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The Glorious Political Revolution

Info: 3560 words (14 pages) Essay
Published: 18th Apr 2017 in History

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In the immediate aftermath following the Revolution of 1688-1689 John Locke discusses the premise by which governments were initially created. That is, their function in society is “to protect the property that came into existence through human labor”. Furthermore he argues that” because governments were created to serve the needs of people, the people therefore served as a necessary and legitimate check on the authority of the sovereign” (32). In essence government is an essential conduit of the people it rules, and therefore must be aligned with a nation’s best interests in mind. Additionally, it is vital that these interests be in lieu with the wants and needs of those governed. Though from a political standpoint, the process by which groups of people make collective decisions often involving social relations involving intrigue to gain authority or power is at times, historically speaking, flawed. Several ideological standpoints help to distinguish the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 as a political calibration of authority to better suit the needs of the English people. Though the Glorious Revolution marks pivotal innovations and advancements in religion, economics, and foreign policy it is arguable that the developments of the sociopolitical discourse from before and after the revolution were facilitated by the adjustment in authority. In its most basic form, the Revolution was a testament of the English nation to realign the desires of its citizens with its rulers. Though the extent to which the events that took place between 1688-1689 denote a “revolution” per say are debatable, it is suffice to say that there was severe dissonance throughout England leading to this period.

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Monarchial absolutism is susceptible to corruption. When a king has no one to answer to but God, where do checks and balances come into play? Seemingly enough, in the accounts of Thomas Cartwright in A Defense of James II’s View of the Constitution, “tis’ God alone who can take vengeance upon him” (72). To fully understand the emergence of the Glorious Revolution it is pivotal to recount the events and notions that spurned such a unique occurrence. An amalgam of socio-political and religious issues formed the foundation of what would become the Glorious Revolution. It is significant to keep in mind the discourse of the times. That is, religiously speaking, England was predominantly Protestant. To have a Catholic king would provoke much dissent. Prior to the Revolution, there existed a motif of general distrust between the monarchs in power and English citizens. Though Charles II’s reign was met with praise from many in 1660, several had suspicions of the Stuart’s religious practices. Their suspicions were confirmed by Charles’ institution of the Secret Treaty of Dover with Louie XIV. Additionally, it was common knowledge that Charles’ heir and brother, James II, was a devout Catholic. Charles II exacerbated the situation by abstaining with parliament, tolerating Roman Catholics, and favoring alliances with Catholic European forces. After Charles II’s death in 1865, James II ascended the throne upon which he instituted several unpopular reforms that only lowered his standing throughout the nation. Furthermore, his absolutist regime came under attack by his illegitimate nephew James Duke of Monmouth. The Duke was unable to rally enough support amongst the nobles and gentry since he portrayed his rebellion solely as a war of religion. Steven Pincus’ discusses how “the lesson of the previous century of European history was that of wars of religion” furthermore these battles only “resulted in massive bloodshed and political confusion” (13). Unfortunately for the Duke of Monmouth, this resulted in his bloodshed and the slaughter of all those that conspired with him. Upon crushing the rebellion James II argued the need for a standing army. His institution of Catholic tolerance in the Test Act from Charles II reign and imposition of the First and Second Declarations of Indulgence gained him the distrust of even the noble Tories. Those that wouldn’t bend to his will were either ousted or removed from positions of power.

Though James’ regime seems to revolve around the issue of religion, the political significance of his actions is uncanny. James’ intrusive and oftentimes imposing methods of governing garnered him many enemies as evidenced by accounts of Englishmen of the time. Pincus discusses how the Glorious Revolution was not a war of religion. Rather it was a “political struggle in which the rights and material welfare of the people were at stake” (31). The final straw seems to originate from the birth of James’ son – the Catholic heir. Fears of another absolutist Catholic regime sparked panic in the hearts of many. No more would English citizens stand victim to constitutional obstructions. It is fair to conclude that James II’s short reign was tattered with tyrannical despotism. This marks a critical flaw in pre-revolutionary English government. The appointment of a monarch who, according to Thomas Cartwright, answers only to God is a recipe for corruption. Though, it is not absurd that a monarch’s reign could be benign and beneficial for a nation, James II, by Pincus’ account, seems to be the carnation of a corrupt absolutist. It is important to understand that the revolution of 1688-89 was a product of necessity. The trends that followed the monarchial system were counterproductive. Forward, there emerges yet another motif regarding the sentiment towards James’ rule. This motif highlights the common opinion regarding necessity to govern with national interests at the forefront of all else. Interestingly enough this was grounds for unity amongst all classes. Though James’ regime was marred with obstructions on man’s sacred rights, he was able to unify England under a common cause. Unfortunately for James, it was not in his best interest.

The fundamental benefit from any unfortunate experience is the knowledge gained to prevent its future occurrence. Pincus is very convincing in his analysis of James II’s reign as a harsh despot. Though on the same token, his account of the buildup to the Glorious Revolution accounts for the developing sentiments amongst English citizens throughout James’ reign. Richard Price, in A Celebration of the Revolution of 1688-1689, discusses the function of civil government as “an institution of human prudence for guarding our persons, our property, and our good name against invasion… Obedience, therefore, to the laws and to magistrates, is a necessary expression of our regard to the community” (50). He goes on to discuss three principles on which the revolution was founded: “First, the right to liberty of conscience in religious matters. Secondly, the right to resist power when abused. And, thirdly, the right to choose our own governors; to cashier them for misconduct; and to frame a government for ourselves” (50). Like in the post revolutionary writings by John Locke, Price divulges on the function of government as an institution to service the masses. Furthermore, Price discusses when political reformation is necessary. By his word, obstruction of these sentiments accounts for upheaval of those in charge. We see the recurrence of the motif highlighting the significance of public interest in governmental procedure. However, the most significant premises he highlights are the principles that define the sacred right of mankind. These define the precedent by which revolution is legitimate. With this in mind, the birth of James II’s heir seemed to be a one of several unifying factors in ousting James II. This final straw facilitated action throughout England as highlighted by the Invitation of the Seven to the Prince of Orange.

Understanding the significance of the child’s birth, Seven Whig and Tory noblemen pleaded to the Dutch prince William, and his wife Mary (the Protestant daughter of James) to come to England and seize control of the crown. They suggested this on the premise that William would have practically undivided support from the gentry and nobles “your Highness may be assured there are nineteen parts of twenty of the people throughout the kingdom who are desirous of a change, and who we believe would willingly contribute…” (38). This document is incredibly significant in that it demonstrates the English sentiment towards James II’s absolutist/Catholic rule. In a united effort these noblemen took the initiative to secure England’s political situation with the help of Prince William. Yet, the risks they took to even write this letter were extreme. Had they been caught by James II, they most certainly would be liable for treason. Yet still the desperation these men faced was fuel enough for them to take this risk. “The people are so generally dissatisfied with the present conduct of the government in relation to their religion, liberties, and properties (all of which have been greatly invaded), and they are in such expectations of their prospects being daily worse…” (38). It is important to note two inferences from this letter. First, that the seven men were Whigs and Tories. This indicates that the general consensus, even with the Tories, was to strip James of his power. And second this letter highlights the developing shift of power from absolute monarchy to limited monarchy. Yet, a means to force a monarch to follow the laws of man was still a necessity. Growing sentiment against James II inspired many to question the efficiency of absolutism as evidenced by the letter from the noblemen. Socrates once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. In this case it is understandable that the English citizens had more than they could tolerate when it came to monarchial corruption. Undoubtedly, with this in mind, political reformation was imminent.

. It is crucial to note, that the shift in power that eventually took place was not the result of many violent struggles. Rather it was a united front fueled by the fervor of the English citizens to reassert dominion over their nation. Based on these accounts it is understandable that the English people were taking initiative to establish a legitimate representative order. Though the reasons for the Glorious Revolution were socio-political and religious, the true nature of the revolution undoubtedly revolved around politics. After all, the reassertion of power by William III was the key factor in facilitating any progress. William III’s arrival marked the fall of James’ regime. The revolution was dubbed “Glorious” on the basis that relatively little blood was shed in the transfer of power. Francis Barrington and Benjamin Steele’s A Letter Describing the Revolution to Thomas Goodwin and Kinnard Delabere is an account of the astounding nature of this revolution. “…never anything happened with so many amazing circumstances as this hath done – the bonding of the spirits of people so universally one way, nay even the minds of persons whose long differing with each other… be reconciled… and all without the loss of 50 men on all sides – makes it the most astonishing alteration that ever yet befell any one part of the universe” (45). The general sentiment against James II was grounds to unify England in an effort to oust his corrupt regime. This, among all else, seems to be most accountable for the “bloodless” nature of the revolution. England was united under William III’s reign and as Price recalled “the rights of the people were asserted, a tyrant expelled, and a sovereign of our own choice appointed in his room”. On most accounts, England was victorious. However, much work still needed to be done.

William III’s dominion denotes a period of reform as highlighted by the shift from absolute monarchy to a limited monarchy. Pincus notes how historians understand the revolution as “an event that restored England’s ancient polity and England’s Protestant religion. England’s revolution was restorative not innovative, conservative not radical” yet this is very debatable (6). The question at hand is whether the values and policies adopted after the revolution were indigenous ones or imposed from outside. Essentially this portion of history represents a hybrid return to the fundamentals of old English Government with advancements concurrent to the times. Though reform was developed on the basis of the wants and needs of the English people, their monarch was from the Netherlands, one of the most tolerant nations of the time. How could there not be foreign influences on policy based on this premise? As Pincus states “This was not the same England from Charles I’s regime”. On this principle it is recognizable that a large shift in the status quo between the monarchy, parliament, and society had occurred. According to Pincus “England had new rulers who, it appeared were placed on the throne by the will of the English people” (3). Essentially the revolution represented the victory of Parliament over a king; moreover a victory for the people. In effect the development of several policies “limited the nature of royal authority” (3). Yet the “essence of the Revolution lay in the Declaration of Rights and the Bill of Rights”(3). These documents defined the relationship between the monarch and subjects. Not only did it bar any future Catholic succession to the throne, but it declared the royal legislative and executive powers illegal, and furthermore forbade the crown from levying taxation or maintaining a standing army in peacetime without parliamentary consent. These provisions were offered and accepted by William and Mary. These declarations from the two houses of Parliament outline the extralegal policies of James II and prohibited future kings and queens from repeating the transgressions. It is significant to state that these declarations were not claiming to make new laws, but declaring old laws. In effect we see a milestone in English history and an essential shift in power from the monarch to Parliament. From here on the ascendancy of Parliament was never successfully contended. It is safe to assume that based on this argument, the establishment of Parliament as the supreme power was indeed the catalyst that helped spurn much growth in many spectrums including religion, economics, and social development.

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It is necessary to compare the different modes of thought that originate from before and after the Glorious Revolution. Thomas Cartwright’s A Defense of James II’s View of the Constitution provides a defense for the rights of the crown during the reign of James II. In James’ justification, Cartwright gives an account by which the crown may rule. As a high churchmen, Cartwright discusses how the king, without question, may follow any religion and pass any decree on the sole premise that they wear the crown, for the king answers to no one but God. “…without catechizing him: for be his heart inclinable to any religion, or none, it leaves him no rival… none but the great God, can over-rule him” (72). Yet, ultimately, he fuels his argument on the premise of the king’s absolute power. “… the King was the first, and must be the last judge too: for if the people be judge, he is no monarch at all: and so farewell all government.” Cartwright’s analysis is developed from a biased perspective. As a high churchman he maintains the traditional definitions of authority. Essentially high churchmen were highly intolerant, and they believed that people had no right to challenge the right of the monarchial authority. Just as the essence of the revolution is characterized by the words of the Bill of Rights, the essence of James’ reign is epitomized in Cartwright’s analysis. He blatantly states how the king’s decisions outweigh the desires and preferences of not only Parliament but the people of England as a whole. Based on Cartwright’s perception of the crown, one can understand the extent to which James agreed based on his treacherous regime. In analyzing William III’s Declaration it is understandable why the people favored his rule, even prior to the ratification of the Bill of Rights. “It is both certain and evident to all men that the public peace and happiness of any state or kingdom cannot be preserved where the laws, liberties and customs established, by the lawful authority in it, are openly transgressed and annulled” (39). William was of course speaking of James II’s reign. Furthermore, he declares the necessity of Parliamentary involvement to remedy the situation. “The last and great remedy for all those evils is the calling of a Parliament…”(41). William III was the embodiment of necessity. He fit the profile to fill the gap that James would leave. It is important to note once again the peaceful nature of the Glorious Revolution. Had the citizens of England flourished under James’ rule the circumstances would most definitely be different, but they weren’t.

This bloodless revolution was at its core a demonstration of the nation’s desire for reform. Though historians argue that the Glorious Revolution was not in fact a revolution. Edmund Burke in The Significance of the Revolution of 1688-1689 suggests that “The Revolution was made to preserve our ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that ancient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty” and therefore cannot be distinguished as a revolution. Rather it was a restorative event in that it reestablished the ideals already set forth by the English constitution. Though this argument is vaild, it is flawed in the sense that the Glorious Revolution brought about reforms that grounded Parliament as the primary authority. This in effect brings about the “hybridization theory” in that the events that occurred from 1688-1689 recalibrated English politics as a whole. The major distinguishing factor, as Colley Cibber notes, is that “these rights were given substance. Legal guarantees meant little if the king was able to ignore the law. A theory of limited monarchy did not constrain the king if he was not obliged in practice as well as in theory to convene Parliament” (17, 49). The major distinguishing factor, as Pincus argues, are “three revolutionary changes” that “had the combined effect of compelling English kings to be limited monarchs: the radical reorientation of English foreign policy, the English political economy, and the Church of England. These revolutionary changes are what distinguish the Revolution of 1688-1689 as the first modern revolution” (17). The key point here being that there indeed was a revolution. It is arguable that from the seditious nature of James’ rule that the English people would never let such occurrences happen again. History would not repeat itself.

The function of government is to protect the rights of those governed. Furthermore it is up to those in control to respect the wants and needs of citizens. James II’s rule was marred with tyranny on the premise of divine countenance. The socio-political discourse of the time suggests that there were no checks on the sovereign authority of James II. In effect there was blatant dissonance between the desires of citizens and that of the king. The Glorious Revolution was a revolution from a political standpoint in that there was a direct shift in power from monarchial absolutism to Parliamentary dominion. In conducting his absolutist regime James II was able to unify a nation. Unfortunately for him, he was the force they aimed to relinquish. Though historians like Edmund Burke argue that there was really no revolution, never before had England reached such an effective societal stratification. That is, the status quo was in favor of Parliament, and no longer could monarchs abuse the power they were “entrusted by God”. Pincus’ account of the Glorious Revolution as a political revolution is accurate in that there were extreme adjustments in more than just constitutional policies. Though post -revolutionary England was revolutionized on the fronts of foreign policy, economics, and religion; the major reform that facilitated these events stemmed from the reassertion of political dominance. Ultimately the English state was radically altered for the better, but it is essential to note the means by which this occurred. That is, by the will of the English citizens. In a united effort they eliminated the constraints of absolutism, and achieved revolution by their own terms. The term Glorious is perfect in that it exemplifies the state of things following the events of the revolution.


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