THE ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 was a decisive event in the history of modern Europe and also of the English-speaking world; for it changed the character of English government, gave meaning to a political philosophy and contributed to the working out of a balance of power among nations. Its hero was Prince William Ill of Orange, who was to become King William III of England; its villain—or victim—was King James II of England who was also King James VII of Scots. James was not only the uncle but also was the father-in-law of William who, as a result of the Revolution, replaced him on the thrones of England and Scotland.
The causes of the Revolution stretch far back into English history, at least as far as the Protestant Reformation; its consequences have endured until present times. Traditionally it has been presented as a triumph for the purity of constitutional law over a blatant and outrageous attempt at its perversion, a reaffirmation of the liberties of the English people after the exercise by a monarch of unbridled arbitrary power. That has been called ‘the Whig interpretation’ which extends from those who wrote about the Revolution soon after it took place to the late Dr. G. M. Trevelyan whose popular account was published in 1938.
But to other twentieth-century historians it has appeared as a ‘respectable revolution’, an upper-class revolution, which left the integrity of the Stuart monarchy almost unimpaired: a slow and sober development of the inevitable forces of history, following accepted lines and scarcely deserving the title of a revolution at all. Yet history is, after all, the story of human beings, of individuals, as well as of the classes and the masses. These two princes, nephew and uncle, who were the leading actors in the drama, were both men of ideals as well as of human weaknesses, and both were politicians, though one was clever and the other rather stupid. Let us take a look at them first before examining the background and telling the story of the Revolution of 1688.
William of Orange was the great-grandson of William the Silent, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau, who fought for the political independence of the Netherlands against the tyranny of Spain. But in his blood too was mingled that of the Stuarts, the Scottish kings who succeeded Elizabeth Tjior on the English throne. William III’s mother was a daughter of King Charles I of England, a princess who never adapted herself, or tried to adapt herself, to Dutch ways. The principality of Orange that he inherited was merely a small enclave in southern France, of little territorial or economic significance. But the Nassau inheritance was a rich one. Thus the princes of Orange enjoyed a title that gave them honour and a property that afforded them wealth. All of them indeed were cosmopolitan figures and William III especially so. William the Silent had been the protégé and servant of the Spanish King Charles I. As a boy William III himself had at times been the personal concern both of the King of England, his uncle, and of the King of France, his self-appointed ‘tutor’ for the principality of Orange. William’s grandmother was a strong-minded German princess, Amalia of Soims-Braunfelt. Her nephew, another of William’s uncles, was Frederick William, the ‘Great Elector’ of Brandenburg, the forefather of the Hohenzollern dynasty of Prussian kings. Through his mother William was descended also from King Henry IV of France.
But though he was of mixed descent, he was a Dutchman by Jbirth, through his father’s line, and because of his upbringing. His father, William II of Orange, and his grandfather, Prince Frederick Henry, had both been Stadholders or executive officers of Holland and other Dutch Provinces as well as Captains-General and Admirals of the Dutch Union. But they had been the servants, not the masters of the Dutch republic. Neither the Stadholderate nor the Captain-Generalship was a hereditary office.
Both William’s grandfather and father had been extremely ambitious Statesmen, who, because of the latter’s marriage to Princess Mary of England in 1641, were committed to the cause of the Stuarts. Prince William II had done everything he could to help his father-in-law, the unfortunate King Charles I, who lost both his throne and his head as a result of the civil wars in England. William II had been opposed in his political schemes by the Regents of Holland, the single-minded bourgeois class of oligarchs whose aim was, above all, national peace and prosperity, not international glory or foreign wars. In support of his plans William II had in August 1650 seized six leading Dutch Regents, including Jacob de Witt, the Pensionary of Dordrecht, and imprisoned them in Loevestein castle. But the coup d’etat failed and soon afterwards he died.
So William III, who was born a posthumous son on November 4, 1650, eight days after his father’s death, inherited his father’s acquired unpopularity with the Regent class or ‘Loevestein party’. These oligarchs professed themselves afraid of one-man rule by yet another member of the princely family that recently had proved itself far too attached to its own interests and those of the Stuarts. Indeed William’s widowed mother, who had never cared for the Dutch, threw herself wholeheartedly into the support of her exiled brother, the future Charles II of England. She sold all she could spare to obtain money for his purposes. She entertained him, and followed him around Europe. In a famous letter she said—lightheartedly perhaps—that she loved this brother more than she did her only son.
Thus in the early years of his life Prince William III had no father and rarely saw his mother. Moreover he was without honours in his own country. Under pressure from the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who feared the Oranges’ aid to the royal Stuarts, he was banned from election to the Stadholderate or Captain-Generalship of the State of Holland by an Act of Seclusion. For his education he was given into the hands of his grandmother’s secretary and a Dutch Calvinist pastor. But he was at least not encumbered with the all-embracing classical education so acceptable to the English upper classes. Instead he received instruction in modern history and military science. He learned French, German and English as well as Dutch. He read Italian and Spanish. Mathematics, geography and Latin were also inculcated. For a time he pursued these studies in the university town of Leiden. It was a broad and useful education. His amusements included tennis, fencing and hunting, which he adored, like all the Stuarts.
As he was to confess later, William was a lonely youth. In 166o, after Charles II had been restored to his throne, his mother hastened over to England to see her favourite brother and collect her debts, to be struck down with small-pox and to die there. Though in her will Charles II was asked to take responsibility for this ten-year-old orphan, the Dutch Regents would not acquiesce in that and for a time his guardianship in effect devolved upon his grandmother, the Dowager Princess Amalia, while an illegitimate uncle was appointed to be his governor; but finally in 1666, as William approached manhood, the State of Holland decided to make itself directly responsible for the upbringing of the Prince of Orange and he became a ‘Child of State’. Thenceforward John de Witt, the Grand Pensionary of Holland, son of the Regent who had been imprisoned in Loevestein castle by William’s father, took a personal interest in the completion of the young man’s education. Perhaps he hoped to make a better Dutchman of him than his parents had been. By now William had been fully instructed in the Reformed or Calvinist religion, the official religion of the Dutch republic, which conferred on him a melancholy outlook tempered by a glowing belief in Providence. But from Dc Witt he received political and constitutional lessons, though, unlike Cardinal Mazarin in France, from whom King Louis XIV had been receiving lessons in the mysteries of government, De Witt did not dream that one day his pupil would supplant him. It was a curious relationship. Yet can it be doubted that De Witt’s teaching took root?
A striking portrait of Prince William at the age of eleven exists in Haarlem attributed to his drawing master. It shows him to have been slim, dark, pale and handsome with a thoughtful look on his face: he is pictured, appropriately enough, in ceremonial armour. His large and brilliant eyes and aquiline or hooked nose were noted by all observers. At fifteen he was described as vigorous and tall, though in fact he was never much over five feet six inches high. In his twenties he was struck down with small-pox, the scourge of his times. According to Dr. Gilbert Burnet, who came to know him well, he was always asthmatical ‘and the dregs of the small-pox falling on his lungs, he had a constant deep cough’. Others have thought him to have been tubercular. One foreigner observed that ‘his life always hung by a thread’.
As to William’s character, Sir William Temple, for a time the English ambassador at The Hague, commended his ‘good plain sense’, but unquestionably he was a self-possessed and passionate young man, with a formidable will-power. He told the Marquis of Halifax in later life that he had ‘a great jealousy of being thought to be governed’. But at an early age he taught himself to control his temper and conceal his emotions. Far from insensitive to what went on around him, he was normally withdrawn and grave, and rarely gay. Yet he relaxed among his own intimates. Dr. Burnet, who did not find him very affable (but then William thought Burnet was a tedious busybody), admitted the Prince could be cheerful ‘with a few’, while the Prince himself confessed that he had ‘naturally an aversion to talk with many together . . . he loveth single conversations’. With his favourites, William Bentinck, his boyhood page, with Elizabeth Villiers, his only known mistress, and with Arnold Joost van Keppel, the handsome substitute-son of his widowerhood, he was more open and friendly: at least that may be inferred from some of his letters.
The qualities that built William into a statesman were his immense self-control and self-assurance, his aptitude for hard and thorough work, his strength of character, fired by an inner passion, his amazing memory, his power to concentrate on essentials, and his consciousness of his destiny, derived from a Presbyterian upbringing. It was complained that he was slow in reaching decisions, but once he had taken them, he stuck to them. Always he was eager to learn. That was what prompted his first visit to England when he was twenty. He was anxious to see for himself the land of his mother and of his own country’s enemies and trade rivals. His uncle, Charles II, then hoped to mould the Prince according to his own wishes. He made, it was said, ‘uncommon much of his nephew’ and later hints came William’s way that he might be a welcome suitor for his cousin, the Princess Mary, James’s daughter, who was still a child. William kept his thoughts on this subject to himself. The French ambassador, then in London, noted that ‘he was of a humour naturally solitary and retiring’. His family still had too many critics in Holland to permit him to drop his guard. For a young man he was supremely cautious.
When William paid his first visit to England in November 1670, King Charles II had already concluded with King Louis XIV a secret treaty at Dover whereby he pledged himself to take part in a joint attack on the United Netherlands and to divide the spoils with France. The French King sought revenge for the Dutch diplomatic intervention against him earlier; the English King anticipated some profitable pickings. To pave the way for this piece of highway robbery of the Protestant Dutch, Charles had told the French King and also confided to his brother James that he was ready to declare himself a Roman Catholic and lead his kingdom back into the papal fold. The French King at the time was more eager for the use of Charles’s navy than for the salvation of his soul. Part of the original scheme of these two royal conspirators was that Prince William should be bribed to agree to their military plot with the offer of the ‘sovereignty’ over such Dutch territory as remained after its partition. That, it was believed, would be an overwhelming temptation to a young Prince whose ancestors had never before enjoyed supreme power or indeed held higher office than that of Captain-General or Stadholder.
Once the assault by French troops and English warships came in 1672, the Dutch citizens—in spite of all the precautions taken by John de Witt and the Loevestein or Republican party—called upon Prince William, who, they hoped, was stamped with the genius of his ancestors, to head their resistance to the Anglo-French invasion. The orthodox ministers of the Reformed Church gave him their blessing: he was their predestined leader. Captain-General at last, William then revealed his ruthlessness as a statesman. The Orangist partisans who had continued to exist and to drink William’s health in secret ever since he was a child now broke into the open. De Witt, who had for so long tried to exclude the Prince from office, was held up to obloquy. William published a letter in which his uncle had squarely placed the blame for the outbreak of what was in fact an unprovoked war on John de Witt. Thus the Prince deliberately allowed public indignation to be worked up against this loyal servant of the republic; when, soon afterwards, Dc Witt and his brother were murdered, the assassins were not prosecuted and indeed some of those who were implicated were rewarded and promoted. It may well be, however, that William honestly considered that the De Witts had betrayed their country by the former alliance they had made with the French. He himself was to prove single-minded in his patriotism and in his distrust of France. He loved the Dutch and was true to the example of independence set by his ancestors.
William the Silent, like his great-grandson, had been the subject of temptations. But when he had been offered terms by Spain for his own benefit if he would abandon the fight for Dutch independence he had declared himself to be ‘the servant and elected defender of the Estates of Holland’. In the same way when, 100 years later, after the first disastrous campaign of this war of 1672, Charles II of England had sent a delegation to offer his nephew personal sovereignty as the price of surrender, William answered that ‘he liked better the condition of Stadholder which they had given him, and that he believed himself obliged in conscience and honour not to prefer his interest before his obligation’. Temple tells us that he spoke even more clearly and simply: ‘I will never betray the trust that I was given nor sell the liberties of my country that my ancestors have so long defended.’
Yet the methods that William used to achieve his high aims were frequently unscrupulous. Outwardly reserved, austere, taciturn, aloof, William employed every devious weapon in the politician’s armoury, intrigue, bribery, party jobbery. He was no democrat. At home he was ready to allow the existing political system to continue so long as his own direction of military and foreign affairs was accepted. Abroad he worked ceaselessly for the security of his country. He had his network of agents and spies both in the Netherlands and in England. He once declared that he ‘would think no more of doing things popular but doing what was right’; yet, at the same time, he cynically confessed that ‘the world is a beast that must be cozened before it is tamed’.
His period of tutelage during the Stadholderless period had lasted for twenty-two years and taught him ingenuity and restraint in his political dealings. After his call to power in 1672, like William the Silent before him William III of Orange defended his country heroically from behind the water line. He was not to become an outstanding soldier, but, like George Washington later, he never knew when he was beaten. The French retreated: the English withdrew from the contest; German allies were acquired. The war continued with many changes of fortune. Gradually European opinion was marshalled on the side of the victims of French aggression. But the Dutch Regents—the oligarchic rulers of Holland and other States who gathered in the States-General to determine foreign policy—did not want the war to be prolonged indefinitely. Their aim was a quiet and cultured life in their richly-furnished houses, not war a l’outranee for some distant and obscure ideal. Even Prince William’s most intimate advisers, like Caspar Fagel, who succeeded the murdered De Witt as Grand Pensionary of Holland, turned against him. Stiffly and bitterly William went on fighting to the end. He had said in 1673 that he would be the enemy of France as long as he lived. Fifteen years later, after he had successfully invaded England to achieve the Glorious Revolution, that concept remained the driving force behind all his policies. As to war with France, Halifax was to observe after the Revolution had been completed, ‘his eagerness that way never ceased; it was a question whether that thought was not the greatest inducement to his undertaking’.
James, Duke of York, was seventeen years older than his nephew: the second son of King Charles I and his French wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, he was exactly nine when, together with his elder brother, he became in 1642 a spectator at the first big battle of the English civil war, fought at Edgehill. He spent the formative years of his boyhood in the city of Oxford, then less a university town of dreaming spires and intellectual aspirations than the royalist military headquarters. When his father had fled in disguise and the city surrendered to the Roundheads in 1646, James became a prisoner in honourable captivity at St. James’s Palace in London. Thence after various attempts to escape he finally got away disguised as a girl, to join his sister, the mother of Prince William of Orange, at The Hague.
Thus the Prince was ‘much neglected in his childhood’. Nor can he have enjoyed a very thorough education in war-scarred Oxford. His relations with his mother, whom he later joined in Paris, were ambivalent: at any rate they did not get along well together. Disobediently he left her side, but was forced by his elder brother to return. Nobody wanted a penniless and exiled prince. Eventually when he was eighteen he enlisted in the French Army as a volunteer and the happiest years of his life were those which he passed fighting under the famous Marshal Turenne. Whether, as Dr. Burnet asserts, Turenne really ‘said often of him, “There was the greatest prince, and like to be the best general of his time”‘ must be doubted; but he certainly praised the young prince. And James learned something of the science of warfare, as one can see by reading his dull and detailed memoirs of those campaigns.
After the Paris Government broke with King Charles II of England, James reluctantly left the French Army and joined the Spanish. On his return to England with his restored brother in 166o James actively assumed the position of Lord High Admiral of England, which he had held since he was a baby, and actually fought at sea in critical battles at the beginning of each of two wars against the Dutch. James has not lacked his modern admirers. ‘He was a prince of firm integrity,’ writes Sir Arthur Bryant, ‘a strong religious faith, a loyal master and friend and . . . a fine administrator, especially in naval and military matters in which from his earliest years he had had much experience.’ But Samuel Pepys, who served him in the Admiralty after the Restoration, was not impressed by his capabilities, and though he later became more assiduous in his administrative duties, he never acquired much technical naval knowledge except perhaps as a navigator. And if he achieved more fighting experience than most modern English monarchs, he revealed little evidence of skill as a commander.
The truth was that after years of penury and exile James on his return to England set out to make up for lost time by enjoying himself in his own rather narrow way. His two passions were women and hunting. King Charles once said to a French ambassador, Courtin: ‘I do not believe that there are two men who love women more than you and I do, but my brother, devout as’ he is, loves them more.’ On the eve of the Restoration he fell in love with Anne Hyde, the daughter of the Lord Chancellor, whose qualities, James wrote in his memoirs, were ‘capable of surprising a heart less inclinable to Sex than was that of his Royal Highness in the first warmth of his youth’. Just before she gave birth to their child, James married her, whether at his own wish or on his brother’s insistence is not clear. At any rate his marriage did not interrupt his other sexual activities. Lord Ailesbury, who knew him well, wrote long afterwards that ‘in former days he had been very amorous more out of a natural temper than for the genteel part of making love which he was much a stranger to’. ‘Quickly,’ noted Dr. Burnet severely, he ‘ran into amours and vice.’
Prince James is said to have been one of the first English exponents of fox-hunting. During the interval between being a soldier and a sailor, he occupied much of his time in the hunting field or the bed-chamber. All that would have been unimportant if he had not allowed his ‘vices’ to prey on his mind. Attracted to the Roman Catholic religion when he and his first wife were in Brussels before their marriage, he finally became ‘a hearty penitent’. When he was in his middle thirties he was converted. First he gave up taking the sacraments according to the rites of the Church of England; then he ceased attending its services altogether. His new faith became common knowledge when he resigned the post of Lord High Admiral after the first Test Act, forbidding Roman Catholics to hold public office, was passed in 1673. He came to believe that the only road to forgiveness and salvation was through his Church. His policy as King, as we shall observe later, was determined by his desire to obtain equal rights for his fellow-religionists. One of his intimates then wrote, ‘If he had the empire of the whole world, he would venture the loss of it, for his ambition is to shine in a red letter after he is dead.
James therefore took his pleasures sadly and grew increasingly conscious of the wrath of God. Whereas William of Orange felt that Providence guided his every footstep, James thought that Providence inspected his and sometimes disapproved. He could only hope, not blithely as his elder brother did, but mournfully that his sins would be forgiven him. When he was a boy he was said to have been ‘fair and handsome’, rather dashing, speaking fluent French; and not without admirers at his mother’s Court. He had a long jaw and a narrow nose. The contrast between his youthful and later portraits is noticeable. He became increasingly more arrogant and disagreeable-looking as he grew older. Unlike his brother, he was rarely light-hearted or good-humoured or able to laugh things off. He treated himself and his offices with gravity. And he was exceptionally obstinate.
His stubbornness was remarked upon by all who discussed him. ‘He suffers very impatiently the least contradiction,’ wrote a French ambassador in London, ‘he is very, pleased at being complimented on bold displays of power’; another noted that he was ‘firm to the point of pig-headedness’. As King he was to be haughty, lacking in self-control, proud, quick to punish, though capable of showing mercy less out of a sense of justice than as a noble demonstration of his own might. But whether, as some said, he was a strong man is questionable. Obstinacy is not strength. Certainly he learned again and again to obey his brother. Even before Charles II got back his throne, he insisted on James doing what he was told: for example, to rejoin his mother when he was a boy, to leave the French Army when he was twenty-two, to dismiss servants and advisers of whom his brother disapproved. Later he was twice obliged by the King to give up his active command at sea even when he was ‘master of our whole sea force’. In theory, it is true, he did not approve of showing weakness. In his memoirs he condemned his father, taking his mother’s side in the belief that the civil war would never have come about, or been lost by the royalists when it did, if a tough policy had been followed. Inevitably, in view of the impressions garnered in his youthful and formative years, James disliked Parliament and distrusted puritans. ‘I know the English,’ he told the French ambassador immediately after he became king, ‘you must not show them any fear in the beginning.
The attempts that were made in Parliament, after his known conversion to Roman Catholicism, to exclude Prince James from the succession to the throne merely sharpened his dislike of the institution as such. ‘The Exclusion Bill,’ he wrote in July 1679, ‘destroys the very being of the monarchy, which, I thank God, yet has had no dependency on parliaments nor on nothing but God alone, nor never can, and be a monarchy.’ These exclusionist Parliaments, he thought, aimed at nothing less than the destruction of monarchy and ‘to -set England aflame again’. Like his grandfather, he clung to the divine right of kings. Like Queen Elizabeth I, he believed that Parliaments should be obedient and be kept in order.
But if, theoretically, James wanted to act as a strong man and a strong king, hard yet wise, if he was anxious to show himself capable of ‘bold displays of power’ and to be the master of his Parliaments, he was lacking in those absolute requiites of statesmanship: resilience, adaptability, tact. He possessed qualities which for a time commanded respect. He was accessible. Unlike most of the Stuarts, he was pretty loyal to his advisers and servants. He did not penalize men who failed him. As a king he was methodical, diligent and conscientious over reading papers, seeing ambassadors, inspecting troops. Genuinely proud of his country, he wryly praised the prowess of English soldiers or sailors who defeated his side in battle. He had, it was said, ‘a true English spirit’. Indeed Lord Ailesbury, the author of this tribute, thought he had ‘all the moral virtues’, was ‘a most sober prince’ and ‘a great and good Englishman’. Certainly his innate stubbornness would never have permitted him to become the mere officer of either the Pope or the French King.
Yet with all his patriotism, all his pride, all his obstinacy, James was a lath painted to look like iron. William of Orange might be slow to make up his mind, but once decided he acted ruthlessly and effectively. James turned from one set of advisers to another; he looked for counsel, for support, for consolation. Largely he depended on his wives. His first wife, whom he commended in his memoirs, managed his private business affairs and probably took him into the Roman Catholic Church. An Italian envoy noted of his young and beautiful second wife, Mary Beatrice of Modena, whom he married in 1673, that ‘the Duke loves her tenderly, and does nothing without informing her’. Indeed he was not a little afraid of her. When they were in exile together after the Revolution, it was she who tried to incite him to regain his throne.
James long enjoyed excellent health. He hunted until the end of his days. He outlived his elder daughter and nearly succeeded in. surviving her husband. The idea that has been put forward in explanation of his failure as a king that he suffered from some obscure mental disease is hard to prove or accept. What he lacked, like so many of his family, was moral courage and intellectual ability. An astute French observer wrote in December 1687, on the very eve of the Revolution: ‘les lumières tie son esprit tie sont pas fort étendues ‘. That perhaps best sums up the character of King James II.
In the autumn of 1677 Prince William sought the hand of his cousin Mary, Prince James’s elder daughter, in marriage. As has been noted, the first suggestion of this alliance had come from the English side. King Charles H’s motives were clear: he hoped to bind his nephew to his interests and at the same time impress upon his Parliament, which had sat ever since his accession, that he was neither the sycophant of France nor, as had naturally been rumoured since the signature of the treaty of Dover, a Roman Catholic in disguise. For his part William had heard good reports of his cousin, who was in fact to grow into a beautiful woman and a devoted wife, but he had also hoped to wean his royal uncle from his former ties with France. When he visited England for a second time, in 1677, in pursuit of marriage, William was utterly determined that it should be a marriage without conditions. He was still fighting against France and had no intention of being forced into accepting Louis XIV’s peace terms as the price of a dynastic alliance with the English Crown.
Under pressure Charles II yielded the point. No sooner had the wedding been celebrated (November 4) than Prince William quickly took his fifteen-year-old bride back home. The doubtful party to This transaction was the bride’s father, James, Duke of York. For James had even hoped at one time that Mary might marry the Dauphin, heir to the French throne. Even if she could not acquire so splendid a prospect, surely she might have been found a Roman Catholic husband and thus be wedded to the true faith? But, as usual, James did as his brother ordered and indeed boasted that he thus was setting a good example of obedience to the King’s less exalted subjects. It was not because James was in any sense a French client or agent that he hesitated over agreeing to the marriage; on the contrary. He had, or thought he had, the best interests of his daughter at heart. In the following year he even hoped that Charles might place him in command of an English expeditionary army to be sent over to the United Netherlands to fight alongside his son-in-law and compel the mighty Louis XIV to accept peace in Europe. That was not to be. But for the eleven years that were to follow, the paths of William of Orange and his father-in-law were intertwined and not to be finally distinguished until the Revolution of 1688.