Glorious Revolution in Scotland

The Glorious Revolution in Scotland was part of a wider change of regime, known as the Glorious Revolution or Revolution of 1688, in the British kingdoms of the Stuart monarchy in 1688–89. It began in England and saw the removal of the Catholic James VII of Scotland and II of England from the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland and his replacement with his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.

After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 in the person of Charles II, Scotland was ruled from London through a series of commissioners. The reintroduction of episcopacy led to divisions in the church as some Presbyterians began to attend separate conventicles. The Catholicism of Charles's heir, James, Duke of Albany and of York, alienated some support, but he built up a following among some of the Highland clans. After his accession in 1685 attempts at invasion by his opponents failed, but the birth of an heir, Prince James, prompted English politicians to call for support from William of Orange, and after a major invasion from the Netherlands, James fled to France. Scotland had little option but to accept a change of monarch and a Presbyterian-dominated convention offered the crown of Scotland to William and Mary. Episcopacy was abolished and the Whigs became dominant in politics. There were a series of Jacobite risings between 1689 and 1746 in favour of James and his heirs. As a result of the Revolution, Scotland was drawn into major international wars and ultimately into full union with England in 1707.


Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, whose failed invasion in 1685 was the first serious attempt to depose James VII in Scotland

In 1638 the Scots had rebelled against the religious policies of Charles I, established a national Covenant and abolished episcopacy.[1] During the 1650s Scotland had been militarily defeated, occupied and for a short time annexed to the English Commonwealth, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell.[2] The Restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660 meant a parallel restoration in Scotland as a fait accompli, with the Scots in a very weak bargaining position. In the event Scotland regained its system of law, parliament and kirk, but also the Committee of the Articles (through which the crown controlled parliamentary business), bishops. They also had a king in Charles II who did not visit the country and ruled largely without reference to Parliament through a series of commissioners.[3] These began with John Middleton and ended with the king's brother and heir, James, Duke of York (known in Scotland as the Duke of Albany), who effectively ran a small Scottish court at Holyrood Palace.[4]

Church ministers were forced to accept the restoration of episcopacy or lose their livings. Up to a third, at least 270, of the ministry refused. Many ministers chose voluntarily to abandon their own parishes rather than wait to be forced out by the government.[5] Most of the vacancies occurred in the south-west of Scotland, an area particularly strong in its Covenanting sympathies. Abandoning the official church, many of the people here began to attend illegal field assemblies led by excluded ministers, known as conventicles. They became known after one of their leaders as the Cameronians.[6] Official attempts to suppress these led to a rising in 1679, defeated by James, Duke of Monmouth, the King's illegitimate son, at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.[7] In the early 1680s a more intense phase of persecution began, in what was later to be known in Protestant historiography as "the Killing Time", with dissenters summarily executed by the dragoons of James Graham, Laird of Claverhouse or sentenced to transportation or death by Sir George Mackenzie, the Lord Advocate.[8]

In England, the Exclusion crisis of 1678–81 divided political society into Whigs (given their name after the Scottish Whigamores), who attempted, unsuccessfully, to exclude the openly Catholic Duke of Albany from the succession, and the Tories, who opposed them. Similar divisions began to emerge in Scottish political life,[9] but there was little organised opposition to the succession and James' rights as heir received explicit recognition when the Scottish Parliament passed a Succession Act in 1681. Charles and James acted against Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, whose feudal rights in the south-west Highlands made him one of the most powerful figures in the kingdom. His rights were eroded in favour of other families and James may have been consciously building up his own following in the region. Argyll was eventually tried and fled to the Dutch court, which became the focus of both Scottish and English political dissidents and exiles.[10] These included Scottish peer Lord George Melville, who was implicated in the Rye House Plot, an alleged attempt to assassinate Charles and James in 1683.[11]

Deposition of James VII

Main article: James II of England
William and Mary depicted on the ceiling of the Painted Hall, Greenwich.

Charles died in 1685 and his brother succeeded him as James VII of Scotland (and II of England).[8] James put Catholics in key positions in the government and even attendance at a conventicle was made punishable by death. He disregarded parliament, purged the Council and forced through religious toleration for Roman Catholics, alienating his Protestant subjects. The failure of an invasion, led by the Earl of Argyll and timed to co-ordinate with the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion in England, demonstrated the strength of the regime. Argyll was unable to raise a sufficient force to threaten the regime and was soon captured and executed.[3]

It was believed that the king would be succeeded by his daughter Mary, a Protestant and the wife of William of Orange, Stadtholder of the main provinces of the Netherlands, but when in 1688 James produced a male heir, James Francis Edward Stuart, it was clear that his policies would outlive him. An invitation by seven leading Englishmen prompted William to launch an invasion, landing in England with 14,000 men on 5 November.[3] In Edinburgh there were rumours of Orange plots and on 10 December the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, the Earl of Perth, quit the capital for Drummond Castle, planning an abortive escape to Ireland (he was later captured as he embarked for France). As rioters approached Holyrood Abbey they were fired on by soldiers, resulting in some deaths. The city guard was called out, but the Abbey was stormed by a large mob. The Catholic furnishings, placed there when it was restored as a chapel for James, were torn down and the tombs of the Stuart kings desecrated. A crowd of students burnt the Pope in effigy and took down the heads of executed Covenanters that were hanging above the city gates.[12]

The crisis was resolved when James fled from England on 23 December, leading to the almost bloodless revolution. Although there had been no significant Scottish involvement in the coup, most members of the Scottish Privy Council went to London to offer their services to William.[3] As a result, the Revolution in Scotland was not carried out by opponents of the existing regime, but by its agents, who were keen to preserve their offices.[13] I. B. Cowen described these as "reluctant revolutionaries".[14] In contrast Tim Harris argues that there was a lack of popular support for James' regime and that William's political support grew as the crisis unfolded in a similar way to England.[15] On 7 January 1689 members of the Scottish Privy Council asked William to take over the responsibilities of government in Scotland.[3]

Convention of Estates

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

William called a Scottish Convention, which convened on 14 March in Edinburgh. Initially William's supporters did not have a clear advantage and the Marquis of Hamilton, chosen by William to represent him, only gained the presidency over the Marquess of Atholl, who was associated with James, by a narrow margin.[16] The faction that supported James, including many Episcopalians and led by figures including John Paterson, the Archbishop of Glasgow,[17] were divided by James' previous attempts to achieve tolerance for Roman Catholics. A letter from James, received on 16 March, contained a threat to punish all who rebelled against him and declared the assembly illegal. This resulted in his followers abandoning the Convention, leaving the Williamites largely unopposed.[18] William's supporters had control of the burgh, but Edinburgh Castle, with its formidable arsenal, was held by the Catholic Earl of Gordon. With Dundee raising troops in the Highlands, the convention met in a highly charged political atmosphere, behind closed doors and guarded by some 1,000 Cameronians.[19]

On 4 April, with only five dissenting votes, the Convention formulated two documents, the Claim of Right and the Articles of Grievances. These suggested that James had forfeited the crown by his actions (in contrast to England, which relied on the legal fiction of an abdication) and offered it to William and Mary. On 11 May they accepted the Crown of Scotland as co-regents, as William II and Mary II.[3] The principles of the two documents were that no Roman Catholic could hold the crown or any other office, that the royal prerogative could not override the law, that parliament should meet frequently and that it should be able to debate freely (that is without the interference of the Committee of Articles) and that there could only be taxation with the consent of parliament. They also condemned episcopacy as an "insupportable grievance and trouble to this nation".[20] A proposal for union between the kingdoms was discussed, but dropped because of opposition from the English parliament.[21] As in England, the convention was then converted into a regular parliament on 5 June 1689.[16]

In the view of the Convention, William had accepted the crown on the basis of the articles and the claim, but he did not agree to this, arguing that he was only constrained by his oath to uphold "true religion" and to maintain a balance between "lawes and constitutiones receaved in this realm" and the "just privileges of the Crown" in Scotland, none of which were clearly defined. Neither did William accept the Scottish Parliament's interpretation of its constitutional position as the primary political institution in the kingdom, leading to a series of disputes between the Parliament in Edinburgh and the government in London.[22]


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

Leading figures in the parliament included political rivals Melville, who had returned from exile, and a former servant of James VII's regime, John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair. In 1689 Melville was made Earl of Melville and sole Secretary of State over Scotland and Stair was made Lord Advocate. In 1691 Stair was appointed as the joint Secretary of State.[23] The first session of parliament deteriorated into a stalemate over the constitutional position. Although William had been able to appoint ministers, parliament withheld taxation and refused to accept his right to nominate to judicial offices, meaning that the law courts remained closed. The parliament passed a series of acts, but William refused to give royal assent. The two major issues of contention were episcopacy and the committee of articles. The result was the emergence of an organised opposition, known as "the Club". With most of its support among the shire members, it had a theoretical 75 of the 125 parliamentary votes. The court conceded over the issue episcopacy in July 1689, but continued to resist over the Committee of the Articles. Soon after the news of the defeat of Williamite forces at Battle of Killiecrankie parliament was prorogued on 2 August.[24]

Against the background of James VII's invasion of Ireland, the possibility of an Irish invasion of Scotland and continued pockets of resistance in the Highlands, parliament met again in April 1690. The stalemate was broken by the discovery of the Montgomery Plot. Sir James Montgomery had been a major supporter of William's cause in the Convention, but had been frustrated when he was only offered a minor office in the government. He entered into secret negotiations with extreme Presbyterians, Episcopalian magnates and Jacobites. The plot involved part of the Club and some conservative magnates, including the Duke of Queensbury. In the resulting panic Melville conceded over the Committee of the Articles, which was agreed on 8 May. A series of agreements were then made between the court and parliament, with an act abolishing episcopacy and a grant of supply for the king, both agreed on 7 June.[24] The constitutional settlement that emerged in parliament during the 1689 and 1690 sessions was less radical than that arrived at in 1641 as William and Mary retained important prerogative powers, particularly the right to summon, prorogue and dissolve parliament, allowing William to keep the same parliament until his death in 1702, but parliament had made considerable gains towards independence and would now be much more difficult to manage from the court.[25] On 19 June the parliament exercised its new found independence by passing an act that abolished lay patronage in the kirk, by which local landholders or heritors had the right to appoint ministers to their parishes.[24]

Religious settlement

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.[13] As a result, only 180 ministers and elders attended, all from south of the River Tay, where Presbyternian sympathies were strongest.[26] 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.[13] 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.[26] The General Assembly of 1692 refused to reinstate even those Episcopalian ministers who pledged to accept Presbyterianism.[22] As a result, many presbyteries were left with few or no parish clergy.[26] 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.[22] 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.[26]

Jacobite resistance

Main article: Jacobitism

Although William's supporters dominated the government and parliament, there remained a significant following for James, particularly in the Highlands. His cause, which became known as Jacobitism, from the Latin (Jacobus) for James, led to a series of risings. An initial Jacobite military attempt was led by John Graham, now Viscount Dundee. His forces, almost all Highlanders, defeated William's forces at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, but they took heavy losses and Dundee was slain in the fighting. Without his leadership the Jacobite army was soon defeated at the Battle of Dunkeld, by a newly raised government regiment of Cameronians.[27] The last land forces of the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Cromdale in Strathspey on 1 May 1690 and Gordon surrendered Edinburgh Castle on 17 June.[28] The complete defeat of James's cause in Ireland by forces under William at the Battle of Aughrim (1691), ended the first phase of the Jacobite military effort.[29]

Massacre of Glencoe

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

In the aftermath of the Jacobite defeat, on 13 February 1692, in an incident known as the Massacre of Glencoe, 38 members of the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by members of the Earl of Argyll's Regiment of Foot, who had accepted their hospitality, on the grounds that they had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs.[30] Another forty women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned. The brutality of the incident was embarrassing for the new government and after a subsequent inquiry Dalrymple, who had ordered the massacre, was forced to resign. The massacre helped create greater sympathy for the Stuart cause and may have contributed to later support for Jacobite risings.[31]


The Glorious Revolution settled the dominance of the Presbyterians in the Church of Scotland and of the Whigs in politics. The Whig dominance continued (in both Scotland and England) well into the mid-eighteenth century,.[32] In both countries, the Revolution marked the triumph of Parliamentary say in determining the legal monarch and succession. Furthermore, the Revolution decisively determined the future structure of the kirk.[26] 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.[33] 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. This helped to make the Scottish Highlands the main focus of Jacobite resistance to the Williamite regime, resulting in a series of military adventures, of which the most threatening were those of 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.[34] 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.[35]


  1. J. D. Mackie, B. Lenman and G. Parker, A History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 1991), ISBN 0140136495, pp. 204–6.
  2. Mackie et al, History of Scotland, pp. 225–6.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Mackie et al, History of Scotland, pp. 241–5.
  4. Mackie et al, History of Scotland, p. 239.
  5. Mackie et al, History of Scotland, pp. 231–4.
  6. R. Mitchison, A History of Scotland (London: Routledge, 3rd edn., 2002), ISBN 0415278805, p. 253.
  7. Mackie et al, History of Scotland, p. 238.
  8. 1 2 Mackie et al, History of Scotland, p. 241.
  9. P. Langford, The Eighteenth Century, 1688–1815 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 47.
  10. Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, p. 113.
  11. K. Zickermann, Across the German Sea: Early Modern Scottish Connections with the Wider Elbe-Weser Region (Brill, 2013), ISBN 9004249583, p. 202.
  12. M. Lynch, Scotland: A New History (London: Pimlico, 1992), ISBN 0712698930, p. 297.
  13. 1 2 3 Lynch, Scotland: A New History, p. 300.
  14. C. Jackson, Restoration Scotland, 1660–1690: Royalist Politics, Religion and Ideas (Boydell Press, 2003), ISBN 0851159303, p. 191.
  15. T. Harris, Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685–1720 (London: Penguin, 2006), ISBN 0141016523, pp. 380–390.
  16. 1 2 R. H. Fritze and W. B. Robison, eds, Historical Dictionary of Stuart England, 1603–1689 (London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996), ISBN 0313283915, p. 97.
  17. Jackson, Restoration Scotland, pp. 210–211
  18. Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, pp. 118–19.
  19. Lynch, Scotland: A New History, p. 302.
  20. Lynch, Scotland: A New History, pp. 302–3.
  21. Lynch, Scotland: A New History, p. 305.
  22. 1 2 3 Mackie et al, History of Scotland, pp. 252–3.
  23. 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.
  24. 1 2 3 Lynch, Scotland: A New History, p. 303.
  25. D. J. Patrick, "Unconventional procedure: Scottish electoral politics after the revolution", in K. M. Brown and A. J. Mann, eds, Parliament and Politics in Scotland, 1567–1707 (Edinburgh, 2005), pp. 208–44.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 Lynch, Scotland: A New History, p. 304.
  27. Mackie et al, History of Scotland, pp. 283–4.
  28. I. B. Cowen, "Church and state reformed?: the Glorious Revolution of 1688–9 in Scotland", in J. I. Israel, ed., The Anglo-Dutch Moment: Essays on the Glorious Revolution and Its World Impact (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), ISBN 0521544068, p. 165.
  29. M. Pittock, Jacobitism (St. Martin's Press, 1998), ISBN 0312213069, p. 45.
  30. Mackie et al, History of Scotland, pp. 287–8.
  31. Lynch, Scotland: A New History, pp. 305–6.
  32. Mackie et al, History of Scotland, pp. 282–4.
  33. K. J. Cullen, Famine in Scotland: The "Ill Years" of the 1690s (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), ISBN 0748638873, p. 105.
  34. Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, pp. 120–3.
  35. Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, p. 129.


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