Orange is the New Jacobite

The Glorious Revolution, 1688.

James II should have been one of Britain’s best kings.

His brother Charles had brought stability after the Civil Wars. Christmas was back, soldiers had gone. Puritans had shut the hell up and were allowing everyone to play football again. A trade boom had left the Crown with more money than you could shake a sceptre at (and Charles had a famously long sceptre).

For once, an Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman could walk into a bar without killing each other. It was a golden age for British comedy.

Admittedly, there were some ominous signs. People were drinking coffee and reading newspapers, which made them opinionated and excitable (until they needed the loo). Quakers and other dissenters were being persecuted, and people worried – still – about where the limits of the King’s authority were and how far he could ignore Parliament like the rest of us.

But these gripes were relatively minor. Apart from one.

For James was a Catholic, and this was bad. Catholics, you see, were blamed for everything. They were suspected of disloyalty, of trying to impose their religion on England by stealth, and they were accused of sympathising with (or actively perpetrating) terrorism.

According to the press, which loved demonising minorities even before Richard Desmond was a mere glint in Satan’s ball-sack, Catholics had been implicated in the Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, the execution of Charles I (er…), and the Great Fire of London (seems legit).

The Great Fire of London (1666). Started by Catholic Terrorists, obviously.
The Great Fire of London (1666). Started by Catholic Terrorists, obviously.

So when James was outed as a Catholic in 1673, and when this was followed by the hellish-but-entirely-fictional ‘Popish Plot’ in 1678, the country went politically mad.

There were newspapers, there were poems, there were riots. Things got so crazy that Parliament had to be sent to Oxford to calm down. The debate was as simple as it was rancorous: should James, the heir to the throne, be barred on account of his religion? This was the Exclusion Crisis.

England’s first political parties arose out of the chaos: the Whigs (named after Scottish religious insurgents) were for excluding James. The Tories, whose name meant ‘robbers’, stood by the Crown.

But Charles held his nerve. He used the press to demonise the Whigs, and the law to push them from power. In the midst of a trade-boom, which gave him freedom, he managed, simply, to avoid calling Parliament for four years.

So when Charles died in 1685, James came to the throne with little fuss. He had money, he had a loyal parliament, he even had a bit of an army.

Unfortunately, though, James had one fatal flaw. He was a moron.

In just over three years, he managed to throw away all these advantages. He built up his army, which offended English sensibilities. He tried to use arbitrary powers to ease the plight of Catholics, which offended English bigotries. Worse, he picked a fight with Magdalen College, Oxford – something only acceptable within the confines of University Challenge, and which even then merits a stern letter to the Times.

But this was all just about tolerable, for James was old. Already in his fifties when he took the throne, few expected these irritations to continue.

In June 1688, though, there came a bombshell. James’s wife gave birth to a son, and everyone knew that James Francis Edward Stuart would be brought up a Catholic.

Not until Prince Harry would the parentage of a royal baby be so widely discussed. According to one rumour, he’d been smuggled into the royal chamber in a bedpan. Presumably the Royal Storks were busy.

Things then came to a head when a group of nobles, known as the ‘Immortal Seven’ (like the Fantastic Four but more wiggy), decided to respond in the most English way possible. They wrote a letter (this was to be, after all, the most passive-aggressive revolution in history).

The person they wrote to was William of Orange, a Dutch prince. William, who shocked the sexual morality of the age by only having one mistress, was technically part of the dysfunctional House Stuart.

He was Charles I’s grandson (so James II was his uncle). But he’d also married James II’s daughter, Mary. The letter thus gave him the ultimate excuse to piss off the inlaws.

William of Orange kicking some French ass, 1672.
William of Orange kicking some French ass, 1672.

Yet, as much as this is a valid reason as any for overturning three constitutions, it wasn’t his only one. He also wanted to get at his great rival; the original King of the Swingers, Louis XIV of France.

For, in between dancing, banging up people he owed money to, and creating prime real estate out of bogs, Louis was also busy conquering all of Europe. He’d already pinched bits of Belgium, laid waste to the Dutch Republic, and ‘reunified’ parts of Germany that woke up to learn they’d actually always been in France. He called this ‘Gloire’. Everyone else called him a pain in the ass.

The biggest prize was the Spanish Empire.

Spain was ruled by Carlos II, a sad victim of Habsburg inbreeding who had the brains of Joey Essex, the looks of Wayne Rooney, and the marital prospects of a small haemorrhoid. Wives were found, of course, but he had no children, meaning the world’s largest empire lay up for grabs. The two candidates were the Austrian branch of the Habsburg family, and Louis XIV’s Bourbons.

Against all the odds, poor Carlos hung on until 1700. But until then, the Great Powers of Europe jockeyed for influence, knowing when Carlos died the continent would collapse into war. The Austrian Emperor tried to rally the German princes against Louis. Louis called himself the ‘Most Christian King’ while encouraging the Muslim Turkish Empire to attack central Europe.

All the while, William of Orange watched nervously. He knew that if Louis came out on top, his tiny Dutch Republic would be screwed quicker (and less gently) than an Ikea cabinet. Worse, his family in London were leaning towards Louis, whom they saw as a model for Catholic authoritarianism.

Fortunately, though, in the mid-1680s the tide turned.

In 1683, the Turks were pushed back from Vienna. Louis proceeded to bugger up his domestic policy by going a bit UKIP and kicking out his Protestant minorities. Then, in 1686, lots of Germans decided they weren’t really French after all and formed, with Leopold of Austria and William of Orange, the ‘League of Augsburg’. Suddenly, the forces staring down Louis looked stronger.

A Totally Realistic Depiction of the Arrival of William of Orange in Exeter, 5 November 1688.
A Totally Realistic Depiction of the Arrival of William of Orange in Exeter, 5 November 1688.

This dramatic shift allowed William to move. In the autumn of 1688, taking advantage of the ‘Protestant Wind’ (a meteorological not a medical phenomenon, one hopes), he landed near Exeter. Crowds flocked to him as he marched towards London. James got scared, and took flight into Kent, but was noticed by fishermen. After giving him, for some reason, an impromptu bollock-examination, an unimpressed James was sent back to London.

William, not overly delighted at the sudden appearance of his father-in-law, told James he couldn’t keep him safe from the London mob, and let him flee first to Ham (where, alas, he didn’t meet the Earl of Sandwich), and then to France. James left his throne; William and Mary took the Three Crowns. This was the ‘Glorious Revolution’.

* * *

The consequences of this astonishing turn of events are still debated today.

One argument goes that Britain (perhaps more properly England), was faced with two ‘rival modernities’. Rather than follow France and much of the European continent towards absolutist government (and eventually bloody revolution and political extremism in the modern age), England decided on a Dutch path, embracing representative government and the rule of law. Certainly it became that little bit tougher, no matter how hard people tried, to argue for the divine right of Kings.

It also paved the way for Union with Scotland and the further subjugation of Ireland.

But perhaps the biggest consequence was that it pulled the British monarchies into a European war. Isolationist under James, William’s Britain threw itself into the coalition against France. This forced the country to get its finger out of its fiscal bumcrack and finally get the public finances sorted. In the 1690s, then, a properly-funded national debt was created, a land tax instigated, and Parliament – at last – started to sit regularly. The British military suddenly had a bit of cash to play with.

Then something really weird happened. A decade later, in another war, British armies started doing something they’d not done for nearly three centuries.

They started winning battles.

74 Comments Add yours

  1. tenderstone says:

    Fun, lively writing. Really dig the subject, too. Killin’ it.

  2. lyricsar says:

    the social historian a great blogg

  3. Thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this 🙂

  4. Wow. I loved it! 🙂

  5. artymarty99 says:

    Love this post so much! Thankfully, I was reading the Chronicle history book. Even though it is rather heavy, I read the parts of Charles V of Spain and how he had control of Portugal in 1525.

    I had no idea that the Dutch were so progressive and had tolerance towards other religions, until I read about it. Although, they were trying to keep up with the financial times and became as corrupted as their rivals.

    About a century back the whole of Europe were seeing a new kind of reasoning – “Lutheran”. I realise, now with this Puritan moral path they chose – distinctively announces, they declare themselves as humanistic. The Dutch were divided at this point and did not declare themselves as “Lutheran” followers and Germany was also divided when it came down to the Catholic Imperialistic nature.

    So the divide created hatred between Catholics and “Lutheran”…. which I find highly fascinating. So, for about 80 years the Dutch went to war with Spain to break away from the Emporeror of Catholisism. I think Henry VIII said he was going to break away from Catholicism but lacked tolerence, because he was a blood thirsty king. You can imagine why, he was the king of: sex, madness, and every cardinal sin broken, after all.

    This has actually helped me reform the idea that the Dutch were trying to compete with the greed and wealth through colonies. Thank you. I really liked it. Also I discovered slavery was something devised by Catholicism because of the Romans and their imperialistic tendencies. So bravo.

  6. Amazing post, I love it. Please check out my blog too. I’m a new Blogger. Thank you

  7. Prapti says:

    Oh my god! This is how history books need to be written! Loved it!

  8. beautypirrates says:

    un beliveable!

  9. pedrofalls says:

    The History Lesson

    A Dutchman called William
    And Englishman, KIng James
    Fell out and started fuedin
    And called each other names
    It was for the throne of England
    But for some reason not quite clear
    They came across to Ireland
    To do their fightin here
    They had Scarsfield
    They had Schomsberg
    They had horse and foot and guns
    And they landed up at Carrick
    With a thousand lambeg drums
    They had lots of Dutch and Frenchmen
    And battalions and platoons
    Of Russians and of Prussians and Bulgian Dragoons
    They politetly asked the Irish
    If they’d kindly like to join
    And the whole was settled
    At the battle of the Boyne
    Then William went to London
    And James went off to Franch
    And the whole kabouch left Ireland
    Without a backward glance
    And the poor abandoned Irish
    Said goodbye to King and Prince
    And went on with the fightin
    And been at it ever since

    By James Young

    Hello, I just opened my blog a couple a three hours ago. I thought I would read a few post before I posted anything. I’m going to do that Blog 101 class before I start posting, but I couldn’t resist Sharing the poem with you all.

    Mr. Healey, I really enjoyed your I hope this poem puts a simle on you.

  10. lordtoby says:

    This is the one the funniest history lessons I have ever had. Great writing, concise yet informative.

  11. jokoingvikenfiber says:

    Reblogged this on Joachim Ingulstad.

  12. Senatssekretär FREISTAAT DANZIG says:

    Reblogged this on Aussiedlerbetreuung und Behinderten – Fragen.

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