How the House triumphed in 1689: Jonathan Foster recalls the origins of the Bill of Rights, invoked by the Speaker yesterday

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Indy Politics
THE BILL of Rights was an act of supremacy. Passed in 1689, it asserted Parliament's triumph in the long struggle with Stuart kings and their tyrannical interpretation of their powers.

Its full title was: An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown. Its effect, as one of the keystones of the English (and later, British) Constitution, was to prepare the ground for laws ensuring that Hanoverian Protestants would sit on the throne with powers subject to the will of a Parliament elected every three years.

Parliament in 1689 was not in revolutionary mood. The Bill claimed only to confirm existing law, those concessions won from monarchy during the English Revolution. But James II spread anxiety among nobility, gentry and bourgeoisie determined to be rid of arbitrary Government without unleashing the fiercely democratic mood of the masses.

James suspended Parliament soon after his succession in 1685. He flirted with Catholicism and made his Catholic Queen pregnant, raising the spectre of English subjugation to the oppression of Rome. He suspended laws when it suited him, but used the compliant judges of the King's Bench in Godden v Hales to confirm his right to over-rule laws made by Parliament.

The Bill, passed after representatives of powerful English interests persuaded William of Orange to take the crown, sought through a number of clauses to exclude royal influence over Parliamentary procedure. Neither taxes nor armies could be raised without Parliament's approval, and laws could not be repealed by a monarch.