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Colonial New England

Colonial New England

King William III in Colonial New England

King William III (1650-1702), also called William of Orange or William Henry, Prince of Orange, reigned as king of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1689-1702, ruling jointly with his wife Queen Mary II until her death in 1694. His reign was a turning point in the constitutional history of Britain.

At 22, William became stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands and admiral for life. Five years later, in 1677, he married the English Princess Mary, Protestant daughter of the Roman Catholic James, Duke of York. English subjects began urging William to seize the English throne the late 1680s, as his father-in-law (now King James II) increasingly antagonized them with his autocratic policies. In 1688, when James's wife gave birth to a son and heir to the throne (creating a Roman Catholic succession), it was the final straw. William sailed against England, landing in Devon before marching on London with a force of 15,000 men. King James II abdicated and fled for his life. William allowed James to escape to France and summoned a Convention Parliament, which offered him the crown jointly with his wife. This bloodless "Glorious Revolution" permanently shifted the English balance of power from the monarchy to Parliament. Together with the Whigs, William went on to pass the Toleration Act (1689), which dictated that only Anglicans could hold office and that Protestant dissenters, but not Catholics, could now worship freely. The crown forced the colonies to obey the Toleration Act, so colonial Puritans had to allow other Protestants in their midst to worship freely. This changing climate produced a considerable amount of tension in New England, particularly among the Puritan clergy, who felt that their influence was slipping and that they were being forced to allow "Devil worship" to occur in their midst. William and Mary also passed the English Bill of Rights, which gave Parliament control over taxation and guaranteed all Englishmen certain "undoubted" rights, such as trial by jury.

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