The events of 1688 have been remembered in British history as the Glorious Revolution. A tyrannical Catholic king was out of control and was destroying the country’s constitution, its liberties and its religion. In desperation William the Third was invited across to rescue the British and replace the unacceptable James the Second. William of Orange landed unopposed. He drew support to himself from the disaffected subjects of James and advanced slowly on London, carefully giving the British plenty of time to come round to his side and so to avoid any bloodshed.
As he closed in on the capital James’ troops abandoned the cause that they never believed in in the first place. James was forced to flee and ended up at the court of the arch enemy of England, Louis the Fourteenth. A bill of rights was enacted, a new parliament elected and Britain now had a fully fledged constitutional monarchy. Everyone could light bonfires and throw their hats in the air in celebration. What a splendid episode in the island’s history, truly a glorious revolution.
This may not have been the real story at all of course. James had a very effective navy which he had personally lavished care and attention on which was quite prepared to intercept William’s fleet. Had the wind been a bit more favourable that November in 1688 it might well have been impossible for William to land, or even to get back to Holland again. It was the most enormous gamble. And when William landed, did the British – or rather the English – flock to him? Not in great numbers to begin with. Most of them cautiously waited to see which way things were likely to turn out before actually committing themselves to one side or the other. And although the invitation to intervene was certainly genuine, hasn’t every invading army managed to contrive some kind of pretext for their actions?
William certainly took plenty of troops with him. He had around 40,000 which was more than enough for a pitched battle with the British army if ti had come to that. It looks a lot more like an invasion than a liberation when you pick over the details. This isn’t very flattering to Britsh feelings. But the military invasion was just the start of it. Dutch culture was to suffuse Britain for decades afterwards, much of which has become so well integrated that we can hardly distinguish it from the native stuff.
To be honest, the first chapter of this book is far and away the most interesting. Subsequent ones read a bit like an extended museum guide to artefacts. But it is an interesting spotlight on a chapter of British history that is more usually glossed over.