From what I understand (although my English history is very poor), to be the monarch of England, one must convert to Anglicanism, as the monarch is also the head of the Anglican Church. I believed this had extended since the beginning of the Anglican Church with Henry VIII. But, I recently learned that James II and VII (just one person, two titles) was the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Ireland, and Scotland (on the Wikipedia page for him), and he reigned in the late 1680s. Even just looking on the Wikipedia page for Anglicanism, it seems as though it was fairly well established by the 1680s, especially since Henry VIII reigned in the early 1500s. Am I missing something? Why was James II not forced to convert to Anglicanism? (And, if James II was allowed to keep his religion, would a modern-day English monarch be allowed to as well, or is there a legal reason why not today that there wasn't during the 17th century?)

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    I point out that Mary I was a Catholic and returned England to Catholicism during her reign in 1553-1558.
    – MAGolding
    Aug 7, 2018 at 19:44
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    This was kind of exactly what the Glorious Revolution was about.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 7, 2018 at 20:02
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    @MAGolding: And Elizabeth I was an Anglican who ruled following Mary's death until 1603, and returned the country again to Anglicanism, though perhaps a more tolerant one than previously. Aug 7, 2018 at 22:06
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    He was put under great pressure to convert but refused. After some further political mistakes (e.g. favouring Catholics who'd been kicked out by William of Orange) he was shown the exit. Aug 8, 2018 at 10:52

5 Answers 5


There was a Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 that resulted from the collapse of the Cromwell regime through the death of Oliver Cromwell, and the inability of his son to grasp the reins of power.

The restoration of the Anglican church as initially seen as a "compromise" between the pro-Cromwell Presbyterians, the "centrist" Anglicans, and the Catholics *the other extreme), who included Charles II and his brother James II.

During Charles' lifetime, opinion was split was to whether Charles II's (and James') catholicism would be tolerated, with the Tories for, and the Whigs against the position. There was an uneasy "truce" on this matter because of Charles II's personal popularity.

After Charles II died, James II who inherited throne was unpopular, and his unpopularity led to the Glorious Revolution and the revocation of his right, and that of all future kings,to be anything other than Anglican, possibly even to this day. The reason that James II was not "forced" to convert to Anglcism was because after he was overthrown, he chose exile instead.

  • Charles II may have been attracted to Roman Catholicism, but he was too wily to convert, until his deathbed. He even insisted that his brother's daughters, presumptive heiresses in line, were educated as Anglicans.
    – TheHonRose
    Apr 3, 2019 at 13:31
  • @TheHonRose: Yes, Charles II "played it cagey" and kept them guessing. But they did guess, because Charles II was clearly "soft" of Catholicism. And Nell Gwynn was known as "the Protestant whore" for a reason.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 3, 2019 at 15:23
  • Just pointing out Richard Cromwell didn't want the reins of power and probably never wielded any actual authority, because there was no money to pay the army.
    – Spencer
    Oct 4, 2022 at 14:34

The law requiring that the monarch be Protestant was passed in 1701 (This was ultimately due to James' behaviour which led to his deposition) As such, the answer is, because there was no such requirement.

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    The passage of a law in 1701 does not entail the absence of a similar law in 1685, so this answer is not complete.
    – C Monsour
    Aug 8, 2018 at 23:11
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    @CMonsour in the context of the question I am stating that the law he's thinking of was passed in 1701. I personally feel it's clear enough in context, especially considering my statement in brackets, that there was not a previous one; if you feel that it needs to be stated explicitly feel free to add your own answer.
    – user31561
    Aug 9, 2018 at 8:36

To answer this one, go back a little to January 1649. This is a speech by James II's father, Charles I, at his trial.

I would know by what power I am called hither... I would know by what authority, I mean lawful; there are many unlawful authorities in the world; thieves and robbers by the high - ways ...

Remember, I am your King, your lawful King, and what sins you bring upon your heads, and the judgement of God upon this land. Think well upon it, I say, think well upon it, before you go further from one sin to a greater ...

I have a trust committed to me by God, by old and lawful descent, I will not betray it, to answer a new unlawful authority; therefore resolve me that, and you shall hear more of me. I do stand m ore for the liberty of my people, than any here that come to be my pretended judges ... I do not come here as submitting to the Court. I will stand as much for the privilege of the House of Commons, rightly understood, as any man here whatsoever: I see no House of Lords here, that may constitute a Parliament.

Let me see a legal authority warranted by the Word of God, the Scriptures, or warranted by the constitutions of the Kingdom, and I will answer.

Going back a little further still, before the civil war, the King's opponents tried to challenge the legality of the Ship Money tax in the courts, on the grounds that taxes not approved by parliament were illegal. In 1636, a judge in this case called Lord Berkeley made the following comment in his decision.

The law, knows no such king-yoking policy. The law is an old and trusty servant of the king's; it is his instrument or means which he useth to govern his people by. I never read or heard that Lex was Rex, but it is common and most true that Rex is Lex, for he is Lex loquens, a living, a speaking, an acting law.

In 1660, the restoration swept away all innovations made by the Commonwealth. In the eyes of most Britons, the treasonous ideas of the parliamentarians had been discredited by the lawlessness, tyranny and hardship of the past two decades.

So, you ask why, in the 1680s, the king was not 'forced' to convert to Anglicanism. He could not be forced to do anything, except unlawfully by force, which would break the state. After putting to end, as they saw it, an era of chaos caused by treason against the king, Britain's elite were understandably reluctant to make the same mistake again.


This question was extensively debated during the reign of his predecessor Charles II and defined the politics of the late 1670s and early 1680s. You can read extensively about this by searching on the phrase "Exclusion Crisis". Simply put, those who wanted to exclude James from the succession lost that particular battle at that time.


In a nutshell, Elizabeth died without children.

The Scottish King, James VI was invited to take the English crown and merge the Scottish and English crowns together.

James was a Protestant so this posed no problem. He became James I of England. As he was already James VI of Scotland, both numbers were used.

His son is Charles I who is the king executed during the English Civil War. Charles I is followed by his oldest son Charles II who returns from exile in France. He is well liked but dies childless.

The younger son James II and VII then becomes King. Problem is, James had become a Catholic while in exile in France. Suddenly, after 150 years of protestant rule a Catholic is back on the throne.

He lasts about 3 years until the Protestant establishment in both England and Scotland make an alliance with Holland and bring over William of Orange who has Anglo-Scottish royal blood.

A number of important events happen around this time.

Darien disaster - Scotland attempts to create a colony in the new world. It fails and the investors lose pretty much everything. Scotland practically bankrupts itself and is forced into parliamentary union with England to cover its debts.

It's made law that Catholics cannot be monarch.

Battle of the Boyne - last real chance of Catholics to turn the war around ends in their defeat. The last Catholic armies are allowed to flee to France which takes much of the Irish aristocracy out of the country - flight of the wild geese.

William of Orange is the reason the color orange is used in Ireland to represent the protestants including on the Irish flag.

The name James in Latin is Jacobus. Those who supported the exiled King became known as Jacobites. They launch several rebellions over the next 50 years ending with the defeat of Prince Charles Stuart's army at Culloden in 1746.

After that the Jacobites were finished and there was no chance of a Catholic monarch reigning in Britain.

  • Your timeline is all messed up. Mary dies in 1558, James II ascends in 1685, a difference of only 127 years. William III and Mary II ascend in 1688. Battle of Boyne occurs in 1690 with King Billy in personal command of British forces. Darien disaster occurs another 8 years later in 1698. Your thesis doesn't hold up with these corrected dates. Aug 8, 2018 at 8:52
  • @Pieter Geerkens No, you're wrong, Mary came before Elizabeth (who reigned almost 50 years) so has nothing to do with my timeline which is primarily about the House of Stuart. The Darien disaster and the Boyne both take place after the 1688 revolution. They're not in any particular order here, just thrown in as they are relevant to the time period.
    – Daniel
    Aug 8, 2018 at 9:26

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