ENGLAND UNDER JAMES THE SECONDCategory: 17th century
Unlike his brother Charles II, King James II was a very disagreeable man. The only object of his short reign was to restore the Catholic religion in England, which made his career come to a close very soon. But at first people little supposed that the King had formed a secret council for Catholic affairs, of which a Jesuit, called Father Petre, was one of the chief members.
The King of France hoped that James would achieve his object, and granted him five hundred thousand livres. James pocketed the money greedily, making some show of being independent of the French sovereign. The Parliament also granted James a large sum of money, so the new King began his reign with a belief that he could do what he pleased.
A fortnight after the coronation, Titus Oates was tried for perjury. He was fined very heavily, and had to stand twice in the pillory, to be whipped without merey, and to stand in the pillory five times a year as long as he lived. This fearful sentence was actually inflicted on the rascal. Oates was so strong a villain that he did not die, but lived to be afterwards pardoned and rewarded.
As soon as James was on the throne, Argyle and Monmouth went from Brussels to Rotterdam, and attended a meeting of Scottish exiles held there, to prepare a rising in England. It was agreed that Argyle should effect a landing in Scotland, and Monmouth in England.
Argyle was the first to act. But the Government became aware of his intention,, and was able to act against him. As Argyle was moving towards Glasgow with his small force, he was betrayed by some of his followers, taken, and carried, with his hands tied behind his back, to Edinburgh Castle. James ordered him to be executed within three days. He was beheaded, and his head was set upon the top of Edinburgh Jail.
Five or six weeks later the Duke of Monmouth landed, in Dorset. He set up his standard in the market-place, and proclaimed the King a tyrant, and a Popish usurper, charging him with all possible crimes. He even accused his uncle of setting fire to London, and poisoning the late King. Having raised some four thousand men by these means, he marched on to Taunton, where there were many Protestants who were strongly opposed to the Catholics. Here, both the rich and poor turned out to receive him, ladies waved a welcome to him from all the windows as he passed along the streets, and flowers were strewn in his way. Twenty young ladies came forward, in their best clothes, and gave him a Bible ornamented with their own fair hands, together with other presents.
Encouraged by this homage, Monmouth proclaimed himself King, and went on to Bridgewater. But, here the Government troops were close at hand, and he was so dispirited at finding that he made but few powerful friends after all, that it was a question whether he should disband his army and fly to the Continent. It was resolved to make a night attack on the King’s army. The horsemen were commanded by Lord Grey, who was not a brave man. He gave up the battle almost at the first obstacle, and although the poor countrymen, who had turned out for Monmouth,
fought bravely, they were soon dispersed by the trained soldiers, and fled in all directions.
The Duke of Monmouth also fled, but the unlucky Lord Grey was taken early next day, and then another of the party was taken, who had confessed that he had parted from the Duke only four hours before. Strict search was made, and Monmouth was found disguised as a peasant, with a few peas in his pocket which he had gathered in the fields to eat. He was completely broken. He wrote a miserable letter to the King, beseeching and entreating to be allowed to see him. When he was taken to London, and conveyed bound into the King’s presence, he crawled to him on his knees. But James never forgave anybody, and his nephew was told to prepare for death.
On the fifteenth of July, 1685, this unfortunate favourite of the people was brought out to die on Tower Hill. The crowd was immense, and the tops of all the houses were covered with people.
Before laying down his head upon the block he felt the edge of the axe, and told the executioner that he feared it was not sharp enough, and that the axe was not heavy enough. The executioner replied that it was of the proper kind, and the Duke said, “I pray you have a care, and do not use me awkwardly.” The executioner, made nervous by this, struck once and merely gashed him in the neck. Upon this, the Duke of Monmouth raised his head and looked at him reproachfully. Then he struck twice, and then thrice, and then threw down the axe, and cried out in a voice of horror that he could not finish that work.
The sheriffs, however, made him continue, and he struck a fourth tixne and a fifth time. Then the wretched head at last fell off, and James, Duke of Monmouth, was dead, in the thirty-sixth year of his age. He was a handsome man, with many popular qualities, and had found much favour in the open hearts of the English.
The atrocities, committed by the Government, which followed this Monmouth rebellion, form the blackest and most lamentable page in English history. At Dorchester alone, in the course of a few days, eighty people were hung. Those who escaped the gibbet were either whipped or imprisoned.
Such executions took place in thirty-six towns and villages. The bodies of the executed were mangled, steeped in caldrons of boiling tar, and hung up by the roadsides. The sight and smell of heads and limbs, the hissing and bubbling of the infernal caldrons, and the tears and terrors of the people, were dreadful. One rustic, who was forced to steep the remains in the black pot, was ever afterwards called “Tom Boilman.” The hangman has ever since been called Jack Ketch, because a man of that name went hanging and hanging, all day long.
After all this hanging, beheading, burning, and boiling, the King decided that he could do whatever he would. So he went to work to change the religion of the country with all possible speed. First of all, he tried to get rid of the Test Act, which prevented the Catholics from holding public employments. He revived the hated Ecclesiastical Commission, to get rid of Compton, Bishop of London, who manfully opposed him. He solicited the Pope to favour England with an ambassador, which the Pope (who was a sensible man then) did rather unwillingly. He flourished Father Petre before the eyes of the people on all possible occasions. He favoured the establishment of convents in several parts of London. He was delighted to have the streets, and even the court itself, filled with monks and friars in the habits of their orders. He wanted to make Catholics of all the Protestants about him. Protestants who held offices were removed, or resigned of themselves, and their places were given to Catholics. James II displaced Protestant officers from the army, and got Catholics into their places too. He tried the same thing with the corporations. All those who tried to oppose him were punished. Soon Father Petre was made his Privy Councillor.
A spirit began to arise in the country, which the King little expected. He first found it out in the University of Cambridge. Having appointed a Catholic to be a dean at Oxford, without any opposition, James tried to make a monk a master of arts at Cambridge. But the University resisted the attempt, and defeated him.
The King had issued a declaration that there should be no religious tests or penal laws, in order to let in the Catholics more easily, but the Protestant dissenters had joined the regular church in opposing it. The King and Father Petre now resolved to have this declaration read, on a certain Sunday, in all the churches, and to order it to be circulated for that purpose by the bishops. The bishops took counsel with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and resolved that the declaration should not be read, and that they would petition the King against it. The Archbishop himself wrote out the petition, and six bishops went into the King’s bedchamber the same night to present it, to his infinite astonishment.
Next day was the Sunday fixed for the reading, and it was only read by two hundred clergymen out often thousand. The King resolved to prosecute the bishops in the Court of King’s Bench, and within three weeks they were summoned before the Privy Council, and committed to the Tower. As the six bishops were taken to the Tower, the people fell upon their knees, and wept for them, and prayed for them. When they got to the Tower, the officers and soldiers on guard besought them for their blessing. While they were confined there, the soldiers every day drank to their release with loud shouts. When they were brought up to the Court of King’s Bench for their trial, the jury proclaimed them to be not guilty. The King was greatly alarmed with all that.
Between the petition and the trial, the Queen had given birth to a son. The new prospect of a Catholic successor (for both the King’s daughters were Protestants) made the Earls of Shrewsbury, Danby, and Devonshire, Lord Lumley, the Bishop of London, Admiral Russell, and Colonel Sidney invite the Prince of Orange over to England. James II, seeing his danger at last, made many great concessions, and tried to raise an army of forty thousand men. But the Prince of Orange was not a man for James to cope with. His preparations were extraordinarily vigorous, and his mind was resolved.
On the fifth of November, 1688, his fleet anchored at Torbay in Devonshire, and the Prince marched into Exeter. But the people in that western part of the country7 had suffered so much for having supported Monmouth that they had lost heart. Few people joined William, the Prince of Orange, and he began to think of returning.
At this crisis, some of the gentry joined him; the royal army began to falter; an engagement was signed, by which all who set their hand to it declared that they would support one another in defence of the laws and liberties of the three Kingdoms, of the Protestant religion, and of the Prince of Orange. Then the greatest towns in England began, one after another, to declare for the Prince, and the University of Oxford offered to melt down its plate, if he wanted any money.
By this time the King was at a great loss. The newly- born Prince was sent to Portsmouth, Father Petre went off like a shot to France, and all the Catholic priests and friars swiftly dispersed. One after another, the King’s friends deserted him and went over to the Prince. In the night, his daughter Anne fled from Whitehall Palace; and the Bishop of London, who had once been a soldier, rode before her with a sword in his hand, and pistols at his saddle. “God help me,” cried the miserable King, “even my children have forsaken me!”
At last, James II resolved to fly from London. On the eleventh of December the King got out of bed, went down the back stairs, and rode to Feversham. But as the people there suspected him to be a Jesuit, he had to tell him who he was, and that the Prince of Orange wanted to take his life. The King had to put himself into the hands of the Lord Lieutenant of the county, and the Prince of Orange was informed about that.
But William only wanted to get rid of him James, and not cared where he went. He was rather disappointed that they had not let him go away.
James was brought back to London. But his stay there was very short, for the English guards were removed from Whitehall, Dutch guards were marched up to it, and he was told by one of his late ministers that the Prince would enter London next day, and he had better go to Ham.
James said, Ham was a cold damp place, and he would rather go to Rochester. He thought himself very cunning in this, as he meant to escape from Rochester to France. The Prince of Orange and Iris friends knew that perfectly well, and desired nothing more. So, he went to Gravesend, in his royal barge, attended by certain lords, and watched by Dutch troops, and pitied by the generous people, when they saw him in his humiliation.
On the night of the twenty-third of December, not even then understanding that everybody wanted to get rid of him, he got away to France, where he rejoined the Queen.
Then all those who had served in any of the Parliaments of King Charles II resolved that the Protestant Prince and Princess of Orange should be King and Queen during their lives and the life of the survivor of them; and that their children should succeed them, if they had any. That if they had none, the Princess Anne and her children should succeed; that if she had none, the heirs of the Prince of Orange should succeed.
On the thirteenth of January, 1689, the Prince and Princess, sitting on a throne in Wliitehall, bound themselves to these conditions. The Protestant religion was established in England, and England’s Glorious Revolution was complete.