Monday, July 14, 2014

20 May 1690 - King William III's 'Act of Grace and Free Pardon'

SAM 5876



(Illustration - Landing of William Prince of Orange at Torbay, a Sentinel Premium Picture, 1899)

In May 1690, when William of Orange was preparing to set sail for Ireland, he introduced to England a new law called the 'Act of Grace', which absolved his opponents and those who had been supporters of his deposed predecessor, King James II, from any retribution for their previous treasons. The standard practice was to round up your enemies, imprison, execute or banish them. Not William. In a speech to Parliament he said:

"My Lords and Gentlemen,

I am resolved to leave nothing unattempted on my part, which may contribute to the peace and prosperity of this nation... it's sufficient to know how earnestly I have endeavoured to extinguish, or at least compose all differences amongst my subjects, and to that end, how often I have recommended an Act of Indemnity to the last Parliament... I intend to send you an Act of Grace, with exceptions of some few persons only but as such as may be sufficient to shew my great dislike of their crimes, and at the same time my readiness to extend protection to all my other subjects, who will thereby see, that they can recommend themselves to me by no other methods than what the Laws prescribe, which shall always be the only Rules of my Government..." In the same speech William said "I must recommend also to your consideration an Union with Scotland ..."

It was of course politically astute to stabilise England before setting off for Ireland. But it was also a shocking act of generosity. William's Act of Grace excluded some 30 English nobles (some are listed on page 30 here) to make public examples of them, but they were never prosecuted apart from a few who were later involved in plots against William. It was written 'no process has been issued against any of them; not a penny of their estates, nor one hair of their heads hath been touched, and several of them have even sat in the House of Lords as our legislators'.

The Act was viewed even by William's supporters as an 'extraordinary and indeed too indiscriminate lenity'.  Lord Delamere described it as 'a general bill of grace and free pardon and without regard to exemplary justice for those treasons and murders and other high crimes committed before his coming hither". The Earl of Shrewsbury was so outraged by the leniency of the Act that he resigned as a Secretary of State in protest.

Two weeks later William set sail, on 4th June 1690, for Ireland. 

The theologians among you will see parallels here. The only solution to broken Law is an Act of Grace from the King himself.

Religions still insist that God's favour can be earned by human merit - by observing rituals and sacraments and traditions and financial donations. The message of the Gospel, recovered at the Reformation when people read the Bible for themselves, is that we are all lawbreakers. An Act of Grace from the Lawmaker Himself is what was required, a personal intervention - which was given at Calvary in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith Alone by Grace Alone in Christ Alone.