The Revolution of 1688: Whig Triumph or Palace Revolution?

The Revolution of 1688: Whig Triumph or Palace Revolution?

The Revolution of 1688: Whig Triumph or Palace Revolution?

The Revolution of 1688: Whig Triumph or Palace Revolution?

Excerpt

The Revolution of 1688 is the culminaon of the seventeenth-century struggle between parliament, and the Stuarts over the issue of sovereignty. From the time James I came to the throne in 1603, legislature and crown debated and fought over which of them had ultimate control over the making of law. At times, as under Charles I and Stratford, the crown claimed and exercised the right; under Cromwell, parliament triumphed. When the later Stuarts, Charles II and James II, attempted to match and then outdo their father in destroying parliamentary sovereignty, the Whigs and a majority of the Tories withdrew their support. Seven leading lords made plans to exclude the Stuart family altogether. It is their invitation to James II's nephew, William of Orange, his acceptance of the proffered crown, and the laws made by William and parliament after 1688 that constituted the basic theme of the "bloodless revolution."

The Revolution, then as now, impresses students of history with its simplicity. It exhibits none of the complexities of the rebellion of 1643 or of the French Revolution a century later, for it consists mainly of one movement: the peaceful accession of the House of Orange. It is not a mass movement, nor a class movement; individuals from many parties contributed to its success. It is not a "revolution" as that word is used today, for it resulted in a body of laws which strengthened rather than overthrew the old order. If any innovations can be found, they consist in the granting of toleration to dissenters, the regularization of parliamentary elections, and the establishment of a Protestant monarchy. The Revolution, then, means nothing more than that the English rejected a specific man as unfit to rule, repudiated his foreign and domestic policy, and got themselves a king who pleased them better.

Then why do historians give a significant place to a "palace revolution"? Precisely because parliament was able to make such a choice. When the Convention Parliament met in February, 1689, it declared that James II had "abdicated" when he escaped to France, but regardless of the explanation parliament assumed that it had the power to replace one king by another. Here was an ultimate power over the throne -- the power of desposition. Furthermore, many have assumed, the throne to that parliament grants of the throne to William implied that the use of kingly prerogatives in the future would be a trust given by parliament; since parliament represented the people of England, ultimate governmental power was believed to be resented peoples Thus the Revolution of 1688 has come to mean, through implication, that modern political democracy and limited monarchy begin with the Revolution Settlement.

Still, it must be remembered that these last-mentioned interpretations have meaning only through implication. This was not a democratic revolution, for it safeguarded rights only to those who had them before 1688 -- the battle the barons waged with King John; in spirit the Bill of Rights resembles Magna Carta . . .

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