Thursday, January 12, 2006

Catholicising policies

In November 1685 the second session of James's Parliament met. There was dissent in the Council and the Marquess of Halifax was dismissed as President because he said he could not support the repeal of the Test Acts. On 9 November James addressed Parliament, demanding money for a standing army and refusing to dismiss the Catholic officers. On 12 November the House responded with speeches praising the militia’s virtues and questioning the need for a standing army. Two days later the Commons presented an address declaring that the employment of papists was illegal. On 20 November James prorogued parliament after less than two weeks. It was never to meet again and it was dissolved in July 1687. Just nine months into his reign James had broken with the Tories who had supported him since 1680.

If the king could not achieve toleration of Catholics through Parliament, he still had considerable powers to improve their plight. James’s brother-in-law, Laurence Hyde, earl of Rochester, was marginalized. Instead the king turned to advisors who would tell him what he wanted to hear: his wife Mary Beatrice, Sunderland the court weather-vane, Barillon, the French ambassador, and the Jesuit, Edward Petre. In September 1685 he decided to re-establish diplomatic relations with Rome and picked as his ambassador the devoutly Catholic earl of Castlemaine. In November the papal envoy arrived (though James showed himself surprisingly independent of papal control).

Ministers and bishops were horrified when he allowed the establishment of seminaries in London and patronized Catholic presses. He even sent a priest to Holland to ensure Mary’s conversion.

When this policy failed, James fell back on the dispensing power - the right to dispense individuals from the operations of acts of Parliament. In June 1686 this was tested in Godden v. Hales before the judges of the common law courts. Shortly before the trial, James canvassed the judges and dismissed six of them. Eleven of the twelve judges then upheld the monarch’s dispensing power.

However, though James seemed to have the law on his side, by 1688 less than a quarter of the JPs and deputy lieutenants were Catholics. Disappointed, James poured money and effort into a missionary campaign and arranged for personal interviews with leading politicians in order to bring about their conversions. However, only one major conversion was secured - that of the earl of Sunderland in the summer of 1688 - after the birth of James’s son. But his efforts were probably doomed to fail as the stories of the French dragonnades had intensified English anti-Catholicism.