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The events of 1688–89 that resulted in the deposition of James II and the accession of William III and Mary II to the English throne are known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’. It is also known as the ‘Bloodless Revolution’.

 

The restoration of Charles II in 1660 was met with misgivings by many Englishmen who suspected the Stuarts of Roman Catholic and absolutist leanings. Charles II increased this distrust by not being responsive to Parliament, by his toleration of Catholic dissent, and by favouring alliances with Catholic powers in Europe.

 

A parliamentary group, the Whigs, tried to ensure a Protestant succession by excluding James, Duke of York (later James II), from the throne, but they were unsuccessful. Disaffected Protestants elements planned to assassinate Charles and James near Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, when they were travelling back to London from the Newmarket races in 1683, in what became known as the abortive 'Rye House Plot'.  The reprisals after its failure, even against some of the noblest families in the land, were harsh. 

 

One of the leading prosecutors employed by Charles was the notorious 'Hanging' Judge Jeffreys. After James's accession (1685) his overt Catholicism and the birth of a Catholic prince who would succeed to the throne united the hitherto loyal Tories with the Whigs in common opposition to James. In May 1685 disaffected Protestants rose in Scotland under the Earl of Argyll and in June James' nephew the Duke of Monmouth landed in Dorset to overthrow the King. 

 

To the regret of all true Protestants, both uprisings were doomed to failure and Judge Jeffreys enthusiastically hunted down Monmouth's supporters in a series of 'Bloody Assizes' during which hundreds were executed or transported to the West Indies.  James' attempts to increase the size of his standing army, his indefinite suspension of Parliament in November 1685, his use of a Jesuit confessor and his replacing of Protestant ministers with Catholic ones were particularly unpopular. The final straw came with his issuing of the Declaration of Indulgence, designed to ease restrictions on Catholics, and his order for all Anglican churches to read the Declaration from their pulpits.  When the Archbishop of Canterbury William Sancroft, and other bishops petitioned the King to reconsider, James had them arrested and put on trial for seditious libel.

 

Seven Whig and Tory leaders known as the "Immortal Seven" sent an invitation to the Dutch prince William of Orange and his consort, Mary, Protestant daughter of James, to come to England.

William landed at Torbay in Devonshire with his army. James's forces, under John Churchill (later Duke of Marlborough), deserted him, and James fled to France (Dec., 1688).

 

There was some debate in England on how to transfer power: whether to recall James on strict conditions or under a regency, whether to depose him outright, or whether to treat his flight as an abdication. The last course was decided upon, and early in 1689 William and Mary accepted the invitation of Parliament to rule as joint sovereigns.

The Declaration of Rights and the 'Bill of Rights' (1689) redefined the relationship between monarch and subjects and barred any future Catholic succession to the throne. The royal power to suspend and dispense with law was abolished, and the Crown was forbidden to levy taxation or maintain a standing army in peacetime without parliamentary consent.

The provisions of the Bill of Rights were, in effect, the conditions upon which the throne was offered to, and accepted by, William and Mary. Collectively, these events proved a milestone in the gradual process by which practical power shifted from the monarch to Parliament. The theoretical ascendancy of Parliament was never thereafter successfully challenged.