Appendix #S2: How The Glorious Revolution came to New York

James, Duke of York, upon the death of his brother King Charles II in 1685, became James II, "By the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." The part of France that Charles, James, and preceding Stuarts presumed they were king, is open to speculationi. Less ironic, but far more troublesome than fanciful claims on France, was the fact that James was a Defender of the same Faith for which Henry VIII originally received the title, that is, Roman Catholicii. But that was a century and a half before. By 1685 only two per cent of England was Catholiciii. This put James at odds with the overwhelming majority of people in his country who, fearing that a "papist" establishment of any kind would enslave them, were violently anti-Catholic.

Unlike Charles, who was as Catholic as he needed to be to waggle stipends from Louis XIV and as Protestant as necessary to extract funds from Parliament, James was a "Catholic zealot"iv. He insisted on Catholic masters at universities that educated Anglican ministers, appointed Catholics to influential cabinet-level posts such as the Privy Council, sent Catholic governors to his Protestant colonies, swelled the number of Catholic officers in the Army to ten per cent, purged members of Parliament unsympathetic to his Catholic agenda, and even replaced hundreds of local magistrates, Justices of the Peace, with his Catholic co-religionistsv. James thus alienated virtually every powerful and influential sector of his realm: the clergy, the colleges, the displaced but still connected cabinet ministers, the Protestant provinces in New York and New England, the army, and Parliament.

Perhaps James could have withstood the popular political resentment and religious paranoia had the Dutch leader, William of Orange, not invaded England at the exact time James was usurping the tranquility of his realm. William's motivation for the invasion was his motivation for every breath he took, to keep Louis XIV from annihilating the Netherlands. To prevent James with his powerful royal fleet from allying with France, William invaded England with an armada twice the size of the Spanish armada the century beforevi.

It was bad timing for James. On paper he had enough troops to forestall William's quick victory, perhaps gaining a stalemate to negotiate a settlement. But James' own troops, led by his most trusted commanders, such as John Churchill, defected to Williamvii. James abdicated-deserted-escaped to France. William, James' nephew, and his wife Mary, James' daughter, would soon become the "King and Queen of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland"... no reason to give up France hastily... war with the French was inevitable... but William now had the most potent navy the world had ever seen and a competent army, too, with outstanding generals like John Churchill.

In New York, the news of the "Glorious Revolution" was, at first, a monopoly of a few of James' appointees who had no idea of how to respond except by keeping it a secret. When the news finally broke, they dallied a while, sensed the mood of the populace, which was not friendly, and then hurriedly exited the province. Jacob Leisler, a respected merchant, deacon in the Dutch church, and militia captain, was drafted by several citizen groups to fill the power vacuum caused by the abrupt departure of the former provincial officialsviii.

Leisler's rule, with its populist appeal, redistributed the influential appointments for provincial councils, county magistrates, and city administrators to classes very different from the wealthy Dutch and English merchants who were favored by and had prospered under James' provincial governors. But the "grandees"ix, as Leisler styled them, were not just rich individual merchants. They were the paterfamilias of extended families with broad groups of other dependents: their employees and suppliers, captains and sailors of their ships (some of whom were actually pirates), tradesmen, the ministers of their churches, caretakers of their estates.

The grandees were the first called when a religious or civic organization needed extraordinary funding... they were where the money was. They were comfortable exercising the power that came with wealth and the connections to royally appointed governors. To them Leisler and his followers were "rabble". They began to criticize and resist the Leislerians early and often.

Unfazed, Leisler responded to his critics with arrests while his followers ransacked the large homes and prosperous businesses of his wealthy opposition. In turn, the anti-Leslerians, including many middle-class merchants and tradesmen, countered with protests that soon resembled riots. Leisler himself was almost killed during one demonstrationx. This was a rebellion but a very confused one. It was unclear which side was in rebellion and which side represented the established order, however ephemeral.

As it happened, the faction in New York with the best contacts in London prevailed. The Crown, now King William and Queen Mary, refused to see Leisler's representativexi but did appoint a new governor who had been convinced that Leisler was a tyrantxii. Even though Leisler relinquished his power peacefully when the new governor arrived, he was, to the dismay of his friends and constituents, tried and hanged.xiii

Leisler's son and others of his faction lobbied London to get Leisler exonerated. They reversed the verdict and regained their property in New York. But, the lobbying in London did not stop there. Both sides goaded a vacillating government that favored one New York faction and then the other, flip-flopping every few years. Although the rebellion did not spill much blood, it did result in a divisive and vituperative political-social atmosphere in New York that would survive for decades... until the deeply felt personal enmities died with their owners.

  1. Gascony was lost at the end of the 100 Years War in the 15th century; Calais, in the 16th. What might Louis XIV think of letters if addressed to him by someone who was claiming to be the King of France? Charles secret of success in dealing with Louis was to omit any reference to being "King of France". In a letter dated May 17, 1678 Charles greeted Louis with "Monsieur, my brother." And signed "Your good brother. CHARLES" See Bryant, Sir Arthur, editor, The Letters Speeches and Declarations Of King Charles II (Funk and Wagnalls: New York, 1968) page 294
  2. Henry had written a tract defending the Sacrament of Matrimony against the heretical teachings of Martin Luther. This was many years before he ejected the Roman church from England, foreclosed on Catholic monasteries, and applied some innovative notions to matrimony as practiced by English Kings.
  3. Macaulay, Thomas, The History of England from the Accession of James II (Harper & Brothers: New York 1853) Vol II page 183.
  4. Kishlansky, Mark, A Monarchy Transformed: Britain from 1603-1714 (Penguin Books, London, New York et al, 1997) p265
  5. Kishlansky. P 272; Harris, page 192 for estimates of % army Catholic.
  6. Rodger, N.A.M. The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649-1815 (W.W. Norton & Company: New York London 2004) p137. Most historians put William's fleet at about 500 ships (Rodger 463); the Armada, about 150 ships. Rodger, estimates that the Dutch force was twice the size of the Spanish force. The key question, however, was why the Royal Navy did not engage the armada en route.
  7. Harris, Tim, Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720 (Penguin Books: London, New York et al 2007) pages 284 & 295
  8. Edward G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, p 97-98
  9. Valentine, David, History of the City of New York (G.P. Putnam & Company: New York 1853) p193
  10. Edward G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, p100
  11. Lamb, Mrs. Martha J., History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress (A. S. BARNES AND COMPANY: New York and Chicago 1877) Vol I, page 379-380
  12. Ritchie, p229-231
  13. Edward G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, p99-101