Glorious Revolution (1688-1689).

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William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne, painted by Jan Wyck

Dutch, English and British, and world history were all changed by the events of 1688-1691, which saw dethroning of the last male Stuart, James II, and enthroning of his daughter, Mary, and her Dutch husband, William III. The militantly pro-Catholic policies of James II were so unpopular in violently anti-Catholic England and Scotland that Tories, Whigs, Anglicans, and Nonconformists joined in opposition to his continued rule. The failure of the “Monmouth Rebellion” in 1685 had permitted James to raise a standing army of 40,000 men, largely officered by Catholics. But that did him little good three years later. The constitutional crisis that provoked the “Glorious Revolution” centered on two events in June 1688. Protestants were alarmed by the birth of a legitimate male heir to James, who was sure to be raised as a staunch Catholic and who superseded two Protestant daughters. There was also public outrage over the arrest of seven bishops who earlier refused James’ second order issued to Anglican clergy to read from the pulpit a decree of toleration (indulgence) for Catholics. James imprisoned the bishops in the Tower of London, further provoking his enemies. A jury acquitted them of charges of seditious libel that June, bringing widespread derision onto the king.

An elite delegation of Whigs and Tories was sent to the United Provinces to invite William III (then William of Orange) to bring an army to England to “restore” Protestant liberties-that is, to protect the political, social, and economic privileges of Anglican gentry and aristocracy that were seen to be threatened by a Catholic king and succession. William was invited to mount the throne himself. He could never have accepted the offer or raised the necessary army without approval of the States of Holland, which dominated the United Provinces. In turn, Holland’s approval of such an adventure became possible only because of extraordinary events occurring in France. The Regents of Holland were instinctively opposed to the expense and risks to themselves, at home and in foreign policy, that flowed from promoting the fortunes of the House of Orange. But fresh aggression by Louis XIV forced the Regents to seek the overthrow of the pro-French James II and alliance with England by crowning William in his place.

The key to the Regents’ acquiescence in William’s remarkable British adventure was a French threat delivered in mid-1688-with Louis XIV’s usual blunt disregard for sensitive timing-to use force to secure a favorable succession in Louis’ protectorate of Cologne. That mobilized Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, and the United Provinces against France and led to outbreak of the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697). The opening act of that conflict was resumption of guerre de course and other economic warfare between France and the United Provinces, beginning with Louis imposing a general arrest of all Dutch ships in French ports and seizure of over 100 Dutch ships.

With Amsterdam’s political and financial support, William signed troop-hire agreements with Brandenburg, Celle, Hesse-Cassel, and Württemberg, providing him with 14,000 German veterans to replace the Dutch troops he intended to take to England. With Germans holding the Dutch garrisons of the eastern provinces, William sailed to Great Britain. His invasion army comprised 14,352 Dutch regulars and some 5,000 Huguenot, English, and Scots volunteers. There was also a smattering of Danes, Germans, Finns (Laplanders), Poles, Swedes, Swiss, and even a few Greeks, for a total in excess of 21,000 soldiers. Another 19,000 miscellaneous courtiers, family members, adventurers, and sundry camp followers were also carried over the water. William brought over an artillery train of 50 heavy guns and many more light pieces. The admiralty colleges provided over 400 transports (including 90 for 5,000 horses of the artillery and cavalry). Troop carriers were escorted by 53 ships-of-the-line, for a grand total of 463 ships. This invasion fleet was four times the size of the “Invincible Armada” of the previous century, and it remained the greatest fleet seen anywhere in European waters until the D-Day operations of June 5-6, 1944.

William sailed from Hellevoetsluis, near Rotterdam, just before the first November gales blew. He paraded the fleet in line past Dover, with his troops in drill formation on deck and ships’ guns on either side blasting a coincidental salute to England and a warning to the king of France. The invasion fleet sailed past the Thames estuary, then doubled back before attempting to disembark the army. It was seen twice by an English warfleet that could not get out to fight due to a powerful easterly wind, a breeze famously remembered as the “Protestant wind” that carried Orange to power.

William landed at Torbay in Devon on November 5-7, 1688. He quickly fanned out his army to occupy Exeter. As his regiments advanced on London most of James II’s army, led by John Churchill (later and better-known as the Duke of Marlborough), either deserted or failed to muster. Fully 22,000 men from an original force of 26,000 deserted as James retreated up the Thames. Much disaffection among his officers had less to do with Orangism than with the Earl of Tyrconnel’s earlier purge of Protestant officers from the Irish establishment, an act viewed as an assault on the property rights of officers who had fairly purchased their commissions. Subsequently, 1,500 men brought over from the Irish establishment were held as prisoners on the Isle of Wight. Lacking support outside Ireland and parts of Scotland, James panicked and fled as William entered London unopposed on December 18th. William ordered all English regiments to be safely withdrawn to 20 miles distance. James was permitted to escape to France, because all parties feared that civil war might flow from another trial of a king, such as that of Charles I by Oliver Cromwell and Parliament in 1649. Parliament took the expedient of declaring that James’ flight constituted both de facto and de jure abdication. After the bloodless invasion, or “revolution,” James was succeeded by William and his wife Mary (daughter of Charles II) on February 2/12, 1689, in what admirers then and since called the “Glorious Revolution.”

These events changed Great Britain and Ireland forever. William accepted the principle of Parliamentary supremacy and passage of a Bill of Rights listing the elementary and fundamental rights of Englishmen. That concluded a class, fiscal, policy, and political struggle centuries in the waging between Parliament and the monarchy. Whig principles had finally won the great constitutional contest, but only because Tories had agreed to support them in opposition to the loathed James. Parliament thenceforth was supreme in Great Britain. Nonconformists received toleration in the Toleration Act of 1689. London merchants and other propertied classes were now securely inside government and would soon greatly influence its colonial and naval policy. The new constitutional monarch was compelled to keep 17,000 Dutch troops in England and Ireland. These troops were paid for by English taxes, to the relief of the Regents of Holland. William secured Protestant ascendancy, and corresponding Irish Catholic desolation, the next year by winning decisively at the Battle of Boyne (July 1/11, 1690). By then he had already joined England and Scotland, separately, to the League of Augsburg and tied both kingdoms into formal alliance with his homeland of the United Provinces.

These bold events brought the peoples and resources of the Three Kingdoms of the British Isles into the climactic wars of the reign of Louis XIV: the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Arguably, those conflicts were themselves but the opening phase of a “Second Hundred Years’ War” between Britain and France that did not end until Waterloo, in 1815. The Glorious Revolution also brought constitutional stability to what became a major world power-the dominant global empire- governed from Great Britain, as that island nation was known after the Act of Union in 1707. Principles of representation and consent became permanent touchstones of British civilization, and Parliament was ever after the supreme political power in the land. No more did Europe speak of “Little England” or dismiss Britain as a minor and vulnerable power preoccupied with the endless quarrels of divided, isolated, small peoples.

Less widely marked, the Glorious Revolution saw an erosion of republican principles in the United Provinces, as William and his favored nobles operated more freely from the strictures of the Regents and States General. And as the high tide of republicanism ebbed it took with it a portion of Dutch power in Europe and the world. Thereafter, the United Provinces were eclipsed as a Great Power during the protracted global struggle between Great Britain and France. This shift was already evident by the mid-1690s, once English men-of-war operating against France came to outnumber Dutch warships five to three. By 1715 the Dutch were reduced to permanent maritime inferiority to the British, with whom they maintained an uneasy alliance of necessity.

Suggested Reading: R. Jones, The Revolution of 1688 in England (1973); G. M. Trevelyan, The English Revolution (1967).



Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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