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Aftershocks - The Restoration

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

The imperfect development of political consciousness in the mid- seventeenth century is revealed in the Stuart Restoration

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Battle scene

The Stuart Restoration reveals the imperfect development of political consciousness in the mid- seventeenth century. Despite all the innovations of the previous two decades- the assertion of Parliamentary right, regicide, Cromwell's constitutional experiments- most people still looked for political power to reside in the easily understood form of the monarch. Anything else was too advanced for the time, and it would take thirty more years of development (and two Stuart kings) before the means was found of resolving the major constitutional issues of the 'forties and 'fifties.

Charles II was an avowed sensualist, a shrewd man who preferred not to take too great an interest in affairs of state. During his period in exile, he had learned the value of equivocation, compromise and intrigue and these attributes were to be hallmarks of his reign. As long as he had enough time and money to pursue his real interests (gossip, philandering, sports) he was not inclined to push great matters of state. Perhaps it was what the country needed.

Almost immediately following his return to London (May 1660), he allowed Parliament to undo one of the cornerstones of his Declaration of Breda (April 1660), the promise to uphold religious freedom. Although Charles personally favoured toleration, the Cavalier Parliament was determined to punish and marginalise the religious malcontents and radicals (on both sides) who were perceived to be the source of the country's unrest in the previous 20 years.

The 1661 Corporation Act forced all public office-holders to take the Anglican sacraments and swear an oath upholding monarchy and denouncing the Solemn League and Covenant - those who didn't were expelled from office. These provisions were extended to the Churches, schools and universities the following year. In 1664, the Conventicle Act banned all non-Anglican religious assemblies. After being the dominant force in British politics for almost two decades, radical Protestantism was being expelled to the sidelines and moderate, episcopal Anglicanism was being promoted as the best safeguard of peace and order.

The other central issues of Charles's reign also revolved around the inter-connected issues of religion and the succession. Despite his prodigious record with his mistresses (14 bastards) Charles and Queen Catherine were unable to have children and so, under the normal operations of heredity, succession passed to his brother, James, Duke of York.

However, after 1673, James was an open and unapologetic Catholic and this opened up the prospect of a restored Catholic monarchy and the horrors of the Marian persecution, the Armada and the Irish uprising of the 1640s. Parliament was appalled by this prospect and demands to exclude James from the succession created the Exclusion Crisis (1679- 81).

However, while Charles was prepared to bend on most issues, succession was non-negotiable and he locked horns with Parliament. Unlike his father and grandfather, Charles II enjoyed healthy finances during the latter part of his reign and he was able to govern without Parliament. Moreover, to safeguard James' position, he purged local government of all those who had supported exclusion (Whigs) and packed it with those who had supported conventional royal succession (Tories).

These purges, plus the sound royal finances, placed the early years of James VII/II's reign on an enviably solid footing.

Converting to Catholicism on his deathbed, the 'merry monarch' died in February 1685 and the throne passed to his brother. Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales were to have their first Catholic king for 130 years.

James VII / II

James VII / II was the last male Stuart king to occupy the thrones of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, but this Catholic monarch quickly succeeded in alienating his subjects' affections. The term 'Jacobite' (ie supporter of a Catholic Stuart restoration) is derived from the Latin for James - Jacobus.

Civil War: The Aftershocks


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