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Manufacturing Monarchy: The Participatory Propaganda Campaign to Support King William III’s Glorious Revolution
King James II ascended to the English throne in 1685 after the death of his brother, Charles II. His reign was short-lived and fraught with controversy. The Catholic James II wanted to repeal laws that prohibited Catholics from serving in public office, under the auspices of religious toleration (James II). A failed rebellion by Charles II’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, led to Monmouth’s beheading. After Monmouth’s execution and James II’s pro-Catholic policies led to conflicts with parliament, James II prorogued parliament in 1685 and presided over England by himself. In 1687 and 1688, James II issued two Declarations of Indulgence, and mandated that the second Declaration be read from every pulpit in Britain (James II). The Archbishop of Canterbury and six other prominent Protestant bishops resisted, and were subsequently convicted of sedition (Glorious Revolution). However, British citizens and members of the British nobility perceived James II’s actions as steps toward Protestant oppression by a Catholic king. When James II’s wife gave birth to a son, a group of British nobility fearing a Catholic dynasty wrote to Charles II’s older daughter, Mary, and her husband William of Orange, Prince of Denmark urging the couple to invade Britain and re-establish a Protestant line of succession (Glorious Revolution).
Prior to setting sail, William circulated amongst the British citizenry The Declaration of His Highness William Henry, Prince of Orange, of the Reasons Inducing Him to Appear in Armes in the Kingdom of England, for Preserving of the Protestant Religion, and for Restoring the Lawes and Liberties of England, Scotland and Ireland. The document laid out William’s justification for invading Britain: to save the British citizens and monarch from “those Councellours, who have now the chieffe credit with the King, [and who] have overturned the Religion, Lawes, and Liberties [sic]” of England (Declaration). Lois G. Schwoerer argues that the Declaration and its postscript—The Second Declaration of Reasons, published two weeks after the first Declaration—were together “the most important instruments of William’s propaganda effort” to garner from citizens and members of the nobility support for William’s invasion, prior to his arrival in England (851). Insofar as William did not have a claim to the throne, his propaganda campaign was vital before, during, and after the revolution, in order to leave intact the legitimacy of the British monarchy (847). This essay will examine how William and his supporters attempted to shape the cultural memory both during the revolution and after William’s ascension to the throne by focusing on two primary documents: the first is a newsletter dated 20 November 1688, written as the revolution was ongoing by Sir Joseph Williamson, and the second is a broadside ballad celebrating the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary of England. These documents contemporaneously shape the cultural memory of the Glorious Revolution by participating in William’s propaganda campaign by mimicking the language and themes of the Declaration to paint James II’s reign as corrupt; moreover, both documents strive for an act of cultural forgetting—or cultural ignorance—in order to give legitimacy to William III’s and Mary’s coronation as King and Queen of England by omitting the fact that William led an armed revolution to usurp the monarchal line of succession.
William begins his Declaration by focusing on the “[l]awes, [l]iberties, and [c]ustomes established, by the [l]awfull authority [sic]” of England, which he remarks are being “openly [t]ransgressed and [a]nulled [sic]” by a government with “[d]espotick and [a]rbitrary power [sic]” (Declaration). While this does not seem out of place for a revolutionary manifesto, it does require a level of cognitive dissonance to be accepted by a citizen of a political system that is built around the power of a monarch; William’s invasion is itself a subversion of England’s laws and customs of monarchal succession. Nevertheless, Sir Joseph Williamson’s newsletter mimics William’s Declaration by focusing on parliamentary disorder under James II, as well as the King’s despotic tendencies. Williamson reports in his newsletter that James II summoned the parliamentarians in London at the time and “demanded” of them “their advice” on combatting William III’s revolution (Williamson, Sir Joseph). While not a direct rebuke, Williamson’s verb choice of “demanded,” rather than a softer verb, such as “requested” or “consulted,” portrays an appearance of James II as an authoritarian ruler over the parliamentary branch of government. The parliamentarians “unanimously” advise the King that “the calling of a parliament was the onely way to preserve [sic]” James II’s kingship in the face of armed conflict (Williamson, Sir Joseph). By focusing on the necessity of parliamentary procedure, Williamson highlights James II’s decision to prorogue parliament, subverting the governing customs of England’s parliamentary system in favour of an authoritarian form of ruling singularly from the throne.
James II’s decision to call a parliament notwithstanding, Williamson reports that the Lords agreed a parliament “could not freely meet without” first consulting and making arrangements with William III (Williamson, Sir Joseph). James II is further depicted as an ineffectual leader. But more importantly, William III with his invasion of England controls the return to the customs and laws of the parliamentary system, fulfilling the promise in his Declaration to restore England’s laws and customs. The broadside ballad, “Englands Extasie,” similarly mimics the language and themes of William’s Declaration by portraying James II as a despotic ruler. The ballad proclaims that after William III’s ascension to the throne, English citizens’ “rights now again are [their] own,” and “from [t]yranny [the people of England] are now free” from James II and his Catholic “priests [who] invade [English] [l]iberties … [and] laws” (Englands Extesie). Both the newsletter and the ballad mimic the language and themes of William III’s Declaration. James II is cast as a corrupt and despotic leader who is stripping from Britons their laws, customs, and civil rights, in order to perpetuate the image of William III as a benevolent saviour of the British Kingdom rather than a foreign invader forcibly overthrowing the monarchy.
Casting James II as a despotic leader and William III as a saviour of British law and customs was not sufficient justification to invade England and overthrow the line of succession; such an action may have been viewed as an act of war by a foreign nation and invoked in the British citizenry and nobility a nationalist response to repel the invasion. William III in his Declaration reassured the British citizenry that his decision to “[c]arry over … a force, sufficient … to defend [him] from the [v]iolence” of James II “[e]vil [c]ouncillours,” and that the “[e]xpidition, is intended for no other [d]esigne, but to have a free and lawfull Parliament assembled, as soon as possible [sic]” (Declaration). Regardless of William III’s stated intentions, by the time Sir Joseph Williamson wrote his newsletter on 20 November 1688, it was clear that William III was leading a revolution against James II, as the Lords in norther England and Scotland who were supporting William III, assembled armies and “at yorke … seized the Kings moneys” and “The Earle of Bath Lord Leutentant of Corne wallis and Devonshire,” who seized “the Citadell of Plymouthm having disarmed all the Roman Catholicks [sic]” and made prisoner the Lord presiding over Plymouth. Moreover, Williamson reports on several Lords and military commanders who revolt against James II, such as “Cpt. Churchill [who] revolted with the ship he commanded … and is gone to Plimoth” and “Lt Coll Hastings,” who was made “Collonell by the P of Orange of Ld. Huntingdon’s Regiment [sic]” (Williamson, Sir Joseph).
However, despite reporting on William III’s troop movements and the treasonous acts of those Lords and commanders who abandoned their posts to take up arms with the invader, nowhere in Williamson’s newsletter does he call these acts treason, nor does he call the “exigency” a revolution. Rather, Williamson reports these developments with the same banal tone as the parliamentary procedures earlier in the newsletter (Williamson, Sir Joseph). Likewise, the broadside ballad does not once overtly mention William III as the victor against the tyrannical James II (Englands Extisie). By omitting this context from the newsletter and ballad, Williamson and the author of the ballad mediate William III’s revolution by shaping the cultural memory—or, in this case, the cultural forgetting—in order to provide legitimacy to William III’s and Mary’s ascension to King and Queen of England.
Dianne Dugaw in her essay, “On the ‘Darling Songs’ of Poets, Scholars, and Singers: An Introduction,” notes that there was a resurgence in the popularity of broadside ballads in the seventeenth century, collected by notable figures such as Samuel Pepys and John Selden (102). These broadside ballads varied widely, but were in many cases cheaply printed as a publicly traded commodity (110). The broadside ballad, in particular, likely would have been more expensive, because the woodcut is specifically commissioned for this piece (Englands Extasie). Nevertheless, “Englands Extasie” likely would have been sung in the streets contemporaneous to William III and Mary’s coronation, and as such known to many common Londoners. Insofar as the ballad was in contact with British citizens, whether as a broadside or as a ballad sung in the oral tradition, it would have helped to shape the public’s memory of King William III’s ascension. The ballad makes no reference to battles nor armies nor conflict of any kind; rather, it emphasizes how “the [n]ation is pleas’d [sic]” on the “happy joyful day” that “[t]he Royal blest pair are [c]rown’d [sic]” (Englands Extasie). Moreover, as Mary, not William, had the claim to the throne—after James II fled to France and was judged to have abdicated the throne for both he and his son—King William III and Queen Mary at least appeared to jointly rule as monarchs (Glorious Revolution). The ballad thus ends with two stanzas offering blessings to both “the great William our King” and the “Royal Mary our queen [author’s emphasis]” (Englands Extasie). Furthermore, the woodcut on the broadside pictures the new royal couple together at the forefront of the image, the initials “Q M” and “K W” surrounding their heads (Englands Extasie). Though Mary is pictured on the left of the image, which would put her before William III as you read their initials from left to right. The ballad’s inclusion of Queen Mary’s coronation in the content of the ballad and the accompanying woodcut lends legitimacy to the couple’s royal ascension after James II’s abdication, rather than as foreign conquerors overthrowing a sitting king and his line of succession.
William III’s propaganda campaign, including his Declaration, was an important part in winning support from English citizens and nobility prior to his invasion of England and revolution against King James II of England. Pro-William propaganda was also participated in by his supporters. Sir Joseph Williamson’s contemporaneous newsletter and the broadside ballad, Englands Extesie, celebrating the coronation of Queen Mary and King William III both participated in helping to shape the cultural memory of the Glorious Revolution by mimicking the language and themes of William III’s Declaration. Williamson’s newsletter highlighted James II’s authoritarian qualities, without the need for the English parliamentary system. Englands Extasie portrayed James II as a despotic tyrant who stole away from Britons their rights and customs. Whereas William III was characterized in both documents as a saviour, who would restore to England its proper governance and the English people their rights and liberty. However, each document displays an act of cultural forgetting the revolutionary means by which William III and Mary ascended to King and Queen of England. The ballad’s woodcut image and equal focus in the lyrics of the song give legitimacy to William III’s and Mary’s monarchy by prominently featuring Queen Mary. Without these acts to shape the cultural memory and legitimacy of the new King and Queen of England, it is possible that William III’s invasion of England may not have received the same broad support from the English nobility and citizenry.
William III King of England. “The Declaration of His Highness William Henry, By the Grace of God Prince of Orange, &c.: Of the Reasons Inducing Him, to Appeare in Armes in the Kingdome of England, for Preserving of the Protestant Religion, and for Restoring the Lawes and Liberties of England, Scotland and Ireland.” Print Broadside. Early English Books Online.
“Englands Extasie: Or, The Nations Joy for the Happy Coronation of King William, and his Royal Consort Queen Mary.” Broadside Ballad Facsimile. Magdalene College, Pepys Library, 2.254. http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ballad/20867/image
Williamson, Sir Joseph. “Newsletter from the office of Sir Joseph Williamson, Whitehall, London, to Sir Richard Bulstrode, Brussels, 1688 November 20.” MS. Harry Ransom Centre.
Dugaw, Dianne. “On the ‘Darling Songs’ of Poets, Scholars, and Singers: An Introduction.” The Eighteenth Century, vol. 46, no. 2, 2006, pp. 97-113.
“Glorious Revolution – English History.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.d. https://www.britannica.com/event/Glorious-Revolution
“James II (1633-1701).” BBC History. n.d. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/james_ii.shtml
Schwoerer, Lois G. “Propaganda in the Revolution of 1688-89.” The American Historical Review, vol. 82, no. 4, 1977, pp. 843-874.