Friday, 16 March 2018

The reign of Queen Anne (1702-14): some highlights

Queen Anne and her husband, Prince George of Denmark
by Charles Boit
Royal Collection, Public Domain

Four deaths

At the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, four deaths dramatically changed the political landscape at home and abroad.

(a) On 30 July 1700 Anne’s only surviving child, William, duke of Gloucester (from smallpox). The result was the Act of Settlement of 1701, which settled the crown on the Electress Sophia of Hanover, the Protestant granddaughter of James I, and her heirs. 
(b) Carlos II of Spain, 21 October 1700.
(c) James II, 6 September 1701: Louis XIV immediately recognised his son as James III and VIII. In effect, this was a declaration of war.
(d) William III, 23 February 1702. He was thrown from his horse when it stumbled on a molehill in Richmond Park. He caught a fever and died on 8 March. As Mary had died in 1694, Anne became queen.

Sophia, Electress of Hanover
Protestant heiress to the throne

The accession of Queen Anne

Anne's reign saw a major war and five general elections: 1702; 1705; 1708; 1710; 1713.

Her accession was greeted with enthusiasm. A staunch supporter of the Church of England (shown in her setting up of Queen Anne’s Bounty in 1704), she took great pains to stress the fact that she was the granddaughter of the martyr, Charles I and she revived the ceremony of the royal touch which had lapsed under William. Her dynastic legitimacy initially took much of the wind out of the sails of English Jacobitism. Those who could not support her claim pinned their hopes on her brother’s succession after her death.

In contrast to William, Anne was a relatively uncontroversial character and, though she identified instinctively with the Tories, she did her best to stand above party. She addressed her first parliament as a patriot queen:
‘As I know my own heart to be entirely English, I can very sincerely assure you that there is not one thing you can expect or desire of me which I shall not be ready to do for the happiness or prosperity of England.’
She modelled herself on Elizabeth I, using her motto of Semper Eadem ('always the same'). This made it difficult to mount a personal attack on the monarchy or the court. The common belief that she was a weak queen is the result of the duchess of Marlborough’s hostile comments. In reality, until her health collapsed at the end of her reign, she was an interventionist monarch with strong views and was firmly in control of her ministers.

William III and the Nine Years' War: a brief summary

The Low Countries, the main site of the
fighting during the Nine Years' War

William’s primary motive for invading England had been to draw the nation into the European coalition against France, and his arrival produced a dramatic transformation of British foreign policy. From 1689 to 1714 it was at war for all but five of these years. Those who had feared that if William became king he would involve the country in a war against France were proved correct.

In February 1689 the Dutch declared war on France. In May, a Grand Alliance was signed between the Republic, England, Spain, Sweden, Savoy and the Holy Roman Emperor. In the same month England and Scotland entered the Nine Years’ War against France.

The war began badly when in May 1690 the French defeated a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet off Beachy Head, which gave them command of the Channel, and highlighted the constant danger of a French backed Jacobite invasion, a threat only partly ameliorated by the defeat of the French in the Bay of La Hogue in May 1692.

The result of the early setback was a massive ship-building programme. In 1660 the navy comprised 156 ships; in 1688 173; in 1702 224; in 1710 313. By 1713 the British navy was the largest and strongest in the world. The navy supported over 40,000 men. The army comprised 70,000 of which 20,000 were foreigners. Average expenditure on the armed forces reached £2.5 million per annum.

The Nine Years’ War was a war of prolonged sieges fought mainly in the Spanish Netherlands. It was a war of attrition and ended with all parties in a state of exhaustion. It was ended by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Louis recognised William as king of Great Britain (without fully abandoning James’s claims) and abandoned his conquests in the Netherlands and the Rhineland since 1688.

But the treaty failed to resolve the dominating question of late 17th century Europe: what would happen to Spain when the unfortunate Carlos II died. There were three candidates for the throne: the Imperial, the Bavarian, and the French. Two partition treaties of 1698 and 1700 tried to settle the issue by providing for the division of the Spanish Empire after Carlos’s death, but nobody bothered to consult the poor sick king.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Scotland and Ireland


As after the death of Cromwell in 1658, Scottish politicians found themselves reacting to events in England. In December 1688 James’s ministers fled Edinburgh in the wake of anti-Catholic rioting, leaving the control of the city to radical Presbyterians.

In January 1689 William summoned a Convention of Estates to meet in Edinburgh on 14 March. Scottish Jacobites refused to attend and on 4 April members voted, with only five against, that James had attempted ‘the subversion of the Protestant religion, and the violation of the laws and liberties of the kingdom.’ The Claim of Right, the Scottish equivalent of the Bill of Rights, was accepted on 11 April. ‘

It was also a Presbyterian revolution. On 22 July William reluctantly agreed to an act abolishing bishops. He was also forced to accept a lesser degree of toleration than in England. A witch-hunt was initiated against clergy who sympathized with episcopacy. 664 ministers were dismissed in the following decades and many Episcopalians, who still held to divine right monarchy, looked to the restoration of the Stuarts to secure their rights.

John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee
Public domain

Whereas the Presbyterians of the Lowlands were overwhelmingly Williamite, Jacobitism remained strong in the Highlands. When the Convention offered the Crown to William, John Graham of Claverhouse, now created Viscount Dundee by James, rode north to rally the Jacobite clans. On 27 July 1689 several thousand Highlanders led by Viscount Dundee defeated William’s forces under General Mackay at Killiekrankie. But this was a Pyrrhic victory as Dundee was killed and the Jacobites were finally trounced at Crondale on 1 May 1690. But the rebellion showed the strength of Scottish Jacobitism and further pushed William into the arms of the Presbyterians.

Women and voting

The study of seventeenth-century politics is inevitably dominated by men, with women usually appearing only as queens. However, before the nineteenth century, there was no law restricting women's right to vote and recent research for the History of Parliament as thrown up women's names among the lists of voters. There's a fascinating little essay here.

Monday, 5 March 2018

The Revolution Settlement

The Bill of Rights
Public domain

The Bill of Rights

Immediately before the formal offer of the Crown on 13 February 1689, the Commons had presented William and Mary with the Declaration of Rights. Though at that stage William ignored it, later that year it was translated into a statute, the Bill of Rights.

The lawyers who drafted the Declaration chose ambiguous language which would affirm the political principles to which they could all adhere. Many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights were retrospective, such as declaring the suspending and dispensing powers illegal. It reiterated old rights rather then invented new ones and was certainly not an overt attempt to establish a contractual monarchy. There was plenty of scope for varied interpretation.

One provision in particular did not stand the test of time: the provision 
that the raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is against the law.
But what was this to mean in practice? After the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) which ended the Nine Years' War, the question of whether to continue a standing army in peace-time was hotly debated in Parliament. William personally appealed to the Commons to be allowed to keep the Dutch foot-guards. In 1699 the Disbanding Act fixed the number of troops to be kept in establishment and a peace-time standing army was legalised.

Most importantly, the Glorious Revolution established a Protestant succession to the crown. The Test Act now applied to the monarch. In contrast to the European principle of cuius regio eius religio, from this time onwards monarchs and their spouses had to follow the religion of the people. The principle was reinforced in the Act of Settlement (1701) and the Act of Union (1707).

Friday, 2 March 2018

The Glorious Revolution

William of Orange, by Willem Wissing
Public domain


William’s fleet sailed on 20 October 1688 but was forced back by a terrible storm in which several ships and five hundred horses were lost. When the wind turned north-easterly on 1 November his fleet set sail a second time. Driven by 'the Protestant wind' the fleet sailed up the Channel and landed at Torbay on 5 November. (The same wind trapped the English fleet in the Thames estuary.) At first his experience seemed to replicate Monmouth’s - he was welcomed by the common people, but the gentry stayed at home. But four days later he entered Exeter and the tide began to turn in his favour. The army defections began on 16 October. On 21 November he began a slow march towards London, which was in the grip of anti-Catholic rioting. By this time Lord Delamere had secured Cheshire for him. On 21 and 22 November the earls of Devonshire and Danby seized Nottingham and York respectively.


This did not mean that William’s victory was inevitable. Many powerful Tories, including James's brother-in-law the Hydes, and most bishops were not prepared to abandon an anointed king, even if they disagreed with his religion. But at Salisbury on 23 November James lost his nerve. He could only sleep with the aid of drugs and he was bothered by a series of violent nosebleeds. Instead of marching out to meet William, he retreated to London. At this point John Churchill and James's nephew, the duke of Grafton, defected, followed the next night by his son-in-law, Prince George of Denmark. James was especially angry at Churchill’s defection – he had made him lieutenant-general and peer of the realm and felt, quite reasonably perhaps, that he was owed some loyalty.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Glorious Revolution: why William invaded

Louis XIV in 1685
Public domain

The European background

When he invaded England in November 1688, William was taking an extraordinary gamble. The reasons lie in the European situation, and in particular his worries about the expansionist politics of Louis XIV as the French state expanded territorially. In what were known as rĂ©unions, border towns were incorporated into France and forced to accept Catholicism. In 1680-1, the French attacked Orange in southern France, where William's family had its hereditary estates. In August 1681 they occupied the town and pulled down its walls, and let the dragonnades loose. This was a final insult to William as a sovereign Prince. For a while, though, he was helpless, as the Dutch States General would not allow him to increase the number of armed forces. 

In September 1681 the Protestant city of Strasbourg was taken from the Empire, giving the French control of much of the lower Rhine. The barrier town of Luxembourg was then besieged (it fell in June 1684). 

William’s answer was to build up an anti-French alliance. It was not easy as the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was distracted by the Turkish invasion; in 1683 the Ottomans were at the gates of Vienna. However in the following years, as Louis seemed to be over-reaching himself, France’s enemies began to unite against her.

The Revocation of Edict of Nantes led to much ill-feeling in the United Provinces (the Netherlands), where Dutch citizens resident in France found themselves forbidden to leave French territory. In addition France put up trade barriers against the Netherlands, much to the fury of Amsterdam.  This enabled William to gain the backing of the States-General (the Dutch parliament) for war against France and to build up the Dutch navy,which had been run down after the war with England.