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The reign of James II

James II's Parliament of May 1685, predominantly Tory, was initially obedient and generous. But when it resisted his wishes to exempt Catholics from the restrictions of the Test Act, James adjourned it in November. He then continuously prorogued it for more than a year and a half until he dissolved it in July 1687.

Contemporaries feared that without Parliament the King was using his prerogative to circumvent statute in order to promote Catholicism. He issued certificates dispensing individuals from the Test Acts. In 1687 he issued a Declaration of Indulgence which suspended the penal laws against all Nonconformists.

Many Protestant Nonconformists gratefully accepted its offer of religious liberty, but others joined the Tory Anglicans in worrying that this was a ploy to encourage conversions to Catholicism and a dangerous abuse of the prerogative.

The seven bishops

Many of the Tory Anglicans also became concerned by what they saw as the King's attacks on the English Church and its bishops. The Bishop of London was suspended from office, and in 1688 James prosecuted seven bishops for their refusal to have his Declaration of Indulgence read in their churches. The public rejoicing when the bishops were acquitted greatly angered and embarrassed the King.

From late 1687 James and his advisers made plans to 'pack' the next Parliament, scheduled for October 1688. They asked leaders in the counties a series of questions to assess whether they would vote for, or would support somebody who would vote for, the repeal of the Test Acts and penal laws.

Those who answered against the King's wishes could find themselves deprived of office, which only further alienated James's support among the political elite on whom he relied for the governance of the country.

A new Catholic heir

The crisis for many came with the birth of James II's son in June 1688. This changed the succession to the throne, which up to that point would have passed to his two adult Protestant daughters - Mary, married to the Protestant ruler of the Netherlands, (William of Orange, also James's nephew), and Anne.


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James II

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Did you know?

James's opponents were so determined to deny that the child born to his Queen in June 1688 was really his son that they claimed another child had been smuggled into the birth chamber, kept alive in a warming pan

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