You are in [Events] [William of Orange at The Bear]
In 1688 a very important part of English history took place at the Bear Inn. Prince William of Orange met the Commissioners of King James II to arrange the transfer of the crown - the start of the "Glorious Revolution".
The events leading up to the meeting at The Bear:
The Catholic King James II had ascended the throne in 1685, but his reign was not to last long. He became increasingly unpopular and by 1688 there were moves afoot to remove him from the throne.
In November that year, the Protestant Prince William of Orange, who had married James' own daughter Mary, landed at the head of a strong army at Brixham, Devon, hoping to obtain considerable support for his cause from the West Country landowners.
He then headed for London to claim the throne of England. Berkshire lay in the direct line of William's march. He passed through Exeter, Sherbourne and reached Salisbury on 17 November, where he waited for some weeks, hoping that his advance on London might be simplified by the flight of James II.
Meanwhile he sent out reconnoitering forces to try the temper of the King's army. One force of 150 foot and 500 dragoons, under the Count of Nassau, marched against Reading. They found Reading well defended, with three companies of the Irish dragoons and a large regiment of Scots horse holding the bridge. In the skirmish that followed, the King's troops were driven back from the bridge in complete rout "pelle et melle", with a loss of 20 killed and 40 prisoners.
The commemorative plaque on the front wall of the Bear Hotel, unveiled to commemorate the tercentenary on 7 Dec 1989 by Col Donald Macey, Constable of Hungerford, following a short speech by Mr Robert Feld, Chief Executive of Resort Hotels.
Hearing that there were three battalions of the royal infantry coming up, Nassau retreated to Newbury, but the news soon followed him that this force, leaderless save for a sergeant and two corporals, was anxious to desert to William's standard. With the sergeant raised to captain, and the corporals to lieutenants, the army was sent back to hold Reading for William.
On 5 December he left Salisbury, and stayed the night at Colingbourne.
The meeting at The Bear:
The next day, 6 December 1688, Prince William came to Hungerford, and it was here, at the Bear Inn, that he met the Commissioners appointed by James II. A very full account is given by Lord Macaulay:
"Late on Thursday, 6 December 1688, the Prince of Orange reached Hungerford. The little town was soon crowded with men of rank and note who came thither from opposite quarters. The Prince was escorted by a strong body of troops. The northern lords brought with them hundreds of irregular cavalry, whose accoutrements and horsemanship moved the mirth of men accustomed to the splendid aspect and exact movements of regular armies.
On the morning of Saturday 8 December, the King's Commissioners, consisting of Lord Halifax, Lord Nottingham, and Lord Godolphin, reached Hungerford. The Prince's bodyguard was drawn up to receive them with military respect. Bentinck welcomed them and proposed to conduct them immediately to his master. They expressed a hope that the Prince would favour them with a private audience; but they were informed that he had resolved to hear them and give an answer in public. They were ushered into his bedchamber, where they found him surrounded by a crowd of noblemen and gentlemen.
Halifax, whose rank, age, and abilities entitled him to precedence, was spokesman. The proposition which the Commissioners had been instructed to take, was that the points in dispute be referred to Parliament, for which the writs were already sealing; and that in the meantime the Prince's army would not come within 30-40 miles of London. Halifax, having explained that this was the basis on which he and his colleagues were prepared to treat, put into William's hand a letter from the King and retired.
William opened the letter and seemed unusually moved. He requested that Lords and Gentlemen, whom he had convoked on this occasion, to consult together, unrestrained by his presence, as to the answer which ought to be returned. To himself he reserved the power of deciding in the last resort after hearing their opinion. He then left them and retired to Littlecote Hall, a manor house situated about two miles off.
That afternoon, the Noblemen and Gentlemen whose advice William had asked, met in the great room of the principal Inn at Hungerford. Oxford was placed in the chair, and the King's overtures were taken into consideration. After much altercation the question was put. The majority was for rejecting the proposition which the Royal Commissioners had been instructed to make. The resolution of the assembly was reported to the Prince at Littlecote. He, however, overruled the opinion of his too-eager followers, and declared his determination to treat on the basis proposed by the King. Many of the Lords and Gentlemen assembled at Hungerford remonstrated; a whole day was spent in bickering; but William's purpose was immovable. On his side he made some demands which were put in writing and delivered to Halifax.
On Sunday 9 December, the Commissioners dined at Littlecote. A splendid assemblage had been invited to meet them. The old hall, hung with coats of mail which had seen the Wars of the Roses, and with portraits of gallants who had adorned the Court of Philip and Mary, was now crowded with Peers and Generals."
After a few days the Prince of Orange left Littlecote. Having received a pressing invitation from the University of Oxford to north, he set off for Abingdon (on 21 December). However, hearing of James II's flight, he turned downstream through Wallingford and Henley to Windsor, receiving the submission of the King's troops as he passed.
William became King of England:
He became king on 13 Feb 1689, and was crowned on 11 April. Later that year he passed through Hungerford again, this time as King William III. No doubt it was a very important day for the town, in view of the role it had played a year previously.
In 1988 a Community Play called "1688: The Hungerford Connection" was produced, celebrating the Tercentenary of William of Orange's visit to The Bear. It was shown for 5 nights 6-10 Dec 1988 in St Lawrence's Church. Follow this link for a flyer on the Community Play.
- "Hungerford and the Nation in 1688", by Michael Blakeway 1988. [HHA Archives, N23]