This is not exactly how it worked out.
One of the lessons of the Civil War seemed to be that Charles II and
his Parliament (which included Lords as well as Commons) would have to
work closely together to run the country. The horrible fate of Charles
I seemed to demonstrate that no king could hope to govern without the close
cooperation of parliament and those who voted for it. But no one
idea how this cooperation was to work. It had never been done before, and there were no institutions or precedents to make possible a real reciprocity between the executive and the legislature. If they agreed there was no problem, indeed parliament was hardly necessary. Problems arose when there were disagreements. Then a sterile or even dangerous deadlock, as in the early days of the Long Parliament or in the time of Cromwell, was the most likely outcome.
For most of Charles's reign he had to deal with the Cavalier Parliament,
an assembly that by rights should have been very sympathetic to him.
Even so, there were a number of points of friction. Let us consider for
a moment the question of appropriation. Under the restored constitution,
Parliament was confirmed in its right to pass money bills. However,
just as before the Civil War, Parliament had no right to control how tax
revenues were spent. If the political class disapproved of
the government's actions, it could do little more than refuse taxation, or threaten to. The appropriations issue symbolizes the whole situation: Parliament had no direct way of affecting how the king, or his ministers worked.
Indeed, the government of Charles II was only a little more popular
than that of his father. In the matter of foreign policy, for instance,
the new king and James, Duke of York, his brother and partner, pursued
a course that brought him into conflict with many of his most influential
subjects. A strong and influential party based in the City of London
was determined to destroy
Dutch maritime supremacy and corner world trade. The demands for war against the Dutch forced the king to fight the Second Dutch War between 1665-67. The war was a disaster for England. Of course the King and his ministers had to bear
the blame for this humiliation.
A few years later, the English political class, became alarmed at the actions of Louis XIV. Louis had replaced the Spanish monarchs as the self-proclaimed champion of Catholicism, and his efforts against the Dutch began to look ominous, both to dedicated Protestants and those more concerned with Realpolitik.
But, just as in the 1620s, the king was sympathetic to the Catholic power whom many of his subjects feared. The religious issue of his father's time was not dead. Charles and his brother James, who was his only legitimate heir, had spent much of their youth at Louis's court, and both were secret Catholics. After James came out of the closet in 1672, the potential for a religious conflict and for distrust of the royal family was much increased.
You may recall that I said in an earlier lecture that the Cavalier parliament
was dominated by High Church Anglicans. But these men, and those
who had sent them to Westminster, were not Catholics, despite their hostility
to Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers. Although
these men were likewise devoted to monarchy, which they saw as a divine
institution, like most Englishpeople they thought the Pope was Antichrist and his church anti-Christian. The favor the royal brothers showed to Catholics drove a wedge between the king and his strongest supporters.
One factor helped to ease the minds of the king's friends in the country:
If Charles had no legitimate sons, neither did James. He and his
second, Catholic, wife had no children at all. It seemed likely that
a Protestant would eventually succeed James. Some wanted the Duke
of Monmouth, Charles's bastard but Protestant son; the less adventurous
pinned their hopes on Mary, James II's Protestant daughter, who was married
to William of Orange, Stadtholder of Holland and the hope of continental
All of these problems resulted in a familiar situation. The king
and his ministers could not manage Parliament, and got little money from
it.Charles thus moved even closer to Louis XIV. Louis was flush with
money and it was well known that he was willing to bribe and subsidize
anyone who might forward his grandiose schemes. Every politician
of any importance in Europe who was not an open enemy was on his payroll.
In 1670, Charles became, through a secret treaty signed at Dover, one of
Louis's pensioners. In exchange for a yearly subsidy and a promise of military help when needed, Charles agreed to make a public declaration of his Catholicism as soon as it became convenient.
The secret alliance encouraged the English king to take a bold
step in favor of his fellow Catholics. In 1672, in the middle of
Anglo-French war with the Dutch, Charles issued a Declaration of Indulgence, which removed, by royal grace, the restrictions on both Catholics and Protestant Dissenters. One is tempted to see this as a far-sighted step toward religious toleration; but most of the English, including many Protestant Dissenters, saw it as a devious move to legitimize Catholicism.
The Parliament argued that it was beyond the king's power to suspend statutes in such general terms; only specific individuals could benefit from such acts of grace. It also offered Charles over a million pounds, much needed for the war effort, if he would withdraw the Declaration of Indulgence and force all officers of the Crown to adhere to the Anglican Church. Charles agreed, and when the so-called Test Act was passed, James Duke of York resigned as Lord High Admiral rather than submit to it. The Catholicism of the heir to the throne was now out in the open.
This took the pressure off the Crown for a while, but resentment against the pro-Catholic policy and James continued to smoulder. In the later 1670s, in fact, the Earl of Shaftesbury, an experienced political survivor, began organizing this resentment into something like a political party: the Green Ribbon Club. Their specific goal was the exclusion of James from the succession.
The Green Ribbon Club could count on some support from the country.
But there were also a lot of people who opposed tampering with the hereditary
succession. These divine-right monarchists called the Green Ribbon
Club and its supporters Whigs, comparing them to Scottish rustlers; Shaftesbury's
party responded by calling the king's friends Tories, or
Irish, and therefore Catholic, rustlers.
Shaftesbury was a talented politician and demagogue, and from 1678 to 1681, he did his best to get James disinherited. For all that time, Shaftesbury kept the king on the defensive. He was aided in this by an anti-Catholic hysteria that he stoked himself.
In September of 1678, an obscure Anglican minister named Titus Oates publicly charged that there was an international Catholic plot to murder the king, put James on the throne, and reestablish Catholicism. Although the plot was a fabrication and Oates was a convicted perjuror, the story summed up the fears of the country and caught the imagination of London, especially after a prominent justice of the peace, Oates's first supporter, was found murdered.
Shaftesbury quickly took up Oates as a client, and the two manufactured a panic. Oates was plausible enough that five Catholic peers were imprisoned and 10 [LB Smith] or perhaps 37 [Brittanica]others were executed on his word alone. He even denounced the Queen as a traitor. For a while, Oates was the savior of the nation, with his unprepossessing feature on ladies' fans, snuff-boxes and hankerchiefs and a pension of £1200 pounds a year voted him by a grateful Commons.
Shaftesbury used the hysteria to build his Whig party. In four different short-lived parliaments, he raised an Exclusion bill, and each time mustered the support to get it through the House of Commons. Charles could count on the veto of the Lords, but his main tactic, like his father's was to dissolve Parliament when it got too threatening.
In the summer of 1681, the whole thing collapsed. In the reaction, Shaftesbury was arrested and sent to the Tower. Though his friends in London prevented him from being tried for treason, he had lost. His party was in disgrace and the King, and even his brother, had won back the goodwill of the country.
Charles then took steps to make sure he would keep that goodwill.
First, he, like his father, dispensed with Parliament, in the event for the rest of his reign. Unlike Charles I, he had the ability to do so. Louis XIV had in his duplicious way been funding not only the English king but Shaftesbury and the Whigs. Louis was now alarmed by the anti-Catholic reaction, and had agreed to give Charles a huge pension (500,000 livres) to prop up his power.
Further, Charles took steps to make sure that any future parliament
would be more amenable to the royal will. Shaftesbury
had controlled the Commons not only through scare tactics, but by systematically influencing elections in the chartered boroughs, which supplied the majority of MPs. Charles worked to make the boroughs a permanent source of MPs favorable to the crown. He recalled borough charters all over the country for a so-called "examination," and reissued them. The new
charters restricted the franchise in the boroughs to the officers of the corporation, who were henceforth to be royal nominees.
(This is very similar to the way Louis XIV gained control over French urban governments.)
Thus when Charles died in 1685, he was as thoroughly in control of the country as he ever had been. The Whigs were discredited. The Tories and many others were content to have James II succeed, even though they disliked his Catholicism. After all, James was in his fifties and would soon be succeeded by his safely Protestant daughter Mary.
A new Tory parliament was elected and loyally voted James the revenues enjoyed by his brother, and they made no fuss about the enforcement of anti-Catholic legislation. They quite expected the king to violate the Test Act and put his Catholic friends into high position. But, as a matter of principle, they refused to repeal it or other anti-Catholic acts. It was still the law of the land, and after all, James's reign was only to be an interlude. Wasn't it?
The only problem was that James had different ideas. They emerged quite quickly, once his chief enemies (the Scottish Duke of Argyleand the Duke of Monmouth, Charles's illegitimate son) had revolted against him and been eliminated. James then felt free to return to his brother's policy of open indulgence for Catholics. Now he took a stronger hand with parliament, which was still sitting, and demanded the repeal of the Test Act.
It was at this point that the tide of public opinion began to turn against James. He had sent a Judge named Jeffrys to the West Country after Monmouth's invasion, and Jeffrys had ruthlessly punished the ordinary farmers who had fought for the Duke.
Four hundred were executed, and 1200 deported to Barbados in what were called the Bloody Assizes (court sessions). The fact that James seemed to be using his standing army, commanded by Catholics, to pressure parliament was also alarming.
Many felt that Protestantism itself was threatened. The month
before, Louis XIV had revoked Henry IV's edict of Toleration, and Huguenots,
who had already suffered terrible persecution, were fleeing, like 17th
c. boat people, to avoid forced conversion. So Parliament, a Tory
body, and in theory friendly to the king, refused to repeal the Test Act.
it, meaning adjourned it indefinitely, and began to enact toleration by royal decree.
James moved immediately to suspend the Test Act. Dissenters and Catholics both were now capable of holding office, royal or local, or sitting in Parliament. In fact James pushed out the normal holders of such offices in an attempt to gain control of the local communities of England and stack a future parliament. Few Dissenters would accept office atthe hands of a Catholic king, and there were not many propertied Catholics outside of the Peerage. Thus, scandalously, people with little land and no reputation were being put in places that Englishment felt should be held only by solid men of property.
At the same time there was a purge of the universities, to destroy the ideological resistance to Catholicism. When James issued a Declaration of Liberty of Conscience, and six bishops refused to read it from their pulpits, they were arrested for seditious libel.
The last disaster took place in June of 1688. On that date, James's wife bore a son, James, who in later years was known as the Old Pretender and became the father of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Suddenly, the Tories who had stood by legitimacy for so long had to chose between moving against the king or accepting a Catholic dynasty.
For both Whigs and Tories, this was too much to contemplate. Leading
men of the two parties were soon in touch with each other and with William
of Orange. William, as I have said was Statholder of Holland, which
meant he was the Dutch Republic's semi-princely war leader; he was also
of course the husband of the Protestant heir, Mary. William had for
years been the
chief opponent of Louis XIV's expansionistic plans in Europe. In fact hehated Louis and was determined to bring him down. His interest in English politics grew out of this fact. William realized that England, alternately hostile and indifferent to the Dutch Republic's fate, would have to be brought wholeheartedly into the wars against Louis if the Sun King was ever
to be beaten.
In the summer of 1688, a new war was just breaking out on the continent. When Louis marched into the Rhineland [Palatinate] rather than on the Netherlands, William had both the opportunity and the motive to sail to England, and accept the offers of kingship that he was now receiving.
It is tempting to see this all as Louis XIV's greatest error. The ultimate result of his march into Germany was that William brought England against him, and frustrated his designs. But it is likely that Louis wanted William to go to England. He expected a civil war to break out, which would keep both England and Holland too busy to fight him.
But James II let him down. When his closest supporters, including his chief general, John Churchill, began to desert, James fled. He tore up the writs authorizing the next Parliament, destroyed essential documents, and dropped the Great Seal of England into the Thames, hoping to sabotage his rival's government. Then he sailed for France, in expectation of returning with a French army to fight the Dutch one.
This change of monarchs, the replacement of the Scottish dynasty with
a Dutch one, is called the Glorious Revolution. It has that name
because it was bloodless, at least in its initial stages. There was
a great deal of fighting, though not immediately, and not in England --
and of course it is the English who call it "Glorious." It was a
victory for parliament and the parliamentary classes greater than that
won by the Long Parliament. This time, the aristocracy and gentry
were united. Both the Tories, who had stuck by the Stuarts so long,
and the Whigs, who had been suspicious of them, knew that James had to
go. They took the
radical step of electing a parliament without royal writs, to treat with William and Mary his wife. In early 1689 the Convention, as this technically illegal assembly is called, drew up a Declaration of Rights, later called the Bill of Rights, which set forth the terms that the new king and queen had to accept to gain their crowns.
The Declaration of Rights put forward many points that would not have sounded strange in 1640 -- the Convention insisted on frequent parliaments, with free elections and free speech in them, and no suspension or dispensation of laws by the king without their consent. It also banned standing armies without parliamentary consent, and sought guarantees of fair trials before juries. The difference here was that they were in a position to bargain. William, though he was a conqueror in one sense, could not and did not wish to rule England without the cooperation of the "natural rulers" of the country. When he and Mary signed the Bill of Rights, it was a contract, or close to it.
The Tories did not like to think so; they rejected in theory the idea that a king could be deposed. They insisted that James had in effect abdicated by fleeing, even though he was working very hard to return. But their very actions showed that the vast majority of Tories could no longer believe in the Divine Right of Kings. There was something more important -- in their case Protestantism and the Protestant Succession.
The Whigs of course were a bit more radical. They knew kings need
only be obeyed when they respected property
and the liberties of England.
With the Glorious Revolution, then, Parliament made good its claim to a share in the government. The English or British Parliament has met every year since 1689, and been consulted in almost all of the important business of state.
How exactly it would relate to the executive power of the king was still not settled, but the abolition of Parliament and the imposition of an absolutist system was no longer a real possibility.
Or was it? 1689 by itself settled nothing. James II still
lived, and he was allied with the strongest monarch and warlord of
the time, Louis XIV. By welcoming William and Mary, and pitching out James, the English had perforce involved themselves in a great continental war. The war would have to be won before the Protestant Succession was really safe.
Derek Jarrett, Britain 1688-1815
J.H. Plumb, The Growth of Political Stability
Goldwin Smith, A Constitutional History of England
Lacey Baldwin Smith, This Realm of England
Copyright (C) 1999, Steven Muhlberger.