Britain’s Glorious Revolution

William III leads his troops at the Battle of the Boyne
​November sees two anniversaries that are integral to one of the most important changes in English history - the Glorious Revolution - which led to a shift away from an absolute monarchy, where the king or queen ruled alone, to a constitutional monarchy where parliament held more power. 

On 4 November in 1677, Mary, the Protestant niece of England's king, Charles II, married William of Orange, leader of the Dutch Republic and a champion of Protestantism across Europe. 

In 1685, Mary's father James inherited the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. He was a Catholic at a time when most of England was Protestant, and tried to impose new laws that would benefit Catholics. When MPs resisted, he attempted to dissolve parliament.

At this time, his Protestant daughter Mary was next in line to the throne. But in 1688 the king had another son whom he promised to raise as a Catholic. 

The thought of a Catholic dynasty terrified prominent Protestants, and seven wrote to William III promising their backing if he came to overthrow James.  

William, supported by his wife Mary, landed at Torbay in Devon on 5 November in 1688, and the so-called Glorious Revolution was underway. 

The Dutchman had gathered a powerful force and James' supporters quickly melted away. The king escaped to France and William III and Mary were crowned joint rulers of England, Scotland and Ireland.  

The two agreed to adhere to a Bill of Rights which called for regular Parliaments with free elections and freedom of speech, and prohibited the monarchy from being Catholic.

These were more restrictions than any previous monarch had accepted, and signalled a shift in power to parliament, continuing a trend that had start with the English Civil Wars around 40 years earlier. 

James’s supporters - the Jacobites - continued to fight for his right to return to the throne, particularly in Scotland where the Catholic cause was stronger. 

William and James fought again in Ireland, where James’s flight back to France and the Dutchman’s victories at Boyne, Aughrim and Limerick led to 200 years of British and Protestant domination. 

Supporters of James championed their king for more than 50 years in the Scotland, where the Jacobite Risings saw them achieve success before being crushed by the British government, altering the structure of Scotland’s Highland Clans for ever and finally eliminating the Jacobite cause.  
The Glorious Revolution saw bloodshed and hardship for many, but it was also the start of a harmonious partnership between Crown and People that established parliament as the ruling power in England, a structure that is still in place today. 

To dig deeper into different parts of the Glorious Revolution:
Sign up to our English Civil War tour with Julian Humphrys to find out more about the battles between king and parliament that preceded the Glorious Revolution.

Join Barry Hilton in Athlone to learn more about the Williamite-Jacobite conflict in Ireland and visit battle sites that include the Boyne and Limerick.

Tour the Scottish Highlands with Barry Hilton to uncover the Jacobite Rebellions, which saw James’s supporters battle to win back his throne. 

Let James Falkner, one of the UK’s leading authorities on the first Duke of Marlborough, guide you around the sites of Marlborough's victories over the French in Flanders, which provided the foundation of England’s standing across the world for the next 200 years. 

Picture credit: William III leads his troops at the Battle of the Boyne, copyright Mary Evans / Library of Congress