1588 v 1688 – one victory, one defeat

I’ve been reading a provocative exploration of why it was that England wasn’t conquered in 1588 (The Spanish Armada), but was conquered in 1688 by the Dutch (in what is rather eupemistically known, in what may have been history’s most successful piece of spin) The Glorious Revolution.

I’m not going to explore the 1688 arguments here, but I found fascinating an exploration of why the Armada failed and William III succeeeded in Empire, War and Faith in Early Modern Europe by Geoffrey Parker.

In short, the argument runs that ship-building technology had so advanced that the Dutch were able to sweep down to Torbay (aided of course by the “Protestant wind” that kept the English ships in harbour) and unload the troops before the English navy could catch up with them – far faster than the Spanish would have managed even in same conditions. (Their slowest merchantment-transports travelled at roughly “the speed of a rowboat”.)

Also you might say that government systems had so improved in the century, or else William was just a much more effective monarch than Phillip II – William was on the spot and able to take instant decisions wih advice from his commanders, while Phillip gave his commanders rigid long distance instructions and expected them to be obeyed to the letter.

Also, the logistics of 1688 were far more advanced. Gilbert Burnet wrote: “Never was so great a design executed in so short a time … All things as soon as they were ordered were got to be so quickly ready that we were amazed at the dispatch.” The Dutch even loaded large numbers of horses, while the Spanish had almost none (luckily for the equine world, as it turned out).

Also, William understood the propoganda value of having Englishmen prominent in his forces, making this look – as it so successfully turned out – less like an invasion than an internal uprising. Phillip made no effort to do this, which in part explained the resolve and passion of Elizabeth’s forces, versus those of the hapless James a century later.

Nonetheless, Parker exonerates James and his commanders of incompetence or treachery in not anticipating William’s landing place, suggesting that not until the last possible second was William himself sure whether it would be north Yorkshire or the southwest.

Oh, you want to know why it wasn’t a Glorious Revolution? Well Parker cites the arguments of Professor Jonathan Israel that stress the huge size of the Dutch force – over 450 ships, 20,000 men and 5,000 horses, the predominance of foreign soldiers (including Danish, Duch, French Hugenot and German) and the fact that on Williams triumphant entry to London no English regiments were allowed within 20 miles of London and for the next 18 months, Dutch troops occupied all significant buildings in and around the capital.


  • June 23, 2007 - 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Gah, I’m trying to cut back on book buying at the moment, sounds excellent. *adds to wishlist*

    The numbers are different to those I know though, Schama says 600 ships and about 15,000 men, not that that really matters that much. Like referring to 1688; always winds up the europhobic island staters when you debunk the 1000 years myth.

  • June 23, 2007 - 11:06 pm | Permalink

    I’d try to borrow it rather than buy it – some of the essays, like this one, and the one about the rules of law as we know them today developing in early modern times are excellent – others I found less exciting.

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  • dearieme
    June 24, 2007 - 2:10 pm | Permalink

    It was an invasion all right, but it does matter that so few people were minded to oppose it. James VII and II had already proved himself a reckless chump; he was a Catholic; people could still remember the Civil War.

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    June 24, 2007 - 3:45 pm | Permalink

    IIRC NAM Roger argued that Willam was able to land in the face of a superior fleet mainly because he was lucky. Such things are more important than people like to think.

    And of course, their is the political significance of the Protestant sucession.

  • dearieme
    June 24, 2007 - 6:54 pm | Permalink

    “What if” can be fun. What if Louis hadn’t revoked the Edict of Nantes and scared the Protestants of Europe all over again?

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