The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was in most senses a coup: invited to invade England by a coterie of peers, William of Orange, the Protestant husband of James II’s daughter, Mary, essentially leveraged the anti-Catholicism of the English people in order to fold the considerable resources of the British Isles into his ongoing continental war effort against Louis XIV of France. When another date – 1066 – is again more often invoked as the last time England was invaded by a foreign force, we would do well to remember 1688.
Perhaps that’s precisely why 1688 is a year less well remembered: it fits awkwardly into the grand Whiggish narrative that was developed around that time, in which England was a beacon of liberty and progress – a special nation at the centre of great change. In truth, in 1688 England was co-opted into another state’s story, and the dual monarchy of William and Mary covered for the forcible removal of a rightful monarch. And yet a year later in 1689, the two monarchs would sign a Bill of Rights passed by Parliament which resembles in far greater detail our current political settlement than anything signed at Runnymede in 1215.
History is a story – and the dates we hang that story off change its shape. 1688 is a case in point.