Acts of the Constitutional Settlement in England

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  • 0:02 Glorious Revolution
  • 1:15 Limited Monarchy
  • 2:31 Religious Headaches
  • 3:29 Loyal Army
  • 4:09 Protestant Monarchy
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore England's constitutional settlement, which began after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. We will examine four acts that characterized this unique development in English history.

The Glorious Revolution

By 1688, the English Parliament had put up with just about enough from Catholic King James II. The king had been overruling Parliament's laws, appointing Catholics to top seats in the military and the government, and allowing Catholic worship. English leaders decided that it was time to make a change, and they invited the Dutch head of state William of Orange to invade England, oust the king, restore Protestantism, and help establish a new system of English government.

William arrived in England in November, and James fled in December, leaving the English throne vacant. William called a Convention Parliament to appoint him and his wife, Mary, to the monarchy, but the convention had a few conditions for the new sovereigns. William and Mary would indeed reign over England, but first they had to accept some limitations to their power and agree to work in conjunction with Parliament. In other words, they had to accept a constitutional settlement that would make them constitutional monarchs rather than absolute monarchs. Let's take a look at four of the primary acts of this settlement.

A Limited Monarchy

The 1689 Declaration of Rights, later called the Bill of Rights, placed limits on the monarchy and sought to make sure that the king and queen did not follow the path of James II and abuse their power. This act also made Parliament permanent and powerful, and ensured that monarchs would respect and work in conjunction with this governing body. The following are a few specific elements of the act:

  • Monarchs could not suspend laws without Parliament's consent.
  • Monarchs could not establish their own courts or act as judges.
  • Parliament controlled taxation.
  • Parliament had to consent to a standing army in peacetime; the monarchs could not support an army of their own.
  • Parliament would have the benefit of free elections and free speech without the monarchs' interference.
  • There would be no excessive bail or fines and no cruel and unusual punishments in England.
  • Parliament would have to meet frequently to control the country's legislation.

William and Mary agreed to these conditions and became the official English monarchs on April 11, 1689, but Parliament wasn't finished constructing the settlement quite yet.

Alleviating Religious Headaches

The next item on the agenda was the religious question. Parliament was tired of religious headaches after dealing with James' Catholicism, so it was ready to make a few changes and reward some non-Anglican Protestants who had helped get rid of the troublesome king.

In May of 1689, Parliament passed the Act of Toleration, which stated that nonconforming English Protestants, in other words, those who were not Anglican, could worship in their own way in their own chapels and with their own preachers. Protestants like Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and Independents were now legally recognized as legitimate. They still had to swear an oath of allegiance to the crown and give financial support to the Church of England, and they still could not hold public office, but at least they were free to worship without persecution. The act did not apply to Catholics, who were relegated to the status of outlaws.

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