NOT long after William of Orange disembarked in Torbay on November 5, 1688 with his motley expeditionary force only about one third of the size of that of the royal army, he had ordered his hired transport ships back home to Holland, for he was confident that his coming would be welcomed by the majority of the English and Scottish people and that even James’s soldiers would not fight for him. When William’s unfortunate predecessor, the Duke of Monmouth, had landed in the west with a handful of men and weapons, although local recruits had raffled to his cause in an astonishing way, he had been betrayed by his supporters in London, who sent him neither arms nor money. William was not going to take any such military risks. He had sufficient men and resources to buy himself time. Having established his bridgehead, he waited to see what would happen. He did not, like Monmouth, declare himself King, but, like George Monck, promised the people of England a free Parliament. Moreover he had already paved his way by the publication of his declaration, which was widely distributed throughout England, while by his dramatic sailing along the English Channel he had proclaimed that his mission was not for conquest but was an open Protestant crusade.
Whether it was an accident borne on the wind or deliberate, William’s landing in the west had created a strategic surprise. Had he succeeded in reaching Yorkshire, his army might conceivably have been caught between royal forces coming south from Scotland and north from London and the eastern counties. At Exeter, it is true, he had the garrisons of Bristol and Plymouth lying on his flank, but ioo miles stretched between him and James’s main concentration. Moreover, if the King brought all his forces south that would open up the north to rebellion. Of the Immortal Seven, who had signed the invitation to William to come over, three had considerable influence in the north: Danby in Yorkshire, the Earl of Devonshire in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and Lord Lumley in Northumberland and Durham. The Earl of Shrewsbury, Henry Sidney and Edward Russell had accompanied the Prince from Holland in his invasion fleet. Henry Compton, Bishop of London, the seventh signatory, after earlier visiting Yorkshire, returned to the capital where his influence was exerted to paralyse the King by inciting his fellow-bishops to refuse to abhor the invasion and by helping to induce Princess Anne to flee from her father’s Court.
These remained the most active conspirators. When the letter of invitation had been discussed by Russell in April, he had told William that he thought it was best to keep the secret to as few persons as possible. Nevertheless others were let into it. Halifax and Nottingham had, for example, been approached; so later had been the Earl of Chesterfield and the Earl of Ailesbury. According to Dr. Burnet, many thousands of persons altogether became aware that a conspiracy was on foot. And of course ever since the middle of September it had been common knowledge, not only in Whitehall, that the Dutch expedition was being prepared.
It is sometimes said that this was ‘a respectable revolution’, that only a small percentage of the nobility was involved and that not the most powerful. But it is at least clear that for some time many important men had been disposed to force the King radically to change his measures. An estimate made for Dutch intelligence in May 1687 indicated that over half of the adult nobility were opposed to James II’s policies. As soon as William committed himself, their sympathies inclined them to join him. To name a few examples: the Earl of Clarendon’s son, Lord Cornbury, was one of the first officers to desert James II. Lord Delamere, who had earlier been luckily acquitted of conspiracy with the Duke of Monmouth, was obviously a leader of the rising in the north; indeed he was the first to move. The Duke of Grafton aimed to pervert or betray the fleet. Lord Churchill was ready to lead over the army. (Both Grafton and Churchill, it is true, had been refused high-ranking appointments for which they sought.) The Earl of Stamford, the Earl of Northampton and the Earl of Derby were all committed or half-committed. The list could be extended. Naturally men already in exalted positions with vast hereditary wealth were anxious to avoid being arrested for treason and deprived of their properties or offices if William failed to establish himself. But that did not mean they had no revolutionary sympathies.
A typical case was the Marquis of Halifax. Halifax had written two devastating pamphlets, his Letter to a Dissenter and his Anatomy of an Equivalent (the equivalent being James’s offers of assurances to the Church of England in return for the abolition of the penal laws and the Tests) which contributed to the undermining of loyalty to the King. Both pamphlets, naturally, were published anonymously; and Halifax kept near the King and his Court, and true to his policy of ‘trimming’, waited to see what was going to happen. In fact he sat still to the bitter end. But other less philosophical members of the nobility like the Duke of Ormonde, the Earl of Nottingham, the Earl of Bristol, the Duke of Beaufort and the Earl of Bath proved ready enough to join the opposition to the King as soon as a promising opportunity presented itself. One can count at least twenty-five peers who were actively or secretly committed to the Prince of Orange soon after he landed. Of those loyal to the King who were not Roman Catholics not a few—like Lord Chancellor Jeffreys and the Duke of Newcastle—were too stunned or too lethargic to be of much help to him.
As to the mass of the gentry, it is well established that the Three Questions put to them by the Lords Lieutenant at the beginning of the year, far from inducing them to promise in advance of a Parliament to agree to the repeal of the penal laws and the Tests as the King demanded, had united them against the Government. It may not be exact to say that they were ‘alienated’, but they had certainly been displeased and dismayed by the pressures brought to bear on them, pressures which they regarded as unconstitutional. When they realized that all their friends and neighbours had equally refused to be intimidated into approving the King’s policies, it gave them a sense of strength and abiding confidence. In the boroughs also even the elaborate tampering with the charters had not effectively helped the royal policies but had rather engendered discontent.
Of the common people, it is probably right to say that they preferred to watch political revolutions go by without being disturbed in their daily tasks and even, as during the civil wars, derived a silent pleasure from observing their masters quarrelling with each other. But the testimony of diarists like Evelyn and Reresby can reasonably be relied upon as evidence that they welcomed William of Orange in a passive kind of way. Reports of mob riots and demonstrations against popery were pretty numerous throughout the reign, outside as well as inside London, where the behaviour of the rabble after the acquittal of the bishops in June was typical and bore witness to an irrational prejudice against Roman Catholicism which could be traced back to the days of the Popish Plot and beyond. This feeling was particularly strong in the Lowlands of Scotland: as early as April 1687 William of Orange had been begged to exert his influence with his father-in-law against the great encouragement given there to papists. Naturally the most intransigent of the revolutionaries were those who had been exiled abroad and now accompanied William on his invasion. But these Englishmen and Scots, some of whom had republican views, were only extreme examples —more courageous or more foolhardy than others—of many thousands who honestly believed that James’s policies and methods carried the seeds of arbitrary government and the papal domination of England.
While William and his army were sailing to England and establishing themselves at Exeter, James II was still closeted with leading Anglicans trying desperately to erase memories of his favouritism for dissenters and arbitrary pressures for toleration and hoping to revive the loyalty of the Church towards the Crown. William’s declaration had claimed that his mission to England was supported by several spiritual and temporal lords. James invited the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London (who had in fact invited William over) and the rest to comment on this claim. They all protested to the King that they had had nothing to do with it. So did the Earl of Clarendon and his brother, the Earl of Rochester: treason was anathema to them. Next day (November 4) the King went down to Colchester to review his troops and was there assured by the Earl of Nottingham and the Marquis of Halifax that they too were innocent of treason. While Halifax averred ‘as a gentleman on his honour’ that he had not invited the Prince to come over, ‘no one of the Lords to whom the King spoke deigned to offer his service or assistance, but only observed how distressed they were to see His Majesty’s affairs had reached so unhappy a condition’. The lay peers and the bishops, on one excuse or another, significantly refused to do what the King asked them by publicly repudiating William’s declaration. The King was still busily arguing with the bishops when the news reached Whitehall on November 6 of the landing at Torbay.
But it was extraordinary how few military steps the King and his advisers took after they learned of William’s arrival. Portsmouth, James’s escape hatch, was reinforced. Yet the King still appeared to be pinning his hopes on Dartmouth’s fleet boldly sailing along the Channel and attacking the Dutch transports as they lay at anchor. Perhaps the King was at first overconfident in his belief that his army so outnumbered that of his son-in-law as to enable him to come to terms with him without fighting. For in spite of continued pressure from France James refused to declare war on the Dutch. The Imperial envoy in London reported on November 9 that more reinforcements were expected from Scotland and Ireland and that the King could not hide his feeling that he was safe and secure, and indeed that his earlier anxieties had fallen away from him. For the moment James was convinced that the only backing William had from Englishmen was from the exiles who had come over with him.
In fact the middle party at Whitehall, Rochester and Clarendon, in particular, and some of the bishops were planning formally to ask the King to call a Parliament at once. This, they thought, might form a genuine basis for a compromise between William and James. After all, in the final version of his declaration, framed on English advice, William had asked for a free Parliament that autumn. The proposal therefore was a possible means to avoid bloodshed. Indeed there was a remarkable lull during the first fortnight after the invasion fleet had anchored. William remained at Exeter from November 9 to November 21. Bentinck, who was there, felt that the neighbouring gentry and clergy were becoming a little warmer towards the invaders, but the majority were afraid of the gibbet. Meanwhile James was still angling for the Church’s assistance and was hesitating to leave London. He did not in fact do so until November 17. It was felt by the Dutch ambassador that if the King left his capital there might be a rising against him, though equally if he did not join his soldiers soon and lead them against his enemy, the army might mutiny. A succession of blows now fell thunderously upon him. The first was that his officers began to desert him. Lord Lovelace, the first to try to join William, was stopped by the Gloucestershire militia on November 11 and ignominiously taken back to the army headquarters in Salisbury. But the next officer to do so was no less a person than James’s nephew by his first wife, Lord Cornbury, son of Clarendon. Clarendon denied all knowledge of his son’s intentions, but his desertion on November 14 was a straw in the wind. On the next day Lord Delamere started a rising in the north by calling out two hundred or more of his tenants in Cheshire. That produced a chain reaction. A week later the Earl of Danby seized the city of York (the Duke of Newcastle, whom James had put in charge as Lord Lieutenant of the three Ridings, having failed to stop the obvious preparations made there); the previous day the city of Nottingham was occupied by the Earl of Devonshire on behalf of the revolutionaries. By the first week of December almost the whole of Yorkshire was in the hands of Orangists.
It was symptomatic of the way in which the nobility behaved that the Earl of Derby was equally remiss in Lancashire. Derby had been told by the King in the middle of October that he was to take over the Lord Lieutenancy of Lancashire and Cheshire from Lord Molyneux, a Roman Catholic, who had previously been given this post when the Lords Lieutenant were being changed about earlier in the year. Derby had assured the King that he was a Stanley and the Stanleys had always been loyal to the throne. But the leading figures in Lancashire had refused to obey the Earl until he received his commission in writing and on November 1, just before William of Orange set sail, Derby had met Lord Delamere and held a secret discussion with him, with the results of which Delamere expressed deep satisfaction. It appears that Delamere warned Derby that a rebellion might take place in the north and that Derby had promised him that his home at Altrincham in Cheshire should in that event be protected by the militia. Lord Delamere afterwards maintained that the Earl of Derby had broken his word to him. But in any case the Earl of Derby, like the Duke of Newcastle, had behaved extremely sluggishly; the rebellion spread from Chester to Derby and Nottingham and by November a i the Governor of Chester Castle was writing mournfully that he expected the rebels would soon form ‘a very great body’ and start marching on London.10 Derby appears to have been ready to prevent disorder but to help neither the King nor the rebels. By December xo Delamere was telling him sharply, ‘God be praised, we need none of your help’.
The northern rising began on November 15. On November 16 Admiral Dartmouth sailed back along the Channel to Spithead to await a friendlier wind. On November 17 James II, having shown his annoyance with the petition with which he had been presented asking him to call a Parliament, at last left London to join his army at Salisbury. James said, not unreasonably, that he could not be expected to call a free Parliament while foreign troops were camping upon English soil. Before he went from London he had informed Barrillon that he did not want open help from France for fear of further provoking the Dutch who, after all, had not yet actually attacked him. Louis XIV himself also felt cautious. He said that he did not intend to send his fleet or his troops to James’s aid unless he felt that to do so would be a positive advantage to the King of England. The situation was fraught with delicacy. Everyone was still manoeuvring for position. No one wanted to strike the fatal blow.
Presumably before William departed from Exeter he must have received news of the rebellion in the north. But Danby complained that he was ignored, that all his letters were disregarded: they may however have merely gone astray. But it is likely that the Prince wanted to keep control of events in his own hands. At any rate the situation in the south of England had now cleared sufficiently for him to begin moving east and to bring pressure on the King. Edward Russell had visited Plymouth and persuaded the Earl of Bath that he could safely declare himself a rebel. At the same time as Lord Cornbury deserted, other royal soldiers were beginning to trickle in groups across the lines. Edward Seymour, a powerful figure in the west of England, had joined the Prince at Exeter, which more than compensated for the flight of the Bishop from that city, to be at once rewarded on his arrival in London with the vacant archbishopric of York bestowed upon him by his grateful King. On November 25 William reached Sherborne, where he stayed at the house of the Earl of Bristol. Thence he dispatched the Earl of Shrewsbury with two regiments to see what was happening in the city of Bristol. There he found that the Duke of Beaufort, the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire and neighbouring counties, had already yielded to panic. Bristol was handed over. For both sides it had been a decisive week.
James II arrived at Salisbury on November 19. In his absence the Earl of Clarendon paid a call upon his niece, James’s younger daughter, Princess Anne. The Princess asked her uncle why he had not visited her before. Clarendon explained that ‘truly he was ashamed to appear anywhere since the villainy his son [Cornbury] had committed’. Anne replied that people were so apprehensive of popery that she believed many more of the army would do the same thing. She knew what she was talking about. For it had already been arranged between her, Bishop Compton and the Churchills that she should secretly leave London at the same time that Lord Churchill and others were deserting the army.
James was in a highly nervous condition while he was at Salisbury. During the five days that he was there, two of them (November 20 and 21) he was perpetually bleeding at the nose. Next day his nose stopped bleeding and he held a council of war. His commander-in-chief, Lord Feversham, was for retreating; his second-in-command, Lord Churchill was for making a stand: his descendant, Sir Winston Churchill, argued that ‘he gave the right advice either because he knew the opposite course would be adopted, or because, if he had been taken at his word, that would have been convenient to his resolves’—since an advance westward would make it easier for his wife and Princess Anne to escape from London and for himself to join William of Orange. At any rate Churchill’s advice was disregarded and the following night, accompanied by the Duke of Grafton and other officers and with some four hundred cavalry, he rode over to join Prince William who had now reached Axminster in Devon. By a concerted movement the next night Princess Anne and Lady Churchill secretly left London, in the charge of Bishop Compton, armed with sword and pistols—’a veritable embodiment of the Church militant here on earth’—and after various adventures the party reached Nottingham to be welcomed there by the Earl of Devonshire. At the same time Princess Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, nicknamed by Charles II ‘est-il possible?’, also left the King.
The desertion of his second-in-command, of his nephew and other officers was a severe blow to the King. But the northern risings and the failure of his fleet had made the decisive impact on his mind. All accounts agree that a state of confusion prevailed at the camp while he was there. Barrillon, who went with the King to Salisbury, was not at all surprised by the turn of events. In fact on November 20 he had already warned King Louis XIV that Churchill and Grafton were not to be trusted: that they were unlikely to fight with a good heart ‘and the whole army knew it’.’ Vainly Barrillon conveyed inspiriting messages to James from his master. Far from showing himself willing in time of peril to lead his troops against the foe, James arranged defensive dispositions—his army was to be strung out along the Thames from Marlow eastwards—and toyed with the idea of playing for time and awaiting French help. On November 23 Barrillon reported that the King had decided to retire to London ‘as has been his intention from the first’. His object, James informed the French ambassador, was to keep his army intact (like his navy!) and his capital obedient. Now at last he confessed that he would be glad of French troops to prevent the Prince of Orange from becoming master of England. Before the King left Salisbury he gave orders for the arrest of Lady Churchill and the seizure of Churchill’s goods and furniture. That was a pathetic effort to shut the stable door after the horses had escaped. As soon as he got back to London on November 26 the King learned with horror that even his own children had forsaken him.
On the face of it James II now decided to try to come to an agreement with his son-in-law. Before he left London for Salisbury he had brusquely rejected the petition concerted by Clarendon and others for the immediate calling of a Parliament. But once James had seen the divided and unreliable condition of his army, he realized that he could not fight or frighten away the Prince of Orange. First he consulted his Privy Council; then he summoned a large meeting of peers, lay and spiritual, and after a prolonged discussion it was decided on November 28 to call a Parliament for January 15, the earliest possible time when this could be done if the normal electoral procedures were followed. Rochester, Clarendon, Jeffreys and Godolphin all favoured that course. Halifax and Nottingham, the famous pair of sitters-on-the-fence, thought it was ‘very impractical’. The two Secretaries of State, Middleton and Preston (who had replaced the frightened Sunderland), and some of the King’s Roman Catholic advisers, who now hovered in the background, appear to have preferred the idea of the King going to France and collecting help. On the surface at any rate James agreed with those who wanted him to summon a Parliament and to negotiate with William of Orange about its meeting. But all along, at the back of his mind, he was postponing the evil hour of real decision. He explained that if it had not been for his nose bleeding he believed that Lord Churchill would have kidnapped him when he was proposing to inspect his troops at Warminster, fifteen miles from Salisbury, on November 21, and have taken him a prisoner to William. He said that ‘it would appear that the Prince of Orange came for the Crown, whatever he pretended; that he would not see himself deposed; that he had read the story of King Richard II’. Earlier James had accused the Earl of Sunderland of losing his nerve; now plainly the King had lost his.
Before James returned to London he had tried to arrange for his son, the baby Prince of Wales, to be smuggled Out of the country. He had placed the child in the care of the Roman Catholic Lord Dover, recently named acting Governor of Portsmouth in the place of the Duke of Berwick, who had been summoned to Salisbury. On November 24 Lord Dartmouth, who five days earlier at Torbay had actually sighted the Dutch fleet, which William had ordered to winter in England, but had then withdrawn on account of ‘much wind’—landed from the Spithead at Portsmouth in order personally to welcome the royal infant, while his fleet fired a twenty-one gun salute. A week later Dover gave Dartmouth letters from the King containing sealed orders to help him carry the Prince by yacht ‘to the first port they can get to in France’. Dartmouth demurred at these instructions and proceeded to write a long letter to the King explaining his downright refusal to obey them. Dartmouth was now rapidly coming round to the point of view of the other leading Protestants. Five days earlier (on November 28) he had warned the King of the growing disloyalty of the naval officers—Captain George Churchill, a younger brother of the Baron, had already gone over to the Dutch, pretending his ship had sprung a leak and added, ‘for God’s sake, Sire, let a parliament be called’ .
James was occupied in sending up smoke screens. On November 29 he saw Barrillon and told him that he could see no remedy but to call a Parliament; and explained that this ‘would give him time to take his measures to guarantee himself against utter ruin’. Next day it became known that Halifax, Nottingham and Godolphin, three men of the middle, who had been on friendly but not on treasonable terms with William of Orange, had been appointed commissioners to conclude a treaty on James II’s behalf with his son-in-law. None of the commissioners was enthusiastic about his duties. Halifax refused to serve if Rochester were appointed to the commission; Godolphin complained that they had little power; and they all believed that their mission would be a failure before they even started. Moreover, they did not think that prolonged negotiations were in the least possible. ‘The affairs of the Prince,’ wrote one of them, were ‘such as win admit little delay, especially since the King of France’s troops have already advanced to Bois-le-duc and burnt twelve villages thereabouts.’
The commissioners’ instructions were to inform William that Parliament was to be called on January 15, to which all differences and causes of complaint alleged by William would be referred, and to adjust with him ‘all things necessary’ for the freedom of elections and an undisturbed session. Additional instructions stated that ‘in case the Prince of Orange should object that there can be no security for the sitting of parliament while our forces remain near the Town you are allowed to say our forces shall be halted some reasonable time before the sitting of parliament at the same distance from the Town as the Prince’s army’, except for the necessary complement of guards.
The commissioners did not meet William until a week later, at Hungerford, eight days march from London. Meanwhile Princess Anne’s uncle, the Earl of Clarendon, having searched his conscience long enough, decided to follow in the footsteps of his son and niece. When he met the Prince of Orange on December 3 near Salisbury William inquired about the commissioners and expressed surprise that Halifax and Godolphin had come on such an errand. Their passports were delayed and their guide got dead drunk, but the embassy eventually began business on the evening of December 7. On December 8 the commissioners handed in a written statement. When they asked to speak to the Prince privately William declined to let them, ‘for he said he was come on the business of the nation and that he had no private concern of his own’ . William appointed his friend William Bentinck and the Earls of Oxford and Shrewsbury to convey his answers the next day. His terms were not altogether unreasonable. He required the disarming and removal of all papists from offices, while all proclamations against him were to be called in, the Tower of London and the fort at Tilbury were to be placed in the hands of the City authorities, both armies were to stay thirty miles from London, Portsmouth was to be guarded against the landing of French or other troops, and revenues were to be assigned for the maintenance of William’s forces until Parliament met.
The commissioners were not empowered to discuss these terms, merely to convey them back to the King. But Halifax had taken advantage of the opportunity for a word with the garrulous Dr. Burnet, who was in the Prince’s entourage. Halifax asked whether William really wanted to get the King into his power (the so-called kidnapping episode has to be remembered). Burnet retorted that there was no wish to harm him. ‘And if he were to go away?’ Halifax asked. ‘There is nothing,’ replied Burnet, ‘so much to be wished.’ On the afternoon of December 11 the commissioners returned to London, having sent in advance two dispatches to James telling him of the result of their negotiations. The first reaction in Whitehall was that William’s terms held Out hopes of a satisfactory settlement and that evening James had told his Council that he had no intention of leaving the country. If that was the truth, the King changed his mind later that night. Presumably James had the time to study William’s terms and decided they were too much for him. After all, his whole reign had been devoted to the protection of his fellow religionists. Could he now so humiliatingly abandon them, throwing them out of all positions of trust? That would be to stultify his whole career.
So James II came to his final decision that December night. Admiral Dartmouth having refused to send the Prince of Wales from Portsmouth to France, James had him brought back to London, and he sent his Queen and his son across from Gravesend. He gave this news to Lord Feversham, his commander-inchief, on December 10 and added:
I hope you will still have the same fidelity to me and though I do not expect you should expose yourselves by resisting a foreign army and a poisoned nation, yet I hope your former principles are so rooted in you that you will keep yourselves free from associations and such pernicious things.
Feversham later forwarded this letter to William of Orange saying that ‘he had given notice of it in the army to prevent the effusion of Christian blood’. What James may have meant by ‘a poisoned nation’ was illustrated by a sentence from a letter written by Edward Russell to Arthur Herbert on the same day: ‘All the counties we have come through have received us with great joy; great numbers of gentry and nobility have come in.’
James left Whitehall Palace by a secret door in the early hours of December 12, twenty-four hours after his wife and son, taking the Great Seal with him in order, he said, to prevent a Parliament being called in his name. But as he crossed the Thames he threw the seal overboard, whence it was later recovered by a fisherman. As soon as Dartmouth at Spithead heard the news of the King’s withdrawal, he handed over his fleet to the ‘gracious protection’ of Prince William of Orange: complicated underhand negotiations had prepared the way for this surrender. Thus five weeks after the Dutch fleet had anchored in Torbay the bloodless—and therefore glorious—Revolution appeared to have been completed.
These were the determining events. But now came an anticlimax. As soon as the King’s departure was confirmed, the Archbishop of Canterbury presided over a meeting at the Guild-hail of such peers as were in London and endeavoured to provide for the maintenance of law and order in view of the precipitate disbandment of the royal army. Inevitably that night was one of riot and terror; Roman Catholics’ houses and chapels were attacked by the mob, the residence of the Spanish ambassador being a particular object of wrath; but less damage was done than might have been feared. The news spread and other houses belonging to Roman Catholics outside London—such as Lord Dover’s house near Cambridge and various chapels—drew the attention of the rabble. William learned of his father-in-law’s escape from London with considerable relief. The Prince had now reached Wallingford on the Thames in his slow progress towards the capital. The Earl of Clarendon noted that when the Prince had dinner at Marshal Schomberg’s headquarters ‘he was very cheerful and could not conceal his satisfaction at the King’s being gone’. All his doubts, hesitations, inhibitions about the future were calmed. He did not, however, press on to London. Next day he moved to Henley where he expressed in no uncertain terms his anger that the King’s commander-in-chief had so promptly obeyed James’s order to disband and that ‘the soldiers were all running up and down not knowing what course to take’.
Meanwhile the unfortunate James II had failed to make good his escape. On December 12, relays of horses having been arranged, he, in the company of Sir Edward Hales, the Roman Catholic Lieutenant of the Tower of London, had covered fifty miles in seven hours. But the boat that was to carry them to France, which lay near Sheerness, was not yet ready to sail. Crowds of people were all over the place engaged in ‘hunting papists’ or ‘priest-codding’. Obadiah Walker, the Roman Catholic Master of University College, Oxford, who had also been trying to escape abroad, learning of his danger, turned his coach back from Kent towards London. Hales, not a popular figure in those parts, was soon recognized, and he and the King were seized just before midnight by a party of armed sailors or fishermen, who boarded their boat. They were carried as prisoners to Faversham, where the King was also recognized, and was reduced to writing letters, including one to Prince William, demanding rescue from his rough hosts.
The Archbishop of Canterbury was a stickler for loyalty and the letter of divine right. No sooner did he hear that the King was still in England than he resigned his presidency of the ad hoc council of regency in London and handed over to the Marquis of Halifax, who took the chair. The Lords ordered the London trained bands to fire on the mob if necessary. After another night of rioting, when wild rumours arose of the Irish marching on the capital, the Lords again met under Halifax’s presidency. They received a message from the King in Faversham. Peers, coaches and guards were sent out to collect their wandering King. James, ever volatile, cheered up when he was told that a welcome awaited him in the City. He got back from Kent on Sunday, December 16. A crowd spontaneously acclaimed him, which induced the King to believe that their previous anger had not been with his person but with his religion. Elated, he ate a good supper, related his adventures with gusto, and slept that night once again in his palace.
Needless to say, William of Orange, who had now reached Windsor, was not pleased at the news of James’s unexpected return. It had been thought in William’s entourage that he had been extremely slow to act. The King by withdrawing himself had, it was said, in effect abdicated; the Prince should at once have advanced on the capital at the head of his army, declared himself King, and issued warrants for the calling of a Parliament ‘according to Cromwell’s model’. But William was never given to sudden or unconsidered decisions. His first move, after he had received the message from King James, was to order Count Zuylestein to go to Kent and tell James to stay where he was. But it was too late for that. The King was already back in London. On December 17 while James was telling Barrillon that he had no doubt William would seize the throne by force (though rather childishly he added that without the Great Seal he would have difficulty in calling Parliament), the Prince resolved to send a suitable deputation to London ordering the King to remove himself ‘for the quiet of the City and the safety of his person’ to the house of the Duchess of Lauderdale at Ham in Surrey. Count Solms, one of William’s generals, was dispatched with a detachment of Dutch guards to ensure that the order was carried out. The deputation, consisting of the Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord Delamere and the inevitable Halifax, found the King in bed at two in the morning. James said that he would rather go to Rochester than to Ham; it was evident that his intention was to get away to France. The three lords sent to William of Orange, now at Sion House in Middlesex, near London, to ask his permission. The Prince raised no objection, and by the evening of December 19 James was in Rochester. On the day before William himself came quietly into London. Evelyn noted that he was ‘very stately, serious and reserved’. ‘It happened to be a very rainy day,’ wrote Dr. Burnet, ‘and yet great numbers came to see him. After they had stood long in the wet, he disappointed them: for he, who neither loved shows nor shoutings, went through the park. And even this trifle helped to set people’s minds on edge.’
At ten o’clock on the morning of December 20 William met the peers in St. James’s Palace. Next day he announced to them that while he must be responsible for the maintenance of order, he would leave to them the responsibility for the civil administration and for making arrangements for the holding of a free Parliament. A day later James II silently vanished from Rochester during the night; no efforts were exerted to impede his final escape. And while over Christmas loyal addresses were flowing into London inviting William to take over the government of the kingdom, James crossed the sea, starting his journey in a yacht and ending it upon one of Louis XIV’s frigates, to arrive safely upon the soil of France.
The late Sir Winston Churchill called the Revolution ‘a national conspiracy’. That is a pardonable exaggeration. All revolutions are headed by a few dedicated men. Others will make up their minds at the latest possible moment. But in the England of 1688 a revolutionary atmosphere had been created. It was shown by the state of unrest among officers and men both in the army and navy; in the anti-Catholic riots and demonstrations that took place throughout the reign of James II in different parts of the kingdom; in the passive resistance of leading men everywhere to the pressures from the King’s representatives or agents; in the scepticism generally expressed even before the birth of the Prince of Wales as to the genuineness of the event; in the attitude of the London mob to the trial of the seven bishops; even in their acquittal by a jury against the advice of the Lord Chief Justice.
Leaders of revolutions are rarely attractive figures; often they are dedicated fanatics: Cromwell, Robespierre, Lenin. Certainly the men of 1688 were more ‘respectable’: who would have died at the stake or in the front line for the corrupt Earl of Danby or the hypochondriac Earl of Shrewsbury, say, among the revolutionary conspirators? Modern historians tend to assign less importance to individual leaders than their predecessors did; they are inclined to examine revolutions in terms of class structure and social or economic change. Emphasis is laid upon the relationship between the concept of liberty and the possession of private property. Jock’s justification of the revolution is analysed in terms of a possessive class afraid for its possessions.
The Revolution of 1688 will in future be exhaustively examined in this kind of way. And there can be no doubt that men were then afraid that James II’s policies had endangered their property rights, freeholds, or franchises, whether they were Fellowships at Magdalen College, Oxford or valuable offices of State, removed from men like Halifax or Rochester or Herbert when they refused to accept James II’s pressures on behalf of his own religion. Many men also unquestionably believed that the logic of James’s views about religious equality ultimately meant submission to the papacy. Had not the King said in his declaration of indulgence: ‘We cannot but heartily wish that all the people of our dominions were members of the Catholic Church’?
If historical analysis requires that the origins of the revolution be traced back far into the past, on a shorter-term basis it was clearly linked with the Popish Plot and the exclusionist agitation a decade before when men first began to question the wisdom of accepting the rule of a Roman Catholic king. It was then that William of Orange who, by his marriage, had become closely involved in English affairs, started slowly to emerge as a possible focus of a revolutionary movement. In so far as any one man was the author of the revolution it was William, who had been feeling his way towards intervention in England at least since 1681. His invasion had been the signal that aroused many potential revolutionaries to action; yet there still might have been a revolution if he had never come. The Revolution of 1642-49 had set a precedent. James II remembered that only too clearly: hence his reluctance to call a Parliament or to leave London. But William of Orange remembered it too and came over in part at least because he did not want to run the risk of a fresh outburst of republicanism. He came indeed, it might be said, to stop a revolution; in fact, he started one.
Once the signal was given by William’s landing in Torbay, men examined their consciences as well as their private concerns. If history teaches us that the causes of revolutions are complex, life tells us that men and women are always capable in a crisis of preferring their duty to their interest. Some men are born impulsive revolutionaries like Henry Booth, Lord Delamere or Bishop Henry Compton. Others are unprepared to take risks. After the Revolution the Marquis of Halifax, that balanced intellectual, once said to Reresby: ‘Come, Sir John, we have wives and children and we must . . . not venture too far.’ Others again, like Archbishop Sancroft, dared not for conscience’s sake betray the oaths of loyalty they had taken, however much they disapproved of existing policies. What all agreed upon was that Parliament should be the forum where the opinions of the ruling classes could best be expressed. James’s prolonged efforts to fashion a Parliament to achieve his purposes—not, in themselves, ignoble—had failed. Now William had conquered it was time for it to meet and take its decisions.