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The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was when Parliament became supreme and limited the power of the Crown. Although the Glorious Revolution did limit the powers of the monarch it would take a few hundred years until the monarchy became the constitutional and symbolized figurehead monarchy we see today. It has been this gradual limiting of the powers of the crown that has allowed the British monarchy to survive, and thrive, to this very day.

The Revolution resolved the struggle between Crown and Parliament and it also helped settle the religious struggles within the country. Basically at its heart it was a revolution that deposed King James II-VII of England and Scotland. In 1679 Parliament wanted to exclude James from the succession due to his Catholicism. To be Catholic in a Protestant England at that time was troublesome even if you were the king. During his reign James did not do what others feared, nor what his predecessor Mary I did, and tried to revive Catholicism and make it the official religion of England. No, James did what his brother Charles II did and promoted religious tolerance. Sadly these enlightened kingly brothers were way ahead of their times. England had little tolerance for religious tolerance if that religious tolerance included acceptance of Catholics.

What kept James II-VII on his throne was the knowledge that eventually his Protestant daughter, Princess Mary, would succeed him. Mary was married to her first cousin Prince Willem III of Orange, who was next in line to the throne after Mary and her sister, Princess Anne. Prince Willem III of Orange was the Stadholder of the Netherlands and the son of Willem II of Orange and his wife, Princess Mary of England and Scotland, daughter of Charles I of England and Scotland. Willem II was in constant battle with the Catholic King of France, Louis XIV, who also happened to be the first cousin to King James II-VII.

In 1673 as the Duke of York, James married his second wife, Mary Beatrice d’Este of Modena, the elder child of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and his wife, Laura Martinozzi. The new Duchess of York was a devout Catholic and numerous pregnancies ended in either miscarriages or sickly children that did not live long which seemed to assure a Protestant succession. However, after James came to the throne Mary-Beatrice delivered a healthy son, Prince James Francis Edward, shortly thereafter created Prince of Wales. This solidified the fact that the successor to James II-VII would be another Catholic king. This was not acceptable to many people including Parliament and Prince Willem III of Orange himself who was considerably anti-Catholic and did not want to see his wife’s chance on the throne (and his) slip away.

It is interesting to note that historians greatly debate whether or not the birth of a Catholic Prince of Wales was the reason for James being overthrown. The truth it seems is that James was so unpopular that Willem III of Orange was planning to invade England prior to the birth of the Catholic heir. Willem did not want to be seen as an invader and therefore asked members of Parliament to conduct an act of treason by inviting him to come to England and take the throne. When seven brave members of Parliament achieved this honor, Willem began assembling his fleet and waited for the right moment to invade. When France was engaged in a battle in Germany Willem sailed his fleet to England and came ashore on 5/15 November 1688. James II-VII showed little resistance and on December 10, 1688 the king, queen and Prince of Wales fled to France.

With James II-VII now exiled in France Willem took control of the provisional government and called for a Conventional Parliament. His legal right to do so was questionable but this was a time of revolution. This new Parliament consisted of many loyal monarchists who had sat in Parliament under Charles II. The English Convention Parliament was very divided on the issue of who should wear the crown. The radical Whigs in the Lower House proposed to elect Willem as a king (meaning that his power would be derived from the people); the moderates wanted an acclamation of William and Mary together; the Tories wanted to make him regent only and acclaim Mary as Queen.

On January 28 a committee of the whole House of Commons promptly decided by acclamation that James II-VII had broken “the original contract” had “abdicated the government” and had left the throne “vacant.” The House of Lords rejected the wording of the acclimation and what followed were weeks of debate on the wording of the acclimation and who should be the monarch. Princess Anne, next-in-line after her sister, declared that she would temporarily waive her right to the crown should Mary die before William. Mary, for her part, refused to be made queen without William as king by her side, paving the way for the inevitable mounting of the throne of Willem III of Orange onto the English & Scottish thrones. The Lords on February 6 changed their minds and avoiding a possible civil war now accepted the words “abdication” and “vacancy.” in the House of Commons acclimation. On February 13, 1689 Willem III of Orange along with his wife were offered the Crown by Parliament and then became joint sovereigns as King William III and Queen Mary II of England and Scotland.

Parliament had decided the succession and the power to name the monarch and regulate the succession has been in their hands ever since. The next step was to limit the power of the Crown and this was through the establishment of the Bill of Rights which I will examine next week.

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