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The Politics of Spring 1677


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More than a year before, Thomas Osborne (the Earl of Danby) reigned supreme at court. A feeble attempt to impeach him had been averted and none stood in his way to use the royal ear and royal resources to advance the cause of the King's Chief Minister.


The year 1676 was to be a bad one for the aspirations of Danby. A new royal favorite arose in the form of Baptist May, the new Privy Purse. He seemed as adept with finances as the Lord Treasurer, managing to find coin where none had existed before. Whereas, King Charles had relied upon Lord Danby exclusively for financial and political advice, May had insinuated himself into one, if not both roles. The Chancellor of England, Lord Finch, had also become an indispensible person to the schemes of the Crown.


Those that thirsted for power were like children, eternally comparing their success against those of others. They were petulant when forgotten, and jealous of every dispensation of royal regard that went in another direction.


The Duke of Buckingham was the King's oldest friend, dating back to childhood. He had risen and fallen in favor more times than Parisian fashions had come and gone to London. A man convinced of his own brilliance, he had a patronizing view of the capabilities of the various royal family members. This had caused more than one fall from favor. Like a pentulant child, the Duke, when out of favor, joined forces with the King's opposition (known as the Country Party or the Whigs), if only to show the King how indispensible he was. The King, ever the one to forgive, had invited the Duke back for consultations at important junctures. In the spring of 1677, the Duke was said to be neither in nor out of favor. He maintained relations with both the Crown and Opposition.


The King, being beyond criticism, has allowed the Earl of Danby to take the blame for the infamous Treaty of Dover. It was ironic in that Osborne was the most anti-French member of the King's advisors and he was taking the blame for a pro-French treaty. In fact, it was widely believed that Danby would be impeached successfully for it. Yet, the wily Earl remains the King’s Chief Minister. It is said that he has come to agreement with his chief adversary, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury (himself a lord fallen from royal favor). Both men are anti-French and anti-Catholic. It helped perhaps that the Lord Treasurer was said to have bribed most of Parliament into his camp over time.


Lord Shaftesbury used to be one of the King’s inner circle until he lost favor over his extreme anti-Catholic views. He was expelled from the Privy Council in 1674, but retained his office of Lord of Trade. The Earl has become the leader of the Country Party and has proven himself to be a thorn in the side of the King. He has pushed bills in Parliament to exclude Catholics from office, from the throne, and from living in London. He is convinced that English Catholics owe their first allegiance to Rome. He also champions the republican form of government over the French model of divine right. Shaftesbury’s power derives from the masses of Anglican subjects as well as educated men that prefer a republican form of government over royal tyranny. With growing anti-Catholic sentiment, the Lord of Trade is said to control the House of Commons and gaining ground in the House of Lords as fewer lords wish to be seen associating with Catholics.


Chancellor Heneage Finch is a lord recent in rise to power. Both sides of politics agree in their high estimate of his integrity, moderation and eloquence. As such, he was the perfect choice to lead the judiciary of England and to act as Speaker of the House of Lords. He is said to be a firm Royalist but not an ideologue. He will be seen as a go between for the opposing parties, as well as Danby.


Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, was a man who had fallen far. Made an Earl in 1672 and a close advisor of the King, Arlington was the Northern Secretary when the Treaty of Dover was signed. Accused of Popery, Arlington tried to win support amongst the Country Party by joining anti-Catholic legislation, to the chagrin of the King. He fell from grace over a number of deceptions and sold his office to Joseph Williamson. Some have traced the leak of the Treaty of Dover to his doorstep. The Earl is without friends in the coming season, as he is mistrusted by both sides; but, perhaps he might be a figure of compromise in the days ahead.


Prince Rupert, the Duke of Cumberland, is a cousin to the King and uncle to Queen Karoline. He is High Admiral of the Navy and Constable of Windsor Castle. A brilliant military leader, Rupert has avoided a life in politics, preferring science and trade. As such, he rarely speaks in Parliament, preferring to allow others to have their voice. In this turbulent period and the arrival of Queen Karoline, it is believed that Rupert might be convinced to aid the Court Party in its war against the Country Party.


James Stuart, Duke of York, is heir to the throne and an avowed Catholic. It is for that latter reason that he is largely shunned by politicians. In a debate concerning his exclusion from the throne, York is voiceless. He is not without power, as he is the heir to the throne. He has the support of the French Party and is seen as a protector of English Catholic Lords. In the coming debate, it is expected that he will attempt to play a greater role in politics notwithstanding his brother’s advice to leave the politics to others.


James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, is the bastard son of the King and champion of the Country Party. Renown as an anti-Catholic and enemy of his uncle the Duke of York, he has returned to lend his aid to the Opposition, while trying not to alienate his father overly. He enjoys the possibility of being named the next King of England if York is excluded, and Country Party plans to have him legitimized.


There are many other voices in politics that will play a role in the days ahead. The newly raised Dukes of Norfolk and Newcastle are said to be well-positioned for debate. The former has renounced his Catholic faith, leading speculation that he plans to be a major factor in the political battles brewing. George Digby, the famous Catholic lord of Bristol is expected to return to the political scene with drama. Amid the ebb and flow of court veterans, there is a rising influence of new arrivals upon the scene. There is, for example, Viscount Mountjoy, seen as a protégé of Finch and Queen Karoline, a man held in wide regard. There is the Earl of Basildon, seen as a protégé of Danby, he married into the powerful Seymour family and has gained alliances with Chancellor Finch and the Duke of Somerset as a result. Other young lords such as Brynfield, Chilchester, and Langdon have spoken up on key issues in Parliament such as the naval debt. Look for these and other new arrivals to play a vital role in the days ahead.

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