What Really Happened During the Glorious Revolution?

What Really Happened During the Glorious Revolution?James II: 1633-1701

Pincus, Steven C.A. (Yale) and Robinson, James A. (Harvard)

NBER Working Paper (2011)


The English Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 is one of the most famous instances of ‘institutional’ change in world history which has fascinated scholars because of the role it may have played in creating an environment conducive to making Britain the first industrial nation. This claim was most forcefully advanced by North and Weingast yet the existing literature in history and economic history dismisses their arguments. In this paper we argue that North and Weingast were entirely correct in arguing that the Glorious Revolution represented a critical change in institutions. In addition, and contrary to the claims of many historians, most of the things they claimed happened, for example parliamentary sovereignty, did happen. However, we argue that they happened for reasons different from those put forward by North Prince of Orange - engravingand Weingast. We show that rather than being an instance of a de jure ‘re-writing the rules’, as North and Weingast argued, the Glorious Revolution was predominantly a de facto change in the balance of power and part of a broader reorientation in the political equilibrium. Moreover, it was significant for the economy not because it solved a problem of credible commitment, but for two other reasons. First, because it led to the implementation of the economic program of the Whigs; Second, because party political ministries, rather than the king’s private advisors, now initiated policy. After 1688 party politicians rather than the king set the economic agenda.

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