In this article we will discuss about the reign of James II, 1685-88.
No king of England before had a better start than James II. Even before accession he had ready been acting, as Charles II’s deputy and earlier on, in his brother’s reign, he had shown the better side or his character. He had done excellent work in the Council for Plantations and as the head of the Navy organised the royal fleet and led it into hottest engagements with the Dutch in the Dutch War.
People knew that he was a Roman Catholic, for his mother had converted all children of Charles I except Charles II, into Catholicism, but he worshipped privately and no objection raised to his religion.
Two brothers Charles II and James II, both sons of Charles I were strikingly contrasted in character. The contrast came out in their physical appearances as well in their characters. Both were well-built and tall, but while Charles was dark, James was fair. Charles had shrewd, dark, friendly eyes and lips always ready to part in laughter but James had blue, bleak eyes and faced the world with an insolent stare, and was tight-lipped and always cold and matter of fact.
Yet both the brothers were alike in viciousness of private life. James entirely lacked his brother’s coolness and good humour, and was proud and obstinate. He also lacked Charles’ cautiousness and sensitiveness to public opinion, James was reckless enough to consider any opinion not to his liking to be that of the rebels.
Charles realised the intensity of the feeling against Caltholicism and reigned for long twenty-five years and finished as an autocrat by the consent of the people, but James suffered from the initial handicap of not realizing what the people felt and lost his throne in less than four years (1685-88), although he had inherited a far stronger position in 1685 than his brother had done in 1660. He was, however, more honest than Charles, but was certainly more wilful and stupid.
There was no opposition when James II had ascended the throne and his first address to the Privy Council that he would follow the example of his late brother and would specially endeavour to preserve the existing government both in State and Church gave great satisfaction to those who were the loyal section of the nation.
Loyal addresses poured in from all sides, the pulpit as usual; resounded the king’s quality, University of Oxford promised obedience. In short James II’s accession was popular.
During his brother’s last years, James had prevented the summoning of the Parliament. But he now summoned one and through his friends and agents managed to have a royalist majority. The new Parliament met and not only granted the whole revenue voted to Charles II but an extra supply of £400,000.
He also desired the Parliament to relieve the Catholics from the penal laws. But before he had come to grips with the Catholic question the news of Monmouth’s landing at Lyme Regis arrived.
Duke of Monmouth was the eldest of the illegitimate children of Charles II and was in Holland. He on hearing of Charles’ death decided to come to England and proclaim himself king in the hope that a large number of English. Protestants would stand for him. But he was mistaken. Earl of Argyll, head of the anti-Stuart Campbell clan returned from Holland to the south-western Highlands.
Monmouth was in concert with him. But Argyll’s followers were not sufficiently strong to stand against the Scottish royalist army, further more, they quarreled among themselves. The result was that Argyll was captured and executed.
Monmouth received scant support in Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset but his small following was outnumbered by the royalist troops under the command of Feversham and John Churchill, the later famous Duke of Marlborough.
The two armies met at Sedgemoor. Monmouth’s troops after a manly fight broke into a rout. Monmouth had deserted before the end of the battle, but was captured and executed. The battle of Sedgemoor was cruel enough but its results were more terrible.
The rebels were pursued for several weeks by Colonel Kirke, the Commander of the notorious Lambs as his soldiers were called, and were hanged wholesale after capture. James II sent Chief Justice Jeffreys to southwest to hold assizes.
All persons directly or indirectly alleged to have helped the rebels were brought up for trial and in the mocker)’ of a trial Jeffreys showed no mercy to any one. An old woman Alice Lisle was not spared for she had performed the most natural art of human kindness by sheltering some fugitives. These infamous assizes were known as Bloody Assizes.
The removal of Monmouth made James II feel more secure and strong. It had also reconciled the House of Orange, for his opened the opportunity of William and Mary to succeed James II. But what was more important, the Monmouth rebellion enabled James II to become a military despot.
He did not disband his army but kept 15,000 troops largely officered by Catholics in camp at Hounslow Heath near London. Meanwhile James was raising a Catholic army in Ireland and on these soldiers, regarded as foreigners by his other subjects, he was ready to depend in the last resort, for the coercion of the English Protestants.
James was fixed in his ideas. His designs were to restore Roman Catholic Church in England and to make himself a despot after the fashion of the French monarchy. He now proceeded to realise his aims. We supported Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) which had granted toleration to the Huguenots.
The Parliament in the same winter (1685) and becoming suspicious of the king’s intentions in keeping the standing army, refused to vote supplies unless he gave clear assurance about the religion. The Parliament also demanded reduction of the army according to law, but James insisted on the repeal of the Test Act to legalise the officers’ position.
This the Lords and the Commons refused to concede. But James thought himself sufficiently strong to deal with the Parliament because of the army, including the one raised in Ireland and hope of getting money from France, as his brother did, sought to become independent of the Parliament He prorogued the Parliament, and proceeded on his design in defiance of those laws which, in vain, he attempted to have changed.
Catholic propaganda was publicly revived and rewards were offered for apostasy. Those who would controvert such propaganda were tried by the Court of High Commission which James II formed. Sunderland and Jeffreys were the leading spirits of this revived court. It goes without saying that revival of the Court of High Commission was illegal for the law which had abolished it had forbidden the creation of such court.
Meanwhile James either filled the vacant bishoprics by Roman Catholics or left them vacant. He also warned Parker, the Bishop of Oxford to bring round his clergy. But the chief effort of James was directed towards filling civil and military offices with Catholics. As he could not have the Test Act repealed, he proceeded to circumvent it by exercise of prerogative and thereby dispense with its provisions.
The judges who refused their assent to this doctrine of dispensing power were dismissed and James obtained from obedient court a decision in favour of dispensing power in Hales’ case (1686). The king thus claimed power to dispense with the law in particular cases and proceeded to place upon the bench of magistrates persons of Roman Catholic faith.
Catholics were introduced into the Privy Council. The entire governmental machinery was, in this way, passing into the hands of the Catholics.
His brothers-in- law Clarendon and Rochester were dismissed and Catholics appointed instead. But a Catholic middle- class hardly existed and those who existed were not willing to become instruments of folly of James II.
The king sought alliance with a section of his Protestant subjects in order to fill the corporations which power was now in the hands of the king after Charles II had made the corporations to surrender their charters’ to him, as also to pack the Parliament. But the bulk of the Non-conformists refused the hand of their bitterest persecutors.
James’ full fury now fell on the Anglican Church. As the leaders of the Anglican Church refused to lend their influence on behalf of his Catholic propaganda, James determined to seize the property of the Anglican Church. In those days the Universities belonged to the Church establishment.
James illegally converted two Oxford colleges into Popish seminaries, turned out the fellows of the Magdalen College to make rooms for Catholics, for they had refused to elect the king’s nominee as their President.
A Catholic was appointed Dean of the Christ Church College, Oxford. The Vice-Chancellor of the Cambridge University was deprived of his office for refusing to confer M.A. degree on a Benedictine monk without the necessary test. The result of this high-handedness was the loss of two centres which had been traditionally royalist in sentiment and loyal supporters of the Stuartts.
James II followed the footsteps of his brother in claiming suspending power by virtue of which right, he thought, he could suspend the laws and statues passed by the Parliament against the Roman Catholics and Dissenters.
In 1687, at the instance of William Penn, a strong and sincere Jacobite but a good man, James issued his First Declaration of Indulgence in the hope of gaining support to his policy from the Dissenters. The declaration, of course would benefit the Catholics chiefly.
By this declaration he suspended all the penal laws against both the Dissenters and Catholics. Halifax who was dismissed by James issued a pamphlet warning the Dissenters that they were being hugged now only to be better squeezed another time. The effect was encouraging and the Dissenters were not much enthusiastic about the Declaration of Indulgence.
James II’s conduct had by the end of 1687 alienated most of his subjects. The Tories who were supporters of his brother Charles II became equally alarmed as the Whigs like Clarendon, Rochester, Halifax and others. His attack on the Universities offended the Church of England.
The Universities were since the days of Charles I centres of Tory and Anglican sentiments. But James II was making enemies of the very people who were really his friends. The whole Church, indeed the whole nation was now united against James and the possibility of deposing him and placing his daughter Mary, wife of William Prince of Orange of Holland, was being discussed.
In fact leading lords of England were in communication with William who refused to come over to England as a prince consort. He would only agree in case he and his wife were accepted as king and queen and a formal invitation from leading Englishmen was sent to him.
In May 1688; James issued his Second Declaration of Indulgence and ordered it to be read in all Anglican Churches. The Bishops found if too much to tolerate. Seven Bishops headed by Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, petitioned the king to be exempted from enforcing the order.
James got them arrested and sent them to the Tower and ordered their trial for seditious libel. Had not the king lost his head, he would not have pursued this mad course, for when the bishops were being led to the Tower they were given an unprecedented ovation, even the Tower guards knelt before them for blessings.
The trial took place and the jury eventually returned a not guilty verdict and the bishops were set free. This sent a wave of rejoicing all over the country which, by implication was opposition to James. This was oil June 30, 1688. Next day, i.e., on July 1; 1688 a son was born to James. The acquittal of Seven Bishops and birth of a son at a time when James II was regarded as unfit to have any heir, decided James’ fate.
It became clear that the newly born son, when placed on the throne would perpetuate the policy of James II. James might possibly be tolerated for the rest of his life because with him would end his policy. But now that a son was born that hope was dashed, to the ground. The only course open was to formally send invitation to William and Mary.
The Whigs and the Tory leaders signed invitation to William. Admiral Russell, Henry Sydney—Whigs, Danby—a Tory, Lumley an ex-Catholic and three other moderates signed the invitation which was carried to Holland by Admiral Herbert in disguise of an ordinary sailor.
As William was raising an army and fitting a fleet to invade England, Louis XIV considered attacking Holland in supporting the cause of James II. But such was the feeling of the nation that James did not venture even to have any secret alliance with France in his defence. In November, 1688, William landed at Torbay in Devonshire with fifteen thousand troops including four thousand English soldiers who were serving in Holland.
As soon as he landed in England all sections of people offered him friendly welcome. James found that he had no supporters behind him. He left for France with his wife and child in the hope of future victory with the French assistance but he did never again land in England. Thus without shedding a drop of blood a revolution of great significance in the history of England, took place, aptly tailed Bloodless Revolution.