**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


England under James II
by [?]

The second volume details the follies and misfortunes, the decline and fall, of the last of the Stuarts. All the art of the author’s splendid rhetoric is employed in awakening, by turns, the indignation and contempt of the reader in contemplating the character of the wrong-headed king. In portraying that character, he has brought into exercise all those powers of invective and merciless ridicule which give such a savage relish to his delineation of Barrere. To preserve the consistency of this character, he denies the king any credit for whatever was really beneficent and praiseworthy in his government. He holds up the royal delinquent in only two lights: the one representing him as a tyrant towards his people; the other as the abject slave of foreign priests,– a man at once hateful and ludicrous, of whom it is difficult to speak without an execration or a sneer.

The events which preceded the revolution of 1688; the undisguised adherence of the king to the Church of Rome; the partial toleration of the despised Quakers and Anabaptists; the gradual relaxation of the severity of the penal laws against Papists and Dissenters, preparing the way for the royal proclamation of entire liberty of conscience throughout the British realm, allowing the crop-eared Puritan and the Papist priest to build conventicles and mass houses under the very eaves of the palaces of Oxford and Canterbury; the mining and countermining of Jesuits and prelates, are detailed with impartial minuteness. The secret springs of the great movements of the time are laid bare; the mean and paltry instrumentalities are seen at work in the under world of corruption, prejudice, and falsehood. No one, save a blind, unreasoning partisan of Catholicism or Episcopacy, can contemplate this chapter in English history without a feeling of disgust. However it may have been overruled for good by that Providence which takes the wise in their own craftiness, the revolution of 1688, in itself considered, affords just as little cause for self-congratulation on the part of Protestants as the substitution of the supremacy of the crowned Bluebeard, Henry VIII., for that of the Pope, in the English Church. It had little in common with the revolution of 1642. The field of its action was the closet of selfish intrigue,–the stalls of discontented prelates,–the chambers of the wanton and adulteress,–the confessional of a weak prince, whose mind, originally narrow, had been cramped closer still by the strait- jacket of religious bigotry and superstition. The age of nobility and heroism had well-nigh passed away. The pious fervor, the self-denial, and the strict morality of the Puritanism of the days of Cromwell, and the blunt honesty and chivalrous loyalty of the Cavaliers, had both measurably given place to the corrupting influences of the licentious and infidel court of Charles II.; and to the arrogance, intolerance, and shameless self-seeking of a prelacy which, in its day of triumph and revenge, had more than justified the terrible denunciations and scathing gibes of Milton.

Both Catholic and Protestant writers have misrepresented James II. He deserves neither the execrations of the one nor the eulogies of the other. The candid historian must admit that he was, after all, a better man than his brother Charles II. He was a sincere and bigoted Catholic, and was undoubtedly honest in the declaration, which he made in that unlucky letter which Burnet ferreted out on the Continent, that he was prepared to make large steps to build up the Catholic Church in England, and, if necessary, to become a martyr in her cause. He was proud, austere, and self-willed. In the treatment of his enemies he partook of the cruel temper of his time. He was at once ascetic and sensual, alternating between the hair-shirt of penance and the embraces of Catharine Sedley. His situation was one of the most difficult and embarrassing which can be conceived of. He was at once a bigoted Papist and a Protestant pope. He hated the French domination to which his brother had submitted; yet his pride as sovereign was subordinated to his allegiance to Rome and a superstitious veneration for the wily priests with which Louis XIV. surrounded him. As the head of Anglican heretics, he was compelled to submit to conditions galling alike to the sovereign and the man. He found, on his accession, the terrible penal laws against the Papists in full force; the hangman’s knife was yet warm with its ghastly butcher-work of quartering and disembowelling suspected Jesuits and victims of the lie of Titus Oates; the Tower of London had scarcely ceased to echo the groans of Catholic confessors stretched on the rack by Protestant inquisitors. He was torn by conflicting interests and spiritual and political contradictions. The prelates of the Established Church must share the responsibility of many of the worst acts of the early part of his reign. Oxford sent up its lawned deputations to mingle the voice of adulation with the groans of tortured Covenanters, and fawning ecclesiastics burned the incense of irreverent flattery under the nostrils of the Lord’s anointed, while the blessed air of England was tainted by the carcasses of the ill-fated followers of Monmouth, rotting on a thousand gibbets. While Jeffreys was threatening Baxter and his Presbyterian friends with the pillory and whipping-post; while Quakers and Baptists were only spared from extermination as game preserves for the sport of clerical hunters; while the prisons were thronged with the heads of some fifteen thousand beggared families, and Dissenters of every name and degree were chased from one hiding-place to another, like David among the cliffs of Ziph and the rocks of the wild goats,–the thanksgivings and congratulations of prelacy arose in an unbroken strain of laudation from all the episcopal palaces of England. What mattered it to men, in whose hearts, to use the language of John Milton, “the sour leaven of human traditions, mixed with the poisonous dregs of hypocrisy, lay basking in the sunny warmth of wealth and promotion, hatching Antichrist,” that the privileges of Englishmen and the rights secured by the great charter were violated and trodden under foot, so long as usurpation enured to their own benefit? But when King James issued his Declaration of Indulgence, and stretched his prerogative on the side of tolerance and charity, the zeal of the prelates for preserving the integrity of the British constitution and the limiting of the royal power flamed up into rebellion. They forswore themselves without scruple: the disciples of Laud, the asserters of kingly infallibility and divine right, talked of usurped power and English rights in the strain of the very schismatics whom they had persecuted to the death. There is no reason to believe that James supposed that, in issuing his declaration suspending the penal laws, he had transcended the rightful prerogative of his throne. The power which he exercised had been used by his predecessors for far less worthy purposes, and with the approbation of many of the very men who now opposed him. His ostensible object, expressed in language which even those who condemn his policy cannot but admire, was a laudable and noble one. “We trust,” said he, “that it will not be vain that we have resolved to use our utmost endeavors to establish liberty of conscience on such just and equal foundations as will render it unalterable, and secure to all people the free exercise of their religion, by which future ages may reap the benefit of what is so undoubtedly the general good of the whole kingdom.” Whatever may have been the motive of this declaration,–even admitting the suspicions of his enemies to have been true, that he advocated universal toleration as the only means of restoring Roman Catholics to all the rights and privileges of which the penal laws deprived them,–it would seem that there could have been no very serious objection on the part of real friends of religious toleration to the taking of him at his word and placing Englishmen of every sect on an equality before the law. The Catholics were in a very small minority,
scarcely at that time as numerous as the Quakers and Anabaptists. The army, the navy, and nine tenths of the people of England were Protestants. Real danger, therefore, from a simple act of justice towards their Catholic fellow- citizens, the people of England had no ground for apprehending. But the great truth, which is even now but imperfectly recognized throughout Christendom, that religious opinions rest between man and his Maker, and not between man and the magistrate, and that the domain of conscience is sacred, was almost unknown to the statesmen and schoolmen of the seventeenth century. Milton–ultra liberal as he was–excepted the Catholics from his plan of toleration. Locke, yielding to the prejudices of the time, took the same ground. The enlightened latitudinarian ministers of the Established Church–men whose talents and Christian charity redeem in some measure the character of that Church in the day of its greatest power and basest apostasy–stopped short of universal toleration. The Presbyterians excluded Quakers, Baptists, and Papists from the pale of their charity. With the single exception of the sect of which William Penn was a conspicuous member, the idea of complete and impartial toleration was novel and unwelcome to all sects and classes of the English people. Hence it was that the very men whose liberties and estates had been secured by the declaration, and who were thereby permitted to hold their meetings in peace and quietness, used their newly acquired freedom in denouncing the king, because the same key which had opened their prison doors had also liberated the Papists and the Quakers. Baxter’s severe and painful spirit could not rejoice in an act which had, indeed, restored him to personal freedom, but which had, in his view, also offended Heaven, and strengthened the powers of Antichrist by extending the same favor to Jesuits and Ranters. Bunyan disliked the Quakers next to the Papists; and it greatly lessened his satisfaction at his release from Bedford jail that it had been brought about by the influence of the former at the court of a Catholic prince. Dissenters forgot the wrongs and persecutions which they had experienced at the hands of the prelacy, and joined the bishops in opposition to the declaration. They almost magnified into Christian confessors the prelates who remonstrated against the indulgence, and actually plotted against the king for restoring them to liberty of person and conscience. The nightmare fear of Popery overcame their love of religious liberty; and they meekly offered their necks to the yoke of prelacy as the only security against the heavier one of Papist supremacy. In a far different manner the cleareyed and plain-spoken John Milton met the claims and demands of the hierarchy in his time. “They entreat us,” said he, “that we be not weary of the insupportable grievances that our shoulders have hitherto cracked under; they beseech us that we think them fit to be our justices of peace, our lords, our highest officers of state. They pray us that it would please us to let them still haul us and wrong us with their bandogs and pursuivants; and that it would please the Parliament that they may yet have the whipping, fleecing, and flaying of us in their diabolical courts, to tear the flesh from our bones, and into our wide wounds, instead of balm, to pour in the oil of tartar, vitriol, and mercury. Surely a right, reasonable, innocent, and soft-hearted petition! O the relenting bowels of the fathers!”