Letter: Demythologising the 'Glorious Revolution'

Click to follow
Sir: The idea that the 'Glorious Revolution' was a Dutch invasion of England is a provocative and overdue corrective to what Jonathan Israel (28 December) rightly portrays as a laughable and damaging myth about England - its image of itself as a virgin (or rather 're-virginised') country, uninvaded since 1066. That myth entered the national psyche via the propaganda of the first Elizabeth, whose reign saw the first flowering of self-conscious English patriotism, and much later, at a time of still greater national danger, through the wartime rhetoric of Winston Churchill. The reality, as Professor Israel says, is that England (and Britain) have been parts of the European political equation for the whole of their recorded history.

But why doesn't Professor Israel mention religion? Elizabethan nationalism rang on for decades, and was bound up inextricably with Protestantism. By 1685 it had become simply unacceptable (ie, to the broad mass of the English population) for a monarch to espouse Catholicism, to the extent that the two things were perceived as a contradiction in terms. It follows that the documented popular resentment towards William of Orange's army proves nothing beyond the notorious bolshiness of the British in the face of any form of foreign imposition. Certainly it does not mean that James II remained a credible or popular king, still less that, as Professor Israel implies, the Stuarts would have survived but for the Dutch troops at the Boyne (what about the Irish Protestants?).

It has become hackneyed to draw comparisons between the religious divisions of the 16th and 17th centuries and the ideological ones of the 20th. But I do not think that it stretches credibility too much to suggest that the attitude of ordinary Englishmen to William of Orange was rather similar to that which they adopted to American GIs 50 years ago; an amalgam of gratitude, grudging admiration and instinctive resentment. 'They're on our side, all right, but if we could, we would manage without them.' The fact that William had his own motives for becoming involved in England (opposing Louis XIV) does nothing to alter this analysis.

Yours sincerely,


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

30 December