Glorious Revolution

Gary S. De Krey

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
Glorious Revolution

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The Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689 was once a well-known historical landmark. The Whig interpretation of the revolution, which was epitomized in the work of the great Victorian historian Thomas B. Macaulay, was largely responsible for this familiarity. Macaulay and writers who followed him saw the revolution as a constitutional milestone. They maintained that Whig leaders committed to parliamentary government took the initiative in the Convention of 1689 (an irregular meeting of Parliament) in ousting a despotic and Catholic James II in favor of his Protestant son-in-law and daughter, William III (also stadtholder of the Netherlands) and Mary II. This largely bloodless revolution at Westminster, which promoted Parliament at the expense of the crown, also secured Protestantism by maintaining the privileged position of the established Anglican Church and by extending toleration to Protestant dissenters who preferred to remain outside the religious establishment. Moreover, according to the Whig view, the revolution protected property and personal rights from arbitrary taxation and royal interference with the law and the courts. Whig interpreters also utilized the contractual thought of John Locke, whose Two Treatises of Government was published in 1689, to vest the revolution with a liberal ethos. By the third quarter of the 20th century, however, this comfortable construction of the revolution was disintegrating, and popular interest in it was fading. Marxists and some historians dismissed 1688–1689 as an inconsequential alteration in the monarchy. Specialists found fault with particular aspects of the Whig interpretation. Some scholars sought to rehabilitate James II, especially in light of his religious toleration. Other historians emphasized the ideological compromises involved in an event that owed as much to royalist Tories as to their Whig partisan opponents or relegated Locke’s arguments for resistance to the periphery of the event. But dismissal of the Glorious Revolution has proved premature. Since its tercentenary in 1988–1989, the revolution has been interpreted as a watershed in all three British kingdoms, and it has also increasingly been understood as an event with both a European and a global importance. William III led his new kingdoms into warfare against the France of Louis XIV, which transformed England into the preeminent imperial and commercial power of the 18th century. The Scottish and the Irish revolutions, neither of which was bloodless, also had momentous consequences, stimulating parliamentary assertiveness in both kingdoms, contributing to the union of kingdoms in 1707, and marginalizing both Irish Catholics and Scottish Episcopalians. In the North American colonies the revolution helped confirm the position of colonial assemblies in a decentralized empire. As the Glorious Revolution has acquired new dimensions as a British, European, Atlantic, and global event, some elements of the Whig interpretation have also retained a place in scholarly interpretation, albeit in more nuanced form.

Article.  9708 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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