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What Really Happened During the Glorious Revolution?


  • Steven C.A. Pincus
  • James A. Robinson


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 England 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 and 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 actually an interlinked series of de facto institutional changes which came from a change in the balance of power and authority and was part of a broader reorientation in the political equilibrium of England. Moreover, it was significant for the economy not because it solved a problem of credible commitment, but for two other reasons. First, because the institutional changes it led to meant that party political ministries, rather than the king's private advisors, now initiated policy. Second, because these ministries were dominated by Whigs with a specific program of economic modernization.

Suggested Citation

  • Steven C.A. Pincus & James A. Robinson, 2011. "What Really Happened During the Glorious Revolution?," NBER Working Papers 17206, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17206
    Note: DAE POL

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Mark Koyama, 2013. "Preindustrial Cliometrics," Economic Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(2), pages 268-278, June.
    2. Seghezza, Elena, 2015. "Fiscal capacity and the risk of sovereign debt after the Glorious Revolution: A reinterpretation of the North–Weingast hypothesis," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 71-81.
    3. David Le Bris & William N. Goetzmann & Sébastien Pouget, 2015. "The Development of Corporate Governance in Toulouse: 1372-1946," NBER Working Papers 21335, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Johnson, Noel D. & Koyama, Mark, 2014. "Tax farming and the origins of state capacity in England and France," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 1-20.
    5. Christian Fahrholz & Andreas Freytag, 2011. "Ein Lösungsweg für die europäische Zahlungsbilanzkrise? Mehr Markt wagen!," ifo Schnelldienst, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 64(16), pages 73-78, September.
    6. Francesco Giovannoni & Leandro de Magalhaes, 2012. "War Financing and the Transition from Absolutism to Rule by Parliament," 2012 Meeting Papers 917, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    7. Pranab Bardhan, 2016. "State and Development: The Need for a Reappraisal of the Current Literature," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 54(3), pages 862-892, September.
    8. Pranab Bardhan, 2015. "State and Economic Development: The Need for a Reappraisal of the Current Literature," Working Papers id:7060, eSocialSciences.
    9. Christian Fahrholz & Andreas Freytag, 2012. "A Way to Solve the Euro pean Balance of Payments Crisis? Take a Chance on Market Solutions!," CESifo Forum, Ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 13(SPECIALIS), pages 77-82, February.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913


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