Friday, March 15, 2019

The Glorious Revolution

by Judith Thomson

On the 10th of July 1688 a momentous event in the history of England took place – a baby was born! He was not just any baby, he was the son of King James ll and his wife, Mary Beatrice. Or was he?

The news was the very last thing most people in England wanted to hear. James had succeeded his charismatic brother, Charles ll, to the throne but James was nothing like him. When the monarchy had been restored after the troubled years following Civil War, Charles had vowed that he would never go upon his travels again and he had used his charm, and his intelligence, to make sure of it. James was unfortunately lacking in both these qualities. Lord Rochester, who had a cruel wit, summed up their differences by saying that “Charles could see all things if he would, whilst James would see all things if he could!”

But the worst thing about James, in most people’s eyes, was that he had declared himself to be a Catholic and had married a Catholic after the death of his first wife. To a Protestant nation, to whom the horrors of the Popish Plot were still a vivid memory, this was unforgiveable. Catholics had been accused at that time of all sorts of heinous crimes, including attempting to kill his brother, Charles, and whether or not the charges had been proved false, Papists were still viewed with suspicion, and even hatred, by most. Now, thanks to James, they were being given important positions of power.

Charles’ illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, had, three years earlier, led a rebellion against his uncle James, but it had been a disaster and resulted in a great many deaths, including that of the young Duke himself. After that, the people had, in the main, accepted James’ rule sullenly, safe in the knowledge that James could not live for ever. When he died, his eldest daughter, Mary, a good Protestant married to another of James’ nephews, the Dutch Prince, William of Orange, would inherit the throne.

Except now she wouldn’t. The new baby, being a boy, would take precedence over her, and he was baptised into the Catholic faith before he was a day old. The Papist rule would continue. Small wonder few welcomed the announcement of the Prince’s birth.

The word was even spread about that the Queen’s baby had died and that the new Prince of Wales had been a substitute, smuggled into her bedchamber in a warming pan. Some people went so far as to claim that she had never been pregnant in the first place, but had just been wearing a cushion tied around her! Those who were present at the birth disputed the tale of the ‘warming pan baby’ but, since it was only Catholics who been there whilst the Queen was in labour, their words did not carry too much weight.

Whatever people believed, or pretended to believe, there were a few who had decided that the time had come for action. Since the throne would no longer be given on James’ death to William of Orange and Princess Mary, then why not ask them to take it now, whilst James was still alive?

William of Orange

However, William had quite enough problems as it was, with the French troops of Louis XlV encroaching on his borders. He accepted the desirability of ensuring Protestant rule in England, especially since his arch-enemy, the Catholic King Louis, was James’ cousin, but, before he embarked upon so great an enterprise, he needed to be absolutely certain that it was what the nation truly wanted. He insisted upon being actually invited to take the English crown.

This was tricky, for anyone signing such an invitation would be taking a great risk. King James would show no mercy to any he suspected of working against him but, even so, a document was drawn up in secret. It bore the coded signatures of men representing the organisations whose welcome William had desired. These were Compton, the Bishop of London, for the Church, Admiral Russell for the Navy, Lord Danby for the Tories and Henry Sidney, Lord Shrewsbury, Lord Devonshire and Lord Lumley for the Whigs.

Seven brave and desperate men.

William received his invitation with more resignation than pleasure, but he knew where his duty lay and, upsetting as the prospect must have been of siding with her husband against her father, so did his wife, Mary.

Preparations for an invasion of England began at once. As well as the Dutch, there were troops assembled from all parts of Protestant Europe, and they were joined by Englishmen who had taken up residence in Holland and Huguenots who had fled France when the edict which had once protected French Protestants had been revoked.

It was a mighty army. Two hundred transport vessels were needed to take the sixteen thousand soldiers and their equipment over the North Sea. As well as food for the men and fodder and saddles for the horses they were taking, there was a mobile smithy and wagons, boats, a portable bridge and even a printing press with moulds for striking money! There were also fifty men o’ war with fire ships and lighter craft to escort them and many small boats that needed to be lashed to the side of larger vessels to enable them to make the crossing.

And what was King James doing whilst these preparations were going on? Not a lot, actually, at first. There were rumours that Prince William was planning to invade but he did not take the threat seriously. Samuel Pepys, the Secretary of the Admiralty, did take it seriously and tried to persuade him to commission the first and second rates, the grand battle fleet, but James was unwilling to spend the money. Pepys did manage to persuade him to man two third rates and three fourth rates, but James refused to be panicked and listened to his advisers, such as his chief minister, Lord Sunderland, who were convinced that if William did come he would not be foolish enough to brave the Autumn weather but would wait until the Spring.

Samuel Pepys

When they finally realised they were wrong, Pepys put to sea everything the Navy had that would stay afloat in the Autumn storms and even recalled the fleet from the straits of Gibraltar, all the way from the southern tip of Spain. Ships from every shipyard in the country were assembled at the Buoy of the Nore, in the mouth of the Thames estuary, and he worked round the clock to equip them, but he was short of guns and sailors. The press gangs were waiting for the merchant ships to come into port and soldiers were being taken on board if no others could be found.

William’s expedition did not have a very auspicious start. The first time they set sail the gales scattered the ships and they were forced to return. Only one ship was lost and no men but, sadly, thirteen hundred of the horses had suffocated by the time they managed to get them out. When the news reached James, he insisted that the wind had declared itself Popish!

Pepys was still concerned and pointed out to him that if the wind had not stopped William then their own fleet, which had been moved from the Nore to the Gunfleet, would have been trapped and powerless to prevent him from landing. James sent an order for Admiral Dartmouth to cross the sea and put a stop to the invasion whilst it was still in shambles but Dartmouth had a dilemma; most of his captains were Protestant and many of them were not loyal to James. He feared they might simply turn their ships over to William, given the chance.

And so it was without any opposition that William’s fleet finally sailed to England on the 1st of November 1688, saluting Dover and Calais with their guns as they passed through the Straits of Dover and playing drums and trumpets for the benefit of the people watching them from the Dover cliffs.

William had originally planned to land in the north but the wind was making it difficult so he decided to make for Torbay, in the west, instead and the huge fleet anchored off the little fishing village of Brixham, much to the surprise of the villagers!

Brixham - William of Orange Monument

There was little accommodation to be had there so William, the future king of England, spent his first night in his new country sleeping in a fisherman’s hut!

They marched to London, gathering recruits and supporters along the way, slowly at first, for people still remembered the terrible price paid by those who had supported the Duke of Monmouth’s ill-fated rebellion, but it soon became obvious to James that he was under a real threat and he rallied his forces to meet him in battle.

Unfortunately for James, most of the soldiers felt the same way about him as the sailors did. Many deserted and went over to join William, including his own son-in-law Prince George, who was married to his younger daughter, Anne. The real blow came for James, though, when John Churchill, later to become the Duke of Marlborough, changed sides. James had been a generous patron to Churchill, whose sister, Arabella, had once been his mistress, and could have expected that he, at least, would have remained loyal.

He returned to London and, when it became evident that he would not be able to negotiate a settlement with William, he managed to escape, on the second attempt, and followed his wife and baby son to France, where his cousin Louis welcomed him, even giving over to him the chateau of St. Germain.

So the ‘Glorious Revolution’ came about without battle or bloodshed, which had been exactly William’s intention. He and Mary were crowned as joint King and Queen on the 11th of April 1689 and became our first constitutional monarchs, not absolute as their predecessors had been, but answerable to the parliament and the people.

And James? The following year King Louis equipped him with an army and he sailed to Ireland in an attempt to raise supporters there and regain his crown.

But that is quite another story!


Judith Thomson lives in Sussex and is passionate about the seventeenth century She has gained much inspiration from her time spent in London and her regular visits to Paris and Versailles.
She likes to paint, enjoys boating on the French canals and scuba diving.
Judith has written five historical novels to date, based around the actual events of the period, set in both England and France. They follow the life and adventures of her main character, Philip Devalle, and have been published by Troubador. They are all available from as well as Amazon  and most book stores.

For more information about Judith and her books, please visit:
She also writes regular blogs on:
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