So why is there almost no trace of this vast, hostile armada, with its dramatic progress along the English Channel, its fanfares and gun-salutes and parading battalions, in conventional historical accounts of the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’? Why are many of us unaware of the fact that at the time of the English Parliament’s ‘welcoming’ William and his wife Mary Stuart, and subsequently, in early 1689, inviting them jointly to ascend the English throne, the country was in the grip of full-scale military occupation, with Dutch troops posted in front of key buildings throughout London, and growing unrest and resentment throughout the land? Since contemporary accounts clearly report outbreaks of violence up and down the country in support of James II, and Dutch troops being summarily dispatched to restore order, how have we come to believe that William of Orange ascended the English throne in an entirely peaceful, not to say ‘glorious’, revolution?
Some of the colourful local stories we have heard so far – the providential wind aiding William, James’s dropping of the Great Seal in the Thames as he fled – have a familiar ring. But as historian Jonathan Israel has observed: ‘Since the early eighteenth century, a thick wall of silence has descended over the Dutch occupation of London 1688–90. The whole business came to seem so improbable to later generations that by common consent, scholarly and popular, it was simply erased from the record.’1
One obvious reason for this historical amnesia is the enduring impact and lasting success of the propaganda offensive launched by William of Orange even before he left Dutch shores. Surviving documents tend to exert a strong influence over retrospective historical interpretation – they are the stuff of which narrative history and interpretation are made. It is all too easy for the reader to be drawn into agendas and interpretations intentionally made part of the original telling. In the case of the so-called Glorious Revolution that shaping influence is especially misleading. For the story of William’s Protestant invasion had been honed and edited with enormous care, fashioned in the telling with great pains, and conscientiously committed to print, before ever the fleet left its Dutch harbour.
While the invasion was still in the early planning stages, English aristocrats sympathetic to William’s cause, and corresponding regularly with his closest Dutch advisers, Willem Bentinck, Everard Weede, Heer van Dijkvelt and Frederick van Nassau, Count Zuylestein, argued that a widely distributed manifesto was vital for the success of any bid for the English throne: if he wanted to keep England ‘in humour’, William must ‘entertain it by papers’. They also provided advice and information on the content and distribution of pamphlets, and established connections with local printers and publishers. Jacobite pamphleteers attributed the ready acceptance of regime change to the Prince of Orange’s ‘debauching’ of the English people with his well-judged propaganda publications. The carefully reasoned case made in the Prince of Orange’s Declaration ‘of the reasons inducing him to appear in armes in the Kingdome of England’ – composed in the greatest secrecy, and then blanket-distributed to all those likely to be affected by the invasion – has shaped the telling of the story of the Glorious Revolution ever since.
As a piece of writing, William of Orange’s Declaration was a masterly effort in collaborative drafting on the part of the Prince, his English and Dutch advisers at The Hague, and selected members of the English expatriate community there. It originated in a series of discussions discreetly held in England in 1687, between Dijkvelt, who had been sent by William to sound out opinion concerning James II’s policies for the English succession, and a group of English aristocrats.2 The final text was produced months ahead of the campaign, during the early autumn of 1688, by Gaspar Fagel – a leading political figure in the States of Holland, and William’s chief spokesman in the Dutch government.3 It was further edited and translated into English by Gilbert Burnet, an expatriate Scottish cleric who had become close confidant and adviser to William and Mary, and who was to play a leading part in orchestrating the acceptance of the new English royal couple.
Specially commissioned printers worked simultaneously at The Hague, Amsterdam and Rotterdam to print the manifesto at speed, in an unprecedented run of sixty thousand copies.4 To ensure that the invasion and its aftermath went according to plan, enormous care was taken to conceal the contents of the pamphlet even from those sympathetic to William’s cause until immediately before the invasion, with Bentinck keeping all copies under lock and key in his personal lodgings. He subsequently arranged, through his agents, for stocks of copies to be carried to (and concealed in) key locations across England and Scotland, and then authorised their release simultaneously at all these places as the fleet left the Low Countries.
Enormous care was taken to avoid leaking the contents of the manifesto prior to the Prince’s landing. As soon as he heard of its existence, James II’s ambassador at The Hague tried to obtain a copy, entirely without success. On 28 September (new style), James’s Secretary of State pressed him: ‘It would be of the greatest importance imaginable to his Majestie to see the Declaration they intend to sett out, as soon as possible, and this I am well assured, that you have us’d your best endeavours to gett it, yet the better to enable you, you are to spare no money, nor stick at any summe, that may procure it.’ It was to no avail. ‘You may imagine I have taken all possible care to come by the Declaration which I hear is on the press,’ the Ambassador responded, ‘but the States printer is not to be corrupted; I have employ’d some to see if any of his servants can be; they are all sworn, and their places so lucrative they will not endanger them.’ Three days later he reported that ‘the manifesto or Declaration can not yet be had at any rate for I have offer’d considerably for it, and you will, I believe, see it there [in England] sooner than we here.’5 In fact, William signed and sealed the final, agreed text of the Declaration on 10 October. On 15 October, the English consul at Amsterdam reported that ‘order is come hither from The Hague for the printing of 20,000 copies of the Prince’s manifest’, and that ‘a proportionable number is printing at Rotterdam and at The Hague’, but that he too was unable to obtain a copy. ‘They are to be distributed at the same time that the Fleet putts to sea.’
Copies were finally obtained on 20 October. But in spite of the fact that the ambassador dispatched them for England ‘by an express’, his messengers were held at the Dutch coast, ‘nobody being suffer’d to pass that way or by any other till the Prince set sayle’. So although by now packages of the Declaration had been distributed to locations right across Britain to be released as soon as the Dutch were known to have set out, the government in London had still not seen it. On 2 November (old style), when William had already set out, James told the Archbishop of Canterbury he had finally been shown copies, by ‘several persons, to whom they had been sent in penny-post letters, which he had thrown into the fire; but that he had still one copy’. On 3 November, two days before William landed at Torbay, Princess Anne showed Lord Clarendon ‘the Prince of Orange’s Declaration, saying the King had lent it to her, and she must restore it to him tomorrow’.
Bentinck’s distribution machine launched fully into action on 5 November, and his agents began distributing copies everywhere. Not only was London inundated with copies, but the Declaration was now being spread all over England, and a separate Declaration of the Prince for Scotland was circulating north of the border. Simultaneously, the Declaration in Dutch, French and German was released in the Dutch Republic, the English ambassador reporting that ‘the manifesto is now sold publickly and in all languages’.
The pamphlet’s coordinated propaganda, and the build-up of expectation before it was finally released, ensured that the Declaration had a major impact, not only in England and the United Provinces but throughout Europe. It was printed in Amsterdam, Edinburgh, The Hague, Hamburg, London, Magdeburg, Rotterdam and York. Copies printed at The Hague bore the official imprimatur of the Prince: ‘Printed at The Hague by Arnold Leers by special order of His Highness’. Altogether, twenty-one editions in the four languages appeared in 1688, eight of them in English. Intended, clearly, for an international as well as an English audience, the Declaration was widely dispersed on the Continent. ‘Many thousand copies’ were sent across the Channel to be ‘consigned to some trusty person in London’. Copies were handed directly to all ambassadors and ministers at The Hague except the English and French representatives. Through copies in the Dutch language, William justified his undertaking to his Dutch subjects on the same grounds he had employed in asking the States General for support. In the German version he used the same general terms he had used in soliciting help from the German Princes. The French translation of the manifesto appealed to Huguenots on the Continent as well as to those who had emigrated to England after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
Bundles of free copies were sent to booksellers to be sold at a price set by themselves. Copies were posted through the penny post and sent anonymously to private citizens. Extra copies were produced after the landing by John White of Yorkshire. The first, and for a time the only, English printer of the Declaration, White was rewarded by William after he became King with a monopoly in the city of York and the five northern counties for printing all notices concerning revenue and justice which the government might issue.6
Outside London, the distribution and reading of the Prince of Orange’s Declaration was the radical intervention which effectively substituted for real hostilities in bringing about the ‘Glorious Revolution’ itself. At Exeter – the first official stop for William and his army en route for London – the Prince’s chaplain, Gilbert Burnet, took over the cathedral and ‘commanded’ the local clergy to sing a celebratory Anglican Te Deum, and then obliged them to listen while he, from the pulpit, ‘read aloud the Prince’s Declaration and reasons for this his expedition’. When Durham was seized by local gentry sympathetic to William’s cause on 6 December, Lord Lumley read out the Prince’s Declaration at Durham Castle in front of most of the gentry of the county. When the Earl of Bath, governor of Plymouth, after holding the town on behalf of King James for five weeks, finally capitulated, he signalled his defection to William’s camp by having the Declaration read to the town’s residents. Chester was seized by the county militia, who supported Prince William, on 14 December. They disarmed James’s military governor, the regular regiment stationed there and two troops of Irish dragoons, ‘then they read the Prince’s Declaration and declared for him’. At Oxford a trumpet was blown at Carfax, and the Declaration was ‘read openly to the multitude by Lord Lovelace’. The students and residents of the city then proceeded to demolish Magdalen College Bridge to stop James’s dragoons getting into the city. So great was the impact of the Prince’s Declaration that it became central to both Jacobite and French propaganda to argue that the people of England had been loyal to their King until their minds were corrupted by reading the Dutch Stadholder’s pernicious manifesto.7
What, then, was so persuasive about the Declaration? Fundamentally, its achievement was to have succeeded in giving Prince William his own distinctive, measured and rational voice, with which he appeared to engage each individual reader as a reasonable subject or participant. Tone and content are extraordinarily seductive, even today – it is a fine piece of what would now be called ‘public relations’ or ‘spin’.
Such a direct appeal by the Prince as an individual to the general public as reasonable interlocutors had succeeded magnificently for William’s great-grandfather, Prince William the Silent, when he took on the might of Spain to champion the right to independence of the Protestant Netherlands in the 1570s.8 A century later, this first Declaration of William III’s (it was to be followed by a succession of widely distributed follow-up documents in a similar vein, tailored closely to unfolding events) won the hearts and minds of the English public at large. It has won the hearts and minds of historians ever since.
‘It is most certain and evident to all men,’ the Declaration begins, ‘that the publick peace and happiness of any state or kingdom cannot be preserved where the law, liberties, and customs, established by the lawful authority in it, are openly transgressed and annulled; especially where the alteration of religion is endeavoured.’
The direct address and matter-of-fact tone of this opening are sustained throughout the lengthy document. The Prince of Orange’s justification for intervention in the affairs of a neighbour state is set against the unreasonable practices of James II’s ‘evil counsellors’, who ‘in an open and undisguised manner’ have subjected the nation to ‘arbitrary government’ – that is, to government which has suspended, ignored and ridden roughshod over the laws of the land and the established Church.
Under such circumstances, William explained, he could not sit idly by and watch England’s destruction. He had a duty towards the people of the country from which both his mother and his wife had originated, to come to its assistance in its hour of need.
Both we ourselves, and our dearest and most entirely beloved Consort, the Princess [Mary Stuart], have endeavoured to signify, in terms full of respect to the King, the deep and just regret which all these proceedings have given us … But those evil counsellors have put such ill constructions on those our good intentions, that they have endeavoured to alienate the King more and more from us, as if we had designed to disturb the quiet and happiness of this Kingdome.9
It was, then, with the greatest reluctance and humility that the Prince felt he had no alternative but to come to the assistance of a country he felt so closely bound to by bonds of lineage and obligation:
Since [we] have so great an interest in this matter, and such a right, as all the world knows, to the succession of the Crown; since also the English did in the year 1672, when the States General of the United Provinces were invaded in a most unjust war, use their utmost endeavours to put an end to that war…; and since the English nation has ever testified a most particular affection and esteem, both to our dearest Consort, the Princess, and to ourself, we cannot excuse ourself from espousing their interest in a matter of so high consequence, and from contributing all that lies in us for the maintaining both of the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of these Kingdoms.
No wonder this version of the intellectual underpinning of the Glorious Revolution has been embraced by all except specialist historians of the period ever since. Here is a worthy political manifesto for the dawn of the Age of Reason – the English Enlightenment. William’s assault on English sovereignty is represented as an entirely reasonable intervention by one well-intentioned party in support of the fundamental rights of the English people. It has seemed convenient to overlook the fact that within only weeks of his arrival in Britain, William had abandoned all pretence that he was intervening altruistically and claimed the throne for himself and his wife. Even before their coronation, the invasion had begun to look more like simple opportunism, with the outcome directly contrary to the expressed aims of the Declaration.
There is something seductive and reassuringly familiar about the comfortable commitment to reasonableness, order and integrity the manifesto voiced. The Declaration is closely compatible with John Locke’s Tw o Treatises on Government – one of the intellectual cornerstones of late seventeenth-century political thought, first published in England in 1690. Hence, perhaps, the strong temptation for us retrospectively to line up William’s declared intention of restoring consensual rule to England, and political ‘modernity’ of a kind we still recognise. And indeed, Locke is quick to associate his treatise, arguing that the population of any nation was entitled to consent rationally to be ruled by a sovereign power which agreed to serve their interests, with the political upheavals in England of two years earlier. His preface announces:
Thou hast here the Beginning and End of a Discourse concerning Government … These [papers] I hope are sufficient to establish the Throne of our Great Restorer, Our present King William, to make good his Title, in the Consent of the People, which being the only one of all lawful Governments, he has more fully and clearly than any Prince in Christendom: And to justifie to the World, the People of England, whose love of their Just and Natural Rights, with their Resolution to preserve them, saved the Nation when it was on the very brink of Slavery and Ruine.10
Locke’s Two Treatises were written during his own exile in the United Provinces. Indeed, all his political writings date from the period between his flight from England to the Low Countries in 1683 and his return home in 1689. Prior to that his professional reputation was that of a distinguished medical man with republican leanings. Men like Burnet and Locke were moulded by the Dutch Republic and its mores into political thinkers who harnessed the eloquence and lucidity of the English language to the levelheaded pragmatism of the Dutch.
Moreover, it is not just the Declaration of reasons – so heavily influenced by the temperament and literary style of Gilbert Burnet – that has permanently shaped the telling of the story of the invasion which led to the Glorious Revolution. Burnet’s monumental, six-volume History of his own Times, written towards the end of his long and eventful life, has also seen to it that a version of the Dutch intervention as driven exclusively by religious and ethical ideals has persisted down to the present day. The motto for the invasion proclaimed its purpose (’pro religione et liberate’), and that Burnet-style justification has remained the legitimising slogan for the Dutch intervention ever since.
In fact, however plausibly contemporaries pointed to Princess Mary’s claim on the English crown and her husband’s entitlement to try to secure a reliably Protestant succession, there were strong, entirely Dutch political reasons for William of Orange’s invasion. The strategic planning which culminated in the great fleet leaving harbour on 1 November 1688 appears in a different light when looked at squarely from the point of view of its Dutch participants. In the eyes of the Dutch States General, as well as those of key players like Prince William himself and his close advisers, it was driven by the urgent need to get the English King, in spite of his Catholicism, to commit to a ‘defensive alliance’ with the Dutch Republic, against the increasingly alarming expansionist moves of forces of the French King on the Republic’s borders.
James II’s accession to the throne in 1685 had raised immediate anxieties with the Dutch States General. The Dutch were deeply concerned, not only that James was strengthening the position of practising Catholics inside his own country, but also that he was reinforcing the English army. ‘The King makes large-scale preparations, equips, fills his storehouses, ambassador Skelton is sent to Paris, has ambitions in the East Indies – everything highly suspect,’ a Dutch agent reported. The fear was that a Catholic, expansionist Anglo–French coalition was about to form again, recalling the nightmare of 1672, when Louis XIV had been stopped from overrunning the Low Countries with English backing. Then, the French King’s aggression and expansionist ambitions had brought down the republican regime of the brothers De Witt, as William of Orange emerged as the only leader capable of marshalling and focusing the support of politicians and the military. Now, once again, it was to be William, as the nominated Orange ruler or Stadholder, who proved capable of leading a robust Dutch response against renewed French military aggression.
William sent Dijkvelt to London as ambassador, charged with winning over James to form an alliance with the Dutch, rather than with France. When this initiative failed (largely because James was too preoccupied with internal English politics), William introduced a number of special envoys, acting on his behalf, charged with forging closer relations with the English King who was both his uncle and his father-in-law. This too met with little support, so Bentinck, who oversaw this network of contacts on the Stadholder’s behalf, developed it as an efficient machine for collecting detailed intelligence on the English political situation.
It was through this network of informants that Bentinck laid the groundwork for the eventual invasion. When it became known that James II’s second wife – none of whose pregnancies had resulted in the birth of a healthy child who survived beyond babyhood – was well-advanced with a pregnancy which promised to be without complications (an event about which we will hear more in the next chapter), it was this intelligence service which provided vital information about the growing opposition to James’s regime.
There were a number of factors which contributed, in the end, to the Dutch taking the extraordinary risk of a military assault on the British Isles. In the first place, strategic reasons directly related to Louis XIV’s continuing aggression on the European mainland pushed the Dutch Republic towards an intervention which would prevent England lending military support to French aggression against them. In 1678, the Dutch Republic had extricated itself from war against France by agreeing to sign the Treaty of Nijmegen, under the terms of which the Dutch gained trading concessions, while the French gained territory. In the period running up to the invasion the policy of the States General (somewhat to the annoyance of the more belligerent Prince William) tried to distance the Republic from the European territorial conflict wherever possible, to protect Dutch commercial interests – the northern Netherlands were, after all, ‘a Republic of Commerce’, which could not afford to be drawn into a defensive war with France.
This policy of non-involvement in any kind of anti-French action became increasingly difficult to sustain, as events conspired further to disturb the uneasy balance of power in mainland Europe. In May 1688 the Elector of Brandenburg, a long-standing heroic defender of the Protestant cause in Europe, who had been married to William’s aunt (his father’s sister) Louise Henriette, died leaving no direct heir. William immediately sent Bentinck to Berlin to negotiate a continuing alliance with the new Elector, who was considered less reliable than the ‘Great Elector’ as a supporter of any kind of Protestant alliance against France. He managed to secure a commitment on the part of the Elector to give troop support to the Dutch venture, which Bentinck and William were by now clear would be a full-scale invasion of the British Isles. After several months of shuttle diplomacy, made more complicated by the fact that his wife was seriously ill at The Hague, Bentinck was able to tell William that he had secured a sizeable army of German troops to defend the Rhine and Dutch borders against French aggression while the Dutch forces were otherwise occupied – a decisive step in the decision-making leading up to the invasion.11
But what eventually made up the minds of the Dutch States General and Stadholder William of Orange that an invasion of England was inevitable was an escalating trade war with France which struck at the heart of the Dutch economy. In August 1687 Louis XIV banned the importing of Dutch herring into France, unless it could be shown to have been salted with French salt. In September he doubled the import duties on fine Dutch cloth and a whole list of other Dutch products. By December, Dutch factors (trade officials) at Paris, Lyons and Lille were reporting that it had become impossible to sell Dutch textiles because of their high price. Similarly, with France the biggest market for herring and whale products, Dutch herring exports dropped by a third in the year following the ban. The French ambassador to The Hague reported that Louis’s punitive tariffs ‘have managed to sour the spirits of the people and officials here and have raised them to a peak of fury, such that burgomasters and the rabble alike talk of nothing else but fighting to the death rather than remain in the present state’.12
By June 1688 tension was running sufficiently high for William confidently to urge the States General that there was no alternative but to prepare for war with France. He also began secret negotiations with members of the Amsterdam administration, hitherto opposed to war, to discuss a pre-emptive strike against England. These complex negotiations were almost entirely concerned with the logistics of anticipating an attack by the French. Louis’s absolute refusal to back down over the punitive tariffs eventually produced an unusual measure of agreement among the various Dutch political factions. As the French ambassador reported despairingly, ‘there can be no negotiating, even with the most sympathetic of them, unless they are given some satisfaction concerning the commercial matters’.
Some members of the Dutch administration continued to waver. Then, in September, as Bordeaux, Nantes and other west coast French ports began to fill up with Dutch ships, there to take on board the year’s output of wine earmarked for export, the French King suddenly announced that all Dutch ships in French waters were to be impounded – a total of some three hundred vessels. ‘The Dutch believe a war with France is unavoidable,’ the English consul at Amsterdam wrote, unaware that the first strike was actually to be directed against his own country.
The reasons, laid before the States General by William’s trusted representative Gaspar Fagel, were plain: France had badly damaged Dutch trade, shipping and fisheries; a French declaration of war on some pretext was now inevitable; if France was allowed to enter into an alliance with England, their combined forces would be bound to overwhelm the Republic. The only way, in these circumstances, that the Republic could be made secure was to bring about the downfall of the Catholic, pro-French regime of James II, and to turn around England against France. ‘There can be no doubt whatever that the Dutch State invaded Britain … to crush late Stuart absolutism thoroughly, turn England into a parliamentary monarchy and, by so doing, transform Britain into an effective counterweight to the then overmighty power of France.’13
As a clear indication of public assessment of the scale of the risk: on the eve of the invasion, the Amsterdam stock exchange crashed, wiping millions of guilders off government stocks and stocks in the East and West India Company.14
Religious considerations did play their part. The revocation by France of the Edict de Nantes (which entitled Protestants to worship freely) in 1685 produced a mass exodus of Huguenots, thousands of whom flooded as refugees into the Dutch Republic. There they spread alarm at the severity of Louis XIV’s measures against Protestants. But the sceptical pamphleteer who wrote, on the eve of the Dutch invasion, that ‘none that know the religion of an Hollander would judge the Prince or States [General] would be at the charge of a dozen fly-boats or herring-busses to propagate it, or especially the Church of England’ was expressing a widely held view of the lack of doctrinal harmony between Dutch Calvinism and Anglicanism:
The [Dutch] committed the cream of their forces to a full-scale invasion of Britain, incurring vast expenditure of money, effort, and resources, and did so, furthermore, on the eve of an almost certain outbreak of war with France. In doing so, the Dutch leadership, utterly uncharacteristically in the view of diplomatic onlookers, took a stupendous gamble.
On 9 September (new style), the French ambassador at The Hague, the comte d’Avaux, delivered a clear threat from Louis XIV to the States General: the French King knew what the Dutch preparations were for, he warned. If the Dutch attacked England, he would be obliged ‘not only to come to James’s assistance, but to regard the first hostile act committed by your troops, or your ships, against His Britannic Majesty as an open infraction of the peace and act of war against his own crown’.15
As Jonathan Israel emphasises: ‘Outside intervention played a main role in setting the Glorious Revolution in motion. The course of the Glorious Revolution was to a great extent shaped by Dutch calculation and interests.’16 With hindsight that intervention looks decisive and extraordinarily daring. In fact, the conditions needed for the Dutch Stadholder to take such a politically risky step with the full backing of the States General resulted from a combination of circumstances, which included errors of political judgement (like the French King’s reintroduction of punitive trade tariffs) and unexpected good fortune (like that providential wind).
Whether it was England or the Dutch Republic that was driving the political agenda, the Glorious Revolution was not a metaphorical ‘pamphlet war’, but a pivotal sequence of defining events for English and Dutch history. It was a large-scale naval and military engagement in which the ‘enemy’ (the legitimate English monarch and his government) more or less declined to participate, and in which victory went surprisingly easily to the aggressor. William and Mary’s decisive victory over Mary’s father was not achieved because of a persuasive printed justification for Dutch military intervention, or because their Protestant cause was self-evidently a just one.
Let us, then, pursue a little further the characteristics of William and Mary’s 1688 campaign which gave it a certain colour of uncontentious obviousness – a kind of union of shared beliefs, recognisable like-mindedness and common outlook – which eased the transition from Stadholder to Stadholder-King, and from adjacent, independent territories (one a monarchy, the other a republic) into an anti-Catholic collaboration of forces and finances.
We might note the extraordinarily shrewd way in which the Declaration brought together a characteristically Dutch, and also distinctively English, language of moral probity and individual conscience to create an emotionally compelling hybrid set of arguments justifying Dutch intervention in an English cause for a common, righteous Protestant purpose. The man behind this consummate and effective fusion of two national cultures was Gilbert Burnet. He deserves to be introduced here as our first example of what will turn out to be a recognisable genus of able and determined Britons who found themselves in the Dutch Republic at a particularly crucial stage in their lives, married Dutch wives from wealthy and powerful families, and returned later to shape the politics and culture of their homeland.
Gilbert Burnet was an Anglican cleric, born in Scotland in 1643, who entered English politics in the early 1670s through his association with the Earl of Lauderdale. In the early 1660s he studied Hebrew in Amsterdam with a Jewish rabbi, and developed a lifelong affinity for the plain doctrines and ceremonial simplicity of Dutch Protestantism. On his return he met and was befriended by Robert Boyle (youngest son of the Earl of Cork, and a prominent practitioner of the new natural philosophy), and came to the attention of Sir Robert Moray, a fellow Scot close to Charles II, and destined to play an important role in Charles’s policies in Scotland. Moray introduced Burnet to the new scientific Royal Society (of which Moray was a founder member), and he was elected as a Fellow.
Burnet began his clerical career in the Scottish kirk, but in 1675 accepted the post of chaplain to the Rolls Chapel in England. During the Exclusion Crisis he was seen as a sort of ‘honest broker’, able to talk reasonably to both sides. The Rye House Plot of 1683, however, led to the execution of two of his closest friends, Lord Essex and Lord Russell. After attending Russell throughout his trial and up to his execution, Burnet resigned his post.
At the accession of James II, Burnet’s outspoken anti-Catholic views placed him in serious danger, and he left England for the Continent. After travelling in France and Switzerland, in May 1686 he arrived in Utrecht, where he was presented with letters from Prince William and Princess Mary, inviting him to enter their personal service.
Burnet ‘found the Prince was resolved to make use of me’, and was introduced to the office of Gaspar Fagel, where from 1686 to 1688 he worked alongside Fagel ‘benefiting from the Pensionary’s network of political informants and the unrivalled power of the Dutch printing industry, to produce a number of works in support of the Orange position’.17 Before the invasion he was responsible for several pamphlets against James II, developing a recognisable direct, persuasive voice which carries over into the Declaration. As a literary stylist, a native English-speaker and a person with first-hand knowledge of English politics Burnet was invaluable to William’s propaganda machine. Fagel’s death in December 1688, before William reached London, saw to it that from the beginning of the operation proper it was Burnet’s commanding voice which shaped the public face of the invasion.
Once the invasion began, Burnet became an even more key figure in Dutch strategy. As William’s chaplain he accompanied him closely from Torbay to London, using the resulting intimacy to advise his master on how to present himself to gain the support of James’s subjects. He was closely involved in the physical production of the second and third Declarations, issued in situ (and run off on the expedition’s own portable printing press) in response to the developing political situation. He spoke in William’s defence from the pulpit at vital moments, set up public occasions on which William’s message could be conveyed to the people – religious services to pray for the Prince’s success, ceremonial readings of the Declaration – and engineered occasions for the formal expression of support by the Prince’s English allies.
It was Burnet who preached to the troops immediately before the Dutch armada set out, emphasising the providential nature of the enterprise, and characterising the invasion as a moral crusade. It was he who devised William’s memorable entrance into Exeter on his white horse, and the service of celebration that followed. And the prayer said communally throughout the journey for the success of the undertaking was a carefully calculated continuation of the virtuous Protestant theme:
Grant O Gracious God that all of us, may be turning to thee with our whole hearts; Repenting us truly of all our past sins, and solemnly vowing to thee, as wee now doe, that wee will in all time coming amend our lives, and endeavour to carry our selves as becomes Reformed Christians. And that wee will show our Zeal for our holy Religion by living in all things suteably to it.18
Burnet was equally at home in London and The Hague, and his interventions were carefully judged and coloured so as to resonate with the attitudes and beliefs of the inhabitants of both.
William’s Declaration, like almost all the other documents issued and circulated during and after the invasion, was countersigned and authenticated by his secretary, Constantijn Huygens junior.
Huygens junior, we recall, was one of the group who stood with the Prince on the clifftop at Brixham, watching the Dutch forces disembark, and who accompanied him every step of the way to his triumphal reception in London, drafting his letters of instruction in English, Dutch and French as they went along. After the Glorious Revolution he remained in England in the service of the new King and Queen.
His presence as part of that defining scene for our historical exploration allows us to make our first acquaintance with the Huygens family – a dynasty of advisers and administrators to the house of Orange, whose cultivation and aesthetic sensitivity, combined with their political acumen and dedicated service, helped transform the fortunes of the Dutch Stadholders. In the story that follows, several members of this prominent and respected family will be among our most reliable guides to understanding the unfolding, curious relationship between the seventeenth-century British Isles and the seventeenth-century Low Countries.
The Prince of Orange arrived in England in November 1688 with a formidable army. But he also came prepared for his encounter with the English, with a fully-formed outlook and set of attitudes. A robust set of common interests and commitments had developed over at least the preceding half-century between a certain sort of Englishman and his Dutch counterpart. While there was always an edge of suspicion (there had, after all, been three Anglo–Dutch wars since the 1650s), there was also a great deal of recognisably shared experience, particularly in the realm of arts and letters.
A small episode on the road leading from Torbay to London and the English throne underlines the importance of this shared ‘mentality’. Constantijn Huygens junior records in his diary that in the course of the often arduous and demanding forced march from Torbay to London, Prince William of Orange took some time off from military affairs to do a bit of tourism, and encouraged his secretary to do likewise.
On 4 December, as the Prince travelled towards London at the head of his massive Dutch army, he insisted on making a detour to admire Wilton House near Salisbury, the country seat of the Earl of Pembroke. Wilton was renowned for its architecture, its art, but most of all for its magnificent gardens, designed in the 1640s by Isaac de Caus.
Engravings of the Wilton gardens had appeared in a lavishly illustrated book entitled Hortus Pembrochianus (Garden of the Earl of Pembroke), first published in 1645–46, and reprinted several times thereafter – in one case, without any of the accompanying text, but simply as a set of engravings.19 The book is closely modelled on a famous volume brought out twenty-five years earlier by Isaac de Caus’s brother Salomon, depicting the fabulous gardens he had designed at Heidelberg for the ‘Winter King and Queen’ – the Elector Palatine Frederick and his wife, Charles I’s sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia. Both books are likely to have been familiar to a keen enthusiast for gardens like Prince William. Heidelberg’s gardens had been destroyed during the Thirty Years War, along with the city’s great university and its library.
In the midst of a military campaign, on foreign soil, William took the earliest possible opportunity to inspect the Pembroke gardens in all their glory, and at some length. Constantijn Huygens junior records the detour made for this purpose:
We marched from Hendon to Salisbury, 13 miles, a good way through Salisbury plain, but for a long time we had a cold, sharp wind blowing directly in our faces.
A mile from Salisbury we passed an undistinguished village (which nevertheless sends two representatives to Parliament), called Wilton, where the Earl of Pembroke has a rather beautiful house which is moderately beautiful, because there are some very notable paintings by van Dyck. His Highness went to see it, but I did not – I was in a hurry to get to the town to get warm.20
William may have been anxious to see the van Dycks, at least one of which showed his mother as a child, with her siblings, but the gardens were far more impressive than the house. Laid out and planted before the house itself was built, as was customary for the period, the Wilton gardens had been designed to complement a classical villa on a grand scale, as de Caus’s original drawings clearly show. By the time the house was constructed, the 4th Earl’s fortunes had faded, and a more modest house eventually presided over the parterres and wildernesses, statues and elaborate fountains.
Wilton House’s architecture, interior decoration, artworks and gardens were entirely to the monarch-to-be’s Dutch taste. The weather was abominable, but that in no way dampened the Stadholder’s enthusiasm. Rejoining Huygens the following day, William told Constantijn that the house and garden were as outstanding as he had been led to believe: ‘In the evening the Prince was in his room coughing violently, having caught cold. He told me I absolutely must go and see the house at Wilton.’21 Huygens ‘did want to go to Wilton, but my horses were not available’.22 He went on foot to see Salisbury Cathedral instead:
The Cathedral at Salisbury is huge, with many ancient tombs. There is a place where the members of the clergy meet, a round chapel, very neatly built in a gothic style, more than 40 feet in diameter, the ceiling vaulting of which is supported in the middle on a pillar, which is like all other pillars of a greyish polished stone, apparently natural.23
But if Huygens did not choose to admire Wilton’s gardens, it is entirely likely that Hans Willem Bentinck did, and that he, in contrast to Huygens, chose to accompany Prince William on that cold afternoon tour. It may even have been he who proposed the sightseeing detour. Bentinck was himself a lifelong gardening enthusiast, whose own country estate at Sorgvliet – purchased from the heirs of the cultivated Dutch statesman Jacob Cats in 1675 – was considered in Dutch court circles to be an outstanding example of garden design, in which architecture and statuary perfectly complemented formal landscaping and topiary.24 His passion for horticulture and expertise in garden design were recognised when, immediately after William and Mary ascended the English throne, the royal favourite was appointed to the official post of Superintendent of the Royal Gardens.
It was Bentinck who designed key features of the gardens at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace, and he too who was responsible for the realisation of the magnificent gardens at William and Mary’s favourite palace at Het Loo, near Apeldoorn – both monarchs’ favourite retreat. From his correspondence we know that he often combined business with horticultural pleasure – requesting rare plant specimens and seeds from fellow enthusiasts, and exchanging advice and expertise.
During the period when Bentinck was gathering intelligence in the first half of 1688, he observed to one of his key pro-William informants, Charles Mordaunt, that their letters were undoubtedly being read by James’s agents, who would be likely to read sedition into anything that passed between them, however innocent: ‘If, enthusiastic gardeners that we are, we were to talk only of plants and flowers, the eavesdropper would want to find some sinister meaning in it.’25
I bring this early chapter in our exploration of the world of seventeenth-century Anglo–Dutch relations to a close with a last, suggestive example of the complex and subtle ways in which ‘talk of plants and flowers’ did indeed, in the circle of William of Orange, acquire cultural significance beyond the simple act of exchange of desirable material objects. Freighted with symbolic meaning, such shared cultural pursuits bridge any notional divide between the United Provinces and the British Isles.
The elaborate, clandestine preparations for the 1688 invasion would not have been possible without loans of almost unimaginable size from wealthy supporters of the Orangists in The Hague. Foremost amongst these was the Portuguese Jewish banker Francisco Lopes Suasso, who provided the massive sum of two million guilders, lent without any collateral security. Effectively, William’s entire expedition was underwritten by Suasso.26 Following the successful invasion, now installed as the English King, William III presented Suasso – a man of considerable cultivation, at whose house the élite of The Hague regularly congregated for concerts and recitals – with a fine contemporary painting, as a thanks offering. The painting is of an orange tree, in an exquisite blue faïence container, with orange blossom and vibrantly coloured fruits appearing together amid the vividly green foliage.27
It needs little imagination, even today, to recognise the thriving little orange tree as a symbol of the success of the house of Orange, supported financially in its ambitions by men of business like Suasso. I shall return later to the way in which the meticulously depicted porcelain container also refers directly to the global ambitions – territorial and commercial – of the Dutch under William’s leadership. Collecting porcelain became a passion of Queen Mary, whose example created an Anglo–Dutch rage for acquiring exquisite blue-and-white Chinese-style porcelain ware which lasted well beyond her death in 1697. So the grateful King, newly settled in his English kingdom, rewards his financial backer with a small, tasteful token of his gratitude, an enduring sign of the mutual respect that underpinned the financial commitment, in the form of a Dutch painting of an exotic potted plant. This shared passion for the art of gardens, and garden-related fine art, reminds us that the cultural landscape into which William of Orange stepped when he landed on English soil was one in which he already felt comfortably at home. In what follows we shall pursue some of the paths of cultural, artistic and intellectual interest which crisscrossed the Low Countries and the British Isles during the preceding century, and which prepared the way for the arrival of an English-speaking Dutch Stadholder, accompanied by his resolutely English wife, to take their places jointly upon the throne of England.