Under Queen Elizabeth, Parliament was rarely called. It was mainly an instrument of taxation, its members participating in an agreement about collecting money to cover extraordinary expenses — especially war. Queen Elizabeth was expected to pay for the day-to-day expense of her government with income gathered from lands that the monarchy owned and from customs duties.
In 1625, when Charles at age 24 became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, he inherited monetary inflation and a parliament annoyed at seeing money wasted by the royal government. Parliament contained many Puritans who disliked Charles as they had his father, James. Charles believed that he ruled by divine right. In 1629 he closed Parliament, and a test followed as to how much power he really had. Charles jailed people who objected to his ending Parliament. He scared wealthy property owners with his attempts to raise money. He raised customs duties. He persecuted Puritans, and he attempted to impose the Anglican Church's prayer book upon the those Scottish Calvinists called Presbyterians.
In 1638, the Presbyterians rebelled. In 1640, Charles reconvened Parliament, but Parliament refused him to the money he needed to combat the Scots' rebellion. Charles dismissed Parliament again, and the Scots invaded northern England.
Then another crisis erupted, in Ireland. Catholics there rose up and slaughtered thousands of Protestants — the Irish Rebellion of 1641. (Ireland's Catholic gentry attempted a coup against England's administration in Ireland. The coup failed and developed into a fight between native Catholics against English and Scottish Protestant settlers.) In London, Parliament voted against collecting the money necessary for Charles to organize an army to move against the Irish, Parliament fearing that with such an army Charles would also try to re-establish absolute powers.
Charles tried to have five members of the House of Commons arrested. Supporting Parliament, Presbyterians ministers urged rebellion from their pulpits. In London, where Presbyterians were numerous, people rose up against Charles. Those supporting Charles tended to be aristocrats, called Cavaliers. Some Members of Parliament, especially in the House of Lords, went over to the side of the king. The king and the Cavaliers had their own army, and Parliament had its army. England's civil war had begun, with England's cities favoring Parliament, much of the country remaining neutral and Charles having considerable support in rural communities.
The leader of Parliament's force was Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan. After six years of fighting, Cromwell's force defeated Charles' force, and Charles was executed on January 30, 1649. Standing before the executioner's block, Charles expressed his innocence and his wish that God forgive his executioners.
Without a king, and without a House of Lords, Parliament declared England a commonwealth and a "free state" (commonwealth referring to national unity for the common good). Not yet a democracy, the Commonwealth of England was functioning as a military dictatorship under Puritan rule.
Cromwell favored tolerance regarding denominational differences, except for Catholics, but there was an attempt to impose a strict morality. Theaters were closed, and anyone caught attending a play was to be fined five shilling. The Puritans saw opportunity to remake the common folk.
A belief in witchcraft was still prevalent, supported by a quote from Exodus 22:18, "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live." People were on the lookout for signs of lust, old women who were quick to curse, people who were spiteful and ill-natured, or people with brown lumps on their body where Satan had sucked. Women with their home remedies were at times more effective in healing than were learned physicians with their bleeding, purging, fumigations and toxic chemicals such as mercury, and an explanation for this was witchcraft.
Despite Puritan efforts, a sense of greater freedom had arisen among common people. Drinking, gambling and fighting remained common, especially in London. Crime in England was on the rise, including crimes that were capital offenses – of which there were over two hundred, including horse or sheep stealing or shoplifting more than five shillings worth of goods. But some authorities, rather than hang those found guilty of capital offenses sent them to their colonies in the Americas.
Cromwell saw it as his duty to establish Parliament's authority over the rebellious Catholics of Ireland. He landed at Dublin with 12,000 men, unopposed by any army. He had in mind the massacres by Catholics back in 1641 and proclaimed the righteous judgment of God upon the Catholics. At Drogheda (a seaport town thirty miles north of Dublin) he exercised God's judgment by having the population massacred. He did the same at the port of Wexford (eighty-three miles south of Dublin). Contrary to Cromwell's hopes, these massacres did not discourage resistance elsewhere among Ireland's Catholics.
Next, his army went to Scotland. An army of Scots supported Charles's son, Charles II, as the new king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Charles II was in Scotland and feeling threatened. His Scottish supporters crossed into England and were joined by a few English royalists. They were defeated at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, after which Charles went into hiding and for six weeks eluded capture. He fled England in disguise, crossing the channel to Normandy and landed there on 16 October, despite a reward of £1,000 on his head.
Parliament, emboldened by its victory against Charles II and the royalist forces, passed the first of the Navigation Acts. It ordered that only English ships and ships from the originating country could import goods to England.
Parliament was able to tax more than Charles would have dared try, and with the additional money a shipbuilding program had been progressing, but English trade had been suffering, with English merchants blaming the Spanish, French, and the Dutch. The English resented Dutch economic superiority and rivalry in trade. The English, it was said, described their merchants as living like noblemen while Dutch gentlemen, if there were any, lived like boers. The Dutch were described as greedy people who had forsaken God's cause. In May 1652, Dutch and English fleets bumped into each other off the coast of Dover, starting what would be called the First Anglo-Dutch War. English ships were built more for war than were Dutch ships, and Dutch naval officers were less orientated toward the rigorous discipline that served warfare. And England's navy did well against the Dutch.
Toward the end of 1653 a group of army officers declared Cromwell Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland. A constitution was written. Some in England were glorying in their country's success against the Dutch, but Cromwell was opposed to further war against fellow Protestants while he saw danger looming from Catholic France. The war, moreover, was hurting England's trade (as well as Dutch trade). Also, maintaining a naval blockade of the Netherlands was expensive. In 1654 Cromwell and the Dutch signed an agreement ending the war, with the English Navy having control of the seas around England and the English having a monopoly on trade with England's colonies in the Americas.
Cromwell did not mind continuing England's war against Spain, which he saw as a war against "popery." In 1655 the English captured Jamaica, and during the next few years the Spanish would fail to retake the island. In Mach 1657, England and France formed a military alliance against Spain, and English troops served alongside the French in Flanders (in the Habsburg Netherlands).
In 1658 Cromwell grew ill, and in September, at the age 59, it was said that "the Lord called him away." Some still hated Cromwell's regime for the execution of Charles I, and some hated it for a taxation that had been greater than under Charles. Cromwell's son, Richard, inherited his father's position as Lord Protector, but his power was short lived. Parliament's army didn't like him because of his lack of military experience. Richard was dismissed by parliament in May 1659 after earning the nicknames Tumbledown Dick and Queen Dick.
Parliamentary elections in 1660 increased the influence of the royalists. Parliament voted to reinstate the monarchy and the House of Lords. Both houses of Parliament voted to restore the monarchy to Charles II — nine years after Charles had fled England. He returned from exile in France in May 1660. Bonfires were lit and bells rang celebrating his return and England having a king again.
CONTINUE READING: from Descartes to Newton
Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.