British History,Monarchs of Great Britain,King Arthur

Narrative History of England
Part 6: From Reformation to Restoration (cont'd.)
by Peter N. Williams, Ph. D.




Republican Government in England (1649-1660)
Charles I sincerely believed that he died in the cause of law and the Church. His death may have been thought of by Cromwell as a political necessity, but it created an atmosphere that was to haunt his own efforts to build a new godly society. When his Parliament, the Rump, abolished the monarchy, on the grounds that it was unnecessary, burdensome and dangerous, and then meted out the same fate to the House of Lords, for being useless as well as dangerous, it was destroying more than a thousand years of English history. Yet for many, even these measures had not gone far enough; the so-called Levellers wanted more, wishing for biennial parliaments with strictly limited powers, a vast increase in the electorate and no established church or doctrine.

The demands of the Levellers put them way ahead of their time. Cromwell was determined to crush them in a show of force. Determined to bring in an era of firm government, he quickly and forcibly suppressed any revolts and attempts at challenging his authority. He also had to deal with the Scots, seething with anger at the execution of their King whom he had promised to preserve and defend by the Solemn League and Covenant of 1644.

Cromwell had come to Edinburgh to receive a hero's welcome, but the news of the unprecedented execution of Charles, a few days later, sent a tidal wave of dismay over much of Scotland. After all, the unfortunate man had been king of their country, too. And regicide was still an act against God. Taking immediate action, Argyll continued the strange alliance of King and Convenanter and had the 18 year-old Prince Charles proclaimed King at Edinburgh.

In 1650, Charles II duly arrived in Scotland to claim his Kingdom. Eventhough, in an opportune "conversion," he had allowed himself to be crowned by the more powerful Presbyterian faction, this was totally unacceptable to Oliver Cromwell, who had assumed the title of Lord Protector. Cromwell invaded Scotland, defeated the Scots under General Leslie at Dunbar and marched on Edinburgh. The Covenanters, no doubt trusting that God would preserve their cause, would not admit defeat and on New Year's Day, 1651 they crowned Charles II at Scone and raised a sizeable army to defend him. Mainly composed of Highlanders, it was utterly defeated by the more disciplined, better trained Roundheads at Inverkeithing.

Cromwell now occupied all of Scotland south of the Firth of Forth. He then departed to deal with the Scottish army that had been looking for support in England, leaving General Monck in charge. Cromwell caught up with the Scottish army at Worcester on September 3, 1651. He destroyed it. A few days earlier, Monck had captured the Committee of the Estates (the remnant of the Scottish Parliament and had occupied Dundee). The continent now became a refuge for yet another Scottish monarch, as Charles II fled to France in the time-honored fashion of so many Scots rulers. He was to return after nine years in exile. It is interesting to note that General George Monck is on record as being "the first professional soldier of the unique school which believes that the military arm should be subordinate to the civil" a doctrine followed by non other than General Dwight D. Eisenhower during his presidency of the United States some three hundred years later.

While the king in exile "went on his travels," as he put it, Cromwell was busy setting up an efficient system of government in both kingdoms. He saw that a Treaty of Union in 1652 united Scotland with England and made it part of the Commonwealth. At the beginning of his "reign," sanctioned by the Rump Parliament, he had dealt severely with insurrection in Ireland, where his cruelty and butchery in reducing the towns of Drogheda and Wexford made his name so hated that it is spoken in a dreaded whisper even today.

Cromwell was determined to prevent any of the Stuarts from gaining a foothold in Ireland. Through his ruthless campaigning, he forced it to accept the authority of the rulers of England. Following the precedent set by James l's land grants at the expense of the native Irish, many more English landowners were able to take advantage of the confiscation and sale of sizable Irish properties, a situation that was later to lead to the blight known as "Absentee Landlordism." One result, however was that his military successes made it possible to integrate Scottish, Welsh, English and Irish MP's into a truly British Parliament, a remarkable achievement that lasted until the first quarter of the 20th century.

Under Cromwell, England was also able to strengthen its position abroad. As the signs of civil strife became apparent, Charles l had married his daughter Mary, to William, Prince of Orange, perhaps to show his commitment to Protestantism. Like the Scots, the Dutch people were horrified at the news of the king's execution. To propose a union between the two republics, the Rump Parliament sent envoys to Holland who were deliberately insulted and thus the opportunity and the excuse was presented for English commercial interests to engage in a trade war.

Consequently, the Rump passed a Navigation Act in 1654 designed to cripple Dutch trade. The resulting war brought forth one of England's great military leaders, Admiral Blake, who blockaded the Dutch ports and defeated and killed Admiral van Tromp in a sea battle before peace came in 1654. War with Spain a year later resulted in the British capture of Jamaica and the destruction of a large Spanish fleet at Tenerife.

In retrospect, Cromwell has been seen as an evil genius, at odds with the other impression that saw him as a godly man, interested in the establishment of a lasting democracy that practiced tolerance. He was certainly a man caught between opposing forces. He had gained his power through the army, yet he wished to rule through a much less radical parliament. He truly found himself "sitting on bayonets," as one historian has remarked. In 1653, unable to satisfy the demands of both factions, in true monarchical fashion, he even dissolved Parliament, but after the lack of progress of the interim "Barebones" Parliament, he resumed his power as head of the government of a nation that consisted of England and Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

On 12 December, 1653, after he had refused an offer of the Crown, "Old Noll" Cromwell, virtual dictator of England, received the title of Lord Protector. He instigated a period of government remarkable for its religious tolerance to all except Roman Catholics, still regarded as enemies of the realm. Under his protectorate, Jews were allowed back into England for the first time since their expulsion under Edward I. Many Jewish families were to do much to support later English governments financially. The Society of Friends or Quakers, began to flourish under the inspired leadership of George Fox. Perhaps more remarkable was the permission granted to congregations to choose their own form of worship, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was replaced by the Directory of Worship.

Even these measures were not enough to satisfy everyone. In 1655, a Royalist uprising forced Cromwell to divide England into eleven military districts to keep down insurrection and to rigidly enforce the laws of the Commonwealth. Many of these leaders were responsible for the so-called "blue laws" creating a land of joyless conformity, where not only drinking, swearing and gambling became punishable offences, but in some districts, even going for a walk on Sundays. The unpopularity of these puritanical justices, mostly army colonels, led to their dismissal in 1657.

The same year saw Parliament nominate Cromwell's son Richard as his successor, an unfortunate choice, for the young man, nicknamed "Tumbledown Dick," didnÍt have the experience nor the desire to govern the nation. When he retired to his farm in the country, a period of great confusion between the various political factions and indecisive government resulted in the decision of General Monck to intervene. Always a Cavalier at heart "Old George" Monck brought his army from Scotland to London, where he quickly assembled a parliament and invited Charles ll to take over the reigns of the kingdom. The Republic of Great Britain and Ireland came to an abrupt end.

Charles ll (1660-1685)
Though a London mob had thrown down a statue of Charles l outside the Royal Exchange and placed the words "Exit Tyrannus" over the empty space, the same mob was to lustily cheer "God Bless King Charles ll" at the arrival of General Monck's army. The people had never been happy at the interregnum. The great diarist Samuel Pepys has adequately described the rejoicing when the monarchy, "laid aside at the expense of so much blood, returned without the shedding of one drop." Charles must have thought that the tumultuous welcome accorded him gave him carte blanche to govern as he thought fit; it did not. There was still Parliament.

The king got off to a good start. England was tired of being without a king, such an integral part of their history and a source of great national pride when things went well. Charles was crowned in April 1660 and within the same year married Catherine, the daughter of the King of Portugal, an act, nevertheless, which did nothing to diminish his reputation as a philanderer. Sadly enough, though he sired at least fourteen illegitimate children, but he was not able to produce a legitimate heir. A cynic in morals and a pragmatist in politics, he was shrewd enough to change his beliefs when he saw an advantage. In his earlier attempts at winning the throne, he had courted the Scots Presbyterians, but in later life, he reverted to his Catholic preferences.

Charles could not, of course, claim to rule by divine right. That era in English history had gone forever. The Crown could not enforce taxes without the consent of Parliament, nor could it arbitrarily arrest M.P.'s as Charles l had attempted. The two houses of Parliament, Lords and Commons were restored, as was the Church of England and the bishoprics. Many of those who had plotted against Charles l, known as "regicides" were executed, but there was no orgy of revenge and many prominent anti-Royalists, such as the poet John Milton, were allowed to escape punishment. The restoration of the supremacy of the Anglican Church, however, meant the upswelling of resistance from those outside its embrace.

Protestants were grouped together under many names. There were Baptists, Congregationalists and Quakers, all of who resisted strenuous efforts to get them to toe the line by conforming to the Act of Uniformity of 1662. Action against them came in the form of the Clarendon Code, a collection of different restrictive measures completed during 1664-5, that cut off the dissenters from professional advancement in all the professions, except business. Perhaps this may have led to the close alliance of Dissent and the world of Business that so characterized later England and has been seen as the foundation for its commercial success. In any case, it only strengthened the desire of the new and various Protestant sects to worship in the way they pleased.

Unlicensed preachers became a thorn in the side of government who regarded them as something akin to traitors. In 1660, John Bunyan, who preached, as he stated so emphatically, by invitation of God, and not of any bishop, went to prison for twelve years. The result was first, "Grace Abounding" and then "Pilgrim's Progress" completed in 1675. The pious, humble Quakers were particularly singled out for ridicule and harsh treatment. But the worst fears, and most severe recriminations were reserved for the Catholics.

During the period known as Carolingian England, after Charles had made his triumphant return from the Continent, it seems that there was no end to the anti-papal processions in London, the burning of the pope and cardinals in effigy, the hunting down of Catholic priests, the closing of their schools and search for their secret meeting places. Great Catholic families had been particularly loyal to Charles l; they had become anathema during the inter-regnum, and there was little that Charles II could do to restore their former dignity and favor. Catholic priests went into hiding, in constant peril of death or were forced to fall to the Continent.

After 1668, Charles began to turn more and more toward the Catholic religion. He concluded treaties with Louis XIV of France and agreed to reconcile himself with the "Church of Rome." In 1672, he issued a Declaration of Indulgence allowing freedom of religion for Catholics as well as non-conformists (Dissenters). He then joined the French king in a war against the Dutch, who flooded their lands successfully and resisted invasion. The failure caused a return of English resentment of Catholics and the passing of the Test Act of 1673 compelling public office holders to take the sacrament of the Church of England.

In 1678, when Protestant Clergyman Titus Oates, known as an habitual liar, heard rumors of the possible conversion of England to Catholicism by an invasion of French troops, he whipped up public feeling to frenzied heights by graphically embellishing the false tale. (Note: in World War II, the author as a small boy remembers the rumors being put about of an invasion of German paratroopers who had, it was said, already landed in Scotland: it was probably started when Nazi leader Hess parachuted into Scotland to give himself up to British authorities). Panic swept the land.

In the orgy created by rumors of plots to kill Charles and burn down Parliament, Catholics were hunted down and killed, and the legitimate heir, James Duke of York, was excluded from the throne by Parliament because he was a Catholic. Those who supported him were called "Tories" after Catholic outlaws in Ireland. Those who opposed James were the "Whigs" after Whiggamores, fiercely Protestant Scottish drovers. The Whigs supported the claim of The Protestant Duke of Monmouth, one of Charles' illegitimate sons. Another civil war seemed imminent before anti-Catholic feelings managed to die down in the absence of the "threatened" invasion. Yet even then, Charles continued his secret intrigues with the King of France.

Fortunately for the profligate, but Machiavellian English King, when a Whig plot to murder him and James, he had a reason to execute his opponents. Popular opinion then allowed him to bring back James to England where he regained his earlier position as Lord High Admiral. Charles was then able to live out the rest of his reign in peace mainly free from the political and religious struggles that had occupied so much of his reign.

These struggles, mostly involving the degree to which Protestantism had taken hold in Britain, had been particularly manifest in England's relations with Scotland. Alas, like his father, the new king had little interest in Scotland, preferring to govern it through a Privy Council situated in Edinburgh and a Secretary at London. Despite his early support by the Scots Presbyterians, he considered Presbytery as "not a religion for gentlemen." It is a constant source of astonishment to the modern reader how little Charles knew about how deep the roots of Presbyterianism had been planted in Scotland and how strongly the Covenanters would fight all attempts to return Scotland to episcopacy. His years in exile had taught him very little.

As King of Scotland, Charles had signed two Covenants in 1649 merely to secure his own coronation. When he restored James VI's method of choosing the Committee of Articles, he had the intention, not only of strengthening his position in relation to Parliament, but also of bringing back the bishops and restoring the system of patronage that chose ministers. All ministers chosen since 1649 were required to resign and to reapply for their posts from the bishops and lairds. One third of all Scottish ministers refused and held services in defiance of the law. Troops were sent to enforce the regulations but made the Calvinist Covenanters even more eager to serve God in their own way. In 1679, claiming to be obeying a command from on high, they murdered Archbishop Sharp.

The government decided to intervene to bring the rebels to heel. An army was sent to deal with them under the command of James, Duke of Monmouth. He defeated the Covenanters at Bothwell Brig and the survivors were dealt with severely. The reaction and counter-reactions that followed gave the period of the 1680's the title of "The Killing Time." The troubles continued when Charles died in 1685 to be succeeded by his brother James VIl (James ll of England) an openly-avowed Catholic who was welcomed in the Highlands, ever true to the legitimate monarch. And thus the seeds were sown for the Jacobite opposition that blossomed under the next king, the Dutchman, William of Orange.

Before the accession of James II, however, we have to mention the three great disasters that befell the England of Charles: plague, fire and war, all of which took place in three consecutive years, and all of which were recorded in graphic detail by diarist Pepys. The great outbreak of plague began in 1665, bringing London to a standstill and causing panic at the numbers of dead and the lack of any knowledge as to how to deal with the terrible scourge. Those who could afford to, simply packed up and went to live in the country.

The Great Fire of London, catastrophic as it was to the city, may have helped destroy the dwelling places of the brown rat, the carrier of the deadly fleas and thus brought the plague to an end. Though it destroyed the massive St. Paul's cathedral, it gave a chance for architects such as Christopher Wren to rebuild, transforming the old, unhealthy medieval, infested warrens into a city worthy of being a nation's capital, with fine, wide streets, memorable public buildings and above all, its magnificent new churches, including the present St. Paul's.

The third catastrophe was the continuation of the war against Holland. This time, with the Royal Navy mutinous over poor pay and atrocious conditions aboard its ships, the Dutch navy was able to sail with impunity into the Medway at the mouth of the Thames and burn many of the English ships moored at idle anchor. After the triumphs of Admiral Blake in the First Dutch War (1652-4), the Second Dutch War (1665-7) was a national disgrace.

Charles II died in February 1685 of a heart attack no doubt brought on by a life style that today' medical men (and religious leaders) would style nothing less than debauched. Of his reign, and that of his successor, more than one historian has seen all the political struggles, culminating in the Revolution of 1688 and the triumph of Parliament over the Crown, as springing partly from their attempts to grant to Catholics a greater degree of tolerance than would be countenanced by their other English subjects. They came to a head during the reign of James II.

James ll (1685-1688)
James was yet another of those who have only themselves to blame for their downfall. His reign lasted only three years. He too, had learned nothing from his predecessors, for his attempts to re-introduce Catholicism into a country that had become a bastion of Protestantism meant with disaster far worse than any plague or fire or minor skirmishes on the Continent. Unlike Charles II, who could modify his beliefs to suit the occasion and ride the swells of political change, James could not; his morality, some say his high-handedness, prevented him. In his own words, he admitted that had he kept his religion private, he could have been one of the most powerful kings ever to reign in England, but he would think of nothing "but the propagation of the Catholic religion."

Things went well at first. He was able to get Parliament to grant him adequate finances. He recognized the Church of England as the established church and defeated a rebellion led by James, the Duke of Monmouth who had foolishly landed on the southern coast of England and declared himself king. Though many of the people of the southwest came to his support, Monmouth's rag-tag army was defeated at Sedgemoor and soon came to suffer the reprisals handed out by the infamous "Bloody " Judge Jeffries who had hundreds executed and hundreds more transported overseas as convicts, mainly to the New World.

King James was misled by his early success. He began to implement policies that not only gave religious toleration to nonconformists, but also, and especially to, Catholics. Enlightened as this policy seems to us, James had chosen the wrong time and the wrong country. By replacing Protestants as heads of universities, military leaders and in important offices of state, the king dug his own grave. He ignored all Protestant pleas for concessions. One of the last straws was his 1687 Declaration of Indulgence which aimed at complete religious toleration. This too, was an act far ahead of its time; it only furthered the resentment of, and increased the fears of, the nation's Protestant majority. Non conformists and Anglicans reformed their alliance against the religious policies of the king. He had learned nothing from Charles II, who had done his best to keep this alliance alive; thus ensuring that his last years were peaceful ones.

James, on the other hand, was too anxious to foment change; he did not take into account the anti-Catholic sentiments of much of the British nation; constant wars with continental powers, i.e. Catholic, had built a strong, nationalistic British (and Protestant) state. James' plans for equal civil and religious rights for Catholics were out of the question; his efforts to win widespread support for his policies were totally unsuccessful.

On the continent, the Protestant ruler, the Dutch King William III of Orange was engaged in a duel with the French King Louis XIV for military success and diplomatic influence in Western Europe. Charles II of England had fought against the Dutch in a series of skirmishes for commercial hegemony, but a rapprochement followed the marriage of William and his first cousin Mary, James's eldest daughter in 1677. William made his decision to intervene in England in early 1688, hoping to be seen as a liberator, not as a conqueror; but his first invasion attempt in mid-October was easily defeated, mainly by the English weather which destroyed most of his ships and supplies.

Yet it was precisely this weather, and the strong northeasterly wind, that later prevented the British fleet from intercepting the Dutch armies of William landing at Brixham on 5 November, 1688. King James, despite having numerical strength in soldiers was forced on the defensive. His weak resolve, poor judgment, ill health and probably poor advice, caused him to retreat to London instead of attacking William's vulnerable army.

In the meantime, a series of provincial uprisings did nothing to bolster the morale of James' forces; Derby, Nottingham, York, Hull and Durham declared for William whose army marched towards London. Showing a complete failure of nerve, James fled to France in mid-December; his forces, twice the size of those of William, rapidly disintegrated. It was widely believed that William allowed James to escape, not wishing to make the King another English martyr. In what historians have called the "Glorious Revolution" William and Mary, in a joint monarchy, became rulers of Britain. James II and his baby son were debarred from the succession, as were all Catholics.

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Part 7: The Age of Empire




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