Effect in Britain
William's continental focus had paradoxical benefits for Britain and Ireland. Although the new king cared little for his island realms (at least compared to his concern for the situation on continental Europe), this indifference solved longstanding political problems. First, William's determination to beat France meant he withdrew from the damaging struggle between the English Crown and its Parliament.
For nearly a hundred years, the royal court had faced Lords and Commons who had tried to restrict its power. The result had been a series of constitutional crises, which at their worst had resulted in a civil war (1642-6), and the collapse of the rule of James II (VII of Scotland).
William, by contrast, needed to work with Parliament. He knew constitutional disputes would distract attention from his conflict with Louis, and he knew Parliament must approve a massive rise in wartime taxes. Putting his European objectives first, William surrendered royal power whenever he thought that keeping it might cause trouble.
For example, the 1689 convention tried to limit future misuse of Crown power. It sent William a 'declaration of rights' along with its offer of the throne. The declaration would limit the royal prerogative - it forbade the king from altering laws, or ruling for long periods without Parliamentary consent - but in order to gain the rapid control of English foreign policy, William accepted it.
Similarly, the new king called the legislature to convene every year. He needed this for war revenue, and it reassured the law-makers that he would not govern without them. William also surrendered in his main disputes with Parliament. For instance, he abandoned control of election timing in 1694, and of a peacetime army after 1697. He even granted legislators access to his administration.
In another new departure, he presented the Commons with his budget estimates and accounts, and by so doing turned them into public auditors. All this diminished royal power, but it worked both in constitutional terms and to William's benefit. Crown and legislature co-operated. Instability ended. The king got his money.
Thus in England, William swallowed his distaste for Anglicanism and protected its legal establishment - though he eased discontent with the Toleration Act of 1689, which permitted dissenting Protestants to worship in their own way. In Scotland, by contrast, the king accepted the replacement of the unpopular Anglican-style establishment with a more radically Protestant presbyterian Kirk. He thus bowed to local sentiment, even though the Kirk was less tolerant than he would have liked, and the settlement left him head of very different national churches.
In Ireland, William pressed for indulgence to the majority Catholics, despite their rebellion against him. He believed only moderation would calm his western realm and allow him to concentrate on Flanders, so he offered the Romanists considerable freedom of worship.
Unfortunately, Irish Protestant anger in the Dublin parliament prevented these promises being ratified. Instead, William tacked with the political wind, and allowed Irish lawmakers to pass the first 'penal' statutes, making life more difficult for Catholics.
Nevertheless, disapproval from London meant terms were not as harsh as a defeated religious group might expect. Ultimately, William's pragmatism secured a surprisingly stable settlement in Ireland, as it did in Britain. In all realms tensions eased, and his arrangements were not seriously challenged until the late 18th century.
Finding a religious settlement which lasted for decades was a considerable achievement in early modern Europe. Solving the Stuart's constitutional distractions, and charting the modern role for parliament as the central institution of state, was a towering triumph.
William, however, had secured this because his attention was fixed on Europe. Perhaps this is why he is so little remembered outside loyalist Ireland. The British were rescued from a century of turmoil, but they would not celebrate a foreigner whose mind was so firmly elsewhere.