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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 Crown that confirmed the primacy of Parliament.[1] One of its amendments, the 1689 Claim of Right, was recently referenced by the Scottish Assembly in debates over Scotland and Brexit.[2]

The issues included religious freedom and the principles of arbitrary rule and the divine right of kings. James became King of Scotland in February 1685 with widespread support but failed to appreciate tolerance for his personal Catholicism did not apply to Catholicism in general.[3] When Parliament refused to pass measures removing legal restrictions on Catholics, James resorted to rule by decree and it was this response that most damaged him.[4]

Dissent became a crisis in June 1688 when the birth of James' son James Francis Edward created the prospect of a Catholic dynasty. Amid increasing civil disorder in Scotland and England, James' Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange were invited to assume the English throne. On 5 November 1688, William landed in South-West England and James fled the country on 23 December. In February 1689, the English Parliament declared James had vacated the English throne and offered it to William and Mary as joint monarchs.

Scotland and England were then a dual monarchy ie same monarch, separate states so Scotland was not bound by the English decision. In March 1689 a Convention met to debate this question; it made William and Mary joint holders of the Scottish throne but the Settlement led to major changes in how Scotland was governed.



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

The Glorious Revolution in Scotland has been poorly understood full-scale treatment...exists comparable to those we possess for England and we have no scholarly analysis of the Scottish constitutional settlement of 1689 (as encapsulated in the Claim of Right and the Articles of Grievances) on a par with...the English Declaration of Rights.[5]

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 Civil Wars were proportionally higher in percentage terms than those of the 1914-18 World War.[6] The events of 1688-90 can only be understood in the context of decades of almost constant conflict.

In this period, the terms Presbyterian or Episcopalian refer to church structure and governance, not doctrine. In 1560, the Scottish Reformation established a Church of Scotland or kirk Calvinist in doctrine and Presbyterian in structure. James VI of Scotland created an Episcopalian leadership as a means of controlling the kirk; arguments over the role of bishops were thus as much about politics as religion. Despite both being called 'Episcopalian,' in Scotland bishops presided over a church essentially Presbyterian in structure and Calvinist in doctrine, very different from the Church of England.[7] Since the vast majority of Scots were members of the kirk, it also served as a symbol of Scottish identity.

In 1638, bishops were eliminated from the kirk, while a series of internal disputes over the next 20 years resulted in the winning faction 'excluding' the losers. The 1661 Rescissory Act re-imposed an Episcopalian structure and ministers who did not 'conform' were evicted from their parishes.[8] Over 270 refused but the majority did so since the biggest changes were in structure not religious practice.[9] However, this meant debates over the kirk in 1689/90 were extremely bitter as those previously excluded sought to remove those responsible.

Charles II had no legitimate children making his brother James heir to the Scottish and English thrones; his conversion to Catholicism in 1669 caused serious concern in England and led to the Exclusion Crisis 1678-81. James was sent to Edinburgh in 1681 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.[10] 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.'

However, the 1681 Scottish Test Act also 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.'[11] 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. However, Parliament refused to approve measures introduced in April 1686 removing legal restrictions on Scottish Catholics and that position was destroyed in less than two years.

Religious prejudice was one reason Parliament refused to comply but there were others. James had been closely involved in the 1681 Succession and Test Acts; their implicit bargain was that he was entitled to obedience 'regardless of religion' but in return promised not to diminish the primacy of the kirk. Removing these restrictions was seen as contrary to that commitment while many MPs were from 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. More seriously James' credibility was seriously damaged, since he appeared willing to ignore his previous commitments, his Coronation Oath and his most loyal supporters.[12]

The dangers were considerable but benefits minimal since less than 2% of Scots were professed Catholics who already had considerable freedom to practice in private, a point made by James himself.[13] The opening of Catholic chapels in Edinburgh allowing public celebration of the Mass led to riots and made private worship more difficult.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

In June 1688, two events in England turned dissent into a crisis. The first was the birth of James' son James III on 10 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 30 June destroyed James' political authority in England.[18]

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.[19] The trial of the Bishops convinced the Tories to join their Whig opponents in removing James; seven individuals representing elements from the aristocracy, Parliament, the Church, Army and Navy [a] issued an Invitation to William asking him to assume the English throne.[20] On 5 November 1688, William landed in Brixham; as he advanced slowly towards London, James' army deserted him and on 23 December he went into exile. In February 1689, the English Parliament declared this amounted to abdication and formally offered the English throne jointly to William and Mary.[21]

A clear majority in the English Parliament favoured offering the throne to Mary but William's demand he be made joint monarch and sole ruler in the event of Mary's death was only narrowly approved. In Scotland, William was the main prize since his Calvinism meant the Presbyterians saw him as a natural ally while the Episcopalians viewed his support as the only way to preserve their power. On 7 January 1689 the Scottish Privy Council asked William to take over the government in Scotland pending a formal Settlement.[22]

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.[23] When the Convention assembled in Edinburgh on 14 March, more than 70 of the 125 members were Presbyterians, although this did not mean they all shared the same views.[24] 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.[25]

The Presbyterian majority was quickly demonstrated by the election of their candidate the Duke of Hamilton as President of the Convention. On 12 March, James landed in Ireland and on 16th his Letter to the Convention was read out, demanding obedience and threatening punishment for those who did not comply.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]

In England, Parliament held that 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.[29] 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.[30] On 11 April, with only five dissenting votes, the Convention declared James' reign in Scotland ended and adopted the Claim of Right Act[31] 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.[32]

On 11 May, William and Mary formally accepted the Scottish throne and on 5 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.[33] 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.[34] The first session was a stalemate over abolishing Episcopacy in the Kirk and the Committee of the Articles, an unelected body that decided what legislation Parliament could debate. As a result, Parliament refused to approve taxes or nominations for legal officers, effectively 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.[35] By July 1689, nearly 200 Episcopalian clergy had been evicted from their livings by ex-Conventicle radicals and the government attempted to detach the Club's Presbyterian element by agreeing to end Episcopacy.[36] 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 2 August.[37]

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. In the resulting panic Melville agreed to abolish the Committee of the Articles although how serious the plot was is debatable.[38] With its principal objective achieved, the Club disintegrated and on 7 June Parliament approved an Act ending Episcopacy and a grant of taxes.[39]

The constitutional settlement that emerged from the 1689 and 1690 Parliamentary sessions was less radical than in 1641. The Crown retained important prerogative powers, including the right to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament but in return abolition of the Committee of Articles gave Parliament control of the legislative agenda.[40] a power employed on 19 June by abolishing lay patronage in the Kirk or the right of landholders to appoint clergy in their own parishes.[41]

Religious settlementEdit

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

Conflicts between Protestors and Resolutioners during the Protectorate, then Episcopalians and Cameronians after 1660 had left deep divisions while also normalising the eviction of defeated opponents. The kirk's General Assembly meeting in November 1690 was the first since 1654 and even before it convened, over 200 conformist and Episcopalian ministers had been removed from their livings.[42]

This meant the Assembly was overwhelmingly composed of radical Presbyterians who rejected any measure of Episcopalianism or the reinstatement of those already evicted. Despite being a fellow Calvinist, William was more tolerant towards Episcopalians, seeing them as potential allies while recognising the dangers of alienating an important political constituency. However, the Assembly eliminated Episcopacy and created two commissions for the south and north of the Tay which over the next 25 years removed almost two-thirds of all ministers. The General Assembly of 1692 refused to reinstate even those Episcopalian ministers who pledged to accept Presbyterianism leaving many presbyteries with few or no parish clergy.[43]

William issued two acts of indulgence in 1693 and 1695 restoring ministers who accepted him as king; nearly one hundred clergy took advantage of this and a further measure of indulgence in 1707 left only a small remnant of Jacobite Episcopalians.[44] The final settlement was closer to that of 1592 rather than the more radical position of 1649 and the degree of independence between kirk and State remained ambiguous. Despite the theoretical abolition of lay patronage, heritors and elders retained the right to nominate candidates for their own parishes who could then be "called" by the congregation.[45]

Jacobite resistanceEdit

Presbyterians dominated the Scottish government and Parliament, with a small group loyal to James who later became known as Jacobites from Jacobus, Latin for James. This included members of the Catholic minority, Episcopalians or with personal ties such as John Graham, Viscount Dundee but the number of activists on either side was tiny and the vast majority unenthusiastic about either option.[46]

For those who did choose a side, inter-clan rivalries or simple opportunism were as significant as allegiance to the Stuarts or to William; the strongly Presbyterian Macleans had lost territories in Mull to the Campbells in the 1670s and now saw an opportunity to regain them. Raiding was part of traditional clan warfare; on their way to Killiecrankie, the Keppoch MacDonalds tried to sack Inverness and were bought off only after Dundee intervened.[47]

After James landed in Ireland in March 1689, Dundee raised a small force of around 2,500 to conduct a similar campaign in Scotland. Despite a convincing victory over government forces at Killiecrankie, they suffered heavy losses and Dundee himself was killed. His loss, internal divisions among the remaining leaders and lack of support from outside Scotland meant significant military resistance ended with defeat at Battle of Cromdale on 1 May 1690.

However, it was not until the end of 1691 that the remaining Jacobite strongholds were reduced and the chiefs swore allegiance to the new regime. This led to the Glencoe massacre of February 1692.


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,.[48]

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.[49] 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.[50] 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.[51] 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.[52]


  1. ^ Contrary to what is often assumed, the seven signatories were selected to represent a much wider constituency; notably absent was anyone from the Army which was dominated by James' supporters.


  1. ^ Quinn, Stephen. "The Glorious Revolution". Economic History Association Retrieved 5 November 2017. 
  2. ^ Severin Carrell, Owen Bowcott (21 November 2016). "Scottish claim of right to be used in Brexit case against UK government". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  3. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 144–157. ISBN 0141016523. 
  4. ^ Harris, Tim; Taylor, Stephen, eds. (2015). The Final Crisis of the Stuart Monarchy. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 144–159. ISBN 1783270446. 
  5. ^ Harris, Tim; Taylor, Stephen, eds. (2015). The Final Crisis of the Stuart Monarchy. Boydell & Brewer. p. 365. ISBN 1783270446. 
  6. ^ Hughes, Anne. "10 Great Misperceptions of the British Civil Wars". History Extra. 
  7. ^ McDonald, Alan (1998). The Jacobean Kirk, 1567–1625: Sovereignty, Polity and Liturgy. Routledge. pp. 75–76. ISBN 185928373X. 
  8. ^ The Restoration of the Scottish Episcopacy, 1660-1661; Godfrey Davies and Paul H. Hardacre Journal of British Studies Vol. 1, No. 2 (May, 1962), pp. 32-51
  9. ^ Main, David. "The Origins of the Scottish Episcopal Church". St Ninians Castle Douglas. 
  10. ^ Restoration Scotland, 1660-1690: Royalist Politics, Religion and Ideas; Clare Jackson 2003 P38-54
  11. ^ Harris, Tim; Taylor, Stephen, eds. (2015). The Final Crisis of the Stuart Monarchy. Boydell & Brewer. p. 122. ISBN 1783270446. 
  12. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 179–181. ISBN 0141016523. 
  13. ^ Macinnes, AI (1987). "Catholic Recusancy and the Penal Laws 1603-1707". RSCHS (23): 27–63. 
  14. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 151–152. ISBN 0141016523. 
  15. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 153–157. ISBN 0141016523. 
  16. ^ History Today Volume 35 May 1985; Robin Gwynn - England's First Refugees
  17. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 144–146. ISBN 0141016523. 
  18. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 235–2366. ISBN 0141016523. 
  19. ^ Wormsley, David (2015). James II: The Last Catholic King. Allen Lane. p. 189. ISBN 014197706X. 
  20. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 3–5. ISBN 0141016523. 
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  22. ^ Mackie, JL (1991). A History of Scotland. Penguin. pp. 241–245. ISBN 0140136495. 
  23. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 387–388. ISBN 0141016523. 
  24. ^ Coward, Barry (1980). The Stuart Age 1603-1714. Longman. p. 459. ISBN 0582488338. 
  25. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 379–386. ISBN 0141016523. 
  26. ^ McFerran, Noel. "Letter of King James VII to the Scottish Convention, March 1, 1689". The Jacobite Heritage. Retrieved 6 November 2017. 
  27. ^ Szechi, Daniel (1994). The Jacobites: Britain and Europe, 1688-1788. Manchester University Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0719037743. 
  28. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland: a New History. Pimlico Publishing. p. 302. ISBN 0712698930. 
  29. ^ McFerran, Noel. "Grievances of the Scottish Convention, April 13, 1689". The Jacobite Heritage. Retrieved 6 November 2017. 
  30. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland: a New History. Pimlico Publishing. p. 305. ISBN 0712698930. 
  31. ^ "The Claim of Right 1689". The Crown and the Unicorn. Retrieved 6 November 2017. 
  32. ^ Coward, Barry (1980). The Stuart Age 1603-1714. Longman. p. 460. ISBN 0582488338. 
  33. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 404–406. ISBN 0141016523. 
  34. ^ J. L. Roberts, Clan, King, and Covenant: History of the Highland Clans from the Civil War to the Glencoe Massacre (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), ISBN 0748613935, p. 214.
  35. ^ Shukman, Ann (2012). Bishops and Covenanters: The Church in Scotland, 1688-1691. Berlinn. p. 10. ISBN 1906566585. 
  36. ^ Shukman, Ann (2012). Bishops and Covenanters: The Church in Scotland, 1688-1691. Berlinn. p. 28. ISBN 1906566585. 
  37. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland, A New History. Vintage. p. 303. ISBN 0712698930. 
  38. ^ Ferguson, James (1887). Robert Ferguson the Plotter, or the Secret of the Rye-House Conspiracy and the Story of a Strange Career (2016 ed.). Forgotten Books. pp. 274–278. ISBN 1334674760. 
  39. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland, A New History. Vintage. p. 303. ISBN 0712698930. 
  40. ^ Brown & Mann ed, DJ Patrick (2005). Unconventional Procedure; Scottish Electoral Politics after the Revolution in The History of the Scottish Parliament: Parliament and Politics in Scotland, 1567 to 1707. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 208–244. ISBN 0748614958. 
  41. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland, A New History. Vintage. p. 303. ISBN 0712698930. 
  42. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland: a New History (2011 ed.). Pimlico. p. 300. ISBN 0712698930. 
  43. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland: a New History (2011 ed.). Pimlico. p. 304. ISBN 0712698930. 
  44. ^ Mackie et al., History of Scotland, pp. 252–3.
  45. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland: a New History (2011 ed.). Pimlico. p. 304. ISBN 0712698930. 
  46. ^ Lenman, Bruce (1995). The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746. Scottish Cultural Press. p. 35. ISBN 189821820X. 
  47. ^ Lenman, Bruce (1995). The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746. Scottish Cultural Press. p. 44. ISBN 189821820X. 
  48. ^ Mackie et al., History of Scotland, pp. 282–4.
  49. ^ Lynch, Scotland: A New History, p. 304.
  50. ^ K. J. Cullen, Famine in Scotland: The "Ill Years" of the 1690s (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), ISBN 0748638873, p. 105.
  51. ^ Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, pp. 120–3.
  52. ^ Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, p. 129.


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