And so the last monarch of the House of Stuart slipped away, without ceremony, on a ship to France and exile. There were few to witness his supine departure and Bonnie Dundee was not among them. The newly ennobled Viscount had taken his final leave of the King some days previously prior to James embarking on the barge at Whitehall that would transfer him to his final departure point.
During this exchange Dundee had brought to bear his not inconsiderable powers of persuasion in an effort to persuade James to remain and lead the fight to overturn his unlawful usurpation from the throne by William of Orange. However, this king had never been a man to bend his shoulder to the wheel of personal effort. And faced with a choice between maintaining, after a fashion, his regal court in exile, or the uncertainty and rough life of a counter-usurper he jumped on his boat and fled.
The only historical mark surviving from his precipitate flight is a blue plaque on the wall of the house where he spent his last night in his kingdom and a personal note he left outlining his grievances at the way matters had developed: a prolonged whinge about what was said and done by those who had schemed to bring about his replacement which does nothing to enhance history’s view of his shortcomings as a man and a monarch.
From the moment William had stepped ashore at Torbay in November with 21,000 troops behind him, support for James had gradually ebbed away. By the time that the single military action of the campaign was fought at Reading on 9th December , all was done and dusted. A combination of naked self-interest on the part of English and Scottish nobility and lack-lustre leadership from James had served the crown to William and his soon-to-be co-Ruler Anne, on the proverbial silver platter.
A week before James’ final departure he had made an initial effort to flee to France. As in most of his kingly endeavours during his reign, he made a hash of it and had been compelled to return to London somewhat shamefacedly. It was at this point, 17th December, the day before he jumped onto his barge to head to Dover that he had a final conference with the last remaining men of substance that he had around him.
Engaged in a conference in Whitehall with various motley individuals who sought to give him false assurances, he withdrew out to the Mall, summoning with him, Viscount Dundee and Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres. The three men walked awhile and discussed the stark reality of the position.
We have no firm record of this conversation. James, it appears, was determined to flee, fearing that his life was in danger. Both Dundee and Balcarres would have sought to persuade him that if he was going to depart his capital that he should head north to Scotland where firm cause could be made. Their efforts were unsuccessful. Promising to send from France royal commissions for both men to drive his affairs civil and military, he then took his final leave of them.
At this very moment William was arriving in west London at the home of the Countess of Northumberland. The following day with James now gone, he took up quarters in St James’Palace. On its military side, the Revolution was now accomplished.