IT was in the third week of August 1688 that King James II had at last realized that the Dutch were in earnest in preparing an invasion of England; and it was a month later in the third week of September that William of Orange pressed the button. King Louis XIV had published his manifesto against the Emperor on September 14/24 and immediately launched his troops upon Philippsburg in the Palatinate. Towns could not be conquered in a day, and although the celebrated French expert in sieges, Sebastien Vauban, was in charge, it was not until October 19/29 that Philippsburg fell. The French concentration against distant Philippsburg gave William a breathing space and the incitement to take the final steps towards the invasion of England. It is true that at the same time other French forces were operating near Cologne, much closer to Holland, in support of Cardinal Furstenberg, but, according to Burnet, their numbers were insufficient to perturb the Dutch. William relied on the veteran Prince of Waldeck to watch the French there and even help those German princes, headed by his cousin, the Elector of Brandenburg, who were ready to resist French pressure. William had notified Waldeck of the French declaration of war on September 22 / October 2 and given him his instructions. According to D’Avaux, the French ambassador at The Hague, the Dutch succeeded in hiring 25,000 German mercenaries, so that Waldeck had a useful force at his command.
Meanwhile William continued to receive assurances both at home, in England, and from abroad. At home his friend Caspar Fagel had exerted his influence with the Regents of Holland and after a long campaign of lobbying this led to the approval of William’s enterprise from the Dutch States. William’s old friend, the handsome and jovial Henry Sidney, joined him in the middle of August; so did the young Earl of Shrewsbury and Edward Russell; a fortnight earlier William had received an impressive letter promising help from John, Lord Churchill, a former Brigadier in James’s army and the personal friend of Princess Anne. In Germany, though Louis XIV could still boast some allies—such as the Elector of Mainz—most of the princes were glad to contribute to William’s enterprise because it would be a genuine advantage to them if England could be swung over to the Dutch side against France. Finally, Louis XIV had alienated the Pope and thus could not pretend to official Roman Catholic backing. In early October he went so far as to occupy the papal territory of Avignon with his troops. James II was distressed by the French King’s behaviour to the papacy and tried to use his good offices to patch up a long-standing quarrel; but all his efforts were in vain. William gave secret promises to his German allies that the Roman Catholics would be no worse off in England if he went there, and indeed that they would be quite as well off as they were in the United Netherlands, where they enjoyed religious freedom. Incensed with Louis XIV, the Pope was thus disinclined to interfere with William of Orange even though he was moving against a Roman Catholic monarch.
Louis XIV had ultimately decided to stake all upon his invasion of Germany. By swift and effective aggression he hoped to frighten the Emperor and the German princes into accepting his advance to the Middle Rhine, just as he had forced them four years before to assent to the Truce of Ratisbon. In fact he even fancied he might turn the truce into a permanent settlement of Europe in his favour. He wanted to strike before the Emperor was in a position to organize a counter-offensive. Louis therefore tried not to provoke the Dutch. Although the reports of his ambassadors in England were far from satisfactory about the loyalty of James II’s army and navy, he hoped that the King of England would put up a stubborn fight against the Dutch invading forces and that William would be bogged down for the whole of the winter. Louis was not prepared to help James except by giving him a little money. In September he placed the sum of 150,000 livres tournois (about £12,000) at his disposal in Calais. He had also contributed to the upkeep of the newly formed regiments, but, excluding debts owed to Charles II, the whole of the French financial assistance given to James II during his reign amounted to only some £30,000 as compared with a royal income of over £2,000,000 a year.
So James was left to his own devices. His policy was far from being that of the hard, wise, strong man that he had painted himself to be at the outset of his reign. He reversed nearly all his domestic policies in a desperate attempt to placate his Protestant subjects; he told the Dutch that he had no intention of attacking them if they did not attack him. He claimed (not altogether accurately) to have refused all offers of French help and to have signed no secret treaties with France; and he began to look to Protestants like Lord Dartmouth, Lord Churchill and Henry, Duke of Newcastle, instead of to his old Roman Catholic favourites, to man his defences against the coming wrath of his son-in-law.
George Legge, first Baron Dartmouth, superseded the Roman Catholic Sir Roger Strickland as ‘Admiral and chief commander of His Majesty’s ships in the narrow seas’ on September 24. According to Dartmouth, Strickland was generally disliked in the navy and had been ‘very indiscreet’ and ‘disobliging’. Dartmouth may have been more popular, but he was neither so popular nor so good a sailor as Arthur Herbert. Dartmouth had fought against the Dutch and supervised the evacuation of Tangier in the reign of Charles II, but his experience was limited. James II thought highly of his own naval knowledge, but since he himself had been a commander at sea he realized what went on and was understandably reluctant to give detailed instructions to the man actually in charge. However, the King had a clear conception of what he thought the Dutch strategy would be. He imagined, he told Dartmouth, that William would first send over a fleet to fight or bottle up the English Navy and then bring over his land forces, protected by a few men-of-war, to make a descent on the English coast. James’s belief was that the operation would begin as soon as the winds favoured the Dutch. Dartmouth was therefore counselled to get out from the sands at the Buoy of Nore, where his ships were being concentrated, at the first westerly wind. For, the King wrote on October 8, ‘expects at the first easterly wind the Dutch will look you Out to engage you whilst they send their forces to land somewhere else…’.
Where did James and his advisers expect the Dutch to land? They did not really know. That is why the admirals wanted to move the fleet from the Nore to the Buoy of Gunfleet, south of Harwich, which, being directly opposite to the main Dutch bases, would be the best vantage point for collecting information of Dutch intentions. On the other hand, when the wind and tide were unfavourable, the Gunfleet was a difficult anchorage to get out from in order to initiate a pursuit either north or south, and James himself was of the opinion that at that time of year it was ‘a very ill road’. Nevertheless ultimately on October 24 Dartmouth did manage to move his ships from the Nore to the Gunfleet. In one of his first letters to Dartmouth as chief naval commander James hazarded the view that the Dutch might try to land at Chatham, possibly recalling their sensational success of 1667. But Chatham was nowwell fortified and unlikely to be surprised. Dispatches from D’Albeville in Holland suggested that the Dutch would try to land in the north of England; it may have become known to D’Albeville’s spies that William had been pressed to land in Yorkshire. On the whole, the English Government seems to have finally reached the conclusion that William would not try to disembark his troops anywhere in the south-east, but would aim to land as far from the main concentration of the royal army as possible so as to obtain time to reorganize before beginning an advance. Hence the general feeling that the landing would take place somewhere in the east or north-east of England. No one seriously envisaged the possibility of the whole Dutch armada sailing through the Channel and reaching the west of England where the Duke of Monmouth had so signally failed with his invasion three and a half years earlier.
What were the relative strengths of the opposing fleets? When Strickland was still in full command he had at his disposal twenty-two men-of-war and thirteen fireships, the torpedo boats of those days. As a result of urgent efforts by the King and his Secretary of the Admiralty, Samuel Pepys, this was brought up quickly to the size of ‘a good winter guard’. On October i when the concentration at the Nore began Dartmouth had twenty-six ships, on October 17 he had thirty-one ships, and by the time the Dutch invasion took place he had a total of thirty-seven men-of-war and eleven fireships. The Dutch naval forces assigned for the operation were divided into three squadrons, one under Herbert, who was finally on October 17 appointed commander-in-chief with the title of Lieutenant-Admiral-General, one under Van Almonde who was to sail on the starboard side of the convoy, and one under Admiral Evertsen who was to sail on the port side: altogether it is estimated that the Dutch warships in these three squadrons numbered forty-nine men-of-war and ten fireships. But the English had more third-rates (ships of over sixty guns) than had the Dutch. The Dutch ships were built fairly light and of comparatively low draught so as to operate more easily in their creeks and harbours. Thus the Dutch ships were, on the whole, more manoeuvrable, the English more heavily gunned. Both fleets were ‘winter guards’, that is to say contained no first-class ships of the line, which could be safely used only during the summer. Indeed when Dartmouth contemplated the idea, which he went so far as to put to the King, of ‘showing himself on the Dutch coast as near as I can in the daytime’ so as to impress his enemy, he was aware that he dared do it only ‘in settled fair weather’, which was hardly likely in the late autumn. In fact, though he gave utterance to some brave remarks, it was Dartmouth’s fixed intention to ‘keep his fleet in being’, expecting, as he did, that the Dutch would seek him out in battle before they took the risk of dispatching a convoy of troop transports to attempt invasion.
English intelligence was not far out in its estimate of the sire of the Dutch fleet—the figure of fifty or fifty-two men-of-war was usually mentioned, for example, in D’Albeville’s dispatches—but the appreciation of Dutch intentions went completely astray. For from the very beginning William’s instructions to Admiral Herbert were clear: his orders were to escort the transports and protect them from any interference by the English fleet, but to avoid battle if he possibly could. ‘When an enemy fleet shows itself,’ Admiral Herbert was told, ‘the war fleet shall place itself between the enemy and the transport ships.’ The fleet’s duty was ‘to protect and defend’ these ships from any attack by the enemy.
It might well have seemed incredible to English naval experts that such a hazard should be run, that William of Orange should offer a target of hundreds of slow-moving merchant ships and flat boats to a more heavily gunned enemy fleet. But two factors entered into his calculations. The first was that the operation was not going to be undertaken until the late autumn when the weather was notoriously uncertain, with winds ever changing and mists coming up, so that the whole armada might actually be able to cross the sea before being spotted until it was too late. Secondly, William counted on the dubious loyalty of James II’s navy. Not only the Dutch ambassador in England but other foreign observers, like Hoffmann, the Imperial envoy, had questioned the men’s willingness to fight for a popish monarch against their former admiral. Traditionally the English Navy was radical in its outlook, as it had shown during the civil wars. It had resented James’s attempts to hold Masses on board ship. Not only Herbert, but another former admiral, Edward Russell, had gone over to the Dutch side. Dartmouth himself reported on October 17 ‘caballing’ on his ships and has written that ‘hearing Mr Russell is gone for Holland … makes me more jealous than of any interest Herbert can have here’. Dartmouth, as we have seen, could not stand Herbert. There is excellent evidence that several of Dartmouth’s captains were well-wishers to the Dutch cause: one of them was George Churchill, John Churchill’s brother. It is probable also that the Duke of Grafton, who, like John Churchill, was to go over early to William of Orange after his landing and who had been disappointed that he was not offered Dartmouth’s command, was a means of stirring up unrest among the captains; and it was also said that ‘the captains . . . infused strange notions in the seamen’. Finally William’s propaganda letter written to English sailors and a manifesto published by Herbert somehow reached the cabins and forecastles of the royal fleet. The Earl of Ailesbury, a royalist, afterwards expressed the opinion in his memoirs that ‘it was generally thought … that the fleet would not have stuck firm to the King’.
English intelligence, as we have noticed, was puzzled or misled over the destination of the Dutch fleet. That was why Lord Dartmouth and his Council preferred to remain so long at the Gunfleet, in spite of its disadvantages as an anchorage. William not only had Herbert as his admiral but had some twenty pilots who knew the English coasts. Dartmouth was sceptical over D’Albeville’s views about the likely destination of the Dutch fleet. At one time the English ambassador at The Hague had talked of Southwold Bay in Suffolk, at another of Yarmouth in Norfolk. The French also thought up to the very end that the objective would be Yarmouth or somewhere farther north.
On land James’s army outnumbered the invading force. An ‘abstract of the numbers of all His Majesty’s forces in England’ dated October 26 gave a total of over 40,000 men, while more could be brought over from Ireland. Of this number 6,000 were cavalry or dragoons. The central reserve, concentrated in London, was estimated to be about seven or eight thousand, and the ports from Portsmouth in the west (where the Duke of Berwick was in command) as far north as Bridlington in Yorkshire were adequately garrisoned. The Lords Lieutenant of the counties were also warned to call up the militia, notably in Yorkshire. Barrillon, who watched James’s military preparations with eagle eyes, thought that while James’s navy was smaller than that of the Dutch and not in the condition it ought to be, his army was a sizable one but might equally be disloyal. Hoffmann was of precisely the same opinion. Indeed Hoffmann had little doubt that the King’s army was less trustworthy than that which was to accompany the Prince of Orange.
Various estimates were made of the strength of the invasion force. D’Albeville thought that it consisted of 18–20,000 fighting men and that the ships carried supplies sufficient for 12,000 horse and 40,000 foot for fifteen days. Unquestionably this guess was an exaggeration. In an earlier dispatch D’Albeville spoke of 10–13,000 men. Also the common estimate was that William had 400 or 500 transports at his command; the real figure may have been half that, though many small craft were used. It is likely that the invasion force did not consist of more than 13,000 men together with arms sufficient for 20,000.
From the end of September both James II and his principal Minister panicked. Sunderland pressed the King to offer every conceivable concession to Protestant opinion and to consult the bishops. He himself made a last-minute attempt to pacify the Dutch by talking of reaffirming the Treaty of Nymegen; his wife was still in intimate touch with Prince William’s friend Henry Sidney, and wrote to tell him that all she and her husband wished for now was a peaceful retirement. At the same time Sunderland himself told Barrillon that he might throw himself on the mercy of the King of France. On Sunderland’s advice—curious advice perhaps—James cancelled plans to arrest suspected conspirators in England and renewed and extended a general pardon to all offenders. But even before he published his proclamation about the impending Dutch invasion James finally withdrew the writs he had issued for calling Parliament. Then he started trying to enlist the help of the bishops. The suspension of the Bishop of London (the only ecclesiastic to sign the letter of invitation to William) was at last removed; on September 30 the King saw the Archbishop of Canterbury in private; on October 3 he interviewed a group of the bishops.
Acting on the advice of Sunderland, his Protestant Ministers and the bishops, the King now announced the dissolution of the Ecclesiastical Commission; he instructed the Bishop of Winchester as Royal Visitor to put back the Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford, he restored the Charter of the City of London and finally on October 17 published a proclamation dropping the regulation of the boroughs and restoring forfeited charters everywhere. He also appointed new Lords Lieutenant and Deputies in the counties—for examples, the Duke of Newcastle in the three Yorkshire Ridings and the Earl of Oxford in Essex—and restored Justices of the Peace who had been dismissed because of their answers to the Three Questions. He warned the Anglican leaders that they would find the Prince of Orange ‘a worse man than Cromwell’.16 But close observers continued to feel convinced that his change of direction had come too late. It was plainly attributable to the threat of Dutch invasion and it was commonly believed that James would again reverse his policies if William failed to come or if a free Parliament was not held.
While James was busily backing away his once formidable engine of State and was beginning to harbour doubts about Sunderland who (as he told Barrillon later) had shown ‘so little firmness and courage’, he was also gently trying to persuade Admiral Dartmouth to play a bolder part. On October 5 he reminded Dartmouth of his view that the Dutch fleet would aim to engage him while the transports were being convoyed across; he said that the Admiral must expect them ‘with the first snatch of wind’ and advised him to get out of the sands as soon as he could . In fact the very next day the west wind changed to east, and on October 8 James again begged Dartmouth to move out from the sands at the first westerly wind. For he expected that the Dutch would ‘look him out’ as soon as the wind turned east again and would engage him while their land forces were disembarking. On October iz Dartmouth himself had plucked up sufficient courage to tell the King that if the weather were reasonable he might conceivably venture to show himself by day off the Dutch coasts, though he dared not attack their ports at that time of the year. But James now had his own doubts over the wisdom of such a move, for he was afraid that if Dartmouth sailed towards Holland Herbert might attack him while the troop transports slipped past him towards England. On October 17 the Secretary of the Admiralty tried to cheer Dartmouth with the premature news that the Dutch fleet had already been damaged by bad weather.
In fact on October 14 the wind shifted to the east and William was hastening his final moves. Troops had already been embarking for over a fortnight, moving down from their main camp at Nymegen to various ports. On October 16 William wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor assuring him that he did not intend to wrong the English King or those with the right to succeed, still less to seize the Crown for himself or extirpate the Roman Catholics in England. His object, he explained, was to procure a Parliament to safeguard the Protestant religion, but he would see that Roman Catholics were guaranteed liberty of conscience. On the same day he informed the Prince of Waldeck that the States-General had authorized him to assist Cologne if he could, for the bulk of the French Army was still occupied in the Palatinate. That day William also took his farewell of the States, thanking them for their care of him since his youth. Then he said goodbye to his wife, Princess Mary, with tears in his eyes, treating her with so much tenderness that she wrote in her diary that she would never forget it. On the afternoon of October 19 William embarked on his yacht and by evening the whole armada was at sea.
King James at this time was feeling a little more optimistic than he had been. On October 20 he told Dartmouth that he was glad that his fleet was in such good heart and so well manned. He said that on land he was growing stronger every day because Scottish and Irish troops were coming to London and several newly-raised regiments of horse and foot were nearly ready.19 He made light of the exaggerations embodied in William’s declaration and the attempts to cast doubts on the validity of the King’s own recent political concessions. But really the situation had not changed. On the very date that the Dutch fleet set sail, Sir John Reresby, a loyal Yorkshire royalist, was writing in his memoirs:
It was very strange, and a certain forerunner of the mischiefs that ensued upon this invasion that neither the gentry nor the common people seemed much afeard or concerned at it, saying, the Prince comes only to maintain the Protestant religion; he will do England no harm.
Earlier old John Evelyn had noted in his diary that the people ‘passionately seem to long for and desire the landing of the Prince whom they look upon as their deliverer from popish tyranny’. The day before Reresby wrote, Barrillon had written to inform Louis XIV that James’s fleet was not in the condition that it should be—that sailors were lacking and fishermen desperately being pressed. He agreed with Evelyn that the loyalty of the army could not be counted upon. None of these three men, all giving their opinions that October was unfriendly to the King; they recorded what they believed to be true.
But James had one reason to be cheered. Soon after the Dutch men-of-war and transports put to sea the wind shifted and a storm drove them piecemeal back into the Dutch ports. Inevitably exaggerated rumours of the immense damage done by the gales percolated to England. Though in fact all the ships got back safely, they drifted into different ports and for some hours perturbation shook the authorities at The Hague. D’Albeville reported thence that the cruel dispersal of the fleet had been deliberately kept from the Dutch people; that Prince William was the first to return; that Admiral Herbert was missing for two days; and that the shaken and sea-sick soldiers had to be appeased with fresh victuals. In the end it proved that neither ships nor men had been lost—only some horses, estimated at a maximum of a thousand, who were swept overboard or stifled. From London Hoffrnann wrote to his Emperor saying that the damage to the Dutch fleet would lead to the English fleet approaching the Dutch coast as soon as the weather permitted, but in truth Dartmouth was making it clear that his intention was still to keep his fleet ‘together and entire’ and in view of the weather and the time of year he found it was ‘not advisable to venture over’. William of Orange was made of sterner stuff. As soon as he realized that the extent of his losses was small, he began collecting more horses and told Waldeck that he was preparing to start again as soon as the weather was favourable. He was, he added, relying upon Providence.
Thenceforward James II’s spirits fluctuated between fear and bouts of confidence. On October 22, provoked by the allegations in William’s declaration about the dubiousness of his son’s birth, the King summoned a Privy Council to meet in his presence at Whitehall and listen to the detailed evidence. The meeting began badly because the Earls of Clarendon and Nottingham (who were on friendly terms with the leading conspirators) made a demonstration by refusing to sit with Father Petre, James’s Jesuit confessor, who was one of the councillors. Even though James tried to pacify them by saying Petre would no longer attend the Council, they were adamant. Nor did the elaborate proofs of the Prince of Wales’s birth, including testimony from the midwife and laundress and others who were present at the delivery, carry conviction except with those who were already convinced. The proceedings were minuted and copies of the depositions sent to Princess Anne, who was again pregnant herself. After they were handed to her she said sarcastically: ‘My Lords, this was not necessary, for I have so much duty for the King that his word must be more to me than these depositions.’ Four days later James dismissed Sunderland, the pilot who had failed to weather the storm. At the time the King accused him of loss of nerve, not of treachery, though James took a different view when he compiled his memoirs. The line between treachery and political reinsurance was to be a very fine one in the years that followed. Though it is always hard to gauge the precise relationship between a husband and wife, it seems not unlikely that Sunderland had allowed his Countess to take out an insurance policy on his behalf with William through her friend Henry Sidney. At any rate in later days Sunderland, who fled the kingdom before the Revolution, was allowed to return to England and become one of William’s own Ministers.
The King gathered courage from the news that Dartmouth had at last succeeded in reaching the Gunfleet, the station from which the admiral thought it best to keep watch on the movements of the Dutch. Dartmouth was cock-a-hoop.
This chimed in with the exaggerated reports of the recent disaster to the Dutch fleet. James congratulated Dartmouth on his success and told him he must decide what was best to be done in such a blowing season; if what he said of the Dutch coming out with only a small quantity of victuals and water were true, was that not next to madness? So Dartmouth and his King whistled to each other to keep their courage up. The conscientious Samuel Pepys ventured to hint to Dartmouth on October 27 that it might not be a bad idea if his fleet went out to sea towards the Dutch coast to discover ‘whether any advantage could be taken of them’ while they were licking their wounds—though of course the King left it entirely to him. Dartmouth at once put a damper on that suggestion; his duty was to keep the fleet in being, not to sail Out into the gales. ‘The whole proceeding at this season,’ he added, ‘looks like the advice of land men.’ It really would be most unprofessional of the Dutch-or ‘mad’, as James himself had put it-for them to try again. So why worry?