Why did James II lose his throne
James II started his reign in probably the strongest position of any Stuart monarch, yet in a few years he had abdicated and his son-in-law William of Orange had assumed the throne. There are many factors to consider when looking at James’ reign, not all problems were down to the incompetence of the last Stuart King, William contributed greatly to James’ downfall, but there were also other forces outside either of their control. James’ position in 1685 was excellent, Parliament had let him collect taxes without any sanctions, and none of the gentry had joined Monmouth’s revolt against him.
However, he obviously must have done something wrong to end up losing his throne, the English people did not want to have to get rid of another king, the civil war was still fresh in their minds. James had two major flaws; he was a catholic and he was incompetent. Maybe with only one of these aspects he would have lasted to carry the crown on to his children and history would be a lot different, but that is something we shall never know. James’ religion was something that worried the parliament and the people greatly, Catholicism was still considered a great evil by most people.
It was because that message had been drummed into their heads by the sermons in church, the press and their own families, due to the anti-Catholic feeling in the country since Tudor times. James should have known that trying to introduce more religious toleration was a bad idea; he had even been told by his advisers not to, but instead of listening to them he got new catholic advisors. This is the first sign of his religion and his incompetence working together.
James set about trying to make the church more pro-catholic, of course this did not go down well, as the people feared Catholicism and the church was once again made to choose between their God and their King, a near impossible choice. The bishops tried to work with James, but instead the King made them read his Declaration of Indulgence in the Church. Many bishops refused, something that they were constitutionally not allowed to do, some even went so far as to petition him, something that even parliament were undecided whether they could do.
This led to a lot of bishops being removed or replaced by new bishops appointed by James. Throwing the Church into this chaos was a bad idea. The Church is an outlet for James to his people, if the clergy are unhappy with their king the people will also grow to resent him. James also added Catholic agents into other aspects of the government. He made many attempts to pack parliament through bribery and intimidation, something that was obviously not popular as it could lead to England becoming a Catholic state.
There were pro-catholic policies in Ireland; this caused uproar, as people still hated the Irish after the stories published back during James’ father’s reign. James even put Catholic officers in the Army, something previously illegal. If this wasn’t bad enough his excuse was that it would make the army more loyal to him, this denounced the army’s previous victories for James against Monmouth, the army’s loyalty had never faltered from James. His corruption of the courts was also unpopular as he used his suspending powers to place more Catholics in places of authority.
In many ways James was viewed with even more distaste than his father, politicians started looking back on his brother’s reign as ‘the golden years of King Charlie’ even though we know that Charles II frequently had run-ins with parliament. As I said earlier it was not just James fault that he was ousted from his position. Things were going on abroad; Louis XIV of France was a strong catholic and had been persecuting the Huguenots (French protestants), he was also tempting a European war by invading the Rhineland.
Prince William of Orange wanted to ally with the rest of Europe to stop this French threat, especially after Louis had invaded and conquered the province of Orange. William saw England as a good potential ally, needed against France, Dutch propaganda regarding the Huguenots had been circulating the country, as Dutch traders brought it to London. Prince William had developed links with English politicians due to his reputation as ‘a champion of the protestant cause’; William desperately wanted to stop England from going into civil war over James or allying with France due to James.
He suggested that he would come to uphold the protestant faith if invited. Once he had received an invitation by some of the English nobles and politicians he set sail for England. The invitation aspect is very important, as William did not want to be seen as invading the country but precisely the opposite, if he was invited he had a legal right to be there. William was a shrewd politician, he did not want to fight James, and in fact he could not fight James because it would spark a war; which was something he did not want.
However he still came with an army as it is a form of propaganda and it is a form of security as well. James did not know what to do after William arrived, his insecurity was probably his downfall, William knew that the more he strengthened his position the weaker James would get as people switched sides. This is shown by the fact it took many weeks for William to reach the capital. As James hesitated his people lost faith in him, a leader needs to be able to act quickly; by not deciding what to do he lost support.
While James was dithering William was busy, he had brought a printing press with him and the Dutch troops were distributing Williams pamphlets to the English people. William at no point challenged James’ power, James could have kept his crown by doing nothing, but he panicked. Legally William had no right to challenge James, but James had lost so much support due to his pro catholic policies and his incompetence. James was sailing down the Thames away from England as William was marching into London.
In conclusion James lost his throne due to his own faults, his religion and his political disabilities. His shaky political position coinciding with continental politics in my opinion just acted as a catalyst speeding up the process of the Stuarts downfall, though there is no doubt that William was an exceedingly successful and clever politician. James’ Catholicism would probably have led to him being removed from power somehow.
If he had just been catholic he could have sat back and ruled the country without attempting to challenge the country’s protestant faith. On the other hand if he had just been politically inept his protestant advisors could have manipulated him or run the country for him. The combination of these two aspects of his character however would mean that he would have eventually lost his throne no matter what happened in the rest of Europe.