Why the William of Orange story is described as one of the biggest lies of British history
Posted By: February 01, 2017
Video: Why the King Billy story is described as one of the biggest
Martin Williams, The Herald. Scotland. Sunday, January 29, 2017
IT is one of the central events of modern British history, which still resonates today on the streets
of Scotland and shapes the islands upon which we live.
But our understanding of the so-called Glorious Revolution of King William of Orange is based on myth and spin. In fact, you would be forgiven for saying it was a case of 17th-century fake news.
The official line is that the bloodless revolution changed the course of British history, establishing the supremacy of parliament over the crown.
On the 300th anniversary of the ousting of ‘tyrannical’ King James II during the 17th century to place his son-in-law William of Orange on the throne was proclaimed in Parliament in 1988 by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as one of the “great events in the history of these islands” which helped bring constitutional freedom and was “important in establishing Britain’s nationhood”.
But TV historian Lucy Worsley described the official version of history surrounding the installation of the Dutch prince who would be “reinvented” as a Protestant hero as one of the three biggest myths of British history.
In a BBC documentary to air next week, she will describe how the revolution began with an act of treason inspired by an anti-Catholic politician and how King William III, was a foreign invader who was engaged in “spin” over his motives and whose real agenda was to prevent a French and British Catholic alliance waging war in Europe.
The Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces places the King William III story alongside three tales of turning points in British history that “have been manipulated and mythologized to become cornerstones of our national story.”
The historian says a Dutch invasion was “spun into a triumphant liberation… and celebrated ever since as the foundation of our parliamentary democracy”.
“His attack is not remembered as a foreign invasion,” she said.
William and his wife Mary, who was the daughter of James I were crowned joint monarchs of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1689.
William’s ousting of his predecessor ensured the primacy of the Protestant faith in Britain. His decisive victory over James at the Battle of the Boyne is celebrated annually in Northern Ireland on July 12.
Ms. Worsley argues that in a “carefully constructed tale” the Catholic King James II was cast as the villain, a tyrant who believed he had the divine right to rule and to ride roughshod over his subjects.
As a Catholic king, he was associated with absolutism, the sovereign power of the monarchy, who threw seven Anglican bishops into the Tower of London for daring to challenge his pro- Catholic policies.
Her documentary British History’s Biggest Fibs due to air on BBC4 on Thursday says James was the victim of an act of treason, as seven politicians asked William of Orange to invade in a letter.
“The biggest problem with James was the fact he was a Catholic king in a country that was largely Protestant,” she says.
And one of her targets is 19th-century historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, the son of a Scottish Highlander who became a colonial governor, whose interpretation of the Glorious Revolution in the History of England became the starting point for any discussion about the rebellion.
She says the book transforms the conspirators “carefully concocted tale into history” and that as a student she was told to read it with great caution, “because this was Whig history, a bad thing, a powerful person’s view of the past.”
Macaulay had written: “It is because we had a preserving revolution in the seventeenth century that we have not had a destroying revolution in the nineteenth. It is because we had freedom in the midst of servitude that we have order in the midst of anarchy.
“For the authority of law, for the security of property, for the peace of our streets, for the happiness of our homes, our gratitude is due …. to William of Orange.”
According to the establishment account, the events of the revolution set Britain on the path towards constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.
But Wout Troos, author of William II, the Stadholder-King, said William already had a plan in place to invade while concerned that Catholic James II would forge an alliance with the French Catholic monarch Louis XIV who was seen as a war threat, and the conspirators’ invitation was a perfect validation.
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As he prepared to invade, William produced 60,000 copies of his version of events, a hand written declaration described by Ms. Worsley as “an early example of printed propaganda” which talks about how deposing the king would help the British people with a free and legal Parliament, but fails to mention his agenda over France.
“It’s very clever how he [King William III] has written himself into the story. You can see all of these things as individual pieces of politics, like spin, if you like, until they stick, and then they become history.
“The Dutch prince was carefully transforming himself into a very British hero, a Protestant knight in shining armor leading a glorious revolution. Not an invader. Not a usurper, but a liberator,” she said.
But the official story glosses over the extent to which the events of 1688 constituted a foreign invasion of England by another European power, the Dutch Republic.
Although bloodshed in England was limited, the revolution was only secured in Ireland and Scotland by force through the infamous Battle of the Boyne, The Battle of Aughrim and the Massacre of Glencoe and with much loss of life.
After the coronation, a King William-inspired Bill of Rights set down Protestant superiority in law and banned Catholics from ever taking the throne.
“Despite brutality and bloodshed in Scotland and Ireland, the narrative of the Glorious Revolution held fast in England,” says Ms. Worsley.
“For William and the English Parliament, of course, this was a Glorious Revolution, because despite the rebellions and the bloodshed they had won, and if you win a conflict, you get to pick its name.”