In this lesson, we will examine the causes, events, and effects of England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which King James II was overthrown by William of Orange and his allies in the English Parliament.
A Troublesome King
James II was a troublesome king. James assumed England’s throne after the death of his brother Charles in 1685, but most Englishmen didn’t like him one bit. James was Catholic, and in a Protestant country like England, that meant big trouble. The English greatly feared that the Roman Catholic Church and its pope would take control of their king and their nation.James didn’t do much to alleviate his subjects’ fears.
Although he had promised to maintain the religious status quo, his actions soon proved otherwise. England maintained certain laws that were designed to keep Catholics out of public office and prevent them from worshiping freely. Pretty soon, James began to override those laws.He used the royal ‘dispensing power’ to suspend the limitations and appoint his Catholic supporters to high military and governmental positions, and he issued a Declaration of Indulgence that allowed Catholics to worship in private. This made Parliament and the Anglican bishops extremely nervous, as they soon began discussing their options for getting rid of their Catholic king once and for all.
The last straw for Parliament and the bishops occurred on June 10, 1688, when James’ son, James Edward Stuart, was born. The little prince would be Catholic like his parents, and he was next in line for the throne. This was intolerable for English leaders, and they decided to take their discussions to a new level – that of action.On June 30, seven English leaders wrote a letter to William of Orange, a Dutch head of state who was married to James’ Protestant daughter Mary. William was also James’ nephew, and he was very interested in taking over the throne from his father-in-law and uncle. In fact, he had already been preparing to invade England and was pleased when his English allies invited him to come on over, restore Protestantism, and call a free Parliament to help govern the country.
William hurried to assemble his forces.
By autumn, William was ready to head for England. His vast flotilla included 43 men-of-war and more than 400 flyboats, which would transport about 21,000 soldiers. James sent the English navy to intercept William’s forces, but the wind turned against the Englishmen, and the Dutch landed on English soil on November 5, 1688.James led his army out to meet William, but the king’s nobles, officers, and men were deserting right and left to support the invaders.
The discouraged James retreated, and William began his march toward London. He met with little resistance along the way, only skirmishing now and then with English troops who hardly even slowed him down.By this point, James believed that his fate was sealed. He tried to flee to France, but was captured. William didn’t really want the king as a prisoner; it would be too much trouble to keep him in captivity, so the invader let the king go. In December, William marched victorious into London, and James fled to France.
A New System
In January of 1689, William called a Convention Parliament to establish the new order in England. Convention members began their new session by arguing at length about whether or not James had abdicated his throne by fleeing to France. William soon became fed up and threatened to return to the Netherlands if the convention didn’t make up its mind. That got things moving, and on February 6, 1689, the convention officially declared that James had indeed abdicated and offered joint sovereignty to William and Mary.There was, however, a catch.
William and Mary had to agree to a Declaration of Rights, later called the Bill of Rights, that set limits to their monarchical rule. Parliament, for example, now controlled English legislation and taxation, and the monarchs had to agree not to interfere with Parliamentary elections or free speech. Monarchs also could not call their own courts or serve as judges. They could not support an army without Parliament’s consent, and they could not arbitrarily suspend laws as James had done.In other words, the king and queen were no longer absolute in their power; they were now constitutional monarchs, who were dependent upon Parliament and forced to work in conjunction with that governing body. Parliament, in turn, was now permanent and powerful.
The new king and queen, William III and Mary II, were officially crowned on April 11, 1689, when they swore to govern according to the system set up by Parliament. A new era of English history had emerged.
James II was a troublesome king as far as most Englishmen were concerned. James was a Catholic king in a Protestant country, and he used his royal powers to grant his fellow Catholics greater freedom to worship as well as positions in the military and government. Parliament and the Anglican bishops were far from pleased, and after James’ Catholic heir was born on June 10, 1688, English leaders decided to act. They invited the king’s son-in-law and nephew, William of Orange, to invade England, restore Protestantism, and call a free Parliament to help govern the country.
William arrived in England on November 5, 1688, and marched to London with very little resistance. James fled to France. In January of 1689, William called a Convention Parliament to set up England’s new order. The convention invited William and his wife, Mary, to rule, but they also passed the Declaration of Rights, later called the Bill of Rights, that limited monarchical power and made Parliament permanent and powerful. William III and Mary II were crowned on April 11, 1689, after having sworn to govern by Parliament’s system.
England was entering a new era of constitutional, rather than absolute, monarchy.
By the time you’ve finished this lesson, you might:
- Understand the worry that Catholic monarch James II gave the Protestant English Parliament
- Discuss Parliament’s invitation to William of Orange to rule England
- Recall the lack of fight in the English army when William arrived
- Recognize Parliament’s offer for William and Mary to rule a constitutional nation