Politics in the 1600s

Summary: Our play takes place 5 years into the reign of Charles II, the second Stuart king.  Charles II was the first king after the time know as “the Interregnum”–when Oliver Cromwell  and his Parliamentary forces beheaded Charles I at the end of the Third English Civil war.  During this time, the Puritans dominated Parliament, enforcing an austere and restrictive lifestyle.  During the restoration, social mores were relaxed, theatres reappeared, and London took a sigh of relief.  Between taxes, a large standing army, and attrocities in Ireland, Cromwell was relatively unpopular.

Political circumstances of the era

From Wikipedia: Charles I acceded to the throne in 1625. During his reign, aristocrats began to inhabit the West End in large numbers. In addition to those who had specific business at court, increasing numbers of country landowners and their families lived in London for part of the year simply for the social life. This was the beginning of the “London season”. Lincoln’s Inn Fields was built about 1629. The piazza of Covent Garden, designed by England’s first classically trained architect Inigo Jones followed in about 1632. The neighbouring streets were built shortly afterwards, and the names of Henrietta, Charles, James, King and York Streets were given after members of the royal family.

In January 1642 five members of parliament whom the King wished to arrest were granted refuge in the City. In August of the same year the King raised his banner at Nottingham, and during the English Civil War London took the side of the parliament. Initially the king had the upper hand in military terms and in November he won the Battle of Brentford a few miles to the west of London. The City organised a new makeshift army and Charles hesitated and retreated. Subsequently an extensive system of fortifications was built to protect London from a renewed attack by the Royalists. This comprised a strong earthen rampart, enhanced with bastions and redoubts. It was well beyond the City walls and encompassed the whole urban area, including Westminster and Southwark. London was not seriously threatened by the royalists again, and the financial resources of the City made an important contribution to the parliamentarians victory in the war.


Mourning for a Queen?
Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, 62 years before the play.  In between, we have the first Stuart King (Charles I) who was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell’s parlimentary forces in 1649.  Cromwell ruled England between 1653 and 1659, until Charles II was restored in 1660.

Which houses are running England?
This is Stuart England–in 1665, Charles II is King.
From Wikipedia: The Stuart period of British history usually refers to the period between     1603 and 1714 and sometimes from 1371 in Scotland. This coincides with the rule of the House of Stuart, whose first monarch was James VI of Scotland. The death of Queen         Elizabeth I without any heirs, last of the Tudors, left England without any English King or         Queen. The English were now ruled by a Scottish king. The regicide of King Charles I brought a temporary end to the rule by the Stuarts. England then became a Republic under Oliver Cromwell. The Stuarts were then restored to the throne under Charles II in         1660. The period ended with the death of Queen Anne and accession of George I from         the House of Hanover. The Stuart era experienced many changes: a gunpowder plot,          civil and naval wars, a glorious revolution, regicide of a king, a republic, the great             plague, and a great fire in London. This was the era of Shakespeare, Wren, Galileo, Newton and Samuel Pepys to name but a few. The era saw the settlement of the             Americas, trade with the Spice Islands, the birth of steam engines, microscopes, coffee         houses and newspapers.

The Interregnum

From Wikipedia: After the Parliamentarian victory in the Civil War, the Puritan views of the majority of Parliament and its supporters began to be imposed on the rest of the country. The Puritans advocated an austere lifestyle and restricted what they saw as the excesses of the previous regime. Most prominently, holidays such as Christmas and Easter, whose origins were pagan solstice and equinox festivals, were suppressed. Pastimes such as the theatre and gambling were also banned. However, some forms of art that were thought to be ‘virtuous’, such as opera, were encouraged. These changes are often credited to Oliver Cromwell, though they were originally introduced by the Commonwealth Parliament; and Cromwell, when he came to power, was a liberalising influence.[2]
His son and successor, Richard Cromwell, gave up his position as Lord Protector with little hesitation, resigning or “abdicating” after a demand by the Rump Parliament. This was the beginning of a short period of restoration of the Commonwealth of England.

The Interregnum was a relatively short, if important, period in English history. It saw a number of political experiments without any stable form of government emerging.
The Puritan movement had evolved in rebellion to a real or perceived “Catholicisation” of the Church of England. With the Church of England quickly disestablished by the Commonwealth Government, the question about which type of church to establish became a hotly debated subject. In the end, it was impossible to make all the different political factions happy. During the Interregnum, Oliver Cromwell lost much of the support he had gained during the Civil War. Edward Sexby, previously a supporter of Cromwell’s, felt disenfranchised by Cromwell’s failure to abolish the aristocracy. In 1657, Silius Titus called for Cromwell’s assassination in a co-authored pamphlet Killing No Murder under the pseudonym of William Allen. Sexby was captured when he returned to England and attempted to carry out the assassination described in Colonel Titus’ book. Cromwell coerced Sexby into confessing authorship of the pamphlet and then imprisoned him in the Tower, where Sexby was driven to insanity, dying there less than a year later.
High taxes resulted from the large standing army kept due to the constant threats of Scottish or Irish rebellion, adding to public resentment of Cromwell.

Charles II

From Britannia.com:
Charles II was called a “lazy ruler”–a patron of the sciences, but apt to wait until the last minute to make desicisions or to do anything about a problem.

How did Royals shape life?
Charles II has been in power for 5 years at the open of the play.  Before Charles, it had been 11 years since England had had a Monarch.  As for Charles II, it was said he was “a lovable rogue—in the words of his contemporary John Evelyn: “a prince of many virtues and many great imperfections, debonair, easy of access, not bloody or cruel”.[69] John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, wrote more lewdly of Charles: ‘Restless he rolls from whore to whore/ A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.’” (from Wikipedia.com)

Sex/Sexuality politics

How is sex viewed?

Charles II, the current king, opennly acknowledged 12 illegitimate children by the end of his life.  He had affairs with any number of women, including famous actress Nell Gwynn.  After Cromwell’s unseating, Puritanism went on the wane.


According to wikipedia: “The Restoration was accompanied by social change. Puritanism lost its momentum. Theatres reopened after having been closed during the protectorship of Oliver Cromwell, and bawdy “Restoration comedy” became a recognizable genre. Theatre licenses granted by Charles were the first in England to permit women to play female roles on stage (they were previously played by boys),[27] and Restoration literature celebrated or reacted to the restored court, which included libertines like John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. Of Charles II, Wilmot supposedly said:

We have a pretty witty King,

And whose word no man relies on;

He never said a foolish thing,

And never did a wise one.[28]

To which Charles is reputed to have replied “that the matter was easily accounted for: For that his discourse was his own, his actions were the ministry’s.””



Probably much less than under Cromwell.  However–we need to decide where the rich family stood during the interregnum—are they now re-adjusting to an open lifestyle after the repression of Cromwell’s time?


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