The term Glorious Revolution refers to the generally popular overthrow of James II of England in 1688. The event is sometimes referred to as the "Bloodless Revolution", but this name is not strictly accurate; modern historians prefer the more neutral "Revolution of 1688".
During his three-year reign, King James II fell victim to the political battle in the British Isles between Catholicism and Protestantism, between the divine right of the Crown and the political rights of Parliament. James's greatest political problem was his Catholicism which left him alienated from both parties in Parliament. Any attempts at reform by James were thus viewed with great suspicion. James also pursued a number of untenable policies, such as a desire for a standing army and a pursuit of religious toleration.
While his brother and predecessor, Charles II, had done the same, he had not been an overt Catholic like James. Matters came to a head in 1688 when James fathered a son. Until then, the throne would have passed to his Protestant daughter, Mary. The prospect of a Catholic dynasty in Britain was now real, however. Leaders of the hitherto loyal Tory Party united with members of the opposition Whigs and set out to solve the crisis.
A conspiracy (see the Immortal Seven) was launched to depose James and replace him with his daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange — both Protestants. William was stadtholder of the Netherlands, then in the early stages of a war with the French: the War of the Grand Alliance. Jumping at the chance to add England to his alliance, William and Mary landed at Brixham, Devon on November 5, 1688 with a large Dutch army. James' nerve broke, his army under the future Duke of Marlborough deserted, and he fled to Kent where he was captured. The memory of the execution of Charles I still being strong, he was then allowed to leave for France.
In 1689, the Convention Parliament convened and declared that James' flight amounted to abdication. William and Mary were offered the throne as joint rulers, an arrangement which they accepted. On February 13 1689 Mary II and William III jointly acceeded to the throne of England. Although their succession to the English throne was relatively peaceful an uprising occurred in support of James in Scotland, the first Jacobite rebellion, and in Ireland where James used local Catholic feeling to try to regain the throne in 1689–1690. It can thus be seen as much more of a coup d'état than an authentic revolution. England stayed calm throughout, the uprising in the Scottish Highlands was quelled despite the Jacobite victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie, and James was expelled from Ireland following the Battle of the Boyne.
The Revolution of 1688 was one of the most important events in the long evolution of powers possessed by Parliament and by the Crown in England. With the passage of the Bill of Rights it stamped out any final possibility of a Catholic monarchy, and ended moves towards monarchical absolutism in the British Isles by circumscribing the monarch's powers. Since 1689, England, and later the United Kingdom, has been governed under a system of constitutional monarchy, which has been uninterrupted.
The success of the revolution came three years after the failure of the Monmouth Rebellion to overthrow the king.
- Jones, J. R. (1972). The Revolution of 1688 in England. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
- Prall, Stuart (1972). The Bloodless Revolution. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company
Last updated: 10-19-2005 13:35:01