Marlborough, p.19Richard Holmes
James then said deliberately:
I tell you, Churchill, I will exercise my own religion in such a manner as I shall think fitting. I will show favour to my Catholic subjects, and be a common father to all my Protestants of what religion soever: but I am to remember that I am King, and to be obeyed by them. As for the consequences, I shall leave them to Providence, and make use of the power God has put into my hands to prevent anything that shall be injurious to my honour, or derogatory to the duty that is owing to me.
James did not speak to Churchill again that night, but during dinner he had a long conversation with Dr Maggot, the dean of Winchester, about Passive Obedience. ‘I myself,’ wrote the anonymous author of this source, ‘was a stander by and heard it; without knowing the occasion of it at the time, till the Lord Churchill told me what words had happened between the King and him.’107
It is as difficult for us now as it was for contemporaries to judge precisely where, in these matters, conscience left off and self-interest began. Amongst the conspirators were some men who were devout, and others (with Percy Kirke as the most notable example) who were not. If the evidence of his abundant correspondence is any guide, Churchill was sincere in his commitment to Anglicanism. In accordance with the spirit of the age, he tried not to march or fight on Sundays, repeatedly affirmed his trust in God and the need to thank Him publicly for His mercies. Twenty years later, in a dark moment before Oudenarde, ill and at a tactical disadvantage, he was discovered by Sicco van Goslinga earnestly at prayer at one o’clock in the morning. In December 1687 Sarah told Mary of Orange that ‘Though he [Churchill] will always obey the King in all things that are consistent with religion – yet, rather than change that, I daresay that he will lose all his places and all that he has.’108 Churchill did not only believe that James was wrong: he thought that the monarch’s policy would either wreck his own career or generate a wider insurrection. In the latter event he did not wish to be on the losing side, for he had seen, in his own father’s case, just what that involved.
He was certainly anxious not to break cover too soon. In February 1688 James decreed that the Duke of Berwick’s Regiment of Foot, in garrison at Portsmouth, was to enlist some Irish recruits who were surplus to requirements elsewhere. The regiment’s lieutenant colonel and five of the twelve company commanders begged instead that ‘we may have leave to fill up our companies with such men of our nation as we judge most suitable to the king’s service and to support our honours’. The officers were tried by court-martial at Windsor Castle, and all lost their commissions. Seven of their brother officers resigned in sympathy, and over a hundred private soldiers seized the opportunity to desert. The incident was not in fact a sign of James’s intention to pack English regiments with Irish recruits, but to an army that was already suspicious of royal intentions it looked very much that way.
Churchill sat on the court-martial and voted for the death penalty. By doing so he gave a public affirmation of his loyalty to James, but because courts-martial voted in reverse seniority, with the most junior voting first, he knew that his apparent severity would not actually imperil the lives of the accused. However, he was aware that one of the officers on trial, John Beaumont, was an active plotter and must have been worried that his premature action would risk wider disclosures. Churchill, as we shall see, was responsible for remodelling the army after the Revolution of 1688, and saw that Beaumont was promoted to colonel while at least three of the cashiered captains became lieutenant colonels.
In all this dangerous work Churchill was aided and abetted by his wife. There is a very close correlation between the predominantly Tory Cockpit circle and the often whiggish army conspirators. Henry Compton, the suspended Bishop of London, was not only a signatory of the invitation to William of Orange but a confidant of the Cockpit. In the late summer of 1688 he travelled widely, winning over his nephew the Earl of Northampton, the Earl of Dorset, Lord Grey de Ruthin and the Earl of Manchester.109 At the very heart of the Cockpit was Princess Anne, who assured her elder sister Mary, William of Orange’s wife:
I hope you don’t doubt that I will ever be firm to my religion whatever happens … I must tell you that I abhor the principles of the Church of Rome as much as it is possible for any to do, and I as much value the doctrine of the Church of England. And certainly there is the greatest reason in the world to do so, for the doctrine of the Church of Rome is wicked and dangerous, and directly contrary to the Scriptures, and their ceremonies – most of them – plain, downright idolatry.110
Anne was already as close to Sarah Churchill as she was distant from her father, and the events of the mid-1680s strengthened the former tie as they further unravelled the latter. Anne’s two young daughters, Anne and Mary, died from smallpox early in 1687, and for some weeks Prince George hovered on the brink of following them. The Catholic faction at court began to discuss her remarriage to a suitable Catholic prince, and when the distraught Anne asked her father for permission to visit Mary at The Hague, James, with a typical show of paternal firmness which emerged as intolerance, refused it. Anne immediately warned her sister, in just the tone used by the army conspirators, that if things went on like this no Protestant would be able to live in England. Anne had also come to hate her stepmother, not least because of her evangelising zeal for her religion, and in May 1697 she told Mary: ‘She pretends to have a good deal of kindness to me but I doubt it is not real, for I never see proofs of it, but rather the contrary.’111
Suspecting that their father’s agents would interfere with their letters, the royal sisters took to corresponding through the Dutch ambassador Everaarde van Weede, Heer van Dijkveld, who was himself hard at work gleaning news of English political opinion for his master, and who maintained contact with Princess Anne through the medium of John Churchill. By now James suspected both Anne’s increasing political influence and the strength of her affection, which he called ‘a boundless passion’, for Sarah. In mid-1687 Louis XIV’s special envoy reported that Anne’s main advisers were now working for William, and Churchill, in his opinion, ‘exerts himself more than anyone for the Prince of Orange. Lord Godolphin, who is in all the secret councils, opposes nothing, but plays the good Protestant and always keeps a back door open for access to the Prince of Orange.’112
Her stepmother’s successful pregnancy, which came to term on 10 June, infuriated Anne, who had by now lost her own two daughters and suffered two miscarriages, and she saw in the infant Prince James Francis Edward an heir who would not only supplant the claims of Mary and herself, but who might also continue James’s policy. She complained to Mary that simply being in London was an agony, because ‘The Papists are all so very insolent that it is insupportable living with them.’113 By this time Anne’s resentment of her father’s policies had gone beyond mere criticism, and the Cockpit circle had a conspiracy of its own, aimed at ensuring that Anne escaped from London to join one of the provincial risings planned to accompany a Dutch invasion.
Although Sarah Churchill was later to argue in The Conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough that the princess’s hurried departure from London in the middle of the 1688 campaign was ‘a thing sudden and unconcerted’, it is clear that she and her husband had thrown their hands in with the plotters some time before.114 Sarah admitted that John ‘made settlements to secure his family in case of misfortunes’, and in a letter he sent to the Prince of Orange by way of Henry Sidney on 27 July 1688 he formally bound himself to William:
Mr Sidney will let you know how I intend to behave myself: I think it is what I owe to God and my country. My honour I take leave to put into your Royal Highness’s hands, in which I think it safe. If you think there is anything else that I ought to do, you have but to command me, and I shall pay an entire obedience to it, being resolved to die in that religion that it has pleased God to give you both the will and power to protect.115
There are times when a nation holds its breath. In the autumn of 1688 England was gripped by rumour and counter-rumour. The Fr
Hourly expectation of the Prince of Orange’s invasion heightened to that degree that his Majesty saw fit to abrogate the commissions for the dispensing power (but retaining his right still to dispense with all laws) and restore the ejected Fellows of Magdalen College. In the mean time he called over 5000 Irish, and 4000 Scots, and continued to remove Protestants and put in Papists at Portsmouth and other places of trust, and retained the Jesuits about him, increasing the universal discontent. It brought people to so desperate a pass, that they seemed passionately to long for and desire the landing of that Prince whom they looked on to be their deliverer, praying incessantly for an east wind, which was said to be the only hindrance of his expedition … 116
A popular song honed the edge of unrest. Its snappy little tune is often ascribed, without evidence, to Henry Purcell, and the lyrics are attributed, with as little solid basis, to Lords Wharton and Dorset. If we imagine Tom Wharton scratching a quill in the fug of the Rose Tavern, trying out the couplets on his cronies, then we are stretching history, though not conjecture, too far. The words, which come in many versions, are in cod-Irish, and are meant to be those of a Catholic welcoming recent changes. The doggerel Lillibulero bullen a la was repeated after each line, and the refrain Lero, lero, lillibulero/lillibulero bullen a la/Lero, lero, lillibulero/lillibelero bullen a la followed each couplet.
Ho! Brother Teague, dost hear the decree?
Dat we shall have a new deputy?
Ho! By my shoul, it is de Talbot,
And he will cut all de Englishmen’s throats …
And de good Talbot is made a Lord,
And with brave lads is coming abroad.
Who all in France have taken a sware,
Dat day will have no Protestant heir.
Arragh! But why does he stay behind?
Ho! By my shoul, ’tis a Protestant wind!
But see, de Tyrconnell is now come ashore,
And we shall have commissions galore.
And he dat will not go to mass,
Shall be turned out, and look like an ass.
But now de heretics all go down,
By Creish and St Patrick, the nation’s our own.
Dare was an old prophesy found in a bog,
Dat we shall be ruled by an ass and a dog.
And now dis prophesy is come to pass,
For Talbot’s de dog, and James is de ass.
‘Lillibulero’ was sung in taverns, brayed tunelessly in the street, and whistled by folk with time on their hands. Two and a half centuries later, when the BBC World Service wanted a signature tune it chose ‘Lillibulero’. It is said that James really knew that there was a military conspiracy when he heard the sentry at his door quietly whistling the song which was to sing him out of three kingdoms. In this atmosphere of incipient panic and growing military preparation John, Lord Churchill, prepared to roll fate’s dice, and knew that anything but a six would ruin him.
* * *
* Colonel Sir Edward Hales, a Roman Catholic, was accused by his coachman, Arthur Godden, of holding a commission without taking the oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance. Convicted at Rochester assizes, Hales was successful in his appeal to the King’s Bench, which agreed that the king could legally dispense him from these requirements.
The Protestant Wind
On 5 November 1688 William of Orange landed at Torbay. His Declaration … Of the Reasons Inducing him to Appear in Arms in … England, issued at The Hague on 30 September, furnished the public justification for his invasion: it accused James’s advisers of seeking to overturn the laws and liberties of the three kingdoms, to introduce arbitrary government and an illegal religion. It affirmed that William did not seek the crown for himself, but sought only to have ‘free and lawful’ Parliaments elected in England and Scotland. He had sailed with a fleet of forty-nine warships and over four hundred transports, many of them very small, commanded by Sir Arthur Herbert, rear admiral of England until replaced earlier that year by the Catholic Roger Strickland.
James’s fleet was commanded by the Earl of Dartmouth, and the military conspiracy had done its best to erode the reliability of his captains. However, the conspiracy appears to have been a good deal less effective afloat than it was ashore, and it seems fair to conclude that James’s navy would have fought had it been given the chance. It was not, because the same Protestant wind that blew William’s fleet along the Channel kept Dartmouth’s warships in the Gunfleet, on the Essex side of the Thames estuary. James had specifically warned him that he risked being ‘surprised while there by the sudden coming of the Dutch fleet, as being a place he cannot well get out to sea from, while the wind remains easterly’, but the cautious Dartmouth stayed where he was. He actually saw the outer fringe of William’s fleet sailing southwards on 3 November, but they were directly to windward and, with the tide at low ebb, Dartmouth could not weather the nearby sandbanks. N.A.M. Rodger is right to attribute William’s success in the naval part of the operation to ‘wind and tide’ rather than to disaffection, although, of course, in the backwash of that success the naval conspiracy grew enormously.1
William was taking an extraordinary risk in invading at the season of equinoctal gales, and a rueful Dartmouth told his royal master, ‘’Tis strange that such mad proceedings should have success at this time of year.’2 The Prince of Orange knew that time was of the essence. That summer Louis XIV had invaded the archbishopric of Cologne and large tracts of the Rhineland, his armies trampling on with that brutal disregard for life and property which had become their hallmark. Louis had already put increasing pressure on the Dutch, seizing Dutch shipping in foreign ports in September, and he eventually issued a formal declaration of war on 26 November. This actually strengthened William’s hand, because even the anti-Orange faction in the States-General now rallied, as good Dutchmen, behind him.
Elsewhere French miscalculation helped ensure that a majority of European states were now opposed to Louis, while his Turkish allies were making heavy weather against the Imperialists. The autumn of 1688 found the major part of the French fleet in the Mediterranean ready to act against Pope Innocent XI (perhaps as odd an opponent for a Most Christian King as the Turks were a puzzling ally) and the French army committed in the Rhineland. This situation would not last, and William knew it. He did not simply need to invade before James had discovered the military conspiracy and proceeded against its leaders: he had to strike before the French had rebalanced so as to attack Holland, compelling him to devote his efforts to domestic defence, not foreign adventures.
William’s army consisted of Dutch regulars reinforced by English, Scots, Irish, Huguenot, German, Swiss, Finnish and Swedish regiments; there was even a two-hundred-strong black contingent of Dutch Surinamese soldiers. Nevertheless, with a maximum strength of perhaps 20,000, it was very small, and its cavalry would take some time to reach full efficiency as its horses recovered from the voyage. The royal army was at least one-third bigger, and as the events of 1685 had shown, a landing in the West Country could be effectively contained by troops marching in from the east. The great truth about William’s invasion is simple. It could not rely on seeking decision by battle: William, an experienced general, knew that he could scarcely hope to pull off some stunning masterstroke, with his small polyglot force, against a bigger professional army fighting on home ground. His manifesto to the British army argued that no ‘false notion of honour’ should prevent its members from considering ‘what you owe to Almighty God and your religion, to your country and to yourselves, and to your posterity, which you, as men of honour, ought to prefer to all private considerations and engagements whatsoever’.3
William must have been
That was certainly what Captain Isaac Dupont de Bostaquet, a Huguenot cavalry officer with William’s army, thought. His fellow countrymen who had been dispossessed by Louis XIV saw this as a crusade. ‘Most of the refugees bore arms,’ he wrote, ‘and officers as well as others went to The Hague to give their names to be enrolled in this holy war.’ He found south-west England ‘the most inhospitable land in the world’, and was astonished, when he visited his first Anglican church, to see ‘that so much of the outward appearance of Popery had been retained’. However, ‘We had orders to pay wherever we went,’ which he knew from his own former service was not the French army’s way. In Exeter ‘the inhabitants received us with great cheers’, and there was real confidence that James would not intervene. ‘Rumour was that he was marching towards us,’ recalled Bostaquet, ‘but did not dare to attack because he did not trust his army which was deserting him.’ In contrast, on William’s side ‘every man hastened on as if to certain victory’.5
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