Change of Circumstances

England's Glorious Revolution

One reason that many Englishmen had been willing to support James’ accession to the throne despite his Catholicism was that, in 1685, he had no living sons. On the insistence of his brother, King Charles, his two daughters by his first wife had been raised as Protestants. The heir presumptive to the throne was James’ older daughter Mary, who had married the Protestant William of Orange, the hereditary head of state in the Dutch Republic. James’ second wife, the Catholic Mary of Modena, had borne four girls and a boy, but all had died in childhood. In the summer of 1688, however, she gave birth to a healthy boy, who was baptized as a Catholic, and would of right succeed his father on the English throne. The prospect of a succession of Catholic monarchs continuing into the indefinite future was more than most Englishmen could stand. The 17th century had been plagued by almost endless religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, and there was still too little trust between the antagonists to make either one comfortable with the idea of being ruled by the other.
William, Prince of Orange
Opposition to King James grew so strong that many of the country’s foremost movers and shakers were ready to plot against him. They begged William of Orange to come over and take his father-in-law’s place, and after considerable negotiation and calculation, the prince agreed. William had been engaged in a long and costly war with Louis XIV of France, and he could see the advantage of adding England’s military power to his own. But he couldn’t just move his army out of his own country, leaving it open to French invasion, and so it took a certain amount of maneuvering before he was ready. In November, 1688, William invaded the southwest of England. James soon discovered that few of his soldiers were willing to fight for him, and he abandoned the kingdom and fled to France in December. That was the end of James’s rule and of what England calls the Glorious Revolution.
Battle of the Boyne (Jan van Wyck, Dutch)
James later tried to regain his throne with the help of an Irish Catholic army and French troops lent by King Louis. He was defeated in the Battle of the Boyne, fought in July, 1690, with both kings commanding their own armies, but in the aftermath of defeat James went back to France. His army kept on fighting under French and Irish generals, and William also delegated his command to Dutch generals and returned to England. His side won the war with a solid victory at Aughrim in 1691.

This can be considered Europe’s last religious war: James’s Irish and French forces were Catholic and William’s Dutch, English, and French (Huguenot) forces were Protestant. But the lines were blurred—William’s Holland and England were allied with the Catholic Holy Roman Empire of Austria, and the Pope, one of Louis XIV’s most devoted enemies, supported their cause. From that time on, European wars tended to be motivated more by straightforward power struggles among nation states than by efforts to exalt one religious tradition over another.

Boston’s Slightly Less Glorious Revolution

It took some time for the news of the English revolution to reach the American colonies, and it wasn’t until early April in 1690 that a ship from the English colony of Nevis in the West Indies brought copies of a declaration by William, and a response by civil and church leaders, making it clear the Prince of Orange was now in charge of England. The ship’s captain, a Maine man, took the documents straight to a Boston printer who immediately began printing copies. The governor and sheriff soon arrived and demanded that the documents be handed over, but it was too late—the news was out.
Andros taken prisoner
King James’ downfall was the blessing everyone had been hoping for, in that it provided a splendid reason to overthrow the unpopular government he had foisted on New England. On April 18, 1690, a mob formed in the streets of Boston (some of them mutinous militiamen returning from the north), and set out to round up the least popular members of the dominion administration. Andros, who wasn’t totally surprised by this turn of events, had taken shelter in the town’s fort. HMS Rose, a warship anchored in the harbor, dispatched a small boat with the intention of taking the governor aboard, but it was spotted and intercepted. Armed militia surrounded the fort, and the greatly outnumbered redcoats declined to fight. Andros had no recourse but to surrender, and was clapped in prison.

A couple of days later, a provisional government, named the “Council for the Safety of the People and Conservation of the Peace,” was formed for the purpose of replacing the dominion government with something more permanent. Radical clerics wanted to start with new elections and a clean slate, free of the moderates who had welcomed the Andros government in its early days. But the council chose a wiser course: they recalled the General Court that Dudley had dissolved three years earlier. Both clerical and moderate parties were represented, and Simon Bradstreet, also recalled, had been the last governor under the charter. (87 years old, he was still politically active, and had chaired the safety council.) This was a good way of making it clear to the new monarchy that everyone in Massachusetts Bay, not just a few fire-breathing clerics, rejected the government the former king had imposed on them.