How wind direction changed the course of English history in 1688

A change of wind direction altered the course of English history on 16 November 1688. It enabled the Protestant William of Orange to “invade” England and oust James II, who had become unpopular trying to reintroduce the Roman Catholic faith.

Although William had been invited by the Protestant English nobility to land in England, the “Popish” westerly wind had kept his force of hundreds of ships and 28,000 troops pinned on the Dutch coast during October. On 10 November, after much Protestant praying, the wind changed to east and William’s fleet was seen in the strait of Dover. The British navy, still loyal to James II, was unable to engage the enemy because the easterly wind was pinning them in the Thames estuary.

Despite this piece of good fortune, William nearly came to grief. Partly because of a navigational mistake and the continuing Protestant wind his fleet was being driven into the Atlantic. Fortunately for him, and the “glorious revolution”, the Popish wind returned and he was able to make a swift about-turn and head for Tor Bay in Devon. William landed unopposed and set off with his soldiers to march the 166 miles to London. James had the sense to realise the game was up and abdicated, thus avoiding any bloodshed.

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