William of Orange, Mary, Glorious Revolution, Bill of Rights, Act of Succession, Whigs, Tories and Constitutional Monarchy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 9th, 2012

Politics 101

Englishman John Lock believed not in the Divine Right of Kings but in the Sovereignty of the People

After the English Civil War, and the English Republic with Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, Britain had a king again.  Charles II.  Taking the throne in 1660.  And after what Britain just went through he was going to rule a little more carefully than his dad Charles I.  Who was, after all, beheaded by Parliament.  Charles believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  But he wasn’t going to mess with Parliament.  He didn’t want anyone saying like father like son about him.

In fact, things really began to change under Charles II.  It was the age of empiricism.  The era of observing things.  And making sense out of what you saw.  Which led to some questioning of Church doctrine.  For the Church said they understood everything.  Such as the earth being the center of the universe.  And in the Divine Right of Kings.  But then Galileo observed that the earth revolved around the sun.  Contrary to Church doctrine.  So if the Church was wrong about how the universe worked then perhaps they were wrong about the Divine Right of Kings, too.  People started questioning things.  Francis Bacon who lived through the English Civil War questioned some of the old books.  Believing more in observing things.  And thinking about what you observed.  Tom Hobbes observed life and thought people were a lost cause.  And needed the heavy hand of government to protect them from each other.  To alleviate their suffering from a life that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  John Locke, a veteran of the English Civil War, thought a lot about what he observed.  He believed everyone was born equal.  And innocent.  He didn’t believe in the Divine Right of Kings or the nobility.  And that government ruled at the consent of the governed.  The idea that kings weren’t sovereign.  The people were.

It was also a science renaissance.  Smart guys were figuring out how to master their environment.  And the seas.  This was the era when the world got smaller.  As ships began to navigate the oceans.  And the great European powers colonized other lands.  Things were looking up in Britain.  Until Charles II died and his son took over being king (1685).  King James II.  Who had none of his father’s cunning political skill (who ruled following a civil war that ended monarchy).  Who liked to rule as he pleased, believing more in the Divine Right of Kings than in Parliament.  But worse of all he was a Catholic.  While the English were still Protestant.  And fiercely anti-Catholic.  Especially with all of this new thinking going on.  They were done with Catholic dogma for good.  And when James started making the Protestant churches of England and Scotland Catholic, well, the people had had enough.

The Act of Succession brought a German from Hanover to the British Throne

James II was chased out of England into exile in France.  A Dutch prince came over to do the job.  William of Orange.  A stout Protestant.  Who had married James’ daughter.  Mary.  With James abdicating his throne (by running away) Parliament made William and Mary joint monarchs.  Not quite a revolution.  But we call it one anyway.  The Glorious Revolution.  Because the William/Mary monarchy was conditional on a Bill of Rights.  Which basically said Protestants and Parliament were in.  The Divine Right of Kings and Catholics were out.  Which was good if you were a Protestant.  But particularly unpleasant if you were a Catholic in Scotland or Ireland.  Who suffered dearly under William.

Things were looking up again for Protestant, liberty-loving Britons.  But the royal monarchs were getting old.  And had no male heirs.  Even Mary’s sister, Anne, failed to produce a male heir.  Big problem.  Then they found a widow of a dead German prince with some Stuart blood in her.  Sophia of Hanover.  Whose mother was the daughter of one James I.  (The dad of Charles I.  King Charles I, of course, being the king Parliament executed after he lost the English Civil War).  And more importantly she was a Protestant.  Problem solved.  The Act of Succession (1701) formally passed the throne to Electress Sophia after everyone else ahead of her died.  And to her heirs upon her death.  The act further stated that a Catholic shall never, ever, sit on the British throne.

Queen Mary died in 1694.  William III followed in 1702.  Making Anne Queen.  Under her reign Scotland joined England in formal union.  Creating a large free-trade zone.  The impetus for the Scots to sign on the dotted line.  The Act of Union ended the Scottish parliament.  Scottish ministers now sat in the British parliament.  In the new union called Great Britain.  In time the Scots and the English would stand shoulder to shoulder on battlefields throughout the world.  Fighting Catholics.  And others.  Building an empire.  Meanwhile Sophia died.  Before Anne.  So when Anne died the throne passed to her son.  George.  Who enjoyed being home in Hanover more than being in England.  And spent more time in his German kingdom.  At first angering Parliament.  But then they grew to like the idea of having all that unfettered power.

British Americans enjoyed their British Heritage, their Religious Freedom and their Constitutional Monarchy

It was the age of Parliament.  And constitutional monarchy.  While George was home in Hanover Parliament governed Great Britain.  It was political parties that fought each other.  Not the Parliament and king.  The Whigs (who favored the Hanover line of succession).  And the Tories (who favored the House of Stuart).  Whigs supported religious freedom.  For them any form of Protestantism was okay.  The Tories preferred only those Protestants in the Church of England.  But they united in their opposition to all things Catholic.  Thanks to a financial scandal tied to the Tories the Whigs ruled for most of the 18th century.  The Whigs MPs grew powerful.  Especially Sir Robert Walpole.  Who the people began calling Prime Minister.

The 18th century saw a series of wars in Europe and throughout the world.  All of which could be boiled down to two things.  Economic advantage.  And the never ending battle between Protestantism and Catholicism.  Which put Protestant Great Britain and Catholic France in a near perpetual state of war in the 18th century.  In the Old World.  And in the New World.  Meanwhile the British Americans in the New World were coming of age.  Enjoying their British heritage.  Their religious freedom.  And their constitutional monarchy.  For awhile, at least.  Until they picked up on that idea Locke had.  About the people being sovereign.

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