The death of Lewis ruined all hope of aid from France; the hope of Swedish aid proved as fruitless; but in spite of Bolingbroke's counsels James Stuart resolved to act alone. Without informing his new minister, he ordered the Earl of Mar to give the signal for revolt in the North. In Scotland the triumph of the Whigs meant the continuance of the House of Argyll in power, and the rival Highland clans were as ready to fight the Campbells under Mar as they had been ready to fight them under Dundee or Montrose. But Mar was a leader of different stamp from these. Six thousand Highlanders joined him at Perth, but his cowardice or want of conduct kept his army idle, till Argyll had gathered forces to meet it in an indecisive engagement at Sheriffmuir. The Pretender, who arrived too late for the action, proved a yet more sluggish and incapable leader than Mar: and at the close of 1715 the advance of fresh forces drove James over-sea again and dispersed the clans to their hills. In England the danger passed away like a dream.
The accession of the new King had been followed by some outbreaks of riotous discontent; but at the talk of Highland risings and French invasions Tories and Whigs alike rallied round the throne; while the army went hotly for King George. The suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the arrest of their leader, Sir William Wyndham, cowed the Jacobites; and not a man stirred in the west when Ormond appeared off the coast of Devon, and called on his party to rise. Oxford alone, where the University was a hotbed of Jacobitism, showed itself restless; and a few of the Catholic gentry rose in Northumberland, under Lord Derwentwater and Mr. Forster. The arrival of two thousand Highlanders who had been sent to join them by Mar spurred them to a march into Lancashire, where the Catholic party was strongest; but they were soon cooped up in Preston, and driven to a surrender. The Ministry availed itself of its triumph to gratify the Nonconformists by a repeal of the Schism and Occasional Conformity Acts, and to venture on a great constitutional change. Under the Triennial Bill in William's reign the duration of a Parliament was limited to three years.
Now that the House of Commons however was become the ruling power in the State, a change was absolutely required to secure steadiness and fixity of political action; and in 1716 this necessity coincided with the desire of the Whigs to maintain in power a thoroughly Whig Parliament. The duration of Parliament was therefore extended to seven years by the Septennial Bill. But the Jacobite rising brought about a yet more momentous change in English policy abroad. At the moment when the landing of James in Scotland had quickened the anxiety of King George that France should be wholly detached from his cause, the actual state of European politics aided to bring about a new triple alliance between France, England, and Holland.
Since the death of Lewis the Fourteenth in 1715 France had been ruled by the Duke of Orleans as Regent for the young King, Lewis the Fifteenth. The Duke stood next in the succession to the crown, if Philip of Spain observed the renunciation of his rights which he had made in the Treaty of Utrecht. It was well known, however, that Philip had no notion of observing this renunciation, and the constant dream of every Spaniard was to recover all that Spain had given up. To attempt this was to defy Europe; for Savoy had gained Sicily; the Emperor held the Netherlands, Naples, and the Milanese; Holland looked on the Barrier fortresses as vital to its own security; while England clung tenaciously to the American trade. But the boldness of Cardinal Alberoni, who was now the Spanish Minister, accepted the risk; and while his master was intriguing against the Regent in France, Alberoni promised aid to the Jacobite cause as a means of preventing the interference of England with his designs. His first attempt was to recover the Italian provinces which Philip had lost, and armaments greater than Spain had seen for a century reduced Sardinia in 1717. England and France at once drew together and entered into a compact by which France guaranteed the succession of the House of Hanover in England, and England the succession of the House of Orleans, should Lewis the Fifteenth die without heirs; and the two powers were joined, though unwillingly, by Holland. When in the summer of 1718 a strong Spanish force landed in Sicily, and made itself master of the island, the appearance of an English squadron in the Straits of Messina was followed by an engagement in which the Spanish fleet was all but destroyed.
Alberoni strove to avenge the blow by fitting out an armament which the Duke of Ormond was to command for a revival of the Jacobite rising in Scotland. But the ships were wrecked in the Bay of Biscay; and the accession of Austria with Savoy to the Triple Alliance left Spain alone in the face of Europe. The progress of the French armies in the north of Spain forced Philip at last to give way. Alberoni was dismissed; and the Spanish forces were withdrawn from Sardinia and Sicily. The last of these islands now passed to the Emperor, Savoy being compensated for its loss by the acquisition of Sardinia, from which its Duke took the title of King; while the work of the Treaty of Utrecht was completed by the Emperor's renunciation of his claims on the crown of Spain, and Philip's renunciation of his claims on the Milanese and the two Sicilies.
The struggle however had shown the difficulties which the double position of its sovereign was to bring on England. In his own mind George cared more for the interests of his Electorate of Hanover than of his kingdom; and these were now threatened by Charles XII. of Sweden, whose anger had been roused at the cession to Hanover of the Swedish possessions of Bremen and Verden by the King of Denmark, who had seized them while Charles was absent in Turkey. The despatch of a British fleet into the Baltic to overawe Sweden identified England with the policy of Hanover, and Charles retorted by joining with Alberoni, and by concluding an alliance with the Czar, Peter the Great, for a restoration of the Stuarts. Luckily for the new dynasty his plans were brought to an end by his death at the siege of Frederickshall; but the policy which provoked them had already brought about the dissolution of the Ministry. In assenting to a treaty of alliance with Hanover against Sweden, they had yielded to the fact that Bremen and Verden were not only of the highest importance to Hanover, which was thus brought into contact with the sea, but of hardly less value to England, as they secured the mouths of the Elbe and the Weser, the chief inlets for British commerce into Germany, in the hands of a friendly state.