Published On: Tue, Nov 12th, 2013

Lessons from the Glorious Revolution and Jacobite Risings

The Glorious Revolution

Unlike the English Civil War, this 1688 revolution, which was instigated by Parliament against James II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, was not about control today, but fear about a loss of control in the future.  The Glorious Revolution was essentially a preemptive Parliamentary first strike.

{Editorial note:  this is part of a longer article about “What does it take to get Europeans to have a Revolution?”}

This revolution, which took place within the living memory of many of the participants of the English Civil War, was as a result of Parliament becoming unhappy with the religious persuasions of the monarch, King James II.  King James II, a Roman Catholic, had succeeded his brother, Charles II, a Protestant, in 1685. James II was becoming increasingly supportive of Catholics in a country that was defiantly Protestant.

For the first few years of his reign the Protestant dominated Parliament could live with James II’s Catholic leanings in the knowledge that his heir, Princess Mary, was very Protestant.  In June 1688, however, everything changed when James’ Catholic second wife gave birth to a son, Prince James. Inevitably the new heir apparent would grow up a Catholic and would, as an adult, attempt to roll back Protestantism.

So Parliament invited James II’s son in law, William of Orange, a Protestant Dutchman, to invade the country and to overthrow the King.  William was married to Mary, James II’s daughter.  In November 1688 William landed in England with a large invasion fleet and, after two minor clashes, successfully took over the country.  James II fled into exile with his wife and baby son.

Parliament initially only wanted William to become Regent, with Mary governing as Queen.  When William threatened to return to the Netherlands in disgust, Parliament reluctantly agreed that he should be a co-monarch with Mary.  They were crowned King William III and Queen Mary II.  To prevent any potential Catholic power grab in the future a series of laws were enacted that made life increasingly difficult for Catholics. Many still exist today.

Superficially, this looks like a revolution about religion. It is hard for modern secular Europeans to understand conflicts about religion, especially doctrinal differences between  Roman Catholicism and the myriad of Protestant sects.   Fortunately, we can skip the differences and get to the point: if you were a Protestant with a Protestant monarch you would be okay. If a Catholic came to power you might lose your lands, titles and power.

So Parliament was not really fighting a civil war about religion.  They had risked everything when they fought Charles I and had beheaded him. They had invited Charles II back to be king on their terms. They were not about to throw it all away by allowing a Catholic king and heir to impose Catholicism on them.

So the lesson of the Glorious Revolution is that the upper middle classes of Britain, those that controlled Parliament, would fight to keep their wealth and their power and would pre-emptively strike out at a monarchy that might want to reduce their wealth and power.

Jacobite Risings

The English Parliament had kicked out James II in 1688 and had replaced him with his son In law and daughter, William of Orange and Mary II.  Between 1688 and 1746 a series of rebellions took place with the intent of restoring King James II to the throne.  After the death of James II in 1701 his son was proclaimed King James III by his supporters and was backed by King Louis XIV of France and Pope Clement XI.

In 1702 William III died -Mary II had died in 1694- leaving no children. Mary’s sister, Anne, became queen.  Despite having had an amazing 17 children none survived to adulthood.  So when she died in 1714 Parliament arranged for the Protestant Elector of Hanover, Georg, to become the new King, George I.

So it is easy to see why the Jacobites (from the Latin Jacobus – James) felt that their chosen ones, James II and James III, had a much better claim to the throne than William, Mary, Anne and George I.  Much of the action took place in Scotland and the borders between England and Scotland, providing a lot of the “Scottish” colour that is associated with the rebellion today.

But despite a lot of rebellions over a long period of time, it is hard to describe this a a popular revolt.  Essentially this was another power struggle. This time between Parliament and their chosen monarch (William, Mary, Anne, George) and the usurped House of Stuart (Charles I, Charles II, James II and his son).

So the lesson of the Jacobite Risings was that the upper middle classes of Britain, who ran Parliament and had fought a Civil War and had instigated a coup d’etat with a foreigner to pre-emptively get rid of a potentially troublesome monarch, would fight to keep their power.

To read more about European Revolutions, click here.


History Future Now, ebook edition, is now available from the Apple iBookstore!  So if you have a iPad or iPhone click on this link to download it.  It is currently on at a special offer of 99c.   The Kindle version has been submitted to Amazon and should be available shortly.

HFN on Twitter