What Was So ‘Glorious’ About The Glorious Revolution?

9 Nov
The Glorious Revolution’, or, more accurately a power struggle between protestant profiteering Parliament and Catholic absolutist Monarchy, was a total revolution by Aristotelian definition, ‘modification of an existing constitution’ , and by the parameters described by Historian Jeff Goodwin’s broad definition as ‘any and all instances in which a state or a political regime is overthrown and thereby transformed by a popular movement in an irregular extra constitutional and/or violent fashion’ . However, although it fits the academic definition, this essay will argue that it was also predominantly a ‘business transaction’ disguised as a ‘holy war’ to justify its advocating noble commercial beneficiaries; “With The constitutional changes of the Glorious revolution, government debt was transformed from the royal debt to the national debt, backed by both Crown and parliament” . As such it was neither ‘glorious’ nor a revolution, “it would have been more glorious to assist our undoubted sovereign (sic), than to suffer him to be dethroned, solely because he is a Roman Catholic”. This does not alter the fact that it had deep and radical transformational consequences in English history. It contributed significantly to the termination of the ideology of absolutism, tyrannical dictatorship and monarchical manipulation. It further contributed to the rise of democracy and capitalism with their inevitable consequences of freedom of expression and religious liberty, “The first Modern Revolution radically transformed England and ultimately helped to shape the modern world”

Prior to the Glorious Revolution British society was still very much controlled by the constitutional constraints of the ancient anti-absolutist Magna Carte (1215), “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”. The Magna Carte did not restrict challenges to monarchical authority, “To the king’s opponents, Parliament existed to protect fundamental English liberties that had been established under the Magna Carta in 1215.” Steve Pincus confirms this belief when he states, “When James II tried to impose a foreign Catholic and absolutist monarchy on the English people, they united against him to restore the ancient constitution.”

Absolutism, the divine right of kings, meant that many European Monarchs (c.1610-c.1789) were unrepressed by all other institutions, regardless of its ideological success or failure; it is plausible that its dissolution was a major contributing element to the evolution of feudalism to modern capitalism. The Glorious Revolution was then a full ‘revolution’ in the wheel of time and a restoration of the Magna Carta advocated ideology, “This pragmatism, this preference for adapting the old rather than sweeping all away and starting afresh, was a feature of the Glorious Revolution” . It was a return to a status demanded by revolutionaries who embraced wild anti Catholic propaganda, such as Titus Oates’ ‘Popist Plot’ conspiracy theory, “the true conspiracy was entirely a Protestant conspiracy against the king” . The propaganda was useful to generate the necessary mass motivation to return to governmental societal control, “Most people identified Catholicism and popery with the Spanish Inquisition, the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France, and the Duke of Alba’s Council of Blood in the Netherlands”.

It is significant that Absolutism was widespread amongst the profiteering and biased nobility and gentry at the time of James II succession to the throne in 1685 and thus ensured he secured and held power. However, within three years his Catholicism became a source of concern and his desire for an absolute monarchy became secondary and turned the elite against him. William of Orange and his wife Mary were invited to ‘invade’ by popular public demand, “your highness may be assured there are nineteen parts of twenty of the people throughout the kingdom who are desirous of a change” James fled and the new sovereigns published the ‘Declaration of Rights’ (February 1689) and thus created the hybrid state where parliament became the important seat of power. It is further significant that those who invited William to invade, the Whigs, Charles Talbot, William Cavendish, Henry Sidney and Edward Russell and Tories Thomas Osborne, Richard Lumley and Henry Compton were also to play substantial roles in his post-revolutionary parliament.

From this it is clear that the revolution was an elaborate business transaction to secure the profits and incomes of the elite. Religion was the excuse for the revolution but not the reason and this is made clear in William III’s anti-Catholic Declaration, of October 1688 when he condemns papacy and its advocates (Councillors), “we have thought fit to go over to England, and to carry with us a force sufficient by the blessing of God to defend us from the violence of those evil councillors” Making the invasion ‘divine’ perfectly concealed the reality of its commercial nature and thus more acceptable to the revolutionaries.

Whether it was a popular revolution with the peasantry is not significant. The powerless serfs were at the mercy of the nobility, who claimed its popularity, and consequently there is little or no historical information as to how the common serfs felt about it. Indeed, it is mostly uncertain that they were aware, cared, understood or ill-informed by propaganda that a revolution had taken place at all, in the House of Commons on July 7th 1988 the radical politician Tony Benn declared, “The revolution caused hideous bloodshed, disabled Catholics, did nothing at all for the people, who were not represented in the Convention of 1688 (sic)”
William of Orange’s ‘Declaration Of Reasons’ (October 1688) claims that the English Constitution was under threat and thus his invasion was for the common good is an arguable contention. It is clear that his justification proffered little or no consideration to the lower orders:
“The study of Orange propaganda has been extremely valuable. It has uncovered little known aspects of William’s preparations for his expedition to England, and has greatly clarified our understanding of the choices presented to Englishmen after their country had been invaded.”
The ‘business transaction’ was a great success and was immediately proclaimed to the international commercial community by London based merchants who desired to retain confidence with their trading associates, “Now when the providences of God are considered in this whole transaction, never anything happened with so many amazing circumstances as this hath done” The immediacy of this entire communication clearly implies the urgency of the instantaneous quelling of international commercial fears necessary to sustain good business relations: ‘Our foreign trade is now become the Strength and Riches of the Kingdom…and is the living Fountain from whence we draw all our Nourishment: It disperses that Blood and Spirits throughout all the Members, by which the Body Politick subsists”. It is noteworthy that the Letter prioritises the business, not religious, aspects of the revolution.

The Glorious Revolution while not bloodless, “bloodless coups often occur in which no one is killed, but a new set of elites assumes the major roles in the political authority structure’ , but still a relatively peaceful one and the question remains as to whether the king was usurped or abdicated. The revolutionaries, primarily the businessmen or nobility, were restoring ancient rites, ideas and values that had proven successful and were unwelcoming of unnecessary innovation, “the resulting institutional changes ushered in financial developments that laid the foundations for the Industrial revolution and ultimately established Britain as a world power” .

The revolutionaries marked the death of the divine rite monarchy and this concept of absolutism was perhaps the most significant feature of the revolution. It was not a conservative revolution because the power of the king was deposed and that in itself was a very radical manoeuvre. Government by consent meant that the Monarchy had its power diminished. After the Revolution there was an increase in religious tolerance to both Protestants and Catholics and as such was of great benefit to all citizens, regardless of class, and with the advancement of religious expression came the inevitable freedom of expression and respect for faith tradition. The radicalism of the revolution is arguable because it not only created political and religious settlement but it also created bigger divisions, constitutional and religious instability and this religious division still has consequences in modern Europe.

References

1. Chambers, Liam (LAN) ; Tutorial Documents: Document 2: William III, The Declaration, October 1688.
2. Aristotle, The Politics V, Tr. T.A. Sinclair (Baltimore, Penguin Books, 1964, 1972), P.190
3. Jeff Goodwin, No Other Way Out; States And Revolutionary Movements, 1945-1991. Cambridge University Press, 2001, P.5
4. Quinn, Stephen The Glorious Revolution’s Effect on English Private Finance: A Microhistory, 1680-1705 / The Journal Of Economic History Vol. 61, No. 3, Sep 2001 p.596
5. Who Dubbed It The Glorious Revolution James R. Hertzler (Some Reflections On The Humble Petition…Of The Lords) (November 1688) Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned With British Studies Published By The North American Conference On British Studies.
6. The American Historical Review Vol. 115, No. 2, April 2010 p.486 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the American Historical Association.
7. Danny Danziger & John Gillingham, “1215: The Year Of Magna Carta” (2004) P.278
8. Chambers, Liam (LAN): John Merriman, A History Of Modern Europe, Volume 1, From The Renaissance To The Age Of Napoleon (1996), P232-273.
9. Miller, John The Glorious Revolution, Longman (1983) p.94
10. Steve Pincus’ “1688: The First Modern Revolution” p.99
11. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol 39, No. 153, March 1950. Pub/ Irish Province Of The Society Of Jesus: Source:
12. Chambers, Liam (LAN): John Merriman, A History Of Modern Europe, Volume 1, From The Renaissance To The Age Of Napoleon (1996), P232-273.
13. Chambers, Liam (LAN): Tutorial Documents: Document 1: Invitation Of The Seven To The Prince Of Orange June 30, 1688.
14. Chambers, Liam (LAN): Tutorial Documents: Document 2: William III, The Declaration, October 1688.
15. Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned With British Studies/ Celebrating The Glorious Revolution By Lois G. Schwoerer (1689, 1989)
16. William III’s Declaration Of Reasons And The Glorious Revolution By Tony Claydon P.88 (University Of Wales, Bangor) The Historical Journal, 39.1 © (1996), Published By Cambridge University Press, Article Stable URL;
17. Chambers, Liam (LAN): Tutorial Documents: Document 3: Francis Barrington And Benjamin Steele A Letter Describing The Revolution To Thomas Goodwin And Kinnard Delabere 11 January 1689
18. Wood, W, A Survey Of Trade (1718), p.4. http://www.fdsoup.com/pdf/13/9780198228424.pdf (Accessed 23.02.2011)
19. A Theory Of Revolution, Raymond Tanter & Manus Midlarsky, Sage Publications Inc.
20. The Journal Of Economic History, Puns Cambridge University Press On Behalf Of Economic History Association.

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