Glorious Revolution

British revolution of 1688

The Glorious Revolution, or Revolution of 1688, was the deposition and replacement of James II and VII as ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland by his daughter Mary II and his Dutch nephew and Mary's husband, William III of Orange, which took place between November 1688 and May 1689. The outcome of events in all three kingdoms and Europe, the Revolution was quick and relatively bloodless, though establishing the new regime took much longer and led to significant casualties. The term was first used by John Hampden in late 1689.


  • [T]he Revolution of the greatest thing done by the English nation. It established the State upon a contract, and set up the doctrine that a breach of contract forfeited the crown... Parliament gave the crown, and gave it under conditions. Parliament became supreme in administration as well as in legislation. The king became its servant on good behaviour, liable to dismissal for himself or his ministers. All this was not restitution, but inversion. Passive obedience had been the law of England. Conditional obedience and the right of resistance became the law. Authority was limited and regulated and controlled. The Whig theory of government was substituted for the Tory theory on the fundamental points of political science. The great achievement is that this was done without bloodshed, without vengeance, without exclusion of entire parties, with so little definiteness in point of doctrine that it could be accepted, and the consequences could be left to work themselves out.
    • Lord Acton, ‘The English Revolution’ (c. 1899–1901), quoted in Lectures on Modern History (1906), pp. 231–32
  • The Revolution was made to preserve our antient indisputable laws and liberties and that antient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty... The very idea of the fabrication of a new government is enough to fill us with disgust and horror. We wished at the period of the Revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers. Upon that body and stock of inheritance we have taken care not to inoculate any cyon alien to the nature of the original plant. All the reformations we have hitherto made have proceeded upon the principle of reverence to antiquity; and I hope, nay, I am persuaded, that all those which possibly may be made hereafter will be carefully formed upon analogical precedent, authority, and example.
  • I question, if in all the Histories of Empire, there is one Instance of so bloodless a Revolution, as that in England in 1688, wherein Whigs, Tories, Princes, Prelates, Nobles, Clergy, common People, and a standing Army, were unanimous. To have seen all England of one Mind, is to have liv'd at a very particular Juncture.
    • Colley Cibber, An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber, Comedian, and Late Patentee of the Theatre-Royal. With an Historical View of the Stage during his Own Time (1740), p. 38
  • The unhappy party divisions must ever give an honest man a most unfavourable opinion of these times, when the honour and dignity, the safety and tranquility, of the nation, were continually neglected for the little interested views of party; but however this Convention with all its blemishes saved the nation from the iron rod of arbitrary power. Let that palliate all defects, and though the constitution was not so well established as it might have been at this time, though sufficient care was not taken to keep the advantages of our insular situation, nor effectual bars put to Continental influence, let us still remember we stand in debt for our liberty and religion to the success of 1688.
    • George III, essay written when he was Prince of Wales (late 1750s), quoted in John Brooke, King George III (1972; 1974), pp. 110-111
  • Let their lordships look to the revolution of 1688, and then he would ask them, if it could have been carried into effect without the combinations of those great men, who restored and secured our religion, our laws, and our liberties, and without such mutual communications among them as would bring them under the description of a sect or party?
    • Lord Grey, speech in the House of Lords (19 February 1821), quoted in Parliamentary Debates, N.S. iv, pp. 744-59, quoted in Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock (ed.), The Liberal Tradition from Fox to Keynes (1967), pp. 13-16
  • The Revolution is not to be considered as a mere effort of the nation on a pressing emergency to rescue itself from the violence of a particular monarch; much less as grounded upon the danger of the Anglican church, its emoluments, and dignities, from the bigotry of a hostile religion. It was rather the triumph of those principles which, in the language of the present day, are denominated liberal or constitutional, over those of absolute monarchy, or of monarchy not effectually controlled by stated boundaries. It was the termination of a contest between the regal power and that of parliament, which could not have been brought to so favourable an issue by any other means.
    • Henry Hallam, The Constitutional History of England from the Accession of Henry VII to the Death of George II, Vol. III (1827), pp. 357-358
  • Revolutions customarily involved armed conflict and seismic upheaval. As such, 1688 was a disappointment. At the time little blood was spilled, and the event has always lacked classroom appeal. 'Glory' was ascribed to it by a Whig MP, John Hampden, and was taken up delightedly by liberal historians to imply Whig credit for it, and for all that followed. It would not do to have the subsequent Whig ascendancy credited to a foreign invasion. But if 1688 was not strictly a revolution, in its outcome it brought finality to a revolutionary process. It showed that reforms sought and hesitantly achieved over the sixty years since the Petition of Right were robust. They were given the stamp of permanence. That this stamp required the intervention of a foreign power may well have saved England from another civil war, which Parliament would probably but not certainly would have won. But English history has always been opportunist. What happened was for the best.
    • Simon Jenkins, "The English Revolution, 1642-1689," in Revolutions: How They Changed History and What They Mean Today (2020), ed. by Peter Furtado, pp. 19-20
  • The Revolution of 1689 is therefore the third grand aera in the history of the Constitution of England. The great charter had marked out the limits within which the Royal authority ought to be confined; some outworks were raised in the reign of Edward the First; but it was at the Revolution that the circumvallation was compleated. It was at this aera, that the true principles of civil society were fully established. By the expulsion of a King who had violated his oath, the doctrine of Resistance, that ultimate resource of an oppressed People, was confirmed beyond a doubt. By the exclusion given to a family hereditarily despotic, it was finally determined, that Nations are not the property of Kings. The principles of Passive Obedience, the Divine and indefeasible Right of Kings, in a word, the whole scaffolding of false and superstitious notions by which the Royal authority had till then been supported, fell to the ground, and in the room of it were substituted the more solid and durable foundations of the love of order, and a sense of the necessity of civil government among Mankind.
    • Jean-Louis de Lolme, The Constitution of England; Or, an Account of the English Government [1771], ed. David Lieberman (2007), p. 54
  • One of the most striking consequences of the Revolution was that it led to the firm establishment of the rule of law. In his various political writings John Locke set out to render the arbitrary use of royal power intellectually indefensible. At the same time the Bill of Rights declared against the use of the prerogative as an instrument to suspend or dispense with legislation. This was followed by a clause in the Act of Settlement of 1701 putting an end to the arbitrary dismissal of judges. Since after 1689 the substantial property-owners were, to all intents and purposes, the real law-givers, all this aided them in their drive for power. But incorruptibility is a dangerous thing, and when, in the age of Paine and Blake, ordinary people began to advance political claims, they too found protection under the umbrella of the law. Radicals like Alderman Sawbridge, for example, were able to invoke "Revolution principles" in their protests against the use of the military to quell civil disturbances. Similarly the Bill of Rights Society was able to raise an outcry against arbitrary arrests and the neglect of Habeas Corpus. Again, when men such as John Thelwall and William Hone were brought before the courts by the government, they were triumphantly acquitted, for after 1689 the authorities found it well-nigh impossible to pack juries. The Revolution was not a watershed for the common man. His lot was as hard after the great upheaval as it had been before. Even so when in the fullness of time the voice of the humble came to be raised, the events of 1689 did at least help to oil the wheels of political action. Hence the coming of King William is not entirely without significance in the story of ordinary men and women.
    • Angus McInnes, 'The Revolution and the People', in Geoffrey Holmes (ed.), Britain after the Glorious Revolution 1689–1714 (1969), p. 93
  • Now, if ever, we ought to be able to appreciate the whole importance of the stand which was made by our forefathers against the House of Stuart. All around us the world is convulsed by the agonies of great nations. Governments which lately seemed likely to stand during ages have been on a sudden shaken and overthrown... Meanwhile in our island the regular course of government has never been for a day interrupted. The few bad men who longed for license and plunder have not had the courage to confront for one moment the strength of a loyal nation, rallied in firm array round a parental throne. And, if it be asked what has made us to differ from others, the answer is that we never lost what others are wildly and blindly seeking to regain. It is because we had a preserving revolution in the seventeenth century that we have not had a destroying revolution in the nineteenth. It is because we had freedom in the midst of servitude that we have order in the midst of anarchy. For the authority of law, for the security of property, for the peace of our streets, for the happiness of our houses, our gratitude is due, under Him who raises and pulls down nations at his pleasure, to the Long Parliament, to the Convention, and to William of Orange.
  • My principles are, as I believe, the Whig principles of the revolution. The main foundation of them is the irresponsibility of the crown, the consequent responsibility of ministers, and the preservation of the power and dignity of parliament as constituted by law and custom. With a heap of modern additions, interpolations, facts and fictions, I have nothing to do.
    • Lord Melbourne to Lord Holland (10 December 1815), quoted in Philip Ziegler, Melbourne: A Biography of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1976), p. 70
  • I reverence, as much as any one can do, the memory of those great men who effected the Revolution of 1688, and who rescued themselves and us from the thraldom of religious intolerance, and the tyranny of arbitrary power; but I think we are not rendering an appropriate homage to them, when we practice that very intolerance which they successfully resisted, and when we withhold from our fellow-subjects the blessings of that Constitution, which they established with so much courage and wisdom... [T]hat great religious radical, King William...intended to raise a goodly fabric of charity, of concord, and of peace, and upon which his admirers of the present day are endeavouring to build the dungeon of their Protestant Constitution. If the views and intentions of King William had been such as are now imputed to him, instead of blessing his arrival as an epoch of glory and happiness to England, we should have had reason to curse the hour when first he printed his footstep on our strand. But he came not here a bigoted polemic, with religious tracts in one hand, and civil persecution in the other; he came to regenerate and avenge the prostrate and insulted liberties of England; he came with peace and toleration on his lips, and with civil and religious liberty in his heart.
    • Lord Palmerston, speech in the House of Commons (18 March 1829) in favour of Catholic Emancipation, quoted in George Henry Francis, Opinions and Policy of the Right Honourable Viscount Palmerston, G.C.B., M.P., &c. as Minister, Diplomatist, and Statesman, During More Than Forty Years of Public Life (1852), pp. 84-85
  • [James II's] actions had alienated enough of his subjects for some curbs to be forced upon him. They might have been reluctant actually to resist him. But they were not prepared to acquiesce any longer in his rule... Englishmen in 1688 were for the most part reluctant revolutionaries. Yet they were even more reluctant to put up much longer with a king who rode roughshod over what they considered to be the rule of law. They therefore welcomed the intervention of the Prince of Orange since he promised to restore that rule.
    • W. A. Speck, Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688 (1988), p. 239
  • The argument of this book has been that England did experience a political revolution in 1688 and 1689. Absolutism gave way to limited monarchy. While this might seem to be nothing more than a reassertion of the classic Whig case, however, there are several major qualifications to be made to that interpretation. There was nothing unconstitutional about the bid for absolutism under the later Stuarts. Nor was it doomed to failure. Above all it is too subjective to load the change with value judgements, deploring absolutism and approving limited monarchy.
    • W. A. Speck, Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688 (1988), p. 242
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