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How it Began 

The Glorious Revolution began with an invitation to invade England made to Prince William of Orange by certain leading Englishmen who were outraged by what they saw as the unconstitutional acts of James 11.  William was not a stranger to England; he was married to James daughter, Mary. When William did invade, support for James dissipated and James fled to France.

The Glorious Revolution involved William calling together a Convention Parliament which eventually invited him and Mary to take the throne, but on certain conditions which would limit his powers.  This was the beginning of the English and then the British constitutional monarchy, which had the result that the British were to live in a country which was among the freest in the world.

King William III
[King William III]

This is in no way an argument that the English, the British or the English speaking people were or are endowed with any superior intellect. It was that a Dutch Prince was prepared to accept the conditions under which he and his wife might have the throne of England and that thereafter, those in power were prepared to allow the constitutional system to develop by trial and error.

This was to have momentous consequences. David Landes says that the pre-eminence that Britain enjoyed in the industrial revolution resulted from the fact that  the British people had “elbow room”. Far from perfect, by comparison with most communities across the Channel, the British were free and fortunate. Britain, writes Landes, was soon a precociously modern industrial nation. He believes that the salient feature of a successful society is the ability to adapt to new things and ways. And one key area of change was the increasing freedom and security of the people. Yet, he says, the British still call themselves subjects of the Crown, while they have longer than anyone else been citizens.

This was due, as Thomas Babbington Macaulay was to put it, to an “auspicious union of freedom and power.” That freedom was taken to the colonies. Before the War of Independence, the American colonies were the freest the world had yet seen. What was achieved, a great governmental, military, financial and diplomatic revolution was in many respects unintended and the benefits took some time to become apparent. 

King William III was not, as is frequently assumed today, principally driven by a concern for Protestantism.  He was instead driven by the need to oppose what he saw as the hegemonic tyrant French King Louis XIV, and the need to ensure England never allied herself with France.

His was a correct assessment of the ambitions of Louis XIV, who showed himself as ambitious for European domination as Napoleon would, and as Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin subsequently demonstrated.

William did not come to England as a despot. He was long accustomed to the complex negotiations necessary as Stadholder of the United Provinces where high taxation and a huge military establishment were seen as necessary to protect their liberties and were approved by vote in representative assemblies.

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