HIST 251: Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts
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Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts
HIST 251 - Lecture 22 - An Unsettled Settlement: The Restoration Era, 1660-1688
Chapter 1. Restoration: Convention Parliament [00:00:00]
Professor Keith Wrightson: Okay. Courtney has just pointed out that today is November 17th, the significance of which had evaded me, but it’s the accession day of Elizabeth I, [laughter] which would have been greeted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with bell ringing and so forth. It’s no longer kept as a national holiday but it used to be. Okay, but today we have other business, the Restoration and the run-up to the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688.
So to start, the Restoration of May 1660 clearly represented a fresh start for the monarchy in England. But it was a fresh start that has to be understood against the background of past events which could not be forgotten even though people tried hard not to talk about them. The constitutional crisis of 1640 had of course arisen from a functional breakdown in the relationship between the crown and the political nation; a breakdown traceable ultimately to their loss of confidence in the purposes of royal government and the fear, in particular, that royal policy was favoring “popery and arbitrary power.” Initially, that crisis of 1640 to ‘41 had led to the successful efforts of the Long Parliament to reverse the trend in royal policy and to put limits on the King for the future.
A civil war of course had to be fought to try to preserve those gains, and in the course of the war further dimensions of the situation emerged, notably the demand for “liberty of conscience.” So, in all of that, as I described last week, the one political moment which might have produced a broadly acceptable settlement had been in 1647 when Cromwell and Ireton offered Charles the Heads of the Proposals as the basis for a settlement. But as you know, that moment was lost with disastrous consequences for the King.
Well, the Restoration has to be seen in this context of well-remembered events. It was intended to restore the situation to what it had been in 1641 after the reforming statutes of the Long Parliament, with the addition of the granting of some liberty of conscience to Protestant dissenters, which Charles II had promised in his Declaration of Breda. And if this had happened it might indeed have provided a lasting settlement — but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.
The architect of the Restoration settlement was Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, Charles II’s chief minister at the beginning of his reign; a man who’d served his father and advised the young King throughout his period of exile. Now Clarendon was very much a constitutional royalist. His essential idea was a return to the constitutional situation of 1641 including the reforms, which he had supported at the time before the outbreak of war, with just some modifications where necessary.
In the Convention Parliament which began the Restoration in 1660, all of the acts of parliament which had been signed by Charles I before the outbreak of war were confirmed. That included all the reforms and it included the Triennial Act laying down that a parliament should meet at least every three years. In addition, royal land which had been confiscated during the Republic was restored to it, church land which had been confiscated was restored to the Church of England, an indemnity was granted to the army for all acts committed during the war, they were paid, and they were disbanded except for a number of guard’s regiments which were kept in London about the King. In addition, Parliament passed a general Act of Indemnity and Oblivion to cover both sides during the war, excepting from it only the surviving regicides. Eleven of those who had signed Charles’ death warrant were executed and, as you know, the corpses of Cromwell and Ireton were dug up and desecrated.
Chapter 2. Cavalier Parliament [00:04:42]
Okay; so far, so good. But the so-called Cavalier Parliament, which was elected in 1661 to replace the Convention Parliament, continued the process of the Restoration in a manner which turned out to be far more generous to the crown and far more vindictive to the crown’s former opponents. All military authority was vested in the King. The crown was granted a regular income of over a million pounds a year from the customs and a new tax, the Hearth Tax. In 1662, a Licensing Act re-imposed control of the press which had been free for the previous twenty years, and above all two further steps were taken. First of all, the Triennial Act was weakened. It was altered to lay down that the parliamentary sessions should take place at least once every three years, but there were no mandatory new elections as had originally been intended. In other words, this gave the King the opportunity to prolong an existing parliament which was to his taste by simply proroguing it and then having it reassemble at least once every three years; and Charles took advantage of that opportunity. The Cavalier Parliament, very favorable to the King, elected in 1661, was in fact continued without new elections until 1668 [correction 1678].
A second major change was that the Cavalier Parliament showed no willingness to grant liberty of conscience to dissenters as had been promised. In 1662, the Church of England was reestablished, the prayer book was reintroduced — very little altered — an Act of Uniformity was imposed on the whole kingdom. All clergy were required to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity or to be deprived of their livings. As a result, hundreds who couldn’t in conscience subscribe, were deprived. And a number of additional acts were introduced against dissenters between 1661 and 1665. They were banned from holding office in any urban corporation. In 1664, they were banned from holding religious services. Only services of the Church of England were permitted. A year later the Five Mile Act banned dissenting clergymen from living within five miles of any corporate city; places where traditionally they had had a good deal of strength.
Now this was not what Charles II wanted, it wasn’t what the Earl of Clarendon wanted, but they accepted it. As a result, a large minority of the population were forced in to the position of being either active or potential dissidents in matters of religion. Surveys that have been done suggest that Protestant dissenters made up about ten percent of the entire population, though their strength varied a great deal from area to area. In some parts of the kingdom they were very thin on the ground, the county of Shropshire, for example, on the Welsh border, a survey done in 1672 reveals very few of them. On the other hand, in the town of Colchester in Essex on the east coast, it’s thought that as much as a third of the population were dissenters, many of them Quakers. And then, if we turn to London, London appears to have had about a fifth of its population favoring dissent. A minority, only a fifth, but remember in a city the size of London that meant a hundred thousand people.
So, the Restoration had restored too much. It had gone back too far. It restored not only the consensual constitutional position of 1641, but also some of the tensions and some of the stresses of the 1640s, and it had weakened the position of parliament in one important respect, by modifying the Triennial Act.
Chapter 3. Charles II [00:09:10]
Well, obviously enough religious dissenters had good reason to be very quickly disappointed and disillusioned with the Restoration settlement, but more broadly it took some time before tensions began to re-emerge fully. Charles II was welcomed back as the restorer of order. He was young; he was only thirty. He was tall and handsome. He was a man who was energetic only in his sports and his pleasures. The fact that he has had many mistresses is very well known. He managed to father thirteen illegitimate children, all of whom were given the surname Fitzroy, “son of the king” — Fitzrovia in the west end of London is named after one of them — but he never managed to have a legitimate heir. He was happy to be king though. He played the part well. He was intelligent. He was shrewd. He was affable. He swanned around St. James’ Park with his spaniels and his mistresses. He attended meetings of the Royal Society. He showed his courage during the great fire of London in 1666 when he joined in the firefighting. He knew he looked good in a wet shirt. [Laughter]
But despite all of these qualities Charles had no particular political vision or strategy, and perhaps that was just as well. He knew that beneath the public celebrations of his restoration the Restoration had been, and in a very real sense remained, essentially conditional, and he had no desire, as he put it himself, “to go on my travels again.” He was happy to be back. Nevertheless, if he had no particular vision, he did have his preferences and from time to time they got him into trouble. Principal amongst them were first of all his admiration for the monarchy of his cousin, King Louis XIV of France, the so-called Sun King, the absolute monarch of Europe’s emergent great power and the very model of monarchical magnificence, displayed in his palace at Versailles. Secondly, there was Charles’ sympathy, to put it no stronger, for Roman Catholicism, the religion of his mother, as a religion which he regarded as more suitable to monarchy. And these preferences led him into interconnected initiatives in foreign policy and in matters of religion which were potentially alienating to some of his subjects; far more alienating than his raffish court or his personal debauchery.
In 1665 to ‘7, England fought a brief and unsuccessful naval war with the Dutch, the Second Dutch War, triggered off by commercial rivalry. It was a deeply humiliating episode and especially so since everyone remembered very well Oliver Cromwell’s military strength and the triumph in the First Dutch War in the 1650s. Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Navy at this time, confided to his diary repeatedly his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the war had been conducted; his dissatisfaction with the way in which the King and his council would not attend to business as had been done under the previous regime.
As a result of the failures of the Second Dutch War, the Earl of Clarendon was sacrificed as a scapegoat and he was replaced with a ministry which is known as the Cabal after the initial letters of the principal ministers: Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley Cooper, and Lauderdale. In 1670, under the Cabal ministry Charles concluded the Treaty of Dover with France. In it he agreed to ally with France in any future war against the Dutch. It was not popular with those in the kingdom who saw France as the truly rising threat of the 1660s, potentially a new Spain aiming at European dominance; people who also saw the Dutch as the principal opponents of that French hegemony. And the treaty would have been even less popular if people had known that it contained two secret clauses. First of all, Charles had agreed secretly that at an appropriate moment he would suspend the penal laws against Roman Catholics. Secondly, he had agreed with Louis that he would himself convert to Catholicism at a propitious moment. In return for this he received, again in secret, a quarter of a million pounds a year pension from France.
Well, in the aftermath of the Treaty of Dover, in 1672 Louis XIV declared war on the Netherlands and invaded. Charles issued a Declaration of Indulgence in which he used his power as supreme head of the church to suspend the penal laws against both Protestant dissenters and Roman Catholics, and indeed he allowed dissenters to publicly worship in licensed meeting houses. Two days later England also declared war on the Dutch, the beginning of the Third Dutch War. This war proved again to be very unpopular, notably because it was highly unsuccessful militarily and there was a growing sympathy amongst the political public with the plucky Dutch and their young leader, William of Orange, standing up against the French.
The Declaration of Indulgence with its granting of a degree of religious liberty to those other than members of the Church of England was even more unpopular with the Anglican-dominated Cavalier Parliament. It met again in 1673 for a new session and almost immediately attacked the Declaration of Indulgence, declaring that “penal statutes in matters ecclesiastical cannot be suspended but by an act of parliament” and that the suspending power which the King had used was innovatory. “No such power,” said the House of Commons, “was ever claimed or executed by his predecessors;.
Faced with this kind of opposition from people who had previously been his strongest supporters, Charles backed down. He showed his characteristic unwillingness to push his own preferences beyond the bounds of political expediency. The Declaration of Indulgence was withdrawn and under the threat of withholding supply for the war effort he agreed to the passage by parliament of the Test Act. The Test Act was an act laying down that all officers of the crown must swear the oath of supremacy and allegiance and take a declaration against the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and take communion in the Church of England; so it was a test of Anglican religious conformity. Prominent amongst its early victims were first of all Lord Clifford, one of Charles’ chief ministers who was a secret Catholic, and secondly, and even more importantly, James, Duke of York, Charles’ younger brother who at this point was, of course, also the heir to the throne since Charles and his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, had had no children.
James had declared in 1673, most un-propitiously, his conversion to Catholicism. Under the Test Act he was excluded from high office. Well, this debacle led to the collapse of the Cabal ministry and the appointment of a new chief minister, Thomas Osborne, the Earl of Danby, who was fiercely Anglican — that satisfied the Cavalier Parliament — and who was also, as it happened, pro-Dutch. But Charles was still secretly getting a pension from the French in return for keeping parliament out of session as much as possible. In 1677, when he had to call it again, it met and tried to make the voting of further taxes conditional upon Charles joining the Dutch-led alliance against France. And at this point the King resisted successfully, arguing that if he allowed parliament to prescribe his foreign policy “it is plain that no prince or state in Europe would any longer believe that the sovereignty of England rests in the crown.”
So Charles took a stand on that point, but Danby nonetheless succeeded in building at least one bridge with the Dutch when, in 1677, he was able to arrange the marriage of Mary, the daughter of James by an earlier marriage, Charles’ niece and a Protestant by upbringing. Her marriage was arranged to William of Orange, an event which was to prove to be of profound future significance. So, at this point Charles, like his shrewd grandfather, James I, had proved himself flexible enough to avoid provoking political crisis. He knew when to give way as well as when to stand. But by the late 1670s anxieties were growing about the threat of ‘popery and arbitrary power’ at home as well as abroad.
It was made worse in 1674 when the Duke of York, now a declared — an openly declared — Catholic, married the Catholic princess Mary of Modena, which posed the risk that there might be the birth of a future heir to the throne who would be brought up as a Roman Catholic. There was also a growing sense of distance between the court and the country and a growing suspicion of the King’s intentions. It was in 1677 that Andrew Marvell, best known today as a poet but at that time member of parliament for the town of Hull in Yorkshire, published, without putting his name on it, “An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Power” in which he argued in his pamphlet that he could discern a plot to introduce what we — what he — described as “absolute tyranny,” “French slavery,” and “Popish Idolatry.” These were the fears that were circulating amongst Charles’ opponents in parliament.
Chapter 4. The Exclusion Crisis [00:20:38]
Clearly, we’ve been here before. The highly combustible elements of seventeenth-century English political paranoia were being mixed again, and the spark which was needed to cause a near explosion was provided in the autumn of 1678 when one Titus Oates laid allegations of a Jesuit plot to murder King Charles in order to hasten the succession of his brother, James, to the throne. This was the beginning of the so-called Popish Plot affair. That Titus Oates’ wild allegations were seriously listened to by parliament and by the political public in general can be explained only by the pre-existing atmosphere of suspicion which had been building up in the 1670s. But the allegations soon acquired greater credibility. Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, the London magistrate who had taken Oates’ allegations, was found murdered. Then a search of the house of Prince James’ former secretary, Edward Coleman, revealed real correspondence between the Duke of York’s secretary and Jesuits. Then there was the revelation in December 1678 in parliament, by an aggrieved former ambassador, of the secret clauses of the Treaty of Dover of 1670, which caused uproar. Parliament attempted to impeach the Earl of Danby for his share of responsibility for royal policy and Charles was forced at last to dissolve the Cavalier Parliament in January 1679. The Popish Plot precipitated what Jonathan Scott has described as the second great “crisis of popery and arbitrary power”; the Exclusion Crisis as it’s called, running from 1679 to 1681: Exclusion Crisis because it involved attempts by parliament to exclude James, Duke of York, heir to the throne, from the succession.
The first Exclusion Parliament met between March and May 1679. Elections to this new parliament, the first elections held since 1661, took place in an atmosphere of tremendous political excitement. When it met the Earl of Danby was sent to the Tower of London where he remained for the next five years. Parliament then proposed a bill to exclude James, Duke of York, from the succession and persisted in demanding this despite King Charles’ offer that he would have limits put upon the powers of appointment of any future Catholic king. He was willing to give way to some degree. Beyond that, however, Charles was ready to resist. Defending the legitimate succession to the throne was one issue that he would fight for. Parliament was dissolved and James was sent off to Scotland to keep him out of harm’s way.
This crisis now unleashed political agitation and popular involvement in politics of a kind which really hadn’t been seen since the 1640s. There was tremendous debate over the exclusion issue in the coffeehouses and taverns of London and the other major cities; this debate fueled by an outbreak of pamphleteering which was possible because the Licensing Act controlling the press had actually expired in 1679 and parliament had been dissolved before it had time to renew it. Temporarily, the press was free again. Mass demonstrations took place in London calling for a new parliament. These street demonstrations were orchestrated by a former member of Charles’ government, the Earl of Shaftesbury, and his friends in the so-called Green Ribbon Club, but they also demonstrated genuine popular concern. There was a real basis of popular concern which Shaftesbury and his friends successfully mobilized.
But the agitation wasn’t all one way. As the crisis deepened, the emergence of two new terms in politics took place, Whigs and Tories, terms which were adopted to describe different political positions both inside and outside parliament over the issue of exclusion. The so-called Whigs specialized in mounting processions through London at which — which tended to culminate in the burning of effigies of the pope. They placed great emphasis upon the threat of popery. They placed a great deal of emphasis also on the threat of arbitrary power. They talked a lot about the need to defend England’s religion, liberties and property, and called for a new parliament which alone could save the day, in their view. The Tories on the other hand placed their confidence in the King. They branded the Whigs as being predominantly dissenters in sympathy religiously, as closet Presbyterians, as fomenters of insurrection against the King, as secret Republicans, as a threat to the Church of England and to England’s true liberties. They repeatedly played upon the threat of a new 1641, a new slide into civil war. Behind these insulting labels Whig and Tory, then, lay emerging political alignments rooted in differences of political principle, and these divisions, as I’ve said, were to be found not only amongst members of parliament but also permeated deeply down through society beyond the political elite to the middle sort of people, those who supported the demonstrations of one side or another.
Okay. Well, this fevered atmosphere in the late 1670s and early 1680s provided the background to the parliamentary politics of those years. In October 1680, another new parliament met. This one’s usually known as the Second Exclusion Parliament. Again the House of Commons declared that it would grant supply of money to the crown only in return for a new exclusion bill. Charles promptly dissolved it in January 1681 and called for yet another parliament this time to meet not in London but in the friendly city of Oxford, two months later. The King was clearly playing for time.
In March 1681, the Oxford Parliament met, again in an atmosphere of tremendous public agitation. It was in the course of the Oxford parliament that the incident took place in which the King’s mistress, Nell Gwyn, the actress, proceeding to Oxford in her coach in order to join the King, found herself surrounded by an angry mob who thought she was the Duchess of Portsmouth, another of Charles’ mistresses who happened to be a Catholic. Nell Gwyn was able to get the crowd to leave her alone by opening the door, showing herself and crying, “Be still, good people. I am the Protestant whore.” [Laughter]
Meanwhile, in Oxford, the House of Commons still demanded the exclusion of James, Duke of York, from the succession. Charles roundly declared that he would not have it and he dissolved them again. So what next? Charles couldn’t face another parliament, but he decided to call the Whigs’ bluff and to brazen it out in the absence of a sitting parliament. He trusted in the possibility that he might be able to rally support in the political nation at large, largely by appealing to Tory sympathizers and partly by playing on the widespread fears that if this agitation continued it might lead to another breakdown; another ‘41.
In April of 1681, he issued a studiously moderate declaration of his position and ordered that it should be read out from the pulpit of every parish church in England; and so it was. In his declaration the King explained the basis of his principled conduct in defending the legitimate succession to the throne. He revived memories of the breakdown in to civil war and how that war had led to the abolition of the Church of England, to military rulership and the subjugation of English liberties and threats to property.
And it worked. No parliament was sitting to focus opposition to the King. Agitation was gradually dying down and Charles pressed his advantage hard. Titus Oates was arrested and tried for perjury, found guilty, his allegations declared false, and he was punished in the pillory. The Earl of Shaftesbury, leader of the Whigs, was indicted for treason. He fled abroad where he shortly died. Charles then began a systematic program of calling in and remodeling the charters of England’s cities as a means of purging the corporations which supported Whigs in national politics and thereby rendering the cities which elected members of parliament more politically controllable. Between 1681 and 1685, fifty-one cities had their charters remodeled in this way to make them more politically manipulable; forty-seven more were still in the pipeline in 1685. Charles also permitted the intensified prosecution of dissenters in order to satisfy Anglican prejudices and to cow the dissenters themselves. The Quakers suffered especially severely during the persecutions of the early 1680s.
In 1683, with the discovery of an alleged plot against the king, the Rye House Plot, Whig radicals were arrested and two leading Whig leaders, Lord Russell and Algernon Sidney, were brought to trial, found guilty and executed. Finally, in 1684 Charles further consolidated his position by defying the Triennial Act. Under the Triennial Act he should have called a new parliament that year. He didn’t. So, Charles II had faced the crisis of his reign at last, proven himself when stirred to be politically pretty astute, and he had won. In February 1685, when the King was suddenly incapacitated by a stroke and then died after a short illness, he had never been stronger. And it was on his death bed that at last he found the propitious moment he had been waiting for and converted to Catholicism.
Chapter 5. James II [00:33:02]
Well, Charles had won by gambling that in the absence of a sitting parliament which could focus opposition, no one could face the prospect of armed rebellion against him; no one could face a renewal of civil war. He had consolidated his position by appealing to the fears and the prejudices of the Tory-Anglican majority amongst the political nation at large, and he had demonstrated that a Protestant authoritarianism was not necessarily unacceptable to those people. It’s interesting indeed to speculate as to whether if James II, Charles’ successor, had continued to build up an enhanced royal power on that basis, whether England might have become a Protestant absolutist state like Sweden or Denmark. Not impossible, but we’ll never know, because if Charles II had had a lot in common with his grandfather, James I, James II proved to be rather closer in temperament to his father, Charles I. In a sense he was a better man morally than his brother Charles, but he also suffered far too much from energy, coupled with a catastrophic lack of political judgment. James couldn’t leave well alone.
Initially, his position was very strong. His first parliament was Tory dominated and it was willing to trust him despite his Roman Catholicism. Parliament was generous to him indeed in its financial grants. And then in the summer of 1685 when Charles II’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, landed in the west of England, raised a small army and claimed to be the legitimate heir to the throne, parliament quickly granted James the resources for more troops to head west and crush the rebellion swiftly. And yet, despite this strength in the first year of his reign, in less than three years James managed to undermine his own position with a quite staggering comprehensiveness.
The problem was, of course, James’ religion. It need not have been a problem, but he made it one. He was a deeply sincere Catholic with all of the zeal of a convert. He probably didn’t intend to impose his religion coercively upon the nation, but he was certainly determined to remove the disabilities of his co-religionists and to promote their interests, and he doubtless hoped that with more widespread conversions to Catholicism eventually the nation would move back gradually in a Catholic direction. These were not ignoble aims from James’ point of view, but of course in the conditions of late seventeenth-century England they constituted gross political folly, especially in the 1680s at a time when King Louis XIV of France had recently revoked the toleration previously granted under Richelieu to French Protestants and England was receiving thousands of Protestant refugees from Louis’ brutal persecutions in France.
What James needed if he was to proceed with his intentions was to get the Test Acts repealed. Parliament clearly was not willing to grant that, so James turned instead to his use of his prerogative powers and in particular to his ‘dispensing power’. Theoretically, the king was permitted to dispense particular individuals from the penalties of the law in special cases where rigid enforcement of the letter of the law might result in an injustice. This prerogative power, however, did not extend to authorizing acts which were contrary to the law pure and simple. It was meant for occasional use in special cases. James’ use of the dispensing power showed a lack of respect for that distinction in the law and was deeply provocative.
Indeed, the manner in which it was used was so provocative as to be almost farcical in retrospect. One almost imagines that James and his cabinet were meeting every morning and asking themselves, “what can we do today which will really upset people?” [Laughter] Let’s have some Catholics in the privy council; four of them. Okay. Great. How about making your Jesuit confessor a member of the cabinet? Sweet. [Laughter] Let’s make 250 Catholics justices of the peace in the counties and displace their Protestant predecessors. Wonderful idea. Let’s appoint Catholic officers in the militia and the army. Let’s appoint a Catholic Lord Deputy of Ireland and allow him to re-catholicize the army there. Let’s make an Oxford College a Catholic seminary. Wonderful ideas; and he did it all.
Now James was not so stupid as not to realize that this policy would be deeply alienating to Anglican support, but he thought that he could counterbalance that by wooing support amongst Protestant dissenters. In April 1687, he himself issued a Declaration of Indulgence, like his brother, suspending the penal laws against both dissenters and Roman Catholics. In sum then, the king’s dispensing power was being exercised with a freedom that was clearly turning it into an illegal suspension of the law, the very thing which parliament had declared against in 1673. And James appeared to be forcing his base of support, his natural allies amongst Tories and staunch Anglicans, he was forcing them to choose between their loyalty to their church and their loyalty to the King.
To make matters worse, in 1687 James embarked upon what appeared to be a blatant attempt to pack a future parliament for the purpose of securing the repeal of the Test Acts. All justices of peace in the counties and members of urban corporations for parliamentary constituencies were asked by the King to answer three questions relating to whether or not they would support repeal of the Test Acts in a new parliament, whether or not they would vote for those who would support such a repeal if they were elected to parliament, and whether they would support the new Declaration of Indulgence.
James could hardly have signaled his intentions more clearly, and by doing so he occasioned widespread alarm, not just among Anglicans but also amongst the majority of the dissenters whom he had been trying to woo. They were not disposed to trust the King’s good intentions. At this point anxieties was perhaps only contained by expectations that this situation might not last too long. King James was now fifty-five years old, quite a good age for the time. He still had no son. His eldest daughter, Mary, his heir, was a Protestant and was married to William of Orange in the Netherlands. If the King were to die soon, then they would surely succeed and it might well be the case that toleration would be achieved for Protestant dissenters without empowering Roman Catholics in the way James was doing. That may have been many people’s hope, but in the winter of 1687 and the spring of 1688 two precipitants transformed the situation.
First of all, in November 1687, it became known that Queen Mary was pregnant and that the pregnancy was going well. James might then have a Catholic heir if a son was born. Secondly, in April 1688 James ordered his Declaration of Indulgence to be read out in all Anglican churches. Seven bishops of the Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, petitioned against this action. In reply they were indicted and tried for sedition. The case of the Seven Bishops turned on the legality of the use of the dispensing power by the King and when it was heard they were acquitted, to widespread public rejoicing. And then, in June 1688 Queen Mary was delivered of a child, a prince, the young Prince James. Rumors immediately began to circulate that in fact the child was not the King’s child but had been smuggled in to the Queen’s bedchamber secretly in a warming pan in order to give the appearance of the birth of an heir to the throne. People were now so desperate they were willing to believe stories of this kind, or pretend they did.
All of this persuaded seven leading politicians, five of them Whigs, two of them Tories, including the Earl of Danby, Charles’ former chief minister, that it was time to do something. This was the third “crisis of popery and arbitrary power,” and in June 1688 these seven leaders, who later became known as the ‘Immortal Seven’, sent a letter to William of Orange expressing their fear for their liberties, their religion, and their property and inviting him to intervene to secure a free Parliament and to investigate the suspicious circumstances of Prince James’ birth. William had in fact already been anticipating the likelihood of renewed war with France in 1688 and he had made contingency plans for the possible invasion of England if, as he expected, James II supported Louis XIV of France against him.
Louis was indeed ready to support James in such an eventuality, but the autumn of 1688 came and no one expected an invasion later than that because of the prevalence of adverse winds in the English Channel. By September 1688 then, Louis of France considered himself free of that threat and obligation and he moved his troops south in order to invade the Palatinate in south Germany; the first steps in a renewed war. This freed William of Orange from fear of an immediate French attack upon the Netherlands. In October 1688, he issued a declaration that he was coming over in order “to preserve and maintain the established laws, liberties and customs” of England and to investigate the birth of the prince. On the 1st of November, he sailed and was carried down the Channel by what was later known as the “Protestant wind,” a wind blowing unusually in the right direction for his purposes. He was carried down the channel to land at Torbay in the west of England on the 5th of November 1688, a very propitious day.
Faced with this invasion, King James initially joined his army at Salisbury in the West Country but inexplicably lost his nerve and withdrew to London. James was no coward, he’d fought very bravely in his youth, but for some reason he lost his nerve and withdrew. His army’s leaders went over to William and joined him. Risings also began to take place in some provincial cities. The Earl of Danby for example seized York with parties of the Yorkshire gentry. At this point King James sent his family abroad for safety and on the 11th of December himself attempted to flee, throwing the great seal of England into the river Thames before doing so in an effort to paralyze the government which needed the great seal for various acts. James was captured by a fishing boat on his way out of England and returned to London where he was held in custody until the 20th of December when he again escaped, probably by collusion on the part of William’s supporters, who allowed him to escape.
Indeed his escape was vital. What would they have done if James had stayed? They’d have been back in the position of 1648 of negotiations with Charles I. But with James gone the political process could proceed in his absence. He was allowed to escape to France, and on the 24th of December 1688 an assembly of the nobility asked William and Mary to take up the reins of government. The way was prepared for a refashioning of government which was to proceed over the next two decades and which was to transform the British constitution. But I’ll return to that after the break. Next time we need to look at some other developments which were taking place in the late seventeenth century, the extraordinary economic growth of that period. Okay.
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