In the 17th century England, the middle class had carried forward their rebellion against absolute monarchy based on divine rights. The Parliament was the representation of this class and its fight. The men who now fought the Stuart Kings were precisely those who had profited from Tudor absolutism, which now began to irritate them. The lower middle class then split from their upper counterpart and rallied Cromwell. So far as the untitled and unmoneyed class was concerned, they stood largely by the throne, although they had as little to gain by the King as by the Parliament. The middle class was so afraid of the poor people as of the King. When the parliamentarians talked of a government based on consent, they had no intention of extending the franchise to the people; it was to be their own consent. Right to property, which they held to be sacred, meant to them the principle that the King had no right to tax them without their consent; it also meant a denial of property to the people who were poor.
Coke, who was appointed the Attorney General (and also the Chief Justice) in 1594, was attacking the divine rights of Kings and he regarded both King and the Parliament, as subject to common law which, to him, was the truly sovereign power in the land. Common law had to be interpreted by the judges. Throughout Europe, absolute state was becoming the order of the day. Louis XI had first subjugated the feudal nobility. The Reformation then enabled the monarchs to better the Church. Henry VIII had claimed jurisdiction and powers, which earlier no British King had done. To the discomfiture of Hobbes, the cursed Puritans had undone the work so artistically done by Henry VIII and the price had to be redesigned so that the fabric may be saved from total destruction in the hands of the rabble. Someone, like Thomas Hobbes agrees with Machiavelli that man is selfish and that human nature is bad but insists that the state could transfer the man into a moral being by the exercise of the master’s rod. He is indebted to Bodin for his concept of sovereignty, but, unlike Bodin, would impose no limitations of Divine, Natural or Constitutional law on his subjects. He agrees with Grotius that, reason is the basis of law but insists that it must be sovereign’s reason alone. He modifies the Divine Right theory by discarding the divine origin of state and by giving Divine Right to the State instead to the King. Hobbes like Machiavelli, subordinated ethics and religion to politics and was the first prophet of unlimited sovereignty.
Elizabeth (1558 – 1603)
Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She ascended to the throne at the age of 25 in 1558 on the death of Queen Mary. She was not only regal but also human. Like her father, she had courage, determination and self-confidence. She was willful and domineering in all matters. Like her mother she was fond of pomp and pleasure. Her great virtue was that she loved the people of England and for their sake she was prepared to make any sacrifices. Her conservative mind made extreme Protestantism suspect to her, separated the foreign policy from any enthusiasm and fitted her to be the real maker of Anglicanism.
When she ascended to the throne, she had to face many difficulties. There was the danger of the civil war in the country. The orthodox Catholics regarded Elizabeth as an usurper and they were prepared to take up arms against her in order to support the cause of Mary Stuart. The Protestants were also bitter. They were determined to carry the Reformation further. There was also a danger of foreign invasion and conquest. A lot of money had been wasted in the French war during the reign of Mary Tudor. The coinage had also been debased. The credit goes to Elizabeth that she not only surmounted all these difficulties but were also able to make her country great and strong.
Religion at her time of ascension
The first great achievement of Elizabeth was her religious settlement. The policy followed by her was that she stopped the burning of the people. The “Act of Supremacy” eliminated the authority of the Pope in England and made Elizabeth the head of the Church of England. She took up the title of “Supreme Governor” and not “Supreme Head” as had been done by her father. The monasteries were dissolved and their lands were passed to the crown. A Book of Common Prayer in English was issued. Extremists among the Catholics and the Protestants were not prepared to reconcile themselves with her religious settlement. However, Elizabeth did not take any strong action against them so long as the people attended the Church. The Church settlement got a setback after 1570, when the Pope issued an excommunication and deposed Elizabeth and declared her to be longer a Queen of England. Her subjects were absolved from their allegiance to her. In 1571, the British Parliament passed an Act, which declared to be high treason for anyone in England to call the Queen a heretic, and usurper or an infidel. The puritans also attacked the Church settlement. They were utterly dissatisfied by the moderate character of it. Most of the ceremonies prescribed by the Church were considered by them to be a relic of Popery and they would like to abolish the same. However, the fact remains that, Elizabeth succeeded in attaining a large unity in the Church and that is the reason why she was successful against Spain, when the Armada attacked England in 1558.
Her foreign policy
The foreign policy of Elizabeth was essentially that of peace. Since England had been weakened in the reigns of Edward VI and Mary Tudor, it was not in her interest to fight against any foreign power in that condition. Her great danger was an invasion from France or Spain, both Catholic countries. However, Elizabeth took advantage of the bitter rivalry going on between France and Spain and was successful in playing off the one against the other. Her foreign policy approach was not dogmatic, but was guided by enlightened national interest. The reign of Elizabeth saw the beginning of English maritime activity. It brought naval supremacy to England.
Her rule in general
Elizabeth can rightly be called as one of the greatest rulers of England. No other ruler was called upon to face so many difficulties and none else faced them so boldly and successfully. She addressed in these words a deputation of both the houses of Parliament: “Though I be a woman, I’ve as good a courage answerable to my place as ever my father had. I’m your anointed Queen. I’ll never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God that I’d been endued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat, I were able to live in any place in Christendom.” She was the child of the Renaissance rather than that of the Reformation. Skeptical and tolerant in the age of intolerance, she was born and brought up to re-establish the Anglican Church and to evade religious war by a compromise between the Catholics and Protestants.
Tudor rule was arbitrary and autocratic in nature. It was despotism, under more or less parliamentary forms. Though despots, their rule was not a tyranny. It was popular despotism based upon the assent of the people and it was assented to because in the main it identified itself with national interests. Their rule in nature was of the dictatorship. The rising middle class called for a strong ruler and was ready to overlook his violence and unconstitutional acts if he would maintain peace and order. The policy of the Tudors was to rule with the support of the subservient Parliament. As a result, Parliament was degraded into an instrument of royal will. The Tudors had broken the power of the great nobles. Monarchs could influence elections and so secure the return of members who favoured his views. Thus, as against the sovereign, Parliament had little influence. The Tudors, however, never sought to override the authority of the Parliament. On the contrary, they encouraged the parliamentary action of the commons. Grave and momentous questions were brought before it such as the anti-papal measures, which cut off Pope’s authority in England. As a consequence, the importance of Parliament increased. The commons grew more self-reliant and were gradually fitted to shake off their tutelage to the crown. There was little friction between the Crown and the Parliament. Parliament submitted to royal guidance and the sovereign in its turn never sought to override its legislative authority.
One of the most important characteristics of the Tudor rule was the growth of the strong monarchy built upon the ruins of the feudal system. That was partly due to the decline of the power of the nobility and the invention of the gunpowder. Another important point was the broadening of the people’s minds on account of the Renaissance movement. The new spirit paved the way for the Reformation movement.
James I (1603 – 1625)
James I ruled from 1603 to 1625. He was born in 1556 and he came to the throne after the expulsion of his mother from Scotland. When his mother was a prisoner in England, he was the King of Scotland. He did nothing to support the cause of his mother. The result was that Elizabeth accepted him as her successor to the throne of England. He had been brought up under rigid Calvinist discipline. He failed as the King of England, even though he was a man of great learning. He was so fond of “unbuttoning his royal stores of wisdom for the benefits of his subjects” that Henry IV of France called him the “wisest fool in Christendom”. He was intolerant to any criticism. He believed that Kings should have supreme authority over all. He believed that people had no right to revolt. “The state of monarchy is the supremest thing on Earth; for Kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon Earth and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God Himself, they are called Gods…it is sedition in subjects to dispute what a King may do in the height of his power. I will not be content that my power be disputed on.”
Here is an extract from the Vicar of Bray, an old ballad:
To teach his flock he never missed,
Kings are by God appointed,
And damned are they, who do resist,
Or touch the Lord’s Anointed.
He had fixed views about politics and the status of Kings. He believed in the Divine Rights of Kings. This view was that Kings were Kings because God made them Kings and they were responsible to God alone for whatever they did and the people had no right to either find fault with them or to challenge their authority. It was this concept of monarchy that was responsible for all his troubles. James I stood for universal peace. He raised the slogan of “Beati Pacifici” (Blessed are the peace makers). His ideas of religious toleration were a cry in the wilderness. In spite of his good intentions, he was a complete failure as a king.
His relations with the Parliament
The relations between James I and the Parliament were not cordial. He believed in the Divine Rights of Kings, but the Parliament claimed certain rights on the basis of tradition, customs and evolutionary growth. Parliament based its rights and privileges on the score of History. Parliament, during the reign of James I, asserted with success its right to impeach the ministers of the King. It protested against the new impositions. It passed its law against monopolies. It asserted its rights to discuss all the affairs of the State although the King strongly protested against the claim. It failed to secure the right of meeting regularly. From these relations, it was clear that the struggle between the two had begun.
No account of the reign of James I can be complete without a reference to the common law lawyers headed by the Chief Justice Coke. In 1594, Coke was appointed Attorney General. He was a great champion of the common law. His view was that the propriety of all actions must be judged by the common law. There was no place for the Divine Rights of the Kings. The judges alone could resolve the conflicts between the prerogatives and the statutes. The view of Coke was different from that of Bacon who held that judges were lions, but lions under the throne. It was during the reign of James I that many English colonies were established beyond the seas. In 1612, the English East India Company set up its factory at Surat (Gujarat, India). Thus, the beginnings of the future British Empire in India and America were laid during the reign of James I.
Charles I (1625 – 1649)
James I died on the 27th March 1625 and was succeeded by his second son, Charles I. Charles I loved those who were close near him, but was cold towards others. He was devoted to the Church of England and was punctual in his devotion to it. To Charles I, the Divine Right was the question of his faith, as deeply rooted as his belief in the Church. He was a bad judge of public questions and political men. He viewed them through the lens of his affections. He saw only rebellion in the critics of the Church of England. The reign of Charles I can be divided into four periods. The first four years of his reign from 1625 to 1629 covered the first period. During this period foreign wars were fought but lost and the relations between the King and the Parliament were bitter. The second period was covered by the years from 1629 to 1640. During this period, he ruled without a Parliament. The third period was covered by the years 1640 to 1642. It was also a period of short and long Parliament. The fourth period is covered by the two Civil wars (1642 – 1649). Charles I was executed in January 1649.
Relations with the Parliament
The fundamental dispute between the King and the Parliament was that the Parliament was determined to become the sovereign of the country and was not prepared to allow the King to do whatever he wanted to do. The execution of Charles I shocked the people. The people were not in favour of Parliament going to such an extreme. The dignified behaviour of the King at the time of his execution also excited universal admiration. There was a strong reaction in favour of the monarch. Many called him the martyr who died for the Church of England. There were others who gave him the credit for having died for the laws and liberties of the English men. A few days after his death, a book entitled “Sikon Basilike” was published. It purported to give the views of the King on Government. It was felt that the dictatorship of the army was no guarantee to safeguard the popular institutions of England and the liberties of the people. The army could fight but could not reconstruct society. This execution was followed by military despotism, which was as bad as the tyranny of the King himself. The question has been asked whether the execution of Charles I was justified or not. From the legal point of view, there was no justification for trying the King as no process could be issued against the monarch. Moreover, the members of the court were partisans and did not come up to the ideal of impartiality as required by the judges. The only justification for the execution of Charles I was moral and political. Cromwell was right in saying that it was a cruel necessity. It was cruel because it was an extreme measure involving the execution of the King. It was a necessity because without it there would have been no liberty for Englishmen. Charles I was not at all prepared to accept any limitations on his powers. He was given many opportunities both by the Parliament and the army to come to reasonable compromise but he was declared dishonest by these very bodies and hence it was difficult to come to any sort of an agreement with him. The Parliament and the army always thought of him as extremely cynical and his dealings with these two constitutional bodies were inherently insincere in nature and thus no wonder such an insincere man was put to death.
The Commonwealth was established in England on January 4, 1649 by a proclamation by the Rump Parliament that “the people are, under God, the origin of all just power…that the commons of England in Parliament assembled, being chosen by and representing the people have the supreme power in this nation”. On February 5, the Rump decided that the House of Lords, being dangerous and useless, should be abolished. On February 6, it was resolved that “it hath been found by experience and this House doth declare that the office of the King in this nation and to have power thereof in any single person, is unnecessary and burdensome and dangerous to the liberty, safety and public interest of the people of this nation and thereof ought to be abolished”. On March 17 and 19, 1649, two Acts were passed by which the offices of the King and the House of Lords were abolished. Thus the House of Commons became the sole governing body of England. The chief organ of administration of the Commonwealth was the Council of the State. It was annually chosen by the Parliament. The council was concerned with the army, the navy, foreign affairs etc. In July 1649, was passed the “Treason Act”, which made it treasonable for anyone who published maliciously that “the Government is usurped or unlawful or that the Commons assembled in Parliament are not the supreme authority of this nation”. In September 1649, was passed the “Press Act” which muzzled the freedom of the press. The publication of any printed material without a license from the Government was forbidden. A special court of justice consisting of 12 judges was established to liquidate the enemies of the Commonwealth.
The members of the Parliament were Presbyterians and they insisted on imposing “certain fundamentals before a man should be free to propagate his opinions”. Cromwell was in favour of religious toleration for all except the Roman Catholics. Certain changes were introduced in the Church whereby it became less Presbyterian. It lost its autonomy and became subordinate to the State. Rump Parliament was “the first English Government to appreciate the importance of sea power”. It also was responsible for England a great sea power. The Rump Parliament also attended to foreign trade and the overseas empire of England. In 1651, was passed the “Navigation Act”. This Act was intended to strike a blow at the commercial power of Holland and no wonder it aroused the indignation of that country. The Rump had become unpopular with the army because it was a small body, which did not represent the whole nation. Moreover, many of its members were guilty of favouritism and corruption. Cromwell and his army urged the dissolution of the Parliament but the Rump refused to be dissolved. Cromwell could not tolerate the pride ambition and self-seeking of the members of the Parliament. On April 20, 1653, Cromwell himself went to the House of the Commons and turned out the members of the House and had the doors locked. The same afternoon, the Council of State also fell before military violence. After the dissolution of the Rump, Cromwell set up a new council of State which recommended that a Parliament of saints composed of 140 Godly men, 129 from England, 5 from Scotland and 6 from Ireland be summoned. This Parliament met in 1653. it is also known as Barebone’s Parliament. This Parliament was a unique one and it passed many laws like the solemnization of marriage a civil institution, public registration of births, marriages and death. Another law provided for the better custody of insanes. But this Parliament too failed. Cromwell was essentially a reluctant and an apologetic dictator. Lambert drew up a constitutional document called the “Instrument of Government”. It was the first and the last written English constitution. By this instrument, Cromwell was made Lord Protector for life with Council of State to help him. England, Scotland and Ireland were to be united in a single commonwealth with a Parliament representing the three countries. Parliament consisting of one House was to possess the legislative power and was to be elected every three years by a reformed electorate. This instrument gave Cromwell a limited monarchy for life. While the peculiarity of the English constitution was that it was flexible and unwritten, but the instrument tried to make it rigid and written.
Cromwell was one of the greatest figures in the History of England. He was born in 1599 at Huntington. He was a son of a country gentleman and was educated in a college in Cambridge. He emerged as a leader of his country when she was plunged in a Civil war on account of the conflict between the King and the Parliament. He not only won victories for the Parliament but also restored law and order in the country. Cromwell was the first pronounced imperialist in the history of England. His objective was to extend the power of England overseas and he did not hesitate to use all possible means to achieve that end. In his foreign policy, he showed zeal for Protestantism, but while doing so, he did not ignore the trade and commerce of his country. He was himself a Republican, but circumstances forced him to act as a military despot. He tried to govern by a system involving the division of power between himself and the Parliament. When he failed in that objective, he ruled despotically. He levied taxes without the sanction of the Parliament. He imprisoned people without trial. As a matter of fact, he set up a military tyranny. He wished for the Parliament to be supreme and did not wish to take up the title of the King. His faith in God was both a source of his strength and his weakness. In all that he did, whether good or evil, in the three kingdoms, his conviction was that God would support him in everything that he undertook. What he judged to be necessary for the present, that he thought to be predestined for the future. His victories seemed to him, not the result of the means, which he employed, but proofs that his policies were also the will of the Divine. Although he is regarded by some as the greatest patriot and by others as the greatest traitor, he was without doubt one of the greatest men of his country. He possessed military capacity of a very high order. He organized and maintained an army, which was so efficient that he did not meet with any defeat. Oliver Cromwell died on September 3,1658. When his strong hand was removed, the country was plunged into confusion. The Levellers stood for a Republic in which the common people were to rule without Lords, Priests or Lawyers. They had a very treatment from Oliver Cromwell but now they felt that they could do whatever they pleased. Another set known as the Fifth Monarchy Men was led by Harrison. They foretold the immediate end of the world. According to their reading of Daniel, the four monarchies of antiquity, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome were to be succeeded by the fifth monarchy, now at hand, the reign of Christ and his Saints.
Oliver Cromwell had named his son Richard Cromwell to succeed as the Lord Protector. He lacked political capacity and had no advisers. The gulf between Richard and the army was widening. In order to strengthen his position, Richard decided to summon the Parliament and the members of the Parliament were hostile to the army. The army did not like the law, which forbade the army officers from having political meetings. Parliament was dissolved by force in April 1659 and the Rump was recalled. Richard resigned his charge. About the period between 1649 and 1660, monarchy had gone and the House of Lords was established as “useless and dangerous”. This “freedom” was to rise to a climax of Puritan democracy, to decline by reaction into military dictatorship and at last to expire through faction. But it left a legacy. Puritanism released an energy, which called for liberty in religion and every department of life with efficiency greater than anything England had seen. It took long strides towards union with Scotland and Ireland. Its administrative machinery pointed towards the cabinet and its economic doctrine led to the capitalist Britain of the next two centuries.
The Restoration of Charles II to the throne of England in 1660 was not merely the restoration of the King but also of Parliament, the Anglican Church, the historic law courts and the old system of local governments in the country. It is wrong to say that the monarchy that was restored was the unlimited and absolute monarchy of Charles I and James I. The “Triennial Act” of 1641 had not been repealed and it meant that the King could not carry on Government without calling a Parliament at least once in three years. Thus, the “Triennial Act” put a check on the power of the King. The result was that Charles II had to be less arbitrary and act according to the law. The very fact that Parliament had made Charles II, the King of England implied that in the last resort Parliament could also unmake him. The Divine Right of Kings to rule was practically dead. A point of conflict between the first two Stuart Kings and the Parliament was the question of taxation. Charles I had levied taxes without the consent of the Parliament. Now it was clearly understood that new taxes could be levied only with the consent of the Parliament. It is clear that although monarchy was restored, it was restored with a difference. Restoration gave to Parliament its old form and organization, which had so radically been changed during the Commonwealth period. The two Houses of the Parliament were restored and the House of Commons became more powerful than the House of Lords. Charles II never questioned the privileges of the Parliament. As a matter of fact, most of his important laws were passed through the Parliament.
Restoration of the Church
Restoration was also the restoration of the Church of England. The Parliament, which was elected in 1661 after the dissolution of the convention Parliament, was predominantly Anglican in nature. The Presbyterian element had disappeared altogether. The so-called Cavalier Parliament ended the work of the Presbyterian majority and restored the Anglican Church to its former position. The “Act of Uniformity” of 1662 provided that all clergymen and teachers were to declare their acceptance of the Anglican Prayer Book. The “Conventicle Act” of 1664 forbade under severe penalties, attendance of any public worship, which was not of Anglican form, of more than four persons, unless they belonged to the same family. The “Test Act” of 1673 provided that all civil and military officers were to take the oath of allegiance and accept the supremacy of the Church of England. In 1679, was passed the “Parliamentary Test Act” which provided that no person was to be a Member of Parliament unless he belonged to the Church of England. 1679 was also the year of Hobbes’ death. It is clear that the Anglican Church was established as a State Church, but with the difference that the headship of the Church no longer belonged to the King as a prerogative right. The leadership of the Church lay with the King-in-Parliament. As has been rightly put by Sir D. L. Keir that the restoration of monarchy in 1660 was especially a return to Government by Law. In this period, the legislative union with Scotland and Ireland was dissolved.
The reign of Charles II
During the reign of Charles II, some constitutional progress was made. The system of appropriation of supplies was established. While granting money to the King, the Parliament laid down the specific purpose for which the money was granted. The responsibility of the Ministers of Parliament was also secured to some extent. During the reign of Charles II, parliamentary parties with definite political programmes were formed and that also added to the strength of the Parliament. The passing of the “Habeas Corpus Act” in 1679 has become a cornerstone of the liberties of the people of England. The Parliament, which placed Charles II on the throne, was known as the Convention Parliament because it was summoned without a royal writ. The lands of the Royalists, which were confiscated, were restored. The Royal revenue was fixed at a fixed sum. Feudal dues and purveyance were abolished. A permanent excise tax was granted to the King as a compensation for the loss of his feudal revenues. The Convention Parliament was dissolved in 1661 and fresh elections were held. The new Parliament, which met in 1661, sat for 18 years and is known as the Cavalier Parliament. It was so called because the cavalier spirit was present among its members. This Parliament was royalist in nature in politics and Anglican in religion. It hated the Puritans and stood for the strengthening of the Church of England. It is true that during the reign of Charles II, the court was corrupt and there were pleasures all around. However, during this period, humanity and refinement spread rapidly in England. Literature, art and science, architecture and etiquette and fashions were copied from the court off Louis XIV, the grand monarch of France. One of the most notable men of this age wasIsaac Newton (1642 – 1727). There were great strides made in the disciplines of Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry and Medicine.