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The Glorious Revolution

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The Revolution of 1688-1689 was glorious because in England it was bloodless and was supported by the mass of the country, thus achieving a permanence which the Cromwellian settlement lacked. It was also glorious because in retrospect we can see that from it flowed religious toleration, freedom of speech and the press, liberty of the subject, independence of judges to interpret the law and the development, both at home and overseas, of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy.


When he became King, James II's first step was to summon a Parliament and to demand that they vote him revenues for life. Parliament dutifully obliged, but never again, to this day, have they handed over control of finance for more than a year at a time thus ensuring that

Parliament must meet every year or government grinds to a halt.


Now that his basic revenue was secure James asked Parliament to repeal the Test Act, the Habeas Corpus Act and other laws which hampered his executive action. He was he thought secure in the knowledge that the Tory principle of non-resistance would ensure compliance.


The defeat of two rebellions made James more confident and his admiration for the policy of Louis XIV in revoking the Edict of Nantes led him on to destruction. James' Ministers, Sunderland and Jeffreys, told him whatever he wanted to hear. James now had a great army, raised to suppress Monmouth's rebellion, with many Roman Catholic Officers holding commissions illegally, contrary to the Test Act. He now openly avowed the intention of keeping it permanently and of having it reinforced by bringing over Regiments, newly raised, from Ireland.

Parliament returned in November 1685 to face a demand from the King for an additional large sum of money to pay for the greatly increased army. This time they did not fall into the trap prepared for them but proposed that the standing army be disbanded and that James rely on the Militia. They annoyed him further by demanding that he discharge his Roman Catholic Officers.

However the true parting of the ways was the refusal of a Tory Parliament to repeal the Test Act, which excluded Roman Catholic and Protestant Dissenters from Office. If he had only sought religious toleration he could have had it and that is what Pope Innocent XI and the Roman Catholic aristocracy advised. James however desired ascendancy for his co-religionists and not toleration. If Parliament would not do his bidding he would manage without it. After sitting for only eleven days Parliament was prorogued.

The Kings of England before the Revolution had always claimed an undefined right, in special cases, to set a law aside. It was known as the Royal Prerogative and could be useful in allowing justice to be tempered with mercy. However James now proposed to use it to repeal laws wholesale.


In April 1688 James' Privy Council issued an Order in Council instructing a Declaration of Indulgence to be read on two successive Sundays at Divine Service in all Parish Churches. In London the dates specified were 20th and 27th May, and in the rest of England 3rd and 10th June. Copies were given to the Bishops who were directed to distribute them among their Clergymen. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, summoned to Lambeth Palace those bishops who were in London and on their advice wrote to all the bishops urging them to come to London at once. However time was short and only six were able to assemble at Lambeth on 18th May. The seven men drew up a humble petition, which after disclaiming all disloyalty and intolerance, said;-


"The Parliament, both in the late and present reign, had pronounced that the Sovereign was not constitutionally competent to dispense with statutes in matters ecclesiastical. The Declaration was therefore illegal and the petitioners could not in prudence, honour or conscience, be partner to the solemn publication of an illegal Declaration in the House of God, and during the time of Divine Service".

The King was furious and said "This is a standard of rebellion, you are trumpeters of sedition. Go to your dioceses and see that I am obeyed". The noble and saintly Bishop Ken replied, "We have two duties to perform, our duty to God and our duty to your Majesty. We honour you: but we fear God".


On the 8th June all seven Bishops were summoned to Whitehall but on refusing to withdraw their Petition they were sent to the Tower by boat to face trial for seditious libel.


On June 29th a vast throng surrounded Westminster Hall where the court of Kings Bench was to hear the case. In spite of the Kings purge of the Judges, two of the four hearing the case advised the jury in favour of the accused, for which they were dismissed from the bench the following week. The jury were held up all night by a single dissentient, but next day came the unanimous verdict of "Not Guilty". The rest of the day and night were given over to celebration with bonfires and windows illuminated with seven candles. Even the Kings troops on Hounslow Heath cheered to the echo when they heard the news.

However James was in no mood to give up. He now had a new hope. A few weeks before, a son had been born to his second wife, Mary of Modena. To Protestants this was the last straw.


That night a document was secretly dispatched to William of Orange inviting him to come over to England with a military force round which the country would rally against the government of James.


William Prince of Orange had no easy task. The United Provinces were a federation of republics under immediate threat from France. Many of the Dutch were suspicious of the House of Orange, but William had proved his worth during the French invasion of 1672 when he took command and drove the French out of their country at the age of twenty one. Permission from the States General would have to be obtained before he could sail with an expeditionary force. At the crucial moment both Louis and James played into his hands. James refused help and advice from Louis, who in a fit of pique, marched his forces away from the Dutch border to attack the Rhineland, leaving the way clear for William.


There was still the problem of the English fleet and army, though efforts were being made to persuade their commanders to play for time. After a false start the Protestant East wind blew and on 1st November the fleet sailed.

At noon on 5th November 1688 the ships anchored in Torbay and William was rowed ashore at Brixham.

Some 12,000 men were landed in the next few days, only about half the size of the regular forces in James' pay. The English and Scottish regiments in Dutch pay very sensibly formed the van and as the Dutch recruited soldiers from all the Protestant countries of Europe, it was a very cosmopolitan army.


William gave James plenty of time to consider his position.

First James fled to Sheerness on the Isle of Skeppey but was captured by some fishermen and taken to Faversham and brought back to London. The next time he was taken to Rochester at the mouth of the River Medway and from there managed to get away to France allowing William to reach London unopposed.


The first task was to fill the vacant throne as without a Sovereign there could be no legal Parliament. A convention was summoned consisting of the members still surviving from the last parliament of Charles II thus overcoming the effect of James's purges.

William was not prepared to be Regent or Consort as the Tories would have preferred, so both parties agreed to William and Mary being joint Sovereigns. The agreed formula read:-


"That King James the Second, having endeavoured to subvert the Constitution of the Kingdom, by breaking the original contract between King and people, and by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons having violated the fundamental laws and withdrawn himself out of the Kingdom, had abdicated the government and that the throne is thereby vacant. That it hath been found by experience to be inconsistent with this Protestant Kingdom to be governed by a Popish Prince or by any King or Queen marring a papist" etc.


On 12th February 1689 Mary arrived from Holland and on the following day in the Banqueting House at Whitehall, the Prince and Princess were proclaimed King and Queen in the usual places in the cities of London and Westminster.


As the Kingdom now had a King and Queen, a parliament could be legally constituted so the Convention was converted into a Parliament and proceeded to pass the Bill of Rights as a Parliamentary statute.


This Declaration rectifying the abuses of power in the previous reign has become one of the great charters of British liberties.


By the Bill of Rights in 1689 A.D. the following Acts were declared illegal.


1. The Royal pretension to dispense with and suspend laws without consent of Parliament.
2.The punishment of subjects for petitioning the crown.
3. The establishment of the illegal Court of High Commission for ecclesiastical affairs.
4.The levy of taxes without consent of Parliament.
5.The maintenance of a standing army in time of peace without consent of Parliament.
6.The disarmament of Protestants while Papists were armed and employed contrary to law.
7.The violation of the freedom of election.
8.Taking legal action outside Parliament about debates and speeches in Parliament.
9.The return of partial or corrupt juries.
10.The requisition of excessive bail.
11.The imposition of excessive fines.
12.The infliction of cruel and unusual punishments.
13.The forfeiting of the property of accused persons before conviction.




The Toleration Act 1689
As promised all religious but not civil disabilities were removed from the freedom of worship of Protestant Dissenters including Presbyterians, Independents and Quakers but not Unitarians.
William would have been glad to extend this freedom also to Roman Catholics as was the practice in Holland, but the country was not prepared for such a move for another hundred years.
However in practice, the spirit of the new age of Toleration in England, ensured that the law was not enforced rigidly.


Mutiny Act 1689
The Crown remained as the authority to which the Army and Navy gave their allegiance and was still in command of the armed forces. Yet Parliament by the Mutiny Act granted authority to the crown to enforce discipline by Court Martial for only one year at a time.

Judges Commission

Henceforth these would be held, not at the will of the King, but "so long as they behave properly". The Crown could no longer dismiss Judges.


Triennial Act 1694
To ensure that Parliaments present themselves to the electorate at regular intervals this Act was passed limiting the life of a Parliament to three years. It was later extended to five. It was also laid down that there must not be a long interval between Parliaments.

Treason Act 1695
Henceforth public justice was to be impartial and no longer a mere instrument of the Crown.


Freedom of Press 1695

Hitherto it had been necessary to obtain a licence before printing any book, pamphlet or newspaper. The Revolution secured the right to print and publish matter obnoxious to the Government by the abolition of the Censorship Act in 1695. Of course, there was still the risk of action before a court of law, for sedition, slander, libel, or blasphemy. England in this respect led the world as the first great power to obtain a free press.

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