There are historians that count the succession of William III of Orange as the last time the English throne was usurped. There is debate about that and today we will look at that issue. The succession of William III and his wife, Mary II, known as the Glorious Revolution, did represent a large shift of power from the crown to Parliament. That is one of the issues behind whether or not William III can be regarded as a usurper. The question we are examining is did William III usurp the throne or did Parliament depose James II-VII and replace him with William III and Mary II?
Although in the last entry I mentioned the birth of James, Prince of Wales, a Catholic heir to King James II-VII, as being the last straw which initiated the Glorious Revolution, there was an incident which lead to the breaking of bonds with the king. In April James II-VII re-issued the Declaration of Indulgence, and simultaneously ordered Anglican clergymen to read it in their churches. Consequently as a result, seven Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, submitted a petition requesting the reconsideration of the King’s religious policies. For this action the King had them arrested and tried for seditious libel. Because of this incidence, seven Protestant noblemen began to negotiate with William of Orange to take the throne. Then in June with the birth of the new Prince of Wales the group of seven Protestant nobles invited the Prince of Orange to come to England with an army. In November William arrived in England and a majority of Protestants placed their support behind William, including his wife, Princess Mary, her sister, Princess Anne, both daughters of King James.
For his part, James did not want to attack and cause a civil war so he tried to flee England in December of 1688. The king was captured in Kent and placed under Dutch guards. William did not want to create a situation where James was a martyr so he allowed him to flee to France where he was accepted at the court of his cousin, King Louis XIV of France and Navarre. Parliament did not want to depose the king and declared, by his actions of fleeing to France, that he had abdicated the throne and thus the throne was vacant. William called another Parliament to decide the fate of the throne. At the time of William’s invasion he did have a right to the throne, but his place in the succession was after the new born-Prince of Wales, and even after his wife Mary and her sister Princess Anne.
After James fled the country and the throne was vacant the Prince of Wales was unacceptable and the next in line was William’s wife Mary. Parliament was divided on the succession. More radical Whigs in the Lower House of Parliament (the Commons) proposed to elect William as a king which would symbolize that his right to the throne came from the people. More moderate members of Parliament wanted to give the throne William and Mary together and the more conservative Parliamentarians, the Tory Party, wanted to make William regent and only acclaim Mary as Queen. A compromise had to be found. William did not want to rule as a regent and Mary let it be known she would not rule without her husband. Other problems within Parliament was the fact that there were still members who were loyal to James and wanted to bring him back if agreements over policies could be made.
It was a contentious time and in hindsight the solution may appear cut and dried but at the time it was not. There were even squabbles on how to word the documents on whether the king had abdicated or deserted the throne. Eventually both houses of Parliament were able to come together and resolved to give the throne jointly to both William and Mary. Anne declared that she would temporarily wave her right to the crown should Mary die before William. sovereignty was granted to both William and Mary for their lifetime.
In Part V in looking at the House of Stuart. I will discuss the Glorious Revolution and its impact on Scotland and Ireland.