Friday, February 17, 2006

Diary of John Evelyn

You may be interested in this review in the Spectator of a new (abridged) edition of John Evelyn's diary.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


For the Williamite Wars in Ireland, see this brilliant BBC website. Follow the links at the bottom of the page.

Ireland presented a much graver threat. In the wake of James’s flight, Tyrconnell mobilized Irish Catholics and by March 1689 controlled most of Ireland except Ulster. By April only Derry and Enniskillen stood out against the Jacobites. With the encouragement and financial support of Louis XIV, James landed at Kinsale on 12 March with about 3,000 French reinforcements to assist Tyrconnell. But this proved more difficult than he had anticipated and in April he was forced to besiege Londonderry after being denied entry to the city when thirteen apprentice boys shut the gates in his face. The city was finally relieved (after 105 days) on 31 July 1690 when William’s ships broke through to relieve the city. The siege had more symbolic than military importance. At Enniskillen the Protestants were able to go on the offensive and on the day the siege of Derry was lifted the Williamites defeated the Jacobites at Enniskillen and Newtownbutler.

On 13 August 1689 the 70 year old veteran Marshall Schomberg landed unopposed near Bangor at the head of 10,000 troops which included Huguenots and Dutch infantry. He quickly took Carrickfergus and reached Newry in September. But Tyrconnell raised a new Jacobite army and reached Dundalk before the over-cautious Schomberg. Bogged down there, nearly 2000 Williamites died of fever. Both sides then took to their winter quarters. But James had lost the initiative – he showed poor powers of leadership(surprise, surprise!) and his army was disorganized.

At the end of 1689 William decided that he needed to intervene personally. But he was held back by difficulties with Parliament over funding and a Regency Bill to put the administration in Mary’s hands during his absence, and was not able to sail until June 1690. On 14 June 1690 he arrived at Carrickfergus with 15,000 troops, nearly half of them hired from Denmark. By the end of the month he had assembled a combined Protestant army of 36,000 (James’s army comprised 25,000 and was similarly international, and comprised French and Irish) , 40 pieces of artillery and 1,000 horses. On 1 July (12 July NS) William met James at the Battle of the Boyne. Though Schomberg was killed, the Jacobites were forced to retreat westwards. Casualties were slight by the standards of contemporary warfare and the Jacobites retreated in good order.

What made the defeat so decisive was James’s reaction. He deserted the army, made rapidly for Dublin and left for France from Kinsale on 4 July. But Jacobite resistance continued for a year, under Patrick Sarsfield, who held out at Limerick. William left Ireland in early September, but Marlborough (now an earl) arrived with 5,000 troops and soon captured Cork and Kinsale, the main ports used by France to supply the Jaobites. On 3 October the Treaty of Limerick was signed. By its terms not only the French but some 12,000-15,000 Irish soldiers left for France, the ‘Wild Geese’.

The Penal Laws
In spite of the relatively generous provisions of the treaty, the long-term outcome of the Williamite war of 1689-91was to strengthen the Protestant ascendancy through a series of penal laws. Catholics were oppressed by a series of penal laws designed to bar them from the professions and deprive them of land.
1. A statute of 1697 criminalized any attempt to perform a marriage between a Protestant woman with an estate of £500 or more and any man who had not obtained legal certification that he was a Protestant.
2. By an Act of 1704 Roman Catholic landowners who possessed fee simples at common law had these fee simples turned into estates which could not descend according to the laws of primogeniture; instead at the death of such an owner his estate was to descend according to the rules of gavelkind. But should the eldest son conform to the Church of Ireland, then he could take the entire estate by primogeniture. Moreover Roman Catholics could not acquire land from Protestant by purchase or marriage. Nor could a Catholic purchase any interest in land greater than a term of 31 years. The land confiscation articles were rigorously applied, reducing Catholic owned land to 14% of the whole by 1714.

Presbyterians were also disadvantaged, though to a lesser degree.


As in 1658-60 Scottish politicians found themselves reacting to events in England. In December 1688 James’s ministers fled Edinburgh in the wake of anti-Catholic rioting, leaving the control of the city to radical Presbyterians.

In January 1689 William summoned a Convention of Estates to meet in Edinburgh on 14 March. Scottish Jacobites refused to attend and on 4 April members voted, with only five against, that James had attempted ‘the subversion of the Protestant religion, and the violation of the laws and liberties of the kingdom.’ The Claim of Right, the Scottish equivalent of the Bill of Rights, was accepted on 11 April. ‘The Scottish revolution thus rested on a far more explicitly contractual idea of kingship than the English.’

It was also a Presbyterian revolution. On 22 July William agreed to an act abolishing ‘prelacy and all superiority of any office in the Church in this kingdom above presbyters’. William, who would have liked to have kept bishops in order to preserve a degree of uniformity in the British churches, accepted this reluctantly. He was also forced to accept a lesser degree of toleration than in England. A witch-hunt was initiated against clergy who sympathized with episcopacy. 664 ministers were dismissed in the following decades and many Episcopalians, who still held to divine right monarchy, looked to the restoration of the Stuarts to secure their rights.

Whereas the Presbyterians of the Lowlands were overwhelmingly Williamite, Jacobitism remained strong in the Highlands. When the Convention offered the Crown to William, John Graham of Claverhouse, now Viscount Dundee, rode north to rally the Jacobite clans. On 27 July 1689 several thousand Highlanders led by Viscount Dundee defeated William’s forces under General Mackay at Killiekrankie. But this was a Pyrrhic victory as Dundee was killed and the Jacobites were finally trounced at Crondale on 1 May 1690. But the rebellion showed the strength of Scottish Jacobitism and further pushed William into the arms of the Presbyterians.

On 7 June the Scots Parliament grated William supply for the next twenty-eight months in return for an act that established Presbyterian government in the Church. Episcopalians (Anglicans) and Catholics were legally disadvantaged. The principle of one established Church for the whole of the British Isles was abandoned.

Because his army was tied down first in Ireland and then on the Continent, William was unable to subject the Highlands to the same military conquest as Ireland. Instead the government constructed Fort William, but lacked the troops to police it, and the Highlands remained unstable and militarily threatening. In the summer of 1691 the chiefs were given the opportunity to recognize William as king by taking an oath. The failure of Alasdair MacIan to meet the deadline led to the punitive massacre of Glencoe on 13 February 1692, a very nasty incident which was exploited by William’s opponents.

Fear of a Jacobite threat in Scotland led to the union of the English and Scots parliaments in 1707 and the creation of Great Britain. Watch this space for more details.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The fiscal-military state

We have had some interesting debates on whether the Glorious Revolution was (a) glorious and (b) a revolution. 'Glorious' is a value judgement, 'revolution' a debate over semantics. I interpret 'revolution' as meaning a profound and irreversible change, and according to that definition, the events of 1688-1689 had revolutionary consequences. But you don't have to agree!

Here is my take on the Revolutions as a major catalysts of constitutional change.

1. During the 1690s and early 1700s a powerful central executive developed. The expansion of the army and the navy necessitated a greatly increased bureaucracy, particularly in the financial departments of the state. Crown finances improved: the crown’s revenue depended on customs, excise (collected directly by the crown from 1683) and from 1693 the land tax. By the early 18th century the English paid twice as much in taxation as the French.

2. A new system of public credit developed. By measures of 1693 and 1694 the king’s debt became the National Debt, financed by bonds, annuities and other forms of individual savings. The Tonnage Act of 1694 provided for a loan of £1.2m at 8% and for subscribers to be incorporated as the Bank of England empowered to deal in bills of exchange. War was now paid for by borrowing as well as taxation. Bankers and financiers flourished in this new climate.

3. With the creation of this ‘fiscal-military state’ England became a major military as well as naval power. Anne’s armies ranged from the Netherlands to the Baltic and Spain.

4. Parliament became a permanent part of the constitution and its work dramatically increased. With the National Debt established on a parliamentary basis, annual sessions were assured.

Add to this the fact that the doctrine of the divine right of kings had been dramatically undermined and that religious dissent was legally recognized for the first time, and it's all beginning to look very much like a revolution.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Do read this

In Today's Times there is an interesting article on John Locke by William Rees Mogg. Click and read.

When he gets past his irritating boasting about his first edition of the Letter on Toleration, he makes some interesting points about why Locke, the great exponent of toleration, did not believe in toleration for Catholics, Muslims or atheists. This is all the more interesting in the light of Rees Mogg's Catholic faith!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Glorious Revolution: what did it mean?

Below are a series of posts on the significance of the Glorious Revolution. In a week in which two significant books have come out on the subject by Edward Vallance and Tim Harris, the topic has become extremely relevant.

The Glorious Revolution I; the Revolution settlement

The Convention assembled on 22 January 1689 in an atmosphere of intense debate, but with an urgent need to produce some sort of agreement. When it met it was clear that the Whigs had made an astonishing recovery from the disasters of 1685 and that they commanded a majority of almost 90. They therefore held the initiative on the succession issue.

The problem was how to reach that option and retain a show of legality. James, now in France still claimed to be king, but in spite of this the Commons decided that he had abdicated, leaving the throne vacant. The Whig peer, Somers stated: ‘the King’s going to a foreign Power and casing himself into his hands, absolves the People from their Allegiance’.

But if the throne was vacant, by what authority was it to be filled? These were in the main conservative revolutionaries who did not wish to be seen to undermine monarchy or hereditary succession. Most still wished to assert that the monarch was chosen by God rather than parliament. The Lords in particular wished to avoid any hint that the monarchy might be elective and were unhappy with the belief that James had abdicated (especially as he denied it!). On 31 January the Lords voted (52/47) against offering the Crown to William and Mary, but this was rejected by the Commons and on 3 February William issued a statement that he would be neither regent nor prince. At the same time Anne indicated that she was willing to allow William to take precedence of her in the succession. (She was fifteen years younger than William and the mother of a young son.) With the three royals closing ranks and with London guarded by Dutch troops, the peers and commons of the Convention had little difficulty deciding the succession. The solitary realizable option was the joint rule of William and Mary (though with William predominant).

On 6 February The Lords reluctantly accepted the Commons’ position and on 13 February, the day after Mary’s landing, William and Mary went to the Banqueting House where they were offered the Crown.

On 11 April William and Mary were crowned at Westminster by Compton, bishop of London. The absence of Sancroft – one of the 400 clergy who refused to take the oath of allegiance - demonstrated the magnitude of the divisions that still existed. He and other non-jurors recognized what the Convention had denied: that
‘the line of male primogeniture had been broken and the new monarch’s authority rested briefly upon military might and more permanently upon the wishes of the majority of the political elite expressed through a legislature with a dubious claim to legitimacy. To that extent the Crown had indeed been made elective (Hoppit, 2000, 22-3).’
This left both Whigs and Tories very vulnerable. The Tories were uncomfortable with the overturning of the succession; in particular Anne’s acceptance that William should take precedence of her seemed a clear indication that the monarchy was elective. The Tories were instrumental in ensuring that the oath of loyalty to William and Mary drafted in 1689 did not describe them as ‘rightful and lawful’. Even so many who took the oath only went along with it ‘after much mental torture’. (The words ‘rightful and lawful’ were only inserted after the failed Jacobite plot of 1696.) In Anne’s reign their ambiguous attitude to the succession was to secure their collapse.

But the Whigs also had problems. Their association with the doctrines of contract and resistance could be used to smear them as closet republicans – a charge the great majority denied. In reality the Revolution was not a triumph for the radical Whig ideology of John Locke, but a pragmatic compromise. Most Whigs did not see the situation as creating a precedent.

In July Anne gave birth to an apparently healthy son, William duke of Gloucester. This seemed a providential endorsement of the Revolution.

The Glorious Revolution II: the Bill of Rights

Immediately before the formal offer of the Crown on 13 February, the Commons had presented William and Mary with the Declaration of Rights. Though at that stage William studiously ignored it, later that year it was translated into a statute, the Bill of Rights.

The lawyers who drafted the Declaration chose ambiguous language which would affirm the political principles to which they could all adhere. Many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights were aspirations only and the British constitution contained many grey areas. The Declaration reiterated old rights rather then invented new ones and was certainly not an overt attempt to establish a contractual monarchy. There was plenty of scope for varied interpretation.

However the Bill contained one striking novelty: the statement
‘that the raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is against the law’.
But what was this to mean in practice? After the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) the question of whether to continue a standing army in peace-time was hotly debated in Parliament. William personally appealed to the Commons to be allowed to keep the Dutch foot-guards. In 1699 the Disbanding Act fixed the number of troops to be kept in establishment ‘and in this negative way legalized a peace-time standing army’.

More importantly, the Glorious Revolution established a Protestant succession to the crown. The Test Act now applied to the monarch. In contrast to the European principle of cuius regio eius religio, from this time onwards monarchs and their spouses had to follow the religion of the people. The principle was reinforced in the Act of Settlement (1701) and the Act of Union (1707).

After 1688 no monarch could rule as Charles II had ruled, though this was not because of the Bill of Rights. In some respects post-1688 monarchs were more powerful than their Stuart predecessors because they were Protestants and had at least the passive support of the bulk of the nation. But though both monarchical and legislative authority was strengthened as a consequence of the Revolution, Parliament benefited disproportionately:
1. It met much more frequently and conducted a much greater volume of business
2. Much politics was party based and rested upon carefully articulated ideologies
3. Because of the Triennial Act of 1694 this was an era of remarkable electoral activity, helping to forge important links between central and local politics.

Between the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution, six Parliaments were elected and they met for twenty-two sessions – the majority of them for less than ten weeks. A dramatic change followed 1688, and annual parliamentary sessions averaging twenty weeks became the norm. This changed the nature of MPs’ work and how they saw their jobs.

The Triennial Act was passed partly because Parliament never fully trusted William, and feared that the prospect of peace would make him less dependent on them. But frequent elections were acrimonious, time-consuming and expensive. Between the Glorious Revolution and the Septennial Act (1716) general elections took place every two years. However most seats were uncontested and turnout was often low. In England in 1701 there were c. 118,000 county electors and c. 70,000 borough electors.

The Glorious Revolution III: theToleration Act

Although the Glorious Revolution was viewed by many as enabling the restoration of the supremacy of the established Church, they were soon disappointed. In May 1689 the Toleration Act allowed:
1. Freedom of worship to all who took the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and made declarations against transubstantiation.
2. Dissenters’ meeting-houses to be registered with the bishop or at the Quarter Sessions. Services had to be conducted with the doors open. The Test Acts remained; this led to the practice of occasional conformity.
In effect, the Act allowed freedom of worship though not rights to hold public office to Protestant Dissenters. John Locke:
‘Toleration has bow at last been established by law in our country. Not perhaps so wide in scope as might be wished for … Still it is something to have progressed so far.’
The exclusive relationship between citizenship and Anglicanism was severed. Meeting-houses proliferated. By 1710 over 2,500 places were licensed – there were about 9,500 Anglican parish churches. Although Dissenters were still deprived of public office by the Test Act, the practice of Occasional Conformity and the granting of indemnities in practice allowed many of them to sit on corporations and to vote.