Arbitrary Measures of the King

Encouraged by his success, James conceived that he might safely begin the process of changing the established religion of the country. On the plea of his supremacy over the church, he took the liberty of dispensing with the test-oath in favor of some Catholic officers, and thus broke an act which was looked upon, under existing circumstances, as the chief safeguard of the Protestant faith. His Parliament, servile as it was in temporal matters, took the alarm at this spiritual danger, and gave the king so effectual a resistance that he resorted to a dissolution. Transactions precisely similar took place in Scotland.

Heedless of these symptoms, he proclaimed a universal toleration, for the purpose of relieving the Catholics, and thus assumed the unconstitutional right of dispensing with acts of Parliament. The nation was thrown by this measure, and by the numerous promotions of Roman Catholics, into a state of great alarm; even the clergy, who had been so eager to preach an implicit obedience to the royal will, began to see that it might be productive of much danger. When James commanded that his proclamation of toleration should be read in every pulpit in the country, only two hundred of the clergy obeyed. Six of the bishops joined in a respectful petition against the order; but the king declared that document to be a seditious libel, and threw the petitioners into the Tower. In June 1688, they were tried in Westminster Hall, and to the infinite joy of the nation acquitted.

Blinded by religious zeal, the king proceeded on his fatal course. In, defiance of the law, he held open intercourse with the Pope, for the restoration of Britain to the bosom of the Romish church. He called Catholic lords to the privy-council, and even placed some in the cabinet. Chapels, by his instigation, were everywhere built, and monks and priests went openly about his palace. A court of high commission - a cruel instrument of power under Charles I - was erected, and before this every clerical person who gave any offense to the king was summoned. He also excited great indignation, by violently thrusting a Catholic upon Magdalen College, at Oxford, as its head, and expelling the members for their resistance to his will. Public feelings was wound to the highest pitch of excitement by the queen being delivered (June 10, 1688) of a son, who might be expected to perpetuate the Catholic religion in the country, and whom many even went the length of suspecting to be a suppositious child, brought forward solely for that purpose.

The disaffection produced by these circumstances extended to every class of the king's subjects, except the small body of Roman Catholics, many of whom could not help regarding the royal measures as imprudent. The Tories were enraged at the ruin threatened to the church of England, which they regarded as the grand support of conservative principles in the empire. The Whigs, who had already made many strenuous efforts to exclude or expel the king, were now more inflamed against him than ever. The clergy, a popular and influential body, were indignant at the injuries inflicted upon their church; and even the dissenters, though comprehended in the general toleration, saw too clearly through its motive, and were too well convinced of the illegality of its manner, and of the danger of its object, as affecting the Protestant faith, to be exempted from the general sentiment. But for the birth of the Prince of Wales the people at large might have been contented to wait for the relief which was to be expected, after the death of the king, from the succession of the Princess of Orange, who was a Protestant, and united to the chief military defender of that interest in Europe. But this hope was now shut out, and it was necessary to resolve upon some decisive measures for the safety of the national religion.