Britain and “Abroad”: The Rise of Empire 1660-1688

Foreign and Colonial Policy 1660-1760

Since 1640, Portugal had been fighting a war of independence against Spain after a dynastic union of 60 years between the crowns of Spain and Portugal. Portugal had been helped by France, but in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 Portugal was abandoned by its French ally. Upon Charles’ restoration, Queen Luísa of Portugal, acting as regent, opened negotiations with England that resulted in an alliance. On 23 June 1661, a marriage treaty was signed, and in May 1662, Charles married Catherine of Braganza. Her dowry brought the territories of Tangier and Bombay to British control. The latter had a major lasting influence on the development of the British Empire in India. During the same year, in an unpopular move, he sold Dunkirk, which (although a valuable strategic outpost) was a drain on Charles’s limited finances to his first cousin King Louis XIV of France for about £375,000. Appreciative of the assistance given to him in gaining the throne, Charles awarded North American lands then known as Carolina—named after his father—to eight nobles (known as Lords Proprietors) in 1663.
Whereas the Navigation Acts of 1650, which hurt Dutch trade by giving English vessels a monopoly, started the First Dutch War (1652–1654), the Second Dutch War (1665–1667) was started by English attempts to muscle in on Dutch possessions in Africa and North America. The conflict began well for the English, with the capture of New Amsterdam (renamed New York in honour of Charles’s brother James, Duke of York) and a victory at the Battle of Lowestoft, but in 1667 the Dutch launched a surprise attack upon the English (the Raid on the Medway) when they sailed up the River Thames to where a major part of the English fleet was docked. Almost all of the ships were sunk except for the flagship, the HMS Royal Charles, which was taken back to the Netherlands as a trophy. The Second Dutch War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Breda (1667).
As a result of the Second Dutch War, Charles dismissed Lord Clarendon, whom he used as a scapegoat for the war.Clarendon fled to France when impeached for high treason (which carried the penalty of death). Power passed to five politicians known collectively by a whimsical acronym as the Cabal—Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale. In fact, the Cabal rarely acted in consort, and the court was often divided between two factions led by Arlington and Buckingham, with Arlington the more successful.
In 1668, England allied itself with Sweden, and with its former enemy the Netherlands, in order to oppose Louis XIV in the War of Devolution. Louis made peace with the Triple Alliance, but he continued to maintain his aggressive intentions towards the Netherlands. In 1670, Charles, seeking to solve his financial troubles, agreed to the Treaty of Dover, under which Louis XIV would pay him £160,000 each year. In exchange, Charles agreed to supply Louis with troops and to announce his conversion to Roman Catholicism “as soon as the welfare of his kingdom will permit”. Louis was to provide him with 6,000 troops to suppress those who opposed the conversion. Charles endeavoured to ensure that the Treaty—especially the conversion clause—remained secret. It remains unclear if Charles ever seriously intended to convert.
Meanwhile, by a series of five charters, Charles granted the British East India Company the rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions, to mint money, to command fortresses and troops, to form alliances, to make war and peace, and to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the acquired areas in India. Earlier in 1668 he leased the islands of Bombay for a nominal sum of £10. The Portuguese territories that Catherine brought with her as dowry had proved too expensive to maintain; Tangier was abandoned.
In 1670, Charles also granted a royal charter to establish the Hudson’s Bay Company. The company eventually became the oldest corporation in Canada. It started out in the lucrative fur trade with the native peoples, but eventually governed and colonized about 7,770,000 square kilometres (3,000,000 square miles) of North America.
Charles died in 1685 after converting to Catholicism on his deathbed. Having no legitimate children, Charles was succeeded by his brother James, who reigned in England and Ireland as James II, and in Scotland as James VII. There was no initial opposition to his succession, and there were widespread reports of public rejoicing at the orderly succession. James wanted to proceed quickly to the coronation, and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1685. The new Parliament that assembled in May 1685 was initially favourable to James, and the new King sent word that even most of the former exclusionists would be forgiven if they acquiesced to his rule. Most of Charles’s officers continued in office, the exceptions being the promotion of James’s brothers-in-law, the Earls of Clarendon and Rochester, and the demotion of Halifax. Parliament granted James a generous life income, including all of the proceeds of tonnage and poundage and the customs duties. James worked harder as king than his brother had, but was less willing to compromise when his advisers disagreed.
On April 1688, James re-issued the Declaration of Indulgence, subsequently ordering Anglican clergymen to read it in their churches. When the Archbishop of Canterbury submitted a petition requesting the reconsideration of the King’s religious policies, he was arrested and tried for seditious libel. Public alarm increased when Queen Mary gave birth to a Catholic son and heir, James Francis Edward on 10 June of that year. When James’s only possible successors were his two Protestant daughters, moderate Anglicans could see his pro-Catholic policies as a temporary aberration; the Prince’s birth opened the possibility of a permanent Catholic dynasty, and led such men to reconsider their patience. Threatened by a Catholic dynasty, several influential Protestants claimed the child was “suppositious”. They had already entered into negotiations with William, Prince of Orange, when it became known the Queen was pregnant, and the birth of James’s son reinforced their convictions.
On 30 June 1688, a group of Protestant nobles invited the Prince of Orange to come to England with an army By September, it had become clear that William sought to invade. Believing that his own army would be adequate, James refused the assistance of Louis XIV, fearing that the English would oppose French intervention. When William arrived on 5 November 1688, many Protestant officers, including Churchill, defected and joined William, as did James’s own daughter, Princess Anne. James lost his nerve, and declined to attack the invading army, despite his own numerical superiority. On 11 December, James attempted to flee to France, first throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. James was captured in Kent; later, he was released and placed under Dutch protective guard. Having no desire to make James a martyr, the Prince of Orange let him escape on 23 December. James was received by his cousin and ally, Louis XIV, who offered him a palace and a pension.
William convened a Convention Parliament to decide how to handle James’s flight. While the Parliament refused to depose him, they declared that James, having fled to France and dropped the Great Seal into the Thames, had effectively abdicated the throne, and that the throne had thereby become vacant. To fill this vacancy, James’s daughter Mary was declared Queen; she was to rule jointly with her husband William, who would be King.
The phrase William and Mary usually refers to the joint sovereignty over the Kingdom of England, as well as the Kingdom of Scotland, of King William III and his wife Queen Mary II, a daughter of James II. Their joint reign began in February, 1689, when they were called to the throne by Parliament, replacing James II, who was “deemed to have fled” the country in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. After Mary died in 1694, William of Orange ruled alone until his death in 1702. Their rule was the only period in British history in which “joint sovereigns” with equal powers were allowed to reign; usually, the spouse of the monarch has no power and is simply a consort.
To end the Glorious Revolution, William and Mary signed the English Bill of Rights, and a new co-operation between the Parliament and the monarchs, leading to a greater measure of personal liberty and democracy in Britain. This action both signaled the end of several centuries of tension and conflict between crown and parliament, and the end of the idea that England would be restored to Roman Catholicism, King William being a Protestant leader.The English Bill of Rights also inspired the colonists in the Americas to revolt in Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland.

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