Martin Luther and William Prince of Orange

by Rev. Peter McIntyre - Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church
"For the Protestant Religion and Liberties of England, I Will Maintain"
Martin Luther and William Prince of Orange
Connecting 1517 with 1690

Where the Englishman grows up with the year 1066 firmly entrenched on his psyche, the Ulster Protestant has an innate veneration for the year 1690. 1066 A.D. and 1690 A.D. have much in common. In each case, battles were fought, the victor was the leader of an invasion force by the name of William, and the future of the crown of England was at stake. Indeed, both William the Conqueror, of Hastings fame, and William Prince of Orange, who triumphed at the Boyne, are the only two successful invaders in the constitutional history of England and the United Kingdom.

1690 and the Battle of Boyne, however, are not celebrated with such passion in Ulster because William, Prince of Orange, seized the throne of England. If this were the case, 1690, like 1066, would have become more of a classroom topic than a cause for mass celebration, as is the case in England. The reason why the events of that year are held in such regard is that the ancestors of the Ulster Protestant were saved from certain genocide by William's large international army.

To appreciate this, we must return to that October day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his arguments to the Church door at Wittenberg, thus sparking off the Protestant Reformation. In the years and decades that followed, Luther's teaching found wide acceptance across Germany and further afield. One of the lands where the Reformation was embraced with special vigour was the Netherlands. The Emperor of the Netherlands was Charles V, Emperor of Spain and of the Holy Roman Empire. In the year he ascended to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, which incorporated Germany and Austria, as a young seventeen year-old boy, he heard the German monk utter his famous words while refusing to recant his faith, "Here I stand, I can do none other, God helping me." In the years that followed, Charles V struggled to suppress Luther and his followers in Germany. In the Netherlands, however, where his power was absolute, he was determined that the Lutheran cause would not succeed. Under the infamous Spanish Inquisition, the Protestants of Holland suffered horribly, with some 5,000 being martyred. Still, however, the Protestant faith continued to grow and prosper.

Catholicism, however, would receive a new European Champion, on the accession of Charles' son Philip II to the Spanish Throne. While he was not approved as Holy Roman Emperor, he continued to exercise power in The Low Countries, as the Emperor of Spain. As Philip's Catholic army went about their Satanic work, God raised up a Dutch Protestant leader, who would be instrumental in not only leading the people of the Netherlands in a successful rebellion but in eventually winning independence for the Netherlands. The name of this great Protestant champion of William of Orange, great grandfather of William III. He was nicknamed William the Silent, but there was nothing reserved about this man's opposition to Rome and her cruelties. Assassinated in 1581, by an agent of the Emperor, he left behind a legacy that the people of the Netherlands continue to revere.

Almost ninety years later, in 1672, the independence of the Netherlands was threatened once again by a new Catholic aggressor who attempted to dominate Europe, Louis XIV of France. Supported by the English Navy, the French armies invaded Holland. Like his famous ancestor, the young Prince of Orange bravely led the Dutch forces, managing to defeat the English navy by sea and repelling the French land forces.

Now Protestantism had a new champion, not merely in Holland but in Europe. These were dark days for those who followed the clear Gospel which Luther had expounded in the previous century. Thousands of Huguenots were forced to leave France. Under Charles II and James II of England, the Protestant throne, in what had become the strongest Protestant nation in Europe, was looking increasingly fragile.

Then erupted the crisis of 1688. James II, Charles' brother, had not only converted to Catholicism, but his wife had borne a son. The horrid spectre of the days of Mary Tudor and the burnings of Protestant leaders were rising in the English imagination once again, especially when the Archbishop of Canterbury and six bishops were consigned to the Tower of London. With Romanism being propagated with increasing zeal in England, and with the prospect of a Catholic succession the call went out to the Protestant champion of Europe, William Prince of Orange, to come and seize the English throne with his wife Mary, James' daughter. Flying his Standard, with the immortal inscription:

"For the Protestant Religion and Liberties of England, I Will Maintain",

William set sail only to discover that James had fled to Ireland, enabling him to be crowned unopposed.

With James II establishing his opposition to William in Ireland, the security of the Ulster Plantation was being threatened. With the bloody genocide of Irish Protestants in 1641 still fresh in their minds, the Ulster Scots were determined that they must support the new Protestant King. Between 1688 and 1690, they successfully secured Derry, and the Enniskillen armies prevented James' forces from supremacy in the northern province. They rejoiced when William's Huguenot General, the Duke of Schomberg, arrived with William's advance party, and they were even happier when William himself docked at Carrickfergus on 14th June 1690.

As William's army of 34,000 travelled south to Drogheda, the Ulster Protestants were clear that this was a battle for their religious freedoms and for the lives of their children and grandchildren. In England, a defeat for William would have meant a return to the reign of James II and the probable conversion of the national church to Catholicism. In Scotland, where 18,000 Covenanters had been murdered by the armies of the Stuart Kings, the outcome of this battle was preceded with prayers and supplications. This was not a mere constitutional matter; faith and freedom were the issues of the day. Therefore, when William triumphed at the Boyne, the Protestants of Ulster knew that God in grace had preserved them in the land which He had given to them and to their children.

Yet - and let us remember this as we celebrate Reformation 500 - without Luther, there would have been no revival among the Dutch, there would have been no need for the resistance of the House of Orange and William III's ancestors would have remained in their estates in the south of France. In short, our ancestors, instead of bequeathing a heritage of faith and freedom, would have passed on the curse of darkness and bondage.

Let us bow our heads and bend our knees, thanking God for our Protestant Reformation Freedoms.
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