James II’s Political Philosophy

Locke also wrote his great work, the Two Treatises of Government, to justify the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that overthrew James II and replaced him with William of Orange. James had converted to Roman Catholicism, and attempted to pass legislation to remove the laws that penalised Roman Catholic religious belief and observance and its worshippers. Roman Catholicism was associated at this time with absolute monarchy, such as those of France and Spain. Protestant Britons feared that if Roman Catholicism was legalised, and Catholics allowed to enter government, it would mean a return to return to the persecution they had experienced under Queen Mary, which still existed in Roman Catholic countries. James attempted to offset their fears by advocating the removal of legal discrimination against Protestant Dissenters, such as the Baptists, Presbyterians and Quakers. This, and his infringements of the English constitution, which laid limits on the king’s powers, merely alienated his natural allies in the Tory party without winning over the Dissenters. The result was his overthrow in favour of the Dutch Protestant Prince, William of Orange, who had married Charles II’s daughter, Mary.

James II’s own political views are interesting. Although he believed firmly in the absolute power of the monarchy and the Divine Right of Kings, he felt that this put more pressure on him to rule benevolently and safeguard his people’s welfare, not less.

‘Kings being accountable for none of their actions but to God and themselves ought to be more cautious and circumspect than those who are in lower stations and as ’tis the duty of subjects to pay true allegiance to him and to observe his laws, so a king is bound by his office to have a fatherly love and care of them … Consider you come into the world to serve God Almighty and not only to please yourself and that by Him kings reign and that without His particular protection nothing you undertake can prosper … Therefore preserve your prerogative, but disturb not the subjects in their property nor conscience, remember the great precept, Do as you would be done to, for that is the law and the prophets…’


John Miller, The Glorious Revolution (Harlow: Longman 1983)

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2 Responses to “James II’s Political Philosophy”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    Beastrabban moves on to James II and his views of kingship: “Disturb not the subjects in their property nor conscience… Do as you would be done to.”

  2. rainbowwarriorlizzie Says:


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