Posts tagged ‘William III’

11/04/2018

A Defence Of Their Majesties King William And Queen Mary


 
 
…there is something that is singular in the violence of these Motions; and it is this, that the Revolution that has lately happened in England by the wise Conduct of William III King of England does irritate them to so great an elevation of Fury. If his present Majesty had poured his Forces into France, and obliged that King to leave his Throne, the Rage would have been raised to such a pitch, as to admit of no Accession. The Piety, Clemency and Justice of King William (who now strikes Lewis with so great a Terror) is the August Subject of this Discourse. These glorious Qualities made manifest in his said Majesties late Expedition into England, in Opposition to the French Designs there, are the Subject Matter of this small Treatise. Neither the late King James nor the Irish and English Papists, his Friends, were so hot in their Resentments as the French. There is something extraordinary in it, and this boundless Wrath of the French King against William King of England, was possibly not so much kindled by the consideration of what he has done, as by the fearful prospect of what he can do…

 

 

 

So. We find ourselves in Europe, in the year 1688. Contrary to the popular belief of an alliance between Louis XIV and the Pope, the latter was actually collaborating in the opposing, non-sectarian alliance formed between William of Orange, the Protestant rulers of several of the German States, and Leopold I of Austria, a Catholic: an alliance intended to keep France confined.

In England, the rule of the Catholic James II was moving towards the twin crises of James’ imprisonment of the seven bishops who refused to read his Declaration of Indulgence from their pulpits, and the birth of the – putative – Prince of Wales; both of which occurred in June. Though these events were the immediate cause of the appeal to William by the “Immortal Seven”, another driving force was the knowledge that, in Ireland, the Earl of Tyrconnell was raising an army for James—a Catholic army.

William had been ready to move for some time, pending the receipt of a formal invitation from England; and on the 5th November 1688, he and his army landed at Brixham, on the coast of Devon. A stand-off followed: James sent his wife, Mary of Modena, and their baby out of England early in December, but himself held his ground while he considered his options. At this time there were many more than willing to support him if he would roll back his policies in favour of his fellow-Catholics, but this proved the sticking-point. Abandoned by his Parliament, his army and his navy, James fled England on the 23rd December, and took refuge at the Court of Louis XIV. Subsequently, and after much wrangling – and their agreement to a Bill of Rights henceforth restricting the power of the monarchy – William and his wife, Mary, were asked jointly to accept the throne; their coronation followed on the 11th April 1689.

James and Louis had no intention of allowing this situation to go unchallenged. Louis immediately placed an army at James’ disposal, and the two agreed that Ireland should be the base for preparations of their efforts to re-establish James in England. On the 22nd March 1689, James and the army commanded by the Comte de Lauzun landed in Kinsale, in County Cork. Over the following fifteen months, James made Ireland his own, with only the island town of Enniskillen and the walled city of Londonderry holding out against him.

Naturally enough, this uncertain situation prompted another outbreak of political writing in England—and across Europe, too, as the various factions argued their position in both religious and secular terms.

The opening salvo in the war of words currently under consideration was Antoine Arnauld’s 1689 publication, Le véritable portrait de Guillaume Henry de Nassau, nouvel Absalon, nouvel Hérode, nouvel Cromwel, nouvel Néron, which was translated into English as, A True Portraicture Of William Henry, Prince Of Nassau.

My French isn’t up to a consideration of the former, and the latter is unavailable; so we move on to the first of the two responses to Arnauld’s attack, that penned by Pierre Jurieu as, Apologie pour leurs Sérénissimes Majestés Britanniques, contre un Infame Libelle intitulé ‘Le vray portrait de Guillaume Henry de Nassau’, and translated into English as, A defence of Their Majesties King William and Queen Mary, against an infamous and Jesuitical libel, entituled, A true portraicture of William Henry, Prince of Nassau &c, by someone who identifies himself only as ‘R. S.’

Though we cannot access the earlier documents, it is reasonably easy to infer the attack made upon William by Arnauld from the counter-arguments posed by Jurieu. It is also a fairly simple matter to judge where Jurieu felt himself to be on firm ground, and where his (or rather, William’s) position was a little more shaky.

Despite the title of the translation, Mary barely figures in it: she is mentioned only in an early passage, in conjunction with an hilariously fulsome eulogy to William’s piety that, had we not previously suffered through twenty years of Charles II being called “god-like”, would be intolerable; and which makes the passage on Mary seem like a mild compliment in comparison:

As for the Queen, it is generally agreed, that there was never one more Devout, nor more exact, in the Practice of her Duties towards God. Her Piety is not accompanied with the vain shew of Hypocrisy. She is great without being Proud: She has a Natural Air, she appears in all her Actions without Affectation. She is tender and full of Compassion, and incapable of forgetting the Obligations of Nature…

…the latter presumably prompted by criticism of her behaviour towards her father.

Jurieu starts out well enough, as we see from the quote above, with the suggestion that all this outrage emanating from France has nothing to do with indignation over the abused rights of kings, and everything to do with the thwarting of French ambition. However, he stumbles as he tries to defend William (and Mary) against accusations of impious and unfilial behaviour towards James, and to show that they had a moral and legal right, and the right of precedent, to displace him. In pursuit of this, he draws clearly inappropriate examples from the bible and from European history to show that the “right” king isn’t necessarily the next heir, and that God is (presumably) okay with the correctly qualified individual taking the throne.

Curiously, while ignoring primogeniture, Jurieu basically argues for the throne being “entailed”, that is, that an heir has the right to try and prevent anything done by the incumbent monarch that he perceives as damaging to the country or to the people; extrapolating from this William’s right to interfere in James’ proceedings; and arguing, in effect, that James had forfeited his right to the throne. He finally draws a rather intriguing comparison between James and his father—suggesting that William’s intervention prevented a similar scenario of an executed king and a civil war.

From all this it follows, that the English Nation did justly look upon King James II as incapable of the Crown, because of his Religion, and as fallen from his Rights by his violation of all the Fundamental Laws, and consequently William III, his Son-in-Law, and Mary his Daughter, now King and Queen of England possess the Crown most lawfully, which returns to them by Right of Succession… They did not trample upon the respect which they owed to him who was their Father, or held the place of a Father, for nothing is owing to a Father in prejudice of the Rights that are due to God and our Country. They committed no Violence as a means of coming by the Crown; they did nothing against the Commands of St. Peter and St. Paul of being Subject to the Powers, for neither St. Peter nor St. Paul had any design of Establishing the Arbitrary Power of Kings (whose Authority is limited by the Laws) nor of favoring Tyrants…

Jurieu conversely contends that James’ seeming generosity (via the Declaration of Indulgence) to non-mainstream religions was an accidental consequence of his rolling back laws in favour of the Catholics, and that he would not have included them if he could have avoided it:

They know very well, and all the World is sensible of it, that King James did extreamly hate the Presbyterians, Independents and Anabaptists, looking upon them as the Authors of his Father’s death and as his own Enemies. It is very well known, that during all the time that he was Duke of York, he did cruelly Persecute them…

Lengthy religious brawling follows—most of it obvious, with one interesting touch: Arnauld’s apparent condemnation of William for posing as “defender of the English faith”, when he himself was Presbyterian.

Much of the next section flew over my head, in addressing Dutch history and being (I gather) intended to disprove an accusation that William, far from being a pious saviour, had always been a rapacious acquirer of territory and power. I deduce that the reference to him as of Nassau rather than Orange is meant to underscore this.

One part of the story did, however, make me sit up and blink.

Reading backwards, we find Arnauld accusing William of being behind the violent overthrow in 1672 of Johan de Witt, then Grand Pensionary of the Dutch Republic, who with his brother, Cornelis, was blamed for the Rampjaar, or “disaster year”, during which large areas of the Republic were seized by invading armies. A mob descended upon the prison where Johann was visiting Cornelis, who had already been arrested; the guards decided they would be better off elsewhere; and the brothers were brutally killed and—partially eaten!?

Brief research would suggest that William’s hands were not exactly clean in the matter: if he didn’t instigate the mob, he took no action against the participants afterwards; and it was the Orange-ists, as they were known, who came out ahead in the resulting land-grab.

(Evidently Alexandre Dumas, père, used this incident as the opening of The Black Tulip, which is now On The List.)

Jurieu’s defence of William here is not exactly rock-solid – more along the lines of, Oh yeah? Prove it! – and he changes the subject as quickly as he possibly can, to that of the Sham Prince.

There is some amusing sleight-of-hand here, with Jurieu declaring that he won’t get into all that again, even as he proceeds to rehash the story one more time, and in detail; and arguing for the baby’s suspicious antecedents (…in all probability…nothing else but a Chimera…), while simultaneously offering a grimly prosaic view of the Prince’s likely fate were James to die and leave him a “Popish Minor”. Likewise, Jurieu here professes to believe the revisionist view of the arrest of the seven bishops, that is, that James didn’t want them around during the baby’s birth; even though elsewhere he presents the standard explanation for the arrests, the bishops’ resistance to James’ Declaration of Indulgence.

From here Jurieu goes into a lengthy defence of William’s “unlawful” conduct in invading England, and his behaviour after he got there, most of it sensibly argued: we accept that William wanted neither civil war nor a dead James, and that his “menaces” were merely to build pressure and nothing he intended acting upon.

He then condemns James’ own behaviour after William’s landing:

If James II upon the Prince’s arrival in Exeter, had, of his own accord, given his consent to the calling of a free Parliament, there might have been sufficient assurance given, as of a thing most certain, that he might have had all manner of freedom, to propose, to speak, and to demand of the Parliament, whatever he pleased; Who would have barr’d him from this? He had his Guards, he had his Army, consisting of about 40,000 Men, against ten or twelve thousand, whom the Prince had taken with him. It is certain, that the Army would have proved faithful to him, and not one person would have joyned with the Prince, against him, if, at that instant, the King had called a free Parliament: But God, who intended to Ruine him, did leave him to be blinded and made obstinate, by Popish Counsels…

Jurieu also turns the tables by asking the same questions raised by Arnauld of Louis:

Indeed this Orator would not have done amiss to have spared his Breath, to have reserved his Rhetoric and his Eloquence to Answer the Demands that William of Nassau, in all likelihood will make, ‘ere it be long, to Lewis XIV, for if it should so happen, that he prove the stronger, one day he has very good reason to call him to an account, and ask him, by what Laws he invaded and retained Lorain, and possessed himself of Strasburg in the time of Peace; by what Laws he laid the principality of Orange Desolate, and treated the same as a place subjected to him by an absolute Conquest, why he reduced the Palatinate, and the Towns and Villages on the Rhione to Ashes, treating it as a country destined by the most Savage Proscription, to a perpetual Desolation, and why he seizes the Possessions of every one, and keeps Faith with none?

Attention then shifts back to England, and the legality or otherwise of the proceedings of William and Parliament after James’ “abdication”: much quibbling follows, with Jurieu not finding a firm voice again until dealing with William’s attitude towards the English Catholics:

The Man complains loudly, that the Prince, in his Declaration, founds his Order for the Papists laying down their Arms, upon their Meeting about London and Westminster, ‘with a barbarous Design of making some attempt upon the said Cities, either by Fire, or a Massacre, or by both together’. He must certainly be very much in the wrong, who suspects Papists and Popery of such Attempts; they are very little acquainted with them. St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, and many others committed in France: The Murders attempted upon the person of Queen Elizabeth, and committed upon those of Henry the Third and Henry the Fourth: The assassination of William of Orange: The Gunpowder Plot, for blowing up the Two House of Parliament in the beginning of the Reign of James the First: The Burning of London: The Assassination of Justice Godfrey: The Death of the Earl of Essex by a rasour; And that of King Charles the Second by Poyson, with a Hundred other Enterprizes of this nature, make it appear, that we commit an outrageous violence against Popery, if we believe, that she is capable of inspiring the blackest Designs…

…and what a fascinating mixture of fact and fiction THAT is! Interesting how belief, or “belief”, that the Catholics were responsible for the Great Fire, comes and goes over time; also that James murdered Charles; while responsibility for the death of the Earl of Essex tends to shift around.

But it is Arnauld’s prediction of William’s eventual cruelty towards English Catholics that pushes Jurieu over the edge:

It is a mark of great judgment to look for Cruelty out of France, and to accuse a Foreign Prince thereof, whil’st he lives under the most cruel Government that has been in Europe for these many ages. A Government under which a Thousand Cruelties have been committed upon the Protestants to make them abjure their Religion… They burnt, they rack’d, they tortured them… They massacred, and burnt and tore many in pieces alive. They left infinite numbers of People to perish in frightful Prisons, and in unspeakable miseries… These are the Men who accuse our Princes of Severity. Get you gone then, you Infamous Man! Go, and read Lectures of Clemency to your own Masters, before you charge ours with Cruelty.

And Jurieu wraps things up by drawing comparisons between Louis’ behaviour, and that of James after the Battle of Sedgemoor:

After the defeat of the Duke of Monmouth, he sent a Monster of Injustice into the West of England. He caused to Hang and Quarter more than two thousand persons in those Counties. An example of horrible Cruelty, and which possibly cannot be parallel’d in History. In the most Criminal Rebellions, the Heads are punished, and the Multitude is pardoned. But he was for cutting off both Leaders and People, and burying them under the same ruins. You speak for a Prince who is suspected to have his hands stained with his Brother’s Blood, and to have dipt them in that of the Earl of Essex. You ought to have let these Ideas of Horror sleep, and engage those who wish him well, not to awaken them, and expose them to the view of England…

 
 

20/10/2013

Great Cesar’s ghost

mary1One of the most uncomfortable periods in English history was surely the interval between the departure of James in December 1688 and the arrival in England of Mary a few weeks into the New Year – during which time, the convocation that had made use of William but didn’t really want him as their monarch and the bad-tempered, understandably resentful Dutchman were left to glare at one another across the negotiating table.

However, even when Mary did reach England, it wasn’t all beer and skittles. She certainly disappointed the faction who wanted her as sole monarch when she declined to be placed in authority over her husband – although this piece of wifely submission seems to have engendered in William a greater willingness to make concessions.

Mary’s relationship with her soon-to-be subjects likewise got off to a distinctly rocky start. Advised both by her husband and her future Parliament not to show any consciousness of her anomalous position or to display any guilt over her father’s removal, Mary succeeded so well in appearing indifferent that she was branded heartless in many quarters. She certainly convinced her father on that head, receiving from him a flood of angry letters in which she was accused of treachery and selfish disloyalty.

Nevertheless, on the whole Mary’s presence in England was an enormous relief. While there were of course those who held to a hard line with regard to James, the majority either welcomed his deposing or were pragmatic enough to make the best of it. In this respect, Mary was the best possible compromise candidate. She was a Stuart and a Protestant, and had been heir to the English throne for twenty-six years. She was also James’ daughter, so that the proper “line” was maintained, albeit not in the usual way. In short, a case could be made for her.

And a case was made for her. As we have seen, very little fiction was published in England during 1689, with heavily politicised writing full of justification and retconning dominating the marketplace. Enormous efforts went into “selling” and William and Mary to England, often by twisting the usual monarchist stance and positioning them as defenders of the true faith, with the removal of James being, consequently, God’s will.

Meanwhile, though the fiction writers were quiescent, the poets were not; and the political arguments were bolstered by laudatory works celebrating the new monarchy. It is noticeable, however, the William rarely appears in these poems as anything other than a symbol, or a generalised “power”; whereas a whole body of literature eventually built up around Mary.

An entirely representative effort is A Congratulatory Poem To Her Sacred Majesty Queen Mary, Upon Her Arrival In England – by none other than Aphra Behn. To an extent, we find Aphra amongst the pragmatists—but only to an extent. While refusing utterly to so much as acknowledge William’s existence, Aphra shows herself prepared to welcome Mary—not in her own right, but as her father’s daughter.

Although we have seen how far over the top Aphra could go in her royalist poetry, her depression and disappointment over James’ fate makes this a much more muted piece of work, closer in tone to the wry resignation that marked A Pindaric Poem To The Reverend Doctor Burnet, On The Honour He Did Me Of Enquiring After Me And My Muse than to the over-insistence of A Congratulatory Poem To The Kings Most Sacred Majesty On The Happy Birth Of The Prince Of Wales and similar efforts.

It is worth noting in this context that this poem was composed after Aphra rejected the monetary overtures made to her by the Reverend Gilbert Burnet on behalf of the William-ites, who wanted her to join the faction being paid to sell the new monarchy. Aphra’s “Muse”, which she somewhat mockingly accuses Dr Burnet of “enquiring after” in the earlier poem, plays an appropriately prominent role in this one.

Fittingly, the opening of the poem finds Aphra openly mourning the fate of James:

    While my sad Muse the darkest Covert Sought
    To give a loose to Melancholy Thought;
    Opprest, and sighing with the Heavy Weight
    Of an Unhappy dear lov’d Monarch’s Fate…

But even as Aphra (and her Muse) give way to despair, new cause for hope appears:

    While thus She lay resolv’d to tune no more
    Her fruitless Songs on Brittains Faithless Shore,
    All on a suddain thro’ the Woods there Rung,
    Loud Sounds of Joy that Jo Peans Sung.
    Maria! Blest Maria! was the Theam,
    Great Brittains happy Genius, and her Queen…

However, Aphra’s Muse is not to be won over so easily, and resists the lure of this newcomer, this replacement for James:

    The Muses all upon this Theam Divine,
    Tun’d their best Lays, the Muses all, but mine,
    Sullen with Stubborn Loyalty she lay…

But then, Mary is James’s daughter and therefore a “deity” like her father before her – to whom, before bowing down to Mary, the Muse pays homage:

    But Oh! What Human Fortitude can be
    Sufficient to Resist a Deity?
    Even our Allegiance here, too feebly pleads,
    The Change in so Divine a Form perswades;
    Maria with the Sun has equal Force…

    From every thought a New-born Reason came
    Which fortifyed by bright Maria’s Fame,
    Inspir’d My Genious with new Life and Flame,
    And thou, Great Lord, of all my Vows, permit
    My Muse who never fail’d Obedience yet,
    To pay her Tribute at Marias Feet,
    Maria so Divine a part of You,
    Let me be Just — but Just with Honour too…

That done, the floodgates open:

    Maria all Inchanting, Gay, and Young,
    All Hail Illustrious Daughter of a King,
    Shining without, and Glorious all within,
    Whose Eyes beyond your scantier Power give Laws,
    Command the Word, and justifie the Cause;
    Nor to secure your Empire needs more Arms
    Than your resistless, and all Conquering Charms…

    All Natures Charms are open’d in your Face,
    You Look, you Talk, with more than Human Grace;

    All that is Wit, all that is Eloquence.
    Easie and Natural from your Language break,

    And ’tis Eternal Musick when you speak;
    Thro’ all no formal Nicety is seen,
    But Free and Generous your Majestick Meen,
    In every Motion, every Part a Queen…

However, we are not left long without a stern reminder of where Mary derives all these wondrous gifts, nor of the events that have placed her on the throne:

    Yet if with Sighs we View that Lovely Face,
    And all the Lines of your great Father’s Trace,

    Your Vertues should forgive, while we adore
    That Face that Awes, and Charms our Hearts the more;
    But if the Monarch in your Looks we find,
    Behold him yet more glorious in your Mind;
    ‘Tis there His God-like Attributes we see.
    A Gratious Sweetness, Affability,
    A Tender Mercy and True Piety;
    And Vertues even sufficient to Attone
    For all the Ills the Ungrateful World has done…

And as the poem moves towards its climax, the biblical imagery that always marked Aphra’s royalist works comes roaring back:

    The Murmering World till now divided lay,
    Vainly debating whom they shou’d Obey,
    Till You Great Cesar’s Off-spring blest our Isle,
    The differing Multitudes to Reconcile;
    Thus Stiff-neckt Israel in defiance stood,
    Till they beheld the Prophet of their God;

    Who from the Mount with dazling brightness came,
    And Eyes all shining with Celestial Flame;
    Whose Awful Looks, dispel’d each Rebel Thought,
    And to a Just Compliance, the wilde Nations brought…

01/09/2013

Early…English…novels?

Having finally gotten James out of England, I find myself a bit indecisive about how to proceed with the Chronobibliography. Though we have necessarily turned again and again to the political writing of this period, the original idea here was to look at the development of the English novel – fiction, in other words. However, although plenty of novels were being published in England at this time, the vast majority of them were translations of French novels; and in fact, the French were streets ahead of the English at this point in the development of their fiction. English writers, meanwhile, were apparently too intent upon rationalising the events of 1688 by fictionalising them to bother with actual fiction: political writing continued to dominate the scene right through 1689, and the only person I can identify as publishing genuine English novels at this time was Aphra Behn…and she, tragically, was not going to be doing it for very much longer.

So the question becomes, do I skip rather hurriedly through 1689, or do I fill in the gap with some of those translations just to give an idea of the popular fiction of the time? I’m inclining to the former; particularly since that phrase “skip rather hurriedly” does still encompass Aphra’s last works of fiction and, unavoidably, a bit more politics.

Besides—it turns out that at this time, the French too were very much given to writing slanderous versions of the recent political turmoil, and during 1689 produced any number of romans à clef along the lines of The Amours Of Messalina—but much, much longer than the typical English ones. At the moment, I confess, I’m feeling disinclined to tackle any more versions of what went on at the Stuart court than I absolutely have to.

(For some reason I have yet to determine, Louise de Kéroualle, the Duchess of Portsmouth, became a popular target for attack during this period, taking her lumps from both sides of the Channel.)

Anyway—I am able to say definitely that from 1690 onwards, the English people settled down enough to start demanding a supply of light entertainment, and for actual fiction to start appearing on a more regular basis. Though of course, “settled down” is a relative term, since 1690 brought the Battle of the Boyne. (And the Battle of Beachy Head, but that’s another story…)

Having had my focus for so long upon getting James off the throne, I hadn’t actually given much thought until very recently to what happened to him afterwards—beyond being generally aware that there was a Battle of the Boyne and that sooner or later I’d probably have to deal with it. But as so often happens, my off-blog reading conspired to bring me back to the point. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been looking into the roots of detective fiction lately, and so was reading The Purcell Papers by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, chiefly for his story Passages From The Secret History Of An Irish Countess. (Long story short: it turns out Le Fanu, not Poe, invented the “locked room” mystery. However, the former wrote it as a Gothic while the latter made a detective story out of it.) In the same collection of stories is An Adventure Of Hardress Fitzgerald, A Royalist Captain, which is set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne, and offers an intriguingly ambivalent, Irish-Catholic view of the events. Not that it’s ambivalent about James:

Some said that the king still lay in Ireland; others, that he had crossed over to Scotland, to encourage the Highlanders, who, with Dundee at their head, had been stirring in his behoof; others, again, said that he had taken ship for France, leaving his followers to shift for themselves, and regarding his kingdom as wholly lost, which last was the true version, as I afterwards learned…

Later, by then a fugitive, Hardress has the misfortune to encounter a Williamite camp follower intent upon forcing everyone to publicly declare their loyalties:

“Then drink the honest man’s toast,” said he. “Damnation to the pope, and confusion to skulking Jimmy and his runaway crew.”

At the Boyne, James, an inexperienced general (and, moreover, navy not army), failed to anticipate William’s strategy and held back a majority of his troops for what he wrongly assumed would be the main area of assault. He never deployed those troops: when word came that William’s forces were pressing on both Jacobite flanks James saw the possibility of escape slipping away and ordered a hasty retreat that was more about securing his personal safety than the consequences for his followers. James nevertheless tried to put the blame for the outcome of the battle on his Irish troops, saying bitterly to Lady Tyrconnel, “Your countrymen can run well.” “I see Your Majesty has won the race,” she retorted, unimpressed.

The rapidity with which James gathered up his court and fled Ireland for France did not exactly endear him to the men who were left in the field, and who fought on even in the absence of their commanding officer, extending the conflict into 1691 and to the signing of the Treaty of Limerick. Sheridan Le Fanu, via his Captain Fitzgerald, cleaned up the local vernacular when he referred to “skulking Jimmy”: the actual nickname James earned for himself with his flight from the battlefield and the country was Seamus a’ chaca—“James the Shit”.

08/04/2012

See you, Jimmy

I am NOT an historian.

Probably no-one who visits this blog regularly needs to be told that, but since I’m about to attempt a fairly straightforward piece of historical writing, I thought I’d just reiterate it at the outset, by way of apologising for the flubs, misinterpretations, omissions and over-simplifications in the following piece.

This post represents the return, after far too long spent dwelling on the sociopathic ramblings of Richard Head and Francis Kirkman, to my Chronobibliography. When we left off, we were in the middle of a stretch of fiction writing most notable for its thematic distance from the political writing that had flourished under Charles II, but which had become just too dangerous under James II. In 1688, however, the literary world was again a political battleground, as England became enmeshed in the upheaval which would pave the way for the “Glorious Revolution”. The aim of this piece is to outline the main events of James’ reign, highlighting those which had an impact upon the literature of the time – and vice-versa.

Through the writings of the Restoration, we’ve already witnessed the political and religious conflicts that marked the reign of Charles, most of them in fact aimed at his brother and heir. James’ first marriage to Anne Hyde, the daughter of Sir Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, produced two daughters, Anne and Mary – both of whom were raised as Protestants at Charles’ insistence. However, James himself had secretly converted to Catholicism in 1669; a fact which was not made public until the introduction of the Test Act in 1673 when, as Lord High Admiral, he was required to take an oath repudiating certain Catholic doctrines and practices, and to take Protestant communion. James refused, resigning his commission instead. Later the same year, to the alarm and dismay of everyone at court (and many outside it), he married Mary of Modena, also a Catholic. It was this that brought on the Exclusion Crisis, and the horrors of the Popish Plot.

After their efforts to have James removed from the royal succession failed, the Exclusionists were left in tatters. Their leader, the Earl of Shaftesbury, fled the country and, after one more failed attempt to raise a rebellion, died in January 1683. Subsequently, the exposure of the Rye House Plot in June of that same year (whatever the truth of the matter) gave Charles and James an excuse to rid themselves of what remained of the opposing faction. The remainder of Charles’ reign was without serious incident, and when he died in February 1685, there was barely a voice raised in opposition to James’ succession; while ultimately, the disastrous Monmouth Rebellion of July 1685 served only to entrench his position – and mark him as a dangerously vindictive enemy. In spite of the horrified public outcry against the “Bloody Assizes”, an unmoved James rewarded Judge George Jeffreys by raising him to the peerage, and later made him Lord Chancellor.

The litany of the Exclusionists during the years of the Crisis was a warning about what James – as a Catholic king – would do once he got to the throne, and as it turned out for the most part they were proved right. James was a staunch believer in the Divine Right, and had no intention of sharing his power with Parliament – or even tolerating opposition. He consolidated his power by significantly enlarging the standing army, entirely against long-standing English tradition, and by placing Catholic officers in charge of the regiments in violation of the Test Act. When Parliament objected, James prorogued it for the duration of his reign, and tried to secure a common-law ruling that he had the power as king to overturn Acts of Parliament. It took a series of dismissed judges and the removal of his Solicitor General until he found a legal panel that would give him the ruling he wanted, but he got there in the end.

James interference with the army was prompted by his fear that he could not depend upon the loyalty of the rank and file (and as it turned out, he was quite right). It was this “Catholicisation” of the armed forces that raised the spectre that was to haunt England all throughout James’ reign: the possibility of French troops being brought into the country to quell an English revolt.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to give a correct weight to these days is James’ doctrine of religious tolerance and his Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the laws that enforced conformity with the Anglican church, allowed people (some people) to worship in their own way, and removed the requirement for swearing loyalty to the Church of England and rejecting Catholicism before attaining government office. It is hard today not to view this simply as a good and right thing; even as it is impossible to view the opposition to it as anything but bigotry. It is true enough that James thought only of lifting the social and legal restrictions upon the practice of Catholicism, but in order to achieve this end he was forced to offer similar liberties to the Dissenters, and even to roll back his persecution of the Presbyterians.

However, James’ insistence upon his doctrines being announced from the pulpit – which was, to be fair, one of the main ways of broadcasting news at the time, when much of the population was still illiterate – was viewed by the Protestant clergy as an intolerable insult; and was, as transpired, a significant factor in James’ ultimate fate.

Meanwhile, James continued to fill court positions with his Catholic supporters, and likewise replaced many high-ranking officials in other civil offices – including in the strictly Anglican colleges of the University of Oxford. He also received at court the papal nuncio, Ferdinando d’Adda; the first English monarch to do so since Bloody Mary.

Then, in 1688, two critical things happened almost simultaneously. 

In April of that year, James reissued his Declaration of Indulgence and ordered it to be read out in all churches. A panel of seven bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, reacted to this dictum by submitting to James a petition requesting that he reconsider his religious policies. They also had the petition published and distributed in the form of a broadsheet. In response, a furious James fatally overplayed his hand: he had all seven arrested and tried for seditious libel. They were held in the Tower of London for a month before their trial, which took place on the 29th June, and ended in a verdict of not guilty. This outcome was a serious blow to James, the second he had suffered in that month; although the first was undoubtedly not recognised as such at the time, but would, on the contrary, have been viewed as the ultimate consolidation of the king’s position: the birth, on 10th June, of James Francis Edward Stuart, Prince of Wales.

One of the most bewildering aspects of this period in history, one which more than any other shaped its events, is the inability of the Stuarts to reproduce themselves – legitimately, that is. Most of Charles’ own woes stemmed from his childless marriage, although he had at least twelve children by women other than his wife; while James had at least five. In the next generation, neither Mary nor Anne would produce an heir (Anne therefore succeeding her sister and brother-in-law), with the former losing three babies in their infancy and the latter suffering through eighteen pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, stillbirth or early death. A generation back, James and Anne Hyde had had six children who did not survive childhood; while in the first fourteen years of her marriage, Mary of Modena suffered eight miscarriages, and bore and lost five children.

The ongoing failure of Mary to produce an heir was the major preventative of an open rebellion against James, since there was always the reassurance that his daughters, his heirs, were both Protestant, and so whatever James did would be undone in due course. Over time, people even stopped worrying about that aspect of the situation—not least because in 1687, James Stuart was fifty-four years old and (like all good Stuart men) syphilitic. And even when Mary’s pregnancy became public knowledge early in 1688, there was no particular concern. It was simply assumed that things would go wrong this time as they always had before—only they didn’t. Suddenly, England was confronted with the genuine threat of a Catholic dynasty, and those who had stayed their hands while waiting and hoping for the death of a childless James realised that they could sit still no longer. James had to go.

Although the removal of James from the throne in what would be become known as “the Glorious Revolution” (its history being written, as always, by the victors) occurred in November 1688, the fight began many months before that—as soon as Mary’s pregnancy began to be seen as a genuine threat—and ironically, it was the actions of James’ supporters that put the ultimate weapon into his enemies’ hands. In spite of what we have said here, James did have many supporters other than the Catholics, and the Dissenters who sided with them. The old Tory faction that believed in the Divine Right and loyalty to the monarch no matter what, and which had clung to its theory and looked away from reality all through Charles’ reign, did precisely the same thing through James’. To their minds, the birth of an heir to James and Mary was a sign of God’s approval of the incumbent—even if he was a Catholic. The ever-present prospect of civil war would surely be quelled by this proof of Divine favour.

However—in their zeal to place this interpretation upon the situation, many of the Tories jumped the gun, publishing pamphlets throughout the early months of 1688 in which they declared their absolute conviction that Mary’s baby would be a boy. In this they were joined by the Catholics, who saw their own vindication in Mary’s pregnancy, and likewise took the view that the birth of a son and heir was inevitable. This over-eagerness gave the opposing faction the opening it was looking for, and it began a literary campaign of its own, demanding to know how the Tories and Catholics could be so very sure that the baby would be a boy?—unless they had already arranged for it to be a boy.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the war of words that followed is that it appears to have been financed and at least partly orchestrated by William of Orange himself. While the official invitation to invade was not issued until October 1688, various interested parties had been in communication with William all throughout James’ reign, keeping him well-informed of the situation, and all of them waiting their chance. The signing of a naval pact between England and France in April 1688 seems to have been viewed by William as the beginning of James’ end, as he began planning for his eventual invasion of England from that date; although at the same time, he made it clear to those in England that he would take no action without being formally invited to do so.

Meanwhile, the opportunity offered by the presumption of the James-ites was recognised and swiftly seized upon by the conspirators, who initiated a spiralling campaign of slander and mockery that did incalculable damage to James, and left him open to a decisive attack, and in which James’ own thin skin played a significant part.

Instead of rising above the situation and ignoring what a bunch of scurrilous pamphlets might have to say, as (in an act of either unusual wisdom or, more likely, laziness) Charles had done, James made the fatal mistake of reacting to what was being said, thereby giving it credibility. The first rumour to take hold was that Mary was not really pregnant at all; that there was a plot afoot to simply “produce” a male baby on cue. In response, James insisted upon his unfortunate wife giving birth with a large gathering of witnesses in the next room, there to confirm that the labour was genuine; while later, the bloody bed-sheets were displayed to interested parties. James then gathered the witnesses’ testimony and published it, solemnly affirming his paternity at the same time – which only increased the scorn and laughter of the population, and provoked an outbreak of obscene ballads containing vivid descriptions of the gathered nobles peering solemnly between Mary’s legs.

By this time, indeed, the idea of the “sham prince”, as he became known, had taken too strong a hold on the imagination of the English people to be easily shaken loose – although whether anyone actually believed it, or merely chose to believe it, is moot. The pamphleteers kept busy circulating the most delicious stories, until there were two main scenarios from which the snickering crowds in the coffee-houses could take their choice.

The first option was that of a substituted child, in which the baby boy of a loyal Catholic woman was given up in order to pose as the Prince of Wales. This story began circulating almost as soon as Mary’s pregnancy was known, and took on a life of its own when the baby was born, and the infamous “warming-pan” was added to the mix – the means taken by one of Mary’s midwives to warm her bed being reinterpreted as the means by which the sham prince was smuggled into the birth chamber. This version of events was greatly bolstered by the fact that Mary went into labour prematurely, before the birth chamber could be officially searched for secret passages (really). That she did not nurse the baby herself – she may, of course, have been unable to do so – was considered the clinching bit of evidence.

The alternative, still more malicious tale, was that Mary had had a baby – but that James was not the father. Opinions varied on whether Mary had given up on her impotent husband and taken her own steps to pregnancy, or James had pimped his wife out to an appropriate (i.e. Catholic) substitute. Many and varied were the men offered up as the baby’s real father, but without question the overwhelming popular favourite was the papal nuncio, the unfortunately named Father d’Adda. Jokes aside (and really, how can you blame them for latching onto that?), this twist to the tale allowed the sham prince to be woven into the fabric of the long-running saga of the “popish plot”.

Astonishing as it is to contemplate, this smear campaign actually did more to weaken James’ position than any of the serious attacks made upon him over the preceding twenty years—simply because, whereas the Popish Plot had sought to demonise him, this made him ridiculous. Indeed, it was a common saying in the wake of James’ eventual flight to France that he had been laughed off the throne.

And by the way—don’t ever let anyone try to tell you that the pen is not mightier than the sword.

Anyway—while the general population rocked with laughter, and those in high places put on very shocked and solemn faces and pretended to take the matter seriously, behind the scenes the men who would earn themselves the collective title of the “Immortal Seven” waited only until the 18th June to issue the invitation that William had been waiting for. This fatal letter did not stoop to mentioning the sham prince, but stated England’s grievances in general terms, asserting that “nineteen parts out of twenty” of England’s population were in favour of William’s intervention and that “much the greatest part of the nobility and gentry” would rally behind him. Simultaneously, a second and considerably more serious pamphleteering campaign began, presenting William to the people as the desirable option of a Stuart free of the traditional Stuart vices…including Catholicism.

James was late taking the threat of William seriously, and when he finally did, he overestimated the size of his forces—which might explain his later behaviour. William finally landed in Torbay, in Devon, early in November 1688. He chose to maintain a defensive posture, hoping that the monarchy would collapse without the need for serious warfare. Meanwhile, knowing that it would only turn England against him the more passionately, James reluctantly declined an offer of French assistance and tried to drum up support amongst the Tories; but his refusal even at this late date to give up any of his pro-Catholic policies cost him the majority of his remaining followers. Across the country, anti-Catholic rioting broke out, and in the aftermath of this James saw for himself that he would not be able to depend upon his army beyond its officers. The navy had already defected.

Early in December, James sent Mary and his infant son to France. No attempt was made to hinder their departure. However, when James himself fled the next day – dropping the Great Seal in the Thames on his way, without which Parliament could not technically be summoned – he was embarrassingly captured by a group of fishermen and compelled to return to London. There he was met with an unexpected show of support, and began to contemplate ways and means of holding onto his throne—much to William’s exasperation, which grew when James tried to open negotiations with him. Desperate to avoid both an open conflict and the necessity of dealing with James were he to be forcibly deposed – the last thing anyone wanted being another martyred Stuart – William tried a bluff, sending back an ominously worded warning about his inability to guarantee James’ personal safety. It worked. James agreed to withdraw, and in return was placed under Dutch protection, which escorted him into Kent—from where he subsequently “escaped” to France on the 23rd December, while his guards were busy looking the other way.

Of course—the overriding irony of this situation is that England didn’t really want William any more than it had ever wanted Monmouth. It was true that as an alternative to James, William was a much more justifiable option: he was half-Stuart, he was Protestant, and he was married to James’ daughter. On the other hand, while Monmouth had been weak and indecisive, and easy to manipulate, William was pig-headed, hot-tempered—and Dutch. All along there had been an unspoken intention, particularly on the part of the Tory conspirators, still clinging to “the true line”, to use William to get rid of James and then offer the crown to Mary. Surprisingly, although he insisted on being crowned, William agreed both to Mary being the monarch, and to Anne’s heirs being in line for the throne in preference to his own. (Not that, as it turned out, anyone had anything to worry about in that respect.) However, whether she genuinely didn’t want it, or whether she thought it would be an ungrateful return for her father being allowed to slip quietly and safely away, Mary played the submissive wife and refused to be elevated over her husband. Finally a compromise was reached, and William and Mary were jointly crowned in February 1689, although the coronation did not take place until April.

In between those two events, one of even greater historical significance – one, indeed, whose significance can hardly be estimated – had taken place. In December 1688, Parliament reassembled (although it called itself a “Convention”, since only a monarch could assemble a Parliament) and immediately began working on “An Act declareing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Setleing the Succession of the Crowne” – better known as the Bill of Rights. Amongst its many provisions were laws making it illegal for the monarch of England to be a Catholic, or for the monarch or the heir to the throne to marry a Catholic—laws that were not repealed until 2011!! Also included in this Act were sweeping reforms that markedly restricted the power of the monarchy, for example, removing the king or queen’s right to suspend laws, levy taxes, make royal appointments, or maintain a standing army during peacetime without Parliament’s permission. At the same time, Parliament’s own powers were greatly increased. The requirement for regular elections was introduced, and freedom of speech within Parliament guaranteed. The Act also re-emphasised the long-ignored necessity for the Crown, in certain situations, “to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament”.

In March 1689, William and Mary put their signatures to this remarkable document. It was the beginning of Constitutional Monarchy, and the end of the Divine Right of Kings.