Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Glorious Was It?

The political events which ended the reign of James II of England - he was overthrown in part because he was Roman Catholic, and in part because he policy toward France was seen as weakening England's global power - laid the foundation for the American Revolution a century later, and

was traditionally believed to derive much of its gloriousness from its absence of significant bloodshed, except in Ireland (which, revealingly, was not thought to count), a blessing usually put down to the fact that its central drama - the overthrow of James II, England's last Roman Catholic king - was essentially a conservative affair. According to this version of events, the replacement of James with the dual monarchy of the Dutch prince William and his wife (and James’s daughter) Mary was an easy sell, a restoration as much as a revolution, intended by a good number of its supporters to return hallowed (if sometimes fictional) English liberties to their central place in a constitution threatened by the newfangled ways of a monarch in thrall to a foreign religion and, no less sinisterly, to the absolutist ideology of

France's Louis XIV. Those who wanted to get rid of James II were revolutionaries, not in the sense that they wanted to create a new form of government, but rather in the sense that they wanted to return to an older form of government, which gave them all the rights and freedoms in the Magna Carta. James II represented an absolute monarchy instead of the constitutional monarchy which had given English citizens freedom for several centuries. The "Glorious Revolution" - as it has been known ever since - did indeed overthrow the government,

but so far as possible (even during the tricky 1688–89 hiatus) it did so in a way that was in accord with existing law — and who could object to that?

As Oxford's Andrew Stuttaford rhetorically asks. Despite the relatively low body count, the Glorious Revolution was indeed historically significant as the American Revolution which took the same intellectual path, or the French Revolution which took the opposite ideology.