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1698 in England

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Events from the year 1698 in England.

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You’ll see so much weirdness in this one image that I want point it out to you bit by bit. So this is obviously a coronation ceremony. Specifically, it’s the coronation of William and Mary in England, 1689. And that’s the first peculiarity. They’re being coronated as co-regents, co-monarchs- sharing power between two in a role which we typically have in our head as a job for one. So, a split crown and authority. Second oddity, one of those co-regents, William, on the verge of being King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, is neither English, Scottish, or Irish- but rather, Dutch. But most history books will describe no great war between England and the Netherlands in this period. So how did a Dutchman rise to share the throne? And last, the peculiarity I think most significant: the document being held in front of them. It’s not what we might expect at a coronation: a congratulatory letter, a religious text, or a royal poem- no. It’s a list of demands from the Parliament. It starts with complaints against the predecessor King, James II, and then lists a series of desired limitations on the new monarch's powers. Granted, it wasn’t technically required William and Mary accept these limitations in order to ascend to the throne. Nonetheless, an odd way to greet your new King and Queen- crashing their coronation to tell them what they shouldn’t do. It’s a lot to digest, but understanding this mystery will allow us to focus on the foundation of power in the United Kingdom’s political system. I’ll address the Dutchman first. William of Orange invaded England in 1688. A prince from the Netherlands crossing the channel with a fleet of ships, landing in Brixham, and successfully marching his force to Westminster to be crowned King is a deceptively simple explanation of what happened. That’s because William of Orange was invited to invade. Though by nationality he was absolutely foreign, he had a couple things going for him: Perhaps most important, he was a protestant at a time when England’s King, James II, was catholic. Now James II enjoyed support from Catholics within Ireland and Scotland, but sentiment in England was resoundingly anti-catholic after years of religious violence between the two. They resented pushes by James II to normalize catholicism in the Kingdom. They claimed that he suspended laws of Parliament in order to so. They feared his drives to maintain a standing army as the actions of a tyrant. And as a catalyst to their angst, James II’s wife gave birth to a son in 1688- as critics saw it, a son who would continue the tyrannical catholic dynasty over Protestant England. Which brings us to the second thing William of Orange had going for him as an invader of the British Isles: he was also a part of King James family; he was James’ son-in-law, the husband of Mary, a product of James first marriage. So why would being in the hated king’s family actually help? Well, the newborn and direct catholic heir to the throne was a product of James’ 2nd marriage. By invading, removing James and his second family, and installing himself, William of Orange broke the catholic part out of the equation while still maintaining royal lineage through James’ protestant daughter and through himself, her protestant husband. In a letter addressed to William of Orange by seven powerful noblemen, each carrying a title like Earl, Bishop, or Lord, the state of mind of English Protestants, particularly Protestant elites, came into view. This was 1688. They wrote to William, “The people are so generally dissatisfied with the present conduct of the government in relation to their religion, liberties and properties (all which have been greatly invaded)...It is no less certain that much the greatest part of the nobility and gentry are as much dissatisfied...And there is no doubt but that some of the most considerable of them would venture themselves with your highness at your first landing…” Please Dutch Prince. Come depose our king, and bring his daughter too. You might also notice two distinct, diverging lines of reasoning here. We already mentioned religion. James wanted catholicism legally accepted in English society, and his protestant opposition, ‘averse’ to what they called the ‘popish religion’. The second line of reasoning seems to contradict the first. They get on a ramble in the letter about Parliament and end with this: “if things cannot then be carried to [the King’s] wishes in a Parliamentary way, other measures will be put in execution by more violent means,” Basically, the catholic king will continue to ask things of Parliament which Parliament doesn’t want to give, and upon denial, he will usurp the Parliament with violence. Thus, the king is a tyrant, as they wrote, ‘religion, liberties and properties...greatly invaded’. I only mention this second line of reasoning to you because, though mixed in with the religious stuff, their complaints about the king threatening the legislative body proves important to our exploration. William receives the letter and agrees. What was astounding with William’s 1698 invasion was the lack of violence. Resistance would come from the Scottish and Irish in the following years, but during the initial march, William and his 25 thousand men quickly gained support on their way to London. As Professor Steven Pincus describes in his brief history of the Glorious Revolution, “Common people, gentry, and nobility, disgusted with James II’s government but fearing his power, soon found the courage to pour into William’s camp and rise independently throughout England, offering both physical and financial support,” William of Orange landed in England, marched towards London, was greeted by cheering crowds and defecting soldiers of King James- who then fled to France. At their own behest, William and Mary acceded together as King William III and Queen Mary II, hence the picture with which we started. And we can now finally address that document-that list of demands being read to them at their 1689 coronation. It starts with complaints against James II on religious grounds: ‘subverting protestantism, affiliating with the Catholic church, disarming protestants while arming Catholics’ This has been interpreted as the more conservative part of the 1689 revolution. But then came, for our purposes, the more interesting bits. They complained of the King: ‘Dispensing and suspending laws without Parliament’s consent, using tax funds for purposes other than what was intended by Parliament, maintaining a standing army without Parliament’s consent, and by blocking free elections of Parliament…’ As John Locke might say, the social contract was broken. Absolutism was under attack-not an uncommon theme in 17th century English history, but now it would be codified. Late 1689: the Parliament creates a statute form of their listed complaints and restrictions; they author and pass the Bill of Rights. Included were the aforementioned exclusive powers of Parliament to create and terminate law, levy tax, and maintain an army. But also, a vague but precedent setting provision for free elections of the Parliament and free speech within it. If the Magna Carta in 1215 was an attempt to subject the King to his own laws- a foundation of limited government, this was now an Act, almost 500 years later, that future lawmaking must go through an elected Parliament. The sovereignty, the crown of the monarch was moving from the palace to the Parliament and would gather there through to our time. Hence where we get the controversial term, Parliamentary Sovereignty, a concept which evolved after the revolution in 1689 and is best described by constitutional theorist A.V. Dicey in his Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution. He writes, “Parliament thus defined has, under the English constitution, the right to make or unmake any law whatever: and, further, that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament,” In layman’s terms which I’ve seen laid out in a couple different places: ‘Parliament may legislate on any subject. No parliament can bind its successors or be bound by its predecessors. No person or entity can challenge the validity of an act of Parliament, ‘be they court or King,’ (Jago). In this model, the ‘checks and balances’ so inherent to the American Constitution simply don't exist as we would recognize them. You and I could draw the American system like this, with the Congress creating law, Executive enforcing law, and judiciary interpreting law- each impacting the others, but acting independently. If we would attempt to do the same for the United Kingdom, we would encounter great overlap, as everyone from the Prime Minister to the Civil Service all serve at the pleasure of the majority in Parliament. The glorious revolution in 1698 led to an institution with, if not complete sovereignty, expansive power in the United Kingdom- the legal right to legislate on any topic without question. But Parliamentary Sovereignty doesn’t come without criticism. Struggling a bit with the concept myself, I grabbed a couple books from the library. This one, “Essentials of UK Politics,” by Andrew Heywood has a digestible objection. He writes, “Parliament is not and has never been politically sovereign. Parliament has the legal right to make, amend, or unmake any law it wishes, but not always the political ability to do so. A simple example would be that Parliament could, in theory, abolish elections, but this would be likely to result in widespread public protests, if not popular rebellion,” Even if all this criticism is true-distinguishing the legal right and the political ability of Parliament-in my opinion there’s still no proper checks and balances. The American Supreme Court is an institution we know to be a check on the President and the congress. The United Kingdom Supreme Court, by contrast, was created by Parliament in 2005, and defaults to Parliamentary Sovereignty when making rulings. In short, the UK Constitution is malleable, and that’s what makes it interesting. The result of England’s Revolution in 1689 was a document meant to create a wall of separation between the monarch and the legislature. And to an American observer, it does seem like a radical concentration of power, one the writers of the American Constitution sought to avoid by creating three coequal branches of government. But while American founders distinguished their new system from the one developing in Westminster Palace, they embraced some of its core messaging; and I think you’ll find the echo of the protests in the English Declaration of Rights against King James reverberates in a familiar way on second listening: “unqualified persons have been returned and served on juries...excessive bail... And illegal and cruel punishments inflicted,” “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury,” “By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament,” “He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures,” “and quartering soldiers contrary to law” “quartering large bodies of armed troops among us,” “By violating the freedom of election of members to serve in Parliament,” “For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever,” “Dispensing and suspending laws without Parliament’s consent,” “He has refused his Assent to Laws...necessary for the public good..” “By levying money for...another manner than the same was granted by Parliament,” “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent,” “King James the Second having abdicated the government,” “He has abdicated Government here.” Resistance to absolutism, limited government, social contracts, taxation only with representation-ironically, the American Declaration of Independence, the document meant to forever disconnect the United States and the Kingdom of Great Britain, actually reveals our common heritage.








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This page was last edited on 28 June 2019, at 18:35
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