England in The Wake of Restoration


From the 16th to the 17th century is in many senses a major transition in the history of England and commensurately, in the literature of the period that we are now studying. In this post, we will acquaint you with the very basicquestion as to why these years are labelled as “The Restoration” in England. You will see for yourselves how monarchy and nobility of this period was strikingly different from the trends witnessed in Elizabethan and the subsequent Jacobean periods.

Concurrently, the social picture of the times will be reviewed, as this is of vital importance in grasping the predominant tendencies witnessed in the literature of the Restoration period.

It would ideally be a fitting study of the cultural milieu if we could study the resultant implications of polity and societal trends in their entirety but from an academic point of view, we shall limit ourselves broadly to the literature of the period. Looking upon literary texts as “Cultural Texts” does indeed gain a new dimension in this period and they will give you a fitting idea of the times. For those of you who are interested in more, the Reading List will definitely provide keys to a wider comprehension of cultural trends of the period.


Authority and succession are the twin concerns of rulers everywhere, as also in England. To comprehend the complexities of this period, we shall have to cast a serious look at the historical events and their political implications in some detail. Elizabeth Tudor died unwed in 1603, thus bringing to an end the famous Elizabethan period, of which you have read in your previous Paper. Her cousin James IV of Edinburgh became James I of United Kingdom by joining the crowns of England and Scotland purely on a personal basis.

This period is known in British history as the Jacobean period. The constraints of managing the genuine affronts of an English Parliament were much more than a weak Scottish Parliament that he was so long used to.

You must understand that Parliament in England at this time was fundamentally different from what we know of it today in the context of our country, as being a national body of elected representatives. Though it functioned as an advisory body and was summoned at the will of the monarch, yet the Parliament had both the power and the resources to raise revenues far in excess of any other means available at the disposal of the monarch. By the seventeenth century, Parliament’s tax-raising powers had come to be derived from the fact that the gentry was the only stratum of society with the ability and authority to actually collect and remit the most meaningful forms of taxation then available at the local level.

This meant that if the King wanted to ensure a smooth collection of revenue, he needed the Gentry to cooperate. For all the legal authority of the Crown, by any modern standard, its resources were limited to the extent that, if and when the gentry refused to collect the royal taxes on a national scale, the Crown lacked any practical means of forcing them to do so. In order to ensure their cooperation, therefore, the monarchs allowed the gentry (and only the gentry) to elect representatives to sit in the House of Commons. When they were assembled together with the House of Lords, those elected representatives formed a Parliament.

Parliaments, thus, allowed representatives of the gentry to meet, principally (at least in the opinion of the monarch) so that they could approve whatever taxes the monarch expected his electorate to collect. In the process, the representatives could also present and forward policy proposals to the King in the form of bills. However, Parliament did not have any legal means to force its will on the monarch; its only leverage with the king was the threat of its withholding the financial means necessary to carry out its plans.

In this context, the fact is That James I was an extravagant and peace-loving man put him in a perennial financial crisis, and it was imperative for him to seek out extra-parliamentary sources of income. He died in 1625 and was succeeded by his son Charles I. Charles I (1625-49) took it upon himself to unite England, Scotland and Ireland into a single kingdom in order to fulfil his father’s dream.

This did not go well with many English parliamentarians suspecting such a move could break the old English traditions that bind the English monarchy. As Charles shared the position of his father on the power of the crown (James had described kings as “little gods on earth,” chosen by God to rule in accordance with the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings”), the parliamentarians’ suspicions did indeed have some justification. Charles’ marriage to a Roman Catholic, French princess Henrietta Maria added additional fuel to the already seething rage. Parliament has refused to grant him the traditional right to collect customs duties during his rule, instead choosing to grant them only on a provisional basis and negotiate with him.
The sending of forces to relieve the Protestant French Huguenots (French Protestants inspired by John Calvin) persecuted by the French troops could have been a saving grace for the marriage of the monarch to a Catholic, but this did not happen as Charles I arbitrarily gave George command of the English forces.

The Duke of Buckingham, Villiers, was immensely unpopular with Parliament. As Parliament launched impeachment proceedings against Buckingham following the collapse of the relief expedition, the King dissolved Parliament in 1627.

Obviously, this was not well taken, and besides, the crown naturally fell short of revenues. A new Parliament was assembled in 1628, which included the likes of Oliver Cromwell and Edward Coke as elected members, and needless to say, the monarchy was now challenged by the Petition of Right. This Petition imposed restrictions on non-parliamentary taxation, forced billeting of soldiers, imprisonment without cause, and the use of martial law. Eminent jurists like Coke also used it to evoke Magna Carta extensively, which argued against the divine rights of the monarchy.

The king’s avoidance of calling Parliament for the next eleven years (infamously known as the Eleven Years Tyranny), his insistence on High Anglicanism, the Edinburgh riots over religious impositions, the Short Parliament (so-called because it was dissolved after 2 weeks) of 1640, the Scottish invasion, the more hostile Long Parliament in late 1640 that was even more hostile to monarchy than the previous one – the reign of Charles had all the ingredients of misrule and a decadent crown. This progressive decay abetted by several other happenings, finally led to the King having to leave London for the north of the country in early 1642, and the beginning of the first Civil War. With conflicting loyalties, the Royalists and the Parliamentarians gradually began to take opposed positions even as the wars continued with altering fortunes. The culmination came when the Army led by the commanding officer Thomas Pride marched on Parliament, set up a High Court of Justice with 75 anti-monarchical members in the name of the people of England, tried Charles I on charges of treason, and had him beheaded on a scaffold in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall on 30 January 1649. Fairfax, a constitutional monarchist and moderate, refused to participate whatsoever in the trial and resigned as head of the army, allowing Oliver Cromwell to ascend in power.

For more details of the upheavals of this period, you are advised to read books on the social history of England or consult the internet that could be a ready reckoner. Cromwell was a good administrator and governed England as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth between 1653–1658.

The term Commonwealth or Commonwealth of England was the period from 1649 onwards when England, together with Ireland and Scotland, was ruled as a republic after the end of the Second English Civil War and Charles I’s trial and execution. Lord Protector Cromwell reorganized the national church at home, established Puritanism, re-admitted Jews to Britain and presided over a certain degree of religious tolerance. Abroad, he ended the war against Spain with Portugal (1653) and Holland (1654) and allied with France, defeating the Spanish in the Battle of the Dunes (1658). Cromwell died in London on 3 September 1658. His body was dug up and hanged following the Restoration.

He appointed his son as his successor at his death. With this arrangement, the people were unhappy and tired of repressive, unbending puritan rule, a period that the monarchists also called the Interregnum. The Parliament, led by the Anglican factious, offered the throne to Charles II, son of the beheaded king, who then lived in exile in France. Thus both the monarchy and the Stuart dynasty were restored after a military dictatorship. Therefore the period 1660-1698 is known as the Restoration.


Religion and politics were greatly in English life for many years now and would continue so till the Glorious Revolution which placed William and Mary of Orange as joint rulers of England.

The Tudors (Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) had assumed authority over Church and State. The early Stuarts relished their “divine right” to rule but lacked the wisdom required in administration.
Both James I (“the wisest fool in Christendom”) and Charles I tactlessly annoyed Parliament by defying, over the ruling, even dissolving it for long periods. The Civil War of 1642 was English Parliament”s rebellion against the crown, It has also been seen as a religious war: Puritans andPresbyterians (ROUNDHEADS COMMONERS) against Anglo – Catholics (CAVALIERS/ROYALISTS). Yet others describe it as the rebellion of the middle-class against the noble class; as a struggle between town and country interests.

Landing on English soil in 1660. Charles II was welcomed jubilantly by the public, but the old tensions remained. The religion of the king was suspect. Officially Anglican Protestant, his leanings and decisions gave reasons for doubt. His brother James was avowedly Catholic, and he was heir to the throne. There were constant fears that Catholic forces within England would regain power, aided and abetted by France and Spain – both Catholic countries. Holland was a Protestant ally with great naval and commercial strength, therefore a threat to England’s commercial interests, Suspicions against Catholic favourites of the king were rife. Papist plots real or imagined, were unearthed almost daily. The lies of the unsavoury Titus Oates (an English perjurer who fabricated the “Popish Plot”, supposedly a Catholic conspiracy to kill Charles II) brought matters to a head when Earl of Shaftesbury proposed the “ exclusion” bill in Parliament to ensure that Duke of Monmouth replaces James as heir to the throne. The monarchy was shaken yet again and Charles II managed to fend this off just barely.

Practically, the government came to be largely controlled by five Ministers – Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashle and Lauderdale – a CABAL, A cabal as we know is a small group of politicians working in secret. They were a kind of “cabinet” government, and they reported to the king bypassing Parliament, thus a cause for disaffection. Two groups emerged. The “Tories” were mainly royalist landed gentry who conservatively held that government should be appointed freely by the king, The “Whigs” on the other hand were merchant squires with overseas. business interests, keen on modern methods and economic development. They believed that above everything, the government must be controlled not by royal monopolies and nepotism but by the House of Commons, New elections were called and the fresh Parliament was almost entirely “Whig”. The Whigs also insisted that war with Holland end, so royal expenditure would be reduced and their trading and colonial enterprises could flourish. James II upon accession in 1685, almost immediately exposed his Roman Catholic bias. He was “replaced” by Protestant Sovereigns William and Mary in a “bloodless” (no battle was fought, no blood was shed), “glorious” revolution of 1688. Parliament came to control the governance of England by appointing ministers, confirming the rule of law and the two-party system. Most of the old power of the crown lay now in the hands of the Parliament, and the forms of control were listed in the Bill of Rights.

Thereafter, religious passions gradually faded from public affairs. It was a victory for democracy and a marked shift from court-centric to people-centric culture.

You must now have realized how eventful these years had been for British politics in particular and for a large chunk of Europe in general.


Popular English imagination thus rightly sees these years 1660-1698 as a watershed of history, Dryden in his poem Astrea Redux hailed Charles II as “Augustus” or emperor of Rome (31 BC).
With the restoration of the monarchy and under the “auspices” of the king returned from France, the? the whole atmosphere of the nation changed from the mood of a gloomy prayer meeting to one of licence, ribaldry and unashamed pleasure. Country life remained largely the same, though mining and industry had increased Urban life gained prominence. The king set the tone for metropolitan life. You will find striking depictions of this town-country binary in comedies of the period. The royal courtiers and the upper class led a gay, cynical, permissive and profligate
kind of life to match the “Merry Monarch‟s” indecorum. The new type of gentlemen “fops” and “rakes” crowded the court and London streets. They lived only for fashion in dress, appearance and manners. The “town”, that is to say fashionable London, became the centre of all social glitter. Provincial England and the middle classes did not, however, participate in the brilliant life of this closed society. Everything favours the constitution of aristocratic or clique literature. We will study this in greater detail a little later.


As discussed in the earlier section, the predominant trend of the Age was an insistence on metropolitan culture. The economic and cultural heart of England was thus naturally the city of London. Between 1660-1780 London was transformed from a late medieval into an early modern city. The worst plague epidemic for centuries thinned the population; the great fire of 1666 (described vividly by Dryden, Pepys and others) flattened a large section of the walled city. Rebuilding was mostly in stone: over fifty of its churches were designed by the great architect
Sir Christopher Wren and some of their woodwork was carved by Grinling Gibbons. Civic amenities were improved, streets lighted, houses had gardens and wealthy merchants moved outside the city walls into gracious, spacious mansions that were stately, airy, fit for leisure, study and energetic economy. Whitehall and Westminster gradually merged into a bustling centre admired by European visitors.


The city soon began to flaunt concert rooms where music by composers like Purcell could be publicly performed. Theatres had re-opened but moved indoors though only two were licensed.
Naturally the drama – audience had contracted though its attractions had increased. Actresses were now seen on stage that boasted sophisticated scenery and machines. Plays mostly reflected the cynicism and flippancy of the court circle. Characters were urban aristocrats; anyone outside the blessed circle was a booby, villain or butt of ridicule. Writers of quality wrote more and better plays for them, often with naughty themes and titles like She Would if She Could and An Evening’s Love. But we must remember that it was only a tiny segment of the nation that watched these “restoration comedies.”
Sober elements of English society disapproved of the manners of the so-called refined elite.

Jeremy Collier”s A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage sternly condemned a theatre that was a sink of iniquity where virtue was ridiculed and vice recommended.

Theatres in due course became move economically viable only when they began to make a definite appeal to the middle class with plays of a different category. But this happened some years later. We will study these Restoration play both tragedies and comedies in greater detail in the later modules. It is necessary to remember here that the plays of William Wycherley, George Etherege, William Congreve and Thomas Shadwell vividly reflect the fashionable worlds that they wrote for, often with liberal doses of humour and satire. Their plays share in the virtues and vices of that small segment of the English people that arose as a result of the foppish elegance set in by the Restoration of the monarchy in England. Never in England, since that time has literature belonged so exclusively to a limited class.

Yet already the classes were fluid in composition, and the rise of the middle classes began to change equations, both in terms of the distribution of wealth and morality. They shifted seamlessly as new monarchs rewarded new favourites to peerage. Quakers and dissenters began to acquire new fortunes in trade, old aristocrats in disfavour withdrew to farming in straitened circumstances, and their younger sons collaborated with merchants in business ventures which had gained respectability with prosperity. In later Restoration comedy, the country squire was the uneducated, clumsy dupe, while a valet would be shown as intelligent and witty, Such pictures are however not to be trusted. A better knowledge of these times, both political and social, can be gained from the many diaries, histories, memoirs and autobiographies of the time.


While the subsequent modules of this Paper will deal with various genres of fictional and non-fictional literature of the period, the scope and purview of this Unit make it imperative to focus on such literature that provides a chroniclers” viewpoint of the multiple strands of Restoration England. Accordingly, you will be acquainted with forms like diary writing, historical accounts and other miscellaneous writings of the age – things that are not much syllabised, yet are important in evolving a comprehensive understanding of this extremely complicated time.


SAMUEL PEPYS (1633-1703)

A well – educated man in public life, he rose to be Secretary to the Admiralty, a Member of Parliament and also patronised the Royal Society. His celebrated diary covers a ten-year span (Jan 1, 1660 – May 31, 1609) and records with a charming candidness the frailties and misconduct of himself and his contemporaries. It is a historical sourcebook for facts, anecdotes,
scandals, public events like Charles II”s coronation, the Great London Fire of 1665, the Dutch naval threat and the plague. An intensely human document of everyday life, it contains comments on drama productions (of Shakespeare), published books and sartorial styles. Written in a fresh intimate conversational mode, it captures wholly the spirit of the times including critique of dissolute count life as damaging to public welfare.

JOHN EVELYN (1620-1700)

A distinguished man in public service, he was the author of many books of a practical nature on varied subjects such as forestry, agriculture, engraving and the evil of coal smoke over London. His conduct and his diary, unlike those of Pepy, were both discreet and balanced. Sober in habit and style, his writing is lucid. It is dull reading but is a reliable source of information because both in character and taste he is rather representative of the best elements of English people as a whole-deeply committed to public welfare and governance, yet truly relishing the life of a country gentleman.


A zealous preoccupation with the immediate and the present characterises Restoration life. Their works record daily life in a choice of content and in manner – to be used as warning or delight or both. Hence chronicles, lives, treatises are aplenty.

EDWARD HYDE (1609-1674)

First Earl of Clarendon Possibly the foremost statesman of the 17th century, the keynote to Clarendon”s the whole career was respect for the law, constitutional monarchy and the Church, Consequently, he was a firm royalist.
As an advisor to Charles II and as Chancellor of England, he had seen the seasons change in politics. Nevertheless, he was a stern critic of the excesses and laxities of governance of both kings. While in exile he wrote History of the Rebellion and later, his Life. They were written “with fidelity and freedom” – an unbiased version of circumstances leading to the Civil War so that the mistakes would not be repeated in future. He reported unflinchingly the unpleasantness of contemporary life, his own faults – all with honesty and a balanced vision – drawing the best historical portraits of his time, appreciating all types of characters yet retaining his personal integrity and courage. His easy prose style reflected both his strict principles and accurate judgment of minds and actions and acerbic wit. Like a good journalist, he wrote in his essay “On an Active and on a Contemplative Life”, that a historian”s essential quality was “a lively Perception of Persons and Actions which makes a Reader present at all they say or do”.

GEORGE SAVILE: (1633-95)

Marquis of Halifax. Famous statesman belonged to the latter part of the period. Like Clarendon, his level-headedness was based on moral principles. Though a Whig, he disconcerted his contemporaries by seeing good points on both sides. His moderation and willingness to compromise earned him the label of “THE TRIMMER”. He proudly titled his book Character of the Trimmer. It dealt with contemporary problems, propounded no theories but maintained that change was essential for human progress. The balance between liberty and tyranny, tolerance and holding to a wise middle course were his watchwords. His prose comes across as sensibly colloquial with a fair degree of humour. Despite the ordinariness of style, his sentences echo Bacon”s epigrammatic ring. His Advice to a Daughter is a more general work. In Savile, we find an approach to the essay manner of Addison who was to illuminate the literary scene sometime later.

Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715)

Learned, forthright and a good historian, for he traces and acknowledges his sources. He is memorable for History of the Reformation of the Church in England (Vol. 1 in 1679) and The History of My Own Time (begun in 1683) are both important works in this context.
The English statesman and essayist Sir William Temple’s (1628 – 1699) Memoirs of the Life, Works and Correspondence (1691) must not be forgotten either.


You will by now have realized that these forty years distinctly fall into two parts, both from political and literary points of view. Having read this Unit, it will be your task to identify the dividing lines, matching political and literary scenarios. Recall the circumstances that led to the convoluted political spectrum, how the initial euphoria of the reinstating of royalty soon gave way to reactionary responses against the frivolity and nepotism ushered in by the Restoration.
Sober civic feelings, social values infused into public life with emerging dimensions of class matrices, and a colourful divergent dynamic literature – a well-marked transition leading to the
age of classicism – these should be uppermost in your mind as you study these years from a literary point of view in the forthcoming modules.


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