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William of Orange and Why He Accepted the English Crown
David Trenholm December 4th, 2006 HIST 2173 X1 Dr. Gerry Gerrits
Trenholm 2 The eve of the seventeenth century saw a concerned England—an England ruled by a Catholic and a Stuart, James II. James was a monarch who was distrusted by many of his people due to his pro-Catholic beliefs, beliefs that had also caught the attention of the Stadtholder of the United Netherlands, William III of Orange. Many protestant Englishmen were concerned and outright enraged by James II’s generosity directed towards the Catholics of the nation—whether it be the unilateral repealing of laws that inhibited Catholics, or the appointment of Catholics to positions of power within the government.1 James’ actions and the continual distrust of his nation’s politicians eventually led to the revolution of 1688, coined often as the “Glorious” or “Bloodless” Revolution, and even referred to as a “respectable” revolution by some.2 Whatever name one uses is irrelevant, but the true wonder of the revolution of 1688 was that it was, indeed, quite bloodless and non-violent—a stark contrast to England’s history of “revolutions”. James II’s growing support of Catholics, however, was hardly the sole reason that drove William III to invade England. With the growing resentment towards James’ policies as voiced by parliament and indeed, the nation, William was beginning to fear a rebellion, and perhaps an end to the Stuart dynasty and with it his claim to the English throne. James II was aging, and had not produced an heir to the throne—Mary, a staunch protestant, was next in line and the loyal wife of William. William knew that if he wished to secure his future at the head of the English nation, he would have to act soon. Growing concern of the French on the continent also compelled William to invade. Louis XIV, a strong Catholic, was of great concern to William, especially with Charles II’s recent dealing with the French nation still fresh in his mind. A victory in England, and
Maurice Ashley, The Glorious Revolution of 1688. (London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1966), 89. Lucile Pinkham, William III and the Respectable Revolution. (United States: Archon Books, 1969), 239.
Trenholm 3 control of the English throne, would secure a unified alliance against France, something that meant a great deal to the Stadtholder. Although quite Dutch, and indeed the face of the United Netherlands, William III was also a Stuart, being a grandson of Charles I of England. His claim and connection to the Stuarts of England, although remote, was still quite a certain fact. Being married to Mary, the daughter of James II, made William third in line to the English throne. Mary had promised William that he would “exercise actual executive power when she came to the English throne.”3 Considering this, then, William III was indeed the prospective heir to the throne, as James II was aging and without a son to be had. William had not been largely concerned with his disinheritance for the longest time, though, and was content to let James reign to his death. While James’ pro-Catholic policies did indeed give him pause, it was not something he had intended to act on, as it did not affect his apparent and expected ascension.4 It wasn’t until the spring of 1688 did William’s concerns peak, and he felt compelled to act. King James II’s wife, Mary of Modena, was apparently pregnant, and should the child be a son, Mary’s inheritance of the throne would be threatened.5 James II had taken the position that his heir, a son, would carry on his pro-Catholic policies and Catholic regime, an unsettling notion. Further concerning the Stadtholder, rumours were afoot that James’ heir was indeed illegitimate, “Rumours that the new heir was actually suppositious (many said he had been smuggled into the birthing chamber in a warming pan) crystallized the threats to William’s position.”6 It is no coincidence, then, that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was planned and launched not a year after the announced pregnancy of James’ wife and the celebrated perpetuation of his pro-Catholic
Tony Claydon, William III: Profiles in Power. (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 30 Claydon, 30. 5 Claydon, 31. 6 Claydon, 31.
Trenholm 4 policies.7 William III, grossly concerned that his position as heir to the throne of England had been greatly threatened, knew he had to act to secure both his right to the Crown, and the longevity of the Stuart dynasty, which he believed was at risk of being lost, as more talk surfaced of rebellion and the dethronement of James II as King of England.8 In part to protect the interests of his wife Mary, and in doing so his own, William III had set off at the head of a small army to England, after receiving the an invitation from Parliament to dispose of James and his absolutist regime. 9 Although Parliament had not directly offered William the throne, the Stadtholder had good cause to believe he would be crowned King of England, which would secure the Stuart’s royal line, give him the ability to deal with Catholicism in England, and the resources to address growing concern of French imperialism on the continent. Louis XIV of France was Catholic, and that was a problem for William, as James II was Catholic, and had even been quoted saying that, “he could not but wish that all his subjects were members of the Catholic Church.”10 With the previous alliance of Charles II and Louis XIV, William was obviously concerned that a Catholic king might lead to a return of friendly English-French relations. A Catholic English King, William envisioned, would be bound to seek alliance with France, a strongly Catholic nation. William was obviously concerned about a French-English alliance, an alliance that had nearly spelled an end to the Dutch Republic in the third Anglo-Dutch war of 1672.11 Thus, the invasion of England and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 also meant that the future of Catholicism
Claydon, 31. Tony Claydon, William III: Profiles in Power. (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 30. 9 Lois G. Schwoerer, “Propaganda in the Revolution of 1688-89. The American Historical Review 82, no. 4. (1977): 853. 10 Lucile Pinkham, William III and the Respectable Revolution. (United States: Archon Books, 1969), 27. 11 Dr. Gerry Gerrits. “James II: 1685-1688, and the Glorious Revolution: 1688-1689.” HIST 2173 X1, Acadia University, October 11th, 2006.
Trenholm 5 in England was bleak. William III had intended to placate Parliament and secure a protestant England by allowing and encouraging anti-Catholic legislature to be drafted. Since before the invasion, however, William had been keeping up on Catholic appointments and anti-Protestant movements in the form of reports from the Dutch Ambassador of London, reports that such details as listed below, A popish master was appointed to a school in Bath; the Protestant President of Magdalan College was finally deposed; Father Petre became a member of the Privy Council and was promised a cardinal’s hat; the Duke of Berwick, James’s illegitimate Roman Catholic son, was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and became responsible for the defence of Portsmouth; a Roman Catholic, Sir Roger Strickland, was to command the Channel fleet.12 These appointments were in gross violation of the Test Acts, something that James had disregarded; an act that many Englishmen viewed as absolutist.13 Mary and William were not coy in response, and had distributed a letter voicing their displeasure with the help from a friend, Caspar Fagel.14 The letter was distributed all over England and in Holland, and it demanded that the Test Acts be retained, and that Roman Catholics were to be “excluded from both Houses of Parliament and from public employment”.15 Believing that if Roman Catholics were given political liberty, Mary and William had argued they would be unrelenting with their pursuits of power and would press on “until they were masters”.16 William, on becoming King of England, had accepted a “remodelling” of the Stuart monarchy that had, among other things, instituted an outright ban against future Catholic rulers17. This “remodelling” could prevent, in William’s mind, a return to
Maurice Ashley, The Glorious Revolution of 1688. (London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1966), 92 Gerrits, “James II: 1685-1688, and the Glorious Revolution: 1688-1689.” 14 Ashley, 93. 15 Ashley, 93. 16 Ashley, 84. 17 Tony Claydon, William III: Profiles in Power. (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 34.
Trenholm 6 friendly English-French relations, and indeed, would ensure that England’s loyalties were Protestant, and more importantly, to William against France. As always, William’s greatest concern lay with France, and whether or not England would side with, or against the bold absolutist Louis XIV, the sun-king. His Stuart inheritance and the staunching of Catholicism were indeed important to him, but his primary concern was French imperialism, and the security of his United Provinces, the Dutch Republic. William III was positive that his actions would prevent James from joining in an alliance with Louis XIV18, an alliance possibly made in exchange for pension money, as was the case with Charles II during the third Anglo-Dutch war, “… James might alienate his subjects so far that he would have rely on pensions from Louis to survive. This had happened to his brother, Charles II…”19 As previously stated, both William III and the Dutch themselves feared what an English-French alliance would mean for the Dutch Republic’s security, and remembered all too well what had happened only a few short years ago. Simply put, the Dutch dreaded an English-French alliance and the damage it could cause, “…the Dutch dreaded a strong alliance which could unite English and French naval forces to cripple the commerce of the United Provinces by blocking the exits to the Atlantic.”20 By invading England and achieving the crown, William had hoped to compel England into a European coalition of sorts that was, “being formed to stop the threat of French aggression.”21 This was William III’s chief concern, and the main impetus behind his invasion and acceptance of the English crown: to stop James from forming a military pact with France.22 This is evidenced by William’s conduct
Lucile Pinkham, William III and the Respectable Revolution. (United States: Archon Books, 1969), 75. Claydon, 32. 20 Maurice Ashley, The Glorious Revolution of 1688. (London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1966), 86. 21 Maurice Ashley, The Glorious Revolution of 1688. (London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1966), 85. 22 Lucile Pinkham, William III and the Respectable Revolution. (United States: Archon Books, 1969), 94.
Trenholm 7 with parliament after he had assumed his role as the English monarch, and his attitudes towards the rest of Britain when compared to his continental concerns. In order to receive the crown, William had to concede to many of Parliament’s demands, and indeed, was forced to give them a considerable amount of freedom, “Certainly, parliament’s new role meant that William would have to work closely with it to organise and finance the struggle against Louis.”23 It was to William’s benefit that foreign affairs the army remained in the relative control of the monarchy24. William knew that in order to secure English resources for his campaign to stop the French threat, he had to appease and bow to parliament’s will, lest they dispute his much-needed military control. It was a delicate game, but William’s focus on the war meant that he would stop at nothing to secure English assistance, “The history of the 1690s show that the king did have some aims in Britain beside military finance, but it also demonstrates he would never pursue these if they obstructed his continental strategy.”25 For example, William had initially made a bid to retain some power of the crown, and in the early years of his reign had asserted he had the political right to influence the composition of the legislature.26 It did not take long, however, for the MPs to threaten to “cut royal revenue if the king did not retreat”, and once such a threat was made, William took little time in surrendering his position on the matter. This makes it quite clear the William’s primary concern was the assurance of England’s loyalty against France. Although his interests in the Stuart dynasty and the growing problem of Catholicism were indeed a factor, his decision to invade and accept the parliamentary “Invitation” was largely made in order to prevent an English-French alliance, and to thwart the growing problem of French imperialism.
Tony Claydon, William III: Profiles in Power. (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 35. Claydon, 35. 25 Claydon, 38. 26 Claydon, 38.
Trenholm 8 Securing the English throne for himself was perhaps the great accomplishment of William III’s political career—it was the culmination of careful planning, clever propaganda and a delicate game of realpolitiks. William III knew that accepting the historic parliamentary Invitation to dispose of James II would gain him a lot of ground and power in Europe, power that he needed to combat the growing concern of French imperialism. As he watched James II’s Catholic rule plummet into severe unpopularity with a largely Protestant nation, William knew that his inheritance was at risk if he failed to act—rebellion could cast the Stuart line out, and worse, might foster a Republic in England. Invasion also meant a restoration of protestant values and the Test Acts, which would secure the inhibition of Catholics in the nation, and subsequently prevent a Catholic ruler from ever allying with France and endangering the national security of the Dutch Republic again. William knew that accepting the crown could thwart another English-French alliance, and would guarantee English fidelity for his European coalition against France—his chief and primary concern. Remarkably the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was bloodless, as William’s force of arms (which he had justified in his Declaration27) had not even engaged James’ army in any real combat. Even more remarkable was the relative ease in which William had assumed control, a historic success and the result of years of planning and networking between William and James’ opponents. History would remember him as King William of England, the Dutch Prince of Orange that would save the English monarchy and English Protestantism from the absolutist regime of James II.
Tony Claydon, “William III’s Declaration of Reasons and the Glorious Revolution The Historical Journal 38, no. 1. (1996): 88.
Bibliography Ashley, Maurice, The Glorious Revolution of 1688. London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1966. Claydon, Tony, William III: Profiles in Power. London: Pearson Education Limited, 2002 Claydon, Tony “William III’s Declaration of Reasons and the Glorious Revolution The Historical Journal 38, no. 1. (1996): 87-108. Gerrits, Dr. Gerry. “James II: 1685-1688, and the Glorious Revolution: 1688-1689.” HIST 2173 X1, Acadia University, October 11th, 2006. Pinkham, Lucile, William III and the Respectable Revolution. United States: Archon Books, 1969. Schwoerer, Lois G., “Propaganda in the Revolution of 1688-89. The American Historical Review 82, no. 4. (1977): 843-874.
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