In this article we will discuss about the Glorious Revolution in England.
With William’s landing in England and James II’s flight to France a great change in the political life of England came about without any bloodshed, hence called Bloodless Revolution. It is also called Glorious Revolution. When we compare it with those revolutions which have recently overthrown so many ancient governments, we cannot but be struck by its special character.
The continental revolutions took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in countries where all traces of limited monarchy of the middle ages had long been effaced. The right of the prince to make laws and to levy money, had during many generations been undisputed. His administration could not be blamed in the mildest terms, without peril.
His subjects held their personal liberties by no other tenure than his pleasure, and there was not a single institution left which could give protection against the princes tyranny.
Against this background the English Revolution of 1688 which cleared the fundamental laws of the realm from ambiguity, and eradicated the notion of royal prerogatives, was certainly a glorious one. It was also glorious because it was accomplished without any bloodshed, and had begun a new era in English history based on all the best constitutional principles that England had been developing since the thirteenth century.
This revolution was also glorious because it quietly buried, the Divine Right of Kings and made accession to the throne essentially dependent on an act of Parliament. The highest eulogy which can be pronounced on the glory of the Revolution of 1688 is that, it was the last English Revolution.
Never since that time the English people had meditated resistance to the established government. It was from this time that the prerogatives of the Crown were transformed into Rights of Parliament.
The results of the Revolution of 1688 were as varied as far-reaching. These may be summarised as the end of the Divine Right Theory of the Kings in England, power and right of the Parliament to ultimately decide the order of succession even in preference to hereditary rights, establishment of supremacy of Parliament, end of the era of monarchical despotism, triumph of Puritanism over Catholicism, etc.
With the fall of James II last attempt in the history of England to establish Divine Right of Kings ended in failure. Divine Right of Kings died in England with the departure of James II. The new sovereigns who owed their throne to the Parliament, had to promise to rule with the advice of Parliament.
The Revolution has also been regarded Glorious by Trevelyan and Muir because it was effected by consent and compromise. The otherwise antagonistis parties the Whigs and Tories as well as moderates sank their differences in consideration of the greater need of saving the country and the people from the dangers of absolute monarchy and restoration of Catholicism. The entire nation was united in effecting the change.
A contrary opinion has also been expressed as to the nature of the Revolution of 1688. This opinion does not see any glory in the Revolution which had been effected not by the people of the country but by foreigner, William whose aid was requisitioned. It did not entail any sacrifice on the part of any, as revolutions invariably and inevitably demand, for it was a fortuitous situation that caused it.
Bishop Burnet called the fall of James II as ‘one of the strangest catastrophes that is in any history. A great king, with strong armies and mighty fleets, fell all at once, and his whole strength, like a spider’s web, was irrecoverably broken at a touch’.
Even if it were partially true that the Revolution was not particularly glorious, it must have to be conceded that ‘without bloodshed, without proscriptions, even without any important breach of the public order, the Revolution of 1688 was carried through by the action of the Parliament.
Nor, although it is called a Revolution, did it, involve any interruption of historical continuity’. This shows the conservative nature of the Revolution of 1688.
Marriot also considers it as essentially conservative and wonders if it could be given the names ‘Revolution’. It was at best a coup d’etat effected by the upper classes and meant a transference of power from the king to the landowning aristocracy that dominated the Parliament then.
Macaulay remarks that ‘it may seem almost an abuse of terms to call a proceeding, conducted with so much deliberation, with so much sobriety, and with much minute attention to prescriptive etiquette, by the terrible name of Revolution’.
All the same he is inclined to call it a Revolution. ‘And’ yet this Revolution of all revolutions the least violent, has been of all revolutions the most beneficent. It finally decided whether the popular element should be destroyed by the monarchical element.’
But an opposite view has been expressed by historians like Trevelyan, who consider the Revolution to have ushered in certain liberal effects such as toleration for Dissenters, liberty for individuals and sovereignty of the people. According to him “by this beneficent Revolution, the liberty of the subject and power of the Parliament -were finally secured against the power of the Crown”.
Despite diverse views, expressed on the name and character of the Revolution of 1688, the fact remains that it ushered in a new chapter in the constitutional history ‘of England and ensured the supremacy of law over the king.
The Revolution of 1668 also resulted in the triumph of the Parliament in its conflict with the Stuart kings and the question as to which of the king and the Parliament was supreme was decided in favour of the latter for all time.
The principle that the Lex was above the Rex, that is, the supremacy of law over the king, was vindicated by the revolution. The Parliament, and not the king, was henceforth the policy-maker of the English nation.
With the triumph of Parliament ended the era of monarchical despotism that began under pressure of circumstances during the Tudor period and took a turn towards tyranny under the Stuarts. Never again in the history of England, there was any attempt at monarchical despotism.
Protestantism which had turned into Puritanism, that is, extreme Protestantism under the Stuarts, went ill with the pro-Catholic policy of the Stuart kings, particularly of James II. Naturally, with the fall of James II, Protestantism was put on a secure footing. It triumphed over Catholicism.
Under the later Stuarts England’s foreign policy was largely dominated by the French king Louis XIV. It was due both to the relationship of the Stuarts with the French house, and particularly to the desire of Charles II and James II to make English monarchy as despotic as the French. But with the accession Protestant William and Mary to the throne of England there was a reversal of the English foreign policy.
This was also due to the particular, even personal enmity of William with Louis XIV of France. England henceforth entered into an era of independent and dominant foreign policy in the European field of politics. England acted now as arbiter of the European politics as also the holder of the balance of power. This aspect of the importance of England could be seen in the War of Spanish Succession that was soon to begin.
One of the first acts of William, Prince of Orange on his arrival in England was to issue writ summoning a Convention, so-called because it was not summoned by the Sovereign, for the question of succession had not yet been settled, to address itself to this business.
It was resolved that James ‘having endeavoured to subvert the constitution of the kingdom by breaking the original contract between king and people, and by the advice of the Jesuits and other wicked persons having violated the fundamental laws and withdrawn himself out of the kingdom, hath abdicated the government, and the throne is thereby vacant’.
Then it was proposed that the throne of England should go to Mary, James II’s elder daughter and her husbands William, Prince of Orange should rule as regent. As William refused to rule in his wife’s name and likewise Mary refused to accept the Crown without her husband, it was decided to offer the Grown jointly to William and Mary, and this offer was accepted.