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The Glorious Revolution

Chatsworth, Derbyshire

In 1661 Charles II was restored to the throne following the death of Oliver Cromwell. This ended a dour and fundamentalist decade through the 1650s presided over by Cromwell and Parliament. This period had begun in 1649 with Charles I's execution, and ended in 1660 with people wanting their monarchy back. Charles II returned from exile to England and ushered in a whole new era. The Restoration period following Charles II's succession was known for its easy going king and permissive court, which set the general social tone. Following many years of stern puritan rule, the king was more interested in enjoying himself than in religious dogma. Rather than revolution and misguided idealism, many people were now more interested in this year's fashion. But of course not everyone was as sensible: even though Charles II was religiously tolerant, society in general was not. The fanatic Titus Oates whipped up groundless rumours about a catholic plot to kill Charles, which caused hysteria, and led to arrests and needless executions. The real threat to the king came not from imaginary catholic plots, but from Parliament, which still hankered after the power it had enjoyed with Cromwell.

 

In February 1685 Charles II died and was succeeded by his brother James, as James II. The problem with James, as far as most of his subjects were concerned, was his catholic faith. Charles II's illegitimate son James Duke of Monmouth, a protestant, attempted to stage a rising to snatch the throne, but his makeshift force was defeated in July 1685 at the Battle of Sedgemoor near Bridgewater in Somerset. The inn where Monmouth ran his failed campaign, the George at Norton St Philip still exists, as does the Exeter Guildhall where Judge Jeffreys passed sentence on captured rebels. After this early scare, James II practiced his faith privately. He fitted up a small disused chapel at Windsor Castle as his own personal catholic refuge. Meanwhile he would go through the motions of the Anglican Church in public. James, however, couldn't resist trying to end religious discrimination. Deep suspicion greeted his efforts. In June 1688, Maria d'Este, James's second wife gave birth to a son. Now James had a male heir. Up until this point the heir to the throne had been James's protestant daughter Mary, married to the safely protestant Dutch aristocrat, William of Orange. But now it was clear that James would bring his son up in the Catholic faith. Concerned about this prospect, a group of Whig and Tory conspirators met at the Cock and Pynot Inn in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. This group invited William and Mary to invade and take the throne. It should not be thought the Chesterfield group and their Tory allies had a clear vision of England's future ruled by representative parliament. The Tories were by nature conservative and cautious, and were staunch supporters of monarchy. They were simply driven into a corner by what they saw as James II's obsession with making England a catholic country.

 

Aylesford Bridge

William decided to accept Parliament's invitation to invade England. He tried first to land at Hull, but was blown back by what became known as a "popish wind". William tried again, and this time he had a "protestant wind" behind him, which blew him to Brixham in Devon where he landed unopposed on November 5th 1688. James was completely demoralised by the invasion and retreated from Salisbury back to London without a fight. Many advisors and parliamentarians were pleading with James to stay in England. No one as yet was suggesting deposing James in favour of William. But James had lost heart, and saw William's invasion as a judgment on himself. In the early hours of December 11th James took a ferry across the Thames to Lambeth, throwing his Great Seal of office into the water about halfway across. He and his small party then rode out of London, and through Kent in pouring rain. Supporters met the king's party with fresh horses at Aylesford Bridge, where a short rest was taken at the Woolpack Inn. At Sheppey the group were delayed by the necessity to ballast their ship against bad weather. This delay allowed James to be captured by local men, who thought his group were escaping catholics. James was dragged off to Faversham's Arms of England Inn, where James was recognised as the king.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Banqueting House

In London law and order was breaking down. Catholic chapels were being attacked. James was brought to London, and bizarrely he was greeted by cheering crowds. A king could be deeply unpopular, and cheered by the masses at the same time. People wanted a king, and the need for a monarch is demonstrated by this incongruous welcome for James in London. On the night of 17th December James went to bed in a virtually deserted Whitehall Palace. The bed he slept in still survives and can be seen at Knole in Kent. The next morning the king was taken by boat to Rochester, and on the 24th he fled from his riverside lodging, made it to his yacht, and sailed to France. With James gone, public order threatened to collapse completely. Parliament, after much furious argument, was forced into a situation it did not want, the declaration that James had abdicated. The term "Glorious Revolution" gives a sense of order and purpose to the events of 1688, when the actual situation was one of confusion bordering on chaos. Nobody really set out to stage a revolution, and as people picked themselves up afterwards, a "Glorious Revolution" was invented to give the appearance of order to events. Parliament had little choice but to offer the throne to James's daughter Mary, Princess of Orange and her husband William of Orange, who were to rule as king and queen. They were officially proclaimed king and queen at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Ironically the ceremony took place beneath the huge ceiling painting by Rubens which Charles I had commissioned to portray the divine right of kings. Many MPs were still believers in the divine right of monarchs to rule, and the sense of confusion they must have felt sitting beneath Rubens' painting can only be imagined. James, meanwhile, briefly attempted to regain the throne with the help of Scottish and Irish allies. At Killiecrankie just south of Pitlochry in 1689, Highlanders fighting for James scored a victory over government troops - mostly consisting of lowland Scots. But this victory led to nothing. James was finally defeated in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne near Drogheda. After this battle James lived the rest of his life in exile.

So the Glorious Revolution succeeded, although to the men who brought it about, this was not a revolution, but an attempt to head one off. By 1688 England was a protestant country, with a protestant ruling establishment. Parliament saw James, with his strong catholic faith, as a potential threat. In deposing the king Parliament saw itself as maintaining the status quo rather than overthrowing it. This strange mixture of revolutionary change masquerading as defence against it is a familiar pattern in English history. Every year the defeat of the catholic Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is celebrated on Guy Fawkes Night. Fireworks enact what would have happened if the plotters had been successful in their attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. And yet this enactment of the plot's success is a celebration of its defeat. People want change, and they want stability. Often these seemingly incompatible desires are combined.

The Act of Settlement in 1701 brought a final end to the divine right of kings. Parliament now had the power to choose monarchs. This power, first used almost by accident during the Glorious Revolution, was now formalised.

 

 

Dunster Castle

In exploring the Glorious Revolution, Chatsworth in Derbyshire is a good place to start. The Earl of Devonshire was rewarded for his support of the Revolution by being made a duke. He became the First Duke of Devonshire, and his home at Chatsworth can be visited. There are many reminders of 1688 at Chatsworth. The Cock and Pynot Inn at Chesterfield where the Duke of Devonshire met his fellow conspirators survives. It is now called the Revolution House, and is open to visitors. There is a monument to William of Orange at Brixham in Devon where he landed in 1688. In the west country Francis Luttrell, of Dunster Castle in Somerset, raised a regiment to support William. His regiment, the Green Howards, remains part of the British Army today, as an element of the Yorkshire Regiment. Muskets thought to have been used by members of the original Green Howards are on display at Dunster.

One of the most far reaching consequences of the Glorious Revolution was the change it brought to Britain's finances. See our page on History of Economics for more details.

The writer who perhaps best reflects Britain following the Glorious Revolution is Alexander Pope, a catholic who was actually born in 1688, the year of the Revolution. Pope suffered the restrictions that were placed on catholics, and wrote poems which explored the nature of differences between people.

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