James II succeeded his brother, Charles II, in 1685. However, the attempt by James to move his country to absolute Catholicism led to the 1688 Revolution and the removal of James II from the throne.
James was born on October 14th 1633. His father was Charles I (who was executed in 1649) and his mother was Henrietta Maria. James was their second son, the older being the future Charles II. The early life of James was dominated by the English Civil War and for James years in exile. While abroad, James fought with both the French and Spanish armies.
In 1660, Charles retuned to Britain as Charles II as a result of the Restoration Settlement. James also returned as Duke of York. However, whereas Charles gained a reputation as a man whole could hold his own in politics when required to do so, James was seen as being dull, slow and incapable of grasping the politics of the day. To Parliament, Charles was pragmatic and flexible in his approach. James was far too honest for his own good and believed in letting everyone know about his beliefs. His education had embedded in him two things: a devotion to the memory of his father and an adherence to absolute Catholicism, something he had experienced in Spain and France in his earlier years. James developed the belief that Parliament could only be controlled by an authoritarian approach – not that different from his father, or his brother in the later years of his reign.
During the reign of Charles, James was appointed Lord High Admiral. James was in charge during an era of major reform both in terms of naval expansion and training. He led the navy against the Dutch in the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-67) and the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-74). James received praise for his courageous leadership – but not for his strategy. The Test Act of 1673 meant that he could no longer be Lord High Admiral but he did continue to work with the Admiralty even after this.
In 1669, James was received into the Catholic faith. As he was heir to the throne of Britain, such a move would be a source of trouble. Charles was in good health for a number of years after this but as his health failed, the Crown, and primarily who would inherit the throne, meant that James was at the centre of a political crisis. Supported by his brother, James was duly named as the true successor when Charles died.
James became king in 1685. As was almost traditional, Parliament gave him a generous reception to give him a good start to his reign. James was handed the largest grant given to any Stuart monarch. The ‘honeymoon’ era only lasted a few months. In November 1685, he prorogued Parliament when it questioned his appointment of Catholic officers into the army and organising the army on the lines of the French. That he held summer training camps for the army on Blackheath (south-east of the city) and Hounslow Heath (to the west of the city) was seen as a potential threat to London should the king decide to ‘flex his muscles’.
In 1686, James embarked on a programme to persuade Anglican clergy and Tory politicians to join with him in an attempt to persuade Parliament to repeal the Test Act and the Penal Laws. At the same time he used his position to promote Catholics in the army, to high positions at Cambridge and Oxford Universities and within the Civil Service. In June 1686 the Court of King’ s Bench (which had been purged to remove any judge who may have objected) gave legal recognition to what James had been doing – putting his own men in positions of power. In July 1686, James created the Commission for Ecclesiastical Causes – its purpose was to tame the Anglican Church even though Parliament had banned prerogative courts in 1641. One of the first things that the Commission did was to expel the Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford University. In 1687, the college was turned into a Catholic institution.
To many James seemed to be on a deliberate collision course with Parliament in a manner that resembled the mistakes made by Charles I. Protestants at court were dismissed and this left James with a predominantly Catholic court dominated by Robert Spencer, Earl of Sunderland. The Earl of Tyrconnel, a Catholic, was made Lord Deputy of Ireland (January 1687) and immediately set about reversing traditionally Protestant policies.
Advised by the Quaker William Penn, who believed that Protestant were a greater danger to the country than Catholics, James decided that the only way ahead for himself was the dissolve Parliament, repeal the Penal Laws, and hold a general election whereby the result would end in a Catholic Parliament that would rubber stamp all that the king wanted. The first stage of this was to issue the 1st Declaration of Indulgence in April 1687, which suspended the Penal Laws. He then dissolved Parliament on July 2nd, 1687.
James resorted to what would now be called a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign. He used his authority to fill any office going with his own men – be it JP, Lord Lieutenant, Deputy Lord Lieutenant etc. James also used agents to canvass the people outside of London as to their response to what he was doing. James worked on the belief that no one wanted another civil war. In September 1687 the announcement was made that the Queen was pregnant. James now had the added incentive – to secure a Catholic nation for his heir.
In April 1688, James issued another Declaration of Indulgence. He ordered that it had to be read out in church on two successive Sundays. In May 1688, seven Bishops petitioned against this and they were put in the Tower charged with seditious libel. On June 30th 1688, all seven Bishops were acquitted and this was a serious blow to James. He would have also noted that there was public joy at their acquittal.
On June 10th 1688, the situation became more intense with the birth of James Edward. James now had his heir to the throne who would have been brought up as a Catholic. Many in Parliament also assumed that any child of James Edward would also be brought up as a Catholic and they saw a Catholic monarchy stretching into the future. It was a view that they did not like.
On the same day that the seven Bishops were acquitted, an all-party Invitation was sent to William of Orange. The invitation crossed party lines and was symbolic of the fear that politicians of all hue had of the potential for another civil war or the intervention of a European catholic power in support of James. The principal signatories of the Invitation were some of the most influential men in the kingdom: Admiral Edward Russell, Henry Sidney, the 4th Earl of Devonshire and the 12th Earl of Shrewsbury were all considered to be Whigs; the Earl of Danby, Baron Lumley and Henry Compton, Bishop of London were all considered to be Tories.
Confronted by these moves – and the knowledge that William of Orange had made it clear that he intended to invade – James lost control of the situation. He effectively reversed many of the policies he had introduced. Rather than stem the tide, this only served to make him seem more devious, that he would do anything to maintain his power. In November 1688, William landed at Torbay, Devon and advanced on London. Many lords rose in his favour – the Earl of Devonshire seized Nottingham on November 21st; Danby seized York on November 22nd and John Marlborough defected from the army to the side of William. James advanced as far as Salisbury, Wiltshire, in November to meet William but retreated back to London. Seemingly devoid of any support, James sent the Queen and Prince James Edward to France on December 9th. He followed them one day later but was recognised at Faversham, Kent and sent back to London. On December 23rd, William allowed James to make a second and successful escape to France. James landed at Ambleteuse, Pays de Calais, on Christmas Day 1688.
In March 1690, James landed in Ireland with French troops. The campaign to reclaim his throne was a disaster. In July 1690, James was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne and James had to make a hurried and undignified retreat to France. James remained in France until he died. He was given a pension of one million livres a year by Louis XIV. James died on September 6th, 1701, He died a bitter man, never understanding why God had abandoned his cause.