Thursday, December 08, 2005

After the rebellion

The defeat of the rebellion greatly strengthened James’s position but it also made him aware of his military weakness: even at Sedgemoor, Feversham had only two thousand foot and 800 horse. The king decided to keep most of the forces he had raised for the emergency, thus doubling the size of his standing army, which increased to almost 19,000 officers and men. By contrast the militia’s poor showing convinced him that it was useless and untrustworthy. He hoped therefore that Parliament would allow him to use the militia money to maintain the army. He also resolved to press on with renewed determination to make the Catholics’ position safe for all time. While enlarging his army he had commissioned nearly 100 Catholic officers. As a strictly temporary measure this was probably legal, but James wanted to make their position permanent. This flew in the face of English anti-Catholicism and dislike of standing armies.

It was unfortunate for James that this coincided with Louis XIV’s Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in October which revoked the toleration previously granted to the Huguenots. This led to a flood of French refugees - eventually totalling between 30,000 and 40,000 - who settled in places like Spitalfields and Rochester. They brought with them horror stories about their sufferings from the dragonnades. James's lukewarm welcome made it more difficult for many of his subjects to believe his protestations that his aim was toleration rather than the setting up of an absolutist Catholic monarchy.

Monmouth's Rebellion

In June, the crown was confronted by a two-pronged rebellion, engineered by Whig exiles in Holland. The one in Scotland was led by the earl of Argyll. It was a clan rebellion in which the Campbells followed their chief. It was quickly crushed and his followers were treated with leniency though Argyll himself was executed, as his father had been before him.

The second was in the west of England when Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis on 11 June with eighty-two men and a quantity of arms. Trading on his Protestant credentials, he assembled about 3,000 men - farmers, clothworkers, artisans and miners - as he marched through Dorset and Somerset in June. Most of his followers were either groups outside the political nation or very marginalized within it. They had a strong tradition of independence and during the civil war, under Blake’s leadership, their fathers had defeated the royalist gentry. Despite harsh persecution, many of them were dissenters.

Monmouth’s proclamation was couched in radical whiggish terms: government was originally instituted for the good of the people and the royal prerogative was there to ensure the people’s safety. The remedies he proposed for what he claimed was James II’s abuse of the prerogative were very much in the spirit of 1681: annual parliaments, no standing army, repeal of the laws against dissenters, restoration of charters, free juries, and independent judges. The most inflammatory note in his proclamation was the claim that James had poisoned his brother.

On 15 June parliament rushed through a bill of attainder as a result of which Monmouth could be executed without trial. A price of £5000 was put on his head.

On 18 June Monmouth reached Taunton, which proved the most fertile recruiting ground. But to his dismay, the gentry failed to rally to him. In a panic, he issued a second proclamation on 20 June claiming the crown for himself. The tactic failed. His only chance of success lay in seizing Bristol, but his army was deflected by royalist troops at Keynsham. At Frome he learned of the failure of the Scottish rebellion, and, with the Lancashire and Cheshire gentry failing to rise, he knew his cause was lost. But Monmouth refused the option of flight. He was finally defeated at the battle of Sedgemoor on 5 July and was found hiding in a ditch near Ringwood. He was executed on 15 July.

The king’s rule in Somerset was restored under Colonel Percy Kirke, the former commander of the Tangier garrison, and his regiment (soon to be nicknamed ‘Kirke’s Lambs’). At the end of August a special commission of oyer and terminer, known as the ‘Bloody Assizes’ was set up under Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys to try some 1300 suspected rebels. Some 250 were executed, hundreds more were transported to the West Indies. The most notorious trial was that of the seventy year old Alice Lisle charged with sheltering the Nonconformist preacher, John Hickes, a fugitive from Monmouth’s army. She was beheaded in Winchester market place on 2 September.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Catherine Sedley

On becoming king James had broken off his affair with Catherine Sedley as a moral example to the court, doing the decent thing by setting her up with her own house in St James's Square (no. 21), the house formerly occupied by his former mistress, Arabella Churchill. But three months later, the earls of Rochester and Dartmouth, contrived her return to favour, in the hope that she would be a protestant counterweight to the king's Catholic advisers. By a patent of 20 January 1686, James created her baroness of Darlington and countess of Dorchester for life.

The queen was appalled and made her distress obvious when she next appeared in public. The Catholic advisers, led by the king's chaplain, Bonaventure Giffard, took the hint and demanded that the countess be banished. James almost immediately gave way. Withdrawing first to St James's Square, she refused to go abroad and, as a compromise, agreed to go into internal exile in Ireland. As a generous pay-off, she was granted an annual pension of £3000 to last until 1691, when she was promised quit-rents worth £5000 per annum from extensive estates in Ireland. On arrival in Dublin she found it ‘intolerable’ and the Irish ‘mallincoly’. In August 1686 she returned to England, on the pretext of taking the waters at Tunbridge Wells, whereupon the king discreetly resumed their affair. (Information taken from the New DNB)

The accession of James II

In the 19th century James II was vilified as a potential absolutist who wanted to rule without Parliament and to force Catholicism on the nation. However, it is now clear that his aim was not to eradicate Protestantism or to rule without Parliament. He was especially sensitive to the charge that he was a client of Louis XIV and was eager to assert England’s independence. His aim was to establish the rights of Catholics to worship without persecution and to take full part in the political life of the country: but to do this he would have to persuade Parliament to repeal the penal laws, the Corporation Act of 1661 and the Test Acts of 1673 and 1678. He believed that once this was done Catholicism would triumph without any compulsion from the state. However, this belief shows his political naivety. He completely misunderstood the nature of English anti-Catholicism, failed to empathize with the profound anti-popery of the majority of his subjects, and was unable to realize that his actions were likely to be misinterpreted. In his attempts to alleviate the rigours of religious discrimination, he had to fall back on the royal prerogative at a time when the association of ‘popery’ and ‘arbitrary power’ was taken for granted. His naturally authoritarian temperament did not help.

James was 52 at the time of his accession, the last surviving child of Charles I. His childhood had been uncertain and frightening. The Civil War started when he was nine; at thirteen he was handed over to the parliamentary forces and imprisoned in London, and two years later he escaped in disguise. The happiest years of his life were those in which he was a professional soldier, serving with the French and then the Spaniards. After the Restoration he became Lord High Admiral. In spite of his devout Catholicism (probably post 1669) he had as many mistresses as his brother. By 1685 he was the last surviving child of Charles I. He did not expect to live long and his actions were those of an old man in a hurry. In his policy he could expect no help from his ministers who were staunch Anglicans: his brothers-in-law, Lawrence Hyde, earl of Rochester and Henry Hyde, earl of Clarendon; Lord Halifax, president of the council. But he had an ally in his secretary of state, Robert Spencer, 2nd earl of Sunderland , who however was entirely opportunistic. He had supported Exclusion, but had wheedled his way back through the graces of the queen. In April John Churchill was appointed gentleman of the bedchamber, and in May he was made Baron Churchill.

James’s accession was greeted quietly. In a statement to the privy council he made a promise which he later repeated to Parliament that he would always defend it. But from the start there were signs of anew royal style: more formality in official behaviour, more bluntness and directness in royal statements. He insisted on attending mass in full state.

The end of Charles II's reign

By the end of his reign Charles’s position was extremely strong. His enemies were scattered, the judiciary was siding with the government, and the crown was solvent. Under the influence of the duke of York's brother-in-law, Lawrence Hyde, earl of Rochester, who continued (with more success) Danby’s policies of royal retrenchment, increased revenue from customs, hearth tax and excise the crown’s permanent ordinary revenue soared beyond the £1.2m agreed 1660-1. By 1684-5 it had risen to £1,370,750 and was still increasing. Charles even had money to put aside for his new palace at Winchester. In October 1684 Charles and his brother inspected the troops mustered on Putney Heath – the Crown now had a standing army.

When he defied the Triennial Act and did not summon a new parliament in 1684 there was no outcry. But his achievement was limited. He had not definitively settled any major issue. The political and religious divisions had not gone away. Toryism and Anglicanism seemed triumphant but the Whigs were still there and the Dissenters were refusing to be cowed. It is not surprising that his triumph proved short-lived. The duke of York’s Catholicism was an intractable problem.

Charles died on 5 February 1685, according to some medical experts from chronic granular kidney disease with uraemic convulsions.
‘Thus died K Charles the 2nd, of a vigorous and robust constitution, & in all appearance capable of a longer life. A prince of many Virtues, & many great Imperfections, Debonaire, Easy of accesse, not bloudy or Cruel … An excellent Prince had he not been addicted to Women … Easily & frequently he changed favourites to his great prejudice, &c …’ John Evelyn, Diary, ed Guy de la Bédoyère (Boydell Press, 2004), p. 275.

The persecution of Dissenters

After the Oxford dissolution, repression of Dissenters began on an increasingly systematic and severe scale with Charles’s explicit encouragement, though the laws against Catholics were enforced less severely (this partly reflected the duke of York’s influence). He made an exception only for William Penn, who publicly dissociated himself from the Whigs, rewarding him with the Pennsylvania Charter in 1681. The city of Philadelphia was established in the following year.

In January 1684 over 200 Dissenters faced charges at Coventry for not attending church. Between 1681 and 1685 as many as 400 Quakers died in prison, many during the exceptionally cold winter of 1684. (At the same time Louis XIV was sending the dragoons against the Huguenots.)