The Revolution of 1688

In essence the Revolution encompassed the overthrow of the legitimate Catholic King of England James II and his replacement by Parliament's approval with William Prince of Orange and his wife Mary. This was followed by important constitutional enactments that changed the character of English politics.

James was dethroned when he fled the country after an invasion by William on the invitation of groups of leading Whigs and Tories in Parliament. The political élite had been forced into considering radical means because of James's attempts to re-establish Catholicism in Britain and allegedly erect a Catholic absolutism. The King had used a standing army illegally and attempted to create a pliant Parliament to consolidate his achievements by using Dissenters and Catholics (who were excluded from political office) to offset the Anglican base of the legislature.

William landed in November 1688, and in a panic James fled to France the following month. William called a Convention Parliament in January 1689 which proceeded to pass the principal legislation of the Revolution Settlement. In forging the Settlement Parliament saw itself as restoring the constitution to its traditional form pre-dating the arbitrary government of James II. The Settlement temporarily made the Crown almost elective and left it with full control of policy-making and appointments. However Parliament guaranteed the necessity of annual sessions (an important step towards the 'modern' system) and forced the Crown to consider its choice of ministers and policies in the context of parliamentary approval. Further, the independence of the judiciary was strengthened and the rights of the subject against the State improved.

The Bill of Rights (December 1689) declared James II to have abdicated his throne and therefore forfeited his (and his progeny's) rights to the crown. The vacant throne was thus settled in the persons of William III and Mary II. This settlement was essentially a compromise between the dissident groups in Parliament. The 'legitimists' wanted William appointed 'Regent' acting on behalf of James (therefore upholding the latter's claim to the throne). This was complicated by William's demand that he would leave England unless his was granted full regal power equal to Mary's. Tories generally regarded Mary as legitimate heir to James (as the majority did not believe Prince James Edward Stuart was a legitimate son), while the Whigs believed a successor should be chosen - and that as representative of the nation Parliament should be the body to do so. The Bill prohibited the monarch from being or marrying a Catholic, and declared suspending power, the dispensing power (in the manner James II ad used it) prerogative courts, non-parliamentary taxation and a standing army without parliamentary approval illegal. The Bill of Rights also demanded frequent parliaments, free elections and freedom of speech in Parliament.

The Mutiny Act (1691) allowed the Crown to maintain an army and its discipline, but subtly prevented the possibility of military rule by granting this on a six-month term. The Toleration Act (1689) did not bring religious toleration but exempted Dissenters from certain penal laws. Dissenters achieved de facto freedom of worship, but they still dod not have full citizenship as the Test and Corporations Acts were upheld. The Triennial Act (1694) stipulated Parliament should last no longer than three years and conversely there should be a Parliament at least once every three years. The Civil List (1698) was the financial provision for the Crown's ordinary revenue. Though under the monarch's control, each item was voted and audited by Parliament. As the extraordinary revenue increased the Crown's dependence on Parliament followed. This was a subtle and effective method formulated by Parliament after a century of strife with the Crown over ordinary revenue and expenditure and parliamentary subsidy. The Act of Settlement (1701) ordered the succession after William and Mary: if the heir to the throne Anne should die, the crown would be conferred on the Protestant Sophia Electress of Hanover and her own heirs. This legislation stipulated the monarch must take Anglican communion, and measures regarding judicial appointments and impeachment trials.

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