Early Modern Europe -- Politics and Opinion in Crisis, 1678-81 by Mark Knights

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Politics and Opinion in Crisis, 1678-81. By Mark Knights.

Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History.

(New York: Cambridge University Press. 1994. Pp. xv, 424. $69.95.)

In this powerfully argued, meticulously documented study, Mark Knights challenges the widespread interpretation of English history in the period 1678-1681 according to which an intense struggle over the exclusion of the Catholic heir to the throne, James, Duke of York, resulted in the founding of the first political parties, the Whigs and the Tories, the former under the leadership of the Earl of Shaftesbury. Jonathan Scott criticized this reading in 1991, arguing that Whig and Tory identified polarities of belief, not parties, and two years later, Tim Harris, while accepting the emergence of parties in the aftermath of the Popish Plot, stressed the primacy of religious over constitutional factors.

Knights critiques all of these interpretations, rightly contending that exclusion was only one of many key issues and until November, 1680, not even the dominant one. The crisis, Knights avers, was over succession, not merely exclusion. Numerous men proposed other solutions to the crisis, including the annulment of Charles II's marriage to Catherine, followed by his remarriage to a Protestant capable of bearing an heir; the imposition of limitations on the monarchy (which James and Prince William opposed); the establishment of an Elizabethan-style association of Protestants to protect religion and property; the appointment of a regent to govern for James; the legitimation of the Duke of Monmouth; the enactment of more anti-Catholic legislation; 2nd the conversion of James to Protestantism. As early as 1678 Charles was prepared to accept limitations on James's power, but the fall of the Earl of Danby led to crippling disorganization at court. …