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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 28 — James II — Projects to restore Popery

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James II — Suspicions of the Nation — His Promises to Maintain the Protestant Religion — Joy of the People — Fears of Louis XIV — His Coronation — Goes to Mass — Imposes Taxes without his Parliament — Invasion of Argyle — Insurrection of Monmouth — These Risings Suppressed -- Cruelties of Jeffreys — The Test Act — Debates respecting a Standing Army — State of Protestantism throughout Christendom — Its Afflicted Condition Everywhere — A Moment of Mighty Peril — Hopes of the Jesuits

Charles II being dead, his brother, the Duke of York, ascended the throne under the title of James II. The peace and quietness in which he took possession of the crown may well surprise us, and doubtless it surprised James himself. Universally suspected of being a Papist, the law which made it capital for any one to affirm that he was so, so far from allaying, rather tended to confirm the wide-spread suspicions respecting him. It was only a few years since the entire nation almost had appeared to concur in the proposal to exclude him from the throne, and strenuous efforts had been made in Parliament to pass a Bill to that effect, nevertheless, when the hour arrived, James's accession took place with general acquiescence. It is true, that as there had been no tears for the death of Charles, so there were no shouts for the accession of James: the heralds who proclaimed him passed through silent streets. But if there was no enthusiasm there was no opposition. No one thought it his duty to raise his voice and demand securities before committing the religion and liberties of England into the hands of the new sovereign. [1]

Knowing the wide distrust entertained by the nation, and fearing perhaps that it might break out in turmoil, James met his Council the same day on which his brother died, and voluntarily made in their presence the following declaration: — " I shall make it my endeavor to preserve this government, both in Church and State, as it is now by law established. I know, too, that the laws of England are sufficient to make the king as great a monarch as I can wish; and as I shall never depart, from the just rights and prerogatives of the crown, so I shall never invade any man's property." These words, printed and diffused over the country, quieted the fears of the nation. They were accepted as an explicit promise of two thing: first, that James would not change the religion of the nation; and secondly, that lm would not tax the people but with the consent of his Parliament.

The nation persuaded itself that it had obtained a sure and solid guarantee of its rights. These few vague words seemed in its eyes an invincible rampart, and it abandoned itself to an excess of joy. It had buried all its suspicions and jealousies in the grave of the defunct monarch, and now it had nothing but welcomes and rejoicing for the new sovereign. "The common phrase," says Burner, "was, 'We have now the word of a king;' and this was magnified as a greater security than laws could give." [2]

Numerous addresses from public bodies were carried to the foot of the throne, extolling the virtues of the late king, and promising loyalty and obedience to the new one, under whom, it was confidently predicted, the prestige and renown of England would be very speedily and mightily enhanced. Even the Quaking, who eschew flattery, and love plainness and honesty of speech, presented themselves in the presence of James II with a petition so artfully worded, that some took occasion to say that the Jesuits had inspired their pen. "We are come," said they, "to testify our sorrow for the death of our good friend Charles, and our joy for thy being made our governor. We are told thou art not of the persuasion of the Church of England, no more than we; wherefore we hope thou wilt grant us the same liberty thou allowest thyself; which doing, we wish you all manner of happiness." [3]

The assurances that were accepted by the people of England as solid securities, and which filled them with so lively a joy, were those of a man whose creed permitted him to promise everything, but required him to fulfill nothing, if it was prejudicial to the interests of his Church. James was feeding the nation upon delusive hopes. Once firmly seated on the throne, he would forget all that he now promised. Meantime, these assurances were repeated again and again, in terms not less explicit, and in manner not less solemn. The religion and laws of England would not be changed, the king would have all men know. [4] And so apparently frank and sincere were these protestations, that if they quieted the alarm of the people of England, they awakened the fears of the French king. Louis XIV began to doubt James's fidelity to the Church of Rome, and the compact between the crowns of France and England to restore the sway of that church in all the countries, of Christendom, and to fear that he was preferring the safety of his crown to the supremacy of his creed. He wrote to his ambassador in London, inquiring how he was to construe the conduct of the English sovereign, adding, "If he and his Parliament come to a cordial trust one of another, it may probably change all in measures we have been so long conferring for the glory of our throne and the establishment of the Catholic religion."

Meanwhile the king gave orders to prepare for his coronation, which he appointed for St. George's Day. The ceremony was marred by several untoward occurrences, which the people interpreted as bad omens. The canopy which was carried over him broke down. The crown was too big, and sat so low on his forehead as partially to blindfold

him. On that same day his son by Mrs. Sidley died. Certain other things fell out, which, although of less moment, tended to tarnish the pomp of the ceremonial, and to inspire the spectators with inauspicious forebodings. There were surer omens of impending evil presented to their eyes if they could have read them. The king was mounting the throne without legal pledge that he would govern according to law. And though he and the queen had resolved to have all the services conducted in the Protestant form, the king refused to take the Sacrament, which was always a part of the ceremony; "and he had such senses given him of the oath," says Burner, "that he either took it as unlawful, with a resolution not to keep it, or he had a reserved meaning in his own mind." [5]

James, deeming it perhaps an unnecessary labor to preserve appearances before those who were so willing to be deceived, began to drop the mask a little too soon. The first Sunday after his brother's death, he went openly to mass. This was to avow what till then it was death for any one to assert, namely, that he was a Papist. His next indiscretion was to publish certain papers found in the strong-box of his brother, showing that during his lifetime Charles had reconciled himself to Rome. And, lastly, he ventured upon the bold step of levying a tax, for which he had no authority from Parliament, and which he exacted simply in virtue of his prerogative. These acts traversed the two pledges he had given the nation, namely, that he would not change the religion, and that he would govern by Parliament; and though in themselves trivial, they were of ominous significance as indicating his future policy. To be an arbitrary monarch, to govern without law, without Parliaments, to consult only his own will, and to plant this absolute power on the dominance of the faith of Rome, the only stable basis he believed on which he could rest it, was the summit of James's ambition. His besotted wife, who so largely governed him, and the fawning Jesuits who surrounded him, persuaded him that this was the true glory of a monarch, and that this glory was to be attained by the people being made entirely submissive to the priests, and the priests entirely submissive to the throne; and that to accomplish this it was lawful in the first place to make any number of false promises, and not less dutiful in the second to break them. It was a dangerous course on which he was entering. The scaffold of his father bade him beware, but James took no heed of the warning.

The more sagacious saw that a crisis was approaching. To the indications the king had already given that he was meditating a change of the Constitution, another sign was added, not less ominous than those that had gone before it. The Parliament that had assembled was utterly corrupt and subservient. With a Papist on the throne, and a Parliament ready to vote as the king might be pleased to direct, of what force or value was the Constitution? It was already abrogated. Many, both in England and Scotland, fled to Holland, where they might concert measures for the rescue of kingdoms now threatened with ruin. The immediate results of the deliberations of these exiles were the descent of Argyle on Scotland, and the invasion of England by Monmouth, the natural son of Charles II, a favorite of the English people as he had all along been of his father. An adverse fortune pursued both expeditions from their commencement to their disastrous close. Both were ill-planned, both were unskillfully led, and both were inadequately supported. Argyle, in 1685, sweeping round the north of Scotland with a few ships, unfurled the standard of insurrection among the mountains of his native Highlands. Penetrating at the head of 4,000 men to the banks of the Clyde, he was there overthrown; Monmouth, setting sail from Holland at the same time, landed at Lyme, in Dorsetshire, and gathering round his standard a few thousand men, he joined battle with the king's forces and encountered utter defeat. Both leaders were taken and executed. Neither was the crisis ripe, nor were the leaders competent. The neck of England had to be more grievously galled by the yoke of the tyranny before its people should be prepared to adopt the conclusion at which a party of the persecuted Presbyterians in Scotland had arrived, and which had been proclaimed at the market cross of Sanquhar, namely, that the House of Stuart, by their perjuries and tyrannies, had for ever forfeited the throne of these realms. When the hour should have fully come, a mightier deliverer than either of the two would be found to execute vengeance on the royal house, and to break the fetters of the enslaved nations.

The failure of these two attempts had the effect, like all suppressed insurrections, of strengthening the Government which they were intended to overthrow. His enemies discomfited, the next care of James was to take vengeance on them. His foes were entirely at his mercy. This would have been a plea for clemency with ordinary tyrants; but James II was a tyrant after the pattern of Caligula and other despots of ancient times, and he smote his prostrate enemies with a frightful and merciless violence. He sent Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys, and four judges worthy to sit on the same bench with him, along with General Kirk and a troop of soldiers, to chastise those counties in the west which had been the seat of Monmouth's rising. The cruelties inflicted by these ferocious ministers of the tyrant were appalling. Jeffreys hanged men and women by thirties at a time; and Kirk had the gallows erected before the windows of his banqueting-room, that the sight of his struggling victims might give zest to his debauch. From the bar

of Jeffreys there was no escape but by buying with a great sum that life which the injustice of the judge, and not the guilt of the prisoner, had put in the power of the tribunal, and when the Lord Chief Justice returned to London he was laden with wealth as well as blood. Jeffreys boasted with a humble pleasure that "he had hanged more men than all the judges of England since William the Conqueror." Nor did any one gainsay his averment, or dispute his pre-eminence in the work of shedding innocent blood, save Kirk, who advanced his own pretensions — on perfectly good grounds, we doubt not — to share in the merit of the Lord Chief Justice. Some of the apologists of James II have affirmed that when the monarch learned the extent of Jeffreys' cruelty and barbarity, he expressed his disapproval of these deeds. If so, he took a strange way of showing his displeasure; for no sooner had Jeffreys returned from the gory field of his triumphs to London, than he was punished by being promoted to the office of Lord High Chancellor of England, and made a peer of the realm. [6]

Among the other prisoners brought to the bar of this ferocious judge was the renowned and most eloquent Richard Baxter. The scene that followed we shall give in the words of Bennet. It will enable us to realize the monstrous tyranny of the times, and the utter shame into which England had sunk. Baxter was committed on Jeffreys' warrant for his paraphrase on the New Testament, which was called a scandalous and seditious book against the Government. Being much indisposed, Baxter's counsel moved for postponement of the trial. "I will not," cried Jeffreys, "give him a minute's time to save his life. We have had to deal with other sort of persons, but now we have a saint to deal with. I know how to deal with saints as well as sinners. Yonder stands Oates in the pillory, and he says he suffers for truth, and so says Baxter; but if Baxter did but stand on the other side of the pillory with him, I would say two of the greatest rogues and rascals in the kingdom stood there."

"His counsel," says Bennet, "were not suffered to proceed in the defense of their client, but were brow-beaten and hectored by the judge in a manner that suited Billingsgate much better than a tribunal of justice. Mr. Baxter beginning to speak for himself, says Jeffreys to him, 'Richard, Richard, dost thou think we will hear thee poison the court? And, Richard, thou art an old fellow, an old knave; thou hast written books enough to fill a cart, every one as full of sedition — I may say treason — as an egg's full of meat. Hadst thou been whipped out of thy writting forty years ago, it had been happy. I know thou hast a mighty party, and I see a great many of thy brotherhood in corners, to see what will become of their mighty Don, but by the grace of Almighty God I will crush them all.'"

"After this strange insult, another of Mr. Baxter's counsel begins to speak, and to clear Mr. Baxter, would have read some passages of the book, but Jeffreys cried out, 'You shall not draw me into a conventicle with your annotations, nor your sniveling parson neither.' So that when neither he himself nor the lawyers could be heard, but were all silenced by noise and fury, the judge proceeds to sum up the matter to the jury: ' It is notoriously known,' says he, that there has been a design to ruin the king and nation, the old game has been renewed, and this has been the main incendiary. He is as modest now as can be, but the time was when no man so ready at "Bind your kings in chains and your nobles in fetters of iron " and "To your tents, O Israel!" Gentlemen, for God's sake do not let us be gulled twice in an age.' When he had done his harangue, Mr. Baxter presumes to say, ' Does your lordship think any jury will pretend to pass a verdict on me upon such a trial?' 'I will warrant you, Mr. Baxter.' says he; 'do not trouble your head about that.' The jury immediately laid their heads together at the bar, and brought him in guilty. This was May 30th, and on the 29th of June following, judgment was given against him that he should pay a fine of 500 marks, be in prison till it was paid:, and be bound to his good behavior seven years." [7]

The troubles of Monmouth's insurrection having been got over by the help of the army and Jeffreys, the next step taken by the king for the establishment of arbitrary power and the Romish religion in Britain was the abolition of the Test Acts. These declared Papists incapable of serving in public employments, and especially of holding commissions in the army. These laws had been passed, not because the faith of the Romanist was a false one, but because his allegiance was given to another sovereign.

But the point in the present case was, Can the king simply in virtue of his prerogative repeal these laws? Parliament had enacted them, and Parliament, it was argued, was alone competent to repeal them. In the Parliament that met on November 9th, 1685, James declared his resolution of forming a standing army, and of entrusting Romanists with commissions in it. The sudden outbreak of the late rebellion, the king argued, showed how necessary it was for the peace of the nation, and the safety of the throne, to have a certain number of soldiers always in pay. And as regarded the second point, the employment of officers excluded by the Test Acts, he had frankly to acknowledge that he had employed many such in

the late campaign, and that he had been so well Served by them, and they had so approved the loyalty of their principles by their practices, that he would neither expose them to the disgrace of dismissal nor himself to the loss of their services. In short, James declared that he would have a standing army, and that it should be officered by Romanists.

This speech from the throne surprised and bewildered Parliament. They now saw of how little value were the promises with which the king had amused them. Already the sword of arbitrary power was suspended above their heads, and the liberties of England were about to pass into the hands of those whose allegiance had been given to a foreign prince. They had a Popish king, and now they were about to have a Popish army. Long and warm debates followed in Parliament. At last the House of Commons resolved to present an address to the king, representing to him that members of the Church of Rome could not by law hold either civil or military employment, nor could their disabilities be removed save by Act of Parliament; but that out of the reverence they entertained for his Majesty they were willing to capacitate by law such a number of Roman Catholic officers as he might be pleased to include in a list to be presented to Parliament. This compromise was not satisfactory to the king; neither did it suit his designs that the Parliament should continue its debates. Accordingly it was prorogued on the 20th of November, 1685, and dissolved on the 2nd of July, 1687. On the ruins of Parliament rose the prerogative.

This was but one of the many calamities that were at this same hour darkening the skies of Protestantism. The year 1685 was truly a fatal one. In all the countries of Europe the right hand of Rome had been upraised in triumph. Just five weeks before James II dismissed his Parliament, the Edict of Nantes, the only security of the Huguenots, had been revoked in France. The calamities that followed we have already described. Smitten by the whole power of Louis XIV, the Protestants of that unhappy country were fleeing from its soil in wretched crowds, or overtaken by the officers of the tyrant, were rotting in dungeons or pouring out their blood on the mountains and on the scaffold. It was now, too, that the most terrible of all the tempests that ever descended upon the poor Vaudois broke over their mountains. Fire and sword were carried through their land; their homesteads and sanctuaries were razed, a miserable remnant only were left of this once flourishing people, and they, after languishing for some time in prison, were carried to other countries, and for the first time in history their valleys were seen to be empty. Nor did these close the list of Protestant reverses. The Electorate of the Palatinate passed to a most bigoted Popish family. In the same year, too, the structure of arbitrary power in Scotland was advanced a stage. The Parliament which met in May of that year was so submissive that it passed two Acts: the first for "the security of the Protestant religion" — " that is," says Dr. Kennet, "for the extirpation of the Presbyterians;" and the second for settling" the excise of inland and foreign commodities upon his Majesty and heirs for ever." In the preamble of this last Act, they declare "that they abhor all principles that are derogatory to the king's sacred, supreme, and absolute power and authority, which none, whether private persons or collegiate bodies, can participate of any manner of way, but in dependence on him, and therefore they take this occasion to renew their hearty and sincere offer of their lives and fortunes, to assist, and defend, and maintain his rights and prerogatives against all mortals." [8] It was not the Scottish nation that thus basely prostrated itself before the tyrant, placing their conscience as well as their fortune at his service, for the supremacy which was so obsequiously ascribed to him would have been manifestly a violation of their great national oath; the party whose voice is now heard offering this idolatrous worship to James II is that of the unprincipled, debauched, and servile crew to whom he had committed the government of the northern country, where now scarcely were left any remains of an ancient and sacred liberty.

The present was, perhaps, the gloomiest moment which had occurred in the annals of Protestantism since 1572, the era of the St. Bartholomew Massacre. In fact the gloom was more universal now than it was even then. Everywhere disaster and defeat were lowering upon the Protestant banners. The schemes of the Jesuits were prospering and their hopes were high. Bishop Burnet, who at that time withdrew from England, and made a visit to Rome, says, "Cardinal Howard showed me all his letters from England, by which I saw that those who wrote to him reckoned that their designs were so well laid that they could not miscarry. They thought they should certainly carry everything in the next session of Parliament. There was a high strain of insolence in their letters, and they reckoned they were so sure of the king, that they seemed to have no doubt left of their succeeding in the reduction of England." [9]


Lectionary Calendar
Friday, September 21st, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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