As soon as William of Orange received his letter of invitation from the Immortal Seven preparations for the invasion of England were intensified. Earlier, as Captain-General, William had obtained from the States of Holland a vote of 4,000,000 gulden for his military needs; it was assigned to fortifications, but in fact it was used for other purposes. During the late summer a recruiting campaign was launched to enlist 9,000 sailors for service with the Dutch Navy. There was now closer cooperation between the Prince and the States than there had been for years: even Amsterdam was friendly. This was partly because the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the influx of Protestant refugees had aroused resentment against the King of France. The merchants of Amsterdam were also offended by a tariff war started by the French Government; an attempt to create an entrepôt for their commerce at Dunkirk had proved abortive. Thus the Dutch burghers were touched both in their religion and in their pockets by French policies and were readier than before to listen to William’s pleas for rearmament.
William himself felt sure that war was coming again to northern Europe. On May 24 the Archbishop of Cologne, a Bavarian prince who was one of the Imperial Electors, had died. His Coadjutor or understudy was Cardinal Wilhelm von Furstenberg, who was notoriously a French tool, as he had proved himself to be before when he was Bishop of Strasbourg. If FUrstenberg were chosen by the chapter to succeed at Cologne, then this key town would be confirmed as a French dependency. On May 28/June 7 William wrote to Bentinck, who was in Hanover, that the death of the Elector would cause a great change in affairs and wondered whether the Emperor and the German princes would unite to prevent this attack on their interests. French intentions were not long concealed, for soon after the Archbishop died troops were dispatched to the Electorate of Cologne to uphold Furstenberg, whose succession was opposed by the Emperor. Just before this, the Elector Palatine also died (on May i 6) and Louis XIV put forward claims in the name of his sister-in-law, who was the sister of the dead Prince. It was generally believed that Louis XIV was planning to undertake operations in Germany before the Emperor turned back his attentions from the east. Here were excuses and opportunities for aggression. Louis feared that sooner or later the Emperor would repudiate the Truce of Ratisbon and invoke the defensive treaty of Augsburg against him. Therefore he would strike first. William expected the French King to attack in Germany as soon as the harvest was in.
The problem that faced William now was whether he dared to carry Out his planned invasion of England, lest during his absence the coming European war should surge over the Dutch frontiers. It was necessary for him to raise two armies: one to take with him to England, the other to leave behind him to guard the United Netherlands in case of unprovoked French aggression while he was away. In the third week of July he sent his trusted friend William Bentinck to hire troops from Cassel, Hanover and Celle. Prince Frederick III, who had succeeded the Great Elector in Brandenburg and was a cousin of William of Orange, was more friendly to the Dutch than his father had been and more consistently anti-French. Bentinck had been in Berlin in May and William himself was to pay the Elector an important visit at the end of August. The Elector was taken into William’s confidence about the operation against England and undertook to keep watch on the Rhine. In July and August troops were sought from Saxony and Brandenburg and the Prince of Waldeck, a veteran general greatly trusted by William, received reinforcements from Wurtemberg with which to help guard the Dutch frontiers. By September Brandenburg troops had occupied the city of Cologne. In the last week of August a military camp was in the process of being formed by the Dutch between Grave and Nymegen, warships were being made ready, and flat boats collected. Meanwhile it was essential for political developments in England to be closely watched and for James II to be deluded as long as possible about the plan for invasion.
The two principal directors of the Dutch intelligence service in England were William Bentinck, who had an English wife and considerable knowledge of England, at The Hague, and Henry Sidney in London, both men being intimates of the Prince. The previous November a certain James Johnstone, a Scotsman with useful contacts at Court (he was, for example, on friendly terms with one of the Queen’s Bedchamber women) set up an intelligence service under Sidney’s supervision.1 Gilbert Burnet, another Scot, had valuable sources of information in Scotland and England. Edward Russell, a spearhead of the conspirators, had a sister in Holland and was therefore able to cross the Channel frequently without arousing suspicion. Letters were sent from England in cipher, but were usually carried over by a safe messenger. The printing presses in Holland published propaganda, such as a pamphlet entitled Le Rqyaume Usurpé et L’.Enfarn’ Supposé. In general, it seems that William’s arrangements were as complete and effective in 1688 as they had been when organized on his behalf by Peter du Moulin in the sixteen-seventies. Information received could be checked against that obtained in the normal way through the Dutch ambassador in London. But it is likely that Johnstone’s information, gained through Sidney and his fellow-conspirators, was as good, if not better than that of Van Citters. Early in July Van Citters was recalled home for consultation and he did not return to London until the middle of September when William’s military preparations had been almost completed.
The task of hoodwinking James was not too easy. Many things could not be concealed. For example, after Admiral Herbert arrived in Holland, he was appointed to a command in the Dutch fleet. Herbert was a proud and sullen man and said to have been jealous of Lord Dartmouth who was to be put in charge of James’s navy. Dartmouth in England later challenged Herbert to meet him in a duel at Ostend; William, however, persuaded Herbert that it was better that he met Dartmouth on the high seas. Herbert was created Admiral of the North and Vice-Admiral of Zealand with a pension for life; also he was given the colonelcy of a Dutch regiment. He soon made his presence felt. He proposed to William to send Dutch fishing boats to the English coasts to collect intelligence; he suggested that after the return of Zuylestein, Dijkvelt should be sent over to London on some excuse to spy out the land; he urged that topographical information should be gathered from friendly Englishmen who knew the north and west coasts; and in general that the system of spies and agents in England should be strengthened. William was doubtful about some of this advice. For example, he could not think of any reasonable excuse for dispatching Dijkvelt to England again. He believed that Van Citters should be able to collect the necessary military and naval intelligence, and he left it to Herbert himself to acquire the geographical information he needed.
All that was below the surface, but the intensive recruiting of sailors, the fitting out of ships, and Bentinck’s missions to Germany were public knowledge. The cover plan was to make out that these preparations were directed against France and not against England. James II was fully aware that the death of the Elector of Cologne and French support for Furstenberg would, as he put it, ’cause a noise’.6 It could therefore be hinted to James that only a naval or military affiance concluded by him with the French King would oblige the Dutch to point their arms in his direction. Before Van Citters left London in July he assured the English King of the peaceful intentions of the Dutch Government. Its navy, he explained, was too small to attack England. After his return in the middle of September Van Citters again saw James and this time informed him the Dutch naval rearmament was for use against the Algerians, to support the Danes, or to impress the French in Germany; there was no thought of a descent upon England.7 Ambassadors in those days were reckoned to be ‘great spies’ and were expected to lie for their country. But perhaps Van Utters was not let into the secret.
It should not be imagined that the deception of James II and his Ministers was entirely successful. The air of Whitehall and of London was thick with rumours during the summer. Everyone at the centre of affairs recognized that June and July were critical months at home and abroad. The deaths of the Elector Palatine and the Elector of Cologne; the birth of the Prince of Wales; the arrest and trial of the seven bishops; the open French offer of naval assistance to James II—all these justified the Imperial envoy in London in forecasting that ‘affairs move daily towards a catastrophe’.8 Both doubt and fear were engendered. The bishops had hesitated to defy their King, the Supreme Governor of their Church. One bishop was reported to have said that he had fourteen arguments for obeying the King—a wife and thirteen children—and only one against, his conscience. One of the jurymen at the trial of the bishops was the King’s brewer; he was supposed to have said that if he voted for the bishops, he would never brew for the King again and if he voted against them, he would brew for no one else. The rumour that the Prince of Wales was suppositious was widely believed, in spite of all the witnesses carefully summoned by the King and all the official rejoicing. ‘Be it a true child or not,’ it was reported to William Bentinck, ‘the people will never believe jt.’ When D’Albeville, the English ambassador in Holland, gave a banquet followed by fireworks to celebrate the happy event it was boycotted by the Dutch and by other Protestant diplomatists at The Hague. Princess Mary had made searching inquiries of her sister Anne about the genuineness of the birth, and afterwards prayers for the Prince ceased in the royal Dutch chapel. It was felt by many that the English Court had concocted a wicked plot to deprive William and Mary of their right to succeed and that they might well take action to enforce their right, On June 18, 1688, a week after the birth, James Johnstone wrote: ‘the people have got a foolish maggot in their heads that the Prince is coming over with an army (and at Court they say if ever he comes, he must come now). Furthermore, ‘the rabble in the country’ were saying that they hoped Prince William would bring over the Duke of Monmouth with him; for ‘they neither believed in his death nor in the Prince of Wales’s life’.
Such rumours were confined neither to ‘the people’ nor ‘the rabble’. On August 7 Dr. Tenison, then the vicar of St. Martin’sin-the-Fields, London, and afterwards an archbishop of Canterbury, told one of his friends that the Prince of Orange ‘intended to come over with an army to our relief’; three days later he repeated the same story to Sir John Evelyn, who noted it in his diary. Others besides the Immortal Seven knew about the invitation to William; for not only Nottingham and Halifax but the Duke of Ormonde and other peers were certainly sounded. In the middle of August when Louis XW sent Bonrepaus as his special envoy on his third mission to England he told King James II that the Prince of Orange had ‘fifty-one warships ready for a descent on England’. His information was reasonably exact; for by the third week of August William had finally made up his mind to go forward with the operation and was completing his plans.
In England, then, these summer months were filled with doubts, fears and confusion. The Earl of Sunderland, a politician of cynicism and acumen, tried at one and the same time to strengthen his personal position and to modify and guide James’s policies. Sunderland attained his first objective by at last declaring himself to be a Roman Catholic. Nobody seemed to be much impressed by his conversion, but it did the trick with the King and Queen. Sunderland then again tried hard to persuade James to reduce his demands for the repeal of the Tests, pointing out how deeply Anglicans had been upset by the trial of the bishops and how much the Roman Catholic dynasty had been fortified by his having a son. But James was not to be shifted from his goal. He still hoped to use the dissenters as a counter-balance to the Anglicans: three nonconformists were introduced into his Privy Council and parliamentary agents were sent around the constituencies to report upon the attitude of the dissenters. But, according to Evelyn, it was feared that the nonconformists might have been unduly affected by the trial of the bishops and the subsequent threats to punish the clergy and have been induced to believe that the King’s aim was ‘to extirpate the Church of England’ first and themselves afterwards. Halifax told William of Orange on July z: ‘I look upon it [the prosecution of the bishops] as that which bath brought all the Protestants together and bound them into a knot that cannot easily be untied.’ In his own Letter to a Dissenter, a scintillating anonymous pamphlet, Halifax himself had helped to tie the knot.
Over foreign affairs James and Sunderland were faced with an awkward dilemma. If the rumours were true and the Dutch were contemplating an immediate attack on England, then they urgently needed the help of France. On the other hand, if they openly sought and accepted French assistance, would not that provoke the Dutch and upset their own people? They therefore decided to refuse Louis XIV’s offer of naval support and let it be known to the Dutch ambassador. They did what they could to increase their own resources; they pushed on with the formation of the new regiments; they sent out officers to inspect fortifications; the King himself visited the Buoy of the Nore to review his fleet; and Sir Roger Strickland undertook cruises in the North Sea.
At first the royal Government was lulled into a renewed sense of security by Dutch assurances, but by August it felt scared for a number of reasons. The English ambassador in Holland came over to London and expressed his considered view that a Dutch invasion of England was imminent. The blatant way in which William and Mary had thrown doubts on the genuineness of the Prince of Wales provided good grounds for suspecting their intentions. Then towards the end of the month Bonrepaus arrived in London with instructions to say that it was certain that the Dutch armaments were meant for use against England and to try to arouse James from his ‘surprising lethargy’. But before he saw the King, James had acted. All naval leave was stopped and army officers sent to join their garrisons. Arrangements were made to fit out fresh warships and call up more men; Lord Dartmouth as an experienced naval officer was sent to inspect the fortifications at Chatham; and more readiness was expressed to consider French help.
When Bonrepaus saw the King of England on August 28 he told him bluntly that if he did not believe that the Prince of Orange was preparing to attack him, he was the only person in Europe who was of this opinion. Three days later James confided to the French special envoy that he planned to divide a navy of thirty-two warships and ten fireships between the Downs and Portsmouth and was ready to contemplate a treaty embodying the former offer of cooperation from sixteen French ships, based on Brest. Bonrepaus in fact offered eleven men-of-war and three fireships, and a treaty was actually drawn up, though both the numbers of ships and the date of their joining were left blank.
But ten days later the whole scare was over. James and Sunderland had decided to make it known that a Parliament would definitely be called in November and thought that the announcement would soothe public opinion. They did not believe that there was any likelihood of rebellion at home—with the memories of the Duke of Monmouth’s failure still fresh in people’s minds—and without help from at home they did not see how the Dutch could effect a landing. Finally the news that Louis XIV was beginning to mobilize troops on the Lower Rhine was thought to be quite enough to keep William of Orange in Holland.
Contradictory rumours continued to float around, notably among the ladies. On August 25 the Countess of Rutland was informed by a newsletter sent to her at Belvoir that ‘the Prince of Orange hath written a very obliging letter to his Majesty to assure him that the States-General hath not the least thought of being the aggressors at this juncture’ and would act only defensively. Yet a week later the Countess of Sunderland was writing to Sidney from Windsor to say that ‘there was talk more than ever of the Dutch invading’. At the same time the French changed their minds about the Dutch intentions. On August 29 the French Minister of Marine, Seignelay, wrote to Bonrepaus that ‘intelligence from Holland suggests that the Prince of Orange would not attempt anything against England this year’, since he had insufficient resources and sailors. Seignelay had already refused to make any precise commitment about the strength of the naval help he could provide and had inquired why James II had not sent for his Irish troops. In any case the French King had little intention of giving James much by way of assistance because he was already too involved in Germany. On August 19 Bonrepaus had been instructed by Louis XIV to ask what arrangements the King of England had made for his safety in case he was unfortunately (par malheur) abandoned by his subjects 1119 So on September 3 the meaningless draft naval treaty was signed, and Bonrepaus left England, after reporting home: ‘On est persuade ifi sur los derniers avis d’Hollandc quo le Prince d’Orange n’entreprendra rica cette année.’
But meanwhile the French had put their foot into it, so far as King James was concerned. Sir Bevil Skelton, the English ambassador at Paris (who had formerly served without success in Holland), had suggested of his own accord to the French King that it would be helpful if the French made a diplomatic démarche at The Hague. Louis XIV decided to act on his advice; on August 30 D’Avaux presented a memorial from the French King to the States-General warning them that if an attack were made on England such an action would involve them in a rupture with France. When the text of the memorial was received in London James and Sunderland were furious, for they realized at once that the implication of the memorial that a secret Anglo-French affiance already existed, was calculated to arouse and not to damp the Dutch offensive intentions. D’Albeville was ordered to deny that there were any secret treaties between England and France. Skelton was told to come home without even taking leave of the French King, and as soon as he arrived he was lodged in the Tower of London for his pains. James and Sunderland acted out of fright. Then for the time being they shut their eyes to the situation and turned over to pottering about with preparations for the promised meeting of Parliament in the autumn. Writs were to be issued on September 19. In a way they were right to do this, for a session of Parliament might have spiked the guns of the conspirators and made the position delicate for Prince William. When Van Citters returned to London in the middle of September he was able to report that ‘although the fright has somewhat subsided on my arrival, yet the King’s uneasiness remains1.21 Indeed he thought that James was anxious to be placatory. By his treatment of Skelton he had publicly repudiated D’Avaux and the idea of an Anglo-French plot against the United Netherlands, and he assured the Dutch that his fleet’s movements were purely defensive.
But James did not recover his nerve for long. On September 15 Louis XIV had written to Barrillon ordering him to announce in England that the French Army was besieging Phuippsburg in the Palatinate, over 200 miles from the Dutch frontiers; and that he felt himself at present in no need to make war on the Dutch. This crossed a dispatch from Barrillon to his King dated September 13/23 in which he reported that James now believed that William was planning an invasion, though he felt sure it could not succeed. James admitted that his fleet was too small to defend his kingdom, but he had a strong army, of which seven thousand men were concentrated in the London area, while reinforcements could quickly be brought over from Ireland. Those who were suspected of disaffection would, he said, be immediately put under arrest if William attempted to come over, but James was quite sure that, as with Monmouth, the expedition would fail. D’Albevile had meanwhile seen William and been unable to extract from him a satisfactory denial that he was embarking troops. Further dispatches received by Barrillon and another dispatch from D’Albeville finally convinced the English Government that invasion was imminent. On September 18 Evelyn took note of a panic in Whitehall over a report that William had already landed. The King, who had gone to Chatham to inspect the ships fitting out there, was hastily recalled to London on September 20. Later there was another panic in Whitehall over a report that the Dutch fleet was approaching the English coast and that an army of ten to twelve thousand men was ready to embark. On September 24 a letter from The Hague forecast that the invasion would take place in a fortnight. The King hastily appointed his Protestant friend Dartmouth as admiral of his fleet over the head of the Roman Catholic Strickland, and sent for the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London to tell them of his fears. Finally on September 28 a royal proclamation gave the news to the kingdom at large, announcing that the Government had ‘received notice of a great and sudden invasion from Holland purposing an absolute conquest of these kingdoms’. [Appendix E.]
Meanwhile William of Orange had his own anxieties. Ever since the death of the Elector of Cologne he had been obliged to look in two different directions and to wonder what the attitude of his own people was going to be when they knew about his plan to invade England. Although his own personal group of advisers—Fagel, Bentinck, Dijkvelt, Zuylestein, Waldeck—trusted him, timorous voices were raised on both sides of the North Sea. Halifax continued to insist that it was best to sit still and do nothing. Danby, one of the signatories of the letter of invitation, began to grow nervous and think it was wiser to postpone action until the next spring. But Fagel was firm. On August 21 William wrote to Bentinck to say that ‘the Pensionary’s reasons for undertaking the great affair at once are absolutely convincing’. William still feared a war on two fronts, now that Louis XIV was committed to war in Germany: on August 25 the Prince confessed to Bentinck that he was afraid that their plan might fail and that in consequence they would find themselves involved in a great war. In his next letter to Bentinck, who was also obsessed by private cares, as his wife was slowly dying, William expressed concern over ‘the timidity of Amsterdam and irresolution which might endanger their success’. Supposing the fleet were not ready in time? Even then insufficient soldiers and sailors had been recruited. Fagel, however, was a pillar of strength, fertile in expedients; if Amsterdam would not pay for the hiring of German troops, for example, then perhaps Leiden would do so.
It is evident that from the first William hoped for a bloodless success in England. Admiral Arthur Herbert, who was the commander-elect of the invasion fleet, was told more than once that he was to avoid battle if possible and that his primary task was to escort the troop transports in safety. ‘If anything happens to the fleet,’ wrote William on September 6, ‘all would be lost.’ He hoped that Herbert’s personal popularity with English sailors, the dubious loyalty of the English fleet to their King, who had tried to force popery upon his naval commanders, and the general demoralization of the English people would ensure an unopposed sailing and landing. William drafted a letter addressed to the English fleet in these terms:
With an exaggerated flourish he added that the English people would be enslaved by the Popish Irish and foreigners and that their destruction would be completed unless he were allowed to rescue them.
By now William had made known his intentions to his own people. Fagel had prepared the way. On September 19 the States of Holland gave their consent to the plan and on September 28 the States-General approved the expedition. Thus on September 30/October 10 William took off the mask. He published a declaration to the people of England of a purely propagandist character. [Appendix D] No doubt it had been drafted for him by his English advisers: Sidney, who arrived in Holland in the middle of August, had an important hand in it; but so had others: it was rather long-winded and over-detailed after the fashion of Dr. Burnet. The declaration condemned the introduction of ‘arbitrary government and slavery’; it criticized the appointment of papists to civil and military offices; it insisted that the birth of the Prince of Wales was an imposture; and it announced that William’s aim was to protect the legitimate right of succession. All the blame for the attack on the laws and liberties of the English people was laid upon the ‘evil counsellors’ of James II who, it was implied, would be punished once a free and lawful Parliament had been called. Thus it appeared to give the English King the option, if he would accept the advice of good Protestants, instead of evil ‘papists’, of at least continuing to reign.
William believed that he was pushing against an open door. His intelligence services suggested that his operation would succeed because the King and his people were disunited. On September 21 the Imperial envoy in London had written to his master that James II ‘had against him all the clergy, all the nobility and all the people (das ganze Volk) and all the army and the navy with a few exceptions…’. On September 24 James rather pathetically asked his brother-in-law, the Earl of Clarendon, who had no reason to love him and knew the invasion was coming, what the Church of England men would do. He answered rather sourly: ‘Your majesty will see, they will behave themselves like honest men; though they have been somewhat severely used of late.’ The Earl of Sunderland, so long the trusted chief minister of the Crown, completely lost his nerve. He told Barrillon ‘that the King could do nothing in his present state but escape the best way he could, for he had no hope of outside aid, and he might well be driven from England in a week’. Lord Chancellor Jeffreys told Clarendon: ‘all was nought; some rogues had changed the King’s mind [about compromise]: that he would yield nothing to the bishops; that the Virgin Mary was to do all. That was recorded on September 27, the day before James published his royal proclamation appealing to the loyalty of his subjects.
In fact the King was now driven to compromise. For other measures besides naval and military precautions then announced by the King were the withdrawal of the writs then issued for the calling of a Parliament intended to repeal the Tests, the return of the forfeited Charter of the City of London, a promise to restore the ejected Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford, and the taking off of the suspension of the Bishop of London. These concessions to public opinion were more significant of James’s fears than of his generosity of spirit, and did not impress his critics. For if the mere rumour of approaching invasion by the Dutch were sufficient to bring about such a sharp reversal of his policies, might not larger benefits be expected if William actually landed? Barrillon thought so: ‘many people,’ he reported, ‘say they are due to fear of the Prince of Orange and it is he who should be thanked for them.’ The Countess of Sunderland wrote: ‘God direct us all for the best and grant that we may not defer our repentance until it is too late, as I fear His Majesty’s good deeds are.’ One wonders what her husband, that recent Roman Catholic convert, thought of these high-sounding reflections by his wife.
It was at this very moment, as September drew to its close, that William learned that the King of France had declared war on the Emperor and was sending troops to the Palatinate as well as Cologne. Already William was being asked to lend Dutch assistance to Germany. But he relied upon his old friend the Prince of Waldeck to deal with the German situation. He had made up his mind to go to England and would not be held back or diverted from it. He told Waldeck that he would send him artillery and money and ordered him to strengthen the defences of Nymegen. On October 3 Dr. Gilbert Burnet wrote that the ‘great design’ was about to be undertaken by a prince who had been chosen by Providence to do wonders. ‘If he manages the English nation as dexterously as he hath done the Dutch,’ he added, ‘he will be the arbiter of Europe and will very quickly bring Lewis the Great to a much humbler posture.’
But the operation had still to be carried out across the autumn seas in the teeth of King James II’s fleet and army. The Royal Navy might be numerically smaller than that of the Dutch, but the army was a strong and professional one. How loyal would these soldiers and sailors be? Would the nobility and gentlemen of England in the last resort betray their anointed monarch? William might, as was generally believed, have assembled four or five hundred ships to carry over a large army of Dutch, Germans, French, English and others under the guard of the Dutch fleet. ‘But we hope,’ observed one loyal letter-writer in England at the same time as Dr. Burnet was pledging his faith in the adventure, ‘they reckon without their host, and that England and its old renown is not yet sunk so low as to be made a prey to such mongrel invaders.’