William of Orange’s Invasion of Britain


In the face of the Dutch invasion, some people rallied behind their beleaguered king. In early October, the grand jury for the county of Cumberland drew up an address against the Dutch, and similar addresses followed from the city of Carlisle and the common council of Exeter. Several members of the nobility and gentry pledged their support for James, offering to raise men on his behalf, though for some this was merely a subterfuge: the London Gazette announced that one of those who had pledged was Danby. One manuscript poem, which circulated in the West Country and seems to have been designed to appeal to dissenters, urged ‘Good people’ to ‘Throw the Orange away’, since it was ‘a very sowr fruit’: ‘Lob, Pen and a Score / Of those honest men and more’, the rhymester predicted, ‘Will find this same Orange exceedingly sowr’.What impresses, however, is the speed and ease with which William gained control over England following his landing. It would certainly be wrong to imply that the English immediately, and en masse, went over to William. There were many whose instincts were to be loyal to their king and who tried to do what they could to resist the Dutch invader; there were even more who initially were unsure how to act and were reluctant to engage in an act of treason by declaring themselves for William until they could see which way the tide was turning. Rather, we should think in terms of an expedition that quickly developed a momentum of its own: William’s initial successes, together with early manifestations of support for him, soon induced more and more people to declare their sympathy or go over to his cause, until in the end James himself came to realize that there was no way he could halt the Dutch advance.

William did not, of course, just invade and hope for the best. He and his agents had been conspiring for some time with leading dissidents in England to ensure that he would meet with limited resistance from James’s armed forces and that leading members of England’s politically and economically important classes would rally to his cause. Such was the disillusionment with James among the English merchant community that many helped provide funds to finance William’s invasion, pouring some £200,000 into William’s coffers in just six weeks in July and August 1688. A Williamite conspiracy within the navy was designed to ensure that William met with limited resistance as he attempted to cross the Channel. Arthur Herbert, the former admiral whom James had replaced with the Catholic Roger Strickland, had gone over to William in the summer and was to lead the Dutch invasion force; he was also able to ensure that many of the sea captains who had previously enjoyed his patronage pledged not to fight William. In the end, the fruits of the conspiracy were never put to the test, since unfavourable winds meant the English fleet was unable to get out of the Thames estuary and engage the Dutch. Disaffected nobility in the north of England were also conspiring to secure the north of the kingdom for William. However, again, the wind dictated that William’s armada did not head up the east coast to link up with these dissidents, but instead sailed down the English Channel. William also came over with a sizeable contingent of discontented English and Scottish exiles – ‘disgruntled peers, redundant MPs, proclaimed traitors, escaped spies, fugitive rebels, suspected republicans, renegade officers, and mischievous divines’ – among them lords Cardross, Leven, Macclesfield, Mordaunt, Shrewsbury and Wiltshire, Sir Rowland Gwynne, Sir John Hotham, Sir Robert Peyton, Sir William Waller, Sir James Dalrymple of Stair, Gilbert Burnet, Robert Ferguson, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, John Locke, Edward Russell, Henry Sidney and John Wildman, to name but a few. This was not merely a foreign invasion force, akin to the Spanish Armada of 1588. Rather, this was a British conspiracy in which discontented English and Scots utilized the resources available to a man who, although head of a foreign state, was nevertheless married to the next-in-line to the English, Scottish and Irish thrones (barring the supposedly supposititious Prince of Wales) and who was third-in-line himself, in order not to subject the three kingdoms to foreign rule but rather to free them from perceived tyranny, in accordance with the desires of the vast majority of British Protestants. To claim that 1688 should be seen ‘as an instance of what had last been seriously attempted a century earlier’ is to get it seriously wrong.

Upon landing, William managed to secure control over the West Country fairly easily. He gained Exeter on 9 November, and although the magistrates of the recently restored corporation tried to stop him from entering and the clergy subsequently refused to read his Declaration in their churches, the ordinary citizens gave him a tumultuous reception. William was to stay at Exeter until the 21st, ‘to refresh the Army after it had been so long on Shipboard, and to recover the Horses to their former Strength, as also for the Gentlemen of the Country thereabout to come and join his Highness there’, as one of the chaplains of his expeditionary force put it. He was soon joined by the Whigs Lord Colchester, Lord Edward Russell and Thomas Wharton (the sons and heirs of the Whig peers Earl Rivers, the Earl of Bedford and Lord Wharton), and the Tories Sir Edward Seymour and William Portman. To cement support for William across the nation, Burnet, at the instigation of the Tory MP Sir Edward Seymour, penned an Association for ‘pursuing the ends of the prince’s declaration’, which was then printed and circulated for general subscription. Edward Russell and Lord Leven negotiated the surrender of the garrison at Plymouth from the Earl of Bath on 18 November, Bath himself going over to the Prince, while Shrewsbury was sent to secure Bristol. With William’s rear now safeguarded, the way was clear for a march on London. Lord Lovelace was foiled in his attempt to bring some seventy ‘well appointed men’ to link up with William by the Gloucestershire militia under the command of the Duke of Beaufort, the only Lord Lieutenant to make any concerted effort to stop supporters from joining the Prince; they came to blows, and a couple of the militia men were killed and half a dozen more were injured, but Lovelace and thirteen of his followers were taken and sent to Cirencester jail and, subsequently, Gloucester castle. However, in Dorset, the local nobility and gentry began to organize the militia and the collection of taxation for the benefit of the Prince, while ‘many of the greatest quality and estates’ in Somerset and Devon also joined with William, as did the local populace.

By the end of the third week in November it was said that William had enlisted some 12,000 recruits, so great an army that he wished many would offer ‘to repair home’ until he told them they were needed. What he wanted was not civilians but deserters from James’s army, as promised in the letter inviting him to invade, and he expected much from a Williamite conspiracy brewing amongst certain army officers. The first of the major desertions occurred on 12 November, when Viscount Cornbury, Clarendon’s eldest son and commander of the royal dragoons, and Thomas Langston, with the Duke of St Alban’s regiment of horse, deserted the royal army at Salisbury Plain and crossed into enemy lines, although in fact they carried few of their troops with them. Others began to run from their colours over the next few days. The most significant blow came in the third week of November: in the early hours of Saturday the 24th, Lord Churchill, the Duke of Grafton and Colonel Berkeley crossed into enemy lines, and they were rapidly followed by the young Duke of Ormonde (the grandson of the former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who had died in July 1688), the Duke of Northumberland, Prince George of Denmark (the husband of James’s daughter, Anne) and Lord Drumlanrig. The total number of desertions was not particularly large. The effect on morale within the army camp, however, was devastating, as no man could be sure of the loyalty of his neighbour or of his commanding officer. The mood of the army was further swayed by the publication, in October 1688, of Thomas Wharton’s anti-Irish song ‘Lilliburlero’. Although originally written in early 1687 in condemnation of Tyrconnell’s appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland, it was now printed for the first time and enjoyed enormous popularity. A sequel was immediately published, making direct references to the events of the autumn of 1688, while supporters of James II even wrote some anti-Dutch words to the tune, although the attempt to appropriate the song for the government seriously backfired since it only served to remind the public of the original. Burnet, despite thinking ‘Lilliburlero’ ‘a foolish ballad’, nevertheless admitted that it ‘made an impression on the [King’s] army that cannot be well imagined by those who saw it not’, and observed that ‘the whole army, and at last all people both in city and country, were singing it perpetually’. Wharton himself boasted that the tune ‘sung a deluded Prince out of three kingdoms’.

There was a series of risings in support of William in the north of England, where William had initially been expected to land. Lord Delamere raised a regiment of some 300 ‘Noblemen and divers Gentlemen of great Quality’ in Cheshire and declared for the Prince on 15 November; ‘great numbers’ of countrymen and freeholders apparently volunteered to join with him, but Delamere sent them home, ‘promising to give them notice’ if he had ‘any further occasion of their service’. Not that the upper-class nature of his regiment meant that it acted in a particularly respectable way; according to one report, Delamere took to riding about the country ‘like a mad man’, seizing horses belonging to Catholics and despoiling their chapels. The Earl of Devonshire raised his tenants and marched into Derby on 17 November, where he declared for a free parliament, before proceeding to Nottingham, which he entered on the 20th and where he was joined by Delamere the following day. On the 24th Delamere and his supporters headed south to join up with the Prince, passing through Lichfield, Birmingham and Worcester, before arriving at Bristol (which was by now under Williamite control) on 2 December. Devonshire remained in Nottingham, where he was joined by reinforcements from the south Midlands (particularly Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire) on 29 November and then, on 2 December, by James’s own daughter, Princess Anne, and Bishop Compton of London (who had fled the capital a few days earlier). On 22 November, Danby seized York and declared for ‘a free parliament and the Protestant religion and no Popery’, and by the beginning of December he had also secured the capitulation of the important garrison at Hull. Other areas followed suit. On learning the news of William’s landing, William Rowland of Hexham in Northumberland gathered together a band of Protestants and proceeded to disarm all the papists’ houses in the vicinity. Rowland then went off to London, presumably to assist in the campaign against popery in the south. In East Anglia, the Duke of Norfolk raised the militia for William and took Norwich and King’s Lynn, ‘whereupon the Tradesmen, Seamen and inferior sort, put Orange Ribbons in their Hates, shouting and echoing Huzzas for the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Norfolk’. On the Welsh borders, Lord Herbert of Cherbery and Sir Edward Harley, together with ‘most of the gentry of Worcestershire and Herefordshire’ entered Worcester and seized Ludlow castle. Everywhere the insurgents took measures to disarm the local Catholics.

Others joined in the demand for a free parliament. Those close to the King saw it as the only hope for a peaceful solution to the crisis. Thus on 17 November, seven bishops (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) and twelve temporal peers (among them Clarendon and Rochester) petitioned the King for a free parliament as ‘the only Visible way to preserve your Majesty and this your Kingdom’ and avoid ‘the Effusion of Christian Blood’; the King replied that he could not call a parliament while there was an invading army in the West, but he would do so ‘as soon as the present troubles were appeas’d’. Similar addresses came in from across the country: from Westmorland and Cumberland and Lancashire in the north, to Norwich in the east, and Gloucestershire and Devon in the west. By early December, as the Countess of Huntingdon put it, the nobility and gentry were up ‘in all Counties’, having all declared ‘for a free parliament and the protestant religion and many for the Prince of Oreng’.

How did those who had orchestrated the uprisings on William’s behalf justify engaging in active resistance against their king? For Whigs this was fairly straightforward, since they had always held that tyrants who broke the law could be resisted. Justifying his active resistance in a speech to his tenants in Cheshire in November 1688, Delamere proclaimed that he had to choose whether he would be ‘a Slave and a Papist, or a Protestant and a Freeman’; if the nation were to be delivered, ‘it must be by force or by miracle’, he said, but ‘it would be too great a presumption to expect the latter, and therefore our Deliverance must be by force’. In their declaration, the nobility, gentry and commons assembled at Nottingham claimed that although it was rebellion ‘to resist a King that governs by Law… he was always accounted a Tyrant that made his Will the Law; and to resist such an one’ was ‘no Rebellion but a necessary Defence’.

For others who joined with the Williamite resistance movement, however, the situation was a little more complicated. Let us take Gilbert Burnet, for example. He was one of William’s chief propagandists and thus clearly a Whig in his politics. Yet he was also a churchman who, after earning his MA in his native Scotland, had served as a licensed preacher in the Scottish Episcopalian Church and then as Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow before moving to England, where he had been a royal chaplain and then chaplain to the Rolls Chapel and a lecturer at St Clement Danes, London, before falling out of royal favour and opting to withdraw to the Continent upon the accession of James II. Under William he was to become Bishop of Salisbury. A self-appointed apologist for the Church of England against the errors of Rome, back in December 1674 he had even preached a sermon entitled Subjection for Conscience Sake Asserted.36 One of the first to hint at the necessity of resistance to James II in print, in the autumn of 1688 he produced his Enquiry into the Measures of Submission to complement William’s invasion manifesto of 30 September. It was quite overtly an Anglican resistance tract.

Burnet began by asserting that all men were ‘born free’ and had a ‘duty of Self-preservation’. Although ‘Considerations of Religion’ did indeed ‘bring Subjects under stricter Obligations, to pay all due Allegiance and Submission to their Princes’, they did ‘not at all extend Allegiance further than the Law carries it’. Under the English system of government, the king’s authority was limited: if he acted ‘beyond the limits of his Power’, subjects lay under no obligation to obey; and if any, acting illegally in the king’s name, sought to ‘Invade our Property’ they were ‘violent Aggressours’ and the principle of self-preservation allowed for ‘as Violent a resistance’. Burnet was also adamant that England was ‘a free Nation’ with ‘its Liberties and Properties reserved to it by many positive and express Laws’; if ‘we have a right to our Property, we must likewise be supposed to have a right to preserve it… against the Invasions of the Prerogative’.

The difficulty was that there were ‘many express Laws’ that made it ‘unlawful upon any pretence whatsoever to take Arms against the King, or any Commissioned by him’, and that all office-holders in Church and state had sworn an oath to this effect. ‘And since this had been the constant Doctrine of the Church of England’, Burnet continued, in a vein designed to reveal his own sincere commitment to the teachings of the Anglican Church as well as his intent to reach out to those with Anglican convictions, ‘it will be a very heavy Imputation on us, if it appears, that tho we held those Opinions, as long as the Court and the Crown have favoured us, yet as soon as the Court turns against us, we change our principles’. There was a tacit exception, however, Burnet insisted: whenever liberty and resistance came into conflict, liberty took priority. ‘The not resisting the King’ applied only ‘to the Executive Power’, that is, we could not resist upon ‘pretence of ill Administrations in the Execution of the Law’. But this did not extend ‘to an Invasion of the Legislative Power, or to a total Subversion of the Government’, for the law ‘did not design to lodge that Power in the King’. It followed that if the king tried ‘to Subvert the whole Foundation of the Government… he annuls his own Power; and then ceases to be King, having endeavoured to destroy that, upon which his Authority is founded’. Burnet then went on to consider whether the foundations of the government had been struck at under James, and concluded that they had, rehearsing in full the case made against James by William’s invasion manifesto.

For Danby, who led the resistance movement at York, the problem was especially intellectually taxing. In effect, Danby had been the original Tory: the founder of the Church and King party under Charles II in the mid-1670s and, as the leading minister at the time of the Popish Plot, he was the focus of the Whigs’ wrath during the earliest phase of the Exclusion Crisis. His motives are easy to understand. In the mid-1670s, he had sought to tie the crown to a pro-Anglican and anti-French policy; he had arranged the marriage between William of Orange and James’s daughter, Mary, to whom he expected the succession would pass after James’s eventual demise; and he had even proposed limitations on a popish successor to guarantee the Church would be safe should James inherit the throne. James’s policies as king had undermined his entire political agenda. He had also been made a sacrificial lamb in the wake of the Popish Plot, when the Commons had tried to impeach him for allegedly trying to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical form of government, and although he had escaped impeachment, he had spent five years in the Tower and was not to regain royal favour after his release. Yet back in 1675, Danby had sought to impose a non-resistance oath on those who sat in the Lords and had launched a propaganda offensive designed to promote the English sovereign as a divine-right, absolute monarch. One might think this should have made it impossible for him later to contemplate active resistance to James.

A justification of Danby’s northern resistance movement appeared in print in 1689. Published anonymously, it has been attributed to Danby himself, and it was certainly intended to offer a vindication of the justice of the undertaking that could appeal to Tory-Anglican consciences. Laws, the author states, were supposed to be supportive, not destructive, of man. When a man cannot defend himself by law, ‘he may by the Law of Nature… smite his Adversary to save his own life’. If some set about trying ‘to destroy the Rest’ it was ‘lawful by the Laws of God and Man, for the injured to defend themselves’. ‘Arbitrary Princes’ might have ‘a Political power to treat a Subject cruelly and inhumanely’, but this was not true of those supposed ‘to rule by Laws made for the Publick Good, and such as render the Subjects Freemen, not Slaves; such as secures their Religion, Liberty and Property’. If such princes, ‘contrary to Law’, imprison their subjects or seize their estates, ‘they do it unjustly, without God’s Warrant, or any Political Authority, and may be resisted’. The author accepted that government was ordained by God; but God had left it to the people to decide which type of government to erect. If the governor tried to assume more power than his people had given him, then ‘Subjects may by the Laws of God and Man deny to yield to it’. In answer to the Pauline injunction that ‘the powers that be’ were ordained of God and thus could not be resisted, the author maintained that governments had ‘God’s warrant to proceed according to the Frame of the Government, to the End of the Government, which is the publick Good’, but ‘if the Governor proceed neither according to the frame of the Government, nor to the End, but against it, such Process cannot be the Ordinance of God’. It did not follow that ‘because I may not resist the Ordinance of God, that I may not resist the powerless and inauthoritative, unjust, Attempts of Superiors upon me’. Thus ‘resistance (for the Publick Good) of Illegal Commission’d Forces, is not resisting the King’s Person, but his Forces; not his Power, but his Force without power’. One certainly should not wittingly or wilfully kill the king, however, even if he joins with wicked men. Regicide was not an option.

The author then proceeded to direct his argument more specifically to the English context. England had a limited monarchy, where the king was bound, by his coronation oath, ‘to Govern by the Laws’. If a king acted against law, and not for the public good, then he was guilty of injustice. ‘Illegal force… must be resisted’, though resistance must be a last resort, and only engaged in if the cause is good and can achieve the desired end. It is not rebellion, however, because ‘Rebellion is resisting the just Power of the Government’. To the objection that only the king possessed the power of the sword, the author insisted that ‘If force be offered that wants Political Power, who ever does it, does it but in the Nature of a Private person, and Private persons may resist such.’ As for our oaths of allegiance, the author maintained that we swore to give allegiance to the frame of the government and that our allegiance was therefore ‘bounded by our Laws’, to which the king also owed allegiance, having sworn to observe them in his coronation oath. Although the king undoubtedly possessed prerogative powers, the royal prerogative could not be used against the frame of the government or the public good. ‘A Prerogative therefore cannot destroy a Law, but it may supply its defects, pardoning a Condemned innocent, or a hopeful penitent, or dispensing with a Law, to one, that by particular Accident, the Law in its rigour would undo.’ (Danby himself, of course, had received such a royal pardon back in 1679.) ‘But no Prerogative’, he continued, ‘can Impower the King to destroy the people’s Liberty or Property. That dispensing Power, that… casts all the Laws asleep’, he was adamant, in allusion to James’s Declarations of Indulgence, ‘is no Prerogative belonging to the Crown of England’. ‘Resisting Illegalities, and Misgovernment’, he concluded, was therefore ‘the way to preserve Government’, as long as the king remained safe.