The Stuart Age

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Last updated: April 13, 2019

Although James II had inherited a crown that was in a strong position both financially and politically he was to loose the throne within three years of his reign. James may only have wanted to promote the religious freedom of his Catholic subjects, but his actions during his short reign filled his Protestant subjects with fear; at the end of 1685 he formed a permanent standing army and promoted Catholic officers to senior posts in both the army and navy.Many of his closest advisers and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland were Catholic. Two Declarations of Indulgence granted freedom of worship to dissenting Protestants and the Anglican bishops who opposed this were sent to the Tower. Local government and the judiciary were packed with Royalist sympathisers.

The birth of a male heir in June 1688 meant that James’ unambiguously Protestant daughter Mary was no longer next in line to the throne. Decisive action was needed and William soon brought an army to England.These events of 1688-9 were given the title “The glorious revolution” by Eighteenth Century historians due to the fact that it achieved its objective without any bloodshed2. However it was not anticipated that James would flee and there is evidence to suggest that neither William nor the political nation intended to depose or exclude James. Parliament, although successful in unseating James, was faced with a dilemma. They wanted the throne to be the sole possession of Mary, with William serving as Prince Consort, but both refused this option3.

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William was reluctant to accept the throne by means of conquest, preferring to be named king by Parliament through birthright. Parliament succumbed to the wishes of William and Mary, and the pair acceded as co-rulers. The above resolution that was drawn up in January 1689, was an attempt to tackle this issue, particularly where it effects the line of succession. 4 What had James done to bring about this chain of events? How had he led himself to be accused of subverting “… he constitution of his kingdom by breaking the original contract between King and people”? When James came to the Throne, he told an eager nation that he intended to ‘ Preserve the government in Church and State, as it is now by law established.

I know the principles of the Church of England are for the monarchy and the members of it have shown themselves good and loyal subjects, therefore I shall always take care to defend and support it’5.Yet, despite this speech James would soon start to campaign for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts and the penal laws. Barry Coward believes that James aims were never to establish Catholicism as the sole religion nor was it to eradicate Protestantism by force. Coward states that James had no intention to rule unconstitutionally, his aims were in fact moderate, James was attempting to establish the right of English Catholics to worship without persecution and enable them to take part in the political life of the country.

6 J.R Jones notes that it was James’ methods and techniques that were revolutionary rather than his objectives, which were “… far less extreme than his suspicious subjects believed”7. James’ campaign for religious toleration was intended to free the crown from its dependence on the Church of England, by repealing the Test Acts James would restore the unrestricted freedom of the crown to appoint offices and expanding the army would rule out rebellion. 8 However James’ plans were impracticable, foolish and misguided according to Barry Coward9.James failed to understand the strength of the attachment that most of his contemporaries had to anti-Catholicism10 and when he failed to persuade Anglicans to support his policies, James dissolved perhaps his most loyal parliament in 1687 and introduced the first declaration of indulgence which extended religious toleration to dissenters as well as Catholics.

The public idea of James’ plans became more important than his actual intentions, according to Barry Coward, and his aim of securing toleration and political rights for Catholics was widely seen as the beginning of a policy of Catholic inspired repression11.Barry Coward believes that this lack of understanding of both parts ultimately led to the defeat of James’ plans12. The Monmouth rebellion in 1685 united parliament behind James and left him firmly in control of all governmental functions, at this stage James’ had not used any of his powers in a way to antagonise parliament or public opinion and parliament had voted him large revenues13. J. R Jones notes that this financial support had removed the need to rely on or even call parliament and enabled James to expand his army14.

However once the rebellion had been defeated, James informed parliament that he would not be disbanding the army and made his intentions for the repeal of the Test Acts clear. According to William Prest in Albion Ascendant, the ‘Bloody Assizes’ that followed the rebellion led by Lord Chief Justice Jeffries, left even James’s most committed supporters “ill at ease”15. This could not have come at a worse time, in France Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes and was using his army to force the Huguenots to convert to Catholicism.This meant that many Huguenots refugees came to England and further cemented the opinion of Catholics as tyrannical in the eyes of the English, a standing English army was seen as an instrument of absolutism and James’ popularity would soon began to disintegrate16. J. R Jones suggests that it is around this time that James began to extend his powers in a “dubiously legal manner”17. James’s dispensing powers had been upheld in the test case of Godden v.

Hales and this allowed him the freedom to dispense many Catholics from taking the Test Act and appoint Catholics to the privy council18.By early 1687 James had failed to gain Anglican support in England and had also failed to gain the support of William and Mary in Holland, (William refused to be identified with religious toleration in England -although he was sympathetic to the idea as he saw how unpopular it was). After a significant confrontation with the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, James established the Commission for Ecclesiastical Causes which proceeded to suspend Compton. Anyone who threatened to oppose his policies was removed from the council.James began to use his powers to pack parliament with Dissenters, believing that they would be his new source of support after his failure with Anglicans19. Barry Coward sees these events and James’s attempt in 1687 to force a Catholic president on Magdalen College, Oxford as a clear sign of the change in James tactics20. In 1687 James introduced the first of his Declaration of Indulgence and had established a licensing office where dissenters could buy certificates of dispensation. As Barry Coward had suggested James began to move faster and dissolved the parliament that had been prorogued since 1685.

James and his advisors began to build up a powerful electoral organisation in many constituencies. Lord Lieutenants were questioned to ascertain their reaction to the repeal of the Test Acts and all those that would not support James were dismissed and replaced with Dissenters. However this ‘packed’ parliament never met, but by the end of 1687 England had become suspicious of James. It became obvious that James expected mass conversions to Catholicism, in fact in needed this to ensure the permanent success of his policies21.James clearly expected dissenter support for his campaign to secure a parliament that would repeal the Test and Corporation Acts. However there was no evidence to suggest that this campaign would work. The number of Catholics in positions of authority was still less than a quarter despite his dispensing power and purging of the Commission of the Peace and Lieutenancy. 22 In addition to this dissenter numbers were also relatively small and their reaction to the King’s policies was not enthusiastic.

They were prepared to take advantage of the declaration but still did not trust James’ motives, as Halifax voiced in his Letter to a Dissenter they were ” to be hugged now, only that you may be the better squeezed at another time”23. The second declaration in 1688 that Coward suggests was intended to drive a wedge between Anglicans and Dissenters24, backfired on James when the two united on common ground against his use of dispensing powers. Anglican clergy refused to read the declaration and six bishops and Archbishop Sancroft signed a petition against the declaration.They were later acquitted of seditious libel but these events led to seven prominent Protestants, from both Whigs and Tories, pledging their support to William if he were to bring a force to England.

Despite all of James’ attempts to promote Catholic toleration parliament and the public seemed willing to accept this state of affairs. It was known that James was a Catholic at his succession but as many people, especially the Tories believed in the right of hereditary succession, James was the only option and, after all he was old by Seventeenth century standards and his heir was his protestant daughter, Mary.The people could handle the Catholic policies as they saw a light at the end of the tunnel and they were reluctant to push a situation that may result in another civil war25. Mary was married to the continent’s foremost Protestant soldier, William of Orange and they could be expected to reverse James’ support for Catholicism. However in 1688 James’s wife gave birth to a son, Mary was no longer the hereditary heir and this opened up the pathway to a permanent Catholic succession, the people of England saw that there would be no end to James’ Catholic policies.The resolution of 1690 also accused James of “by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws”. James’ Jesuit confessor, Father Edward Petre had been involved in developing James’ strategy.

26 However there is evidence according to historians such as Barry Coward that James resisted the extremist ideas of his advisors. 27. J.

R Jones explains that James avoided French help despite claims that he was a French puppet, as he was reluctant to become dependant on the French King28.William Prest states that James had promised on numerous occasions to maintain the Church of England29, so his actions would appear to support the claims of the resolution. However J. R Jones believes that the allegations were overstated and propaganda tools30 and Coward suggests that it is doubtful that the country was ever brought to the verge of revolution, indeed there would have been no revolution without William of Orange31.

Not many people in England were willing to go as far the seven signatories of the letter; even the letter itself was vague in its intent, as there was no mention of James deposition or exclusion.As mentioned earlier, it is doubtful that William intended to take the crown, his demands of 1688 suggest that James could keep the throne if the pro-Catholic policies were reverted32. However, once offered William wanted the throne on his own terms.

Just as he had wanted an invitation from prominent politicians to intervene, he now wanted to be offered the crown as the rightful ruler, not simply as the Queens consort. James decision not fight and flee to France is surprising given that he began to make concessions once he realised that William was about to invade, concessions intended to remove Williams reasons for invasion.It seems that this may have been a case of ‘too little, too late’, and when several members of the Army, including John Churchill James’s second in command deserted to William, James obviously felt that he was not able to rely on the support of his army and fled England33. Whatever his reasons, ultimately James left the way clear for William to march into London as a popular saviour. The Tories believed in hereditary succession and as such had problems with use of the words “Abdicated” and “vacant” in the resolution.The Tories did not see William as the rightful hereditary monarch, and would not accept his right to the throne. The Tories finally agreed that James had deserted his kingdom and as such Mary was the hereditary heir.

The Tories eventually had to back William as King as there was no other alternative if they wished to maintain the hereditary line of succession. Essentially the House of Commons Resolution served the needs of parliament to offer the crown to William and Mary without dismissing the right of hereditary succession.James had forfeited his rights to rule, his Catholic son was simply ignored with the implication that he was not the true heir of James and the crown would pass to Mary, the rightful successor to the throne. If James had not had a son it is highly likely that the “Glorious revolution” would not have happened, and the crown would have automatically passed to Mary, the resolution allowed the succession to take place as though this had been the case, with the exception that William would rule as King with Mary as his Queen.

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