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A Country Divided? English Politics and the Nine Years' War*

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The accession of William III began a revolution in English foreign policy. Under the Dutch king's auspices England joined a Grand Alliance against the France of Louis XIV and shouldered the burdens of a principal partner in a major continental war. Not only did the war place grave financial strains upon the state; the formulation, administration, and execution of war policy also became areas of continual concern. These concerns combined to raise general questions about England's proper role in European affairs and about the proper application of English power in service of those interests. They also cast William III and the politicians into a constitutional no-man's land in which the royal monopoly over war and peace had to contest with the need to secure annual supplies. It has been the historian's task to explain how William III's “continental commitment” to land warfare, alliances, and defense of European liberties survived this political struggle.

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Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1991

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An earlier version of this article was presented in New Orleans at the October 1988 meeting of the Western Conference on British Studies. I wish to thank Jeremy Black and my colleague Dennis Showalter for many helpful suggestions during its preparation.


1 Thomson, Mark A., “Parliament and Foreign Policy 1689'1714,” in William III and Louis XIV: Essays by and for Mark A. Thomson, eds. Hatton, R. M. and Bromley, J. S. (Toronto, 1968), pp. 130–39Google Scholar, and Davies, Godfrey, “The Control of British Foreign Policy by William III,” in Essays on the Later Stuarts (San Marino, Calif., 1958), pp. 92105Google Scholar, treat the constitutional aspects of the subject. Gibbs, G. C., “The Revolution in Foreign Policy,” in Britain after the Glorious Revolution 1689–1714, ed. Holmes, Geoffrey (New York, 1969), pp. 5979CrossRefGoogle Scholar follows Thomson's lead and holds that the politicians made no particular contribution to the revolution in foreign policy.

2 Ibid., p. 68.

3 Jones, J. R., Britain and the World 1649–1815 (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1980), p. 13Google Scholar.

4 Horwitz, Henry, Parliament, Policy and Politics in the Reign of William III (Newark, N.J., 1977), p. 313–17Google Scholar. Horwitz stresses the functional nature of political instability, mainly the strains imposed by war finance. He also holds that disagreements over foreign affairs followed a division between Court and Country rather than between Whig and Tory. These are important points; to them should be added a consideration of the content of the rival opinions and the use the politicians made of them.

5 These views are conveniently expressed in Jones, , Britain and the World, pp. 13, 134, 136, 138, 146–47Google Scholar. An earlier version of this view is found in Kenyon, J. P., Robert Spencer Earl of Sunderland, 1641–1702 (London, 1958), pp. 245–48Google Scholar. The partisan issue is stressed in Roberts, Clayton, The Growth of Responsible Government in Stuart England (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 249–68Google Scholar; and the same author's Schemes & Undertakings: A Study of English Politics in the Seventeenth Century (Columbus, Ohio, 1985), ch. 5Google Scholar. The interplay of partisan politics and war policy is discussed in Baxter, Stephen, William III and the Defense of European Liberty, 1650–1702 (New York, 1966), ch. 22Google Scholar. The principles and activities of the opposition are treated in Hayton, David, “The ‘Country’ interest and the party system,” in Party and Management in Parliament 1660–1784, ed. Jones, Clyve (New York, 1984), pp. 3785Google Scholar. Geoffrey Holmes has argued that adoption of the opposition's blue-water policy would have jeopardized the war effort (Introduction,” Britain after the Glorious Revolution, pp. 2022Google Scholar).

6 Walker, R. B., “The Press under William III,” The Historical Journal 17 (1974): 691709CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Some of these newssheets, such as the Orange Gazette, published no more than a few issues. Others, such as The New Observator and The Present State of Europe, enjoyed substantial runs. The Present State of Europe lasted well beyond William III's reign.

7 The Detestable Designs of France Expos'd: Or, the True Sentiments of the Spanish Netherlanders: representing the Injustice of the King of France by his Declaration of War against His Catholic Majesty. The True Interests of the Princes of Europe in the Present State of Affairs: or, Reflections upon a pamphlet in French, entituled, A Letter from Monsieur, to Monsieur concerning the Transactions of the Time. A view of the True Interest of the Several States of Europe since the accession of their present Majesties. The Happy Union of England and Holland: or, the Advantageous Consequences of the Alliance of the Crown of Great Britain with the States General of the United Provinces. The papers of William III's friend and adviser, Hans Willem Bentinck, later earl of Portland, contain a pamphlet on the same subject: “Reflections on the war between England and France, 1689” (Nottingham University, The Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, PwA 2308a). For subsequent examples see n. 44.

8 Walker, , “The Press under William III,” pp. 697–98Google Scholar.

9 For example, the The Present State of Europe reported the battle of Steenkirke in detail from the accounts of the French Marshall Luxemburg and William III's counselor, Dijkvelt, and concluded that the numbers of French troops, their position and the confederates' failure to exploit opportunities had created a stand-off (The Present State of Europe, 4 [1692]: 311–14, 339–53Google Scholar). This lukewarm assessment reenforced the English view that the battle had been a defeat for William, (Baxter, , William III, pp. 303–05Google Scholar).

10 Journals of the House of Commons, 10: 9495Google Scholar (hereafter cited as H.C.J.). Published as An Address Agreed upon at the Committee for the French War and Read in the House of Commons: 19 April 1689. Grey, Anchitell, Debates of the House of Commons from the year 1667 to the year 1694, 10 vols. (London, 1763), 9: 230–33Google Scholar.

11 This argument was taken up later in SirSomers', John pamphlet, A Vindication of the Proceedings of the late Parliament of England An. Dom. 1689 being the First in the Reign of their present Majesties King William and Queen Mary, A Collection of scarce and valuable Tracts selected from public as well as private Libraries particularly that of the late Lord Somers, ed. SirScott, Walter, 13 vols. (London, 1813), 10: 259Google Scholar.

12 Horwitz, , Parliament, Policy and Politics, p. 27Google Scholar.

13 H.C.J., 10: 101.

14 Grey, , Debates, 9: 89–90, 93–98, 108, 110Google Scholar.

15 Ibid., pp. 158–164.

16 Ibid., pp. 230–33. Even the spokesman for the court, Sir Henry Goodrick, claimed that English war aims were defensive.

17 FamiIiarity with the work was such that even William III, who would not have shared the Trimmer's view of foreign policy, told Halifax in 1689 that he considered himself to be a trimmer (The Spencer House ‘Journals,’” Foxcroft, H. C., The Life and Letters of George Savile, Bart. First Marquis of Halifax, 2 vols. [London, 1898], 2: 207Google Scholar).

18 Halifax: The Complete Works, ed. Kenyon, J. P. (Baltimore, 1969), pp. 8695Google Scholar.

19 [de Robethon, Jean], A Letter written to one of the Members of Parliament, about the State of the Present War (London, 1692)Google Scholar.

20 For a recent discussion of English thinking on the balance of power, see Sheehan, M., “The Development of British Theory and Practice of the Balance of Power,” History 73 (February 1988): 2437CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 For a recent, and sympathetic, analysis of blue-water warfare, see Baugh, Daniel A., “Great Britain's ‘Blue-Water’ Policy, 1689–1815,” The International History Review 10 (February 1988): 3458CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 Parliament's attempt to monitor the use of its revenues created serious political tensions. These tensions arose not from disagreements over policy, but over the reluctance of the executive to supply requested information (Downie, J. A., “The Committee of Public Accounts and the formation of the Country Party,” The English Historical Review 91 [January 1976]: 3351CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

23 Musgrave to Robert Harley, May 1691, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Fourteenth Report, Appendix, Part II, Report on the Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, 6 vols. (London, 1894), 3: 461Google Scholar. Clarges himself intimated similar views, wishing to see the “back door” of the war shut (To Harley, ibid., p. 472). Even that perennial dissident, Jack Howe, told the commons that James II had come to Ireland as a minister of Louis XIV.

24 As one author put it, if the allies could restore Europe to the boundaries set by 1660, England could hold a balance “in [its] hand, and turn it to which side she pleases” (Reflexions upon the Conditions of Peace Offer'd by France and the Means to be Employed for the procuring of Better [London, December 1694], p. 28)Google Scholar.

25 The descent's goals are summarized in [SirLittleton, Edward], A Project of a Descent upon France (London, 1691)Google Scholar. Previously Littleton had criticized the cost and effectiveness of the war in Flanders, in The Management of the Present War against France Consider'd in a Letter to a Noble Lord (London, 1690)Google Scholar.

26 Although the descent disappeared from the Court's war policy, it was recommended as a way to keep funds from leaving the kingdom ([SirLittleton, Edward], A preservative for our Money [London, 1696]Google Scholar). It is even likely that the descent helped the allied cause. Louis XIV kept a large contingent of troops at Brest even after the failure of 1694 (Childs, John, The British Army of William III, 1689–1702 [Manchester, 1987], p. 237Google Scholar).

27 L'Hermitage to the States General, 8 February 1695. British Library, Add. MSS. 17,677 PP, ff. 136v–138v; Same to same 1/11 March 1695, 174v–176. Sir Christopher Musgrave hoped the fleet would do great things in the Mediterranean (To Robert Harley, 4 September 1694. B.L., Loan MSS., 29/187, f. 291). The court's critics never developed any common front on this issue (Musgrave to Harley, 2 August 1694. Ibid., f. 263. [Robert Harley] to Edward Harley, 4 August 1694, Ibid., f. 264). There is no evidence that the Commons discussed the issue.

28 Jones, , Britain and the World, p. 147Google Scholar.

29 The Parliamentary Diary of Narcissus Luttrell, 1691–1693, ed. Horwitz, Henry (Oxford, 1972), p. 250Google Scholar. 1692 also witnessed the high tide of the defensive mentality. In the spring of 1692 when a French invasion threatened, the appeal of a defensive strategy brought forth demands to turn the English land force into a home guard and keeping the king at home to direct the defense. In May the earl of Sunderland pleaded with William's Dutch confidante, the earl of Portland, to advise the king to forsake the Flanders campaign, return home, and direct his kingdom's defense: “for all the world knows that Prince Waldeck and the confederates can make a defensive war in Flanders and that the King himself can do no more, and will also think that the best way of securing those countries and the confederacy is to take care of England” (Sunderland to Portland, 5 May 1692, Portland MSS., PwA 1209).

30 Grey, , Debates, 10: 360–61Google Scholar.

31 Jeremy Black stresses the flexibility of the term in eighteenth-century discourse (The theory of the balance of power in the first half of the eighteenth century: a note on sources,” Review of International Studies 9 (1983): 5561CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

32 The idea of limited liability is proposed by Western, J. R., Monarchy and Revolution: The English State in the 1680s (Totowa, N.J., 1972), p. 385CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Western also argues that the French threat to England was itself more limited than the Williamite press would allow (ibid., p. 389).

33 Even after William told Parliament of his negotiations with Louis XIV in 1696, Jack Howe and Sir Edward Seymour argued that the loss of currency and trade bade fair to ruin the nation. See L'Hermitage to States General, 6/16 November 1696. B.L., Add. MSS. 17,677 (QQ), ff. 589–90; Bonet's Reports, 20/30 November 1696. B.L., Add. MSS. 30,000 (A), ff. 240, 248.

34 The Lords reached a different conclusion based on ex pane evidence supplied by Russell's superior, Secretary of State Nottingham (Horwitz, , Parliament, Policy and Politics, p. 108Google Scholar).

35 Lees, R. M., “Parliament and the Proposal for a Council of Trade, 1695–1696,” English Historical Review 54 (1939): 3866CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 WiIliam III to Prince Vaudemont, 19 October 1696. Correspondentie van Willem III en van Hans Willem Bentinck, eersten graaf van Portland, ed. Japikse, N., second series, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1937), 3: 407Google Scholar. L'Hermitage, the correspondent to the States General, consistently referred to the parliamentary critics as “malcontents.” 7 December 1694. B.L., Add. MSS. 17,677 (OO), ff. 400v.; 14 December 1694. 406v.; 1/11 March 1695. Ibid., (PP), ff. 175–176v.; 6/16 November 1694. Ibid., (QQ), ff. 582–83v. Frederick Bonet, the representative of Brandenburg, also thought the critics were lightweight. von Ranke, Leopold, A History of England, principally in the Seventeenth Century, 6 vols. (Oxford, 1875), 6: 228–29, 270–71Google Scholar. Report of 3/13 November 1696. Add. MSS. 30,000 (A), f. 240–41. The greatest political difficulties arose when the king's ministers themselves were divided over war policy. See also the earl of Rochester's memorandum of 16 August 1692 (SirDalrymple, John, Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland from the Dissolution of the last Parliament of Charles II until the Sea-Battle off La Hogue, 2 vols., appendix, part ii [London, 1873], 2: 240–43Google Scholar.

37 In both cases Parliament based its judgments upon the substantive issues found in the available evidence. H.C.J., 10: 720–22. H.M.C., The Manuscripts of the House of Lords, New Series, 11 vols. (16931695) (London, reprinted 1964), 1: 93294Google Scholar.

38 [Defoe, Daniel], The Englishman's Choice, and True Interest in a vigorous Prosecution of the War against France; and serving King William and Queen Mary, and acknowledging their Right (London, 1694)Google Scholar; A Collection of State Tracts published on Occasion of the late Revolution in 1688 and during the Reign of King William III, 3 vols. (London, 17051707), 2: 428–30Google Scholar. A Short and True Relation of Intrigues Transacted…To Restore the late King James (London, 1694)Google Scholar; An Answer to a Pretended Speech said to be made offhand in the House of Commons by one of the Members of B ——. [London?, 1694]Google Scholar. The Spirit of Jacobitism (London, 1695)Google Scholar; A Letter to a Member of Parliament (London, 1695)Google Scholar.

39 In addition to intimidating their rivals with negative campaigning, the Whigs resorted to conciliation. Prior to the session of 1694, the Whigs met with a number of the critics of the Court (Horwitz, , Parliament, Policy and Politics, p. 135Google Scholar). Browning, Andrew, Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby and duke of Leeds, 1632–1712, 2 vols. (Glasgow, 1951), 1: 525, 529Google Scholar. For the troubles the Whig Secretaries of State had with the king see n. 55.

40 A contention also of Horwitz, , Parliament, Policy and Politics, p. 317Google Scholar. A look at the Tories tells a parallel story. Sir Edward Seymour supported Clarges until 1692 when he joined the ministry. Seymour left in 1693 and thereafter renewed his attacks upon mounting costs, listless allies, and declining trade. Similarly, Secretary Nottingham joined the supporters of defensive policies after his ouster in 1693. Old line Whigs such as Robert Harley and Paul Foley lent support to the critics, though they were more concerned with issues of mismanagement.

41 [Anderton, William], Remarks upon the present Confederacy (1693)Google Scholar, The Somers Tracts, 10: 522Google Scholar. The Somers Tracts provide a convenient source of Jacobite propaganda. [Ferguson, Robert], Encroachments of the Dutch (London, 1695)Google Scholar, [Leslie, Charles], Delenda Carthago, or the True Interest of England in Relation to France and Holland (London, 1694?)Google Scholar.

42 Monod, Paul, “Jacobitism and Country Principles in the Reign of William III,” The Historical Journal 2 (1987): 289310CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hayton, , “The ‘Country’ interest and the party system,” pp. 3785Google Scholar.

43 Monod, , “Jacobitism and Country Principles,” p. 301Google Scholar.

44 For example, a tract of 1695 entitled The Spirit of Jacobitism turns out to be an attempt to equate Jacobitism and Toryism. For the anti-peace campaign, see Reflexions upon the Conditions of Peace Offer'd by France and the Means to be Employed for the procuring of Better (1694); D'Auvergne, Edward, The History of the Campaigns in the Spanish Netherlands (1694)Google Scholar; An Answer to a paper written by Count D'Avaux (1694); The Pretensions of the Most Christian King (1695); The Bounds set to France by the Pyrenean Treaty and the Interest of the Confederates not to accept the offers of peace made at this time by the French King (1694).

45 On the cancelling of rebuttals to James, , see A Memorial Drawn by King William's Special Direction intended to be Given in at the Treaty of Reswick (1705)Google Scholar. Apparently, James' manifestoes circulated only in manuscript (Luttrell, Narcissus, A Brief Relation of State Affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 6 vols. [Oxford, 1857], 4: 179Google Scholar) Copies of these manifestoes are in Public Record Office, State Papers 103/95.

46 In addition to the comments of Jones and Holmes cited earlier, see Howard, Michael, “The British Way in Warfare: A Reappraisal,” in The Causes of Wars and other essays (2nd ed.; Cambridge, Mass., 1984), p. 186Google Scholar.

47 Thomson, Mark A., “Louis XIV and William III, 1689–1697,” in William III and Louis XIV, pp. 3031Google Scholar.

48 In addition to Rochester's Memorandum cited in n. 36 see also Nottingham to Portland, 27 August 1692 (Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on the Manuscripts of the late Allan George Finch, Esq., 4 vols. [London, 1965], 4: 425–28Google Scholar). Sunderland to Portland, 5 May 1692. Portland MSS. PwA 1209. The desire to put home defense first was standard practice. After the naval defeat at Beachy Head in 1690 Mary, and her council besought William to return from Ireland to command the defense of England (Horwitz, , Parliament, Policy and Politics, p. 60Google Scholar).

49 Elton, G. R., The Tudor Constitution (New York, 1982), pp. 294–95Google Scholar. My own reading of parliamentary debates convinces me that methods of management had not changed since Tudor times. The king played a direct role at the time of his speech from the throne and also in consultation with the politicians. During the first half of William's reign, he relied on his speech.

50 Thomson, , “Parliament and Foreign Policy,” pp. 130–31Google Scholar. William III's dislike of the politicians is well known. In 1690 it reached the threshold of contempt. After announcing his intention to go to Ireland, he described to Portland the long and discolored faces of the Whigs who had wanted him to stay in England. William III to Portland, 7 February 1690. Correspondentie van Willem III en van Hans Willem Bentinck, eersten graaf van Portland, ed. Japikse, N., First Series, 2 vols. (The Hague, 1927), 1: 95Google Scholar. Baxter, , William III, pp. 256–57Google Scholar.

51 More often than not, therefore, ministers had to resort to being “for the King.” Sunderland grasped the importance of royal leadership when he advised William III to be “open about his needs” (“Memoir by Earl of Sunderland” [June 1693], Portland MSS., PwA 1219. Sunderland to [Portland], 6 July 1694, PwA 1237. Same to same, 19 August [1694], PwA 1241).

52 Foxcroft, , “The Spencer House ‘Journals,’” Halifax, 2: 206–07Google Scholar. Stephen Baxter criticized English opinion for often misunderstanding the results of William's early campaigns. There is no evidence that the Court politicians did anything to correct these negative opinions (William III, pp. 303–18).

53 The Court's critics were also uncertain about what to expect (P[aul] F[oley] to Robert Harley, 17 September 1692, B.L., Loan MSS. 29/135, packet #7).

54 William III to Heinsius, 3/13 November 1694. Archives ou correspondence inedite de la Maison d'Orange-Nassau, ed. Kramer, F. J. L., Third Series, 3 vols. (Leiden, 1907), 1: 366–67Google Scholar.

55 In 1696 Secretary of State Sir William Trumbull complained to the Imperial ambassador that William appeared to be conducting the war with no plan. Klopp, Onno, Der Fall des Houses Stuart und die Succession des Houses Hannover in Gross-Britannien und Irland, 12 vols. (Vienna, 1879), 7: 150Google Scholar. In 1696 and 1697 Secretary Shrewsbury had to plead with William for assurance that peace talks were under way. To William III, 22 May/1 June 1696, Private and Original Correspondence of Charles Talbot, Duke of Shrewsbury, ed. Coxe, William (London, 1821), p. 117Google Scholar; Same to same, 21–31 July 1696, ibid., p. 128. 7/17 August 1696, ibid., pp. 136–37.

56 Kcnyon, , Sunderland, pp. 252–64Google Scholar.

57 Black, Jeremy, “Foreign Policy in the Age of Walpole,” in Britain in the Age of Walpole (New York, 1984), pp. 163–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

58 Horwitz, , Parliament, Policy and Politics, pp. 281–82, 284, 286Google Scholar.

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