Out of all of the English and British monarchs, I have to say that there’s a special place in my heart for William III. Or, more specifically, there’s a place in my heart for the era in which he ruled. It was a dynamic time in England, what with London becoming one of the most, if not the most, cosmopolitan city on the planet, and the era of English colonialism dawning, an era that would continue nigh upon 2 centuries.
As William III holds a distinct place in this era, I’m willing to let some legends remain legends. But I feel the need to clarify a “fact” that I keep reading in several books and websites – that William III introduced gin to England.
Yes, yes, the Dutch had a drink called genever at the point when King Billy uprooted his life in the Netherlands and there were likely several (stone) bottles of the stuff amongst his army’s provisions as he crossed the channel and invaded England. And I’m willing to concede that his marriage to Mary likely made the drink fashionable. But what I have a hard time believing is that before William. genever didn’t exist on the British isles.
For such a belief doesn’t take into account two very distinct (and different) points of facts:
- Amsterdam is only 220 miles away from London. Both cities were major trade hubs, and both would have had ready access to one another. In fact, with Edinburgh over three hundred miles away from London, Amsterdam would have been England’s closest foreign merchant port/capital. Paris, at 210 mile away, is technically closer, but is a river city, and has other geographical and logistical barriers that restrict immediate shipping access.
- Juniper was well known in England and Scotland long before William III reached Brixham. Apothecaries, who had all sorts of knowledge about distillation, used junipers to help cure those that were phlegmatic. It is well within the realm of possibilities that English apothecaries had some variation of genever upon their shelves.
My larger point is this – to believe that before William III showed up, there was no gin or genever in England is a risky belief, one born out of the need to have a simple answer to a complicated question. When did gin or genever show up in England? Taking into the two items I mentioned above, it’s likely that gin’s historical path is similar to that of uisge beatha, aka whiskey.
King William III can claim, and be shown to be responsible for a lot of different things. Introducing gin to England cannot be said to be one of them.