Belfast Telegraph

TV historian Lucy debunks the centuries of myths about King Billy

By Cate McCurry

It's King Billy - but as you have never seen him before.

A programme exploring the life and drama of King William III has cast doubt on some of the events surrounding the Glorious Revolution.

Historian Lucy Worsley fronts a myth-busting BBC show that reveals how some of Britain's founding events are actually carefully crafted narratives.

She travelled to William's palace in Holland for British History's Biggest Fibs, and took a black taxi tour around east Belfast to see the tributes to King Billy.

The show investigates how major turning points in Britain's history, including the Glorious Revolution of 1688, have been "manipulated and mythologised" to become cornerstones of a national story.

Ms Worsley claims that the Dutch invasion was spun into a triumphant liberation which is still celebrated today.

In the show, Ms Worsley details how stories and news have been re-invented over the years until they are accepted as fact.

"Very often in history, the line between fact and fiction gets blurred," she said.

Part of her story reveals another version of how King Billy planned to invade England and how he prepared to "restore the liberties" of the people of Britain.

The BBC presenter explained that William, armed with a printing press, printed 60,000 copies of his declaration which criticised Catholic King James II and tried to convince the English he was a friend rather than an invader.

Ms Worsley describes this an early example of "printed propaganda".

"William was carpet-bombing England with his manifesto, his declaration was everywhere listing his reasons inducing him to appear in arms in the Kingdom of England," she added.

"He entered Exeter in spectacular fashion, not as an invader but as a nation's saviour."

The myth is that William, who was dressed in gleaming armour, was riding a white horse while his banner bore the words 'God and the Protestant religion'.

"A white horse heralded the arrival of a divine conqueror or even Christ himself," Lucy explained.

"William had come to seize the crown, but by presenting himself in a theatrical get-up, he didn't look like an invader, he looked like a Christian saviour."

On a visit to Belfast, Lucy says that King Billy remains part of the fabric of the city and tributes to William are often seen on gable walls.

During a tour around the city with guide Peter Hughes, she visits the first King Billy mural, which was painted in east Belfast in 1904.

"His horse was never white, it was brown. A white horse would have made him a very easy target, the horse is white because it look glorious," he claims.

"You can always see it's like he is walking on water, so that portrays him as a God-like figure."

"Where I grew up, King Billy was just a hate figure because his army defeated the Catholic army. The Twelfth celebrations, the Orangemen, the bonfires, are seen by most Irish Catholics as rubbing their nose in Orange dog poop.

"For one side he is history, culture and identity and the other side he is seen as a villain."

The historian also refers to the Good Friday Agreement and how it began to ease tensions in Northern Ireland, but added that the events of 1688 still have a powerful place here.

"In 2007 a Jacobite musket used during the Battle of the Boyne made a rare public appearance," she continues.

"On a joint visit to the battle site, former Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern shared a photo opportunity with it. It became an unlikely prop in the peace process. The musket then came up for auction in Belfast in 2016 which was bought for £20,000 by the Museum of Orange Heritage.

"The story of the Glorious Revolution is still being written - a pivotal chapter in our very British history."

  • British History's Biggest Fibs is on BBC4 tomorrow at 9pm

Thatcher’s version of events

In 1988, Margaret Thatcher told MPs the Glorious Revolution 300 years earlier had been a "peaceful transfer of power which gave rise to the title of the bloodless revolution in England". However, William had to brutally enforce regime change in Ireland and Scotland, the effects of which are still felt today.

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