This is the fourth and final of the English Civil War series. The politics of English state religion and fears of the "dangers" of dissenters and Catholics led to the establishment of William of Orange and Mary Stuart on the English throne after what turned out to be a token defense to their invasion from the Netherlands. How this fifty year stretch of English history became embedded in the psyche of the North American colonies is a whole different issue, which includes a special role for mass media in the form of pamphleteers.
In 1688, just three years after Charles II’s death, his brother and heir faced domestic turmoil and invasion by a foreign army. James II squandered the political and religious settlement Charles crafted by issuing a second Declaration of Indulgence without the approval of Parliament, bringing Catholics into government, and interfering with the Parliamentary elections of 1688. These acts brought England’s latent fears of popery and arbitrary government to the surface once more, and paved the way for William III’s invasion of England. The key issues of the preceding Stuart monarchy and English Civil Wars dominated England’s political landscape, with the key difference that James’ predecessors acted to defend their power, while James acted out of religious motives.
Despite the apparently secure position of his government, which could operate without recourse to parliaments due to its financial security, James II managed to turn the opinions of even loyalists against him by the end of 1688. His first misstep was the second Declaration of Indulgence, which allowed Catholics and Protestant dissenters freedom to worship as they chose, and removed oath taking as a requirement for holding office. James followed the Declaration by aggressively including Catholics in government and higher education. The high visibility of Catholics at court, including the Queen, a papal envoy, and the Jesuit Fr. Petre inflamed anti-Catholic sentiment.
The promotion of Catholics at court combined with renewed fears of arbitrary government. First, James II prorogued the Parliament of 1685 to quell its dissent over Catholic officers and cavalry troops in his standing army after the Monmouth Rebellion. Then, he made his 1687 and 1688 Declarations of Indulgence without consultation with Parliament, creating fears among Protestants that the safeguards of the religious settlement of Charles II’s restoration were gone. Finally, James imprisoned the Seven Bishops who petitioned against the Declaration of Indulgence, and charged them with seditious libel. Despite the juror’s refusal to find the Bishops guilty, James viewed their disobedience as an act of rebellion.
The English fear of both Catholics and arbitrary government during the seventeenth century did not occur in isolation. The Thirty Years’ War and the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Continental Europe provided the backdrop to the drama unfolding in England. By the 1680’s only the United Provinces and England stood against the continued expansion of Catholic France. Jonathan Scott argues that Protestants were defensive and fearful due to the Counter-reformation and French imperial expansion, and that James’ actions exacerbated the fears of both English and Dutch Protestants, particularly when he ordered three English regiments defending the United Provinces from France to return to England. Renewed French efforts to destroy the United Provinces, and Louis XIV’s revocation of the edict of Nantes enhanced the climate of fear Protestants lived in.
Unlike the majority of Englishmen, James believed that the Netherlands were a greater threat to England than France. Not only were the United Provinces a republic, but they allowed the most religious freedom of any European state. The Dutch also competed with English merchants around the globe and possessed military and naval power overshadowing England’s. James also believed that the United Provinces financed the Monmouth rebellion, and provided a refuge to English dissidents, making it a direct threat to the security of his throne. James’ subjects, however, viewed France as a much more significant threat due to Louis XIV’s persecution of the Huguenots and his insistence that his power as monarch had no earthly limits. France had also erected trade barriers to English finished goods, making France both a ideological and financial adversary.
The combination of English and Dutch fear for the future of Protestantism and Dutch security concerns resulted in the Dutch invasion of England. The goal of the invasion, led by William, Prince of Orange, was to secure English Protestantism and to ensure England’s assistance against France. A coalition of Tory and Whig gentry invited William to liberate England from James’ tyranny, writing that both officers and soldiers were so opposed to James’ pro-Catholic policies that they would desert the army to support a Dutch invasion (Pincus, 38). When William’s force landed in England, some English officers did defect to him, and other members of the gentry took arms against their monarch.
In contrast to the Scottish invasion of England at the beginning of the First Civil War, William occupied London, understanding that it was the key to the Kingdom. While the Whigs requested that William take over the government of England after James fled the country, he called an Assembly of the Commons in order to convene a parliament and to re-establish a government in England. The Dutch goal in invading England was not simply to depose James, but to ensure that English Protestants were secure, and to gain English military support against France. Since the English held such fear of republican government, the United Provinces were forced to preserve the English monarchy and Parliaments. This requirement meant that William needed to restore the anti-French Parliaments of the 1670’s and 1680’s, even if James remained as King of England.
The Assembly of the Commons recalled the members of the Oxford Parliament of 1681, which called for new elections. The electorate returned relatively even numbers of Tory and Whig members, with some communities decided to return one member of each party. The Speakers of both the Commons and Lords were chosen primarily for their acceptability to all of the members of each House. A prodigious pamphlet campaign accompanied Parliament’s debates over the monarchy and its limitations. The pamphlets advocated solutions covering the political spectrum from declaring William and Mary King and Queen, to establishing a regency for James, to starting anew. Ultimately, William and Mary were offered their crowns with a reiteration of the limitations of English monarchs, documented primarily in the Declaration of Rights. In addition to the Declaration of Rights, Parliamentarians demanded that William act to root out popery and to defend England’s interests from France.
The key provisions of the Declaration of Rights, which became the English Bill of Rights, included strictures against the practices of all of the Stuart monarchs, including extra-parliamentary taxation, interference in elections, maintenance of standing armies, and assignment of excessive bail or fines. The Convention also decreed that members of the royal family could not marry Catholics, that Catholics could not succeed the crown, and liberty of conscience for Protestants. As a defensive measure, the Declaration also decreed that the king could not dissolve Parliaments in the midst of business.
Historians continue to debate the events of the Glorious Revolution, the results, and who the “winners” of the settlement were. A key question is whether the Glorious Revolution was an actual revolution, or a restoration of traditional English government. Hoak and Feingold argue that the financial and military changes such as the development of the Bank of England and system of public credit were revolutionary changes, while Holmes argues that the Glorious Revolution was a restoration of political power followed by adaptations to new economic and military realities. Holmes’ conservative view of the revolution as a restoration is that Parliament merely reasserted its rights under the Ancient Constitution.
The other side of the argument, that the Glorious Revolution was a revolution, contends that the change in the succession with the crowning of William and Mary, the Exclusion from Catholics from the succession, radical changes in foreign policy, and establishment of more limited monarchy were revolutionary in the modern sense. Since the Tories and Bishops were opposed to any changes in the succession, this alone could qualify the settlement as revolutionary in nature. The manner in which the crown was transferred to William and Mary was a radical change – parliament determined that James had abdicated, or been deposed, by his flight from England. The normal succession would then designate either the Prince of Wales or Mary as the next monarch. The traditional way to alter the succession would be for William to take the crown as the spoils of conquest, as his lawyers suggested. The break in the succession, then, represents a true revolution in its own right.