Lecture 12: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century
In England, the Restoration and the 18th century were characterized by a decrease in royal power and a corresponding increase in the power of Parliament; an increase of secularization; and an increasing attitude of skepticism and irony, as well as an attempt to balance individual needs and growth with social order.
Henry VIII had unwittingly set the stage for the decline of the monarchy years before, when he denied the authority of the Pope and imposed a Protestant reformation on his country. Ironically, his attempt to increase his power led him to choose a religion which, in its more extreme forms, denies all hierarchical authority: in Protestantism, the individual's relationship with God is not mediated by a priest, a saint, or any other "middleman," but is his own responsibility. Man speaks directly to God. The emphasis of Protestantism is individuality. Once this frame of mind was set in the people of England, it became instinctual for them to become uncomfortable with, and begin to eliminate, any other hierarchy that controlled their destiny as well. This, coupled with the fact that, in 1664 and 1665, a series of laws were passed in England restricting Puritans from advancement in all professions except business, led to an increasing dissatisfaction with the authority of the king--any king--and a desire for more control over their political, social, and economic destinies.
In 1651, Hobbes had argued that a monarch or other single, strong authority was necessary, if a country were to be governed with order. But by the time of the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, a revolution had been fought to eliminate the divine right of kings, and the stage had been set for a gradual but inexorable erosion of the authority of the throne. Just a few years after Hobbes's Leviathan, Locke, chafing under the rule of Charles II, wrote that a monarch derives his authority from the consent of his subjects, who could be absolved from obedience if he grossly abused their rights.
When Charles II returned to England and was restored to the throne (thus, "The Restoration"), he was cheered by crowds in London, who, after Cromwell and the upheaval of the Revolution, were happy to have a king again. But Parliament did not intend to give up its hard-won rights. The two houses of Parliament, Commons and Lords, were restored, and retained their right to levy taxes. Many of those who had plotted against Charles I were executed, but there was no bloodbath, and many anti-Royalists, such as John Milton, escaped punishment.
The Church of England was also restored, and once again, attempted to assert its supremacy by establishing the Act of Uniformity of 1662. Dissenting Congregationalists, Puritans, Baptists, and Quakers were punished by the Clarendon Code, a collection of laws which barred them from most professions except business. This had the unintended effect, over the next 200 years, of creating a wealthy and powerful class of people whose ambition helped make Great Britain an empire.
Meanwhile, however, persecution against those who refused to accept the authority of the Anglican Church was unabated. In 1660, John Bunyan began a 12-year prison term for preaching without a license from the Church of England; this gave him the leisure time to write Grace Abounding and his masterpiece, Pilgrim's Progress. The worst punishments, however, were reserved for Catholics, and many Catholic priests were forced to go into hiding or flee to the Continent to save their lives.
Ironically, Charles himself began to turn more and more toward Catholicism as time went by; even so, in a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria in 1678, Parliament attempted to exclude the legitimate heir to the throne, James Duke of York, from succession because he was Catholic. This battle gave rise to England's two major political parties: the "Tories" were those who supported James, and the "Whigs" were those who opposed him.
Early in Charles's reign occurred two disasters: in 1665, an outbreak of the Black Plague, and in 1666, the Great Fire of London. In early spring of 1665, there was a sudden rise in the death rates in poorer sections of London. The authorities ignored it, but as summer began, the number of deaths began to swell and a general panic set in. Those who could, left the city to go to the countryside: the nobility, the lawyers, the surgeons, even the clergy fled. By mid-July, over 1,000 deaths per week were being reported in the city of London. It was thought that cats and dogs carried the disease, so over 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats were killed. In actuality, the disease was carried by fleas which infested rats, and now that the rats had fewer natural enemies, the Plague spread faster. The death rate escalated as the summer progressed: over 6,000 deaths were reported in one week in August. The disease began slowly to abate as the fall and winter came on, but the epidemic did not entirely end until the following year; by that time, well over 100,000 people were dead.
The Great Fire of London began on September 2, 1666. A baker (or his servant) forgot to put out the fire in his oven. Embers ignited nearby firewood, and by one o'clock a.m., his house in Pudding Lane was in flames. All the members of the family except one servant escaped the house through a second-story window, but the fire spread to neighboring homes. Many buildings in London were at the time built of wood, and with a high wind, the fire spread faster than primitive bucket brigades could stop it. It jumped from house to house, street to street, fueled by warehouses filled with tallow and oil. The fire lasted for four days and destroyed about 80% of the city, including 13,200 houses and 89 churches. Amazingly, it claimed only 16 lives, and, despite the destruction, may have had one unexpected benefit: it also killed most of the rats carrying the Plague.
Charles II died of a heart attack in February of 1865, and was succeeded by James II, who ruled for only three years. James made the mistake of trying to reintroduce Catholicism into a country which was, by now, firmly Protestant. He tried, also, to institute laws which would allow complete tolerance to those of all religions. This sounds like a sensible idea to most people now, but England wasn't ready for it. James's oldest daughter, Mary, had married the Dutch King William III of Orange in 1677, and now he decided to intervene in England. His first invasion attempt, in early 1688, failed, but his second, in November 1688, succeeded. As county after county fell or declared its alliegance to William, James fled to France. Parliament later barred James, his son, and all Catholics from succession.
The Glorious Revolution and After
Parliament offered the throne to William and Mary as joint sovereigns, and they accepted. Their accession to power is known as "The Glorious Revolution." At the same time, Parliament drew up a Bill of Rights which guaranteed free speech, free elections, and the right of Parliament to meet; it also asserted that the consent of Parliament was necessary to levy taxes or keep a standing army, as well. In addition, Parliament created the "Civil List," by which it gave itself the power to limit the Crown's household and administrative expenses.
Queen Mary died of smallpox in 1694; King William died after a fall from his horse in 1702, and was succeeded by his daughter, Princess Anne. During her reign, she continued the war against France which her father had started. To fight it, one of England's most able military leaders emerged: John Churchill. He defeated the French decisively at Blenheim, and followed that battle with victories at Gibraltar, Ramilles, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet. Churchill helped make England the leading military power in Europe. In gratitude, the nation built him a palace, which he named Blenheim Castle (Winston Churchill, his descendant, was born there in 1874).
Exploration and Empire
Exploration of the New World had begun in the 1400s, and gained momentum in the 1500s. The British were motivated to become involved partly out of curiosity, and partly out of a desire to compete with Spain, France, and the Netherlands, all of whom were making substantial profits by introducing new products such as maize, tobacco, and the potato to Europe. John Hawkins brought some tobacco home to England in 1565, and by 1600, it had become fashionable in London to smoke it. Another new fad was the drinking of coffee, also a New World product.
The first English colony was established in 1584, in what is now Virginia, at Roanoke; in 1586, Virginia Dare was born there, becoming the first English child to be born in the New World. (Unfortunately, the colony failed; by 1588, the 117 settlers had disappeared, and their fate remains a mystery.)
More and more English settlers braved the dangers to colonise the new land. The Puritans were among them, but were not alone. In 1618, the first legislative body in the New World convened at Jamestown: the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1619, the first black slaves arrived; ironically, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated that same year. (The more famous Plymouth Colony dinner with the Indians took place two years later, in 1621.) By 1640, England was getting regular, and profitable, exports from the colonies: codfish, sugar cane, and rum, among others. Great Britain was competing with France and the Dutch for domination of North America. In the early 1700s, developments in navigation led to increased exploration, colonisation, and trade all over the world; Britain was beginning to build an international empire.
A setback to their ambitions occurred when the American colonies rebelled in 1775. Under the reigns of Anne, George I, and George II, Britain had exerted more and more control over the colonies. When King George III enacted even more restrictive laws on trade and settlement and increased taxes, the colonists either resisted or simply ignored them. Finally, in 1769, Virginia issued a resolution which rejected Parliament's right to tax the colonists. The first acts of violence came in January 1770 at the Battle of Golden Hill in New York, where colonists clashed with British troops. This action was followed by the Boston Massacre in March 1770 and the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The first Continental Congress met in 1774. Still, at this time, most colonists, including Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, did not favor independence; they simply wanted to exert more control over their affairs. However, their resistance was hardened by further coercive measures enacted by Parliament, and the war began in April of 1775, with skirmishes between groups of patriots and the British army at Concord and Lexington, where the patriots had begun collecting and storing arms. In July 1776, the colonists declared their independence from Great Britain, and the War of Independence officially began.
The colonists were aided by incompetent English generals and poor organization and communication between the British. They also had tangible support in the form of military aid and supplies from France, Spain, and Holland. Even a number of British merchants, some in sympathy for their cause, and some for profit, helped the colonists by smuggling goods and supplies to them. The colonists eventually prevailed, and in the Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, the British officially recognized the new, independent United States.
But Britain's empire, despite this loss, continued to grow during the next century. One of its new conquests was Australia, whose development was spurred by the loss of the American colonies. The colonies had been an ideal place to which Britain could transport convicted criminals, but after the revolution, that was no longer an alternative. Captain James Cook had landed at Botany Bay and taken possession of Australia in 1770, and now Britain began shipping its criminals there. The first shipload of 750 convicts was put ashore at Botany Bay in 1788.
Meanwhile, Back in England...
Scotland and England agreed to the Act of Union on May 1, 1707. Increasing economic pressure, and the need to align itself with England to keep up with developments in trade, exploration, and colonization, led Scotland finally to abandon its long fight for independence. This decision, along with an earlier decree in 1686, allowing Roman Catholics to join the British army, benefitted England greatly, as it added the valiant and fierce Scottish Highlanders (as well as thousands of Irish peasants) to the British fighting forces.
England also created its first "Prime Minister," Robert Walpole, who had undertaken to straighten out the economic affairs of the British government after the South Sea Company failed. The South Sea Company had been founded in 1711 and acquired a monopoly in the slave trade and other trading ventures in the western hemisphere. Many individuals and companies, and even the British government, invested heavily in the company, and when it crashed in 1720, it was an economic disaster for the country. Not all of the measures Walpole used to control the situation were popular, and Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, among others, called him a tyrant.
Most important, an agricultural and medical revolution was underway. Agricultural innovations increased production (although they also displaced thousands of peasants from their lands); this, along with more imported foods, reduced malnutrition and starvation. There were, at the same time, vast improvements in medicine, particularly innoculations against smallpox. All of this resulted in rapid population growth.
And last, but certainly not least, the Industrial Revolution began in the early 1700s. Improvements in steel production and coal mining led to the building of canals and bridges, improving transport of goods and raw materials. In 1765, James Watt introduced the steam engine; in 1792, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin; these and numerous other innovations led to the factory system, which resulted in the rise of capitalism and enormous social upheaval.
Literature of the 18th century is marked by its skepticism about the claims of organized religion and political and social institutions. The 18th century writers did not go so far as the 20th century writers, and deny the existence of God; but they began to demand that all claims of truth be questioned and validated. Isaac Newton rejected theory and speculation and demanded instead empirical evidence; no theory could be accepted, regardless of the authority promulgating it, without close inspection. It was better to remain in doubt than to accept an idea unquestioningly.
This state of mind provided particularly fertile ground for satire. Jonathan Swift was the greatest satirist of the century; his technique was to hold up a mirror to his audience in which their virtues and their faults were magnified out of all proportion. This made them laugh, of course, but the anger underlying his satire also demanded that its audience more honestly appraise their social and moral values and assumptions. Swift was hated and feared by his enemies because he exposed their follies, allowing the general population to laugh at them; and there is no effective defense against such ridicule.
One of the most important literary developments of the 18th century was the development of a new genre: the novel. Its first writer was Daniel Defoe; he was followed by Samuel Richardson (Pamela and Clarissa), Henry Fielding (Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones), and Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy), among others.
John Locke wrote two masterpieces during his life: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatises of Government. Two Treatises, being a highly seditious document, was published anonymously in 1689; An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was published under his own name the same year, although that ended up generating an enormous amount of controversy, as well.
In Two Treatises of Government Locke sets out to discuss, among other things, the role of the monarch in relation to his subjects. His philosophy gives the people of a country the right to resist an unjust government, and argues that all people are born with the rights of life, liberty, and property. Thomas Jefferson later appropriated many of Locke's ideas, and in particular, this line, although he changed it to read "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."
To sum up (and greatly oversimplify) his ideas in the Two Treatises, Locke postulates that the earth and its inhabitants belong to God. No one man has the right to own another, since that usurps God's authority. Thus the idea that a king owns his subjects, and that those subjects can be inherited by his heir, is absurd. All humans who are not deranged have reason; it is through the exercise of reason that man knows what God wills him to do; thus, all men are created equal, and their rights and duties are equal. This includes the king. Thus, the king has no right to impose his will on the people if it violates the will of God (or the natural law). The kings governs only by the authority and the consent of the people; he is, in effect, their servant. The king's job is to protect the entitlements given to his subjects by God: their lives, liberty, and material possessions. When he violates their rights (and God's will), they have a right to resist him.
Locke also spends a portion of the essay explaining why people have a right to property, and why that right can't be taken from them by a monarch: God gave man the earth for his use; what gives an individual the right to property is labor. A man acquires the right to what he has worked on and what he has produced. In fact, man is required to take good care of the earth. He is allowed to use it and consume its products, but not to waste, spoil, or destroy it, as it is the precious gift of God. And since a man's labor is also the gift of God, a monarch does not have the right to steal his subjects' property. In fact, it is the duty of a monarch to protect his subjects' right to retain the property and goods they have produced with their labor.
The Two Treatises of Government directly challenged the king's authority; they were, at the time, radical documents. Locke, however, did not dispute the need for a monarch. He believed that government (and in his eyes, that meant Parliament and the king, with power balanced between them) was necessary to keep social order. He would have been shocked to see the use to which the American revolutionaries put his ideas.
Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was his masterpiece; in it, he demands (among other things) that ideas must be based on direct, sensory, concrete experience. Any idea not grounded in empirical evidence must be discarded. In this, he was clearly in the skeptical, questioning tradition of his time.
Daniel Defoe is remembered today as the author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, and as the founder of the novel. But during his life, his primary occupation was as a journalist, and he is considered by many to be the father of modern journalism. He was also practiced at satire; in fact, he was pilloried for his pamphlet The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, which lampooned those who persecuted Dissenters.
His journalistic style, as well as his predisposition to satire, are evident in his novels. Many of his readers took his novels to be factual; A Journal of the Plague Year, in fact, rivals Samuel Pepys' Diary in its attention to detail. And, although it is clear that his stories are fictions, they are also challenges to complacency and conventional morality. Some critics believe that Defoe himself was ambivalent about his characters; more likely, he was using his characters to encourage his readers to question their preconceived and unforgiving notions about a society which created immorality and then took pleasure in condemning it. Moll Flanders, for instance, was presented as completely immoral but endlessly resourceful; the reader is given reason to sympathize with her even when she is doing her worst. Roxana laments her lost opportunities, but her reasons for rejecting those opportunities are good ones.
If you'd like more information on any of the topics in this lecture, see the Links page. Enjoy!
Some of the information in this lecture derives from:
1. The Oxford Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages through the 18th Century, eds. Frank Kermode, John Hollander, et al.
2. "England: A Narrative History," by Peter Williams, on the Go Brittania website
3. Locke, by John Dunn
4. Daniel Defoe: A Critical Study, by James Sutherland
5. The Life and Strange and Surprising Adventures of Daniel De Foe, by Paul Dottin