The Stuart monarchs, from James I onwards, were less successful than the Tudors. They quarrelled with Parliament and this resulted in civil war. The only king of England ever to be tried and executed was a Stuart. Another Stuart king was driven from his throne by his own daughter and her Dutch husband, William of Orange. William became king by Parliament’s election, not by right of birth. When the last Stuart, Queen Anne, died in 1714, the monarchy became a “parliamentary monarchy” controlled by a constitution.
After the death of Elizabeth I the thrones of England and Ireland passed to her cousin, James Stuart. The 3 separate kingdoms were united under a single ruler for the first time, and James I and VI, as he now became, entered upon his unique inheritance. England, Scotland and Ireland were very different countries, and the memories of past conflict ran deep. Each kingdom favoured a different form of religion. Most Scots were Calvinists, most English favoured a more moderate form of Protestantism and most Irish remained stoutly Catholic. James I was resolved to keep his kingdoms out of foreign entanglements if he could. His health failing, the old king died in 1625 and was succeeded by his son Charles, who initially threw himself into the fight against the Catholic powers, but eventually withdrew from the European conflict in 1630. Charles I was a conscientious and principled ruler, but he was also stubborn, reserved and politically maladroit. Over the next 15 years, many of Charles's English subjects became alienated by his religious policies and by his apparent determination to rule without parliaments. Some, especially the more zealous Protestants, or 'puritans', came to believe in the existence of a sinister royal plot - one which aimed at the restoration of the Catholic faith in England and the destruction of the people's liberties. Similar fears were abroad in Scotland, and when Charles attempted to introduce a new prayer book to that country in 1637 he provoked furious resistance. Charles's subsequent attempts to crush the Scots by force went disastrously wrong, forcing him to summon an English parliament in October 1640. Once this assembly had begun to sit, Charles was assailed by angry complaints about his policies. At first, the king seemed to have practically no supporters. But as puritan members of parliament began to push for wholesale reform of the church and religious traditionalists became alarmed, Charles found himself at the head of a swelling political constituency. Then, in 1641, the Catholics of Ireland rose up in arms, killing many hundreds of the English and Scottish Protestants who had settled in their country. The rebellion caused panic in England, and made it harder than ever for a political compromise to be reached. Charles I and parliament could not agree and England began to divide into 2 armed camps. He believed that order could be achieved by the king acting out a role and laying down patterns for his people to observe and copy. This points to one of the most interesting contrasts with his father. Whereas James, influenced by his upbringing in the small, intimate court of Scotland, treated politics as a matter of face-to-face debate and negotiation, Charles saw it more as about getting people to conform to clear-cut ideals and images. The problems created by Charles's political style, his beliefs and his lack of understanding as a ruler were revealed very clearly in the lead up to the English Civil War (1642-6). After defeat by the Scots in The Bishops Wars (1639-40) it was important that the king give a lead in reuniting his people and settling their differences. But this proved beyond Charles. After a promising start at the beginning of 1641, efforts at settlement fell apart and increasingly Charles slipped into the role of a party leader, determined to destroy his enemies by whatever means came to hand. From the spring onwards he sponsored a series of army plots and abortive coups, culminating in the attempted arrest of the five members in January 1642. Once this had failed civil war became virtually unavoidable. More than any other individual, it was Charles who was responsible for this disaster.
Civil War and Revolution. Choosing Sides in the English Civil War. From royalism and religion to money and women, Dr Mark Stoyle uncovers the complex motivations behind the choosing of sides in the English Civil War. Print this page
Between 1642 and 1646 England was torn apart by a bloody civil war. On the one hand stood the supporters of King Charles I: the Royalists. On the other stood the supporters of the rights and privileges of Parliament: the Parliamentarians. Shortly before the war broke out, partisans of both sides began to apply an insulting nickname to their opponents: to the Parliamentarians, the Royalists were 'Cavaliers' - a term derived from the Spanish word 'Caballeros', meaning armed troopers or horsemen; to the Royalists, the Parliamentarians were 'Roundheads' - a reference to the shaved heads of the London apprentices who had been so active in demonstrating their support for Parliament during the months before the fighting began.
The civil war which broke out in 1642 saw a broadly Royalist north and west ranged against a broadly Parliamentarian south and east. Charles derived particular advantage from the support of the Welsh and the Cornish, who supplied him with many of his foot soldiers, while parliament derived still more advantage from its possession of London. In mid-1643, it looked as if the king might be about to defeat his opponents, but later that year the Parliamentarians concluded a military alliance with the Scots. Following the intervention of a powerful Scottish army and the defeat of the king's forces at Marston Moor in 1644, Charles lost control of the north of Britain. The following year, Charles was defeated by parliament's New Model Army at Naseby and it became clear that the Royalist cause was lost. Unwilling to surrender to the Parliamentarians, the king gave himself up to the Scots instead, but when they finally left England, the Scots handed Charles over to their parliamentary allies. Still determined not to compromise with his enemies, the captive king managed to stir up a new bout of violence known as the Second Civil War. Realising that the kingdom could never be settled in peace while Charles I remained alive, a number of radical MPs and officers in the New Model Army eventually decided that the king had to be charged with high treason. Charles was accordingly tried, found guilty, and beheaded in January 1649. In the wake of the king's execution, a republican regime was established in England, a regime which was chiefly underpinned by the stark military power of the New Model Army.
The war was over, but the cost to ordinary people in human suffering was immeasurable. Bled dry with taxes, they had also endured the compulsory billeting of uncouth troops in their houses, the plundering of their animals, the theft of their food, the disruption of their markets, the vandalisation of their churches and the destruction of their property. The lingering effects of the war were visible wherever you turned. One-third of the people in Gloucester were homeless; one-quarter in Bridgwater and two-thirds in Taunton. Hundreds of maimed soldiers and destitute widows submitted petitions to the county quarter sessions in the hope of gaining some relief. Fields lay abandoned; bridges broken down; and road surfaces destroyed. It had indeed been an unhappy civil war.
Fall of the republic. England's new rulers were determined to re-establish England's traditional dominance over Ireland, and in 1649 they sent a force under Oliver Cromwell to undertake the reconquest of Ireland, a task that was effectively completed by 1652. Meanwhile, Charles I's eldest son had come to an agreement with the Scots and in January 1651 had been crowned as Charles II of Scotland. Later that year, Charles invaded England with a Scottish army, but was defeated by Cromwell at Worcester. The young king just managed to avoid capture, and later escaped to France. His Scottish subjects were left in a sorry plight, and soon the Parliamentarians had conquered the whole of Scotland. In 1653, Cromwell was installed as 'lord protector' of the new Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Over the next 5 years, he strove to establish broad-based support for godly republican government with scant success. Cromwell died in 1658 and was succeeded as protector by his son, Richard, but Richard had little aptitude for the part he was now called upon to play and abdicated 8 months later.
After Richard Cromwell's resignation, the republic slowly fell apart and Charles II was eventually invited to resume his father's throne. In May 1660, Charles II entered London in triumph. The monarchy had been restored. Charles II was an intelligent but deeply cynical man, more interested in his own pleasures than in points of political or religious principle. His lifelong preoccupation with his many mistresses did nothing to improve his public image. The early years of the new king's reign were scarcely glorious ones. In 1665 London was devastated by the plague, while a year later much of the capital was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The Dutch raid on Chatham in 1667 was one the most humiliating military reverses England had ever suffered. Nevertheless, the king was a cunning political operator and when he died in 1685 the position of the Stuart monarchy seemed secure. But things swiftly changed following the accession of his brother, James, who was openly Catholic.
Catholic succession. James II at once made it plain that he was determined to improve the lot of his Catholic subjects, and many began to suspect that his ultimate aim was to restore England to the Catholic fold. The birth of James's son in 1688 made matters even worse since it forced anxious Protestants to confront the fact that their Catholic king now had a male heir. Soon afterwards, a group of English Protestants begged the Dutch Stadholder William of Orange - who had married James II's eldest daughter, Mary, in 1677 - to come to their aid. Many suspected that James II wanted to bring back Catholicism. William, who had long been anticipating such a call, accordingly set sail with an army for England. James II fled to France a few weeks later and William and Mary were crowned as joint monarchs the following year. James II still had many supporters in Ireland, and in March 1689 he landed there with a French army. William now assembled an army of his own to meet this challenge, and in 1690 he decisively defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne. James promptly returned to France, leaving William free to consolidate his hold on power. The death of Mary in 1694 left William as sole ruler of the three kingdoms, and by 1700 all eyes were turning to the problem of the succession. Because neither William nor James II's surviving daughter, Anne, had any children, Protestants were terrified that the throne would eventually revert to James II, to his son, or to one of the many other Catholic claimants. To avert this danger, the Act of Settlement was passed in 1701, directing that after the deaths of William and Anne the throne would return to the descendants of James I's daughter, Elizabeth. Sophia, electress of Hanover, and her heirs thus became next in line to the English throne. In 1702, William died and was succeeded by Anne. Five years after this, a formal union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland was contrived, in order to ensure that there would be a Protestant succession in Scotland too. Henceforth England and Scotland officially became one country, and when Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart monarchs, died in 1714, it was to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain that George I, the first of the Hanoverians, succeeded.
The Jacobite Cause. Patriotic Scots, disgruntled Britons, scheming European nations - all got involved in the Jacobite cause. The uprisings gave rise to episodes of great bravery as well of tactical mistakes, and have left us with a legacy of many stirring tales. Louise Yeoman tells the story. Print this page
To modern eyes the complex web of religious and political loyalties which underpinned Jacobitism can seem alien and unsympathetic. The whole movement might be said to span the century from the deposition of James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the lonely alcohol-sodden death of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1788. A Catholic himself, James decided that by promoting edicts of religious tolerance, he would be able to re-establish Catholicism as the official faith of the British Isles. This notion produced near-hysteria in James's Protestant subjects - who had been taught to abhor this faith. When a son was born to the King and Queen, British Protestants were faced with the prospect of never waking up from their worst nightmare: a Catholic dynasty. They turned to James's Protestant son-in-law William of Orange. In 1688 he led a successful invasion of England. James panicked and fled. As Scotland wavered, James wrote an utterly tactless letter to the Scottish National Convention in Edinburgh. They declared for William. James's most zealous Scottish supporter, Viscount Dundee, turned to a military solution. The first Jacobite rising broke out. But it was not very popular at all. Most Scottish nobles took the attitude of wait and see. Dundee's forces destroyed William's with a devastating highland charge at the battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, but their leader died in his hour of glory. This left the movement headless. The wait and see-ers kept waiting, and the rising petered out. So how did Jacobitism come back from the political grave in Scotland? In a few words: William and The Union. The new King's Scottish reign was characterised by government tactlessness and economic disasters. The most important of the latter was the Darien Scheme. William refused all English assistance to this Scottish venture to found a colony in Panama. When the scheme failed, leaving most of the would-be colonists dead, the King was widely blamed. Thus to the die-hard believers in the hereditary right of James were added the dissatisfied. Jacobitism became a magnet for almost anyone with a grudge against the government. The Union of 1707 then produced what was for many Scots the grudge to end all grudges. The ink was hardly dry on the treaty before it was being widely denounced, and Scotland was ripe for sedition. The French, who were at war with Britain, suddenly saw an advantage to be gained here. They would land the new Jacobite heir, James III 'The Old Pretender' in his ancestral kingdom and start a rebellion. It was an excellent opportunity to unite much of the nation, even many Presbyterians, on the Jacobite side against the Union.
The 15 Rebellion. However Jacobitism was still very dangerous. The promised benefits of the Union had failed to arrive for many people. Instead, heavy excise duty and increased tax caused much ill feeling. Added to these were humiliations at the hands of the English-dominated Westminster parliament. Yet rebellion when it came, sprang from a most unexpected quarter. When George I of Hanover succeeded to the throne in 1715, he sacked one of Scotland's most influential politicians: John Erskine, Earl of Mar. Mar decided to retaliate by raising the standard for the house of Stuart. On one side of his banner he put the arms of Scotland and on the other 'No Union'. Thousands flocked to it. Soon almost the entire north of Scotland was in his hands. He did this without even bothering to warn the Jacobite court. This was not a phenomenon of a backward rural people rising for archaic notions of loyalty to the king over the water. There was strong support for the Jacobite cause in the trading burghs of north-east Scotland, as well as in the Highlands. The Union was in serious danger. Argyll seized the strategically vital ground around Stirling, but he was heavily outnumbered. Then at the battle of Sheriffmuir, when all seemed lost, Mar lost his nerve and suddenly withdrew. The belated landing of the Pretender couldn't retrieve things, and the leaders of the rising fled ingloriously to France. The 1715 was like no other Jacobite rising since Killiecrankie. It was totally indigenous to Britain and not started from abroad.