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Glorious Revolution in Scotland

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The Glorious Revolution in Scotland was part of a series of events between 1688-1689 in England and Scotland known as the Glorious Revolution. It covers the deposition of James VII of Scotland and II of England, his replacement by his daughter Mary and her husband William and the political settlement thereafter. Scotland and England were linked but separate countries, each with its own Parliament and decisions in one did not bind the other.

Issues included religious freedom but also arbitrary rule and the divine right of kings; the Revolution ended a century of political dispute by confirming the primacy of Parliament over the Crown.[1] One of its amendments, the 1689 Claim of Right, was recently referenced in legal arguments over Scotland and Brexit.[2]

James became King in February 1685 with widespread support in both countries but tolerance for his personal beliefs did not apply to Catholicism in general.[3] When Parliament refused to pass his measures, James resorted to rule by decree and it was this response that most damaged him.[4]

In June 1688, the birth of James Francis Edward created a Catholic heir and caused widespread civil disorder in Scotland and England. James' Protestant daughter Mary and William of Orange were invited to assume the English throne; on 5 November 1688, William landed in South-West England and James fled to France on 23 December. In February 1689, Parliament offered the English throne to William and Mary and in March, a Convention met in Edinburgh to agree a Settlement for Scotland.


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, Presbyterian or Episcopalian refer to church structure and governance, not doctrine. 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] James failed to appreciate tolerance for his personal beliefs did not extend to Catholicism in general.

Deposition of James VII

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

When James became King in April 1685, his position in Scotland was secure; three years later this was no longer the case. The 1681 Scottish Succession and Test Acts made obedience to the King a legal obligation, 'regardless of religion' and in return confirmed the primacy of the kirk. Repealing the Test Act went against that, threatening to re-open bitter internal divisions within the Church of Scotland; opposition to this caused the defeat of the Presbyterian-backed Argyll's Rising in June 1685. Attempts to extend 'tolerance' to dissident Presbyterians in Scotland undermined James' Episcopalian base as did the use of the Royal Prerogative to promote Catholics to key government positions.[12]

The perception James was willing to ignore his commitments, his Coronation Oath and his own supporters undermined support for his policy.[13] It was also badly timed; the October 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau revoked tolerance for French Huguenots, an estimated 200,000 - 400,000 of whom left France over the next five years.[14] This was followed in 1686 by the killing of some 2,000 Vaudois Protestants; although less than 2% of Scots were practicing Catholics, these events reinforced widespread fears that Protestant Europe was threatened by a Catholic counter-reformation.[15]

In June 1688, two events turned dissent into a crisis; the birth of James Francis Edward on 10 June created a Catholic heir, excluding James' Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange. Prosecuting the Seven Bishops seemed to go beyond tolerance for Catholicism and into an assault on the Episcopalian establishment; their acquittal on 30 June destroyed James' political authority.[16]

In 1685, many feared civil war if James were bypassed; by 1688, anti-Catholic riots made it seem only his removal could prevent one.[17] Representatives from across the political class invited William to assume the English throne and he landed in Brixham on 5 November; James' army deserted him and he went into exile on 23 December.[18]

Parliament offered the English throne to William and Mary in February 1689; a large majority agreed Mary should replace her father but William's demand he be made joint monarch and sole ruler if she died was only narrowly approved.[19] In Scotland, the split within the kirk made William more important; his Calvinism meant Presbyterians saw him as a natural ally, while the Episcopalian minority needed his support to retain control.

Convention of Estates

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

On 7 January 1689 the Scottish Privy Council asked William to take over government pending a Scottish Convention that would agree a settlement. 70 of the 125 delegates elected in March were classed as Presbyterian, with a tiny minority loyal to James; this made the Convention a contest between Episcopalians and Presbyterians over control of the kirk and the limits of Royal authority.[20]

John Graham, Viscount Dundee; one of a handful of James' loyalists

On 12 March, James landed in Ireland and on 16th a Letter to the Convention was read out, demanding obedience and threatening punishment for non-compliance.[21] Public anger meant some Episcopalians stopped attending the Convention, claiming to fear for their safety while others changed sides.[22] Tensions were high, with the Duke of Gordon holding Edinburgh Castle for James and Viscount Dundee recruiting Highland levies. This exaggerated the Presbyterian majority in the Convention which met behind closed doors guarded by its own troops.[23]

The English Parliament held James had 'abandoned' his throne; in Scotland, the Convention argued he 'forfeited' it by his actions, listed in the Articles of Grievances.[24] This was a fundamental change; if Parliament could decide James had forfeited his throne, monarchs derived legitimacy from Parliament, not God, ending the principle of Divine Right of Kings.

In an attempt to preserve Episcopalianism, the Scottish Bishops proposed Union with England but this was rejected by the English Parliament.[25] On 11 April, the Convention ended James' reign and adopted the Articles of Grievances and the Claim of Right Act that made Parliament the primary legislative power in Scotland.[26]

On 11 May 1689, William and Mary accepted the Scottish throne and the Convention became a full Parliament on 5 June. Dundee's rising highlighted William's reliance on Presbyterian support and he ended attempts to retain the Bishops, leading to the 1690 Act of Settlement restoring Presbyterianism. The Glorious Revolution in Scotland resulted in greater independence for Parliament and kirk but the ending of Episcopacy isolated a significant part of the political class; this would be a major factor in debates over the 1707 Act of Union and the Scottish Jacobite movement.[27]


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.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[32] With its principal objective achieved, the Club disintegrated and on 7 June Parliament approved an Act ending Episcopacy and a grant of taxes.[33]

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.[34] 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.[35]

Religious settlement

Archbishop Sharp; his killing in May 1679 was symptomatic of the deep divisions within the Scottish kirk

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.[36]

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.[37]

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.[38] 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.[39]

Jacobite resistance

The Scottish Parliament was dominated by Presbyterians, with a small group of Stuart loyalists known as Jacobites from Jacobus, Latin for James. This included members of the Catholic minority, conservative Episcopalians or those with personal ties such as Viscount Dundee, his military chief in Scotland. The vast majority were unenthusiastic about either James or William, while the Jacobites were also split between Protestant and Catholic factions.[a][40]

Clan rivalries or opportunism were often a factor in choosing sides, rather than allegiance to William or James. The strongly Presbyterian Macleans joined the Jacobites in order to regain territories in Mull lost to the Campbells in the 1670s, while the Jacobite Keppoch MacDonalds tried to sack Inverness and were bought off only after Dundee intervened.[41]

Dundee led a campaign in Scotland to support James' landing in Ireland; despite victory at Killiecrankie in July, the Jacobites suffered heavy losses including Dundee himself. Organised resistance ended with defeat at Battle of Cromdale on 1 May 1690, although it took another two years to enforce allegiance to the new regime, the origin of the February 1692 Glencoe massacre.


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.[42]

As in England, the Revolution confirmed the ascendancy of Parliament over the Crown but also the structure of the kirk.[43] In the short term, the removal of so many Episcopalian ministers probably made the impact of the famines of the so-called seven ill years more severe, as they were not able to operate the system of parish poor relief.[44] In the long-term, Episcopalianism rather than Highlander or Lowlander was a key determinant of Jacobite support in both 1715 and 1745.[45] Scotland's involvement in the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession ultimately led to the Acts of Union and the creation of Great Britain, as the danger of a divided succession between Scotland and England drove the need for a lasting resolution.[46]


  1. ^ Catholic Non-Compounders urged James to refuse any concessions to regain his throne while Protestant Compounders saw it as a necessity.


  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. 153–157. ISBN 0141016523.
  13. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 179–181. ISBN 0141016523.
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  15. ^ Bosher, JF (February 1994). "The Franco-Catholic Danger, 1660–1715". History. 79 (255): 6-8 passim. JSTOR 24421929.
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  17. ^ Wormsley, David (2015). James II: The Last Catholic King. Allen Lane. p. 189. ISBN 014197706X.
  18. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 3–5. ISBN 0141016523.
  19. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 271–272. ISBN 0141016523.
  20. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 379–386. ISBN 0141016523.
  21. ^ McFerran, Noel. "Letter of King James VII to the Scottish Convention, March 1, 1689". The Jacobite Heritage. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
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  23. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland: a New History. Pimlico Publishing. p. 302. ISBN 0712698930.
  24. ^ McFerran, Noel. "Grievances of the Scottish Convention, April 13, 1689". The Jacobite Heritage. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  25. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland: a New History. Pimlico Publishing. p. 305. ISBN 0712698930.
  26. ^ Coward, Barry (1980). The Stuart Age 1603-1714. Longman. p. 460. ISBN 0582488338.
  27. ^ Harris, Tim (2007). Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720. Penguin. pp. 404–406. ISBN 0141016523.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Shukman, Ann (2012). Bishops and Covenanters: The Church in Scotland, 1688-1691. Berlinn. p. 10. ISBN 1906566585.
  30. ^ Shukman, Ann (2012). Bishops and Covenanters: The Church in Scotland, 1688-1691. Berlinn. p. 28. ISBN 1906566585.
  31. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland, A New History. Vintage. p. 303. ISBN 0712698930.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland, A New History. Vintage. p. 303. ISBN 0712698930.
  34. ^ 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.
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  38. ^ Mackie et al., History of Scotland, pp. 252–3.
  39. ^ Lynch, Michael (1992). Scotland: a New History (2011 ed.). Pimlico. p. 304. ISBN 0712698930.
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  41. ^ Lenman, Bruce (1995). The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746. Scottish Cultural Press. p. 44. ISBN 189821820X.
  42. ^ Mackie et al., History of Scotland, pp. 282–4.
  43. ^ Lynch, Scotland: A New History, p. 304.
  44. ^ K. J. Cullen, Famine in Scotland: The "Ill Years" of the 1690s (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), ISBN 0748638873, p. 105.
  45. ^ Szechi, Daniel, Sankey, Margaret (November 2001). "Elite Culture and the Decline of Scottish Jacobitism 1716-1745". Past & Present. 173: 97 passim. JSTOR 3600841.
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