The Convention and Bill of Rights

The Whigs and Tories in the Convention argued for days over whether James II had abdicated and had thereby made the throne vacant or whether he had temporarily deserted the throne, by which a regency in his name should be established.

William of Orange cut the debate short by threatening to abandon the country if he was not made King. On 6 February 1689 Parliament resolved that James II had abdicated by his departure and that the Crown should be offered jointly to William and his wife Mary, the actual successor of James II.

A Declaration of Rights

When Parliament formally made this offer of the Crown on 13 February it also read aloud to William and Mary the Declaration of Rights. This was a statement of the rights of the subject and, particularly, the liberties of Parliament (such as frequent Parliaments and freedom of speech) which it was claimed the last Stuart monarchs had infringed.

Contrary to common belief, Parliament did not present the Declaration to William and Mary as a condition which they had to accept to be made King and Queen. The rights affirmed in the Declaration did, however, take statutory effect in December 1689 when the Convention, with William and Mary's royal assent, passed the Declaration as an Act of Parliament, now known as the Bill of Rights.

Though it is not a revolutionary statement of universal liberties, being mostly concerned with the specific misdeeds of James II, the Bill of Rights stands as one of the landmark documents in the development of civil liberties in England - and a model for later, more general, statements of rights, such as the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution.

Joint monarchs

The new monarchs' recognition of the sovereignty of Parliament was more clearly stated in the wording of the revised oath written by Parliament for their coronation on 11 April 1689. William III and Mary II had to swear to govern according to "the statutes in Parliament agreed on" instead of by "the laws and customs ... granted by the Kings of England".

Biographies

You can access biographies of

James II
William II (Prince of Orange)
Mary II

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

External links

Visit the British Library's website for more information on the Bill of Rights

Did you know?

The Bill of Rights is not a Bill, but an Act. Its full title is: An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown