The Glorious Revolution – A Forgotten Revolution?

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.

Were you taught about the Glorious Revolution in school?

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Although I disagree with the Glorious Revolution being referred to as a “bloodless revolution,” (for though there was little blood spilt in England, there was plenty of bloodshed in the months and years that followed in both Ireland and Scotland) I believe it was a coup that laid the foundations for the modern Britain we now live in. The sovereigns which followed the Revolution wielded less real power and more symbolic power. James wanted an autocracy, and when William and Mary came to the throne, one of the conditions was a limited monarchy, which they accepted.

The Glorious Revolution has been forgotten for the most part, except in the minds of the Irish – whose quest for independence stems from this tumultuous period in Early Modern history. The IRA, Northern Ireland, Irish independence, bombings, division – these subjects may seem like a modern problem, but they are not: they have roots in the Glorious Revolution. (My brother-in-law is Irish Catholic, and I have some good friends from Northern Ireland and I can see both sides, so I understand this is still a delicate topic).

What are your thoughts on the Glorious Revolution? Has it truly become the “forgotten” revolution?

To participate, why not join The History Team on the Glorious Revolution thread at Or just reply below 🙂

Hear ye! 7 thoughts — so far — on “The Glorious Revolution – A Forgotten Revolution?”:

  1. Deborah Grant

    I can’t speak for the U.K. but in general I’d have to say it’s forgotten here in the U.S. Now, it’s not forgotten in academia. Not too long ago I finished a fascinating book on the subject: 1688: The First Modern Revolution by Professor Steven Pincus, who teaches 17th and 18th century British and European history and the history of the early British Empire at Yale. He begins by demonstrating with a wealth of data that James II wanted to create an absolute monarchy with a highly centralized government. He uses archival research to demonstrate that the revolutionaries of 1688-89 intended to transform English foreign policy, religious culture, and political economy, and transform them they did. The book is over 600 pages so I can’t do it justice in a brief comment.

    The problem is that I doubt many readers who aren’t interested in this period of history will read the book.

  2. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

    Thanks for your comment! I have read that book by Steven Pincus (who, funnily enough is a close friend of my husband’s cousin, who is also a professor at Yale – small world). I didn’t agree with some things he put forth – as I prefer a traditional interpretation of the Glorious Revolution. But, needless to say, it was a very interesting, well-written book. In terms of new interpretations of the revolution, however, I prefer Edward Vallance’s book, “The Glorious Revolution: 1688: Britain’s Fight for Liberty.”

  3. Deborah Grant

    It is a small world. Edward Vallance’s book is next on my list. I tried Maureen Waller’s Ungrateful Daughters but in the end I couldn’t finish it. Her idea that Mary never stopped hoping for a child because of her ignorance and innocence made me laugh. Instead, I reread my copy of 1688: Revolution in the Family.

  4. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

    I felt the same way about the Waller. Ah, the van der Zee books are excellent. Have you read the Van der Kiste, “William & Mary?” I really enjoyed that, and old school books from Hester Chapman and Stephen Baxter. The Dutch have very good ones too, such as those by Troost and the essays compiled by Esther Mijers. I don’t agree, however, with anyone who says that William III was a homosexual. There is absolutely zero evidence for it (and I won’t count gossip from Liselotte as evidence).

  5. Deborah Grant

    Almost the first hardcover books I bought myself back when I was in college in the 70s was Nesca Robb’s two volume biography William of Orange: A Personal Portrait. It’s hagiography but I enjoy it. I discovered Baxter’s biography shortly after reading Robb’s and then the van der Zee joint biography after came out not long after that. I’ve read the English translation of Troost’s biography and Redefining William, III and I read Claydon’s biography. I did read Van der Kiste’s joint biography, but I was underwhelmed. Have you read Pieter Geyl’s Orange & Stuart? I highly recommend it. I agree that there’s no real evidence William was homosexual, or bisexual.

    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Dear Deborah, I do apologise for not replying sooner, but I think it’s clear that you and I share a passion for this subject – and I find that wonderful. I have read Geyl’s work – very good! I’ve tried to be as historically accurate as possible, but the only character that I have taken some liberties with is that of Elizabeth Villiers, as not a great deal is known about her. Maybe some readers will be unhappy with my decisions with her character, but then again, it is a historical fiction and I have to have some creative license where there are bits that we do not know. We’ll see how it goes! Thanks again for all your lovely comments. 🙂


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