Spycraft and the Glorious Revolution

In the era of the early modern ‘secret state’, two notorious brothers set up an elaborate intelligence network, managing a vast array of spies and informers watchful for Jacobite plots against Britain.

William III, by Godfried Schalcken, c.1692-97. The new monarch’s regime made use of an informal espionage network to secure itself against plots in favour of the deposed Stuarts. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The events which led to the deposition of James II and VII in November 1688 were not deemed ‘Glorious’ at the time. Fears surrounding James’ Catholicism were exacerbated by the king’s personal blunders in promoting his religion in a strongly Protestant nation, by his politics, and by the birth of a (Catholic) son and heir. During his reign James had also ominously bolstered his army and navy. Deliberately or not, he seemed to threaten the English political nation by emphasising the rights of his crown over the traditional framework of government. Consequently, his contemporaries believed his rule would simply become an absolutist monarchy. Yet in the face of William of Orange’s invasion in November 1688 the Stuart regime disintegrated and James was forced into exile in France. Following much political argument, a new revolutionary settlement emerged under the joint monarchy of William III and Mary II. Celebrated in Whig history (at least) as a ‘bloodless revolution’ it was actually rather more bloody than it seemed, especially in Ireland and Scotland.

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