Page 8 - History 2020
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5.  Did it make parliament supreme over the monarchy?

            Britain has an unwritten constitution. This means it must be sought in specific
            precedents and conventions. In practice this means you have to search through
            diverse documents scattered throughout history such as parliamentary and court
            rulings and statutes (laws passed by parliament). This makes it difficult to pin down.
            Historians and experts on constitutional law and history have to be consulted. Critics
            like historian Linda Colley say that this is a problem because it makes our constitution
            elitist. Ordinary people are reliant on such experts to discover what our constitution
            actually says. Potentially this makes it easier for governments to abuse their


            As part of the 1688 settlement making William and Mary co-rulers, Parliament issued
            two such documents, the Bill of Rights and the Toleration Act. As constitutional
            documents they are rather underwhelming. On the whole they rehashed existing
            rights and tolerances. They certainly did not make parliament dominant over the
            monarchy. There is a good reason for this. In 1688 parliament was in no position to

            impose conditions on William. They needed him more than he needed them. At one
            point during the negotiations he considered returning home. He insisted on
            becoming co-ruler with his wife Mary; Mary was of the same mind. He resisted
            having new restrictions put on his powers.

            Even so, 1688 did change things; although it wasn’t Parliament who actually invited
            William to come, it did officially assert his legitimacy as king. But Parliament didn’t
            make him legitimate; his marriage to Mary and James’ (alleged) desertion did that.

            The Bill of Rights mainly reasserted existing law. It said that William as king must
            obey the law, but didn’t say how this law should be made or what, if any, sanctions
            there were.

            *Hence the saying, “In Britain, what is constitutional is what you can get away with.”

            What actually asserted parliament over William wasn’t 1688 but what happened

            after. Britain kept its bargain and supplied William with men and money for his war
            against Louis XIV. The vast expense involved prompted parliament to give the war
            expenditure very close scrutiny. William had no choice but to go cap-in-hand to
            parliament for the money he desperately needed. Unlike in 1688, he now needed
            them more than they him. Financial experts from the Netherlands also helped advise
            the British to set up a Dutch-style Bank of England in 1694; sound credit would
            enable the British to finance the 18  century wars which brought them the British
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