samedi 19 avril 2008

L'invasion oubliée

Guillaume d'Orange se prépare à envahir l'Angleterre.

Les Anglais n'aiment pas qu'on leur rappelle leurs défaites. Ils concèdent tout juste l'invasion de Guillaume le conquérant mais ils s'empressent d'ajouter qu'il n'y en a pas eu d'autres.


Grave erreur.

L'historien britannique Lisa jardine vient de publier Going Dutch qui rappelle à ses compatriotes qu'il n'est de meilleur moyen de cacher une invasion réussie que de l'exposer en pleine vue en l'appelant d'un autre nom.

Going Dutch

Lisa Jardine

HarperPress, £25

C'est à l'honneur de Tony Rennell du Daily Mail que d'avoir publié une excellente recension de cet ouvrage.

The 1688 invasion of Britain that's been erased from history
The fleet lay stretched out across the English Channel, mainsails billowing under an easterly wind, 20 ships in line abreast and 25 deep, filling the water between Dover and Calais.
Crowds gathered on the white cliffs of the English coast to watch.

But they were not cheering with pride and pleasure - because the display of naval power and military might they were witnessing was not theirs.

This armada was not an English one. It was from Holland and it was about to invade these shores.

Tides of change: William of Orange launched a colossal armada to seize the throne from Catholic King James II

The year was 1688, a crucial one in our island history. The new king, James II, crowned jut three years earlier, was Roman Catholic, putting him at odds with the predominant Protestant faith of his subjects. And dangerously so.

Just a generation or two earlier, another king of England, Charles I, had fallen out with his people, and the result had been Civil War, ending with the monarch's head being chopped off.

Would the country be split in half again after only 40 years of peace? Would this dispute also have to be settled by war? And would James - Charles I's younger son - also have to be lopped off at the neck to save the nation?

The conventional answer to these questions is that the British cleverly saved themselves from a second disaster with a non-violent solution to the problem.

In what became known as the Glorious Revolution, James fled the country rather than fight as his father had done and, William of Orange, the elected ruler of the Dutch Republic and Protestant to his core, was invited to take over the throne.

But a new book by Professor Lisa Jardine, one of our most eminent academics, turns this picture of cosy regime change, handed down to us for the past 300-plus years, on its head.

For the truth is that this transition of power was not a matter of choice.

A warring William was coming, whether he was welcome or not - as that battle fleet massing out in the Channel showed all too clearly.

The Dutch leader had put to sea with 53 warships bristling with 1,700 cannon, a massive amount of firepower.

Behind came hundreds of transport ships carrying an army of 20,000 men, plus horses (7,000 of those), arms and equipment.

Ten fireships loaded with combustible materials were ready to be set ablaze and steered into the ranks of English ships if they dared oppose him.

This was a task force with only one intention - to conquer. No wonder the crowds on the English clifftops were silent.

They were watching the first invasion of this island since 1066.

And - though our history has rarely presented it as such - it was a successful invasion.

The Protestant King William of Orange triumphed over the Catholic forces of King James II on July 12, 1690

William of Orange did what, over the centuries, the Spanish with their armada, Napoleon and Hitler would all, in their time, attempt and fail to achieve - the conquest of Britain.

From early in 1688, he was secretly recruiting battle-hardened soldiers from Protestant armies across Europe and arranging gifts and loans from sympathetic bankers to pay for them.

His cause was two-fold. The first was political - his concern that James II's beliefs were about to bring a switch in Britain's foreign policy.

The French under the Sun King, Louis XIV, were troublesome enough already, but an alliance between potentially Catholic Britain and Catholic France meant William faced a threat from across the Channel, too.

Desperate to stave off the French, he planned his pre- emptive strike to make sure England stayed on side.

His second cause was entirely selfserving. Denied the dignity of being monarch in his republican homeland, his desire was to be king of England. He believed too that, with his connections, it should be his by right.

The English crown was a family affair for him. His wife, Mary, was James II's eldest daughter and, in the absence of sons, heir to the throne.

His marriage alone took William within a heartbeat of the English crown.

But he also had the royal blood of England and Scotland running richly in his own veins.

His mother was James's older sister, the king therefore his uncle and his own wife his cousin.

Given that he was also shrewd, wise and war-like, he could be forgiven for thinking that he was born to be king.

If the chance hadn't come, he would have taken it any way. But events in London gave him the excuse to act. And one event in particular - the birth of a baby boy.

The British tolerated their ageing king's unpopular religious preference in the belief that it would die with him.

On his death, they supposed, the crown would go to Princess Mary, Protestant daughter of his first marriage.

His second marriage - to the Catholic Maria of Modena - had in 15 years produced nothing but miscarriages, still births and deaths in infancy.

But on June 10, 1688, a healthy boy was born, and named James Francis Edward Stuart.

The pregnancy had been a matter of scandal, suspicion and downright disbelief from the time it was announced, not least because it was six years since her last one.

The size of "the Queen's belly" - or, rather, lack of it - was openly discussed and ridiculed.

Princess Anne (the king's other daughter from his first marriage, who was later to become queen) wrote to her sister, Princess Mary, saying that she thought their step-mother had on "a false belly".

The birth, rather than silence the gossiping, only served to intensify it. Palace intrigue, played out in public, reached fever pitch.

James, determined to legitimise the Catholic heir he had always wanted, brought forward 42 witnesses to testify to the Privy Council that the new-born boy was his bona fide son.

But the common assumption was that a live baby had been smuggled into the birthing bed in a warming pan and presented as the Queen's own.

Princess Anne was certain there had been foul play. With her suspicions, she had intended to be a "vigilant observer" of the birth, but had been away from London when the Queen apparently went into labour.

Had the birth been contrived to take place in her absence? To her sister she wrote of her "concern and vexation, for I shall never now be satisfied whether the child be true or false."

But by now, truth or falsity no longer mattered to the outcome. In The Hague, his capital, William of Orange saw that his chance of naturally succeeding to the English throne alongside his wife had been snatched away.

It was time for Plan B.

As the autumn of 1688 turned to winter, he activated his "Grand Design" to invade England. The forces which would carry it out began to muster on land and sea.

His vast invasion fleet set sail on November 1, out into the North Sea and then westwards into the Channel, its progress marked by threatening salutes of cannon fire.

Up on deck, regiments of soldiers stood in full formation, and trumpets and drums played martial music for hours on end in a highly effective display of "shock and awe".

The English ambassador in The Hague, who had picked up not a hint of the preparations, could scarcely believe the news he was now given that the Dutch intention was "an absolute conquest" of England.

The fleet made landfall at Torbay in Devon and troops began disembarking on November 5.

Since William was a master of the dark arts of spin and propaganda, the date was no accident.

It was Bonfire Night for the English, the anniversary of a Protestant triumph over Catholics, the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

There was no army or militia to offer any resistance, just a few quizzical West Countrymen and women.

William came ashore in pomp under a banner proclaiming "For liberty and the Protestant religion" and made his progress through the countryside to cries of "God bless you", according to his chroniclers.

An old woman offered him a glass of mead. One of his entourage was struck by how all the women smoked pipes of tobacco, "without shame, even the very young, 13-and 14-year-olds".

Two hundred miles away, London was a city of rumours and unrest. It took three days for the news to arrive from Torbay, with the number of ships inflated to 700 and unconvincing excuses being offered for why the Navy had made no attempt to stop them.

The diarist John Evelyn noted his fear that this was "the beginning of sorrow, unless God in His mercy prevent it by some happy reconciliation of all dissensions among us".

Parliament and the court were in a permanent state of panic, made worse by William's painfully slow march from the West Country and the absence of real information.

It was the weather, the rain turning the roads to mud, rather than any active resistance that slowed him down.

Supporters did not flock to join him as he had been promised. But there was no opposition either.

Faced with their first invasion for six centuries (and, as it turned out, their last), the British people were hedging their bets.

Amid this deafening silence from his subjects, the King was powerless. He was suffering from severe nose bleeds, but crucially it was support that was flowing away.

Royal officials stayed at home rather than turn up for their duties. His administration crumbled. He sent his Queen and his baby son away to France.

But he stayed until, on December 17, he was told that an advance party of the elite Dutch Blue Guards had taken up positions in St James's Park.

In the dead of the night they escorted the king out of his own capital to confinement in Rochester Castle in Kent.

The next day, William of Orange, dressed all in white, made his formal, entry into London, welcomed by crowds at last showing enthusiasm.

"You come to redeeme our religion, laws, liberties and lives," they were reported as proclaiming. But the conqueror had taken no chances.

The Coldstream Guards, the Life Guards and all other English regiments had been ordered out of the city, and reluctantly they went.

The streets along which he passed in triumph were lined with Dutch soldiers.

King James avoided the fate of his father, Charles I, of being put on trial and humiliated.

A week later, his Dutch jailers looked the other way and friends smuggled him to France, were he lived in resentful exile for the rest of his life.

His place on the throne was taken by his daughter, Princess Mary, and her husband, William, in a joint monarchy.

London remained under military occupation for a further 15 months, and the presence of large numbers of heavily armed foreign troops on the streets caused some disquiet among the populace.

What was "this poore nation reduc'd to", the diarist John Evelyn asked in anguish.

But though he and others wrung their hands, they did not reach for their arms.

There was no wish to fight. The scars of the Civil War were too recent to risk another.

Rather than resist, the British people swallowed their pride and settled for a peaceful regime change.

They quickly came to accept and even love it, swayed by William's spin doctors, whose pamphlets smoothed over the constitutional wrinkles of what had in effect been a coup d'etat and converted a military conquest into the "Glorious Revolution" in defence of ancient freedoms.

It was the "spun" version of events that prevailed. A silence descended over the Dutch occupation of London, and pretty soon after, in the words of historian Jonathan Israel, "the whole business came to seem so improbable that by common consent, scholarly and popular, it was simply erased from the record".

This acquiescence to a foreignborn prince seizing the throne, was helped, Professor Jardine argues, because Britain and Holland had for many years shared a common cultural heritage.

In arts and architecture, science and technology, the two countries had become close, their bond sealed by their shared Protestant faith.

Hence, the invasion of one by the other did not seem so radical and dangerous. It was not as if the dreaded French or Spanish had taken over.

In the aftermath of the Dutch conquest, that cross-fertilisation increased but as very much a one-way traffic.

Dutch talent flowed into England, its effects still to be seen in painting, buildings and in the formal gardens that were a speciality of the Netherlands.

The incomers also brought banking methods that transformed London as a commercial centre.

The result was that Britain boomed, becoming a rich and powerful nation after 1688, while the Netherlands remained a European backwater.

It caused resentment in Holland that, in Jardine's words, their glory had been "plundered" by the British.

And, indeed, the enduring Dutch influence on the culture of this country has been remarkable.

Sadly it is not the whole story. Not all of the habits that the Dutch brought to Britain were beneficial. Their national drink, gin, very quickly outstripped beer.

Within half a century, half of the 15,000 watering holes in Georgian London were dens dispensing cheap and lethally strong "mother's ruin". The social consequences were catastrophic.

It is a curious footnote in the Dutch conquest of Britain 320 years ago - an invasion that, according to our history, never really happened - that one of its unintended imports was the curse of binge-drinking.

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