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Representative British Orations with Introductions and Explanatory Notes (Complete)

400 pages
Library of Alexandria
During the second half of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth, the political and religious energies of Europe were very largely devoted to the settlement of questions that had been raised by that great upheaval known as the Protestant Reformation. On the Continent a reaction had almost everywhere set in. Not only were the new religious doctrines very generally stifled, but even those political discontents which seemed to follow as an inseparable consequence of the religious movement, were put down with a rigorous hand. The general tendency was toward the establishment of a firmer absolution both in Church and in State. But in England this tendency was arrested. It was the good fortune of the nation to have a monarch upon the throne who vigorously resisted every foreign attempt to interfere with English affairs. It was doubtless the political situation rather than earnestness of religious conviction that led Elizabeth to make the Church of England independent of the Church of Rome. But in securing political independence she also secured the success of the Reformation. Doubtless she was neither able nor inclined to resist the prevailing tendency toward political absolutism; but it had been indispensable to her success that she should enlist in the cause of religious and political independence all the powers of the nation. However, as soon as independence was established by the destruction of the Spanish Armada, it became evident that there was another question to be settled of not less significance. That question was whether the English Constitution was to be developed in the direction of its traditional methods, or whether the government and people should adopt the reactionary methods that were coming to be so generally accepted on the Continent. It took a century of strife to answer the question. The struggle did not become earnest during the reign of Elizabeth, but it cost Charles I. his head, and the Stuart dynasty its right to the throne. For three generations the kings were willing to stake every thing in favor of the Continental policy, while Parliament was equally anxious to maintain the traditional methods. It was unavoidable that a conflict should ensue; and the Great Revolution of the seventeenth century was the result. James I., during the whole of his reign, showed a disposition to override whatever principles of the Constitution stood in the way of his personal power. Charles I. was a man of stronger character than his father, and he brought to the service of the same purpose a greater energy and a more determined will. As soon as he ascended the throne in 1625, it began to look as though a contest would be inevitable between royal will on the one hand and popular freedom on the other. The King, determined to rule in his own way, not only questioned the right of Parliament to inquire into grievances, but even insisted upon what he regarded as his own right to levy money for the support of the Government without the consent of Parliament. This determination Parliament was disposed to question, and in the end to resist.