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The Restoration Period. The Compromise of 1688 and the Gradual Formation of Constitutional Monarchy

The period of 166088 is known as the Restoration. It is characterized by a struggle for power between the feudal aristocracy and the bourgeoisie and gentry which had secured a dominant position in society during the revolution. The feudal aristocracy was dreaming of a complete return to the pre-revolutionary days, while the bourgeoisie desperately tried to retain the privileges gained during the revolution.

Upon his return, Charles II despite his promise to pardon all the participants of the revolution soon forgot his commitments. With the help of the new Parliament, which was now full of Cavaliers he attempted to regain the losses experienced by the royalists during the revolution. Even Cromwell's body was taken out of Westminster Abbey and hung like a traitor's at Tyburn. And land taken by the Commonwealth government from the crown and the church was now regained. However, the estates taken by the Puritan gentry during the revolution remained in the hands of the new owners. The landowners were no longer expected to render any feudal dues to the crown and the land was declared the absolute property of the landlord.

In 1665 war broke out between England and Holland. Some of the Dutch settlements in America were seized by the English troops among them the colony of New Amsterdam, which was renamed New York in honour of James, brother of Charles II and heir to the throne who had the title of the Duke of York.

At this time London was struck by a terrible disaster the pflague. It was the worst attack since the Black Death three centuries earlier. The courtwrs and rich merchants escaped to their country houses. The great mass of poor people coajd not leave, however. They locked their doors. In dirty wooden rooms, their bodies swelling and covered with sores, about 70,000 of them died. And then, just when the worst months of the plague were over, another disaster occurred: fire.

The Great Fire of London began in a baker's house in Pudding Lane, on September 2, 1666. It began on a hot, dry night with an east wind blowing. The wind carried the flames into the centre of the City and they burned there for 4 days and 5 nights. When the burning was finished, a great area lay waste. Nearly 13,000 houses and 90 churches were gone or ruined. The fire left many people without homes. However, it stopped the plague.

Soon after the Fire, Dutch warships came sailing towards London. They entered Chatham harbour, burned 4 ships and captured the largest in the British navy, the Royal Charles.

The French had entered the war on.the side of the Dutch, and things were going badly for England. Much of the blame fell on the king's chief minister, Clarendon. Peace was made and Clarendon was impeached and Forced to leave the country.

The fall of Clarendon in 1667 gave Charles what he thought was a chajocjjjp make himself supreme and to put into effect his policy of religious toleration for the Catholics. His mother was a French Catholic and his brother James, heir to the throne, because Charles had no children from his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, who was a Catholic too. For this purpose he gathered around him the 'Cabal', a group of five advisers who were not subject to parliamentary control and who favoured toleration for the Catholics. The name of the group comes from the first letters of the names of the five advisers. Most remarkable of the five was baron Ashley, who became Earl of Shaftesbury. He was to form the first official opposition party in the country. The occasion for opposition arose in this way.

Charles II was always eager for an opportunity to free himself from Parliament, to find other ways of obtaining supplies and money. Now the French king, Louis XIV, made an offer. If England would join France in a new alliance against the Dutch, he would give Charles enough money to make parliamentary supplies unnecessary. But Charles must also promise secretly to have Catholicism restored in England. This would lead to the growth of French influence in the country. Charles agreed to these conditions, and a secret treaty was made between him and Louis. In this way a third war was started against Holland, but it was against the wishes of Parliament. Shaftesbury discovered the secret promise and left the government. The opposition which he organized came mainly from Protestant groups. Moreover, the Parliament, being Protestant, made Charles II accept the Test Act according to which Catholics were banned to occupy any position of government importance. On leaving the government Shaftesbury, later joined by Buckingham (another member of the Cabal group) formed an opposition party in 1679. This party expressing the interests of the London City ' financiers, merchants and the gentry was for limiting the power of monarchy and extending that of Parliament. They were utterly opposed to Catholicism. In the same year another party was organized by Danby, the king's leading adviser. This royal party favoured the royal prerogative and the Anglican church. The court party expressed the interests of the landed aristocracy. During that time, Shaftesbury's men had started to use the word 'tory' as a rude word for the court party. It was an Irish word, meaning a Roman Catholic outlaw. The court party, the Tories, had replied by calling members of the country party 'whigs', a rude Scottish word meaning Presbyterian rebels. These names, Whig and Tory, stayed with the two parties which now began to develop. However, they weren't parties in the modern sense of the word, they were rather political groups of the ruling class. It was much later, in the nineteenth century that the Tories and Whigs developed as real political parties with their national organizations becoming the Conservative and Liberal parties. The Tory party in the 17th century was still mainly Cavalier, believing that government should be appointed freely by the king. The Whigs, representing mainly Protestant and business interests, believed above everything that government must be controlled by the House of Commons and the king's power must be limited.

Events soon aided the Whigs. Rumours were spread of a Catholic plot to kill the king and seize the government. The king was forced to dissolve the old Cavalier Parliament. However, needing money he reluctantly called another Parliament of 1679, and fulfilling the interests of the bourgeoisie passed the famous Habeas Corpus Act (1679), which is a most important Act of bourgeois democracy safeguarding the interests of the new classes against the despotism of the king. Habeas Corpus is a Latin expression meaning 'You may have the body'. According to the Act a person arrested should have a trial within 24 hours of arrest. Its aim was to safeguard the subject from the despoisni of the king. In this sense it contributed to defending the interests of the individual. However, Parliament reserved the right to suspend its action in times of a revolutionary crisis. The class nature of the Act is quite apparent. Only the well-to-do people could make use of the Act. Moreover, quite often in history, did Parliament suspend Habeas Corpus, especially in Ireland. In these circumstances people could be detained or arrested without any formal charge. Today, in Northern Ireland there is a similar situation where Habeas Corpus is suspended and arrests and detentions are carried out on a wide scale.

Though Charles II signed Habeas Corpus Act, he never observed it. Soon Parliament was dissolved again and thereafter the king ruled without its aid. To make his rule safe Charles II limited the freedom of the press, deprived the towns of self-government, and turned on the Whig leaders. Shaftesbury saved himself by flight, and the Whigs were soon disorganized. When the king died in 1685 he left James, his brother, the unopposed heir to the throne. After he was crowned as James II (16858) he began to appoint Catholics to the highest posts in the state. James II's main aim was to improve the position of his fellow Catholics. He expected to do all this without much opposition from the Tory Parliament and that shows how little he understood the Tory squires. They would support a Stuart king, but only for as long as he allowed the Anglican church to continue and would not attack their interests. Meanwhile the Whigs, who although defeated were not completely broken, had hopes to overthrow the new king by supporting the Protestant Duke Monmouth (the illegitimate son of Charles II). The latter, who had been sent abroad, now returned and began a rebellion in the south-west of England. He was supported by the peasants and weavers from the surrounding farms and the craftsmen and merchants in towns. The revolt was speedily suppressed with utmost severity. The chief judge, Judge Jeffreys, the kingls; favourite rode down into the West Country and at Taunton held a mass5-trial. It became known as the 'bloody assize'. Even women were executed. About 200 poor people were condemned to the gallows, and 800 more were 'transported' that is sold as slaves to plantation-owners in- the West Indies. Judge Jeffreys acted more like a beast than a man. But James II honoured him and made him Lord Chancellor.

To the Whigs and part of the Tories the necessity for a radical change was apparent. They were completely dissatisfied with the pro-Catholio. policy of James II, which threatened their interests and could lead to a mass movement of the populace.

Now the opposition was looking towards Holland, the home of James's Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, who was called 'Dutch William'. He was the key of the situation. His claim to the English throne was good, when coupled with that of his wife Mary. Besides, he was a firm Protestant. Seven leading Whigs and Tories had sent an invitation to Dutch William. They promised him support for an invasion. William accepted the invitation and made a triumphal journey to London in 1688. Realizing at last that the game was up, James II fled for France. Under such circumstances William and Mary were crowned in February 1689.

The events of 1688 are called by bourgeois historians as the Glorious Revolution. Undoubtedly, it was never a revolution but a change of government carried out by the ruling classes without the participation of the popular masses. Marx said that it brought to power along with William of Orange the landlord and capitalist property owners of surplus capital. It was a compromise between the bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy. Monarchy was preserved as well as the House of Lords, the royal court. These traditional institutions of feudalism had now a new content and they were to serve the bourgeoisie in alliance with the landed aristocracy which retained its titles and remunerative posts. In 1689 the \ new king was compelled to sign the Bill of Rights which contributed to the establishment of constitutional or parliamentary monarchy. Under this law, taxes could be levied by Parliament only. Such matters as mustering the army and the allocation of funds for its maintenance were also decided by Parliament. In other words, it was decreed that questions of prime importance were to be decided not by the king but by Parliament. The Parliament consisted of the new landed nobility and the bourgeoisie and it acted in the interests of the propertied classes. No English king or government could follow policies which did not have Parliament's approval. No minister could continue in office without the support of the majority, the greater number of MPs.

In the same year as the Bill of Rights, William signed a parliamentary Act relieving the Protestant non-conformists from the strict laws brought against them, while Catholics were barred to occupy government posts or teach at universities.

Monarchy was still further weakened by the Act of Settlement (1701). The succession to the throne was no longer determined by hereditary right.

It was decreed that after William and Mary, if they died childless, the throne would be succeeded by Anne, Mary's younger Protestant sister and if she died childless, a prince from Hanover known as the Elector of Hanover, the immediate relation of the next Protestant heiress, was to ascend the English throne. The Act of Settlement had been aimed at preventing the return of a Catholic king. England was gradually becoming a parliamentary monarchy and the system came to be shaped by the middle of the 18th century.

These developments could take place only on the basis of the changes which were determined by the English bourgeois revolution of the 17th century. The bourgeoisie in alliance with the new nobility used the revolutionary energy of the popular masses to gain political and economic power. However, at the same time these classes avoided profound social and economic transformation which could benefit the people. The bourgeoisie compromised with the nobility in preserving monarchy as a convenient tool to oppress the masses. The bourgeois revolution in England led to a consolidation of capitalism in the country, it meant a collapse of the feudal mode of production, which gave way to the development of capitalism. A hundred years later, there arose for the first time in world history large machine production, the development of which brought about the formation of new basic social classes the capitalists and the working-class.

Date: 2015-02-03; view: 1686

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THE ENGLISH BOURGEOIS REVOLUTION OF THE 17th CENTURY The Economic and Social Development of the Country on the Eve of the Revolution | Cultural Developments in the 17th Century
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