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The Law in Stuart England

The state of the law during the time of Stuart England was far different than we know it today. Many basic constitutional rights we enjoy and often take for granted today were unheard of, massively curtailed or were outright non-existent during the time of the Stuarts.

Politically speaking, it was a time of great upheaval and constant power struggles in England. The times were changing and the policy of "divine rule" that the monarchs had previously upheld were being challenged. King James I of England in particular strongly believed in this god-given right and was staunchly opposed to any interference by Parliament.

Unlike his predecessor Elizabeth I of Tudor, James I was not tactful and was often in heated conflict with Parliament. This led to numerous power struggles between the 2 sides and contributed to the constant atmosphere of political instability in the country. It did not help matters that James I also insisted on having total control of the Church of England, much to the displeasure of certain factions within Parliament.

All this conflict served as an influencing factor to the state of law as it came to be in Stuart England and had a great deal to do with its actual implementation.

When King James I died in 1625, his son Charles I stepped up to the throne to assume leadership of the country and the uneasy relationship between Parliament and the monarchy continued. Like his father before him, Charles believed in the divine right to rule and this issue remained a sore point between him and Parliament.

For many years, Charles was in an awkward position where he wished to do away with Parliament yet needed them for his own purposes. He was at the time waging an unpopular war with Spain and having depleted his war coffers, he was forced to ask Parliament for more money. Parliament in return asked for a number of concessions from the throne.

Previously, Charles had committed many instances of grave abuses of power such as demanding loans from knights and noblemen and imprisoning those who refused. Many times, he had soldiers stay at a private home with no compensation to the owner and often without his knowledge!

Parliament wanted to put an end to these and many other atrocities and used this as a bargaining tool when Charles approached them for more money. For Charles these requests by Parliament bordered on treason and he abolished the governing body by the following year.

When Charles later recalled Parliament to ask for more money, they used it as an opportunity to ask for more demands in return and open conflict erupted. England entered a civil war and Charles was arrested and subsequently executed.

England then fell under the rule of Oliver Cromwell who governed as a dictator and many atrocities were committed, particularly against the Irish.

When Cromwell died, his son took over but lacked the strength and conviction of his father. Parliament quickly convened and decided that the Stuarts should govern again and they asked Charles I son Charles II to accept the role.

Original Authors: doods
Edit Update Authors: RPN
Updated On: 26/03/2007



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