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. (November 2017)
During his three-year reign, King James II became directly involved in the political battles in England between Catholicism and Protestantism, and between the concept of the divine right of kings and the political rights of the Parliament of England. James's greatest political problem was his Catholicism, which left him alienated from both parties in England. The low church Whigs had failed in their attempt to pass the Exclusion Bill to exclude James from the throne between 1679 and 1681, and James's supporters were the high church Anglican Tories. In Scotland, his supporters in the Parliament of Scotland stepped up attempts to force the Covenanters to renounce their faith and accept episcopalian rule of the church by the monarch.
When James inherited the English throne in 1685, he had much support in the 'Loyal Parliament', which was composed mostly of Tories. His Catholicism was of concern to many, but the fact that he had no son, and his daughters, Mary and Anne, were Protestants, was a "saving grace". James's attempt to relax the Penal Laws alienated his natural supporters, however, because the Tories viewed this as tantamount to disestablishment of the Church of England. Abandoning the Tories, James looked to form a 'King's party' as a counterweight to the Anglican Tories, so in 1687 James supported the policy of religious toleration and issued the Declaration of Indulgence. The majority of Irish people backed James II for this reason and also because of his promise to the Irish Parliament of a greater future autonomy. By allying himself with the Catholics, Dissenters, and Nonconformists, James hoped to build a coalition that would advance Catholic emancipation.
In May 1686, James decided to obtain from the English courts of the common law a ruling that affirmed his power to dispense with Acts of Parliament. He dismissed judges who disagreed with him on this matter as well as the Solicitor General Heneage Finch. Eleven out of the twelve judges ruled in favour of dispensing power. When Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, did not ban John Sharp from preaching after he gave an anti-Catholic sermon, James ordered his removal.
In April 1687, James ordered the fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford to elect a Catholic, Anthony Farmer, as their president. The fellows believed Farmer ineligible under the college's statutes and so elected John Hough instead. The college statutes required them to fill the vacancy within a certain time and so could not wait for a further royal nomination. James refused to view Hough's election as valid and told the fellows to elect the Bishop of Oxford. James responded by sending some ecclesiastical commissioners to hold a visitation and install him as president. The fellows then agreed to the Bishop of Oxford as their president but James required that they admit they had been in the wrong and ask for his pardon. When they refused most of the fellows were ejected and replaced by Catholics.
In 1687, James prepared to pack Parliament with his supporters so that it would repeal the Test Act and the penal laws. James was convinced by addresses from Dissenters that he had their support and so could dispense with relying on Tories and Anglicans. James instituted a wholesale purge of those in offices under the crown opposed to James's plan. In August the lieutenancy was remodelled and in September over one thousand members of the city livery companies were ejected. In October James gave orders for the lords lieutenants in the provinces to provide three standard questions to all members of the Commission of the peace: would they consent to the repeal of the Test Act and the penal laws; would they assist candidates who would do so; and they were requested to accept the Declaration of Indulgence. In December it was announced that all the offices of deputy lieutenants and Justices of the Peace would be revised. Therefore, during the first three months of 1688, hundreds of those who gave hostile replies to the three questions asked were dismissed. More far-reaching purges were applied to the towns: in November a regulating committee was founded to operate the purges. Corporations were purged by agents given wide discretionary powers in an attempt to create a permanent royal electoral machine. Finally, on 24 August 1688,[a] James ordered writs to be issued for a general election.
James also created a large standing army and employed Catholics in positions of power within it. To his opponents in Parliament this seemed like a prelude to arbitrary rule, so James prorogued Parliament without gaining their consent. At this time, the English regiments of the army were encamped at Hounslow, near the capital. It was feared that the location was intended to overawe the City. The army in Ireland was purged of Protestants, who were replaced with Catholics, and by 1688 James had more than 34,000 men under arms.
In April 1688, James re-issued the Declaration of Indulgence and ordered all clergymen to read it in their churches. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, and six other bishops (the Seven Bishops) wrote to James asking him to reconsider his policies, they were arrested on charges of seditious libel, but at trial they were acquitted to the cheers of the London crowd.
Matters came to a head in June 1688, when the King had a son, James; until then, the throne would have passed to his Protestant daughter, Mary. The prospect of a Catholic dynasty in the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland was now likely.