Destruction of George the First’s will.
At the first council held by the new sovereign, Dr. Wake, Archbishop of Canterbury, produced the will of the late King, and delivered it to the successor, expecting it would be opened and read in council. On the contrary, his Majesty put it into his pocket, and stalked out of the room without uttering a word on the subject. The poor prelate was thunderstruck, and had not the presence of mind or the courage to demand the testament’s being opened, or at least to have it registered. No man present chose to be more hardy than the person to whom the deposit had been trusted-perhaps none of them immediately conceived the possible violation of so solemn an act so notoriously existent; still, as the King never mentioned the will more, whispers only by degrees informed the public that the will was burnt; at least that its injunctions were never fulfilled.
What the contents were was never ascertained. Report said, that forty thousand pounds had been bequeathed to the Duchess of Kendal; and more vague rumours spoke of a large legacy to the Queen of Prussia, daughter of the late King. Of that bequest demands were afterwards said to have been frequently and roughly made by her son the great King of Prussia, between whom and his uncle subsisted much inveteracy.
The legacy to the ]Duchess was some time after on the brink of coming to open and legal discussion. Lord Chesterfield marrying her niece and heiress, the Countess of Walsingham, and resenting his own proscription at court, was believed to have instituted, or at least to have threatened, a suit for recovery of the legacy to the Duchess, to which he was then become entitled; and it was as confidently believed that he was quieted by the payment of twenty thousand pounds.
But if the Archbishop had too timidly betrayed the trust reposed in him from weakness and want of spirit, there were two other men who had no such plea of imbecility, and who, being independent, and above being awed, basely sacrificed their honour and their integrity for positive sordid gain. George the First had deposited duplicates of his will with two sovereign German princes: I will not specify them, because at this distance of time I do not, perfectly recollect their titles; but I was actually, some years ago, shown a copy of a letter from one of our ambassadors abroad to-a secretary of state at that period, in which the ambassador said, one of the princes in question would accept the proffered subsidy, and had delivered, or would deliver, the duplicate of the King’s will. The other trustee, was no doubt, as little conscientious and as corrupt. It is pity the late King of Prussia did not learn their infamous treachery.
Discoursing once with Lady Suffolk on that suppressed testament, she made the only plausible shadow of an excuse that could be made for George the Second. She told me that George the First had burnt two wills made in favour of his son. They were, probably, the wills of the Duke and Duchess of Zell; or one of them might be that of his mother, the Princess Sophia. The crime of the first George could only palliate, not justify, the criminality of the second; for the second did -not punish the maturity, but the innocent. But bad precedents are always dangerous, and too likely to be copied. (104)