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During the four summer months of 1690 when William [III] was in Ireland, signalised by the defeat of Beachy Head and the victory of the Boyne, the queen was left to conduct the administration in England. The period was critical, but Mary passed through the ordeal successfully. The king, on his return, was eager to hasten to Holland to concert plans for the future with his continental allies, for which it was of the utmost importance that he should be able to rely on the support of England. Parliament meeting for an autumn session, voted large supplies with a readiness which augured well for the future, and William was able to leave for Holland in January, undeterred by the discovery of a Jacobite plot, the investigation of which was left to his wife.

The Preston Jacobite plot
It was not an assassination plot, but aimed at the restoration of James on conditions which would probably have proved acceptable neither to James himself nor to the French king. Lord Preston, an ex-minister of James who gave his name to the conspiracy was condemned to death, but was ultimately pardoned. Only one of the plotters was actually executed, and some were never brought to trial. For this leniency William himself was responsible, as he reappeared in England for three weeks.

The campaigning in the Netherlands with which he was largely occupied during the ensuing period was of a dreary and unprofitable description, neither the French nor the allies gaining any material advantages. But the fact of primary importance to England, so far as the war was concerned, was that France was wholly absorbed in the military operations, and was thereby prevented from adopting the energetic naval policy which might have been anticipated after Beachy Head. England, on the other hand, concentrated her efforts mainly on naval reorganisation. Never­theless Louis and James devised a scheme of invading England in 1692.

So many of the leading men in England, including Admiral Russell who was now at the head of the English Navy, were in correspondence with the Jacobites, that James suffered from an illusory conviction that the majority of Englishmen were in favour of his restoration. He issued a proclamation granting a general pardon, from which certain prominent persons were specially excluded, which only made it the more imperative that the men whose names were not excluded should emphatically demon­strate their loyalty to William.

This document was so obviously useful the government that instead of endeavouring to suppress it they pub­lished it broadcast. Nothing could have served better to bring the whole nation into line, and, above all, the fleet was put on its mettle.

A large army of invasion was collected in Normandy, and Tourville, the victor of Beachy Head, took the seas to clear the Channel, with positive orders to fight the English fleet on the first opportunity. In obedience to those orders be fought the battle of La Hogue. His fleet was scattered after hard fighting, and a dozen men-of-war which ran themselves aground under the guns of La Hogue itself were cut out by boats under the command of Sir George Rooke, and were burnt down to the water under the eyes of James himself, who was an impotent witness of the catastrophe.

This great victory virtually annihilated the French sea-power, which two fears before had threatened the ascendency of England. From that hour England remained decisively the mistress of the seas; for her only rivals were the Dutch, and with them she was in constant alliance until the smaller country had fallen gradually but completely behind her in the maritime race.

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's point of view may not be currently accepted by modern historians, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

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