King William's War

Colonial Involvement in War Between England and France

King William III and Queen Mary on their thrones
King William III and Queen Mary on their thrones.

FPG/Getty Images

King James II came to the English throne in 1685. He was not only Catholic but also pro-French. Further, he believed in the Divine Right of Kings. Disagreeing with his beliefs and fearing the continuation of his line, leading British nobles called upon his son-in-law William of Orange to take the throne from James II. In November 1688, William led a successful invasion with approximately 14,000 troops. In 1689 he was crowned William III and his wife, who was James II daughter, was crowned Queen Mary. William and Mary ruled from 1688 until 1694. The College of William and Mary was founded in 1693 in honor of their rule.

Upon their invasion, King James II escaped to France. This episode in British history is called the Glorious Revolution. King Louis XIV of France, another strong proponent of Absolute Monarchies and the Divine Right of Kings, sided with King James II. When he invaded the Rhenish Palatinate, William III of England joined the League of Augsburg against France. This began the War of the League of Augsburg, also called the Nine Year's War and the War of the Grand Alliance.

Beginning of King William's War in America

In America, the British and the French were already having issues as frontier settlements fought for territorial claims and trading rights. When news of war reached America, fighting broke out in earnest in 1690. The war was referred to as King William's War on the North American continent.

At the time that the war started, Louis de Buade Count Frontenac was the Governor General of Canada. King Louis XIV ordered Frontenac to take New York in order to have access to the Hudson River. Quebec, the capital of New France, froze over in the winter, and this would allow them to continue to trade throughout the winter months. The Indians joined with the French in their attack. They began to attack New York settlements in 1690, burning down Schenectady, Salmon Falls, and Fort Loyal.

New York and the colonies of New England joined together after meeting in New York City in May 1690 to attack the French in return. They attacked in Port Royal, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. The English were stopped in Acadia by the French and their Indian allies.

Port Royal was taken in 1690 by Sir William Phips, the commander of the New England fleet. This was the capital of French Acadia and basically surrendered without much of a fight. Nevertheless, the English plundered the town. However, it was retaken by the French in 1691. Even after the war, this event was a factor in the deteriorating frontier relations between the English and the French colonists.

Attack on Quebec

Phips sailed to Quebec from Boston with around thirty ships. He sent word to Frontenac asking him to surrender the city. Frontenac responded in part:

"I will answer your general only by the mouths of my cannon, that he may learn that a man like me is not to be summoned after this fashion."

With this response, Phips led his fleet in an attempt to take Quebec. His attack was made from land as a thousand men disembarked to set up cannons while Phips had four warships attack Quebec itself. Quebec was well defended both by its military strength and natural advantages. Further, smallpox was rampant, and the fleet ran out of ammunition. In the end, Phips was forced to retreat. Frontenac used this attack to shore up the fortifications around Quebec.

After these failed attempts, the war continued for seven more years. However, most of the action seen in America was in the form of border raids and skirmishes.

The war ended in 1697 with the Treaty of Ryswick. The effects of this treaty on the colonies was to return things to the status quo before the war. The borders of the territories previously claimed by New France, New England, and New York were to stay as they were before hostilities began. However, confrontations continued to plague the frontier after the war. Open hostilities would begin again in a few years with the beginning of Queen Anne's War in 1701.

Francis Parkman, France, and England in North America, Vol. 2: Count Frontenac and New France Under Louis XIV: A Half-Century of Conflict, Montcalm, and Wolfe (New York, Library of America, 1983), p. 196.
Place Royale,

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Kelly, Martin. "King William's War." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). King William's War. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "King William's War." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).