Thursday, November 24, 2005

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.