III. ENGLAND UNDER WILLIAM III: 1689–1702

The new King appointed as his privy councilors Danby as lord president, Halifax as lord privy seal, the Earls of Shrewsbury and Nottingham as secretaries of state, the Earl of Portland as lord of the privy purse, and Gilbert Burnet bishop of Salisbury.

The most remarkable and influential of these men was George Savile, Marquis of Halifax. As a nephew of the Lord Strafford who had been executed by the Long Parliament, he had lost much of his property in the Great Rebellion, but he had salvaged enough to live comfortably in France during the Cromwellian regime. There he discovered Montaigne’s Essays, and became a philosopher; if, later, he graduated from politics to statesmanship, it was because the difference between politics and statesmanship is philosophy—the ability to see the moment and the part in the light of the lasting and the whole. Halifax was never content to be entirely a man of affairs. “The government of the world,” he wrote, meaning the rule of nations, “is a great thing; but it is a very coarse one, too, compared with the fineness of speculative knowledge.” 28 Politics had sometimes to deal with crowds, which frightened Halifax. “There is an accumulative cruelty in a number of men, though none in particular are ill-natured . . . The angry buzz of a multitude is one of the bloodiest noises in the world.” 29 He had lived through the Popish Terror, when mobs terrorized the courts. Seeing so many religions in acquisitive conflict, he shed most theology, so that, says Burnet, “he passed for a bold and determined atheist; though he often protested to me he was not one, and said he believed there was not one in the world. He confessed he could not swallow down everything that divines imposed on the world; he was a Christian in submission; he believed as much as he could.” 30

Back in England, he regained his property, and wealth so extensive that he could afford to be honest. He served Charles II until he learned of the secret Treaty of Dover. He defended the right of James to succeed to the throne, but he opposed the repeal of the Test Act. He looked forward to a Protestant rule after a brief Catholic interval, and realized his hope when he took a leading part in peacefully transferring the royal power from James II to William III. He followed his own sense of right rather than cleave to any party line. “Ignorance,” he wrote in Thoughts and Reflexions, “maketh most men go into a party, and shame keepeth them from getting out of it.” 31 When he was abused for breaking party lines he defended himself in a famous pamphlet on The Character of a Trimmer:

The innocent word Trimmer signifieth no more than this, That if men are together in a boat, and one part of the company would weigh it down on one side, another would make it lean as much to the contrary; it happeneth there is a third opinion, of those who conceive it would do as well if the boat were even. 32

He was occasionally unscrupulous, always eloquent, and perilously witty. When the court of William III was overrun with place hunters who claimed to have helped the revolution, he made enemies by remarking, “Rome was saved by geese, but I do not remember that these geese were made consuls.” 33*

Halifax must have smiled when the Convention, having transformed itself into a Parliament, proceeded to what it deemed the first necessity of government—a new oath of allegiance and submission to William III as head not only of the state but of the Established Church. It was another of history’s humors that the Anglican Church, which for a century had been persecuting Calvinists (Presbyterians, Puritans, and other Dissenters), should now accept a Dutch Calvinist as its head.

Four hundred Anglican clergymen, adhering to the doctrine of the divine right of kings, and therefore questioning William’s right to rule, refused to take the new oath. These “Nonjurors” were dismissed from their benefices, and formed another sect of Dissent. Many of those clergymen who took the oath did so with “a mental reservation” 35 that would have amused the few Jesuits who remained in England. “The prevarication of too many in so sacred a matter,” Burnet thought, “contributed not a little to fortify the growing atheism.” 36 Anglicans of all shades were shocked when William, yielding to the overwhelming preponderance of sentiment in Scotland, abolished there the episcopacy that the Stuarts had established by force. And many Anglicans grieved when they found William inclined to religious toleration.

Brought up in predestinarian Calvinism, William could not sympathize with the Anglican view that a Presbyterian should be excluded from office or Parliament. He had already encouraged toleration in the United Provinces, and had made no religious discrimination in his friendships. Predestinarian Calvinism had become for William a trust in himself as an agent of destiny; and in this assurance he could look without bigotry upon Dissent as itself an instrument of that mysterious Power, more than personal, which he variously called Fortune, Providence, or God. 37 He saw in the religious divisions of England a force that could tear the nation apart if not moderated into amity.

It was clever of the Privy Council to have its Toleration Act proposed to Parliament by Nottingham, who was known as a zealous and loyal son of the Anglican Church; his advocacy disarmed the rigorists. So this first achievement of the new reign passed both houses with little opposition (May 24, 1689). It allowed freedom of public worship to all groups that accepted Trinitarianism and Biblical inspiration, and that explicitly repudiated transubstantiation and the religious supremacy of the pope. Baptists were permitted to defer baptism to maturity, and by the Affirmation Act of 1696 the Quakers were allowed to substitute a solemn promise for an oath. Unitarians and Catholics were excluded from toleration. An attempt was made by William and his Council, in the Comprehension Bill introduced later in 1689, to have various dissenting groups admitted to the Anglican Church, but this measure failed to pass. Dissenters were still banned from the universities, and were ineligible, to Parliament or public office unless they received the Sacrament according to the Anglican rite. A renewed law against blasphemy (1697) decreed imprisonment for attacks upon any basic Christian doctrine. There was no further legal extension of religious freedom in England till 1778; nevertheless toleration was greater than in any other European country after 1685, except the United Provinces. In practice toleration slowly widened as England grew strong enough to lose its fear of invasion or internal subversion by Catholic power.

Even the Catholics enjoyed, under William, an increasing security. The King explained that he could not maintain his alliances with Catholic states if he oppressed Catholics in England. 38 For a decade Catholic priests could say Mass in private homes, and were not molested if they kept a judicious disguise in public. Toward the close of the reign (1699), when the Tories and the rigorists got the upper hand in Parliament, the laws against Catholics were sharpened. Any priests convicted of saying Mass, or of discharging any other sacerdotal function, except in the house of an ambassador, was made liable to life imprisonment; and to implement the law a reward of a hundred pounds was offered to anyone who procured a conviction. The same penalty was decreed for any Catholic who undertook the public education of the young. No parent might send a child abroad to be educated in the Catholic faith. No one might purchase or inherit land except after taking the oath of royal supremacy in religion, and against transubstantiation. All persons refusing to take such oaths forfeited their inheritance to the government. 39 William pardoned and pensioned Titus Oates (1689).

The Catholics of Ireland brought a renewed persecution by organizing a revolt that aimed to restore James II. Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnel, collected 36,000 troops, and invited James to come from France to lead them. Louis XIV, who had set up the deposed King in a court of his own at St.-Germain, with an annual allowance of 600,000 francs, now equipped a fleet for him, accompanied him to Brest, and bade him a famous adieu: “The best that I can wish you is that we shall never see each other again.” 40James landed in Ireland (March 12, 1689) with twelve hundred men, was escorted to Dublin by Talbot, summoned an Irish Parliament, and proclaimed freedom of worship for all loyal subjects. The Parliament met on May 7, repealed the Act of Settlement of 1652, and ordered the return to their former Irish possessors of all lands taken from them since 1641. William sent his Huguenot general Schomberg to Ireland with ten thousand men; Louis countered by dispatching seven thousand French veterans to James’s aid; William himself crossed to Ireland in June, 1690. When the opposed armies met in the battle of the Boyne (July 1), James, who had once been brave, rode off in panic on seeing that his forces were giving way. Soon he was back in St.-Germain.

William would have been glad to make peace with the Irish on the status quo ante, but the Protestant leaders and forces under him demanded the complete eradication of rebellious elements, and a further appropriation of Irish lands. William returned to England, leaving his army in charge of Godert de Ginkel, now Earl of Athlone; Schomberg had died in his victory at the Boyne. The King instructed Ginkel to offer a free pardon, freedom of worship, exemption from the antipapal oath of supremacy, and recovery of their estates, to all rebels who should lay down their arms. 41 Ginkel secured the surrender of Galway and Limerick on these terms. By the Treaty of Limerick (October 3, 1691) the Irish rebels accepted the pacification offered by William, and in March, 1692, a royal proclamation announced the end of the Irish war.

The Protestants of Ireland denounced the treaty as a surrender to papists, and appealed to the English Parliament. That assembly at once (October 22, 1691) passed an act debarring from the Irish Parliament any man who would not take the oath of supremacy and declare against transubstantiation. The new Irish Parliament, entirely Protestant, refused to recognize the Treaty of Limerick. While William absorbed himself in organizing Europe against Louis XIV, the Dublin Parliament laid upon Irish Catholics a new series of penal acts frankly overriding the peace that William and Mary had signed. Catholic schools and colleges were made illegal; Catholic priests were subject to deportation; no Catholic was to carry arms, or possess a horse worth more than five pounds; and any Protestant heiress who married a Catholic was to suffer the forfeiture of her estate. 42 The confiscation of Irish property went on until “there was practically no more land to confiscate.” 43 It was almost impossible for an Irish Catholic to win a suit in an Irish court, and crimes against Irish Catholics were rarely punished. To complete the desolation of Ireland, its woolen industry, which had grown to the point of competing with England’s, was ruined by acts of the English Parliament forbidding the exportation of wool from Ireland to any country but England, and stifling even this trade by deliberately prohibitive tariffs (1696). Poverty, beggary, famine, and desperate lawlessness covered the island outside the English Pale. In the sixty years following the Glorious Revolution half the Catholic population, which had neared a million in 1688, emigrated, taking the best blood of the people to foreign lands.

In England every economic class now prospered except the proletariat and the peasantry. Textile workers suffered from foreign competition and from invention; in 1710 the stocking knitters went on strike against the introduction of stocking looms and the use of low-paid apprentices to operate them. 44 But the national product was rising; we may judge it from the increase of the average annual revenues of the government from £ 500,000 in the sixteenth century to £ 7,500,000 in the seventeenth; 45 the increase came partly from inflation, but chiefly from the expansion of manufacturing and foreign trade.

Even so, the revenues did not suffice, for William was raising great armies to fight Louis XIV. Taxes rose beyond precedent, but more money was needed. In January, 1693, Charles Montagu, first Earl of Halifax, as lord of the treasury, revolutionized governmental finance by persuading Parliament to float a public loan of £ 900,000, on which the government promised to pay seven per cent yearly. Toward the end of 1693, as expenditures were dangerously outrunning receipts, a group of bankers agreed to lend the government £ 1,200,000 at eight per cent, secured by an added duty on shipping. The idea of such incorporated lending had been suggested by William Paterson three years before. Montagu now gave it official support, and Parliament accepted the plan. The lenders (following Genoese, Venetian, and Dutch precedents) organized themselves as “the Governors and Company of the Bank of England,” which was chartered on July 27, 1694. They borrowed money at four and a half per cent from diverse sources, lent it to the government at eight per cent, and made additional profits by undertaking all the functions of a bank. So originated, the Bank of England made further loans to the government, and in 1696 it received from Parliament a monoply of such loans. After many vicissitudes it became a leading factor in the remarkable stability of the English government from the accession of William and Mary to our own day. As early as 1694 the notes of the bank, backed by deposits and payable in gold on demand, were accepted as legal tender; this was the first genuine paper money in England. 46*

Montagu further distinguished his tenure at the treasury by reforming the metallic currency (1696). The good coins of Charles II and James II were being hoarded, melted, or exported, while the clipped or damaged coins of Elizabeth and James I bore the brunt of use, and lost in purchasing power a considerable part of their face value. Montagu called in his friends John Locke, Isaac Newton, and John Somers to give England a more stable currency. They designed new coins with a milled edge that would defy clipping; they called in the old coins, which were redeemed at their face value; the state took the loss, and England had a sound currency that was the model and envy of Europe. In 1698 the London Stock Exchange was opened, and an era of financial speculation began which soon produced the South Sea Company (1711) and the bursting of its “bubble” (1720). In 1688 Edward Lloyd set up in a London coffeehouse the insurance firm now known with proud simplicity as Lloyd’s. In 1693 Edmund Halley issued the first known tables of mortality. All these financial developments emphasized and extended the role of the moneyed interest in the affairs of England, and marked the rising importance of capitalists—providers and managers of capital—in Britain.

Above the expanding economy the political battle steamed with the strife for power between the landowning Tories and the moneymaking Whigs, between the English and the Scots, with plots to assassinate William, and schemes to replace James on the throne. William was not interested in the domestic affairs of England; he had conquered it chiefly to align it with his homeland and other states against Louis XIV; as Halifax put it, he had “taken England on his way to France.” 48 When the English discovered that this was his absorbing passion, he lost all popularity. He was not an amiable king. He could be coldly cruel, as in ordering the extirpation of the MacDonald clan of Glencoe for tendering its allegiance tardily (1692). He was “silent and surly in company,” for he spoke English with difficulty. He cared little for women, and had terrible manners at table, so that the ladies of London society called him “a Low-Dutch bear.” 49 He surrounded himself with Dutch guards and associates, and did not hide his opinion that the Dutch were far superior to the English in economic ability, political judgment, and moral character. He knew that many nobles were secretly negotiating with James II. He found corruption so prevalent around him that he entered into it himself, and bought M.P.s like merchandise. Everything was good that made for the checking of rampant France.

Because he left domestic affairs to his ministers, the era of powerful ministries began (1695), of “cabinets” united in responsibility and action and dominated by one man, usually the lord of the treasury. In 1697 his enemies the Tories came to power in an electoral overturn. They so limited his authority and questioned his foreign policy that he thought of resigning (1699). But when he laid his bent, asthmatic, and tubercular body down to his final rest (March 8, 1702), he could console his domestic defeats with the consciousness that he had at last brought England into resolute participation in the Grand Alliance (1701) which, after twelve years of struggle, would bring the great Bourbon to his knees, save the independence of Protestant Europe, and leave England free to spread her power over the world.

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