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.