History of King James II of England



One wise policy was during the Middle Ages pursued by England alone. Though to the monarch belonged the power of the sword, the nation retained the power of the purse. The Continental nations ought to have acted likewise; as they failed to conserve this safeguard of representation with taxation, the consequence was that everywhere, excepting in England, parliamentary institutions ceased to exist. England owed this singular felicity to her insular situation.

The great events of the reigns of the Tudors and the Stewarts were followed by a crisis when the crown passed from Charles II to his brother, James II. The new king commenced his administration with a large measure of public goodwill. He was a prince who had been driven into exile by a faction which had tried to rob him of his birthright on the ground that he was a deadly enemy to the religion and laws of England. He had triumphed; he was on the throne, and his first act was to declare that he would defend the Church and respect the rights of the people.

But James had not been many hours king when violent disputes arose. The first was between two heads of the law, concerning customs and the levying of taxes. Moreover, the time drew near for summoning parliament, and the king's mind was haunted by an apprehension not to be mentioned, even at this distance of time, without shame and indignation. He was afraid that by summoning his parliament he might incur the displeasure of the King of France. Rochester, Godolphin and Sunderland, who formed the interior cabinet, were perfectly aware that their late master, Charles II, had been in the habit of receiving money from the court of Versailles. They understood the expediency of keeping Louis in good humour, but knew that the summoning of the legislature was not a matter of choice.

As soon as the French king heard of the death of Charles and of the accession of James he hastened to send the latter a munificent donation of pound 35,000. James was not ashamed to shed tears of delight and gratitude.

The accession of James in 1685 had excited hopes and fears in every Continental court. One government alone, that of France, wished that the troubles that had distracted England for three generations might be eternal. All other governments, whether republican or monarchical, Protestant or Romanist, wished to see those troubles happily terminated. Under the kings of the House of Stewart she had been a blank in the map of Europe. The government was no longer a limited monarchy after the fashion of the Middle Ages; it had not yet become one after the modern fashion. The chief business of the sovereign was to infringe the privileges of the legislature, that of the legislature was to encroach on the prerogatives of the sovereign.

The effect of these jealousies was that our country, with all her vast resources, was of as little weight in Christendom as the duchy of Savoy or the duchy of Lorraine, and certainly of far less weight than the small province of Holland. France was deeply interested in prolonging this state of things. All other powers were deeply interested in bringing it to a close.

The king early put the loyalty of his Protestant friends to the proof. While he was a subject he had been in the habit of hearing mass with closed doors in a small oratory which had been fitted up for his wife. He now ordered the doors to be thrown open, so that all who came to pay to him their duty might see the ceremony.

A more serious innovation followed. Passion Week came, and the king determined to hear mass with the same pomp with which his predecessors had been surrounded. The rites of the Church of Rome were once more, after an interval of one hundred and twenty--seven years, performed at Westminster on Easter Sunday with regal splendour.

THE English exiles in Holland induced the Duke of Monmouth, a natural son of Charles II, to attempt an invasion of England, and on June 11, 1685, he landed with about eighty men at Lyme. The little town was soon in an uproar with men running to and fro, and shouting "A Monmouth! A Monmouth! The Protestant religion!" An insurrection was inaugurated and recruits came in rapidly. But parliament was loyal, and the Commons ordered a bill of attainder against Monmouth for high treason. The rebel army was defeated in a fight at Sedgemoor, and Monmouth in his misery complained bitterly of the evil counsellors who had induced him to quit his happy retreat in Brabant. Fleeing from the field of battle, the unfortunate duke was found hidden in a ditch, was taken to London, lodged in the Tower, and beheaded, with the declaration on his lips, "I die a Protestant of the Church of England."

After the execution of Monmouth the counties that had risen against the government endured all the cruelties that a ferocious soldiery let loose on them could inflict. The number of victims butchered cannot now be ascertained, the vengeance being left to the dissolute Colonel Percy Kirke. But a still more cruel massacre was schemed. Early in September Judge Jeffreys set out on that circuit of which the memory will last as long as our race and language. Opening his commission at Winchester, he ordered Alice Lisle to be burnt alive simply because she had given a meal and a hiding--place to wretched fugitives entreating her protection. The clergy of Winchester remonstrated with the brutal judge, but the utmost that could be obtained was that the sentence should be commuted from burning to beheading.

Then began the judicial massacre known as the Bloody Assize. Within a few weeks Jeffreys boasted that he had hanged more traitors than all his predecessors together since the Conquest. Nearly a thousand prisoners were also transported into slavery in the West Indian islands. No English sovereign has ever given stronger proofs of a cruel nature than James II. At his court Jeffreys, when he had done his work, leaving carnage, mourning and terror behind him, was cordially welcomed, for he was a judge after his master's own heart. James had watched the circuit with interest and delight. At a later period, when all men of all parties spoke with horror of the Bloody Assize, the wicked judge and the wicked king attempted to vindicate themselves by throwing the blame on each other.

The king soon went further. He made no secret of his intention to exert vigorously and systematically, for the destruction of the Established Church, all the powers he possessed as her head. He plainly declared that by a wise dispensation of Providence the Act of Supremacy would be the means of healing the fatal breach which it had caused. Henry and Elizabeth had usurped a dominion which rightfully belonged to the Holy See. That dominion had, in the course of succession, descended on an orthodox prince, and would by him be held in trust for the Holy See. He was authorised by law to suppress spiritual abuses; and the first spiritual abuse which he would repress would be the liberty which the Anglican clergy assumed of defending their own religion and of attacking the doctrines of Rome.

The temper of the nation was such as might well make James hesitate. During some months discontent steadily and rapidly rose. The celebration of the Roman Catholic worship had long been prohibited by Act of Parliament. During several generations no Roman Catholic clergyman had dared to exhibit himself in any public place with the badges of his office. Every Jesuit who set foot in this country was liable to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

But all disguise was now thrown off. Roman Catholic chapels arose all over the land. A society of Benedictine monks was lodged in St. James's Palace. Quarrels broke out between Protestant and Romanist soldiers. Samuel Johnson, a clergyman of the Church of England, who had issued a tract entitled A Humble and Hearty Appeal to All English Protestants in the Army, was flung into goal. He was then flogged and degraded from the priesthood. But the zeal of the Anglican clergy was displayed. They were led by a united phalanx, in the van of which appeared a rank of steady and skilful veterans, Tillotson, Stillingfleet, Prideaux, Patrick, Tenison, Wake. Great numbers of controversial tracts against popery were issued by these divines.

Scotland also rose in anger against the designs of the king, and if he had not been proof against all warning, the excitement in that country would have sufficed to admonish him. On March 18, 1687, he took a momentous step. He informed the Privy Council that he had determined to prorogue parliament till the end of November, and to grant, by his own authority, entire liberty of conscience to all his subjects. On April 4 appeared the memorable Declaration of Indulgence. In this document the king avowed that it was his earnest wish to see his people members of that Church to which he himself belonged. But since that could not be he announced his intention to protect them in the free exercise of their religion. He authorised both Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters to perform their worship publicly.

That the declaration was unconstitutional is universally agreed, for a monarch competent to issue such a document is nothing less than an absolute ruler. This was, in point of fact, the most audacious of all attacks of the Stewarts on public freedom. The Anglican party was in amazement and terror, for it would now be exposed to the free attacks of its enemies on every side. And though dissenters appeared to be allowed relief, what guarantee was there for the sincerity of the court? It was notorious that James had been completely subjugated by the Jesuits, for, only a few days before the publication of the indulgence, that order had been honoured with a new mark of his confidence by his appointing as his confessor a Jesuit renegade named Warner.

A MEETING of bishops and other eminent divines was held at Lambeth Palace. The general feeling was that the king's declaration ought not to be read in the churches. After long deliberation, preceded by solemn prayer, a petition embodying the general sense was written by the archbishop with his own hand. The king was assured that the Church still was as she had ever been, faithful to the throne. But the declaration was illegal, for parliament had pronounced that the sovereign was not constitutionally competent to dispense with statutes in matters ecclesiastical. The archbishop and six of his suffragans signed the petition.

The six bishops crossed the river to Whitehall, but the archbishop, who had long been forbidden the court, did not accompany them. James directed that the bishops should be admitted to the royal presence, and they found him in very good humour, for he had heard from his tool, Cartwright, that they were disposed to obey the mandate, but wished to secure some little modifications in form.

After reading the petition, the king's countenance grew dark, and he exclaimed, "This is a standard of rebellion !" In vain did the prelates emphasise their protests of loyalty. The king persisted in characterising their action as being rebellious. The bishops respectfully retired, and that evening the petition appeared in print, was laid out in the coffee--houses and was cried about the streets. Everywhere people rose from their beds and came out to stop the hawkers, and the sale was so enormous that it was said the printer cleared a thousand pounds in a few hours by this penny broadside.

The London clergy disobeyed the royal order, for the declaration was read in only four churches in the city, where there were about a hundred. For a short time the king stood aghast at the violence of the tempest he had raised, but Jeffreys maintained that the government would be disgraced if such transgressors as the seven bishops were suffered to escape with a mere reprimand. They were notified that they must appear before the king in council.

On June 8 they were examined by the Privy Council, the result being their committal to the Tower. From all parts of the country came the report that other prelates had signed similar petitions, and that very few of the clergy throughout the land had obeyed the king. The public excitement in London was intense. While the bishops were before the council a great multitude filled the region all round Whitehall, and when the seven came forth, under a guard, thousands fell on their knees and prayed aloud for the men who had confronted a tyrant inflamed with the bigotry of Mary.

Before the day of trial the agitation spread to the farthest corners of the land. The bishops were charged with having published a false, malicious and seditious libel. But the case for the prosecution speedily broke down in the hands of the crown lawyers. They were vehemently hissed by the audience. The jury gave the verdict of 'Not Guilty.' As the news spread all London broke out into acclamation. The bishops were greeted with cries of "God bless you; you have saved us all to-day."

The king was greatly disturbed at the news of the acquittal, and exclaimed in French. "So much the worse for them." He was at the moment in the camp at Hounslow, where he had been reviewing the troops. Hearing a great shout behind him, he asked what the uproar meant. "Nothing," was the answer; "the soldiers are glad that the bishops are acquitted." "Do you call that nothing?" exclaimed the king. And then he repeated, "So much the worse for them." He might well be out of temper. His defeat had been complete and most humiliating.

In May 1688, while it was, still uncertain whether the declaration would or would not be read in the churches, Edward Russell had repaired to The Hague, where he strongly represented to the Prince of Orange, husband of Mary, eldest daughter of James II, the state of the public mind, and had advised his highness to appear in England and to call the people to arms.

William had seen at a glance the whole importance of the crisis. "Now or never !" he exclaimed in Latin. He quickly received numerous assurances of support from England. Preparations were rapidly made, and on November 1, 1688, he set sail with his fleet, and landed at Torbay on November 4. Resistance was impossible. The troops of James's army quietly deserted wholesale, many joining the Dutch camp at Honiton. First, the west of England, and then the north, revolted against James. Evil news poured in upon him. On December 11 the king fled from London secretly. His home in exile was at Saint Germans.

WILLIAM and Mary were proclaimed King and Queen of the United Kingdom, and thus was consummated the English Revolution. It was of all revolutions the least violent and yet the most beneficent. It finally decided the great question whether the popular element which had, ever since the age of Fitzwalter and de Montfort, been found in the English polity, should be destroyed by the monarchical element, or should be suffered to develop itself freely, and to become dominant. The strife between the two principles had been long, fierce and doubtful. It had lasted through four reigns. The King at Arms, who proclaimed William and Mary before Whitehall Gate, did in truth announce that this great struggle was over; that there was entire union between the throne and the parliament; that England, long dependent and degraded, was again a power of the first rank; and that no reform which the two Houses should, after mature consideration, propose, would be obstinately withstood by the sovereign.





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