King James II

King James II

James, the second son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was born at St. James Palace, London, in 1633. He was given the the title, Duke of York and during the Civil War he escaped to the Netherlands.

James served in the army commanded by Vicomte de Turenne (1652-55) before joining the Spanish fighting against the Protestants in Flanders.

On 3 September 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. A few months previously, Cromwell had announced that he wanted his son, Richard Cromwell, to replace him as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. The English army was unhappy with this decision. While they respected Oliver as a skillful military commander, Richard was just a country farmer. In May 1659, the generals forced Richard to retire from government.

Parliament and the leaders of the army now began arguing amongst themselves about how England should be ruled. General George Monk, the officer in charge of the English army based in Scotland, decided to take action, and in 1660 he marched his army to London.

When Monk arrived he reinstated the House of Lords and arranged for new elections for the House of Commons. These elections resulted in Royalists gaining control of Parliament from the Independents. Monk now contacted Charles who was living in Holland. Charles agreed that if he was made king he would pardon all members of the parliamentary army and would continue with the Commonwealth's policy of religious toleration. Charles also accepted that he would share power with Parliament and would not rule as an 'absolute' monarch as his father had tried to do in the 1630s.

This information was passed to Parliament and it was eventually agreed to abolish the Commonwealth and bring back the monarchy. Parliament raised nearly £1 million and with this money soldiers in the army were paid off and sent home. At the same time Charles was granted permission to form two permanent regiments for himself, the Royal Scots and the Coldstream Guards.

James returned with his brother and was appointed as Lord High Admiral of England. James married Anne Hyde, a Catholic and he later converted to Catholicism. In 1673 Parliament passed the Test Acts that prevented Catholics from being Members of Parliament or from holding any other high office. As a result of this legislation James was forced to resign as Lord High Admiral.

After the death of Anne Hyde, James married Mary of Modena, another Catholic. This upset Parliament and James decided to live in Europe. While he was away members of the House of Commons attempted to exclude him from the succession. However, the Exclusion Bill was defeated by the House of Lords.

In 1678, Titus Oates, an Anglican minister announced that he had discovered a Catholic plot to kill Charles II. Oates claimed that Charles was to be replaced by his Roman Catholic brother, James. He went on to argue that after James came to the throne Protestants would be massacred in their thousands. This announcement made Catholics more unpopular than ever, and eighty of them were arrested and accused of taking part in the plot. Several were executed before it was revealed that Titus Oates had been lying.

Charles and his wife Catherine of Braganza did not have any children. There were two possible candidates to become king when Charles died; 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.

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.

After this victory James 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.

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.

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.

Primary Sources

(1) Sir Thomas Clifford worked for Charles II. In 1682 he recorded these views on the Secret Treaty of Dover.

Henrietta of England... whose intelligence was equal to her beauty... sister to the King of England and sister-in-law to the King of France... met Louis XIV and promised that Parliament would re-establish the Catholic religion in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.

(2) The Secret Treaty of Dover (1670)

The King of England, being convinced of the truth of the Catholic religion... agrees to be reconciled to the Church of Rome, as soon as his kingdom's affairs shall permit him... the said King (Louis XIV) agrees to assist his Majesty (Charles II).. if in need... by sending 6,000 men.

(3) H. Arnold-Forster, History of England (1898)

Titus Oates claimed... that the object of the plot... was to murder the king and destroy the Protestant religion It is certain that the greater part, if not the whole, of Oates's story was untrue; but enough had been said to raise the fears of the Protestants and many Roman Catholics were imprisoned.

(4) Gilbert Bumet, History of My Own Time (1723)

Complaints came from all parts of England complaining about the violence used in the elections of 1685... The methods were so successful that James II said that there were only 40 members of parliament that he was unhappy with.

(5) On 30 June, 1688, some members of parliament wrote a joint letter to William of Orange.

Lord Russell has informed us that your Highness is ready and willing to give us assistance... your Highness may be assured that nineteen out of twenty... in the kingdom... desire change.