The ChurchinHistory Information Centre
JAMES II AND THE 'GLORIOUS REVOLUTION' OF
THE MAIN ACCUSATIONS AGAINST JAMES II
King Charles 11 had been accused of signing a secret clause in the Anglo-French 'Treaty of Dover', which promised to re-establish the Roman Catholic Church in England, against the wishes of the Protestant population. James II was now accused of pursuing the same 'Grand Design'.
a. The Treaty of Dover of 22nd May 1670 was between Charles II and King Louis XIV of France. It mainly concerned international affairs, but a secret clause concerning religion was included. Charles had informed Louis that he wished to become a Catholic, but feared the republicans would use the announcement of his change of religion as a pretext to arouse support for the overthrow of the Monarchy.
Louis, for reasons of international politics, wished Charles to remain in power. Louis therefore promised that if Charles should carry out his religious wish and needed help in maintaining his Crown, he would loan 6,000 troops to be paid for by Charles and to be under Charles' command. The loaning and hiring of armed forces between countries was a common practice in that century. There was nothing in the clause concerning any alleged plot to impose the Catholic religion on the rest of the people of England.
((For the wording of the Treaty, see the APPENDIX)).
b. When Catholic refugees in France spoke of their hopes of re-establishing their Church in England again, they used the French words "étabiir" or "s'établir" which James himself used ((JRJ 81)). These words mean:
'to fix, to erect, to set up, to establish, to found, to assert, to establish oneself, to take up one's residence, to settle down, to set up in business. ((CCFE)).
The English word "establish" is used in this sense today. For example we read, 'all subsequent attempts to establish Christianity in Tibet have met with but temporary success' ((AR 133)).
It was dishonest of the Whigs to distort the meaning of the words, and to assert that Catholics were planning to 'Establish' the Catholic Church in the way the Anglican Church was the Established religion of the State, with all other religions suppressed.
James explained to Barrillon, the French Ambassador, that his aim, regarding the Catholic Church, was to establish it in such a manner that it could not be ruined or destroyed ((MAB 59)).
c. Charles was 53 years old when he died. Although James was two years younger, he had poorer health, so felt that he would have little time in which to achieve his aim. ((JH 237)). James refused to disinherit his daughter Mary ((JRJ 81)), so knew a Protestant queen would follow him, who in turn would be succeeded by the Protestant Anne.
James informed the French ambassador that there was no chance of mass conversions in the near future. ((JRJ 82)). So the suggestion that James believed he could forcibly convert 5 1/2 million Protestants within a few years, and be so successful that they would not allow a Protestant queen to reverse the process, is to enter the world of fantasy. The only 'force' in the country was the army consisting mainly of Protestants. ((JH 238)).
James' enemies repeatedly accused him of believing in 'The Divine Right of Kings' and thereby claiming dictatorial power.
1. Catholics believe that the Pope has authority from God (i.e. a Divine Right) to rule Christ's Church throughout the world, including that part situated in England. He is a constitutional monarch, being bound by the fundamental laws of the Church as constituted by Jesus Christ ((EC 477)).
2. In the 16th and 17th Centuries monarchs asserted that kings derived their
3. When the English monarchs rejected the authority of the Pope, they justified their action by claiming: 'The Divine Right of Kings', which asserted that the king derived his rights from God and therefore had authority over that part of the Church situated within his realm. King James I, who reigned from 1603-25, made this Anglican doctrine very clear ((DW 79)). But, ' ... Catholic thinkers, notably Bellarmine and Suarez, and the Calvinists, opposed this theory' ((RC 70)). The Jesuits were prominent opponents of the 'Divine Right of Kings' ((DW 78)).
4. The kings in several Catholic countries interfered extensively in Church affairs. But, although the Popes had great difficulty in exercising their authority, the principle of the Papal position was still accepted. In France Louis XIV came very close to Anglican teaching on this point when he claimed "L'Etat c'est moi", meaning: 'I am the State'.
While insisting that he was still a Catholic, he aimed to separate the Church in France from the jurisdiction of the Pope. It was due to the Pope's tact and patience that a final break with Louis, and therefore the formation of a Gallican (i.e. French State) Church based on the 'Divine Right of Kings', was avoided.
5. The Catholic Church teaches that each state should act with justice and charity, but is indifferent as to whether it is a kingdom, a republic, or takes some other form. Catholic republics existed in Italy at the time James was king.
6. A citizen has a duty to obey his legitimate ruler in civil matters. "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" ((Matthew’s Gospel 22:21)). So where a kingdom exists, Catholics have to be loyal in civic affairs to the king. But, 'Regarding political rights, in the last analysis, where there is manifest and long standing tyranny, the right to revolt must remain. However, it is a last resort and no one should oppose one evil by bringing a greater one on those already suffering' ((MM paragraph 30)).
7. If James had believed in the Anglican and Gallican doctrine of the 'Divine Right of Kings', he would have been denying his Catholic faith. However, he considered that those Anglican bishops who did believe this doctrine, should logically and loyally support his plans for religious tolerance.
James saw the extensive use of his royal prerogative as exceptional and temporary, and was not aiming to establish a French style Church or a dictatorship ((MAB 68)). His whole reign was dedicated to the extension of liberty in his kingdom. His manner of working, as exemplified in the Navy, showed him to be a leader who believed in bringing his subordinates together in a consultative team, and of delegating authority and trusting assistants ((JH 158)).
James illegally suspended the Test Act and granted General Indulgences
The civil war had placed power in the hands of Parliament but, with the Monarchy restored, constitutional law became fluid and could be based on contradictory precedents ((FCT 320)). Parliament had the right to make laws, but the king was still the centre of political action and responsible for administering the country ((JRJ 23)). He retained many Royal rights, such as to issue town charters, call and suspend Parliament, appoint judges and issue Indulgences.
When a king granted an Indulgence, the punishment ordered by law was suspended or pardoned. Royalists claimed a king could suspend an unjust law by granting an Indulgence to everyone.
The Whigs aimed to restrict its application to occasional use. Charles II twice issued a General Indulgence. When he withdrew them it was not because he felt that he had exceeded his rights, but because he lacked the political strength to resist the politically inspired anti-Catholic frenzy that threatened his Crown.
On James becoming King, Parliament again refused to abolish the laws of persecution, so he prorogued Parliament, which was within his rights, and appointed twelve judges to decide on the Constitutional position. They judged that: 'the laws of England are the king's laws, and therefore it is an inseparable prerogative in the king to dispense with penal laws in particular cases and upon particular necessary reasons, of which the king himself is sole judge' ((abbreviated from DCDA 83)).
If Parliament had had the right to appoint the judges, these judges would have given judgement to suit the Whigs, as this was a political struggle rather than a disinterested legal judgement.
James had acted perfectly correctly within his rights and within the Constitution. It was on the basis of this legal judgement that he suspended the Test Act, which barred non-Anglicans from positions in the government and armed forces, and the laws for the persecution of minorities ((MA 197)). James did not abrogate the laws, as this would have been illegal, but he did suspend them while he was working for a libertarian Parliament. He was working carefully within the law ((WAS 153)).
In fact, William of Orange after 1688 vetoed several Bills passed by Parliament, and Queen Anne did the same in 1707 ((BW 30)). The enthronement of William of Orange as a joint Sovereign with his wife Mary was in contravention of Constitutional law. And when Mary died in 1694 her sister Anne had the right to succeed ((JRJ 318)). But William ruled as king until 1702. These acts were far more illegal than anything of which James has been accused.
James wished to suspend the Act of Habeas Corpus
The words 'HABEAS CORPUS AD SUBJICIENOUM' mean: 'Bring the person before the Court', and are addressed to jailors.
When a person is arrested, the jailor is required to bring the prisoner before a Court to receive legal permission to hold him or her for trial. If the jailor's accusations are not sufficiently substantiated, the Court will order the prisoner to be released. The practice of Habeas Corpus had been part of English law since Catholic pre-Reformation days, but jailors under instructions from a government could evade the practice by passing a prisoner from prison to prison, or making an arrest when the Courts were not sitting.
The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 was passed in order to prevent these evasions ((WE 463)). But James considered that a king should have the right to suspend the Act when it prevented him carrying out his duty of protecting lawful authority from political plots and insurrections. For example, in June 1685 the Duke of Monmouth proclaimed himself king and raised an army in the West of England. Because of the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, James was not able to make preventive arrests of Monmouth's sympathisers and likely plotters in the rest of the country and hold them while the rebellion lasted ((JRJ 62)).
James' wish was not exceptional, nor a sign of desiring to be unjust to his subjects. The problem of how to balance the rights of the individual with the need to protect lawful authority has been a difficulty for fair-minded people for centuries. To imply that this issue is one of principle between a tyrannical and a free form of society, and that James was opposed to a just society, is completely unjustified.
It should be noted that Parliament, during the reign of William of Orange, suspended the Habeas Corpus Act in 1696 ((WE 518)). One of those detained, while it was suspended, was a Thomas Blackburne who lay in Newgate prison until his death 53 years later because evidence could not be brought against him ((MDRL 113)).
The Act was suspended in 1689, 1715, 1722, during 1724 ((BW 183)), and between 1744-6, 1794-1801 ((HAC 85)) and in 1817 ((HAC 142)). It was also automatically suspended whenever martial law was declared ((MA 200)).
In the last hundred years British citizens, thought to be politically unreliable, were held in camps during both world wars, without criminal charges being laid against them.
Colonel Kirke put down the Rising of Monmouth with gross cruelty. James rewarded the infamous judge Jeffreys, who presided at the 'Bloody Assizes', by making him a Peer and appointing him Lord Chancellor.
In July 1685 the Duke of Monmouth proclaimed himself king, but his rebel army was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor. It was legal to hang rebels caught during a battle, and it is probable that about a hundred were so treated ((PE 136)). But afterwards, apart from hanging nine at Taunton for pillaging ((GWK 306)), "it is by no means clear that Colonel Percy Kirke did anything more than carry out James' order to round up all the fugitives for trial". ((GWK 306)). There is little evidence of widespread brutality to civilians. Most of the rebels were Dissenters, so the local Anglican majority saw James as defending their Established Church ((GWK 330)).
The Whigs claimed that massacres led to the people in the West turning against James. But when he toured it in the following year he was very well received. William gained little help from the area in 1688, and thirty years later the counties of Somerset, Devon and Wiltshire were seething with Jacobite enthusiasm. ((CPB 258)).
Five judges, led by Judge George Jeffreys, tried 1,336 rebels in groups over a period of nine days. The army produced evidence that the accused had been taken with arms in their hands, which was confirmed in many instances by the wounds the prisoners had received. It was therefore not difficult to find them guilty, indeed many pleaded guilty and relied on the king to grant them a pardon.
Death was the only penalty for insurrection, but it is a matter of dispute as to how many were actually executed. Some were found not guilty, James commuted the penalty to ten years servitude in America for 850 ((PE 178)), others died of wounds or smallpox while awaiting sentencing, and some escaped. The Whigs claimed that between 300 and 400 were executed, but modern estimates suggest 250 ((PE 173)), or 200 ((GWK 329)), or 160-170 ((FCT 183 and JH 245)).
Such trials were normal after a rebellion, and the rest of the country took little interest in them. It was later that the Whigs portrayed them as being particularly unjust and savage. 'After 1688 the Whigs issued many colourful accounts and martyrologies. These included trials of men who were never tried, lengthy cross-examinations of men who had pleaded guilty, and absurd expressions put into the mouth of judge Jeffreys. By giving the impression that single trials were conducted at great length, they make a nonsense of the very crowded timetable. There simply was not time for all the speeches and fulminations which were attributed to Judge Jeffreys. ... Unfortunately no contemporary descriptions survive of the Assizes, with which to challenge the Whig assertions' ((PE 168)).
In Exeter a list is displayed which gives the names of 249 sentenced to death, but in fact many
of these were reprieved ((JH 245)). 'The many pamphlets detailing the sufferings of the victims, were concocted
in the winter of 1688-89, and sponsored by Titus Oates'. ((FCT 280)). This was the man who invented the 'Papist
Plot' of 1678 and is considered: 'the greatest scoundrel in English legal history'. ((GWK 295-6)). 'The inventions
of the martyrologists are no more than the continuation of the Whig propaganda campaign ...' ((GWK 306)).
It has been claimed that James should have followed the normal practice of executing a few leaders
and pardoning their followers. But this was not the 'normal practice'. Penruddock's rising of 1654, Venner's revolt
and the Northern Plot of 1664 had been punished with no less severity. ((FCT 284)). Cromwell had pardoned rebel
followers in England, but certainly not in Ireland. After the Scottish battle of Dunbar, 1,820 were transported
to America. ((GWK 307)). Whig historians also ignored what occurred following their victory at Culloden.
To make James' policy seem savage, Macaulay's 'History of England' portrays Monmouth's rebels as 'ploughmen, clowns, hardy rustics, miners, farm labourers, peasants and young apprentices'. For these, one or two hangings would have been sufficient to teach a lesson.
'But in fact most of the rebels were members of the skilled middle class of shopkeepers and artisans, with very few labourers ((PE 203)). 'These were not poor deluded men following a romantic charmer, but men who posed a real threat to the established form of society'. ((PE 191)). As James was at that time dependent on a very small army ((MAB 61)), a similar rising could have proved a real threat to his rule ((PE 195)). 'So James and Jeffreys had good reason not to be too lenient.' ((PE 195)).
James received daily reports from the judges and was pleased with their work. In his Memoirs, James stated that he considered that Jeffreys had been just, although he should have shown more mercy ((FCT 282)). Some rebels were executed without being allowed time to appeal to James for a pardon ((GWK 321)). James may have been referring to these cases.
It has been said that Jeffreys had earlier shown himself a bully. But it is necessary to judge his work within the legal system of the time. Strict rules governing the admissibility of evidence had not been created; the absence of legal representation in cases of treason or felony compelled judges to take an active part in questioning witnesses; there was an intense political partisanship and impudent lying under oath in Court. Although the king appointed the judges the juries, in London and the main cities, were ruthlessly packed by Whig sheriffs elected by the Corporations.
A conviction in a trial, especially if it involved a 'political' matter, could not be obtained unless witnesses were very precise and positive. Juries were often terrified of Whig controlled mobs and witnesses were reluctant to answer questions ((GWK 21, 22, 96, 120 and 143)). So all judges, not just Jeffryes, had to 'bully' information out of witnesses and the accused.
Research shows 'the historical Jeffreys to be a different person from the Jeffreys of legend.' ((GWK page v)). He was a sincere and firm Anglican, fond of music and dancing, high-spirited, witty and devoted to his family ((GWK 24)). The charge 'which wounded him most deeply, was the accusation that he had plotted to overthrow the Anglican Establishment.' ((GWK 500)).
'The names, Scroggs and Jeffreys, have become synonymous with vicious oppression. As a matter of fact neither Scroggs nor Jeffreys applied a different law than that applied by their Whig successors, nor did they apply it more vehemently.' ((FSS 264)). 'Their reputations have suffered because they upheld a system of government which later generations have discarded.' ((FSS 264)).
At first Jeffreys had strong prejudices against Catholicism and believed in the 'Papist Plot'. But as the trials of Catholics proceeded he realised the 'evidence' provided by Titus Oates was false. Although he held a minor post at the time, he started to exercise a moderating influence ((GWK 121)). This was noticeable in the trial of Archbishop Plunkett ((GWK 195)).
Lord Francis Guilford was dying before the battle of Sedgemoor, and no doubt the decision to replace him with Jeffreys had been taken before the Monmouth trials had begun ((JH 247)). With Jeffreys' experience and stature he: 'was the only possible successor' ((GWK 311)). He 'outshone any of his contemporaries, even the Law Officers of the Crown appear undistinguished by comparison' ((GWK 213)). He was extremely well read ((GWK 300)).
Jeffreys 'was therefore unusually well-equiped among lawyers to handle the political trials . . .' ((GWK 300)). He had a wide and deep experience of many branches of the legal process ((GWK 216)), and had been Chief Justice of England for two years ((GWK 213)). He died of natural causes in the Tower of London during 1689 ((GWK 465)).
Judge Jeffreys had been made a peer before Monmouth landed ((GWK 215)).
On becoming king, James took an oath to rule by the laws of the land, yet he immediately broke his oath by illegally collecting Customs and Excise Duties.
a. CUSTOMS: Charles had been granted the right to collect customs for life, so a problem arose at his death. If customs were not collected until Parliament met to authorise them, cheap foreign imports would flood the market and ruin the merchants who had already paid customs on their stocks ((FCT 244)). The Privy Council issued a proclamation that the collection and disposal should continue. This decision was based on the view that when Parliament was not sitting the Executive had to provide for emergencies. James' enemies argued that even if it was justifiable to collect the customs, it was not legal to use them. But the Privy Council considered that if they were entitled to provide for the collecting, they were also entitled to provide for their use.
b. EXCISE DUTIES: The authority to collect these had been signed by Charles the day before he died. James appealed to the judges. These judges had not been appointed by James, but they decided that it was legal for him to collect them ((MA 161)).
Both these actions were retrospectively legalised by Parliament when it met a few months later ((JRJ 59)).
If any other king, Privy Council or Bench of judges, had agreed to these administrative actions for the smooth running of the country, no objection would have been raised. There would have been cause to criticise the Executive if it had failed to take urgent financial action. This is one more example of how normal and innocent acts of James were portrayed in the worst possible light by Whig propagandists. William collected excise duties from the day he landed, so before he was crowned ((ECB 29-30)). James was king when he did so.
James favoured the Catholics in Ireland against the Protestants.
The word 'favoured' implies that James gave privileges to Catholics while treating Protestants unfairly, but this implication is false.
When Cromwell crushed the Irish rebellion of 1641-9, he paid his troops and creditors with land taken from the native Irish. Catholics were only allowed to own the poor quality land or, in the far, west barren areas ((FCT 383)). They were restricted to the poorest work and not permitted to educate themselves. They were not permitted to be Members of Parliament, Judges, Commissioners, or Justices of the Peace, nor allowed to live in towns, cities or suburbs unless a Protestant merchant needed their labour.
Taxation was levied to support the Established Anglican Church, which then used the money in an attempt to destroy the Catholic Faith of the native population. Bishops, monks, nuns and schools were all banned ((FCT 380-3)). Secular clergy were permitted to offer Mass provided that they did not dress as priests. Economic, professional and political life was completely dominated by the 20% Protestant English ruling class of settlers and their children. The bitterness between the two communities was intense.
In 1685 James made Richard Talbot, a Catholic, the Earl of Tyrconnel and appointed him Lord Deputy with instructions to open up society to the native Catholic Irish. At the same time making it clear that his Protestant subjects must not be treated unjustly ((FCT 393)), as he wanted reform without violence ((MA 250)).
Tyrconnel enabled the Irish to take part in the administration of the towns ((JRJ 113-6)) and practice their religion more openly. Some of the taxes raised for religious purposes were allocated to the support of the Catholic clergy ((JRJ 106)). Even if eventually 80% of these taxes were devoted to such purposes there would have been no injustice to the 20% Protestant minority, nor have been a sign of 'favouritism'.
'Somehow he [James] had to reconcile his personal obligation to ameliorate the conditions under which the Catholic Irish suffered, with the political necessity of retaining English control over Ireland through the auspices of the Protestant minority' ((JCA59-60)).
So James had no intention to rescind the various land settlements, but the Irish led by Tyrconnel had a different vision. 'Tyrconnel's main aim was to make the maximum possible use of the golden opportunity, which was suddenly presented by the reign of a Catholic monarch, to overthrow the pro-Protestant land settlement in Ireland in order to improve the lot of his own class'. ((JCA 59)). To achieve this, Tyrconnal needed to reform the Irish army.
When James became Royal Commissioner for Scotland in 1681, he treated the Covenanters with gross cruelty, making great use of torture. When he became king he prorogued the Scottish parliament.
In England the established church was Anglican, which believed in episcopacy [i.e. having bishops]. The Protestant Calvinist minority was divided between Presbyterians, who agreed to worship within the state church while working to abolish episcopacy, and the Independents, who led a separate existence. In Scotland prior to 1662 the state church was Presbyterian and it was the Episcopalians who led a separate existence.
After Charles became king, the royalist parliament in 1662 placed the Episcopalians in control of the Scottish church, expelled the Presbyterian clergy and had forbidden them to minister. The Presbyterians, who came to be known as Covenanters or Whigamores, rose in several unsuccessful revolts. The last of these took place in 1679, just prior to the arrival of James.
Lauderdale, who administered Scotland, had made concessions by allowing half the Presbyterian clergy to resume preaching in certain areas. This had led to most Presbyterians submitting. But in the wild terrain of south western Scotland an armed guerrilla war developed led by a new type of extreme Presbyterian. These likened themselves to the children of Israel, the only true worshippers of God in a world of evil. They refused submission to any government of 'ungodly men' (i.e. to anyone who disagreed with them).
In Israelite fashion they killed all prisoners. Having erected gallows behind their lines at the battle of Bosworth Brig, they executed those they captured. ((FCT 184)). They were of low intelligence and fanatically dedicated to their sect.
By openly preaching treason in Court, they made the work of judges simple ((FCT 185)). They saw the fight as between 'king Charles or king Jesus', and believed in 'preventive murder' ((GD372)).
A modern strongly Presbyterian writer, J.M.Read in 'Kirk and Nation' page 191, admits: 'They fought for something which no government could accept and which was abhorrent to most Scotsmen . . . It was madness . . . It should have been treated as madness' ((GD 372)). The fighting was at times bitter but stories of repression were greatly exaggerated for political purposes. For example, Lord Claverhouse was accused of atrocities during what was called 'The killing times' and designated as 'Bloody Claver'. Yet we now know that he executed less than ten rebels ((GD 372)).
This situation typified the problem of Charles. He advocated comprehensive [i.e. inclusive] state churches for England and Scotland, acceptable to all Protestants. When his proposals were not accepted, he urged toleration for Calvinists. His plans would have led to peace in both countries. It was the laws of parliament that drove the Scottish Covenanters to fanatical extremism. As king it was his duty to enforce the laws of parliament so it was he, rather than the politicians, who incurred the hatred of the persecuted.
Similarly many Catholics, who were not aware of the intrigues and power struggles around the throne, blamed Charles for allowing priests to be executed during his reign. He did have an alternative. He could have suspended parliament and its unjust laws, and ruled alone. It was this policy that James eventually adopted, and which led to him losing the crown.
But Charles, until near the end of his reign, was not willing to consider this way. Although James was prevented from holding a civic position in England due to the Test Act, it did not apply to Scotland. So Charles appointed him as Royal Commissioner for Scotland. When he arrived in Scotland during 1681, he had to continue to implement the laws of parliament and restore law and order. He was relentless in combating the guerrilla war ((JH 57)), but said the Covenenters "deserved a bedlam [mental asylum] rather than the gallows". Burnet (who was no friend of James and assisted William of Orange) wrote that James 'made a very real effort to prove himself a just and clement ruler in Scotland'.
Halifax, who had urged the removal of Lauderdale because of his alleged severity, said James
'did a great deal of good in Scotland by his influence and watchfulness' ((FCT 186)). James promoted religious
toleration by advising the Episcopalian bishops to ignore peaceable conventicles (dissenters' meetings) held in
private homes. He was only hard on field conventicles which were in armed rebellion ((MA 137)). Burnet reported:
'The Duke stopped the prosecution for treason which carried the death penalty, and ordered them to be imprisoned
with hard labour' ((MA 137)). James was not able to suspend the laws themselves until he became king and rule free
of the laws of parliament.
James may have been present on this occasion to hear whether others were attempting to kill him and his family. This would not imply that he enjoyed the process. Even this account is uncertain, as none of his many enemies mentioned this alleged event, which would have been well known if it had occurred.
It was Macaulay in his 'History of England', written in 1848, who took this one unsubstantiated allegation and used it to build a picture of James as a cruel, pitiless individual ((FCT 186)). Separate evidence is available of James strenuously opposing the use of violence against those found guilty of treason in Scotland ((JH 219)).
As James' Scottish parliament declared it treason to own a copy of the 'National Covenant', and made attendance at a conventicle punishable by death ((GD 381)), we may think this to be evidence of his intolerance. But this parliament was bitterly anti-Catholic and was preparing to impose a Test Act in Scotland in order to force James to resign as Commissioner. So its laws did not represent his thinking.
On 4th March 1686, by which time James had become king, he ordered that Quakers and Catholics in Scotland were to be free of the penal laws and the Test Act ((FCT 373)). This was providing they did not worship in the fields, make processions in the high streets of royal burghs, or invade Protestant churches ((GD 382)). The Scottish Council would not accept this until, under pressure from James, it said it would agree providing the extreme Covenanters were placed in the same category.
James would not agree to this as the extremists would not accept the laws of any king and were
in rebellion ((FCT 373)). The answer of the Council was merely a tactful method of refusing religious freedom to
peaceful and loyal subjects.
By this time, most of the moderate Presbyterians had acquiesced in attending the state Episcopalian church, and hopes of restoring the Presbyterian system were extremely remote. So it was James' act of toleration which saved Presbyterianism. Their preachers opened meetings where they liked, and started attracting congregations from the established church. Refugees returned home from Holland and Presbyterianism had again become a cause.
Early in the reign of James II, Richard Baxter, an elderly leader of the Congregationalists who
was in poor health, underwent a mocking and browbeating trial presided over by judge Jeffreys. He was found guilty,
without being allowed to state his defence, then sent-to prison until he paid a fine of 500 Marks. This was a typical
example of James' rule as a Catholic king.
1. Richard Baxter was a deeply religious, peaceful and moderate leader of the Congregationalists
and, like many Catholics, had suffered under the laws of Parliament, which penalised those who refused to accept
the state church.
3. Roger L'Estrange, an Anglican, was appointed to enforce the Act, but it lapsed in 1679 because
Parliament being in suspension could not renew it. L’Estrange was, however, still able to bring accusations of
libel and sedition.
7. Baxter appealed to James, who was now king, claiming he had not: 'spoken one word against the Church of England or the Governors thereof' and had not received a fair trial ((FJP 147)). He also wrote to Compton, Anglican bishop of London, asking that he should judge the paraphrase and intercede on his behalf with the king. Direct replies were not received but, as the king was fighting Monmouth's rebellion between June 11th and July 5th, this was not surprising.
However, the sentence pronounced on June 19th was milder than expected. He was fined 500 Marks, bound over to be of good behaviour for seven years and placed under house arrest until he paid the fine. He was not sent to jail but lived in rooms with his man servant and maid, spending his time writing religious works ((FJP 151 and 159)). Whether this was due to his petitions we do not know. But just prior to his sentence he was in touch with a Lord who was 'speaking for him' ((FJP 150)).
8. Baxter could pay 500 Marks if he sold his lands, but this would mean leaving nothing to his
heir. He again wrote to the king in October 1686, knowing that the Catholic Lord Powis was negotiating to speak
on his behalf ((FJP 152)). It is most likely that he was the Lord who had spoken for him earlier.
10. L'Estrange, his group of clergy, and Judge Jeffreys were all Anglicans. Baxter was tried under the laws of an all-Anglican Parliament and his alleged crimes were against the Anglican Church. It is most unlikely that any Catholic was present at Baxter's trial.
11. So Baxter's two helpers were James who because of his religion had been driven from his posts a few years earlier, and Lord Powis, a Catholic who had spend five years in the Tower of London, after a 'trial' following the 'Papist Plot' ((FCT52)).
So the full story reflects credit on these two Catholics. Yet a twisted version has been used for 300 years to promote anti-Catholic prejudice, and often taught to children in Sunday schools.
To help the Catholics James was unprincipled and unscrupulous. At first he supported the Anglicans against the non-conformists (Dissenters), then the non-Conformists against the Anglicans. Just prior to being deposed he was promising to help the Anglicans again.
The Tory Anglicans formed a majority in the 1685 parliament, so James tried to persuade them to introduce religious freedom. When this failed he tried to form a broad coalition of all minority groups, including Whigs and libertarian individuals amongst the Tories.
There is nothing unprincipled in changing political alliances. It has been a normal part of the political process throughout history. James was single minded and consistent in his openly declared policy of establishing religious liberty. Only the Whig mind portrayed James' change of allies, in order to achieve his aim, as being somehow sinister.
He would be open to criticism if he had persecuted the non-conformists to please the Anglicans then the Anglicans so as to please the non-conformists. But he did not do this. It was during the first period, while allied to the Anglicans, that he used his royal power to empty the jails of non-conformist prisoners. During the second period he did nothing to inhibit Anglican worship or teaching.
The only reason he broke his alliance with the Tory Anglicans was because they would not grant freedom to non-conformists including Catholics.
James dismissed the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. When Magdalen College, Oxford, refused to elect a Catholic as president, James usurped its rights by expelling the Fellows and appointing Catholics in their place.
a. Cromwell displaced many of the heads of Colleges and appointed Puritans. During the reign of Charles II, Parliament purged the Universities of non-Anglicans and so placed power in the hands of reliable conformists. James had no plans to carry out a similar purge, but merely desired to open the Universities to non-Anglicans. The state church recruited its clergy from the Universities and feared non-Anglican beliefs might infect their future clergy ((JRJ 121)).
b. James established 'The Ecclesiastical Commission' in 1686 and aimed to
A commission of the type established by James was legal ((DO 177)), being based on the traditional rights of the king as defined by Parliament in an Act during the reign of Charles II ((DO 176)). James could also legally appoint his nominees to authority in the Universities under clause 17 of the Elizabethan Act of Supremacy ((DO 179)).
James' royal predecessors, including Charles II, had constantly appointed their nominees to the Universities ((DO 178)). The reason for there being resistance on this occasion was the willingness of James' nominees, such as the Anglican Thomas Higgons, to admit non-Anglican students.
c. James used his royal mandate to grant Fr. Alban Francis, a Catholic, an honorary degree at Cambridge. When the Vice-Chancellor refused to confer the degree, he was dismissed by James but permitted to keep his freehold ((FCT 335)). When his successor refused, James dropped the matter ((JH 262)).
d. When Dr. Walker, Master of University College, Oxford, a man of great learning and character
became a Catholic, James granted a dispensation so as to allow him to remain in his post ((JH 261)), and he was
James appears to have left this matter in Sunderland's hands ((FCT 341)), and was unaware of the objections until he met the Fellows in September. He was also unaware till November of a petition against Farmer received by Sunderland earlier in that year. James referred the matter to the Ecclesiastical Commission, and they accepted that Farmer was unsuitable. ((FCT 339)). James then proposed the Anglican bishop Parker of Oxford, but the Fellows claimed the position was now filled. ((FCT340)).
By now James' prestige was committed to this contest, so he was not able to drop the issue. He dismissed most of the Fellows and replaced them with a mixture of Catholics and Anglicans ((JH 261)). They elected Parker as president and when, in 1688, Parker died Gifford, a Catholic, was elected to replace him.
James did not plan to make Magdalen an all-Catholic college. James had merely broken the Anglican monopoly, but in a manner which allowed James to be depicted as an enemy of academic freedom rather than the reverse. Sunderland's responsibility for placing James in such a difficult position has never been explained.
g. To avoid forcing an existing college to be tolerant, James considered founding a new college. But this would have led to the segregation of non-Anglicans and the defeat of his aim of allowing a mix of students. He feared that unless the principle of toleration had been accepted before his death, such a college would later be excluded from university life.
h. Once James II had been deposed, entrance to University education was again restricted to Anglicans. Twenty Fellows of St. John's College, Cambridge, were dismissed from their posts because they remained loyal to James. ((JRP 3)).
Many history books write of ministers being dismissed from government when
There is no evidence of this. Authors are merely repeating what they find in Whig literature. Ministers were appointed or dismissed by James not because of their religion, but for their support or opposition to the principle of religious freedom. Many of James' assistants were firm adherents of their own churches. William Penn, the Quaker leader, had to publish a pamphlet: 'Fiction Found Out' to prove he was not a Catholic. ((COP 291)). Even so, he was later accused of offering Mass as a priest in the Palace. ((COP 306)).
Accusations against Catholics associated with James are made without evidence. The Whigs maligned Fr. Petre, but little is known of his life and opinions. The advice he allegedly gave James is speculation. The queen was called a religious fanatic, implying that she wished to destroy Protestantism by any means. Yet the evidence points to her being a devout Catholic hoping to see England converted, while respecting the rights of others. She once said: "James can't understand why his good intentions have been misunderstood and righteousness was not triumphanting". ((MA 252)).
James interfered with the freedom of the Church of England by appointing an Ecclesiastical Commission, instructing the clergy, suspending Dr. Sharp and Bishop Compton, persecuting Samuel Johnson and imprisoning seven bishops.
a. When at the Reformation the Monarch became governor of the state church, it was not foreseen that a future king would be a Catholic. James had no intention of somehow 'capturing' the Anglican Church, and stories of secret Catholics being appointed to clerical positions have no foundation. The Pope made it very clear that converts had to profess their Faith openly. ((MA 98)). James did not interfere with the beliefs and practices of the state church. But he did consider that the Anglican tradition of loyalty to the Crown should be shown by supporting his campaign for religious freedom, and by encouraging mutual respect between those of different beliefs.
He told the Archbishops that the clergy should not meddle in politics, but preach regularly on the 39 Articles, which were the basis of Anglican doctrine, and see that Sunday was observed ((MA 190)). He also asked that Anglicans should avoid offensive words, like 'papist', while Catholics should cease calling Anglicans 'heretics'. Normal Catholic literature contained calm expositions, not wild condemnations of Protestant beliefs. James urged that discussions should be reasoned ((JRJ 89)).
b. In May 1686 Dr. Sharp, who had a number of Catholic Irish immigrants in his London parish, preached inflammatory sermons against their church, threw doubts on the authenticity of papers published by James regarding his brother's conversion (thereby questioning James' honesty), and attacked the king's beliefs ((JRJ 71)). Soon afterwards a mob assaulted the Catholic chapel near Sharp's church. Bishop Compton of London would not restrain this fiery preacher, and it was widely believed that he was instigating Sharp's activity, or at least was not discouraging him ((JRJ 70)). So Sharp and Compton were suspended by the Ecclesiastical Commission, not for teaching Anglican beliefs, but for stirring up hatreds, suspicions and violence against Catholics and the king ((MA 191)).
c. The Rev. Samuel Johnson (not to be confused with the famous eighteenth century Jacobite writer of the same name) published what James considered to be a seditious libel. Johnson's publication was addressed to all soldiers and sailors urging them not to associate with: 'idolaters and bloody Papists who fight for the Mass book and burn the Bible' ((JH 254)).
This was a clear exhortation to them to disobey army officers and naval captains if they should be Catholics. He was unfrocked, pilloried and fined. But this was not an indication of government opposition to true religious freedom and expression. James' actions did no more than a modern Act of Parliament that attempts to curb incitements to racial hatreds and civil violence.
d. James agreed that the objection to a Catholic king being governor of the Anglican Church was reasonable. This is why in July 1686 he had established the Ecclesiastical Commission, composed of the Archbishop of Canterbury, three other Anglican bishops and four Anglican laymen ((JH 256 and MA 191)). He had then delegated the Monarch's powers as Supreme Governor of the State Church to this body ((MAB 65)). Under normal circumstances, and in the long term, this arrangement would have provided the Anglican Church with a great measure of independence, while retaining the advantages of being the State Church. But James' immediate overriding need was to use the Commission to pursue his libertarian policies.
e. The first Declaration of Indulgence, of 4th April 1687, had emptied the prisons of Dissenters, but to have laws passed to establish this right to freedom more securely James had to work for the election of a majority of libertarian Members of Parliament. Before the advent of modern means of communication, the pulpit was the most effective method of propagating new ideas and governmental policies. So James issued a second Declaration of Indulgence to be read in all churches commencing 27th April 1688 ((MA 222)). It was the same as the first, but with the addition of an explanation as to why he wanted the election of a libertarian Parliament.
In this way the public, including those who possessed a vote, would hear James' side of the dispute ((MA 224)). There was nothing new in the king ordering important public pronouncements to be read from the pulpit, as this had been done in 1641 and 1681 ((FCT 396)). But there was widespread opposition from the clergy. Previous declarations had concerned the suppression of the Dissenters, but if this one was read, parishioners might consider themselves free to absent themselves from church. A large section of their congregations could be lost. James had misjudged the loyalty of the clergy to their king and this was a major mistake for him to make.
The clergy, or at least those who were active and vocal, pressed the bishops to oppose James. The issue snowballed into a trial of strength between Church and King. Whig propaganda portrayed the issue nationally as if it was the King who was a threat to religious freedom.
f. A bishop's petition was drawn up, but only selected bishops were invited to sign it. 'It is more than likely that the moving spirit was Henry Compton, bishop of London, who was precluded from signing the petition by the fact that he had been suspended from performing episcopal functions by the Ecclesiastical Commission' ((FCT 398)). 'Sancroft of Canterbury was by nature retiring, so not very likely to have taken the lead'. ((FCT 398)).
The petitioners stated that they could not read the Indulgence in the churches because the King's right to issue such Indulgences had not been agreed by Parliament ((JRP 5)). James read it with great surprise, exclaiming: "Is this your Church of England loyalty? I did not expect this from your Church, especially from some of you" ((JRP 3)). He described the petition as a standard of rebellion ((JRP 5)). To which they replied that the presentation was: "not from any want of tenderness to Dissenters but because it was against their honour to proclaim in church a doubtful constitutional construction". ((MA 225)). They denied that they were acting like rebels. James insisted that they read the Declaration ((MA 225)).
This was a private row between the King and his most supportive bishops, many of whom were his personal friends. It would probably have been smoothed over as James' advisors urged him to retreat on this issue and he favoured retreat himself ((MA 227)). But the petition was made public ((JRJ 123)). It is not known how this came about, and the bishops were horrified, as this had not been their intention ((JRP 5)). Most likely it was made known by Compton, already plotting with William of Orange ((JRJ 123)).
Once it had been made public, James probably felt that he could not retreat without suffering a severe blow to his prestige and authority. His only hope of success for his plans rested on his kingly prestige, so he could not risk having it undermined. He decided to appeal to the judges to settle this point of law, using the bishop's petition as a test case.
So the bishops were charged with 'seditious libel' and bail was required. The bishops refused to give it, claiming that as members of the House of Lords they were exempted ((JRP 5)). It was on this technicality, not because of any political, doctrinal or coercive reason that they were kept in prison. A week later they agreed to offer small securities and then returned to their homes ((MA 226)).
Bishop Turner of Ely later 'acknowledged that their going to the Tower, when they might easily have prevented the same by entering into a mutual recognisances for each other, as the King would have had them, was a wrong step taken, and an unnecessary punctilio of honour in Christian bishops' ((JRP 5)). 'We may like to think of the Seven Bishops boldly standing up to defy a tyrant. But that is a bit of popular mythology, the product of what has come to be called "the Whig view of history". It does not correspond to the facts and still less does it represent the view of the bishops themselves'. ((JRP 6)).
'The trial was not in a strict sense fair' ((FCT 403)). The cause of the bishops had become a national cause, and both judges and jurymen could not fail to be aware of the intense odium they would incur if the bishops were convicted. A eye witness reported "At this great trial were between thirty and forty Lords, which indeed frightened the judges and jury for they fancied that everyone brought a halter in his pocket" ((FCT 403)). The jurymen were also intimidated by the large mobs outside the Court.
`...both the eminent legal historians, Stephen and Holdsworth, contend the case of the seven bishops is useless as a precedent. The public excitement, the overwhelming legal talent employed by the bishops, and the cowardly attitude of the judges, served to make the case a "cause celebre", but of very little value as a legal precedent'. ((FSS 274-5)).
According to the law inherited by James, any published defiance of the government or King could be considered 'a seditious libel' and therefore illegal. It was not until 1792 that juries were permitted to consider whether the content of the publication was indeed libellous ((WAS 151-2)). So in 1688, once it had been proved that the bishops were the authors of the publication the jury should have found them guilty. But in this case the bishops were found 'not guilty of trying to disturb the government'. The news was received with pleasure throughout the country by a people who had been led to believe that their rights were under threat. James had once again been manoeuvred into a position where he appeared to be the one opposed to liberty, so underlining his lack of ability in political intrigue and propaganda.
James persevered in his attempt to obtain a friendly and liberal Parliament, but he had lost so much prestige that his likelihood of being successful had been greatly reduced.
James undemocratically tried to 'pack' Parliament with his supporters.
In modern elections, political parties promise to assist particular groups, such as a certain region, social class, the aged or a vested interest, at the expense of other factions. A ruling party will, within the law, use its position to choose the date of an election to assist its prospects of being re-elected.
It will ensure that official figures of economic prosperity are presented in the best possible
light, and maintain a system of voting which works to its advantage. So we should not be surprised that James'
supporters used their official positions to favour libertarian candidates when preparing for the 1688 elections.
James advocated the transfer of the tax burden from the towns to the landed gentry, reform of the coinage, partial abolition of imprisonment for debt and the establishment of a land register ((JRJ 157)). The granting of Royal Charters permitting the holding of markets, the allocation of government contracts to certain industries, and a whole range of other attractive inducements were promised to win supporters. The hope of government patronage and rewards could influence key men in a Corporation. The electoral system in each town was part of its Royal Charter, so a threat to revise the Charter could place pressure on voters to be co-operative.
Because of the legal decision regarding the Test Act, James could permit non-Anglicans to vote. As they were concentrated in the towns and social classes that took part in elections, this was an important potential advantage. Also, many people outwardly attended the State Church to avoid disabilities, but were privately favourable to James introducing a new spirit of freedom. James was not acting illegally. Parliament determined its own conditions for membership ((MAB 83)), so James' Declarations did not affect qualifications for the House of Commons. All candidates were still required to be Anglicans.
Many of the tactics used by James would be seen as illegal and reprehensible if used today. But we must judge the electoral manoeuvring according to the times in which they took place. Similar methods were used for many years after James' reign.
For Example: In 1694 Parliament passed 'The Triennial Bill' stipulating that elections had to be held at intervals not exceeding three years ((WE 509)). But when Queen Anne died, the Whigs feared that the mood of opposition to a German Prince becoming King might lead to the election of a Tory pro-James majority. So the Whig majority passed the 'Septennial Act' postponing elections for four years to enable George I to be consolidated in power ((WE 554)). This was legal but not democratic.
Historians are divided as to whether a Parliament elected in 1688 would have contained a majority willing to support James' reforms. At first James' candidates did not seem to have much chance of success. But by September the republicans feared James might gain a majority ((JRJ 166)), so in the letter of 'invitation' to William of Orange they urged him to invade as soon as possible ((JRJ 170)). This could have been one of the reasons William risked his invasion fleet during the stormy autumn weather and arrived three weeks before polling day.
For two groups — those wanting liberty of conscience, and those wanting a republican form of government — the issues were clear. But for many voters other issues had a greater priority, so James may have been within reach of electoral victory when the Dutch army invaded.
James put the interests of France before those of England. Macaulay wrote that James "became
a slave of France" and "begged hard for a French subsidy."
This statement by Macaulay 'is a good deal of nonsense' ((MA 162)). Paul Barrilion, the French ambassador, was afraid of offending his master and often told Louis what he wanted to hear. It is an error to judge James' policies towards France merely on the basis of isolated extracts from some of these reports. Careful examination of them has shown that James was not obsequious to Louis ((MAB 58)).
James accepted £40,000 from Louis soon after becoming king, but once firmly established
refused further offers of money ((MA 162)). Although Parliament clashed with James in 1685 over religious freedom,
the invasion by Monmouth caused it to vote him an income for life ((MAB 60)), which made him financially independent
of Louis ((JRJ 179)). James aimed to keep friendly with both Holland and France ((JRJ 179, MA 193 and 294)), and
Louis was infuriated when James did not support him over Denmark ((JRJ 183)).
His policy of building a strong army and navy was to ensure that he and Britain did not have to rely on foreign assistance ((MA 193)). Louis wanted Britain to be weak so that James would be forced to depend on him and be his puppet. Although he was under pressure from the Emperor of Germany and the Pope to join the alliance against Louis, James maintained his policy of neutrality during 1688, including the refusal of French troops ((FCT 425)). In September 1688 Louis' ambassador published the d'Avaux Memorial as part of an attempt to disrupt Dutch-British friendship. It falsely implied that Britain and France had a secret pact against Holland, and James was furious ((MA 235)).
It was James who put British interests first, whereas it was the Whigs who co-operated with the Dutch invasion of 1688, placed a Dutch king on the throne, and later two German kings who didn't bother to learn English. It was the Whigs who handed Britain's foreign policy, army and navy to a foreign power (theDutch), not James ((JRJ 330)). It may also be noted that in 1678, during the Titus Oates 'Popish Plot' frenzy, Whig leaders were co-operating with 'Catholic' Louis of France. The Whigs wanted Charles II to disband the army and so become a puppet in the hands of Shaftesbury's mobs, while Louis feared Charles might aid William in a war against France.
Louis was unconcerned regarding the fate of Charles, James and the Catholics in a Shaftesbury dominated England ((MT 93-4)). Also, without an army, England would have been defenceless. The image of being patriots, which the Whigs painted of themselves, does not correspond with their actions.