Thursday, February 02, 2006

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.