In this lesson, we will explore England’s constitutional settlement, which began after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. We will examine four acts that characterized this unique development in English history.
The Glorious Revolution
By 1688, the English Parliament had put up with just about enough from Catholic King James II. The king had been overruling Parliament’s laws, appointing Catholics to top seats in the military and the government, and allowing Catholic worship.
English leaders decided that it was time to make a change, and they invited the Dutch head of state William of Orange to invade England, oust the king, restore Protestantism, and help establish a new system of English government.William arrived in England in November, and James fled in December, leaving the English throne vacant. William called a Convention Parliament to appoint him and his wife, Mary, to the monarchy, but the convention had a few conditions for the new sovereigns. William and Mary would indeed reign over England, but first they had to accept some limitations to their power and agree to work in conjunction with Parliament.
In other words, they had to accept a constitutional settlement that would make them constitutional monarchs rather than absolute monarchs. Let’s take a look at four of the primary acts of this settlement.
A Limited Monarchy
The 1689 Declaration of Rights, later called the Bill of Rights, placed limits on the monarchy and sought to make sure that the king and queen did not follow the path of James II and abuse their power. This act also made Parliament permanent and powerful, and ensured that monarchs would respect and work in conjunction with this governing body.
The following are a few specific elements of the act:
- Monarchs could not suspend laws without Parliament’s consent.
- Monarchs could not establish their own courts or act as judges.
- Parliament controlled taxation.
- Parliament had to consent to a standing army in peacetime; the monarchs could not support an army of their own.
- Parliament would have the benefit of free elections and free speech without the monarchs’ interference.
- There would be no excessive bail or fines and no cruel and unusual punishments in England.
- Parliament would have to meet frequently to control the country’s legislation.
William and Mary agreed to these conditions and became the official English monarchs on April 11, 1689, but Parliament wasn’t finished constructing the settlement quite yet.
Alleviating Religious Headaches
The next item on the agenda was the religious question. Parliament was tired of religious headaches after dealing with James’ Catholicism, so it was ready to make a few changes and reward some non-Anglican Protestants who had helped get rid of the troublesome king.In May of 1689, Parliament passed the Act of Toleration, which stated that nonconforming English Protestants, in other words, those who were not Anglican, could worship in their own way in their own chapels and with their own preachers. Protestants like Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and Independents were now legally recognized as legitimate.
They still had to swear an oath of allegiance to the crown and give financial support to the Church of England, and they still could not hold public office, but at least they were free to worship without persecution. The act did not apply to Catholics, who were relegated to the status of outlaws.
A Loyal Army
Parliament also had to decide what to do about the army, which still harbored many supporters of James II and posed the threat of a mutiny.
In fact, a company of Royal Scouts had rebelled at Ipswich in March of 1689. Not long after, Parliament passed the Mutiny Act, which declared that mutiny, desertion, and sedition of army officers and soldiers was a crime that would result in a court martial trial and could be punished by death. Parliament renewed the act on an annual basis and found it quite useful in disciplining the army and forcing support for the new monarchs.
Ensuring a Protestant Monarchy
With these three acts up and running, Parliament was probably feeling pretty good about the state of the country by the end of 1689. By 1701, however, things had changed a bit, and Parliament was getting a little nervous. Mary had died in 1694, and William fell ill in 1700.
The royal couple had no living heirs. Mary’s Protestant sister Anne was next in line for the throne, but she didn’t have any living heirs either. Parliament was worried that succession would fall to James’ Catholic descendants. They certainly didn’t want that to happen.In 1701, therefore, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which proclaimed that the English monarch could not be Catholic and could not be married to a Catholic.
Future monarchs were also required to join the Church of England if they were not already members, and swear to uphold the national faith. When Anne died in 1714, Parliament followed the act’s provisions and turned to Germany for its new king: the Protestant George I of the House of Hanover.
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Parliament developed the constitutional settlement, which limited the power of the monarchy and forced English kings and queens to work in conjunction with Parliament. New sovereigns, William and Mary, agreed to the settlement before taking the throne from the ousted James II.
The settlement consisted of three main 1689 acts: the Declaration of Rights, later called the Bill of Rights, which placed limits on the monarchy and made Parliament permanent and powerful; the Act of Toleration, which granted Protestant nonconformists legal recognition and freedom of worship; and the Mutiny Act, which disciplined the army by making mutiny, desertion, and sedition capital crimes.As the end of William and Mary’s reign approached, Parliament ensured Protestant succession by the 1701 Act of Settlement, which declared that English monarchs could not be Catholic, could not be married to a Catholic, and had to join and support the Church of England. With the constitutional settlement, England entered a new era of a constitutional monarchy and a strong Parliament. England would never be the same.
After this lesson is complete, you should be able to:
- Recall the causes of the Glorious Revolution in 1688
- Describe the constitutional settlement and invite to new monarchs William and Mary
- Explain the four major acts passed by Parliament between 1689 and 1701