The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, was the overthrow of King James II of England (VII of Scotland and II of Ireland) in 1688 by a union of Parliamentarians with an invading army led by the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange) who, as a result, ascended the English throne as William III of England together with his wife Mary II of England.
The crisis besetting King James II came to a head in 1688, when the King fathered a son, James Francis Edward Stuart on 10 June (Julian calendar). Until then the throne would have passed to his daughter Mary, a Protestant, the wife of William. The prospect of a Roman Catholic dynasty in the kingdoms was now likely. Already troubled by the King's Catholicism and his close ties with France, key leaders of the Tories united with members of the opposition Whigs and set out to resolve the crisis by inviting William of Orange to England.
The expression "Glorious Revolution" was first used by John Hampden in late 1689, and is an expression that is still used by the British Parliament. The Glorious Revolution is also occasionally termed the Bloodless Revolution, albeit inaccurately. In England there were two significant clashes between the two armies, and anti-Catholic riots in several towns. There was also the Williamite War in Ireland and serious fighting in Scotland (notably the Battles of Killicrankie and the Dunkeld). The revolution also led to the collapse of the Dominion of New England and the overthrow of Maryland's government.
The Revolution is closely tied in with the events of the War of the Grand Alliance on mainland Europe, and may be seen as the last successful invasion of England. It can be argued that James's overthrow began modern English parliamentary democracy: never since has the monarch held absolute power, and the Bill of Rights has become one of the most important documents in the political history of Britain. The deposition of the Roman Catholic James II ended any chance of Catholicism becoming re-established in England, and led to limited toleration for nonconformist Protestants; it would be some time before they had full political rights. For Catholics, however, it was disastrous both socially and politically. Catholics were denied the right to vote and sit in the Westminster Parliament for over 100 years afterwards. They were also denied commissions in the army; and the monarch was forbidden to be Catholic or marry a Catholic, thus ensuring a Protestant succession.
The invasion ended all attempts by England, in the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th century, to subdue the Dutch Republic by military force. However, the personal union, the common market and the co-operation between the English and Dutch navies shifted the dominance in world trade from the Republic to England (and then to the United Kingdom of Great Britain).
During his three-year reign, King James II became directly involved in the political battles in England between Catholicism and Protestantism on the one hand, and on the other, between the Divine Right of Kings and the political rights of the Parliament of England. James's greatest political problem was his Catholicism, which left him alienated from both parties in England. The low church Whigs had failed in their attempt to pass the Exclusion Bill to exclude James from the throne between 1679 and 1681, and James's supporters were the high church Anglican Tories. In Scotland, his supporters on the Parliament of Scotland increased attempts to force the Covenanters to renounce their faith and accept episcopalian rule of the church by the monarch.
When James inherited the English throne in 1685, he had much support in the 'Loyal Parliament', which was composed mostly of Tories. His Catholicism was a concern to many, but the fact that he had no son, and his daughters were Protestants, was a "saving grace". James's attempt to relax the penal laws alienated his natural supporters, however, because the Tories viewed this as tantamount to disestablishment of the Church of England. Abandoning the Tories, James looked to form a 'King's party' as a counterweight to the Anglican Tories, so in 1687 James supported the policy of religious toleration and issued the Declaration of Indulgence. By allying himself with the Catholics, Dissenters, and nonconformists, James hoped to build a coalition that would advance Catholic emancipation.
In May 1686 James decided to obtain from the English courts of the common law a ruling which affirmed his power to dispense with Acts of Parliament. He dismissed judges who disagreed with him on this matter as well as the Solicitor General Heneage Finch. Eleven out of the twelve judges ruled in favour of dispensing power.
In April 1687 James ordered the fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford to elect a Catholic, Anthony Farmer, as their president. The fellows believed Farmer ineligible under the college's statutes and so elected John Hough instead. The college statutes required them to fill the vacancy within a certain time and so could not wait for a further royal nomination. James refused to view Hough's election as valid and told the fellows to elect the Bishop of Oxford. James responded by sending some ecclesiastical commissioners to hold a visitation and install him as president. The fellows then agreed to the Bishop of Oxford as their president but James required that they admit they had been in the wrong and ask for his pardon. When they refused most of the fellows were ejected and replaced by Catholics.
In 1687 James prepared to pack Parliament with his supporters so that it would repeal the Test Act and the penal laws. James was convinced by addresses from Dissenters that he had their support and so could dispense with relying on Tories and Anglicans. James instituted a wholesale purge of those in offices under the crown opposed to James's plan. In August the lieutenancy was remodelled and in September over one thousand members of the city livery companies were ejected. In October James gave orders for the lords lieutenants in the provinces to provide three standard questions to all members of the Commission of the Peace: would they consent to the repeal of the Test Act and the penal law?; would they assist candidates who would do so?; and would they honor a request to accept the Declaration of Indulgence? In December it was announced that all the offices of deputy lieutenants and Justices of the Peace would be revised. Therefore, during the first three months of 1688, hundreds of those asked the three questions who gave hostile replies were dismissed. More far-reaching purges were applied to the towns: in November a regulating committee was founded to operate the purges. Corporations were purged by agents given wide discretionary powers in an attempt to create a permanent royal electoral machine.. Finally, on 24 August 1688, James ordered writs to be issued for a general election.
James also created a large standing army and employed Catholics in positions of power within it. To his opponents in Parliament this seemed like a prelude to arbitrary rule, so James prorogued Parliament without gaining Parliament's consent. At this time, the English regiments of the army were encamped at Hounslow, near the capital. It was feared that the location was intended to overawe the City. The army in Ireland was purged of Protestants, who were replaced with Catholics, and by 1688 James had more than 34,000 men under arms in his three kingdoms.
In April 1688, James re-issued the Declaration of Indulgence and ordered all clergymen to read it in their churches. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, and six other bishops (the Seven Bishops) wrote to James asking him to reconsider his policies, they were arrested on charges of seditious libel, but at trial they were acquitted to the cheers of the London crowd.
Matters came to a head in June 1688, when the King fathered a son, James; until then, the throne would have passed to his daughter, Mary, a Protestant. The prospect of a Catholic dynasty in the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland was now likely.
Mary had a husband, her cousin William Henry of Orange. Both were Protestants and grandchildren of Charles I of England. Before the birth of James's son on 10 June, William had been third in the line of succession. However, there was a strong faction at the English court, headed by Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, proposing that Mary and William, because of their anti-Catholic position, should be replaced by some Catholic French heir.
William was also stadtholder of the main provinces of the Dutch Republic, then in the preliminary stages of joining the War of the Grand Alliance against France, in a context of international tensions caused by the revocation by Louis XIV of the Edict of Nantes and the disputed succession of Cologne and the Palatinate. William had already acquired the reputation of being the main champion in Europe of the Protestant cause against Catholicism and French absolutism; in the developing English crisis he saw an opportunity to prevent an Anglo-French alliance and bring England to the anti-French side, by carrying out a military intervention directed against James. This suited the desires of several English politicians who intended to depose James. It is still a matter of controversy whether the initiative for the conspiracy was taken by the English or by the stadtholder and his wife. William had been trying to influence English politics for well over a year, letting Grand Pensionary Gaspar Fagel publish an open letter to the English people in November 1687 deploring the religious policy of James, which action had generally been interpreted as a covert bid for kingship.
Since he had become king the relation between James and his nephew and son-in-law had gradually deteriorated. At first William welcomed the promise of a less pro-French policy. In 1685 he sent the Scottish and English mercenary regiments of his army to England to assist in putting down the Monmouth Rebellion. Soon however, James's policy of religious tolerance caused tensions to rise between them. William assumed it was but the first step towards a total re-Catholisation of England and was unable to explain how James could hope to achieve this goal unless he had concluded a secret alliance with France. James's refusal to enter any anti-French coalition and his efforts to reorganise the Royal Navy increased William's suspicions. In the previous years the French navy had enormously grown in strength and the Dutch Republic would no longer be able to resist a combined Anglo-French attack. William feared that even English neutrality would not suffice and that control over the Royal Navy was a prerequisite for a successful naval campaign against France.
In November 1686 James had wished to gain William's support for the repeal of the Test Acts, as this would have delivered a blow to the English opposition. The Quaker William Penn was sent to The Hague but William opposed repeal. William's envoy Everhard van Weede Dijkvelt visited England between February and May 1687, instructed to persuade James to help contain French aggression. William also instructed Dijkvelt to let it be known that he would support the Church of England; that he was not a Presbyterian; to persuade the Dissenters not to support James and to reassure moderate Catholics. After having been assured by James that all rumours about a French alliance were malevolent fabrications, Dijkvelt returned to the Republic, with letters of varying importance from leading English statesmen. James tried again to gain William's support but William responded by advising James to keep to the law and not to try and extend his prerogative powers. In August 1687 Count William Nassau de Zuylestein was sent to England, ostensibly to send condolences due to the death of the queen's mother. Zuylestein was sent in part to see how successful, or amenable, James's packed Parliament would be, and have discussions with English statesmen, with Zuylestein sending back to William letters from them.
The correspondence between William and the English politicians was at first sent by ordinary post to genuine addresses in either country and then distributed. Devices were used such as ending a postscript with "etc." which meant spaces were actually written in white or invisible ink. However as conspiracy neared completion in 1688, the English government sometimes used to disrupt this correspondence by holding up the whole mail delivery system. Another way was used to keep this clandestine correspondence flowing: letters were sent in merchant ships between London and Amsterdam or Rotterdam, with outward bound letters often put on board below Gravesend as this would be after the final customs clearance. Also, couriers for the purpose were sometimes used and all Dutch diplomats travelling to and from either country carried the correspondence. Shortly before the invasion, when fast delivery and secrecy was essential, fast yachts and small vessels were used for special courier services. The English government intercepted very few of these means of communication.
It has been suggested that the crisis caused by the prospect of a new Catholic heir made William decide to invade the next summer as early as November 1687, but this is disputed. It is certain however that in April 1688, when France and England concluded a naval agreement that stipulated that the French would finance an English squadron in The Channel, which seemed to be the beginning of a formal alliance, he seriously began to prepare for a military intervention and seek political and financial support for such an undertaking.
William laid careful plans over a number of months for an invasion, which he hoped to execute in September 1688. William would not invade England without assurances of English support, and so in April, he asked for a formal invitation to be issued by a group of leading English statesmen. Gilbert Burnet recorded a conversation at the end of April between William and Admiral Edward Russell:
So Russel put the Prince to explain himself what he intended to do. The Prince answered, that, if he was invited by some men of the best interest, and the most valued in the nation, who should both in their own name, and in the name of others who trusted them, invite him to come and rescue the nation and the religion, he believed he could be ready by the end of September to come over.—Gilbert Burnet.
In May Russell told William that the English opposition to James would not wait any longer for help and they would rise against James in any event. William feared that if he did not now head the conspiracy the English would set up a republic, even more inimical to the Dutch state. In June William sent Count Zuylestein to England, ostensibly to congratulate James on the birth of the Prince of Wales but in reality to communicate with William's associates..
Only after the Prince of Wales had been born in June, however, and many suspected he was supposititious, did the Immortal Seven (who consisted of one bishop and six nobles) decide to comply, with the letter to William dated 18 June (Julian calendar), reaching him in The Hague on 30 June, and dispatched by Rear Admiral Herbert, disguised as a common sailor. The Seven consisted of Lord Shrewsbury, Lord Devonshire, Lord Danby, Lord Lumley, Henry Compton, Edward Russell, and Henry Sidney. The invitation declared:
We have great reason to believe, we shall be every day in a worse condition than we are, and less able to defend ourselves, and therefore we do earnestly wish we might be so happy as to find a remedy before it be too late for us to contribute to our own deliverance...the people are so generally dissatisfied with the present conduct of the government, in relation to their religion, liberties and properties (all which have been greatly invaded), and they are in such expectation of their prospects being daily worse, that your Highness may be assured, there are nineteen parts of twenty of the people throughout the kingdom, who are desirous of a change; and who, we believe, would willingly contribute to it, if they had such a protection to countenance their rising, as would secure them from being destroyed.—invitation by The Seven.
The Seven went on to claim that "much the greatest part of the nobility and gentry" were dissatisfied and would rally to William, and that James's army "would be very much divided among themselves; many of the officers being so discontented that they continue in their service only for a subsistence...and very many of the common soldiers do daily shew such an aversion to the Popish religion, that there is the greatest probability imaginable of great numbers of deserters...and amongst the seamen, it is almost certain, there is not one in ten who would do them any service in such a war". The Seven believed that the situation would be much worse before another year due to James's plans to remodel the army by the means of a packed Parliament or, should the parliamentary route fail, through violent means which would "prevent all possible means of relieving ourselves". The Seven also promised to rally to William upon his landing in England and would "do all that lies in our power to prepare others to be in as much readiness as such an action is capable of".
William's confidante Hans Willem Bentinck launched a propaganda campaign in England, presenting William as being, in fact, a true Stuart but one blessedly free from the, according to the pamphlets, usual Stuart vices of cryptocatholicism, absolutism, and debauchery. Much of the later "spontaneous" support for William had been carefully organised by him and his agents.
In August, it became clear that William had surprisingly strong support within the English army, a situation brought about by James himself. In January 1688 he had forbidden any of his subjects to serve the Dutch and had demanded that the Republic dissolve its mercenary Scottish and English regiments. When this was refused, he asked that at least those willing would be released from their martial oath to be free to return to Britain. To this William consented as it would purify his army of Jacobite elements. In total 104 officers and 44 soldiers returned. The officers were enlisted within the British armies and so favoured that the established officer corps began to fear for its position. On 14 August Lord Churchill wrote to William: "I owe it to God and my country to put my honour into the hands of Your Highness". Nothing comparable happened within the Royal Navy, however; claims after the event by certain captains that they had somehow prevented the English fleet to engage seem to have been little more than attempts at self-aggrandisement.