England: Heads of State: 1688 - Archontology
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England: Heads of State: 1688

The Final Days of James II's Reign (11 Dec 1688 - 23 Dec 1688)

The provisional government of Peers of the Realm, set up on 11 Dec 1688 to maintain law and order in the king's absence, ceased to function on 15 Dec 1688 on the eve of James II's announced return to London. The arrival of the Prince of Orange (later William III) to London (18 Dec 1688) also did not fill in the vacuum of supreme political authority, which was still considered to belong to the king.

After the king's removal from London on the insistence of peers (18 Dec 1688), a number of Lords Spiritual and Temporal assembled in the Queen's Council Chamber, at St. James's Palace, on 21 Dec 1688 in response to the summons issued by the Prince of Orange on 20 Dec 1688. About seventy peers attended the meeting on 21 Dec 1688 and the Prince made a short speech, the written version of which, together with his earlier Declaration, was read "by their Lordships' order by Mr Gwyn at the head of the table." The Prince requested them to consider the state of the country, and to lay before him the result of their deliberations. On 22 Dec 1688 the peers met in the House of Lords. That day was employed in settling the order of proceeding.

Transitional Period (23 Dec 1688 - 28 Dec 1688)

The final departure of James II for the continent (23 Dec 1688) marked the actual end of his reign and left the nation virtually without a head of state. As the Prince of Orange had not assumed any legal authority by that time, the representatives of the Lords and the Commons of England present in London were the only supreme authority, though not assembled either in a parliament or a house.

The Peers met in the House of Lords, at Westminster, on three occasions, on 24, 25, and 28 Dec 1688. On 24 Dec 1688, in the aftermath of the king's flight, the Lords prepared two addresses to the Prince, which were approved and presented to him on Christmas Day (25 Dec 1688) without waiting for the issue of the deliberations of the commoners. The addresses asked the Prince to summon a convention and to assume the administration of affairs "untill the meeting of the intended Convention, the 22d of January next."

Relying not on the advice of the Lords alone, the Prince also summoned (23 Dec 1688) a number of members of Charles II's parliaments and common councilmen, who met with him at St. James's Palace on 26 Dec 1688. On their return to Westminster to consider the best method of calling a free parliament the same day, they met at Saint Stephen's Chapel. Addresses were proposed and adopted similar to those which the Lords had already presented. Some attempts to raise a debate on points of form were put down by the general contempt. Sir Robert Sawyer declared that he could not conceive how it was possible for the Prince to administer the government without some distinguishing title, such as Regent or Protector, but the assembly refused to consider such issue after a sarcastic remark from Maynard. On the following morning (27 Dec 1688), Henry Powle read the addresses to William, praying that he would assume the administration and call a convention.

The transitional period came to an end on 28 Dec 1688. With the Lords assembled in the Queen's Presence Chamber, at St. James's, the Prince of Orange made a speech announcing that he agreed to take on himself the executive administration and that he "will endeavour to secure the peace of the nation, untill the meeting of the Convention in January next." On 29 Dec 1688 the Prince signed the writs summoning a Convention, which was elected and took over the supreme authority on 22 Jan 1689. Information source: [1; 2].

[1] "A kingdom without a king. The journal of the provisional government in the revolution of 1688", by Robert Beddard (Oxford, 1988).
[2] "The Law and Working of the Constitution: Documents 1660-1914. Vol. I: 1660-1783", by W.A. Costin and J. Steven Watson (Adam & Charles Black, London, 1961).