King William Addresses Parliament on the French Question 31 December 1701


King William of Holland and his wife Mary, daughter of King James II of England, mounted the English throne at the invitation of Parliament after James II fled to France in 1688.

William III was a firm opponent of French expansion in Europe, either by the acquisition of territory or the development of overpowering political coalitions. He viewed with alarm a move by Louis XIV to install a Catholic pretender to the English throne; moreover, William saw the maneuver of Louis to gain control of the Spanish throne as a giant step toward French domination of Europe and America and thus the world - which was, in fact, the objective of the French sovereign.

My Lords and Gentlemen; I promise myself you are met together full of that just sense of the common danger of Europe, and the resentment of the late proceedings of the French king, which has been so fully and universally expressed in the loyal and seasonable Addresses of my people. The owning and setting up the pretended Prince of Wales for king of England, is not only the highest indignity offered to me and the nation, but does so nearly concern every man, who has a regard for the Protestant Religion, or the present and future quiet and happiness of his country, that I need not press you to lay it seriously to heart, and to consider what further effectual means may be used, for securing the Succession of the Crown in the Protestant line, and extinguishing the hopes of all Pretenders, and their open and secret abettors. By the French king's placing his Grandson on the throne of Spain, he is in a condition to oppress the rest of Europe, unless speedy and effectual measures be taken. Under this pretence, he is become the real Master of the whole Spanish Monarchy; he has made it to be intirely depending on France, and disposes of it, as of his own dominions, and by that means he has surrounded his neighbours in such a manner, that, though the name of peace may be said to continue, yet they are put to the expence and inconveniencies of war. This must affect England in the nearest and most sensible manner, in respect to our trade, which will soon become precarious in all the variable branches of it; in respect to our peace and safety at home, which we cannot hope should long continue; and in respect to that part, which England ought to take in the preservation of the liberty of Europe.

In order to obviate the general calamity, with which the rest of Christendom is threatened by this exorbitant power of France, I have concluded several Alliances, according to the encouragement given me by both houses of Parliament, which I will direct shall be laid before you, and which, I doubt not, you will enable me to make good. There are some other Treaties still depending, that shall be likewise communicated to you as soon as they are perfected. It is fit I should tell you, the eyes of all Europe are upon this Parliament; all matters are at a stand, till your resolutions are known; and therefore no time ought to be lost. You have yet an opportunity, by God's blessing, to secure to you and your posterity the quiet enjoyment of your Religion and Liberties, if you are not wanting to yourselves, but will exert the ancient vigour of the English nation; but I tell you plainly, my opinion is, if you do not lay hold on this occasion, you have no reason to hope for another. In order to do your part, it will be necessary to have a great strength at sea, and to provide for the security of our ships in harbour; and also that there be such a force at land, as is expected in proportion to the forces of our Allies.

Gentlemen of the House of Commons; I do recommend these matters to you with that concern and earnestness, which their importance requires. At the same time I cannot but press you to take care of the public credit, which cannot be preserved but by keeping sacred that maxim, that they shall never be losers, who trust to a Parliamentary security. It is always with regret, when I do ask aids of my people; but you will observe, that I desire nothing, which relates to any personal expence of mine; I am only pressing you to do all you can for your own safety and honour, at so critical and dangerous a time; and am willing, that what is given, should be wholly appropriated to the purposes for which it is intended....

I should think it as great a blessing as could befall England, if I could observe you as much inclined to lay aside those unhappy fatal animosities, which divide and weaken you, as I am disposed to make all my subjects safe and easy as to any, even the highest offences, committed against me. Let me conjure you to disappoint the only hopes of our enemies by your unanimity. I have shewn, and will always shew, how desirous I am to be the common father of all my people. Do you, in like manner, lay aside parties and divisions. Let there be no other distinction heard of amongst us for the future, but of those, who are for the Protestant Religion, and the present establishment, and of those, who mean a Popish Prince, and a French government. I will only add this; if you do in good earnest desire to see England hold the balance of Europe, and to be indeed at the head of the Protestant interest, it will appear by your right improving the present opportunity.