Glorious Revolution (Britain)

views updated May 29 2018


GLORIOUS REVOLUTION (BRITAIN). The Glorious Revolution was the term contemporaries coined to refer to the events of 16881689 that led to the overthrow of the Catholic James II (ruled 16851688) in England (and thereby also in Ireland and Scotland) and his replacement by the Protestant William III and Mary II (ruled 16891702). Some historians see the Glorious Revolution as a Whig victory that established limited monarchy in England; others have emphasized the important role of the Tories in bringing down James II and stressed the compromise nature of the revolution settlement; still others have seen it as little more than a foreign invasion, a dynastic coup brought about from outside and from above (within the royal family), not from below. One thing is certain: the Glorious Revolution was not "bloodless," as it was once styled. Not only was there some blood shed in England, but the overthrow of James II provoked bloody wars in both Scotland and Ireland, which left a bitter and longlasting legacy.


James II inherited a strong position when he came to the throne in 1685. The Tory reaction of Charles II's (ruled 16601685) last years had not only seen a ruthless campaign against all forms of political and religious dissent (with Whigs being purged from local office and Nonconformist conventiclers harried in the law courts) and an effective bolstering of the powers of the crown, but also witnessed a marked swing in public opinion. People rallied behind the crown and the legitimate heir against what they saw as a threat to the existing establishment in church and state posed by the Whigs and their Nonconformist allies. James's accession in February 1685 was broadly popular, as evidenced by numerous loyalist demonstrations and addresses, and when he met his first Parliament in May, a mere 57 members of Parliament (out of a total of 513) were known Whigs, thanks in part to Charles II's interference in borough franchises during his final years, but also due to a shift in opinion in favor of the Tories. Although James Scott, the duke of Monmouth, and a few radical Whigs did launch a rebellion that summer to try to overthrow James, it met with very little support.

Nevertheless, despite promises at the beginning of his reign that he would respect his subjects' rights and liberties and protect the existing Protestant establishment in the church, James immediately set about advancing the interests of his fellow Catholics through the royal prerogative. Thus he issued dispensations to Catholics from the provisions of the Test Act of 1673, which restricted political office to communicating members of the Church of England, winning a decisive test case in favor of the dispensing powerGodden v. Hales in June 1686 (though only after a purge of the judicial bench). He also promoted the public celebration of the Mass; sought to undermine the Anglican monopoly of education by forcing the universities to admit Catholics; issued a Declaration of Indulgence (April 1687), which in one fell swoop suspended all penal laws against Protestant and Catholic nonconformists; and engaged in a campaign to pack Parliament so that he could establish Catholic toleration by law.

His initiatives, however, met with considerable obstruction from the ToryAnglican interest. His loyalist Parliament of 1685 called for a strict enforcement of the laws against Catholics and condemned the dispensations given to Catholic officers in the army and had to be prorogued before the end of the year; the Anglican clergy began delivering fiery sermons against popery, which led the king to set up an Ecclesiastical Commission to keep them in line; and the ToryAnglican squierarchy, in response to a poll conducted by the crown, overwhelmingly refused to commit themselves to support a repeal of the penal laws in a forthcoming Parliament. When in April 1688 James tried to make the clergy read a reissue of his Declaration of Indulgence from the pulpit, most refused, and seven bishops petitioned the crown against the Indulgence on the grounds that it was against the law. The crown brought a prosecution against the seven bishops for seditious libel, but in June 1688 they were found not guilty by a King's Bench jury. In that same month, when James's second wife, Mary of Modena (16581718) gave birth to a son, who would take precedence in the succession over James's Protestant daughters by his first marriage, the prospect of a never-ending succession of Catholic kings led a group of seven politicians to invite the Dutch stadtholder William of Orange, husband of James's eldest daughter and fourth in line to the throne in his own right, to come and rescue English political and religious liberties. In the face of William's invasion, James began to backtrack and, following the advice of his bishops, agreed to abandon the dispensing and suspending power and his Ecclesiastical Commission and to restore things to the way they had been at the time of his accession. In short, it was the ToryAnglican interest who defeated the drift toward popery and arbitrary government under James.

Following William's landing at Torbay on 5 November 1688, members of the ruling elite and even sections of the army began to desert James, while anti-Catholic rioting broke out in many parts of the country. Although William invaded with a sizeable and well-trained professional army (estimates vary from between 14,000 and 21,000 men), James was able to send nearly 30,000 men to meet him at Salisbury Plain and had another 8,00010,000 men ready to bring into action. However, James was not defeated by an invading army; he panicked in the face of desertions by his subjects and opted to flee the country. Although his first attempt, in the early hours of 11 December, was unsuccessful, he did leave on 23 December, after William had already occupied the capital.


In January 1689, a Convention Parliament, which was evenly balanced between Whigs and Tories, met to settle the state of the nation. Most Tories hoped to preserve the hereditary principle either by keeping James as king with a regent ruling in his name or by settling the throne on his eldest daughter, Mary (taking comfort in the myth that the Prince of Wales had not really been delivered by the queen but had been smuggled into the bedchamber in a warmingpan). The Convention determined, however, that James, by breaking his contract with the people (a Whig doctrine) and withdrawing himself from the kingdom, had abdicated the government, and proceeded in early February to fill the vacancy by declaring William and Mary king and queen jointly (though with full regal power vested in William alone). The Convention then determined what powers they should give the new monarchs. Twenty-eight Heads of Grievances were drawn up, some of which were articulations of existing rights, others demands for constitutional reform. In the end, the Convention decided to leave out those grievances that would have required fresh legislation, and instead agreed to a Declaration of Rights (12 February) that purported to do no more than vindicate and assert ancient rights and liberties. There has been considerable controversy over whether or not the Declaration of Rights in fact made new law under the guise of proclaiming the old, especially with regard to its declarations that the suspending power, the dispensing power (as exercised under James), the Ecclesiastical Commission, and a standing army in time of peace without parliamentary consent were illegal. What can be said with confidence is that the framers of the Declaration of Rights genuinely believed that the powers they condemned were illegal, and that the Declaration reflected the concerns of both the Whigs and Tories.

William and Mary were proclaimed king and queen in London and Westminster on 13 February and shortly thereafter in the rest of the country; they were crowned on 11 April 1689. The Declaration of Rights was not the totality of the revolution settlement, however. Several of the reforms in the original Heads of Grievances that did not make it into the Declaration were enacted during William's reign: in April 1689, a Toleration Act secured limited toleration for Protestant nonconformists; in December, the Declaration of Rights was passed into law with the Bill of Rights, which also barred Catholics from the succession and prevented any future king or queen from marrying a Catholic; a Triennial Act of 1694 secured frequent Parliaments (the act stipulated that Parliaments must meet at least once every three years and that no Parliament was to last for more than three years without a dissolution), while the Act of Settlement of 1701, in addition to determining that the succession should pass to the Hanoverians once the Protestant Stuart line became extinct, also ensured the independence of the judiciary. Yet more than anything else, it was the revolution in foreign policy that accompanied the dynastic shift in 16881689 that changed the nature of the monarchy in England. The nation became involved in an expensive war against France, which resulted in the setting up of the Bank of England (1694) and the establishment of a national debt that had to be serviced by regular grants of taxation. This increased the monarchy's dependence on Parliament, while William's repeated absences from England in the 1690s, as he led the war effort on the Continent, led to the emergence of the cabinet system of government.

Whereas the revolution in England was a bipartisan affair, the same was not true for the other two kingdoms under Stuart rule. In Scotland, the Whigs and Presbyterians were able to forge a more radical settlement in church and state, overturning episcopacy and stripping the crown of many of the powers it possessed under Charles II and James II. The government did not succeed in putting down Jacobite resistance until May 1690, though Jacobite sentiment in the Highlands and among the Episcopalians of the northeast remained strong, helping to fuel further Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745. In Ireland, the Catholic majority declared for James II, who went there in March 1689 with the intention of trying to use the kingdom as base from which to reconquer Scotland and England. An overwhelmingly Catholic Parliament that met in Dublin in the spring of 1689 passed a legislative package restoring political and economic power to the Catholics; but this was undone by Williamite victory in the ensuing warthe turning point coming with William's victory at the Boyne on 1 July 1690 (after which James fled), although Jacobite resistance continued until the final surrender at Limerick on 3 October 1691. Following the peace, successive Protestant Parliaments passed a series of repressive penal laws designed to guarantee the Protestant ascendancy and make it extremely difficult for Catholics to exercise their religion, inherit property, engage in trade or practice a profession.

See also Church of England ; England ; Jacobitism ; James II (England) ; Stuart Dynasty (England and Scotland) ; William and Mary .


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Tim Harris

Glorious Revolution

views updated Jun 27 2018

Glorious Revolution. Title given to the revolution of 1688–9, which resulted in the ‘abdication’ of James II and the succession of William III and Mary II. Participants had differing objectives. Tories and Anglican clergy wanted to stop James undermining the church. Whigs aimed to depose James and limit the powers of the crown. Ordinary people detested James for his catholicism. William needed to remove a potential ally of Louis XIV and lead England into the war against France that had just begun. Louis left James unassisted, calculating that William's army would be tied down in an English campaign.

William had earlier established clandestine connections with leading politicians and army and navy officers hostile to James's policies. In June 1688 he instigated an invitation from two Tories, four Whigs, and Bishop Compton to intervene in order to prevent James continuing to favour catholics, expand and purge the army, and manipulate elections for a parliament that was to sit in November. The birth that month of an infant prince to James had transformed the political future: he would succeed James in place of Mary (his eldest, protestant daughter, married to William). But most people were persuaded that the infant was ‘suppositious’, somebody else's baby smuggled in to give the appearance of a royal birth. William's intervention was necessitated by the size of James's professional army. However, William was promised that most of its officers would defect. When this happened soon after William landed at Torbay on 5 November James found that he could not fight a battle. William moved on London unopposed while his adherents took over provincial centres. Demoralized, James tried to fly the country but was stopped. A second successful escape to France was the direct result of William's pressure. This left a vacuum. Tories wanted his return as a limited king, or for a regent to rule for him, or for Mary to reign as queen. Instead the Bill of Rights (1689) followed the Whig formula, construing James's flight as abdication, declaring the throne vacant, and William and Mary as joint sovereigns. But the limits it imposed on the crown were less than the Whigs desired. It made illegal royal claims to suspend laws and maintain an army without parliamentary approval. It barred catholics from succeeding. In Scotland the Revolution went further. James was deposed. Bishops were abolished, presbyterianism restored. Civil war resulted.

J. R. Jones

Glorious Revolution

views updated May 29 2018

Glorious Revolution (1688–89) Abdication of James II of England and his replacement with William III (of Orange) and Mary II. After James antagonized powerful subjects by his favour towards Roman Catholics, political leaders invited William to take the throne. William landed in November and James fled to France. It was called ‘Glorious’ because it occurred virtually without violence. In 1689, William and Mary ratified the Bill of Rights. In 1690, William defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne.