The Fall of James II
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
Never did a monarch quite so deliberately seek his own ruin as James II. The strength of the monarchy in England rested upon the support of the Church, and the loyalty of the gentry in intimate alliance with the Church.
The clergy and the squires might, not without reluctance but without violent opposition, have been induced to accept a gradual relaxation of the penalties attaching to Romanism constitutionally conceded by themselves; but James fell back on the old plan of forcing his will on the country by the exercise of the royal prerogative, and of doing so in direct defiance of Anglican sentiment.
Moreover, by recklessly reviving a parliamentary opposition in a House of Commons which had met filled with a loyalty which was prepared to run quite considerable risks, James had lost his international independence. At the moment of his accession he could have carried England into the general combination of European Powers, Protestant and Catholic, which was shaping for resistance to the aggressive policy of the French king.
Appeal to France
After this quarrel with parliament, which he prorogued without obtaining the supplies for which he had asked, James was forced to appeal to Louis for the financial aid which was not forthcoming from elsewhere, practically he had to come to Louis as a suppliant not as a bargainer, and even Charles's ingenuity had found it hard work to reconcile England to his own covert union with his cousin of France.
Court of Ecclesiastical Commission
James then set himself to widen the breach with the Anglican Church and those who, having at the outset been prepared to support him loyally, had swelled the ranks of the Oppositional the end of 1685. Every one who had helped in his defeat was dismissed from office, and a direct attack was made on Compton, the Bishop of London.
James created a new Court of Ecclesiastical Commission on the lines of the old Court of High Commission; and on it there were only two bishops, with five laymen, the President being Jeffreys. Compton was immediately suspended for refusing to suppress a preacher who had taken up his parable against popery.
The Hales test case
The king's next step was to procure a judicial decision in favour of the dispensing power. Before a select court a test case was collusively brought against the Roman Catholic Colonel Hales for holding his commission without obeying the requirements of the Test Act.
Hales pleaded dispensation from the Crown, and the court, with one dissentient, gave judgment in his favour. A batch of Romanist peers was admitted to the Privy Council, a Romanist was made Dean of Christchurch at Oxford, and it was commonly believed that the Archbishopric of York was being held open, while the king tried to obtain leave of the Pope to appoint to it the Jesuit Petre.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.