Glorious Revolution

John Locke took up the ideas of the Levellers in his Two Treatises of Government. Written in about 1680 but not published until ten years later, it disputed the idea that the monarch's political authority was derived from God (the concept known as Divine Right) because it could lead to absolute monarchy which, he asserted, was "inconsistent with civil society, and so can be no form of civil government at all." (1)

According to Annette Mayer, in her book, The Growth of Democracy in Britain (1999): "In Locke's view, sovereignty resided in the people and government depended upon their direct consent. A government's role was to protect the rights and liberties of the people, but if the governors failed to rule according to the laws then they would forfeit the people's trust. The people possessed the right to choose an alternative government." (2)

Charles II and his wife Catherine of Braganza did not have any children. There were two possible candidates to succeed Charles. His brother James and James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, the king's eldest illegitimate son. Just before he died in February 1685, Charles admitted that he was a Catholic. He also announced that his brother James was to succeed him to the throne.

The Duke of Monmouth fighting at Maastrict in 1673.
The Duke of Monmouth fighting at Maastrict in 1673.

In June 1685, the Duke of Monmouth landed in England with a small army. As he was a Protestant he expected most of the population to support his claim to the throne, but people in England were unwilling to get involved in another Civil War. Monmouth was therefore easily defeated by the king's army. (3)

After this victory James II tried to place Catholic friends in positions of power. However, the Test Acts made it impossible for him to do this. When Parliament refused to change these laws, he ignored it and began appointing Catholics to senior positions in the army and the government. James also announced that he intended to allow Catholics to have complete religious freedom in England. When the Archbishop of Canterbury and six other bishops objected to this, James gave instructions for them to be arrested and sent to the Tower of London. (4)

Some members of the House of Commons sent messages to Holland inviting James's daughter, Mary and her husband, William, Prince of Orange to come to England. Mary and William were told that, as they were Protestants, they would have the support of Parliament if they attempted to overthrow James.

In November 1688, William, Prince of Orange and his Dutch army arrived in England. When the English army refused to accept the orders of their Catholic officers, James fled to France. As the overthrow of James had taken place without a violent Civil War, this event became known as the Glorious Revolution. (5)

William and Mary were now appointed by Parliament as joint sovereigns. However, Parliament was determined that it would not have another monarch that ruled without its consent. The king and queen had to promise they would always obey laws made by Parliament. They also agreed that they would never raise money without Parliament's permission. So that they could not get their own way by the use of force, William and Mary were not allowed to keep control of their own army. In 1689 this agreement was confirmed by the passing of the Bill of Rights. (6)