This book is subtitled, "Britain's Fight for Liberty", but what do we mean by `Britain'? And a fight for liberty for and from whom? Vallance is sure that whatever changes were effected by the Glorious Revolution, those to liberty WERE significant, "an important move, however unintended, towards the freedoms enjoyed by modern liberal democracies had been made," and a culture of toleration resulted.
But it would be unfair to tar the author with the deterministic brush of the Whig school of history. He cannot escape the conflicting claims of modern political history, a problem encapsulated in the two quotations that Vallance chooses to open his book, the first by Margaret Thatcher and the second by Karl Marx. Which of the two is the more astute observation on the consequences of the Glorious Revolution? Indeed, are the views expressed mutually exclusive? Vallance sees common ground between the two and goes on to describe the parliamentary debate that took place on the three-hundredth anniversary: "Conservatives ... applauded the Glorious Revolution because it was a revolution by Parliament, not the people. Left-wingers dismissed its historical significance for exactly the same reason ..."
Vallance proceeds in his preface to narrate how the events of 1688 have been viewed down to our own time. But he questions some of the consensus agreed between the Whig, liberal, Marxist, and revisionist interpretations. In particular, he argues that, "the Revolution was very far from being bloodless", pointing out that Scotland and Ireland were both "marred by horrific violence". But the untold violence of the Revolution is just one of three main strands of his narrative that dispute the commonly-held view of this supposedly most quiet of upheavals. The second strand is that, contrary to common belief, significant and widespread societal changes DID occur as a result of the Revolution. Finally, Vallance argues that instead of the Revolution being the work solely of the political elites of the day, "ordinary people ... were anything but uninterested in the outcome of this British Revolution."
Vallance commences his narrative ten years before William of Orange's invasion, namely with Titus Oates and the Popish plot of 1678, and then moves through the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. As regards William's invasion, this has been too often been seen from a purely insular perspective; Vallance points out that whilst William's propaganda may indeed have been to prevent "popery and arbitrary government", he also had his own strategic Dutch agenda of continental scope, namely "to check the seemingly limitless ambitions of the Sun King. However, as with more recent conflicts, a war sold as a mercy mission was really instigated for reasons of geopolitical and economic self-interest."
Although mention is made of the `auspicious' date of 5 November for William's landing in Torbay, the fact of the connection too between 1688 and that of another attempted invasion one hundred years earlier seems to have passed Vallance by. The author's description of the invasion itself and the progress towards London is neither too sketchy nor too detailed; it is an almost happy medium, but I was disappointed to note that John Churchill, second-in-command of James II's army, only appears in the narrative when he defects. Later chapters detail the Revolution's effects in Scotland and Ireland, the reign of William and Mary, and finally of William alone. The last chapter details what happened after William's death.
The narrative itself flows fairly well, but there are problems, but these are more of style than fact. For example, the Duke of Gloucester is introduced on page 269, but only on page 288 is the vital information provided that he was the son of Princess Anne. I also expected to read more from and about Defoe. He appears, for sure, but not in any great capacity. There are some strange assertions, for example that William of Orange's entrance into Exeter was the first time that the citizens had seen a black man or even seen Finns. (Devon privateers were at the forefront of the English slave trade, and Exeter had good links with the Baltic trade too.)
But these are minor quibbles. Vallance has a very readable style, and an often felicitous way with words; for instance, "If we cannot say that James was pushed out of his kingdom, it is nonetheless true that he was shown an open door and invited to walk through it."
Does Vallance convince the reader of the truth of the three strands to which he brought our attention at the beginning? I think he does. The first was to argue that the violence was greater than is usually mentioned. Vallance points out that troops killed four or five anti-Catholic rioters in London days after the invasion. But this was but one of many minor skirmishes. Generally, though, he concedes the Revolution in England was "a largely bloodless affair", but "in James II's other kingdoms of Ireland and Scotland, the Revolution unleashed waves of warfare." Vallance succeeds here by following recent historical practice in turning away from the Anglo-centric view of history, towards instead the peripheries of the British Isles. He concludes that, "In neither Ireland nor Scotland could the outcome of the Revolution be said to be `glorious'."
In support of the second strand - of genuine societal transformation - Vallance lists the many political, constitutional, religious, economic, social, and moral changes that could be said to have arisen from William of Orange's success. William supported the Whigs, who were pro-trade, anti-French and pro-parliament. And it was parliamentary government that led to the ensuing financial revolution. "The stability and prosperity secured by the Revolution settlement proved far stronger than any emotional attachment to an exiled dynasty."
In support of the third strand - of a genuine popular involvement in the Revolution - Vallance brings to our attention in a chapter entitled `Selling the Revolution', the role of the printing presses and the coffee houses in an age of increasing general literacy. "Contemporaries called this a revolution ... It was ordinary people, not the gentry, who first flocked to William's cause ... It was the London crowd, so virulent in its anti-popery, which played a large part in James's decision to flee."
There are thirty pages of endnotes, ten pages of bibliography, and an index. My eyebrows were raised to note that whilst the opening quote by Thatcher is sourced to Hansard, that by Marx - and later Burke and Paine too - are surprisingly credited to secondary works.
Unfortunately, the index is deficient. For example, there is no entry for Sir Edward Hales; Henry Compton is listed under `London, Bishop of'; Sir Francis Compton is listed for page 62 but not for page 131; whilst Plymouth appears nowhere at all, despite several mentions. And why is the Earl of Portland listed under his family name of Bentinck, but the Keppels are listed under their peerage name of Albemarle? Strange!