Great Britain: The Stuarts
The accession in 1603 of the Stuart James I, who was also James VI of Scotland, united the thrones of England and Scotland. The chronic need for money of both James and his son, Charles I, which they attempted to meet by unusual and extralegal means; their espousal of the divine right of kings; their determination to enforce their high Anglican preferences in religion; and their use of royal courts such as Star Chamber, which were not bound by the common law, to persecute opponents, together produced a bitter conflict with Parliament that culminated (1642) in the English civil war.
In the war the parliamentarians, effectively led at the end by Oliver Cromwell, defeated the royalists. The king was tried for treason and beheaded (1649). The monarchy was abolished, and the country was governed by the Rump Parliament, the remainder of the last Parliament (the Long Parliament) Charles had called (1640), until 1653, when Cromwell dissolved it and established the Protectorate. Cromwell brutally subjugated Ireland, made a single commonwealth of Scotland and England, and strengthened England's naval power and position in international trade. When he died (1658), his son, Richard, succeeded as Lord Protector but governed ineffectively.
The threat of anarchy led to an invitation by a newly elected Parliament (the Convention Parliament) to Charles, son of Charles I, to become king, ushering in the Restoration (1660). It was significant that Parliament had summoned the king, rather than the reverse; it was now clear that to be successful the king had to cooperate with Parliament. The Whig and Tory parties developed in the Restoration period. Although Charles II was personally popular, the old issues of religion, money, and the royal prerogative came to the fore again. Parliament revived official Anglicanism (see Clarendon Code), but Charles's private sympathies lay with Catholicism. He attempted to bypass Parliament in the matter of revenue by receiving subsidies from Louis XIV of France.
Charles's brother and successor, James II, was an avowed Catholic. James tried to strengthen his position in Parliament by tampering with the methods of selecting members; he put Catholics in high university positions, maintained a standing army (which later deserted him), and claimed the right to suspend laws. The birth (1688) of a male heir, who, it was assumed, would be raised as a Catholic, precipitated a crisis.
In the Glorious Revolution, Whig and Tory leaders offered the throne to William of Orange (William III), whose Protestant wife, Mary, was James's daughter. William and Mary were proclaimed king and queen by Parliament in 1689. The Bill of Rights confirmed that sovereignty resided in Parliament. The Act of Toleration (1689) extended religious liberty to all Protestant sects; in subsequent years, religious passions slowly subsided.
By the Act of Settlement (1701) the succession to the English throne was determined. Since 1603, with the exception of the 1654–60 portion of the interregnum, Scotland and England had remained two kingdoms united only in the person of the monarch. When it appeared that William's successor, Queen Anne, Mary's Protestant sister, would not have an heir, the Scottish succession became of concern, since the Scottish Parliament had not passed legislation corresponding to the Act of Settlement. England feared that under a separate monarch Scotland might ally itself with France, or worse still, permit a restoration of the Catholic heirs of James II—although a non-Protestant succession had been barred by the Scottish Parliament. On its part, Scotland wished to achieve economic equality with England. The result was the Act of Union (1707), by which the two kingdoms became one. Scotland obtained representation in (what then became) the British Parliament at Westminster, and the Scottish Parliament was abolished.
Sections in this article:
- The Thatcher Era to the Present
- <named-content content-type="electronic">The 1960s and 70s</named-content><named-content content-type="print">The Late Twentieth Century</named-content>
- World War II and the Welfare State
- World War I and Its Aftermath
- Victorian Foreign Policy
- Economic, Social, and Political Change
- The Growth of Empire and Eighteenth-Century Political Developments
- The Stuarts
- Tudor England
- Medieval England
- Early Period to the Norman Conquest
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