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The Glorious Revolution

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  • The Glorious Revolution was a largely non-violent revolution (also sometimes called the "Bloodless Revolution"), 1688-1689, in which the Stuart king was removed from the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and replaced by William of the House of Orange and his wife and joint sovereign Mary. 

    During his three-year reign, King James II fell victim to the political battle in Britain between Catholicism and Protestantism, between the divine right of the Crown and the political rights of Parliament. James' greatest problem was his Catholicism which left him alienated from both parties in parliament. Any attempts at reform by James were thus viewed with deep suspicion. James also pursued a number of untenable policies, such as a desire for a standing army and a pursuit of religious toleration. While his brother and predecessor, Charles II, had done the same, he had not been an overt Catholic like James. Matters came to a head in 1688 when James fathered a son. Until then, the throne would have passed to his Protestant daughter, Mary. The prospect of a Catholic dynasty in Britain was now real, however. Leaders of the hitherto loyal Tory Party united with members of the opposition Whigs, and set out to solve the crisis. 

    A conspiracy was launched to depose James and replace him with his daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange -- both Protestants. William was leader of the Dutch, then in the early stages of a war with the French: the War of the Grand Alliance. Jumping at the chance to add England to his alliance, William and Mary landed at Brixham, Devon with a large Dutch army. James' nerve broke, his army under the future Duke of Marlborough deserted, and he fled to Kent where he was captured. The memory of the execution of Charles I still being strong, he was then allowed to leave for France. 

    In 1689, the Convention Parliament convened and declared that James' flight amounted to abdication. William and Mary were offered the throne as joint rulers, an arrangement which they accepted. Despite an uprising in support of James in Scotland, the first Jacobite rebellion, and in Ireland where James used local Catholic feeling to try to regain the throne in 1689-1690, the revolution was remarkably bloodless. It can thus be seen as much more of a coup d'├ętat than an authentic revolution. England stayed calm throughout, Scotland was calm after the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Killiecrankie, and James was expelled from Ireland following the Battle of the Boyne. 

    The Glorious Revolution was one of the most important events in the long evolution of powers possessed by Parliament and by the Crown in England. With the passage of the Bill of Rights it stamped out any final possibility of a Catholic monarchy, and ended moves towards monarchical absolutism in the British Isles by circumscribing the monarch's powers.


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