William III and the 1699 Parliament
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
... continued from the previous article ...
William himself had no illusions on the subject of the peace [with France]. He regarded it as nothing more than a truce, certain to be followed before long by a renewal of the struggle with Louis. In spite of the treaty, therefore, he urged upon the parliament the necessity not only for a large naval expenditure, but also for the maintenance of a standing army of not less than thirty thousand men.
There was no difficulty about the fleet; the nation was thoroughly alive to the Importance of maintaining naval supremacy. But Tories and Whigs alike regarded the standing army as being at the best a necessary evil in time of war, intolerable in time of peace.
William, being his own Foreign Minister and relying for the conduct of foreign business on Portland and his Dutch associates rather than upon English statesmen, had failed to educate Englishmen up to his own views of continental affairs; and the Whigs regarded the peace as a satisfactory opportunity for cutting down the army to a standard far below that which was needed to satisfy William.
They were moreover, irritated by the fact that the king had at last openly admitted Sunderland to his counsels, and obviously gave more confidence to him than to the Whig leaders themselves. Even the retirement of Sunderland only induced them so far to modify the proposals for disbandment as to allow the retention of a force of ten thousand men apart from the troops in Scotland and Ireland.
The Triennial Act
But the Triennial Act now demanded a dissolution, while William's own continental plans called for his presence at The Hague. The king's constant absences from the country were inevitably unpopular, and his departure at this time had an unfavourable effect on the elections. The result was that ministers found themselves faced by what was practically a Tory majority in the House of Commons.
To William's intense disgust Parliament resolved to reduce the army to seven thousand men, all of them English-born troops, which at once involved the withdrawal of the Dutch troops on whom William himself relied, and the exclusion of his favourite officers from military posts.
So sore was the king that he was on the verge of resigning the crown of England. But he could not afford to sever the ties between England and Holland, though the only modification be could obtain was the admission to the army of naturalised English subjects as well as those who were English born.
The Irish Lands Bill
The Tories pushed their victory further by demanding and obtaining an enquiry into the distribution of the forfeited lands in Ireland. The Whig ministers no longer found themselves leading the House, and William began to replace some of them by Tories.
The Irish Lands Bill is notable as the first instance of a device of the Commons for evading opposition on the part of the Lords, which came to be known as "tacking" The bill was made part of the bill granting the Land Tax. This being treated as a money bill, the Lords could not amend, though they might reject it; and they could not afford to reject it, because to do so in effect meant the refusal of supplies.
The attitude of the parliament remained continuously adverse. In the winter of 1699 - 1700 there were direct attacks upon Whig ministers, and the general principles of toleration, to which William and the Whigs were committed, were assaulted by new measures directed against Roman Catholics, to which reference has been made in an earlier section.
In effect the penal code against Catholics was applied in its main features in England as well as in Ireland. Its iniquity was only less apparent, because in England the papists were only a small minority, whereas in Ireland they formed four-fifths of the population. The enquiry into the Irish hands gave the Tories another handle against the king, since the distribution of the forfeited estates had been made in clear violation of the king's promises and' in the interest of personal favourites.
Again the method of tacking was employed to force through the House of Lords a bill tor the resumption of the lands granted since the king's accession. The Lords attempted amendments, but the Commons took their stand on a resolution of the Commons in 1678, which declared that the Lords had no power to amend a money bill.
The Lords were now obliged to give way. A still more vigorous attack upon the Lord Chancellor Somers and the king's foreign advisers was stopped only by the prorogation of parliament. At the end of the year instead of being reassembled it was dissolved, for a crisis had arrived in foreign affairs which made William prefer the chances of a new parliament to another meeting with the assembly which had proved so hostile.
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 views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.