Friday, 4 May 2012

The Penultimate Stuart - William III

Leader of Protestant Europe

The Warming Pan Plot
Queen Mary and Prince James
By March 1688 Danby, leader of the moderates with the Tory party in the House of Lords, was writing to William, claiming that ladies at court were surprised at the speed of Queen Mary’s pregnancy. According to the letter:

 ‘The queen’s great belly seems to grow faster than they have observed their own to do.’[i]
In reply to a query from Mary, Anne, sure that the Catholics would stop at nothing to ensure a Catholic succession, agreed with the majority that the pregnancy was doubtful. The queen now refused to undress in front of Anne and one day struck her in the face with a glove, when Anne appeared to be too inquisitive about the pregnancy. Anne herself had suffered another miscarriage that spring and never forgave her step-mother for the insult.

In May, William was visited by the Earl of Torrington – Rear-Admiral Herbert, Admiral Russell and his brother the Earl of Bedford. William told them that, if invited by the great and good of England, he could be ready to invade by September. James, concerned by the reaction to the news of his wife’s pregnancy, now demanded the return of English & Scottish regiments, currently serving in the Dutch republic. William and the States General refused to release them, apart from any officers who wished to return. James also demanded the forcible repatriation of any English exiles in the Netherlands. When William refused to accede to his wishes; James, somewhat foolishly, demanded compliance with his demands as head of the family.

A further Declaration of Indulgence was issued in April and in May seven bishops, objecting to an order that the declaration be read out from every pulpit in the kingdom, were sent to the Tower charged with seditious libel. At the same time James sought a ruling of legality from the courts, to show that his using the declaration to get round legislation he did not agree with. Judges who did not agree with his interpretation of the law were dismissed.
The uneasy mood in the country was not assuaged by the announcement on 10th June that the queen had given birth to a son – James Francis Edward. The birth was a month early and James had invited only Catholics as witnesses, thereby giving the rumour mongers yet another stick to beat him with. The Archbishop of Canterbury was in the Tower and Anne and Mary’s Hyde uncles were not invited. It was widely believed throughout the country that Jesuit priests had smuggled a healthy baby boy into the birthing chamber in a warming pan. The Protestant succession was now in jeopardy.

The Glorious Revolution
The bishops were brought to trial on 29th June and upon their acquittal on the 30th the country rejoiced. That evening Admiral Herbert sailed for the Netherlands, disguised as a common seaman. He carried a formal invitation to William signed by:

·         The Earl of Devonshire

·         The Earl of Danby

·         The Earl of Shrewsbury

·         Admiral Russell

·         Baron Lumley

·         Henry Sidney

·         and Mary’s former spiritual mentor Dr Compton, the Bishop of London.

The letter asked for William’s intervention in England, to help restore liberty and the rule of law. No mention was made of any offer of the crown.

Earl of Torrington, Rear Admiral Herbert
William’s uncle Zuylenstein returned to Holland bringing a report which did not speak well of James. Then Queen Mary wrote to her stepdaughter, reproaching her for failing to ask after her half-brother in her letters. Mary replied coldly that she would show similar affection towards any child of the same father, implying that by now she believed that James was not the father of this young prince. William was an authoritarian, who did not approve of unsanctioned acts against the state. James was the rightful king of England and his father-in-law. But William was also concerned that England would turn into a French puppet state, thereby increasing the risks to the Dutch republic. It was these concerns that overrode William’s authoritarian principles.

James now brought regiments of Irish Roman Catholics to England, twisting the fraught situation even tighter. His subjects viewed these fresh troops as a foreign army, in the country to subdue an alienated nation. It was even considered possible that James might use French troops to keep his throne; although Louis was by now more concerned with France’s borders with the Holy Roman Empire, as opposed to further incursion in the Spanish Netherlands.

James II
Louis informed James of the intended invasion, but James ignored the warnings on the grounds that the season was too far gone to transport an army across the channel. Louis also tried, through the French ambassador to the Dutch Republic, to persuade the States General to withhold support for the invasion. The States General were unimpressed by Louis’ interference with Dutch affairs. The Dutch were also concerned that France and England were planning a repeat of the 1672 invasion of the republic. The English denied that any such alliance was in place, but were disbelieved.

Louis’ machinations in the Rhineland united the German princes, and when the French armies marched to the Rhine, the States General gave William permission to invade England. William mounted a propaganda campaign in England, while readying troops for invasion. He also made sure that Mary was kept fully informed of events. Aware of the stress involved for Mary should he have to invade her father’s country, William had spent most of the summer with Mary. William issued a declaration to the English people, listing grievances, which were blamed on evil advisers, rather than James himself.

William was advised that the army and navy would not impede his progress, but he had no idea how much weight to give to such assurances. The English navy was blocking the path of the invasion fleet. For many years James, as Duke of York, had been its Lord High Admiral. In the event the invasion fleet avoided the English ships in the channel. Before leaving William told Mary that if he died she must marry again, but not to a Papist. Mary informed him that she could never love anyone other than him and prayed that she would not survive him.

The fleet set sail on 16th October, but were blown back into port. The two hundred transport ships accompanied by 100 war ships set sail again on 20th October. By the next day contrary winds had blown them back to Dutch shores. It was not until 1st November that the ‘Protestant wind’ began to blow. William decided to aim for the West Country, rather than the north where Danby, Devonshire & Baron Lumley waited[ii]. It had been planned to land at Torbay, but in the fog the fleet overshot. On 5th November William and his troops disembarked at Brixham.

The following day, despite bad weather, the army set forth for Exeter and William entered the city on the 9th, the bishop and dean having fled to London. The townspeople were relieved to hear William’s promise to pay for all provisions and he and his men were warmly welcomed. William waited impatiently for the local nobility and gentry to join his side as promised. It was not until 17th November that Edward Seymour, a former Speaker of the House of Commons, joined William’s force. Two days later the Marquis of Bath, the commander of the Plymouth garrison, offered to place his troops at William’s disposal. The flood gates now opened and men flocked to William’s standard.

Earl of Danby, later Duke of Leeds
William had four English and three Scots regiments totalling circa 4,000 men, brought with him from Holland. There were also troops from Sweden and Brandenburg[iii], mercenaries from Switzerland, Huguenot volunteers and WΓΌrttemburg cavalrymen in William’s train giving a further 11,000 foot soldiers and 4,000 mounted troops.

The English army was 34,000 strong as James’s insecurities required him to keep a large army. But the army was disaffected. Many of the men viewed the giving of commissions to Catholics illegal and objected to the inclusion of Irish Catholics within their ranks. By the time he left to join his army James had already reversed all his policies, failing only to call new elections, which he said was impossible while a foreign army remained in English soil. This last minute overturning of his political agenda failed to convince many of James’ subjects to support him.
James joined his army on 19th November. By now his nephew Lord Cornbury had declared for William and the people of Cheshire, under the leadership of Lord Delamere had risen up against their king. Danby and his friends then took control of York and the Earl of Shrewsbury occupied Nottingham, while James stayed inert in Shrewsbury, unable to decide on any action as the bad news flooded in.

Within four days, while William’s army was on the march, James decided not to give battle and withdraw. Several of James’ colonels, including John Churchill and Prince George of Denmark declared for William. On the 28th James agreed to negotiate and William met James’ commissioners at Hungerford on the 7th December. William’s terms included:

·         Dismissal of all Catholic officers from the army

·         Revocation of all proclamations against William and his supporters

·         Payment of William’s army.

In return William agreed to halt his army 40 miles west of London as long as James’ army stayed 40 miles to the east of the capital. Both James and William were to attend the next session of parliament and Portsmouth was to be placed under the command of an officer agreeable to both James and William, to ensure against any possibility of the landing of a force from France, in support of James.

James had already sent Queen Mary and his baby son to France. On the 11th, unable to face the thought of any compromise, James slipped away from Whitehall, taking a boat for Vauxhall (James throwing the Great Seal in the river) with two Catholic gentlemen. James rode to the east coast and from there took a boat to France. He was apprehended by Kentish fishermen, who brought him back to London, the last thing William and his supporters had wanted. Meanwhile the army had agreed to submit to William’s authority. William arranged for a council of twelve to decide what to do with his father-in-law, who was now a figure for pity. It was agreed that James should be allowed to escape. James was moved to Rochester under guard, but by 23rd December was crossing the channel to France and exile; this time there was no hitch in his escape.

The Dual Monarchy

On the 20th December William and Parliament agreed that Parliament would take control of the civil side of affairs, while William would command the army. At a meeting with three leading lights of the House of Lords, William laid out his position. He was the only person able to impose control over the country, now that James had left. William was not prepared to be anything but king. He could not, as a husband, subordinate himself to his wife. If he was offered the crown he would accept, but he could not act as Regent for James. He was prepared for Anne to be his heir, if Mary remained childless. If his terms were not met he would return home, where he already had his responsibilities as Stadtholder and Captain General. This was a bluff as William needed England as an ally in his ongoing fight with Louis’ expansionist plans. When the throne was offered to Mary in her own right, she rejected the offer.

Parliament insisted on a joint monarchy – Mary would be Queen Regnant, while William was king. Mary left the Netherlands on 20th February. William was waiting for her at Greenwich, where they embraced each other. William was pleased to see her, but Mary was concerned at his ill-health. William was thin, pale and coughing blood. In England  Mary and William shared the loss of their relative freedom in Holland. Here the ceremony of the English court would now rule their lives. The crown was offered to William and Mary, by the Lord and Commons in the Banqueting House in Whitehall. William accepted for them both and they were declared King and Queen.


The Later Stuarts 1660-1744 – Sir George Clark, Oxford University Press 1985

Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980

William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003

William and Mary – John Miller, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974

[i] William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003
[ii]James’ troops were concentrated in the Home Counties
[iii] A long time ally of William’s

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