James VII, who was deposed in 1688
James VII, who was deposed in 1688

The Glorious Revolution in Scotland was part of a wider series of events between 1688–1689 in England and Scotland known as the Glorious Revolution. It covers the deposition of James VII, his replacement by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III of Orange and the political settlement thereafter. Scotland and England were linked but separate countries, each with its own Parliament; 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] In 2016, one of its amendments, the 1689 Claim of Right, was referenced in legal arguments as to whether Scotland was bound by Brexit.[2]

James became King in February 1685 with widespread support in both countries but tolerance for his personal beliefs did not apply to Roman Catholicism in general.[3] James suspended the English and Scottish Parliaments when they refused to pass his measures and ruled by decree; it was this response that most damaged him.[4]

The birth of James Francis Edward Stuart in June 1688 replaced Mary with a Roman Catholic heir and caused widespread civil disorder in Scotland and England. A coalition of English politicians issued a declaration known as the Invitation to William, agreeing to support Dutch military intervention to enforce Mary's rights as heir to the English throne. On 5 November 1688, William landed in South-West England and James fled to France on 23 December.

Despite playing little role in the Invitation, there were many Scots in William's invasion force, including the Scots Brigade under Hugh Mackay. Scottish politicians were closely involved on both sides; many of William's advisors were Scots exiles like Leven and Melville, while James' closest counsellors were Scots Catholic converts, the Earl of Perth and his brother Melfort. On 7 January 1689, the Scottish Privy Council asked William to take over pending election of a Convention to agree a settlement. In February 1689, William and Mary were appointed joint monarchs of England; in March, the Convention met to agree a Settlement for Scotland.


James VII & II c. 1685 as Army Commander
James VII & II c. 1685 as Army Commander

The Glorious Revolution in Scotland has been poorly understood because...no 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]

The different paths of the Glorious Revolution in Scotland and England stemmed from political and religious differences between the two kingdoms, which experienced the 1638–51 Wars of the Three Kingdoms and 1660 Restoration differently. 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 later experienced by the United Kingdom in the First World War.[6]

Presbyterian versus Episcopalian now implies differences in both structure and doctrine, but this was not the case in the 17th century. Episcopalian meant governance by bishops, appointed by the monarch, while Presbyterian structures were ruled by Elders, nominated by congregations; in Scotland, both sides were doctrinal Calvinists. Since bishops sat in the Scottish Parliament, arguments over their role were as much about politics as religious practice. Changes of regime in 1638, 1651 and 1661 led to the victors excluding their opponents, making the contest for control of the kirk increasingly bitter.[7]

As Charles II had no legitimate children, his brother James was heir to the Scottish and English thrones. In 1669, he secretly converted to Catholicism; when this became public knowledge in 1679, the Parliament of England attempted to exclude him from the English throne.[8]

Support for James was far greater in Scotland; the 1681 Scottish Succession Act confirmed his status as the legal heir 'regardless of religion,'. The Act also stated its aim was to make his exclusion from the English throne impossible without '...the dreadfull consequences of a civil war.'[9] This was reaffirmed in the 1681 Scottish Test Act, with the crucial qualifier all government officials and MPs 'promise to uphold the true Protestant religion.' Tolerance for James' personal beliefs did not extend to Catholicism in general, and his failure to appreciate that distinction ultimately led to his deposition.[10]

Deposition of James VII

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

In 1685, James' position in Scotland was more secure than it was in England. The 1681 Scottish Succession and Test Acts made obedience to the monarch a legal obligation, 'regardless of religion' but in return confirmed the primacy of the Church of Scotland, or Kirk. Argyll's Rising collapsed due to lack of popular support; repealing the Test Act undermined James' Episcopalian base while rewarding the dissident Presbyterians who backed Argyll.[11]

The perception that James was willing to ignore his commitments, his Coronation Oath and his own supporters undermined his policies.[12] They were also badly timed, since the October 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau revoked tolerance for French Protestants, causing an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Protestants to flee France in the next five years.[13] The killing of over 2,000 Swiss Waldensians in 1686 reinforced fears that Protestant Europe was threatened by a French-led Catholic counter-reformation.[14]

In June 1688, two events turned dissent into a crisis; the birth of James Francis Edward on 10 June created a Catholic heir, who would precede James' Protestant daughter Mary, married to William of Orange, in the succession. Though James argued that he merely wanted to increase freedom for Catholics, his prosecution of the Seven Bishops seemed to go beyond this and was perceived as an assault on the Episcopalian establishment; their acquittal on 30 June destroyed James' political authority.[15]

In 1685, many feared civil war if James were bypassed; by 1688, anti-Catholic riots made it seem only his removal could prevent one.[16] James's chief advisor, the Earl of Sunderland secretly co-ordinated with Henry Sydney to prepare the Invitation to William, assuring him of support from across the English political class for armed intervention. Anxious to secure English financial and military support against France, William landed in Brixham on 5 November with 14,000 men; as he advanced, much of the Royal Army deserted and James went into exile on 23 December.[17]

Parliament offered the English throne to William and Mary in February 1689; a large majority agreed that Mary should replace her father, but William's demand he be made joint monarch and sole ruler if she died was only narrowly approved. In Scotland, the split within the Kirk made William more important; his Calvinism meant that Presbyterians saw him as a natural ally, while the Episcopalian minority needed his support to retain control.[18]

Convention of Estates

Parliament House, where the Convention of Estates met in March 1689
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.[19]

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.[20] Public anger meant some Episcopalians stopped attending the Convention, claiming to fear for their safety while others changed sides.[21] 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.[22]

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. 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.[23]

In an attempt to preserve Episcopalianism, the Scottish Bishops proposed Union with England but this was rejected by the English Parliament. 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.[24]

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.[25]


George Melville, 1st Earl of Melville, leading figure in the first Williamite government
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.[26]

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.[27] The government compromised by agreeing to remove bishops from the kirk but resisted abolition of the Committee of the Articles before Parliament was suspended on 2 August, following the Battle of Killiecrankie.[28]

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. 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 it is still unclear how serious the plot actually was.[29] Its principal objective achieved, the Club disintegrated, and on 7 June Parliament approved an Act ending Episcopacy and a grant of taxes.[28]

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.[30]

Religious settlement

Archbishop Sharp; his killing in May 1679 was symptomatic of the deep divisions within the Scottish kirk
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.[31]

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.[32]

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 and some Society people.[33] 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.[34]

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 Roman 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 Roman Catholic factions.[35]

Dundee led a campaign in Scotland to support James' landing in Ireland, where clan rivalries or simple opportunism were often more important than allegiance to William or James. The 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.[36] 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 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.[37]

As in England, the Revolution confirmed the ascendancy of Parliament over the Crown but by removing bishops from the Kirk, it alienated a significant segment of the political class. In the long-term, Episcopalianism rather than Highlander or Lowlander was a key determinant of Jacobite support in both 1715 and 1745.[38] 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.[39]


  1. ^ Quinn.
  2. ^ Carrell & Bowcott 2016.
  3. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 145–147.
  4. ^ Harris & Taylor 2015, pp. 144–159.
  5. ^ Harris & Taylor 2015, p. 365.
  6. ^ Hughes.
  7. ^ Davies, Hardacre 1962, pp. 32–51.
  8. ^ Miller 1978, p. 95.
  9. ^ Jackson 2003, pp. 38–54.
  10. ^ Harris & Taylor 2015, p. 122.
  11. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 153–157.
  12. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 179–181.
  13. ^ Spielvogel 1980, p. 410.
  14. ^ Bosher 1994, pp. 6–8.
  15. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 235–236.
  16. ^ Wormsley 2015, p. 189.
  17. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 3–5.
  18. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 271–272.
  19. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 379–386.
  20. ^ Belsham 1806, p. 558.
  21. ^ Szechi 1994, pp. 30–31.
  22. ^ Lynch 1992, p. 302.
  23. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 398–399.
  24. ^ Coward 1980, p. 460.
  25. ^ Harris 2007, pp. 404–406.
  26. ^ Roberts 2000, p. 214.
  27. ^ Shukman 2012, p. 10.
  28. ^ a b Lynch 1992, p. 303.
  29. ^ Ferguson 1887, pp. 274–278.
  30. ^ Brown, Mann & Tanner 2005, pp. 208–244.
  31. ^ Lynch 1992, p. 300.
  32. ^ Lynch 1992, p. 304.
  33. ^ Mackie, Lenman & Parker 1986, pp. 252–253.
  34. ^ Lynch 1992, p. 305.
  35. ^ Lenman 1995, p. 35.
  36. ^ Lenman 1995, p. 44.
  37. ^ Mackie, Lenman & Parker 1986, pp. 282–284.
  38. ^ Szechi & Sankey 2001, p. 97.
  39. ^ Mitchison 1990, p. 129.