In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Glorious Revolution

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Primary Sources
  • Essay Anthologies
  • Restoration Background
  • James II (VII) and William III (II)
  • The Constitution and Political Thought
  • Religion, the Church of England, and Ideas
  • Women, Gender, and the Family

Atlantic History Glorious Revolution
Gary S. De Krey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0112


The Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689 has long been a well-known historical landmark. The Whig interpretation of the revolution, which was epitomized in the work of the great Victorian historian Thomas B. Macaulay, was largely responsible for this familiarity. Macaulay and writers who followed him saw the revolution as a constitutional milestone. They maintained that Whig leaders committed to parliamentary government took the initiative in the Convention of 1689 (an irregular meeting of Parliament) in ousting a despotic and Catholic James II in favor of his Protestant son-in-law and daughter, William III (also stadtholder of the Netherlands) and Mary II. This largely bloodless revolution at Westminster, which promoted Parliament at the expense of the crown, also secured Protestantism by maintaining the privileged position of the established Anglican Church and by extending toleration to Protestant dissenters who preferred to remain outside the religious establishment. Moreover, according to the Whig view, the revolution protected property and personal rights from arbitrary taxation and royal interference. Whig interpreters also utilized the contractual thought of John Locke, whose Two Treatises of Government was published in 1689, to vest the revolution with a liberal ethos. By the third quarter of the twentieth century, however, this comfortable construction of the revolution was disintegrating. Marxists and some historians dismissed 1688–1689 as an inconsequential alteration in the monarchy. Specialists found fault with particular aspects of the Whig interpretation. Some scholars sought to rehabilitate James II, especially in light of his religious toleration. Other historians emphasized the ideological compromises involved in an event that owed as much to royalist Tories as to their Whig partisan opponents. Since its tercentenary in 1988–1989, however, the revolution has again been interpreted as a watershed in all three British kingdoms, and it has also increasingly been understood as an event with both a European and a global importance. William III led his new kingdoms into warfare against the France of Louis XIV, which transformed England into the preeminent imperial and commercial power of the eighteenth century. The English revolution was also accompanied by an easing of press regulations that encouraged both political publications of all kinds and partisanship. The Scottish and the Irish revolutions, neither of which was bloodless, also had momentous consequences, stimulating parliamentary assertiveness in both kingdoms, contributing to the union of Scotland with England in 1707, and marginalizing both Irish Catholics and Scottish Episcopalians. In the North American colonies the revolution helped confirm the position of colonial assemblies and reaffirmed Anglo-American anti-Catholicism. As the Glorious Revolution has acquired new dimensions as a British, European, Atlantic, and global event, some elements of the Whig interpretation have also retained a place in scholarly interpretation, albeit in more nuanced form.

General Overviews

The appearance, in recent decades, of several new general overviews of the Glorious Revolution by professional historians points to the continuing visibility of 1688–1689 in historical discussion. Students and readers new to the topic will probably gain the most by starting with Valance 2006, a lucid narrative of the revolution that addresses major interpretive issues. Those with some background will want to begin with Harris 2006 or Pincus 2009, both of which are more heavily researched and argued and which are intended to advance scholarly debate about the revolution. Harris provides the most serious effort at finding a common framework for investigation of the revolution in the three British kingdoms. Pincus places James II in a European context of Catholic modernization and proposes that 1688–1689 was the first modern revolution. Cruickshanks 2000 presents a controversial inversion of the Whig interpretation that rehabilitates James II and skewers William III, and it is best read in conjunction with other accounts. Hoppit 2000 provides a readable and comprehensive survey of the political and commercial development of Britain in the wartime decades that followed the revolution. The older general account Speck 1988 was published to mark the tercentenary of the revolution. Intended for students and general readers, it offers qualified endorsements of some Whig arguments. Herrmann 2015 traces the more recent historiography of the revolution, emphasizing that disagreements about its character have a long history.

  • Cruickshanks, Eveline. The Glorious Revolution. British History in Perspective. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-07303-7

    Systematic challenge to Whig interpretation: James was sincere in advocating toleration and civil rights for all religious persuasions. The revolution lacked popular support; it was a military invasion by William, who wanted the English crown with its prerogatives intact and who was focused on European events. Attention to Scotland, Ireland, warfare.

  • Harris, Tim. Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685–1720. London and New York: Allen Lane, 2006.

    Comprehensive examination of the revolution and of James II, whose manner of rule undermined a royalist revival and challenged contemporary understandings of law. Pioneering integration of English, Scottish, and Irish revolutions. A nuanced interpretation of the revolution as a victory for Protestantism and parliamentary government against Catholic absolutism.

  • Herrmann, Frédéric. “The Glorious Revolution (1688–1701) and the Return of Whig History.” Études Anglaises 68.3 (2015): 331–344.

    DOI: 10.3917/etan.683.0331

    How “radical and transformative” was the Glorious Revolution? The disagreements among recent historians reflect disagreements among contemporaries. Considers the extent of violence; the process of state formation; popular participation; and the accompanying revolutions in trade, public finance, and warfare.

  • Hoppit, Julian. A Land of Liberty? England 1689–1727. The New Oxford History of England. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Account of the aftermath of the revolution as an era both of uncertainty and of prospects in the midst of unprecedented warfare and imperial competition. Emphasis on party political divisions, the slow emergence of stability, commercial opportunity, fiscal innovation, and the lives of ordinary people.

  • Pincus, Steve. 1688: The First Modern Revolution. Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

    Provocative, massively researched study arguing for the overthrow of James II as the first modern revolution. Rehabilitates James’s political acumen, reconceives his program as one of Catholic (absolutist) modernization, connects the revolution to the emergence of a commercial society, emphasizes popular involvement, and places all in a European perspective.

  • Speck, William A. Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

    Contribution to tercentenary of 1688–1689. Emphasizes James’s Catholicism as prompting a defensive revolution to protect Protestantism and the constitution. Suggests that, although James’s attempt to move toward absolutism was within the law, the Convention of 1689 did—intentionally or not—establish a new framework by subordinating the crown to law and Parliament.

  • Valance, Edward. The Glorious Revolution: 1688—Britain’s Fight for Liberty. London: Little Brown, 2006.

    Readable, colorful account. Emphasizes the importance of anti-Catholicism as a roadblock for James, the involvement of ordinary people in the revolution, the securing of parliamentary government, and the importance of 1688–1689 in Anglo-American history. Incorporates Scotland, Ireland, and the reign of William III.

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