Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Glorious Revolution (1688-89): why it matters

1. The Revolution did not bring about democracy. After 1688-9 the crown still retained considerable prerogative power.

2. However, the Revolution and the Act of Settlement (1701) and the Act of Union (1707) established a Protestant succession to the crown. From this time onwards monarchs and their spouses had to follow the religion of the people. The Toleration Act of 1689 allowed Dissenters (not Catholics) freedom of worship. Although Dissenters were still deprived of public office by the Test Act, the practice of Occasional Conformity allowed many of them to sit on corporations and to vote.

3. In Ireland William’s victory at the Boyne strengthened the Protestant ascendancy. Catholics were oppressed by a series of penal laws. Presbyterians were also disadvantaged, though to a lesser degree.

4. In Scotland Presbyterianism became the established Church. The principle of one established Church for the whole of the British Isles was abandoned.

5. The immediate result of William’s invasion was to involve England in long and expensive wars against France: the Nine Years’ War (1689-1697); the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713) (see other posts).

6. These wars proved to be major catalysts of constitutional change.
(a)    The expansion of the army and the navy necessitated a ‘bureaucratic explosion’ particularly in the financial departments of the state. Crown finances improved: the crown’s revenue depended on customs, excise (collected directly by the crown from 1683) and from 1693 the land tax.
(b)    A new system of public credit developed. By measures of 1693 and 1694 the king’s debt became the National Debt, financed by borrowing. In 1694 the Bank of England was set up.
(c)    With the creation of this ‘fiscal-military state’ England became a major military as well as naval power.

7. Parliament became a permanent part of the constitution and its work dramatically increased. With the National Debt established on a parliamentary basis, annual sessions were assured. In 1694 the Triennial Act established three-year parliaments.

8. Whigs and Tories used the frequent general elections occasioned by the Triennial Act to engage in very bitter party conflicts. The Tories’ ambiguous attitude to the Protestant succession was a major cause of their collapse after Anne’s death.  In 1716 the Septennial Act established seven-year parliaments. With the Whigs now dominant, the Tories were deprived of government office and power in the localities.

9. Fear of a Jacobite threat in Scotland led to the union of the English and Scots parliaments in 1707 and the creation of Great Britain.