Sunday, November 12, 2023

"of England" - or not? The banner slogan of William, Prince of Orange, 1688 - some primary sources

I like 'folk art' created by people within local communities, and often of limited artistic talent. Those expressions aren't for external critique, but are for the community's own traditions.

'King Billy' doesn't just crudely exist on walls, as per the pic at the top (date and location unknown). The painting below it is from the Tate Gallery in London, by JMW Turner, entitled The Prince of Orange, William III, Embarked from Holland, and Landed at Torbay, November 4th, 1688, after a Stormy Passage. It was painted in 1832 - 144 years after the actual event - and shows a white banner with a central coat of arms, purporting to be that of William.


Usually, the slogan on William's banner on his personal flagship, Den Briel / The Brill, is given as 'For the Protestant Religion and Liberties of England'. But according to Rev John Whittle, who accompanied William on his fleet's voyage from Hellevoetsluis in Holland to Brixham in England, the 'of England' part wasn't on it at all – 

"... Now every Vessel set out its Colours, which made a very pleasant shew. By this time the People of Devonshire thereabout had discovered the Fleet, the one telling the other thereof; they came flocking in droves to the side or brow of the Hills to view us: Some guess'd we were French, because they saw divers white Flags; but the Standard of the Prince, the Motto of which was, For the Protestant Religion and Liberty, soon undeceived them..."

This is the account given in Whittle's renowned primary source An exact diary of the late expedition of His Illustrious Highness, the Prince of Orange, now King of Great Britain, from his palace at the Hague, to his landing at Torbay. The full text is online here.

And, contemporary Dutch visual representations of it also do not have the 'of England' part - see the Raymond De Hooghe engraving below. The combined coat of arms is interesting - equally divided into that of the House of Orange on the left hand side, and the Royal Standard of the British Monarchy on the right hand side - which were the arms of William, and of his wife Mary. Their future monarchy would be a joint one, and was also 'gender equal' - I think the first and only time that has happened in British history.

The Bridgeman Art Library has this image, of William's published Declaration of 1688, which has the same crest as the De Hooghe example above.

And below is a close-up detail from another contemporary depiction, by De Hooghe and Carel Allard in 1688, which again has no visible reference to 'England' on the slogan.

However, another primary source, The expedition of His Highness, the Prince of Orange, for England giving an account of the most remarkable passages thereof, from the day of his setting sail from Holland, by Rev Gilbert Burnet (who, like Whittle, had been part of the voyage) said the banner:

"... was English Collours, the Motto impaled thereon, is, The Protestant Religion, and Liberties of England, and underneath, instead of Dieu & Mon Droit, And I will Maintain it..."

The full text of Burnet is online here. He died in 1715 - but when his multi-volume memoirs entitled History of His Own Time was published posthumously in 1725, there was no mention of the slogan at all

Nesca Robb's 1966 two volume biography of William quoted another primary source, Jean-Antoine de Mesmes, aka d'Avaux (who was on the side of William's opponent and father in law King James II) who said that the inscription was 'Pro Religion Protestante. Pro libero Parliamento' - 'for the Protestant Religion and a Free Parliament'.

I wonder where the original banner is - maybe tucked away in an ancient linen cupboard within the Royal collection, or forgotten in some dusty stately home in England or Holland. Perhaps some readers will know of further primary contemporary sources. I plan to be back in Brixham and Devon next week. More to follow.


(NB The top illustration and the photograph below are from the collection of the superb Rijksmuseum in Holland).