The Glorious Revolution
What Was the Glorious Revolution and Why Was It Glorious?
The Glorious Revolution was in effect a nonviolent coup d'etat that occurred in late seventeenth-century England. It saw the "abdication" of King James II and the rise of the joint monarchy of William and Mary. The revolution is called glorious because it was achieved without bloodshed and because it reestablished a Protestant monarchical dynasty in England.
Religious Background of the Glorious Revolution
To understand the Glorious Revolution, one must also understand the religious landscape of seventeenth-century England. Catholicism was quite unpopular in this land that still had a great deal of Puritan influence. People could still remember the battles of Charles I against Parliament that ended with the beheading of Charles I at the hands of the regicides of the Barebones Parliament.
Many of the English people wanted a relatively Puritanical government because they had felt Charles was too friendly to Arminians and Catholics (basically the same thing in many minds). They got their wish with the Interregnum period that was basically a military dictatorship under the firm grip of Oliver Cromwell. The rule of Cromwell and his son Richard was so unpopular that the Parliament was more than happy to restore the monarchy just eleven years after the execution of Charles I.
Charles II was the son of Charles I and took the throne in 1660. He was nominally and Anglican, but continued his father's leniency toward Catholicism. He also died with no heir. Even though England was ready for a monarchy again, they were not ready to return to Catholicism.
James II and Catholicism
The residents of England had cause for concern when the successor to Charles II converted to Catholicism. James II was the Duke of York (he gave his title to the colony of New York) and the brother of Charles. He took the throne because Charles died without an heir. The idea of a Catholic king did not sit well with the Parliament, but they decided to live with it because James had two daughters, both of whom had been raised Protestant.
James was not popular and tried to rule in the divine right tradition. The main outcry against him resulted when his wife, thought by most to be too old to have a child, became pregnant. It was hoped that the child would be another daughter, but it was not to be. The child was a male whom James would have raised as a Catholic. The specter of a new Catholic dynasty in England loomed heavily on the horizon.
Books on the Glorious Revolution
William and Mary
It was at this point that a group of Parliamentarians known as the "Seven Eminent Persons" began serious negotiations with the son-in-law of James II. They encouraged William, the Duke of Orange to invade England and attempt to take the throne. William, with a few thousand friends, decided to take up the invitation and invaded in 1688.
James II fled London under the threat of the invasion to raise an opposing army. William was able to come into London unopposed. Parliament then met (not called by the reigning monarch, who was still James) and declared that since James had "abdicated" his throne, they would name William and Mary as joint monarchs. Mary, as James' daughter, had a relatively strong claim to the throne.
The Results of the Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution had three major outcomes that were quite important for future English/British and American history. First, it established the idea that the king served at the pleasure of Parliament. Prior to this (notwithstanding the period between the English Revolution of the 1640s and the Restoration period), the king served largely as God's minister on earth in the minds of the country. Parliament made it clear that William and Mary served at their pleasure, not the other way around.
Secondly, the Glorious Revolution firmly established that there would be religious toleration for all Protestants and that Catholics would not be allowed to rule over England. Keep in mind that this was not religious liberty as commonly thought of now. Non-Anglicans were still kept out of many opportunities in universities and public service, but all Protestants could freely worship without fear of persecution. This attitude spread to the colonies.
Finally, Parliament forced William and Mary to sign the English Bill of Rights before agreeing to their coronation. This included some important provisions related to freedom of speech in Parliament, the right to bear arms, and various protections for those accused of crimes. While many people look at the American Founding Fathers as radically innovative thinkers, the ideas included in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are closely tied to the English Bill of Rights, first signed in 1689.
The Glorious Revolution was very important in shaping the way both England and British North America developed into the future. The American founders liberally borrowed from the ideas included in the English Bill of Rights and in the institution of religious toleration. The Stuart dynasty would end with the death of Queen Anne in 1714, but the Stuart era would see England transformed from a second-rate nation to a leading world power with an expansive overseas empire.