Civil War, Restoration and Revolution

Course: United Kingdom: History and Political System
Book: Civil War, Restoration and Revolution
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Tuesday, 23 April 2024, 7:37 PM

The Stuart dynasty

The Stuart dynasty spanned one of the most tumultuous periods in British history - years of civil war, assassination attempts, usurpations, national disaster and revolution.

Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor monarchs, died in 1603 and the thrones of England and Ireland passed to her cousin, James Stuart. Thus James VI of Scotland also became James I of England. The three 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, with very different histories, and the memories of past conflict between those countries - and indeed, of past conflict between different ethnic groups within those countries - ran deep. To make matters trickier still, 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. Yet each kingdom also contained strong religious minorities. In England, the chief such group were the Catholics, who initially believed that James would prove less severe to them than Elizabeth had been.

When these expectations were disappointed, Catholic conspirators hatched a plot to blow both the new king and his parliament sky-high. The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot served as a warning to James, if any were needed, of the very grave dangers religious divisions could pose, both to his own person and to the stability of his triple crown.

English Civil War

The conflict between King and Parliament reached its climax and the English Civil War (1642-1651) began. The war can be described as a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers). The war culminated in the execution of the king in 1649, the overthrow of the monarchy, and the establishment of a republic known as the Commonwealth of England (1649–53). James´s son, Charles I, became the first monarch in Europe to be executed after a formal trial for crimes against his people. Charles II, the son of Charles I was exiled. In 1653, the leader of the parliamentary army, Oliver Cromwell, seized power and declared himself ´Lord Protector´ of a republic, or a Protectorate (1653–59) with a military government which, after he had brutally crushed resistance in Ireland, effectively encompassed all of Britain and Ireland. Cromwell ruled until his death in 1658, when he was succeeded by his son Richard. The new Lord Protector had little interest in governing and he soon resigned.

Restoration and Revolution

By the time Cromwell died, he, his system of government, and the puritan ethics that went with it (theatres and other forms of amusement had been banned) had become so unpopular that the executed king´s son was asked to return and become King Charles II.

However, the conflict between monarch and Parliament soon re-emerged in the reign of Charles II´s brother, James II. Again, religion was its focus. James tried to give full rights to Catholics, and to promote them in his government. The ´Glorious Revolution (1688)´ (glorious because it was bloodless) followed, in which Prince William of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands, and his Stuart wife Mary accepted Parliament´s invitation to become king and queen. Parliament immediately drew up a Petition of Rights, which limited some of the monarch´s powers.