James II was a strange king. His military skills, always important in 17th century Europe, were practically non-existent. He came to the throne with considerable popular support but, within four short years, dissipated almost all of this. He was an inept manager and infuriated most of Britain's nobility. He seemed to be in the pocket of the King of France, never a comfortable place for any English king. And, in one of Europe's most Protestant nations, he was a devout Catholic.
The revolution that led to James' abdication and flight to France, never to return to England again, had vast consequences for the country. First, Parliament, an institution almost totally ignored by James, became a powerful force in the governance of the country. James dissolved Parliament shortly after his assumption of the throne but it was Parliament that eventually played the critical role in his removal. The Declaration of Rights, the marvelous document that foreshadowed the first shots of the American Revolution almost one hundred years later, was Parliament's statement to the nation that the absolute rule of English kings had ended. Second, the power of the landed gentry, the ancient rulers of the country, faded as ambitious merchants and tradesmen shouldered their way into positions of increasing importance. Third, England finally became not just a witness to European affairs but began to play a far more involved role in determining the political shape of the Continent.
James left England in the dark winter of 1688, defeated a month earlier by an invasion force led by William, the Stadtholder of Holland,. He and his wife, Mary, the daughter of James' brother and predecessor on the throne, Charles II, acted as co-regents until Mary's death in December 1694, at only 32 years of age. William died eight years later. During this time, the Anglican religion was reestablished as the state religion, although toleration of all religions was encouraged; the Bank of England was founded; political parties - Whigs and Tories - evolved into powerful factions; and England began its long march in assembling the most extensive empire in history.
This is a wonderful story, marvelously told by Edward Vallance. The book moves almost effortlessly from one major event to the next. Complicated situations are carefully explained and are consistently related to the major themes of the book. European royalty, always a bit of a genealogical nightmare, is simplified and becomes easy to grasp. But it is in Vallance's explanation of the meaning of the revolution that is the essence of the book. It is the emergence of the power of the people that is the theme of the book. As an American, it is this story that absorbs the most interest, since it is from the Glorious Revolution that our revolution took its enormous energy.