Why England’s ‘Revolution’ was Glorious
Edmund Burke argues that England’s ‘revolution’ of 1688 worked because we changed the Government, not the Constitution.
Queen Mary II and King William III (1689-1694)
Why England’s ‘Revolution’ was Glorious

Abridged from Edmund Burke’s ‘Speech on the Army Estimates’ (Tuesday February 9th, 1790), as given in ‘The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke’, Vol. 3 (of 12).

In 1789, the bloody French Revolution gave its new leaders sweeping powers over a frightened public. Edmund Burke, MP for Bristol, compared it unfavourably with England’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, in which James II’s peaceful abdication restored democratic accountability.

IN truth, the circumstances of our revolution (as it is called) and that of France, are just the reverse of each other in almost every particular, and in the whole spirit of the transaction.*

With us it was the case of a legal monarch attempting arbitrary power — in France it is the case of an arbitrary monarch, beginning, from whatever cause, to legalize his authority.* The one was to be resisted, the other was to be managed and directed; but in neither case was the order of the state to be changed, lest government might be ruined, which ought only to be corrected and legalised.

Was little done because a revolution was not made in the constitution? No! Everything was done; because we commenced with reparation, not with ruin. Accordingly the state flourished. Great Britain rose above the standard even of her former self. The states of Europe lay happy under the shade of a great and free monarchy, which knew how to be great without endangering its own peace at home, or the internal or external peace of any of its neighbours.**

* On the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which saw James II abdicate in favour of his daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William, Prince of Orange, see our post The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

* This was in February 1790, when the French Assembly was making the laws but King Louis XVI was still nominally the King. Louis was executed on January 21st, 1793, in what is now the Place de la Concord.

** Burke’s words proved prophetic. Within a decade, the Republic had passed through the Terror of 1793-1794, with 17,000 death sentences passed in just over ten months, had seen its economy collapse, and had suffered a military coup at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte. He subsequently declared himself Emperor of the French, and attempted to conquer all Europe. His failure to take Moscow in 1812 led ultimately to his defeat by Arthur, Duke of Wellington, at The Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Abridged from Edmund Burke’s ‘Speech on the Army Estimates’ (Tuesday February 9th, 1790), as given in ‘The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke’, Vol. 3 (of 12).

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Picture: Flags flying from the Admiralty Arch in London, which connects The Mall and Trafalgar Square. These flags are the naval White Ensign, combining the flag of St George with the flag of the United Kingdom.
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