The Glorious Revolution

The reign of King James II and the coming

Episode 17

Hello, I'm Wilson Pruitt, and you are listening to the History of Methodism Podcast. You can support us on Patreon at Today’s episode: The Glorious Revolution. There have been two successful invasions of England from the sea since the end of the Vikings. The first was in 1066 with William the Conqueror. The second was in 1688 with William of Orange and an Anglo-Dutch fleet larger than the Spanish Armada. Historians have puzzled over the events of 1688 since they happened. It has been termed the Glorious Revolution to offer contrast with the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. It led to stability in the English monarchy and in the relationship between the crown and parliament and the church, but it was not peaceful. Edmund Burke saw King James II as a modernist and William as a return to older forms. McCauley saw William as a logical step in the move of reason within England. John Wesley was born 15 years after 1688 and the events and results of that year shaped his world. 18th Century England makes no sense without understanding the conflicts of the Civil War and the resolution of 1688, but what actually happened? At the end of our last episode, Charles II had died without a child and James II had been crowned king. We pick up there with John Wesley’s description of James.

“The duke of York, who succeeded his brother, by the title of king James the second, ,

had been bred a papist, and was strongly bigoted to his principles. The intellects of this prince were naturally weak; and his education rendered them still more feeble.

“The people, though they despised the administration of his predecessor, yet loved the king. They were willing to bear with the faults of one, whose behaviour was affable, but they were by no means willing to grant the same indulgence to James, as they knew him to be gloomy, proud, and cruel. (317)

Wesley’s words are filled with hindsight, but many had great hopes for James’s reign. Sir Robert Southwell, a man who will be against the king in 3 years, said that, “His majesty begins his reign with auspicious acclamations from all parts. Every man believes he will take to heart the glory of his nation.” (Pincus 94).

James himself also quelled many fears thanks to his first speech to the Privy Council. His words were printed and widely disseminated the next day

And I shall make it my endeavours to preserve this government both in Church and state as it is now by law established. I know the principles of the Church of England are for monarchy, and the members of it have showed themselves good and loyal subjects; therefore I shall always take care to defend and support it. I know too that the laws of England are sufficient to make the king as great a monarch as I can wish. And as I shall never depart from the just rights and prerogative of the Crown, so I shall never invade any mans property. I have often heretofore ventured my life in defence of this nation, and I shall still go as far as any man in preserving it in all its just rights and liberties.

At the beginning of his reign, in 1685, James put down the Argyle rebellion in Scotland and the Monmouth Rebellion in the West Counties. Monmouth was more directly tied to the future of the country. James Scott, the 1st Duke of Monmouth was the illegitimate son of Charles II and he claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne since James was Catholic. James, however, quickly put down both rebellions.

These military successes, though, led James to stretch his power. He had called a new parliament in April that had been sympathetic to him. Yet he soon had major disagreements with parliament over Catholic officers, which was partially why he dissolved it in 1687. This led to a dramatic expansion of the standing army, which James wanted to flaunt across the country and to an expansion forced requisition of guest beds that set the precedent that the US 3rd amendment to the constituon tried to stop.

James was not crazy in what he was doing. Instead, he was deliberate and consistent in his efforts to build royal power. James had learned lessons from his father, Charles I, in that you can’t just assert royal power. Instead, James remade the state root and branch down to the local level.

James didn’t stop with the military or parliament. He also established an Eccelsiastical commission to oversee the Church of England with seven members of supreme authority over the clergy of the church. Wesley saw this as one step Towards James’s larger goal of returning the Church to Rome. A step that became closer after James sent the Earl of Castlemaine to Rome to reconcile the crown and the Papacy. The Jesuits were welcome in the country and Catholics began to be recommended to positions in Cambridge and Oxford.

There was deep controversy going on at Oxford, most famously at Magdalen College. The president had died and James wished to name a Catholic to the post. The fellows of the college refused and James expelled them, to the shock of the nation, as well as to the shock of a young Samuel Wesley, John Wesley’s Father, who was finishing his B.A. at Exeter College, Oxford, at that very time. Samuel would graduate in 1688 and marry Susannah that same year, but we will spend much more time with them in later episodes.

Wesley’s history at this time blends the national with the personal because his father’s generation were the ones in the pulpits at this time. As Wesley writes, “every invasion of the ecclesiastical and civil privileges of the nation only seemed to increase the king’s ardour for more.” (330) After the King’s ecclesiastical court issued a new declaration to be read at every church, known as the Declaration of Indulgence or Declaration of Religious Liberty. Wesley has this anecdote:

“One minister told his congregation, that though he had positive orders to read the declaration, they had none to hear it, and therefore they might leave the church; an hint which the congregation quickly obeyed.”

James expanded the order to include Bishops and pressed the Bishops individually if they would support it. Seven bishops declined, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, and they were arrested and taken to the Tower of London. When the 7 bishops were acquitted of treason, there were celebrations across the country.

There are have been debates about James’s Catholic faith over the centuries. It was to a French Jesuit, in 1669, that James originally converted. James was pious in a way similar to his father, but Catholicism in the late 17th century was divided between Pope Innocent XI and King Louis XIV of France and James’s sympathies lied with Louis. Known historically as Gallicanism, the Catholicism of Louis XIV placed a heavy emphasis on the authority of kings, but also a strong position against Protestants. In France, this looked like using the military against the Protestant Huguenots in order to forcibly convert them. Though the Declaration was ostensibly about religious toleration, many could see where the wind was blowing.

Behind all of this behavior was the issue of succession. James had a daughter, Mary, from a previous marriage, who was happily wed to the Stadtholder of Holland: William of Orange. As mentioned in the last Episode, many were please with Mary as heir and under James II, many tolerated his behavior because they knew he had a Protestant daughter in the wings. But on June 10, 1688, James’s wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a healthy son: James Francis Edward Stuart. The birth of the new prince made William of Orange change his behavior towards England. With his wife no longer the heir, instead of suppressing discontent in the country, William began to foment it. Wesley has a positive account of William throughout his history

“William was a prince who had, from his earliest entrance into business, been immersed in dangers, calamities, and politics. The ambition of France, and the jealousies of Holland, had served to sharpen his understanding, which was naturally good. His temper was cold and severe; his genius active and piercing’ he was valiant, without ostentation, and politic without address. Through his whole life he was indefatigable; and though frequently an unsuccessful general in the field, yet he was still a formidable negotiator in the cabinet. by his wisdom he saved his own country from ruin; restored the liberties of England, and preserved the independence of Europe.” (336)

At the time of the birth of young James Francis, William was getting ready for a new conflict with France. If you remember from our last episode, the Dutch had defeated the English twice during the reign of Charles II and had a simmering conflict with France that England had supported them in from time to time.

As well, it is important to recognize that the Netherlands of 1688 was very different from the Netherlands of 1618 and the Synod of Dort, when we last spent time in Holland. After finally reaching peace with Spain in 1648, the Dutch Economy became the strongest in the world as Dutch merchants moved across the world. William was born in 1650 and became Prince of Orange as an infant after his Father died of smallpox 8 days before his birth. William’s mother was Mary Stuart, daughter to Charles I. William became the Stadtholder, an elected position that his father and grandfather had held, in 1672. The Netherlands United under William because of the threat of France, a conflict he was able to navigate and allow the small country to come out stronger. Now, back to 1688.

William sent a diplomat, Dykevelt, over the channel to “apply in his name to every denomination in the kingdom.” That is, to both the church-party and the non-conformists who refused to take the vow of the Act of Uniformity after the return of Charles II. Pamphlets against the king were being printed clandestinely or on the continent and shipped over, showing the people’s dissatisfaction with James.

Influential people of the kingdom soon sent words of support to William, including Admiral Herbert and Henry Sidney, uncle to the Catholic earl of Sunderland. Sidney penned a famous letter to William that 6 other emminent englishman signed.

We have great reason to believe, we shall be every day in a worse condition than we are, and less able to defend ourselves, and therefore we do earnestly wish we might be so happy as to find a remedy before it be too late for us to contribute to our own deliverance ...

In September, James received word that William was preparing a massive Anglo-Dutch fleet and the King tried to take back many of his actions. James restored the Fellows of Magdalen College and eliminated the Ecclesiastical Commission, among other things, but it was too late.

In October, as William finalized plans for invasions, he printed a speech he called the Declaration of The Hague, where he promised a free parliament and free church. 60,000 copies of the declaration were printed and distributed in England after the landing.

William landed at Torbay in Devonshire on the southwestern coast of England in November of 1688. The armada he sailed with was larger than the Spanish Armada of a hundred years before. As well, William came with over 11,000 infantry, over 3,000 Calvary, plus over twenty 24 pound canons. They also brought supplies for deserters. This was an invading army. The army itself was filled with English and Scottish soldiers as well as Dutch, so it was international in flavor and loyal to William.

James was not passive in response. James had a standing army numbering 40,000. Plus, he had the experience of crushing the Monmouth and Argyle rebellions only three years prior. But in 1685, James had the English on his side. In 1688, he had almost no one. When Duke of Newcastle sought to gather men from around Yorkshire to repel the invaders, nobody wanted to come and fight for the Catholic king against the Protestants. James couldn’t find seaman for his fleet and the price of coal soared over fears of economic instability (Pincus 232). People flat out stopped paying taxes, as well, and once William landed, they started offering him money directly.

The English did not join Williiam directly. Wesley writes that “(William) continued for ten days in exceptions of being joined by the malcontentcs, and at last began to despair of success. But just when he began to deliberate about reimbarking his forces, he was joined by several persons of consequences. (341).

These included the gentry of Devonshire including the Earl of Devonshire and other regional nobles. This was then followed by leaders of the military. Wesley saw the coup de grâce as the defection of Lord Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough and ancestor of Winston Churchill. Wesley was unaware the Churchill and other officers had been groomed by William before the invasion to be ready.

James’s army was still formidable and the soldiers were professional and loyal to the one who paid them, but James equivocated and did not seek the field of battle. His favorite daughter, Princess Anne, joined up with Early of Devonshire and Earl of Nottingham against the King. Upon hearing the news, James said, “God help me. My own children have forsaken me.”

James tried to return to London but found it not a safe place in the slightest. Eventually, James planned to flea the country to France. He sent his wife and son to Calais. The House of Lords treated with William to keep the peace of London and soldiers were sent to the King’s residence to ask him to leave. He ended up in France, as well, where Louis XIV still called him King.

Williams called the parliament back that last sat with Charles II and used their authority and the authority of the Lords to proceed. Both houses passed an order condemning James It said:

“That king James the second, having, by the advice of Jesuits, and other wicked persons, violated the fundamental laws, and withdrawn himself of the kingdom, had abdicated the government, and that the throne was thereby vacant.”

They then needed to fill that vacancy. The clear debate was whether to make William regent and his wife, Mary, queen. William said that he would not accept being a regent and if that was the desire of parliament, he and Mary would return to The Hague. As Wesley puts it, “it was agreed that the prince and princess of Orange should reign jointly, as king and queen of England, while the administration of the government should be place in the hands of the prince only...the prince accepted the offer; and that very day William and Mary were proclaimed king and queen of England.” (348)

James and the Stuart claimants to the throne did not disappear. There are historically known as Jacobites, derived from the Latin word for James, Jacobus. Not to be confused with Jacobins in the French Revolution, which was the name of a radical group who met at a closed monastery on the Rue de Saint Jacques. The Jacobites, though, were constantly in the background of Wesley’s life. Throughout the first half of the 18th century, there were continuous invasion threats and a few uprisings that had to be put down. We will get to that in due time. But for now, the coronation of William and Mary will soon bring about the Act of Toleration in 1689 and a toleration of dissenting church, as long as they will pledge loyalty to the new sovereigns, but those who did not pledge became non-jurors. So we have non-conformists who did not agree to the act of uniformity in 1660, non-jurors, with the act of 1689, and a whole lot of Christians in England who worship and write outside of the established churches. Who were they? What did they believe? And how did they shape the Wesleys, next time on the History of Methodism.


Steven Pincus, 1688: The First Modern Revolution (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2009)