Friday, January 27, 2006

Invasion and flight

William’s fleet sailed on 20 October but was forced back by a terrible storm and had to wait for an easterly wind. On 1 November it set sail a second time. Driven by a north-east wind (‘the Protestant wind’) the fleet sailed up the Channel and landed at Torbay on 5 November. (The same wind trapped the English fleet in the Thames estuary.) At first his experience seemed to replicate Monmouth’s - he was welcomed by the common people, but the gentry stayed at home. But four days later he entered Exeter and the tide began to turn in his favour. The army defections began on 16 October. On 21 November he began a slow march towards London. By this time Lord Delamere had secured Cheshire for him. On 21 and 22 November the earls of Devonshire and Danby seized Nottingham and York respectively.

But this did not mean that William’s victory was inevitable. Many powerful Tories, such as the Hyde brothers, Halifax, the earl of Nottingham and most bishops were not prepared to abandon James. If James had kept his head, he might have been able to rally his supporters. But at Salisbury on 23 November he lost his nerve. He could only sleep with the aid of drugs and he was bothered by a series of violent nosebleeds. Instead of marching out to meet William, he retreated to London. At this point John Churchill and the duke of Grafton defected, followed the next night by Prince George of Denmark. James was especially angry at Churchill’s defection – he had made him lieutenant-general and peer of the realm.

On 26 November James was back in London, where he learned that Anne, in company with Sarah Churchill, had fled from London. He sent out writs for a general election and commissioned Halifax, Nottingham and Godolphin to negotiate with William. By now the trickle of defections had became a flood. On 11 December he left London secretly, intending to flee to France, having sent his wife and son away two days earlier. (She landed at Calais on 21 December and wrote to Louis begging for his protection. ) James’s last actions were intended to produce an anarchical lack of order - especially his throwing the Great Seal into the Thames (between Lambeth and Horseferry). But this played into William’s hands. By deliberately creating a governmental vacuum he forced even the most loyal politicians into taking action to preserve government order. That night the London sky was red with flames from Catholic chapels as the citizens were terrified that an Irish army was about to descend on them – the night became known as ‘Irish night’. This opened up a general threat of mob attacks on property. An assembly of peers and bishops met at the Guildhall and established a kind of provisional government for London. The threat of chaos made William the indispensable agent in restoring order and government.

Unfortunately for William James failed to reach France at the first attempt. He was captured on Sheppey by fishermen who thought he was a Jesuit taken to Faversham, and returned to London, where he was cheered by the crowd. William was still some distance away. But on 17 December Dutch guards took over at Whitehall. On the next day William allowed James to go by boat to Rochester in the correct expectation that he would soon escape to France. After staying there a few days, he sailed to Ambleteuse on Christmas morning. Three days later he was united with the Queen at St Germain en Laye.

James’s flight meant that when William reached London on 19 December he had the support of both Whigs and Tories. He convened an assembly over Christmas to advise him. At the end of the year separate assemblies of peers and former members of the Commons invited William to take over the conduct of government for the time being and to order a general election for a ‘Convention’ to meet on 22 January 1689.