You remember learning about the Glorious Revolution in history class right? Us neither. Don’t worry, it’s not a blind spot in your education — but it is how the Dutch refer to William of Orange’s ascension to the English throne.
They say that history is written by the victors, but it’s a bit hard to tell exactly who the victors were in this series of events. The Dutch paint the victor as William of Orange who conquered England, Ireland, and Scotland when he and Mary II became British monarchs in 1689.
Of course, if you come from anywhere else in the world, you’re probably told a very different story — that this was an English-based coup with help from Dutch royalty. 😱
But who’s got right in their history books? Turns out there isn’t a simple answer to this question. Strap in, and let’s unpack this tale of deceit.
So what the hell was going on in England that allowed for Dutch intervention? Well, it all comes back to everyone’s favourite topic: religion.
Like many parts of Europe at the time, England had been battling between Protestantism and Catholicism ever since good old Henry VIII.
In 1685, the death of Charles II left a power vacuum. His brother James II had become king but was struggling to get his laws through a Protestant parliament. Do you know who else was Protestant? You guessed it: the Calvinist stadhouder (head of state) of the Netherlands, William of Orange.
The Anglican aristocracy in England wanted a monarch more willing to work with parliament, rather than ruling by decree (which is what James had begun to do). This and the trial of Seven Bishops were the final straws for parliament. So it devised a plot to put Mary and her husband William on the throne.
A Dutch King of England
Here we had a situation where a member of Dutch royalty was “invited” to overtake the English throne. Parliament put limitations on William of Orange’s power as an English monarch, being given equal status to Mary and being bound by constitutional checks such as the Bill of Rights 1689. Historians say this paved the way for the modern role of the monarch in British politics — all thanks to a Dutchman.
An invasion or a coup?
So far it doesn’t sound much like an invasion, right? It wasn’t as clear cut as the Raid on Chatham in 1667. William came for a little visit to England with an army of 15,000 in November 1688, taking over London with only a few skirmishes breaking out. James fled to France in December, leaving the path clear for William and Mary to ascend to the throne in April of the following year.
However, it wasn’t as simple as William walking into Britain with no resistance. England may have welcomed the new monarchs, but Scotland and Ireland took a bit more convincing. The pro-Stuart revolts in both countries lead to a vast number of casualties. It’s clear not everyone was happy with the new heads of state. 😬
Pawn or plotter?
You can also debate how passive William was in this coup. You can either paint him as a pawn in the game of the English aristocracy or as being a bit more strategic than that.
For example, some argue that he waited for a power vacuum in England before making his move — very ‘Ggame of Tthrones.
On top of this, William also needed the support (especially when it comes to finances) of the English nobles to help him secure his position in Europe. The Netherlands was a Protestant state surrounded by Catholic countries, making invasion a constant threat. The backing of the British Pound meant he was ready to defend the Netherlands in any future wars. In this argument, William is an intelligent strategist rather than just a puppet of the English aristocracy.
So what do we make of this?
Whether it was a strategically timed intervention by the Dutch monarchy, or merely the English making way for a more pliable monarchy, William’s ascension to the British throne certainly changed the nature of British kingship.
Since the Glorious Revolution, English monarchs have been much more tightly bound to constitutional restraints. It signalled a shifting view of how much power a monarch should have. It also cemented Dutch-Anglo relations for years to come, but that was inevitable from two sandwich-loving, beer-drinking nations. 🍻
If you haven’t had enough of Dutch history and have five minutes to spare, this video sums up this series of events:
What do you think? Was it actually an invasion or a cooked up coup? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Jean Carlo Emer/Unsplash (modified)