The Stuart Era: 1603 – 1714

by Jean Mason


  • James I (1603 – 1625?)
  • Charles I (1625 -1649 when he was executed)
  • The Interregnum or Commonwealth & Protectorate (1649-1660)
  • Charles II (1660 – 1685) aka the Restoration
  • James II (1685 – 1688)
  • William & Mary (1688 – 1702)
  • Anne (1702 – 1714)

Important Developments:

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The Stuarts were, on the whole, much less able monarchs than their predecessors and also faced an increasingly assertive Parliament which objected to both their financial and their religious policies. James managed to muddle through, but his son Charles alienated many of the political elite, especially when he refused to call Parliament for eleven years (1629-1640). When war with the Scots forced him to call Parliament, the grievances were great and the distrust of the monarch intense. The country drifted towards civil war, which broke out in 1642. The Cavaliers (Royalists) and Roundheads (Parliamentarians) fought a number of battles and ultimately the latter prevailed, largely because of their financial resources based on control of London and their better generals, including Cromwell. The king’s treacherous activities finally convinced the more radical leaders of parliament that he must be disposed of and they tried him for treason and executed him on January 30, 1649. For 11 years England had no king, first ruled by parliament and then by Cromwell as Lord Protector. After Cromwell’s death, there was no strong leader and the political elite moved to restore the Stuarts to the throne (the Restoration).

Charles II was restored to a much weaker monarchy than had existed before the Civil War. Parliament had assured its control over revenues and its frequent meetings. Charles was an astute monarch who “didn’t want to go on his travels again.” He wished to restore the monarchy to its former (or even greater) power and was probably a proto-Catholic, but he was wise enough not to push to far and died peacefully in bed.

His brother James was not so smart. A Catholic, he sought to assure the free exercise of his religion in England, contrary to his countrymen’s prejudices. His greatest mistake was producing a male heir who would be raised Catholic and thus assure a Catholic succession. The political elite banded together to invite him to leave (the Glorious Revolution) and parliment bestowed the throne on his daughter and son-in-law.

The reigns of William and Mary and Anne saw a protracted struggle between England and France, with England and its allies finally prevailing. Parliament was an increasingly important institution and the first political parties made their appearance. Probably the most telling indication of the shifting balance of power was the Act of Succession passed in 1701, in which Parliament determined who would follow the childless Anne on the throne – the nearest Protestant heir, George, Elector of Hannover. Thus begins the Georgian Age.


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