Stuart Period 1603 – 1714
The Stuart period in Britain faced problems connected with religion, finance and Parliament. Discover more using the Stuart timeline, articles and images, about a Civil War, the execution of one king and the deposition of another.
The Catholic versus Protestant and monarchy versus parliament. Come to your own conclusions about the period.
The Stuart Period ended the reign of the Tudors
Elizabeth had nominated King James VI of Scotland, her successor. King James I would take over rule of a country that was prosperous and largely peaceful but very expensive to run. Britain needed King James I to be a reforming monarch. James however, was content to enjoy all the majesty and splendour but was without the means to support it. Herein lay the problem for the early Stuarts, how to raise money to pay for their lifestyle and this problem was at the centre of all that was to follow.
King James, taxation and divine right
Parliament did not have the money to cover the costs of government. It could resort to a regular taxation of the people but in return it would expect the King to give up taking money from people in the form of Medieval fines and taxation. If this was not acceptable, then, as was happening in other parts of Europe, Parliament could be dispensed with, removing all it’s inherent costs and the King would rule by Divine Right, imposing taxes as he saw fit. Divine Right did not sit well with the British people or Parliament. They saw the Royal household fritter away money on an extravagant lifestyle, making it very difficult for Parliament to raise a regular taxation.
The church under the Stuart King
King James I was keen to continue the idea of a National church. He had been brought up a Calvanist, the basis of Puritanism in England. Puritans and Anglicans sat in troubled coexistence. Catholics carried on as before despite the setback with the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, for which the majority of Catholics seemed to have little stomach. Things however began to unravel between King and Parliament
Things began to spiral out of control. The crunch came when James took the country into war with Spain, he went to Parliament to raise money, the ensuing argument was the beginning of the demise of trust and respect between the monarch and Parliament. The creaky boat of government managed to sail but When King James I died in 1625, his successor King Charles I managed to completely sink it.
The Stuart King Charles I
A very different man from his father who shut himself away at court with his family. This was no good for the country and he had run out of money.
The war continued and Parliament was called, they firmly rejected Charles’s right to raise taxes as he saw fit, some knights refused to pay, it was anarchy. The two sides had reached an impasse, Parliament had issued a ‘Petition of Rights’ a list of grievances and demands, the King accepted it and ignored it. King Charles saw that if he avoided war, he could rule without Parliament, so he did.
King Charles and Personal Rule
The decade passed quietly, although many were not prepared to forget about Parliament, Charles was well advised and peace ensued. He was pro Catholic, seeing the Anglican church as a moderated pre reformation Catholic one. He loathed the Puritans and without Parliament their mouthpiece was gone. Those with wealth and land got richer. The poor however were suffering terribly and the first migrations to America took place at this time. Internal migration was also happening at a rate not seen before.
The Scottish threat
Charles’s dominion was a London centred one. He tried to rule Scotland and Ireland without going there and the consequences of this were immense. The Scotts threatened invasion, Charles was forced to recall Parliament. Their list of complaints against the King was enormous. Overwhelmed, Charles rashly dissolved Parliament. Facing financial ruin and unable to stop the march of the Scotts, he was forced to call Parliament again. On the 3rd November 1640 the Long Parliament sat and they demanded a return to the return of rule as it had been in the time of Elizabeth. They feared Catholics and refused any money to Charles. Anyone for the King was swept away, he tried to protect some with force but that unleached a torrent upon the King never seen before. The Puritans got rid of all the reform of the previous decade. Parliament seized control and there was nothing Charles could say or do to stem the tide. Puritans spread their rumours of a Popish plot everywhere. Moderates were ousted from their positions. The King refused to budge and left London, the court dissolved.
The English Civil War, the brink
The country was divided and stunned when it became evident that England was about to be plunged into an unwanted civil war. Everyone was eventually forced to take sides, the war and the period known as the ‘Commonwealth’ lasted from 1642 – 1658 and was a bloody war which involved everyone. The country would never be the same again. Parliament fast dismantled the Church of England, bishops abolished. Religious groups and factions quarrelled. The country was broken, the army under Oliver Cromwell ruled with Puritan zeal. The King stood firm and absolute chaos ruled or rather the army ruled removing dissenters.
Execution of King Charles I
On the 6th January 1649, the court met to try the King, a revolution was taking place. He was sentenced to death and executed on 30th January 1649.
Not only was the King dead but all the things that held the country together were also gone, government, church, nobility and fear stood in it’s place. The new Cromwellian government set about passing acts of intolerance and then demanded an oath of loyalty from the male population. Many refused, the new government had an opposition still loyal to the Royal family. The country was in a financial mess, the Cromwellian government in chaos. In 1653, Cromwell dispensed with the Rump Parliament and set up a new one. This also failed to deal with the complexity of the problems England was now facing. Cromwell’s self-appointment as ‘Lord Protector’ gave him powers akin to a monarch. His continuing popularity with the army propped up his regime.
Oliver Cromwell’s death
When Oliver Cromwell died, he was succeeded by his son, Richard. The Commonwealth of England collapsed into financial and administrative chaos. Parliament was once again dissolved and Richard Cromwell was overthrown. It was realised that only the restoration of the king could end the political chaos, and Charles II was invited to return from exile.
The Stuarts return King Charles II
On 29th May 1660 Charles II was crowned King. The Restoration was a fragile beast, peace and social order was desired but dissenters and religious radicals were not going to be driven underground. This was not an untroubled rule but King Charles II had the common touch. Despite his enjoyment of the good life he was politically astute and whatever he thought inside realized that to enjoy his rule, the acts of the Restoration Settlement had to be carefully managed. Royal powers and finances were controlled but religion once again was the sticking point. The Act of Uniformity and the re-introduction of the Book of Common Prayer led to many ministers losing their living. The Presbyterians, along with the Catholics found themselves driven underground as the Anglican church reasserted themselves.
The Stuarts Period a Commercial Revolution
Despite all that was going on in the country, a window of opportunity was opening up. Britain was rapidly growing the largest merchant fleet in Europe, trade flowed in and out of the country. Improved agricultural methods met the increasing demands for more and better quality food. Coal mining increased to provide heating fuel and the standards of living for most classes improved. The age of Enlightenment took hold and the professions grew as education improved and Charles was a keen supporter of all arts and sciences. The main enemy was the Dutch and Charles entered into an agreement to join forces with the French over the matter.
The Stuarts and the Catholic problem
Charles issued a Declaration of Indulgence which was meant to alleviate the position of the Catholics and allow them to celebrate Mass in private but in doing so resurrected the fear of Catholicism again in the country. His wife and mistresses were Catholics and many were disturbed by what they imagined was a return to a Catholic country. The Popish Plot against the King unleached a hysterical anti Catholic revolt and the two political factions, the Tories and the Whigs took opposing sides. The Whigs wanted to dictate the succession of the monarch via the Exclusion Act, which would prevent a Catholic from becoming king. King Charles retaliated by dissolving Parliament and did not summon one again, the monarchy had re-surged.
The Stuart King James II
When Charles died his brother, James took the crown. Committed to Catholicism, it would bring about his fall. He placed Catholics in as many important positions as he could, the country had not seen such a display of Catholicism before. The men in the Shires were appalled and James lost the support of the Tories. He had alienated any who might have stood for him.
The silent majority sought to remove the King and went to the ruler of the Protestant Netherlands William of Orange, married to King James daughter Mary and asked them to invade the country.
They did so and the Royal family fled. A complicated series of legislation ensued that ruled that James had abdicated and placed William III on the throne with Mary. William of Orange agreed to rule cooperatively with Parliament. A massive change in the role of monarch and state had taken place and the country was split down the middle again.
The French enemy, the Dutch now held the throne of England and the result was the beginning of a lengthy series of wars with France. These wars stood Britain on it’s head and as William and Mary gave way to Queen Anne, Parliament was thrown one way and another and yet somehow managed to come through with a clear understanding that Government could not function at the whim of monarch or people that it had to be financed and put on a footing that would best serve the country.
The period of Stuart rule was probably one of the most important periods in forming modern British society. Have you taken a browse at the Georgian Period that follows it?