In this article you will discuss about the William and Mary as King and Queen of England. After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Revolution Settlement 2. The Bill of Rights 3. Act of Settlement (1701) 4. Domestic Policy of William 5. Foreign Policy of William III 6. William and Scotland 7. William and Ireland.


  1. Revolution Settlement
  2. The Bill of Rights
  3. Act of Settlement (1701)
  4. Domestic Policy of William
  5. Foreign Policy of William III
  6. William and Scotland
  7. William and Ireland

1. Revolution Settlement:

The proclamation of William and Mary as King and Queen of England was dictated by the necessities of the circumstance but it chanced that the necessities of the moment coin­cided with the tendencies of the age.

Both the Tories and the Whigs were jealous of the prerogative power. By the Declaration of Rights (1688), Bill of Rights (1689) and Toleration Act (1689), all the outstanding issues between the king and his subjects were decided in favour of the subjects and against the king whose tenure was made strictly conditional.


By the Civil List ordinary expenses of the Crown was fixed. The Mutiny Act, Triennial Act, prevented keeping the Par­liament in abeyance. The non-renewal of Licensing Act, the Act of Settlement and the growth of the Cabi­net System completed the Revolution Settlement.

The settlement of the constitution arranged by William and Parliament was as permanent as such arrangements can ever be, it was never challenged by anybody.

2. The Bill of Rights:

The first Parliament of the new reign made a Declaration of Rights, which came to be called the Bill of Rights when formally passed by the Parliament. The passing of the Bill of Rights in 1689 ended the long struggle which had been going on under the Stuarts. The Bill of Rights limited the sovereign’s powers in certain important directions.

This document was yet; another charter of the English liberties, and completed the process of constitutional government in England begun by the Magna Carta in 1215.


The provisions of the Bill of Rights sought to re­move the legislative and judicial abuses, secure privi­leges of Parliament and the liberties of the people.

(a) The pretended power of suspending or dis­pensing with laws by royal authority was illegal.

(b) No money should be levied by the king except by the grant of the Parliament.

(c) The king should not keep any standing army in times of peace without the consent of the Parliament.


(d) Elections to the Parliament were to be free, ‘ought to be held fre­quently’ and the Parliament should enjoy freedom of speech and debate.

(e) Existence of the Court of High Commission and similar courts was declared illegal.

(f) Excessive, cruel and unusual punishments were not to be imposed.

(g) Subjects should have the right to petition the king.

(h) Catholic succession to the throne of England was declared illegal.

It goes without saying that the Bill of Rights sought to make the repetition of the illegal and auto­cratic activities of the time of James II impossible. The extra-legal powers claimed by James II were declared illegal and he was placed under the financial control of the Parliament.

Not only this, the army also came to be under the control of the Parliament, for its deployment, in times of peace was made illegal without the consent of the Parliament.

Despotic courts meant to liquidate persons who were antago­nistic to the king, such as the Court of High Commission were abolished. Freedom of election, free­dom of speech and debate were ensured. The Bill of Rights ensured Puritan triumph by excluding Catho­lic succession to the English throne.

In short the effect of the Bill of Rights was to make royal despot­ism impossible in England. It laid the foundations on which the constitutional monarchy in England rests and determined the future political history of England.

It is easy to see the connection of the above pro­visions with the events of James II’s reign. The Bill of Rights ensured against the resumption of arbitrary powers by any future king of England.

The next important step taken by the Parliament was the passing of the Army Annual Act also called the Munity Act (1689) by which the army of England is made legal by an act passed every year. This is an­other reason why the Parliament has to be summoned annually.

This act authorised the king to maintain a standing army only for one year, which while ensured summoning of Parliament annually, made the Parliament the real control over the army.

The civil list was reduced to the minimum and the system of annual grants and annual audit of accounts was instituted. By this method, the Parliament con­trolled the finances and compelled the king to sum­mon annual Parliament for voting of grants. Finance proved to be the most potent power of controlling the executive government in the hands of the Parliament.

The Revolution of 1688 which determined the future political history of England, was accompanied by an important step forward in the way of religious toleration. William of Orange was a Calvinist and was definitely against the persecution of the Dissen­ters.

The Parliament, therefore, passed the Toleration Act (1689) by which the non-Conformists were per­mitted to worship in their own way without any interference from the law.

They were, however, not allowed to share in the local or the national govern­ment till the nineteenth century when the Corpo­ration Act and the Test Act were repealed. The Roman Catholics were not included in the Toleration Act but in practice there was no interference with their own Church services in peace.

The Toleration Act which was the work of William and the Whig Parliament and also of the more moderate, church­men, was refused to be accepted by a section of the clergy, called the High Churchmen. They refused to take oath of allegiance to William; they also were believers in the Theory of Divine Right of Kings.

The High Churchmen were deprived of their sees and benefices. They formed a sect called the No jurors and continued to exist for some generations. The expulsion of the High Churchmen from the sees and benefices gave rise to Low Churchmen who were moderate in their religious views and who became the typical English Church dignitaries of the eighteenth century.

The reign of William and Mary was also impor­tant for other legislations. In 1694 the Triennial Act was passed which limited the life of the Parliament to three years and provided for the fresh elections of Parliament every three years. This put an end to the possibility of avoiding elections beyond three years.

William did not renew the Licensing Act and allowed it to lapse, and as a result, the censorship of the Press was abolished and England had her free Press.

By passing the new Treason Act the former treason law was modified and fair trial with right of defence through lawyers was guaranteed to persons alleged to be guilty of any act of treason.

3. Act of Settlement (1701):

To guard against the restoration of the old line of kings, the Parlia­ment passed an important Act called the Act of Settle­ment in 1701. This Act was passed with a view to pre­venting Catholic succession to the English throne or in other words to ensure Protestant succession.

Mary was already dead, and in want of any children of Mary and William, the Parliament decided that Princes Anne, the younger daughter of James II, a Protestant by faith, should succeed William.

But not only that, the Parliament also decided that if Anne should die childless, the Crown should pass to Sophia, Electress of Hanover, who was a grand daughter of James I of England and a Protestant. It may be noted here that legally speaking there were better claimants to the throne. But as they were all Catholics, the Parliament by exercise of its supreme authority, diverted the line of succession.

The Act of Settlement also provided that all future kings of England must belong to the English Church. Further, to protect the judges against what had been the Stuart practice of dismissing judges who would not give verdict for the Crown in impor­tant cases, it was provided that judges were not to be removed from office except on a motion of the Parliament.

The judges were to receive fixed salaries. All this ensured the independence of the judiciary which is so needed to uphold individual liberties.

Again, to ensure against the Stuart practice of saving their ministers by granting, pardon although impeached by the Parliament, it was provided that royal pardon could not be produced as a defence against impeachment, nor could royal order be shown as a justification for an otherwise illegal act.

This clause added a very important constitutional practice in England, for it made the ministers of the king responsible for their acts. Ministerial responsibility was thus initiated.

The Act of Settlement also provided that the king could not involve the country in any foreign wars without the approval of the Parliament. This gave the Parliament control over the foreign policy of the country.

There were also a few other temporary provi­sions of the Act of Settlement which were repealed in the next reign. These were provisions for making it obligatory for the king to obtain the consent of the Parliament for leaving the country.

The king was not to wage war for his foreign possessions in his personal capacity. These two clauses were necessary because William was a foreigner, but were repealed after him.

The Act of Settlement was of supreme impor­tance, in the constitution of England. It established truly and firmly limited monarchy in England and made the Parliament supreme in the English con­stitution. The English kingship, it was now estab­lished, was dependant on the will of the nation as reflected through the Parliament, and not hereditary.

Independence of the judiciary, so vital for the pre­servation of individual liberties, was guaranteed. By ensuring Protestant succession, the Parliament made England legally and constitutionally a Protestant country.

4. Domestic Policy of William:

In the domes­tic front the reign of William, now William III (and his queen Mary, now Mary II) was important for more than one reason. Although the Whigs and Tories had joined in inviting William to England, a rift between them soon began. William was both a personal and political enemy of Louis XIV of France, and thought of obtaining the combined support of the Whigs and the Tories against France.

But the Tories did not like the war policy of William and the Whigs, who were their political rivals. William now found it difficult to carry the opposing parties—the Whigs and the Tories together with him and decided to appoint his ministers from the Whigs alone for the sake of unity and homo­geneity among the ministers. It so happened at that time, that the Whigs were in a majority in the House of Commons.

This was the beginning of the practice of forming the Cabinet from the majority party in the Commons and the principle of Homo­geneity of the Cabinet. Exclusion of the Privy Council and formation of Cabinet for the real busi­ness of the state became more and more established in the reign of William III.

The new Whig ministry known as the Whig Junto was formed with Somers, Russell, Wharton, Charles Montague and Shrewsbury.

The king and the Whig ministry demanded of the Parliament a larger supply, than ever for carrying on war with France which England had joined on behalf of the League of Augsburg after William’s accession to the English throne. The Parliament voted eighty-three thousand troops and naval esti­mates of a large amount.

Although there were vio­lent debates on the naval miscarriages yet the ques­tion of everybody’s concern was how to raise large sums to maintain the land and sea forces. A land tax, stamp-duties, a tax on hackney coaches, and a state lottery were the expedients to meet the financial need.

Two important features of the English national finance made their appearance under William. William’s war with France needed more money than could be obtained by taxation. Charles Montague who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the first time borrowed on the security of the government which made such borrowings national debts. The Eng­lish national debt dates from 1693.

The interest paid on such borrowings was made a charge on the reve­nue. This naturally opened to the people of England a very good and sound avenue for investing their savings. The system of national debt also spread out he time of repayment and thereby saved the indus­tries and trades from being crushed by heavy burden of taxation.

The other important feature was the establish­ment of the Bank of England in 1694 which gave a solid foundation to England’s commercial and imperial development in the next century. This also offered a good opportunity to the investors to make sound investment of their savings.

The greatest achievement of the Whig ministers was thus the institution of the modern system of finance with which England has since fought all her great wars of European security and colonial expansion. A regular method of borrowing set up by the system of public debts and institutions of the Bank of England enabled the king who could not tax his subjects at will.

A yet more difficult task, namely that of re-coinage was carried through by the Whig leaders, in danger and difficulty, at a time of war and general depression.

“The Whig leaders of the rising genera­tions, Somers and Montague, in close consultation with the Whig philosophers, Newton and Locke, effected these great measures, which they had devised by their own science and wisdom, and carried through by the strength of party spirit in the city and the House of Commons.”

In 1695 occurred the restoration of the currency which had become very much worn out and therefore inferior in value, due to clipping round the edges of the coins. A new coinage was issued with milled edges which made clipping or rubbing off the edges impossible. The new coinage without any possibility of being clipped re­tained its full value which facilitated trade and commerce.

The theory of Balance of Trade was held by both the Whigs and the Tories, though the former held it in a more extreme form.

Despite the advocacy of free-trade by Tory economists like Dudley North, Child, and Dovenant, the Whigs who were in favour of stopping trade with France also as a measure of antagonism, stopped trading with that country and thereby showed themselves to be more protectionist! than the Tories had been (1689).

Early in 1696 a plot was hatched in England by Sir George Barclay a Scottish Catholic officer of James II’s guards sent by James himself to incite a rising in arms in England in favour of James II. Meanwhile a French fleet and army were to be assembled at Dunkirk and Calais of which James himself was to take command.

The assassination plot was discovered and the principal persons implicated in the plot were arrested and executed. Among these were the Earl of Aylesbury, Sir George Barclay, Lord Montgomery, William Perkins and many others.

On the discovery of the plot, the king personally arrived and informed both the Houses of the matter. The Houses at once empowered William to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act and drew up a form of associa­tion binding themselves to protect the king’s person and government against James II and to maintain the Act of Settlement.

In 1701 the Whigs lost majority in the House of Commons and William had to choose his ministers from the Tory party, although he was personally not much willing to repose his trust on the Tories. But, choosing of ministers from the majority party in the House of Commons gave a good start in the reign of William.

5. Foreign Policy of William III:

The main object of William’s life, in pursuit of which he had accepted the Crown of England, was to overthrow the power of Louis XIV of France in Europe. It was not only a political conflict with Louis, but a personal enmity, that made William so determined. The first eight years of his reign were spent in war with France, and William used the power and money of England for accomplishing his European aims.

William, before his accession to the English throne was the architect of the European alliance called the League of Augsburg for the purpose of resting Louis XIV. As the king of England William’s chief interests lay in preventing Louis from occupying Holland and Belgium and to protect the maritime and colonial interest of England against French rivalry.

Louis XIV’s object was to dethrone William and restore James II to the English throne.

The aggression of Louis XIV even during peace by interpreting the former treaties to his own advan­tage, had led to the formation of the League of Augs­burg which was now joined by England on the acces­sion of William on the throng. England, Holland, Spain, German Princes and the Emperor (of Austria) stood together against France.

In the war that followed, known as the War of the League of Augs­burg (1689-97) , William stood at the head of the European alliance. This war was fought on all the French frontiers, at sea, in Ireland, and on the colo­nies of North America.

In the war William was not very successful. During his absence in Ireland, the combined Anglo- Dutch fleet was defeated by the French off the Beachy Head (1690) which exposed England to French invasion. But within two years (1692) Admiral Russell defeated the French fleet off La Hogue which improved the English situation considerably.

On land William was beaten at Sterinkirk and Neerwinden but William defeated the French near Namur and occu­pied it. What for the un-decisive character of the war and what for the weariness of the parties to war, the Peace of Ryswick was signed (1697). Louis XIV had to restore his conquests during the war and many of the places that he had occupied by interpreting the clauses of the earlier peace treaties.

He had also to recognise William as the rightful king of England and give up the cause of James II who had taken shelter in France. Holland was permitted to build a line of barrier fortresses as a defence against France. In 1698 The Treaty of Ryswick succeeded in checking Louis’ policy of aggression.

In the meantime Charles II, king of Spain lay dying. He had no heir to succeed him. The vast empire of Spain was sought to be swallowed by France whose king was related to the Spanish house. But Louis knew well that union of France and Spain would violently disturb the European balance of power.

So in order to disarm possible English and Austrian opposition, he proposed a partition of the Spanish empire even before Charles II was dead. By the First Partition that was arranged for in 1698, all the three claimants to the Spanish empire divided it between themselves.

The Electoral Prince of Bavaria being the weakest of the claimants, was given the major portion, and the rest was divided between France and Austria.

But the Electoral Prince died soon after, which led to the Second Partition in 1700; the Spanish empire was divided between Austria and France, the former taking the major share. The par­tition was done in such a way as would be least dangerous to the European balance of power and to the Spanish American trade of England.

But Charles II who Still lingered in his death bed defeated the purpose of the Second Partition Treaty by making a Will which gave the entire inheritance to the grand­son of Louis XIV.

Louis accepted the Will disregard­ing the Second Partition Treaty and Austria’s claims according to that. Not only this, Louis occupied the line of fortresses which, Holland was permitted to build according to the Treaty of Ryswick and filled them with French troops. Louis also threw the Treaty of Ryswick to the winds by recognising James II’s son as the rightful claimant to the English throne.

All this made the policy of William against Louis almost infructuous. As a matter of fact, Louis had threatened the very basis of William’s kingship in England. Further, acceptance of Charles II’s Will by Louis XIV on behalf of his grandson which gave the entire Spanish empire to France was certainly going to threaten the Spanish American trade of England. Austria was the most aggrieved party.

William again served as the pivot of a European alliance called the Grand Alliance against France in which England, Holland, Prussia and Austria joined. Portugal and Savoy also joined the alliance later. War was declared against France and it continued from 1701 to 1715.

The War of Spanish Succession (1701-13) is the only example in history of a struggle between the principal powers of Europe for the possession of a great western empire which was unable to defend it­self. But soon after the commencement of the war William died (1702) leaving it to his successor to finish.

6. William and Scotland:

Scotland and Ireland also drew the attention of William. In Scotland the Highlanders under the leadership of Viscount Dundee refused to recognise William and Mary as sovereigns and stood by James II. William sent troops to subdue Viscount Dundee and to reduce him to obedience. But in the encounter that followed, Viscount Dundee was killed. The battle is called the battle of Killiecrankie (1689).

It was agreed that the Highlanders would take the oath of allegiance to William by the first day of the year 1692. All did so except the chief of the clan of the Macdonalds of Glencoe who was delayed by accident. Sir John Dalrymple, a Secretary of State induced William to punish the clan.

Troops were sent under Robert Campbell to Glenlyon, who treacherously killed the chief of Glencoe and thirty-seven of his followers. The crime was denounced both at home and abroad. William had to dismiss Sir John Dalrymple to pacify the indignation.

A few years later some London merchants formed a plan for promoting Scottish colonisation in Africa. A company called the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies was floated. Darien near Panama was chosen as the place for the Scottish colo­nisation.

The Spaniards objected to this plan, as Darien was within their colonial sphere. But the ex­pedition was sent which failed due to bad climate and Spanish hostility. A tremendous loss was sustained by the Scottish shareholders of the company.

7. William and Ireland:

In Catholic Ireland, Catholic James II naturally had support. James II landed at Kinsale (1689) and began a war against the Protestant Ulster. William’s supporters in Ulster, called the Orangemen defended only Londonderry, the rest of Ulster being conquered by James.

Londonderry was laid under a siege which was broken by an English ship. William reached Ireland the next year(1690) and defeated James in the battle of Boyne.

James fied to France leaving his Irish supporters to the mercy of William. The whole country was reduced, and Limerick was the only town that held out. The inhabitants of the town surrendered on condition that they should be allowed to retain Catholicism and enjoy the rights they did under Charles II.

But the Treaty of Limerick was not honoured by the English Parliament which passed a law that only Protestants could sit in ‘the Irish Par­liament. After this the Irish Parliament passed a series of penal measures which reduced the Irish Catholics to misery. Even the English Parliament did not hesitate to restrict the Irish trade and industry by passing an act.

Ireland could not export wool to any country other than England, but a very high tariff made it impossible to export wool even to England.

William was never loved in England. He under­stood that his presence in England was a disagreeable necessity. Nor was William’s personality an attrac­tive one. His personal tastes were those of a warrior rather than of a statesman, but courage like that of William was rare in kings.

Of short stature, fragile looking, thin and unimpressive, William was cold and repellent in his manners. His habits were un­sociable, irascible and peevish.

Yet he was magnani­mous in dealing with his enemies, patient and calm in times of crisis, and unwearied in dealing with public affairs. To a very small circle of friends whose fidelity he could trust, he was kind, cordial, open and jocose.

“His aims were magnificent, but his heart was cold; he was a stoic in the tradition of the ancient heroes of Greece and Rome, and the ideal of duty ruled his life.” But the affection which he failed to inspire in his people came in abundance for his kind-hearted and pious Queen Mary, who predeceased him in 1694.