The Glorious Revolution

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The deposition of the Stuart king James II (of England, VII of Scotland (1633-1701, reigned 1685-1688)) in 1688 and his replacement on the throne by his daughter Mary (1662-1694) and her Dutch husband, William of Orange (1650-1702) is commonly referred to as the Glorious Revolution. Other expressions used to refer to this sequence of events are: the 1688 Revolution and the Bloodless Revolution.

James’s deposition was the result of his strongly held Roman Catholic beliefs, which motivated him to improve the position of his fellow Roman Catholics in Britain, and his intransigent nature, which led him to deal high-handedly with his political opponents.

James’s Roman Catholicism was well-known when he succeeded his father, Charles II (1630-1685, reigned 1660-1685), in 1685, but his succession was not opposed – partly because it was feared opposition could escalate into civil war, and partly because Mary, James’s only child at the time and hence his presumed heir, was a Protestant and so it was assumed that the Roman Catholic monarchy would end with James’s death. However, this assumption was undermined when in June 1688 a son, James Francis Edward, was born to the King. By this time James’s arrogant and insensitive exercise of power had alienated much of his support. In November 1685 he had suspended Parliament when it refused to repeal the Test Acts, a series of laws imposing certain civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and nonconformists; and he regularly interfered in appointments to influential positions to ensure the success of his own candidate. Matters came to a head in 1688 when James accused the Archbishop of Canterbury and six other bishops, of seditious libel after they had claimed that the royal Declaration of Indulgence, allowing Roman Catholics and nonconformists freedom of worship, constituted an attack on the Church of England. The seven bishops were imprisoned but when their case came to trial they were found not guilty. Their acquittal prompted widespread anti-Catholic rioting throughout the country, and James’s position became unsustainable.

Encouraged by political allies in Britain and on the continent, the Protestant William of Orange, the husband of James’s daughter Mary, brought together a fleet of several hundred ships, embarked his army of 14,000 men, and landed at Torbay in Devon in November 1688. Rather than face William’s army with his own forces now much reduced by desertion, James disbanded his army and went into exile in December. In January 1689 a reconvened Parliament began work to ensure that James’s autocratic exercise of royal authority could never be repeated, and at the end of the year passed the Bill of Rights which limited the powers of the sovereign and protected the rights of Parliament. Meanwhile, at Parliament’s invitation, William and Mary had become joint monarchs. They reigned together until Mary’s death in 1694, after which William reigned as sole monarch until his own death in 1702, when he was succeeded by Mary’s sister Anne, (1665-1714), also a Protestant.

In the years after James’s deposition a number of attempts were made to re-establish the Stuart dynasty on the throne, none of them successful.

James had many supporters among the Catholic population of Ireland, and in the years immediately after his deposition he tried to gain control of Ireland in the hope of using it as a base for an attempt to regain the British throne. However, he suffered a succession of defeats against King William’s army and left Ireland after losing the battle of the Boyne in 1690, while his supporters finally acknowledged the hopelessness of the Jacobite cause after their defeat at the battle of Aughrim in 1691. (For a little more see Derry Enniskillen – Boyne – Aughrim and Boyne.)
James also enjoyed significant support in Scotland, and in 1715 his son, James Francis Edward (1688-1766), often referred to as ‘The Old Pretender’, gave his approval for another attempt to re-establish the Stuart dynasty on the British throne. His forces, under the Earl of Mar, gained control of almost all of Scotland north of the Firth of Forth and fought an indecisive engagement with the army of the Hanoverian king, George I, at Sheriffmuir (in Perthshire), while on the same day, in England, another Jacobite army was defeated at the Battle of Preston. By December, when James Francis Edward himself landed in Scotland, his forces were much reduced and the Hanoverian army had been strengthened by the arrival of reinforcements, and soon realising that victory was impossible, he left Scotland in February 1716 and returned to France. (For some more see ‘fifteen).
In 1745, Charles Edward (1720-1788), the son of James Francis Edward and therefore James II’s grandson, often referred to as ‘The Young Pretender’ or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, led an attempt to secure the British throne for his father. He landed in the north of Scotland, captured Edinburgh, and in September won the battle of Prestonpans (in East Lothian). His army then marched south into England and had reached as far as Derby when, disheartened by lack of support among the English and the failure of the French to provide the assistance they had promised, it turned back, and was finally defeated, in April 1746, at the battle of Culloden (near Inverness). (For some more see ‘Forty-Five.)