England’s Revolutionary coyness

It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it building in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Derbyshire village – and you have to wonder whether that’s how most people here like it. The only museum in England dedicated to the events of 1688-91, which had such a huge impact on the history of the world, not just that of Britain and Ireland, is a preserved early-modern alehouse consisting of just three exhibition rooms, the largest of which is barely big enough to fit a family of five. It was in Revolution House on High Street in Old Whittington, Derbyshire (although in 1688 it was an alehouse called the Cock and Pynot), that Tory leader Lord Danby, and the Whig politicians Lord Devonshire and John Darcy, fourth son of Lord Holderness, met up to discuss how best to invite William of Orange over to the country so that he could help them depose England’s unpopular king James II (who was also James VII of Scotland).

Revolution House, Old Whittington, Derbyshire

Revolution House, Old Whittington, Derbyshire

It’s worth stopping for a moment to consider the implications of what they were doing: here were three ultra-conservative pillars of high English society, none of whom had any time for Levellers-style popular politics, actually planning to dislodge their king. It could very easily have gone spectacularly wrong for them – as it had already done for James’s nephew the Duke of Monmouth after his defeat at Sedgemoor in 1685.

The problem was not just that James II (and VII) was Catholic (this had, after all, been known for years, and hardly anyone in any of his three kingdoms thought it was worth physically barring him from the throne) – he was also short-tempered with a tetchy, authoritarian streak, and had no idea how to manage his cabinet. He shut Parliament down shortly after his reign began in 1685 when it dared to criticise his ideas, he sacked academics and arrested clerics who questioned his policies, he employed intrusive bureaucrats, and shamelessly paraded through his realm with a standing army. In fairness to James, not all his ideas were necessarily bad ones – his Declarations of Indulgence were well-meaning aims at imposing religious toleration, for the benefit not just of Catholics but also of Nonconformists. The trouble was that, just as multi-millionaire entertainers are the wrong people to start lecturing us about charitable giving on Comic Relief Night, similarly the authoritarian and accident-prone James was the wrong apostle for the creation of a new, get-along kingdom.

James II of England (and VII of Scotland)

James II of England (and VII of Scotland)

After the public-relations own goal that was the failed Trial of the Bishops in 1688, Danby, Devonshire, and others finally decided that enough was enough, and so wrote their letter to William – and the rest, as they say, is history.

The importance of the lives and careers of James and William to Ireland and Irish history are well documented, and familiar even to people in Ireland who don’t do anything on Eleventh Night. In England, however, it’s almost as if the nation is embarrassed about its last successful Revolution – despite its importance when it comes to understanding the development of the country’s political institutions. We on this side of the Irish Sea are uniquely encouraged to be coy about our revolutionary past – an attiude that is unimaginable in America and France. In the same week that the new Museum of Orange Culture opened in Belfast, the planners in Chesterfield council were preparing to line Old Whittington’s High Street with a carousel and jumble sales in time for a weekend family event. Most visitors simply bypassed Revolution House in favour of the fairground attractions and face painting.

The terminology for the event is particularly telling. It has been called the Glorious Revolution – although it clearly was not a glorious time for Scottish and Irish Catholics (as the historian Simon Schama put it, if the Revolution ‘was a triumph for England, it was a tragedy for Britain.‘). It has also been termed the Bloodless or Quiet Revolution, with Conservative philosophers like Edmund Burke honestly believing this to be true, and using that myth as a stick to beat those who saw similarities with the French Revolution. In fact, as the historian Steve Pincus has shown, the events of 1688-9 in England were a picture of popular rebellion against authority, and widespread violence, principally against Catholic civilians:

Violence erupted in town after town in late 1688. Popular uprisings in York, Hull, and Carlisle achieved quick victories. Chester was seething with discontent. The dragoons quartered there were so frequently reviled and attacked by the townsmen that the men ‘wish[ed] themselves at home’. Portsmouth was even more of a flashpoint.

As if further proof were needed that the Revolution was a popular and not just aristocratic affair, King James’s fate was, for half a week in December 1688, in the hands of a trio of fishermen in Kent. He had attempted to throw William and the Dutch off his scent by first agreeing to a meeting with them, and then burning the writs for a new parliament and throwing the royal seal into the Thames, before taking to a boat for France. He got as far as the town of Faversham by the Isle of Sheppey, where the fishermen caught him, initially mistaking him for a priest. After four days in their captivity, the fleeing king was handed over to guards whose sympathies were clearly with William, but as the Prince of Orange and his allies regarded James as less of a threat than an embarrassment the guards were encouraged to turn a blind eye and give the deposed king several hints that no-one would stop him if he tried to escape again. Finally, James took the hint, and left England for good just a couple of days before Christmas. There’s something to ponder over: for a few days a proud king is detained and humiliated by three of his blue-collar subjects, and so far no-one has yet written a screenplay about it.

The Revolution of 1688-91 and its outworkings exercised the minds of many long after the ink had dried on the Treaty of Limerick. The Whig propagandists in the newly united British state of the 18th Century waxed lyrical and artistic about the legal and constitutional gains that had been wrested in 1688-91. They were gains that reverberated across the world, too: America’s Founding Fathers used the 1689 Bill of Rights as a model for their Bill and also their Declaration of Independence, and France’s revolutionaries in the 1780s were similarly inspired by the actions of their neighbours across the Channel a century before. The events were deemed important enough for the Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay to have them comprise the bulk of his “History of England”, a classic work whose stirring prose had an enormous effect on, among others, Winston Churchill. Such far-reaching inspiration makes it all the more puzzling why more is not made in the present time of the Revolution – at least in England.

The comic writer John O’Farrell was only half-joking when he wrote in 2001 that ‘When it comes to being not that bothered about patriotism, nobody does it quite like us Brits‘, but in an age in which immigrants to the country are expected to show proper respect for, and knowledge of, our history and traditions, it is more than a little puzzling that many people who were born and raised here are not only unaware of how their forbears helped to bring down a bad king, but are also not encouraged to be so aware. Perhaps this was the point of Burke and co in pretending that if change in England happens then it is always orderly and seamless, and the preserve only of wise and all-knowing monarchs, statesmen, and army officers, rather than those of us struggling from below. It is only in godforsaken foreign climes inhabited by excitable foreigners where things like revolutions break out.

I hope I’m not coming over too misty-eyed about 1688: in addition to modern accountable parliamentary government, it also produced a more poisonous legacy of religious divisions, a legacy that clearly proved to be particularly enduring in Ireland. Nonetheless, in a time where our parliamentary institutions are coming under increasing scrutiny and the political challenges become more acute, we could do worse than start to take more pride publicly in what Steve Pincus called the First Modern Revolution.

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  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You echo a lot of my thoughts around this episode in history and the clashing identities that ensued. I’m glad that you raise the subject that people are not necessarily interested in how they arrived at who they are but are instead interested in preserving who they are, hence the ambivalence among the English (because they unknowingly benefit) and the ardor among Ulster Unionists (because they knowingly benefit). It is certainly a pivotal episode in the history of these islands and the post-bellum political settlements gave birth to Burke’s ideas that still persist very potently, and at least inspired Churchill. It also has to have influenced the thinking of Robert Walpole, Thomas Carlyle, Disraeli; one nation toryism and the Young Englanders and that the British Labour party owes more to Methodism than to Marx. So far, so assymetrical and so middle England.
    That the battles took place on this island instead of GB partly explains English indifference and Irish passion. Anti freedom catholicism was less of a visible threat in England too. The post bellum Treaty of Limerick didn’t apply to England and in addition to penalising the remaining Irish also facilitated a significant influx of new Scottish settlers into Ulster between 1690 and 1715. So numerous were these settlers that it can be seen as the most successful period in Ulster’s plantation, albeit due to one of those accidents of fate that God frequently bestows on English interests. So Ulster Unionists have had a lot to thank the Glorious Revolution for. However, benefiting from a settlement is not the same thing as brokering it. Escaping the famine of Scotland’s 7 ill years doesn’t sound so heroic nor so glorious. As a result the triumphalism of Monday’s annual revival seems a posteriori and proxy but acts of God show that He was usually on the side of the Brits.

  • Gingray

    Great blog. The Bill of Rights, particularly given the time it was conceived, is a fantastic framework for political and civil rights. The fact that it is retained, with minor modifications, in the UK, Ireland and most of the Commonwealth is testament to its value.

    But it’s a bill of its time too, and peace in England was bought at the price of nearly constant trouble in Ireland, as you would expect when a minority has absolute power over a majority.

    I have always found that those events which may have negative aspects are frequently ignored in England – even if they had largely positive impacts.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Particularly when the negative aspects were experienced elsewhere: moreover, where the positive impacts are taken for granted in a sort of ‘didn’t we always enjoy these liberties in Merry Olde Englande?’ How many English know that Elizabeth I’s reign was a police state with crown spies in every hamlet?
    If something similar to the Glorious Revolution had happened in France, le coq hardi would still be crowing about it and it would be part of public consciousness. But then I find it hard to sing the Marseillaise with any sincerity because I know what the words mean.

  • notimetoshine

    “It’s worth stopping for a moment to consider the implications of what they were doing: here were three ultra-conservative pillars of high English society, none of whom had any time for Levellers-style popular politics, actually planning to dislodge their king”

    For me I always see this as the culmination of Englands development away from the concept of divine right and absolute monarchy, which started with magna carta. After this royals ruled solely by the accquiesence of (at least some) of the people. I also think it marks the end of the development of the nation concept in English history. The nation was no longer the monarch, the monarch was simply a component part of the national identity and like other components could be replaced. It’s a fascinating period and one that seems to be overlooked when we think about the development of parliamentary democracy and western democracy in general.

    I always found in history class that there is a tendency to overlook the importance of the event in terms of the development of democracy and western politics, I always remember focusing solely on the impact on Ireland and its role in unionism and the wider consequences on Ireland. It’s a shame really when you think of how important it was.

  • Gopher

    “In a many dark hour
    I’ve been thinkin’ about this
    That Jesus Christ
    Was betrayed by a kiss
    But I can’t think for you
    You’ll have to decide
    Whether Judas Iscariot
    Had God on his side.”

    Bob Dylan

    Looking at this post i’m sorry but I have to look at the fundamentals and the trouble with the “Glorious Revolution” from an English perspective is nothing much happened. That is the salient point. Elizabeth defeated the Armada, Lots of battles in the English Civil War to re-enact, Wellington and Nelson saved the English way of life and one can ever get tired of watching Spitfires. There is no deep down reason other that nothing happened except a disliked King got black balled by Parliament, the Army and *His* own Royal Navy. Getting all the bells and whistles by a letter just does not stand in comparison to mixing it with 109’s over Kent or defeating the Old Guard. Historians (sic) like Simon Sharma are another good reason to scrap the BBC. Simon Sharma the only man alive who could make the History of Britain dull.

    Once again nothing much happened in the Glorious Revolution and trying to attach convoluted reasons why it is not celebrated in the 21st century in England, the most historically weathly nation in the world is clutching at straws.

  • Nevin

    “That the battles took place on this island instead of GB partly explains English indifference and Irish passion.”


  • Dan

    A few points.

    Any consideration of this particular point in history is incomplete, given the attempts by James to ride rough-shod over the then-Parliament, without noting that it took place at a time when the English Civil War was still within living memory [a godforsaken foreign clime?! – Ed] – by comparison this was a bloodless revolution as far as Burke et al were concerned. James’ ‘ideas’ were not, necessarily, the problem per se, but his methods caused serious concern.

    European politics also had it’s part to play, particularly with France and the Dutch Republic. Religion being intertwined with that as well.

    Instead, perhaps rightly, the focus in recent times has been on what is regarded as the starting point in the evolution of the relationship between the Head of State and the representatives of the people, however limited – Magna Carta.

    Of more significance in that relationship, arguably, is the beheading of the divinely appointed Charles I after trial and conviction for treason. Yet that is not ‘celebrated’ as much either.


    I hope I’m not coming over too misty-eyed about 1688: in addition to modern accountable parliamentary government, it also produced a more poisonous legacy of religious divisions, a legacy that clearly proved to be particularly enduring in Ireland.

    I realise you’re writing this with an eye on the calendar, and modern times, but that ‘poison’ [more? Ed] was evident in European, and Irish and British, politics a long time before 1688 – see Charles I earlier. You did mention Elizabeth’s reign, but not the Catholic conspiracies against her. I could add the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, given the French involvement in this story.

    In short, it’s too parochial for an historical piece. Sorry.

    Oh, and for “those of us struggling from below”, America’s Founding Fathers also found inspiration in other spheres.

  • notimetoshine

    I would have to disagree with you Simon schama is one of the best historians to have presented a TV series. His was in depth but accessible and very well explained. His history of Britain was enthralling and much better than the dumbed down tripe that passes for history programming now. Far to visually focused rather than schamas programmes were the backdrops were stunning and the music haunting but the simply complimented the narrative schama was providing.

    Oh and in your last paragraph you noted why it should be celebrated. England would not be England if it were not for the increasingly limited monarchy that arose in the 18th century that the glorious revolution helped bring about. The political conditions and the resultant ascendency of the middle and trading classes are as much a result of limitation of monarchy as of economic and social factors. Just because it was relatively sedate is no reason not to celebrate it.

    There are many critical moments in English and indeed British history that may not have been as high octane as Trafalgar or the battle of Britain but were as, if not more important than the fight for the seas or air. Loud bangs and dramatic battles don’t tell the whole story, but its a shame history has been so dumbed down these days that this is all you get. Take nelson for instance, Pellew was by far the better commander and the greatest captain of his age, yet no one remembers or hears much about him. He may have had a less heroic or dramatic narrative but his role was probably more vital in assailing the French than Nelson’s.

  • Gopher

    Disagree all you want Sharma is a poser, Read Hume then get back to me, Hume now thats exciting, thats perceptive, thats History. TV series I laugh. That is jobs for the boys. Haunting music! How about some history not some weak as piss coffee shop fashion show critique

    Point two, the one your actually missing, *nothing happened*. Without effort a monarch was told to sod off (Interested parties I suggest reading Tolstoy on inevitability) The reason nobody celebrates it there is too much else.

    Nope loud bangs dont tell the story. Reginald Mitchell, Lady Houston, John Jervis, Robert Robson Watt, Hugh Dowding, Castlereagh, Gneisenau, John Pym etc etc tell the story. The list is somewhat endless so telling a useless monarch to lose himself aint in the grand scheme of things that critical.

    So to summerize a man King or not was out of step with an entire nation. Hardly “The Finest Hour”

  • notimetoshine

    You are missing the significance of the event completely. Telling a monarch to lose himself and for him to do it is critical. In the early modern period it is shockingly critical. It’s a demonstration of the change in political and constitutional philosophy which guided England and paved the way for representation of the people and the end of the nation as the personal property of the monarch. Subjects in name only citizens by all other measures.

    And I have read Hume quite extensively and many other historians but I still find schama to be a wonderful historian especially in both his analysis skills and the delivery of his work. I simply mentioned the !music as it added to the audiovisual quality of the programme but the narrative was great and i found it to be rare among decent historical programming that doesn’t spend half the show with fake looking reenactments and silly personal stories from the presenter. History is better in a book, but telly is another good medium.

  • Gopher

    Again nope, Britain was on that path for centuries one, man King or otherwise could not change that. Cromwell had the greatest army in Europe and could not prevent that tide coming in. James had of went with the flow the Stuarts would have been our monarchs today. Nothing revolutionary about a man, king or otherwise making a really bad judgement call. Nothing revolutionary about enthusiasts for political parties claiming sensational properties from a natural organic evolution that fades from the memory and is taken for granted today.

    The BBC is unique it can throw money at series without care for making documentaries unlike the History and Discovery channels etc, it also has great state funded techncians the best outside of comercial popular television and film. The History channel etc god love them have to go to the other extreme of sensationalism in an attempt to get viewers. Every satellite TV history documentary becomes a pivot of History, wheras dull Simon Sharma has the qualification of carrying the guardian at the interview, if infact there was one. A history of England in six volumes is there to serialize but the problem with Hume is the BBC could not tell which newspaper he read.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Dan, I find the version you offer of the events of the so called “Glorious Revolution” profoundly misleading, especially so as the reappraisal of the events of 1688 has become something of a growth industry amongst historians on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years. Because the version propagated by the victorious Whigs has effaced every other interpretation for some centuries, those now seriously interrogating the actual manuscript sources are discovering much rich material that has been overlooked, material simply “edited out” of earlier Whig histories as it seriously conflicts with their canonical version.

    Steve Pincus’s “1688”, which you indirectly refer to, is a good middle of the road version of this revisionist tendency. He tries to hold onto much of the Whig canon while inverting the usual interpretation of James as the unpopular and naïve fool of tradition, something I note you stubbornly hold onto. Pincus shows that James, with considerable skill, flexibility and sophistication, was actually developing a centralised and highly efficient modern state on the continental model. Other recent historians have described how the authority this would have given him would have allowed him to secure equal standing in law to all its citizens. The all important issue was that this threatened the Anglican monopoly of power that had been strongly established during his brothers reign, when this factional alliance with the established church was viewed as the essential mainstay of royal power. James’s revolutionary effort to cut free of any faction and to develop an even playing field in law for all his subjects in the three kingdoms with public office open to all without religious discrimination was opposed by an alliance of elite vested interests intent on holding onto their privilege, whose crude propaganda of a King intent on Catholicising his people was intended to mislead and thereby alienate those dissenters who would have most benefitted from James’s success. I’ve frequently posted links on Slugger to Scott Sowerby’s excellent “Making Toleration”, which reveals the strong popular support from, amongst others, Presbyterians and the Society of Friends which James drew on for his campaign for the repeal of the test act and the other penal constraints against Catholic and dissenter that had been enacted during the Restoration.

    It is all too easily forgotten that although our modern liberal representative democracy may have developed from the alliance of Whig and Tory grandees who carried out the revolution against James, they did not substitute anything seriously approaching democracy as we understand it. Instead they governed through a self-interested clique of landed and financial interests who used the rhetoric of “liberty” to popularise their rule. Although their rhetoric may have influenced both the American and French Revolutions, properly examined, the actual effect of their “revolution” was to suppress the real liberal radicalism of James and his allies and to substitute a highly conservative and repressive oligarchical system that would fight anything that would diminish their own version of “absolutism” right up to the Reform Bills of the nineteenth century and beyond.

    I am writing at some length already. Actually seriously addressing all of the misdirections and inaccuracies of the third paragraph would require several thousand words. But perhaps just as an offering, a short group of three points: the standing armies of the Prince of Orange’s and Queen Anne’s reign were more socially obtrusive and much, much more expensive than the “offensive” of James, the “removed” academics were all Anglican, removed to made way for a more representative group of dissenters and Catholics as part of James’s Toleration policies, Parliament was not removed for courageously “criticising his ideas” but for corruptly demanding the continuance of Anglican monopoly of power and demanding the king did not question similar privileges…… But there still remains some need to forensically demolish much of what you so inaccurately state about James’s general unpopularity in your seventh paragraph. Perhaps a little expansion of what actually occurred at the time of James’s attempted escape might be a start. When the trio of fishermen who had seized and insulted James when they thought he was simply a “rich papist lord” where appraised of who he actually was by his rescuer Lord Aylesbury they abjectly begged the king’s forgiveness, appalled at what they had done. The companies of soldiers James met on his way back to London cheered him to loud huzzas, the citizens of London greeted him on his return with great excitement. Cheering crowds, many drinking his health on their knees, held his coach up for many hours in a passionate display of loyalty on its journey to Whitehall. The companies of Guards who confronted the Dutch regiments who came to take him prisoner that evening begged to fight to the death in his defence and burnt their colours, weeping, when he intervened with their ancient commander Lord Craven to save lives. Perhaps you should have read Scott Sowerby on the King’s broad popularity or consulted any of our local historians such as Edward Corp, Evelyn Crookshanks, Paul Monad, Daniel Szechi, John Millar, Murray Pittock or Jeremy Black, before so credulously repeating the self-serving propaganda of Macaulay and his like regarding the unpopularity of James with his people? J.C.D. Clarke has provided a full review of current scholarship across the field in “Loyalty and Identity”, an excellent collection of recent essays edited by Monad, Pittock and Szechi.

    Two thirds of the British army (according to both John Childs) refused to serve William and the remaining third had to be seriously purged by John Churchill to remove his adherents. Many of these followed James to France and then to Ireland, offering training and skills to the Irish Army and insuring its ability to ensure that despite being very poorly supplied they would hold up William’s attempt to invade Ireland for two years. And in England after an eye opening year of William in power the entire group of senior officers who had “sold him” to William in the Army Conspiracy, including Churchill, alongside many of the Tory politicians who had begged for William’s assistance, were offering their full support for James’s return. I’ve seen many of these perfectly sincere letters among the Carte papers at the Bodleian and in the British Library. Really, the Revolution was very far fro mbeinga consensual event and the traditional Whig version of James’s general “unpopularity” has now been fully unpacked in current research by, amongst others, the historians I mention above, something you do not appear to have encountered in your own research. A similar detailed deconstruction could be carried out on much else of what you are stating in the piece.

    While I’d never question your right to address this issue in a lead posting on Slugger, I’d feel that properly researching the history, rather than simply taking a superficial surface skim of the popular version of these events would have been a more helpful approach. Pretty much everyone has encountered the version you repeat, a product of the selective presentation of facts and the suppression of much evidence. Perhaps an uncomfortable, perhaps unconscious, awareness that the “Glorious Revolution” is simply a self-serving propaganda fabrication inhibits us all from making much of it!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed Scotland! The entire blockade of Derry was an attempt to seize the Foyle to use asa harbour through which support could be offered to Dundee and those Stuart loyalists he had assembled in the highlands. In the event only a half regiment of Irish Dragoons could be sent from Carrickfergus to fight (dismounted) at Killiecrankie. But had Derry surrendered………

  • Nevin

    Have you an online link to this strategy, Seaan?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    For a full unpacking, Nevin, you will have to await my book (its coming, its coming…). You know of old my contempt for online links, but I can perhaps offer you some references to books, or even manuscripts. Much of the strategy becomes very clear from a reading of manuscript correspondence of Scots loyalists with Melfort, where this is so completely a given fact that it comes as something of a surprise that no one other than perhaps the nineteenth century historian Mark Napier has fully and carefully unpacked this strategy before my own researches.

    For a more accessible way of checking something of this try the letters from Dundee to Melfort which are available in Andrew Murray Scott’s scholarly edit of the letters of Graham of Claverhouse [Dundee] in the SHS’s 5th Series of papers, Vol III, Miscellany XI, pp. 135-268. And Catriona Fforde outlines something of the strategy in chapter 8 “Sea -girt Ireland” in her very readable popular account of Dundee’s campaigns “A Summer in Lochaber”.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “So to summerize a man King or not was out of step with an entire nation.”

    Please read my posting above…….in the light of current research, this statement becomes absurd, Hume or not.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Not only Elizabeth’s reign, Ben! the relentless violent suppression of political dissent in the Hanoverian period is well documented by Paul Monad and some of the other historians I’ve mentioned above in my long posting.

  • Nevin

    “European, and Irish and British, politics a long time before 1688” .. Pete

    British? The use of this term misses out on the inter-play between the three realms and the three major Christian sects.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed Nevin, to speak of “British” at this time in this glib manner is seriously anachronistic! As is suggesting that any seventeenth century parliament was other than a collection of grossly self-interested men simply pitting their own vulgar interests against the monarchy. Far too many historians become hypnotised by what the parliamentarians of the time are saying, and their “glorious rhetoric of freedom” blinds their modern readers to what was actually going on down and dirty. I wish I could remember where I found the list of payoffs (hard cash) William shelled out to those individuals and noble families who encouraged his expedition! I’ll have a look…..

  • Nevin

    “self-interested men simply pitting their own vulgar interests against the monarchy”

    I don’t think trade has had a mention. Did events post-1688 see the privatisation of the vulgar interests of the Stuart monarchs? In light of the earlier transition of New Amsterdam to New York perhaps the Dutch saw an opportunity to get some of their own back …

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh Nevin, the Dutchman brought us the national debt and everything that implies. The Dutch as the premier trading nation of the period had developed many of the features of modern banking and capitalism in the course of the early seventeenth century, and these were imported to England. The diaries of merchants such as Samuel Jeakes shift from discussion of trade goods to talk of share holdings and involvement in the new Bank of England.

    Hard to believe, but the “iniquitous” taxation under the Stuarts was actually minuscule, despite what you hear in the Whig rhetoric, and only started to seriously rise to service the new national debt. The Stuarts ran much of their three kingdom’s needs from the income from their property and (yes) their business interests, keeping their taxation demands to single figures pence in the pound on those few things that incurred tax. James built the finest army for its size in the Europe of his day without any increase in taxation, which is exactly why he did not require a parliament, whose main function at this time was the raising of revenue. A plethora of new taxes developed under William and his successors, rising to double figures during the war of Spanish Succession to line the pockets of the rapacious new Whig elite, especially Marlborough whose pocketing of army funds was notorious. This soaking of the population continued under the Hanoverians.

  • Calm down, gentlemen.

    Sadly, comprehension has been neglected in our education system for some time…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    On checking, Nevin, you are correct in noting that the Whigs were rankled at the monopoly given to the Royal Africa Company and through it, the port of London, and wished to expand those areas of trade its charter covered considerably to their own profit. This trade was considerably expanded by many of those who deposed James, or their children, when in 1715 one of the stipulations at Utrecht would be Britain’s control of the Asiento, which gave them the virtual monopoly of the supply of that particular commodity. Yes, the Dutchman who seized the throne was highly mortgaged to the intentions of “self-interested men simply pitting their own vulgar interests against the monarchy”, and incidentally, the country at large.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I realise, pete, that you are using the term “British” (certainly in an anachronistic manner for this period) as a simple “shorthand” everyone may broadly understand to avoid the complications of actually flagging the issues of the national self interests of the three kingdoms ( my education was in a period when “reading comprehension” was still very much in vogue). However, in your response to Dan you are attempting to tell him, regarding his lead posting, “In short, it’s too parochial for an historical piece. Sorry.”

    When you yourself then avoid important qualifications, I imagine Nevin found the irony simply too delicious to miss!

    My own beef would be that all of you commenting here are simply repeating those rote learnt, Whig inspired, propaganda versions of our history valorising the Revolution as the source of our democracy and our liberties. This interpretation, relying as it does on an ignorance of the full range of the contemporary political debate during the Restoration and Revolution, has been very seriously challenged over the past thirty years (see my posting above for a far from exhaustive list of historians) and no-one seriously interested in the period has any excuse to simply take the rhetoric of the Revolutionists of 1688 at face value any more as most of those commenting are clearly doing.

    As I’ve said above, Scott Sowerby’s “Making Toleration” offers a serious reappraisal of much of what is still passing for “history” on this thread. I quote from the press release;

    “By restoring the repealer movement to its rightful prominence, Making Toleration also overturns traditional interpretations of King James II’s reign and the origins of the Glorious Revolution. Though often depicted as a despot who sought to impose his own Catholic faith on a Protestant people, James is revealed as a man ahead of his time, a king who pressed for religious toleration at the expense of his throne. The Glorious Revolution, Sowerby finds, was not primarily a crisis provoked by political repression. It was, in fact, a conservative counter-revolution against the movement for enlightened reform that James himself encouraged and sustained.”

    It’s a good place t begin for anyone really concerned with the realities of what was actually going on at the time:


  • SeaanUiNeill

    Its worth noting that any form of religious freedom was specifically excluded from the Bill of Rights (1689) and comparing this with what James’s Declarations of Indulgence offered, something that would not again be offered to Catholics and dissenters for almost a hundred years. Also that “freedom of speech” required anyone interested in exercising such a right to be elected to parliament(it did not extend to the public). Much of the “rights’ simply address the interests of a governing clique and would have been a complete irrelevance to most of the population, who were actually protected in their interests by the dispensing power and the royal prerogative’s ability to limit a rapacious elite’s self-interest. It might also help put the Revolution into perspective, and to unpack the issues that the bill of Rights addressed, to read some of the modern reappraisals of this period. I’d suggest starting with:


  • Nevin

    Seaan, I’ve just found a draft version of an essay [pdf file] by Scott Sowerby which might illuminate his thinking on the repealers.

  • Nevin

    It was a tap in, Seaan. The nuances of this era require a vari-focal lens of incredible range; a pro-Stuart filter will distort the hue – and could well lead to a hue and cry.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    After three centuries and more of highly selective interpretations of James’s significance, a serious reappraisal is long overdue, especially as much of what is being posted here repeats all the old Whig canards.

    Regarding slavery, this is a very anachronistic take on James. No-one in his day thought on these issues as a modern person thinks, and while this is in no way an attempt to support the slave trade, it is important to remember that both of us went to university in a period when homosexuality was an illegal action, a law supported by the great bulk of the community in the Uk, even if such support was passive. Times change, and the past is a very different country, where “they do things differently”.

    The far more important issue here, as Dr Sowerby I feel shows, is that James was attempting to implement his own very advanced perception of religious tolerance through the dispensing power, the actual use of which in the interests of dissenters and Catholics was the crux of stated opposition to his rule. This makes nonsense of much of what has passed for “history” regarding this period both here and over the water regarding 1688 and “Civil and Religious liberty”. The Whig project, which the “protestant interest” in Ireland has supported since 1688 are displayed in quite different light to what has become a customary understanding, and their incidental laying of some of the foundations for civil liberty is strongly undermined by their religious policy.

  • Nevin

    Seaan, I accept the point about the past being a different country but one point being made in that Penn article was that the condition of slaves under the Stuarts was worse than it had been under the Dutch.

    Is ‘dispensing power’ a rather grand name for buying friends? Was the Stuart project really anything more than an anti-Anglican alliance? Take the Regium Donum:

    Regium Donum: (royal gift) originated as a grant of £600 p.a. by Charles II to augment the salaries of Irish presbyterian ministers in 1672 when he was trying to win support for his Declaration of Indulgence. It was revived by William III, who increased it to £1,200 p.a., but was much disliked by high Anglicans as breaching the principle that only the Church of England should have support from the state.

    The dogmatic actions of Laud and his associates across these islands may have played a significant part in the downfall of the House of Stuart.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, thank you for posting the essay, which might prove instructive to some readers. The King’s efforts to develop his policies of toleration in local government, described here by Sowerby, extended beyond England (the only place covered in his research). I’ve done work on the dramatic influx of Presbyterians to the governance of Belfast led by a new Presbyterian Sovereign of the town, Thomas Pottinger. Of particular interest also is the parts of section III where Sowerby shows (p.27) just how far the Revolution’s Act of Toleration came below the full toleration envisaged in James’s reign. The Test Act and penal laws were suspended (not revoked) in the interest protestants alone, and even they were still barred from Government (both local or central) and from the Universities. This was very thin gruel after the full toleration James offered. He also lays out an outline of how the popular backing for James was written out of history until the present day. Interesting in an Irish context to note Ó Buachalla’s observation that out of some several hundred thousand poems written about the exiled Stuarts during the Irish eighteenth century less than two hundred employ the sentiments such as “Séamas an Chaca a chaill Éire”, so the editing out process was also adopted here too by people, to ensure similar “self preservation”.

    It is also of interest to observe Sowerby finding the triumphalist Williamites of 1688 using much the same language against the “repealers” who supported James as some on Slugger use against “Lundies” who support the Union but do not subscribe to the extremes of current Loyalism. I hope some of the readers will find in the article serious food for thought.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, I take you’ve read the Sowerby article you linked to. Do you really think that a popular movement for toleration can be simply dismissed in terms of “buying friends”? James would have simply stuck with the Anglican elite as his brother had if he was that cynical. It dose help to read his letters on toleration, whose patient honesty is clear to anyone taking the trouble to actually read them. I find it of some interest that the thrust of the example your offer is primarily of the Prince of Orange buying friends…..

    My own ancestor, a moderate and an inclusivist, had his own problematic run-ins with Laud. He said of Laud’s prayerbook being forced on Scotland, “All we have been achieving these last thirty years is now cast down.” But I think it’s important not to simply judge any one person on the brand name “The Stuarts”. James was a most interesting figure principally in how he differed, as a bluff honest soldier, from his father and brother. As Sowerby shows, an influential number of his subjects recognised this and supported him in his attempts to break the mold. It is particularly disturbing to find most of those posting on this thread effectively discussing a non-existent straw man rather than the more interesting figure of the actual James II & VII.

    Your comment on the Dutch and English versions of slavery is perhaps a misunderstanding of what is primarily a legalistic point. The status of slaves under Dutch and English law was very different, but I would think that their actual treatment weighs also. My own researches (for an educational programme some twenty years ago) offered the eye opener that most slaves of this period in the British colonies of the New World could call sufficient hours their own to work beyond what work they carried out for their “owners” and earn money to spend or purchase their freedom. While I find slavery in every form offensive, it is important not to get too “abstract” about what it meant in practice in another less humanist age. You need to look actual facts and not simply accept what you read on the internet without checking this kind of think out for yourself closely, especially in regard to anything written about the later Stuarts. It is of particular importance that as strict a moralist as william Penn did not see anything offensive in James’s involvement. As I’ve said “The past is another country…..”

  • Gopher

    Seaan your posts are too long for me to read to be honest, this one however is manageable. After Sedgemoor the English nation effectively butchered (by English standards) disturbers of the peace. Instrumental in Monmouths defeat at Sedgemoor we find Marlbrough and in the bloody aftermath we find Kirke. Fast foward a couple of years and in Williams service we find Marleborough and Kirke ( Derry) Between Sedgemoor and the Revolution James convinced the nation he was a threat to English liberties. New research can make all the claims it wants Sedgemoor and the Bloody Assizes make a pretty convincing case to me that my arguement throughout this thread is sound and your “current research” is plain nonsense.

  • John Collins

    What good was that bill of rights to Roman Catholics and Presbyterians who were discriminated against for decades afterwards? It could be also said it is the basis on which much of the trouble in Ireland since was founded and probably played a part in the eventual break up of the UK of Britain including all Ireland

  • Gingray

    Hence why the context and time period is so important. Remember the plantation and partial ethnic cleansing of the east of Ulster began before the bill, so not sure it played a major role. Discrimination was rampant across Europe and the Papacy played a political and military role.

    The Bill codified some basic rights for a select few. But with minor tweaking it was expanded. It was ahead of its time, as most nations, bar some Italian city states, where ruled by absolute monarchies.

    Despite some early discrimination in parts of the bill, it’s worth can be seen today when you note that Ireland, Australia, Canada and the UK still retain it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gopher, had you been able to read the longer posts you’d have seen how modern scholarship has completely revised the pernicious version of the history you seem to be entirely bogged down in. The “traitors” you cite as “converted” opponents of James, Marleborough, Kirke, and the man you do not mention, who even offered to shoot James for William, Sir John Lanier, are all writing to James in 1690 stridently begging him to return and free the nation from “dirty Dutch” (their term) rule. As are many of those who had invited William. Rather than alienating his people, James convinced the elite of the nation that with his policies of Religious freedom he was becoming a threat to their monopoly of political office, the universities and local government, and when they drove him into exile they wrote the version of history you employ that is only recently being successfully challenged. I’ve listed a good selection of reputable historians you can check this out with in my longer posting, so your failure to face facts must flag wilfulness. But in the long run its up to you whether your concern is for continuing to stubbornly believe propaganda and myth or for the discovery of actual historical record.

    If you find the task of reading the historical scholarship of thirty years (what I’ve done)simply too daunting I’d recommend as a “taster” the link to Scott Sowerby’s essay Nevin offers above as a portal to current research into just what strong popular support James could draw on, and how the propaganda version was constructed both at the time and almost until the present day.

    Another of your weak arguments falls down on the simple fact that what occurred at Sedgemoor was actually lauded by most of the nation at the time, with even the commander at our own “Break of Dromore” in 1689, Sir Arthur Rawdon, enthusiastically raising a private troop of horse in support of the king, as did many here in the north. You must remember that the three Kingdoms were only too happy to see James so easily avert the return of anything like the ruinous civil wars of the 1640s, where his father had been “murdered” (the most common term for what was done at that period), by highly non-representative fanatics. Oh yes, Sedgemoor, before the Whig propagandists got to it was thought of very, very differently, as you would find if you read contemporary news sheets and other accounts. Please do not feel that you can offer me the very one-sided version gleaned from later self serving propaganda accounts as some sort of “gospel” on the event.

    The reality is that you are rejecting current research on no evidence beyond your own feeling that the history you grew up with must be right. You are rather absurdly attempting to “refute” me with a reiteration of old stories, without the proper historical reading to effectively prepare a serious argument. You would need to read and point on point refuted Scott Sowerby “Edward Corp, Evelyn Crookshanks, Paul Monad, Daniel Szechi, John Millar, Murray Pittock [and] Jeremy Black” (my list from the larger piece above that your concentration cannot scan) before anyone genuinely interested in the period would begin to take you seriously. Instead you all too credulously repeat the self-serving propaganda of Macaulay and his like and imagine these sinister fairy tales to represent something beyond the lies of the victors.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The entire point of what was happening in this period in the three Kingdoms, Gingray, is that James was almost uniquely breaking out of the general rule of “Cuius regio, eius religio” (“as the prince’s religion may be, so must his realm follow”) that had been established since 1648 in the Treaty of Westphalia. The Bill of Rights and even the speculations of John Locke are still operating within the framework of the treaty, with minor modifications. The real radical thinking at this period was coming from James and his circle, whose work in 1687/8 forced the hand of those who framed the Bill of Rights as Scott Sowerby quite clearly describes in the essay Nevin has linked to in his exchange with me above.

    The pivotal role of the Bill of Rights has become canonic in our historical record but it is of considerable interest to actually examine the flow of arguments at the time. This permits a more sober appraisal of its actual worth.

    Oh, and I think the retreat from the freedoms ensured for all religions in James’s Declaration of Indulgence and the return to Anglican monopoly of power by those who framed the Bill of Rights is what John Collins is referring to in his posting. This certainly ensured that while perhaps the Bill of Rights could be expanded by later generations beyond those particular rights envisaged by the framers of the bill, very important freedoms and rights made available to the whole population of the three Kingdoms by James were lost for a century for many, in Ireland lost to the massive majority of the population.

    You can examine much of the “Indulgenece” debate in the documents offered in the “Prelude to the Revolution” section on this site:


    While the site has an obvious agenda, all of those texts I have encountered in the original have all been accurately transcribed.

  • Nevin

    Seaan, would you concede the point that both monarchs were in the business of buying friends? Of course, the friendship of those who take the money may only be smile deep.

    Sowerby’s essay doesn’t embrace the three realms nor does it deal with James’ senior appointments across the three realms. Considering events in the 1640s, the use of the Earl of Antrim’s redshanks was going to meet with fierce opposition.

    I’d not seen a previous reference to the value of Lough Foyle as a base to support royalists in Scotland but that’s the sort of information that can get filtered out if you don’t look at the interplay across the three realms – not forgetting the French dimension.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My own reading of James’s various existent papers and Williams suggests temperamental difference. William is calculating and cynical, James is an idealist, attempting to build a fairer world. When I publish, I’d hope to fully support this interpretation for contemporary material, so I do not expect you to simply take my word for this. I only mention it “in good faith” at this point to answer you on the “buying of friends ” issue and to suggest why I’d need to seriously qualify any such interpretation of how each gained allies for their intentions.

    I’d recommend Sowerby’s book which is well worth purchasing. No, he does not embrace the three kingdoms, but his remit is not a general history, but an in depth study of the popular “religious freedom” movement, the “repealers”. Sometimes I forget that I’ve been researching this period for over thirty years, and must cut others some slack. I can highly recommend the historians on the list I’ve made in my big posting, some of whom have researched the issues you note that Sowerby does not cover. There is some recent work of Tyrconnell, but I do not think it adds much to Sir Charles Petrie’s “The Great Tyrconnell”, or Sargant’s two volumes. I’ve researched Tyrconnell in some depth, also Melfort, whose influence is surprisingly benign in Ireland. Under the propaganda caricatures of the Whigs James’s ministers frequently show considerable practical skill when approached without preconceptions.

    Tyrconnell’s employment of the Redshanks was practical, in that they could be quickly mustered and sent, under an experienced soldier (Antrim himself). Perhaps I’m less worried about the “redshanks” myself, as one of my ancestors who had served in Germany drilled and organised Antrim’s regiments in 1638, and another was associated with Alasdair McColla in Scotland. The actual story of what happened at Derry has only been told in a most confused and un-chronological manner by any printed version from the eighteenth century onwards that I’ve come across to date. I’d hope to correct that.

    Regarding Lough Foyle, few people other than Catriona Fforde have even attempted to run events in all three kingdoms side by side. This is in essence how I’ve carried out my own research and it seriously qualifies each of the “air locked” one kingdom at a time interpretations of the period. I will contact you privately when my work nears publication, and would sincerely value your impressions. I do not expect to in any way “convert” you, please note!

  • John Collins

    Discrimination against Roman Catholics in certain areas were being discussed, and defended, by the likes of Lord Salisbury, as late as the closing days of the Nineteenth Century. I think the argument that discrimination only took place for a short period does not stand up to scrutiny.

  • Nevin

    Seaan, I’ve spent a penny and the price of a stamp – Catriona’s book is in the post!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It’s certainly a good read, Nevin, but I’d still carefully check out the serious historians also, were I in your place.

    The cheapest copy of Sowerby’s book on ABE is £15.00 plus post. And its still problematic should one wish to read all of this material locally, even with a card for the McClay. Only some of the better Scots and English Universities have properly representative selections of this work, and only the British Library seems to have a full range, outer than my self, that is.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The radicals and the descendants of the Levellers were, counter-intuitively, supporting James in 1687/9 period.


  • SeaanUiNeill

    One of the most significant features of 1688 seems to have completely passed under every other commentator’s radar. This was in practice a foreign invasion, facilitated by conspirators seeking to force their own demands on the three kingdoms with the help of a foreign prince and the army of a foreign power.

    Much has been made of what is presented as overwhelming support for the conspiracy in England, but serious modern scholarship has effectively shown this to be a myth. Few of those at the time were willing to substitute William for James as king, and the debates in both Commons and Lords were hard fought, even under the ever present threat of Dutch bayonets (literally, they surrounded the assemblies met at Westminster, and not as guards!)

    Of the seven Bishops whose trial for refusing to read the Declaration of Indulgence sparked off the conspiracy itself, five refused to take the oath to William and continued to regard James as their king. They were compelled to resign their livings. Four hundred Anglican clergy resigned their livings, also, for the same reason. And in a House of Commons now packed with Whigs in a system which was effectively appointment by local electoral committees rather than free election, two fifths still voted against William’s candidacy. The opposition to William in the Lords was even less inhibited. Over the following year, with civil war in Ireland and Scotland, regiments loyal to James were actually being raised and drilled in the north of England to await the hoped-for return of James once Derry capitulated, while in the south any such activity was only inhibited by martial law policed by “dirty Dutch on every street corner” (I quote from a contemporary letter). Even the one-third who elected to remain with the colours from James’s English army still needed to be well purged, with many of them compelled to resign. But even in this much vetted state, the English regiments were still not trusted to suppress any popular demonstration is support of the exiled king. Even those involved in the Army Plot, who has corresponded with and deserted to William, were distrusted.

    Most others commenting appear to have a accepted Macaulay’s seriously one sided “work of fiction” as accurate history and some have even seen this first year as a time when nothing was happening. The actual historical record, even in England, is very far from peaceful, as I’ve described above. For anyone wishing to examine the long term fall out of the Revolution, Paul Monad’s excellent “Jacobitism and the English People 1688-1788”, offers the panorama of a century riven by bitter civil division that required continual violent suppression and a massive propaganda effort to legitimise something a sizeable portion of the population simply knew to be untrue. In Ireland, much of the same period is covered by Éamonn Ó Ciardha’s “Ireland and the Jacobite Cause, 1685-1766”, which read in conjunction with Ó Buachalla’s magisterial “Aisling Ghéar” restores the central importance of this theme in the development of modern Ireland.

    While I strongly disagree with virtually everything Dan has written above, in one thing we are in full agreement. This is one of the most important moments in our history. Its virtual suppression in popular British history raises some very interesting issues, few of which have as yet been aired here.

  • willie drennan

    I can’t believe I just read this piece, all of the comments and some of the links as well. It’s all a bit academic for me but fascinating stuff nonetheless. I welcome a new in-depth analysis of the happenings that lead to the Battle of the Boyne. I’m no historian but I suspect the outcome will suggest that perhaps the stance of James on the issue of religious freedom and equal rights was not all that different from the stance of William.
    A greater understanding of this crucial time period could be very helpful for all of us in today’s Northern Ireland. The ‘Declaration of Indulgence’ does need to be examined and highlighted. I don’t suspect any new revelations or understandings will have much impact on the Orange Order who do stand for civil and religious liberty. It may influence some mind sets however, who perhaps mistakingly regard William’s victory over James at the Boyne as a victory for Protestants over Catholics.

    When this information is added to the fact that the Vatican celebrated William’s victory over James, perhaps this will go some way to dilute division in our society over the ‘Twelfth’ ? Okay there may well be contemporary issues over mutual respect to deal with – but what is divisive about the actual historic commemoration?
    It is most likely, as often suggested, that the intentions of James was not to oppress the citizens within Derry’s Walls but probably the apprentice boys who closed the gates of Derry against the advance of James’ army were right in believing they had no other choice. Who is to know what might have evolved as a result of the alliances James was dependent upon in Ireland?
    Seann, I look forward to reading more of your work in relation to Jacobites and the House of Orange. It should lead to positive debate and perhaps some reconciliation. After all there isn’t much for Republicans to be concerned about with regards the Boyne or the Siege of Derry as this was a conflict and struggle for power between factions of the Royal Family.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Willie for the first serious response to what I’ve been posting other than Nevin’s valuable engagement. As you say, properly understood the new light being shed on this period shows that much of that ingrained divisiveness which we have inherited from the Revolution period was artificially created purely for propaganda purposes at the time, and did not reflect the truth of events. Perhaps the most important thing is that, had James succeeded in his policies Catholics and dissenters would have shared local and national government everywhere with Anglicans, and much of the tension built up in rivalries of the eighteenth century which have underpinned today’s bitter divisions in the north would not have developed as a conflict of “light against darkness”. Although history took the path it did, and we are where we are, unravelling the truth about this period helps us unravel these hard knots of the past and understand that the self interest of long dead people has really made many of us what we have become. The importance of this moment in history is the theme of Dan’s piece, but in that he adheres to all the old myths (other than a nod to Steve Pincus who is also reluctant to loose the “deeply Machiavellian, but a fool” reading of James), he works to compound the harmful effect of the myths of 1688, as do many of those others posting here.

    You mention “the intentions of James was not to oppress the citizens within Derry’s Walls”, and this was in fact what would be the final opinion of the agent who worked to claim the bill of losses for the people of Derry against successive governments in London, William Hamill. By 1721 the contemptuous and dismissive treatment he received from the agents of William, Anne and the first George had brought him to the conclusion that the terms for the surrender of Derry that were offered to the people by the Jacobite commander Richard Hamilton should have been accepted.

    “We have lost all our estates, our blood and our friends in the service of our country, and we have nothing for it…but royal promices, commisions without pay, recommendations from the throne to the parliaments, and reports and addresses back to the throne again”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Which, John, is exactly why James’s experiment to bring Anglican, Catholic and dissenter together in local and national government and the universities in 1687/8 is so very interesting.