Glorious Revolution of 1688 - Definition and Summary

Glorious Revolution of 1688 - Definition and Summary

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The Glorious Revolution, also called “The Revolution of 1688” and “The Bloodless Revolution,” took place from 1688 to 1689 in England. It involved the overthrow of the Catholic king James II, who was replaced by his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange. Motives for the revolution were complex and included both political and religious concerns. The event ultimately changed how England was governed, giving Parliament more power over the monarchy and planting seeds for the beginnings of a political democracy.

King James II

King James II took the throne in England in 1685, during a time when relations between Catholics and Protestants were tense. There was also considerable friction between the monarchy and the British Parliament.

James, who was Catholic, supported the freedom of worship for Catholics and appointed Catholic officers to the army. He also had close ties with France—a relationship that concerned many of the English people.

In 1687, King James II issued a Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended penal laws against Catholics and granted acceptance of some Protestant dissenters. Later that year, the king formally dissolved his Parliament and attempted to create a new Parliament that would support him unconditionally.

James’s daughter Mary, a Protestant, was the rightful heir to the throne until 1688 when James had a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, whom he announced would be raised Catholic.

The birth of James’s son changed the line of succession, and many feared a Catholic dynasty in England was imminent. The Whigs, the main group that opposed Catholic succession, were especially outraged.

The king’s elevation of Catholicism, his close relationship with France, his conflict with Parliament and uncertainty over who would succeed James on the English throne led to whispers of a revolt—and ultimately the fall of James II.

William of Orange

In 1688, seven of King James’s peers wrote to the Dutch leader, William of Orange, pledging their allegiance to the prince if he invaded England.

William was already in the process of taking military action against England, and the letter served as an additional propaganda motive.

William of Orange assembled an impressive armada for the invasion and landed in Torbay, Devon, in November 1688.

King James, however, had prepared for military attacks and left London to bring his forces to meet the invading army. But several of James’s own men, including his family members, deserted him and defected to William’s side. In addition to this setback, James’s health was deteriorating.

James decided to retreat back to London on November 23. He soon announced that he was willing to agree to a “free” Parliament but was making plans to flee the country due to concerns for his own safety.

In December 1688, King James made an attempt to escape but was captured. Later that month, he made another attempt and successfully fled to France, where his Catholic cousin Louis XIV held the throne and where James eventually died in exile in 1701.

Bill of Rights

In January 1689, the now-famous Convention Parliament met. After significant pressure from William, Parliament agreed to a joint monarchy, with William as king and James’s daughter, Mary, as queen.

The two new rulers accepted more restrictions from Parliament than any previous monarchs, causing an unprecedented shift in the distribution of power throughout the British realm.

The king and queen both signed the Declaration of Rights, which became known as the Bill of Rights. This document acknowledged several constitutional principles, including the right for regular Parliaments, free elections and freedom of speech in Parliament. Additionally, it forbade the monarchy from being Catholic.

Many historians believe the Bill of Rights was the first step toward a constitutional monarchy.

Bloodless Revolution

The Glorious Revolution is sometimes dubbed the Bloodless Revolution, although this description isn’t entirely accurate.

While there was little bloodshed and violence in England, the revolution led to significant loss of life in Ireland and Scotland.

Catholic historians typically refer to the Glorious Revolution as the “Revolution of 1688,” while Whig historians prefer the phrase “Bloodless Revolution.” The term “Glorious Revolution” was first coined by John Hampden in 1689.

Legacy of the Glorious Revolution

Many historians believe the Glorious Revolution was one of the most important events leading to Britain’s transformation from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. After this event, the monarchy in England would never hold absolute power again.

With the Bill of Rights, the regent’s power was defined, written down and limited for the first time. Parliament’s function and influence changed dramatically in the years following the revolution.

The event also had an impact on the 13 colonies in North America. The colonists were temporarily freed of strict, anti-Puritan laws after King James was overthrown.

When news of the revolution reached the Americans, several uprisings followed, including the Boston Revolt, Leisler’s Rebellion in New York and the Protestant Revolution in Maryland.

Since the Glorious Revolution, Parliament’s power in Britain has continued to increase, while the monarchy’s influence has waned. There’s no doubt this important event helped set the stage for the United Kingdom’s present-day political system and government.


The Glorious Revolution, BBC.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688, Economic History Association.
The Glorious Revolution,
The 1688 Revolution, The History Learning Site.
How did the Glorious Revolution in England Affect the Colonies? History of Massachusetts Blog.

The Revolution of 1688

The final crisis of James’s reign resulted from two related events. The first was the refusal of seven bishops to instruct the clergy of their dioceses to read the Declaration of Indulgence in their churches. The king was so infuriated by this unexpected check to his plans that he had the bishops imprisoned, charged with seditious libel, and tried. Meanwhile, in June 1688 Queen Mary (Mary of Modena) gave birth to a male heir, raising the prospect that there would be a Catholic successor to James. Wild rumours spread that the queen had not given birth to the child. It was said that a baby had been smuggled into her confinement in a warming pan. When the bishops were triumphantly acquitted by a London jury, leaders of all political groups within the state were persuaded that the time had come to take action. Seven leading Protestants drafted a carefully worded invitation for William of Orange to come to England to investigate the circumstances of the birth of the king’s heir. In effect, the leaders of the political nation had invited a foreign prince to invade their land.

This came as no surprise to William, who had been contemplating an invasion since the spring of 1688. William, who was organizing the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV, needed England as an ally rather than a rival. All Europe was readying for war in the summer of 1688, and James had powerful land and sea forces at his disposal to repel William’s invasion. The crossing, begun on October 19, was a feat of military genius, however propitious the strong eastern “Protestant wind” that kept the English fleet at anchor while Dutch ships landed at Torbay (November 5). William took Exeter and issued a declaration calling for the election of a free Parliament. From the beginning, the Anglican interest flocked to him. James could only watch as large parts of his army melted away.

Yet there was no plan to depose the king. Many Tories hoped that William’s presence would force James to change his policies, and many Whigs believed that a free Parliament could fetter his excesses. When James marched out of London, there was even the prospect of battle. But the result was completely unforeseen. James lost his nerve, sent his family to France, and followed after them, tossing the Great Seal into the Thames. James’s flight was a godsend, and, when he was captured en route, William allowed him to escape again. At the end of December, William arrived in London, summoned the leading peers and bishops to help him keep order, and called Parliament into being.

The Convention Parliament (1689) met amid the confusion created by James’s flight. For some Tories, James II was still the king. Some were willing to contemplate a regency and others to allow Mary to rule with William as consort. But neither William nor the Whigs would accept such a solution. William was to be king in his own right, and in February the Convention agreed that James had “abdicated the government and that the throne has thereby become vacant.” At the same time, the leaders of the Convention prepared the Declaration of Rights to be presented to William and Mary. The declaration was a restatement of traditional rights, but the conflicts between Whigs and Tories caused it to be watered down considerably. Nevertheless, the Whigs did manage to declare the suspending power and the maintenance of a standing army in peacetime illegal. But many of the other clauses protecting free speech, free elections, and frequent Parliaments were cast in anodyne formulas, and the offer of the throne was not conditional upon the acceptance of the Declaration of Rights.

Glorious Revolution

Seven Whig and Tory leaders sent an invitation to the Dutch prince William of Orange and his consort, Mary, Protestant daughter of James, to come to England. William landed at Torbay in Devonshire with an army. James's forces, under John Churchill (later duke of Marlborough), deserted him, and James fled to France (Dec., 1688). There was some debate in England on how to transfer power whether to recall James on strict conditions or under a regency, whether to depose him outright, or whether to treat his flight as an abdication. The last course was decided upon, and early in 1689 William and Mary accepted the invitation of Parliament to rule as joint sovereigns.

The Declaration of Rights and the Bill of Rights (1689) redefined the relationship between monarch and subjects and barred any future Catholic succession to the throne. The royal power to suspend and dispense with law was abolished, and the crown was forbidden to levy taxation or maintain a standing army in peacetime without parliamentary consent. The provisions of the Bill of Rights were, in effect, the conditions upon which the throne was offered to and accepted by William and Mary. These events were a milestone in the gradual process by which practical power shifted from the monarch to Parliament. The theoretical ascendancy of Parliament was never thereafter successfully challenged.

See G. M. Trevelyan, The English Revolution, 1688–1689 (1938) L. Pinkham, William III and the Respectable Revolution (1954) J. Childs, The Army, James II, and the Glorious Revolution (1981) S. E. Prall, The Bloodless Revolution (1972) T. Harris, Revolution (2008) S. Pincus, 1688: The First Modern Revolution (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History

Glorious Revolution

a term accepted in bourgeois historiography to designate a coup that took place in England during the period 1688&ndash89. The coup was the result of a compromise between a group of large landowners and the victors in the English Civil War&mdashthe bourgeoisie and the new gentry. As a result of the coup, James II Stuart was deposed, and royal power was handed over to his son-in-law, the Dutch stadholder William III of Orange. William&rsquos wife and daughter of James II, Mary II Stuart, was declared William&rsquos coruler. By applying the designation Glorious Revolution to the coup of 1688&ndash89, bourgeois historians attempted to contrast this &ldquolegal&rdquo conspiracy, limited to the ruling classes, with the revolution of the mid-17th century. The real significance of the coup was that it abolished absolutism and established a constitutional monarchy in England. Parliament became the highest power in the monarchy, and it represented the interests of a considerable portion of the landed aristocracy and the big bourgeoisie.

Your guide to the Glorious Revolution

What was the Glorious Revolution? How did Britain react? And what was the outcome? BBC History Revealed magazine investigates.

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What was the Glorious Revolution?

Taking place in 1688–89, the Glorious Revolution (a name first used by politician John Hampden in 1689) saw James II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, deposed by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, the Dutch prince William of Orange.

William of Orange was the last person to successfully invade England.

What led up to it?

The revolution had its roots in the deep-seated fear of Catholicism that permeated all levels of Stuart England.

In 1685, Charles II had died without an heir, leaving the throne to his Catholic brother, James, Duke of York. James II assured his anxious subjects that he intended to honour the country’s existing religious situation, but he soon began to lose support.

James gave Catholics in Britain freedom to worship openly, and, more worryingly, proposed the removal of parliamentary acts that prohibited Catholics from holding public office, known as the Test Acts. James appointed Catholic officers to the army and a number of Catholic peers to his Privy Council. His next move was to dissolve parliament and search for officials who would support Catholics in public office. He wished to form a parliament that would bend to his will.

Why were people so scared of Catholicism?

To a deeply Protestant country, Catholicism was more than just fear and hatred of a differentm way of worship it was fear of a religion that could overthrow both church and state, and the establishment of a ‘Catholic tyranny’ that would place England under the control of a powerful Catholic monarch.

How did the Dutch get involved?

In June 1688, James’s second wife gave birth to a son. This dashed hopes that Mary, the king’s Protestant daughter, now married to her cousin, the Dutch prince William of Orange, would eventually accede the throne. This, combined with fears that James would soon repeal the Test Acts, led a number of peers – known afterwards as the ‘Immortal Seven’ – to make contact with William, inviting him to invade England, pledging their support if he did so.

William, who wished to bring England into his war against France, responded. On 5 November 1688, he, along with 35,000 soldiers, landed in Torbay, Devon, promising to restore order and establish a ‘free’ parliament.

How did Britain react to the Dutch invasion?

As news of the Protestants’ arrival spread, anti-Catholic rioting broke out. James was forced to leave London to confront William and his Dutch army. English Protestants welcomed William and his men as they progressed through the West Country towards London, and a number of James’s own side defected to the Protestant cause, including his nephew, Lord Cornbury and his own daughter, Princess Anne.

What was the outcome of the revolution?

After a bloody skirmish at Reading in December 1688, James realised his cause was lost. Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales fled for France and the next day, James himself attempted to flee, dropping the Great Seal in the Thames knowing that no lawful parliament could be summoned without it. Unfortunately, he was captured by fishermen near Sheerness.

With William now embraced as the man to restore order to England, James made another attempt to escape as William entered London. Dutch officers had been told to let James “gently slip through” if he chose to leave England again, and the king was finally able to reach the safety of France.

After being presented with a document called the Declaration of Rights, which affirmed the need for regular parliaments, William and Mary jointly accepted the throne on 13 February 1689, removing any chance of a Catholic monarchy.

Glorious Revolution of 1688 - Definition and Summary - HISTORY

The First Modern Revolution

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Listen to the music of 1688

Based on new archival information, this book upends two hundred years of scholarship on England’s Glorious Revolution to claim that it—not the French Revolution—was the first truly modern revolution

For two hundred years historians have viewed England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689 as an un-revolutionary revolution—bloodless, consensual, aristocratic, and above all, sensible. In this brilliant new interpretation Steve Pincus refutes this traditional view.

By expanding the interpretive lens to include a broader geographical and chronological frame, Pincus demonstrates that England’s revolution was a European event, that it took place over a number of years, not months, and that it had repercussions in India, North America, the West Indies, and throughout continental Europe. His rich historical narrative, based on masses of new archival research, traces the transformation of English foreign policy, religious culture, and political economy that, he argues, was the intended consequence of the revolutionaries of 1688–1689.

James II developed a modernization program that emphasized centralized control, repression of dissidents, and territorial empire. The revolutionaries, by contrast, took advantage of the new economic possibilities to create a bureaucratic but participatory state. The postrevolutionary English state emphasized its ideological break with the past and envisioned itself as continuing to evolve. All of this, argues Pincus, makes the Glorious Revolution—not the French Revolution—the first truly modern revolution. This wide-ranging book reenvisions the nature of the Glorious Revolution and of revolutions in general, the causes and consequences of commercialization, the nature of liberalism, and ultimately the origins and contours of modernity itself.

"Mr. Pincus’s cogently argued account of what really happened during

England’s revolution destroys many comforting notions that have prevailed for more than 200 years. . . . It leaves the reader with something much more exciting: a new understanding of the origins of the modern, liberal state."—Economist

"We all know that the year 1688 is a milestone in

England's history now, thanks to Steve Pincus, the book 1688 will be a milestone in its historiography. Pincus transforms what once seemed a peaceful compromise among agreeable aristocrats into a fractious and all-encompassing crisis, the ‘first modern revolution.’ Provocative, erudite, and accessible, 1688 is a must read for anyone interested in seventeenth-century Europe and its possessions."—Cynthia Herrup, University of Southern California

"A magnificent, fully documented, very well written study of how the first thorough-going modern revolution was achieved with effort and against substantial obstacles over several years. It was bloody and popular, not merely a palace coup achieved with little loss of life, as is commonly held. Taking a broader chronological view and considering more aspects of society than previous historians, Pincus convincingly shows how England had become a commercial society by the 1680s, and the race was on to harness new wealth—a race between the absolutist modernizing vision of James II and the more tolerant and liberty-minded vision of his opponents. What emerged was the first modern state, with independent financial institutions and a strong sense of national and civil, as opposed to confessional, interest. The triumph of William III and his supporters was a conscious re-ordering of the place of the three kingdoms on the European and world stage. Pincus's commitment to vigorous argument (in which he overturns many received views his definition of revolution itself is bracingly refreshing) makes this book exciting reading, and will raise fascinated interest in the late 17th-century for many years to come. For anyone interested in modern liberal society, its origins, and why it is worth defending, this book is indispensable."—Nigel Smith,

"A magnificent, fully documented, very well written study of how the first thorough-going modern revolution was achieved with effort and against substantial obstacles over several years. Pincus overturns many received views: this book will raise fascinated interest in the late seventeenth century for many years to come, making it indispensable reading."—Nigel Smith, Princeton University

"One of the most ambitious works of history to appear in recent years--a radical reinterpretation of events that intends not merely to update and improve prior accounts but to vanquish them conclusively. The book is a marvel of scholarship."—The National

A finalist in the category of Nonfiction for the 2010 Connecticut Book Award, given by the Connecticut Center for the Book

Many Englishmen were dismayed when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 – they suspected that the Stuarts were absolutists and very Roman Catholic, and Charles’ unresponsiveness to Parliament as well as other Catholic ties didn’t help. The Whigs tried to ensure that there would be a Protestant successor by keeping James from ascending the throne, but they did not manage. When he ascended the throne, James II was openly Catholic and very friendly with France, which troubled the English greatly, when his son was born, this excluded the protestant Mary from succession, killing all hopes of having a protestant monarch. The Parlaiment decided to call the help of Dutch stadtholder William III and his army.

William III crossed the English channel after reaching an agreement with parliament. The Glorious Revolution is also called the “Bloodless Revolution” because there were only two minor clashes between the two armies, whereafter James II and his wife fled to France. William and Mary were established to the throne, but the revolution caused a great change in the distribution of power in the British constitution. The two co-monarchs accepted more restrictions from Parliament than any previous rulers and through the new constitution, it was established that future monarchs would also have to abide by the rules of Parliament.


On the surface, this is a story about religion. However, it is also about the balance between monarch and Parliament. A civil war had been fought because Charles I tried to rule as an absolute monarch. Charles II had been accepted back because he agreed to limit his powers. However, his brother, James II, made it clear he wanted to get back the absolute power that their father Charles I had.

When Charles II died without any legitimate children in 1685, his brother the Duke of York became King as James II in England and Ireland. He also became James VII in Scotland. He tried to give freedom of religion to non-Anglicans. He did this by making the acts of Parliament invalid by Royal Decree. [1] The public did not like this. [1] Several Protestant politicians and noblemen began talking with Mary's husband as early as 1687. In May 1688, James forced Anglican clergymen to read the Declaration of Indulgence. The Declaration of Indulgence was a statement that gave religious freedom to those who did not agree with the Church of England. This made him much less popular. [1]

Protestants became even more fearful when James's wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son–James Francis Edward–in June 1688. They were afraid because the son, unlike Mary and Anne, would be raised a Roman Catholic. [2] Some said that the boy had been secretly carried into the Queen's room in a bed-warming pan instead of her stillborn baby. [3] There was no strong proof to support this story, but Mary publicly doubted the boy's legitimacy. She sent a list of suspicious questions to her sister, Anne, about the boy's birth. [4]

On 30 June, the Immortal Seven secretly asked William, who was in the Netherlands with Mary, to come to England with an army. [5] William, who was jealous of Mary's position and power, did not want to go at first. [5] But Mary told William that she did not care about political power. She said "she would be no more but his wife, and that she would do all that lay in her power to make him King for life". [6]

William agreed to attack. He declared that James' newborn son was the "pretended Prince of Wales". He also gave a list of what the English people wanted, and said that he only wanted to have "a free and lawful Parliament assembled". [7] The Dutch army, which had been turned back by a storm in October, landed on 5 November. [5] The English Army and Navy went over to William. At this time, the English people's confidence in James was very low. They did not even try to save their King. [8] On 11 December, the King tried to run away, but failed. He tried to run away again on 23 December. This second attempt was successful, and James escaped to France. He lived there in exile until his death. [1]

Though Mary was sad because of the deposition of her father, William ordered her to look happy when they arrived in London. Because of this, people thought she was being cold to her father. James also thought his daughter was unfaithful to him. [7] This hurt Mary deeply. [2] [7]

In 1689, a Convention Parliament called by the Prince of Orange came together to discuss what they should do. [9] William of Orange felt uncomfortable about his position. He wanted to rule as a King, not simply as a husband of a Queen. The only example of joint monarchy was from the sixteenth century. This was Queen Mary I and the Spanish Prince Philip. When they married, it was agreed that Prince Philip would take the title of King. But Philip II was King only during his wife's lifetime. He also did not have much power. William wanted to remain King even after his wife's death. Some important people suggested making Mary the only ruler. [9] But Mary, who was faithful to her husband, refused. [2] [9]

On 13 February 1689, Parliament passed the Declaration of Right. In this declaration, it said that James, by trying to run away on 11 December 1688, had abandoned the government, so no one at the time was king. [9] [10] Normally, James's oldest son, James Francis Edward would have been the heir. However, Parliament offered the crown to William and Mary as joint Sovereigns instead. But it was added that "The sole and full exercise of the regal (royal) power be only in and executed by the said Prince of Orange in the names of the said Prince and Princess during their joint lives." [9] The declaration was later extended to take out all Catholics. This was because "It hath been found (discovered) by experience that it is inconsistent (not in harmony) with the safety and welfare of this Protestant kingdom to be governed by a papist prince". [10]

William and Mary were crowned together at Westminster Abbey [2] on 11 April 1689. The Archbishop of Canterbury usually performed coronations. But William Sancroft, the Archbishop at that time, felt that James II's removal had been wrong. [11] Therefore, the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, crowned them instead. [11] [12] On the day of the Coronation, the Convention of the Estates of Scotland declared at last that James was no longer King of Scotland. William and Mary were offered the separate Scottish Crown. [13] This was because the two kingdoms were not united until the Acts of Union in 1707. [13] They accepted on 11 May. [13]

Even after this was declared, there was still strong support for James in Scotland. John Graham of Clevehouse, the Viscount of Dundee, raised an army and won a victory at Killiecrankie on 27 July. But Dundee's army suffered great losses, and he was seriously wounded at the start of the battle. This stopped the only effective resistance to William, and the revolt was quickly crushed. The next month, there was a great defeat at the Battle of Dunkeld. [14] [15]


A revolution in Britain in 1688 in which the parliament deposed King James II, a Roman Catholic who had asserted royal rights over the rights of Parliament. Parliament gave the crown to the Protestant King William III, a Dutch prince, and his British wife, Queen Mary II (daughter of James II), as joint rulers.

The Glorious Revolution was the last genuine revolution in Britain. Because there was little armed resistance in England to William and Mary, the revolution is also called the Bloodless Revolution. Battles did take place in Scotland and Ireland, however, between supporters of the new king and queen and the supporters of King James.


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