King William III was a greedy, irreligious, oppressive usurper. Worse still, he was a Dutchman. Or at least these were the sort of things one might hear in many of the alehouses of northern England at the end of the seventeenth century.
I’m going to be giving a talk at the Institute of Historical Research on Thursday (March 14th) on ‘The Present State of England: Modernity and Memory in the Hard Times of the 1690s’, and I thought I’d share one of the many, many seditious denunciations of William III’s regime that I’ve come across during my research into this topic. Sadly, this one probably won’t make it into the talk, but I’ll be sure to include a couple of others.
This case comes from amongst the mess of unsorted and unnumbered despositions from the Palatinate of Lancaster held at The National Archives at Kew, specifically PL 27/2. In May of 1700, according to a chapman from Manchester named David Smith,
one James Scott a wandering person this day … did declare … that his present Majestie King William had noe more religion in him then his pipe in his hand & that all that he cared for was to please his people & to gett mony together & that he love a finger of King James’ hand more then he loved King Williams body
One needn’t have a detailed knowledge of later Stuart political culture to decipher the complaint. William III had a reputation as an aloof, cold monarch, which may partly explain why Scott had so much more ‘love’ for James II’s finger than for the current king. Likewise, the king’s continental Calvinism was regarded as somewhat suspect by many Church of England clergymen, which may help to explain Scott’s reference to his atheistical pipe.
However, I’d guess that Scott’s dislike come primarily from the other fault that he mentions here: ‘all he cared for was to please his people & to gett mony together’. This was surely a reference to William’s foreignness and his very aggressive fiscal policies: ‘his people’ were presumably the Dutch courtiers whom he brought over with him, and his need ‘to get mony together’ resulted in taxation more than doubling in less than a decade. As I’ll explain on Thursday, these were ‘hard times’ and, as a result, the king’s regime was widely resented for his foreignness, his favouritism and his predilection for expensive European wars.
If anyone else has come across similar material from this period, I’d love to hear about it.