The Glorious Revolution of 1688 marked a profound change in the history of England, and therefore, the United Kingdom.
Most of the people who are reading this now – if not all- know of this revolution and its ramifications upon the history of this nation, but what I find quite disheartening is the fact that most people one encounters do not know what this event entailed. In fact, in my interactions with visitors in the palaces, I have found a very high amount of ignorance of the Stuart family in general. When I explained (on numerous occasions) about Mary II, about 95% or more of the people I spoke with thought Mary II was Mary, Queen of Scots. Needless to say, I was staggered by this. But what can one expect? The Glorious Revolution is not currently covered in the curriculum in the UK, and during my time in secondary school in the United States, it merely warranted a paragraph in the history textbook.
Given that it is not a well-covered subject, here is a very short summary of the event (because I could literally give you all the details ad nauseum): William of Orange, stadtholder of the Dutch Republic/United Provinces, husband to Mary, Princess of Orange (the eldest daughter of James II), was invited to take the throne by seven of the most powerful men in England – known as the Immortal Seven. These men could not bear to see their Protestant country in the hands of the Roman Catholic King James II – who, though kind and loving to his family – was stubborn and ruthless to those who opposed him (think Monmouth’s Rebellion, 1685, where he showed no mercy to his nephew, the Duke of Monmouth, and had him beheaded on Tower Hill).
The prevalent concern at the time was that James would return the country back to Catholicism- back to the dark despair (for the Protestants) that had previously come with Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary). Hundreds of Protestants had been burned to death. James, already unpopular by being a Catholic, had blackened his name further when he married the devout Catholic Italian princess Mary of Modena, who, in 1688, gave birth to a son – a son which would no doubt be raised to become a Catholic king to ensure a Catholic succession. The probability of a Catholic succession under James was troublesome in the minds of most Englishmen – we must remember that throughout the 1600s, religion was of extreme importance – though many of us now perhaps cannot fully appreciate this.
Mary, Princess of Orange, a Protestant, had been the heir to her father’s throne until the boy was born. William, a staunch defender of Protestantism and enemy of Louis XIV, also was in line for the throne as he was the son of the late Mary Stuart, Princess Dowager of England, eldest daughter of Charles I. Therefore, these two were seen as the legitimate heirs to the throne because they would defend the Church of England and had Stuart blood. Was it right for them to take the throne? Were they usurpers or saviours? To those acquainted with the topic, it can still be bitterly divisive.
James II was abandoned by many – including the brilliant military leader John Churchill aka later 1st Duke of Marlborough- and he, Mary of Modena and their children fled to France – to Louis XIV, but James wouldn’t give up his throne – he attempted to conquer Ireland and then regain his throne in England, but James and his Jacobites were thrashed and defeated by Williamites in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.And so, the Glorious Revolution ushered in the reign of William & Mary which marked the first time in history that there was a King and Queen of England (as opposed to King and Queen consort, Queen and Prince consort) and during the reign [William & Mary: 1689-1694 (her death), William ruled alone from 1694-1702], many changes were made – including the creation of the Bank of England in 1694, the English Bill of Rights, the first of the Chelsea Pensioners at Royal Hospital Chelsea, the College of William & Mary in Virginia, the Act of Settlement of 1701, etc.