Friday, 18 May 2012

The Penultimate Stuart - William 111

Reigning Alone

The Death of Mary

William returned to England on 9th November, welcomed with delight by the people of London. He was tired by the strain of what appeared to be a never-ending war. He fell ill and took to his bed on the 20th. Mary nursed him for a few days until she too fell ill. Smallpox was raging through London and she had never had the disease. Mary recovered enough to go to church, where the service was taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was a close friend of both king and queen. Within five days the Archbishop was dead, having suffered a stroke, not long after the service. Mary was badly affected by the sudden death of her friend.

William fell ill again and Mary was again worried about his bad health. It was now that Mary caught the smallpox. Mary’s state of health was too poor for her to fight off the illness, as Anne had done in 1677. William intended to return to the continent early in the new year and was busy preparing for the campaign. Mary ordered that people who had not had the disease should be kept away from her. William had a camp bed set up in her room. He told Bishop Burnet:

‘There was no hope for the queen, and that from being the happiest, he was now going to be the miserablest creature on earth.’[i]
William had already lost both his parents to smallpox and he was now to lose the most important person in his life. Anne begged her sister Mary to let her see her once more. The two sisters had not spoken or even written to each other for too long. Anne was pregnant again but was willing to risk the life of her unborn child to make things up with her once very much loved older sister. Mary died in the early hours of 28th December 1694, William in tears at her side. In future years William always shut himself in a personal and private retreat, meditating and praying on the anniversary of Mary’s death. From now on a locket containing a lock of her hair was worn next to his heart.

William was grief stricken when Mary died. Like many strong characters he failed to fully realise how much he gained from Mary’s quiet support. It was feared that England would lose both king and queen. William collapsed when Mary died and had to be carried from the room by the Earl of Portland, from whom William had been estranged for a long time. He kept himself locked in his room for several days until Portland persuaded him to take the air, albeit carried out into the gardens in a chair.

Deep mourning for the queen was ordered on 16th January 1695. By that time Anne had already written to William commiserating him for the loss of his wife and her sister. Prince George was one of William’s earliest visitors. He had always kept his distance from the Sarah Churchill inspired disagreements, between the sisters. Anne visited William at Kensington on 13th January. They talked alone for nearly an hour, both close to tears. William now arranged for all the dignities of the heir to be re-instated for Anne. Both he and Anne realised the importance of confirming the Duke of Gloucester as second in the succession in an attempt to quash Jacobite pretensions to the throne. This first visit was soon followed by others and those of her friends and supporters. Marlborough kissed the king’s hand on 29th March at an audience. 

Mary’s funeral took place on 5th March. The City of |London asked if a statue of the two monarchs could be erected in front of the Stock Exchange, but William had already decided on a permanent memorial to Mary. It was the completion of a project Mary had been vitally interested in – the conversion of the palace at Greenwich into a hospital for seamen.

Return to the Fray
William Bentinck, Earl of Portland

On 12th May William returned to the continent, leaving a council of seven in charge of the kingdom. In September the Allied armies after a lengthy siege took Namur. After the fall of the city William took a short break at Het Loo. The financing of next season’s fighting was readily agreed by the States General, in the first flush of victory. William returned to England on 10th October and it was decided to call a general election to take advantage of the good news[ii]. The king was persuaded to do some electioneering himself. His trip took him from Newmarket to Althorp, then on to Stamford, Lincoln, Welbeck, Warwick, Burford and Woodstock ending at Oxford. He took the advantage of the trip to indulge in his passion for hunting. Everywhere William was greeted with huge enthusiastic crowds.

The new parliament voted £3 million[iii] pounds for the 1696 campaign season. But attacks were made of enormous grants of land in Wales to the Earl of Portland. The gift had previously been part of the Prince of Wales’ demesne. On 22nd January the Commons passed a bill laying down that the lands could only be given away by Act of Parliament. William withdrew the gift, but several months later replaced it with lands in a number of English counties.

In February a plot to assassinate William, prior to an invasion by James and a French fleet, was uncovered. Persons involved in the plot gave warnings to the authorities. William was to be killed while returning from hunting. Those involved included James’ illegitimate son the Duke of Berwick, who fled the country. The home fleet was readied in the Channel to repel any invasion fleet, while trained bands were rushed to the coast. Louis XIV, increasingly disillusioned by James’ attempts to regain his crown, had ordered his generals not to put to sea until they had news of a general uprising in England. The news never came and the troops were disbanded. The plot caused a surge in William’s popularity and from now on, for the rest of his life, security around the king was increased.

James’ proposed use of foreign troops alienated many of his remaining supporters. On 27th April Parliament passed an act for the better security of the king’s person, whereby all MPs recognised William as their rightful and lawful king. The majority realised that a return of James would entail the subordination of England to France, something that was abhorrent to all good Englishmen. The MPs set up an association for the defence of their sovereign and country.

Immediately he heard news of the Association the six year old Duke of Gloucester decided to give an address of his own to his uncle, whose military exploits he followed devotedly.
‘I, Your Majesty’s most dutiful subject, had rather lose my life in your Majesty’s cause than any man’s else: and I hope it will not be long ere you conquer France. Gloster (sic)’.[iv]

Anne as queen in 1705
William and Mary had always adored William, spoiling him with generous gifts. The Duke of Gloucester regularly stayed with his uncle and aunt. Anne had never interfered in the relationship, on the advice of Sarah Churchill. In January William informed Anne that he proposed to give his nephew the Order of the Garter, which was awarded on young William’s birthday in July. William himself was now under pressure from both the Dutch and the English to remarry, but in the event, the reluctant William did not, leaving Anne and the young William as his heirs. Anne also acted as William’s hostess at court functions and on ceremonial occasions, despite having to be pushed around in a wheelchair.

 In May 1697 William arrived in den Haag to open formal negotiations between the Allies and France. Talks had been ongoing for a year. All but the Holy Roman Empire were eager for peace. The talks got caught up in technicalities and on 5th June the town of Ath in Flanders fell to the French. William was able to forestall the French advance on Brussels that swiftly followed. He now sent to the Earl of Portland to conduct secret negotiations with the French, who were not inclined to consider recognition of William as king until after the conclusion of peace and insisted on calling William the Prince of Orange. The peace treaty was signed on 20th September by France, England, Spain and the Dutch republic. The emperor did not sign until 30th October. Louis agreed to:
·         Give up all territories conquered by him in the Low Countries since the peace of Nijmegen in 1678

·         Give back all conquests in Spain beyond the Pyrenees
·         Return many of the towns the French captured in the Holy Roman Empire, with the exception of Strasbourg
·         The razing of the Rhine fortresses
·         The return of the estates of the Duke of Lorraine
·         The return of the principality of Orange to William
·         Acknowledgement of William as the rightful King of England

Czar Peter the Great
On the 11th September William met with Czar Peter of Russia, who was on a ‘private’ tour of Europe. He was in Holland to learn the Dutch ship building skills and spent some time working in the shipyards. William and Peter dined together some weeks later. Anne arrived in den Haag to act as William’s hostess and in November gave a ball on William’s birthday.

In London the city had been celebrating the peace since September. The citizens were still in celebratory mood when their king returned in mid-month. William made his triumphal entry into the city, met by the Lord Mayor at Southwark. On 2nd December a great firework display costing £2,000[v] followed a day of thanksgiving that William had declared a public holiday.

Czar Peter suddenly arrived in England on 10th January. Unused to public appearances Peter was again William’s guest at dinner and observed Anne’s birthday ball in February. He spent time in the English shipyards. Peter finally left England in April, happy with the gift of a yacht, giving William a ruby, wrapped in brown paper, worth £10,000[vi] in exchange.
Arnold Keppel, Earl of Albemarle

In January 1698 Whitehall again caught fire and much of the palace was destroyed along with many priceless works of art. William promised to rebuild the palace. Just before the fire William appointed Portland to France as ambassador. Portland had been jealous of Keppel, now the Earl of Albemarle (widely believed to be the king’s sexual partner), and their rivalry was painful for William. Part of Portland’s remit was to attempt to come to agreement with Louis over the vexed question of the Spanish Succession[vii], which was to cause upset on the continent for the next sixteen years. Portland was able to inform William that the French held the English king in great esteem, possibly more so than that with which William was held in his own countries.

The War of the Spanish Succession
 In the summer of 1698 William and Louis came to an agreement to settle the Spanish Succession, while William was spending time in the Netherlands. He returned to England in December to a hostile House of Commons, where a Tory majority were determined to reduce the standing army to 7,000. William was horrified at the proposal to disband an experienced force necessary for the defence of the country. In despair William decided to abdicate and wrote out his abdication speech, requesting a regency council govern, once he had returned home to Holland. His ministers successfully appealed to William’s sense of duty. The forty-nine year old was tired and his health was increasingly worsening. William agreed to the Disbanding Bill in January 1699 and in March his Dutch troops returned home.  

William Duke of Gloucester
William was in Holland when disaster struck in July 1700. His beloved nephew William, Duke of Gloucester died on the 30th aged eleven, possibly from smallpox or scarlet fever. His parents were at his bedside. Like them William was grief stricken and he wrote to Anne:

‘It is so great a loss for me and all England that my heart is pierced with affliction.’[viii]

Anne had suffered yet another miscarriage in January, but now once again the Protestant Succession was in doubt. William, unwilling to marry again, agreed that the next in line to the English throne must now be Sophia, Dowager Electress of Hanover, granddaughter of James I. Sophia visited William at Het Loo in October, where William promised her that he would support her daughter’s husband’s claims to the throne of Prussia.

Louis XIV broke the Treaty of Rijswijk by recognising James’ son as the rightful king of England following the death of his father, thus ensuring English participation in hostilities. Charles II of Spain died in December 1700, willing the throne of Spain to Louis’ grandson, the Duc d’Anjou.  Rather than abide by a treaty, disposing of the Spanish crown to the general agreement of most of Europe, Louis decided to accept the terms of the will. Fighting did not erupt until 1701, with the Earl of Marlborough commanding an Allied army in Flanders. T

The Regency council invited Louis to rule Spain, while his grandson was under age.
William’s health was now so bad he could barely walk, although he was still able to enjoy hunting. His legs were badly swollen and he was afflicted with a permanent cough. William had appointed Prince Jan Willem Friso van Nassau-Dietz, Stadtholder of Friesland as his successor as Stadtholder of all the United Provinces. Prince Jan was also sole heir of all the enormous Orange estates. William returned to England in November 1701, in a state of collapse. But he lingered on until March 1702, when he died on the 8th.

William was at war with France for the majority of his life. But his concern for the safety – first of the Dutch Republic and then of England and Scotland, was foremost in his thinking throughout his life. His loneliness as a child was echoed as an adult, particularly after Mary’s death, as he had few close friends. In his last years his popularity nose-dived partly because he spent a lot of time at home in Holland. The English were unable to appreciate that William had responsibilities to the Dutch, as well as to themselves.


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
Peter the Great – Robert K Massie, Abacus 1992
William and Mary – John Miller, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974
William and Mary - Henri & Barbara van der Zee, History Book Club 1973

[i] William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003
[ii] William a signed the Triennial Act, allowing for fresh elections every three years, during Mary’s final illness.
[iii] Worth £356,000,000 in 2010 using the retail price index and £5,730,000,000 using average earnings
[iv] William and Mary - Henri & Barbara van der Zee, History Book Club 1973
[v] Worth £1,070,000 in 2010 using the retail price index and £19,600,000 using average earnings
 [vii] The king of Spain was without heir and was believed to be at death’s door. Louis wished to claim the throne for the dauphin, whose claim came through his mother, who had renounced any rights to the succession on her marriage. Her dowry had not been paid and Louis claimed that this meant that Marie-Therese’s renunciation of rights was invalid. The remainder of the courts of Europe were concerned that the thrones of Spain and France would both be held by members of the Bourbon family, thus upsetting the balance of power.
[viii] William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003

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