It was interesting to see Hosni Mubarak being given a life sentence yesterday (see here). Last year I made a lot of posts about the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. This year I haven’t made many posts at all; not because I’ve lost interest in it, but because after the all important intial impetus, revolutions tend to be a long, drawn-out process. Many folks are critical of what’s now happening in places like Libya and Egypt, and seem to think that revolutions are done and dusted in a year or two. History shows otherwise, and a good example is the British Isles.
On a chilly and damp weekend in early June the Brits are celebrating the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Yup, Liz has been on the throne for 60 years. The first Liz didn’t do too bad either. Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII, was on the throne for 44 years. Elizabeth I died in 1603, the same year that Shakespeare wrote Twelth Night. The unmarried Virgin Queen had no successor. The Parliamentarians, and chief minister Sir Robert Cecil, had already decided what to do: for the previous three years, Cecil had been in secret correspondence with King James VI of Scotland (son of Mary Queen of Scots), grooming him for the succession. James was proclaimed King of England on the same day that Elizabeth I died (Coronation celebrations were restricted that year due to an outbreak of the Black Death). James took over a kingdom that was not without its problems. High taxation to fund wars in Ireland and France, the ongoing debate about how much power the monarchy should have and perceived inequality all led to a widespread sense of grievance.
The King of England and Scotland was strapped for cash during most of his reign. James I kept trying to get Parliament to stump-up more money for his opulent court and foreign wars. Negotiations between Parliament and the King were difficult and protracted, leading to the so-called ‘Addled Parliament’ of 1614, which James dissolved after just nine weeks when the Commons refused to grant him the dosh he required. James then ruled without a Parliament until 1621. During this time the King employed businessmen to raise money for the Crown, and sold earldoms and other titles, many created for the purpose, as an alternative source of income.
James I died in 1625. At his bedside was George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham. Villiers had been the King’s favourite for more than a decade. James called the Duke of Buckingham his “sweet child and wife”. Buckingham, who was openly gay, wrote to the King: “I naturally so love your person, and adore all your other parts, which are more than ever one man had”. During his rein, the bisexual James had taken the first steps towards a union between England and Scotland. On the other hand his colonisation of Ulster by English and Scottish Protestants caused 400 years of conflict with the Catholic Irish. James was succeeded by his only surviving son, who at the age of 25 became Charles I. Charles and the Duke of Buckingham were already closely associated, and Buckingham became one of the favourites of the new king (four years later the Duke of Buckingham was assassinated by a disgruntled officer in the Greyhound Pub in Portsmouth).
As with his father, James I, Charles I believed in the divine rule of the monarchy. During the first four years of his rule, Charles argued constantly with his Parliamentarians (unlike his father, Charles was considered to be arrogant and conceited). Things came to a head in 1629 when Charles refused to allow Parliament to meet. Parliamentarians arrived in Westminster to find chains and padlocks on all the doors. They remained locked out for 11 years, a period that was called the Eleven Years Tyranny. During this time, Charles raised money by flogging off titles, just as his father had done. He also imposed the Ship tax on everyone in the country (the Ship tax had previously been paid only by inhabitants of coastal towns, to help fund the navy), a move that was very unpopular and raised very little revenue.
In 1639, Charles ordered the Scots to use a new prayer book. This pissed-off the Scots so much that they invaded England. In order to get the money to fight the Scots, Charles was forced to recall Parliament, which became split into two factions: Cavaliers who supported the King and Roundheads who wanted political reform. Many Protestant Parliamentarians were worried that the King was interfering too much in religion and was turning towards Catholicism (amongst other things, Charles had married a Catholic princess). In 1641 every member of the House of Commons was asked to make a declaration of loyalty to Parliament and the Protestant Church of England. It was called the Protestation and was later extended to every Rector and church warden, and then every male in England over the age of 18. Anyone in the church who refused to sign was removed from their post. Also in 1641, the Catholics in Ireland rebelled, killing large numbers of English and Scottish Protestant settlers. The Irish rebellion caused a panic in England, yet the King and his Parliament continued to be at loggerheads and in 1642 Charles tried to arrest five MPs who were his biggest critics. The arrests failed because of a tip off. The resulting uproar made Charles realise that his relations with the Parliamentarians had completely broken down. He left London for Oxford, to raise an army to fight Parliament for control of England. It was the start of the English civil war.
As with most wars, God was on the side of big battalions; ie, those that had the most money, which in this case was the English Parliament. Broadly speaking, the north and west of England, including Wales, was Royalist, whilst the south and east were Parliamentarian. By mid-1643 it looked as though Charles’ forces had the upperhand, but later that year the Parliamentarians made a military alliance with the Scots. This resulted in the defeat of the King’s forces at Marston Moor in 1644, meaning that Charles had lost control of the north of England. The following year, Charles was defeated by Parliament’s New Model Army at Naseby and it became clear that the Royalist cause was lost.
By 1646, King Charles was having a bad time of it: with his forces defeated, rather than surrender to Parliament he sought sanctuary with a Scottish army in the north of England. However, the Scots betrayed Charles and sold him to Parliament. The King was then imprisoned in Holdenby House, Northamptonshire, then later at Newmarket and Hampton Court. The Parliamentarians didn’t really know what to do with the defeated king. Charles managed to escape and by 1648 he had gained enough support to start what became known as the second English civil war. It didn’t last long and the King’s supporters were defeated at the Battle of Preston. Charles was arrested again and in January 1649 he was put on trial at Westminster Hall. Charles I was found guilty that he had “traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament and the people” and was executed.
Within days of the King’s execution, Parliament resolved to abolish both the House of Lords and the monarchy. England was declared a republican ‘Commonwealth and Free State’ on 19 May 1649, with a Council of State holding executive power. That summer, Oliver Cromwell went off to Ireland to put down the Catholic rebellion, which as a Puritan he did brutally (it’s estimated that 504,000 Catholics were killed during the rebellion; 41% of Ireland’s population). The Commonwealth lasted until 1653. In that year, Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army seized control and there was a period of rule called the Protectorate, with Cromwell nominated as the ‘Lord Protector’ (effectively making Cromwell a dictator). It was the first time that England, Scotland and Ireland had been united under one ruler, but the republicans condemned Cromwell’s rule as a period of tyranny and economic depression. When Cromwell died in 1658 his son Richard took over as Lord Protector. However, Richard Cromwell did not have the confidence of the army or the Parliamentarians and his rule lasted not much more than six months. There followed a short, chaotic revival of the Commonwealth of England before the monarchy was restored in May 1660 (as a footnote, Oliver Cromwell was given a posthumous execution in 1661, when his body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey and he was beheaded).
From the start of the English Civil War until the restoration of the monarchy spanned 18 years, and 350 years after the Restoration the Brits still turn out in the rain to celebrate their monarch.