Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Aristocracy Triumphant

The decisive clash between the monarchy and Parliament erupted over religion. The triumph of Parliament established England as a limited or constitutional monarchy in which the aristocratic orders dominated the realm through Parliament.

In 1672, Charles II attempted to under mine the religious settlement of the the 1660s. He issued a Royal Proclamation of Indulgence which suspended some of the laws against Christians who dissented form the Church of England. He was concerned primarily with Catholics but applied the indulgence to Protestant dissenters as well. Parliament forced its withdrawal based upon the declaration's unconstitutionality.

The following year it became public knowledge that the King's brother and presumed heir, James, Duke of York, had converted to Catholicism. (James was considered the heir because, although Charles fathered twelve bastard children from his seven mistresses, he had no legitimate heir.) Many feared the return of a Roman Catholic monarch. A movement began to find a way to prevent James from inheriting the throne. Elements in Parliament once again at temped to expand its authority by legislation that excluded James from the throne. They wanted the throne to pass to his daughter,Mary who had marriage William , Prince of Orange in Holland. The legislation failed to pass.Those who supported the King became informally known as Tories (Irish Catholic bandits) and those who supported Parliament became known as Whigs (Scottish herdsmen). The issue became more acute in light of the death of Charles in 1685.

In 1687, the new King James II issued a Declaration of Indulgence. This led to several constitutional battles. Parliament claimed that the King did not possess the legal authority to simply dismiss duly enacted laws of Parliament. James secured a legal victory for his position by dismissing judges who sided with Parliament a appointing supporters in their place.

He issued a second Declaration of Indulgence and ordered it read in every parish. When several minsters refused, they were arrested for sedition. Moreover James began appointing Catholics into important influential positions.

He forced Magdalen College at Oxford to install a Catholic supporter of the king as its President.

In addition, he began to expand a large standing army, removing Protestant officers, and  appointing Catholic officers in their place.

When James fathered a male heir in 1688, Parliament made is move. Secret correspondence began to be exchanged between English opponents of the King and William of Orange, the king's son in law in Holland, inquiring about military intervention. In November 1688, the armies of William of Orange landed in England and brought about “The Glorious Revolution.” When his armies suffered defeat and his support dissolved, the King fled England. Parliament declared the throne vacant and declared William and Mary joint monarchs. The Parliament then passed the English Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration, which gave limited rights to Protestant dissenters only.

The English—and many foreign observers—considered England's balanced constitution the marvel of the world. In theory, it incorporated the best of all forms of government—monarchy in the king, aristocracy in the House of Lords, and democracy in the House of Commons.

In reality, the aristocracy in Parliament dominated. Members of the House of Lords, of course, held their positions as property. After receiving a title of nobility from the King and the right to sit in the Lords, that title and right passed down through inheritance. (Our founders called this an "artificial" or "pseudo" aristocracy). Moreover, the House of Commons was hardly a democratically elected body. Only 10% of the English population could vote. In many so-called “rotten boroughs,” no elections took place at all. Local magnates appointed members of the Commons. Throughout the 18th century, the Commons became increasingly a closed body of self-recruited members whose relatives sat as Lords.

Several attempts were initiated in the 18th century to reform Parliament, to make the Commons a more democratically elected body. This, of course, might reduce the influence of the aristocrats and their supporters. These attempts repeatedly failed until 1832.

One man partly responsible for those failures was the so-called father of modern conservativism—Edmund Burke.


Mrs. AL (Always Learning) said...

Well written and has the information necessary to lead someone to continue researching and learning if they so choose. My compliments!

RightDetour said...

Thank you, Mrs. AL.

It is difficult to keep it brief and still do the story justice.
I guess I am Always Learning as well.

CW said...

Fascinating history, V. L.! It certainly illustrates the endurance of the age-old struggle for power.

RightDetour said...

Hi, CW:

the struggle for power seems to be endemic to the human experience. We are "the political animal" as Aristotle phrased it. In order to thrive, we live in organized political societies. But that means someone must answer the question of what is "the common good," or even more fundamentally, WHO will decide what is "the common good." Unfortunately, human history is a melancholy record of our political societies efforts to secure human happiness.

RightDetour said...

I see you have a new post up at your place. I caught a glimpse late last night (or early am) after I got home from work. I'll stop by to read and comment.

Its about TIME!!