The Glorious Revolution
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The disappearance of the king [James II] left no legal government in England. There was no parliament, and no existing council which could claim authority. William was the only person who could deal with the emergency, and he did so characteristically. He summoned an assembly consisting of all those who had sat in any of the parliaments of Charles II; not members of James's parliament, because elections since the suspension of the charters were held not to have been free.
To these were added fifty members of the corporation of London. This assembly promptly resolved that a free Convention should be summoned, a parliament in all but name, like the Convention which recalled Charles II. Till this body should be assembled William was requested to exercise the executive functions of government, and to this request he acceded. The boroughs elected their representatives under the old charters which had been cancelled in the last years of Charles II.
The Convention's first step was to pass two resolutions — that James by his flight had abdicated the throne, which was therefore vacant; and that it was against public policy that it should be occupied by a prince of the popish religion. By the Lords, however, the first resolution was so far changed that it did not assert the throne to be vacant. The Commons, among whom there was a great Whig preponderance, in effect declared that a monarch was to be elected; the Lords implied that some one or other was already dejure monarch.
The settlement was not a very simple matter. Many Tories clung to the old plan of a regency. Danby and others, supported by some of the Whigs, desired to claim the crown for Mary herself. According to the strict law of hereditary succession, if the infant prince were excluded, Mary stood first, Anne and her children next, and after them William. These three came to the rescue.
Mary declined to accept the crown unless it was shared by her husband. Anne recognised that it would be to the public advantage that William should reign, and that her own succession should be deferred till after his death as well as Mary's. William recognised that this was a personal arrangement, and that in the event of his having children by another wife than Mary, Anne and her offspring should, have precedence of those children.
It merely remained for William to remark that he did not claim the throne for himself, but that he had no intention of remaining in England in any capacity except that of king. If the crown were offered him he would accept it; if it were not he would return to Holland. Both Houses were now ready to accept the solution which placed William and Mary on the throne as joint sovereigns, the sovereignty being continued to the survivor.
If they had children, those children would succeed their parents in due course; if not, Anne and her children would succeed. William being the next heir, his children by any subsequent marriage would stand next in the succession, and after them the Protestant who stood nearest to the throne, whoever that might be.
It was further resolved that, before the throne should be actually filled, securities should be obtained for the national laws, liberties, and religion. But it was clearly impossible to wait for the preparation of a detailed written constitution; and the Houses satisfied themselves by drawing up the Declaration of Right. The practices of the last two reigns which were regarded as subversive of the constitution were precisely set forth.
Thus once more the exaction of money without a direct parliamentary grant was expressly prohibited; the suspending and dispensing powers — the right, that is, of suspending the general operation of a statute, as in the case of the Declaration of Indulgence, or of granting dispensations from its operation in particular cases, as in the appointment of Romanist officials — was pronounced contrary to the law; so was the maintenance of a standing army without consent of parliament; so was the establishment of arbitrary courts, such as that of Ecclesiastical Commission.
William and Mary take the throne
Popular rights were further definitely asserted; the right of presenting petitions to the- king, violated by the treatment of the seven bishops; the right of free election and free debate in parliament; and the right to the frequent assembly of parliament. The crown was offered to William and Mary conditionally on their acceptance of this latest charter of national liberties.
Their acceptance was accompanied by the Act of Settlement fixing the succession on the lines laid down; and William and Mary were proclaimed king and queen of England and Ireland on February 13, 1689. Thus was the Glorious Revolution of Whig tradition carried to completion; and since the official New Year was still dated not from the January 1 but from March 25, 1688 remained the titular date year of the new order.
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.