Politics: Protestants, Catholics, The King and Parliament
Lord Shaftsbury's substantial role in English politics from the 1660s
to the Exclusion Crisis of the 1680s plays an enormously important part in
how the Two Treatises came to be written and in determining the
purpose they were intended to serve.
The Protestant majority in 17th century England saw Catholics much as
communists were in the United States in the 1950s -- as evil agents of a
foreign power. For a variety of reasons, however, Catholicism was a much
more integral element in English life, than Communism was in the United
States. For one thing, England had, like all other countries in Europe,
been a Catholic country. This ceased when Henry the Eighth created the
Anglican Church because the Pope refused to give him a divorce from
Catherine of Aragon. Because of the way in which is was created, the
Anglican church had much in common with Catholicism, even though the King
of England and not the Pope was at its head. After the death of Henry, his
son Edward VI restored a reformed version of Catholicism, and Mary
(Edward's half sister) restored relations with the Papacy. Elisabeth I
restored the independence of the Church of England in two acts in 1560 --
the Elizabethan settlement. This settlement satisfied those who wanted a
"reformed Catholicism" (reformed in worship and custom, but Catholic in
doctrine and practice). Two other groups, however, did not accept the
settlement. The first wished the Church to return to Rome altogether, and
the second thought the reforms did not go far enough. The seventeenth
century was the period of influence of the latter -- the Puritans. Thus
one had the split between the High Church and the low church.
Charles I prefered the High Church. The Puritans exercised
considerable influence in Parliament. In addition, Charles I had a
Catholic French princess for a wife.
Execution of Charles I|
So, in the conflicts between King and Parliament which led to the
English Civil War, the death of Charles I and the exile of his family, as
well as the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth government, there
was an important element of religious conflict as well as political
When Cromwell defeated Charles, the Prince of Wales (born 1630) at the
Battle of Worcester (1651), Charles escaped with the help of English
Catholics. This gave him an enduring affection for his Catholic subjects.
He and his mother lived in exile at the court of his most Catholic majesty
of France, Louis XIV. Louis XIV's France was a centralized government in
which the King had supreme power. The French parliament was weak by
comparison with the English parliament. So, Louis XIV represented an
ideal to which an English king might aspire.
After the Restoration, and after he had spent some time in the
government of Charles II, Shaftsbury came to suspect Charles II and his
brother of wishing to make England an absolute monarchy and a Catholic
country like France. These suspicions had some foundation. In a secret
treaty at Dover in 1670 Charles had agreed to try to make England a
Catholic country in return for a large sum of money from the French king.
Charles certainly had his problems with Parliament -- which often refused
to give him the money he needed to carry on the business of government.
The Parliament did not want the king operating in financial independence
of the Parliament. The King, given his frustrations with getting money
from the suspicious Parliament, would very much have liked to operate in
financial independence of that body.
The King and Lord Shaftsbury became increasingly suspicious of one
another. Finally Charles dismissed Shaftsbury from the government and
Shaftsbury became one of the most prominent parliamentary leaders of the
opposition to the government. Locke served the Earl of Shaftsbury when the
latter left the Government and became the leader of the opposition to
Charles II, though he did spend four years after Shaftsbury's dismissal in
France traveling about for his health. He was back in time for the
Duke of York, was next in line to succeed his brother Charles II as King
of England. Ironically, Charles, who was known to keep a number of
mistresses and had a fair number of illegitimate children, did not have a
legitimate heir. The Queen, Catherine of Braganza (a Portugese princess),
was unable to conceive. The Duke was an avowed Catholic. James was not as
subtle or astute as his brother. He was an overt Catholic. Many in the
country feared (and as it turned our quite rightly) that where James to
become King, he would try to make England a Catholic absolutist monarchy.
Shaftsbury and other opposition leaders wished to prevent the Catholic
Duke of York from succeeding his brother Charles II as King. Shaftsbury
proposed to pass a bill in Parliament to exclude the Duke of York from
succeeding his brother. To do this, several political campaigns were
necessary, but eventually the House of Commons passed an Exclusion Bill by
the wide majority which Shaftsbury thought would force the King to sign
it. He, and the other opposition leaders had badly miscalculated Charles'
loyalty to his brothers. The King made it plain to the Lords that the
bill was unacceptable to him, and the Exclusion bill was defeated in the
House of Lords.
|James, Duke of
The failure of the Exclusion Bill led many in the opposition to simply
give up. Others, including Shaftsbury and Locke, began to plan an armed
revolution. Part of the plot involved an effort to trap the King and his
brother as they returned to London from the Newmarket races in a narrow
road. The king's guard was to be cut off at a bridge, and the King's
coach fired upon from the windows of a house overlooking the narrow
street. This was called the Rye House plot after the name of the house
and the street. It did not come off because the King and his brother
returned to London early from the races. Nonetheless the effort to
organize a general rising continued. It was not to be, however. First
Shaftsbury gave up and fled to Holland where he died in 1683. Then someone
revealed the Rye House Plot to the government and Locke fled to
Holland the same week that the plot was revealed.
While Locke was living in exile in Holland, Charles II died on Feb. 6,
1685 and was succeeded by his brother -- who became James II of England.
Recent scholarships suggest that while in Holland Locke was closely
associated with the English revolutionaries in exile. While the English
government was much concerned with this group, the English intelligence
service infiltrated this group and effectively thwarted their efforts --
at least for a while. In fact, when one of Charles' illegitimate sons, the
Duke of Monmouth, invaded England to try to overthrow James II, the
government knew where the force was going to land before the troops on the
ships did! The revolt was crushed. Ultimately, however, the rebels were
successful. William of Orange was invited to bring a Dutch force to
England, and after his landing James II fled the country to exile in
France. This became known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the end
of the rule of the House of Stuart in England. It is an watershed in
English history. For it marks the point at which the balance of power in
the English government passed from the King to the Parliament. Locke
returned to England in 1688 on board the royal yacht, accompanying Queen
Mary on her voyage to join her husband.