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The English Convention Parliament (1689) – King James’ Usurpation Legitimised.

James II succeeded to the throne of the three kingdoms in 1685 following the death of his brother Charles II. The three years of his reign were an unhappy time for all as the king’s Catholicism left him unprepared to compromise even a little with the growing religious demands of his mostly Protestant subjects, particularly in Scotland.

James II                                                                   King James II

Dissatisfaction led to intrigue and conspiracy as William of Orange’s ambition for the crown coincided with the desire of many of the men of influence at the Royal Court to replace James with a suitably protestant successor.

Amid much scheming in both Dutch and English courts, towards the end of 1688, a plan was hatched to usurp James. And so, on 5th November William of Orange landed at Brixham at the head of an uninvited army of some 40,000 men, twice the size of the Spanish Armada,

Landing of William of Orange

William of Orange lands at Torbay

On the 9th November William’s forces seized Exeter after the magistrates had fled. And on 18th November Plymouth surrendered to the Dutch. There was a brief skirmish at Wincanton where a small force of James’ English army defeated a small party of Dutch scouts before retreating.

However, as the days went on there were widespread political and military defections to William as James was abandoned by subjects, friends and family.

As the Dutch army marched towards London, James, with characteristic indecision, first fled the capital only to return on being discovered in flight.

However, by 17th December with William and his forces on the verge of entering London there could be no other recourse than the king abandoning his throne and leaving for exile. On this day James was attended by Bonnie Dundee and Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres, the last 2 nobles of his court who remained loyal to the Stuarts.

(c) Traquair Charitable Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres

The three of them walked for a while in the Mall. James briefed Balcarres to attend to the civil affairs of Scotland and told Dundee he would receive a commission to command his army. And he left them trudging disconsolately off into exile.

So James was gone and William had arrived, without any major fighting much to the satisfaction of the miscreants involved. However, such a usurpation was unprecedented and had no easy resolution from the constitutional viewpoint.

William refused to simply take the crown as de facto king, preferring that the whole arrangement be properly documented and he gave instructions for an assembly of peers to be called. This gathering, on 22 January 1689, has become known as the Convention Parliament. Its purpose was to justify the overthrow of the properly anointed monarch and as such it had no legal standing.

For three weeks month arguments were heard as to the various proposals for monarchical arrangements going forward. Should William rule alone, or his wife, Mary who was James’s sister? Should, in fact, the throne pass to James and Mary’s sister Anne, who was satisfyingly protestant and who did, in the fullness of time, inherit the throne. Arguments were also put forward for a republic and the small voices of the loyal bishops proposed that James should be conditionally restored to the throne of his fathers.

De Hooghe's image of William III addressing the convention 'Parliament'

William of Orange addresses the Convention Parliament

It was, however, duly determined that since England was a protestant kingdom only a protestant could rule. The Commons agreed that the throne had become vacant due to the king’s abdication but the Lords rejected this as abdication was then a term of no legal standing. And furthermore that if the throne had become vacant then it should pass to the next in line which would be Mary.

Eventually, amidst the tawdry postulating over how best to tie up the loose ends of the whole debased affair, the Lords proposed that William and Mary should rule jointly, and the Commons agreed on the basis that William alone would hold the regal power.

William IIIs coronation

Coronation of William III and II and Mary II

On 13th February William and Mary were duly proclaimed joint monarchs of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. And on 23rd February, with the same deft touch, the new King William retrospectively converted the Convention into a legitimate Parliament by dissolving it and summoning it again to pass the Crown and Parliament Recognition Act 1689.

He further ordered that a similar assembly be called in Edinburgh in order that he might be properly anointed monarch there. And it was this Convention of the Three Estates which opened on 14 March 1689 from which Bonnie Dundee withdrew and left to eventually raise the standard for the King and commence the campaign which ended at Killiecrankie.

And so a key turning point was reached in the History of Scotland. Within 20 years we would witness such events as the Massacre of Glencoe, the Darien disaster and finally and fatally, Parliamentary union with all that has come to pass from there.

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