The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was the culmination of a century of upheaval after the British Civil War (1642-1651). It saw William III of Orange-Nassau and his wife, Mary, both grandchildren of Charles I, depose King James II of England and become joint monarchs. Their accession was particularly noteworthy as it was in conjunction with the Bill of Rights (1689), ending monarchist absolute rule in England.

The Whig party had already tried to exclude James II from the throne on account of his Catholicism. James quickly alienated his initial supporters in Parliament, the Anglican Tories, by promoting Catholics to senior positions, including in a large standing army of over 34,000 men.

Increasingly, James advanced policies of religious tolerance after 1685, notably the Declaration of Indulgence (April 1688). The Declaration permitted religious tolerance but was met with stiff resistance by Anglicans, including seven Bishops who declared it illegal and many others in the clergy who refused to read it out. The situation intensified when James’s son was born (June 1688), changing the line of succession away from his Protestant daughter Mary, to this new son, James Francis Edward Stuart.

Between April and November a plot formed amongst English Parliamentarians, nobles and bishops, with William of Orange to ‘save’ England from the increasing likelihood of a Roman Catholic dynasty. William was already known on the Continent for championing Protestantism in the face of Catholicism and French Absolutism. With the support of English nobles, William landed in England (November 1688), taking Exeter, but the rest of the country was in a state of confusion and mistrust. Gradually, the loyalty of James’s army withered and his cause was hurt by his second daughter, Princess Anne, declaring her support for William. Anti-Catholic rioting took place in London, Bristol, York and other cities, while a Protestant mob stormed Dover Castle. James fled to France in late December. William, with his wife Mary (James II’s daughter) became joint monarchs of England.

The Bill of Rights was brought into effect with the new succession. Along with condemning the misdeeds of James II, the Bill focused on the powers of Parliament and the monarch’s constitutional requirement to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament.

The ‘Glorious Revolution’ perhaps conjures positive connotations. It did, however, change religion and society in England. Catholics were denied the right to vote or sit in Parliament, while the monarch was forbidden to be a Catholic or marry one. Some historians have termed the Revolution an ‘invasion’ but, like many things in history, it surely depends what side one was on. Nevertheless, the Glorious Revolution is a fascinating event in a tumultuous period in the history of England.