the glorious english revolution of 1688 -- 3/7/17
Today's selection -- from William III & Mary II: Partners in Revolution by Jonathan Keates. In the French Revolution that started in 1789, the people stormed the Bastille, overthrew the government and beheaded King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. How did England avoid that same sort of bloody revolutionary fate? Because a century earlier, in the Glorious (and bloodless) Revolution of 1688, Protestant King William and Queen Mary had deposed the autocratic Catholic King James II. They had accomplished that with the assistance of the many Englanders disenchanted with King James, and ascended the English throne under an agreement, a "Declaration of Rights," that established the centrality of parliament in governance and restricted the role of the monarchy to one of public duty and fiduciary responsibility:
"[In 1989, when the French were celebrating the French Revolution, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was] quite right in reminding the French, celebrating the bicentenary of 'liberté, égalité, fraternité', that England had done all that sort of thing a century earlier and that the 'Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen' had its intellectual origins in the Declaration of Rights accepted by King William on 13 February 1689. ...
"What changed forever [in the Glorious Revolution] was the accepted understanding of a monarch's role in the life of the kingdom. That 'divinity [which] doth hedge a king' had substantially diminished by the time those quaint old popish ceremonies placed the crowns on the two royal heads. The Convention parliament had resolved '[t]hat King James the Second, having endeavoured to subvert the Constitution of the Kingdom, by breaking the original Contract between King and People. ... has abdicated the Government'. In addition, it concluded '[t]hat it hath been found, by experience, to be inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom, to be governed by a Popish Prince'. That phrase 'by experience' is vital to our understanding of the contemporary mood in an England where scientific enquiry and the life of the mind had flourished so freely and abundantly throughout the century. It emphasizes the fundamental dividing line between Catholic and Protestant, between dogma imparted through received wisdom or ecclesiastical authority and truths established in a climate of 'experimental philosophy' and unfettered intellectual curiosity.
William III and Mary II in
Peace and Liberty Triumphing Over Tyranny,
1716, by Sir James Thornhill
"The newfangled monarchical template was not all about religion. Prudently, if at the same time reluctantly, William and Mary accepted the terms -- or at any rate the essence -- of a Declaration of Rights drawn up by House of Commons committees and amended by the Lords. This brought together an appeal to ancient privileges enjoyed by Parliament and by ordinary subjects, an attack on the royal dispensing power so notoriously exercised by King James and an implicit vindication of Parliament's centrality to the business of government, requiring its frequent sessions. By the time this passed into statute as the Bill of Rights on 16 December 1689, the concept of English monarchy had been effectively transformed into an office defined as one of public duty and fiduciary responsibility. The fact that the Declaration of Rights was read out at the coronation, before the actual moment of crowning, had its own admonitory resonance. What William and Mary thus acknowledged was not a total surrender of their power and influence but the genesis of a realm in which royal prerogative was more severely limited than ever before, popular consent was fundamental and the line of succession to the throne was determined by an adherence to Protestant principles."