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Glorious Revolution in Scotland

The Glorious Revolution in Scotland was part of a wider series of political disputes in England, Scotland and Ireland collectively known as the Glorious Revolution or Revolution of 1688. It covers events between 1688-90 relating to the deposition of James VII of Scotland and II of England, his replacement by his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange and the political settlement thereafter.

The Revolution is regarded as a major turning point in the development of the British parliamentary system and the principle of Constitutional Monarchy. It was the culmination of a century of political dispute about the relationship between Parliament and the monarchy that confirmed the primacy of Parliament.[1] One of its amendments, the 1689 Claim of Right, has recently been referenced by the Scottish Assembly in debates over Scotland and Brexit.[2]

The issues involved religious freedom but also the principles of arbitrary rule and divine right of kings. James became King of Scotland in February 1685 with widespread backing from the Scottish political establishment[3] but tolerance for his personal Catholicism did not apply to Catholicism in general. As King, James was Head of the state-run Protestant Church of Scotland, sworn to maintain its position and privileges. This conflicted with measures he introduced in April 1686 removing legal restrictions on Catholics. When the Scottish Parliament refused to pass these, James resorted to rule by decree.[4]

Dissent became a constitutional crisis in June 1688 with the birth of James' son James VIII of Scotland. This created the prospect of a Catholic dynasty and supplanted the existing heir, James' Protestant daughter Mary. Amid increasing civil disorder in Scotland and England, Mary and her husband William of Orange were invited to assume the English throne. On 5th November 1688, William landed in South-West England and as he advanced on London, James' army deserted him. He fled the country on 23rd December and in February 1689, the English Parliament declared that in doing so, James had abdicated. They formally offered the English throne to William and Mary as joint monarchs.

In 1689, Scotland and England were a dual monarchy i.e. the same King or Queen but legally separate. The Scottish Parliament was not bound by the English decision and in March 1689 a Convention met in Edinburgh to debate this question. They ultimately installed William and Mary as joint holders of the Scottish throne but as in England, the Settlement led to major changes in how Scotland was governed.



James II portrayed c. 1685 in his role as Army Commander

Differences between the Glorious Revolution in Scotland and England stemmed from the impact of the 1638-51 Wars of the Three Kingdoms and 1660 Restoration. Close links between religion and political ideology meant disputes caused huge dislocation and damage; casualties in the English Civil Wars were proportionally higher as a percentage of the population than those of the 1914-18 World War.[5] The events of 1688-90 can only be understood in the context of decades of almost constant conflict.

In 1560, the Scottish Reformation established a Church of Scotland or Kirk Calvinist in doctrine and Presbyterian in structure. Members believed 'God's Church' required a world structured on the Presbyterian model, zero tolerance for 'impure' views and a 'well-ordered monarchy.'[6] While James VI and I was a Calvinist, a unified Episcopalian church of England and Scotland was an essential element in his vision of a centralised, Unionist state of England, Scotland and Ireland.[7] However, the doctrine and structure of the Kirk was very different from the Church of England and attempts to impose consistent liturgies strongly resisted in both countries.[8] These issues were to feature heavily in 1688-90.

In Scotland, all sides generally agreed the institution of monarchy was divinely ordained but differed on the interpretation of 'well-ordered.'[9] This was a fundamental difference between Scottish and English Royalism, particularly after 1649 and many Scots like James Graham, Marquess of Montrose fought for both Kirk and Crown at some stage. Conflict over the balance of power between Crown, Kirk and Parliament dominated Scottish politics throughout the 17th century, ending only with the Glorious Revolution.

Victory in the Bishops Wars of 1639-40 made the Covenanters the governing power in Scotland. In 1643, they agreed to support the English Parliament in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in return for a Presbyterian Union between the two countries. Unlike Scotland, English Presbyterians were a minority and this was opposed by mainstream members of the Church of England and religious Independents like Oliver Cromwell. When Charles I surrendered in 1646, the Covenanters allied with their English co-religionists to restore him to the English throne, ending in his defeat and execution in 1649. A similar attempt in 1651 on behalf of his son Charles II was also unsuccessful and in 1652 Scotland was incorporated into the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. This left a legacy of mutual bitterness and mistrust.

The 1660 Restoration was popular in both Scotland and England since it ended Union and an expensive military occupation. [10] The Royalist majority elected in the Scottish Parliamentary elections of 1660 passed a series of acts giving greater power to the Crown, the most significant being the Rescissory Act of March 1661. This returned Scotland to the constitutional position of 1633, restoring the legal system and Parliament but also imposing the Episcopalian structure on the Kirk rejected in 1638. Many were prepared to accept this since continuing divisions within the Presbyterian Kirk made it seem impossible they could create a unified church.[11]

Ministers had to conform with Episcopacy or be evicted from their parishes; the majority agreed since the biggest changes were in the structure of the Kirk, not the religious practice.[12] Over 270 refused, many based in the area of South-West Scotland dominated by the Presbyterian leader Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll who was executed in 1661.[13] Excluded ministers began holding illegal services or Conventicles and attempts by the government to suppress these led to escalating levels of violence such as Bothwell Bridge and the murder of Archbishop Sharp in 1679. This formed the backdrop to arguments in England over the succession.

Charles II had at least seven illegitimate sons, including the Duke of Monmouth but failed to produce a legitimate one, making his brother James heir to the Scottish and English thrones. In England, James' conversion to Catholicism in 1669 caused a political struggle over the succession and the Exclusion Crisis of 1678-81 broadly divided the English political class into pro-Exclusion Whigs and anti-Exclusion Tories. The dispute was not simply about religion since Catholicism was strongly associated with the arbitrary rule and perceived threat of Louis XIV, reinforced by his close relationship with both Charles and James.

In 1681, his unpopularity in England meant James was sent to Edinburgh as Lord High Commissioner where he was warmly received as the Stuart heir to the Scottish throne. In August, the Scottish Parliament passed the Succession Act confirming the divine right of kings, the rights of the natural heir 'regardless of religion,' the duty of all to swear allegiance to that king and the independence of the Scottish Crown.[14] It went beyond ensuring James's succession to the Scottish throne by stating the aim was also to make his exclusion from the English throne impossible without '...the fatall and dreadfull consequences of a civil war.' Using the Scottish Parliament to bypass resistance in the English House of Commons was a policy continued by James.

Finally, the 1681 Scottish Test Act required all public officials and MPs to swear unconditional loyalty to the King but with the crucial qualifier they 'promise to uphold the true Protestant religion.'[15] Tolerance for James' personal Catholicism did not extend to Catholicism in general and his failure to understand this resulted in his deposition and exile by the Glorious Revolution.

Deposition of James VIIEdit

William III and Mary II depicted on the ceiling of the Painted Hall, Greenwich.

When James came to the throne in April 1685, his position in Scotland appeared secure and was strengthened in June by the failure of Argyll's Rising. The measures he introduced in April 1686 to remove legal restrictions on Scottish Catholics destroyed that position in less than two years. Religious prejudice was one reason Parliament refused to comply but there were others and it was James' reaction to that refusal which was ultimately the most damaging.

In the 17th century, oaths were taken very seriously. As King, James was Head of the Church of Scotland or Kirk, sworn by his Coronation Oath to preserve its position and privileges. The Test Act required government officials and MPs to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Protestant religion and the monarch, regardless of personal religion. James thus received their support despite his own Catholicism but promised not to diminish the primacy of the Church of Scotland. Removing these restrictions was seen as contrary to that commitment. Many MPs were also members of the Episcopalian minority imposed on the Kirk in 1661; Argyll's defeat showed the weakening of Presbyterian influence but voting for these measures would undo that. James' credibility was seriously damaged, since he appeared willing to ignore his previous commitments, his Coronation Oath and his most loyal supporters.[16]

In political terms, the practical benefits were minimal, the dangers considerable. Less than 2% of Scots were professed Catholics who already had considerable freedom to practice in private, a point made by James himself.[17] The opening of Catholic chapels in Edinburgh allowing public celebration of the Mass led to riots and made private worship more difficult.[18] Attempts to build support by expanding the measures benefitted dissident Presbyterians while undermining his Episcopalian base. When James failed to get Parliament's approval, he confirmed popular prejudice linking Catholicism and arbitrary rule by using the Royal Prerogative to promote Catholics to key government positions.[19]

The policy was also badly timed; in October 1685, the Edict of Fontainebleau revoked official tolerance for French Protestants, more than 40,000 of whom fled to London. While comparatively few came to Scotland, a shared Calvinist background meant considerable sympathy for them.[20] The decision to persist regardless was primarily to provide leverage for the same policies in England and extend the limits of Royal authority by use of the prerogative.[21]

In June 1688, two events in England turned dissent into a crisis. The first was the birth of James' son James III on 10th June. This created the prospect of a Catholic successor, rather than the current heir, his Protestant daughter Mary who was married to William of Orange. The second was the trial of the Seven Anglican Bishops on the charge of seditious libel. This was seen as an assault on the Episcopalian establishment in both England and Scotland and their acquittal on 30th June destroyed James' political authority in England. [22]

In 1685, one element in support for James was fear of civil war if he were bypassed; anti-Catholic riots in towns throughout England and Scotland made it appear only his removal could prevent one.[23] The trial of the bishops convinced the Tories to join their Whig opponents in agreeing James had to be deposed. Seven individuals representing elements from the aristocracy, Parliament, the Church, Army and Navy issued an Invitation to William asking him to assume the English throne.[24] On 5th November 1688, William landed in Brixham; as he advanced slowly towards London, James' army deserted him and on 23rd December went into exile in France. In February 1689, the English Parliament declared this amounted to abdication and formally offered the English throne jointly to William and Mary.[25]

There was a clear majority in the English Parliament for removing James and offering the throne to Mary; William's demand he be made joint monarch and sole ruler in the event of Mary's death was far more controversial and only narrowly approved. In Scotland, William was the main prize, not Mary; as a fellow Calvinist, the Presbyterian majority saw him as a natural ally in regaining control of Kirk and government. The Episcopalian minority who formed the existing government recognised his support was the only way to preserve their power. As a result, on 7th January 1689 the Scottish Privy Council asked William to take over the government in Scotland pending a formal Settlement.[26]

Convention of EstatesEdit

Parliament House, where the Convention of Estates met in March 1689

In March 1689, elections were held for a Scottish Convention to agree a new constitutional settlement. The franchise was adjusted to allow all eligible Protestants to vote, including Presbyterians and other Non-Conformists previously excluded under the Test Act.[27] When the Convention assembled in Edinburgh on 14th March, more than 70 of the 125 members were Presbyterians, although this did not mean they all shared the same views.[28] Only a tiny minority remained loyal to James due to ties of religion or personal relationship, including the Catholic Duke of Gordon and John Graham, Viscount Dundee, his military commander in Scotland. As a result, the issue before the Convention was not whether to offer the throne to William and Mary but the terms of that offer. It became a contest between Episcopalians and Presbyterians over control of the Kirk and the limits of Royal authority.[29]

The Presbyterian majority was quickly demonstrated by the election of their candidate the Duke of Hamilton as President of the Convention. On 12th March, James landed in Ireland and on 16th March, his Letter to the Convention was read out, demanding obedience and threatening punishment for those who did not comply.[30] Public anger at the Letter's uncompromising tone meant some Episcopalians stopped attending the Convention, claiming to fear for their safety while others changed sides.[31] Tensions were high, with Edinburgh Castle held by the Duke of Gordon, Dundee recruiting Highland levies for James and fears of an Irish invasion. These factors exaggerated the Presbyterian majority in the Convention which now met behind closed doors guarded by its own troops.[32]

In England, Parliament held James abandoned the throne by fleeing from English territory to France. The Convention argued James forfeited the Scottish throne by his actions, as listed in the Articles of Grievances.[33] This effectively rejected the principle of the Divine Right of Kings which had driven political conflict for the last 60 years. If James could be removed from the throne because of his acts, monarchs derived their legitimacy not from God but the people as represented by Parliament.

In an attempt to preserve Episcopalian control of the Kirk, the Scottish Bishops backed a proposal for Union between England and Scotland but this was dropped due to opposition by the English Parliament.[34] On 11th April, with only five dissenting votes, the Convention declared James' reign in Scotland ended and adopted the Claim of Right Act[35] and the Articles of Grievances. The result was consistent with the English Bill of Rights in making Parliament the primary legislative power in Scotland but then went further by reinstating Presbyterian control of the Kirk.[36]

On 11th May, William and Mary formally accepted the Scottish throne and on 5th June, the Convention was converted into a full Parliament. William tried to avoid abolishing Episcopacy but Dundee's 1689 Highland campaign on behalf of James highlighted his reliance on Presbyterian support. He withdrew his opposition and the measures were approved by Parliament in 1690. The Glorious Revolution in Scotland resulted in a Parliament and Kirk far more independent than before but ending Episcopacy isolated a significant part of the political class.[37] This was a major factor in political debates over the 1707 Act of Union and the Scottish Jacobite movement.


George Melville, 1st Earl of Melville, leading figure in the first Williamite government

Key figures in the new government were Lord Melville, who joined William in the Netherlands in 1683 after the Rye House Plot and the Earl of Stair, a former member of James VII's administration. In 1689, Melville was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland with Stair as Lord Advocate, a combination intended to minimise Presbyterian dominance of Parliament.[38] The first session was a stalemate over abolishing Episcopacy in the Kirk and the Committee of the Articles, an unelected body that controlled the legislative agenda. Parliament refused to approve taxes or nominations for legal officers, closing the law courts and William blocked implementation of legislation by withholding Royal Assent to Acts approved by Parliament.

A majority of MPs formed themselves into an anti-government group called the Club, led by Sir James Montgomery, previously one of William's chief supporters but angered by Melville being preferred as Secretary of State. While some like Montgomery simply resented exclusion from office, most opposed the government on political grounds and primarily wanted to eliminate the Committee of the Articles.[39] By July 1689, nearly 200 Episcopalian clergy had been evicted from their livings by ex-Conventicle radicals and so the government attempted to detach the Club's Presbyterian element by agreeing to end Episcopacy.[40] Melville and Stair continued to resist abolition of the Committee of the Articles before government defeat at the Battle of Killiecrankie led to Parliament being suspended on 2nd August.[41]

Parliament reconvened in April 1690 in an atmosphere of high tension due to the Jacobite war in Ireland, fears of an Irish invasion of Scotland and continuing unrest in the Highlands. At this point, an alleged Jacobite conspiracy called the Montgomery Plot was uncovered, involving Montgomery, the Marquess of Annandale and Lord Ross. How much was serious versus political manoeuvring is debatable [42] but in the resulting panic Melville agreed to abolish the Committee of the Articles. With its principal objective achieved, the Club disintegrated and on 7th June Parliament approved an Act ending Episcopacy and a grant of taxes.[43]

The constitutional settlement that emerged from the 1689 and 1690 Parliamentary sessions was less radical than in 1641 with the Crown retaining important prerogative powers. These included the right to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament, allowing William to keep the same Parliament until his death in 1702. However, Parliament gained control over what legislation to debate, [44] a power employed on 19th June by abolishing lay patronage in the Kirk or the right of landholders to appoint clergy in their own parishes.[45]

Religious settlementEdit

John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee, leader of the early Jacobite resistance to the Revolution

The General Assembly of the kirk did not meet until November 1690. In the months between the fall of the Stuart regime and its convention, there were a series of "ramblings" by which bands of Cameronians ejected over 200 conformist and Episcopalian ministers from their livings.[46] As a result, only 180 ministers and elders attended, all from south of the River Tay, where Presbyternian sympathies were strongest.[47] In the second half of 1690 182 ministers were deprived for refusing to say prayers for William and Mary, turning the restoration of Presbyterianism into a militant purge.[46] Two commissions were created, one for south and one for north of the Tay. Over the next 25 years they would remove almost two-thirds of all ministers.[47] The General Assembly of 1692 refused to reinstate even those Episcopalian ministers who pledged to accept Presbyterianism.[48] As a result, many presbyteries were left with few or no parish clergy.[47] However, the king was more tolerant than the kirk tended to be and issued two acts of indulgence in 1693 and 1695, allowing those who accepted him as king to return to the church. Around a hundred clergy took advantage of the offer. All but the hardened Jacobites would be given toleration in 1707, leaving only a small remnant of Jacobite Episcopalians.[48] The final settlement was closer to the position of 1592 than the more radical position of 1649 and despite frequent statements that the kirk was independent of the state the relationship remained ambiguous. Although lay patronage was in theory abolished, heritors and elders still had the right to nominate candidates for their parishes, who could then be "called" by the congregation.[47]

Jacobite resistanceEdit

Although William's supporters now dominated the government and parliament, there remained significant pockets of Scottish support for James, a movement which became known as Jacobitism, from the Latin (Jacobus) for James. This was especially strong among the clergy and gentry who lost out with the abolition of Episcopacy in the Church of Scotland and in certain Highland clans. It's hard to be definitive on the extent or make up since clan loyalties or feuds were often as important as religion or attachment to the Stuarts; this included generalised hostility between Lowlanders and Highlanders, specific feuds (Campbells and McDonald's) or differences within branches of the same clan; Gordons and Fletchers fought on both sides in 1715 and 1745. In addition, the Stuart monarchy only ended with the death of Queen Anne in 1714, so until then, supporting the Stuarts was not necessarily the same as being a Jacobite.

The first Jacobite military rising in 1689 was led by John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee, James' former military commander in Scotland. Dundee is a good illustration of how complex the issues were for many individuals; he was a Lowland Scot, an Episcopalian given responsibility in 1678-80 for suppressing unlicensed Presbyterian meetings but whose wife came from a radical Presbyterian family. After James landed in Ireland in March 1689, Dundee left Edinburgh with less than 50 men and retired to his home, Dudhope Castle. On 20 March, the Convention declared him a rebel and a fugitive and on 13 April, Dundee raised the Royal Standard on Dundee Law. Initially, he obtained few recruits until the arrival of 300 Irish levies and the Government despatch of a force under General Mackay consisting largely of Lowland Scots encouraged several clans to join him; however, his force was less than 2,500 men.

Despite a convincing victory at Killiecrankie, his army took heavy losses and Dundee himself was killed. Without his leadership and divided by a quarrel between the leaders that led to a significant segment of the survivors leaving, the remaining Jacobite force was defeated in August at the Battle of Dunkeld, by a newly raised government regiment of Cameronians.[49] The last remnants surrendered after the Battle of Cromdale in Strathspey on 1 May 1690, ending this phase of Jacobite resistance in Scotland.[50]

Massacre of GlencoeEdit

Copy of order to Captain Campbell by Major Duncanson that led to the Massacre of Glencoe

Although organised Jacobite resistance ended in May 1690, re-establishing government control over the Highlands took much longer. Forces based at Fort William spent the next 18 months retaking or destroying strongpoints captured by anti-government forces after Killiecrankie, including Castle Stalker, Duart Castle and Cairnburgh Castle.[51] Frustration at the slow pace of pacification was a factor in the incident known as the Glencoe Massacre on 13th February 1692. 38 members of the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by soldiers billeted among them from the Earl of Argyll's Regiment of Foot while another 40 women and children died later of exposure.[52] The incident was embarrassing for the new government and a Scottish Parliamentary Commission held in 1695 forced the resignation of the Secretary of State for Scotland Lord Stair, who was held responsible.


The Glorious Revolution settled the dominance of the Presbyterians in the Church of Scotland and the Whigs in politics but alienated a significant segment of the political class. The Whig dominance continued in both Scotland and England well into the mid-eighteenth century,.[53]

In both countries, the Revolution ended a century of internal conflict with the triumph of Parliamentary control over determining the legal monarch and succession. Furthermore, the Revolution decisively determined the future structure of the kirk.[47] In the short term the removal of so many Episcopalian ministers probably made the impact of the famines of the seven ill years more severe, as they were not able to operate the system of parish poor relief.[54] The revolution also provided a political and dynastic dimension to cultural and religious divisions, particularly between the largely Episcopalian Highlands and the more Presbyterian Lowlands. The result was the Scottish Highlands became the main focus of Jacobite resistance, resulting in a series of rebellions of which the most threatening were in 1715 and 1745. The revolution also led to Scotland's involvement in large scale European wars from 1689–96 and 1702–13, resulting in heavy demands in men and taxation.[55] It led ultimately to the Acts of Union that created the Kingdom of Great Britain, as the danger of a divided succession between Scotland and England drove the need for a lasting resolution.[56]


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  56. ^ Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, p. 129.


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