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Glorious Revolution

Glorious Revolution

How glorious was the Glorious Revolution, really? Touted as a bloodless change of power from an absolutist to a constitutional monarchy, the Revolution of 1688 saw the removal of King James II of England, Scotland, and Ireland and the invasion of Prince William of Orange. He, with his wife, became King William III and Queen Mary II, joint rulers of the three British kingdoms. What caused such a dramatic power shift? This article will define the causes, development, and results of Britain's Glorious Revolution.

Absolute Monarchy:

A style of government where a monarch, or ruler, has complete control over state power.

Constitutional Monarchy:A government structure where the monarch shares power with citizens' representatives, such as a Parliament, under a constitution.

Glorious Revolution The line of Stuart monarchs StudySmarterFig. 1 The line of Stuart monarchs

Causes of Britain's Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution had both long-term and short-term causes. Historians debate which set of causes had more weight in bringing the country again to war.

Long-Term Causes of the Glorious Revolution

The events leading up to the Glorious Revolution began with the English Civil War (1642-1650). Religion played a significant role in this conflict. King Charles I attempted to force his people to follow a prayer book that many considered too close to Catholicism. The people revolted–any policy that appeared in favor of Catholicism in England was hotly opposed. The English people feared Catholicism and the influence of the Pope's court in Rome. The English felt that toleration of Catholicism violated their rights and liberties as an independent nation.

Charles I was killed in a public execution, and a protectorate under Oliver Cromwell replaced the monarchy. The monarchy was restored following Cromwell's death in 1660, and Charles I's son, Charles II, became king. Charles II was a Protestant, which settled some religious tension at the beginning of the Restoration period (1660-1688). However, that calm did not last long.

Short-Term Causes of the Glorious Revolution

Charles II had no legitimate child to name his heir, which meant that his younger brother James was next in line. Anti-Catholic hysteria reared its ugly head when James took an Italian Catholic princess, Mary of Modena, as his wife in 1673 and publicly announced his conversion to Catholicism in 1676. The English were outraged and now worked towards removing the possibility of having a Catholic king on the throne.

Glorious Revolution Portrait of Queen Mary of Modena StudySmarterFig. 2 Portrait of Queen Mary of Modena

Who was Mary of Modena?

Mary of Modena (1658-1718) was an Italian princess and the only sister of Duke Francesco II of Modena. She married James, then Duke of York, in 1673. Mary encouraged literature and poetry in her household, and at least three of her ladies became accomplished writers. In June 1688, Mary–then coregent with William III–gave birth to her only surviving son, James Francis Edward.

Glorious Revolution Portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart StudySmarterFig. 3 Portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart

However, wild rumors about the child's legitimacy circulated widely instead of securing the royal succession. One of the leading rumors was that little James was smuggled inside a warming-pan (a pan placed under the mattress to warm a bed) into Mary's birth chamber!

The Popish Plot (1678-81) and Exclusion Crisis (1680-82)

Anti-Catholic hysteria reached a fever pitch when news of a plot to murder King Charles II and replace him with James reached Parliament. The story was entirely made-up by a mentally unstable former cleric named Titus Oates. Still, it was just the sort of ammunition needed for Parliament to work on removing the Catholic threat from the nobility and upper administration. By 1680 forty Catholics were killed either by execution or dying in prison.

The Exclusion Crisis was built on the anti-Catholicism generated by the Popish Plot. The English felt

that at any moment their city would be set ablaze, their wives raped, their babies skewered on pikes… should the king's brother, a Catholic, ascend the throne." 1

After multiple efforts by Parliament to remove James from the succession to the throne, Charles II dissolved Parliament in 1682. He died in 1685, and his brother James became king.

King James II (r. 1685-1688)

Accomplishments
Failures
Advocated for religious toleration for all religions with the Declaration of Indulgence in 1687.
Heavily favored Catholics and did not get the Declaration approved by Parliament.
Eliminated a law that restricted Catholics from holding office.
Tried to pack Parliament with Catholics and those who favored his policies so that it would always agree with him.
Instilled religiously diverse advisors.
Alienated loyal Protestant subjects.
Produced a male heir with his queen Mary of Modena in 1688.
The threat of a continued Catholic monarchy caused the nobility to act against their kind.
Glorious Revolution King James II landing at Kinsdale StudySmarterFig. 4 King James II landing at Kinsdale

James II vs. Prince William of Orange

The alienated nobility decided it was time to take matters into their own hands. Seven high-ranking nobles sent a letter to the Protestant Prince William of Orange in the Netherlands, husband of James' eldest child Mary, inviting him to England. They wrote that they were

generally dissatisfied with the present conduct of the government in relation to their religion, liberties and properties (all which have been greatly invaded)." 2

William used the rumors disputing the birth of James and Mary of Modena's infant son and Protestant fears of prolonged Catholic rule to gain support for an armed invasion of England. He invaded England in December 1688, forcing King James II and Queen Mary of Modena into exile in France. William and his wife Mary became King William III and Queen Mary II, joint Protestant rulers of England.

The Glorious Revolution William of Orange III and his Dutch army land in Brixham 1688 StudySmarter Fig. 5 William of Orange III and his Dutch army land in Brixham, 1688

Results of the Glorious Revolution

The revolt was not bloodless, nor was the new government universally accepted. However, as Steven Pincus argues, it was "the first modern revolution"3 as it created a modern state and initiated the Age of Revolutions, including the 1776 American Revolution and the 1789 French Revolution.

According to historian W. A. Speck, the revolution strengthened Parliament, transforming it from "an event to an institution." 4 The Parliament was no longer an entity summoned by the king when he needed taxes approved but a permanent governing body sharing administration with the monarchy. This moment was a significant shift in power towards Parliament, and subsequent generations would see Parliament gain more strength while the monarch's position weakened.

A Summary of Key Legislation in Britain due to the Glorious Revolution

  • Toleration Act of 1688: Granted freedom of worship to all Protestant groups, but not Catholics.

  • Bill of Rights, 1689:

    • Limited the monarch's power and strengthened Parliament's.

      • The Crown must seek the people's approval through their representative: Parliament.

    • Installed free Parliamentary elections.

    • Granted free speech in Parliament.

    • Abolished the use of cruel and unusual punishment.

Glorious Revolution - Key Takeaways

  • Fear and hatred of Catholicism in England led to the people's inability to accept James II, a Catholic king.
  • Although he argued it was part of general religious toleration, James' favoritism of Catholics led even his most loyal subjects to doubt and turn against him.
  • The birth of James' son threatened a prolonged Catholic monarchy, leading seven nobles to invite Prince William of Orange to intervene in English politics.
  • William invaded in 1688, forcing James II and his queen into exile. William became King William III and his wife Queen Mary II.
  • The government structure changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, expanding civil liberties through the 1689 Bill of Rights.

References

1. Melinda Zook, Radical Whigs and Conspiratorial Politics in Late Stuart Britain, 1999.

2. Andrew Browning, English Historical Documents 1660-1714, 1953.

3. Steve Pincus, 1688: The First Modern Revolution, 2009.

4. WA Speck, Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688, 1989.

Frequently Asked Questions about Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution was a coup in Great Britain that removed absolutist Catholic King James II and replaced him with the protestant King William III and Queen Mary II and a constitutional monarchy shared with Parliament.

It generated a series of short rebellions that extend to the American Revolution. The English Bill of Rights influenced the American Constitution.

The term "Glorious Revolution" derives from the Protestant point of view that the Revolution freed them from the terrors of Catholic rule.

The Glorious Revolution abided from 1688 to 1689. 

An unpopular Catholic King James II alienated his supporters and attempted to pack the government with Catholics. This was the spark that caused the Glorious Revolution; deep feelings of Catholic resentment stretching back centuries led the English to invite James' Protestant daughter and her husband, Prince William of Orange, to overthrow James and take the throne.

One Major result was the drafting of the English Bill of Rights, which established a constitutional monarchy where the ruler shared power with a Parliament made up of representatives from the people.

Final Glorious Revolution Quiz

Question

What was the Glorious Revolution?

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Answer

A 1688 coup in Great Britain that removed absolutist Catholic King James II and replaced him Protestant King William III and Queen Mary II and a constitutional monarchy shared with Parliament.

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Question

Who was king of Great Britain at the beginning of the Glorious Revolution?

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Answer

James II

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Who was king of Great Britain after the Glorious Revolution?

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Answer

William III

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Question

Who was James II's queen?

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Answer

Mary of Modena

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Who was William III's queen?

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Answer

Mary II

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Question

What right did the English Bill of Rights NOT include?

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Answer

Religious toleration for Catholics

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What was the type of government before the Glorious Revolution?

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Answer

Absolute monarchy

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What was the type of government in Great Britain after the Glorious Revolution?

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Answer

Constitutional Monarchy

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What was NOT a major cause of the Glorious Revolution?

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Answer

The Thirty Years War

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Why does Steve Pincus call 1688 "The First Modern Revolution"?

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Answer

It created the first modern state with rights and liberties explicitly outlined by the government and paved the way for later American and French revolutions.

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What type of government did the Bill of Rights establish?

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Answer

Constitutional Monarchy

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What did the Bill of Rights NOT grant?

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Answer

Religious freedom

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What did the Bill of Rights abolish?

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Cruel and Unusual Punishment

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Who was John Locke?

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Answer

A British philosopher whose ideas on separation of powers and checks and balances in government influenced both the English and American Bills of RIghts

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Who wrote the English Bill of Rights?

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Parliament

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What conflict set the stage for the English Bill of Rights?

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Answer

The Glorious Revolution

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Who became King because as part of the Bill of Rights?

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William III

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What Queen was named joint ruler with her husband?

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Answer

Mary II

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What other government document did the English Bill of Rights influence?

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Answer

The US Constitution

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Question

Why was the English Bill of Rights created?

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Answer

To establish a constitutional monarchy and strengthen Parliament

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