Seventeenth-century England was not what one could call a place of peace, harmony and tolerance. In fact, it was full of fundamentalist religious nutcases.
The biggest evil in the land was Popery. Englanders were convinced that Europe’s Roman Catholics were plotting to take over the country by fair means or foul, and create a state subjugated to the tyranny of a foreign monarch. And not just any foreign monarch: the worst kind of foreign monarch – a French monarch.
After Charles II died in 1685, the throne passed to his suspiciously Catholic brother, James II. This upset a lot of people. His ‘Declaration of Indulgence’, which suspended legal penalties against religious dissenters, didn’t go down well at all. It was seen as a way of making Catholicism acceptable.
And so a plot began to overthrow the king and install an acceptable foreign monarch – ie, a protestant monarch – in his place.
In June 1688, seven people – Henry Sidney (AKA Earl of Romney), Edward Russell (AKA Earl of Orford), the Bishop of London, Viscount Lumley, and the earls of Danby, Shrewsbury, and Devonshire – formally invited William of Orange, Stadtholder of the Netherlands and husband of the king’s daughter, Mary, to rustle up an army and invade.
Which he did. And on this day in 1688, he and his 15,000-strong army landed at Brixham, in Devon. They marched to London virtually unopposed, and King James fled.
In the revolution’s wake, the Bill of Rights was passed, in which Parliament’s power was strengthened and the monarch’s reduced. And a certain amount of religious freedom was allowed with the passing of the Toleration Act.
It is often called the Glorious Revolution. It is also often called a ‘bloodless’ revolution. But things are not seen quite that way in many parts of Scotland and Ireland, where quite a lot of blood was shed in its wake.