ENGLAND IN THE 17TH CENTURY

In England, two revolutions (Puritan and Glorious) resulted from clashes between king and Parliament. Parliament was a medieval English institution that sought to defend the ancient liberties that noblemen had wrested earlier from kings.

Upon the death of the childless Elizabeth I, her cousin James I (1603]1625), a Stuart, inherited the throne. He boldly asserted the theory of divine right monarchy, proclaiming himself to be God's legal representative on earth. Puritans in Parliament, who comprised many gentry members of the House of Commons, opposed James. His extravagant spending and his intolerance toward the Puritans were among the reasons for their antagonism toward him. James (an Anglican) relaxed restrictions on Catholics in England in return for their support against the Puritans.  Alarmed by this success James then imposed restrictions on the Catholics. Now angered, several Catholic extremists launched the Gunpowder Plot. 

Gunpowder Plot

1605,  lead by Guy Fawkes, Catholic extremists "plotted" to blow up Parliament when it met on November 5, 1605.  Their plans discovered by Parliament, they were arrested and executed increasing anti-Catholic feelings.

Each body, Crown and Commons, asserted rights challenged by the other. Parliament held the purse strings and refused to relinquish control, even forcing Charles I (1625]1649), desperate for money, to accept its Petition of Right.

Petition of Right

1628, document that restricted the king's power.  The document insisted that the king was subject to the law and could not levy taxes without the approval of Parliament, nor could he impose forced loans on his subjects or declare martial law in peacetime.

Charles was so desperate for money that he agreed to sign the Petition of Right, although he never felt obliged to observe its limitations on his power.

The issue came to a head in 1640, when Charles convened the Short Parliament.

Short Parliament

1640, needing money for his Scottish Wars Charles called Parliament into session.  When Parliament demanded that Charles issue no new taxes without their approval Charles dismissed them (after 3 weeks).

More desperate than before Charles I recalled Parliament in August of 1640.  Known as the Long Parliament this group mostly made up of those opposed to the king remained in n session until 1653.  The body impeached those opposed to it.

Revolution broke out between the aristocracy and the Anglican church hierarchy and the New Model Army led by Oliver Cromwell (1559] 1658), a Puritan member of Parliament belonging to the gentry. In 1644 Cromwell defeated the king's forces at Marston Moor and the following year at Nasby.  Then in 1648 Colonel Pride excluded 96 moderate Presbyterian members of the House of Commons.  This "purge" left 60 members who became known as the Rump Parliament, which voted to behead the king in January of 1649 who had arbitrarily forced loans to finance a Scottish war; had tried to arrest members of Parliament while in session; and had ignored the principles in the 1628 Petition of Right, which he had earlier signed.

Cromwell ruled sternly during the Interregnum. The revolutions had produced extremists, like the Diggers and Levellers, who called for the abolition of private ownership and the extension of the franchise. Cromwell's military dictatorship and his Puritanical rule collapsed with his death and was quickly followed by the restoration of the Stuart kings, who were Catholic sympathizers, in 1660. As a result, Parliament passed the Test Act.

Test Act

1673, required all office holders to be members of the Anglican Church, renewed legislation against Dissenters, and made it impossible for Catholics to serve in the army or the navy.

Still, Charles II (1680]1685) plotted with Louis XIV to convert England back to Catholicism. James II (1685]1688) proved no wiser. He appointed Catholics to high government positions. Such affront led leading British citizens, both Whigs and Tories, to join forces and drive James from the throne. William of Orange (1672]1702) and Mary, his Protestant wife and the daughter of James II, accepted the invitation tendered by British leaders to ascend the throne upon signing the English Bill of Rights.  They also agreed to the Toleration Act.

Bill of Rights 1689

1689, guaranteed members of Parliament freedom of speech and immunity from prosecution for statements made in parliamentary debate.  The king was barred from levying taxes without approval, maintaining a standing army in time of peace,  and interfering with jurors.  Frequent meetings of Parliament were required.

Toleration Act 1689

1689, granted some freedom of worship to Nonconfiormists (Unitarians) but maintained the restrictions on office holding found in the Test Act.

The political theory of John Locke (1632]1704) won out over that of Thomas Hobbes (1588]1679).

Locke's theories guaranteed individual rights of life, liberty, and property for the aristocratic oligarchy against the absolute power of kings. It undermined the divine right theory and signaled a victory for Parliament. By the end of the seventeenth century, England was established as a Protestant state, controlled by gentry burghers and noble lords with power over the king.

Following Mary's death in 1694, William III ruled alone until his own death in 1702.  The crown then passed to Anne (r. 1702-1714) who was a daughter of James II.  Before Anne became queen it was recognized that she would have no heir and so the Act of Settlement was signed in 1701.

Act of Settlement 1701

This excluded Catholics from the throne and provided that upon Anne's death the crown would pass to Sophia of Hanover and her heirs (Sophia was a Protestant granddaughter of James I).  Under this provision George I of Hanover became England's king in 1714.