Unknown 17th Century Dutch Artist, Embarkation of William III, Prince of Orange, at Helvoetsluis, c. 1688-99, oil on canvas, Royal Collection
On 1 November, driven onward at speed by a strong easterly wind, a vast Dutch fleet left its sheltered harbour at Hellevoetsluis and sailed out into open waters. At a signal from William of Orange the great gathering of ships organised itself into a prearranged formation, ‘stretching the whole fleet in a line, from Dover to Calais, twenty-five deep’. The Dutch began their mission, ‘colours flying’, the fleet ‘in its greatest splendour’, ‘a vast mass of sail stretching as far as the eye could see, the warships on either flank simultaneously thundering their guns in salute as they passed in full view of Dover Castle on one side and the French garrison at Calais on the other’. As the great flotilla proceeded magnificently on its way, the Dutch regiments stood in full parade formation on the deck, with ‘trumpets and drums playing various tunes to rejoice [their] hearts … for above three hours’.
In his diary for the day, Constantijn Huygens junior, William of Orange’s Dutch secretary, recorded how, the morning after they set sail: ‘We arrived between Dover and Calais, and at midday, as we passed along the Channel, we could see distinctly the high white cliffs of England, but the coast of France could be seen only faintly.’ Constantijn junior, and the other children of the distinguished statesman, connoisseur, poet and musician Sir Constantijn Huygens, together with their father, will be important witnesses and guides as the present book unfolds.
Poised between England and Holland (like other members of his family he was an outstanding linguist, whose English and French were as fluent as his native Dutch), Constantijn junior was equally at home in the élite circles of either country. Like his father and his younger brother, the scientist Christiaan Huygens, he moved easily between countries, his international experience proving invaluable to his princely employer.
From the very start, the Dutch fleet achieved its key strategic aim, creating an unforgettable spectacle, inducing a feeling of shock and awe in onlookers on either shore. The iconic image of its offensive sortie into the English Channel was commemorated in countless contemporary paintings and engravings, still to be found today, on display or in store, in galleries on both sides of the Narrow Seas. As the seventeenth-century armada made its way along the Channel, crowds gathered on the clifftops of the south of England to watch it pass. It was reported that the procession of ships had taken six hours to clear the ‘straits’.
The departure from Holland and arrival in England of this great fleet had been contrived with exceptional care, down to the very last detail. As the foremost historian of this period of Anglo–Dutch relations puts it, ‘The boldest enterprise ever undertaken by the Republic of the United Netherlands was stage-managed with exquisite artistry.’ The expedition comprised fifty-three warships, of which thirty-two were ‘capital ships’ designed for combat – thirteen with between sixty and sixty-eight guns, seven with between fifty and fifty-six, and twelve with between forty and forty-eight – the rest escort ships. There were ten fireships and about four hundred other vessels to transport troops, supplies and horses. The army was made up of 10,692 regular infantry and 3,660 regular cavalry, plus gunners of the artillery train and five thousand gentleman volunteers – expatriate Englishmen, Huguenots and other sympathisers. On top of this there were 9,142 crew members and a further ten thousand men on board the transport vessels. William’s plan was that this spectacular floating combination of forces and resources should avoid naval engagement at all costs. Like the D-Day landings, this was a huge feat of transportation, rather than a navy seeking a sea battle.
The munitions, equipment and supplies with which the expeditionary force was provided were formidable, and state-of-the-art. According to one eyewitness (who, as usual, may have slightly exaggerated the numbers), the fleet carried a total of seven thousand horses – mounts for the 3,660 cavalry officers, the Prince, his entourage and the officer and gentleman volunteers, and draught horses for the carts carrying provisions and ammunition. Further draught animals were needed to pull the fifty artillery pieces.
Every possible eventuality had been anticipated. Special equipment for the venture had been manufactured covertly in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Intelligencers reported in the months preceding the invasion that the Dutch government had ordered ‘at Utrecht the making of severall thousand of pairs of pistols and carabins’, while Amsterdam ‘has undertaken to furnish 3,000 saddles’, and ‘they are also night and day employed at The Hague in making bombs, cuirasses and stinkpotts’. There were ‘muskets, pikes of all sorts, bandoliers, swords, pistols, saddles, boots, bridles and other necessaries to mount horsemen; pickaxes, wheelbarrows and other instruments to raise ground’, and ‘boats covered with leather to pass over rivers and lakes’. The fleet carried a mobile smithy for shoeing horses and repairing weapons, ten thousand pairs of spare boots, a printing press, and a large quantity of printing paper. Additional vessels were hired at Amsterdam to transport hay, provisions, etc. The wind, Constantijn Huygens recorded in his diary for the day after the fleet set sail, was steadily easterly, and the weather good.
The one decision that had not been taken by William and his advisers in advance was whether the fleet would aim to make landfall in the north of England, in Yorkshire, or in the south-west (in either case avoiding the English army, which was massed in the south-east). Pragmatically, and to perplex English intelligence, it was decided to leave that choice to the prevailing winds. In the event, the wind, which had blown ferociously from the west for almost three weeks previously, battering the Dutch coast and thwarting William’s attempt to launch his attack in mid-October, swung round suddenly (some said providentially) in the final days of October.
Responding to the favourable wind, the invasion fleet proceeded in the direction of the English coast, headed towards Harwich, as if to make landfall in Yorkshire. Having sailed just past Harwich, however, William of Orange, commander-in-chief in person of this mighty flotilla, gave new orders for it to proceed instead south-westwards, to take full advantage of the ever-strengthening easterly wind. The English war fleet, trapped in the Thames estuary by the same wind, watched William’s armada go by twice, helpless to follow and engage until it was too late.
Landing of William III at Torbay, 5 November 1688.
The vast Dutch fleet sailed past the Hampshire coast at speed, barely managing to avoid being swept past Torbay, the last port capable of receiving it. It arrived there on 3 November, English style. Since the Northern Provinces, along with the rest of Continental Europe (but not England), used the ‘new’ Gregorian calendar, this corresponded to 13 November (new style) – the day before William of Orange’s birthday. Many in his entourage urged him to take advantage of that propitious day to launch his invasion of England. To the Dutch the choice of date would have had enormous ‘good luck’ significance.
To the English, whose support had to be won by every propaganda means possible, the coincidence of dates would have been entirely lost. For as far as they were concerned, on what the Dutch considered to be William’s birthday, the anniversary was still ten days away. Prince William and his fleet lay to off the English coast for two more days, and then landed. On 5 November 1688 (according to the English calendar) William began disembarking his troops on the coast of Devon.
Thus it was (once again, ‘providentially’) that the landing took place on the anniversary of another great triumph of English Protestantism over the hostile forces of Catholicism – the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The convenient match with the familiar date meant that Catholic threats were opportunely on people’s minds. Those who had witnessed the Spanish Armada approaching a hundred years earlier, in 1588, had continued to talk about its fearful appearance for the rest of their lives. Now, a century after that failed attempt at conquering Britain from the sea, a Dutch fleet somewhere around four times the size of the Armada successfully made landfall on English soil, bent on conquest. The frigate Den Briel, carrying William, flew the colours of the Prince and Princess of Orange. Its banner was emblazoned with the motto – announcing the Prince’s justification for his offensive action – ‘For Liberty and the Protestant Religion’. Beneath these words was the motto of the house of Orange, ‘Je maintiendrai’ – ‘I will persevere’.
Constantijn Huygens described their arrival in his diary:
The village where we landed is called Braxton. It is very rundown, with few and poorly constructed houses, built of that inferior stone which this entire coast and the land adjacent to it are made of, and covered in slate. Nearby is a high mountain, and the houses huddle beneath it in short rows, as if stuck to it.
At Braxton he had his first experience of roughing it English-style:
I ran into Willem Meester in front of an inn which was named the Crowned Rose Tavern. He wanted me to join him for a glass of cider, we entered and discovered the entrance hall crowded with a rabble of soldiers, drinking and raging. Coincidentally, I saw My lord Coote in this place, who had been given a room upstairs, and I entreated him to give me a place to put a mattress on the ground, which he gladly did, and we agreed to have dinner together in the evening. We had an exceptionally leathery fricassée of mutton that evening.
Prince William confided to Huygens that he preferred any kind of lodging, however humble, to spending another night at sea.
Unloading troops and supplies began on the evening of 5 November. Local fishermen proposed a suitable landing point for the horses, where the beach fell away steeply so that they would not have too far to swim ashore, and they were unloaded without incident the following day. The landing was completed late on the seventh. Prince William, his Scottish-born chaplain Gilbert Burnet, his private secretary Constantijn Huygens junior, and his most intimate and influential favourite, Hans Willem Bentinck, ‘sitting on very bad horses’ (provided by the locals) watched the swift and efficient disembarkation with satisfaction from a high cliff at nearby Brixham.
Burnet and the Prince agreed (though not entirely seriously) that the easy arrival was probably proof of predestination, and certainly the work of Providence.
Huygens’s first impression of the reception the Dutch were to receive was favourable, in spite of the obvious local poverty (he was clearly relieved):
Wednesday 17 December: The land between consisted of grand and high mountains and deep valleys, everything separated by many hedges and walls, the roads curiously poor, all of stone and strewed with loose bricks, on top of which layers of sludgy filth.
Alongside the roads the people had gathered, as on the previous day, women, men, and children alike, all shouting: ‘God bless you’ and waving to us a hundred good wishes. They gave the Prince and his entourage apples, and an old lady was waiting with a bottle of mead and wanted to pour his Highness a glass. In a little square, five women were standing, greeting him, each of whom had a pipe of tobacco in her mouth, like the large crowds we have seen, all smoking without any shame, even the very young, thirteen and fourteen year olds.
This promising start was, however, not to be sustained. Torrential rain hampered the subsequent march to nearby Paignton, and it was freezing cold. En route from Paignton to Exeter, carts and cannon frequently stuck in the mud. William waited for twelve days at Exeter for the weather to improve, and in the hope that the English gentry would begin to flock to support him.
Meanwhile, some two hundred miles away in the capital, news and rumours of the landing were trickling through in dribs and drabs to anxious Londoners: ‘confusd news of Dutch Landing near Portsmouth: Forces marchd that way early this morning … Dutch seen off the Isle of Wight … Dutch sayd to be landed at Poole … news of yesterdays and this days riots of Rabble’. Unconfirmed stories of military engagements, casualties, naval assaults and civil disturbance proliferated.
The diarist John Evelyn and the wealthy financier Sir Stephen Fox were somewhat better informed about William of Orange’s movements. Evelyn wrote in his diary on 1 November:
Dined with Lord Preston, with other company, at Sir Stephen Fox’s. Continual alarms of the Prince of Orange, but no certainty. Reports of his great losses of horse in the storm, but without any assurance.
On 2 November (old style) these ‘alarms’ were made concrete. Some of William’s horses had indeed been lost in a first, abortive attempt to launch the fleet in late October, but now the armada was well under way. Eyewitnesses had watched it leave Brill on its way to Hellevoetsluis, seen off publicly by William’s wife, James II’s eldest daughter, the Princess of Orange. News of the landing at Torbay reached London three days later, and immediately provoked fears of a breakdown in civil order:
5th [November]. I went to London; heard the news of the Prince having landed at Torbay, coming with a fleet of near 700 sail, passing through the Channel with so favourable a wind, that our navy could not intercept, or molest them. This put the King and Court into great consternation … These are the beginnings of sorrow, unless God in His mercy prevent it by some happy reconciliation of all dissensions among us.
By the beginning of December the Prince of Orange was believed to have reached Oxford and to be on his way to London against little opposition, but there were contrary rumours of a French force coming to James’s assistance from Dunkirk (this news was contradicted later that day), and of Scottish troops marching south: ‘Great confusion of reports, noe certainty. Disturbance at Cambridge, St Edmondsbury and other places.’ On 15 December, the Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society in London, Robert Hooke (one of those chronicling events as they unfolded in his private diary), reported ‘confusion all’ and succumbed to a depression.
Lingering, in Devon, Prince William and his right-hand man Hans Willem Bentinck were privately disappointed at the absence of support from the English gentry and nobility at disembarkation. The Prince’s English advisers were quick to reassure him that this was simply a matter of everyone hanging back, in order not to be seen to be the first to abandon James II. In the absence of troops gathering to William’s side, and cheering hordes of English men and women welcoming the Prince who would deliver them from servitude and tyranny, it was decided to choreograph William’s arrival with heavy symbolic components, in a bid to proclaim the impeccable moral foundation for the invasion and his good intentions, to be broadcast as widely and as quickly as possible. A hastily written eyewitness account was rushed into print and distributed throughout the area.
The customarily sober and understated William entered Exeter in triumphal procession: ‘Armed cap a pee. A plume of white feathers on his head. All in bright armour, and forty two footmen running by him.’ Fifty gentlemen and as many pages attended him and supported his banner, which bore the inscription ‘God and the Protestant religion’. William rode on a ‘milk white palfrey’ and was preceded by two hundred gentlemen in armour, English and Scottish for the most part, mounted on heavy Flemish horses. For further dramatic effect, these knights were accompanied by ‘two hundred blacks brought from the [sugar] plantations of the Netherlands in America [Surinam]’, all dressed in white, turbaned and befeathered. No clearer symbolism could have been used to represent William as God’s appointed champion, as described in the Book of Revelation: ‘I saw and behold, a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow, and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer.’ The white-clad ‘blacks’ reinforced the millennial theme – William was a global ruler, whose dominion extended to the limits of the known world.
From Exeter, Bentinck wrote to the commander of the Prince’s fleet, Admiral Herbert, still expressing concern at their lukewarm reception by the local gentry. The arrival of the Prince’s army would, he said, have looked less like an act of military aggression – less like an invasion, indeed – if the local landowners had only ridden out to welcome them:
I doubt not that the Good God will bless the cause, the people appear everywhere here extremely well disposed, it is only the gentlemen and the clergy who are somewhat more cautious, and do not espouse our cause. I am surprised at the latter, it seems to me that fear of the gibbet has more effect on their minds than zeal for religion.
In fact, the gentry were busy hedging their bets, trying to ascertain whether William’s bold adventure would succeed. They were preoccupied, too, with covering their backs – politically and financially. As early as 11 November, Sir Stephen Fox, anticipating his imminent dismissal from his office at the Exchequer, hastily approached the Royal Surveyor, Sir Christopher Wren, for written confirmation that building works he had carried out on his Whitehall lodgings (which belonged to the Crown) ten years earlier had cost him £1,000. Wren obliged with the certification of expenditure, and on 17 November issued a royal warrant guaranteeing Fox the right to remain in his Whitehall property until the money had been refunded to him.
Fox’s attempts to put his finances in order were part of a growing recognition at Whitehall Palace that the royal administration there was in the process of collapse. Support began to ebb away from the King’s party, and officials started discreetly to leave their posts. King James’s own first attempt at flight on 11 December contributed strongly to the confusion, since while attempting to remove himself and his family to safety abroad, he took steps to disrupt affairs of state, allowing him time (he hoped) to get French backing and to return. Before he left, he called for the most recent batch of Parliamentary writs and burned them. As he was being rowed across the Thames from Whitehall Palace to Vauxhall en route for the Kentish coast, he dropped the Great Seal, which he had retrieved from Lord Chancellor Jeffreys two days earlier, into the river. ‘He believed – correctly as it turned out – that there could be no lawful parliament held without his writs of summons under the Great Seal. His going thus created a hiatus in government, or interregnum, which was to be exploited by his enemies.’
James was right in thinking that his decision to flee would cause a constitutional crisis. Until he did so, William’s mission appeared to be one of ‘restauration’ – to restore English government to stability by any means necessary. With the throne apparently vacant, and government suspended, the Prince of Orange could for the first time openly express a willingness to fill the political vacuum by taking political control for himself and his wife, ‘to prevent the effusion of blood’. ‘Affaires being now altered by the King’s retirement’, William wrote to the Earl of Danby, James’s supporters like the Earl should disband their forces, return to their homes and ‘stand for to be chosen parliament men in their counties.’ His satisfaction turned out to be premature, however. In London, peers largely loyal to James had already set up a provisional government or Convention, which sat for the first time on 12 December, and continued to govern the country uninterruptedly, and without William’s interference, until James II fled for good just before Christmas.
On 12 December, as the Dutch army made its way towards London, reports began to reach them that James II had fled to France. Gilbert Burnet, Prince William’s Scottish chaplain, told Huygens ‘at table’, that a ‘Convocation’ or ‘free Parliament’ had been set up at Westminster to govern the country. On 14 December they reached Henley. As they marched from Henley towards Windsor, the weather was fine, and Huygens – an accomplished amateur artist, some of whose exquisite watercolour landscapes survive – marvelled at the beauty of the countryside:
Because the weather was so beautiful, we marched from Henley to Windsor. My Master was riding along with me, and we went off course, too much to the left, and headed toward the river, to the extent that we made a detour of an entire mile, yet alongside that same river we saw the world’s most beautiful views. That of Henley, when one reaches a certain height, is magnificently beautiful.
We rode through a large hamlet, named Maidenhead, where my Master stayed behind because his horse had some pebbles in his horse shoes and consequently had gone lame. I continued on my own, and closer to Windsor came on an empty road. For a long stretch, I had to wade through water, which came up to the horse’s belly. I could find no one to ask directions because all the people had gone to the street where his Highness was scheduled to make his procession.
Windsor Castle, when they arrived, provided Huygens with an opportunity to indulge one of his favourite pastimes – appraising the fine art in princely collections:
At Windsor I saw once in haste the King’s apartment, which had many good Italian paintings in it, among them those by Titian of the Marquis del Guasto and his wife, one of a woman leaning on her elbow, lying and reading, a naked youth of the manner of Michel Angelo da Caravaggio, and many others. There were also some very beautiful tapestries.
On 18 December the Prince of Orange and his army entered London in another carefully organised ‘triumph’, to be welcomed, this time, by cheering crowds of Londoners. In spite of miserable weather, people in coaches and on horseback, as well as on foot, lined the streets. Huygens reports with evident relief that many of them wore orange ribbons, while others had stuck oranges on sticks and waved them in the air. One of those who has left us his own on-the-spot account of these events records:
The universall joy and acclamation at his entrance was like that at the Restauration [of 1660] in all things, except in debaucheries, of which there was as little appearance as has been known upon such occasion and such a publick concourse. An orange woman without Ludgate gave diverse baskets full of oranges to the Prince’s officers and soldiers as they marched by, to testifie her affection towards them. Divers ordinary women in Fleet Street shooke his soldiers by the hand, as they came by, and cryed, welcome, welcome. God blesse you, you come to redeeme our religion, lawes, liberties, and lives. God reward you. etc.
William’s London entrance was designed to ensure that his arrival would be remembered as a liberation rather than a conquest. Crowds could be fickle – the same people had also lined the streets for King James, who had returned to the capital, after a first attempt at joining his wife and baby son in France had been thwarted, two days earlier. The Prince had therefore taken precautions to ensure that there was no unseemly opposition to his arrival. He had sent a senior troop commander on ahead of the main army, with units of the trusted Dutch Blue Guards, to take up positions protecting Whitehall, St James’s Park and St James’s Palace, in advance of his coming into residence. One of his key instructions was to replace the guard protecting James II with a contingent of élite Dutch troops, and to move him out of London, ostensibly for his own safety.
Three battalions of Dutch infantry and supporting cavalry entered London at about ten o’clock on the night on 17 December. ‘Having secured the posts at St James Palace, they marched on Whitehall in battle formation, their matches lit for action.’ As King James was going to bed around eleven o’clock, he was informed of their presence in St James’s Park. Thinking there was some mistake (’he could not believe it, because he had heard nothing of it from the Prince’), he sent for the Dutch commander, Lord Solms.
Then Count Solmes pressed the adding of some new [Dutch] Troopes of the Prince’s, just then come to town, to the Guards at Whitehall. The King was unwilling of that. But Count Solmes said it was very necessary.
Having vainly ‘argued the matter with him for some time’, James ordered Lord Craven (long-time devoted servant of James’s aunt, Elizabeth of Bohemia, and now in his eighties), commander of the Coldstream Guards protecting the King at Whitehall, to withdraw his men. Craven protested that he would ‘be rather cut in pieces, than resign his post to the Prince’s [Dutch] guards’. James, however, insisted, ‘to prevent the possibility of a disturbance from guards belonging to several masters’. The King retired to bed, a prisoner in his own palace, only to be woken during the night and escorted out of London to Rochester.
The Coldstream Guards marched reluctantly out of London to St Albans. Solms ordered all English army regiments in and around London to move out to towns and billets scattered throughout Sussex and the home counties, thereby ensuring that the troops were thoroughly dispersed. The Life Guards were packed off to St Albans and Chelmsford. ‘The English souldiers sent out of towne to distant quarters,’ John Evelyn recorded – they were ‘not well pleased’.
So the Prince and his highly disciplined Dutch army marched into London down Knightsbridge, confident that they would meet no resistance, along a two-mile route lined with Dutch Blue Guards. In the absence of any actual military drama to mark this final act in the well-orchestrated invasion, it was an entrance as carefully staged, in a long military tradition of ‘glorious entries’ into conquered cities, as that first entry into Exeter a few weeks earlier. William again wore white, with a white cloak thrown over his shoulder to protect him from the heavy rain. There was some consternation when the Prince, who disliked crowds, did not actually remain at the head of the cavalcade the full length of the official route to Whitehall, but instead cut across St James’s Park and gained access to his new residence at St James’s Palace from its ornamental garden.
Some historians have argued that William’s route across the park and through the palace gardens was a genuine mistake on his part (leaving his future subjects, thronged several deep along Whitehall to welcome him, disappointed). There is, however, a more plausible explanation. William, in a tradition of Dutch Stadholders going back several generations, was an enthusiastic amateur gardener, taking a keen interest in the latest garden designs and their execution at all of his numerous Dutch royal palaces.
Almost twenty years before the invasion, at the time when William was engaged in consolidating power in the United Provinces for the house of Orange, a former royal gardener to Charles II, André Mollet, had published a book on the design and execution of ambitious formal gardens, The Garden of Pleasure. Lavishly illustrated, with plates depicting the formal layout of shrubberies, kitchen gardens, flowerbeds and parterres, the book was a celebration of the garden designs of various European royal estates for which Mollet had been responsible, including Charles II’s London gardens at St James’s Palace. Since William of Orange’s own ambitious garden for his palace at Honselaarsdijk, outside The Hague, was included, we may be sure it was a ‘coffee-table’ book with which the Dutch Prince was familiar.
Mollet’s description of the garden he had created for the Stuart royal family at St James’s particularly emphasised the originality and ambition of its design. Because the site was low-lying, with no elevated viewing point from which ‘Embroidered groundworks and Knots of grass’ could be admired, the garden designer had instead ‘contrived it into several Parallelograms, according to its length’. These lozenges were ‘planted with dwarf-fruit-Trees, Rose-trees, and several sorts of Flowers’. The outer perimeter of the garden Mollet had marked ‘with Cyprus-Trees and other green Plants, to make Pallissade’s of about five foot high, with two perforated Gates to every Square’. The formal avenues were planted with ‘dwarf-fruit-Trees and Vines; the great Walk on the Right-hand is raised Terras-like, and Turff’t’, and at their intersections Mollet had designed an imposing fountain, and a ‘Round of grass whereon to set up a Dial or Statue, as also in several places Cut-Angles, as may be seen upon the Design’. To offset all this formality, there was also a carefully designed wilderness:
And in regard it falls out, that at one end there happens to be wild Wood, we have contrived another of green trees over against it, of which the great Tree which was found standing there in the middle makes the Head, both of the green Wood and the rest of the Garden; which tree we thought to leave as a remembrance of the Royal Oak [within whose branches Charles II reputedly took refuge from Cromwell’s soldiers during the Civil War].
The elegant complexity of the St James’s Palace gardens is still to be seen in engravings of the period, and on the many surviving London maps.
When, on his triumphal progress into London, Prince William came to the edge of St James’s Park, the sight of a garden project about which he had read, and which was closely related in plan and execution to his own much-loved pleasure gardens in the Northern Provinces, surely proved irresistible to him. He had already made more than one detour in the course of his military advance on London from Exeter, to indulge in a bit of tourism in the form of excursions to celebrated English stately homes and their formal gardens.36 Now he simply detached himself from the splendid cavalcade, and commenced his experience as King-to-be and owner of a string of magnificent royal palaces and grounds (including St James’s), with a short tour to admire the park, shrubbery and elegant gardens.
Strategically the advance deployment of Dutch troops, and the withdrawal of their English counterparts, ensured that London was secured for William before his arrival, and that King James was at his mercy even before the Prince himself reached London. The King had indeed been ‘escorted’ out of St James’s by Dutch guards on 18 December, ‘under pretence of keeping off the rabble’, and taken to Rochester, only hours before William took up occupancy. Just over a month had elapsed since the invading forces had landed on English soil. Less than a week later, King James absconded from his Rochester house-arrest, and left England for France. The Dutch Blue Coats guarding him had been carefully instructed to let him get away.
The Blue Coats continued to guard Whitehall, St James’s Palace and Somerset House for many months, ‘to the general disgust of the whole English army’. The entire London area remained under Dutch military occupation until the spring of 1690. No English regiments were allowed within twenty miles of the city. The English and Scots regiments of the States General’s forces, which had led the triumphal entry (in order not to alarm the citizens of London too much) were stationed at the Tower and Lambeth. Dutch and German regiments encamped at Woolwich, Kensington, Chelsea and Paddington, while another crack regiment was positioned at Richmond, and the Huguenots put up in various parts of London. As far as possible, the Prince avoided billeting his troops on private households, and insisted that they behave courteously, and pay for any goods acquired. Nevertheless, in spite of his efforts to avoid the appearance of foreign occupation, the continuing presence of large numbers of heavily armed troops in the city caused growing consternation and unrest.
The Dutch invasion of 1688 was a brilliantly stage-managed sequence of events, forever vivid in the memory of those who witnessed them. A number of contemporary diarists record the intensity of their feelings as events unfolded – whether they were for the overthrow of the Catholic James or against. John Evelyn (one of those apparently unsure of his own response to the imminent regime change) had recorded in his diary the sense of dread with which the news was received in late October that William’s immense fleet was poised ready to sail. There were ‘tumults’ in London as ‘the rabble’ attacked and demolished Catholic places of worship. Evelyn reported a ‘universal discontent’, which had ‘brought people to so desperate a passe as with uttmost expressions even passionately seeme to long for & desire the landing of that Prince, whom they looked on as their deliverer from popish Tyrannie’. For those like Evelyn who had lived through the turmoil of the Civil War years, the upheaval caused by William’s intervention in England’s national affairs seemed all too likely to herald another period of instability. Figuratively wringing his hands, he recalled in his diary his fearful state of mind as he witnessed the arrival of William’s invading army, when ‘To such a strange temper & unheard of in any former age, was this poore nation reduc’d, & of which I was an Eye witnesse.’
The complexity of the political response to James’s ‘abdication’ and William’s ‘peaceful’ arrival has been much discussed by historians, particularly since the three hundredth anniversary of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ was celebrated in 1988. In the end, the decision of the English people to accept William and Mary as joint monarchs had a good deal to do with a general reluctance to return to the bad old days of public disorder and civil unrest. Regime change was preferable to another civil war.