Queen, Parliament Laud 1688 Constitutional Revolution
LONDON (AP) _ With trumpet fanfare and honor guards, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated with Parliament on Wednesday the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution that curbed royal power and paved the way for democratic freedoms.
The queen, speaking in Parliament’s 11th-century Westminster hall, told 1,500 lawmakers and guests the bloodless events that led to constitutional monarchy and a bill of rights ushered in ″an epoch of freedom under the law.″
″It was the beginning of a political process which has continued to the present day,″ she said, flanked by the bewigged leaders of the two British houses of Parliament, as well as leaders of nearly 40 Commonwealth countries which inherited their parliamentary systems from the British empire.
Some wore British-style black robes, others turbans, tricorner hats or tribal skirt and beads.
″No one could claim even today that the state has been perfected. In multi-cultural Britain, there is still a long way to go,″ she said. ″But after 1688 there were signposts to point the way.″
A bevy of royalty including the heir to the Dutch throne, Prince William of Orange, and a U.S. delegation led by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger from the College of William & Mary in Virginia, also sat near the queen during the pageantry-filled ceremony.
William and Mary, a staunchly Protestant Dutch prince and his English bride, took over the throne as constitutional monarchs ruling with Parliament’s consent after opposition to the authoritarian, pro-Catholic rule of James II, England’s last absolute monarch, drove him to exile. Mary was James’ daughter and William his nephew and third in line to the English throne.
After the new monarchs arrived from Holland, they accepted a parliament- made declaration of rights which became law in 1689 and underlined Parliament’s powers, called for it to meet frequently, and for its members to enjoy free speech and be elected freely.
It barred the throne from imposing taxes or raising armies in peace time without Parliament’s approval.
Nearly 100 years later, the restless American colonies drew from the English bill of rights and its resistance to authoritarianism in drafting their own Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
″It was a good example,″ said Burger, chancellor of the college which was founded by William and Mary in 1693 and designated by the U.S. Congress with presidential approval to represent the country at the ceremony.
″The Glorious Revolution was really the concept of ’we the people,‴ he said in an interview before the ceremony. ″It was the beginning of the end of the divine right of kings.″
Wednesday’s ceremony was one highlights of a year of tercentenary celebrations. The tercentenary, which will be feted with events from exhibitions to bicyle races, also has raised controversy.
Some historians argue that after 1688, power remained with the upper classes and Catholics were oppressed, most notably in Ireland, where James tried to stage a comeback and was defeated by William in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne.
Jonathan Clark, an Oxford University professor who has written two books on the era, said in an interview that freedoms evolved slowly.
″(They) must be defended, but I don’t think they can be safeguarded by pointing to one document. It’s dangerous to deal in illusions,″ he said.
Addressing Wednesday’s gathering, Speaker of the House of Commons Bernard Weatherill said, ″Some have questioned the significance of the revolutionary settlement of 1689 and the motives of those involved.
″But the facts are plain. Before the bill of rights was passed, those rights often had been set aside or denied. Since 1689, they have never been successfully challenged.″
The queen, her husband the Duke of Edinburgh and the Dutch Prince William were spending the night at Torbay in southern England, near the spot where William landed. On Thursday they will watch 400 Dutch and British boats re- enact William’s arrival.