Thursday, September 29, 2005

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.


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