“That is very true, for my words are my own, and my actions are those of my ministers.” –Charles’ reply
Charles II and the Restoration Monarchy (1660-85)
The above quoted poem says a great deal about the reign of Charles II. The English people were ready to throw off Cromwell’s strict Puritan rule and enjoy life again. Theaters, taverns, and racetracks opened up again. Flamboyant fashions and hairstyles became the rage. And Britain once again became “Merry Old England”. Charles, the “Merry Monarch” seemed to be just what the English people needed. However, despite all this, there still remained an undercurrent of tensions in the areas of politics, money, and religion
In politics, things seemed much calmer than they had been for decades– at least at first. King and a largely cavalier Parliament seemed reconciled. Charles was voted a sizable income. The army was paid off, and most of the crown’s enemies from the civil war were granted pardons. However, many of the old tensions between king and Parliament still existed. For one thing, the Restoration not only restored the king. It also restored Parliament, which Cromwell had suppressed. In fact, it was the restored Parliament that formally summoned Charles back to England, not the king who summoned Parliament. Parliament itself was divided into two parties: the Tories who favored a strong king and a Church of England largely resembling the Catholic Church, and the Whigs who favored a strong Parliament and more Protestant Church and ritual.
As far as money was concerned, England’s wealth was rapidly growing. Cromwell’s aggressive foreign policy had intensified England’s commercial and naval rivalry with the Dutch, largely due to the Navigation Act, which excluded foreign, and particularly Dutch, ships from carrying English goods. This led to three short but bitterly fought naval wars with the Dutch (one under Cromwell and two under Charles II). Although the Dutch held their own, the expense and stress of their wars against England and France allowed the English to replace them as the premier naval and commercial power in Europe by 1700. Between 1670 and 1700, England’s foreign trade grew by 50 per cent, and the king’s customs revenues tripled. Despite this new prosperity, Charles’ allowance from Parliament still could not satisfy his extravagant personal tastes and style of living. Instead of letting this lead to a clash with Parliament, as had led to Civil War in 1642, Charles neatly sidestepped Parliament by signing the Secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV. This gave Charles a handsome pension in return for the promise to turn England Catholic when the time was ripe.
Concerning religion Charles II was sly enough to keep to himself his beliefs in the Divine Right of Kings and the Catholic faith. Although he did not openly profess his Catholic faith until he was on his deathbed, he did restore lands confiscated since the civil war to the Church, crown, and nobles. He also restored the power of the Church of England, re-establishing the church courts and persecuting anyone, especially Puritans, not conforming to the Church’s doctrines.
Much more unsettling was the fact that Charles had many children, but none of them were legitimate. That left James, Charles’ brother and an avowed Catholic, next in line for the throne. This alarmed the Puritans, who put pressure on Charles to disinherit his brother. Puritan pressure intensified with Titus Oates’ “Popish plot,” a preposterous rumor that the Jesuits were plotting to kill Charles and massacre all the Protestants in England. This led to two years of anti-Catholic persecutions and hysteria, which put Charles in an awkward position, since he did not want to be exposed as a “papist” himself. Rumors of his funds from France made his position that much more delicate. In the end, the slippery Charles managed to avoid disinheriting his brother. He even ruled without Parliament the last few years of his reign, getting by on his subsidies from Louis XIV. By Charles’ death in 1685, it seemed the king was as strong as ever.
James II and the Glorious Revolution (1685-88)
As strong as the new king, James II, may have appeared, there was no way he could undo the changes of the last 80 years. Charles II was a capable monarch quite adept at handling the Whigs. Unfortunately, James had nearly all the qualities to ensure getting himself dethroned, being bigoted, stubborn, and quite inept. His worst mistake was his open preference for Catholicism. He suspended laws keeping Catholics out of public office and even recruited Irish Catholics for his army. When his own bishops tried to advise him to reconsider his openly favoring Catholicism, he jailed seven of them in the Tower of London.
Even the Tories came to fear the king’s religious views more than they did the Whigs’ political views. Finally, they joined with the Whigs in inviting James’ Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William the Prince of Orange, to come from Holland and dethrone James. What followed has been known ever since as the Glorious Revolution, partly for being virtually bloodless (except for James’ nosebleed), but mainly for what it accomplished. William and Mary’s Dutch army landed unopposed and marched to London. James’ army deserted him, and he fled to France.
Royalty and Parliament then came to an agreement whereby William could use England’s resources to help stop Louis XIV’s drive to dominate Europe. In return, William and Mary guaranteed Parliament’s rightful place in the government and signed the Bill of Rights, precursor to our own Bill of Rights. This assured Englishmen such liberties as free speech, free elections, no imprisonment without due process of law, and no levying of taxes without Parliament’s consent. In addition, the king agreed to call for new elections every three years. The king could still formulate policy and name his officials. However, the balance of power had definitely shifted in favor of Parliament, especially since it controlled the purse strings. Money was only granted one year at a time, which meant that the king would have to call Parliament each year just to have the cash needed for his policies. This new government where even the king where was subject to the law and certain legal procedures in ruling is called constitutional monarchy,
In the years to come, Parliament gradually gained more power at the expense of the kings. This process gained momentum when the German prince, George of Hanover, became king in 1714. His main interests remained on the continent, and he was generally content to let his allies, the Whigs, run the government for him.
Results of the English Revolution
The struggle between kings and Parliament throughout the 1600’s ended in a clear-cut victory for Parliament. While a more democratic government emerged as a result of the English Revolution, keep in mind that rather high property qualifications still kept the vast majority of Englishmen from voting.
However, the English Revolution would benefit all England in two areas: civil rights and the economy. For one thing all Englishmen did gain certain civil rights, such as free speech and the right to a fair trial by a jury of peers. Also, all Christians except gained religious freedom, except Catholics and Unitarians, who eventually, would also be tolerated. The English Revolution also opened the way for more democratic reforms over the next two centuries, until England would became a truly democratic society. The power and success of these principles would spread to the American and French Revolutions, and from France to the rest of Europe and the world.
Economically, the English revolution saw the triumph of capitalism in England. One important aspect of this was Parliament’s founding of the Bank of England (1694) through which the government did much of its business. The important thing here was that the government guaranteed repayment with interest on any loans it took out. This contrasted sharply with the old medieval method whereby kings took out personal loans, often did not bother to pay them back, and let the liability for the loans go to the grave with them. Now that government was identified more with Parliament, liability for the loans did not die with the king. Therefore, people were more willing to loan the government money, since they knew they would get it back with interest.
Since the government was largely run by hard-nosed middle class businessmen rather than extravagant nobles with no sense of the value of money, it would use these loans wisely by investing them in business and new industries. That, in turn would improve the economy, which not only could pay more taxes, but also invest further in the Bank of England, which could invest even more money in economic development, and so on. Therefore, England, along with the Dutch Republic, was one of the first modern states to operate at a profit rather than in chronic debt. And, as a result, England would be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the 1700’s, a factor that would make Europe the dominant culture on the globe by 1900.