The Glorious Revolution and the Reign of King William III

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1784
William III of England

The bloodless revolution in England in 1688-1689 led to constitutionalism and greater Parliamentary control over the monarchy.

On January 22, 1689, William of Orange convened the first Parliament since the bloodless revolution of 1688. William and Mary would be crowned on April 11, 1689, the first English monarchs to rule according to the consent of the governed. The Glorious Revolution forced King James II into French exile, dependent upon the good graces of the Catholic King Louis XIV. The principles of the English revolution would alter the role of monarchy and provide inspiration for a future generation of English colonists forming the American republic.

The Fear of Catholicism in 17th Century England

Throughout the 17th Century, Protestant England feared a return to Catholicism. Puritans as well as other Protestant sects likened the Church of England with papist practices; it was a major source of conflict with both King James I and his son Charles I. Following the Restoration, Charles II was linked to his Catholic benefactors in France.

James II, however, did not hide his loyalties to the Catholic faith. As a consequence, Prince William of Orange, married to James II’s daughter Mary, was invited to invade England and rule as king. Prince William was a Stuart, related to the dynasty through his mother. In the fall of 1688, William of Orange landed in England after a stormy channel crossing and began his march to London.

William’s Success in Defeating King James II

James II might have effectively stopped William but he procrastinated. During this time, numerous nobles deserted his cause and joined William. Although the English population was not initially as receptive to William as was hoped, rumors of a possible French invasion swiftly galvanized public support.

Historians have also noted that King Louis XIV of France was caught unaware by William’s invasion and rapid elevation as king of England. Louis XIV might have slowed the process with a resumption of hostilities against Holland, following up on the 1672 invasion of William’s lands.

Finally, James refused to convene Parliament. By waiting too long, James’ inaction cost him the throne.

James II Flees England as a King without a Country and a Man without a Family

Both of James’ daughters deserted him. Mary would leave Holland to be with her husband while Anne would eventually become the last Stuart monarch. James left for France December 22, 1688 after riots broke out in London. His son James Francis Edward, the Prince of Wales, was already in France, spirited out of England by Queen Maria Beatrice.

William III and Mary II Rule Based on a Bill of Rights

William supported religious tolerance, allowing, for example, Jews and Quakers to practice their faith freely. He also championed an end to censorship. William also favored an independent judiciary. Although not written down as the American Bill of Rights, these personal liberties point to the enlightened nature of William’s 13 year rule.

Historian Colin B. Goodykoontz makes the point that the American Founding Fathers were more influenced by English constitutionalism that any other historical references. This included the principles in Magna Charta. William and Mary left a legacy of constitutionalism represented by a stronger Parliament, although it would not be until the 19th Century that most Englishmen would be full participants in the political process.

Sources:

  1. Bryan Bevan, King William III: Prince of Orange, the first European (The Rubicon Press, 1997)
  2. Colin B. Goodykoontz, “The Founding Fathers and Clio,” The Vital Past: Writings on the Uses of History (The University of Georgia Press, 1985)
  3. Pierre Goubert, Louis XIV And Twenty Million Frenchmen (Random House, 1972)