RESTORATION: Britain’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 and the ‘Bill of Rights’

The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, was the overthrow of King James II of England (VII of Scotland and II of Ireland) in 1688 by a union of Parliamentarians with an invading army led by the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange) who, as a result, ascended the English throne as William III of England. It is regarded as  the begining of parliamentary democracy in Great Britain which saw the drafting of the Bill of Rights. A Document that was to also subsequently inspire the American Constitution.

The expression “Glorious Revolution” was first used by John Hampden in late 1689,and is an expression that is still used by the British Parliament. The Glorious Revolution is also occasionally termed the Bloodless Revolution, albeit inaccurately. In England there were two significant clashes between the two armies, and anti-Catholic riots in several towns. There was also the Williamite War in Ireland and serious fighting in Scotland (notably the Battles of Killicrankie and the Dunkeld). The revolution also led to the collapse of the Dominion of New England and the overthrow of Maryland’s government.

It can be argued that James’s overthrow began modern English parliamentary democracy: never since has the monarch held absolute power, and the Bill of Rights has become one of the most important documents in the political history of Britain.

The English Bill of Rights and it’s influence in Drafting the Constitution of the United States:

The Bill of Rights laid out certain basic rights for (at the time) all Englishmen. These rights continue to apply today, not only in England, but in each of the jurisdictions of the Commonwealth realms as well. The people, embodied in the parliament, are granted immutable civil and political rights through the act, including:

  • Freedom from royal interference with the law. Though the sovereign remains the fount of justice, he or she cannot unilaterally establish new courts or act as a judge.
  • Freedom from taxation by Royal Prerogative. The agreement of parliament became necessary for the implementation of any new taxes.
  • Freedom to petition the monarch.
  • Freedom from the standing army during a time of peace. The agreement of parliament became necessary before the army could be moved against the populace when not at war.
  • Freedom for Protestants to have arms for their own defence, as suitable to their class and as allowed by law.
  • Freedom to elect members of parliament without interference from the sovereign.
  • Freedom of speech and debates; or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.

Certain acts of James II were also specifically named and declared illegal by the Bill of Rights, while James’ flight from England in the wake of the Glorious Revolution was also declared to be an abdication of the throne.

Also, in a prelude to the Act of Settlement to come twelve years later, the Bill of Rights barred Roman Catholics from the throne of England as “it hath been found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant kingdom to be governed by a papist prince”; thus William III and Mary II were named as the successors of James VII and II and that the throne would pass from them first to Mary’s heirs, then to her sister, Princess Anne of Denmark and her heirs and, further, to any heirs of William by a later marriage. The monarch was further required to swear a coronation oath to maintain the Protestant religion.

More on the Glorious Revolution by Historian Michael Barone:

Michael Barone is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers”. A political analyst and journalist, Michael Barone studies politics, American government, campaigns and elections. The principal coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics, he has written many books on American politics and history. Barone is also a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report.

The Causes of The Glorious Revolution :

Where Did The Idea of a “Bill of Rights” ? :

What Was Glorious About The Glorious Revolution ?:

Religious Tollerance and the Glorious Revolution:

How the Glorious Revolution Changed Foreign Policy:

Was King Williams Embrace of Parliament Purely Pragmatic?:

How did the American founders of the American Constitution differe from the English Bill of Rights ?:

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