17th Century England
King James I
The Virgin Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, after ruling England forty-five years. Queen Elizabeth employed an astrologer, John Dee (1527-1608), and it was he who invented the term "Great Britain."
The English throne passed to King James Stuart of Scotland, 36 years old, and the son of Elizabeth's cousin and former rival, Mary Queen of Scots. This brought Scotland under the English Crown without a shot being fired. The Stuarts had ruled Scotland since 1371.
James, an erudite man who loved to pontificate, had been King of Scotland since he was one year old. One of his first acts as King of England was to have his mother's body dug up and reburied in Westminster Abbey next to Queen Elizabeth.
James was highly intelligent and a learned theologian, but he was also vain and lazy.
English Catholics rejoiced when King James I was crowned. They had high hopes he would be a friendly monarch to Catholics. Instead, James, who was raised a Calvinist (Presbyterian), clamped down on them as never before.
Catholic Mass was outlawed. Hearing the Mass would bring a jail sentence. Catholic priests survived in "priest holes" hidden in the homes of wealthy Catholics. Universities were closed to those who practiced Catholicism.
In reaction to these developments, Guy Fawkes and his band of a dozen young Catholics schemed to blow up the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Whitehall with 5,500 pounds of gunpowder they hid below Parliament in 1605.
If the explosives had not been discovered, the dead would have included the King and his family; the Royal Council; and all of the members of Parliament.
Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators in the "Gunpowder Plot" were caught, convicted of treason, and summarily hung, drawn and quartered. To this day, the foiling of this scheme is celebrated as "Bonfire Night."
The tragic result of this plot was that all English Catholics were demonized as potential traitors; they were banned from voting, could no longer practice law, and precluded from becoming officers in the armed forces.
In Ireland, Lord Mountjoy of England (Charles Blount) put down a long rebellion with a scorched earth policy in 1600. England proceeded to systematically colonize Ireland. Irish customs and language were curtailed; Irish law was abolished.
In 1602, Cormack McCarthy, Lord of Blarney in County Cork, delayed the surrender of his castle to the English through a series of parleys, promises, queries, and time-wasting speeches.
Thus "Blarney" passed into the common parlance as a synonym for miraculous powers of speech, or the "gift of gab." Visitors to Blarney Castle today, kiss the Blarney Stone to acquire this gift of persuasiveness.
When our modern ears hear the word "Puritan" the idea that immediately comes to mind is that of a killjoy. But this is a caricature.
The Puritans wished to purify the Church of England by eliminating Roman Catholic rites. They emphasized preaching, prayer, worship, and the Gospel. Of course the Gospel enjoins good behavior and a morally conscious attitude to living. But the Puritans were never against pleasure or the arts. They relished and cultivated music, poetry, and the other arts.
Social prophets today issue warnings about the coming of a new Puritanism. They point to the crusade against cigarettes, as well as the outcry by believers in God against sexual licentiousness and obscene art.
The Puritans did not outlaw booze and tobacco. They shut down theatres not because of the plays, but because of prostitution that led to a wave of venereal disease.
The Puritans desired a better church and a better state; a better society and a stronger economy; Liberty and Freedom. The Puritans pointed out that human institutions were a matter of choice, designed for a purpose, and maintained by custom.
Nature is the twin of reason. Both are given. Man is a reasoning creature by nature, and nature is ready made to be reasoned about. Nature acts apart from the will and wishes of man. Puritans believed that God was to be known in and through nature.
The Puritans believed that government must be based on nature—the nature of man. They wanted a republic with the vote for all adults; the abolition of rank and privilege; equality before the law; and free trade. All men were born equal and free.
Conscience is self-consciousness about morality. The sharper the individual conscience, the keener is its judgments of human behavior and beliefs, including its own.
The Puritans had faith that was both intellectual and visceral. They loved truth and hated sin. Their great worry was that the toleration and spread of immorality imperiled other innocent souls. Immorality is infectious and if not checked can produce an epidemic.
Therefore, religious persecution is a health measure to stop the spread of contagious disease—disease of the soul more than the body, and the soul is immeasurably more important.
God expects His faithful to defend His truth against invasion by dark spiritual forces. It is their duty, which if neglected will endanger their neighbors, community, and society.
King Charles I
Charles I became King of England in 1625 at the age of 25. He was 5'4" tall; a man of grit, principle, piety, and taste.
Charles was a devoted husband and father, and a sincere Christian. He loved beautiful things. He had no sense of humor.
Charles would become perhaps England's greatest royal patron of the arts. But he was also obstinate, and insisted on the Divine Right of Kings, stating: "The King is above the law." One of his first moves was to dissolve Parliament.
By 1628, the English Treasury was broke, which prompted Charles to reinstate Parliament. The House of Commons coerced him into signing the Petition of Right, which gave Parliament the exclusive right to tax the populace, and forbade arbitrary imprisonment.
King Charles dissolved Parliament again in 1629, this time for eleven years. Art, music, and drama flourished.
In 1634, the Puritan lawyer William Prynne denounced as immoral the court masques that were beloved by the King and his wife. The King's Star Chamber ordered his ears be cut off. Prynne became a folk hero through an early version of newspapers—printed newsletters.
Parliament was back in business by 1640; recalled by Charles because Scotland was in revolt. The "Grand Remonstrance" of 1641 soon followed, which listed 204 complaints against King Charles I, most egregiously: taxation without representation. The "Long Parliament" went on to impeach and arrest the chief ally of the King for treason, the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud.
King Charles responded by becoming the first English King to interrupt a session of the House of Commons, in an attempt to arrest five members of Parliament. This made things worse.
Mobs in London of up to 100,000 threatened the safety of the King and his family. In 1642, the King's wife fled to Holland with the Crown jewels (hoping to sell them). Charles rode to York to raise an army to crush his foes.
War broke out between King Charles and Parliament in 1642. It could have been avoided. Nine times King Charles was offered the chance to keep his throne. He only had to reach some sort of compromise on the original 19 demands of Parliament. He refused to budge an inch.
The English Civil War
The English Civil War did not start in England and was not confined to England. It was really three civil wars combined, in Scotland, Ireland, and England. The destruction was to be immense.
150 whole towns were destroyed; 11,000 homes burned; 55,000 people made homeless. 4 percent of the population of England died—over 200,000 people.
During the English Civil War a new word was brought over from Germany—plunder—to refer to the activities of the loot-happy troops of King Charles (the Cavaliers).
Worse than the battles were the sieges of towns. This is where most casualties took place, from starvation and plague, followed by massacres of even women and children.
The English Civil War is often called a religious war. The opponents were all of the same religion. There was a religious aspect to the feelings on both sides, but the war was really about sovereignty; about who holds the power in England to tax and wage war—the King or Parliament.
Moreover, the fear of Catholic control of England was more political and economic than religious. The Catholic nations—Spain, France, and Austria—had been continually plotting with Ireland and Scotland to invade and conquer England. Surely a Catholic King might throw open the gates of the realm.
Those against the King became known as the Roundheads. Their leader was Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who may be the most remarkable man in English History.
One could liken Oliver Cromwell to Julius Caesar. One similarity between them is their clemency. After the English Civil War ended, Cromwell welcomed his former enemies to join him in governance. This is the mark of a true statesman—he knows he must govern the whole country, not just his own party and good friends.
Oliver Cromwell was a stocky, plain-spoken, gentleman farmer with a bulbous nose and large, striking blue eyes. He was neither ambitious, nor distinguished academically. He excelled at—and loved—history and mathematics.
Cromwell was happily married, and happily a Calvinist. His neighbors sent him to Parliament to represent their interests. Cromwell stood up for the poor man—even went to jail for them once.
But Oliver Cromwell was destined to become a formidable military commander. He was a superior organizer, and he formed a "New Model Army." Cromwell would prove to be an invincible general.
Oliver Cromwell formed an army that would feature 22,000 professionally trained soldiers, which supplanted the old system of regional militias. This highly disciplined army sang hymns together, abstained from alcohol, and loved to hear sermons. Cromwell posted a military record of thirty wins and no losses in battle.
The Roundheads captured King Charles in 1646. By 1647, the war was over with the final defeat of the Cavaliers. Then came a dramatic break between the winning army and Parliament.
Parliament voted to disband the army without the pay they were owed, and were negotiating with Charles to restore him to the throne. The army responded "We were not a mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of the state, but were called forth to the defense of the people's just rights and liberties."
King Charles I of England was put on trial and convicted as a "Tyrant, Traitor, Murderer, and Public Enemy to the good people of this nation." Charles refused to recognize the authority of the court that tried him, and thus made no defense.
The king was publicly beheaded in 1649 for making war on his own people. This may be the most remarkable event in English History. The monarchy, as well as the House of Lords, was abolished. England was declared a "Commonwealth."
It was against the backdrop of these turbulent times that England founded colonies in America.
The Commonwealth of England
The English tried to rule Ireland by turning Irish chiefs into Earls and Barons. Resistance continued. In 1651, Oliver Cromwell brutally conquered Ireland and it was annexed by England. Also in that year, Cromwell triumphed over a revolt by the Scots.
In 1653, Oliver Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector of England. He accepted this newly created post in humble dignity, dressed in a plain black outfit.
The Puritans on the winning side of the English Civil War banned swearing, maypoles, theatre, Christmas, and Easter. Also banned on the Sabbath (Sunday) were sports, including horseracing, cockfighting, bear-baiting, bowling, shooting, dancing, and wrestling. Many taverns were closed and most churches were stripped of their Catholic art and ornamentation.
The Puritans brought in modest apparel and more rigorous good manners. Fornicators were sent to jail. Adultery was punishable by death for the first time in England.
But when it came to the faith inside a man's heart and head, the Puritans held that freedom of worship was paramount for all Christians. Oliver Cromwell said "The most mistaken Christian who should desire to live peaceably and quietly under you, and soberly and humbly desire to live a life of godliness and honesty, has a natural right to liberty of conscience."
By 1656, this freedom of worship had been extended to Jews. They started to openly worship in their own synagogue on Cheechurch Lane. Portuguese Jews immigrated to London, where they took up banking, as well as dealing in gold and gemstones.
Cromwell's economic policies, centered on free trade, made England prosperous. He rid the Mediterranean of pirates for English shipping to flourish.
Oliver Cromwell died of malaria in 1658, which occasioned dancing in the streets of London. His statue stands today outside the Houses of Parliament—sword in one hand and the Bible in the other. More streets in England are named after Oliver Cromwell than anyone besides Queen Victoria. He could be called the founder of the British Empire.
Thomas Hobbes was a political theorist whose great work of philosophy is entitled Leviathan.
Hobbes wrote that human life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
His view was that humans needed a strong ruler to impose order on their unruly natures.
The Great Fire of London
The summer of 1666 had been long and hot. Global Warming, I suppose. The wood and wattle houses of London, roofed with straw, were tinderbox dry, and a warm easterly wind was blowing.
Twenty barrels of tar exploded below Pudding Lane, which catapulted their burning debris into the stables of the inn next door, and set fire to the hay stored there.
The flames made their way to the wooden wharves and warehouses that were stacked to the rafters with tallow, oil, coal, and timber on the side of the Thames River. This became an inferno that burnt down a third of the houses on London Bridge.
King Charles and his brother James personally fought the fire ferociously for nineteen hours straight, on the streets with buckets of water. Before the Great Fire of London was put out; 13,200 homes were destroyed, along with 87 churches. The flames could be seen as far away as Oxford, fifty miles away. 100,000 people were suddenly homeless, many left destitute since this preceded the invention of insurance.
No suitable successor appeared who could fill the shoes of Oliver Cromwell. In 1660, Charles II, the 30 year old son of the slain King, ascended to the throne and the English Monarchy was restored. First, an agreement was reached that kings must rule jointly with Parliament, and that all Christians would have Liberty of Conscience. Oliver Cromwell was hanged and beheaded—posthumously. Theatres and taverns reopened.
King Charles II had been crowned King of Scotland ten years earlier. He was the proud father of 14 bastard children. The "Merry Monarch" had countless mistresses, but his favorite was the red-haired actress Nell Gwynne. Charles was a shrewd politician and a great liar. He was charming and possessed a vast sense of humor.
The marriage of King Charles II was childless. The line of succession thus went to his brother James, Duke of York. Charles was secretly a Catholic. James was openly a Catholic. Thus the heir to the throne of England was a publicly declared Roman Catholic. And the English Army of 30,000 men was decidedly Protestant.
In 1670, Charles made a secret deal with the French, whereby he and they agreed to wage war together on the Dutch. In return, Charles promised to publicly declare himself a Catholic sometime soon.
1667 was a Pivotal Year
John Milton wrote Paradise Lost in 1667, which is the living embodiment of the battle of ideas in his time.
Richard Lower performed the first human blood transfusion that same year.
And it was the year that the Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames and destroyed half the English Navy with fire ships.
King James II
In 1685, James II, 52 years old, became the last Catholic king of England. This aroused the passions of the Puritans against him. Those opposed to King James II were called "Whigs," a term for Scottish outlaws; those who favored James were called "Tories," from a Gaelic word meaning "Catholic bandits."
James II was a competent man, serious and hardworking. But he was also impatient, arrogant, and somewhat silly. He was a poor judge of character, had little interest in arts or science, and mostly just loved sex. Perhaps a bit of a coward, too.
The daughters of King James II, Mary and Anne, were both staunch Protestants. Mary had married a Dutch Protestant hero, William of Orange (Avignon), who also had a tenuous claim to the English throne.
King James II staffed his army with Catholics, causing alarm among Protestants as to his intentions. Then, in 1688, James had a son. Now he had an heir who would be reared a Catholic, and keep England a Catholic nation for perhaps decades to come.
John Locke, a devout Christian, published Treatises on Civil Government in 1690, which put forth the notion that rulers and the ruled should have some sort of contract. He was already famous for his book An Essay on Human Understanding.
John Locke argued that the state had no business patrolling spiritual beliefs. The state should confine itself to "civil interests" that he defined as "life, liberty, health, indolency of body, and the possession of outwardly things such as money, land, houses, furniture, and the like."
The Glorious Revolution
William III (1650-1702) was of the House of Orange, which is not of Dutch origin but from what is modern day France. His great-grandfather once granted a pardon to his adulterous second wife's lover, who then fathered Peter Paul Rubens.
William was the head of state in the Netherlands. He was also slightly hunchbacked, as well as asthmatic. His wife Mary was very pretty.
William III and his wife Mary, the daughter of King James II of England, were followers of John Calvin. They were invited by the enemies of King James II to come over from Holland to establish a new monarchy in 1688.
They did so—with 40,000 troops and 463 warships. The leading officers of the English Army deserted their posts, and the Royal Navy declared allegiance to William. James II, debilitated from nosebleeds and insomnia, fled England and ran to France, throwing the Great Seal of England in the Thames as he left.
In 1689, William and Mary accepted the Crown of England and agreed to a "Bill of Rights" demanded by Parliament. This is known as the "Glorious Revolution."
Under the terms of the Bill of Rights, the new King agreed that from then forward, kings would have no right to levy taxes, erect special courts, or maintain an army.
Additionally, there were guarantees of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Petition, and measures to restrict cruel and unusual punishments and excessive bail.
The Toleration Act of 1689 guaranteed Freedom of Worship for all Christians, except Catholics and Unitarians.
In 1690, King William III of England gathered his troops on the north bank of the River Boyne, thirty miles north of Dublin, Ireland. On the south bank stood the troops commanded by none other than the former King of England, James II.
James had come back from his exile in France with a crack team of French troops, buttressed by Irish Catholic soldiers, to recapture Ireland for Catholicism, and then to retake England and once again reign as its King. Louis XIV of France backed James as part of his plan to once again assert Catholic dominance of Europe.
King William was triumphant over the "Jacobites," so named for their support of James—Jacob in Hebrew and Latin. William was a gracious victor. He allowed 11,000 Jacobite soldiers to go free to France, where they became known as the "Wild Geese," a foreign legion of mercenaries who later fought for the Catholic armies of Europe.
To be fair and balanced in my reportage, prior to this battle the Catholics had mercilessly persecuted the Protestant minority in Ireland. Under the army of James they had taken all land from Protestants south of Ulster, today's Northern Ireland, and had isolated Protestants to the town of Derry, which they besieged for 105 days.
After the victory of King William, Irish Protestants took revenge by excluding Catholics from serving in the army and in government.
The English mistreated the Irish, whom they thought a lazy, brawling, irrational, lascivious people. The Irish were handsome and gay, had the gift of gab, and were noted for excellent horsemanship and their fine sense of humor. Irish peasants knew not how to hitch an ox to a plow, and instead tied the instrument to the animal's tail. They would put fresh milk in filthy buckets, and knew nothing about agriculture, depending on amulets, spells and enchantments. They had more feast days than work days. The English sought to civilize the Irish.
English traders had been trading cloth, guns, brass, knives, beads, mirrors, pots, beer, cider, brandy, and horses to African chiefs since 1663 for people the African chiefs had captured and enslaved. Thus began the so-called "Triangular Trade."
The traders carried the African slaves to the Caribbean Islands, and later to North America, where they traded them for sugar, coffee, or tobacco. This slave trading route became known as the "Middle Passage" where Africans were transported in appalling barbarity, including being branded with hot irons.
The slaves were stacked on ships like books in a library, in unspeakable squalor in the dark and fetid holds of the slave ships. One in eight died during the voyage.
The slaves were infected by the urine and excrement in which they lay. Other ships were careful to stay upwind of the slave ships to avoid their noxious stink.
African slaves provided cheap, sturdy labor. England had developed a "sweet tooth" along with addictions for coffee, tobacco, and rum. Only muscular young men who were acclimated to working in a tropical climate could handle the back-breaking labor of the plantations that produced sugar, tobacco, and cotton.
A lot is said about how "intolerant" people were back then. The most intolerant people of the 20th century were the Atheist regimes of Marxist governments. They ruthlessly repressed even the slightest murmur of dissent. A careless word, or mistimed joke, could mean the concentration camp or execution.
The same spirit holds sway in the "political correctness" culture of America today. So far, the penalties have yet not included death or the Gulag. But they have included the loss of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association, and Freedom of Thought.
The PC crowd has been successful at punishing offenders with public opprobrium, loss of employment, and virtual exclusion from one's profession—for even the most casually spoken words.
Toleration does not guarantee social peace. Toleration has no logical limits. What level of obscene public behavior should be tolerated?
People who believe in God see tolerance of immorality as a sign that their government that lost its moral authority; that their society has defined deviance down. Secularists practice their own form of intolerance, working overtime to exclude faith in God from the public schools, and even the public square.
I have two quotes from Samuel Coleridge from 1834 & 1836:
"A right to tolerance seems to me a contradiction in terms. Some criterion must in any case be adopted by the state; otherwise it might be compelled to admit whatever hideous doctrines and practice any man might assert."
"We are none of us tolerant in what concerns us deeply and entirely."
My sources for this article include: Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey; From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun; Europe by Norman Davies; and The Kings & Queens of England by Antonia Fraser.