This piece is not meant to be a deep look into the history of the Elizabethan and Restoration eras, but rather an overview of the periods to explain future pieces on the literature of the times. This is a continuation of my look back at my undergraduate degree in English. (Previous pieces in the series are listed at the end of this post.) That being said…
Although Elizabeth’s reign was a successful one, it was marked with both religious and political dissension. In Ireland and Scotland, Catholic uprisings occurred, and Jesuits carried out a movement of conversion in England. Parliament passed suppressive measures against the Jesuit movement, declaring the action treasonable. Eventually, Edmund Campion, the head of the movement was beheaded. Jesuits fled the country when William of Orange was murdered and a plot to bring Mary to the throne was uncovered. Protestant extremists furnished additional troubles to the government, so that several of their leaders also suffered martyrdom.
Meanwhile England’s power over the seas increased. Men, such as Hawkins and Drake, sought fame, treasure, and glory of England sailed even into the new world to attack Spanish properties and shipping. Supremacy over the sea lanes aided in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, marking the end of the Spanish rule of the sea. Elizabeth’s last years were spent in forcing the struggle against Spain. She died in 1603, closing a reign that had turned the attention of the English people to trade, colonization, exploration, and a new nationalism.
From the Accession of James I to the Restoration:
James I came to the throne of England with no greater possession than a tremendous ignorance of the country and people that he would rule. He underestimated both the power of the English Parliament and of the Puritan sect. He refused toleration of the Puritan sect in 1604 while giving encouragement to the Roman Catholics. As a result of this encouragement, Catholics began to multiply and to make themselves heard in the affairs of the kingdom. Therefore, James found it necessary to issue a proclamation banishing priests, and anti-Catholic laws were strictly enforced. The Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up King and Parliament, grew out of these oppressive acts. Even with further attempts to treat the Catholics kindly, James merely succeeded in increasing his unpopularity among the Protestants. Thus, when he died in 1625, the legacy he left to his on, the new king, was a host of differences with his people.
When Charles I came to the throne, the power behind him was the court favorite George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. Without the blessings of Parliament, these two brought England into the European War. Parliament refused to finance Charles’s plans, conflict between Parliament and the King rose. Charles I managed to raise the necessary funds by his own methods. Parliament, therefore, forced Charles in 1628 to assent to the Petition of Right, a clear definition of the rights of British subjects and a limitation of royal prerogative.
Many rejoiced at the murder of Buckingham in that same year. Charles abandoned his military aspirations and dispensed with Parliament. He placed his own judges into the courts and ruled very much as a despot.
In religious matters, Puritans suffered greatly. The High Church Archbishop Laud enforced episcopacy and forbade evangelicalism. Puritans escaped by emigrating to America. Catholic offered some approval for the King, however, for Charles had married a Catholic. In 1636, Charles declared himself head of the church in Scotland. The Scots threatened war. Charles was forced to call a Parliament, thus giving the people an opportunity for concerted action. At the same time, the Scots threw in their sympathies with the parliamentary forces in the Civil war that was soon to follow.
The Parliament, which came to be known as the Long Parliament assembled in 1640. This body decided to assert its power: it ordered the execution of the King’s chief minister, the Earl of Strafford; it put Laud into the Tower; it forbade the King to dissolve Parliaments. In brief, it made the King dependent upon itself.
Although Parliament knew unity on the question of royal prerogative, dissension remained int terms of religious matters. The Parliamentary majority wished to establish a Puritan State Church; others desired a Presbyterian establishment; still others wanted congregational control of the churches. Encouraged by this split, Charles made an attempt to arrest five leaders of the Commons. Only war would settle the balance of power.
War began in 1642. It ended with the victory of the parliamentary party (Roundheads) in 1646. Parliament celebrated their victory with the persecution of various other religious sects and by heavily taxing the Cavaliers. Only after the execution of Charles and the establishment of Cromwell to the position of Protector did an ease to the strife occur.
Before Cromwell was named Lord Protector in 1653, the Rump Parliament, a body that aroused the nation’s hostilities, was in control. This Rump Parliament censored writings, closed the theatres, stopped church festivals, and tried to enforce morality by law. In 1653, Cromwell dissolved this Parliament. Shortly afterwards, Cromwell was made Lord Protector for life. Parliament protested the power bestowed upon Cromwell, thus forcing him to the employment of arbitrary methods in order to retain his power. Of religious sects, Cromwell was highly tolerant, and under his protection, many flourished. Unfortunately, there was, during his regime, a great degree of interference with private affairs, and undue concern with public morals interpreted in the light of Puritanism, and as the Puritans had formerly rid England of the monarchy, it was now inspiring a return to the old form of government and the Restoration of 1660.
After Cromwell’s death in 1658, his son Richard reassembled the old Rump. This group immediately passed a resolution for the establishment of a Commonwealth without a single leader. In 1659, Richard Cromwell resigned as Lord Protector. Parliament came into conflict with the army that was settled by the Convention Parliament of 1660. During this election, Royalists were permitted the right to vote, and George Monck, who had put himself into a dictatorial position, had already begun to negotiate with the exiled Charles. Charles issued a Proclamation from Breda that guaranteed a general amnesty and liberty of conscience. The people as a whole had tired of Parliamentary manipulations, and the Convention Parliament officially recalled the King in April of 1660. The Restoration was a logical reaction to an excess of Puritanism and Army rule.
Previous Posts in the Series:
Development of English Literature
April 2015 ~ Early History of the English Language
April 2015 ~ Early Political History of England: The West Saxons
April 2015 ~ Life in Early Britain
May 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Literature: The Epic Poem, Beowulf
May 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Literature ~ Part I Early Epic Poems
May 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Literature – Part II: Charms and Riddles
May 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Poetry
June 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Christian Writings
June 2015 ~ The Anglo-Saxon World: King Alfred, William of Normandy, and the Doomsday Book
June 2015 ~ The Development of the English Language During the Anglo-Norman Period (1066-1350)
July 2015 ~ Political History of England Under the Normans
July 2015 ~ Early Anglo-Norman Literature
July 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Part I ~ Introduction to Medieval Verse Romances
July 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Part II ~ Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
August 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Part III ~ Romantic Verse Beyond “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”
August 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Part IV ~ Ballads
August 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Ballads (Part 2)
September 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: The Pearl Poet
September 2015 ~ History of the Age of Chaucer and Life in England (1350 -1500): An Overview
October 2015 ~ Literature of the Age of Chaucer: Part I
November 2015 ~ Chaucer’s Influence (Part 2): The Canterbury Tales
December 2015 ~ John Gower, Medieval English Poet and Contemporary of William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer
December 2015 ~ William Caxton, Publisher and Translator
January 2016 ~ A Primer for Books 1-2 of Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”
January 2016 ~ Sir Thomas Malory, Knight-Prisoner, Author of “Le Morte Darthur,” and Criminal?
March 2016 ~ 14th Century Scottish Writers
March 2016 ~ An Introduction into Anglo-Norman Early Drama
April 2016 ~ Origin of the Drama – Everyman and The Second Shepherd’s Play
May 2016 ~ Overview: Life and Literature in the Era of the Reformation
May 2016 ~ A Brief History of The Reformation 1485 – 1580
June 2016 ~ John Skelton (1460 – 1529), Tudor Poet
June 2016 ~ Sir Thomas Wyatt (c. 1503 – 1542), 16th C English Ambassador and Lyrical Poet
July 2016 ~ Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey ~ Tudor Poet
August 2016 ~ Sir Philip Sidney, Author of the Finest Love Poems in English Before Shakespeare
September 2016 ~ Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Liturgical Drama
September 2016 ~ Robert Southwell, Jesuit Priest and Literary Contemporary of William Shakespeare
October 2016 ~ Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Morality Plays
November 2016 ~ Colorful (But Lesser Known) Contemporaries of William Shakespeare, Part II
December 2016 ~ Thomas More’s Life and Literature and Being a Reformation Martyr
January 2017 ~ Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Folk Plays
January 2017 ~ Pre-Elizabethan Drama: The Interlude
February 2017 Roger Ascham, Serving Four Monarchs