Thursday, June 29, 2023

William's Catholic allies - the 'Grand Alliance' and the 'League of Augsburg', 1689

Thanks to the friend who told me about this recently.
Above - Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, from this website

"The Grand Alliance was the anti-French coalition formed on 20 December 1689 between the Dutch Republic, England and the Holy Roman Empire. It was signed by the two leading opponents of France: William III, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic and (since April 1689) King of England, and Emperor Leopold I, on behalf of the Archduchy of Austria.

With the later additions of Spain and Savoy, the coalition fought the Nine Years' War (1688–1697) against France that ended with the Peace of Ryswick (1697)" 

– from Wikipedia here.


Leopold I of Austria was Holy Roman Emperor, a title of enormous historical and religious significance to the Roman Catholic Church across Europe (back in 2019 there were large celebrations in Austria to mark the 500th anniversary of the first of them, Maximilian I, with the hashtag #FollowMax500).

That the Holy Roman Emperor and King William III of Orange signed this formal military alliance in December 1689 will be a surprise to many. My recent post on the notorious Conrad Von Rosen and his persecutions in both France and Ireland show just how vicious the era was. But this 'Grand Alliance' shows that there was also great complexity to the period and widespread European Catholic opposition to the imperial ambitions and persecuting extremes of King James II and his cousin, France's King Louis XIV.

Pope Innocent XI and Pope Alexander VIII's support for William are better known, as is the infamous painting by Pieter van der Meulen which was vandalised in 1933 and today is in the art collection of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


Another interesting source is John Mitchel's History of Ireland, from the Treaty of Limerick to the Present Time (published 1864, available on GoogleBooks here). Mitchel's pro-slavery stance has brought some pressure to remove his statue in Newry, but his History is a fascinating read, in particular his account in Chapter II of King William III – here is a quote that Mitchel reprints, originally from Matthew O'Conor who was author of History of the Irish Catholics (1813, on GoogleBooks here):

"In matters of religion, King William was liberal, enlightened, and philosophic. Equally a friend to religious as to civil liberty, he granted toleration to dissenters of all descriptions  regardless of their speculative opinions. In the early part of his reign, the Irish Catholics enjoyed the full and free exercise of their religion. They were protected in their persons and properties; their industry was encouraged; and under his mild and fostering administration, the desolation of the late war began to disappear, and prosperity, peace, and confidence to smile once more on the country."

Mitchel lays most of the blame for what he calls "the most disastrous epochs of Ireland" not solely at the feet of King William III, but rather the Dublin Parliament and Lord Henry Capell the Lord Deputy of Ireland who failed to implement the 1691 Treaty of Limerick. Mitchel writes that Capell "was desirous of doing all in his power to infringe that treaty".

Mitchel also refers to Dublin-born William Molyneux's 1698 pamphlet attacking the Dublin Parliament, entitled The Case of Ireland being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England (which he is said to have conferred with his friend John Locke about the content of. Here's the whole thing online, and here's an extract from the Preface:

(Ian McBride has analysed Molyneux in this paper, freely available online).


And of course, for generations, the Dublin Parliament was no friend to the Ulster-Scots. 

These are just a few references. It's a very complicated time and there are thousands of other sources.

I don't know how to reconcile all of this information with the popular assumptions and misrepresentations. But the more I have read the more I have come to understand that much of what our generation perceives about the past, through inherited simplifications and even sectarianisations, is wrong.

Other writers, like Frank Hugh O'Donnell (1846–1916), have unexpected things to say about that era (see previous post here). History has always been appropriated by later movements and organisations to advance their own agendas. Perhaps there is a need to radically rewrite our history.

(Photo below is one of my own of John Mitchel's statue in Newry. One of the GAA clubs located near me was named after him, and their ground is Mitchel Park.)