In March 1688, Queen Mary Beatrice was six months pregnant, raising the possibility that she would produce a Catholic son and heir for her husband, James II. By then, James had sat on the throne for a little over three years, his Catholicism barely tolerated by the majority of his government and the English people on the grounds that his heir was his Protestant daughter, Mary, who was married to the equally Protestant Prince William of Orange.
Worried about what the birth of a prince would mean politically, three Englishmen – Arthur Herbert and William and Edward Russell – traveled to The Hague and proposed to William of Orange that he “invade” England and “rescue” the country from the threat of papacy. On June 10, the Queen delivered a healthy son and on June 30, Herbert again arrived in Holland, this time with the Earls of Devonshire, Danby and Shrewsbury, Richard Lumley, Edward Russell, Henry Sidney and Dr Compton, Bishop of London, to request that William “save” them.
On October 26, William took his leave of the Dutch States-General, thanked them for their support and prepared to invade England. “What God intends for me I do not know, but if I should fall, take care of my adored wife who has always loved this country as if it were her own,” he told them. That afternoon he and Mary dined together at their home at Honselaardijk for the last time and he then took leave of her.
On October 27, a day of prayer and fasting for a successful journey was held, and the Spanish envoy held a mass in its honor. The French envoy did not participate. On October 30, the party set sail, but bad weather forced their return to port. On November 9, Mary received a message to travel to Brill where she spent two final hours with her husband on Dutch soil before they made a second departure the following day. Again they were forced back and then, finally, on November 11, they successfully launched.
William was accompanied by over 600 ships in full, but mid-trip decided that instead of traveling to Yorkshire where the friendly Earl of Danby was based, he would instead head to the West Country. His primary objective was for a peaceful landing, and in that he would be lucky thanks to what became known as the fortuitous “Protestant wind” that allowed the Dutch to dock and kept the English navy, led by Lord Dartmouth, from intervening.
It was not a glamorous start. After prayers of thanksigiving, the party made do with the ground outside Brixham for sleep – even William slept on a mattress on the floor of a fisherman’s hut. The following day the party fought wind and rain as they marched for Exeter, spending the night in a local inn or, for the common soldiers, in the mud outside. As the journey continued men fell ill and were forced back to Brixham, cottages being opened up for one or two soldiers as needed. In all, the trip took four days and when they reached Exeter they were cheered by a people grateful a Dutchman had come to depose their king – it was a strange situation, to say the least. Within days, William was joined by prominent Englishmen like Sir Edward Seymour and the Marquis of Bath.
As for James II, he was desperate. Though the head of an 34,000-strong army, he failed to understand that most were Protestants equally as suspicious of him, and when he announced to the leading Tories that it was not within his power to hold free elections when a foreign army was in the country, he was essentially done. His nephew, Lord Cordbury, declared for William, while Lord Delamere led a rising in Cheshire, Danby seized York and the Earl of Devonshire took Nottingham. By the time James left London to join his army in Salisbury, he seemed unclear as to what to do.
Two days in to the march to Exeter came news that James had withdrawn without giving battle. The English counseling William advised that he should negotiate a victory instead of forcing a fight and so, on December 7, William received James’s commissioners at The Bear, a roadside inn in Hungerford. William’s terms were that all Catholics officers be dismissed and proclamations made against William and his supporters be revoked. James would pay for William’s army and the two men would attend Parliament together to negotiate next steps in unison. Remarkably, at this point, there was an option for James to remain on the throne.
James received the terms and stated that he would consider them, but on December 10, he sent Queen Mary Beatrice and their son to France under the protection of Louis XIV and felt obliged to follow them. He attempted just that on the 11th by sneaking down the back stairs at Whitehall Palace with a handful of supporters. They then took a boat to Vauxhall where James threw the Great Seal into the Thames and then rode horses for a boat waiting to carry them to France.
William met the news of his father-in-law’s desertion with relief, but it was short-lived. Five days later, James was back in London after being apprehended by fishermen. William was by now in no mood to negotiate, knowing that James was far from prepared to do right by his people. William summoned a council of Englishman to decide the King’s state and James was eventually escorted to Rochester, though he issued a proclamation that he was leaving London due to William’s “discourtesy” and he was prepared to return to the capital when asked by his people. No request came and when James again slipped out of the country on December 23, no one stopped him. Though his presence abroad was a constant thorn in William’s side, it was better than the awkwardness of having him in England, or the possibility of violence breaking out and having to put him to death.
Like that, William had effectively conquered England in a matter of weeks without battle. On December 30, he sent word to Mary asking her to prepare to join him in London, and on December 31, he went to visit Charles II’s widow, Catherine of Braganza, then residing in Somerset House in London. When he learned that her Chamberlain had been detained for his support of James, William ordered his release so that the Dowager Queen wouldn’t be inconvenienced.
The next phase was oddly enough the more complicated one, for it was Mary, not William, who was in fact James’s Protestant heir. William was clear from the start that he had not come to England to start a Commonwealth or to participate in government unless he was his wife’s equal. Unlike, say, Henry VII before him, he was also clear that he in no way meant to diminish the rights of his wife – he did not mean to be king to the exclusion of his wife being queen regnant. Pointedly, he also stated that if he was named king it would not be only for the remainder of Mary’s life, which would lead to the possibility of her dying and him being ousted by her sister, Anne.
As for the English, they were split to the point of being at a loss. Though William’s arrival in the country had been welcomed – indeed, invited – few had anticipated that James would leave so quickly. No one really wanted him to come back, but the succession and the sanctity of the crown being casually undermined by popular demand made many uneasy. The idea of William being made sole monarch – as the Dutch wanted – was discarded. So, too, was the idea of leaving James on the throne, but naming Mary his regent, the argument against being that James was not mentally ill and it was equally as troubling for Parliament to force the separation of the crown and monarch.
Against this backdrop, Mary wrote to Danby from Holland that she would never become queen if her husband wasn’t made king. Thus, with few other viable options, on January 31, 1689, Parliament voted that William and Mary would rule together during their joint and separate lives. If William and Mary had children, they would succeed their parents (though everyone knew the likelihood after 11 years of childless marriage was remote). If Mary died and William remarried and had children with his second wife, Mary’s sister Anne and her children would precede them in the line of succession. Thus it was that the presence of Anne and her husband became a powerful force for William to manage.
In February, Mary set sail from Holland, later writing that aboard the ship she looked behind her,
“And saw the vast seas between me and Holland that had been my country for more than 11 years. I saw with regret that I had left it and I believed it was forever; that was a hard thought, and I had need of much more constancy than I can brag of, to bear with patience. Yet when I saw England, my native country, which long absence had made me a stranger to, I felt a secret joy…but that was soon checked with consideration of my father’s misfortunes which came immediately to my mind.”
William met her at Greenwich and they enjoyed a tearful reunion. On February 13 the couple were presented in the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall with the Declaration of Rights, which they accepted, and they were then proclaimed king and queen. On April 11, William and Mary were crowned in Westminster Abbey – the only coronation ceremony in British history for two sovereigns. The “Glorious Revolution” was over and Protestantism reigned supreme.