William III, James II and “the curse and pest of Europe”

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good evening, London. It’s May 22nd, 2024. Today’s pin – today’s London news story. Pinned to the top of the London Calling podcast.

This is London tabloidese at its awful best.

The paper is the Daily Star. The huge headline is: Rats: An Apology.

And it’s comic book stuff because the picture outdoes the headline. We saw a rat, behind bars, wearing a black and white striped prison uniform. Topped to the north with a black and white striped prison cap. Standing on its hind legs. Clutching the bars with its front paws. And looking a little pensive, a little hard done by. And kind of cute. And pinned to the bars a note that reads Justice for Rodents. There’s history everywhere, so as long as we’re prison visitors, let’s keep in mind that those striped prison uniforms were designed to symbolise prison bars. It was garb that was a symbol of disgrace.

And to round it off, the subheadline lead into the story reads: After 676 years of taking the blame for the bubonic plague…

And then down below: Boffins admit human lice may have been the real cause of millions of deaths in Middle Ages.

Today’s Random: yesterday I used that tried and trusty old phrase, the elephant in the pool. Let’s whoosh from one elephant to a million elephants. A million elephants a second. Every second. That’s how much weight – the weight of a million elephants – the sun is shedding every second. It’s the most spectacular weight loss in the solar system. It’s coming off because the sun is pouring energy out into space so rapidly.

And that factoid’s pretty much done it for me. From now on every time I glance at the sun – or look at a sunset – I’m going to see millions of stampeding elephants. Get me out of here, I need some shade, get me to central Africa’s equatorial forests, this place is too damn hot. And what can sunspots be but millions of elephants queuing up to make a break for it.

Moving on, today’s Ongoing. This one’s a lot shorter than yesterday’s. A mere bagatelle. A postscript, really.

In short, a bit more on William III and why he’s so very important. It’s a curious business. He’s effectively a black hole. He’s just not on the radar of our general historical knowledge. And he really should be.

A case in point, everybody knows about Bloody Mary and her reign of terror. Persecuting protestants, executing them for their faith. But if you keep score, well, it’s a blinding revelation. The figures stop you dead in your tracks. Bloody Mary is said to have executed 287 people. Roman Catholic James II, whose crown was usurped by William III, James II, had some 300 protestants hanged, drawn and quartered. He had a woman burned at the stake for harbouring a traitor.

And of course the taproot of all of that was the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. In Winston Churchill’s words, “Louis XIV was the curse and pest of Europe…this high-heeled, periwigged dandy, strutting amid the bows and scrapes of mistresses and confessors…disturbed and harried mankind during more than fifty years of arrogant pomp.”

It needs must be borne in mind that when James II and his older brother Charles II were in exile during the interregnum, they were in France and it was Louis XIV who kept them, more or less in the style they thought befitted them. And after the Restoration the Stuarts gravitated toward the Bourbon sun.

Charles II’s mental map of Europe had its centre not in England at all, but France.

Understandably so because Louis XIV propped them up here. This country was almost a satellite of the Sun King’s domain. The figures tell the story. The population of France was 20 million and rising. This country – the ‘three kingdoms’ – its population was 8 million and falling. It was small potatoes, Europe’s sixth-ranking power. Government revenues here were one-fifth those of France. Its armies a quarter the size of Sweden’s. And religion was crucial. And it had exacted a very high price. The religious and military cataclysm that had sundered Europe had cost Charles I his head and taken the lives of 250,000 of his subjects. This country didn’t want more of that. But James’s policies, with the full support of Louis XIV, threatened this country with another bout of religious mayhem and civil war. And Louis XIV – already the world’s grandest monarch by far – was on the march. His goal, so his opponents said, was “universal monarchy.” He called himself the new Constantine, he wanted to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. His pawn, James II, had to go, and this country had to gird its loins and somehow thwart the intentions of the Goliath just across the Channel. Enter William III and against all the odds, he achieved that end. And more. And that’s why he’s hugely important. Needs to be given his due. Needs to be remembered.


You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com –

home of London Walks,

London’s signature

walking tour company.

London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size

walking tour company.

And as long as we’re at it,

London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything.

It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science:

you get what you pay for.

And just as surely,

you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started

we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question:

Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world?

You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world

you do whatever you have to do

to attract and keep

the best guides in London –

you want them guiding for you,

not for somebody else.

Bears repeating:

the way we’re structured –

a guides’ cooperative –

is the key to the whole thing.

It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following,

a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases

distinguished professionals:

By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor

(and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.

And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated –

Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa –

both of them CBEs –

are just a couple of our headline acts.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject.  Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actors,

a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)…

well, you get the idea.

As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament,

every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar

and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…

come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.

And that’s by way of saying, Good walking and Good Londoning

one and all. See ya next time.

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