What was the Glorious Revolution?

William III in the Temple of Worthies at Stowe, Buckinghamshire

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.

Settling differences

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. 

Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire

Dyrham Park 

Former Clerk to the Privy Council and creator of modern-day Dyrham Park, William Blathwayt (1649-1717) served under both the pre and post-Revolution courts of James II and William III. Between 1692 and 1704, Blathwayt undertook a major renovation of the house, tearing down most of the dilapidated Tudor manor to replace it with its present baroque structure.

Delftware flower pyramid at Dyrham

A Delftware flower pyramid 

Among Blathwayt’s collections at Dyrham is a ceramic seven-tiered pyramid vase. The short-lived trend for such vases was set by the English court of William III and Mary II. During her years in the Netherlands, Mary had developed a passion for Delftware and aspiring courtiers purchased these extravagant status symbols as evidence of their loyalty.

Portrait of Queen Mary II

Queen Mary II 

You will also find a portrait of Mary II at Dyrham Park, painted in the Netherlands in 1685 and commissioned in the same year that her father, James, Duke of York, ascended to the throne as James II. Here, Mary is shown in robes of state as the Princess of Orange, but, just four years later, she would become joint-monarch of England with her husband, William III.

Seaton Delaval Hall Northumberland

Seaton Delaval Hall 

The architect of Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, Sir John Vanbrugh, was an ardent supporter of ‘Whiggish’ parliamentary democracy and played a major part in engineering the armed invasion of William of Orange. Returning from bringing messages to William at The Hague, Vanbrugh was arrested at Calais on charge of espionage in 1688. He was then imprisoned in the Bastille under the auspices of William’s arch enemy, Louis XIV.

A view across a lake with bright sky reflections of clouds in the water to golden style temples at Stowe


Sir John Vanbrugh also worked at Stowe in Buckinghamshire from 1720 to 1726, and his work there was fundamental in laying the groundwork for the monuments, landscapes and temples that were to come in the earliest phase of the garden design. Whist Vanbrugh was never Head Gardener at Stowe, his innovations during his six years there paved the way for future developments, many of which can still be seen today.

Portrait of King James II at East Riddlesden Hall, c.1700-1729

King James II, 1700 - 1729 

East Riddlesden Hall in West Yorkshire is home to an oil painting of James II, the principal victim of the Glorious Revolution. James’s dethronement inspired campaigns to restore the Stuart dynasty, but the ‘Jacobite’ dream was finally crushed with the defeat of James’s grandson, Charles Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’), at the Battle of Culloden in 1745.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch (1649-1685), 17th century

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch 

Three years before William’s invasion of England, there had already been an attempt to dethrone James. This was led by the Protestant James Scott, Duke of Monmouth: Charles II’s illegitimate son and James’s nephew. Undermined by a pitifully small army and a failure to attract popular and parliamentary support, Monmouth’s campaign failed, and he was executed for treason on 15th July 1685. You can see his portrait today at Moseley Old Hall.