The Glorious Revolution or Bloodless Revolt, also known as the Revolution of 1688, was a coup d'état that took place in Britain, replacing the Catholic King James II, with the Protestants William of Orange and his wife Mary, who was James's daughter. Despite the often used title of "Bloodless", there was some fighting and loss of life, though none of it took place in England itself.
The cause of the overthrow was a combination of two battles taking place in England at the time; one was a battle between Protestantism and Catholicism, the other between the growing power of Parliament and the "Divine Right" of the King. James was unpopular and seen as a threat due to his Catholicism and his closeness to King Louis XIV of France. However attempts to exclude him from becoming King had been unsuccessful. William III and Mary II were effective rulers, Protestantism became firmly established, Parliament gained the upper hand in the government, and a Bill of Rights was issued to protect the rule of law from arbitrary royal power.
Crisis of 1688
Harris (2005) shows the monarchy's recovery, following the near-disaster of the Exclusion crisis of 1679-81. Charles used ruthless skill in defeating this attempt, by his Whig opponents, to exploit popular anti-Catholicism in order to keep his brother James from the succession. Charles soundly defeated the Whigs, but at a cost of making the Crown the prisoner of a Tory, Anglican faction, upon whose continuing co-operation it now depended. James' alienation of this group after 1685, through his pro-Catholic policies, caused his downfall and the Glorious Revolution.
At the death of King Charles II in 1685, his younger brother James II became king of England, Scotland and Ireland, alarming many leaders by his pro-Catholic policies. William let it be known he was available if invited by a very broad spectrum of English political leadership. Unrest escalated with the birth of a son to James by his wife, Mary of Modena, a Catholic, on June 10, 1688. Within a few days, an invitation, signed by seven prominent personages, was taken over to William with an assurance of military support if he effected a landing in England. William issued a "Declaration of Reasons", which immediately won widespread acceptance by the English elite as a statement of his policy. With 50 ships of the line (very large warships) and 14,000 men William landed on November. 5, 1688, and marched on London. There was no opposition as James' army melted away and the political leadership welcomed William. James in late December fled the country, thereby abdicating the throne. James received protection in France from King Louis XIV and began plotting schemes for the invasion of England with French and "Jacobite" military help. ("Jacobites" were the English and Scottish supporters of James and his sons.)
William insisted he would rule England as king and not merely as his wife's consort; accordingly, in February, 1689, Parliament offered the crown to William and Mary, each to have full sovereign rights. A similar offer was made by the Parliament of Scotland. The first stage of the English Revolution, with its advance toward constitutional monarchy and responsible government was complete with their double coronation on April 11, 1689, and their acceptance of the "Bill of Rights" (1689). It sharply limited royal power, prescribed the line of succession, and gave Parliament control of finances and of the army. Parliament was now supreme.
World empire or merchant economy?
The overthrow of James was hailed at the time, and ever since, as the "Glorious Revolution." Edmund Burke set the tone for over two centuries of historiographical analysis when he proclaimed that:
- The Revolution was made to preserve our ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that ancient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty.
Many historians have endorsed Burke's view, including Macaulay (1848) and more recently John Morrill, who captured the consensus of contemporary historiography well when he declared that "the Sensible Revolution of 1688—89 was a conservative Revolution." On the contrary, argues Pincus (2009), it was momentous, especially when looking at the alternative that James was trying to enact of a powerful centralized autocratic state. England's role in Europe and the country's political economy in the 17th century refutes the view of many late-20th century historians that nothing revolutionary occurred during the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. Pincus says it was not a placid turn of events. In diplomacy and economics James II transformed the English state's ideology and policies. This occurred not because James II was an outsider who inflicted foreign notions on England but because foreign affairs and political economy were at the core of the English revolutionaries' agenda. The revolution of 1688-89 cannot be fathomed in isolation. It would have been inconceivable without the transformations resulting from the events of the 1640s and 1650s. Indeed, the ideas accompanying the Glorious Revolution were rooted in the mid-century upheavals. Thus, the 17th century was a century of revolution in England, deserving of the same scholarly attention that 'modern' revolutions attract.
James II was building a powerful militarized state on the assumption that the world's wealth was necessarily finite, and empires were created by taking land from another state. The East India Company was thus an ideal tool to create a vast new English imperial dominion by warring with the Dutch and the Mogul Empire in India. After 1689 came an alternative understanding of economics, which saw Britain as a commercial rather than an agrarian society. The proponents of this view, most famously Adam Smith in 1776, realized that wealth was created by human endeavor and thus potentially infinite.
- Barone, Michael. Our First Revolution: the Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers, Crown Publishers, New York (2007) popular
- Goodlad, Graham. "Before the Glorious Revolution: The Making of Absolute Monarchy? Graham Goodlad Examines the Controversies Surrounding the Development of Royal Power under Charles II and James II," History Review, 2007 online edition
- Harris, Tim. Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms, 1660-1685 (2005), 506pp; major scholarly history
- Miller, John. The Glorious Revolution, (2nd ed. 1997) excerpt and text search, solid scholarly overview
- Pincus, Steve. 1688: The First Modern Revolution (2009) excerpt and text search, major reinterpretation
- Temperley, H. W. V. "England. (1687—1702)" Cambridge Modern History (1905) vol 5 online, solid older scholarship
- As King of Scotland, he was styled King James VII
- However Claydon (1996) argues that James's supporters did try to refute it. Once king, the "Declaration" was used to limit William's ambitions. Tony Claydon "William III's Declaration of Reasons and the Glorious Revolution." Historical Journal 1996 39(1): 87-108. Issn: 0018-246x Fulltext: in Jstor
- See Pincus (2009)