Corrigé commentaire de texte du groupe du mercredi

A Declaration of the Prince of Orange

The title of the declaration makes clear that it is an attempt by William of Orange to justify his decision to “appear in arms in the Kingdom of England.” Although the exact day and month on which the Declaration was published is not provided, the content of the declaration bears exclusively on the legitimacy of William’s military intervention in England at a time when he was still nothing else than “Prince of Orange.”

Thanks to his marriage to James II’s eldest daughter Mary and in the absence of any male heir to the English Crown, William had expected to one day become ruler of England through his wife. However the birth of James’ son (8) in 1688 called this expectation into question. However, as the title of the declaration makes clear, William does not insist on the personal loss that the change in the succession brought about but rather on the political and religious consequences. Since the new Prince of Wales was born of James II’s second wife, who, like the King was a Catholic, the new heir would be brought up as a Catholic, unlike Mary. A Catholic dynasty in England would endanger the kingdom’s Protestant identity and would probably bring England in a permanent alliance with France, the main Catholic power of Europe at the time. For William, the leader of Protestant Europe and main political actor in resisting French hegemony on the continent, this was an unbearable prospect. William had therefore understandable reasons to intervene militarily.

However, it is one thing to have reasons and it is another to present a plausible case for a military intervention, giving it legitimacy both in England and abroad. The declaration operates on three levels. It presents the situation in England as anarchical and in dire need of outside intervention. The “religion, laws and liberties” of the realm are “overturned”, a situation that James II’s government is unwilling to remedy (3-4). The birth of the new heir is a plot by the King’s “counsellors,” presumably Catholics in James II’s government hoping to establish Catholic power in England permanently. The Queen was never pregnant and therefore Mary is still the rightful heir. As Mary’s husband, William is therefore the natural candidate to lead a military expedition to put things right in England (14-15). Finally, the declaration insists on the fact that William’s actions are dictated less by personal interest than by what is obviously the public good in England. For one thing, his military intervention is not his own idea but that of “a great many lords, both spiritual and temporal, and … many gentlemen and other subjects of all ranks” (20-21), referring to the invitation that had been sent to him by seven lords and gentlemen to bring his army to England in order to stop James II’s pro-Catholic policy, which was seen by the Protestant establishment as an attempt to convert England to Catholicism and to end the Protestant monopoly on the Church and on Parliament. William therefore presents his actions as a response to an invitation legitimized by the chaotic situation brought about by James’ government. 

What is interesting in the document, however, is that the King himself is never criticized. Only his counsellors are. It is his counsellors that must be stopped (23). The reluctance to attack the King is an indication that at this stage of the Glorious Revolution, James II’s right to remain on the throne was not called into question. Only the legitimacy of his son was and his government’s actions. It was not yet apparent what William’s intervention should lead to, apart from establishing Mary’s right to the Crown over that of James II’s son. William does not present himself as a revolutionary. He merely wants to restore the constitutional order of things, he says. 

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