The Bill of Rights, entitled "An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown", is one of the basic documents of English constitutional law. It was signed in 1689 by William of Orange and Mary II in return for their being affirmed as co-rulers of England and Ireland by the English Parliament after the Glorious Revolution.
The basic tenets of the Bill of Rights were:
- Englishmen possessed certain civil and political rights that could not be taken away. These included:
- freedom from royal interference with the law
- freedom from taxation by royal prerogative, without agreement by Parliament
- freedom to petition the king
- freedom to bear arms for self-defence
- freedom to elect members of Parliament
- the freedom of speech in Parliament
- freedom from cruel and unusual punishments
- freedom from fines and forfeitures without trial
- Certain acts of James II were specifically named and declared illegal on this basis.
- The flight of James from England in the wake of the Glorious Revolution amounted to abdication of the throne.
- Roman Catholics could not be king or queen of England.
- William and Mary were the successors of James.
- Succession should pass to the heirs of Mary, then to Mary's sister Princess Anne of Denmark and her heirs, then to any heirs of William by a later marriage.
The Bill of Rights was later supplemented by the Act of Settlement in 1701.
The Bill of Rights was a major step in the evolution of the British government towards parliamentary supremacy, and the curtailment of the rights of the monarchy. In doing so it largely settled the political and religious turmoil that had convulsed Scotland, England and Ireland in the 17th century. After the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights is an important step in England's progress towards a constitutional monarchy.
The English Bill of Rights can be regarded as a predecessor of the United States Constitution.
For a later document of the same name, see the American Bill of Rights