The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

Excerpt

The keynote of the seventeenth century was revolt against authority. Modern times as distinct from the middle ages had begun under the Tudors and were now developing rapidly. The surviving elements of medievalism were being viewed with increasing scepticism.

The tide of discontent in England, which began to come in under James I (1603-25), swelled during the reign of Charles I (1625-49) and reached its high-water mark at the king's execution. For eleven uneasy years England was a republic, but as the commonwealth (1649-53) gave way to the protectorate (1653-9) the tide turned, became more conservative, and after a year's ebbing and flowing restored the monarchy. The return of the Stuarts did not entail setting back the clock to the status quo of 1603, or even 1642. The legislature might affect to ignore all that had been accomplished during 1642-60, but the minds of men had received an ineffaceable impression that can be traced in many directions.

In the realm of thought there was a definite break with the past. Scholasticism, after more than three centuries of dominance, was at length challenged by a new philosophy. The desire to learn the secrets of nature and to banish fear of the unknown was in conflict with the cosmic interpretation that had been accepted since the thirteenth century. The age of experiment was treading upon the heels of the age of dogma.

In political thought the sixteenth-century conception of the monarch as the saviour of society and the theory of the divine right of kings (which reached its highest exaltation under the early Stuarts) were violently assailed, and substitutes of almost infinite variety were offered by theorists. Many of the democratic, and not a few of the socialistic, doctrines that are commonly regarded as modern, or at least of the eighteenth century, were set forth in the seventeenth century. The greatest contribution then made to political theory, Hobbes Leviathan, was written for all time, but even in a theocratic age its daring insistence upon a state of nature, a covenant as the basis of society, and the imperative need for a sovereign power in the state exercised a real if rather imperceptible influence.

In religion the Reformation had already rent in twain the . . .

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