On this day in 1688, the Dutch Stateholder William III of Orange made a triumphant march into London ending the reign of King James II. In what history has since coined the “Glorious Revolution” William of Orange invaded England on the 5th of November 1688. It would however, take nearly two months of struggle for William to depose of King James and claim the throne for himself and his wife Mary II.
A portrait of William III, aged 27.
King James was the last openly catholic ruler of the crowns of England, Ireland and Scotland. He was the son of Charles I and brother to Charles II. From the moment of his succession, members of Britain’s political and religious elite increasingly suspected him of being Catholic and of wanting to yield the power of an absolute monarch. The short reign of King James is a reminder of the struggle for supremacy between the English Parliament and the Crown. When King James produced a Catholic male heir the Protestant nobles exploded calling upon the King’s son-in-law William III of Orange to land an invasion from the Netherlands. Landing at Brixham (Southwest England) on the morning of the 5th November 1688, William III stepped ashore proclaiming “the liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain”. With an army of eleven-thousand men, a Cavalry of some four-thousand horse soldiers and the Protestant majority on his side, William III scared King James II to France leaving Parliament to conclude that the fleeing of the monarch is abdication.
William III was a man content on peace and the near bloodless invasion of England was to his credit. William refused the advice of his generals to take King James II into custody, instead allowing the King to flee so that he did not become a martyr to the Catholic cause.
From the moment that the conventional Parliament that was summoned by William proclaimed William III and Mary II as their undoubted King and Queen, British constitutional history was made. In the following year of 1689 one of the most important acts in British history was passed by Parliament and became law. The Bill of Right, 1689 invited both William III and Mary II to become joint sovereigns of England. It further laid down limits on the powers of the crown and established the rights of Parliament and rules for freedom of speech in Parliament. The comprehensive act further set the requirement for regular elections to Parliament and established the right to petition the monarch without fear of vengeance. This act founded the certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament and thus established the constitutional monarchy that exists to this day.
William III was an asthmatic man and the location of the Palace of Whitehall did not aid the King’s difficulty. William and Mary began to search for a residence that was close to London but better situated away from the river for William’s comfort. In the summer of 1689 William and Mary brought Nottingham House from the 2nd Earl of Nottingham for the sum of £20,000. Following the purchase, William instructed Sir Christopher Wren (Surveyor of the King’s Works) to begin the immediate expansion of the house, while keeping the shell intact. Following the addition of a three-story pavilion to each of the four corners, an entrance to the west, a narrow accommodation block to the south and kitchen to the north, Nottingham House was transformed into Kensington Palace. Following much renovation William III and Mary II set up Court in their new palace at Kensington. Some 324 years later Prince William, Duke of Cambridge KG established his home and court in the palace that was once home to Britain’s invader King.
Kensington Palace nowadays, with a statue of William III at the front of the Palace.
Mary II died young and childless following a battle with small pox. Despite the regency that existed between William III and Mary II, Parliament allowed William III to rule alone following Mary’s premature death. William died of pneumonia following a fall from his horse at Hampton Court in the year of 1702. William’s sister-in-law was quickly named as Queen Regnant of England, Scotland and Ireland in order to supress the chance of a Jacobite uprising. Anne also died childless after some 17 miscarriages. This caused a major problem for Parliament, as Anne was the person to be named on the Bill of Rights as a lawful successor of the throne. In order to stop the restoration of James II’s line, Parliament swiftly passed the Act of Settlement 1701 which named Sophia, Electress of Hanover and her Protestant heirs as lawful successors to the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland should Anne fail to produce a living heir.
Known as “Good King Billy”, William’s reign will be remembered as a cornerstone in the establishment of the major British constitutional conventions that exist to this day. William III, ended the bitter conflict between the Crown and Parliament and in my opinion laid the foundations for a timeless monarchy that would later serve as a national beacon for unity, hope and continuity.
Photo Credits: 1st picture in the public domain, 2nd: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk