William and Mary Won't Do


Celebrate Boxing Day by giving your servants a copy of Steve Pincus' 1688: The First Modern Revolution, which sounds pretty great in this review from the UAE paper The National. Although the Glorious Revolution gets short shrift from historians, Pincus argues that it was both revolutionary and glorious:  

The English Revolution of 1688, which saw the Catholic James II overthrown by his son-in-law, the Dutch Protestant William of Orange, would seem to have no place in this datebook of social upheaval. This "revolution" founded no new state; it did not resound with slogans like Liberté, égalité, fraternité; and it certainly ran with less blood than did the streets of Leningrad. England's Glorious Revolution simply saw the swap of one king for another – hardly an unusual transaction in 17th century Europe…

Yet this apparently uneventful transfer of power concealed profound alterations in the relationship between the English crown and its subjects, and set into motion the formation of a new kind of modern state, whose characteristics – vigorous promotion of economic development, broad religious tolerance, and free competition among political interests – still define liberal democracies today…

Pincus demonstrates that by the second half of the century, England was already a land in flux: commerce was booming, foreign trade was on the rise; the English were moving to cities, where coffeehouses buzzed with the latest intelligence from abroad. The country was modernising at a rapid clip, and the revolution, as Pincus describes it, was in essence a battle – a fierce one – over the terms of that modernisation. James II, who in the accounts of Macaulay and many other historians appears as nothing more than a mad Catholic tyrant, was in fact a forward-looking ruler with his own vision for England's future, one drawn from the absolutist rule of his cousin, France's Louis XIV. James, Pincus writes, "did everything he could to create a modern, rational, centralised Catholic state" – and he was ruthless in its implementation, cracking down on dissent and spying on his enemies, in effect creating "a very modern surveillance state"…

James's opponents, as Pincus notes, came from a variety of backgrounds – from peasants to aristocrats – but it was the country's burgeoning commercial classes that played the strongest role in shaping the economic agenda after the revolution, pushing for "the possibilities of unlimited economic growth based on the creative potential of human labour." This was not a revolution against the state but one determined to harness state power in the pursuit of economic expansion. In place of the Gallic absolutism pursued by James, England's growing merchant classes and their political spokesmen turned their eyes to Holland and a "Dutch model" of economic innovation, commercial prosperity and political openness.

As is often the case with new models of openness, the post-revolution period was not all sweetness and light. There was plenty of retribution, Catholics were cleansed from all prominent posts (including the all-important poet laureate post), and for about 50 years the country lived in fear of an invasion by the Jacobites—loyalists to James who maintained an extensive court in France. But the popish reconquest of England wouldn't really occur until the end of the 20th century, under the crypto-Catholic Tony Blair (who ironically did more to establish a total surveillance state than James could ever have imagined).

And why do they have Boxing Day in Germany? Was that imposed as part of the Armistice terms?

Here's Pincus discussing the Glorious Revolution:

Courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily.