Monday, January 23, 2006

Preparations for invasion

In July 1688 William began to assemble a huge expeditionary force that ultimately comprised 463 ships, 5,000 horses, and some 14,000 men, though neither France nor England knew of his intentions. But the odds against a successful invasion were great.
1. England now had a standing army of c. 20,000 officers and men, which James was busy expanding.
2. In Europe William risked exposing the United Provinces to a French attack in his absence.
3. The practical problems with launching an invasion across the Channel were enormous, especially as this was to be done in the early winter. William’s invasion fleet was very large but it consisted mainly of unarmed transport ships, with an escort of some sixty warships – about as many as in James’s fleet.
4. William’s reception in England was far from certain. In particular, the Church of England was committed to non-resistance. His gamble depended on promises from English Protestant serving officers that they would defect.
On 20 September the Bavarian candidate (the Pope’s choice) was enthroned as archbishop elector of Cologne. Five days later a furious Louis invaded the Palatinate, using the pretext of his sister-in-law’s claim). His armies laid siege to the great city of Philippsburg, where they would be pinned down for the next two months. The atrocities committed in the Rhenish Palatinate, which transformed it into a wasteland, galvanized German opinion against France. From William’s point of view this was excellent news, as the French army was now tied down in Germany. Had they turned their attention to Maastricht or invaded the Spanish Netherlands, William would have had to cancel his plans. As a cover, in order to explain the build-up of the Dutch fleet, it was suggested that there might be a war in the Baltic between the Dutch and the Danes. The army could be explained by a plan to fight the French in the Rhineland. In fear of a possible Dutch invasion of France, Louvois ordered the garrisons of Calais and Boulogne to be strengthened. It was not until early October that he realised William’s true intentions, by which time it was too late.

On 28 September William told the States-General of his plan to invade England. His biographer, Stephen B. Baxter, believes that it was his intention all along to seize the throne (he had known since 1686 that Mary wanted him to be king regnant, and he did not wish to be a consort like Philip II). However, he could hardly make public this intention so the pretext was that he wanted to force James to summon a parliament.

On 30 September William issued a Declaration of reasons for appearing in arms in the kingdom of England. In this he made no mention of any intention to depose James – he called for a free parliament and demanded an investigation of the legitimacy of James’s son.

In late September and early October James made a series of panic concessions: he dissolved the Commission for Ecclesiastical Causes, re-instated the Magdalen fellows (expelling the Catholics), restored some corporation charters, and dismissed Sunderland. Does this remind you of anything?

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