He fled to London to hear that his daughter Anne had left St. James's to join Danby at Nottingham. "God help me," cried the wretched King, "for my own children have forsaken me!" His spirit was utterly broken; and though he promised to call the Houses together, and despatched commissioners to Hungerford to treat with William on the terms of a free Parliament, in his heart he had resolved on flight. Parliament, he said to the few who still clung to him, would force on him concessions he could not endure; and he only waited for news of the escape of his wife and child to make his way to the Isle of Sheppey, where a hoy lay ready to carry him to France. Some rough fishermen, who took him for a Jesuit, prevented his escape, and a troop of Life Guards brought him back in safety to London: but it was the policy of William and his advisers to further a flight which removed their chief difficulty out of the way. It would have been hard to depose James had he remained, and perilous to keep him prisoner: but the entry of the Dutch troops into London, the silence of the Prince, and an order to leave St. James's, filled the King with fresh terrors, and taking advantage of the means of escape which were almost openly placed at his disposal, James a second time quitted London and embarked on the 23rd of December unhindered for France.
Before flying James had burnt most of the writs convoking the new Parliament, had disbanded his army, and destroyed so far as he could all means of government. For a few days there was a wild burst of panic and outrage in London, but the orderly instinct of the people soon reasserted itself. The Lords who were at the moment in London provided on their own authority as Privy Councillors for the more pressing needs of administration, and resigned their authority into William's hands on his arrival. The difficulty which arose from the absence of any person legally authorized to call Parliament together was got over by convoking the House of Peers, and forming a second body of all members who had sat in the Commons in the reign of Charles the Second, with the Aldermen and Common Councillors of London. Both bodies requested William to take on himself the provisional government of the kingdom, and to issue circular letters inviting the electors of every town and county to send up representatives to a Convention which met in January, 1689. In the new Convention both Houses were found equally resolved against any recall of or negotiation with the fallen King. They were united in entrusting a provisional authority to the Prince of Orange. But with this step their unanimity ended.
The Whigs, who formed a majority in the Commons, voted a resolution which, illogical and inconsistent as it seemed, was well adapted to unite in its favour every element of the opposition to James: the Churchman who was simply scared by his bigotry, the Tory who doubted the right of a nation to depose its King, the Whig who held the theory of a contract between King and People. They voted that King James, "having endeavoured to subvert the constitution of this kingdom by breaking the original contract between King and People, and by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of the kingdom, has abdicated the Government, and that the throne is thereby vacant." But in the Lords, where the Tories were still in the ascendant, the resolution was fiercely debated. Archbishop Sancroft with the high Tories held that no crime could bring about a forfeiture of the crown, and that James still remained King, but that his tyranny had given the nation a right to withdraw from him the actual exercise of government and to entrust his functions to a Regency. The moderate Tories under Danby's guidance admitted that James had ceased to be King, but denied that the throne could be vacant, and contended that from the moment of his abdication the sovereignty vested in his daughter Mary. It was in vain that the eloquence of Halifax backed the Whig peers in struggling for the resolution of the Commons as it stood.
The plan of a Regency was lost by a single vote, and Danby's scheme was adopted by a large majority. But both the Tory courses found a sudden obstacle in William. He declined to be Regent. He had no mind, he said to Danby, to be his wife's gentleman-usher. Mary, on the other hand, refused to accept the crown save in conjunction with her husband. The two declarations put an end to the question. It was agreed that William and Mary should be acknowledged as joint sovereigns, but that the actual administration should rest with William alone. A Parliamentary Committee in which the most active member was John Somers, a young lawyer who had distinguished himself in the trial of the Bishops and who was destined to play a great part in later history, drew up a Declaration of Rights which was presented on February 13th to William and Mary by the two Houses in the banqueting-room at Whitehall. It recited the misgovernment of James, his abdication, and the resolve of the Lords and Commons to assert the ancient rights and liberties of English subjects. It condemned as illegal his establishment of an ecclesiastical commission, and his raising an army without Parliamentary sanction.
It denied the right of any king to suspend or dispense with laws, or to exact money, save by consent of Parliament. It asserted for the subject a right to petition, to a free choice of representatives in Parliament, and to a pure and merciful administration of justice. It declared the right of both Houses to liberty of debate. It demanded securities for the free exercise of their religion by all Protestants, and bound the new sovereign to maintain the Protestant religion and the law and liberties of the realm. In full faith that these principles would be accepted and maintained by William and Mary, it ended with declaring the Prince and Princess of Orange King and Queen of England. At the close of the Declaration, Halifax, in the name of the Estates of the Realm, prayed them to receive the crown. William accepted the offer in his own name and his wife's, and declared in a few words the resolve of both to maintain the laws and to govern by advice of Parliament.