Religion, Politics, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688


Religion, Politics, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688

King James II of England - G. Kneller (1684)
King James II of England – G. Kneller (1684)

Under the short rule of King James II from 6 February 1685 to 11 December 1688, England would soon find out what sort of nation it has been in the past, and what sort of nation it wanted to be in the future. King James II views on the Protestant faith versus Catholicism and his position regarding the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ would eventually pave the way for a glorious yet bloodless revolution in 1688.

Religious Background

For almost a thousand years, Rome influenced the Church of England; Catholicism infiltrating and affecting just about every aspect of life: trade, contracts, marriage etc. A century before the Glorious Revolution, England, under the rule of King Henry VIII adopted it’s own form of Catholicism namely Anglicism. During the 17th century, the whole of Europe was inflamed with war and under a constant struggle to establish a unified church under a unified empire. The Holy Roman Empire was slowly loosing it’s grip on distant countries, and with it, control.

During King Charles II’s 25 year reign over England, shortly before the revolution, tensions slowly began to grow being that he did not have a legitimate issue to become heir to the throne. That implied that the crown would pass to his Catholic brother James which in turn incited the fear of absolute rule, popery, slavery, and subjugation to France and Rome. In order to “extenuate royal indulgence, and to defuse the anxiety of his subjects”, King Charles II commissioned then Poet Laureate John Dryden to compose what would become a “menacing masterpiece” named “Absalom and Achitophel” which wove together “the Bible and contemporary politics” as a work of propaganda, and ultimately cost him his position after the revolution commenced.[1]

Political Background

King James II brought many tensions between the people of England because of the political changes that he made while he reigned as king. Coming into power as a Catholic already brought many concerns to the people because they feared popery and Catholic tyranny. However, he assured the people that he beliefs would not contribute to his manner in leading the country. Soon after the beginning of his reign, all that began to change. First, King James II allowed Catholics to hold place as officers in the armed forces in November of 1685. Next, the king suspended the Test Acts and therefore allowed him to appoint Catholics as members of his council. In April of 1687, King James passed the Declaration of Indulgence Act which removed all laws against the rights of the Catholics. All of these acts led people to begin to oppose the reign of King James II. Many people rebelled such as seven leading bishops who refused the king’s orders to read his second Declaration of Indulgence. These bishops were arrested their rebellion. All of this lead the people of England to search for a new leader in fear of a Catholic monarchy.


Many politicians were on a mission to remove King James II from the throne. In order to do this, they had to devise a plan, also know as, a conspiracy. This conspiracy became so popular that there were several names which grew from from its leader, William Orange. Prince Orange, the husband of Queen Mary (King James II’s daughter), was at the forefront of this plan. For this reason, many called this conspiracy as the Orange Card or the Orangist Conspiracy. During the year of 1688, those involved had one main goal: to have the king change his pro-Catholic policies or remove him from the throne.Their plan led them to overthrow the government.

Overthrow of the Government

King William & Queen Mary - R. White (1703)
King William & Queen Mary – R. White (1703)

King James II was a devout Catholic, and he wanted to increase the power that the Catholics had in England. He began to replace any men of power that were not Catholic, especially Protestants and Anglicans. These Protestants and Anglicans were continually being suppressed more and more and feared that King James and his son would be the start of a Roman Catholic dynasty. William of Orange was a Dutch Protestant that married King James’ daughter, Mary Stuart II, even though it was opposed because her family wanted her to marry into the French throne line. The people invited William of Orange to come and invade England twice, and he refused. On the third time, he accepted and led a large force to invade England in November of 1688. With just a couple minor skirmishes, King James’ regime had collapsed and he escaped custody while dressed as a woman[2] and fled the country with his wife. There were very few casualties, no major battles, and the invasion was very short; and therefore, this revolution is sometimes referred to as the Bloodless Revolution.

New Religious Government

By threatening to withdraw his troops from England and leave the country with no stability, the parliament decided to make William and his wife Mary joint sovereigns of the nation of England. William made it impossible for any Catholics to vote or hold a seat in the parliament, and made the law, which is still in order today, that the monarch could not be a Catholic or marry someone who was a Catholic. William signed the proposed Bill of Rights that guaranteed certain rights to the citizens of the nation, and he began the change in the English parliamentary to a more democratic one. William’s overthrow of King James and signing of the Bill of Rights made James’ rule the last time that the monarch of England held absolute power. England now had a Protestant monarchy and a system that recognized the importance of Parliament in governing.

The effects of the New Government

The long-term positive effects that King William III enacted took some time to show. The short term effects through, were war with France, and the accompanying financial strain. The tax and fiscal innovation set in place by King William III ultimately led to the formation of the Bank of England, but It wasn’t until his successor, Queen Anne, reigned over England that the financial burden was lifted, allowing domestic and foreign trade to flourish. This is evident in Alexander Pope’s pastoral “Windsor-Forrest” on line 327 and 328: “At length great ANNA said – “Let Discord cease!” She said, the world obeyed, and all was Peace!”[3]

By the early 1720’s, the effects of the ‘Bill of Rights’ were starting to be understood very well by cabinet minister Robert Walpole who managed to “cement the displacement of monarch by minister”. Instead of simply advising the king, Walpole effectively managed the king, and in essence ran the state. He was given the title Prime Minister as an insult to point out the obvious, but the title remains to this day.[4]

Significant People Involved in the Glorious Revolution


King James II of England

“At midnight on 14th October, 1633, Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, gave birth to [King Charles I’s second] son at St James’s Palace.”[5] That son would later be known as the fifth creation of the Duke of York, Lord High Admiral, and ultimately, King James II. He promised to honor the national church and not to force religious uniformity during his reign, but his actions eventually led to the imposition of Catholic officers being staffed within the royal army, and the placement of Catholic officials in Oxford University. His ‘Declaration of Toleration’ was mandated to be read from Anglican pulpits. These actions along with the birth of his son James Francis Edward Stuart, brought the prospect of a long line of Catholic succession to the English throne, and proved to be too much for the English to bear.[6]

James (only son of King James)

Born on June 10, 1688, the birth of King James II only son was a major catalyst to push the events of the Glorious Revolution into existence. When Queen Mary gave birth to her son, the people of England were alarmed and frightened because there was now a Catholic heir to the throne. This caused the people of England to desperately seek the aid of William III to intervene and take over as king. While William III was asked several times to invade England in order to remove King James from power, it was not until the birth of James did he feel it was absolutely necessary to take action and “save the protestant religion,” as well as his position as the successor to the throne.

William III (William of Orange) and wife, Queen Mary II

William of Orange was the son-in-law of King James II. As a protestant young man he married Mary (the daughter of King James II) and therefore secured his place as the successor to the throne. After receiving pressure from England’s politicians, William built up an army and invaded England in November of 1688.

Below is an informative video of several significant authors in this whose writing reflect the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution. While some of them did not live in the time when it occurred, that drastic change in the political make of England impacted authors all over Europe.


[1] Longman Vol. 1C pp.2075-2077
[2] James II (Yale English Monarchs Series) by John Miller pp. 4
[3] Longman Vol. 1C pp.2467
[4] Longman Vol. 1C pp.1988
[5]James II (Yale English Monarchs Series) by John Miller pp. 1
[6] Longman Vol. 1C pp.1987

william and marymonarchy england britishengraving 1700s 1703 18th century