(ENGLAND from JAMES to WILLIAM & MARY – continued)

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ENGLAND from JAMES to WILLIAM & MARY (9 of 10)

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Discontent with Charles II

There was conflict between the monarchy and parliament over interpretations of the divisions of powers provided by the Constitution. Conflict existed also between landowners, who tended to belong to the Church of England, and city merchants and financiers. Dissenters, especially Quakers and Baptists, were unhappy over pressure from the Anglicans (the Church of England) to conform to their ways. Members of Parliament continued to believe that a nation should be united by one religion, and Parliament was enacting laws strengthening the position of the Church of England, laws that held that those who refused to receive the sacrament of the Church of England could not vote, hold public office, preach, teach, attend a university or assemble for meetings. Dissenting Protestants were also bothered by the appearance of Catholicism among the royals: the mother of Charles II and his wife, brother James and his mistresses were Catholics.

England's Protestants saw frivolity and debauchery in the court of Charles II. An outburst against immorality occurred in March 1668 with the Bawdy House Riots. Crowds of young men, many of them sailors recently demobilized from the war against the Dutch and now on a rampage for virtue, demolished houses of prostitution in London. On the minds of the outraged was what they saw as the immoral behavior of King Charles II and his court, the king having been engaged in extra-marital affairs with high-profile courtesans. Leaders of the riots were indicted for treason, and this propelled hostility toward Charles among the Londoners to a new high. Again in London, republican pamphlets began to circulate.

In secret in 1670, Charles II began receiving money from France's King Louis XIV, in exchange for Charles making an effort to ease laws against Catholics, to gradually return Britain to Catholicism and to support the French in their continuing hostility toward the Dutch. The French agreed to send Charles the money annually. France's hostility toward the Dutch involved trade competition, and also there was the idea common among some other conservative regimes on the continent that ideas from Holland were "poisonous" – a danger to order and to them.

In 1672, Charles joined his friend King Louis in another war against the Dutch – the Dutch with one-half the population of England and one-sixth the population of France. That same year, Charles declared laws against Dissenters and Roman Catholics suspended – a move of dubious legality because the Constitution provided the king with such power only during a national emergency.

The bargain between Charles and Louis XIV included Charles providing naval operations against the Dutch, and Charles had plans to invade the Dutch republic. Parliament, however, was unenthusiastic about the war and about fighting on the same side as the great defender of Catholicism – Louis XIV. The Scots, who had been trading with the Dutch, preferred peace with their fellow Protestants. In front of advancing French soldiers the Dutch opened North Sea flood waters, stopping their advance and preventing a French victory, and the Dutch organized another coalition of European nations against France.

In 1673, Parliament voted Charles the money he needed to continue his war against the Dutch, but on condition that he reinstate the laws against Dissenters and Catholics. By 1675, the economic burdens of the war and rising opposition to the war by Protestants and Parliament resulted in Charles agreeing to a negotiated settlement with the Dutch. The invasion of the Dutch Republic that Charles had planned never materialized.

Hostility toward Catholicism continued and in 1678 rose to hysteria. Two adventurers announced that they had uncovered a plot to murder Protestants, to bring a Catholic army to England from across the English Channel and to burn London again. The plot was said to include the invading army placing Charles' Catholic brother, James, the Duke of York, on the throne. The magistrate before whom information on the plot had been laid died, and many assumed that his death was a part of the Papist plot – a move to suppress evidence of the plot. Also, news spread that James' secretary had been corresponding with Catholic leaders in France on political matters. Fear and certainty about the conspiracy spread. Some Catholics were arrested on suspicion of being participants in the plot. False witnesses appeared, and thirty-five Catholics were executed. Parliament passed a unanimous resolution declaring that the "damnable and hellish" plot existed for the purpose of murdering the king, subverting the government and destroying Protestantism. To protect the nation from Catholicism, Parliament offered the Exclusion Act. Catholics were to be excluded as heirs to the crown.

Charles believed that it had been his right to chose whomever he wanted as his heir. And with fear of another civil war, Parliament divided into separate political organizations: Tories and Whigs. The Tories were largely members of the Church of England. They believed that the Exclusion Act violated the monarchy's power and was leading to another civil war. "Forty-one" (the revolution of 1641) was here again, they claimed. They favored law and order above all else. They allied themselves with Charles, who was still the head of the Church of England, and they believed that the Church of England was the teacher of the one true religion and an effective shield against both Catholic absolutism and Dissenter rebellion.

By now Charles was trying to force the Presbyterians of Scotland to accept bishops in conformity with the Church of England. The Presbyterians resisted and blood was shed.

The Whigs favored parliamentary power over the power of kings, and they were willing to offer Dissenters more participation in government than were the Tories. Tory and Whig were names originating as insults. Tory was an Irish word for a Papist outlaw. Whig was a name for Scottish Presbyterians and cattle and horse thieves. The Tories saw the Whigs as dangerous plotters. Among the Whigs arose a description of a Tory as a monster with an English face, a French heart, an Irish conscience and a creature with a prodigious mouth and no brains.

The Tory political base was more rural, the Whig power base more urban. The Whigs wanted the Exclusion Act at the expense of monarchical power. The Whigs believed that Catholicism and arbitrary power were inseparable.

There was at least one accomplishment. With public pressure and Whig support, Parliament passed the Act of Habeas Corpus, and King Charles gave it his assent. The Act strengthened existing Habeas Corpus law, protecting people from abuse from officials. The law forbade imprisonment without trial and required government to explain why a prisoner was being held. The act made officials responsible for the welfare of prisoners in their care. It provided for a trial without undue delay, and it held that no one could be tried twice for the same crime.

More conflict between the Tories and Charles on one side and the Whigs on the other was on the way. Also on the way was one of history's recurring disturbances: the problem of succession.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.