What was the Glorious Revolution?
Between 1688 and 1689, England ended up ousting her king. Following centuries of wrangling between Church, Crown and Parliament, the Glorious Revolution would nudge England towards limited monarchy and parliamentary democracy. Why did it happen?
Religion and politics
The spectre of Catholic supremacy and royal absolutism loomed over a staunchly Protestant late seventeenth-century England. Events such as the ‘Papist’ Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and the English Civil War, which had largely stemmed from Charles I’s attempt to govern without Parliament, haunted the national memory.
By 1685, ‘Popery’ and despotism appeared synonymous, as the Catholic and absolutist King of France, Louis XIV, revoked an edict granting toleration to French Protestants. English fears were further heightened with the accession of James II: Louis’s cousin, and England’s first Catholic monarch in over a century.
Invitation to invasion
Such fears soon seemed to be vindicated. James moved to undermine the supremacy of the established Church of England, and to make himself the sole source of political, religious, and judicial authority.
In June 1688, the birth of a male heir raised the prospect of a Catholic royal dynasty. This prompted ‘The Immortal Seven’, a group of panic-stricken nobles and a clergyman, to invite William of Orange, James’s son-in-law and the Protestant Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, to invade England and thwart James’s self-aggrandising plans.
William landed in Torbay, Devon on 5th November 1688. James failed to halt the Dutchman’s advance, and, with William’s connivance, he fled to France.
In 1689, William and his wife, Mary, were crowned dual-monarchs, and assented to a Bill of Rights. The Bill stipulated that English monarchs could not raise taxes without Parliamentary consent and tried to ensure that only a Protestant could occupy the English throne ― the latter restriction remains to this day.
The ‘Glorious’ Revolution?
The Revolution occurred with some bloodshed in England, and caused violent conflict between (mostly Protestant) supporters of William III and (mostly Catholic) supporters of James II in Scotland and Ireland. The monarchy maintained significant powers of prerogative and patronage throughout the eighteenth century, and there was no toleration for Catholics.
However, the Revolution stifled the threat of royal absolutism in the British Isles, and increased the influence of Parliament. Compared to many contemporary absolutist countries, most notably Louis XIV’s France, a relatively liberal and moderate political culture ensued. It was, perhaps, a preferable, if not quite ‘glorious’, revolution.