|West Morris Central High School
Department of History and Social Sciences
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was essentially a bloodless coup in England, during which King James II was removed from the throne and replaced by William III and Queen Mary II.
James assumed the throne upon the death of his older brother, King Charles II, in 1685. In contrast to his brother, who had maintained moderate and reconciliatory policies following the Restoration of the Stuart dynasty in 1660, James stubbornly pursued his own political and religious agenda. His actions raised alarm and garnered resentment among his subjects, and his popularity quickly dissipated. James continually attempted to establish dominance over the authority of the British Parliament, issuing independent decrees while filling political offices with supporters. He also raised and maintained a large standing army, an act that members of Parliament viewed as an intimidation ploy to bolster his attempts at asserting the authority of the Crown. Most alarming to the predominantly Anglican population was James' pro-Catholic agenda, which he pursued in both practice and policy. He repealed the Test Act of 1673, which prohibited Catholics from receiving titles and holding public office, and he directly subverted the authority of the Church of England by issuing the Declaration for Liberty of Conscience in 1687, which granted freedom of worship to all religious denominations.
The fact that James' heir apparent, his eldest daughter Mary, was a Protestant resulted in a degree of tolerance for his unpopular actions. That all changed when James and his second wife, who was also Catholic, gave birth to a son in June 1688. The possibility of the new male heir perpetuating James' pro-Catholic policies upon taking the throne was unthinkable to many in England, and a group of prominent English statesmen—including members of both the liberal British Whig Party and the conservative Tory Party—decided that the king had to go. In July, they sent word to the Netherlands inviting Mary and her husband, Prince William of Orange, to cross the English Channel and take the throne.
In November 1688, William landed unchallenged in England with a contingent of Dutch soldiers and began his march on London. Unable to rally his own army against William, and with the majority of Britons supporting the prospect of a Protestant coup (even James' second daughter, Anne, sided with William and Mary), James fled to France in December. Parliament declared James' flight to be an act of abdication and offered the throne to William and Mary on the condition that they agree to share power with the legislature. Following their acceptance, a proclamation in February 1689 formally appointed William and Mary as the new joint monarchs of England, dubbing them King William III and Queen Mary II.
That agreement was formalized by the drafting of a new English Bill of Rights (1689). The provisions of the document, which included outlawing the Crown's traditional practice of voiding parliamentary laws at will, firmly secured the governmental authority of Parliament. Although William and Mary likewise retained considerable policy-making abilities as king and queen, the division of power permanently established by the outcome of the Glorious Revolution was a major development in the evolution of British politics toward parliamentary democracy.