Story of England - S. B. Harding

James II. and the "Glorious Revolution" (1685-1689)


James's character and policy; what first turned the people against him; his use of the "dispensing power"; influence of the persecution of the Huguenots by France.

The Declaration of Indulgence; its reception; the trial of the seven bishops; the rejoicing at their acquittal.

Birth of James's son; William of Orange invited to invade England; why he was successful; flight of James; grounds on which the throne was given to William and Mary; the Bill of Rights; importance of this revolution.

Unfortunately for himself, James II. was narrow-minded and obstinate, and was determined not only to be an absolute King but to restore the Catholic religion to a position at least equal to that of the Church of England. By his unwise policy, he angered not only the classes which had fought against  his father, Charles I., but also those who had fought for  his father. The result was that, within four years, he lost his crown, and new rulers were called to the throne in his place.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

James II

At the beginning of his reign, James declared that he would "preserve the government in church and in state as it was established by law." This gave great satisfaction to the people.

"We have now the word of a King," it was everywhere said, "and a word never yet broken."

So, when James's nephew, the Duke of Monmouth (who was a Protestant) tried to raise a rebellion, and secure the throne himself, he got little support. Almost everybody rejoiced when he was overthrown. But, when he was pitilessly put to death, and hundreds of men and women who had aided him in any way were hanged by the brutal judges appointed by the King, the people's satisfaction began to lessen. Also, it was soon seen that the declaration which James made when he ascended the throne meant less than was thought. The laws which had "established" the Church had been passed under Queen Elizabeth. But James regarded her as an usurper; and so, in spite of his promise, he did not feel bound to observe those laws.

As a step toward putting Catholics in power, he removed from their offices the judges who would not do what he wanted them to do. Then, in spite of the test acts, he appointed Catholics to positions in the army, in his Council, in the universities, and even in the English Church. He claimed the right to do this under what was called the "dispensing power"—that is, the power to free a person beforehand from the disabilities imposed by a law, just as he could, by his pardoning power, free one from the penalties of the law after  an offense was committed. When the matter came before the judges, they decided that the King had this power. In dealing with the Church and the universities, James made matters worse by appointing, as the agents to carry out his policy, an "Ecclesiastical Commission," which was similar to an earlier body which had proved very oppressive, and had been abolished by the Long Parliament.

It seemed as though the arbitrary government of Charles I. was about to be revived, and to be used, not to uphold the Church of England, but to force the Catholic religion upon the country.

English Protestants were made more suspicious by a step which was taken at this time in Catholic France. There Louis XIV., who was the ally of James II., as he had been of Charles II., took away from the Huguenots, or French Protestants, the right of worshiping as they pleased, which they had enjoyed for almost a century, and began a policy of persecution. Their churches were closed, their ministers were thrown into prison, and all sorts of hardships were put upon the Huguenots, to cause them to change their religion. Thousands of them escaped from France to Protestant countries; many came to England where they spread abroad hatred of France and of arbitrary government, and distrust of Catholic intentions.

James's next step confirmed this distrust, for he issued a Declaration of Indulgence, such as his brother, Charles II., had issued, and been obliged to withdraw. This was intended, in part, to win to his side the Protestant Dissenters, who would thus be freed, equally with the Catholics, from persecution by the Church of England. The most important leaders among the dissenters, however, saw the snare, and refused to be bribed to support the King's measures.

James ordered that the Declaration should be read in all the churches, at the time of divine services. In spite of the doctrine preached by them, which made resistance to the King a sin, most of the clergy refused to read the Declaration. Seven of the most important bishops of the Church of England, indeed, went further. They signed a petition to the King, which declared that this dispensing power was illegal, and that they could not, in "prudence, honor, or conscience," take any part in proclaiming it.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

A Bishop of the Time of James II

When they presented this petition to James, he was greatly surprised and angry.

"This is a standard of rebellion," he cried. "Did ever a good churchman question the dispensing power before? I will be obeyed! My Declaration shall be published! I will remember you that have signed this paper."

True to his word, James ordered that the seven bishops should be tried by the law courts. The charge was that their petition, which they had shown to nobody but the King himself, was designed to stir the people up to resist the government. When the bishops were brought into court, they passed through a great crowd, who applauded, and asked for their blessings. Some of the ablest lawyers of England appeared to defend them.

One of the jurors was a man who brewed beer for the King's palace, and was afraid of losing the King's trade. He refused to listen to the arguments of the others, saying that his mind was made up against the bishops.

"If you come to that," said one of the others, "look at me. I am the largest and strongest of this twelve; and before I find such a petition a crime, here will I stay till I am no bigger than a pipestem."

The jury remained locked up all night, and when morning came the brewer gave way. The verdict which they reported to the court was, "Not guilty."

Cheers upon cheers greeted this decision, and, as the news spread through London, the whole city burst into rejoicing. James was reviewing the army, which he had stationed just outside London to overawe the city, when the news came. The soldiers cheered, like the rest of England. When James asked what it meant, their officers said:

"Nothing, except that the soldiers are glad that the bishops are acquitted."

"Do you call that nothing?" he replied. And he added: "So much the worse for them."

The leading men of England had borne James's misgovernment quietly, for his two children, Mary and Anne, were Protestants, and the elder of them, Mary, was married to William of Orange. When James should die, therefore, he would be succeeded by a Protestant, and all would be well. But, in the very midst of the bishops' trial, James's second wife gave birth to a little son. According to the law, this son would succeed to the throne, in preference to his sisters; and since James was now a Catholic it was clear that the little Prince would be brought up as a Catholic, and so Catholic rule in England was likely to continue indefinitely.

This changed the whole situation. The leading men refused to believe that the boy was the child of James and the Queen, but claimed that he was an adopted child, who had been smuggled into the palace in a warming pan.

The doctrine of non-resistance was now forgotten. On the very day that the bishops were acquitted, seven of the leading men, some of them Whigs and some Tories, joined in an invitation to William of Orange, to come over with an armed force, and defend the rights of his wife Mary and the liberties of the English people.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

William of Orange Setting Out for England

William accepted the invitation, and landed in England with a small army, on November 5, 1688. James tried to undo his illegal acts, and to recover the lost loyalty of his people; but it was too late. The soldiers whom he sent against William were persuaded by their commanders to go over to the side of the invader. In the north, a rebellion was raised against the King, with cries of "A free Parliament, the Protestant religion, and no Popery." The Princess Anne and her husband fled from the Court, and joined William.

"God help me," cried James, when this news was brought to him, "my very children have forsaken me!"

Deserted by everybody, he determined to flee to France. On his first attempt, he was arrested by some fishermen, who took him for an escaping criminal, and he was brought back. This did not suit William, for he did not want to have the problem of deciding what should be done with a deposed King. So James was driven from his palace, and the way was left open (which James was not long in finding) to escape abroad. His second attempt was successful. Louis XIV. received him kindly, and gave him the use of a palace, and a yearly pension.

To settle the government in England, a new "Convention Parliament" was called. This declared that James had broken the "contract" between the King and people, and that by fleeing from the kingdom he had given up the throne. William and Mary were then chosen as joint sovereigns. The next year, the Parliament passed the Bill of Rights, which confirmed all that had been done in the Revolution, declared illegal the oppressive acts of James II., and provided that no Catholic should ever succeed to the throne of England. This famous law ranks in importance with the Great Charter of 1215, and the Petition of Right of 1628. Scotland also deposed James II., and accepted William and Mary as its sovereigns; at the same time, it declared Presbyterianism to be the established religion of that kingdom. Only in Ireland did government continue in the name of James II., and there also, as we shall see, it was soon to be overthrown.

Thus the Stuart rule was ended, and the principle was established that the King is under Parliament and the law, and not above them. This change was accomplished almost wholly without war or bloodshed and with very little disturbance among the people.

Well may Englishmen—and we also who derive our governments from them—look back upon the benefits which this change brought, and call it the "Glorious Revolution of 1688!"


  1. Compare the character of James II. with that of Charles II.
  2. Make a list of the things which caused James's fall.
  3. Read the account in Macaulay's "History of England" of the rejoicing when the bishops were declared "Not guilty."
  4. Compare the religious struggles under Charles II. and James II. with those under Charles I.
  5. Which were the wiser rulers, the Tudors or the Stuarts? Why?
  6. State in writing, in your own words, the significance of the Revolution of 1688.