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1690 - The Year of European Freedom

THE TWELFTH celebrates the Williamite victory of 1690 when the forces of William, Prince of Orange defeated those of his father-in-law, James Stuart, at the Battle of the Boyne. This was no family squabble, but a real turning point in European history.

King James II was a stout defender of the doctrine of 'the Divine Right of Kings', as practised in France by the 'Sun King', Louis XIV. Louis was the absolute dictator of France and James wanted to have the same dictatorial powers in England, Scotland and Ireland. In England, the principle had become well established that elected representatives of his subjects should check the King's actions and that those representatives should be able to make laws. It was by no means truly democratic, but it was a step away from absolutism. It is not surprising that James encountered strong opposition, which led to his removal by William and his defeat at the Boyne.

The accession of William and Mary to the Throne was a progressive step forward for the British peoples. The Stuarts' tyrannical arbitrary power was overthrown and the Constitutional Monarchy and parliamentary government were established. We now know that the system of parliamentary representation is not in itself genuinely democratic. However, it's better than the royal tyranny and arbitrary power that James represented.

As we all know, the limited freedoms gained by the Glorious Revolution are still remembered today. Celebrating the Williamite victory is not a 'sectarian coat-trailing exercise'. The Twelfth is Europe's largest indigenous folk and cultural festival. Historically and culturally, it inextricably links Ulster with Europe. It marks one of the most pivotal dates in the shaping of European history – for 1690 was the year of European Freedom. That’s why we ought to carry on remembering 1690!


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