IN attempting the rash plan, which doubtless had for its object the establishment of the Catholic religion in his dominions, James II., in his speech to the first English Parliament after Monmouth’s defeat, acquainted them with his intentions in two particulars, both highly alarming in the existing temper of the public. The first was, that having seen, as he said, from the example of the last rebellion, that the militia were not adequate to maintain the defence of the kingdom, it was the King’s purpose in future to maintain a body of regular troops, for whose pay he requested the House of Commons would make provision. The second point was no less ominous. The King desired, that no man should object if he employed some officers in the army who were not qualified according to the Test Act. “ They were persons,” he said, “ well-known to him; and having had the benefit of their assistance in a time of need and danger, he was determined neither to expose them to disgrace, nor himself to the want of their services on a future occasion.”
To understand what this alluded to, you must be informed that the Test Act was contrived to exclude all persons from offices of public trust, commissions in the army, and the like, who should not previously take the test oath, declaring themselves Protestants, according to the Church of England. King James’s speech from the throne, therefore, intimated, first, that he intended to maintain a standing military force, and, secondly, that it was his purpose to officer these in a great measure with Papists, whom he designed thus to employ, although they could not take the test.
Both these suspicious and exceptionable measures being so bluntly announced, created great alarm. When it was moved in the House of Lords, that thanks be returned for the King’s speech, Lord Halifax said, that thanks were indeed due to his Majesty, but it was because he had frankly let them see the point he aimed at. In the House of Commons, the reception of the speech was more markedly unfavourable; and an address was voted, representing that the Papist officers lay under disabilities, which could only be removed by Act of Parliament.
This Intimation was ill received by the King in his turn, who expressed himself displeased at the implied jealousy of his purposes. The House remained in profound silence for some time, until Mr Cook stood up and said, “ I hope we are all Englishmen, and not to be frightened out of our duty by a few hard words.” This was considered as censurable language, and the gentleman who used it was sent to the Tower. The King presently afterwards prorogued the Parliament, which never met again during the short remainder of his reign.
Highly exasperated and disappointed at the unexpected and unfavourable reception which his propositions in favour of the Roman Catholics had received from the English Parliament, James determined that the legislature of Scotland, which till now had studied to fulfil, and even anticipate, his slightest wishes, should show their southern neighbours, in this instance also, the example of submission to the will of their sovereign. In order to induce them, and particularly the representatives of the burghs, to consent without hesitation, he promised a free intercourse of trade with England, and an ample indemnity for all past offences; measures which he justly regarded as essential to the welfare of Scotland. But these highly desirable favours were clogged by a request, proposed as a sort of condition, that the penal laws should be abolished, and the test withdrawn. The Scottish Parliament, hitherto so submissive, were alarmed at this proposal, which although it commenced only by putting Popery on a level with the established religion, was likely, they thought, to end in over-turning the Reformed doctrines, and replacing those of the Church of Rome.
It is true that the Scottish penal laws respecting the Roman Catholics were of the most severe and harsh character. The punishments for assisting at the celebration of the mass, were, for the first offence, confiscation and corporal punishment; for the second, banishment, and to the third the pains of treason were annexed. These tyrannical laws had been introduced at a violent period, when those who had just shaken off the yoke of Popery were desirous to prevent, by every means, the slightest chance of its being again imposed on them, and when, being irritated by the recollection of the severities inflicted by the Roman Catholics on those whom they termed heretics, the Protestants were naturally disposed to retaliate upon the sect by whom intolerant cruelties had been practised.
But although little could be said in defence of these laws, when the Catholics were reduced to a state of submission, the greater part by far of the people of Scotland desired that they should continue to exist, as a defence to the Reformed religion, in case the Papists should at some future period attempt to recover their ascendency. They urged, that while the Catholics remained quiet there had been no recent instance of the penal laws being executed against them, and that therefore, since they were already in actual enjoyment of absolute freedom of conscience, the only purpose of the proposed abolition of the penal laws must be, to effect the King’s purpose of bringing the Catholics forward into public situations, as the favoured ministers of the King, and professing the same religion with his Majesty.
Then in respect to the test oath, men remembered that it had been the contrivance of James himself; deemed so sacred, that Argyle had been condemned to death for even slightly qualifying it; and declared so necessary to the safety, nay existence, of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, that it was forced upon Presbyterians at the sword’s point. The Protestants, therefore, of every description, were terrified at the test’s being dispensed with in the case of the Roman Catholics, who, supported as they were by the King’s favour, were justly to be regarded as the most formidable enemies of all whom their Church termed heretics.
The consequence of all this reasoning was, that the Episcopal party in Scotland, who had hitherto complied with every measure which James had proposed, now stopped short in their career, and would no longer keep pace with his wishes. He could get no answer from the Scottish Parliament, excepting the ambiguous expression, that they would do as much for the relief of the Catholics as their consciences would permit.
But James, although he applied to Parliament in the first instance, had, in case he found that assembly opposed to his wishes, secretly formed the resolution of taking away the effect of the penal laws, and removing the Test Act, by his own royal prerogative; not regarding the hatred and jealousy which he was sure to excite, by a course of conduct offensive at once to the liberties of his subjects, and threatening the stability of the Reformed religion.
The pretence on which this stretch of his royal prerogative was exerted, was very slender. The right indeed had been claimed, and occasionally exercised, by the Kings of England, of dispensing with penal statutes in such individual cases as might require exception or indulgence. This right somewhat resembled the Crown’s power of pardoning criminals whom the law has adjudged to death; but, like the power of pardon, the dispensing privilege could only be considered as extending to cases attended with peculiar circumstances. So that when the King pretended to suspend the effect of the penal laws in all instances whatever, it was just as if, being admitted to be possessed of the power of pardoning a man convicted of murder, he had claimed the right to pronounce that murder should in no case be held a capital crime. This reasoning was unanswerable. Nevertheless, at the risk of all the disaffection which such conduct was certain to excite, James was rash enough to put forth a royal proclamation, in which, by his own authority, he dispensed at once with all the penal laws affecting Catholics, and annulled the oath of Supremacy and the Test, so that a Catholic became as eligible for public employment as a Protestant. At the same time, to maintain some appearance of impartiality, an indulgence was granted to moderate Presbyterians, while the laws against the conventicles which met in arms, and in the open fields, were confirmed and enforced.
In this arbitrary and violent proceeding, James was chiefly directed by a few Catholic counsellors, none of whom had much reputation for talent, while most of them were inspired by a misjudging zeal for their religion, and imagined they saw the restoration of Popery at hand. To these must be added two or three statesmen, who, being originally Protestants, had adopted the Catholic religion in compliance with the wishes of the King. From these men, who had sacrificed conscience and decency to court favour, the very worst advice was to be apprehended, since they were sure to assert to extremity the character which they had adopted on the ground of self-interest. Such a minister was the Earl of Perth, Chancellor of Scotland, who served the King’s pleasure to the uttermost in that kingdom; and such, too, was the far more able and dangerous Earl of Sunderland in England, who, under the guise of the most obsequious obedience to the King’s pleasure, made it his study to drive James on to the most extravagant measures, with the secret resolution of deserting him as soon as he should see him in danger of perishing by means of the tempest which he had encouraged him wantonly to provoke.
The sincerity of those converts who change their faith at a moment when favour and power can be obtained by the exchange, must always be doubtful, and no character inspires more contempt than that of an apostate who deserts his religion for love of gain. Not, however, listening to these obvious considerations, the King seemed to press on the conversion of his subjects to the Roman Catholic faith, without observing that each proselyte, by the fact of becoming so, was rendered generally contemptible, and lost any influence he might have formerly possessed. Indeed, the King’s rage for making converts was driven to such a height by his obsequious ministers, that an ignorant negro, the servant or slave of one Raid, a mountebank, was publicly baptized after the Catholic ritual upon a stage in the High Street of Edinburgh, and christened James, in honour, it was said, of the Lord Chancellor James Earl of Perth, King James himself, and the Apostle James.
While the King was deserted by his old friends and allies of the Episcopal Church, he probably expected that his enemies the Presbyterians would have been conciliated by the unexpected lenity which they experienced. To bring this about, the Indulgence was gradually extended until it comprehended almost a total abrogation of all the oppressive laws respecting fanatics and conventicles, the Cameronians alone being excepted, who disowned the King’s authority. But the Protestant nonconformists, being wise enough to penetrate into the schemes of the Prince, remained determined not to form a union with the Catholics, and generally refused to believe that the King had any other object in view than the destruction of Protestants of every description.
Some ministers, indeed, received the toleration with thanks and flattery; and several Presbyterians of rank accepted offices under Government in the room of Episcopalians, who had resigned rather than acquiesce in the dispensation of the penal laws. But, to use their own expressions, the more clear-sighted Presbyterians plainly saw that they had been less aggrieved with the wounds, stabs, and strokes, which the church had formerly received, than by this pretended Indulgence, which they likened to the cruel courtesy of Joab, who gave a salute to Abner, while at the same time he stabbed him under the fifth rib. This was openly maintained by one large party among the Presbyterians, while the more moderate admitted, that Heaven had indeed made the King its instrument to procure some advantage to the church; but that being convinced the favour shown to them was not sincere, but bestowed with the purpose of disuniting Protestants amongst themselves, they owed James little gratitude for that which he bestowed, not from any good-will to them, but to further his own ends.
These discords between the King and his former friends in Scotland occasioned many changes in the administration of the country. The Duke of Queensberry, who had succeeded Lauderdale in his unlimited authority, and had shown the same disposition to gratify the King on all former occasions, was now disgraced on account of his reluctance to assent to the rash measures adopted in favour of the Catholics. Perth and Melfort, the last also a convert to the Catholic faith, were placed at the head of the administration. On the other hand, Sir George MacKenzie, long King’s advocate, and so severe against the Covenanters that he received the name of the Bloody MacKenzie, refused to countenance the revocation of the penal laws, and was, like Queensberry, deprived of his office. Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, named in his stead, was a Presbyterian of the more rigid sort, such as were usually called fanatics. Judges were also created from the same oppressed party. But none of the nonconformists so promoted, however gratified with their own advancement, either forgot the severity with which their sect had been treated, through the express interference and influence of James, or gave the infatuated monarch credit for sincerity in his apparent change of disposition towards them.
Insensible to the general loss of his friends and partisans, James proceeded to press the exercise of his dispensing power. By a new order from court, the most ridiculous and irritating that could well be imagined, all persons in civil employment, without exception, were ordered to lay down their offices, and resume them again by a new commission, without taking the test; which reassumption, being an act done against the existing laws, they were required instantly to wipe out, by taking out a remission from the Crown, for obeying the royal command. And it was declared, that such as did not obtain such a remission, should be afterwards incapable of pardon, and subjected to all the penalties of not having taken the test. Thus, the King laid his commands upon his subjects to break one of the standing laws of the kingdom, and then stood prepared to enforce against them the penalty which they had incurred (a penalty due to the Crown itself), unless they consented to shelter themselves by accepting a pardon from the King for a crime which they had committed by his order, and thus far acknowledge his illegal power to suspend the laws. In this manner, it was expected that all official persons would be compelled personally to act under and acknowledge the King’s power of dispensing with the constitution.
In England, the same course of misgovernment was so openly pursued, that no room was left the people to doubt that James designed to imitate the conduct of his friend and ally, Louis XIV. of France, in the usurpation of despotic power over the bodies and consciences of his subjects. It was just about this time that the French monarch revoked the toleration which had been granted by Henry IV. to the French Protestants, and forced upwards of half a million of his subjects, offending in nothing excepting their worshipping God after the Protestant manner, into exile from their native country. Many thousands of these persecuted men found refuge in Great Britain, and by the accounts they gave of the injustice and cruelty with which they had been treated, increased the general hatred and dread of the Catholic religion, and in consequence the public jealousy of a prince, who was the bigoted follower of its tenets.
But James was totally blind to the dangerous precipice on which he stood, and imagined that the murmurs of the people might be suppressed by the large standing army which he maintained, a considerable part of which, in order to overawe the city of London, lay encamped on Hounslow Heath.
To be still more assured of the fidelity of his army, the King was desirous to introduce amongst them a number of Catholic officers, and also to convert as many of the soldiers as possible to that religion. But even among a set of men, who from their habits are the most disposed to obedience, and perhaps the most indifferent about religious distinctions, the name of Papist was odious; and the few soldiers who embraced that persuasion were treated by their comrades with ridicule and contempt.
In a word, any prince less obstinate and bigoted than James, might easily have seen that the army would not become his instrument in altering the laws and religion of the country. But he proceeded, with the most reckless indifference, to provoke a struggle, which it was plain must be maintained against the universal sentiments of his subjects. He had the folly not only to set up the Catholic worship in his royal chapel, with the greatest pomp and publicity, but to send an ambassador, Lord Castlemaine, to the Pope, to invite his Holiness to countenance his proceedings, by affording him the presence of a nuncio from the See of Rome. Such a communication was, by the law of England, an act of high treason, and excited the deepest resentment in England, while abroad it was rather ridiculed than applauded. Even the Pope himself afforded the bigoted monarch very little countenance in his undertaking, being probably of opinion that James’s movements were too violent to be secure. His Holiness was also on indifferent terms with Louis XIV., of whom James was a faithful ally, and, on the whole, the Pope was so little disposed to sympathize with the imprudent efforts of the English Monarch in favour of the Catholic religion, that he contrived to evade every attempt of Lord Castlemaine to enter upon business, by affecting a violent fit of coughing whenever the conversation took that turn. Yet even this coldness, on the part of the head of his own Church, who might be supposed favourable to James’s views, and so intimately concerned in the issue of his attempt, did not chill the insane zeal of the English monarch.
To attain his purpose with some degree of grace from Parliament, which, though he affected to despise it, he was still desirous of conciliating, the King took the most unconstitutional measures to influence the members of both houses. One mode was by admitting individuals to private audiences, called Closetings, and using all the personal arguments, promises, and threats, which his situation enabled him to enforce, for the purpose of inducing the members to comply with his views. He extorted also, from many of the royal burghs, both in England and Scotland, the surrender of their charters, and substituted others which placed the nomination of their representatives to Parliament in the hands of the Crown; and he persisted obstinately in removing Protestants from all offices of honour and trust in the government, and in filling their situations with Papists. Even his own brothers-in-law, the Earls of Clarendon and Rochester, were disgraced, or at least dismissed from their employments, because they would not sacrifice their religious principles to the King’s arguments and promises.
Amid so many subjects of jealousy, all uniting to show, that it was the purpose of the King to assume arbitrary power, and by the force of tyranny over the rights and lives of his subjects, to achieve a change in the national religion, those operations which immediately affected the church, were the objects of peculiar attention.
As early in his unhappy career as 1686, the year following that of his accession to the throne, James had ventured to reestablish one of the most obnoxious institutions in his father’s reign, namely, the Court of High Ecclesiastical Commission, for trying all offences of the clergy. This oppressive and vexatious judicature had been abolished in Charles the First’s time, along with the Star–Chamber, and it was declared by act of Parliament that neither of them should ever be again erected. Yet the King, in spite of experience and of law, recalled to life this oppressive court of Ecclesiastical Commission, in order to employ its arbitrary authority in support of the cause of Popery. Sharpe, a clergyman of London, had preached with vehemence in the controversy between Protestants and Catholics, and some of the expressions he made use of were interpreted to reflect on the King,1 Sharpe endeavoured to apologize, bat nevertheless the Bishop of London received orders to suspend the preacher from his functions. That prelate excused himself from obedience, because he had no power to proceed thus summarily against a person not convicted of any offence. The Bishop’s excuse, as well as Sharpe’s apology, were disregarded, and both were suspended from their functions by this illegal court; the preacher, because he exerted himself, as his profession required, in combating the arguments by which many were seduced from the Protestant faith; the prelate, because he declined to be an instrument of illegal oppression. The people saw the result of this trial, with a deep sense of the illegality shown, and the injustice inflicted.
The Universities were equally the object of the King’s unprovoked aggressions. It was in their bosom that the youth of the kingdom, more especially those destined for the clerical profession, were educated, and James naturally concluded, that to introduce the Catholic influence into these two great and learned bodies, would prove a most important step in his grand plan of reestablishing that religion in England.
The experiment upon Cambridge was a slight one. The King, by his mandate, required the University to confer a degree of master of arts upon Father Francis, an ignorant Benedictine monk. Academical honours of this kind are generally conferred without respect to the religion of the party receiving them; and indeed the University had, not very long before, admitted a Mahomedan to the degree of master of arts; but that was an honorary degree only, whereas the degree demanded for the Benedictine monk inferred a right to sit and vote in the elections of the University, whose members, considering that the Papists so introduced might soon control the Protestants, resolved to oppose the King’s purpose in the commencement, and refused to grant the degree required. The Court of High Commission suspended the vice-chancellor, but the University chose a man of the same determined spirit in his room; so that the King was not the nearer to his object, which he was compelled for the present to abandon.
Oxford, however, was attacked with more violence, and the consequences were more important. That celebrated University had been distinguished by its unalterable attachment to the royal cause. When Charles I. was compelled to quit London, he found a retreat at Oxford, where the various colleges expended in supporting his cause whatever wealth they possessed, while many members of the University exposed their lives in his service. In Charles the Second’s time, Oxford, on account of its inflexible loyalty, had been chosen as the place where the King convoked a short Parliament, when the interest of the Whigs in the city of London was so strong as to render him fearful of remaining in its vicinity. It was less to the honour of this University, that it had shown itself the most zealous in expressing, and enforcing by its ordinances, the slavish tenets of passive obedience and non-resistance to the royal authority, which were then professed by many of the members of the Church of England; but it was an additional proof that their devotion to the King was almost unlimited.
But if James recollected any thing whatever of these marks of loyalty to the Crown, the remembrance served only to encourage him in his attack upon the privileges of the University, in the belief that they would not be firmly resisted. With ingratitude, therefore, as well as folly, he proceeded to intrude his mandate on the society of Magdalen College, commanding them to choose for their president one of the new converts to the Catholic religion, and on their refusal, expelled them from the college; thus depriving them of their revenues and endowments, because they would not transgress the statutes, to the observance of which they had solemnly sworn.
A still more fatal error, which seems indeed to have carried James’s imprudence to the uttermost, was the ever-memorable prosecution of the bishops, which had its origin in the following circumstances. In 1688, James published a second declaration of indulgence, with an order subjoined, by which it was appointed to be read in all the churches. The greater part of the English bishops, disapproving of the King’s pretended prerogative of dispensing with the test and penal laws, resolved to refuse obedience to this order, which, as their sentiments were well known, could only be intended to disgrace them in the eyes of the people. Six of the most distinguished of the prelates joined with [Sancroft] the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a humble petition to the King,1 praying his Majesty would dispense with their causing to be published in their dioceses a declaration founded upon the claim of royal dispensation, which claim having been repeatedly declared illegal, the petitioners could not, in prudence, honour, or conscience, be accessory to distributing a paper, which asserted its validity in so solemn a manner all over the nation.
The King was highly incensed at this remonstrance, and summoning the seven prelates before his Privy Council, he demanded of them if they owned and adhered to their petition. They at once acknowledged that they did so, and were instantly committed to the Tower, on a charge of sedition. The rank and respectability of these distinguished men, the nature of the charge against whom, in the popular apprehension, was an attempt to punish them for a bold, yet respectful discharge of their high duties, coupled with the anxious dread of what might be expected to follow such a violent procedure, wrought up the minds of the people to the highest pitch.
An immense multitude assembled on the banks of the Thames, and beheld with grief and wonder those fathers of the Church conveyed to prison in the boats appointed for that purpose. The enthusiasm was extreme. The spectators wept, they kneeled, they prayed for the safety of the prisoners, which was only endangered by the firmness with which they had held fast their duty; and the benedictions which the persecuted divines distributed on every side, were answered with the warmest wishes for their freedom, and the most unreserved avowal of their cause. All this enthusiasm of popular feeling was insufficient to open James’s eyes to his madness. He urged on the proceedings against the prelates, who, on the 17th June, 1688, were brought to trial, and, after a long and most interesting hearing of their cause, were fully acquitted. The acclamations of the multitude were loud in proportion to the universal anxiety which prevailed while the case was in dependence; and when the news reached the camp at Hounslow, the extravagant rejoicings of the soldiers, unchecked by the King’s own presence, showed that the army and the people were animated by the same spirit.
Yet James was so little influenced by this universal expression of adherence to the Protestant cause, that he continued his headlong career with a degree of rapidity, which compelled the reflecting part of the Catholics themselves to doubt and fear the event. He renewed his violent interference with the universities, endeavoured to thrust on Magdalen college a Popish bishop, and resolved to prosecute every clergyman who should refuse to read his declaration of indulgence, that is to say, with the exception of an inconsiderable minority,1 the whole clergy of the Church of England.
While the kingdoms of Scotland and England were agitated by these violent attempts to establish the Roman Catholic religion, their fears were roused to the highest pitch by observing with what gigantic strides the King was advancing to the same object in Ireland, where, the great body of the people being Catholics, he had no occasion to disguise his purposes. Lord Tyrconnell, a head-strong and violent man, and a Catholic of course, was appointed Viceroy, and proceeded to take every necessary step, by arming the Papists and depressing the Protestants, to prepare for a total change, in which the latter should be subjugated by a Catholic Parliament. The violence of the King’s conduct in a country where he was not under the necessity of keeping any fair appearances, too plainly showed the Protestants of England and Scotland, that the measure, presented to them as one of general toleration for all Christian sects, was in fact designed to achieve the supremacy of the Catholic faith over heresy of every denomination.
During all this course of mal-administration, the sensible and prudent part of the nation kept their eyes fixed on William Prince of Orange, married, as I have before told you, to James’s eldest daughter, Mary, and heir to the throne, unless it happened that the King should have a son by his present Queen. This was an event which had long been held improbable, for the children which the Queen had hitherto borne were of a very weak constitution, and did not long survive their birth; and James himself was now an elderly man.
The Prince of Orange, therefore, having a fair prospect of attaining the throne after his father-in-law’s death, observed great caution in his communications with the numerous and various factions in England and Scotland; and even to those who expressed the greatest moderation and the purest sentiments of patriotism, he replied with a prudent reserve, exhorting them to patience, dissuading from all hasty insurrections, and pointing out to them, that the death of the King must put an end to the innovations which he was attempting on the constitution.
But an event took place which entirely altered the Prince of Orange’s views and feelings, and forced him upon an enterprise, one of the most remarkable in its progress and consequences of any which the history of the world affords. Mary, Queen of England, and wife of James II., was delivered of a male child, on the 10th June, 1688. The Papists had long looked forward to this event as to one which should perpetuate the measures of the King in favour of the Roman Catholics after his own death. They had, therefore, ventured to prophesy, that the expected infant would be a son, and they imputed the fulfilment of their wishes to the intervention of the Virgin Mary of Loretto, propitiated by prayers and pilgrimages.
The Protestant party, on the other hand, were disposed to consider the alleged birth of the infant, which had happened so seasonably for the Catholics, as the result not of a miracle of the Popish saints, but of a trick at court. They affirmed that the child was not really the son of James and his wife, but a supposititious infant, whom they were desirous to palm upon their subjects as the legal heir of the throne, in order to defeat the claim of the Protestant successors. This assertion, though gravely swallowed by the people, and widely spread amongst them, was totally without foundation; nor was it possible that there could exist more complete proof of such a fact, than James himself published to the world concerning the birth of this young Prince of Wales. But the King’s declarations, and the evidence which he at length made public, were unable to bear down the calumny which was so widely and anxiously circulated. The leaders of the Protestant party, whatever they might themselves believe, took care to make the rumour of the alleged imposture as general as possible; and many, whose Tory principles would not have allowed them to oppose the succession of a prince really descended of the blood royal, stood prepared to dispute the right of the infant to succeed to the throne, on account of the alleged doubtfulness of his birth. One thing, however, was certain, that whether the child was supposititious or not, his birth was likely to prolong the misgovernment under which the country groaned. There now no longer existed the prospect that James would be, at no distant date, succeeded by his son-in-law, the Prince of Orange, with whom the Protestant religion must necessarily recover its predominance. This infant was of course to be trained up in the religion and principles of his father; and the influence of the dreaded spirit of Popery, instead of terminating with the present reign, would maintain and extend itself through that of a youthful successor. The Prince of Orange, on his part, seeing himself, by the birth and rights of this infant, excluded from the long-hoped-for succession to the crown of England, laid aside his caution, with the purpose of taking a bold and active interference in British politics.
He now publicly, though with decency, declared, that his sentiments were opposite to those on which his father-in-law acted, and that though he was disposed to give a hearty consent to repealing penal statutes in all cases, being of opinion that no one should be punished for his religious opinions, yet he could not acquiesce in the King’s claim to dispense with the test, which only excluded from public offices those whose conscience would not permit them to conform to the established religion of the country in which they lived. Having thus openly declared his sentiments, the Prince of Orange was resorted to openly or secretly, by all those, of whatever political opinions, who joined in the general fear for the religious and civil liberties of the country, which were threatened by the bigotry of James. Encouraged by the universal sentiments of the English nation, a few Catholics excepted, and by the urgent remonstrances of many of the leading men of all the various parties, the Prince of Orange resolved to appear in England at the head of an armed force, with the purpose of putting a stop to James’s encroachments on the constitution in church and state.
Under various plausible pretexts, therefore, the Prince began to assemble a navy and army adequate to the bold invasion which he meditated; while neither the warning of the King of France, who penetrated the purpose of these preparations, nor a sense of the condition in which he himself stood, could induce James to take any adequate measures of defence.
The unfortunate Prince continued to follow the same measures which had lost him the hearts of his subjects, and every step he took encouraged and prompted disaffection. Dubious of the allegiance of his army, he endeavoured, by introducing Irish Catholics amongst them, to fill their ranks, in part at least, with men in whom he might repose more confidence. But the lieutenant-colonel and five captains of the regiment in which the experiment was first tried, refused to receive the proposed recruits; and though these officers were cashiered for doing so, yet their spirit was generally applauded by those of their own profession. Another experiment on the soldiery had a still more mortifying result. Although it is contrary to the British constitution to engage soldiers under arms in the discussion of any political doctrine, since they must be regarded as the servants, not the counsellors of the state, nevertheless, James resolved, if possible, to obtain from the army their approbation of the repeal of the test and the penal statutes. By way of experiment, a single battalion was drawn up in his own presence, and informed, that they must either express their hearty acquiescence in the King’s purposes in respect to these laws, or lay down their arms, such being the sole condition on which their services would be received. On hearing this appeal, the whole regiment, excepting two officers and a few Catholic soldiers, laid down their arms. The King stood mute with anger and disappointment, and at length told them, in a sullen and offended tone, to take up their arms and retire to their quarters, adding, that he would not again do them the honour to ask their opinions.
While James was thus extorting from his very soldiers opinions the most unfavourable to his measures, he suddenly received intelligence from his ambassador in Holland, that the Prince of Orange was about to put to sea with an army of fifteen thousand men, supplied by the States of Holland, and a fleet of five hundred sail.
Conscious that he had lost the best safeguard of a monarch,-namely, the love and affections of his subjects, this news came upon James like a thunder clap. He hastened to retract all the measures which had rendered his reign so unpopular; but it was with a precipitation which showed fear, not conviction, and the people were persuaded that the concessions would be recalled as soon as the danger was over.
In the mean time, the Dutch fleet set sail. At first it encountered a storm, and was driven back into harbour.(19th Oct.) But the damage sustained by some or the vessels being speedily repaired, they again put to sea, and with so much activity, that the short delay proved rather of service than otherwise; for the English fleet, which had also been driven into harbour by the storm, could not be got ready to meet the invaders. Steering for the west of England, the Prince of Orange landed in Torbay, on the 5th November 1688, being the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, an era which seemed propitious to an enterprise commenced in opposition to the revival of Popery in England.
Immediately on his landing, the Prince published a manifesto, setting forth, in plain and strong terms, the various encroachments made by the reigning monarch upon the British constitution, and upon the rights as well of the church as of private persons and corporate bodies. He came, he said, with an armed force, to protect his person from the King’s evil counsellors, but declared that his only purpose was to have a full and free Parliament assembled, in order to procure a general settlement of religion, liberty, and property. Notwithstanding that so many persons of rank and influence had privately encouraged the Prince of Orange to this undertaking,1 there appeared at first very little alacrity to support him in carrying it through. The inhabitants of the western counties, where the Prince landed, were overawed by recollection of the fearful punishment inflicted upon those who had joined Monmouth, and the Prince had advanced to Exeter ere he was joined by any adherent of consequence. But from the time that one or two gentlemen of consideration joined him, a general commotion took place all over England, and the nobility and gentry assumed arms on every side for redress of the grievances set forth in the Prince’s manifesto.
In the midst of this universal defection, King James gave orders to assemble his army, assigned Salisbury for his headquarters, and announced his purpose of fighting the invaders. But he was doomed to experience to what extent he had alienated the affections of his subjects by his bigoted and tyrannical conduct. Several noblemen and officers of rank publicly deserted, and carried off to the Prince’s army numbers of their soldiers. Amongst these was Lord Churchill, afterwards the celebrated Duke of Marlborough. He was a particular favourite of the unhappy King, who had bestowed a peerage on him, with high rank in the army; and his desertion to the Prince on this occasion showed that the universal aversion to King James’s measures had alienated the affections of those who would otherwise have been most devotedly attached to him.
A still more striking defection seems to have destroyed the remains of the unhappy Monarch’s resolution. His second daughter, the Princess Anne, who was married to a younger son of the King of Denmark, called Prince George, escaped by night from London, under the protection of the Bishop of that city, who raised a body of horse for her safeguard, and rode armed at their head. She fled to Nottingham, where she was received by the Earl of Dorset, and declared for a free Protestant Parliament. Her husband, and other persons of the first distinction, joined the Prince of Orange.
The sudden and unexpected dissolution of his power, when every morning brought intelligence of some new defection or insurrection, totally destroyed the firmness of James, who, notwithstanding his folly and misconduct, becomes, in this period of unmitigated calamity, an object of oar pity. At the tidings of his daughter’s flight, he exclaimed, with the agony of paternal feeling, “ God help me, my own children desert me I” In the extremity and desolation of his distress, the unfortunate monarch seems to have lost all those qualities which had gained him in earlier life the character of courage and sagacity; and the heedless rashness with which he had scorned the distant danger, was only equalled by the prostrating degree of intimidation which now overwhelmed him.
He disbanded his army, to the great increase of the general confusion; and, finally, terrified by the recollection of his father’s fate, he resolved to withdraw himself from his kingdom. It is probable that he could not have taken any resolution which would have been so grateful to the Prince of Orange. If James had remained in Britain, the extremity of his misfortunes would probably have awakened the popular compassion; and the tenets of the High Churchmen and Tories, although they had given way to their apprehensions for the safety of religion and liberty, might, when these were considered as safe, have raised many partisans to the distressed monarch. Besides, while King James remained in his dominions, it would have been an obnoxious and odious attempt, on the part of the Prince of Orange, to have plucked the crown forcibly from the head of his father-in-law, in order to place it upon his own. On the other hand, if the flight of the King into foreign countries should leave the throne unoccupied, nothing could be so natural as to place there the next Protestant heir of the crown, by whose providential interference the liberties and constitution of the country had been rescued from such imminent danger.
Fortune seemed at first adverse to an escape, which was desired by King James, owing to his fears, and by the Prince of Orange, in consequence of his hopes. As the King, attended by one gentleman, endeavoured to get on board of a vessel prepared for his escape, they were seized by some rude fishermen, who were looking out to catch such priests and Catholics as were flying from the kingdom. At the hands of these men the unfortunate Monarch received some rough treatment, until the gentry of the country interposed for the protection of his person, but still refused to permit him to depart the kingdom. He was allowed, however, to return to London, where the rabble, with their usual mutability, and moved with compassion for the helpless state to which they beheld the King reduced, received him with acclamations of favour.
The Prince of Orange, not a little disappointed by this incident, seems to have determined to conduct himself towards his father-in-law with such a strain of coldness and severity as should alarm James for his personal safety, and determine him to resume his purpose of flight. With such a view, the Prince refused to receive the nobleman whom the King had sent to him to desire a conference, and ordered the messenger to be placed under arrest. In reply to the message, he issued a command, transmitted at midnight, that the King should leave his palace the next morning. The dejected sovereign yielded to the mandate, and, at his own request, Rochester was assigned for his abode. That happened which must have been foreseen, from his choosing a place near the river as his temporary habitation.(23d Dec.) James privately embarked on board or a frigate, and was safely landed at Ambleteuse, in France. He was received by Louis XIV. with the utmost generosity and hospitality, and lived for many years at St Germains, under his protection and at his expense, excepting only during a short campaign (to be afterwards noticed) in Ireland. Every effort to replace him in his dominions, only proved destructive to those who were engaged in them. The exiled monarch was looked upon with reverence by sincere Catholics, who counted him as a martyr to his zeal for the form of religion which he and they professed; but by others he was ridiculed as a bigot, who had lost three kingdoms for the sake of a mass.
A Convention, as it was called (in effect a Parliament, though not such in form, because it could not be summoned in the King’s name), was convoked at Westminster; and, at their first meeting, they returned their unanimous thanks to the Prince of Orange for the deliverance which he had achieved for the nation. The House of Commons then proceeded, by a great majority, to vote that King James had forfeited his regal title by a variety of encroachments on the constitution; that, by his flight, he had abdicated the government; and that the throne was vacant. But as great part of this resolution was adverse to the doctrine of the Tories, who refused to adopt it, the mention of forfeiture was omitted; and it was finally settled, that by his evil administration, and subsequent flight from Britain, King James had abdicated the throne. And I cannot forbear to point out to you the singular wisdom of both the great parties in the state, who, by keeping the expressions of their resolution so general as to clash with the sentiments of neither, concurred in a measure so important, without starting any theoretical disputes to awaken party contention at a moment when the peace of England depended on unanimity.
The throne being thus declared vacant, the important question remained, by whom it should be filled. This was a point warmly disputed. The Tories were contented that the Prince of Orange should exercise the regal power, but only under the title of Regent. They could not reconcile themselves to the dethroning a King and electing his successor; and contended, that James’s course of misconduct did not deprive him of his kingly right and title, but only operated like some malady, which rendered him unfit to have the exercise of regal power. The Whigs replied, that this doctrine would prevent the nation from deriving the desired advantages from the Revolution, since, if James was in any respect to be acknowledged as a sovereign, he might return and claim the power which is inalienable from the royal right. Besides, if James was still King, it was evident that his son, who had been carried abroad, in order that he might be bred up in Popery, and in arbitrary doctrines, must be acknowledged after the death of James himself. They, therefore, declared for the necessity of filling up the vacant sovereignty. A third party endeavoured to find a middle opinion, with regard to which the objections applicable to those we have just expressed should not hold good. They proposed that the crown should be conferred on Mary, Princess of Orange, in her own right; thus passing over the infant Prince of Wales, and transferring their allegiance to Mary as the next Protestant heir of the crown.
The Prince of Orange, who had listened to, and
watched these debates in silence, but with deep interest, now summoned a small council of leading persons, to whom he made his sentiments known.
He would not, he said, interfere in any respect with the right of the English Parliament to arrange their future government according to their own laws, or their own pleasure. But he felt it necessary to acquaint them, that if they chose to be governed by a Regent, he would not accept that office. Neither was he disposed to take the government of the kingdom under his wife, supposing she was chosen Queen. If either of these modes of settlement were adopted, he informed them he would retire entirely from all interference with British affairs. The Princess, his wife, seconded her husband’s views, to whom she always paid the highest degree of conjugal deference.
The wisdom and power of the Prince of Orange, nay even the assistance of his military force, were absolutely indispensable to the settlement of England, divided as it was by two rival political parties, who had indeed been forced into union by the general fear of James’s tyranny, but were ready to renew their dissensions the instant the overwhelming pressure of that fear was removed. The Convention were, therefore, obliged to regulate the succession to the throne upon the terms agreeable to the Prince of Orange. The Princess and he were called to the throne jointly, under the title of King William and Queen Mary, the survivor succeeding the party who should first die. The Princess Anne of Denmark, was named to succeed after the death of her sister and brother-in-law, and the claims of James’s infant son were entirely passed over.
The Convention did not neglect this opportunity to annex to the settlement of the crown a Declaration of Rights, determining in favour of the subject those rights which had been contested during the late reigns, and drawing with more accuracy and precision than had hitherto been employed, the lines which circumscribe the royal authority.
Such was this memorable Revolution, which (saving a petty and accidental skirmish) decided the fate of a great kingdom without bloodshed, and in which, perhaps for the only time in history, the heads of the discordant factions of a great empire laid aside their mutual suspicion and animosity, and calmly and dispassionately discussed the great concerns of the nation, without reference to their own interests, or those of their party. To the memory of this Convention, or Parliament, the Britannic kingdoms owe the inestimable blessing of a constitution, fixed on the decided and defined principles of civil and religious liberty.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00