Page 3 - History 2020
P. 3

Part 1 - Stability: London

             How Britain evolved a revolutionary form of constitutional and parliamentary
            government while pretending to be restoring past glories

            Session 1: the outbreak of political stability

            Britain’s “long Revolution”
            In 1830 French liberal politician and historian Francois Guizot said that there had
            been “an English Revolution” which had brought us “peace, power and plenty.” If he

            was right, then it was a “long revolution”, incorporating many events and
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            developments during the 18  and early 19  centuries. Its outcome was the
            emergence of our distinctive parliamentary system. But its beginnings lie in the late
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            17  century, with the so-called “Glorious Revolution of 1688.”

            What was the significance of the Glorious Revolution of 1688?
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            On its 300  anniversary, commemoration speeches in the House of Commons
            praised the “Glorious Revolution of 1688” (it was dubbed this at the time) as the
            foundation for our parliamentary system and modern democratic freedoms. Mrs.
            Thatcher said, it “established the tradition that political change should be sought and
            achieved through Parliament. This saved us from the violent revolutions which shook
            our continental neighbours and made the revolution of 1688 the first step on the road
            which led to the establishment of universal suffrage and full parliamentary
            democracy.”


            Do the events of 1688 bear out these grand claims? These events are straightforward
            enough. They can be baldly summarized in a sentence: The Catholic King James II
            (Charles II’s brother) was replaced by his Protestant daughter Mary.

            What was the background to 1688?
            As this suggests, religion played a key role, as it had throughout the earlier part of the
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            17  century, a period of massive political instability and conflict. The death of
            Elizabeth I (1601) ended the Tudor dynasty. James I, first of the Stuarts, tried to unite
            Britain’s various religious factions by commissioning a new translation of the Bible,
            the “Authorized Version” (or “King James Bible”), but he and his Parliament only
            narrowly survived Guy Fawkes’ Catholic assassination plot (5 November, 1605).
            James’ son Charles I was suspected of undesirable tendencies, towards absolute
            monarchy (like France and Spain) and Catholicism (ditto). This alienated Parliament
            and triggered Civil War (1642), the victory of Oliver Cromwell (1645), the capture of
            Charles I, then Charles’ escape, recapture, trial and finally execution in 1649.

            Cromwell turned down kingship, ruling as Lord Protector instead, but being governed
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