Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rococo (pt. 1)

James I of England died in 1625, leaving behind a reinforced heritage of Protestant unity in Great Britain.  As sponsor of the King James Bible (1611), he established Protestantism as the national religion of England after continual religious struggles for dominance between the Catholic and Protestant Churches.  The Post-Reformation attention to matters of religion carried on through to this time, and the religious conflict known as the Thirty Years' War still had another twenty years.  When James I died, Charles I took over the English throne—Charles I who was married to Henrietta Maria of France, a Catholic.
Charles took his authority to new limits.  Whereas his predecessor was more often given to compromise, Charles was seen as inflexible and rigid.  This style of leadership may have been inspired by James I's authored work, The True Law of Free Monarchs (1597), a very important book that proclaimed the divine right of monarchs as God's deputies, so to speak, the father of their people, in complete authority, and only accountable to God Himself.  Charles I must have taken those ideas to heart when he dismissed Parliament in 1629.  His increasingly Catholic tendencies had attracted the discontentment amongst Parliament toward its ruling king, and instead of seeking to compromise and reach agreement Charles pushed his authority to the ultimate level.  The equivalent today would be of Barack Obama firing Congress and declaring himself the sole ruler of America.  It was a highly controversial act.
Initially, nothing happened.  After all, Charles was the king; it was for him to decide what is and is not legally permissible in the English government.  The country sank into economic instability soon after he took total control.  During this eleven-year period, known as the "eleven-year tyranny," English Anglicanism was brought into new proximities with Catholicism.  William Laud, a man closely aligned with the Catholic Church, was instated by the king as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633.  The Eucharist was reintroduced, and the altar dominated the church.  England was turning Catholic again under a king who was undoing all that James I had stood for.
After the eleven years, members of the old Parliament reconvened to secure and expand their rights in the face of the king's absolutist tendencies.  This new Parliament also wanted to bring Archbishop Laud to trial for attempting to corrupt the Anglican Church to Catholicism.  In response to this unauthorized meeting, Charles I arrested five members of the Parliament for treason.  Riots were launched.  By 1642, Parliament had raised an army against the king, and Civil War had begun in England.
The conflict ended in 1649 when, after the defeat of the Royalist army, King Charles I was beheaded and the Commonwealth of England was instituted.  The late king's son, Charles II, and his mother, the Catholic Henrietta Maria, fled to France and remained there in exile for more than a decade.  Meanwhile, back in predominantly anarchistic England, various political and religious organizations jockeyed for power until they were all overtaken by Oliver Cromwell in 1653.  England was split between followers of the Revolution and Loyalists to the original throne.  It is during this time that John Milton began writing Paradise Lost, a masterpiece of literature that is still considered today as the greatest epic poem of the English language.  Many scholars have claimed the conflict in the poem between God and Satan relates to an intended political allegory inextricably connected to the fall of Charles I from the throne and the ensuing Revolution.
Cromwell died in 1658, and his son, Richard, took over as Protector but was soon expelled for being considered unfit to govern.  A year after his expulsion, Charles II returned from France and reclaimed the throne.  The event effectively ended the almost twenty-year-long Revolution and launched a period of English history known as the Restoration.

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