The Glorious Revolution

Responding to the birth of an heir to Catholic king James II and the possibility of a Catholic dynasty being founded in England, members of Parliament invited the Protestant William and Mary to seize control of the country. The resulting Glorious Revolution resulted in the decisive institution of constitutionally limited monarchy in England, as well as maintaining the nation’s Protestant identity.

Summary of Event

A watershed event in modern English constitutional history, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was the culmination of the battles between the Parliament and the Crown that had been waged for most of the seventeenth century. The struggle between the proponents of absolutism and constitutional monarchy Monarchy, constitutional had begun in earnest during the reign of Charles I Charles I (king of England)[Charles 01 (king of England)] , and had resulted in the outbreak of the English Civil Wars in 1642. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell Cromwell, Oliver;Protectorate and had abolished both kingship and Parliament, at least in their traditional forms. This transformation of the English constitution did not long survive Cromwell’s death in 1658, but it did bequeath to the restored government the idea that the Crown no longer had absolute power and that it must rule through Parliament. During his long reign, Charles II Charles II (king of England)[Charles 02 (king of England)] conceded this arrangement, although he resisted it when he could and consolidated his royal authority to the extent possible. However, his brother James, who succeeded him as James II James II (king of England)[James 02 (king of England)] in 1685, quickly alienated Parliament, precipitating the crisis that led to the Glorious Revolution. [kw]Glorious Revolution, The (Nov., 1688-Feb., 1689)
Government and politics;Nov., 1688-Feb., 1689: The Glorious Revolution[2880]
England;Nov., 1688-Feb., 1689: The Glorious Revolution[2880]
Glorious Revolution (1688-1689)
William III of Orange
Mary II
James II
Edward, James
Louis XIV

James II came to the throne a devout Roman Catholic and upholder of the divine right of kings. There was at first, however, no fervor to depose him for such shortcomings, particularly as the already fifty-two-year-old James seemed unlikely to leave a male heir who would perpetuate Catholic rule. James had two Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne, by his first wife, Anne Hyde, daughter of the first earl of Clarendon Clarendon, first earl of , so a Protestant succession seemed to be assured. Most English subjects preferred a temporary period of Catholic rule to another era of protracted civil war.

William III of Orange is told that James II has produced a Catholic male heir.

(R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

After alienating much of the country by brutally suppressing two weak rebellions, however, James stirred up additional opposition by pursuing his major goal: the restoration of Roman Catholicism Catholicism;England in England. It is not clear whether he believed that he could restore Catholicism to its pre-Reformation status, but his first steps were in that direction. He tried to persuade Parliament to repeal the Test Acts of 1673 and 1678 Test Acts (1673-1678) , which required officeholders to take Communion according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, contrary to the conscience of devout Catholics.

When Parliament refused to repeal the Test Acts, James packed the Court of the King’s Bench with new judges, thus securing a decision that permitted him to use his royal prerogative to dispense with penalties incurred under the Test Acts. Parliament bitterly opposed the court’s decision because it placed the king above the law. Moreover, James used the court’s decision to appoint Catholics to posts not only in government but also in the Church, army, and universities.

Despite mounting opposition, James did not retreat from his pro-Catholic position. In April, 1687, he issued a Declaration of Liberty of Conscience Liberty of Conscience, Declaration of (1687 and 1688) (also known as the Declaration of Indulgence), which suspended all penal laws against Dissenters and Roman Catholics and granted both freedom to worship. James sought the support of Nonconformist Protestants while at the same time furthering the Catholic cause, but he found himself opposed strongly by all Protestants. Undaunted, he issued a second Declaration of Liberty of Conscience on April 27, 1688, and stipulated that all Church of England clergy should read it in their churches in May. When all but a few clergy refused, James arrested and tried seven bishops who had petitioned him to rescind the order, charging them with publishing a seditious libel.

In June of 1688, two events finally united the country against James: The seven bishops were acquitted, and the king’s second wife gave birth to a Catholic heir, James Edward James Edward . The unexpected appearance of a male Catholic heir, whose claim would take precedence over the hitherto secure female Protestant succession, threatened the precarious political legacy of Charles II. Anglicans and Dissenters might despise one another, and Whigs and Tories might quarrel, but they all united in rejecting a resurgence of Stuart tyranny, especially when exercised by a “popish” prince.

This unity of purpose among all members of the opposition was reflected in a secret letter sent by seven prominent Whig and Tory leaders to William III William III (king of England)[William 03 (king of England)];Glorious Revolution of Orange, stadtholder of the Netherlands, on June 30, 1688—the same day that the seven bishops were acquitted. The letter invited William to come to England to save the country from Catholic despotism and to replace James II as king. William was a logical choice: He had a double claim as a Protestant grandson of Charles I and as the husband of James II’s daughter Mary. Concerned about departing for England on the eve of war between Louis XIV Louis XIV[Louis 14] of France and the League of Augsburg, of which the Netherlands was a member, William had to delay his acceptance until he could be sure that Louis would not attack Holland. He gained this assurance when, on September 2, 1688, Louis invaded the Rhenish Palatinate. With the French army tied down on German soil, William landed in England in early November; by mid-December, he had triumphed in an essentially bloodless struggle, forcing James to flee to France.

James II is told that William III of Orange has invaded England.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

As England was now without a government, William called for the election of a Convention. This body, which met on January 22, 1689, was for all practical purposes a Parliament. For three weeks, the representatives debated how power was to be transferred lawfully from James to William. Finally, on February 13, the Convention Parliament Convention Parliament (1689) formally bestowed the crown jointly upon William III and Mary II Mary II (queen of England)[Mary 02 (queen of England)] . This bestowal was a revolutionary act since the Convention Parliament, which had not been called by royal writ, now became the source of royal power. In a similar fashion, William and Mary were also recognized as joint sovereigns in Scotland. Ireland did not acknowledge their sovereignty until 1690, following William’s defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne Boyne, Battle of the (1690) .

The offer of joint rule to William and Mary was accompanied by a Declaration of Rights. Bill of Rights, English (1689) This declaration, later enacted as the Bill of Rights, was the cornerstone of a body of legislation enacted between 1689 and 1701 known collectively as the revolutionary, or constitutional, settlement. The Bill of Rights of 1689 stated nothing new; instead, it enumerated all the rights claimed by Parliament in its struggle with the Stuarts since 1603. All subsequent legislation in the era of the constitutional settlement attested to and buttressed this shift in power.

Among the other major acts passed by the Settlement Parliaments were the Mutiny Act (1689) Mutiny Act (1689) , by which Parliament exercised control over the king’s use of the army; the Act of Toleration (1689) Toleration Act (1689) , which granted freedom of conscience to all subjects except Catholics, Unitarians, and atheists; the Triennial Act (1694) Triennial Act (1694) , which required Parliament to be summoned every three years, with no Parliament to last longer than that period; the Treasons Act (1696) Treasons Act (1696) , which narrowed the definition of treason to an overt act witnessed by two persons, thus preventing the king from eliminating his political opponents simply by accusing them of that crime; and the Act of Settlement Settlement, Act of (1701) (1701), which readjusted the succession of the throne as laid down in the Bill of Rights, because neither Mary, nor her sister Anne, the next in line, had any issue. In the event of Anne’s death without issue, the act stipulated that the throne would pass to Sophia of Hanover, granddaughter of James I, and her heirs. Only a Protestant could henceforth sit upon the English throne.


The Glorious Revolution and the ensuing constitutional settlement had several important consequences. Domestically, a constitutional balance was established between the Crown and Parliament, and measures were enacted to prevent a return to royal absolutism. The revolution thus finally resolved political tensions that had been present in British politics, both overtly and covertly, for more than eighty years.

Internationally, it played a different role. Whereas the Puritan Revolution took place in relative isolation from the Continent, the Glorious Revolution was inextricably bound to affairs in Europe. Eager to advance French aims on the Continent, Louis XIV believed William’s arrival in England would initiate a long civil war there that would eliminate Dutch and English interference in his imperial project. Instead, England and the Dutch Republic, united under William and Mary, proceeded to make war against Louis XIV. This outbreak marked the beginning of a century-long conflict between England and France, a struggle fought intermittently until 1815 on the European continent and in the New World and punctuated by French support for Catholic Stuart claims to the English throne.

Further Reading

  • Ashley, Maurice. The Glorious Revolution of 1688. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967. Written by a noted historian of the Stuart period, this work provides a concise, balanced account of the year in which James II was deposed.
  • Hoak, Dale, and Mordechai Feingold, eds. The World of William and Mary: Anglo-Dutch Perspectives on the Revolution of 1688-1689. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press 1996. Collection of essays examining the Glorious Revolution within the context of British, Dutch, and European history.
  • Horowitz, Henry. Parliament, Policy, and Politics in the Reign of William III. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1977. Although somewhat challenging for laypersons, this study provides an indispensable narrative of English politics during the reign of William and Mary.
  • Jones, George Hilton. Convergent Forces: Immediate Causes of the Revolution of 1688 in England. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990. A historian of Restoration politics presents fresh perspectives on the events leading up to the deposition of James II.
  • Jones, J. R. The Revolution of 1688 in England. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972. A fine study of the Glorious Revolution that is particularly useful for explaining the motivation for William’s involvement in English affairs.
  • Jones, J. R, ed. Liberty Secured? Britain Before and After 1688. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. Collection of essays about history, politics, and constitutional rights before and after the Glorious Revolution. Essayists maintain the Glorious Revolution did not give birth to a more liberal Great Britain, but was part of long process of liberalization that occurred in the late seventeenth century.
  • Schwoerer, Lois G., ed. The Revolution of 1688-1689: Changing Perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Reflecting contemporary perspectives on the Glorious Revolution, this collection includes scholarly essays presented at a 1989 conference held in Washington, D.C.

James I Becomes King of England

Gunpowder Plot

“Personal Rule” of Charles I

English Civil Wars

Establishment of the English Commonwealth

Cromwell Rules England as Lord Protector

Restoration of Charles II

Clarendon Code

England’s Act of Uniformity

French-Dutch War

Test Acts

The Popish Plot

Rye House Plot

Louis XIV Revokes the Edict of Nantes

Declaration of Liberty of Conscience

Reign of William and Mary

Wars of the League of Augsburg

Declaration of Rights

Toleration Act

Related articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i><br />

Charles I; Charles II (of England); Oliver Cromwell; James I; James II; Louis XIV; Mary of Modena; Mary II; William III. Glorious Revolution (1688-1689)