Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Public and Politics

It would be wrong to assume that because late 17th century Britain was not a democracy, there was no such thing as a ‘public’ with political opinions. The later Stuarts also had to govern with public opinion in mind. But what was this public opinion and was it in any way unified. Was there one public voice or were there a variety of voices?

The German sociologist, Jürgen Habermas singled out England as the country where a 'public sphere' first developed. In this new sphere private citizens gained a public identity that prepared them for their later political role.

The Media
With the breakdown of censorship on the eve of the Civil War there was a dramatic extension of the output of the printed press (Harris, 2005, 16). Restrictions were re-imposed in the 1650s and again at the Restoration, but they were never wholly effective and in the political crisis of the late 1670s the political elite used all the media at their disposal to exploit the print medium. These included pamphlets, news-sheets and broadsides, often deposited in coffee-houses and other public places.

The first coffee-house opened in St Mark’s Square, Venice, in 1647. This was followed by the Café Procope in Paris (1660) and cafés in Vienna and Frankfurt. The first English coffee house began in Oxford in the 1650s. In the following two decades they spread to London, and by 1663 more than 82 had been set up. They served their customers chocolate, wine, brandy and punch as well as coffee. They had benches and tables and some had booths (snugs). Coffee houses were open to all ranks (but not both sexes) and were places of free expression, in which politics, religion and literature could be debated.

Literacy levels were not as low as we might expect. Average figures are not very meaningful as there were huge regional, occupational and gender variations. The evidence is also problematic as it is based on those who could sign their names. But as reading and writing were taught as separate skills, many who were unable to sign their names (women in particular) might have had basic literacy.In London by 1641-4 nearly 80% of the adult male population could sign their names. In Scotland in the 1670s and 80s about two thirds of males in the Lowlands and in urban centres were literate. Between 70 and 80% of Dublin craftsmen were literate (Harris, 2005, 17-18.

But even the illiterate could have access to printed literature. Ballads had tunes, and pictures and playing cards frequently conveyed political messages. Those who could not read could have pamphlets read to them. People also heard news by word of mouth and rituals, such as the Pope-burnings of the late 1670s, also reinforced political messages. The crowd was therefore an important player in the politics of the period and politicians ignored it at their peril.

The British Dimension

Many of the problems that best the Restoration polity were related to the difficulties in managing the multiple kingdom inheritance of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. What Charles II tried to do to stabilize royal authority in one kingdom often had the effect of destabilizing politics in one of his other kingdoms (Harris, 2005, 20-21).

Scotland and England were two independent kingdoms ruled over by the same monarch. The temporary political union of England and Scotland brought about by Cromwell in the 1650s was dissolved at the Restoration. The two countries had separate legal systems, administrative and ecclesiastical structures. English and Scots regarded each other as foreigners. Against this, however, has to be set the Scots migrations to England from 1603. See, for example, the history of the Anglo-Scottish inhabitants of Ham House, Richmond.

The English and Scots Parliaments were very different in nature.

The English Parliament was two chamber, comprising an upper house of peers and bishops and an elected House of Commons of about 500 members. By the later Stuart period it has been estimated that as many as one in four of the adult male population had the right to vote.

The Scots Parliament was single-chamber, comprising the three estates of clergy, tenants-in-chief (hereditary lords and elected shire representatives) and burgesses. The electorate was small and the franchise restricted. Legislative initiatives were managed by a select committee known as the Lords of the Articles, comprising eight bishops, eight nobles, eight shire and eight burgh commissioners as well as eight officers of state. In practice the Crown effectively determined the complexion and composition of the Articles (Harris, 2005, 24-5). This meant that, unlike their English counterparts, Scottish Parliaments were relatively weak institutions.

The relationship between Ireland and England was rather different. England had claimed the right to rule Ireland since the papal grant of 1155. This was a dubious legal claim (Harris, 25) and the English chose to base their claim to Ireland ultimately on the right of conquest which had begun with the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169. By an act of 1541 the Irish crown was established as an ‘imperial crown … knit to the imperial crown of England’ – that is, an independent crown ruled over by the king of England. The ambiguity of the act failed to resolve the exact nature of the relationship: was Ireland an independent kingdom or a colonial dependency like Virginia?

In many ways England treated Ireland as a mere colony, but unlike the native Virginians the Irish were legally full subjects of the crown and were even given feudal titles. And Ireland possessed its own government and Parliament though Poynings Law of 1494 had established that the Irish parliament could only enact legislation that had been approved by the English king and council. (This Act was only abolished in 1782.)

The Irish Parliament was a two-chamber one. It had a House of Lords and a Commons elected by the counties and bishops. During the 17th century the number of borough seats increased in order to assure a Protestant ascendancy in the Commons, which by 1666 had 276 members elected (like England) on a 40s county freehold and a varied borough freehold.

Of the three kingdoms, England was the largest with a population of about 5.47 million in 1656, though the second half of the century saw a slight decline (Harris, 28). A strong sense of English identity was reinforced by a uniform system of common law. The population of Wales was about 371,000. Religiously the population was divided. In spite of the presence of an Established Church, Protestant nonconformity was geographically and sociologically. Catholics comprised less than 2% of the population and were strongest in the north-west.

Scotland had a population of about 1.23 million in 1691. Linguistically and culturally it was divided between the Gaelic-speaking Highlands and the English-speaking Lowlands. There was a small Catholic minority. The Protestant majority was split between Presbyterians, who were strongest in the south-west, and Episcopalians who predominated north of the Tay.

Ireland was divided into four basic groups: the native Irish (Catholic); the Old English (Catholic); the New English (Anglican); the Ulster settlers (predominantly Scottish Presbyterian). The total population of Ireland was about 1.7 million in 1672; by 1687 roughly 75% of these were Catholic.

The Restoration in Ireland and Scotland
In Ireland, the (Anglican) Church of Ireland was restored in 1661.
However, Catholics had welcomed the return of the monarchy. With the Restoration, the penal laws were less harshly enforced than they had been under Cromwell and Catholics were not formally excluded from the parliament which assembled in Dublin in May 1661. By the end of the decade they had been restored to about 20 per cent of the land they had held in 1641. The Crown was unable to make too many concessions to Catholics for fear of alienating the Protestant population.

In Scotland the Presbyterians lost out at the Restoration. In May 1661 the leading covenanter the Earl of Argyll was executed for his alleged treasonable compliance with the Cromwellian regime – even though it was he who had crowned Charles II in 1649.
In 1662 episcopacy was formally restored. As a result, about one third of the established ministry (952 ministers) lost their livings, with the south-west being worst hit.

There is a summary of events in Scotland in this period on the BBC website.

The Restoration: the financial settlement

It was essential to constitutional harmony that crown and parliament agreed on a working financial arrangement. But this did not happen. The Convention calculated that, in compensation for the loss of feudal revenues such as wardship, the crown needed a settled income of £1.2 million per annum (a figure drawn out of a hat?) but it never provided it. In November the Convention decided to grant the Commonwealth liquor excise to Charles for life. The duty was raised on beer, cider, mead and strong waters, and also on coffee, tea and chocolate per liquid gallon, as sold in the coffee houses. It was estimated that this would bring Charles an income of c. £400,000 pa and customs duties a similar sum - but as Clarendon was well aware, this still left the crown short of money. The economic recession of the 1660s did not help crown finances.

There was no long-term strategy behind the financial settlement. MPs did not understand the complexities of public finances and underestimated the needs of the crown. They did not foresee that the army would remain in being and that the garrison at Tangier (part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry) would cost nearly £150,000 pa. Charles and his ministers were unwilling to court unpopularity by demanding high taxes, following the unprecedentedly high taxation of the Cromwellian era. The result was that when the Convention broke up, the crown was in debt and its ordinary revenue fell short of what the Convention itself had calculated that it needed.

Indemnity, punishment and religion

The Act of Indemnity
Many of the Convention’s day to day decisions were ‘moderate and sensible’ (Coward, 288). It resisted the demands of the extreme Cavaliers and in August approved an Act of Indemnity which pardoned all but those named individuals who had been closely connected with the execution of Charles I. The former parliamentarians Sandwich and Ashley Cooper were among the judges.

Twenty-nine individuals were sentenced to execution by hanging, drawing, and quartering – in all ten suffered this sentence. Pepys, who witnessed the execution of the regicide Thomas Harrison. The republican Henry Vane was executed event though he was not a regicide.

The Convention also worked out a settlement of confiscated estates and forced sales of land that attempted (unsuccessfully) to alienate as few interests as possible. But this did not mean that the bitterness of the Civil War was over. Royalists like William Prynne were obsessed by hatred for anything to do with the regicide regime. This hatred was expressed in the exhumation of the bones of Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton and in the executions of prominent regicides in October. But royalists were disillusioned. Those (about 5000 in number) who had sold their estates to enable them to pay fines did not receive their land back, and the king did nothing to help them. They felt bitter and humiliated determined to wreck any plans for a comprehensive Church.

The Failure of the Religious Settlement
Religion was an intractable problem. The Church of England was to be restored, but what kind of Church? (In August, Pepys went to St Margaret’s where for the first time he ‘heard Common Prayer’ in the church. ) In the Declaration of Breda, Charles had promised ‘liberty for tender consciences’ – a promise that seems to have been supported by Clarendon. Some non-Anglicans (Richard Baxter) argued for a wide, comprehensive national Church that would also accommodate moderate Presbyterians. These Presbyterians were well aware that in 1650 Charles had taken the Covenant.

On 25 October Charles and the Presbyterian leaders met at Clarendon’s lodgings, Worcester House, after which the king proposed a Church settlement in which the powers of bishops were to be limited by councils of presbyters and in which contentious matters of liturgy and ceremonial were to be referred to a committee of divines and a national synod.

But Charles was battling against an intolerant Anglican reaction, and a comprehensive Church was never a viable possibility. A lasting religious settlement was left to the parliament that was to reconvene the following year. A parliament elected in the conditions of post-Restoration of euphoria was unlikely to propose a generous or tolerant religious settlement.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Restoration: what was it about?

Historians used to argue that the Restoration marked a decisive shift. The events of 1649 had permanently weakened the monarchy and the country was irrevocably on the road that led to a constitutional monarchy; religion was no longer central in political and social life. In support of this argument it can be noted that the Restoration settlement consciously sought to turn the clock back to 1641 rather than 1640. The constitutional reforms of 1641 – the destruction of the prerogative courts, the abolition of the Crown’s feudal revenue and prerogative taxes such as Ship Money – all stayed in place. So Parliament had won?

Or had it? It can also be argued that the reverse was the case. The English could not execute another king! The monarchy was strengthened as a result of the Interregnum, and the king’s prerogative remained largely untouched. In particular, the Militia Acts of 1661 and 1662 stipulated that the king retained ‘sole right of command’ over the militia, though day-to-day control was delegated to the lords lieutenants. This means that the issue which in 1641 and 1642 had tipped the country into civil war had apparently been settled - in favour of the king. It was he, not Parliament, who commanded the nation's armed forces.

In fact the consequences of the English Revolution were mixed. The shock and horror of Charles II’s execution drove some towards support for a strong authoritarian monarchy and religious intolerance. Others were less willing to abandon religious and parliamentary liberties. The Restoration therefore was full of ambiguities and the great constitutional and religious issues of the Civil War remained unsettled.

The Character of Charles II
Charles sailed to England on the Naseby (rechristianed The Royal Charles) and landed at Dover - the town celebrated all night. On Tuesday 29 May he entered London.

He had had a very chequered life, ‘the child of diplomatic intrigue, broken promises, and unfulfilled hopes’ (Kishlansky,1992, 222). In 1644 he had been appointed commander of the king’s western forces in the civil war and subsequently fled abroad. In February 1649 he had been proclaimed King of Scots. After his defeat at Worcester he had set up his own court in exile, taking refuge in France, Germany, and Holland.

According to Bishop Burnet: Charles had ‘a strange command of himself … the greatest art of concealing himself of any man alive, so that those about him cannot tell when he is ill or well pleased’. Halifax: ‘he lived with his ministers as he did with his mistresses; he used them but he was not in love with them’ (Quoted Smith, 1998, 204).

His religious beliefs are enigmatic. He seems to have had sympathy with Catholicism and to have favoured a broad and comprehensive Church of England. His ecclesiastical instincts were towards conciliation and acceptance of diversity. His strongest political conviction was his belief in the royal prerogative.

The Royal Family
Charles brought back with him the surviving members of the royal family:
(a) The Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria, who visited England in October and was granted a generous pension of £60,000 to compensate her for the loss of her dowry. She was aged 51 and her political and religious views were unchanged. She paid two further visits to England but was not comfortable there and finally returned to France in 1665. She died in 1669.
(b) Charles's aunt, Elizabeth of Bohemia, returned in 1661 and died in February 1662
(c) Her son Rupert was made a privy councillor. He spent a great deal of time dabbling in scientific experiments and introduced the art of mezzotint printing into England. He died in London in 1682.
James, duke of York, the heir to the throne, was made lord high admiral and warden of the Cinque Ports
Henry duke of Gloucester, Charles I's third son.
Mary princess of Orange, Charles I's eldest daughter, the Princess Royal.
Henrietta Anne, the youngest daughter. In March 1661 she was married to Philippe duc d’Orléans. Her French title was Madame.
In September smallpox killed the duke of Gloucester and at Christmas the princess of Orange died of the same illness.

A Scandal
Shortly after the Restoration, the duke of York confessed to his brother that he was precontracted to Anne Hyde, daughter of Edward Hyde his lord chancellor, whom he had met in 1656 when she was lady-in-waiting to Princess Mary of Orange. He had probably not expected to become a royal duke so quickly. The whole business was deeply embarrassing for Hyde who had known nothing about the liaison. James’s family were outraged, but the marriage was genuine and a second marriage ceremony took place on 3 September 1660. On 22 October 1660 Anne gave birth to a son, though James was not present and did not send his good wishes. (The child died of convulsions when he was seven months old; two daughters, Mary and Anne, were born in 1662 and 1665 respectively.)

For the full story, see Maureen Waller, Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart princesses who stole their father's throne (Sceptre, 2002).

Officers of State
Charles recognised political realities by including constitutional royalists - men such as Hyde who had always argued for a balanced constitution - and former parliamentarians within his (large) privy council. Members included:
(a) Edward Hyde (1609-74) (created earl of Clarendon, 1661)
(b) General Monck (1608-70) (now duke of Albermarle), captain-general of the Forces, lord lieutenant of Ireland
(c) Edward Montagu (1625-72) (now earl of Sandwich), lord chamberlain of the household, Samuel Pepys' cousin and patron
(d) Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-83) (created Lord Ashley; later earl of Shaftesbury), chancellor of the exchequer (1661).
This pattern was repeated in the localities, where ex-Royalists found themselves reluctantly working alongside ex-parliamentarians.

The Court
From the start Charles made the court once more the setting for the rituals of sacred kingship. He immediately restored the ceremony of touching for the king’s evil, and touched 90,000 people for scrofula in the course of his reign. He did not see this as conflicting with his patronage of the Royal Society (founded 1660). (After 1714 British monarchs no longer touched for scrofula, but Louis XVI touched for it after his coronation in 1775, laying hands on 2,400 sufferers.)

In a further effort to underline the antiquity of the Stuart dynasty he re-established Windsor Castle as one of the principal seats of the court, embarking on the first large-scale remodelling of the royal apartments since the reign of Henry VIII. The result was a series of baroque rooms of state that outshone everything in the increasingly dilapidated Whitehall palace. However within two years economies forced Charles to suspend and finally abolish the ancient practice of ‘bouche of court’, the custom of providing dinner daily for the entire court at the king’s expense. This was part of a wider trend: after 1660 the court’s political primacy was challenged by competing centres of political influence and patronage, not least Parliament.