The Revolution Settlement of 1689, though it plainly limited monarchy in ways intended to prevent future monarchs from acting as James II had done, was certainly not made by enemies of monarchy. Monarchy was thought of as indispensable: without a monarch there would be either anarchy or a dictator, such as Cromwell. Nor was the monarch meant to be a figurehead. It was his job to govern; executive power was vested in him: it was for him to formulate policies and to order them to be carried out. This did not mean that he was to exercise arbitrary power. In coming to important decisions he was supposed to ask for advice, though he was not bound to ask the advice of any particular person, or body of persons, in any given case, much less to take that advice, if asked. Moreover, certain of his acts had to be performed in prescribed ways, through appropriate Ministers whose countersigning or sealing of the necessary documents rendered them responsible to the courts for any breaches of the law. For although the king could do no wrong, he was not above the law. It was for the courts to say what the law was, and for Parliament to alter it, in so far as it could be altered, for at this time there was a general belief in fundamental law, unalterable by any human authority. The substance of the constitution, for example, was thought of as unalterable. Even Parliament, therefore, though mighty, was limited. The king, as part of Parliament, possessed and exercised specific powers', to veto Bills, which William did more than once; to dissolve or prorogue Parliament; and to modify the composition of the upper house by appointments to bishoprics and the creation of peers.
LRB 4 September 1980 | PDF Download