The Glorious Revolution: A Non-Event?

In 1988, I wanted to attend the Tercentenary of England’s Glorious Revolution. In the texts I was reading – Lord Durham’s Report (1839); Pierre Bédard’s political journal, Le Canadien (1806 to 1810) – the Revolution of 1688 was the fons et orgio of all that is best in the English Constitution.

I had no invitation and at that time, no money. Poor, colonial Janet, stuck on the other side of the ocean, out of the game.

Now I learn from Steve Pincus, 1688, The First Modern Revolution (Yale University Press, 2009), that the Tercentenary was a quiet affair, hardly a celebration, at which the assembled scholars agreed that 1688 had been “restorative and conservationist in effect,” not revolutionary and not glorious.

As his title suggests, Pincus holds  a different view. Indeed, his opinions resemble those of Durham and Bédard.

In a back-cover tribute, Bernard Bailyn writes: “Pincus challenges the orthodox view that the Glorious Revolution was moderate, peaceful, and conservative and reveals a violent transformational event that revolutionized England’s state, church, and political economy, and political economy and introduced political modernity.”

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3 Responses to “The Glorious Revolution: A Non-Event?”


  1. 1 Dennis Baker May 25, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Wasn’t it glorious BECAUSE it was “restorative and conservationist”? I think I’m with Burke in his admiration for it; an ‘organic’ revolution that reaffirmed the core principles of English constitutionalism. I’ll have to check out Pincus’s book — sounds interesting.

    There has been a move to ‘downgrade’ the importance of 1688. I’m not persuaded by it, but I do think that Tim Harris makes some interesting points in his two books (“Restoration” and “Revolution”). Harris presses for a “Three Kingdoms” approach and suggests that the Revolution is more complex than commonly understood because of its different roots and effects in England, Scotland and Ireland. He tries (with considerable success) to put it all together. Worth a look.

  2. 2 Craig May 28, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Janet,

    I hope you’ll post your impressions of the book.

    I heard Pincus give a talk on the book in October. One thing that I found problematic (and I expect you might too) is that Pincus thinks the Glorious Revolution was radical because it built a powerful British state and not because it ushered in an era of constitutional liberty. Indeed, he thinks that the revolutionaries in part built on the foundations laid by James II.

    BTW – he said during the talk that he and Harris made a pact. Pincus would cover England and Harris the other parts of the British Isles.

  3. 3 Max Hamon June 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    origo et fons
    And yet, the program for the Glorious Revolution, particularly the open letters by William III are founded in the radical thought of The Dutch Republic. (Indeed much of Locke’s work was influenced by the politics and discussions in the low countries.) The “radical Enlightenment”, continues to be ignored as an influence on the Glorious Revolution. While context is sometimes over-emphasised, certainly the relationship of this event to the liberal thought in the Netherlands deserves consideration. On the continent the ideas were seen for what they were: dangerous and heretical.
    The idea of restoration, in this respect affirming the “core of the constitution” can be explained as astute politics by a foreign “invader”. The very idea of “radical” changes would have been disturbing to many agents in England, so he sought to appease them. At the same time the changes he promised in his new contract with the “English people” were revolutionary.
    Where does this glorious revolution come from? (I always get the vision of Athena springing from the cracked head of Zeus!)


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