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Title: The English boroughs and the King's government : a study of the Tory reaction, 1681-85
Author: Pickavance, Robert G.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1976
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Abstract:
The subject of this study is the total transference of power from Whigs to Tories, achieved in the last four years of Charles II's reign in every branch of the governing establishment. Central to this Tory achievement was 'remodelling' the boroughs. Between 1681 and 1685 more than 120 English boroughs received new charters. Almost every one of these grants empowered the crown to expel corporation members at will. At the same time the new charters purged the municipalities along party lines by appointing only approved men as corporators in the new constitutions. These remodellings have generally been accepted as the backbone of the Tory reaction, that is as the chief means by which the power of the first Whigs was destroyed by Charles II's government. Seventeenth century historians recognize in remodelling the boroughs a familiar instrument of dictatorial statecraft: Charles I tampered with municipal constitutions in the 1630s; the Major-Generals interfered with corporation franchises in the 1650s; Charles II envisaged the systematic limitation of municipal independence in the early 1660s; James II expelled uncooperative corporators from office on a massive scale in the late 1680s. But while all are familiar with Charles II's 'borough policy' in the early 1680s, no one has attempted to investigate it in any detail. Most recent published worK on the period understands the government borough campaign to have had a double purpose: to gain Control over the borough law courts, and to influence the borough electorate (and so the composition of the House of Commons). This second aim has consistently been regarded as the more important. But beyond this few historians have attempted to look. Virtually nothing is known about the manner in which the borough policy was discussed and framed in government; nor who was chiefly responsible for it; nor how, in any detail, it was applied in the nation at large; nor how extensive the purges were; nor why Charles II's remodellings settled the nation in peace and order whereas James II's were to help provoke a revolution so soon afterwards. In short, hardly anything is known of what was actually happening in either the boroughs or Whitehall, and of the precise nature of the relations between the two. It is therefore the first purpose of this study to show exactly what the borough campaign did and how it was conducted, and secondly to suggest some reasons for its success. For of all attempts in the seventeenth century to bring the municipalities to a greater dependence on the crown, none was as successful as in the period of Tory reaction. The first sections of the thesis therefore deal with the formulation and emergence of a borough policy in government. The rather casual nature of cabinet government in this period makes this at times a difficult process: ministerial discussions, and decision-making are only very dimly documented. But the chief authors of the policy can be seen clearly at work, notably Halifax and Francis North. The gradual evolution of bureaucratic expertise under the supervision of Secretary JenKins and Attorney General Sawyer can also be discerned quite clearly. But the most important point to emerge from the investigation of the processes of policy making and execution in central government is that the borough policy aimed in no way at affecting returns to the House of Commons. The borough policy can be shown to have had no direct effect on the 1685 elections, nor to have been intended to do so. Until now it has been generally assumed that the main purpose of the government's campaign was indeed to increase its control over the borough electorate. Instead it becomes clear that the King's ministers simply sought to limit the independence of the municipal law courts: the control of the administration of justice throughout the kingdom was the first priority of a government bent on destroying the opposition. Most of the thesis, however, deals with the localities themselves: it is essentially a study of local politics, and an attempt to explain a nationwide phenomenon from a local viewpoint. This shift in emphasis from the politics of central government to the politics of the nation at large is responsible for the most important suggestions to emerge from this study. For this treatment tones down the importance of parliamentary politics in the government of the nation: it is my view that by concentrating on the struggle between crown and parliament historians have in the past fallen into a whole series of misunderstandings in their allusions to the relations between central government and the localities in this period. Instead I hope that I have given the local administration of justice the attention it deserves: in a period without parliament the most important political contests were fought out in the local law courts throughout England. And secondly, this shift in emphasis from the centre to localities involves seeing government policy in an entirely new perspective. Instead of regarding the borough campaign as the dictatorial instrument of an arbitrary ruler, one can see local pressures for reform being asserted by local initiative, and central government responding to channel them in the desired direction. It was the strength of this alliance between local Tories and the crown which in my view was responsible for the successes of the Tory reaction: to a large extent government policy was tailored to suit local needs and not arbitrarily imposed on an unwilling nation. This emphasis has therefore involved investigating the different elements which made up the local Tories; how they were animated by fear of rebellion and the determination to prosecute Protestant nonconformity; how they organized themselves and applied for government help in ejecting Whigs from local office; the limited extent of the purges and how they were imposed; the costs of the new charters and how the money was raised. In all these processes of reaction in the localities great opportunities were given to the local aristocracy and gentry to repair their political fortunes after a severe collapse during the Exclusion crisis: a major theme which emerges is the revival of the landed interest in local affairs at the expense of the towns. And where such local leadership failed, others at hand filled the gap, notably bishops, judges on assize and officers in royal garrisons. In this way the church, the judiciary and the armed forces joined with local men of local standing and local connexions to protect the crown's full hereditary powers and so, according to Tory precepts, saved the nation from another civil war. The fullest sources are inevitably the State Papers. These not only document the processes of government in the centre, but also, of course, deal at length with the relations between Whitehall and the localities. But I have mainly been concerned to make use of local records, and have therefore worked at twenty local repositories all over England. These were selected after working on the State Papers to decide which boroughs were likely to present the most interesting cases. But inevitably other considerations also determined my choices, notably the quantities in which the various records have survived. Inevitably, too, there are omissions because of lack of time. For example I would have liked to have visited Norwich (although fortunately Norwich's politics are well covered by correspondence in the British Museum and the State Papers). Sadly, most municipal collections surviving from this period are incomplete. It is astonishing how regularly survivals from the 1680s fail in the lists kept in the National Register of Archives. Of course this failure might in part be the result of the dislocation in municipal government which the politics of the 1680s brought about. Of surviving municipal records, the charters, council minutes and court records normally take the student only a short way toward understanding the intrigues of local politics: official public records can be notoriously uninformative, because they are frequently blandly tactful and mask the real processes by which decisions were reached. County records are occasionally more illuminating, since much of the Tories' local organization was conducted at meetings of the county justices and deputy lieutenants. But the most vital material is political correspondence. And this is in very short supply for the period of reaction. No correspondence of important ministers of stats survives in great quantity. And the famous Hyde collection in the British Museum throws no light on the borough campaign at all. Local political correspondence is almost as scarce: one often has to rely on the chance survival of one or two key letters from local political managers. There are, however, a number of notable exceptions. The Bancroft papers in the Bodleian, which have been so well-used by others, have much to say about the borough campaign in the west country. The other most important collections are the Paston correspondence about Norfolk politics, kept in the British Museum; Thomas Papillon's papers in Maidstone, which give a Whig view; the first earl of Abingdon's highly informative manuscripts scattered in half a dozen composite collections in the Bodleian; and, most important of all, Sir John Reresby's correspondence in the archives of the earl of Mexborough, formerly Kept in the Sheepscar Branch of the Leeds City Libraries.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.468942  DOI: Not available
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