Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Penultimate Stuart - William III

The Onerous Tasks of Monarchy

A New Life

William and Mary were crowned on 11th April 1689. James sent Mary a vituperative letter, cursing her if she dared to be crowned while her father and brother were still alive. The letter was arranged to arrive while Mary was dressing for the ceremony.

The Naval Agreement signed in April between the Dutch and English allowed for the command to be taken by an English admiral, during joint actions, in an attempt to soothe English sensibilities. Meanwhile the Scots offered William the crown of Scotland the same month.

The unhealthy air of London did not suit William and Mary had been greatly shocked by her husband’s condition when she arrived in February. His asthma was much worse and the doctors warned that he would not last the year. By April the couple were ensconced at Hampton Court, coming up to London for council meetings once or twice a week. William’s refusal to spend much of his time attending social functions, as opposed to working, was seen by his new subjects as a refusal to court their affections. In an attempt to counteract this impression, in June Mary persuaded William to buy Kensington House, a country house nearer to Whitehall, at the cost of £14,000[i].

Both William and Mary found the ceremonial at the English court an unwelcome change from the relative freedom of the Netherlands. They spent most of the summer together at Hampton Court, where Mary was planning new gardens and Sir Christopher Wren was building a new extension to the Tudor palace. Mary kept only two Dutch ladies in her entourage, but they were treated with disdain by the Queen’s other ladies. Betty Villiers had come to England too, but William’s visits to her were conducted with discretion.

The summer also brought good news - a fisherman entangled the Great Seal in his nets, while fishing in the Thames. Mary regarded its recovery as a sign of God’s favour. On the 24th July Anne was delivered of a boy, who was named William after his uncle. Mary stayed with Anne throughout her labour and William was present at the birth and agreed to be godfather to the little boy now second in line for the throne.

In the autumn, as part of a PR exercise William attended Newmarket for the races, mixing with his new subjects. He was accompanied by Anne’s husband Prince George. This was a crowd pleaser, but people were angered by William’s preference for his Dutch friends, who had given up family and homes for him. William Bentinck, now Earl of Portland, was especially unpopular. Henry Sidney was made Earl of Romney & appointed Colonel of the King’s Foot Guards and was the most influential Englishman at court. Churchill had also been elevated and was made the Earl of Marlborough.

Now in a position to influence English foreign policy, William was able to promote what had become his raison d’être – the containment of French attempts at aggrandisement at the expense of the remainder of continental Europe. This line of reasoning was later to guide essential British policy in Europe - the need to keep the balance of power. In September the English and Dutch agreed to jointly make war on the French and William declared an embargo on trade with France.

Just before Christmas William and Mary were able to move into Kensington House, although work on the house was not yet completed. William supervised the waterworks and fountains in the gardens, while Mary chose the plants. William had many of his favourite paintings– Titians, Rembrandts, Holbeins and van Dykes - hung on the walls, while Mary had much of her favourite blue and white Chinese porcelain brought from Holland, starting a new craze. Even with her favourite things around her, Mary, like William, was homesick for Holland.

Family Problems

Sarah Churchill
William was not impressed by Anne and factions arose supporting the heir against the king and queen. The two sisters were very different in character, as were their husbands – George was indolent, while William was a workaholic. The Marlboroughs, particularly Sarah – Anne’s friend, were highly complicit in rumour spreading. It was claimed that Mary was jealous of Anne’s happy marriage and her ability to have children. Sarah Churchill pressed Anne to assert her rights as heir and encouraged Anne’s feelings of ill-usage, when decisions were not automatically given in her favour.

By the beginning of 1689 James had persuaded Louis to bankroll an attempt to regain the English throne and landed in Ireland supported by French troops in March. The Irish continued to regard James as their king and James was able to build up an army, while the Irish parliament passed an Act for Liberty of Conscience, allowing religious freedom. The city of Derry, supporting William, was besieged by troops on James behalf in April until 28th July, when the city was relieved by the English navy.

In May Louis’ troops withdrew from the Palatinate and the atrocities committed by the retreating troops horrified the English, who declared war on 7th May and the Grand Alliance[ii] was signed. William sent his best troops to fight on the continent, keeping his Dutch troops in England. Fresh troops were recruited to fight in Ireland. It was not until 11th June 1690 that William was able to sail for Ireland, to deal with his father-in-law.

In less than a month William had defeated James’ troops at the Battle of the Boyne on 1st July. William was wounded during the battle and a report was received in Paris to the effect that he was dead and the French celebrated the death of one of France’s most inveterate enemies. James fled back to France, where he remained in exile until his death in 1701. William was able to march into Dublin unopposed. To reduce the opposition a declaration promising a pardon to all common soldiers was published.

Problems at Home and Abroad

While William was away a French fleet defeated the English in a battle off Beachy Head on 30th June. And the Grand Alliance suffered a defeat at Fleurus. Mary, in charge of the country, was concerned that the French might invade while William was absent. Failing to take Limerick by siege William returned to England, to be re-united with Mary at Hampton Court. Mary was pleased by William’s approval of the way she had managed affairs in his absence. Flushed by the king’s successes in Ireland, Parliament voted £2.3 million pounds for the army and £1.8 million[iii] for the navy for next year’s campaigning. William was never again to be so popular with the English.

Early in 1691 William returned to Holland for the first time since becoming King of England. His return was greeted with huge numbers of Dutch citizens, braving the freezing cold, welcoming him home. William was here to attend a Congress of the Grand Alliance in den Haag, with fourteen members of the House of Lords. The congress broke up after agreeing to field an army of 220,000. William stayed in Holland, retiring to his palace at Het Loo, with the Elector of Bavaria and other princes who had attended the Congress. Here he spent his time hunting and enjoying the atmosphere away from the stultifying conventions of the English court. Arnold Joost van Keppel[iv], one of his gentlemen of the bedchamber broke his leg on one hunting expedition.

In Mid-March a French army appeared before the gates of Mons, a vital fortress in the Spanish Netherlands. William immediately joined the army at Halle, where 50,000 Alliance troops were stationed. The Spanish contingent did not make its scheduled appearance and the army, half the strength of the French, was helpless when Mons capitulated.

William intended only a short visit to England when he returned in April, to put a stable government in place; but the uncovering of a Jacobite plot required his attention. The plotters were questioned; William was aware that the loyalty of most of his subjects was not whole-hearted and forgave the chief plotter Lord Preston and most of the imprisoned released. William now returned to the continent, but the fighting season passed without any great excitement. William spent two months hunting in the Netherlands, reluctant to return to court.

Copy of order for massacre
In August 1691 William signed a general indemnity for all Highlanders, who swore an oath of alliegance in by 1st January 1692. By the due date all major Highland chieftains except the Chief of the MacDonalds had done so. The MacDonald was determined to be the last to bend his knee, but unfortunately went to Fort William to swear his oath. From there he was sent to Inverary where he took the oath on the 6th.  Proof of his submission was sent to Edinburgh where it appears to have been suppressed, possibly by the Master of Stair – Sir John Dalrymple one of William’s two Scottish Secretaries, an enemy of the MacDonalds. On 16th January William signed an order for the dealing of all chieftains who had failed to submit. It is not known if he realised how extremely punitive Dalrymple’s measures were to be.

On 13th February 1642 after a week of hospitality from the MacDonalds, a group of 100 Campbells massacred the majority of Clan MacDonald, men, women and children, at Glencoe. The bitterness arising as a result of the act of cruelty lasted generations. William authorised his other Scottish Secretary to launch an investigation.

James Attempts a Further Return

William’s health was suffering during the winter 1691-2. He was spitting blood. For William it was an excuse to return home, secure in the knowledge that his beloved wife was in control in England. For Mary these separations were more difficult. She always worried that she would lose William while he was campaigning. Meanwhile James was preparing for a French funded invasion.

About 20,000 men assembled near Cherbourg. The knowledge that the bulk of the army was on the continent with the king, encouraged the Jacobites in England. James issued a declaration listing those people he would be taking his revenge on. Mary promptly published the declaration along with her government’s comments. This piece of quick thinking heavily damaged James’ cause in England.

The government was also worried about disaffection in the navy. Mary drafted a message to the officers, in which the queen dismissed rumours of their disloyalty as base slanders and expressed her complete confidence in the navy. The officers enthusiastically queued to sign an address assuring her of their determination to fight the French.

The fleet was readied to fight the prospective invasion, whilst Dutch reinforcements were brought to England. All available soldiers were rushed to the coast; captured information had revealed James’ intentions to land in Sussex. The joint fleets set sail for France on 17th May and on the 19th defeated the French at la Hogue, ending James’ hopes of invasion. Mary ordered £30,000[v] be distributed to all seamen in the fleet and gold medals awarded to all officers who had particularly distinguished themselves in the nine hour engagement.

During this fraught period a final break had occurred between the queen and her sister, fomented by the malicious Countess of Marlborough. William dismissed Marlborough in January 1692 and now there was no stopping his wife’s attempts to sow discord between Anne and her sister. The row stretched on through the year and was still simmering when a plot to assassinate William, by order of James, was uncovered. Mary was deeply chagrined that her father would seek the death of her husband.

Princess Anne & the Duke of Gloucester
Despite the break with Anne, William and Mary were very fond of her son the Duke of Gloucester. The young William suffered from hydrocephaly, but enjoyed playing soldiers. Two companies of boy soldiers were under his command. On several occasions William and Mary reviewed his troops, who would receive 20 guineas[vi] from the king, to share amongst themselves.

In England and the Netherlands there was a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction at the ongoing war with the French. Both English and Dutch felt that William was treating the other with more favour. The Dutch felt that William always threw the Dutch regiments into danger to serve the English crown, while the English thought that they were given all the dirty work.

The campaign of 1693 went badly for the Allies, the French were well established on the Meuse. William’s forces, always heavily outnumbered by the French, had saved Liege, the only ray of light in a generally disastrous campaigning season, which saw the Palatinate overrun. Peace talks kept ending with the French demanding that William and Mary declare the ci-devant Prince of Wales as their successor.  Louis proposed that the young prince be sent to England to be brought up as Protestant[vii].

In April 1694 the Bank of England was established to help underwrite the cost of the war. The king and queen were the first subscribers.

Mary’s health was not good during the summer. She was tired of the responsibilities she had to shoulder when William was away fighting on the continent. At the same time she missed his company and worried that he would not return. Mary had a premonition that her days were numbered.


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

William and Mary - Henri & Barbara van der Zee, History Book Club 1973

[i] Worth £1,980,000 in 2010 using the Retail Price Index or £24,400,000 using average earnings –
[ii] Formerly the League of Augsburg, the Grand Alliance consisted of Austria, Bavaria, Brandenburg, England and Scotland,  the Palatinate, the Dutch, Portugal, Savoy, Saxony, Sweden and Spain.
[iii] Worth £564,000,000 using Retail Price Index in 2010 or £7,680,000,000 using average earnings
[iv] There are many contemporaneous references (possibly Jacobite) to William having an affair with Keppel, as well as the ongoing trysts with Betty Villiers. Keppel had formerly been one of William’s pages. Keppel was made Earl of Albemarle and was in any event a great womaniser. The Jacobites partly based their accusations on the grounds that, unlike Charles and James, William did not have scores of mistresses. It is possible that William was a latent homosexual or did not have strong sexual desires.
[v] Worth £3,660,000 using Retail Price Index in 2010 or £55,700,000 using average earnings
[vi] Worth £2,860 using the retail price index in 2010 or £38,800 using average earnings
[vii] At the age of 15 the value of a forcible conversion for the prince may be viewed with scepticism

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