Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Rye House Plot

In their desperation, the Whigs became reckless. In September 1682 Monmouth staged a ‘progress’ in Cheshire to raise support from Whig magnates in the north-west. His enthusiastic reception angered his father, who ordered his arrest.

In June 1683 sensational details were revealed by plotters who turned king’s evidence of an alleged conspiracy by former Cromwellians to assassinate the king and the duke of York on their way to Newmarket. A second conspiracy involving the earl of Essex, William, lord Russell, and the republican, Algernon Sidney, was a scheme to seize the king’s person and assume power. The three Whig notables were promptly arrested.

On 13 July Essex was found with his throat cut. Russell was executed by Jack Ketch on 21 July at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the presence of a silent crowd, some of whom dipped their handkerchieves in his blood. Sidney’s trial, presided over by Jeffreys, began on 21 November, and the evidence focused largely on his manuscript A Discourse Concerning Government, a classic republican polemic which justified both resistance and tyrannicide. He was executed on Tower Hill on 7 December. A Whig martyrology was created and with it a body of radical ideas that never found their way into mainstream Whiggism.

Perhaps there was no Rye House plot. This didn't matter as the 'plot' gave the king an enormous propaganda advantage. On the day of Russell’s execution Oxford University insisted on the duty of ‘passive obedience in all circumstances whatsoever’.

Monmouth first went into hiding and then publicly submitted to his father. Charles continued to make it clear that James was his successor. In 1684 James was readmitted to the Privy Council. (In August 1681 the Scots Parliament had declared his inalienable hereditary right.) He brought an action against Titus Oates, who was put in the pillory, flogged and imprisoned.

In July 1683 James's younger daughter Anne married the Lutheran Prince George of Denmark. She was given her own household, the Cockpit in Whitehall, and Sarah Churchill became her groom of the stole.

The purge of the corporations

Following the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, Charles pressed home his advantages against the Whigs. During the summer of 1681 many Whigs were purged from the commissions of the peace and the lieutenancies.

The failure of the Shaftesbury prosecution convinced Charles that he needed to move against the legal privileges of London in order to destroy the Whig control of the city. This move also encompassed all other boroughs under Whig control. Quo warranto writs compelled boroughs to substantiate the legality of their charters. Since lawyers could easily find technical flaws in them, proceedings invariably resulted in the law courts declaring that the borough charters were forfeit.

The action against London began in December 1681. In the sheriffs’ election of September 1682 Tory sheriffs were returned. In November 1682, recognising that he had lost his power base, Shaftesbury fled to Holland. He died in exile in January 1683.

In June 1683, the final judgement declaring the City’s charter forfeit was delivered for the crown. From now on the king’s approval was required for the appointment of the lord mayor, sheriffs, and all other major office-holders. Many other boroughs took the hint from London’s defeat and voluntarily surrendered their charters to the crown. Others fought the writs in the courts and lost. All were given new charters which enabled the crown’s Tory supporters to entrench themselves in power. From 1681 until Charles’s death 51 new charters were issued, 14 before and 37 after 1683. This meant that the next general election could be guaranteed to bring in a Tory majority.

The trial of Shaftesbury

Charles was eager to press home his advantages against the Whigs. In April 1682 the duke of York felt strong enough to return to England. In May 1683 there was a new lord chief justice, Sir George Jeffreys. From 1676 judges had been appointed durante bene placito rather than quamdiu se bene gesserint. Between this date and his death Charles unilaterally removed eleven judges.

The crown harassed the Whigs quite systematically. On 2 July 1681 Shaftesbury was arrested at dawn and Charles came up unexpectedly from Windsor to Whitehall to examine him. The Council sent him to the Tower ‘under contemptuously weak escort and with no popular reaction’. Here he was visited by Monmouth. However while Charles could rely on the judges, the jury would present a problem. In Middlesex the sheriffs were elected (whereas in all other counties they were nominated by the king), and those elected for 1680-1 and 1681-2 were all Whigs. It was the sheriffs who empanelled the grand jury. Shaftesbury was accused of saying that the king should be deposed that that he wished to bring back the Commonwealth. But in November the Whig grand jury brought in a verdict of ignoramus- no case to answer. The failure of this prosecution was a major set back.

On the eve of the trial Absalom and Achitophel by the poet laureate, Dryden, appeared.

The Third Exclusion (Oxford) Parliament, 21-28 March 1681

In the general election of March 1681 Whig party organization reached a peak of effectiveness, backed by an extremely expensive and extensive propaganda campaign. The Whigs retained their hold both on the electorate and the popular masses and achieved a series of unopposed returns and runaway victories. The newly elected MPs assembled at Oxford with distinguishing ribbons in their hats and great trains of armed men. They were given centrally drafted instructions by the party leaders that they were to insist on exclusion when Parliament met.

In fact the Oxford parliament was a cleverly planned trap contrived by Charles himself. The switch to Oxford was a sign of confidence - unlike his father, he had control of London. Nearly 700 troops were drafted into the city. On 22 March he concluded another secret treaty (a verbal not a written agreement) with Louis XIV for a further subsidy. This subsidy was not enough to make him financially independent but combined with the increase in customs revenue it meant that he could now subsist without having to summon parliament. The treaty also meant that Charles was forced to allow Louis a free hand and that he had, in effect, withdrawn from Europe.

At the opening of the Oxford parliament Charles appeared to compromise and said that he was prepared to consider expedients other than exclusion (such as offering a regency: Mary and William were to take charge of government during James’s lifetime). This had the advantage of not taking any powers away from the monarch (something William would never have agreed to). It also wrong-footed the Whigs, who would not accept any alternative to exclusion. The Commons immediately got to work on a new exclusion bill while in the Lords Shaftesbury proposed that Monmouth be named as Charles’s successor. Their intransigence suited the king perfectly. He responded that he would rather die than abandon the prerogative or alter the true succession.

24 March the Whigs voted for the new bill. On 28 March Charles came to the Lords in his ordinary clothes. Then he slipped into his robes and dissolved parliament (without going through the preliminary stage of prorogation). In his speech he made no promise to call another parliament. He left Oxford immediately and they had no alternative but to do the same. They were powerless to prevent this or to force the king to call new elections. They had brought armed men with them to Oxford, but never used them. This showed their final and fatal weakness: they were no more willing than the Tories to plunge the nation into another bout of civil war.

On 8 April Charles caused a statement, Declaration Touching the Reasons that Moved Him to Dissolve the Two Last Parliaments to be read from all pulpits. In it he compared the Whigs to those who had started the Civil War; he also promised to rule according to the law and to summon parliaments frequently (ho, ho!). With encouragement from the clergy, addresses poured in to the king thanking him for his declaration. A popular Toryism developed which copied the Whigs’ organisational tactics and printed its own newspapers.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Second Exclusion Parliament, October 1680-January 1681

After its long prorogation, Parliament was summoned for October 1680. On 11 November the Whig dominated Commons passed an Exclusion Bill, in spite of arguments that exclusion was against natural justice and prudence, and that James would still be king of Scotland and Ireland. The bill was sent up to the Lords, where Charles attended many of the debates in person. The Lords’ response ‘represented the visible turning point in the struggle against the Whigs’. They refused the bill a first reading (63/30). Two days after this rejection the annual 17 November pope burning, attended by c. 100,000 people passed off peacefully. In December the Catholic peer, Lord Stafford, was executed for his alleged part in the Popish Plot. But when Charles prorogued parliament in early January 1681, members dispersed quietly. Hopes that angry Londoners would take to the streets (as in 1641) proved unfounded. Was the tide beginning to turn for the king?

For all their control of the Commons, the Whigs faced some fundamental problems they were never able to overcome and which the Tories could obviously exploit:
(a) the lack of an obvious candidate for the throne if James were excluded. Both the obvious candidates had drawbacks. Monmouth was illegitimate, Mary was married to a foreigner who it was feared (wrongly) would be too dependent on his Stuart uncles and (rightly) would drag England into a long continental war against France.
(b) the principle of exclusion was repellent to many who feared that it would mount a challenge to the right to inherit property and the principle of primogeniture.
(c) Shaftesbury’s whole campaign was based on a fallacy - that Charles wanted to exclude James and was only looking for an excuse to do so. In fact, they were attacking the king in the one area in which he held extremely strong convictions. As Charles saw it, an attack on James was an attack on the Crown.

Whigs and Tories

For the next two years the political nation was bitterly split on the question of exclusion. Underlying this question were the deep religious and political divisions that had existed since the Restoration: between those who were friendly to Protestant dissenters and intensely critical of the intolerant policies of the bishops, and those who were driven by a desire to protect the Church. In effect, this was a rerun of the crisis of 1641 which caused the civil war – a fact much noted by contemporaries.

By the spring of 1681 the terms Whigs and Tories were becoming widely used. Both were first used as insults. Tory derived from the Irish Toraidhe (bandit, cattle thief, outlaw). Although firmly Anglican, Tories were committed to upholding James’s right to succeed because they believed that if his claim were blocked by Parliament, then no-one’s property rights would be safe and that England would have become a republic in all but name. The Tories called their opponents ‘Whigs’ after the Scottish rebels. The Whigs were supported by many Dissenters though their leadership was Anglican and aristocratic. As well as backing exclusion, they were also prepared to grant a greater religious toleration to Dissenters (though not to Catholics).

From 1679 to 1681 the opposition to the crown appeared to be very strong and in the parliaments of October 1679 to January 1681 the Whigs secured Commons majorities for bills excluding James from the throne. The driving force behind the Whigs was the earl of Shaftesbury. In spite of Dryden’s famous caricature, he had certain fixed principles: toleration for Protestant dissenters, though not for Catholics; government by the king in parliament not by the king alone or by the masses. He was an aristocratic ‘republican’ rather than a democrat and believed that a strong aristocracy was one of the best safeguards against arbitrary power. In support of these principles he was prepared to patronize charlatans like Oates and Tonge and encouraged other people to believe in them. He even tried (June 1680) to get the Middlesex grand jury to present James as a recusant and the duchess of Portsmouth as a prostitute and a popish agent. The attempt failed because of intervention by Lord Chief Justice Scroggs, but it was a blatant insult to the Crown and caused something of a backlash.

Should the Whigs be seen as a party? In the two general elections of August-September 1679 and the early months of 1681 Shaftesbury and his supporters developed a political organization that became increasingly sophisticated and effective. They used the press to disseminate pamphlet literature and in London and the provinces they set up political dining clubs (like the London Green Ribbon Club) to set up and distribute Whig propaganda. Over the three year period of the Exclusion Crisis, between 5 and 10 million printed pamphlets were generated. In the election of 1681 many MPs were presented apparently spontaneous instructions, with remarkably similar wording, purporting to be from their constituents and insisting that they grant no parliamentary supply unless the king conceded exclusion and guaranteed frequent parliaments.

During the long prorogation of parliament from May 1679 to October 1680 anti-Catholic hysteria dwindled but the Whigs initiated a sustained campaign of bombarding the king with petitions for the early recall of parliament. Printed petition forms were distributed in London and the counties, and Whig supporters collected signatures, showing that though they were not democrats, they were prepared to use the common people for propaganda purposes. They also organized mass pope-burning demonstrations on 5 and 17 November 1679 and 1680. In January 1680 Charles was presented with two petitions from London and Wiltshire signed by a total of 90,000 people. He brusquely denied the validity of such private petitions, and at the end of the month he invited James back from Edinburgh (temporarily). As a tactic, the petitioning worked both ways. Shaftesbury’s campaign kept alive the fears of popery and arbitrary government, but at the same time resurrected fears of a populist assault on the monarchy: ‘’41 is come again’.

Both sides produced their own propaganda. In 1680 Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha was published for the first time, and John Locke began work on his Two Treatises of Government.

The First Exclusion Parliament, March-July 1679

Having dissolved the Cavalier Parliament, Charles had to summon a new parliament because he needed money - Louis XIV was refusing a subsidy and there was a customs shortfall because of the embargo on French wines and brandy. The general election of February 1679 swept away Danby’s supporters and much of the older generation. Half the MPs had never sat before. They were comparatively young and many of them had a high level of political consciousness.

The new parliament met on 6 March and sat to 27 May. This parliament, the first new House of Commons for eighteen years, has achieved fame as the first Exclusion Parliament. In its initial sessions it secured the impeachment of Danby. The debates were as virulent as those on the impeachment of Strafford, and Danby had good reason to fear for his life. Charles advised him to leave the country, but, fearing Clarendon’s fate, Danby refused. Though the articles of impeachment and the bill of attainder failed, he spent five years in the Tower.

Charles further tried to conciliate his opponents by bringing Shaftesbury and William Russell, now MP for Bedfordshire, into the Privy Council and to agree to disband the standing army. Parliament also secured the Habeas Corpus Amendment Act, requiring judges to bring a prisoner to trial within a specific period of time (usually three days). Retrospectively this was a great step forward in human rights, though at the time its motive was more narrowly partisan: an attempt to tie the hands of a Catholic monarch. Charles further conciliated parliament by the delivery of the plot victims to execution, the formation of a new extended Council, and the disbandment of much of the army.

What galvanized the opposition in this parliament was the public disclosure on 27 April 1679 of parts of Coleman’s correspondence which seemed to indicate that James was in negotiation with both France and Rome - and therefore by implication in the Popish Plot as well. On 27 April 1679 Russell addressed the Commons, declaring that if the succession were not changed
‘we must resolve when we have a Prince of the Popish Religion to be Papists, or burn ... and I will do neither’ (New DNB)
On 11 May Thomas Pilkington moved that James be impeached for high treason. On 15 May the commons passed a resolution nem con that a bill be brought in ‘to disable the Duke of York to inherit the Imperial Crown of this Realm’. (The court did not insist on a division because it was clear it would lose). On 27 May (the day that the five Catholic peers were to stand trial in the Lords) Charles prorogued (and on 10 July dissolved) the parliament. The Popish Plot was running out of steam but for a while the Exclusion Crisis was gaining strength.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this moment. The reign of Elizabeth I had been plagued by the succession issue, and it was to remain a live issue until the death of Queen Anne in 1714. As in 1572, Parliament was claiming the right to determine the succession to the throne on confessional lines – a claim that struck at the roots of divinely appointed hereditary monarchy.

Ten days after the prorogation, there was a major armed revolt in Scotland against the ‘popish’ and ‘arbitrary’ tyranny of Lauderdale. The rebels were termed ‘Whiggamores’.

In August 1679 the king was taken ill and for two days he seemed to by dying - perhaps of a stroke. This made everyone realize that the succession was a real not a hypothetical question - James could become king. During the crisis, James rushed over from Brussels. In the same month another general election was held, which returned a Parliament dominated by exclusionists, which Charles immediately prorogued. In October, Charles sent James to Edinburgh.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The panic

The country was now gripped by anti-Catholic hysteria. It now hardly mattered whether or not Oates was a liar - the Coleman correspondence and the Godfrey murder seemed confirmation of a plot. In London the authorities called out the militia and searched the houses of magistrates. Chains were put across the major streets and the trained bands were kept on the alert. When Parliament met for its 18th session in October, much of the initiative lay with the ‘patriotic’ opposition, the ‘country’ party led by Shaftesbury in the Lords and his client, William Russell in the Commons. The main political result was a new Test Act excluding Catholics from Parliament, though by a small majority (158-156) James was excluded from the Act and he continued to sit in the Lords for the rest of the parliamentary session.

Meanwhile parliamentary committees took more ‘evidence’ and compiled the names of more conspirators supplied by Oates’s fertile brain. A manufacturer sold 3,000 daggers bearing the legend ‘Remember Justice Godfrey’; ladies carried them for protection against popish assassins. A weak and discredited government was in no state to dissolve parliament or to quell the hysteria.

The impeccably Anglican Danby became the scapegoat for the Popish Plot. By the autumn of 1678 his attempts to manipulate Parliament, his hostility to religious toleration, and his refusal to disband a standing army of 20,000 all smacked of arbitrary government. The final cause of his fall was the revelation of his secret correspondence containing details of subsidy negotiations with Louis XIV. The author of the revelations was none other than Louis himself, determined to punish Danby for the Dutch marriage. On 11 December 1678, the relevant letters were read to the Commons by Ralph Montagu, former ambassador in Paris, lover of Anne Fitzroy, countess of Sussex, Charles’s daughter by Lady Castlemaine, now MP for Northampton. The letters were from Charles to Louis and they were signed by both the king and Danby, destroying Danby's political credit at a stroke: the self-styled enemy of France was revealed pleading for French subsidies. The Commons drew up articles of impeachment against him. On 30 December Charles prorogued the session in something like panic’. On 24 January 1679 he declared the Cavalier Parliament dissolved. It had sat for 18 years.

Before the new parliament met, he had ‘persuaded’ the duke of York to leave the country. James went to Brussels leaving Danby to face the wrath of the new parliament. Charles was now to face the greatest crisis of his reign.

In November and December 1678 Coleman and three priests were tried and executed and articles of impeachment were prepared against five Catholic peers. Lord Stafford, the Catholic peer was attainted, and executed in December 1680. Nine Jesuits were executed, twelve more died in prison. The last of these, Oliver Plunkett, was executed in June, 1681. From the end of 1678 to the beginning of 1681 about 35 people were tried and executed for their alleged part in the plot. Charles allowed the executions to go ahead because, as he saw it, he had no option but to swim with the tide.

See here for a list of the victims of the 'Plot'.

The murder of Godfrey

Two coincidences seemed to dispel all doubts about the conspiracy.

On 12 October 1678 Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey disappeared. Five days later his body was discovered in a ditch at the foot of Primrose Hill; he had been strangled several days before and subsequently run through with his own sword. No-one knows why he was murdered or who murdered him, but it was widely believed that he had been killed by Catholics because he knew too much. A coroner’s jury brought in the verdict of ‘wilful murder by some person or persons unknown’. For this formula the popular mind substituted ‘the Papists’.

Even more convincing was the fact that Oates had implicated, Edward Coleman, the duchess of York’s secretary. His house was searched and when his papers were seized, he was found to have engaged in wild schemes with Jesuits and French agents. For example, he wrote to Louis XIV’s confessor, Père Lachaise :
‘We have here a mighty work upon our hands, no less than the conversion of the three kingdoms and by that perhaps the subduing of a pestilent heresy which has domineered over part of this northern world a long time’.
On 1-2 November the two Houses of the Cavalier Parliament recorded their unanimous conviction that ‘there hath been and still is a damnable and hellish’ popish plot to assassinate the king. On 4 November it was proposed by the Commons that Coleman’s master, the duke of York, be banned from the king’s presence.

The 'Popish Plot'

The posts on the plot are indebted to J. P. Kenyon, The Popish Plot (Penguin, 1972).

The ‘plot’ was the brain child of Titus Oates (1649-1705), a delusional paranoiac, one of the most spectacular liars in history. He was the son of a Baptist turned Anglican parson, expelled from two Cambridge colleges and went down without taking a degree, but who nevertheless took holy orders. He was ejected from the living of Bobbing in Kent for drunkenness. He then had a spell as a chaplain at Tangier which ended when he was accused of sodomy. In 1676 he fell in with Israel Tonge, a ‘crazy clergyman’ with a settled persecution complex focused on the Jesuits. In March 1677 Oates was received into the Roman Catholic Church. After this, at the instigation of the provincial of the English Jesuits he served briefly as a novice at Valladolid, an experience which enabled him to claim that he was a doctor of the University of Salamanca.

On 13 August 1678 Charles was introduced to Israel Tonge, who presented him with a document which made known details of a ‘conspiracy’ masterminded by the Jesuits to assassinate the king. The allegations were passed on to Danby for further investigation; even if Charles did not believe in the plot, he could hardly ignore the allegation – neither could Danby. In the following days they added more details and on 6 September Oates swore a deposition 43 articles long before a justice of the peace, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey.

On 28 September the matter was brought before the privy council when Tonge produced a new version of their allegations, now 81 articles long. They claimed that the intention was to shoot the king, but that if that failed, the queen’s physician, George Wakeman, was to poison him. He also produced five incriminating letters written by Jesuits and received by Thomas Bedingfield, James’s confessor. On the following day, Tongue produced Oates as his informant. During the privy council’s investigations, Charles was able to expose Oates as a liar on points of detail. But though the king was unconvinced the privy council were impressed.

To those who believed Oates his story was convincing because it confirmed what they already believed about Catholics. The evidence seemed overwhelming: the incriminating letters; Oates’s exact memory of names and dates.

An important marriage

Feeling his position threatened by the hostility of Parliament to the government's pro-French policies, Danby arranged a marriage between William and the duke of York's elder daughter, the Lady Mary. This was done over James’s head, but, following his public announcement of his conversion, his daughters had been made wards of state and he had no say in their upbringing.

When Charles agreed to the betrothal in October 1677, the country celebrated with bonfires, though Mary is alleged to have wept for a day and a half. Yet the marriage seemed to be counter-balanced by the birth of a son to the duchess of York a few days later, even though this child lived only five days (he died of smallpox). His mother was under thirty and in good health - there was every likelihood that a son would replace Mary and Anne in the succession. But it seemed for a while as if the marriage of William and Mary had locked England into an alliance with the Netherlands. An Anglo-Dutch treaty was concluded in December.

In January 1678, fearing French designs on the United Provinces, Parliament voted to raise an army of 30,000 troops and in principle to grant a war supply of £1million for six months. In May Charles concluded another secret agreement with Louis by which he received further subsidies in return for disbanding his army and again proroguing Parliament. But in July 1678 France and the United Provinces signed an armistice, the Peace of Nijmegen, by which time both countries had come to distrust England. Charles refused to disband his army, and with the king now in possession of a standing army, many MPs feared the imminent establishment of popery and absolutism. Inevitably perhaps, Danby was blamed.

And Mary, Princess of Orange? When she entered The Hague in December 1677 in a golden coach drawn by six piebald horses, she won over the spectators with her beauty and affability. At the place of Honselaersdijk she discovered a passion for gardening that stayed with her for the rest of her life and another passion for collecting porcelain. Very soon she fell in love with her solemn husband, and, though he was brusque and undemonstrative, he too came to love her. See Maureen Waller, Ungrateful Daughters (Sceptre, 2002).

Mary's love for her husband was to have important political consequences.

'No popery'

The mid-1670s saw a burgeoning of republican literature that was often circulated in manuscript through the taverns and coffee-houses of London. In November 1675 A Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friends in the Country was published - possibly written by Shaftesbury and John Locke. The House of Lords ordered the pamphlet to be burned.

In 1677 Andrew Marvell published anonymously An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government (1677):
There has now for divers years a design been carried on to change the lawful government of England for an absolute tyranny.
The stages of this alleged conspiracy are traced from the triple alliance to Charles's adjournment of parliament in July 1677; the declaration of indulgence is presented as a Catholic subterfuge, The tract, timed to appear before the next session of parliament in April 1678, alarmed the government, which in the Gazette for 21 February – 5 March offered £50 for the discovery of author and publisher. (See the article on Marvell in the New Dictionary of National Biography.)

The association of ‘popery’ and ‘arbitrary power’ was a familiar theme of English political life. Anti-Catholicism was reinforced by the Marian persecutions, the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot and the Irish crisis of 1641. In 1667 the Commons had tried hard to ‘prove’ that the Catholics had started the Fire of London.

The conjunction of events seemed especially ominous. The queen, the heir to the throne, his recently pregnant second wife and the king’s current favoured mistress were all Catholics and nobody knew whether to believe the king’s denials of a secret treaty. Meanwhile Louis XIV was attacking Protestant Holland, and though the king explicitly denied (in 1675) the existence of a secret treaty with France, nobody knew whether to believe him. A religious survey instigated by Danby in 1676 revealed that Catholics were no more than 5% of the population, but the main cause of fear of popery in England was what was happening in Europe, and especially in France’.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Thoughs on Regicide (update)

Several of you have drawn my attention to Geoffrey Robertson's The Tyrannicide Brief. You might find this review in the Times Literary Supplement interesting.

The Telegraph has a more sympathetic review.

Some thoughts on coffee houses

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 and were places of free expression, which did not endear them to the Crown. They usurped the prerogative of the prince by debating politics, religion and literature. When Danby tried to close them in 1675 there was a public outcry. The government performed a U-turn and a face-saving formula was devised. The proprietors promised ‘to be wonderful good for the future and to take care to prevent treasonable talk in their houses.’

The German sociologist, Jürgen Habermas saw coffee houses as part of an emerging public sphere which began in England in the late seventeenth century and provided a space in which private citizens could take a public role. His influential book was translated into English in 1989 under the title of The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and it has had a huge influence on historians of the period.


Recognizing the need for a fundamental reorientation of policy, Charles turned to a figure whose reverence for Church and Crown struck a chord with most MPs. Thomas Osborne (1632-1712), a Yorkshireman, created 1st earl of Danby was a protégé of Buckingham. He first came to politics as joint treasurer of the navy in 1668 and sole treasurer in 1671. In June 1673 he succeeded Clifford as Lord Treasurer and was created earl of Danby in June 1764. His policies were (a) to restore the royal finances and (b) to establish permanently good relations between crown and parliament by pursuing the ‘Cavalier’ policies of hostility to France and support for the Church of England.

(a) During his tenure as lord treasurer, England, the total revenue of the crown increased dramatically. England withdrew from the third Dutch War, and there was an improvement in the collection of the three major branches of the revenue: the hearth tax, the excise and the customs, the last two caused by a trade boom. But the increase in royal expenditure, caused by Charles’s extravagance, meant that the crown could not profit from this. As a result it continued to be dependent on parliament.

(b) He attempted to manage parliament by using his patronage powers to the utmost; some MPs received pensions, others were appointed customs commissioners or officials of the Irish revenue. But he also lost support through political clumsiness; for example, his ban on coffee houses had to be revoked. His greatest asset was that he shared the ‘Cavalier’ prejudices of the Commons, and shared their prejudices against Catholic and Dissenters and their distrust of Louis XIV. In 1674 he released plans for the rebuilding of St Paul’s.

Yet he faced two fundamental problems. (a) He never possessed the king’s unequivocal support (who did?) and (b) he proved unable to manage Parliament.

Even when Charles II told Parliament in January 1675 that, contrary to rumours, there was no secret treaty with France, relations remained poor. Parliament’s suspicions were well-founded as Louis paid Charles a secret subsidy of £112,000 in 1676, and in August 1677, under severe pressure from Charles, Danby secretly negotiated a French grant of two million livres, on condition that Parliament would remain prorogued and that England would not go to war against France.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Opposition

Shaftesbury is reported to have said on his dismissal,
‘It is only laying down my gown, and putting on my sword’
The parliamentary session of early1674 was the stormiest so far, arousing historical memories of the Long Parliament. Among the bills passed was a habeas corpus bill (though it did not become law until 1679). Buckingham was attacked for corruption and removed from all his offices. And articles of impeachment were brought against Arlington, though he escaped a petition for his dismissal by a narrow majority. (But he resigned his Secretaryship in September.)

In the face of hardening opposition Charles made peace with the Dutch in the Treaty of Westminster, 9 February 1674). In the treaty the Dutch agreed to salute the English flag in what were defined as British waters, but the English abandoned attempts to gain a footing in the Spice Islands. However New York, which had been captured by the Dutch, was restored to English rule.

On 24 February Charles prorogued Parliament. He had now acquired a new minister: Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby, who had succeeded Clifford as Lord Treasurer.

By this time something resembling an opposition party had come into existence, comprising men such as William Russell (afterwards Lord Russell). In 1673 an MP, Sir Thomas Meres, was able to speak of ‘this side of the house and that side’. A hard core of ‘country’ MPs were deeply exercised by the apparent spread of popery in high circles and opposed to anything that smacked of royal absolutism. In 1674 the Green Ribbon Club was founded at the King’s Head Tavern in Chancery Lane. The opposition had leaders in the former ministers, Buckingham and Shaftesbury. In May 1674 Shaftesbury was expelled from the privy council and the lord lieutenancy of Dorset, and from this date he worked to secure the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament and the exclusion of the Duke of York from the throne.

Looking back, thoughtful observers saw 1672-4 as the watershed of the reign, in which the king’s designs to establish popery and arbitrary government had become apparent. But it has also been argued that experience also helped Charles become ‘a wiser and ultimately more decisive politician’.

The First Test Act

In February 1673 Parliament met for the first time since April 1671. They voted Charles money to continue the war and concentrated their fire on the Declaration of Indulgence. In the counties anti-Catholicism had reared its head and the debates of February and March were conducted in hysterical terms, the hysteria fanned by skilful Dutch propagandists. (For example, a pamphlet 'England's Appeal from the Private Cabal at Whitehall to the Great Council of the Nation' suggested and inseparable link between 'France, popery and taking bribes'. ) However they just stopped short of accusing Charles II of taking bribes. As Kishlansky (1996) wryly puts it,
‘ even the paranoid fantasies of the propagandists were too tame when compared to the truth’.

It was now clear that many Anglicans were prepared to consider relief for Protestant Dissenters in an attempt to mount a common front against Catholicism. On 14 February the Commons voted 168/116 that ‘penal statutes in matters ecclesiastical cannot be suspended but by an act of Parliament’, and went on to claim that Charles was ‘very much misinformed’ to believe that he had the power to suspend statutes. All Charles's policy had achieved had been to unite Anglicans and Dissenters against what was perceived to be the common enemy.

On 8 March Charles announced the cancellation of the Declaration of Indulgence. A few days later he gave his assent to a Test Act, despite pressure to the contrary from James, Clifford and Shaftesbury. This excluded all non-Anglicans from public offices by forcing office-holders
1. to swear the Oaths of supremacy and allegiance
2. to take a declaration repudiating transubstantiation
3. to provide documentary proof that they had recently received communion according to the Church of England.

‘The price of parliamentary grants was to be Anglican government’ (Kishlansky, 247). Charles’s right to appoint his own advisors had been dramatically curtailed.

The most dramatic effect of the Test Act was the resignation of the duke of York as Lord High Admiral in June. James had failed to take the Anglican sacrament at Easter - now his Catholicism was out in the open. Clifford also resigned his post as Lord Treasurer; he never recovered from this blow and died in October.

In September James married (by proxy) Princess Maria Beatrice Eleanora D’Este of Modena (Mary of Modena), the great-niece of Cardinal Mazarin, whose family were clients of Louis XIV. She had wished to be a nun but was overruled by Pope Clement X, who told her it was her religious duty to marry James (See Maureen Waller, Ungrateful Daughters, Sceptre, 2002, 54). If they had a son he would displace James’s Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne, and open up the prospect of a Catholic dynasty. Unaware that the marriage had already taken place Parliament (in October) sent an address to the king against it, and refused supply.

On 5 November all London flocked to a great pope-burning, with the additional attraction that an effigy of a Frenchman could be shot at by spectators.

By this time the Cabal had begun to disintegrate. The war was not going well, and Spain and the Empire had entered it on the Dutch side. Shaftesbury no longer supported the government. He was now convinced that Charles intended to promote Catholicism and he was determined to prevent a Catholic becoming monarch. When the queen fell seriously ill in February 1673 he had hoped Charles would remarry. When she recovered, he pressed Charles to divorce Catherine in order to marry a Protestant princess and produce a Protestant heir. But Charles was no longer thinking of divorce (he was preoccupied with his latest mistress, Louise). On 9 November 1673 he dismissed Shaftesbury from his office of Lord Chancellor, and thus created his most formidable and implacable enemy.

The Third Dutch War

Two days after the Declaration of Indulgence (17 March) Charles declared war on the Dutch. At the same time he gave new titles to Arlington (who became an earl) and Ashley (created Earl of Shaftesbury). But this war went badly for England. The main engagement was the indecisive battle off Southwold (Sole Bay) on 28 May 1672, where two English flagships were sunk and Pepys’s patron, the earl of Sandwich was drowned. ‘The two sides fought to a grudging standstill, their heroisms mutually acknowledged.’

On 30 May 120,000 French troops crossed the Rhine and soon occupied Utrecht. The Dutch responded by flooding their dykes but this strategy could only be temporary - the French could advance one they froze in the winter. The result of this massive crisis in the United Provinces was the downfall (and murder) of the Pensionary, Johan de Witt, and his brother Cornelius and the appointment of William of Orange as Stadtholder.

Preparations for War

The ‘Stop of the Exchequer’
In the traité simulé Charles and Arlington provisionally planned the war with the Netherlands for the spring of 1672. By the beginning of the year it was clear that royal finances were insufficient to wage a major war. On 20 January 1672, Charles proclaimed the ‘Stop of the Exchequer’ – a suspension of the repayment of all previous loans. In effect, the Crown declared itself bankrupt. In the long term this was to make financiers reluctant to lend money to the Crown, but in the short term it released about £1.2 million for the war.
Query: would anyone lend money to the Crown after this?

Declaration of Indulgence
All this took place against a background of increasing parliamentary concern over Charles’s religious policies. In March 1672 he issued his second Declaration of Indulgence which suspended all penal laws, allowed Roman Catholics to worship in their own homes, and offered licenses to Protestant dissenters to hold public worship. He invoked what he claimed to be his ‘supreme power in ecclesiastical matters. Parliament disagreed. They believed that only 'the King in Parliament' had this power.

Charles was again gambling on a Catholic/dissenter alliance to free him from his dependence on Anglicanism. But this policy was never going to succeed, because the two groups remained deeply suspicious of each other, and the main result of the Declaration was to make Protestants close ranks. Andrew Marvell complained that religious tyranny was being restrained only by ‘a Piece of absolute universal Tyranny’ (quoted Jonathan Scott, England's Troubles (Cambridge, 2000), 429.