I had one exam with the following question:

About the Glorious Revolution (1688-1689), mark true (T) or False (F):

  1. In 1688, after the deposition of James II, the English parliament was divided in two groups, Tories and Whigs, whose political characteristics corresponded to the religious creed professed: Tories, conservatives, were Catholics; Whigs, liberals, were Anglicans.

The answer sheet marks the affirmation as correct; but I thought it was wrong on the basis that it was too easy an association between a political party and a religious faith.

Edit: The correct answer sheet now marks the affirmation as "false". Which is fine to me.

  • 1
    It might've been better if it said that the Tories were more sympathetic to Catholicism, and that they were "high church" supporters.
    – NL7
    Apr 9 '14 at 14:20
  • Note that in the strict meaning of the word (to wit, "including a wide variety of things; all-embracing"), all Anglicans are (small-c) catholics. This is stated in both Creeds of the church: Apostles': "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, ....": and Nicene: "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church." Anglicans are, in effect, English Catholics rather than Roman Catholics. Jul 12 '17 at 21:05

I was deeply suspicious of this simplistic view, but research quickly shows that it isn't completely absurd. In general, the Tories are the King's party and could be expected to support the King's position (which at the time was believed to be that England should return to Catholicism.) The Whigs offered less support to the crown. (the notion of an opposition party and a loyal opposition would not emerge for 100 years or more).

That's the simple view. Truth was, as it always is, more complex.

Despite the small number who could actually participate in the choice of representatives, political questions were hotly discussed among the upper classes, who were divided into two well-defined parties, Tories and Whigs. These owed their origin to the excitement of the Civil War, when those who supported Charles I were called Cavaliers and those who opposed him, Roundheads. During the latter years of Charles II, the former party, which upheld the divine right of kings and the supremacy of the Anglican Church, received the name of "Tory." Their opponents, who advocated the supremacy of Parliament and championed toleration for the Dissenters, came to be called Whigs. Outlines of European History

Note that the Tories supported the king, but an Anglican church; the Whigs supported greater toleration. Neither party is "Catholic", although given the choice, the Tories support an established church.

On the other hand,

When James II had forced the Tories to choose between their church and their king they could but choose their church. It was a Protestant and reformed church, the spiritual center of a civilization to which the alternative was a Bourbon Stuart civilization, having as its agent the priest, the dragoon, and the hangman, and its threatening outpost on England's western flank in barbarous Ireland. Great Britain Since 1688

The text is less well written, but the Tories chose a Protestant church over a despotic Catholic king; the tories explicitly reject the priest (catholicism)

A third source suggests (to me) an answer: these simplistic views were held by fanatical fringes on each side.

The two groups most displeased with the Revolution Settlement were the most ideologically opposed sects of Britons, Jacobite Tories who supported the exiled Catholic King James II and phanatick Covenanters who desired a powerful church protected by but powerful over the state Joseph Moore

Jacobite Tories did fit the definition. I think the exam oversimplifies a situation in a way which I find very sad. The glorious revolution is one of those peculiar events in history where we can be sure that the participants were just as confused about their roles as we are, and we can identify with their confusion, their passion, and their inability to escape a situation that did not tolerate passivity. The exam question erases all that, and makes them alien creatures with pre-determined opinions. (On my oath, I didn't spot the irony till I'd already finished the sentence.)

  • 4
    Note also that there are those who say that the northnern American colonies tended to get populated with transplanted Whigs and Dissenters, and the southern with transplanted Tories (eg: The Virginia Cavaliers), thus creating the germ of the North/South cultural divide the USA maintains to this day.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 9 '14 at 12:36
  • Mark, your explanation is great; I accepted this answer because it is more complete, although fdb's answer below is more to the point.
    – user574859
    Apr 9 '14 at 14:08
  • You are correct that @FDB is more to the point. I commend him.
    – MCW
    Apr 9 '14 at 16:22

For most of the time in question, Catholics were excluded from standing for, or even voting for, parliament. So there could not really be any opposition between Catholics and Protestants within parliament itself, as the cited question seems to imply.


You and the examiner were right to say 'false'. However, it's not a good fit for a true/false question.

In 1688, after the deposition of James II, the English parliament was divided in two groups, Tories and Whigs, whose political characteristics corresponded to the religious creed professed: Tories, conservatives, were Catholics; Whigs, liberals, were Anglicans.

Let's take these dichotomies one at a time.

Catholic/Anglican. The Whigs formed out of the Exclusionists, who wished to exclude the Catholic James II from succeeding his Anglican brother, Charles II. The Tories wished to keep James II as heir.

The Tories were not Catholics. Their two main principles were the divine right of kings, and pro-Church of England-ism. It's probable that any Catholics in England would have leaned towards the Tories, as the Whigs had nothing to offer them. However, the Tories as a group were Anglican. We could say that Catholics may have been relatively pro-Tory, but the Tories were definitely not pro-Catholic.

A few Tories probably joined or supported the Jacobites, but most of them resigned themselves to the rule of William of Orange after 1689, because William promised to preserve the independence of the Church of England from Rome (and did). Many were likely relieved, since it was feared James II would forcibly convert the country to Catholicism.

The Whigs were Anglicans, but more likely to favour toleration of Protestant dissenters, which they enacted in the Toleration Act when William came to power. William favoured extending toleration to Catholics as well, but the Whigs wouldn't let him, as they thought Catholics would use toleration as a cover to take over the country and kill people who wouldn't convert, per other European monarchs and Mary the I of England.

Conservative/Liberal. Where to start? Liberal like the Lib Dems, or the US Democrats, or the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, or the German FDP, or William Gladstone, or... what?

For simplicity's sake, I'll assume the question refers to 19th century British liberalism: religious toleration, supremacy of parliament over the Crown, etc. So conservatism will be C-of-E-only-ism, and royal supremacy.

The Whigs favoured a more powerful parliament, and the Tories did not. To that extent the answer is clearly that the Whigs were more liberal.

In terms of religious toleration it's a bit more complicated. The Whigs favoured limited toleration for Protestant 'dissenters', including Quakers, etc. The Tories were against even this.

However, James II favoured toleration for all Christian denominations, including both Catholics and dissenters (see the 'Declaration of Indulgence'). Is it 'liberal' to depose a king who wants to extend toleration, and then to only extend it a tiny bit?

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