Amid these angry feelings Admiral Byng was brought to trial. The court-martial was held at Plymouth. It commenced in December, 1756, and lasted the greater part of the month of January of the following year. After a long and[125] patient examination, the Court came to the decision that Byng had not done his utmost to defeat the French fleet or relieve the castle of St. Philip. The Court, however, sent to the Admiralty in London to know whether they were at liberty to mitigate the twelfth Article of War, which had been established by an Act of Parliament of the twenty-second year of the present reign, making neglect of duty as much deserving death as treason or cowardice. They were answered in the negative, and therefore they passed sentence on Byng to be shot on board such of his Majesty's ships of war and at such time as the Lords of the Admiralty should decide.

Their general, Lescure, was killed, and most of their other leaders were severely wounded. Kleber triumphed over them by his weight of artillery, and they now fled to the Loire. Amongst a number of royalist nobles who had joined them from the army of the Prince of Cond on the Rhine, was Prince de Talmont, a Breton noble, formerly of vast property in Brittany, and now of much influence there. He advised them, for the present, to abandon their country, and take refuge amongst his countrymen, the Bretons. The whole of this miserable and miscellaneous population, nearly a hundred thousand in number, crowded to the edge of the Loire, impatient, from terror and despair, to cross. Behind were the smoke of burning villages and the thunder of the hostile artillery; before, was the broad Loire, divided by a low long island, also crowded with fugitives. La Roche-Jaquelein had the command of the Vendans at this trying moment; but the enemy, not having good information of their situation, did not come up till the whole wretched and famished multitude was over. On their way to Laval they were attacked both by Westermann and Lchelle; but being now joined by nearly seven thousand Bretons, they beat both those generals; and Lchelle, from mortification and terror of the guillotinenow the certain punisher of defeated generalsdied. The Vendans for a time, aided by the Bretons, appeared victorious. They had two courses open before them: one, to retire into the farthest part of Brittany, where there was a population strongly inspired by their own sentiments, having a country hilly and easy of defence, with the advantage of being open to the coast, and the assistance of the British; the other, to advance into Normandy, where they might open up communication with the English through the port of Cherbourg. They took the latter route, though their commander, La Roche-Jaquelein, was strongly opposed to it. Stofflet commanded under Jaquelein. The army marched on in great confusion, having the women and children and the waggons in the centre. They were extremely ill-informed of the condition of the towns which they approached. They might have taken Rennes and St. Malo, which would have greatly encouraged the Bretons; but they were informed that the Republican troops were overpowering there. They did not approach Cherbourg for the same cause, being told that it was well defended on the land side; they therefore proceeded by Dol and Avranches to Granville, where they arrived on the 14th of November. This place would have given them open communication with the English, and at the worst an easy escape to the Channel Islands; but they failed in their attempts to take it; and great suspicion now having seized the people that their officers only wanted to get into a seaport to desert them and escape to England, they one and all protested that they would return to the Loire. In vain did La Roche-Jaquelein demonstrate to them the fatality of such a proceeding, and how much better it would be to make themselves strong in[425] Normandy and Brittany for the present; only about a thousand men remained with him; the rest retraced their long and weary way towards the Loire, though the Republicans had now accumulated very numerous forces to bar their way. Fighting every now and then on the road, and seeing their wives and children daily drop from hunger and fatigue, they returned through Dol and Pontorson to Angers: there they were repulsed by the Republicans. They then retreated to Mons, where they again were attacked and defeated, many of their women, who had concealed themselves in the houses, being dragged out and shot down by whole platoons. At Ancenis, Stofflet managed to cross the Loire; but the Republicans got between him and his army, which, wedged in at Savenay, between the Loire, the Vilaine, and the sea, was attacked by Kleber and Westermann, and, after maintaining a desperate fight against overwhelming numbers and a terrible artillery, was literally, with the exception of a few hundred who effected their escape, cut to pieces, and the women and children all massacred by the merciless Jacobins. Carrier then proceeded to purge Nantes in the same style as Collot d'Herbois had purged Lyons.

The news had the most instant effect across the Channel. All hesitation on the part of the French Court to enter into the treaty with the United States disappeared. The American Commissioners, Franklin, Deane, and Lee, were informed that the King of France was ready to make a treaty, claiming no advantage whatever, except that of trade with the States. It was intimated that this proceeding would, in all probability, involve France in a war with Great Britain, but that she would claim no indemnity on that score. The only condition for which she positively stipulated was, that America should, under no temptations, give up its independence, or return under the dominion of England. The two kingdoms were to make common cause, and assist each other against the common enemy. The Americans were to endeavour to make themselves masters of all the British territories that they could, and retain them as their rightful acquisition; the French to obtain whatever islands they could in the West Indies, and retain them. France did not venture to seek back the Canadas or Nova Scotia, well knowing that the Americans would not consent to have them there as neighbours. Neither country was to make peace with England without the other. Lee was to continue at Paris as the first American Ambassador there, and the treaty was to continue some weeks a secret, in order to obtain, if possible, the accession of Spain to it, which, however, they could not do then. By these endeavours Walpole managed to array a considerable body of the Commons against it. It was introduced on the 8th of December, and Sir John Pakington, Sir Richard Steele, Smith, Methuen, and others joined him in attacking it. Steele made a very powerful speech against it, but the grand assault was that of Walpole. He put out all his strength, and delivered a harangue such as he had never achieved till that day. He did not spare the motives of the king, though handling them with much tact, and was unsparingly severe on the Scottish clauses, and on the notorious subserviency of the Scottish representative peers. He declared that the sixteen elective Scottish peers were already a dead weight on the country; and he asked what they would be when made twenty-five, and hereditary? He declared that such a Bill would make the lords masters of the king, and shut up the door of honour to the rest of the nation. Amongst the Romans, he said, the way to the Temple of Fame was through the Temple of Virtue; but if this Bill passed, such would never be the case in this country. There would be no arriving at honours but through the winding-sheet of an old, decrepit lord, or the tomb of an extinct noble family. Craggs, Lechmere, Aislabie, Hampton, and other Ministerial Whigs supported the Bill; but, in the words of Speaker Onslow, the declamation of Walpole had borne down everything before it, and the measure was defeated by a majority of two hundred and sixty-nine to one hundred and seventy-seven.

In Britain there were terrible outcries in consequence of the scarcity of bread. There were rioting and plundering of corn-factors' and bakers' shops, and Government passed a number of Acts giving premiums on the importation of grain, and forbidding the making of any but mixed and coarse breads. Had not large subscriptions been raised, and private benevolence been called forth to an immense extent for the relief of the distress, the consequences would have been more terrible. Pitt was in favour of remedial legislation, but Grenville was against interfering with the laws of supply and demand.

The next day the debate was resumed. It appeared that the Prince had been hooted at, and a stone, or other missile, flung through the window of the carriage. The Ministerial party endeavoured to raise the occurrence into an attempt on the Prince's life; the Opposition hinted at the expression of public disgust with the tone which Government was assuming towards the distresses of the people, called zealously for stringent reductions of expense, and moved an amendment to that very effect. But the Government had yet much to learn on this head; and Lord Sidmouth announced that the Prince Regent in three days would send down a message on the disaffection of the people. It would have been wise to have added to this measure a recommendation of serious inquiry into the causes of this disaffection, for disaffection towards a Government never exists without a cause; but the Government had carried on matters so easily whilst they had nothing to do but to vote large sums of money for foreign war that they had grown callous, and had been so much in co-operation with arbitrary monarchs that they had acquired too much of the same spirit; and they now set about to put down the people of England as they, by means of the people of England, had put down Buonaparte. It was their plan to create alarm, and under the influence of that alarm to pass severe measures for the crippling of the Constitution and the suppression of all complaints of political evil. The changes in, and uncertainty about, the Ministry gave great uneasiness to Lord Wellington, whose operations in Spain depended so much on earnest support at home. During the latter part of the autumn and the commencement of winter, whilst his army was in cantonments, he was actively preparing to surprise the French, and make himself master of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz. With much activity, but without bustle, he made his preparations at Almeida. Pretending to be only repairing the damages to its fortifications, he got together there ample stores and a good battering train. He prepared also a portable bridge on trestles, and regulated the commissariat department of his army; he also had a great number of light, yet strong waggons constructed for the conveyance of his provisions and ammunition, to supersede the clumsy and ponderous carts of the Portuguese.

In the early portion of the reign the manners and customs differed little from those described in the preceding one. There was great dissipation, and even coarseness of manners, amongst the nobility and gentry. It was the custom to drink to intoxication at dinners, and swearing still garnished the language of the wealthy as well as of the low. Balls, routs, the opera, the theatre, with Vauxhall and Ranelagh, filled up the time of the fashionable, and gaming was carried to an extraordinary extent. Amongst our leading statesmen Charles Fox was famous for this habit. Duelling was equally common, and infidelity amongst fashionable people was of[203] notorious prevalence. George III. and his queen did what they could to discourage this looseness of morals, and to set a different example; but the decorum of the Court was long in passing into the wealthy classes around it. An affluent middle class was fast mingling with the old nobility, and this brought some degree of sobriety and public decency with it. Amongst the lower classes dog-, cock-, and bull-fights were, during a great part of the reign, the chief amusements, and the rudest manners continued to prevail, because there was next to no education. Wesley, Whitefield, and their followers, were the first to break into this condition of heathenism. Robberies and murders abounded both in town and country, and the police was of a very defective character. For the most part there was none but the parish constable. The novels of Fielding and Smollett are pictures of the rudeness and profligacy of these times. The resources in the country of books and newspapers were few, and the pot-house supplied the necessary excitement. The clergy were of a very low tone, or were non-resident, and the farmers, getting rich, aped the gentlemen, followed the hounds, and ended the day with a carouse.