London in the Time of the Stuarts

By Walter Besant | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI

THE REIGN

THERE is, perhaps, no time in the history of Great Britain of deeper interest and importance than that which witnessed the restoration and, later, the final expulsion of the Stuarts. We find the City at the outset weary of its Commonwealth, and longing for that security and order which are the best recommendations of a settled succession. And then the old business begins again. It seems as if the history of the last twenty years had been in vain, that the struggles and the victories had been forgotten.

I have here to recount only the part played by London between the years 1660 and 1688. Not, that is, the part played in London, otherwise we should have to consider nearly all the important events of the reign, which was passed almost entirely at Whitehall. In many cases it is difficult to decide between what belongs to London alone and what belongs to London and the country.

The execution of Venner and his men did not clear the City of dangerous elements. The Fifth Monarchy people and the Presbyterians exhorted each other to withstand the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer and the idolatry of the Court. Some of them refused to obey the law unless the spirit ordered them. The City was full of disbanded officers and men who were ready and anxious to take up arms again. The King complained that the night watch was unable to cope with these turbulent people, and ordered that only able men should be appointed, and that their watch should continue all night.

The Act of Uniformity of 1662 ordered every minister, if he would continue in his benefice, to assent to everything contained in the Book of Common Prayer. On Sunday, August 17, all the Presbyterians took leave of their congregations amid their tears and lamentations. Then persecution set in. It must be confessed that the language and action of some of the. Nonconformists seemed to justify, in a certain measure, the rigours of the Government. For instance, the Baptists are said to have spoken openly of the King as the "Beast"; it was reported that Presbyterians and Baptists together were preparing to resist by force of arms; it must be remembered that these people represented the Roundheads of twenty years before.

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