The Cause Behind the Glorious Revolution: The Final Straw that Overthrew James II

William of Orange and English opposition leaders dethroned James II in 1689 as a result of James having a son whom they assumed he would raise a Catholic, thereby ensuring continual Catholic rule in England after James’ death.  The prospect of James becoming king had enabled the rise of an exclusionist faction in Parliament that had sought to pass a law keeping James from succeeding his brother, King Charles II. Charles and his supporters, the Tories had successfully opposed this law and upon Charles’ death, James became king. He quickly confirmed the fears of many anti-Catholics by replacing Protestants in positions of power with Catholics and allowing greater freedoms for Catholics. Most Protestant MPs did not support James’ overthrow because they were confident his Protestant daughter Mary would succeed him upon his death. When Charles had a son in 1688, the prospect of the throne passing to another Catholic for successive generations pushed moderate MPs in favor of revolution. Mary’s husband, the Dutch ruler William of Orange invaded England and with the help of anti-Catholic English, in what became known as the Glorious Revolution defeated James and co-ruled with his wife in a constitutional monarchy.
Charles II was restored to the English throne in 1660 after the failure of the radical, Puritan Parliament to govern effectively after the death of Oliver Cromwell. Despite Charles’ pledge to pardon the Parliamentary revolutionaries in the Declaration of Breda, numerous regicides or those considered seriously involved in the execution of Charles I were exempted. Several of these were executed and others were sentenced to life in prison. Otherwise, Charles ruled fairly popularly, overturning many of the stringent Puritanical laws and allowed dissenters to worship in open meeting houses.[1] To English who enjoyed entertainment, Charles patronized the arts and unlike his uptight predecessors, he lived an incredibly philanderous life, having numerous children out of wedlock.[2] It did not take long however, for the usual disputes between king and Parliament to develop that had caused so much political grief in the government for his brother and father. Charles II was more agreeable than his brother, but he still ruled with few of the reforms that Parliamentarians during the English Civil War had supported.[3] But, these disputes were not enough to plunge the nation into another civil war. The bloodshed of the 1640s provided a strong incentive for both supporters and opponents of the king’s policies to try to work out their differences politically. This produced the first rise of political parties in the Whigs who opposed the king’s policies and the royalist Tories.[4]
In foreign policy, Charles attracted a great deal of ire for his aggressive foreign policy toward Holland. The English on the other hand were more apt to side with the Protestant Dutch who were viewed as underdogs fighting for their survival against the much larger, Catholic French nation.[5] As all wars that England waged, this one with the Dutch brought heavy debt and weakened Charles’Although, it never came out to the knowledge of the general public, in the Treaty of Dover, Charles promised to convert to Catholicism in exchange for £200,000 to secure his position apart from Parliamentary financing. This would have been highly unpopular had his subjects found out about it and Charles never set a date at which he would do so. [6] Things came to a head on foreign policy when in 1677, Parliament refused to further fund their monarch unless Charles formed an alliance with the Dutch. Charles categorically refused, but did manage to convince Charles to allow his daughter Mary to be wed to the Protestant, Dutch Prince William of Orange. This would turn out to be a major political victory for English Protestants and Parliament.[7]
During this time, there were widespread fears of a Catholic conspiracy, especially after Titus Oates reported on a Catholic plot to assassinate the king in 1678. Despite much unreasonable paranoia, the real possibility of being ruled by a Catholic monarch remained a pressing concern.[8] Adding to the hysteria was the fact that James, Charles’ brother had converted to Catholicism in 1667 and openly practiced his religion.[9] With no separation of church and state in his time period, opposition to a Catholic monarch entailed more than simple religious prejudice. The religion of the monarch was the religion endorsed by the government and most of the time, the religion forced on the population. The Whigs introduced an exclusionist bill that would have barred James form inheriting the throne. However, Charles vehemently opposed any such exclusion. Despite the difference in religion, one thing that kept many of the Tories in line with the king was the fact that James’ daughter Mary was next in line and being a Protestant, they believed whatever damage James did in what little time he was likely to reign could just as easily be undone once he died.[10]
Charles died in 1685 and James did not disappoint the expectations of anti-Catholics of what a government under James would look like in terms of Catholic favoritism. When he found Parliament unwilling to work with him in his vision of religious toleration, he ended it and ruled alone. He then appointed Catholics to military, academic, and political posts in order to increase the influence of his religion and no doubt to strengthen his position.[11] This deeply strained relations between monarch and Parliament, but was still not enough to bring the latter to repeat the events of the 1640s. Furthermore, the doctrine of divine right of kings still held strong and many English believed the failure of the republic after Cromwell’s death had been a sign of God’s displeasure with the execution of Charles I.[12]
The final straw came when James Francis Edward was born to Charles and his wife Mary of Modena in 1688. This ensured a male heir to Charles whom Charles would almost certainly raise Catholic. This created the prospect of being ruled by a Catholic dynasty in perpetuity. At this point, William of Orange who had long feared his country’s very existence could be threatened with a strong alliance between England and France reached out to allies in Parliament and plotted an invasion of England to overthrow James.[13] The size of William’s naval force was four times the size of the Spanish Armada that had failed to invade England a century earlier. After landing at Torbay on November 5, 1688, William held his numerically inferior force back while anti-Catholic riots broke out in English cities, forcing James to turn his army on those instead of facing William. This coincided with massive desertions from James’ force and upon his return to London, the king found that his own daughter, Anne had joined the Orangists. Rather than stick around to find out if his opponents would be more lenient with him than they had been with his father, James decided to flee the country into exile. William and Mary agreed to the Declaration of Rights which placed limits on the monarchy and on February 13, 1689, William and Mary accepted the throne as joint-monarchs.[14]
James faced a difficult road when he began his reign because of the widespread anti-Catholicism that had permeated leading up to his brother’s death. Once crowned, he did not win any friends among the overwhelming Protestant majority with his strong, pro-Catholic policies which only confirmed the fears of a Catholic monarch many of his subjects had held all along. The reason, for which he lost his throne however, was the possibility of a Catholic sitting on the throne of England forever with the birth of his son in 1688. His Protestant opponents in Parliament and among the people had been willing to suffer through his rule until he died and his Protestant daughter could inherit the throne. However, since Charles had refused even to countenance the exclusion of his brother, it was much more improbable that James would agree to pass over his own son in favor of his Protestant daughter who was married to a foreign monarch. Had James even been willing to make this step, it is unlikely he could have kept his throne because of the mistrust his subjects had for him. The Glorious Revolution as his overthrow came to be called, primarily because it overthrew an unpopular king without the civil war that accompanied the overthrow of Charles I showed not only the complete conversion of the nation of England to Protestantism, but that absolutist monarchy had served its time.




Bibliography

“James II (1633-1701),” bbc.co.uk, BBC, 2014.

Goldie, Mark, Richard Ollard and Clare Jackson. “The Restoration (In Our Time, 15/2/01).”        Restoration Archive. YouTube. May 18, 2015, accessed April 5, 2016,   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cP9xMnYEAW8.

Hutton, R. “The Making of the Secret Treaty of Dover, 1668-1670.” The Historical Journal 29    (July, 1986): 297-318.

Wrightson, Keith. An Unsettled Settlement: The Restoration Era, 1660-1688. Open Yale courses,            2009.

Redwood, John “Lord Rochester and the Court of Charles II.” History Today 24 (May 1974).

Vallance, Edward. “The Glorious Revolution,” bbc.co.uk. BBC, February 17, 2011.

Walls, Karthryn. “Titus Oates as ‘Monumental Brass" in ‘Absalom and Achitophel.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 50:3 (Summer, 2010): 545-556.




[1] Keith Wrightson: An Unsettled Settlement: The Restoration Era, 1660-1688, Open Yale courses, 2009.

[2] John Redwood, “Lord Rochester and the Court of Charles II,” History Today 24 (May 1974), accessed April 11, 2016, http://www.historytoday.com/john-redwood/lord-rochester-and-court-charles-ii.
[3] Keith Wrightson: An Unsettled Settlement.
[4] Mark Goldie, Richard Ollard, Clare Jackson, “The Restoration (In Our Time, 15/2/01),” Restoration Archive, YouTube, May 18, 2015, accessed April 5, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cP9xMnYEAW8.
[5] Keith Wrightson: An Unsettled Settlement.

[6] R. Hutton, “The Making of the Secret Treaty of Dover, 1668-1670,” The Historical Journal, 29 (July, 1986), 301.

[7] Keith Wrightson: An Unsettled Settlement.
[8] Kathryn Walls, “Titus Oates as ‘Monumental Brass" in ‘Absalom and Achitophel’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 50:3 (Summer, 2010), 546.
[9] “James II (1633-1701),” bbc.co.uk, BBC, 2014, accessed April 11, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/james_ii.shtml.
[10] Mark Goldie, Richard Ollard, Clare Jackson, “The Restoration (In Our Time, 15/2/01),” Restoration Archive, YouTube, May 18, 2015, accessed April 5, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cP9xMnYEAW8.

[11] “James II (1633-1701),” bbc.co.uk, BBC, 2014, accessed April 11, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/james_ii.shtml.
[12] Mark Goldie, Richard Ollard, Clare Jackson, “The Restoration (In Our Time, 15/2/01),” Restoration Archive, YouTube, May 18, 2015, accessed April 5, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cP9xMnYEAW8.
[13] Edward Vallance, “The Glorious Revolution,” bbc.co.uk, BBC, February 17, 2011.
[14] Vallence, “The Glorious Revolution.”

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