Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

governing England.

The victorious party was in a hopeless minority, and some of the fervour with which the Independents
appealed to divine election may have been due to a consciousness that they would not have passed the

test of a popular vote. In their view, God had determined the fundamentals of the constitution by giving

the victory to His elect; these fundamentals were to be enshrined in a written rigid constitution, and

placed beyond the reach of parliament or the people. Under the sovereignty of this inspired constitution

(1653), which provided, among other things, for the union of England, Ireland, and Scotland, a drastic

reform of the franchise and redistribution of seats, the government was to be in the hands of a "single

person," the Protector, and a single chamber, the House of Commons. The single person soon found the

single chamber "horridly arbitrary," and preferred the freedom of military despotism. But his

major-generals were even more arbitrary than the single chamber, and in 1657 a fresh constitution was

elaborated with a Second Chamber to make it popular. The Restoration had, in fact, begun almost as soon

as the war was over; the single chamber republic of 1649-1653 had given place to a single-chamber

monarchy, called the Protectorate, and a further step was taken when in 1657 the "other" House was

added; Cromwell was within an ace of making himself a king and his dynasty hereditary. Only his

personal genius, the strength of his army, and the success of his foreign policy enabled him thus to

restore the forms of the old constitution without the support of the social forces on which it had been

based. His death in 1658 was necessarily followed by anarchy, and anarchy by the recall of Charles II.

The Restoration was not so much a restoration of monarchy, which had really been achieved in 1653, as
a restoration of the church, of parliament, and of the landed gentry; and each took its toll of profit from

the situation. The church secured the most sectarian of its various settlements, and the narrowness of its

re-establishment kept nearly half the nation outside its pale. The landed gentry obtained the predominant

voice in parliament for a century and three-quarters, and, as a consequence, the abolition of its feudal

services to the crown, the financial deficit being made up by an excise on beer instead of by a land-tax.

Parliament emancipated itself from the dictation of the army, taking care never to run that risk again, and

from the restrictions of a written, rigid constitution. It also recovered its rotten boroughs and antiquated

franchise, but lost its union with the parliaments of Ireland and Scotland. At first it seemed more royalist

than the king; but it soon appeared that its enthusiasm for the monarchy was more evanescent than its

attachment to the church and landed interest. Even in the first flush it refrained from restoring the Star

Chamber and the other prerogative courts and councils which had enabled the crown to dispense with

parliamentary and common law control; and Charles II was never able to repeat his father's experiment of

ruling for eleven years without a parliament.

The ablest, least scrupulous, and most popular of the Stuarts, he began his reign with two objects: the
emancipation of the crown from control as far as possible, and the emancipation of the Roman Catholics

from their position of political inferiority; but the pursuit of both objects was strictly conditioned by a

determination not to embark on his travels again. The two objects were really incompatible. Charles

could only make himself autocratic with the support of the Anglican church, and the church was

determined to tolerate no relaxation of the penal code against other Catholics. At first Charles had to

submit to Clarendon and the church; but in 1667 he gladly replaced Clarendon by the Cabal

administration, among the members of which the only bond of unity was that it did not contain a sound

Anglican churchman. With its assistance he published his Declarations of Indulgence for Roman

Catholics and Dissenters (1672), and sought to secure himself against parliamentary recalcitrance by a

secret treaty with Louis XIV (1670). This policy failed against the stubborn opposition of the church. The

Cabal fell; Danby, a replica of Clarendon, came into office; and the Test Act of 1673 made the position

 

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