King slave

William III by Sir Godfrey KnellerPeter Ackroyd explains that James II of England sought to appoint Roman Catholics to positions of power in the realm and to repeal penal laws against Catholics, without the consent of Parliament. The people responded by burning effigies of the Pope, and nobles including the Earl of Danby who had led Charles II’s government invited William of Orange to invade. William came with 40,000 men, and James, finding even his own army would not support him, fled.

The immediate causes of the crisis was the birth of James’ son, whom Danby affected to believe was an imposter, brought into the alleged place of child-birth in a warming-pan, and James’ attempt to pack Parliament with supporters to repeal the punitive acts against Catholics. He made a Declaration of Indulgence, that the penal laws for religious offences and the religious qualification for public office were suspended. This was not for him to grant. He required it to be read in 9000 parish churches, but was obeyed in only 200. Seven bishops petitioned him to withdraw it, and he imprisoned them in the Tower.

James was a fool, whose mistress did not know why he liked her: It cannot be my beauty, for he must see that I have none; and it cannot be my wit, for he has not enough to know that I have any. He was a slave, who knelt for a blessing to the papal nuncio, bringing forth the disgust of all as no English king had knelt to another man since King John. He continued to receive a subsidy from Louis XIV, and so work against the interests of his kingdom. George Jeffreys by William Wolfgang Claret

This simple tale, in which I still take some Protestant pleasure, fails to provide any motivation for James which I can understand. Separately, it makes him out as a fool, incapable of judging his own support. The foolishness may be made worse by arrogance, a belief that his Anglican supporters would maintain their support; even the army refused his orders. James wanted to free Catholics from legal persecution, but the cost was the increased hatred of their Protestant neighbours.

The rebels did not imagine not having a King. They thought William would force James to call a free Parliament, Ackroyd suggests. William wished to protect the Netherlands from the French. The result of his takeover was English and Scots participation in the Grand Alliance against Louis, possibly in British interests, but more clearly in those of the Dutch.

Charles II’s son outside marriage, the Duke of Monmouth, attempted a rebellion with only 150 men. He landed in Torbay, expecting people would join him, but few did. Judge Jeffreys condemned so many to death for treason that his executioners complained they could not kill them all. It is all a tale of arrogance, incompetence and blindness.

3 thoughts on “King slave

  1. “This simple tale, in which I still take some Protestant pleasure, fails to provide any motivation for James which I can understand.”

    Really? It is, precisely, the primordial motivation of the political man- at least historically. We were not people, not individuals, not ideas. Simply tribalists. That is the why of the success of the Front National or UKIP. That’s why even a very educated and pleasant Cameron plays to those base animalistic instincts.


    • Why did he convert? Was he intellectually convinced of Aquinas’ use of Aristotelian concepts of substance to embrace transubstantiation? Was it that he was in exile in France for so long? Did he want obedience to a Pope outside the kingdom rather than a king within it? What was his brother’s attitude- his daughters were strongly Protestant, Ackroyd says. What were his other interests and activities in governing? When promoting Catholics raised Protestant ire, did he realise, did he care, did he trim his sails a bit? That is, how convinced was he of his right to rule, and what understanding did he have of other people’s thoughts on the matter?


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