William III, who was sometimes rudely referred to by his English subjects as “Dutch William” and his wife, the English Princess, Mary, had become joint monarchs of the three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland through a combination of religion, marriage and fear.
After the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell was replaced by the Restoration King, Charles II, England’s religious troubles were placed on the backburner. Charles was a Protestant, as were most of the powerful nobles and merchants. Catholics were tolerated as long as they made no public displays and didn’t interfere in the legal affairs of the kingdom.
However, when Charles II died, his brother, the Catholic James, Duke of York, became James II. The mainly Protestant grandees were willing to tolerate a Catholic as king. After all, they reasoned, James was well past 50 years old. Also he and his Catholic wife, Mary of Modena, had produced no healthy male children. Further James’ presumptive heirs were his daughter from his first marriage, Mary, and her husband William of Orange, both good Protestants.
Even when James II moved to lift some of the restrictions on Catholics, the Protestant leadership of Parliament merely stood mute, looking to do no more than weather the storm. However, James was soon to demonstrate some of the same attitudes that had gotten his father, Charles I, dethroned and beheaded.
First, he appointed Catholics to many important positions in the army, displacing long serving Protestants. Then when the Parliament of 1685 refused to consent to these appointments and also denied James’ request for more military spending, James dismissed them. Then James refused to call any Parliament at all the while trying to “pack” the one he would call with men loyal only to him. Also James repudiated the alliance with Protestant Holland and made moves to become closer to Catholic France.
The final straw for the Protestant leadership was the birth of a healthy son, Charles, to Mary of Modena and James. Now the real possibility of Catholic dynasty sitting on the English throne for generations was coming to the front. “The Seven Immortals” fled England and made for Holland where they asked William and Mary to come to England and guard Mary’s place in the line of succession. William, ever the wise politician, had keenly followed what was happening in London and he had estimated some sort of armed action might be needed in England. He had been making some preparation for such events since James had ascended the throne. Thus, when William was asked to intervene, he moved rapidly.
William landed at Torbay on 5 November with a well-trained and skilled army. He moved quickly on London. James having no stomach for a fight and fast losing the support of key leaders, fled. He was soon captured and turned over to William. William, not wishing to execute James contrived to have him escape and James was soon in France.
Julian Hoppit, A Land of Liberty?: England 1689-1727, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Maurice Ashley, The Glorious Revolution of 1688, (London: Hodder & Staughton Ltd., 1966).
Henry Horwitz, Parliament, Policy, and Politics in the Reign of William III (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977).
John Miller, James II, (Yale: Yale University Press, 2000).
David Hughes, The British Chronicles, Volume 1, (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2007).
James Stuart Olson and Robert Shadle, ed. Historical Dictionary of the British Empire, Volume 1, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 1996).