England in the 17th Century
During the course of the 17th century, the political system of England changed from the Absolute Monarchy of the Tudors to Constitutional Monarchy and the rule of Parliament.
Constitutional Monarchy is a system of government where the power of the ruler is limited. It is limited by law, limited by a Parliament or legislative branch; and limited, ultimately, by the people. Government depends on the consent of the people. This is a revolutionary principle. It fundamentally challenges the idea that the rulers derive their authority directly from God. Absolute monarchs claim to be unlimited in power and authority. They claim not to be accountable to anyone but themselves, their conscience, and their God.
In France during the 17th century, absolutism prevailed and was symbolized by King Louis XIV. In England, constitutionalism limited the powers of the king and governments.
1. The end of Tudor Absolutism.
Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. Like her father, she was an absolute monarch. But the Tudors ruled with the support of Parliament.
In England, Parliament was made up of two houses: the House of Lords, representing the hereditary nobility, and the House of Commons, representing the merchants from the towns and the lesser landowners (squires) from the shires of England. Parliament dated back to the Middle Ages when kings were limited in their powers. On the continent, the equivalents of the English Parliament (the Estates General in France, the Cortez in Spain, and the Diet in Germany) were no longer convened as the powers of the kings increased. In England, the Tudors found Parliament useful and kept it. There is no question that Parliament was subservient to the kings under the Tudors.
2. The Early Stuarts: James I and Charles I: Conflict between King and Parliament: 1603 - 1649
She was succeeded by James I of the House of Stuart. James was the first king of England with that name, but he was also the sixth James of Scotland. Under James I, the kingdoms of England and Scotland were dynastically united by having the same king.
James was viewed as a "foreigner" from the English perspective. He did not understand the way Elizabeth had governed her kingdom, in what is called the "Elizabethan Compromise."
Under his rule and that of his son, the traditional relationships between king and parliament broke down. Both the king and parliament made new claims of power that were unprecedented. The kings wanted to raise taxes on their own authority and parliament claimed that no new taxes could be levied without parliamentary approval. There were also growing religious tensions in the kingdom between Anglicans, Puritans, and Scottish Presbyterians.
These tensions lead to Civil War under Charles I. This Civil War is a power struggle between the supporters of the King, the Cavaliers, and the supporters of Parliament, the Roundheads. Parliament's support came from the townspeople many of whom where radical Protestants or Puritans.
3. Civil War: 1642 - 1649
In the person of Oliver Cromwell, the Parliamentary forces found a remarkable leader. Charles I was defeated militarily, tried by Parliament for treason, and executed. It was the first regicide (killing of a king) in modern history.
4. A Puritan Republic, the Commonwealth, and the Protectorate: 1649 - 1660
For eleven years from the execution of Charles I in 1649 to the restoration of his son Charles II in 1660, England and Scotland were republics. Under the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, Great Britain was governed by Oliver Cromwell. The Puritans pioneered many principles of government that were later copied in Massachusetts and the New England colonies. Many ideas, that we now call democratic, derive from these rigidly moralistic fundamentalists. A majority of the English people, however, were not Puritans. They did not like the Puritan laws against the theater, dancing, drinking, and gambling. After Oliver Cromwell died, there was a general groundswell for a restoration of the legitimate king, Charles II.
5. Restoration: 1660 - 1688
The Restored Stuarts governed from 1660 to 1688. Charles II (1660 -1685), a fat self-indulgent man, managed to get on with Parliament, but his younger brother, James II (1685 -1688), once again ran into conflict with Parliament and the influential personages of his kingdom. Religion was, again, one of the root causes of disagreement. James II had married, a second time while in exile during the Cromwell years, a French princess, who was Catholic. It was widely believed that James II was himself a Catholic. When this long-barren marriage produced unexpectedly a son, who was Christened as a Catholic, the country rebelled against the king. It was feared that a Catholic monarchy would try to re-establish Catholicism as the official religion of England. Remember, in the 17th century, all European countries had an official religion and dissenters were not tolerated. Since the Restoration, the official religion of England had been Anglicanism; in Scotland, it remained Presbyterianism. It is difficult to explain to modern students the degree of fear and animosity that religious differences produced at this time. A Catholic king who might restore Catholicism as the official religion of England was simply intolerable to England. The result was the Glorious Revolution.
6. The Glorious Revolution: 1688 - 1689
Between 1688 and 1689, Parliament engineered the ouster of the legitimate male line of Stuart kings and imported a new Protestant king and queen: William III and Mary II. Mary II was the Protestant daughter of James II from his first wife. William was her husband. William of Orange was the Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic and the primary opponent of the French Catholic king Louis XIV.
William managed to take a small fleet from the Netherlands to England and marched on London to the cheers of the crowds who welcomed him. James II and his family fled London to seek refuge, once again, at the court of Louis XIV. James II fled because he remembered the fate of his father, The ouster of James II and the victory of William and Mary was largely bloodless. Parliament had engineered a change of government. Parliament had proven its ultimate superiority to the king. This was the Glorious Revolution.
The Glorious Revolution established the victory of Parliament over the King. Various contested issues of power were resolved in favor of Parliament. Parliament had to be convened regularly. All new taxes had to be approved by Parliament. The king and his family had to belong to the Anglican religion. New political arrangements were made with Scotland.
7. The Later Protestant Stuarts: 1689 - 1714
William and Mary did not have any children. After both monarchs had died, the crown went to Anne, another of James II's Protestant daughters. When Anne died, the next Protestant heirs of the Stuarts were the rulers of the German state of Hanover.
8. The Hanovarian Kings and the Development of the Parliamentary System
George I (1714-1727) was the first of the Hanovarian line of English kings. It should be noted that the male line of the Catholic Stuarts continued to live in France and periodically fomented rebellion to make themselves kings, unsuccessfully.
Neither King George I nor George II (1727 - 1660) were fluent in English. They were absolute rulers in their German territories in Hanover and did not understand nor care much about England. They did not preside over the regular meetings of the Cabinet. In their absence, the Chancellor of the Exchequer became the first minister, the Prime Minister. Sir Robert Walpole performed this function from 1721 to 1742. He was responsible to both the king and to a majority of the House of Commons. When he lost his parliamentary majority, he resigned his position even though he still had the confidence of the king. He provided a model for others to follow.
Below is an outline followed by a more detailed narrative of these events from 1603 to 1658.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL AND RELIGIOUS STRUGGLE BETWEEN KING AND PARLIAMENT IN ENGLAND DURING THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.
TUDOR DYNASTY. 8.
REBELLION IN IRELAND 10.
ROUNDHEADS AND CAVALIERS 12.
REBELLION IN IRELAND
ROUNDHEADS AND CAVALIERS
The establishment of the British North American colonies occurred during
the seventeenth century and is directly linked to the political developments in
England. In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603) finally died.
She was the second daughter of Henry VIII (1509 - 1547), who had broken
with Rome in order to marry her mother, Anne Boleyn, and thereby brought the
Protestant Revolution to England. She
was also the last of the Tudor monarchs, a dynasty begun by her grandfather
Henry VII (1485 - 1509). The Tudors
created and practiced absolute monarchy in England.
While they found the medieval institution of Parliament a useful tool,
and kept it, there is no question that Parliament was a subordinate body under
During Elizabeth's rule, the English version of Protestantism, known
today as Anglicanism or the Church of England and as the Episcopal Church in the
United States, became firmly established. Both
English Catholics and more radical Protestants known as Puritans, because they
sought to purify the Church of England from its close linkages to Catholic
traditions, challenged Queen Elizabeth's Church and were persecuted by her.
These religious tensions increased under Elizabeth's successors.
Elizabeth had never married and no other direct Tudor descendants
existed. Through a collateral line
of family relationships, the daughter of Henry VII, the succession went to James
Stuart, King of Scotland and son of Mary Queen of Scots.
Mary, who was Catholic, had intrigued against Elizabeth, challenging
Elizabeth's right to the throne, and had eventually been executed for treason by
Elizabeth. Mary Stuart's son,
ironically, became King James I. James
began the process whereby England and Scotland came to be united as Great
Britain. Of the two, England was by
far the more populous and more prosperous and James ruled from London.
2. THE STUART DYNASTY:
JAMES I AND CHARLES I
From the English perspective, James was a foreigner.
He never quite understood the pattern of Tudor governance and gradually
came to alienate most sectors of English society.
James fancied himself to be an absolute monarch and wrote a book on The
Trew Law of Free Monarchies. In
practice, he was much more tolerant and practical.
If anything his abhorrence of conflict and desire to maintain peace among
contending factions made him an indecisive ruler. He had learned the art of politics in Scotland.
Scotland had become a largely Presbyterian country and was a violently
fractious state. Contending
Scottish clans and Presbyterian ministers of local churches often resorted to
violence to resolve never-ending disputes among themselves.
Most of his royal ancestors had died violently.
James had become quite successful in keeping his opponents divided,
brokering compromises among rival factions, maintaining his own position as
king, and generally pursuing a policy of peace.
He applied the same tactics to England, where, to a degree, they
continued to work. But compromise
and moderation are often viewed as indecisiveness and tend to please no one.
When James I died on March 27, 1625, the royal prerogatives of an
absolute monarchy remained in place. The
crisis of English government which had been building since the days of Elizabeth
erupted during the rule of James' son Charles I (1625 - 1649).
Charles policies ultimately led to a Civil War in England which the king
lost. He literally paid for this
defeat with his head: the first
regicide in modern European history. Charles'
failures are often attributed to his father and it is with hindsight that James
is blamed for them.
3. THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS: FINANCES, FOREIGN POLICY, AND EMPIRE.
The constitutional crisis which developed in
England during the seventeenth century may be linked to four interlocking
the emergence of Great Britain as a Great Power; 2)
the growing demands placed on the central government which was poorly
organized to meet them; 3) religious divisions; and 4) conflicts over foreign
During Queen Elizabeth I, the seeds of the British Empire were being
germinated. The conflict with Spain
and the English victory over the Spanish Armada made England a
naval power in the world and broke the Spanish monopoly over trade with
the New World. The war with the
Spaniards was not only an economic and colonial conflict, but also a religious
crusade of Protestant England against Catholic Spain.
Religious beliefs and economic opportunities went hand in hand, an
unbeatable political combination. Britain's
economic and political greatness clearly required opposition to the existing
In the game of international and dynastic politics, the two remained
interrelated until the twentieth century, James was more inclined to ally
England with Catholic Spain rather than with the Protestants on the continent.
In 1604, he signed a peace treaty with the traditional enemy, Spain, who
had sought to invade England in 1588. This
policy of peace was not popular, but James carried it out till nearly the end of
It was the impulsive Charles who set off on an unplanned voyage to Madrid
to cement the Spanish relationship by seeking to marry the Spanish infanta.
When humiliated and rebuffed by the Spanish court, Charles returned to
England violently anti-Spanish. James
wanted peace, not an active alliance with Spain.
But the aging king was reluctantly persuaded by his son and Parliament,
for entirely different reasons, to declare war on Spain.
In 1618 what is known as the Thirty Years War had broken out in Germnay.
It was to be the last great war of religion.
Once again the Catholic Hapsburg family sought to unify Germany, and
perhaps Europe, as a single Catholic state.
Protestant England loudly supported the Protestant cause of the Winter
King, who happened to be James I's son-in-law.
James had resisted these pressures for some time, but now, after the
fiasco of his son's marriage plans, he agreed to go to war.
War is always expensive. It
tests the fabric of a country not only in its army and navy, but also in its
finances. Long-term budget deficits
are almost as corrosive of governmental stability as defeat at war.
The English taxing system was antiquated even in 1603.
James had not reformed the system, preferring to manage on what the
traditional system produced for him, which was so much more than what the
Scottish monarchy ever had. In
England, it produced many valid grievances which were expressed in Parliament
throughout King James I's rule. The
king had preserved his prerogatives, but war could not be financed within the
It was the financial crisis which brought to a head the constitutional
crisis between king and parliament. The
king would not respond to the grievances of his subjects and parliament would
not provide the king with the steady flow of money needed to run the government.
The king's efforts to raise the royal revenue on his own authority
threatened the very existence of Parliament.
A cycle of mutual distrust and recrimination developed.
Where was the power of the purse located?
Under James I and Charles I, Parliament began to make claims of
constitutional power unthinkable in the days of the Tudors.
If James I had decided to act like an absolute monarch, rather than
merely lecture like one, he could have reformed the financial system and thereby
also met many of the grievances of his subjects.
But he did not.
The war declared with strong Parliamentary support at the end of James
I's rule turned out to be a complete disaster for the new King Charles I.
It proved to be much more expensive than anticipated and less successful
than hoped. Indeed, it led to
defeat. Even in the midst of war,
Parliament would not give the king the money that he needed.
It even refused to grant "tunnage and poundage", the
traditional taxing rights usually given for life at the beginning of each new
reign. While the war with Spain was
still in progress, the King managed to start another one with France which was
4. CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS:
THE RELIGIOUS DIMENSION
another great issue which brought the Stuart monarchs into conflict with
Parliament. The theory of absolute
monarchy logically implies not only that the king be politically sovereign, but
also that he dominate the economic and religious life of his kingdom.
Absolute rulers, whether Catholic or Protestant, have always favored a
single established religion under their control.
Henry VIII broke with Catholicism and the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff
not so much for religious reasons as for dynastic ones.
He wanted a son which his first wife after eighteen years of marriage had
not produced. When the Pope for his
own political reasons would not give him the annulment that he wanted, he took
matters in his own hands and separated the Church of England from Roman control.
The mass and most other "catholic beliefs" remained the same;
so did the hierarchical system of church organization centered on bishops.
In effect, the king simply replaced the pope as the head of the church.
Henry VIII did,
however, close the monasteries. He expropriated both ecclesiastical and monastic
property. The land was sold to the
propertied classes at very reasonable terms and helped them to accept the new
religious settlement. Certainly none of the beneficiaries would ever be willing to
return the land to its rightful owner, the Church.
But the break with Rome opened the door for more radical reformers from
the continent to come to England to change the theological basis of the Church
in a more Protestant direction. Martin
Luther and John Calvin had challenged the belief in saints, miracles, the number
of the sacraments, the episcopal organization of the church, and above all the
nature of the Mass.
This protestant dimension grew under Henry's sickly son, obviously not
Catholic, Edward VI (1547 - 1553) who died at the age of sixteen.
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in English rather than in Latin, was
introduced during his reign. Many
Englishmen and women became Puritans and based their beliefs on the teachings of
Edward VI was succeeded by Henry's first born daughter Mary (1553 -
1558), obviously Catholic, who sought to turn back the tide and restored Papal
Supremacy. She married Philip II of
Spain, another devout Catholic, who left her when it became obvious that she
would not bear him an heir. Bloody
Mary died at age 42, an embittered woman.
Elizabeth I restored Protestantism in its Anglican and Episcopal form.
Since a women could not be the head of the Church of England, the
archbishop of Canterbury assumed that title, but the queen appointed the
archbishop. Elizabeth was not a
religious person; she looked at religion from a political perspective. As long as religious believers caused no political trouble,
Elizabeth's government would not look too closely at their beliefs.
Radical preachers were driven out of the Church of England.
James I came to England from Scotland, where the Presbyterian Church, or
Kirk, based on the teachings of John Calvin as brought to that country by John
Knox, had become the established church. Scottish
Presbyterians shared many beliefs with the English Puritans.
When James I first became King of England, many Puritans hoped that the
new king would favor the presbyterian form of church organization based on
synods. James, who had been raised
by Presbyterian teachers, had come to see the Scottish kirk as a source of
rebellion. He much preferred the
Anglican church which supported royal authority.
He told the English Puritans that Presbyterianism "agreeth as well
with monarchy as God with a devil." His
final summation was "no bishop, no king."
He flatly rejected the Puritan demands.
During his kingship, he even imposed a modified episcopal structure on
the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
But James, despite his fiery rhetoric, had in practice been quite
amenable to Puritan demands. James had allowed the publication of an English-language
Bible, which bears his name, the King James version of the Bible.
Calvinist sympathizers were appointed as bishops and a considerable
diversity of religious belief was tolerated within the Church.
"Except for a tiny radical minority his Protestant subjects never
regarded James as being "soft" on religion.
He was viewed as a "godly prince," having achieved a far
greater breadth of consensus than Elizabeth, and throughout his reign, Puritan
religious agitation remained minimal."
Lacey Baldwain Smith, This Realm of England:
1399 - 1699, 5th Edition
D.C. Heath & Co., 1988), p. 216.
Charles, on the other hand, not only used the divine right of kings
rhetoric of his father, but acted on it. We
have seen that he enthusiastically embraced a Spanish alliance and wanted to
cement it by marrying the Spanish infanta.
The war with Spain, in his eyes, resulted solely from the insult of his
rejection. It was not based on
policy considerations. Charles, on
the rebound, ended up marrying the Catholic Henrietta Maria of France.
The marriage agreement allowed his Queen to maintain her own private,
Catholic chapel at court. This
marriage caused deep suspicions in Puritans that the king might grant toleration
to Catholics and that he might want
to restore the ties to Rome.
It is difficult today to understand the fear and hatred which Catholicism
inspired in all Protestants, not only Puritans, in the seventeenth century. (See
Smith, pp. 239 - 240). Modern
estimates hold that "no more than 1.5 percent of the population professed
Catholicism in the seventeenth century" in England, although as many as
twenty percent of the peerage, the ruling elite of the country, may have
maintained the old faith in their manor houses. (Smith, p. 230).
The fact that Charles had married a Catholic wife, gave Catholics
important governmental jobs; the fact that he aligned himself with Catholic
nations and favored Catholic doctrines on free will over Calvinistic
predestination (Arminianism), scared Protestants.
They felt that Charles "was playing with fire and had to be stopped
before the entire kingdom died in a holocaust of religious war." (Smith, p.
There is no question that the theory of divine right, absolute monarchy
entails creation of a single, established church practicing a single ceremonial
and teaching a single religious belief system.
As King James I had succinctly put it:
"no bishop, no king." The
logic of this position is that there is only one religious authority.
If this is true, then the Roman Pope has the strongest claim to that
position. All religious dissent and
all religious practices contrary to the one true religion must be wiped out.
All Protestants, in varying degrees, take issue with the above.
They all challenged the position of the Pope and the role of papal
authority within the Church. Henry
VIII might have wanted simply to replace his authority for that of the Pope's,
but even he disrupted the traditional hierarchical relationship between Church
and State. Henry's break with Rome
was only conceivable because Martin Luther had already challenged the Church's
theology. Even Anglicans are
The ideas of Luther and John Calvin came to influence many Englishmen.
This is not the place to discuss the theological differences between
Catholicism and the various forms of Protestantism.
Let it suffice to say that the reformers challenged the hierarchical
organization of the Church and the role of authority within the Church.
They also rejected the Catholic position on the Mass and the role of the
priest. They held that God spoke
directly to the individual believer through the Bible.
A protestant minister does not have the same religious authority as a
priest or bishop. The Church is not
"mater et magistra" (Mother and Teacher) but a community of individual
believers, each seeking his own salvation in Christ.
There is an implicit individualism and anti-authoritarianism within the
Protestant churches. This anti-authoritarianism and individualism are precisely
what Charles I feared. The logic of
the Calvinistic Protestants could not be reconciled with absolute, monarchial
government. Charles' determination
to wipe out dissent and to assure religious conformity produced the Revolution
Of all the Protestant denominations, the Church of England was the most traditional. It retained most Catholic beliefs except that of the role of the pope within the Church. But within an Episcopal framework, it could accept a broad range of beliefs including those influenced by Martin Luther or John Calvin. It was, in effect, a compromise. James I had hit the religious nail on the head: an
Episcopal structure with broad latitude of beliefs and practices.
Charles' assertion of discipline, absolute obedience, and uniformity of
belief threatened this broad compromise.
Those who wanted a much more radical transformation of the Christian
Church sought to purify the Church of England from its remaining popish
influences. Hence they were called
Puritans. Even more radical
protestants dissented from the very idea of an established church.
State and church should be totally separated.
Religion was a private matter of no concern to the state. These believers were called Dissenters.
Charles policies of religious uniformity threatened the compromise
consensus within England. The more radical Protestants, the Puritans and Presbyterians,
led the fight against the king. The
result was a Civil War, a Puritan Commonwealth, and ultimately a renewed
compromise agreement called the Glorious Revolution.
Free men and women simply will not have their consciences dictated by
authority. The current struggle on
abortion duplicates elements between this ancient war between moral authority
versus individual free choice.
5. PETITION OF RIGHTS, 1628
The kings collection of money without Parliamentary approval and the
collection of a forced loan united men of property in both the House of Commons
and the House of Lords against the king. Arrests
of the king's opponents without trial further embittered relationships.
Parliament responded to the king's actions with its own unprecedented
claims. The Petition of Rights was
drafted in 1628 and forced on a reluctant king. Each parliament convened by the king was rapidly dissolved by
him. A real constitutional crisis
had erupted. In 1629, Charles
dissolved his Third Parliament and proceeded to rule on his own authority.
6. PERSONAL RULE BY THE
KING, 1629 - 1640
For the next eleven years, he managed to do so.
The key to his success was in reducing his expenditures.
Of these, ending the wars with Spain and France were most crucial.
He did so by quitting the wars and negotiating a peace in 1630.
As with James I, the kingdom could manage on the kings non-parliamentary
income as long as it remained at peace.
But Charles was not content to enjoy the privileges of being King and to
indulge himself with his favorites, he wanted to stamp his brand of absolutism
on his realm. He was offended by
the religious diversity within his kingdoms.
In 1633, he appointed William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Laud "became the king's chief adviser, using his positions on the
Privy Council, the Star Chamber, and the Court of High Commission to enforce a
policy of "Thorough" on both church and state." (Smith, p. 230)
The policy of "Thorough" included the effort "to maintain
uniformity of faith and politics throughout the kingdom." (Smith, p. 230).
Archbishop Laud sought to enforce high church Anglicanism on all of the
kingdom of England. 20,000 Puritans left their country between 1617 and 1640.
Their emigration was a symptom of the persecution faced at home.
The majority of the Puritans did not have the money to emigrate. In desperation they became willing gradually to challenge the
authority of the king by force if necessary.
Charles carried the logic of his beliefs too far.
(Smith, p. 234)
When Charles and his archbishop extended their religious policies to
Scotland, they overextended themselves. Charles'
belief that one kingdom required a single church and that since he was king of
both England and Scotland, the Scots, too, should abide by the Anglican Book of
Common Prayer, while logically sound, was political suicide.
The Scots had their own distinct Presbyterian Kirk, which was Calvinist,
and they would not be meddled with. Laud
attempted to force Anglicanism on Scotland in 1637.
The result was rebellion that led to war.
But war requires an army and an army costs money, more money than the
king could raise through non-parliamentary methods.
By June 1639 even Charles realized he could not win against the enraged
Scots and began peace negotiations. He
also convoked what has come to be called the Short Parliament for April 1640,
hoping that English patriotism would rally around his policies.
7. THE RECONVENING AND
VICTORY OF PARLIAMENT : Short Parliament, 1640, and the Long Parliament,
1640 - 1653
: Short Parliament, 1640, and the Long Parliament, 1640 - 1653
Eleven years of personal rule came to an end.
But the same grievances held by Parliament which led to its dismissal in
the first place in 1629 were present in even stronger form after eleven years of
tyrannical rule. Many Puritans were
members of Parliament. They had
more sympathy for the Scottish rebellion than for the king.
Parliament under the leadership of John Pym gave him a two hour speech on
the evils of his governments, a list of demands on how to reform the country,
and not a penny for the war. In
anger, Charles dissolved the Short Parliament.
Charles was then able to scrape up another army in July, renewed the war
against the Scots, and was totally crushed "when a victorious Scottish
Presbyterian army invaded England and routed Charles troops in August of
1640". (Smith, p. 237). The
Scottish army demanded 850 pounds per day as occupation costs until a peace
settlement could be made. The king
had no money to pay and was forced to convene what came to be called the Long
Parliament in November 1640.
The Long Parliament "lasted twelve years and six months, passed from
reform into revolution, usurped the authority of the throne, and in the end
sanctioned the execution of the
king." (Smith, p. 236) By the
end of August 1641, Parliament had won a complete constitutional victory over
the king. It had passed the Triennial Act of May 1641 whereby
Parliament had to be convened every three years even without the consent of the
king. It enacted a rule that
Parliament could not be dismissed without its won consent.
Tunnage and poundage were forbidden unless passed by Parliament.
All extra-parliamentary taxation was declared illegal.
The power of the purse was put squarely in the hands of Parliament.
The prerogative Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were
abolished. Only common law courts
were legal. And finally, the king's
chief councilors, Thomas Wentworth and Archbishop Laud, were attainted for
treason and sentenced to death. The
king had no choice but to accept.
If the reform
could have been stabilized, the turmoil which followed would have been avoided. But great transformations in history have a momentum of their
own. The Parliamentary victors did
not trust the king to accept these dramatic changes, were afraid of the revenge
he might take if ever given a chance, and harbored a great fear that Catholicism
might yet be restored somehow.
REBELLION IN IRELAND
1641, rebellion broke out in Ireland. (Smith, p. 240).
Ireland had been partially conquered by the Anglo-Normans as early as
1172 under Henry II. The Irish were
treated as a conquered people and frequently rebelled against their feudal
English overlords. Before the
Reformation, separate Catholic monasteries and churches existed for the Celtic
Irish on the one hand and the English and Scottish
settlers on the other.
beginning of Henry VIII's rule, only a small Pale surrounding Dublin was under
English control. Henry VIII
succeeded in reasserting his title of king over Ireland, but the real
of Ireland took place under Elizabeth, who put down several serious rebellions. James I implemented a systematic policy of colonizing Ulster
with Scottish Presbyterians. Irish
land rights were abrogated and the land given to the colonists.
There was also a determined policy to protestantize the country.
always been England's first and worst-treated colony.
The English and the Celtic Irish had never mixed.
The Irish formed an oppressed, rural majority and were run as a feudal
fiefdom by the English. The Celtic
Irish never accepted or adopted English Protestantism and remained faithful to
their Irish Catholic Church. The
weakened position of King Charles I, following a long period of oppression and
religious intolerance, set the stage for insurrection.
rebellion of 1641 required a military response.
But war had always been a royal prerogative.
Parliament, however, did not trust Charles to use an army authorized by
Parliament to put down the Irish. He
might use that army against his own rebellious Presbyterians and Puritans.
This fear led Parliament to make new laws which would have stripped the
king of military authority and control over his own ministers.
These new Parliamentary actions split the near universal consensus which
had existed at the beginning of the Long Parliament.
THE GRAND REMONSTRANCE
the fall and early winter of 1641, Lords and Commons were swept along by the
revolutionary spirit. In September,
the lower house voted favorably on a "Root and Branch Bill" abolishing
the episcopacy; and it began a highly critical debate on the nature of the
Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Two
months later came the Grand Remonstrance, cataloguing the king's sins since the
first day of his succession, describing the deplorable state of the realm, and
listing the many reforms still required. Finally
in February of 1642, Parliament delivered the ultimate insult to the king's
sovereignty and stripped Charles of the last vestiges of his ancient rights by
enacting the Militia Bill, which placed all naval and military appointments
under parliamentary inspection. In
March both houses declared that the statute had the force of law even if the
king withheld his signature." (Smith,
enactments were the work of a small legislative majority led by the Puritan
contingent within Parliament. The
Grand Remonstrance passed the Commons by only eleven votes.
The Militia bill passed by only 23 votes.
The decision to abolish the episcopacy, talk about impeaching the Queen,
and taking appointments for executive officials away from the king alarmed most
larger property owners and the more moderate members of Parliament.
A royal opposition was forming within Parliament
ROUNDHEADS AND CAVALIERS
December of 1641 for the first time the offensive epithets "Roundhead"
and "Cavalier" were heard in the streets of the city--the one a phrase
of denigration for the shorn heads of the London apprentices, the other
synonymous with cavaliero, the brutal
Spanish and Catholic butchers of godly Protestants in Europe."
(Smith, p. 241) Increasingly violence was talked about as an acceptable
method of settling the political disputes.
On January 4,
1642, King Charles I with 400 armed guardsmen marched into Parliament seeking to
arrest its leaders, who had successfully fled the Chamber minutes before
Charles' arrival. After this
failure, Charles moved North to gain more supporters.
"By June the drift toward war had gone so far that Parliament sent
Charles its Nineteen Propositions--ostensibly a basis for settlement, actually a
declaration of war. The
propositions placed the supreme authority of government squarely in Parliament;
they required that all privy councilors and royal advisers be subject to
legislative approval and that judicial, military, and ecclesiastical
appointments be open to parliamentary inspection.
Then followed the creation of the Committee of Safety as a rival
governing agency to the crown, the formation of a parliamentary army, and
finally the declaration, in the summer of 1642, branding Charles the aggressor.
knew his duty. He was determined
that if he could not "live as a king," he would "die as a
gentleman." War was the only
solution, for Charles had announced that he could forgive "no subject of
mine who comes deliberately to shed my blood."
Parliament had shown its wicked design and its intention to destroy the
king, the episcopacy, and the ancient constitution; and in defense of all three,
on August 22, 1642, Charles raised his standard at Nottingham to the shouts of
"God save King Charles and hang up the Roundheads."
Civil war had begun." (Smith,
CIVIL WAR, CROMWELL, AND RESTORATION
Was the English
Civil war from 1642 to 1649 a Revolution? If
judged by its consequences as seen from the perspective of 1660 when the son of
the executed king was restored, then one would have to say no. One would also have to say no in that the Civil War never
became a true social revolution. Cavaliers
and roundheads were both men of property. While
radical ideas like those of the Levellers did develop, they were beaten down.
But from the perspective of the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and its
consequences reaching to our own time, one might be tempted to say yes.
Civil War produced the first regicide in modern history.
Apparently every liberty-loving people must, at some stage of their
history, kill the king. The British
did it, so did the French, and the Russians.
Perhaps some Freudian Oedipus complex is involved.
The paternalism of an absolute authoritarianism must be killed before the
body politic can grow up.
Civil War was revolutionary in that it marked the first successful attempt in
modern history of reversing the trend toward stronger, more centralized
government. The parliamentary forces, the Roundheads, won the military conflict
with the king and the the Cavaliers. Executive
prerogative was checked. The common
law courts triumphed over the prerogative courts.
The power of the purse was placed in the hands of the representatives of
notions of constitutional and democratic government are implicit in the
struggles of the English Civil War because it opened the door toward a more
representative and democratic government in the future.
Both factions in the Civil War represented the propertied classes but the
Roundheads were more commercial and religiously diverse than the Cavaliers.
British history, and world history, would have been profoundly altered if
Charles I had won.
If one looks at the actual history from August 22, 1642 to May 29, 1660, the day Charles II triumphantly entered the City of London, then one can see many parallels to the French Revolution. There is the phase of increasing radicalization leading to the beheading of Charles I on January 30, 1649, the declaration of a Republic on February 6, and growing agitation for social reforms by the Levellers. There is the phase of the Thermidorean reaction, when the radical trend is halted and a new reactionary policy is adopted. A mutiny by three regiments of enlisted men, influenced by the ideas of the Levellers, in May led to the Battle of Burford where the mutiny was brought to an end. In October 1649, censorship was restored over the press. Lacey Baldwin Smith writes: ". . . The Battle of Burford and the return of censorship marked the end of the revolutionary drift toward the left.' (p. 269) There is what we may call the Napoleonic phase or, more appropriately, the Cromwellian phase.
won its civil war with Charles I by creating its own army.
Gradually, the army had produced its own leadership.
Oliver Cromwell (1599 - 1658) emerged as the most successful general of
the Roundheads. His Ironsides
became the core of what has come to be called the New Model Army in 1645.
Oliver Cromwell won the military battles that counted and he gradually
became the most powerful man in England. The
republic changed from the Commonwealth of 1649 to the Protectorate on December
16, 1653, with Oliver Cromwell as the Lord Protector.
A new king, but without the ancient title, had in fact emerged.
as a victorious general. And while
he lived, his person carried respect and authority.
But the test for any military dictatorship is the succession. From the days of Julius Caesar, the problem is to transform
raw military power into legitimacy. When
Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 his position went to his son Richard.
But Richard never had the support of the army in the way that his father
had. Within two years, the
legitimate heir to the Stuart throne was restored.
Cromwell had turned his back on radical revolution at the end of 1649, the
restoration of the monarchy became a distinct possibility.
Why settle for a Lord Protector without historical roots when a real king
was waiting in exile in France. Richard
Cromwell could not match the legitimacy of Charles II.
Men of property were better served by a restored king than by the upstart
son of a successful general. The
king could return as long as he respected the newly asserted rights of
It should be
noted that the English Civil War was not a picnic.
More than 100,000 men died during the various battles.
It involved war not only in England but also in Scotland and Ireland.
(Smith, p. 263) Oliver
Cromwell had to reconquer both Scotland and Ireland when their leaders intrigued
with the Stuarts, father and son, against the English Parliament and its New
Model Army. The Irish rebellion was
brutally put down by Cromwell; Scotland was treated more leniently.
college students have a profound misconception of the Puritans.
They know that the Puritans settled in New England, particularly
Massachusetts, and have had a profound influence on American society and
culture. They have been taught that
the Puritans fled from England to escape religious and political persecution and
they believe that the Puritans established religious toleration in America.
It is this last belief which is false.
were religious fanatics who sought to impose their religious views on all
persons living in England. English
Puritans were quite similar in their views to Scottish Presbyterians.
They based themselves on the theology of John Calvin. They were violently anti-Catholic and sought to purify the
Anglican church of its residual Catholic elements. In particular, they objected to the Episcopal form of church
organization, elaborate clerical vestments, and the liturgy of the Anglican
mass. They would become quite
violent on whether the Eucharist entailed trans-substantiation or
believed solely in the Bible as the Word of God.
Four bare walls and a long sermon were their idea of a church.
The believed in the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, which holds
that God is all powerful and has pre-determined who will be saved and who will
be destroyed in eternal damnation. Most
of the Puritan leaders believed themselves to be the Elect of God.
Their mission was to spread the Word of God and Biblical morality to all.
Those who did not agree with their religious views were possessed by the
Devil and needed to be rooted out.
Sin, temptation, the depravity, and the utter insignificance of mankind were strong elements of Puritanism. What we today call Fundamentalist Christians in many ways resemble the Puritans. Puritans were certainly not tolerant of other religions. How can one compromise with the Devil?
In England, the
Puritans or Presbyterians were always a minority.
For some reason, not yet fully explained, Puritanism tended particularly
to appeal to the artisan and commercial classes of England.
The German sociologist Max Weber has written a fascinating study on The
Rise of Capitalism and the Protestant Ethic linking the Calvinist theology
with the capitalistic virtues of hard work, frugality, and re-investment.
From the days of Queen Elizabeth, a significant number of members of
Parliament were Puritans.
to reform the established Church of England.
They saw the Elizabethan religious compromise as a temporary way-station
toward a truly reformed Calvinistic church.
They never accepted that this compromise as a permanent settlement of the
The Puritans were utterly convinced of their own righteousness and were therefore unwilling to compromise their moral convictions. Despite their bigotry and intolerance, their unwillingness to bend to earthy authority has had a positive, individualistic and democratic, effect on modern society. In the name of God, the Puritan would stand his ground against King, Pope, or Bishop. When they could not have their way in England, God's Elect moved to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts there to bring about the New Zion, the New Jerusalem.
NOV 1640 -
NOV 1640 -
LONG PARLIAMENT CONVENED
LIST OF ENGLISH KINGS
HOUSE OF TUDOR
HENRY VII, 1485-1509
HOUSE OF STUART
JAMES I, 1603-1625
English Civil War (1642 - 1649) begins August 22, 1642 and ends
Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector to 1658
Richard Cromwell, his son, as Lord Protector to 1660
Charles II restored May 29, 1660 in London
RESTORED HOUSE OF STUART
CHARLES II, 1660-1685
GLORIOUS REVOLUTION 1688 - 1689
THE PROTESTANT STUARTS THROUGH THE FEMALE LINE
WILLIAM III AND MARY II, 1689-1694
HOUSE OF HANOVER
GEORGE I, 1714-1727
British Prime Ministers