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The 16th and 17th centuries in England

Historical Background

James I (1566-1625)[life] (1503-1625)[reign]

In 1603, when Queen Elizabeth died (of course heirless), James the VI of Scotland (Mary of Scotland's son, 1566-1625) became king with the title of James the I of England. (1603-1625) He was a protestant and based his rule on the theory of the 'divine right of kings'.
He believed that, as a monarch, he was the representative of God on earth and God himself had chosen to make him king. He was interested in witchcraft and the supernatural, and in his treatise Daemonologie, he declared his belief in black magic.
He only summoned Parliament to ask for money, but its members refused to levy any taxes unless the money was needed for war. Parliament was divide into the House of Lords (composed of bishops, appointed by the king) and the House of Commons (mostly puritans).
The Puritans* were extreme protestants who disapproved of both the rites and the bishops of the Church of England. These Puritans had a high sense of duty and morality and they did not want to live in a country which they believed was going to fall into moral decline. So a hundred of them, the Pilgrim Fathers*, left England for America and founded New Plymouth.
King James authorized a new translation of the Bible in 1604; the protestant religion actively encouraged personal knowledge of the Bible, and this version, called the King James Bible, would be used by the Church of England for more than three hundred years.
As in the early days of Elizabeth I, religion was the most urgent problem of the new reign. Catholics were barred from public life and were fined if they refused to attend the Church of England.
In 1605, some radical Catholics plotted to blow up the king in the Houses of Parliament. The failure of the 'Gunpowder Plot'* is still commemorated in England on 5th November.

*Insight: Puritans

The Puritans believed that the Bible was God's true law, and that it provided a plan for living. Puritans stripped away the traditional formalities of Christianity which had been slowly building throughout the previous 1500 years.
Theirs was an attempt to "purify" the church and their own lives.
Most of the Puritans settled in the New England area. As they immigrated and formed individual colonies, their numbers rose from 17,800 in 1640 to 106,000 in 1700.
Religious exclusiveness was the main principle of their society, in fact the spiritual beliefs that they held were so strong that included community laws and customs. God was to motivate all of their actions.
The common unity strengthened the community. People of opposing theological views were asked to leave the community or to be converted.
Their interpretation of scriptures was a harsh one.
The doctrine of predestination kept all Puritans constantly working to do good in this life to be chosen for the next eternal one. God had already chosen who would be in heaven or hell, and each believer had no way of knowing which group they were in.
Those who were wealthy were obviously blessed by God and were in good standing with Him. The Protestant work ethic was the belief that hard work was an honor to God which would lead to a prosperous reward.
Any deviations from the normal way of Puritan life met with strict disapproval and discipline.
Since the church elders were also political leaders, any church infraction was also a social one. There was no margin for error.
Great pains were taken to warn their members and especially their children of the dangers of the world. Religiously motivated, they were exceptional in their time for their interest in the education of their children. Reading of the Bible was necessary to living a pious life. The education of the next generation was important to further "purify" the church and perfect social living.
Three English diversions were banned in their New England colonies; drama, religious music and erotic poetry. The first and last of these led to immorality. Music in worship created a "dreamy" state which distracted them from listening to God.
The Bible stimulated their corporate intellect by promoting discussions of literature. Greek classics of Cicero, Virgil, Terence and Ovid were taught, as well as poetry and Latin verse. They were encouraged to create their own poetry, always religious in content.
For the first time in history, free schooling was offered for all children. Puritans formed the first formal school in 1635, called the Roxbury Latin School. Four years later, the first American College was established; Harvard in Cambridge. Children aged 6-8 attended a "Dame school" where the teacher, who was usually a widow, taught reading. "Ciphering" (math) and writing were low on the academic agenda.
The Puritans were the first to write books for children, and to discuss the difficulties in communicating with them.
Religion provided a stimulus and prelude for scientific thought.

*Insight: The origin of Thanksgiving day

The first Thanksgiving day was celebrated by the Pilgrim Fathers (early settlers of America) in 1621 to thank God for their first good harvest. They celebrated it with the local Wampanoag Indinas, who had helped them survive and taught them how to plant their crops.That first feast lasted three days and included a wide variety of animals as well as fruits and vegetables from the autumn harvest. Americans did not all celebrate Thanksgiving at the same until 1863, when president Abraham Lincoln declared the last thursday in November a day of thanksgiving.

*Isight: The Gunpowder Plot

At the end of the 16th century, the country's remaining Catholics faced increasing levels of persecution, like the death penalty for those found to be sheltering priests. Baddesley Clinton, a manor house in Warwickshire, became an important place of refuge for Catholics, with a secret hidden room called 'a priest's hole.'
In 1605 a group of Catholic plotters attempted to blow up the king in the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes, a Catholic volunteer was the man selected to prepare the gunpowder and light the fuse. A man named Thomas Percy rented a house next to the Houses of Parliament and later managed to access the room directly under the House of Lords. Guy Fawkes succeeded in smuggling a ton and a half of gunpowder into the building. All seemed to be going according to plan, but then one of the plotters wrote a letter to his brother-in-law warning him not to attend the opening session of the Parliament. The letter was shown to other members of the government and the buildings were searched. On the morning of 5th November, soldiers discovered Fawkes and arrested him. He was taken to the tower of London, where he was tortured and questioned about the other plotters. Guy Fawkes was brutally executed in January of 1606.
In celebration of his survival, King James I ordered that the people of England should light great bonfires on the evening of 5th November.

Charles I (1600-1649) (1625-1649)

At James I's death, his son Charles succeeded him. (1625) Charles was protestant, but approved of certain catholic rituals and was a follower of the Pope, and for this reason, he was called the 'papist'.
He was friend with the bishop William Laud of London, who was hated by the puritans and later on became archbishop.
Charles as well believed in the divine right of Kings; he got married to a catholic princess from France.
He spent a lot of money for the abbellishment and the amusement at court, and so decided to ask the Parliament to levy more taxes in order to have money.
In 1628 the Parliament made him sign the Bill of Rights. (according to this treaty, nobody could levy taxes without asking the parliament first and nobody could be imprisoned without a trial)
He signed it, but then decided to dismiss the Parliament and ruled on his own for a short period of time, and started levying the ship money to the cities.
William Laud, who had been appointed archbishop, wanted the Church of Scotland to have the same organization as the English one (which meant a clergy hierarchy)
In fact in Scotland people were presbyterian, which meant that they were protestant but wanted a more democratic organization of the Church, and they recognized the authority of the archbishop of Canterbury but wanted to elect, to vote the other ministers.
William Laud instead imposed the english system and this caused a rebellion in Scotland.
For this reason, the king re-summoned the Parliament to have support but they asked him to give up his command of the armed forces in order to diminish his power.
He refused, so in 1642 the Civil War broke out.
The forces were divided into Royalists (also called Cavaliers, because they fought on horses. They included the lords, the gentry and officials of the Church of England) who sided with the king, and the supporters of Parliament, called Parliamentarians (also called Roundheads, because they considered long hair sinful and cut theirs short.), led by Oliver Cromwell.* London, the ports, the navy, the new gentry and small landowners, artisans and Puritans sided with the Parliament.
The king was taken prisoner in 1647.
Cromwell took control of London and expelled or arrested more than 100 members of the house of lords. The remaining voted for the execution of the king on 30th january 1649.
After Charles I's execution, the monarchy was abolished and the country was ruled as a republic, known as the Commonwealth.

*Insight: Oliver Cromwell: (1599-1658)

An East Anglian gentleman farmer, Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was a brilliant leader in raising and training cavalry composed of brave soldiers, who were called the Ironsides. They were educated, Puritan men who believed that God was fighting on their side. In 1649 Cromwell,new commander-in-chief- of the army, crushed a rebellion in Ireland, after which this country was treated as an English colony and the Irish as conquered people. The Irish campaign, followed by the submission of Scotland, gave the army full control of the political situation. In 1653 Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector Of England, Scotland and Ireland; in the few years of his rule (1654-1658) he restored the lost prestige of England. Following a mercantilist policy, he reorganized the navy ad through the Navigation Acts in 1651, he stated that English goods had to be carried by english ships, depriving the Dutch of their control of trade routes. This caused a war between Holland and England, but Cromwell won again.
At his death his son Richard was appointed Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, but the house of lords was resumed and Charles II (Charles I's son), who had been exiled, was called back and became King.

Charles II (1630-1685) (1660-1685)
He admired Louis XIV of France and his reign, in fact he wanted to be an absolute monarch, his court was as luxurious as his and he had also a secret treaty with him. Charles was also known under the name of Merry Monarch, because of the atmosphere of hedonism at his court. His wife was infertile but he is said to have had 12 children with many different lovers.
The restoration of monarchy was greeted with relief by most englishmen who had felt oppressed by the strict rules of the Puritans.
He was protestant but favoured the catholics, and had also married a catholic princess.
Because of his preferences, he was supported by the new “royalist” parliament, who had just got rid of puritans.
The Parliament made him sign a the Test Act which prevented the catholics from having civil offices (1673)
During his reign 2 catastrophes occurred:
(1665 → the bubonic plague)
The plague was caused by the lack of hygiene and it was particularly disastrous in the area of London. In fact, the rich left the city and went to their country residences, but still the disease killed a large amount of people. (100,000)
(1666 → the Great Fire*)
The puritans, of course, believed that both this massacres had been caused by the sinful behaviour of the country and the king's immorality.
Charles the II died in 1685 heirless and his brother became king.

*Insight: The Great fire

The Great Fire was a calamity of the first order since many hundreds of houses in the City were burnt. More than 80 churches were destroyed or seriously damaged and the greater part of St Paul's cathedral was in ruins. The reconstruction of the city was undertaken by Sir Christopher Wren, one of the founders of the Royal Society and famous architect.

James II (1633-1701) (1685-1689)

James II succeeded his brother Charles in 1685. He had converted to Catholicism in 1660 and his attempts to give civic equality to Roman Catholic and Protestant dissenters led to conflict with Parliament.
His first wife, with whom he had 2 daughters (Mary, Ann) was protestant, but his second wife Mary of Modena was catholic and the Parliament feared a catholic successor.
Mary, James' eldest daughter) married a protestant prince from Holland, William of Orange, who was afraid that France would conquer his country, and secretly started negotiations with the English Parliament.
So, in 1688, the Parliament invited William in England and obliged James to flee away to France with his wife and baby son.

William III of Orange (1650-1702) and Mary II (1662-1694)

The reign of William and Mary established as joint monarchs started in 1689.
This was a time of economic progress for England; London was becoming the financial capital of the world and the Bill of Rights of 1689, which prevented the king from raising taxes or keeping an army without the agreement of Parliament, represented the victory of a parliamentary or constitutional monarchy.
After the bloodless revolution of 1688, William and Mary's coronation as joint monarchs, known as the Glorious Revolution, represented the first truly modern revolution.
During their reign they passed the Bill of Rights (see above), the Toleration Act (1689) according to which people had freedom of religion, apart from Catholicism, and the Act of Settlement (1701) by which no catholic could become a ruler and Ann would succeed her sister to the throne.
William also defeated James the II who had tried to invade England by landing in Ireland, where the protestants fought against him until the King arrived with his army.
(Ireland was very poor, because during Cromwell the trade of irish products had been forbidden)

Queen Anne (1665-1714) (1702-1714)

Queen Anne was in favour of the political party of the Whigs*; by this time, Parliament was more important than the monarch. During her reign there was an important event, the Act of Union* (1707). Also, in this period, England fought against France in the war of Spanish Succession; England in fact, didn't want the union of the two crowns, because they would become much more powerful, and also they fought in order to gain colonies. (they gained Gibraltar, the monopoly of the slave trade, and the spanish colonies in south america, the territories in the north of america like quebec and 'nova scotia')
Having colonies was important for the raw materials that they provided.
Talking about the Parliament, it's important to specify that the members only cared for the rich classes in the society, because they were the only one who could vote and be voted. There was a lot of corruption among politicians, and the votes were often bought and sold. (this phenomenon is called bribery)
In this period the figure of the prime minister appeared.

*Insight: The Tories and the Wighs

The tories were formed in 1679-80. They came from the royalists, they believed in the divine right of the king and opposed religious toleration. They were supported by the Church of England and the landowners. The Whigs were the descendants of the Parliamentarians, supported by the wealthy and commercial classes; they fought for industrial and commercial development, a vigorous foreign policy and religious toleration.
On the 16th of January 1707 the Scottish Parliament was dissolved and England and Scotland became one country. Scotland kept its independence with respect to its legal, educational, and religious systems, but taxation, sovereignty, trade, parliament and flag became one. 45 Scottish politicians could become members of the Parliament.

George I of Hannover(1660-1727) (1714-1727)

He was the son of the princess Elizabeth, sister of Charles I, and became king in 1714, at Anne's death. He ended the Stuarts dynasty and started the Hanoverian one, that only ended in 1901.
George was German and spoke very little english, so he preferred to remain in Germany to take care of his german affairs, and was not appreciated because of this reason. He was often absent and this increased the importance of the Cabinet. (a group of ministers who took decisions on the king's behalf) Also the figure of the Prime Minister became more important; the first prime minister was Sir Robert Walpole, who was in power for over 20 years. (1721-1742)
He was able but also very corrupted and made a fortune thanks to his position. Under his government England expanded the trades, and the materialistic values, such as making money, and becoming rich became fundamental.
During the reign of George I there was a Jacobite rebellion in Scotland. (1715)
The word Jacobite comes from the latin Jacobus, in english 'James' and the catholics who took part in this rebellion wanted James II to be the king. The Parliament sent the army and the rebellion was crashed.

George II Of Hannover (1683-1760) (1727-1760)

George II relied more on Walpole and gave him a house in Westminster, 10 downing street, which is still the official residence of the prime minister today.
After Walpole, William Pitt was elected; he started a mercantilist policy to make England a strong and economically competitive country. Under his government, customs duties were abolished; they were the money that traders had to pay on the goods they imported or exported. Their abolishment favored the world trades. England mostly imported: cocoa, tobacco, sugar, tea, spices; this raw materials were then processed and sold.
In 1745 another scottish rebellion occurred; this was led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, the grandson of James II; he landed in Scotland after leaving France, he raised an army and conquered Edinburgh. Then he conquered some territories in northern England, around the area of Newcastle; Bonnie couldn't raise support though, because everyone was fed up with catholic monarchs, so George II crashed this rebellion with his army.
1756-1763-> The Seven Years War.
On one side there were Great Britain and Prussia, and on the other side France, Spain, Austria, Russia. It was fought for the same reason as the War of Succession in Spain; England wanted to keep a balance of power in Europe, no european country had to be more powerful than the others, and also wanted to expand the colonies. In fact the war was fought in Europe, India an America.
At the end GB could control most of India instead of sharing it with France, and had also gained the Quebec, in eastern Canada. (this region was full of timber, fish and fur)
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