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10.9: The Glorious Revolution

  • Page ID
    22286
  • Thus, in 1660, Charles II (r. 1660 – 1685), the son of the executed Charles I, took the throne. He was a cousin of Louis XIV of France and, like his father, tried to adopt the trappings of absolutism even though he recognized that he could never achieve a Louis-XIV-like rule (nor did he try to dismiss parliament). Various conspiracy theories surrounded him, especially ones that claimed he was a secret Catholic; as it turns out, he had drawn up a secret agreement with Louis XIV to re-Catholicize England if he could, and he proclaimed his Catholicism on his deathbed. A crisis occurred late in his reign when a parliamentary faction called the Whigs tried to exclude his younger brother, James II, from being eligible for the throne because he was openly Catholic. They were ultimately beaten (legally) by a rival faction, the Tories, that supported the notion of the divine right of kings and of hereditary succession.

    When James II (r. 1685 – 1688) took the throne, however, even his former supporters the Tories were alarmed when he started appointing Catholics to positions of power, against the laws in place that required all lawmakers and officials to be Anglicans. In 1688, James’s wife had a son, which thus threatened that a Catholic monarchy might remain for the foreseeable future. A conspiracy of English lawmakers thus invited William of Orange, a Dutch military leader and lawmaker in the Dutch Republic, to lead a force against James. William was married to Mary, the Protestant daughter of James II, and thus parliament hoped that any threat of a Catholic monarchy would be permanently defeated by his intervention. William arrived and the English army defected to him, forcing James to flee with his family to France. This series of events became known as the Glorious Revolution - "glorious" because it was bloodless and resulted in a political settlement that finally ended the better part of a century of conflict.

    William and his English wife Mary were appointed as co-rulers by parliament and they agreed to abide by a new Bill of Rights. The result was Europe’s first constitutional monarchy: a government led by a king or queen, but one in which lawmaking was controlled by a parliament and all citizens were held accountable to the same set of laws. Even as absolutism became the predominant mode of politics on the continent, Britain set forth on a different, and opposing, political trajectory.