The Glorious Revolution: Causes and Outcome

You may have heard of the Glorious Revolution and like many others, have often wondered how a revolution could be described as “glorious.” Usually when we imagine revolutions, we think in terms of massive bloodshed and utter chaos.

Well, England’s 1688 revolution deviated from the “norm.” Also known as the Bloodless Revolution, the Glorious Revolution took place without the gory and chaotic elements that typified most revolutions. Despite that, it achieved its intended purpose: a Catholic king was deposed to effect a much needed political and religious change. This king was James II and the leader of the invasion was his nephew and son-in-law, William of Orange.

The revolution laid the foundation for a series of significant events that changed the political climate in many parts of the world. It transformed Britain from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and realigned power within the constitution of England.

In the article below, WHE takes an in-depth look at the causes and effects of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Political & Religious Background

In order to get a better understanding of the events that led to the Glorious Revolution, the timeline of British history must be retraced in order to recount some events. Chief among these events are the English Civil Wars, Charles I’s execution and the reinstatement of the monarchy.

  • Charles I of England

Charles I reigned as the king of  England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland after the death of his father, James I, in 1625. Charles ruled ruthlessly  and often had conflicts with Parliament over his extravagant lifestyle and his show of favoritism for Catholicism over Protestantism. He believed in the divine right of kings and attempted to consolidate all political power under his leadership.

Charles’ authoritarian rule eventually culminated in the dissolution of Parliament.  Between 1642 and 1661, the English Civil wars (fought between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians) waged on. Parliaments’ New Model Army  ultimately defeated the Royalists in all 3 civil wars. Charles’ failure to show remorse for his ill-advised choices led to his execution in January 1649 and the subsequent abolishment of the monarchy.

  • The Restoration

After close to a decade in exile, Charles I’s oldest son, Charles, was invited back to England in 1660 to reclaim the throne. Eventually, the monarchy was restored with the coronation of Charles II on April 23, 1661. The new king reversed a number of policies of the Commonwealth era. In addition to the promotion of policies that sought to bring the two religious factions together, he is credited with the promotion of sports, arts and science.

Since King Charles II had no legitimate heir, his younger brother, James II, became next in line to the throne. There was one problem, however. While Charles II had been a Protestant, James II had converted to Catholicism in 1668. The king was well aware that Parliament and the Scots, particularly, dreaded the prospect of the Roman Catholic James ruling the kingdom. Apart from the fear of Catholicism infiltrating every facet of life in England; marriage, trade and more, there was also the threat of absolute rule, subjugation to France and Rome and slavery.

Charles II died in 1685, leaving the unresolved religious dissensions for his successor, James II, to deal with.

Causes of the Glorious Revolution: James II & Absolutism

King James II incurred the discontent of his people by dismissing the Scottish and English parliaments in 1685 and ruling by personal decree throughout his reign.

In the months leading to his ascension, James made significant contributions to state policy, earning him much admiration from Parliament. James eventually ascended the throne in February, 1685 with no resistance.

The three-year reign of King James II was rife with numerous tensions among the English people and Parliament due to his belief in the divine right of kings. The king came to be seen as a dictator who imposed his pro-Catholic policies on the people. These eventually led to James’ overthrow in 1688 in the Glorious Revolution.

What were some examples of King James II’s pro-Catholic policies? And just how major was their impact?

Below, we take a look at some major reasons for this revolution:

  • Promotion of Catholicism

James II’s earlier assurances that his Catholic faith would not interfere with his reign all went out of the window after he was crowned. As a practicing Catholic, he knew even before he ascended to the throne that he would be up against a non-Catholic Parliament. James II therefore took advantage of his absolute power and abused laws for the course of Catholicism.

For instance, he used his foreign policy to promote marriages and alliances with other Catholic states. James himself had earlier (in 1673) married a devout Roman Catholic woman in the person of Mary of Modena. Even though Mary did not get involved in politics, it is possible that she might have had some sway on her husband’s decision to put on display his adherence to Catholicism.

His continual violation of the laws (i.e. anti-Catholic) of the country put him at odds with the Whigs who were the main opponents of the establishment of a Catholic Stuart dynasty. As the days turned into months during his reign, the English population, which was largely Protestant, gradually became outraged by James’s show of favoritism toward the Catholic faith.

  • Revocation of the Test Acts

Another reason for the Glorious Revolution was the suspension of the Tests Acts of 1673 and 1678 which were passed during Charles II’s reign. The Test Acts were penal laws enacted by Parliament to prevent Catholics and political rivals from assuming any civil or political office.

In spite of Parliament’s refusal to cancel the Test Acts, James II violated the dictates of the Acts and encouraged the appointment and promotion of Catholics into top government positions. In the armed forces, for example, Catholics were given preferential treatment and attained higher ranks. James also removed key Anglicans from high governmental positions and replaced them with Catholics.

  • Dissolution of Parliament

Owing to Parliament’s resistance to the cancellation of the Test Acts, James abolished Parliament (both the English and Scottish Parliaments) and proceeded to use his dispending power to revoke laws that were anti-Catholic in nature. Much to the annoyance of the Whigs, he appointed Roman Catholics as members of his council and royal offices.

  • The Declaration of Indulgence Act

In early 1687, James II passed the Declaration of Indulgence Act that revoked all laws against the rights of Catholics. The Catholic English monarch extended religious freedoms to Protestant non-conformists. Perhaps, James II had forgotten that absolutism was the very reason why his father had been executed. Even more upsetting for the Parliamentarians was when James reserved the right to make all state decisions. The English people were angry and they responded with a series of aggressive protests.

James II issued a second Declaration of Indulgence in 1688 and instructed it to be read in church. However, seven bishops, led by Archbishop Sancroft, refused to announce the Declaration. They were consequently prosecuted but were later acquitted. Their acquittal was further evidence of the king’s increased unpopularity and dwindling influence in the land.

In 1688, James II put on trial the Seven bishops for treason and seditious libel. In a clear sign that James had lost his power base, the Seven bishops were acquitted

  • The birth of James Francis Edward Stuart

Originally, James II’s Protestant daughter, Mary II, had been next in line to the English throne. However, when the king’s second marriage to the Catholic princess, Mary of Modena, produced a son (James Francis Edward Stuart) in June 1688, the line of succession changed. The people’s hope of having the Protestant Mary as queen who would rule by Protestant tenets was shattered.

The birth of James Francis Stuart on 10 June 1688 raised fears among the population that a Catholic Stuart dynasty was all but in place. The young prince was catapulted to the first in line to the throne because he was male. Image – James Francis Edward Stuart, circa 1703

The king added more insult to injury when he announced that his son would be raised Catholic. By this time, it had become apparently clear all the three kingdoms that James was bent on cementing a Catholic Stuart dynasty. This got the people thinking of new alternative to the king.

  • James’s interference in the administration of Cambridge and Oxford Universities

One of James’s decision that his people considered as an attack on Protestantism and the established church came when he fired the Vice Chancellor of the Cambridge University. The king took decision because the head of the university refused to award a degree to a Benedictine monk James had chosen. The king also terminated the appointments of a number of prominent fellows and scholars from the Magdalene College in Oxford for their failure to appoint a Catholic as president.

All of those decisions were seen as acts of tyranny, further adding to the already strained relations between the monarchy and Parliament. A group of Parliamentarians began holding a series of secret meetings to devise a plan to depose James II.

The Dutch ruler William of Orange is invited to invade England

On June 30, 1688, seven noblemen, supported by Parliament and some leading members of the Church of England, sent out an invitation to the Dutch ruler, William of Orange, to invade England. William successfully crossed the English Channel from the Low Countries and seized all three kingdoms without any incident. The Dutch ruler and his wife, Mary, were crowned joint monarchs – William III and Mary II, respectively. Image: The Prince of Orange landing at Torbay, by Dutch painter Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht

At the center of the conspiracy to have James II dethroned was William of Orange. William was the husband of James II’s Protestant daughter, Mary Stuart. He was a Dutchman by birth and a staunch Protestant.

Just 20 days after the birth of Prince James Frances Edward,  a group of seven noblemen (also known as the Immortal Seven) wrote a letter to William inviting him to invade England in order to preserve the Protestant faith and to establish a “free” Parliament. They promised their allegiance to William if he agreed to carry out the invasion. The Dutch king had declined two earlier invitations. On a third occasion, he agreed to help and set about organizing a large force to invade England.

In November of 1688, William arrived at Brixham with his army and continued to march toward London. Meanwhile, James, who had anticipated an invasion, readied his army to defend his throne from his son-in-law/nephew. King James left for London to gather his army to meet the opposing troops. The king soon realized that many of his military men, including John Churchill, and family members had defected to William’s side. Not even his Protestant daughters supported him.

James had about 30,000 forces as against William’s 14,000. It’s been said that the Prince of Orange was enthused about the idea of capturing the English Crown in order to effectively fend off attacks from France.

Who were the seven English noblemen that invited William, Prince of Orange?

Also known as the Immortal Seven, the seven English noblemen that invited William to invade England were:

  • Henry Sydney, 1st Earl of Romney
  • Charles Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
  • Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby
  • William Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire
  • Henry Compton, Bishop of London
  • Richard (Lumley), Viscount Lumley
  • Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford

Tory leaders and Whig politicians were able to put aside their differences in order to fight James II’s attempt to establish a permanent Catholic monarch in England. For example, Compton and Danby were members the Tories, while the remaining five were Whigs.

It is said that the English Whig politician and soldier Henry Sydney was the one who wrote the letter. The invitation letter was delivered to the Dutch ruler, William, in The Hague by Rear Admiral Arthur Herbert. Had the invitation letter not be sent, William would have been perceived as an invader.

Following William’s ascension to the throne, the seven men received handsome rewards from the new king, with many of them elevated to peerage.

Why did James II not face off against the invading army of William of Orange?

Upon the advice of his army commanders, James decided not to engage the invading army of William. Disheartened by his people’s betrayal and distrustful of the rest of his army, James heeded the call to retreat. Worse still, his health was declining.

It must be noted that the embattled king did indeed have a numerical advantage over the invading army of William. James chose not to engage the invading forces perhaps due to all the sheer level of discontent among his people, who were largely Protestants. Perhaps James’s decision not to attack William’s Dutch forces was borne out of his desire to prevent the three kingdoms descending into another civil war just like the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639-1653) which not only upended the entire British Isles but also claimed several thousands of lives.

James made a choice to sit with the Parliament and agree to their terms in order to preserve the monarchy. These terms included restoring the Test Acts, bringing back the Parliament and ensuring a balance of power in governance. Despite James’ agreement to the demands, Parliament did not believe he would execute the needed political changes.

Aftermath of the Invasion and coronation of William III and Mary II

Afraid that he would be martyred for the cause of Catholicism, James II tried to escape to France. However, he was captured in Kent but was later released. As neither William nor Parliament did not want to harm the deposed king, James was allowed to flee to France in December 23.

William and his wife, Mary, were given the offer to become joint monarchs of the three kingdoms – England, Scotland and Ireland in 1689. The couple ruled jointly under Britain’s new Bill of Rights, which received royal assent on December 16, 1689. This Bill limited the monarchy’s power and extended constitutional law which put Parliament in charge of finances and the army. The Bill also stated that no Catholic monarch would be allowed to rule England.

These changes represented a massive victory for Parliament which been engaged in an enduring struggle against the monarchy for many years.

Indeed, the revolution had been glorious (at least for the masses in England and their allies) but not completely bloodless as some say. There was some violence and loss of lives in Ireland and Scotland. Nevertheless, it was considered a great success.

Between January 22 and February 12, the English Convention convened and transferred the crowns of England and Ireland from James II to William III and Mary II. The English Parliament claimed that James had vacated his throne by throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames and then fleeing to France. In Scotland, a similar Convention took place in March 1689 and confirmed that the throne of Scotland was to be passed to William and Mary. The coronation of William III and Mary II. Painting by Dutch painter Charles Rochussen

Significance of the Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution not only benefitted England but was also of major importance to the continent and the rest of the world. It was viewed by many as a courageous defense of liberty against a dictatorial rule. Below are some of the important outcomes of the revolution:

  • Absolutism to constitutional monarchy

Primarily, the revolution marked a turning point in England as it led to limitations to the power of the king and esteemed the rights of the people. The 1698 Bill of Rights birthed a constitutional monarchy in which the monarchy assumes the position of head of state within the parameters of the constitution. The monarch is required to rule along with a parliament or an authorized body. This development was the precursor to the modern day system of government in the United Kingdom.

  • The English Toleration Act of 1689

The revolution led to the English Toleration Act of 1689 which was passed by Parliament to unite “their Majesties Protestant subjects in interest and affection.” The Act was regarded as the most important religious reform in England since its separation from the Catholic church in the early 1500s. It granted religious freedoms to dissenters upon meeting certain requirements.

  • A foundation for freedom and constitutional law in the West

The revolution helped set the tone for especially democracy, economic progress and territorial expansion. The events that followed the invasion such as the signing of the Bill of Rights and the essays of the English Philosopher John Locke taught America and the rest of the world that a repressive government can be changed for a better one. The revolution also served as precautionary symbol to governments the freedoms and rights of the people must ne respected in order to promote a vibrant society.

  • Increased unrest in the American Colonies

Not all the effects of the Glorious Revolution were positive. The revolution also brought some negative results to the 13 American colonies, as the rate of dissentions and tensions increased many folds. For example, there were tensions in Boston (i.e. the Boston Revolt), New York (i.e. the Leisler’s Rebellion), and Maryland (i.e. the Protestant Revolt). Image: “Andros a Prisoner in Boston” illustrated by F.O.C. Darley, William L. Shepard or Granville Perkins.

When news of the deposition of James II crossed the Atlantic into the American colonies, a series of fierce revolts broke out. Especially in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, protesters vented their anger against the government officials appointed by James II.

All throughout the reign of James II, many colonies in America were incensed by the king’s replacement of local puritan officials with royally-appointed officials. In Massachusetts for example, the months following the Glorious Revolution witnessed the removal of many of those appointees from office, and a Council of Safety was established to steer the affairs of the colony.

There was no doubt that the revolution brought some negative results to the 13 American colonies, as the rate of dissentions and tensions increased many folds. Some historians believe the tensions created a nurturing environment for the infamous Salem Witch Trial, an event which saw the persecution and execution of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between early and mid-1693. These events are thoroughly discussed in Carla G. Pestana’s book, “Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World.”

  • The removal of anti-Puritan laws in American Colonies

Following the deposition of James II, 13 colonies in North America were temporarily freed and stringent anti-Puritan laws which had been imposed by James were revoked. The colonies were once again in control of their own legislation. Again, a number of revolts took place in several American colonies as the Glorious Revolution gave the colonists hope of independence. One such revolt was Leisler’s Rebellion in New York which saw the German American militia captain, Jacob Leisler, take over the southern part of the colony for almost 3 years.

Did you know?

  • The term “Glorious Revolution” was first coined by English politician John Hampden in 1689. Other names of the revolution include the Glorieuze Overtocht or Glorious Crossing.
  • The Bill of Rights of 1689 confirmed the primacy of Parliament over the English Crown. The Test Acts remained in force until 1828. It was not until 2015, that the restrictions on the monarch’s ability to marry a Catholic was lifted. However, the restriction on the monarch still remains.
  • William’s army crossed the English Channel and made landing at Torbay in Devon on November 5. Prior to William’s landing, the only foreign monarch that successfully invaded England was William the Conqueror, an event that took place in 1066. About three months after his landing, William, Prince of Orange, and his wife, Mary II, were crowned King and Queen of England.


It is obvious that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was of tremendous importance to the foundation of constitutional law. Today, many countries around world incorporate the principles and laws that emerged from the Glorious Revolution into their constitutions in order create the needed balance of power.


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