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The Glorious Revolution of 1688: Events and Significance

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  • 0:03 A Troublesome King
  • 1:11 An Invitiation
  • 2:06 An Invasion
  • 3:11 A New System
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

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.

An Invitation

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.

An Invasion

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.

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