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The Creation of Great Britain & The English Bill of Rights

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  • 0:05 The Glorious Revolution
  • 1:57 William of Orange
  • 3:45 English Bill of Rights
  • 4:46 Unification
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the 1688 Glorious Revolution in England, where the Catholic James II was supplanted by Parliament in favor of William and Mary, as well as other important political landmarks of the late Stuart period including the English Bill of Rights and the Act of Union.

The Glorious Revolution

CEOs join and leave companies on a regular basis. Sometimes they leave of their own volition, usually for a better position elsewhere or simply to retire. Other times, they are forced out by the board or shareholders. While forcing out a CEO is not the easiest task in the 21st century, forcing a country's king to abdicate in the 17th century was far harder. Regardless, that was exactly what English parliamentarians and nobles tried to do in the 1680s when faced with the imminent accession of a Catholic monarch. The result was the 1688 Glorious Revolution.

To understand the impetus behind such remarkable actions, we must first learn a little about England in the 17th century. Arguably the largest fear in English society in the 17th century was Catholicism and Catholics. Englishmen were constantly worried that an attack from a foreign Catholic power, such as France or Spain, or insurrection at home would foist Catholicism upon the English, endangering their immortal souls. Indeed, one of the driving forces behind the English Civil War of the 1640s was English fears that Charles I's Arminian policies were too closely related to Catholic practices.

Considering this, it should come as little surprise that the line of succession in the 1680s greatly alarmed Englishmen. King Charles II and his wife, Catherine of Braganza, produced no heirs. According to English law, the throne, upon Charles' death in 1685, passed to his brother James II. Though Charles was an Anglican, his brother James had been raised Catholic in exile in France during the Civil War and Interregnum and secretly converted to Catholicism in the late 1660s. James' Catholicism was widely rumored in England and his relations with his rabidly anti-Catholic subjects were made worse when he attempted to secure wider toleration for Catholicism in England after his 1685 accession.

William of Orange

Most Protestant Englishmen felt something clearly needed to be done. Several attempts had been made prior to Charles II's death to exclude James from the line of succession, though all had failed. After James' pro-Catholic policies were made public, the ire of those same exclusionists was raised yet again. Additionally, the birth of James' son, in 1688, who was sure to be raised Catholic, made the prospect of a Catholic line of succession in England all too real for many English Protestants.

As a result, several English parliamentarians made secret overtures to William of Orange, the stadholder of the Dutch Republic. William was married to James' daughter, Mary, who, outside of James II and his son, had the most legitimate claim to the English throne. Most importantly, both William and Mary were staunch Protestants with a record of fighting the spread of Catholicism and the Counter-Reformation.

After a series of secret conversations and letters between the parliamentarians and William, in which they assured William of the whole of England's support, William declared he was invading England to protect the rights of Protestants and investigate the legitimacy of James II's son. James' surprising response was to flee to the continent. As a result, though William's original intention was not to take the English throne for himself, James had all but abdicated by December 1688 when William's force arrived in London.

As a result, William was appointed as provisional ruler, and a Parliament was immediately called in January 1689. In February, Parliament voted to exclude James and all his heirs from the English throne as he had left the seat of the throne and abdicated, de facto. Subsequently, William and Mary were made king and queen of England for life, with the succession being secured as English by placing Mary's sister, Anne, rather than any of William and Mary's presumably Dutch future children, as the direct heir to the throne.

English Bill of Rights

The exclusion of James II and offering of the throne to William and Mary were not the only business the 1689 Parliament concluded. In addition, the chamber drew up a list of grievances as to the liberties and rights of English subjects which James had violated, hence justifying William's invasion. Most importantly, the bill further listed the rights which Englishmen and Parliament considered inalienable.

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