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English Bill of Rights

When William III and Mary II were called to the throne by Parliament this forever altered the succession by hereditary right only. The Jacobites that followed the Glorious Revolution today recognizes HRH Prince Franz, The Duke of Bavaria as King Francis II of England and Scotland as the heir general of the Stuart Dynasty. This very small faction will ignore the right of Parliament to designate the succession. That is what happened. With the Glorious Revolution Parliament became the power in the land, supplanting that position once held by the Crown.

By December of that year Parliament passed the historic Bill of Rights on December 16, 1689. Although the Bill of Rights was similar to the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William III and Mary II in March 1689 (or 1688 by Old Style dating), inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England, the Bill of Rights went further and set the limits on the powers of the crown and sets out the rights of Parliament and rules for freedom of speech in Parliament, the requirement for regular elections to Parliament and the right to petition the monarch without fear of retribution.

From Wikipedia here are some basic rights set out by the document:

The Bill of Rights laid out certain basic rights for all Englishmen. The Act stated that there should be:

  • No royal interference with the law. Though the sovereign remains the fount of justice, he or she cannot unilaterally establish new courts or act as a judge.
  • No taxation by Royal Prerogative. The agreement of the parliament became necessary for the implementation of any new taxes.
  • Freedom to petition the monarch without fear of retribution.
  • No standing army may be maintained during a time of peace without the consent of parliament.

No royal interference in the freedom of the people to have arms for their own defence as suitable to their class and as allowed by law (simultaneously restoring rights previously taken from Protestants by James II).

No royal interference in the election of members of Parliament

  • The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.
  • “grants and promises of fines or forfeitures” before conviction are void.

no excessive bail or “cruel and unusual” punishments may be imposed.

Although the Bill of Rights did limit the Crown the monarchy did not instantly become the Figurehead Constitutional Monarchy that it is today. No, the King and or Queen still had considerable say in the Government although they were not subject to the will of the House of Commons and the House of Lords respectively. As we shall see in the next session Parliament also has contentions within themselves as the powers of the House of Commons grew the more they desired to limit the powers of the hereditary House of Lords.

However, before that happened a crisis in the succession to the Crown happened once again requiring Parliament to pass the The Act of Settlement in 1701. When William III took the throne jointly with his wife Mary II he was bumped up from third-in-line to the throne to share the Crown with his wife who had been first-in-line until the birth of her Catholic half-brother, James, The Prince of Wales in 1688. As we have seen Princess Anne, the sister of Mary II, relinquished her place in the succession. This meant that when Mary II died in 1694 (making the joint rule of William III and Mary II lasting a mere five years) William III stayed on the throne instead of Anne succeeding. Had William re-married and produced heirs they would have come before the claim of Princess Anne. The union of William and Mary was childless. When William died of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone following a fall from his horse, Sorrel, he was succeeded by his cousin/sister-in-law, the Princess Anne who then became Queen.

Queen Anne, as a princess, married Prince George of Denmark and Norway, Duke of Cumberland the younger son of King Frederik III of Denmark and Norway and Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Ironically, Prince George was first cousin to King George I of Great Britain, his wife’s eventual successor, as his mother was the sister of Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, later Elector of Hanover (father of King George I). Anne and George had many many pregnancies but only one child, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, lived beyond infancy. Sadly, Prince William died of either Scarlet Fever or Smallpox at the age of 11 in 1700. At the time it was thought King William III would not remarry and Anne, worn out from all her pregnancies, would not have another child.

The only legitimate heir at the time was the Catholic James, The Prince of Wales. He was approached by members of Parliament to be placed back in the order of succession under the condition that he convert to Protestantism. He refused to do so. This left Parliament with no other choice but to search for another heir. Eventually Parliament settled the succession to the English and Scottish crowns on the Electress Sophia of Hanover (a granddaughter of James VI of Scotland and I of England) and her non-Roman Catholic heirs. The line of Sophia of Hanover was the most junior among the Stuarts, but consisted of dedicated Protestants. Sophia missed being queen by a few weeks and died on June 8, 1714, before the death of Queen Anne on 1 August 1714, at which time Sophia’s son duly became King George I and started the Hanoverian dynasty.

The act played a seminal role in the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain. England and Scotland which had shared a monarch since 1603, but had remained separately governed countries. The Scottish parliament was more reluctant than the English to abandon the House of Stuart, members of which had been Scottish monarchs long before they became English ones. English pressure on Scotland to accept the Act of Settlement led to a softening of this attitude which paved the way for the parliamentary union of the two countries in 1707.

In this last section dealing with England/Britain we will see the power of the Crown diminish further with the rise of the office of Prime Minister under the Hanoverian Dynasty.