The Revolution Settlement, 1688-89

By 1689 William had taken on many of the functions of the English monarchy - notably commanding the armed forces and directing civil government. The logical step seemed to be to make William king; his mother was a Stuart, and he was married to James II's daughter. There were complex political problems that had to be overcome however. The unity of Whigs and Tories that had been spurred by James II's conduct now disintegrated, and the fundamental questions of the succession and the nature of the monarchy re-emerged between to be fought out by the Whigs and Tories. With this state of affairs, much depended on the outcome of elections to the Convention, not least the chances of William and Mary becoming joint sovereigns of England.

On January 28th, the Commons resolved James II had abdicated and that the throne was thus vacant. It was essential to Parliament that before there was any offer of the crown conditions would be drawn up 'for the better securing our religion, laws and liberties'. If parliamentarians had learned anything under the Stuarts during the seventeenth century it was to be mistrustful of a king's word.

In February, the Commons voted to offer the crown to William and Mary, agreed a new oath of allegiance, and with a statement of rights and proposals for the order of the succession, sent them to the Lords. However the Lords could not accede to some of the definitions in the statement of rights concerning dispensation of power, and the right of Protestants to keep arms. Differences between the Houses were eventually settled by amendments to the statement of rights, and on the 13th February were read to William and Mary after the offer of the crown. When William assented to the Bill of Rights in 1689 he bound himself to adhere to the terms of the Declaration that had been read to him almost a year before. Most of these terms referred to specific abuses of the royal prerogatives in the 1680s rather than questioning the prerogatives. The royal prerogative of the suspending power was declared illegal, and the dispensing power restricted. The only real novelty among the Bill of Rights' constitutional provision concerned the army, and the judgement that keeping an army within the kingdom during peacetime would now be illegal. It was clear in the Bill of Rights that the monarch could not keep permanent land forces during peacetime without parliamentary sanction.

Thus Parliament had asserted its control over the existence of the army. The remainder of the Bill was largely statements of what was generally believed to be the constitution. The Bill made no provisions to ensure elections were 'free' and it contained no mechanism for its own enforcement. Despite all this, the Bill of Rights came to be seen as an exemplary constitutional document, even exerting an influence of sorts (the 'right to bear arms' and the prohibition of 'cruel and unusual punishments') on the framing of the Constitution of the United States. If the limitations on the monarchy outlined in the Bill were established, it had little to do with the document itself. The principal reason is to be found in changes in the relationship of crown and parliament. The origins of this were not constitutional changes, but the financial settlement. In 1660 the Convention Parliament assessed crown expenditure at £1.2 million per annum and, attempting to strike a balance between crown solvency and the financial need for parliaments, granted Charles II revenues it optimistically expected to yield that amount. During the 1660s and 1670s the yield fell and Charles reverted to the old Stuart grievance of an arbitrary fiscal policy. A boom in overseas trade lead to a recovery in the yield of the ordinary revenues during the 1680s to approximately £1.5 million per annum. This was sufficient for Charles to rule without Parliament; at James II's accession Parliament granted the same revenues it had to Charles, without making enquiries into the current yield. In 1689, Parliament had learned from its mistakes and was determined not to repeat them. There was much debate about granting the revenues, but it was eventually decided that before a decision was made there should be an investigation. Influenced by the words of William Williams that 'If you give the crown too little you may add at any time, if once you give too much, you will never have it back again', the Commons agreed on a revenue of £1.2 million per annum. This was an arbitrary figure that lacked an adequate investigation of William's needs - particularly to send forces to Ireland, and soon to fund war against France. After constant rearrangement of the King's temporary revenues, William was soon forced to borrow on credit of future revenues and became immersed in debt. His patience tested, William chastised the Commons, provoking dissension between Tories and Whigs and further delays to financial settlement. By early 1690 William had grown so frustrated with the Convention that he decided to dissolve it and call a new parliament to reach settlement. This was by no means according to William's expectations.

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