The Exclusion Crisis

In England fears of popery took little to reach boiling-point. The Stuarts provoked such crises by marrying Catholic princesses, tolerating Catholics at court and in high political office and often lukewarm in their support for a strong Protestant foreign policy and lax in their enforcement of penal (recusancy) laws against Catholics. Charles II was long rumoured to be a crypto-Catholic, despite regular attendance at Anglican church services. The revelation of the confessional position of the Duke of York, the King's brother and heir to the throne produced outrage and fear in England for the safety of Protestantism in the country. This was the most serious for contemporaries of a series of popish scares. Charles had allied with the Catholic French absolutist monarch Louis XIV in secret from Parliament - agreeing the infamous Treaty of Dover in 1670. With this Charles and the French King were to mount an articulated assault upon the Dutch Republic and after conquest its possessions divided between the two crowns. The Exclusion Crisis was triggered by the revelation of the Popish Plot and involved the efforts of the 'Country' party in Parliament under Shaftesbury to exclude the Duke of York from the succession because of his Catholicism, and instead promoted the bastard son of Charles II the Duke of Monmouth. The Crisis involved an array of other issues, notably the ministry and power of Charles's chief minister Danby, political corruption and 'management' of parliamentary proceedings by the 'Court' party, and fears England was becoming or in danger of becoming a puppet for the absolutist ambitions of Louis XIV. Elections in 1679 returned a strongly anti-Court majority to the House of Commons; the King quickly dissolved Parliament and held new elections but the outcome remained the same. The Exclusionists' attempts to pass the Exclusion Bill were blocked however and they turned to attack royal ministers. In the Third Exclusion Parliament, which Charles II had moved to Oxford in 1681, the Exclusionists openly campaigned for the succession of the Duke of Monmouth. Charles II was in receipt of a generous pension from Louis XIV and the trade boom led to a rise in royal revenues at home. Therefore the King was able to dissolve Parliament and govern the kingdom without recourse to Parliament for the rest of his reign (Charles died in 1685). The Exclusionist leaders were disgraced and Shaftesbury fled into exile.

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