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1688: The First Modern Revolution

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 704
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    For two hundred years historians have viewed England's Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689 as an un-revolutionary revolution-bloodless, consensual, aristocratic, and above all, sensible. In this brilliant new interpretation Steve Pincus refutes this traditional view.

    By expanding the interpretive lens to include a broader geographical and chronological frame, Pincus demonstrates that England's revolution was a European event, that it took place over a number of years, not months, and that it had repercussions in India, North America, the West Indies, and throughout continental Europe. His rich historical narrative, based on masses of new archival research, traces the transformation of English foreign policy, religious culture, and political economy that, he argues, was the intended consequence of the revolutionaries of 1688-1689.

    James II developed a modernization program that emphasized centralized control, repression of dissidents, and territorial empire. The revolutionaries, by contrast, took advantage of the new economic possibilities to create a bureaucratic but participatory state. The postrevolutionary English state emphasized its ideological break with the past and envisioned itself as continuing to evolve. All of this, argues Pincus, makes the Glorious Revolution-not the French Revolution-the first truly modern revolution. This wide-ranging book reenvisions the nature of the Glorious Revolution and of revolutions in general, the causes and consequences of commercialization, the nature of liberalism, and ultimately the origins and contours of modernity itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15605-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-10)

      England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 holds a special place in our understanding of the modern world and the revolutions that had a hand in shaping it. For the better part of three centuries scholars and public intellectuals identified England’s Revolution of 1688–89 as a defining moment in England’s exceptional history. Political philosophers have associated it with the origins of liberalism. Sociologists have contrasted it with the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions. Historians have pointed to the Revolution as confirming the unusual nature of the English state. Scholars of literature and culture highlight the Revolution of 1688–89 as...

    • CHAPTER ONE The Unmaking of a Revolution
      (pp. 11-29)

      On 30 November 1789, just after the outbreak of the French Revolution, one Monsieur Navier stood up to address the Patriotic Society of Dijon, the chief city of Burgundy. “Why should we be ashamed, Gentlemen,” he asked his auditors, “to acknowledge that the Revolution which is now establishing itself in our country, is owing to the example given by England a century ago? It was from that day we became acquainted with the political constitution of that island, and the prosperity with which it was accompanied; it was from that day our hatred of despotism derived its energy. In securing...

    • CHAPTER TWO Rethinking Revolutions
      (pp. 30-46)

      There is no part of history better received than the account of great changes and revolutions of states and governments,” wrote the Anglican cleric and future revolutionary Gilbert Burnet in the middle of the seventeenth century. This was so, he claimed, because “the variety of unlooked for accidents and events, both entertains the reader and improves him.” Another early commentator on revolutions emphasized that revolutions were not only entertaining but difficult to interpret. “When great revolutions are successful their causes cease to exist,” explained Alexis de Tocqueville. “The very fact of their success has made them incomprehensible.” Little has changed...


    • CHAPTER THREE Going Dutch: English Society in 1685
      (pp. 49-90)

      Later seventeenth-century English men and women were fascinated by their country. Travel narratives, topographical descriptions, and urban histories flooded the book market. Time and again contemporaries noted that the great works of the previous age—William Camden’sBritannia(1586), John Stowe’sSurvey of London(1598), Sir Thomas Smith’sDe Republica Anglorum(1565)—were hopelessly outdated. Though some complained that their Elizabethan forebears had relied on hearsay rather than “experience,” most felt that the country had changed so dramatically that new description was imperative. The future bishop of London, Edmund Gibson, undertook in the years immediately after James II’s fall from...

    • CHAPTER FOUR English Politics at the Accession of James II
      (pp. 91-117)

      Despite premature reports of his recovery from a severe stroke, on the morning of 6 February 1685 King Charles II “gave up the ghost.” All England was soon consumed by uncontrollable grief. The Duke of Newcastle was “so very ill with grief” that he “could scarce stir out of [his] chamber.” The news “drew tears” from Colley Cibber, who would in 1688 take up arms against James II. “What is all this world! What is all the glory of it,” exclaimed the virtuoso John Evelyn on hearing of the king’s death, “I cannot speak without disorder.” “Now the whole nation...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Ideology of Catholic Modernity
      (pp. 118-142)

      James II had an immense amount of political capital in the summer of 1685. He had ascended the throne peacefully, held a remarkably successful first session of Parliament, and easily brushed back a religious rebellion in England (and in Scotland as well). Those rebellions, though never posing significant military threats, had done everything to confirm that James’s political opponents were fanatics, willing to destroy civil society to advance their extremist religious agendas. If the political nation had seemed supportive of James in the spring of 1685, there could be little doubt that after the summer James could count on political...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Practice of Catholic Modernity
      (pp. 143-178)

      James II not only embraced French-style Catholicism as a devotional and ideological orientation, he actively sought to put his deeply held ideas to work. From the moment of his accession to the throne, he did everything he could to create a modern, rational, centralized Catholic state. Though not all of James’s new subjects perceived their king’s intentions immediately, most soon understood the enormity of James’s project. They did so because James and his new state apparatus, with remarkable rapidity, transformed the daily lives of English men and women of all social classes across the width and breadth of England.


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Resistance to Catholic Modernization
      (pp. 179-218)

      James II’s extensive and ambitious program of Catholic modernization was bound to provoke a response. No ruler could embark on a program designed to radically transform the English polity and expect complete quiescence. Nevertheless, James certainly did not expect to provoke a revolution. James was an experienced and accomplished statesman by the time he ascended the throne in 1685. Why did the English people so unexpectedly and so decisively turn against him?

      Historians have not been at a loss for explanations. Scholars in the Whig tradition maintain that James’s irrational and un-English policies united the country against him. England’s natural...


    • CHAPTER EIGHT Popular Revolution
      (pp. 221-253)

      The English “have been always inclined to rebellion and intestine commotions,” observed the German natural law thinker and comparative historian Samuel Pufendorf. Robert Ferguson, who had a great deal of personal experience in the matter, noted that “in all our histories of Great Britain, we meet with nothing more frequent than mobs and insurrections.” The enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution of 1688–89 James Wellwood agreed that “scarce any kingdom we know upon earth has suffered so many and various convulsions” as England. The English are “a nation prone to rebellion,” lamented one committed Jacobite. Since so many in Britain...

    • CHAPTER NINE Violent Revolution
      (pp. 254-277)

      In early December 1688 the London Presbyterian Roger Morrice found it almost unbelievable “that the decision of this adorable transaction,” by which he meant the Revolution of 1688–89, “will be without the effusion of blood.”¹ Apparently Morrice’s testimony provides contemporary support for the bloodlessness and orderliness of the Revolution of 1688–89. But only apparently. Morrice, and most in England and elsewhere, had every reason to believe that William’s arrival would unleash a civil war not unlike the one that had ripped apart German lands from 1618 to 1648 or that had devastated England in the middle of the...

    • CHAPTER TEN Divisive Revolution
      (pp. 278-302)

      The Revolution of 1688–89 was neither aristocratic nor bloodless. Nor was it consensual. This claim runs counter to one of the central tenets of the Whig interpretation of the Revolution of 1688–89. The proponents of this view have always maintained that James II’s reign spawned an unusual period of political consensus in England. For Macaulay and his fellow Whig interpreters of the Revolution, the English displayed their exceptional national character in 1688 by putting aside party divisions to dismiss James II with a united voice. The events of 1688–89 were neither a Whig nor a Tory triumph;...


    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Revolution in Foreign Policy
      (pp. 305-365)

      The English in the later seventeenth century were obsessed with European affairs. The vast majority desperately wanted their kings to put a halt to the overweening power of France. “England has these thirty and odd years past always groaned after a war with France,” noted one pamphleteer, “and the friendship between our two last kings and Lewis the fourteenth was none of the least grievances of these reigns.” “At last,” agreed another after James II had been overthrown and war against France declared, “the people, the Lords, the Protestant clergy opened their eyes and thought of delivering themselves, and with...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Revolution in Political Economy
      (pp. 366-399)

      What greater demonstration can the world require concerning the excellence of our national government, or the particular power and freedom of this city, than the Bank of England,” gushed one later seventeenth-century Englishman. This new institution, this bedrock of the so-called Financial Revolution, was so much to be lauded because it, “like the Temple of Saturn among the Romans, is esteemed so sacred a repository, that even foreigners think their treasure more safely lodged there than with themselves at home; and this not only done by the subjects of absolute princes, where there can be no room for any public...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Revolution in the Church
      (pp. 400-434)

      Charles Leslie, the Irish-born son of the bishop of Clogher who refused to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, and Gilbert Burnet, the Scottish child of a puritanical lawyer and a devout Presbyterian mother, agreed on little. Both, however, were certain that William and Mary had transformed the English episcopate and the ideological tenor of the Church of England. “We see among the new-made bishops those who were formerly fanatical preachers; and those who of all our number, are least zealous for the church, and most latitudinarian, for a comprehension of dissenters, and a dispensation with our...


    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Assassination, Association, and the Consolidation of Revolution
      (pp. 437-473)

      At nine o’clock on the evening of 14 February 1696 a man urgently demanded admission to the Earl of Portland’s lodgings at Whitehall. On admission, this man, formerly unknown to William III’s favorite, begged him to “persuade the King to stay at home tomorrow, for if he goes abroad to hunt he will be murdered.” Portland took the warning seriously. Not only was the informant, Thomas Prendergrass, a man with impeccable Jacobite credentials—he had been pilloried for his 1689 Jacobite tractA Short History of the Convention—but his revelations confirmed in detail other news Portland had gathered. Continental...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Conclusion: The First Modern Revolution
      (pp. 474-486)

      Enlightenment commentators from David Hume and Voltaire to John Wilkes and Monsieur Navier of Dijon understood the Revolution of 1688–89 as a fundamentally transformative event in English and European history. This book has recovered the reasons why these men thought, and were right to think, that something radical and radically new happened in later seventeenth-century England. What, then, have been the central claims of this book?

      England’s Revolution of 1688–89 was the first modern revolution. It was a revolution that took place over a number of years rather than a number of months. It had both long-term causes...

  10. Abbreviations
    (pp. 487-488)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 489-618)
  12. Manuscripts Consulted
    (pp. 619-630)
  13. Index
    (pp. 631-647)