 163-65). The public nature of the crisis, however, forced pro-ministerial writers into action. To neutralise the rumours, a counter narrative was put in place: Jonathan Swift’s New Journey to Paris was designed to capture the general public’s attention and redirect it towards a positive commentary upholding both the ministry’s reputation and peace policy, while defusing the scandal attached to the revelation of Prior’s mission.

  • 11 “Prior has been out of town these two months, nobody knows where, and is lately returned. People co (...)

9New Journey to Paris is Swift’s fictional account of Prior’s actual diplomatic journey to France in July 1711. We know from the Journal to Stella that Swift wrote it in close proximity to the people involved in the affair (Harley, St John, Shrewsbury and Prior) but was, at the time of Prior’s mission, left completely in the dark as to the details of the affair as he only heard about the journey at the same time as London town, after Prior’s return to England.11 The piece, however, is packed with particulars and very precise details, from practical geographical locations and weather conditions, to descriptions of Madame de Maintenon’s garden in Versailles. Although Swift informed Esther Johnson, on 31 August, that he had “just thought of a project to bite the town [...] with several particulars, all pure invention” and would formalise it with “a printer of [his] own”, a few words need to be said of Swift’s professed independence from the ministry on this project (Journal, 270-71). On 11 September, having finished the pamphlet, he added:

the printer sent me an account of Prior’s journey; it makes a two-penny pamphlet. [...]’tis a formal, grave lie, from the beginning to the end. I writ all but about the last page; that I dictated, and the printer writ. Mr. secretary sent to me to dine [...] at Prior’s: when I came in, Prior shewed me the pamphlet, seemed to be angry, and said, Here is our English liberty: I read some of it, and said I liked it mightily, and envied the rogue the thought; for had it come into my head, I should have certainly done it myself. [...] Prior owned his having been in France, for it was past denying. [...] I believe we shall have a peace. (Journal, 277-78, emphasis mine)

  • 12 These were, respectively, the Ministry’s printer and trade publisher, and were commonly used by Swi (...)

10Swift’s claim that he “thought” of the project, his insistence on the whole piece being “pure invention” and having had it dictated to “a printer of [his] own”, as well as his refusal to own the piece in front of Prior, implying his complete independence from Harley or “Mr. secretary [St John]”, need to be questioned. Why would Swift choose to playfully maintain his anonymity even amongst his friends and patrons, all privy to the peace negotiations, given that the piece was precisely intended to serve as pro-peace ministerial propaganda? The fact that Swift was acting solely on his own initiative can absolutely be ruled out. It is impossible that anything so politically sensitive might have gone through the presses of both John Barber (the “printer” who took the dictation) and John Morphew without the ministry hearing of it, and subsequently enquiring as to its authorship, despite the precaution of using Barber as an amanuensis.12 Similarly, the emphasis on Prior’s anger is also perplexing. If genuine, was it coming out of a sense of national security being in peril, as the rumours surrounding his secret journey were being confirmed by Swift’s account, albeit fictional? Was it linked to a sense of impropriety at being characterised and used in a two-penny pamphlet shrouded in a comical over-exaggeration of secrecy? It seems more likely that “the ministry”, in the person of Harley, St John, and perhaps even Prior, dropped a “hint” to Swift as to the usefulness of having the scandal of the arrest, and its implied consequences, publicly defused, and diffused, by a pro-ministerial writer. It is not from “pure invention” that Swift got his “particulars”, but straight from the tap.

Public diplomacy and the partisan rhetoric within

  • 13 On secret history as a genre see Rabb, and Bullard.
  • 14 Swift also capitalised on the success of Delarivier Manley’s similar strategy in her two volume Mem (...)

11Despite the intricate structure of the piece, Swift’s pamphlet was clearly designed to appeal to a wide public, and met its mark, selling more than 2.000 copies in a fortnight (Journal, 285). New Journey is encapsulated within an elaborate fictional framing narrative and presented as an English translation of a first-person eyewitness account of Matthew Prior’s secret mission to France, written by the Sieur Du Baudrier – Swift’s fictional French narrator, acting as Prior’s valet, and the main recipient of Swift’s satiric charge. It comes with an introduction and a postscript, both by a fictional translator, informing the reader of the circumstance of the manuscript, and its ensuing reception. The full title of the piece – A New Journey to Paris: Together with some Secret Transactions Between the Fr˗˗˗h K˗˗˗g, and an Eng˗˗˗˗ Gentleman – underlines a filiation with secret histories, a cue few early eighteenth-century readers would have missed, given the profligacy and popularity of the genre.13 New Journey to Paris features many characteristics of the secret history: it is an alleged eye-witnessed first-person narrative capitalising on “insider knowledge”, it claims to reveal secrets about powerful figures, and there is a complicit deal between author and reader in the sense that a secret is to be shared and received. It bridges private and public spaces by exposing a hidden situation to the public eye (with, in this case, the added dimension of breaking down the language barrier between French and English, a common feature of the genre), and it blurs distinctions between facts and fiction. As discussed by Rebecca Bullard, “[s]ecret history presents itself as a defender of British political liberties at the vanguard of the battle against French-style absolute rule”; as a “revisionist mode of historiography, it re-plots received accounts of recent political history along partisan lines” (Bullard, 1). Because late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Whig rhetoric was elaborated in defence of the Glorious Revolution settlement against non-juring and allegedly Jacobite forces, the underlying element of revelation in Whig secret histories, linked to the idea of the public unmasking of treasonous activities, was often correlated to the preservation of English liberty over French tyranny. The choice to adopt such a form, given the political nature and context of Swift’s pamphlet was not neutral, and is particularly interesting given Swift’s re-employment and twisting of such a Whig-coloured rhetoric of liberty to the benefit of a pro-peace moderate agenda and a Tory administration.14 In a way, Swift’s main task was to further mask under the pretence of revealing: he was to replace spontaneous rumours surrounding Prior’s arrest with a narrative mobilising all the characteristics of revelation, and reaffirming the patriotic intentions of Harley’s ministry.

12New Journey to Paris’s intended political agenda was thus to establish the character of Prior (and, by extension, the ministry) as genuinely patriotic; present the idea of the peace negotiations as a French initiative; reassert the righteousness and strength of the British model over its French counterpart; and further dent the credibility of the Duke of Marlborough. The piece is full of impressions and particulars – with an extremely precise chronology and geographical locations, strengthening the sentiment that the reader is being given first-hand and real information – and often reads like a psychological portrait of Prior. The first part of the narrative serves to introduce Prior’s party credentials, including corrective footnotes on the part of the translator in order to maintain the impression of verisimilitude, while establishing him as a man of honour with previous and successful diplomatic experience. From the start, Swift artfully sketches Prior as a figure likely to appeal to a broad base of readers, in terms of political colourings. Through the naïve commentary of Du Baudrier – it being “no great Secrets on [the French] side of the Water” – readers are told of both Prior’s previous experience in negotiating the peace of Ryswick while serving William III, but also of the fact that, under Anne’s previous administration, he was regarded as too firm a Tory not to be “laid aside” (New Journey, 7). Insistence on Prior’s loyalty to both William and Anne (thus signalling an adhesion to the upholding of both the 1688 revolution heritage and strong monarchy) was of primary importance in order to defend the new ministry’s commitment to peace from accusations of treason and/or Jacobite inclinations. Swift, as a former editor of the Examiner, was keenly aware of the importance of setting up clear signalling early on.

13The sensitive question of who actually initiated the peace negotiations is dealt with by Swift at the beginning, readers being told, in the voice of Du Baudrier, that:

[a]bout two Months ago, our King, resolving once more to give Peace to Europe, notwithstanding the flourishing Condition of his Fleets and Armies, the good Posture of his Finances, that his Grandson was almost entirely settled in the quiet Possession of Spain, and that the Affairs of the North was [sic] changing every Day to his Advantage; offer’d the Court of E˗˗˗˗˗d to send a Minister [...] to treat the Overtures of a Peace. (New Journey, 6)

14What is relevant here is not merely the fact that this sentence is mostly fallacious – by 1710 Louis XIV’s forces were exhausted, his coffers were notoriously empty and the “North” campaign, in Flanders, had proved a stalemate for the French – but that this fallacy helps to win over readers by reinforcing their anti-French stereotypes (French egotism feeding delusional grandeur and, ultimately, denial) while clearing Harley’s ministry of the responsibility of having initiated the peace talks. It is important to keep in mind that part of the scandal surrounding Prior’s negotiations was due not only to the fact that these were secret negotiations, but also that the mere act of negotiating unilaterally with France, openly or not, was unacceptable to both the Allied forces and part of the general public.

15The rumours of a French inclination towards peace had already been circulated, in a pithy tone by Delarivier Manley in the Examiner, on 26 July 1711, while Prior was actively negotiating in France:

By our well-governed Strength at Home, we are now beginning to be truly formidable to our Enemies abroad: France was never so busie in searching Expedients [...] towards a Peace; they find it is become their Interest to be sincere; [...] All but those who are wilfully blind, and bigotted to a Party, plainly see the Advantage of the Change that hath been made; though considering the Circumstances of a tedious War, I am [...] to admit there was a hazard in it, inasmuch as a Civil War is worse than any Tyranny: From whence [...] we shall not easily repeat the Danger; and since all Changes are not good, let us Change no more. (Examiner, 52)

  • 15 For more on Manley’s work as a Harleyite pamphleteer see Carnell, 191-218, and Monter,Stratégies (...)

16The central section of this paragraph needs to be contrasted with Du Baudrier’s remark quoted previously: the sentiment is ostensibly the same, though expressed from the British side of the equation this time. The opening sentence praising the “well-governed Strength at Home” having made Britain “truly formidable to” her enemies is generic praise on Harley’s tight management, referring perhaps more to the newly-recovered health of public funds and credit than to men or troops, as might have been more naturally inferred in a war context. It is linked to the blanket comment against bigoted factionalism, in the second half of the quotation. The mention of “the Advantage of the Change that hath been made” is more challenging, and here Delarivier Manley took the risk of equating the recent change of ministry with the change in French war policy.15 This was a dangerous line to tread at the time, but the rationale behind this (and the one she subsequently developed) was that although the war was originally fought righteously against French and Spanish tyranny, it had escalated to a pointless war now that the enemy forces had indeed been weakened and were asking for peace. The further danger in pursuing this “tedious War” was one of reaching a new civil war tipping point as British public opinion was divided over the question of pursuing the conflict. Just as extreme Whig propagandists often associated Stuart tyranny with Toryism, “Highflying” Tory rhetoric had no qualms linking the parliamentarian and Cromwellian excesses of the Civil War to Whiggism, and each party blamed the other’s factionalism as being likely to disrupt the social order in a dramatic manner. Here, however, the final admonition to adhere to the newly elected ministry and “Change no more” as “all Changes are not good” modulates the violence of the accusation. The Observator, an opposition journal, was quick to reply, referencing the Sacheverell trial and riots, thus shifting the responsibility of social unrest and the risk of civil war onto the “Examiner’s Faction”, asking if: “Is it possible our Strength can be as formidable to our Enemies abroad, when the Examiner’s Faction have rais’d Tumults and Rebellions against Queen and Parliament, fill’d the Nation with Mobs, set the People together by the ears, and endeavour to fill publick Posts with Men of arbitrary Principles and restless Passions, as when we were all of a piece?” (Observator, 60).

17Swift’s New Journey to Paris, although no less partisan in content, contrasts in tone with the harsh stances adopted in the press. By delivering his story through the mouth of a fictional French narrator, Swift could achieve comic effect while providing his readers with an implied political message. The narrator, Sieur Du Baudrier, describes his brief conversation with Prior thus:

I was surpriz’d to hear him [Prior] wondering at the Misery, he had observ’d in our Country, [...] at the Scarcity and Poverty of the Inhabitants [...]. He seem’d to value himself very much upon the Happiness of his own Island, which, as he pretended, had felt no Effects, like these, upon Trade or Agriculture.

I made bold to return for Answer, That in our Nation we only consulted the Magnificence and Power of our Prince; but that in England, [...] the Wealth of the Kingdom was so divided among the People, that little or nothing was left to their Sovereign; and that it was confidently told (tho’ hardly believ’d in France) that some Subjects had Palaces more Magnificent than Q˗˗˗˗ A˗˗˗ her self: That I hop’d, when he went to Versailles, he would allow the Grandeur of our Potent Monarch to exceed not only that of E˗˗˗˗˗d, but any other in Europe, by which he would find that what he called the Poverty of our Nation, was rather the Effect of Policy in our Court than any real Want or Necessity. Monsieur P˗˗˗˗ had no better Answer to make me, than that [...] he thought those Countries were happier, where the Productions of riches were more equally divided: Such unaccountable Notions is the Prejudice of Education apt to give! (New Journey, 10-11)

18The passage works on different levels: Prior voices his surprise at the state of destitution he finds France in, while Du Baudrier expresses his disbelief at the Englishman’s remark; the comic effect essentially generated by the contrast between the naivety of the French valet and the enlightened reasoning of the English diplomat. But if we look at the implications of the exchange, Swift is here appropriating Whig rhetoric to sell a Harleyite point. Here the disbelief of the fictional French narrator consolidates the English reader’s exceptionalism: the English are presented as a free and enlightened people, while the French sense of pride and denial combine in a mutually reinforcing bind, preventing them from coming to terms with the very concept of liberty. These are the “unaccountable Notions” that in Du Baudrier’s mind must be the result of a prejudiced English education: where a Frenchman sees only folly, the man negotiating the peace preliminaries sees “the Happiness of his own Island”. By using a traditional Whig outlook and presenting it to the readers through the safe distance of “French eyes”, Swift turned it into a validation of the ministry’s actions, thus normalising the scandalous aura surrounding the negotiations and nipping Whig accusations of Jacobitism in the bud.

19Du Baudrier’s candid mention “that it was confidently told (tho’ hardly believ’d in France) that some Subjects had Palaces more Magnificent than Q˗˗˗˗ A˗˗˗ her self”, however, was a very personal attack on the Duke of Marlborough and the building of Blenheim Palace, still an ongoing process in 1711. In the Tory press, the Duke quickly became infamous and his patriotic zeal became tarnished by accusations of misappropriation of soldiers’ wages, redirected towards the building of his extravagant chateau. While the partisan rhetoric of New Journey contrasted Prior’s disinterested engagement and patriotic vision to Marlborough’s individual greed, the Observator had to reassure its readers, on the occasion of Marlborough’s victorious siege of Bouchain, explaining that the Allied forces’

esteem of his Grace [was not] lessen’d by the malicious Calumnies vomited out continually against him by the Examiner, as a Man of insatiable Covetousness, and one that was guilty of treasonable Designs against his Sovereign: which the French Court has swallow’d down with so much Greediness, and belch’d out again to Mr. P–––r, if we may believe M. de Baudrier’s Letter of his Journey to Paris [as] ’Tis not possible for the Faction to disguise their being in concerts with the Courts of France and St. Germains. (Observator, 74)

The tyranny of “Mat’s peace” and the South Sea Company

20In addition to accusations of collusion with the Jacobite court in exile at Saint Germain, the notion of (dis)honour correlated with moral and financial corruption was also used by the Whig opposition to target the Harley ministry. Although intrinsically linked to the ministry’s peace agenda, these attacks often used the South Sea Company as a starting point, further merging both endeavours in their readership’s mind. In a ballad titled An Excellent New Song, called, Credit Restored (1711), Arthur Mainwaring – the lead Whig opposition writer and the Duchess of Marlborough’s personal secretary – thus criticised the manner in which the Company was established, suggesting that the ministry had abused its power and prerogatives in its bid to encourage the general population to subscribe to its scheme as well as its overall aim:

Next open to All a Subscription-Book stood,

In which if some Fools would not enter,

The Statesmen not only propos’d what was Good,

But they likewise compel’d them to venture. (v. 6)

  • 16 Abigail Masham, first cousin to Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and second cousin to Harle (...)

21Arguing that the project was ultimately a sham, designed to enrich its creators more than its subscribers (“Great Schemes like to these might be well brought to bear, / Since the Persons imploy’d were not small”), the ballad identified Harley (“M[ortime]r”), Abigail Masham (“the beautiful A[bigai]l”) and St John (“Young Cato”) as the main beneficiaries of such a “bubble”, and prophesied a national bankruptcy (v. 15, 16).16 Ironically commenting on the discrepancies between the government’s promises and the volatility of the market’s reaction to the South Sea Company’s stock, the ballad suggested that the Government had compromised its credibility, and by association that of the Queen and country, in a ludicrous venture that was sure to damage its overall credit capacity:

Thus our Debts being clear’d from the fruitful South Sea,

In Wealth we shall daily grow stronger;

Tho Stock-Jobbing fails, why dismay’d shou’d we be,

Since we want to be trusted no longer. (v. 18)

22The piece concluded on the suggestion that realpolitik had finally succeeded in trumping honour and patriotism, damningly ending on a portrayal of one of the South Sea Company’s directors making a peace deal with Louis XIV: “And the long wish’d for Peace already is sign’d / Betwixit Arthur Mo[o]re and King Lewis” (v. 19). Mainwaring’s opposition ballad contained all the elements Harley wanted to keep out of the public mind, as it spun a narrative showcasing embezzlement, treasonous behaviour on the part of the ministry’s leading figures, and the ultimate sacrifice of national interest on the altar of individual and partisan profit. Though this was a grossly exaggerated partisan attack, and would be challenged as such, Mainwaring’s piece spelled out the dynamics at play behind Harley’s South Sea strategy, clearly identifying the Company as a central piece of the ministry’s diplomatic agenda.

23MAT’s Peace; Or the Downfall of TRADE (1711), published in response to Swift’s New Journey to Paris, reprised the famous Whig rallying cry of “No Peace without Spain” – underlining the importance of keeping the Spanish and French crowns separate, and the danger of negotiating with Louis XIV, to preserve the balance of power amongst European nations – and similarly attempted to deconstruct and demolish Harley’s foreign policy. Mainwaring first anchored his ballad in the immediate context of the revelation of Prior’s diplomatic mission: “The News from Abroad does a Secret reveal, / Which has been confirm’d both at Dover and Deal, / That one Mr. Mathews, once called plain Mat, / Has been doing at Paris, The Lord knows what”, to expose to its readers the true nature of the negotiations, a trade deal (v. 1). The emphasis is here put on the recklessness and naivety of the government’s economic vision, and the impossibility to uphold the South Sea Company’s prospects when facing a Franco-Spanish alliance:

By giving up Spain, we give up our Trade

In vain would they tell us Treaty is made

For yielding us Forts in the distant South Seas, […]

Of Forts in the Moon as well they might tell us,

Since France at her pleasure may take them again

If now at the last we must give up Spain. (v. 6)

  • 17 The Moon colonisation was a jibe at Defoe, referencing his 1705 political satire The Consolidator; (...)

24Mixing generic criticism with personal attacks – and a particular jibe to Daniel Defoe – Mainwaring’s commentary is also supported by an allusion to a historical precedent.17 Referencing a 1709 Dutch attempt at negotiating without the knowledge of the Allied forces – “When Pett’cum to Paris did openly go, / What Doubts and what Jealousies did we not show: / How loudly did we against Holland exclaim, / Yet surely our Statemen are no more to blame” – the ballad aimed to further denounce the Ministry’s hypocrisy and duplicity (v. 8). Harley’s strategy was presented as having endangered not only Britain’s honour and reputation, but also its safety, potentially incurring the military wrath of the Allied forces, while Prior, the instrument of such a deceitful endeavour, was unequivocally condemned: “For how can they think our Allies will not fire, / At privately sending his Machiaval P – – – r, / Who richly deserv’d to be whip’d for his Pain, / If now at the last we must give up Spain.” (v. 8). Fittingly, Prior’s punishment – “Poor Mat in the Pillory soon will be seen / […] Whenever this scandalous Peace shall be made” (v. 9) – is a further play on his double capacity as diplomat and poet. The pillory, a sentence usually passed on writers convicted of seditious libel, was to mark him as an all-round traitor to the nation’s best interests. In the event, the Allies retaliated not with “fire”, but with similar attempts at manipulating British public opinion as Count Gallas, the Holy Roman Empire’s envoy to Britain, leaked the content of the preliminaries France and Britain had agreed upon to the Whig press. The Daily Courant published them on 13 October and Gallas was barred from Anne’s court as a result.

  • 18 Although public opinion formed, by the late 17th century, an increasingly important part of the pol (...)
  • 19 See for example the Evening Post, 520 (Dec. 9, 1712). Swift also remarked on the direct correlation (...)

25What an analysis of the public crisis surrounding the revelation of the secret peace negotiations between Britain and France underlines is the degree to which partisanship and public opinion weighted on the Harley administration’s diplomatic agenda. Both impacted and drove Harley’s strategy, from initial secretiveness to further damage limitation, highlighting the necessity for the Ministry to reckon with the political attacks of opposition writers, international pressure, and the curiosity of the general public. A year only after the Sacheverell riots, a key factor behind both the Tory rise and Whig fall of 1710, the coaxing of public opinion was clearly being recognised as a necessary political endeavour and addressed as such through elaborate pro-ministerial propaganda.18 The reliance on popular genre (the secret history and the ballad in particular) and formats which were affordable, and could be both produced and circulated quickly to provide current affairs commentary, is particularly telling in this respect, informing us both on (dis)information practices and readerships’ tastes, on each side of the political spectrum. The question of the overlapping of the ministry’s peace and economic policy, of interest to a wide section of the population – regardless of political colouring – carried on being exploited in the general press through the publication of reports on Prior’s various missions to France, directly juxtaposed to the fluctuations of bank stocks, and the South Sea Company stock, throughout 1712.19 In September 1711, New Journey to Paris opened on a note from “the translator to the reader”, the former warning their readership that “[t]o Reason upon Secrets of State, without knowing all the Springs and Motions of them, is too common a Talent among us, and the Foundation of a thousand Errors”, scornfully acknowledging the public’s eagerness for political commentary while actively capitalising on it. In March 1713, a few days before the signing of the Peace treaty of Utrecht, where Prior acted as plenipotentiary, Swift further confirmed this popular interest to his superior in Ireland, Archbishop William King, while confessing the weight of this new popular interest on British foreign policy and diplomacy: “This way of every Subject interposing their Sentiments upon the Management of foreign Negotiations is a very new Thing among us [...] it has been thought too great a Strain upon the Prerogative; especially giving a Detail of Particulars which cannot be ascertained during the Course of a Treaty;” (Woolley, I, 472).

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Bibliographie

Primary Sources

Manuscript Sources

Archives du ministère des affaires étrangères/La Courneuve diplomatic archives. Mémoires et documents. Angleterre. Items 7MD/17, 7MD/138, and 7MD/138/bis.

Printed Sources

Atterbury, Francis, John Freind, Delarivier Manley, Matthew Prior, Henry St John, Jonathan Swift, William Oldisworth, et Joseph Brown, eds. The Examiner: or, Remarks upon Papers and Occurrences. London, 3 August 1710-26 July 1714.

Berington, E. ed. The Evening Post. London, 6 September 1709-5 February 1732.

Historical Manuscripts Commission. The Manuscripts of his Grace the Duke of Portland, preserved at Welbeck Abbey. 10 volumes. Burlington: TannerRitchie Publishing & the University of St Andrews, 2013.

Mainwaring, Arthur. An Excellent New Song, called, Credit Restored. 1711.

Mainwaring, Arthur. An Excellent New Song, called, MAT’s Peace; Or the Downfall of TRADE. 1711.

Prior, Matthew. The History of his Own Time. Compiled from the original manuscripts of His late Excellency Matthew Prior Esq; Revised and signed by himself, and copied fair for the press by Mr. Adrian Drift, his executor. 1740.

Stuart, Anne. A Collection of All Her Majesty’s Speeches, Messages, &c. London: 1712.

Swift, Jonathan. A New Journey to Paris: Together with some Secret Transactions Between the Fr---h K---g, and an Eng--- Gentleman. 1711.

Swift, Jonathan. Journal to Stella: Letters to Esther Johnson and Rebecca Dingley 1711-1713. Ed. Abigail Williams. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jonathan Swift Series, Vol. 9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Swift, Jonathan. The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, D. D. Ed. David Woolley. 5 vols. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1999-2014.

Tutchin, John, and George Ridpath, eds. The Observator. London, 1702-1712.

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Alsop, J. D. ‘The Detection of Matthew Prior’s Peace Mission of 1711’. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 7 (1984): 61–67.

Bell, Stuart. “‘A Masterpiece of Knavery’? The Activities of the Sword Blade Company in London’s early financial markets.” Business History 54 (2012): 623-38.

Bullard, Rebecca. The Politics of Disclosure, 1674-1725: Secret History Narratives. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009.

Carnell, Rachel. A Political Biography of Delarivier Manley. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2008.

Carswell, John. The South Sea Bubble. London: Sutton Publishing, 2001.

Cruickshanks, Eveline, Stuart Handley, and David Hayton, eds. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

Downie, J. A. Robert Harley and the Press: Propaganda and Public Opinion in the Age of Swift and Defoe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979.

Ellis, Frank, ed. Poems on Affairs of State: Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660-1714, Vol. 7, 1704-1714. Gen. eds. George de Forest Lord, et al. New Haven: Yale UP, 1963.

Hayton, David. “Robert Harley’s ‘Middle Way’: The Puritan Heritage in Augustan Politics.” The British Library Journal, 15 (1989): 158–72.

Hill, Brian. “Oxford, Bolingbroke, and the Peace of Utrecht.” The Historical Journal 16.2 (1973): 241–63.

Hill, Brian. “The Change of Government and the ‘Loss of the City’, 1710-1711.” The Economic History Review, 24: 3 (1971): 395-413.

Hill, Brian. Robert Harley: Speaker, Secretary of State and Premier Minister. Newhaven and London: Yale UP, 1988.

Holmes, Geoffrey. “Harley, St John, and the Death of the Tory Party”. Britain After the Glorious Revolution, 1689-1714. Ed. Geoffrey Holmes. London: Macmillan, 1984. 216-32.

Holmes, Geoffrey. British Politics in the Age of Anne. London: Macmillan, 1987.

Hutchings, Victoria. “Hoare, Sir Richard (1648–1719), banker”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 28 February 2022.

Jones, D. W. War and Economy in the Age of William III and Marlborough. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988.

MacLachlan, A. D. “The Road to Peace, 1710-13.” Britain After the Glorious Revolution, 1689-1714. Ed. Geoffrey Holmes. London: Macmillan, 1984. 197-215.

Mayhew Rippy, Frances. Matthew Prior. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.

McInnes, Angus. ‘The Political Ideas of Robert Harley’. History 50: 170 (1965): 309-22.

Merians, Linda E. “Matthew Prior: A Biographical Study.” PhD thesis. University of Maryland, 1983.

Monter, Alice. “‘I Have a dreadful Story to tell you’: stratégies informatives et narratives dans l’affaire Guiscard.” XVII-XVIII 79 (2022).

Monter, Alice. “In Defence of the Ministry: Factionalism and Pro-Ministerial Propaganda under Robert Harley, 1710-1715.” PhD thesis. Université de Paris/University of Liverpool, 2021.

Paul, Helen J. The South Sea Bubble: An Economic History of its Origins and Consequences. London: Routledge, 2010.

Price, Jacob M. ‘Heathcote, Sir Gilbert, first baronet (1652–1733), merchant and politician’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 28 February 2022.

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Speck, W. A. “Conflict in Society.” Britain After the Glorious Revolution, 1689-1714. Ed. Geoffrey Holmes. London: Macmillan, 1984. 135-54.

Sperling, J. G. “The Division of 25 May 1711, on an Amendment to the South Sea Bill: a note on the Reality of Parties in the Age of Anne.” Historical Journal 4.2 (1961): 191-217.

Sperling, J. G. The South Sea Company: An Historical Essay and Biographical Finding List. Boston: Baker Library, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, 1962.

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Notes

1 Sunderland, Marlborough’s son in law, was the first casualty of Harley’s growing influence over Anne, in 1710. Gilbert Heathcote (1652-1733), Governor of the Bank of England between 1709-1711 and closely associated to the Junto, led a delegation requesting the Queen to “make no further ministerial changes lest the government’s credit be undermined”; the reiteration of this politically-motivated threat, when repeated through the intermediary of Godolphin, led to the dismissal of the latter, at the beginning of August 1710 (Price).

2 In retaliation, Heathcote was to lose his parliamentary seat the following month, while Hoare was returned (Hill, “Loss of the City”, 404; Price; Hutchings).

3 The unsuccessful candidates were to form the pool out of which Harley picked the board members of the South Sea Company.

4 A special commission was created in January 1711 to investigate the financial management of the previous administration. Headed by Robert and Edward Harley but also incorporating Harleyites and an October Club member – John Aislabie – it served the double purpose of strengthening Harley’s case for the rescue of the national debt, and appeasing the Octoberists’ blood thirst (Carswell, 49-50).

5 The initial idea for a joint-stock company that would convert government debt into company stock was proposed to Harley by George Carswell, John Blunt and Ambrose Crowley in October 1710. Harley had an excellent grasp of financial matters, having spent seven years as a Commissioner of Publick Accounts under William III, and he initiated, with his uncle Paul Foley, the Land Bank scheme in 1695. By 1703, he could rely on the additional expertise and support of his brother, Edward, Auditor of the Imprests, and a network of professional financiers and bankers (Sperling, South Sea, 3; Carswell, 45; Cruickshanks, Handley and Hayton, III, 1057-74, 1080-84, and IV, 229, 233-40).

6 The eighteenth-century designation of the “South Sea” corresponded to the South Pacific Ocean (from Panama to Patagonia), and not the Pacific Ocean in its entirety.

7 On Blunt, and the Hollow Sword Blade Company, see Bell, 623-38, and Hill, Harley, 150-51. On the Guiscard crisis see Monter, “Stratégies informatives”. Harley had raised the issue of the remaining unfounded debt on 7 March, on the eve of Guiscard’s attack, in the Commons. He presented them with a solution on his return (Sperling, ‘Division’, 192).

8 Working under the direction of Lord Dursley, Lord Villiers, Lord Portland, and the Earl of Jersey, Prior also cultivated a French network, developing friendships with Boileau, Dacier and Fontenelle, receiving the favourable attention of the Jean-Baptiste Colbert, marquis de Torcy, and Louis XIV himself, and reporting on Jacobite activities. His merit and diligence were widely recognised by his superiors and, when the Peace of Ryswick was signed in September 1697, Prior was in charge of checking its French and Latin versions and delivered the fortunate news to London in person.

9 Although Prior’s poetry could be openly political – Carmen Seculare for the year 1700 (1718), for example, engaged directly with the highlights and challenges of William III’s reign – it remained characteristically light in tone, never engaging with direct attacks on opposition or monarchs. Prior favoured panegyrics and praises in verses, staying well away from the sensitive topics he dealt with as a secretary to some of the most important politicians of his times.

10 Partial publication of the French reports can be found in Wickham Legg, in addition to items 7MD/17, 7MD/138, and 7MD/138/bis (La Courneuve diplomatic archives); Prior’s report to Harley (Portland Papers V, 34-41) can be completed with Prior’s posthumous History of his own times, 389-412. The content of the negotiations is also discussed in MacLachlan, 197-215.

11 “Prior has been out of town these two months, nobody knows where, and is lately returned. People confidently affirm he has been in France, and I half believe it. It is said he was sent by the Ministry, and for some overtures towards a peace. The Secretary pretends he knows nothing of it.” (Journal, 263-66).

12 These were, respectively, the Ministry’s printer and trade publisher, and were commonly used by Swift and Manley.

13 On secret history as a genre see Rabb, and Bullard.

14 Swift also capitalised on the success of Delarivier Manley’s similar strategy in her two volume Memoirs, and Manners of several Persons of Quality, of both Sexes, from the new Atalantis, an Island in the Mediteranean (1709) and sequel, Memoirs of Europe (1710). Both series proved tremendous popular successes in support of the Tory cause, the Memoirs becoming, in the words of G. M. Trevelyan, “the publication that did most harm to the [old] Ministry that year” (Trevelyan, III, 38).

15 For more on Manley’s work as a Harleyite pamphleteer see Carnell, 191-218, and Monter,Stratégies informatives.”

16 Abigail Masham, first cousin to Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and second cousin to Harley, gradually came to supplant Lady Churchill in Anne’s intimate circle, eventually countering her influence. Masham’s known political association with Harley started around 1706 and, although not strictly forming part of the new administration, she quickly took pride of place in Whig folklore as the epitome of female cunning and dishonesty.

17 The Moon colonisation was a jibe at Defoe, referencing his 1705 political satire The Consolidator; or, Memoirs of Sundry Transactions from the World in the Moon. Defoe, a pro-ministerial writer specialised in the treatment of economic issues, wrote extensively in the Review throughout the summer of 1711, promoting both the South Sea Company and territorial expansion schemes in central America, all relying on the Ministry’s securing of the asientos.

18 Although public opinion formed, by the late 17th century, an increasingly important part of the political conversation, as clearly indicated by the number and diversity of newspapers and publications offering run on commentaries on public affairs, Robert Harley was the first British politician to develop a distinctive communication system in response to this phenomenon. His instigation and patronage of pro-ministerial propaganda, unique in its recognition of individual targeting – numerous writers worked for Harley, catering for a wide spectrum of political readerships – is best discussed in Downie, 131-48, and Monter, In Defence of the Ministry.

19 See for example the Evening Post, 520 (Dec. 9, 1712). Swift also remarked on the direct correlation between Prior’s crossings and the stock market in his journal (Journal, 453).

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Alice Monter, « “Plain Mat / Has been doing at Paris, The Lord knows what”: Matthew Prior and Harleyite diplomacy in the year 1711 »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 79 | 2022, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2022, consulté le 28 février 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/1718/10393 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/1718.10393

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Alice Monter

Alice Monter est professeure agrégée. Ses recherches portent sur l’intersection entre littérature et politique, et sur les questions d’influences et de sociabilités, sous le règne d’Anne Stuart. Elle s’intéresse également aux processus d’expérimentations génériques et textuels, et à la production et dissémination des textes, dans la période. Sa thèse en cotutelle (Université de Paris et University of Liverpool) est intitulée In Defence of the Ministry : Factionalism and Pro-Ministerial Propaganda under Robert Harley, 1710-1715.

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