Friday, October 09, 2009 10/9/09 - french and english revolutions

In today's excerpt - England's Glorious Revolution of
1688, in which the Catholic King James II was
overthrown by the English people and replaced with
the Protestants William and Mary in roles more
constrained by constitution and Parliament. European
historians most often portray 1789's French
Revolution as the bloody beginning of the turbulent
period which largely wiped away monarchies from the
continent. But England's Glorious Revolution, though
quickly reinterpreted by its historians as bloodless,
was as violent as France in 1789. (Historians also
note that America's Revolutionary War and Civil War
both had a number of combatants who opposed each
other that were descendants of families that first
opposed each other in England in 1688):

"England's Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 holds a
special place in our understanding of the modern
world and the revolutions that shaped it. For the better
part of three centuries scholars and commentators
identified it as a defining moment in England's
exceptional history. Political philosophers have
associated it with the origins of liberalism.
Sociologists have contrasted it with the French,
Russian and Chinese revolutions. Historians have
pointed to the Glorious Revolution as confirming the
unusual nature of the English state, the balanced
ancient constitution which limited the excesses both
of monarchical authority and popular liberty. ... All of
these interpretations derive their power from a deeply
held and widely repeated narrative of the revolution.

"Unfortunately, this narrative is wrong. ...

"Though we have come to view the Glorious
Revolution as bloodless, aristocratic and consensual,
the actual event was none of these things. The
revolution of 1688-89 was, of course, less bloody than
the terrible upheavals of the 20th century, but the
English endured a scale of violence against property
and persons similar to that of the French Revolution at
the end of the 18th century. Statistics that highlight the
violence of revolutionary France, such as those cited
by the historian Jack Goldstone, for example,
inevitably include the Napoleonic Wars.

statistics from the Nine Years War (1689-1697; also
called King William's War) and the wars in Scotland
and Ireland, all direct consequences of the revolution
of 1688-89, the percentages of dead and wounded
are comparable to the French case. Englishmen and
women throughout the country threatened one
another, destroyed one another's property, killed and
maimed one another throughout the revolutionary
period. Englishmen and women, from London to
Newcastle, from Plymouth to Norwich, experienced
violence and threats of violence, or lived in terrifying
fear of violence. This was not a tame event.

"Nor was it a staid negotiation conducted by elites.
Men and women of all social categories took to the
streets, marched in arms on England's byways and
highways and donated huge amounts of
money - some in very small quantities - to support
the revolutionary cause. When the members of the
House of Lords tried calmly to settle the succession
issue after James II had fled the country, an angry
crowd numbering in the tens of thousands cut short
the nobles' deliberations and forced their hands. ...
The English throughout the 1680s, 1690s and
thereafter were politically and ideologically divided.
There was no moment of English cohesion against
an un-English king. There was no period in the late
17th century in which the sensible people of England
collaborated to rid themselves of an irrational
monarch. The revolution of 1688-89 was, like all other
revolutions, violent, popular and divisive."

Steven Pincus, "1688: A Fight for the Future,"
History Today, October 2009, pp. 11-16.


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