Glorious Revolution

The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 was the usurpation of James II (1633-1701) by his nephew and son-in-law William of Orange (1650-1702) and daughter Mary (1662-1694). James’s Catholicism had proved deeply unpopular, as the earlier Exclusion Crisis (1679-1681) and Monmouth Rebellion (1685) demonstrated. After his accession in 1685, James introduced policies of religious toleration for all, including Catholics, much to the chagrin of protestant opposition circles. Whig leaders had been plotting with William and Mary for some months on strategies to curb James’s programmes. The announcement in 1687 that James’s Catholic wife, Mary of Modena (1658-1718), was pregnant added urgency to their plans. The birth of a son on 10 June 1688, James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766), was a bitter blow to the Whigs. The newborn prince was baptized a Catholic, and superseded the protestant heirs presumptive, William and Mary, in the line of succession. The Catholic Stuart dynasty now seemed secure.

After further hurried negotiations, a cabal of the most influential Whigs and Tories, known as the ‘Immortal Seven’, united to invite William to invade. After consolidating international support and funding, William sailed for England with a large fleet, landing at Torbay on 5 November 1688. Initially the plan was probably only to force James to terms. But after William defeated the Stuart forces at the Battle of Reading on 9 December, James fled to France. In his absence, the throne was declared vacant. James was deemed to have abdicated. William and Mary were declared king and queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland on 13 February 1689, and were crowned on 11 April.

Historians disagree about the causes of the Glorious Revolution. The traditional view is that it was a victory of parliament against tyranny and arbitrary monarchy. Others have suggested that the revolution of 1688 was an extension of the anti-Catholic prejudice that motivated the Popish Plot, the Rye-House Plot, and the Exclusion Crisis in previous decades. More recently, and controversially, historians such as Steve Pincus have challenged both views, arguing that James’s vision of a centralized state modelled on the example of Louis XIV’s France was unpopular. James was deposed for his programme of state-building, not for his religion.

What is clear, however, is that William probably had different reasons for invading than the English politicians who invited him. James had sided with France against the United Provinces in the recent European wars. William’s ambitions for the defeat of France required using England’s military strength against France. The coup of 1688 was thus not simply a move to exclude a Catholic heir from the line of succession, but also a means of bolstering Dutch foreign policy.