The Revolution Settlement

In 1688, discontent against King James II and VII reached its bursting point. The King had suspended Parliament for personal rule and sought power to appoint its members in future. He was subverting the Church and persecuted the bishops who resisted. Ultimately he replaced the ruling class of magistrates with in the counties with placemen, and he encamped an army overlooking London to cower the people. In November his son in law, Prince William of Orange, landed in Brixham and King James fled. A Glorious Revolution was achieved, and a bloodless one, in England at least.

The two Parliaments assembled themselves and offered the crowns of England and of Scotland to William and Mary, on the terms of the liberty of the subject, parliament and the Church and so that tyranny could never return.

The Settlement of the Glorious Revolution was set out in two documents:

The Bill of Rights and the Claim of Right are expressions of the fundamental beliefs of British freedom and the determination to hold onto them. They are still cornerstones of the British constitution and our ideas of individual freedom.

The Bill of Rights has had wider resonances. In the next century it inspired the American rebellion, and its words were repeated in the Constitution of the United States, and in the series of amendments the Americans call “the Bill of Rights”. In 1788, the Revolution Society in London celebrated the centenary of the Glorious Revolution by a series of pamphlets and correspondence that tipped the ideological climate of France; revolution broke out there the next year, though alas the ideas of individual freedom and restraint of authority did not transplant to foreign hearts, and were lost in murderous frenzy.

The final, crowning act of the Revolution Settlement of 1688, was the Union of Scotland and England in 1707. It had been a long time in coming, but with at long last with a settled constitution, the mediæval kingdoms of England and Scotland could be thrown onto the flames and the Kingdom of Great Britain could be built with confidence.