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Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers

Reblogged from Monkeypanic:
Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers - Michael Barone



I suppose you could just read about The Glorious Revolution on a cake, but this book is easier to travel with, and slightly more detailed.This book covers "The Glorious Revolution", which sounds like something out of Communist China, but actually happened in England in 1688.




Background information

Just a quick blurb about King Charles I here. He reigned from 1625-1649. It ended badly when he got into a fight with Parliament about whether he was allowed to levy further taxes without their approval. Also, it didn't help his popularity that he married a Catholic, when he was the head of the Anglican Church. To justify all this, he argued the "Divine Right of Kings" (i.e. kings can do whatever the fuck they want, no questions asked), but lacking popular support as well as the support of the monied interests in Parliament, the dispute broke out into open conflict between factions of the army loyal to the king, and those loyal to Parliament. Long story short: he lost, was executed, and England fell under rule of the military dictator "Lord Protector" Oliver Cromwell.


Charles I's two sons, Charles II and James went into exile.Cromwell died young (59) of natural causes, in 1658... and the public, who didn't like the military dictatorship as much as they thought they would, clamored for restoration of the monarchy (but a weak one, if you please). So Charles II was crowned.


Two Brothers and a Sister

Charles II reigned 1660-1685. A few things about his rule: he wrested control of New Amsterdam from the Dutch, expelled then-governor Peter Stuyvesant, and renamed the town after his brother, the Duke of York: NEW YORK. (my kinda town) Also, he granted a large chunk of land to William Penn in 1681... Pennsylvania. So that was cool. He banged a whole slew of chicks and had some illegitimate kids, but nobody eligible to succeed him to the crown. He died of a stroke at age 54, and the throne fell to his brother James.


Problem with James was that in a predominantly Anglican country, he decided to follow in his mother's footsteps and convert to Catholicism. That would be no big deal today, but the author goes to pains to show how much of 17th century politics was "Team Catholic vs. Team Protestant". Standard human folly bullshit; nothing to see here.James agreed not to impose his chosen religion on everybody else, and refrained from meddling in the Church of England affairs... except one thing. He was trying to get friends and supporters of his elected to Parliament, but there was a ban on Catholics running for office. He put out a very reasonable-sounding declaration of religious tolerance, which -by the way- would also let Catholics run for office. The country responded entirely reasonably: "OMFG!!! THE CATHOLICS ARE TAKING OVER!!!" So James, like his father, got into a big fight with Parliament.


Oh, did I mention that Charles II and James had a sister, Mary? Yeah, she got married to Willaim II, Soveriegn Prince of the Principality Orange, in the Netherlands. I can't make heads or tails of what was up with the Netherlands during this period. They got free from Spain, they had a war with France and got split up into different states (including one named Zeeland, which it seems like New Zealand must be named after, even though it wasn't a Dutch colony..?)Interesting aside: The College of William and Mary is a well-regarded college down in Virginia, but I never knew who it was referring to. Turns out, it's William II ("William of Orange") and Mary, sister of King Charles II.




William II died young (24) in 1650, but not before having a son- William III- nephew to King Charles II and James. Mary died in 1660, when William III was just ten. To make things confusing, William III married his first cousin- also named Mary- daughter of his uncle, King James of England. There are too many people named William and named Mary in this book.


In 1688, William III was 38 and eyeing all this kerfuffle going on with his uncle James. William III figured that if James went down, the next in line to the throne would have been his mother, Mary, if she were alive. Since she wasn't, the next in line would be King James' eldest, William III's wife Mary. William figured he could rule as a powerful King Consort, really a de facto King Regnant.There was an illigitimate son of Charles II, which makes all of this more complicated, but you can read the book to get that info.



 I know some of you out there don't believe in conspiracy theories, so you might want to skip this part. Of course it's all established fact now, but if you would have heard it in 1688, it would have been a conspiracy theory. So while King James was squaring off against Parliament in 1688, a bunch of the wealthiest nobles got together and decided to depose him and re-establish Parliamentary rule (hopefully sans military dictator this time).


The secret group comprised seven of the country's largest landowners, later refered to as the "Immortal Seven", as well as about thirty high-ranking military officers who could be counted on to support them. (thirty-seven conspirators?! IMPOSSIBLE!! Surely somebody would have talked...)


Admiral Herbert and Baron Churchill (a direct ancestor of Prime Minister Winston Churchill) were dispatched to Holland to meet with Willaim of Orange.Depending on who you believe, they either said:"Please, please come be our king! England has been loving you from afar for years, so what are you waiting for? Come be our king!" or "Listen, this revolution is going down with or without you, but parliamentary rule didn't go so well last time we tried it. We think the public might swallow it better if there were a figurehead king. Since you're married to James' daughter, and you're his nephew, your name naturally came up as a candidate. We'll bring you onboard, but at a price: you have to supply some ships and troops to our cause."


I know which version I believe.


Anyhow, William III of Orange supplied 21,000 troops to the revolution, shipped them in the notoriously perilous November waters of the English Channel, and so intimidated James that he fled for his life without a fight.One minor digression: William hired some troops for this event from the Germanic kingdom of Brandenburg (later called "Prussia"). The author mentions how Brandenburg was the most religiously tolerant kingdom in Europe at that time, and how the much-abused Heugonauts, assorted out-of-favor Protestant sects, and Jews were all welcomed into Prussian society during the 1680s. I couldn't help but think that so many of the Jewish familys who were welcomed in the seventeenth century must later have perished in the twentieth.


Anyhow, that's how William of Orange got to be King William III of England... if you believe conspiracy theories, that is. If you don't, I guess none of this stuff really happened, and William of Orange must have become king some other way.


King William's rule

Being in a stronger position than he expected, William demanded that Parliament give him the crown outright- rather than crown Mary and let him rule in practice. His concern demanding this was that if Mary died before him, the crown would go to his daughter.


Parliament agreed, but with a caviat: he had to accept an ironclad Declaration of Rights, which spelled some innovations (or variants thereof) which have become staples in modern democracies:

1) The King is not an absolute monarch, laws are only passed with Parliamentary ratification;

2) The King does not command a standing army as his own personal fighting force- the nation's army conducts war at the behest of Parliament, after war is declared by due process, not royal decree; justice is administered by due process, not royal decree/fiat; 3) Prisoners' right of habeas corpus may not be violated by the King; the King can not overrule decisions of the courts; etc.


The book details it out much more finely, but you can see how this parliamentary move resulted in the shaping of Western democratic thought, and obviously inspired the architects of our American Constitution.


Why did William III accept these limitations? For one thing, the seventeenth century now had two examples of how kings can be toppled if they oppose the popular will, as well as the will of the upper classes, who hold a lot of Parliamentary power. For another thing, William did have a legitimacy issue, which could be magnified if he ran afowl of Parliament. He was being given the crown, but his rule contradicted traditional lines of succession, and this would always be a liability hanging over his head.


Aside from all that domestic realpolitic, William was concerned with balancing France's awesome power in Europe with a coalition of Protestant states. He wanted domestic peace in a Protestant England, so it could participate in effectively containing the French. If agreeing to the parliamentary Declaration of Rights would buy domestic tranquility, he was prepared to accept it.


On the down side, William III presided over the creation of England's central banking system, and the establishment of the notorious Bank of England, modeled after the similar Bank of Amsterdam. Naturally, soon to follow was creation of a British national debt.


What's so Glorious about it?

The promotional blurbs on the back jacket imply that without the Glorious Revolution in 1688, the Amerian Revolution of 1776 would never have been possible.


I think it is a reasonable thought. If King James had not been overthrown, it seems likely he could have packed Parliament with the friends and yes-men he was aiming to. Essentially, The author's thesis is that James wanted to model his rule on the absolutist monarchy of his contemporary, Louis XIV of France. Parliament in this system would have served an advisory function, or could have been done away with entirely, as the king saw fit. If this system had persisted to 1776, colonists would never have been able to make a legal or philosophical argument that Parliament had no right to tax them without representation. The reigning king of the day could have simply said "It is my will", and that would have been that.


Sure, colonists could have still rebelled, but the other big factor to consider is France. King James was quite close with Louis XIV, and saw a British-French partnership as a solid foundation to security and peace in a (pan-Catholic?) Europe. If both England and France had had Catholic absolutist monarchies in 1776, it is extremely unlikely that the French would have entered the American Revolution on the side of the rebelling colonists- a decisive factor in the war. Moreover, if England and France had had an enduring partnership, the Seven Years War (aka The French and Indian War) would likely not have taken place, or at least would not have played out in North America the way it did.


As elaborated in The Glorious Cause The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States) byRobert Middlekauff, the Seven Years War set the stage for the American Revolution. Without it, American independence would have been a very remote possibility.


Wait! There's more!

If it seems like I've given away all the best parts, be assured there are a lot of facets to this history, which I haven't covered, and which will amaze and astonish you:

1) How could William III have known that the powerful King Louis XIV of France would not intervene to support Britian, or- worse yet- attack Holland while the Dutch army was abroad?

2) Of what importance to this story is the Turks' attack on Vienna in 1674?

3) What are the crazy rumors surrounding King James' son?

4) Dazzling descriptions of King James' legendary sinonasal infections, in which blood and pus spurted from his nose.

5) What affect did a bishop dying in Cologne a year before have on the revolution ?

6) Why didn't William III have King James executed?

7) Why were Dutch ships ordered to fly British flags during the attack?

8) By what convoluted logic were other European monarchs not bothered by this overthrow of a king?

9) How does the author- who did a good job on this book overall- make himself sound ridiculous on the final two pages, by comparing Louis XIV to Osama bin Laden? and

10) What did 20th century British Prime Minister Winston Churchill think of his ancestor, the Baron Chruchill?


History is all complicated-like.


True Story

There is a local chain of cafes around Washington DC, by the name of "William III".



So about 10 years ago, I was taking part in an accreditation inspection of a hospital in Maryland. The inspection team was composed of about 15 inspectors, of which I was one, and the hospital had 15 representatives who would accompany us throughout the hospital, and who would assist us getting the information we needed to determine whether the hospital met professional standards. So the hospital rep assigned to me was this really gregarious guy who would not stop talking. I can only take so much of that; I tend to be introverted, and people like that just suck the life out of me. As we were walking around, he kept prodding me "Ask me anything- anything at all. I've been working here for thirty years. There's nothing in this hospital I don't know about." Just as he said that, though, we happened to be standing near a William III coffee stand. Accepting his challenge, I pointed to the stand and said "Okay- that coffee stand is in your hospital. Who is this William III it's named after, and why would somebody name a coffee stand after him?"Like myself, until I read this book, he had no idea, and it completely deflated him. He sulked about that the rest of the day, which was a welcome change from the aggressive chattiness. I guess it was kind of a dick thing to ask him, but I can't stand people who never shut up, so if I had it to do over again, I definitely would.