Anna Mitchell and I will conclude our discussion of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation
on the Son Rise Morning Show with his views of William of Orange aka William III of England and King Louis XIV of France tomorrow morning. Belloc concludes this study of the Reformation with these two kings of England and France representing the stalemate of divided Europe: Protestant and Catholic. He does not provide as much character analysis as political and historical context and background. As in the two chapters on Descartes and Pascal, Belloc compares and contrasts the two monarchs and then analyses them separately:
William of Orange is the last but one of the typical figures of the great seventeenth-century "Drawn Battle" between advancing Protestantism and Catholic resistance. There were many Williams in this family, and more than one have the tide of Orange. But when one talks of " William of Orange" without additional words, one generally means this particular William of Orange, who became, so far as the rich men of England could make him so, the King of England at the end of the seventeenth century. On the Protestant side of the battle he corresponds to — though a man of far less importance — the Catholic Louis XIV. He stands for the successful Protestant resistance which caused the battle to be a drawn one; just as Louis XIV, his contemporary, stands for the later declining, but still most powerful, Catholic tradition in the west of Europe.
Of how far Louis XIV fills this role, and how the very fact that he does not fill it altogether but only in a mixed way is characteristic of the time, I shall describe in my next chapter. William of Orange, the antagonist of Louis, is then typical of the Protestant side of the "Drawn Battle" in every way.
To begin with, he is typical of the way in which the great leaders, who made the survival of Protestantism possible and secured its further expansion, were not — as had been the early zealots of the Reformation — men chiefly occupied with religion. They were men chiefly occupied with political power, and to an almost equal, sometimes to a greater extent, with the great personal income to be derived from political power. They were not men chiefly marked for their enthusiasm against the Catholic creed and practice, but rather marked for their determination to establish their independence from the old unity of Europe, and men who depended for their power upon wealth.
Belloc explains how William of Orange became King of England after covering the position of the House of Orange in the Netherlands and its opposition to the rule of Philip II of Spain. William's great grandfather William the Silent had led the rebellion against Philip and had been assassinated. William III of Orange and England married the Duke of York's daughter Mary:
This Mary, William's wife, had been brought up a Protestant, as a piece of state-craft insisted upon by Charles
II, her uncle, who was the reigning king during her girlhood. He hoped thus to save the dynasty by counteracting
the effect of his brother's conversion. Mary's mother, Anne
Hyde, the daughter of Lord Clarendon, a woman of strong
character and intelligence, had been converted to Catholicism, and she had brought over her husband, James, Duke
of York, Mary's father, who was the immediate heir to
Charles II. By the time James became King, Anne Hyde
was dead. There was no boy to inherit the kingdom after
James II died. James II's second wife, Mary of Modena,
was of bad health and had lost her children. It was believed
she would have no more. When this Catholic king came to
rule, it was over an England which was by this time Protestant as to the great majority of its inhabitants, and as to
a large minority of those inhabitants violently anti-Catholic
(especially in London). Yet even those who most disliked
the idea of the Catholic James being king over the country,
and who had intrigued against his succession, were half prepared to accept him — because they took it for granted that he
would be succeeded by his Protestant daughter Mary, the
Princess of Orange. Not only was she a Protestant, but
she was married to the man who was regarded as one of the
leaders of the Protestant cause on the Continent of Europe.
It was in 1685 that James II had become English King.
The discontent of the active Protestant minority led to
rebellions in Scotland and in the South. They were easily
put down. That in the South had been led by an illegitimate
son of the late King, Charles II. This illegitimate son was
called the Duke of Monmouth. He had no particular
religion, but he took up the Protestant cause with violence, and naturally enough, as it was his best chance of getting
rid of his uncle, James II, and of capturing the throne for
himself. He gave it out that Charles II had married his
mother. A very large number of the more intense anti-
Catholics in the country believed this legend, and a still
larger number were prepared to let it pass for truth so that
they might have a Protestant champion immediately at
hand against the reigning Catholic King. But when Monmouth's rebellion had been put down, and Monmouth
himself executed, there remained, even for those who believed
that Monmouth had been legitimate, no leader of the
Protestant cause, no one whom they could regard as a
possible substitute for James II, except his daughter Mary,
and her husband, James' son-in-law, William of Orange.
The whole thing was mixed up with the now determined
policy of the rich English families to take over the government of the country, and in their own selfish interests to
destroy what was left of power in the crown. There was
not much left of such power. The crown had become the
puppet of the wealthy landed classes in England, who
assumed the government of the country unchecked, through
their two great committees, the House of Commons and the
House of Lords, which were composed of their own landed
class. They would far rather have had a new King, who
should owe his nominal title to them, than to have the
legitimate King James, who had behind him the full traditions of monarchy. But to these traditions, the masses of
the English people were still strongly attached, and the
wealthier classes who desired to get rid of the King and to
take over the Government for their own advantage, could
not openly upset the principle of monarchy in the face of
popular opposition. It would be their object, I repeat, to
have someone called king who should replace James II, but
they would take care that this new king should have no real
power and should be their servant.
When Mary of Modena successfully delivered a male who seemed healthy enough to survive and succeed, displacing the Protestant Mary from the throne, those rich English families and William worked to usurp the throne:
There followed a series of the worst plots, conspiracies, and falsehoods in English history. A perfect orgy of lying, cheating and betrayal. William of Orange sent over to England an illegitimate relative of his, who had married an English wife, giving him the special message to congratulate James on the birth of an heir, and at the same time to intrigue secretly with anyone he could get hold of for turning James out and the new-born child with him. William of Orange further began to intrigue in Holland for the support of the Dutch. He began to try to raise money from the Dutch bankers on the securities of the taxes which his backers would, if he were made king, impose on the English. While he was doing this he protested in the loudest manner his loyalty to his father-in-law, James, and continued to proclaim that loyalty until the very hour of sailing with a large expedition to invade James' Kingdom.
James had a considerable army with which to defend his throne, but the officers were drawn from the landed classes who were conspiring against the throne and were ready to betray their King. William's force landed in Devonshire. It was made up of mercenary soldiers drawn from every country, with only a few Englishmen among them. Most of the officers were French Protestants, rebels, but the strongest thing in the force was the finely disciplined and armed Dutch (Blue) Guards of William himself.
There was no battle, because just when the issue would have been joined James was betrayed. The leader of those who betrayed him was John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, whose career as a soldier James himself had made. The Prince of Orange marched on London. The Dutch Guards occupied the western part of that town and appeared before the Palace. James was thrown out, and the rich men who had helped William of Orange made him their king. After long negotiations, he and his wife were declared equal partners, King and Queen side by side; so that the reign of the usurper is now officially known as that of "William and Mary."
Politically the thing was a complete revolution, or coup d'tat: that is, an illegal, unconstitutional act of force by which a legitimate Government is supplanted. The English hereditary monarchy was disposed of, and a new, unheard of title called "Parliamentary tide" was substituted for right of birth. The legitimate King, James II, lived on in France, protected by the King of France, his cousin Louis XIV. He attempted to get back his throne with the help of the French King, both through an Irish land campaign and through a maritime one in the Channel. He failed in both enterprises, and died at the beginning of the next century, within a few months of the son-in-law who had betrayed and dethroned him, and some time after the unnatural daughter who had aided her husband to act in this manner. The claim of the legitimate Stuart line was not given up, but their Catholicism was a fatal bar to their restoration, and they died out within a century, their attempts to regain the throne all proving futile.
Thus Catholicism in England was once again suppressed and would return as a foreign faith in the nineteenth century with French and then Irish immigrants supplementing the remaining native, recusant Catholics.
On to William III's enemy, King Louis XIV:
Louis XIV, the great king of France whose reign covers
the last half of the seventeenth century, is the typical figure
on the Catholic side of the great "Drawn Battle." He is
what we may call the "opposite number" to William of
Orange, though ten times greater and more important.
There was no one on the Protestant side as yet, standing out
sufficiently to make a prominent figurehead for that side.
Therefore William of Orange is always regarded (in the
later part of his life at least, after about 1680) in that
capacity. Later the typical figures opposed to Catholic
France, and to the Catholic German Empire, were the
kings of Prussia. In less than a lifetime after Louis XIV's
death, Frederick the Great of Prussia became the champion
of the increasingly powerful anti-Catholic cause in Europe.
But as early as 1650-1700 it is the house of Orange, and,
in the later part of the period, William III of England, who
represents, as we have seen, the resistance of the Protestant
minority in Christendom.
It is very important when we are following the history
of all this, not to "read history backwards"; that is, not
to think of Europe as she later became, a civilization divided
into two more or less equal halves, the Catholic culture and
the Protestant culture, with the latter gradually advancing
and the former divided against itself. In the later seventeenth century at the end of the "Drawn Battle" the
Protestant culture had saved itself, but it was still very much
weaker than the Catholic. It included the small populations
of Scandinavia, the Dutch merchants of Holland and the
majority of their dependents (for Holland had a very large
Catholic minority), Great Britain, and a certain proportion
— perhaps one- third — of the populations who spoke German. But the overwhelming majority of Europeans were still
Catholic. The Greek Church had as yet no weight, for
Russia had not yet risen to be a power affecting the affairs
of Europe, and the Balkan States were under the government
of the Turk.
On this account the men who led the Protestant culture
everywhere regarded themselves as being on the defensive;
they were maintaining what they felt to be a very difficult
and gallant resistance against greatly superior forces, and
the fact that they were able to make the battle a drawn one
reinforced their courage and confidence in themselves.
Louis XIV, by far the most powerful government on the
Catholic side, was typical of the mixed state into which the
religious cause had fallen. He was typical also of the way
in which what had been a fairly clean-cut issue in the first
lifetime of the Reformation — the issue as to whether the
Catholic Church should or should not survive, whether the
new heretics should also not break up civilization — had
gradually settled down to something more complicated,
much mixed up with local and individual interests. It had
become on the Protestant side not only a question of maintaining Protestant culture, but (for the leaders) of keeping
the enormous fortunes which they had suddenly made out
of looting the Church during the troubles. Meanwhile, on
the Catholic side, the defence of the general civilization of
Christendom and of its old traditions was confused and
debased by something much less ideal, to wit, the particular
national and dynastic ambitions of this and that Catholic
monarch. That was why the French, during the whole
affair, were hostile to the Empire; why Paris and Vienna,
the two centres of Catholic civilization, were hostile to each
other. And that is why you so often find Rome in alliance,
or half-alliance, with non-Catholic forces against the private
ambitions of the Catholic Prince.
Louis XIV's whole reign, from when he ascended the
throne as a little boy to when he died as an old man in
1715, is illustrative of this. He was the head of the Catholic
cause, the strongest individual power in that cause, and yet
he devoted half his energy to keeping the French Church
wholly subject to his Government and resisting Papal
authority therein, and all his energy to reducing Catholic
Like Cardinal Richelieu opposing the Holy Roman Empire when it might have brought Catholic unity and strength, Louis XIV put French power and hegemony about Catholic unity and culture in Europe: he wanted to be its center, not the Church.