(ENGLAND from JAMES to WILLIAM & MARY – continued)

home | 16-17th centuries index

ENGLAND from JAMES to WILLIAM & MARY (6 of 10)


previous | next

The Puritan Revolution Fades

During the republic, Puritans were the respectable pillars of local society. Puritans supporting Cromwell's dictatorship had hoped for a remaking of common folk. They were opposed to idleness and disorderly conduct and favored instead the conduct of people of "credit and reputation."

Back in 1642, Parliament issued an ordinance suppressing all stage plays. In 1648 a law went into effect that ordered all theaters and playhouses pulled down. Actors were to be seized and whipped, and anyone caught attending a play was to be fined five shilling.

A belief in witchcraft was still prevalent and was being exported to the Americas. This was accompanied by a quote from Exodus 22:18, "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live." People were on the lookout for signs of lust, old women who were quick to curse, people who were spiteful and ill-natured, and people with brown lumps on their body, where Satan had sucked. Women were more frequently the targets of witch hunts and were often thrown into dungeons and tortured, willing to confess to anything to stop their torment. Women were hanging on to a tradition of herbal remedies, and they were regarded as more effective in healing than those thought of as learned physicians, with their bleeding, purging, fumigations and toxic chemicals such as mercury. The explanation for the women being able to heal and the learned physicians not was often witchcraft.

London remained a rough and tumble town. Drinking, gambling and fighting remained common, despite rule by the Puritans. Crime in England was on the rise, including crimes that were capital offenses – of which there were over two hundred, including horse or sheep stealing or shoplifting more than five shillings worth of goods. But some authorities saw themselves as humane, and rather than hang many of those found guilty of capital offenses, they sent them to their colonies in the Americas.

From 1653, Cromwell was exercising authority as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, an office bestowed upon him by Parliament, over which he excercised what some would describe as a dicatorship. Cromwell, however, left the parliamentarians with a degree of freedom, except for those who were royalists.

Cromwell opened and closed Parliament, appointed officials, received ambassadors and distributed honors while retaining an air of modesty. He wanted his image to remain off coins. His modesty was in part the product of his Puritanism. Success he took as God's favor. Failure he took as a sign of God's disfavor.

From 1654, England was at war with Catholic Spain – the Anglo-Spanish War – and Cromwell saw England as at war with "popery," royalists from abroad and closet royalists at home. Defeats suffered by his forces in the Caribbean in 1655 at the hands of the Spanish he saw as a consequence of "... extreme avarice, pride and confidence, disorders and debauchedness, profaneness and wickedness, commonly practiced" among his forces. For his soldiers in the Caribbean he urged stricter discipline to remove "all manner of vice" and to create conditions wherein "virtue and godliness" could flourish.

Against the will of merchants, lawyers and others, Cromwell allowed Jews to live and worship in England, ending their 365-year banishment, the Jews building their first synagogue in London in 1657 – while he prohibited Catholics from practicing their faith. He saw Catholicism as seditious.

Cromwell's health weakened. It is said that in 1658, at age 59, "the Lord called him away." And following his death came political turmoil. Some had their fill of Puritanism and were relieved that Cromwell had died. Some hated Cromwell's regime for the execution of Charles I and some hated it for a taxation that had been greater than under Charles.

Oliver Cromwell's Puritan son Richard, 32, inherited his father's position as Lord Protector, but it was short lived. Parliament's army didn't like him because of his lack of military experience. He was dismissed by parliament in May 1659 after earning the nicknames Tumbledown Dick and Queen Dick.

Discontent rose among some as a result of a decline in economic activity caused by war with Spain. Fear of plunder by soldiers arose among civilians as soldiers went unpaid. Most of the cost of the army had been paid by monthly assessments – taxes on property – and people did not have the money to pay these taxes. Rather than pay their taxes some rioted. In December 1659 shops in London closed. Bloodshed was feared. Troops fired on a great crowd of apprentices demonstating for reform, leaving six or seven dead.

Levellers were still around, and they thought that maybe their ideas would fare better under a constitutional monarchy – a monarch perhaps looking more to the benefit of common people rather than the interest of the wealthy merchants and landowners. Many had begun to long for the good old days of monarchical rule, including church leaders among the Presbyterians and Anglicans. They had tolerated Cromwell, seeing him as a bulwark against the political left, but now with Cromwell gone they were again afraid of mobs and common people.

In 1660 Parliament voted for new elections. This increased the influence of royalists in Parliament, and Parliament voted to reinstate the monarchy and the House of Lords. On May 1, 1660, both houses of Parliament voted to restore the monarchy to the eldest son of Charles I, who was in exile in France. The young man to be known as Charles II arrived at Dover on May 25. Bonfires were lit and bells rung in great celebration. A few notorious republicans were burned in effigy. In October a prominent republican, Thomas Harrison, was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his heart and head displayed to cheering onlookers. In January, the body of Cromwell and two others were exhumed and their bodies hanged in symbolic executions. The people of England were relieved and happy.


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