What was the Glorious Revolution?

Taking place in 1688–89, the Glorious Revolution (a name first used by politician John Hampden in 1689) saw James II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, deposed by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, the Dutch prince William of Orange.


William of Orange was the last person to successfully invade England.

What led up to it?

The revolution had its roots in the deep-seated fear of Catholicism that permeated all levels of Stuart England.

In 1685, Charles II had died without an heir, leaving the throne to his Catholic brother, James, Duke of York. James II assured his anxious subjects that he intended to honour the country’s existing religious situation, but he soon began to lose support.

James gave Catholics in Britain freedom to worship openly, and, more worryingly, proposed the removal of parliamentary acts that prohibited Catholics from holding public office, known as the Test Acts. James appointed Catholic officers to the army and a number of Catholic peers to his Privy Council. His next move was to dissolve parliament and search for officials who would support Catholics in public office. He wished to form a parliament that would bend to his will.

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King James II
King James II. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

Why were people so scared of Catholicism?

To a deeply Protestant country, Catholicism was more than just fear and hatred of a differentm way of worship; it was fear of a religion that could overthrow both church and state, and the establishment of a ‘Catholic tyranny’ that would place England under the control of a powerful Catholic monarch.

How did the Dutch get involved?

In June 1688, James’s second wife gave birth to a son. This dashed hopes that Mary, the king’s Protestant daughter, now married to her cousin, the Dutch prince William of Orange, would eventually accede the throne. This, combined with fears that James would soon repeal the Test Acts, led a number of peers – known afterwards as the ‘Immortal Seven’ – to make contact with William, inviting him to invade England, pledging their support if he did so.

William, who wished to bring England into his war against France, responded. On 5 November 1688, he, along with 35,000 soldiers, landed in Torbay, Devon, promising to restore order and establish a ‘free’ parliament.

How did Britain react to the Dutch invasion?

As news of the Protestants' arrival spread, anti-Catholic rioting broke out. James was forced to leave London to confront William and his Dutch army. English Protestants welcomed William and his men as they progressed through the West Country towards London, and a number of James’s own side defected to the Protestant cause, including his nephew, Lord Cornbury and his own daughter, Princess Anne.

What was the outcome of the revolution?

After a bloody skirmish at Reading in December 1688, James realised his cause was lost. Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales fled for France and the next day, James himself attempted to flee, dropping the Great Seal in the Thames knowing that no lawful parliament could be summoned without it. Unfortunately, he was captured by fishermen near Sheerness.

With William now embraced as the man to restore order to England, James made another attempt to escape as William entered London. Dutch officers had been told to let James “gently slip through” if he chose to leave England again, and the king was finally able to reach the safety of France.

After being presented with a document called the Declaration of Rights, which affirmed the need for regular parliaments, William and Mary jointly accepted the throne on 13 February 1689, removing any chance of a Catholic monarchy.


This article was originally published in BBC History Revealed magazine