Thursday, November 24, 2005

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.