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The Fall of the House of Stuart

King Charles the second was crowned in April 1661. He was 31 years old.

In 1665 the Great Fire of London started in a bakery and destroyed much of the city – over 13000 houses, although the death toll was low. The city was rebuilt from stone rather than wood and with wider streets. Sir Christopher Wren built the magnificent St Paul's Cathedral.

In 1672 the Royal African Company of England was established by Charles the Second's brother, James Stuart – the future James the Second. During its operation, the company transported approximately 212,000 slaves, of whom 44,000 died en-route. Part ownership of the company passed to King William when he took the throne in 1689.

Charles the Second favoured religious tolerance and sought to introduce religious freedom for Catholics and protestant dissenters but was unsuccessful in persuading Parliament to pass such laws. Tensions with Parliament continued throughout his reign, but the King was able to appoint his supporters as judges and sheriffs and packed juries. In the 1680s, he conducted a judicial campaign against those that opposed him, imprisoning some, driving others into exile, and even executing 2 on flimsy evidence.

King Charles the Second lived a hedonistic life and had many mistresses, including Nell Gwyn, and at least 12 illegitimate children. But he had no legitimate children and declared his brother James to be his legitimate heir.

In February 1685, Charles the Second suffered a sudden fit and died. He was 54 years old.

His brother James was crowned James the Second of England in April 1685. He was 52 years old. James was a Catholic, and his religion was the reason he only reigned for 3 years. James' appointment of Catholics to important offices of state, including senior army posts, alarmed parliament. He dismissed officials who opposed him and sought to promote religious tolerance. He provoked the opposition of the Church of England and by 1687 was actively removing protestants from senior positions and replacing them with his supporters. Opposition to his policies increased and, in June 1688, 7 protestant nobles wrote to Duke William of Orange, inviting him to come to England with an army.

William landed from the Netherlands in November 1688. King James panicked and fled to France.

William Duke of Orange in the Dutch Republic convened Parliament in January 1689 and was offered the throne jointly with his wife Mary – who was a relative of James the second.

William and Mary were crowned in April 1689. A rebellion in Ireland was quickly crushed in 1690.

Queen Mary died of smallpox in 1694, and William reigned alone until his death in 1702. He had no children with Mary and never remarried. He died after falling from his horse in 1702.

William and Mary's reign marked an increase in the power of parliament in governing the country and a significant step towards parliamentary democracy.

After William's death, the throne was offered to queen Mary's sister Anne, and she was crowned in April 1702. She was 47 years old. She reigned for 12 years and did much to stabilise and modernise the country. She promoted theatre, music, and science.

The most significant achievement of Queen Anne's reign was the Act of Union between England and Scotland. Although the monarch had reigned both countries for 100 years, the two countries had maintained separate systems of government. The Acts of Union in 1707 created a single kingdom called Great Britain with one parliament. The two legal systems, however, remained separate – as they do today. Parliament's role in governing the new kingdom increased.

Anne became seriously ill in 1713 and died in August 1714. She had no children.

Under the Act of Settlement agreed in Parliament, she was succeeded by George, Elector of Hannover. The Act of Settlement was designed to avoid the possibility of a Catholic succession, although George was a fairly distant relative by marriage of previous monarchs.

The Georgian era had begun.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we discuss Georgian England.

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Written by

Ross Maynard