Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Cavalier Parliament

The Cavalier Parliament and the restored monarchy

On 29 December 1660 the Convention was dissolved, and on 8 May 1661 the Cavalier Parliament met. The elections reflected the growing tide of pro-royalist feeling in the country. One hundred of the new MPs had sat in the Long Parliament and had a legacy of experience that would ensure that they would not be a rubber stamp for royal authority.

However the parliament made no attempt to challenge the king’s right to appoint privy councillors and state officials or fill Church and local government posts. By the Militia Acts of 1661 and 1662 it conceded that the Crown not Parliament controlled the militia - this had been the great area of dispute between Charles I and the Long Parliament.

The Triennial Act of 1664 repealed that of 1641 and replaced it with an emasculated version: parliament ought to be held every three years.

But in the early 1660s two things prevented Charles from exercising the same powers as Louis XIV: lack of ability and financial resources (Coward, 290-1). He was reluctant to get down to the tedious business of government. Perhaps his greatest failing as a ruler was his financial extravagance and dissolute living which made it hard for ministers to persuade MPs to grant him more money. Even a less extravagant monarch would have had problems. The Cavalier Parliament recognised that the Convention Parliament had not given the king enough money. They added the hearth tax (May 1662) but this was insufficient.
Nevertheless, the restored monarchy had considerable potential powers and if could sort out its finances it would be in a very strong position.

The Cavalier Parliament and religion
The Parliament had been elected in an atmosphere of royalist reaction and was composed of Anglican Cavaliers bent on revenge. The anti-Puritan reaction was proceeding apace. The revived theatre produced plays with titles like The Lecherous Anabaptist or the Dipper Dipped; Ben Johnson’s Bartholomew Fair was revived and Samuel Butler began his anti-Presbyterian Hudibras. After the Restoration Baptist meeting houses in London were attacked by the mob. John Bunyan was arrested by a local magistrate for preaching in the fields in November 1660. He refused to give an undertaking not to preach and was imprisoned off and on for the next twelve years.

The association of religious nonconformity with political sedition was further confirmed by Thomas Veneer’s (Fifth Monarchist) Rising in January 1661. Though his active followers were few, the harm had been done. In an effort to dissociate themselves from sedition, the Quakers presented a statement abjuring war to the king.

Regardless of official pronouncements, the Anglican Church was being restored. During the winter of 1660-1 Anglican ministers who had been ejected in 1640 returned to their livings under the patronage of Anglican gentry - and these same gentry were elected to Parliament.

Within ten days of its first sitting the Cavalier Parliament restored bishops to the Lords. The Commons voted 228/103 that the Solemn League and Covenant should be burned by the public hangman and that all MPs were to take the sacrament according to the Church of England. In April 1662 Parliament accepted the revised Prayer Book prepared by the restored Convocation.

From 5 April to 23 July, 1661, a final attempt was made to include Presbyterians within the Church of England. The Savoy Conference was held at the Bishop of Lincoln’s lodgings in the Strand but this broke down amid bitter wranglings over revisions to the Prayer Book. The failure of the Conference was made inevitable when Richard Baxter turned down a bishopric and refused to accept anything less than a completely rewritten liturgy. This alienated moderate conservatives like Gilbert Sheldon, bishop of London. Charles and Clarendon’s wish for a more inclusive Church was thwarted.