Stuart period

An island story; a child's history of England (1906) (14594459299).jpg
NEW MAP OF THE KINGDOME of ENGLAND, Representing the Princedome of WALES, and other PROVINCES, CITIES, MARKET TOWNS, with the ROADS from TOWN to TOWN (1685)
The Stuart period of British history lasted from 1603 to 1714 during the dynasty of the House of Stuart. The period ended with the death of Queen Anne and the accession of King George I from the German House of Hanover.

The period was plagued by internal and religious strife, and a large-scale civil war which resulted in the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The Interregnum, largely under the control of Oliver Cromwell, is included here for continuity, even though the Stuarts were in exile. The Cromwell regime collapsed and Charles II had very wide support for his taking of the throne in 1660. His brother James II was overthrown in 1689 in the Glorious Revolution. He was replaced by his Protestant daughter Mary II and her Dutch husband William III. Mary's sister Anne was the last of the line. For the next half century James II and his son James Francis Edward Stuart and grandson Charles Edward Stuart claimed that they were the true Stuart kings, but they were in exile and attempts to return with French aid were defeated.

England was ruled at the national level by royalty and nobility, and at the local level by the lesser nobility and the gentry. Together they comprised about 2% of the families, owned most of the good farmland, and controlled local government affairs. The aristocracy was growing steadily in numbers, wealth, and power. From 1540 to 1640, the number of peers (dukes, earls, marquises, viscounts, and barons) grew from 60 families to 160. They inherited their titles through primogeniture, had a favoured position in legal matters, enjoyed the highest positions in society, and held seats in the House of Lords. In 1611, the king looking for new revenue sources created the hereditary rank of baronet, with a status below that of the nobility, and no seat in Lords, and a price tag of about £1100. The vast land holdings seized from the monasteries under Henry VIII of England in the 1530s were sold mostly to local gentry, greatly expanding the wealth of that class of gentlemen. The gentry tripled to 15,000 from 5000 in the century after 1540. Many families died out, and others moved up, so that three-fourths of the peers in 1714 had been created by Stuart kings since 1603. Historians engaged in a lively debate—dubbed the "Storm over the gentry"—about the theory that the rising gentry class increasingly took power away from the static nobility, and generally reject it. Both the gentry and the nobility were gaining power, and the English Civil War was not a battle between them. In terms of religious affiliation in England, the Catholics were down to about 3% of the population, but comprised about 12% of the gentry and nobility.

James VI, king of Scotland, also became king of the entirely separate kingdom of England when Elizabeth I of England died. He also became king of Ireland, but the English were just reestablishing lost control there. The English re-conquest was completed after victory in the Nine Years' War, 1594–1603. James' appointees in Dublin as Lord Deputy of Ireland established real control over Ireland for the first time, bringing a centralised government to the entire island, and successfully disarmed the native lordships. The great majority of the Irish population remained Catholic, but James promoted heavy Protestant migration from Scotland into the Ulster region. The new arrivals were known as Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish. In turn many of them migrated to the new American colonies during the Stuart period.

King James was failing in physical and mental strength,because of this he was often mocked by his family and his own father would throw objects at him when he would try to stand up, and decision-making was increasingly in the hands of Charles and especially George Villiers (1592–1628), (he was Earl of Buckingham from 1617 and Duke from 1623). Buckingham showed a very high degree of energy and application, as well as a huge appetite for rewards and riches. By 1624 he was effectively the ruler of England. In 1625 Charles became the king of a land deeply involved in a European war and rent by escalating religious controversies. Buckingham and Charles developed a foreign policy based on an alliance with France against Spain. Major foreign adventures against Cádiz in 1625 and in support of French Huguenots in 1627 were total disasters. Widespread rumour shaped public opinion that blamed Buckingham, rather than the king, for the ills that beset England. When Parliament twice opened impeachment proceedings, the king simply prorogued (suspended) the Parliament. Buckingham was assassinated in 1628 by John Felton, a dissatisfied Army officer. The assassin was executed, but he nevertheless became a heroic martyr across the three kingdoms. Like his father, King Charles believed in the divine right of kings to rule, and one was unable to work successfully with Parliament. By 1628 he and Buckingham had transformed the political landscape. In 1629 the king dissolved parliament and began a period of eleven years of personal rule.

English government was quite small, for the king had no standing army, and no bureaucracy stationed around the country. Laws were enforced primarily by local officials controlled by the local elites. Military operations were typically handled by hired mercenaries. The greatest challenge King Charles faced in ruling without a parliament was raising money. The crown was in debt nearly £1.2 million; financiers in the City refused new loans. Charles saved money by signing peace treaties with France in 1629 and Spain in 1630, and avoiding involvement in the Thirty Years' War. He cut the usual budget but it was not nearly enough. Then he discovered a series of ingenious methods to raise money without permission of Parliament. They had been rarely used, but were nevertheless legal. He sold monopolies, despite their unpopularity. He fined the landowners for supposedly encroaching on the royal forests. Compulsory knighthood had been established in the Middle Ages when men of certain wealth were ordered to become knights in the king's service, or else pay a fine. When knighthood lost its military status, the payments continued, but they had been abandoned by 1560. James reinstated the fine, and hired new officials to search local records to find wealthy men who did not have knighthood status. They were forced to pay, including Oliver Cromwell among thousands of other country gentlemen across rural England. £173,000 was raised, in addition to raising bitter anger among the gentry. The king finally crossed the line of legality when he began to levy "ship money", intended for naval defences, upon interior towns. Protests now escalated to include urban elites. All the new measures generated long-term outrage, but they did balance the short-term budget, which averaged £600,000, without the need to call Parliament into session.

This page was last edited on 23 April 2018, at 20:23.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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