The 1713 election only served to increase the Tory majority and so offered the lord treasurer no respite from the problems now besetting him. Oxford was far too moderate a politician to hold together a party dominated by the division between the Tory extremists, thought to include as many as 80 Jacobites, and a similar number of ‘Hanoverians’. In a struggle for control of the ministry during August and September 1713 Oxford managed to curtail Bolingbroke’s ambitions for the time being. At the same time, he hoped to win approval from High Tories by appointing one of their own, William Bromley II, the outgoing Speaker, to the key office of secretary of state.
At the general election held in August, September and October 1713 there were contests in 94 (35 per cent) of the 269 English and Welsh constituencies, and in 16 (36 per cent) of the 45 Scottish constituencies. Through their propaganda the Whigs had worked hard before the election to sway the direction of public opinion, concentrating chiefly on the inadequacies of the peace and the French commercial treaty. But since the peace had been widely popular, and because it was generally felt that the Whigs had encouraged the war, their campaign got nowhere. The Tories obtained an even larger landslide result than in 1710. The new House (in relation to England and Wales) comprised 354 Tories and 148 Whigs, with a further 11 MPs unclassified. In Scotland, however, the opposition interest came out on top, with 14 Whigs and a further 13 supporters of the duke of Argyll (who had lately gone into opposition), as opposed to 15 Tory (or pro-Court) MPs. Of the 535 MPs who sat during the course of this Parliament, 118 (22 per cent) had no previous parliamentary experience.
Oxford’s efforts to recoup his position in the summer of 1713 soon came to grief when he lost the goodwill of the Queen. His efforts to force her to revive the Newcastle dukedom in favour of his son were short-sighted and lost him his most constant source of support. The Queen’s serious illness during the winter of 1713-14 raised fresh concern about the succession and encouraged continuing disunity among the Tories. By the time the session opened in February 1714 Oxford’s position was again in decline. With Court backing, and supported by the Whigs, the Hanoverian Tory Sir Thomas Hanmer, 4th Bt., was elected Speaker of the Commons.
During the session – which proved the last one of Queen Anne’s reign – the ministry battled hard to prove their commitment to the elector of Hanover as the Queen’s successor, and not to the Pretender as commonly believed. On 18 Mar. 1714 the MP-journalist Richard Steele was expelled from the Commons for publishing an article claiming that the ministry was sympathetic towards the exiled Stuarts, though some anxious Tories supported him. During the Lords’ debates on the state of the nation in March and April the ministry came under fierce attack from both Hanoverian Tories and Whigs. And in April debates in both Houses concluded that the Protestant succession was not in danger under the current administration, though only by narrow majorities and with the Tories critically split on the issue. The Hanoverian royal family grew concerned at the ministry’s apparent lack of sincerity on the succession issue and began to demand that the electoral Prince George be formally summoned to England to take his place in Parliament by right of his title as Duke of Cambridge. Inevitably, the request met with the Queen’s flat refusal.
Oxford’s rivalry with Bolingbroke descended into open conflict between their respective factions at Cabinet meetings. His heavy drinking was seriously undermining his grip on affairs. Meanwhile, in May Bolingbroke’s High Tory supporters forged ahead with their schism bill in defiance of Oxford’s wishes. Its aim was nothing less than the ultimate extinction of Dissenters through the closure of their schools. It also constituted a mighty attack on Whiggery, though the bill narrowly passed in June after much bitter debate in the Lords.
The Queen had begun to look to Bolingbroke as a successor to Oxford. When a Whig attack seemed about to engulf Bolingbroke in accusations of corrupt gains from illicit trading operations with Spain, she brought what had been a turbulent session to a close on 9 July. Oxford’s dismissal came on the 27th, but Bolingbroke lost his nerve and failed to seize the opportunity in front of him. The Queen, who had fallen gravely ill on the 30th, was persuaded by a full meeting of the privy council (which included the presence of Whigs) to appoint as lord treasurer the duke of Shrewsbury, a moderate Tory who was committed to the Hanoverian succession.
Following the Queen’s death on 1 Aug. the commission of regency, which was dominated by Hanoverian Tories and Whigs, ensured that the transition to the new dynasty, pending the arrival from Hanover of the new king, George I, was carried through peacefully.
Parliament was convened for a second short session during 1-25 Aug. in order to complete essential formalities and business, though since Speaker Hanmer and most MPs were absent from London, these proceedings did not begin until the 5 Aug. The possibility that Parliament might need to be hurriedly reconvened in the event of a Jacobite invasion delayed the dissolution required on the death of the monarch until 15 Jan. 1715. In the meantime, a mainly Whig administration was appointed which included the Junto leaders.
G. Holmes, British Politics in the Age of Anne (London, 1967)
D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Politics 1710-1714 (Edinbrugh, 1984)