The Restoration (1660-1685)
The execution of Charles I shook up all European monarchs and the leading aristocracy. It was the first time in history that a ruling monarch was beheaded by a parliamentary institution and it endangered not only the idea of the divine right of kings but the idea of state and government on its whole. Therefore, when the English Parliament was called back to office, immediately after Cromwell’s son’s failure to rule, it was clear to all that it would be best for England’s future political influence on an international basis to restore the monarchy and its legitimate heir to the throne.
King Charles II and Great Changes
Charles II came back to England from his French exile in 1660, the monarchy was then restored. Unlike his father he avoided any conflict with Parliament and was less stern than Charles I had been. The king and the court though rejected puritan’s strict morality, they were more concerned with pragmatic reality issues rather than lingering too much on after life. In the mean time scientific discoveries and new philosophical theories developed without jeopardising religious beliefs. Mathematical and physical experimental methods replaced the unquestionable authority of scholars separating the natural and practical world from metaphysics. These new approaches brought people to accept, on the one side, moral dignity, purity, simplicity and, on the other, excess, luxury, immorality and overly care for appearances. Drama and music were also reinstated as dignified artistic expressions and were no longer banned. Tensions were somewhat loosened.
Puritans and Catholics, Tories and Whigs
Politically speaking the nobles and gentry resumed their leading roles in society and puritans, as well as Catholics, were banned from public offices. This provision, however, did not dissolve the fear that the monarchy would still covet absolutism and to prevent such a risk MPs divided into two separate groups “Tories” and “Whigs”, giving life to what later on would be regarded as two different political parties. The formers sided with the king and his rightful heirs, supporting the Church of England and landowners. The latter, counting among them both merchants and nobles, were greatly concerned about the matter of the divine right of kings and advocated a moderate tolerance of protestant dissenters.
The Glorious Revolution (1688-1714)
King James II and His Exile, William of Orange and Mary
Charles II had no legitimate offspring, therefore his brother James II became king at his death. He was openly favourable to Catholicism and although at first he was supported by the “Tories”, he began to lose their allegiance upon appointing his catholic courtiers as army and university officials. Moreover, he was a widower when he took over the throne of England and had two daughters, Anne and Mary, married to the king of Denmark and to that of the Netherlands respectfully. When he remarried with Mary of Modena, a catholic, who gave him a son alarm spread through Parliament, both Tories and Whigs feared another civil war so they secretly negotiated an agreement with William of Orange, king of Holland and with Mary thanks to which both would rule England jointly. James II and his new founded family left England while William and Mary (1688-1702) were set on the throne of England.
The Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement
William was made to sign a contract and Parliament passed the BILL OF RIGHTS (1689) reducing the monarchy’s powers and moving steadfastly towards a Constitutional Monarchy. This meant that Parliament alone would be the law-making organ of the country, would levy taxes and keep an army. In addition with the ACT OF SETTLEMENT in 1701 Parliament ensured that in case William and Mary died without a legitimate heir Mary’s sister, Anne, would be the Queen of England leaving out of the line of succession James II’s catholic son.
The Glorious Revolution had taken place peacefully; but most importantly England’s new monarchs had been chosen by Parliament without bloodshed and not by divine right thus safeguarding the country from any potential shifts towards absolutism. Nevertheless the catholic Irish sided with James II and this allegiance was brutally suppressed by William I’s army pushing Ireland to economic ruin.
Queen Anne (1702-1714) and the Act of the Union
Under the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) Parliament passed the ACT OF THE UNION (1707) uniting Scotland to England, as a result many Scots moved to England or the colonies which were in full blossom at the time, in fact England’s trade thrived with imports from all parts of the world going from America to the West Indies and the Far East, its empire was expanding enriching its domestic market and British traders.
Censorship was slowly repealed, the newspapers began to be more wide-spread, satire flourished along with other arts, there was greater religious tolerance and new scientific studies. The country benefitted from political stability and began to develop confidence and trust in its people’s abilities in economic growth and greater well being for an ever growing portion of the population.
© L. R. Capuana
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