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James VII

James VII (1633–1701), king of Scotland and, as James II, of England (1685–8). James's formative years before 1660 were spent in the French and Spanish armies. His experiences in exile permanently distanced him in sympathies from most Englishmen. As duke of York under his brother Charles II he developed a career as lord admiral, defeating the Dutch off Lowestoft (1665) and commanding at Sole Bay (Southwold) (1672). He showed himself honest, straightforward, and brave, but not a good strategist. James advocated wars against the Dutch with the objective of strengthening royal power, particularly by reducing its dependence on Parliament and the militia. His association with the ministers who formed the cabal represented a reversal of his earlier connection with the constitutional royalism of Clarendon, whose daughter Anne Hyde he married: she produced two future sovereigns, Mary and Anne.

After 1667 James constantly worked for an alliance with France. Around 1672 he became a catholic, refusing in 1673 to take the Anglican sacrament as required by the Test Act and resigning as lord admiral. He had urged Charles to veto the Test, to dissolve Parliament, and continue the third Dutch War in alliance with France. When in 1673 he remarried to a catholic Italian, Mary of Modena, suggested by the French, opposition politicians began to exploit a growing impression that James was unfit to succeed Charles. In 1678 ‘revelations’ of a Popish plot to murder Charles and place James on the throne led Shaftesbury and the Whigs to lead a parliamentary and popular movement to exclude James from the succession. This issue dominated three parliaments in 1679, 1680, and 1681. James feared that Charles would abandon his right, especially when he was exiled in 1679 and 1680, but the king resisted all Whig pressure and after concluding a subsidy treaty with France ruled for his last four years without Parliament. James succeeded without opposition in February 1685.

A Tory Parliament voted revenues which, with foreign trade expanding, freed James from his predecessors' dependence on parliamentary grants. The Whigs were discredited. Monmouth's rebellion was easily crushed. Anglicans generally acquiesced in non-enforcement of the penal laws against catholics. But James aimed to free the crown from any dependence on its subjects. He ended the parliamentary session when votes of money were linked to representations about the illegal commissioning of catholics in the army. The Ecclesiastical Commission, set up to discipline Anglican clergy who attacked catholicism, suspended the bishop of London. James used his dispensing power to put catholics in offices. The militia was run down, the professional army expanded. James ineffectively canvassed peers and MPs to pass legislation granting catholics equality of civil and religious rights. Their refusal led him to suspend discriminatory statutes by the Declaration of Indulgence (April 1687), provoking fears that this dubious royal power could be used to terminate any law that restricted the actions of the crown. Sweeping changes in Ireland, where catholics replaced protestants in government, army, law, professions, and corporations, seemed to indicate such an intention. In England James initiated a political campaign to manipulate elections to a future parliament. This involved purging the justices and deputies in the counties and the urban corporations. Several thousand persons were displaced for refusing to promise that if elected they would legislate as James directed, or would vote for such pre-engaged candidates. James also encouraged a catholic mission to convert the nation which had limited success. Open opposition to his policies was impossible: the army, camped outside London, prevented disturbances.

Some Whig and Tory notables established clandestine contacts with William of Orange, but most people believed that James could not live long. His protestant daughter Mary, married to William, would then reverse James's policies. The queen's pregnancy and the birth of a prince (June 1688) dashed these hopes, while James demonstrated his intention to persist with his policies by reissuing the Declaration of Indulgence and (unsuccessfully) prosecuting the seven bishops who contested its legality. These developments led to the invitation sent to William by Whig and Tory leaders to intervene (30 June). Although James uncharacteristically abandoned all his unpopular policies in October he could not persuade his subjects to help him resist William. Army and navy officers defected, the provinces declared for William, and even the Anglican clergy stood neutral. Broken psychologically, James fled to France. Louis XIV sent him to Ireland under French supervision. Defeated at the Boyne (July 1690) he lived as Louis's client at Saint-Germain praying for another restoration.

J. R. Jones


Miller, J. , James II: A Study in Kingship (1978).

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