by Winston Churchill


William of Orange

FROM his earliest years the extraordinary Prince who in the general interest robbed his father-in-law of the British throne had dwelt under harsh and stern conditions. William of Orange was< fatherless and childless. His life was loveless. His marriage was dictated by reasons of State. He was brought up by a termagant grandmother, and in his youth was regulated by one Dutch committee after another. His childhood was unhappy and his health bad. He had a tubercular lung. He was asthmatic and partly crippled. But within this emaciated and defective frame there burned a remorseless fire, fanned by the storms of Europe, and intensified by the grim compression of his surroundings. His greatest actions began before he was twenty-one. From that age he had fought constantly in the field, and toiled through every intrigue of Dutch domestic politics and of the European scene. For four years he had been the head of the English conspiracy against the Catholic King James II.

Women meant little to him. For a long time he treated his loving, faithful wife with indifference. Later on, towards the end of his reign, when he saw how much Queen Mary had helped him in the English sphere of his policy, he was sincerely grateful to her, as to a faithful friend or Cabinet officer who had maintained the Government. His grief at her death was unaffected.

In religion he was of course a Calvinist; but he does not seem to have derived much spiritual solace from the forbidding doctrines of the sect. As a sovereign and commander he was entirely without religious prejudices. No agnostic could have displayed more philosophic impartiality. Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or infidel were all the same to him. He dreaded and hated Gallican Catholicism less because it was to him idolatrous than because it was French. He employed Catholic officers without hesitation when they would serve his purpose. He used religious questions as counters in his political combinations. While he beat the Protestant drum in England and Ireland, he had potent influence with the Pope, with whom his relations were at all times a model of comprehending statesmanship. It almost seemed that a being had been created for the sole purpose of resisting the domination of France and her "Great King."  .......

As soon as he learned on the afternoon of December 23, 1688, that by King James's flight he had become undisputed master of England the Prince of Orange took the step for which he had come across the water. The French Ambassador was given twenty-four hours to quit the Island and England was committed to the general coalition against France. This opened a war which, with an uneasy interlude,  gripped Europe for twenty-five years, and was destined to bring low to the ground the power of Louis XIV.

The whole British nation had been united in the expulsion of James. But there was now no lawful Government of any kind. A Convention Parliament was summoned by the Prince on the advice of the statesmen who had made the Revolution., As soon as it was elected it became involved in points of constitutional propriety and the national non-party coalition which was responsible for summoning William to England broke under the stress of creating a settled Government for the country. Personal ambitions and party creeds shot through the complicated maneuvers which led to the final constitutional arrangements. King Charles's former Minister, the Earl of Danby, had much to hope for from these weeks of chaos. It was he who had created the Tory Party from the Anglican gentry and the Established Church after the breakdown of the Cabal. The intrigues of Charles with France and the Popish Plot had wrecked his political career. To save him from the malice of his enemies the King had incarcerated him in comfort in the Tower. He had been released towards the end of the reign, and now in the 1688 Revolution he saw his chance to remake his fortunes. His position as a great landowner in the North had enabled him to raise the gentry and provide a considerable military force at a critical and decisive moment. With the prestige of this achievement behind him he had arrived in London. Loyal Tories were alarmed by the prospect of disturbing the Divine Right in the Stuart succession. Danby got in touch with Princess Mary. An obvious solution which would please many Tories was the accession of Mary in her own right In this" way the essential liaises of the Tory creed could be preserved, and for this Danby now fought in the debates of the hastily assembled Lords. But other Tories, including Mary's uncle, the Earl of Clarendon, favoured the -appointment of William as Regent, James remaining titular King. This cleavage of ideas helped the Whigs to prevail.

The Whigs, for their part, looked on the Revolution as the vindication of their own political belief in the idea of a contract between Crown and people. It now lay with Parliament to settle the succession. The whole situation turned upon the decision of William. Would he be content with the mere tide of honorary consort to his wife? If so the conscience of the Tories would not be violated and the Whig share in the Revolution would be obscured. The Whigs themselves had lost their leaders in the Rye House Plot, and it was a single politician who played their game for them and won, while they reaped the benefit.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, "the Trimmer" as he was proud to be called, was the subtlest and most solitary statesman of his day. His strength in this crisis lay in his knowledge of William's intention. He had been sent by James to treat with the invading prince in the days before the King's flight. He knew that William had come to stay, that the Dutchman needed a secure and sovereign position in England in order to meet the overshadowing menace of French aggression in Europe. The suggestion that William should be Regent on behalf of James was rejected in the Lords, but only by 51 votes to 49. After protracted debates in the Convention Halifax's view was accepted that the Crown should be jointly vested in tEe persons of William and Mary. His triumph was complete, and it was he who presented the Crown and the Declaration of Rights to the two sovereigns on behalf of both Houses. But his conception of politics was hostile to the growing development of party. In a time of high crisis he could play a decisive role. He possessed no phalanx of partisans behind him. His moment of power was brief; but the Whig Party owed to him their revival in the years which followed.

Step by step the tangle had been cleared. By the private advice of John and Sarah Churchill, Princess Anne, Mary's younger sister, surrendered in favour of William her right to succeed to the throne should Mary predecease him. Thus William gained without dispute the crown for life. He accepted this Parliamentary decision with good grace. Many honours and promotions at the time of the coronation rewarded the Revolutionary leaders. Churchill, though never in William's immediate circle, was confirmed in his rank of Lieutenant-General, and employed virtually as Commander-in-Chief to reconstitute the English Army. He was created Earl of Marlborough, and when in May 1689 war was formally declared against France, and William was detained in England and later embroiled in Ireland, Marlborough led the English contingent of eight thousand men against the French in Flanders.

The British Islands now entered upon a most dangerous war crisis. The exiled James was received by Louis with every mark of consideration and sympathy which the pride and] policy of the Great King could devise.  Ireland presented i itself as the obvious immediate centre of action. James, sustained  by a  disciplined  French  contingent,  many  French, officers, and large supplies of French munitions and money, had landed in Ireland in March. He was welcomed as a deliverer. He reigned in Dublin, aided by an Irish Parliament, and was soon defended by a Catholic army which may have reached a hundred thousand men. The whole island except the Protestant settlements in the North passed under the control of the Jacobites, as they were henceforth called. While William looked eastward to Flanders and the Rhine the eyes of his Parliament were fixed upon the opposite quarter. When he reminded Parliament of Europe they vehemently drew his attention to Ireland. The King made the time-honoured mistake of meeting both needs inadequately. The defense of Londonderry and its relief from the sea was the one glorious episode of the campaigning season of 1689........   

Had William used his whole strength in Ireland in 1689 he would have been free to carry it to the Continent in 1690; but in the new year he found himself compelled to go in person with his main force to Ireland, and by the summer took the field at the head of thirty-six thousand men. Thus the whole power of England was diverted from the main theatre of the war. The Prince of Waldeck, William's Commander in the Low Countries, suffered a crushing defeat at the skillful hands of Marshal Luxembourg in the Battle of Fleurus. At the same time the French Fleet gained a victory over the combined fleets of England and Holland off Beachy Head. It was said in London that "the Dutch had the honour, the French had the advantage, and the English the shame." The command of the Channel temporarily passed to the French under Admiral Tourville, and it seemed that they could at the same time land an invading army in England and stop William returning from Ireland.

Queen Mary's Council, of which Marlborough was a member, had to face an alarming prospect. They were sustained by the loyalty and spirit of the nation. The whole country took up what arms they could find. With a nucleus of about six thousand regular troops and the hastily improvised militia and yeomanry, Marlborough stood ready to meet the invasion. However, on July 11 King William gained a decisive victory at the Boyne and drove King James out of Ireland back to France. The appeals of the defeated monarch for a French army to conquer England were not heeded by Louis. The French King had his eyes on Germany. The anxious weeks of July and August passed by without more serious injury than the burning of Teignmouth by French raiders. By the winter the French Fleet was dismantled, and the English and Dutch Fleets were refitted and again at sea. Thus the danger passed. Late as was the season, Marlborough was commissioned by Queen Mary's Council and King William to lead an expedition into Ireland, and in a short and brilliant campaign he captured both Cork and Kinsale and subdued the whole of the Southern Irish counties. The end of 1690 therefore saw the Irish War ended and the command of the sea regained. William was thus free after two years to proceed in person to the Continent with strong forces and to assume command of the main armies of the Alliance. He took Marlborough with him at the head of the English troops. But no independent scope was given to Marlborough's genius, already discerned among the captains of the Allies, and the campaign, although on the greatest scale, was indecisive........   

At this time almost all the leading men in England resumed relations with James, now installed at Saint-Germain, near Paris. Godolphin also cherished sentiments of respectful affection towards the exiled Queen. Shrewsbury, Halifax, and Marlborough all entered into correspondence with James. King William was aware of this. He still continued to employ these men in great offices of State .and confidence about his person. He accepted their double-dealing as a necessary element in a situation of unexampled perplexity. He tolerated the fact that his principal English counsellors were reinsuring themselves against a break-up of his Government or his death on the battlefield. He knew, or at least suspected, that Shrewsbury was in touch with Saint-Germain through his mother; yet he insisted on his keeping the highest offices. He knew that Admiral Russell had made his peace with James; yet he kept him in command of the Fleet. If he quarreled with Marlborough it was certainly not because of the family contacts which the General preserved with his nephew, King James's son the Duke of Berwick, or his wife Sarah with her sister, the Jacobite Duchess of Tyrconnel. The King probably knew that Marlborough had obtained his pardon from James by persuading the Princess Anne to send a dutiful message to her father. There was talk of the substitution of Anne for William and Mary, and at the same time the influence of the Churchills with Princess Anne continued to be dominating. Any rift between Anne and her sister, Queen Mary, must sharpen the already serious differences between the King and Marlborough. The ill-feeling between the royal personages developed rapidly. William treated Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark, with the greatest contempt. He excluded him from all share in the wars. He would not take him to Flanders, nor allow him to go to sea with the Fleet. Anne, who dearly loved her husband, was infuriated by these affronts.

As often happens in disputes among high personages, the brunt fell on a subordinate. The Queen demanded the dismissal of Sarah Churchill from Anne's household. Anne refused with all the obstinate strength of her nature. The talk became an altercation. The courtiers drew back distressed. The two sisters parted in the anger of a mortal estrangement.

The next morning at nine o'clock Marlborough, discharging his functions as Gentleman of the Bedchamber, handed the King his shirt, and William preserved his usual impassivity. Two hours later the Earl of Nottingham, Secretary of State, delivered to Marlborough a written order to sell at once all the offices he held, civil and military, and consider himself as from that date dismissed from the Army and all public employment and forbidden the Court. No reasons were given officially for this important stroke. Marlborough took his dismissal with unconcern. His chief associates, the leading counsellors of the King, were offended. Shrewsbury let his disapproval be known; Godolphin threatened to retire from the Government. Admiral Russell, now Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, went so far as to reproach King William to his face with having shown ingratitude to the man who had "set the crown upon his head." The Queen now forbade Sarah to come to Court, and Anne retorted by quitting it herself. She left her apartments in the Cockpit at Whitehall and retired to Syon House, offered her by the Duke of Somerset. No pressure would induce Anne to part with her cherished friend, and in these fires of adversity and almost persecution links were forged upon which the destinies of England were presently to hang.

Continental War

No sooner had King William set out upon the Continental war than the imminent menace of invasion fell upon the Island he had left denuded of troops. Louis XIV now planned a descent upon England. King James was to be given his chance of regaining the throne. The exiled Jacobite Court at Saint-Germain had for two years oppressed the French War Office with their assertion that England was ripe and ready for a restoration. An army of ten thousand desperate Irishmen and ten thousand French regulars was assembled around Cherbourg. The whole French Fleet, with a multitude of transports and store-ships, was concentrated in the Norman and Breton ports.

It was not until the middle of April 1692 that the French designs became known to the English Government. Fevered but vigorous preparations were made for defense by land and sea. As upon the approach of the Spanish Armada, all England was alert. But everything turned upon the Admiral. Russell, like Marlborough, had talked with the Jacobite agents: William and Mary feared, and James fervently believed, that he would play the traitor to his country and his profession. Jacobite sources admit however that Russell plainly told their agent that, much as he loved James and loathed William's Government, if he met the French Fleet at sea he would do his best to destroy, "even though King James himself were on board." He kept his word. "If your officers play you false," he said to the sailors on the day of battle, "overboard with them, and myself the first."

On May 19-20 the English and Dutch Fleets met Tourville with the main French naval power in the English Channel off Cape La Hogue. Russell's armada, which carried forty thousand men and seven thousand guns, was the stronger by ninety-nine ships to forty-four. Both sides fought hard, and Tourville was decisively beaten. Russell and his admirals, all of whom were counted on the Jacobite lists as pledged and faithful adherents of King James, followed the beaten Navy into its harbours. During five successive days the fugitive warships were cut out under the shore batteries by flotillas of English row-boats. The whole apparatus of invasion was destroyed under the very eyes of the former King whom it was to have borne to his native shore.

The Battle of Cape La Hogue, with its consequential actions, effaced the memories of Beachy Head. It broke decisively for the whole of the wars of William and Anne all French pretensions to naval supremacy. It was the Trafalgar of the seventeenth century.

On land the campaign of 1692 unrolled in the Spanish Netherlands, which we now IpM>w as Belgium. It opened with; a brilliant French success. Namur fell to the French armies. But worse was to follow. In August William marched by night with his whole army to attack Marshal Luxembourg. The French were surprised near Steinkirk in the early morning. Their advanced troops were overwhelmed and routed, and for an hour confusion reigned in their camp. But Luxembourg was equal to the emergency and managed to draw out an ordered line of battle. The British infantry formed the forefront of the Allied attack. Eight splendid regiments, under General Mackay, charged and broke the Swiss in fighting as fierce as had been seen in Europe in living memory. Luxembourg now launched the Household troops of France upon the British division, already strained by its exertions, and after a furious struggle, fought mostly with cold steel, beat it back. Meanwhile from all sides the French advanced and their reinforcements began to reach the field. Count Solms, the Dutch officer and William's relation, who had replaced Marlborough in command of the British contingent, had already earned the cordial dislike of its officers and men. With the remark, "Now we shall see what the bulldogs can do!" he refused to send Mackay the help for which he begged. The British lost two of their best generals and half their numbers killed and wounded, and would not have escaped but for the action of a subordinate Dutch general, Overkirk, afterwards famous in Marlborough's campaigns. William, who was unable to control the battle, shed bitter tears as he watched the slaughter, and exclaimed, "Oh, my poor English!" By noon the whole of the Allied army was in retreat, and although the losses of seven or eight thousand men on either side were equal the French proclaimed their victory throughout Europe. These events infuriated the English Parliament. The most savage debates took place upon the conduct of Count Solms.

The House of Lords carried an address that no English general should be subordinated to a Dutchman, whatever his rank. It was with difficulty that the Government spokesmen persuaded the Commons that there were no English officers fit to be generals in a Continental campaign. Against great opposition supplies were voted for another mismanaged and disastrous year of war. In July 1693 was fought the great Battle of Landen, unmatched in Europe for its slaughter except by Malplaquet and Borodino for over two hundred years. The French were in greatly superior strength. Nevertheless the King determined to withstand their attack, and constructed almost overnight a system of strong entrenchments and palisades in the enclosed country along the Landen stream, within the windings of the Geet. After an heroic resistance the Allies were driven from their position by the French with a loss of nearly twenty thousand men, the attackers losing less than half this total. William rallied the remnants of his army, gathered reinforcements, and, since Luxembourg neglected to pursue his victory, was able to maintain himself in the field. In 1694 he planned an expedition upon Brest, and, according to the Jacobites, Marlborough betrayed this design to the enemy. At any rate Tollemache, the British commander on land, was received by heavy fire from prepared positions, was driven back to his ships with great loss, and presently died of his wounds. There is no doubt that the letter on which the charge against Marlborough was based is a forgery. There is no proof that he gave any information to the French, and it is also certain that they were fully informed from other sources...... 

At the end of 1694 Queen Mary had been stricken with smallpox, and on December 28 she died, unreconciled to her sister Anne, mourned by her subjects, and lastingly missed by King William. Hitherto the natural expectation had been that Mary would long survive her husband, upon whose frail, fiery life so many assaults of disease, war, and conspiracy had converged. An English Protestant Queen would then reign in her own right. Instead of this, the crown now lay with William alone for life, and thereafter it must come to Anne. This altered the whole position of the Princess, and with it that of the redoubtable Churchills, who were her devoted intimates and champions. From the" moment that the Queen had breathed her last Marlborough's interest no longer diverged from William's. He shared William's resolve to break the power of France; he agreed with the whole character and purpose of his foreign policy. A formal reconciliation was effected between William and Anne. Marlborough remained excluded for four more years from all employment, military or civil, at the front or at home; but with his profound gift of patience and foresight upon the drift of events he now gave a steady support to William.

In 1695 the King gained his only success. He recovered Namur in the teeth of the French armies. This event enabled the war to be brought to an inconclusive end in 1696. It had lasted for over seven years. England and Holland—the Maritime Powers as they were called—and Germany had defended: themselves successfully, but were weary of the struggle. Spain was bellicose but powerless, and only the Habsburg Emperor Leopold, with his eyes fixed on the ever-impending vacancy of the Spanish throne, was in earnest in keeping the anti-French confederacy in being. The Grand Alliance began to fall to pieces, and Louis, who had long felt the weight of a struggle upon so many fronts, was now disposed to peace. William was unable to resist the peace movement of both his friends and foes. He saw that the quarrel was still unassuaged; his only wish was to prolong it. But he could not fight alone.

The Treaty of Ryswick marked the end of the first period  in this world war. In fact it was but a truce. Yet there were possibilities that the truce might ripen into a lasting settlement. William and Louis interchanged expressions of the highest mutual regard. Europe was temporarily united against Turkish aggression. Many comforted themselves with the hope that Ryswick had brought the struggle against the exorbitant power of France to an equipoise. This prospect was ruined by the Tories and their allies. In order to achieve lasting peace it was vital that England should be strong and well armed, and thus enabled to confront Louis on equal terms. But the Tories were now in one of their moods of violent reaction from Continental intervention. Groaning under taxation, impatient of every restraint, the Commons plunged into a campaign of economy and disarmament. The moment the pressure of war was relaxed they had no idea but; to cast away their arms. England came out of the war an army of eighty-seven thousand regular soldiers. The King considered that thirty thousand men and a large additional number of officers was the least that would guarantee the public safety and interest. His Ministers did not dare to ask for more than ten thousand, and the House of Commons would only vote seven thousand. The Navy was cut down only less severely. Officers and men were cast upon the streets or drifted into outlawry in the countryside. England, having made every sacrifice and performed prodigies of strength and valour, now fell to the ground in weakness and improvidence when a very little more perseverance would have made her, if not supreme, at least secure.

The apparent confusion of politics throughout William's reign was largely due to the King's great reluctance to put himself at the disposal of either of the two main party groups. He wished for a national coalition to support a national effort against France, and he was constitutionally averse to committing himself. But as the months passed he was forced to realize the differing attitudes of Whigs and Tories to the Continental war, and a familiar pattern of English politics began to emerge. The Whigs were sensitive to the danger of the French aggression in Europe. They understood the deep nature of the struggle. In spite of their tactless and slighting treatment of William, they were prepared to form on many occasions an effective and efficient war Government The Tories, on the other hand, resented the country being involved in Continental commitments and voiced the traditional isolationism of the people. The political story of the reign is thus a continuous see-saw......

William was so smitten by the wave of abject isolationism which swept the governing classes of the Island that he contemplated an abdication and return to Holland. He would abandon the odious and intractable people whose religion and institutions he had preserved and whose fame he had lifted to the head of Europe. He would retort their hatred of foreigners with a gesture of inexpressible scorn. It was a hard victory to master these emotions. Yet if we reflect on his many faults in tact, in conduct, and in fairness during the earlier days of his reign, the unwarrantable favours he had lavished on his Dutchmen, the injustices done to English commanders, his uncomprehending distaste for the people of his new realm, we cannot feel that all the blame was on one side. His present anguish paid his debts of former years. As for the English, they were only too soon to redeem their follies in blood and toil.

William's distresses led him to look again to Marlborough, with whom the future already seemed in a great measure to rest. The King's life and strength were ebbing, Anne would certainly succeed^ and with the accession of Anne the virtual reign of Marlborough must  begin........

 The Princess Anne too was  a bigoted Tory and ] Churchwoman. Thus in the last years of William's reign; Marlborough stood at the same time well with the King and with the Tory Party who vexed the King so sorely. Above all, he supported William in his efforts to prevent an undue reduction of the Army, and in fact led the House of Lords hi; this direction. The untimely death in 1700 of the little Duke of Gloucester, who succumbed to the fatal, prevalent scourge of smallpox, deprived Marlborough of his office. He still remained in the closest association with Sidney Godolphin and at the very centre of the political system.

There was now no direct Protestant heir to the English and Scottish thrones. By an Act of Settlement the house of Hanover, descended from the gay and attractive daughter of James I who had briefly been Queen of Bohemia, was declared next in succession after William and Anne. The Act laid down that every sovereign in future must be a member of the Church of England. It also declared that no foreign-born monarch might wage Continental wars without the approval of Parliament; he must not go abroad without consent, and no foreigners should sit in Parliament or on the Privy Council. Thus were recorded in statute the English grievances against William III. Parliament had seen to it that the house of Hanover was to be more strictly circumscribed than he had been. But it had also gone far to secure the Protestant Succession. 


........At this moment death overtook King William. "The little gentleman in black velvet," the hero for a spell of so many enthusiastic Jacobite toasts, now intervened. On February 20, 1702, William was riding in the park round Hampton Court on Sorrel, a favourite horse. Sorrel stumbled in the new workings of a mole, and the King was thrown. The broken collarbone might well have mended, but in his failing health the accident opened the door to a troop of lurking foes. Complications set in, and after a fortnight it was evident to him and to all who saw him that death was at hand. He transacted business to the end. His interest in the world drama on which the curtain was about to rise lighted his mind as the shadows closed upon him. He grieved to quit the themes and combinations which had been the labour and the passion of his life. But he saw the approach of a reign and Government in England which would maintain the cause in which his strength lad been spent. He saw the only man to whom in war or policy, in the intricate convolutions of European diplomacy, in the party turmoil of England, or amid the hazards of the battlefield, he could bequeath the awful yet inescapable task. He lad made his preparations deliberately to pass his leadership a new champion of the Protestant faith and the liberties of Europe. In his last year tie had woven Marlborough into the whole texture of his combinations and policy. In his last hours commended him to his successor as the fittest man in the realm to guide her councils and lead her armies. William died fifty-two, worn out by his labours. Marlborough at the same strode forward against tremendous odds upon the ten years of unbroken victory which raised the British nation to a height in the world it had never before attained.