The Invasion (ii)

WHILE King James II and his naval commander-in-chief were congratulating themselves at the end of October 1688 on how admirably things were going from their point of view and how unprofessional it would now be of the Dutch to invade England, King Louis XIV, with many sources of information at his disposal, was not feeling so optimistic. In fact he was writing to King James II to offer him some advice and a little money. He instructed Barrillon to incite the King of England to take vigorous action, to declare war at once upon the Dutch, to pronounce guilty of treason all those Englishmen who supported the Prince of Orange, to rally both the Anglicans and the nonconformists to his side, and to put himself at the head of his army. ‘Plus un Roi marque de grandeur d’áme dans le peril plus ii affermit la fidelite de ses sujets.” But James’s soul was not particularly grand in peril; in fact, now that Philippsburg had fallen, he was hoping that perhaps the French would help him by making some diversion in his favour which would prevent William from even thinking of leaving Holland. He also made another attempt to induce the leaders of the Church of England, whom he had invited to compose prayers against an invasion, to lend their spiritual support to his sacred cause. William had reissued his declaration in an expanded form on October 24. James now proposed that the bishops should prove that they had no complicity in the plot by signing a paper abhorring the Prince’s declaration. The Archbishop of Canterbury thereupon reminded his sovereign sardonically that they had recently received a sharp lesson from him of the dangers of interfering with State affairs when seven of them had been put on trial for seditious libel. Thus James’s own foolishness recoiled on his head.

Two questions are still asked about William’s invasion of England. The first is what were his ultimate intentions when he undertook this dangerous military operation so late in the year; the second is where did he intend to land his forces and why. As we have seen, before William set sail for the first time he had written to the Holy Roman Emperor to assure him that it was not his intention to seize the English Crown. He also wrote a letter on October 19 inthe same sense to Count Gastagafia, the Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. Earlier, on September 29, a group of Dutch deputies reported to the States-General that ‘His Highness had no intention of removing the King from the throne or to make himself master of England, but only to take care that by the convocation of a free parliament. . . the reformed religion be placed in security and out of danger of apprehension’. After he had established himself in England and it became obvious that James was not going to help him in the calling of a free Parliament, William twice wrote to his friend, the Prince of Waldeck, saying that he was embarrassed at the thought of now being elected King, as he had no ambition for it and it was not the reason why he had come to England. But he feared that he would be forced to accept what he did not ask for, ‘although I foresee that the world will judge it otherwise’.-‘ There he was right.

Such is the evidence on one side; the quotations hitherto gathered upon the other are obscure and hardly carry the weight that has been attached to them. But documents are not everything. It can be argued that the great sovereigns of Europe, the Emperor, the Pope, the King of Spain (although he was half-mad) and most of the German princes were so wedded to the principle of inviolable divine right that they had necessarily to be deceived about William’s real intentions. They could not be expected to accept any radical doctrines of social contracts thought up by English and Dutch political theorists (though the right to depose wicked kings went a long way back into history). If, however, William were suspected of mere personal ambition these potentates, it is said, would never have approved his mission. Nor, for that matter, would the Dutch republicans. Moreover the English conspirators—the Immortal Seven—who had invited William over in the first place, might reasonably have said that they had not called him over for any such purpose, but purely in order to protect their religion and their liberties.

But was it realistic of William of Orange to imagine that his father-in-law, habitually so stubborn, would allow his son-in-law to sit down with his troops outside London while a free Parliament met and reversed the entire policy of his reign? Statesmen are, after all, frequently unscrupulous in their methods, if not in their aims. William’s behaviour to De Witt and to Monmouth was proof enough of his ruthlessness. He had certainly received suggestions, for example, from his cousin, the Elector Frederick of Brandenburg, that he had best seek the English Crown. Yet it remains possible that William was telling the truth as he saw it in his letters to Waldeck; that he had not made up his mind when he first set sail; that the end of his mission differed from what he had first intended;5 but that, like Oliver Cromwell, he realized that no man rises so high as he who does not know where he is going.

There is one further consideration. A man’s mind is shaped by his own experiences earlier in life. Whether consciously or not, William must have been influenced by his memories of the events of 168o-81. Then too he had been invited to come to England by leading English statesmen in order to exert his influence against his Roman Catholic father-in-law. Charles II had then almost promised him the regency of England when he himself died. William of Orange had been invited to show himself so as to exert pressure on the deliberations of a Protestant Parliament.6 On that occasion he had come over far too late. But now neither cowards nor storms were to stop him coming over to secure a Parliament in England that very winter.

The second question about William’s intentions derives from the first. For it has been suggested by one or two modern historians that the real reason why William in fact landed in the west, in Devon, where after what had happened to Monmouth three and a half years earlier he was least likely to find assistance, was because he did not ‘want to be committed to any particular group of Englishmen’ or because he aimed at wresting the Crown from his father-in-law with his own soldiers. Before William finally sailed French intelligence was convinced that he would land in the north of England or in Scotland. The Earl of Danby, his most active supporter in England, had urged him to come over with a large fleet and a small army and land in Yorkshire where many Englishmen would join him. The English ambassador at The Hague, who ought to have been in a good position to find out, first (on October 23) reported a story obtained from a Roman Catholic pilot that the Dutch were going to steer course to the river Humber, and D’Albeville observed astutely that ‘the farther the Prince lands from the King’s army the greater the opportunity to strengthen his interest and increase his own army and disperse his manifesto’. After William successfully sailed D’Albevile wrote to say that he was headed towards Yarmouth and later added that he was expected to land at Yarmouth ‘or somewhere in the north’. Hoffmann, a little earlier, was reporting to the Emperor from London that the Dutch fleet was directed northward and that it was presumed it would make for the Scottish border near Berwick at Holy Island.” Dr. Burnet, who actually sailed with William as his chaplain, stated positively in his memoirs that William had resolved to land in the north and ‘then to have sent the fleet to he in the Channel’.

Were all these stories rumours deliberately spread by the Dutch counter-intelligence services in order to confuse the English defences? It is possible, but even then it is not necessary to look for a political explanation: there were sound military reasons for landing in the west. The Dutch knew where the English fleet was stationed and had no wish to run into it, if the wind changed. Admiral Herbert was said to have been ‘vehemently opposed’ to a landing in the north at that season of the year, and it was known that James had reinforced his garrisons in Suffolk and Norfolk and ports in the north of England. On the other hand, Herbert’s original instructions from William (dated October 17/27) suggested that a landing in the east or the north was intended; ‘ for Herbert was told that after the landing had been effected he was to be prepared to make diversions first towards Scotland and then to the west of England. It is generally accepted that after the Dutch fleet set sail the wind blew so heavily from the east that it would have made it difficult for the fleet to turn north. On November 16, eleven days after he landed, William of Orange wrote to the Prince of Waldeck from Exeter: ‘It is unfortunate that we have been obliged by the wind to land here in the west, where we are so much out of the way of correspondence with Holland that we are quite out of the world.’ Unless we are to believe that William habitually lied to Waldeck (and here on a matter that surely had little significance) this must be decisive.

The English Government was certainly surprised by the landing in the west. In deciding how best to distribute his army James was obviously dependent upon his intelligence of his enemy’s likely movements. A military solution, which was to be practised in later times, was to keep a large mobile reserve in the London area and hope that by the time William had completed his disembarkation, marshalled his forces, and collected any needed supplies, the English army could confront him and outnumber his mixed army on a battlefield of James II’s own choosing. It is not certain that the English King had any thought-out plan, though in so far as he did have one it must have been of this nature. His army, as we have seen, numbered about 40,000 men, and that was insufficient for him to guard all likely ports of disembarkation. In addition, up to the last moment he was bringing in reinforcements from Scotland and Ireland. For example, in late October Sir John Reresby, the Governor of York, reported that seven hundred Scottish cavalry and dragoons were marching south under Major-General John Graham of Claverhouse; they passed through York on October 19. A rising in Yorkshire itself was rightly feared, so that the garrison of York itself had to be reinforced. According to the Dutch ambassador, writing on October 30, troops were then being sent daily to the east coast, principally to Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk; later some of these regiments were recalled and hurried to the west. King James always appears to have regarded Portsmouth as the place that would give him—and, more important, his wife and child—a refuge from which they could escape to France, if the worst came to the worst, and he took care to have an adequate garrison there too, commanded by his illegitimate son, the Duke of Berwick. As soon as the news of the Dutch sailing came through, Berwick was ordered to join his garrison and additional reinforcements were dispatched thither. An unfortunate incident from the King’s point of view had occurred in Portsmouth during September. It had been decided to reinforce Berwick’s own regiment with Irish Roman Catholic recruits. But the officers and some of the men had violently objected to such a move, and six of the officers were cashiered. This was one of the reasons why foreign observers in England questioned the loyalty of the English Army to the King.

Thus it is doubtful if there was any carefully worked-out plan behind the military dispositions of the King. Indeed an element of panic may be detected in them. It is true that the Lords Lieutenant had been ordered that horses and cattle were to be driven twenty miles inland in the event of a landing, which perhaps indicates that the King did not hope to destroy his enemy on the beaches (once Admiral Dartmouth had let them through) but to lead his army to fight his son-in-law wherever he was to be found. At any rate that was what James told the bishops he intended to do. In his first proclamation about the invasion James had declared that he had refused foreign help and that he relied on the loyalty of his subjects. Londoners were told to have their muskets ready. Right up to the moment of invasion James refused to declare war on the Dutch or to demand French help. He found it hard to believe that this incredible operation at such a late season in the campaigning year could possibly be a success or that his people should fail to back him against foreigners. The trouble was, as the Marquis of Halifax remarked afterwards in his ‘maxims of State’: ‘That a people may let a King fall, yet still remain a people; but if a King let his people slip from him, he is no longer King.’ The tragedy of James II was that, with all his high-mindedness about liberty of conscience for all Christians, he had managed so to undermine the loyalty of the majority of his people that neither his navy nor his army was trustworthy when the crux came.


It had taken a week to reassemble the Dutch expeditionary force after its earlier mishap. On October 27 William Bentinck wrote from Helvoetsluys that ‘all our vessels that should come from Rotterdam and the Texel’ had not yet joined up. After their battering at sea some of the English exiles, who were accompanying the expedition, grew nervous. According to Dr. Burnet: ‘they went so far as to propose to the Prince that Herbert should be ordered to go over to the coast of England and either fight the English fleet or force them in: and in that case the transport fleet might venture over; which otherwise they thought could not be safely done’. That was what James II had all along expected to happen. But William would have none of it: he knew that to try out such tactics so late in the season might easily mean abandoning the operation altogether until after the winter was over. By October 28 the weather had calmed and the fleet was ready. But another two days of east wind were wasted before all the transport vessels were in place and the expedition was again ready to sail.

The land forces were divided into three squadrons, Red, White and Blue: the English and Scots commanded by Major-General Mackay, the Prince’s Dutch Guards and the Brandenburgers under Count Solms, and the rest of the Dutch forces and the French Protestants under Count Nassau. At ten o’clock on the morning of Thursday, November i, William signalled to Admiral Herbert that his intention was to put to sea as soon as the wind permitted. Herbert and his naval squadron went ahead and the two other naval squadrons carefully picked up their positions on either side of the fleet of transports. It was a mixed collection of ships and boats of all sizes: the little Scheveling vessels, invaluable for landing purposes, had to be made fast with ropes to the merchantmen to cross the high seas. The armada sailed on the evening tide and at dark set Out their lights ‘which was very pleasant to see’. Herbert steered north in very good weather. But on the afternoon of November 2 the fleet turned south-west because of the ferocity of the east wind, causing the ships to roll and lurch, and possibly also—it has been suggested—because Herbert now knew the exact whereabouts of the English fleet, still at the Gunfleet, and did not wish to pass near it. During the night the Dutch ships shortened sail and on Saturday morning were protected from view from the land by fog, but when the mists lifted they could see the Thames estuary. A council of war was held, the decision was taken, and before noon the armada had abandoned the east coast and was entering the Dover strait.

It must have been an extraordinary, a unique sight. The passage took seven hours, from ten in the morning until five in the evening. No attempt was made, or could be made, to conceal the movement of this huge concourse of ships upon that bright autumn day. The Prince of Orange set up his standards ‘For the Protestant Religion and Liberty’ and ‘Je Maintiendrai’. The men-of-war hoisted their flags: ‘the whole fleet,’ wrote one who was there, ‘was resolved to make a bravado’. It looked, it was reported in London, ‘like a thick forest’. Each vessel kept its proper distance from the next and the Channel was bespangled with gaily coloured sailing ships. As Dover and Calais were passed, the Dutch Navy fired its cannon in salute. Crowds watched the procession from the white cliffs. For three hours drums and trumpets played, though the soldiers on board did not feel too comfortable after the previous rough night. When darkness fell again, the ships were once more lit up; from the land were seen the fires of beacons. Next day, Sunday, November 4, Prince William’s birthday and the anniversary of his marriage, the ships were still strung out in good order along the Channel, and it was expected that a landing would be made on the Isle of Wight or at Portsmouth. But William signified from his yacht that, by the advice of the pilots, he intended to disembark his forces at Dartmouth and Torbay in Devon.

One who sailed with the expedition wrote how on the evening before the Monday when the landing was intended ‘many delighted to be above deck, it was so exceedingly pleasant between the stars of the firmament and our stars’. But owing to a mistake of the chief pilot the leading vessels overshot their objective. Suddenly, however, the sea was becalmed and four hours later the whole fleet drew into Torbay. The men-of-war then positioned themselves to protect the disembarkation of the troops, but no resistance was encountered. The surprise had been complete. The English fleet, after several vain efforts to get Out from the Gunfleet, at last succeeded in sailing as far as Beachy Head, but had there been compelled by adverse winds to give up the pursuit. A council of war was held off Beachy Head and some of the captains of the English fleet who were there decided that if they caught up with the Dutch they would go over to the enemy. At any rate Admiral Dartmouth decided at that time to do no more than send scouting frigates westward and prepared to turn back to the Downs.

The afternoon of November 5, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, a famous day in English Protestant history, passed in clear sunshine and was followed by a warm night. Two thousand men of the invading army were landed that day; the landings continued by torchlight through the night, but it took another two days before the disembarkation was completed. By the evening of November 9 William had set up his headquarters at Exeter, whence he wrote to Admiral Herbert to tell him that he had received a great acclamation from the people, although no gentry nor clergy had yet come to him. He announced his intention of sending the transport vessels back to Holland, and asked for Herbert to arrange an escort, a mark of confidence in himself and his mission. He also ordered Herbert to keep watch on the English fleet, but added that some men-of-war should be detached to watch the French. Little did he know that the French Minister of Marine was about to write to say that he was doubtful if he could help the King of England at all that year.

In the United Netherlands the rejoicing was sober as the news of Prince William’s achievement was received. ‘There was never such praying in these countries,’ wrote D’Albevffle, now virtually a prisoner in his own embassy, ‘as is now daily for the success of the Prince’s enterprise; all the preachers thank God for the late tempest which changed the weather and caused the happy landing in the west.’ In Whitehall, on the day after the Court had learned of the Prince’s safe arrival in Torbay, Samuel Pepys, the naval administrator who had worked himself to death to bring Dartmouth’s fleet up to scratch, was writing to the English Admiral:

Though all that know your Lordship and above all the King, is abundantly assured that no part of your disappointment in relation to the Dutch fleet can be charged upon any thing in your power to have prevented yet the consequences of it in the said fleet’s passing without the least interruption to the port they were bound for with their whole fleet, are too visible.