The Stuart Period. Explore Britain as power shifts from the monarchy to Parliament.

The Stuart Period 1603 - 1714

Find out more about the Stuart Period in Britain by using a combination of the timeline and synopsis below as well as our posts. Find new intriguing connections using our themed history pages. Explore the world of science, the arts, church, government or law. Discover more about the exciting period of Stuart Britain where religion, monarchy and parliament collided and resulted in a regicide, a civil war and the force of parliamentary rule.

1603 - 1625King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England succeeded to the English crown on King James I succeeded to the English crown on the death of Queen Elizabeth
1603Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury became James I's chief minister Sir Robert Cecil distinguished himself in the court of Queen Elizabeth I and it was a wise choice of King James to appoint him chief minister.
1603Raleigh is accused of treason Sir Walter Raleigh is accused of treason for plotting to put Arabella Stuart on the throne. He was kept imprisoned for many years.
1604The Hampton Court conference. Following various petitions made to the King by Puritans the King decided to call aconference to consider matters of religion. If the Puritans were expecting anything from James they were going to be disappointed. However he was clear he wanted to maintain rule of the Church by the Bishops but wanted the Puritans to be dealt with gently. The most important outcome of the conference was that the King appointed a committee to make a new translation of the Bible.
1604Peace with Spain King James made peace with Spain which destroyed Catholic hopes of liberation by a Spanish invasion.
1604Fines for recusancy.King James continues to fine Roman Catholics for recusancy.
1605 The Gunpowder PlotThe Gunpowder Plot was a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament when King, Lord and Commons were all present and then seize control of England. It came about when King James changed his attitude towards Catholics. He had at first wanted to reconcile his rule to include Protestants and Catholics, he relaxed his laws towards Catholics allowing them to go about unmolested but when he realized how many people were still Catholic he panicked and changed his policy ordering all Catholic priests from the country. It was after this that the Gunpowder Plot was hatched.
1605Henry Howard became Lord Privy Seal.King The Gunpowder Plot was a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament when King, Lord and Commons were all present and then seize control of England.
1606The Bate's Case. King James was an extravagant King and raised money for his spending through impositions. These additional customs duties were seen as taxation by Parliament and as requiring parliamentary consent. In 1606 the Judges in Bate's Case ruled that impositions were legal, and the government continued to collect them despite protests in parliament.
1607Jamestown settlement establishedExploration
1608Robert Cecil became Lord TreasurerPolitics People
1608Inigo Jones designed the New Exchange in the Strand (demolished in 1737) for the earl of Salisbury.Architecture
1609The telescope Galileo reinvented the telescope having seen an optical tube being shown at an exposition in Venice. Over the next few months he made some of the most important discoveries in astronomy which established the Copernian system as a physical reality.
1610The Great ContractLord Salisbury's scheme. This scheme involved James giving up impositions and other unpopular levies in exchange for a permanent income from Parliament. Negotiations initially made progress but collapsed in mutual distrust the King thought that the sum he was been offered was too low (£200,000 p.a.), while Parliament could not bring itself to institute a permanent tax on land.
1611The King James translation of the Bible is publishedPrinting Religion
1612Death of Sir Robert CecilKing James put in Cecil's place a Scotsman, Robert Carr, his role ended in disgrace
1612The Overbury Scandal The start of the Overbury Scandal that would bring about the fall of Henry Howard and King James favourite Robert Carr
1614The Addled Parliament Called thus because it had been dissolved without passing any laws or granting any taxes in part because of the Howards plots. The Howard faction was pro-Spanish, anti-puritan, tolerant of Roman Catholics, and supportive of royal power, this was more or less the opposite of the opinion in the House of Commons
1616The Howard plotting was core to much of what went on in Royal circles at the time whether directly or indirectly. in opposition to them George Abbot (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1611). He knew of King James love of handsome young men and introduced him to George Villiers whom the King adored making him an Earl in 1617, a Marquess in 1618, and a Duke of Buckingham in 1623. Unfortunately for Abbott, Villiers grew so powerful that he no longer needed Abbot's help, and began to make his own choices.Politics
1616William Shakespeare died in Stratford-Upon-AvonLiterature People
1618The Thirty Years War starts in GermanyWar
1618Spain was at war with Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, and son-in-law of James I. Frederick was the leader of the German Protestant Union against Hapsburg attempts to reestablish Catholicism throughout the Holy Roman Empire.War Politics
1618The Duke of Buckingham negotiates a marriage between Prince Charles and a Spanish princess, this is very unpopular with the British public.Politics
1619Death of Anne of Denmark wife of King James whom he married in 1589 and bore him three childrenRoyalty
1620The Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock MassachusettsExploration Migration
1624The long marriage negotiations with the Spanish collapse and Charles and Buckingham called for war.Politics
1625 King James I diedRoyalty
1625King Charles coronationRoyalty
1625Captain John Powell landed in Barbados in 1625 and claimed the island as a British Caribbean colony.Exploration
1625 King Charles married Henrietta Maria of France. Many members of the Commons were opposed to the king's marriage to a Roman Catholic, fearing that Charles would lift restrictions on Catholic recusants and undermine the official establishment of the reformed Church of England. Royalty
1625England declared war on Spain The war was very expensive, King Charles and Buckingham resorted to measures of very dubious legality to raise money. The most unpopular was the Forced Loan and the imprisonment of those who refused to pay it. War Politics
1626Francis Bacon died in LondonPeople
1628 King Charles desperate for money summoned Parliament. On 26 May Parliament adopted the Petition of Right. The King had to acknowledge that he could not levy taxes without Parliament's consent, not impose martial law on civilians, not imprison them without due process, and not quarter troops in their homes. King Charles was very reluctant to agree but he finally assented to the petition on 7 JunePolitics
1628 The in Portsmouth by Felton a disgruntled soldier. King Charles was distraught b Duke of Buckingham was murderedut England rejoiced. His death brought to an end the war with Spain and Charles was brought closer to his wife without Buckingham forcing his way into the relationship.Politics
1629King Charles called another Parliament but they still opposed him and so he dissolved Parliament deciding to rule without it.
1630Inigo Jones created London's first "square" at Covent GardenArchitecture
1633Galileo is forced to recant his Copernian view of the Earth moving around the sun.Science Religion
1629 - 1640The Personal Rule of King Charles. Also known as the eleven years tyranny, Charles swung the religion back towards Catholicism. He revived long-defunct taxes to finance his regime, many illegal. He revived and extended Ship Money to finance the expansion of the English Navy. He disliked presbyterianism and imposed a Scottish Prayer Book based on the English Book of Common Prayer.Politics
1638Rebellion by the ScottishPolitics
1640King Charles once more needed funds to put down the Scottish rebellion he called the Short Parliament (April 13th to May 5th). It would have known of King Charles pleas and Charles dissolved it.Politics
1640 King Charles had to face a Scottish invasion of Northern England, the Scots taking Newcastle and Durham and defeating Charles'. He was forced to come to terms with the Scots and agree to pay the wages of the army that had just defeated him but alas he did not have the funds to do so.Military Politics
1640 King Charles summons Parliament, it becomes known as the Long Parliament. For two years Parliament and the King have fractured discourses. The King breaks promises and Parliament retaliates, attacking his trusted agents, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.An Act was passed by Parliament in 1641 declaring Strafford a traitor. Laud was imprisoned.Politics
1641Parliament act to impose radical changes and moderates are concerned in particular about the use of the London mob to stop the Bishops taking their seats in the House of Lords raised fears of social upheaval. Many had deep misgivings about the attempts to abolish Bishops altogether and reform the English church.
1641The Irish Revolt. The question arose about who should control the army needed to suppress the uprising, should it be King or Parliament? This issue which no one could resolve spilled over into the English Civil War.
1642 Fearing that his opponents in parliament were not only determined to seize political control, but also to impeach his Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria, Charles I marched into the House of Commons and attempted to arrest five leading members of parliament.
1642 Galileo died near FlorenceScience People
1642 King Charles decided the time for confrontation had arrived and raised his standard at Castle Hill Nottingham and the English Civil War had begunCivil War Politics
1642 The King was not without his supporters and 10,000 Cornishmen stood for the King showing great fighting abilityCivil War Politics
1642 The Battle of Edgehill. The two sides met in an indecisive battle at Edgehill. As Charles I's army advanced on London from the Welsh Marches, its path was blocked by parliament's army under Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The fight was bloody but no one side could take victory.Civil War
1643 Fearing that they would be unable to beat the Royalist forces without outside help, the Parliamentarians concluded an alliance with the Scots.Civil War
1644John Milton poet and one of Cromwell's secretaries, publishes Areopagitica, a prose writing where he lays down for all time the principles on which freedom of the press is based.Literature Poet People
1645 The New Model Army is formed after the Parliamentarians suffered several defeats. The restructured fighting force, established by law on 15 February, was named the 'New Model Army'. Sir Thomas Fairfax was appointed its lord general and Oliver Cromwell his second-in-command.Civil War
1645 Battle of Naseby. King Charles I launched his main field army of around 9,000 men against Sir Thomas Fairfax's army of around 14,000 men at Naseby in Northamptonshire. The King lost badly and the outcome of the Civil War turned.Civil War
1648 Royal resurgence known as the Second Civil War. Rebellions in favour of the king broke out all over the country and a joint force of Scots and English Royalists rode south but were destroyed at Preston by an army under Oliver Cromwell.Civil War
1648 The Rump Parliament. Officers of the New Army grew tired of Parliaments opposition to their ideals and purged Parliament of many of it's members, leaving just 160 as a Rump Parliament.Politics
1649 Cromwell knew that as long as King Charles lived he was always a threat and so the king was charged with high treason, tried, found guilty and beheaded. Royalty Politics
1649 The New Model Army was the breeding ground for many radicalists, the Levellers who wanted reform in many parts of society had a strong voice but the leaders in the army crushed them, fearful of their influence amongst people.Politics Reform
1649 Oliver Cromwell's troops storm the town of Drogheda, IrelandPolitics
1651 Prince Charles is crowned King Charles II of Scotland
1651 Battle of Worcester. The young Charles raises an army in Scotland but is defeated by Cromwell at Worcester. It is the last battle of the Civil War and Charles flees.Civil War
1653 Oliver Cromwell makes himself Lord Protector, dismisses the Rump Parliament and forms a new one.Politics People
1658 Oliver Cromwell died and was succeeded by his son Richard who was not all suited to the role of Lord ProtectorPolitics People
1658Robert Hooke invents the balance spring for watchesScience
1659A year of disturbances and little government. It was recognized that the only way out of the mess that England found itself in would be to restore the monarchy and Prince Charles was duly asked to return to the throne.Politics
1660 King Charles II is restored to the throneRoyalty
1660John Bunyan writer and Puritan begins his book 'The Pilgrims Progress'Literature People
1660Royal Society is foundedScience
1662Legal Settlement Act, established because Poor Law administrators in London were too often burdened by vagrants who wandered into the capital in search of employment and became a burden on the rates. This act empowered local authorities to remove such people back to their place of birthLaw
1663Descartes books are placed on the prohibited list by the Roman Catholic churchReligion Philosophy
1664 -1665The Great Plague kills a quarter of the City of London's inhabitants
1666The Great Fire of London ravages the city which then has to be re-built
1666Robert Boyle tells us everything is mad up of atomsScience
1667The Dutch fleet sail up the Medway and destroy many boats of the English fleet.Military
1667John Milton completes Paradise LostLiterature
1673 Mar 29The Test Act, there was a worry that Catholisism may dominate again and so those holding public office were required to accept communion in the Protestant form and swear an oath of allegiance recognising the monarch as the head of the Church of England. Religion
1675 - 1710The re-building of St Pauls Cathedral a Wren masterpieceArchitecture
1677 Nov 04Mary Stuart, niece to King Charles was a Protestant, she married the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange, himself the grandson of King Charles IRoyalty
1679Habeus Corpus Act ensured that noEnglish subject should be kept in prison without being brought to trial as soon as possible for the crime of which he is accused.Politics Law
1679 - 1681The Earl of Shaftsbury led an opposition party to the court. He wanted to rid the country of royal absolutism and Catholicism and to achieve it wanted to exclude the Duke of York from the succession to the throne on the grounds he was a Catholic. An exclusion bill was introduced and debated in 3 parliaments which Charles summoned and dissolved. The names Whigs and Tories were first used in this debate.Politics
1681King Charles dissolves parliament and never calls another onePolitics
1682Charles wanted the Whigs dealt with and demanded the surrender of the City of London's Charter, the city being the stronghold of the Whigs and then appointed a Tory mayor.Politics
1682Halley, friend of Newton discovered the periodicity of the famous comet that bears his nameScience
1683Rye House Plot. atahe Whigs plotted to kill the King and his brother James but they were betrayed and the plotters executed including Lord Russell a Whig leader and Algernon Sidney another. The Whigs were now un disarrayPolitics
1685 Feb 06King Charles II died of a stroke and on his death bed converted to CatholicismRoyalty
1685 Apr 23King James II is coronated. He is the brother of Charles and Catholic, causing much concern amongst certain groups.Royalty
1685 Jul 05James II defeats James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, at Sedgemoor, Somerset. Scott is an illegitimate son of King Charles II. Monmouth was captured and executed at the Tower of London. The Bloody Assizes followed.Battle Politics
1685King James defied the Test Act and appointed Catholics to positions of authorityPolitics
1687First Declaration of Indulgence. King James suspended the laws against both Catholics and dissentersPolitics
1687King James had alienated his most loyal subjects by the Declaration of Indulgence. They looked towards his daughter Mary wife of the greatest Protestant leader in Europe, William of Orange. But then James wife was pregnant and fears were that Mary would no longer be heir to the throne and the prospect of years of Catholic monarchs loomed.Politics Royalty
1687Issac Newton publishes hisPrincipia MathematicaScience
1688So begins the period that would afterwards be known as the Glorious RevolutionPolitics
1688King James re-issued his Declaration of Indulgence and gave orders it should be read in all churches, this did not go down well with many Bishops. James sent them off to trial where they were found not guilty. The country had no stomach for a Catholic King and time for James was running out.Politics
1688An invitation was sent to William of Orange, signed by Whigs and Tories, to mount an invasion of England to restore English liberties and in November he set sail and landed at Torbay, the largest invasion force since Roman times. James panicked but with his youngest daughter fleeing to join the enemy James fled from the capital.Politics
1688 Dec 23Final departure of King James II for FranceRoyalty
1689 Jan 22The Convention Act. A parliament that could not be called so because it had not been summoned by a monarch. It's first business was to settle who would be King of England. After much debate amongst William and Mary the two were proclaimed joint sovereigns.
1689Declaration of RightsDeclaration of Rights which became the Bill of Rights. William and Mary were offered and accepted the throne on Parliament's terms. The Bill limited the Sovereign's power in certain important directions.
1689Toleration Act Nonconformists were allowed to worship in their own ways (did not include Catholics)
1689England under the King Charles' had been under the thumb of France. Now Louis of France was confronted by William who headed a European Alliance of England, Germany, Holland and Spain, against France. The Frence were determined to place King James back on the throne and it was for this reason that the English people supported this war.War
1689 1697The War of the League of AugsburgWar
1690 JulBattle of the BoyneWar Battle
1691Massachusetts Bay Charter The Mast TradeA charter for providing masts for the Royal Navy.
1692Battle of Barfleur. The Dutch and English fleets scatter the French in the channel putting an end to the threat of invasionWar Battle
1694Founding of the Bank of EnglandFinance Business
1695Battles in Flanders. William was determined not to allow the French to conquer Spanish Netherlands (Belgium) and fought on the fields of FlandersBattle
1691Act passed that stated only Protestants could sit in the Irish Parliament
1694Death of Queen MaryRoyalty
1697Treaty of Ryswick attempting to bring an end to the European war but the issue over the Spanish succession opened the wound again. William III was ill and turned to John Churchill, Earl of Malborough and adherent to the succession of Princess Anne, youngest daughter to King James II to the throne to negotiate a settlement. Sarah Churchill was Anne's best friend and the two hated William. Malborough succeeded.Politics
1701Treaty of the Grand Alliance was signed, a negotiated peacePolitics
1701Act of Settlement Law
1701Death of King James II in St GermainRoyalty
1702Death of King William IIIRoyalty
1702Queen Anne acceded to the throne under the control of the Earl of MarlboroughRoyalty
1702 1713War of Spanish SuccessionWar
1707Act of UnionLaw Politics
1709Tatler publication foundedPrinting
1710Spectator publication foundedPrinting
1712Treaty of Utrecht a landmark treaty in European politicsPolitics
1714The Schism ActLaw
1714Death of Queen AnneRoyalty


The Stuart Period ended the reign of the Tudors

Queen Elizabeth I had nominated King James VI of Scotland, her successor. King James I would take over rule of  a country that was prosperous and largely peaceful but very expensive to run. Britain needed King James I to be a reforming monarch. James however, was content to enjoy all the majesty and splendor but was without the means to support it. Herein lay the problem for the early Stuarts, how to raise money to pay for their lifestyle and this problem was at the centre of all that was to follow.

King James, taxation and divine right

Parliament did not have the money to cover the costs of government. It could resort to a regular taxation of the people but in return it would expect the King to give up taking money from people in the form of Medieval fines and taxation. If this was not acceptable, then, as was happening in other parts of Europe, Parliament could be dispensed with, removing all it's inherent costs and the King would rule by Divine Right, imposing taxes as he saw fit. Divine Right did not sit well with the British people or Parliament. They saw the Royal household fritter away money on an extravagant lifestyle, making it very difficult for Parliament to raise a regular taxation.

The church under the Stuart King

King James I was keen to continue the idea of a National church. He had been brought up a Calvanist, the basis of Puritanism in England. Puritans and Anglicans sat in troubled coexistence. Catholics carried on as before despite the setback with the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, for which the majority of Catholics seemed to have little stomach. Things however began to unravel between King and Parliament

Things began to spiral out of control. The crunch came when James took the country into war with Spain, he went to Parliament to raise money, the ensuing argument was the beginning of the demise of trust and respect between the monarch and Parliament. The creaky boat of government managed to sail but When King James I died in 1625, his successor King Charles I managed to completely sink it.

The Stuart King Charles I

A very different man from his father who shut himself away at court with his family. This was no good for the country and he had run out of money.

Stuart Period

King Charles I by Honthorst 1628

The war continued and Parliament was called, they firmly rejected Charles's right to raise taxes as he saw fit, some knights refused to pay, it was anarchy. The two sides had reached an impasse, Parliament had issued a 'Petition of Rights' a list of grievances and demands, the King accepted it and ignored it. King Charles saw that if he avoided war, he could rule without Parliament, so he did.

King Charles and Personal Rule

The decade passed quietly, although many were not prepared to forget about Parliament, Charles was well advised and peace ensued. He was pro Catholic, seeing the Anglican church as a moderated pre reformation Catholic one. He loathed the Puritans and without Parliament their mouthpiece was gone. Those with wealth and land got richer. The poor however were suffering terribly and the first migrations to America took place at this time. Internal migration was also happening at a rate not seen before.

The Scottish threat

Charles's dominion was a London centred one. He tried to rule Scotland and Ireland without going there and the consequences of this were immense. The Scotts threatened invasion, Charles was forced to recall Parliament. Their list of complaints against the King was enormous. Overwhelmed, Charles rashly dissolved Parliament. Facing financial ruin and unable to stop the march of the Scotts, he was forced to call Parliament again. On the 3rd November 1640 the Long Parliament sat and they demanded a return to the return of rule as it had been in the time of Elizabeth. They feared Catholics and refused any money to Charles. Anyone for the King was swept away, he tried to protect some with force but that unleached a torrent upon the King never seen before. The Puritans got rid of all the reform of the previous decade. Parliament seized control and there was nothing Charles could say or do to stem the tide. Puritans spread their rumours of a Popish plot everywhere. Moderates were ousted from their positions. The King refused to budge and left London, the court dissolved.

The English Civil War, the brink

The country was divided and stunned when it became evident that England was about to be plunged into an unwanted civil war. Everyone was eventually forced to take sides, the war and the period known as the 'Commonwealth' lasted from 1642 - 1658 and was a bloody war which involved everyone. The country would never be the same again. Parliament fast dismantled the Church of England, bishops abolished. Religious groups and factions quarrelled. The country was broken, the army under Oliver Cromwell ruled with Puritan zeal. The King stood firm and absolute chaos ruled or rather the army ruled removing dissenters.

Execution of King Charles I

On the 6th January 1649, the court met to try the King, a revolution was taking place. He was sentenced to death and executed on 30th January 1649.

Not only was the King dead but all the things that held the country together were also gone, government, church, nobility and fear stood in it's place. The new Cromwellian government set about passing acts of intolerance and then demanded an oath of loyalty from the male population. Many refused, the new government had an opposition still loyal to the Royal family. The country was in a financial mess, the Cromwellian government in chaos. In 1653, Cromwell dispensed with the Rump Parliament and set up a new one. This also failed to deal with the complexity of the problems England was now facing. Cromwell’s self-appointment as 'Lord Protector' gave him powers akin to a monarch. His continuing popularity with the army propped up his regime.

Stuart Period

Cromwell Statue Westminster

Oliver Cromwell's death

When Oliver Cromwell died, he was succeeded by his son, Richard. The Commonwealth of England collapsed into financial and administrative chaos. Parliament was once again dissolved and Richard Cromwell was overthrown. It was realised that only the restoration of the king could end the political chaos, and Charles II was invited to return from exile.

The Stuarts return King Charles II

On 29th May 1660 Charles II was crowned King. The Restoration was a fragile beast, peace and social order was desired but dissenters and religious radicals were not going to be driven underground. This was not an untroubled rule but King Charles II had the common touch. Despite his enjoyment of the good life he was politically astute and whatever he thought inside realized that to enjoy his rule, the acts of the Restoration Settlement had to be carefully managed. Royal powers and finances were controlled but religion once again was the sticking point. The Act of Uniformity and the re-introduction of the Book of Common Prayer led to many ministers losing their living. The Presbyterians, along with the Catholics found themselves driven underground as the Anglican church reasserted themselves.

Stuart Period

King Charles II by Wright 1661. Hanging in Hampton Court Palace

The Stuarts Period a Commercial Revolution

Despite all that was going on in the country, a window of opportunity was opening up. Britain was rapidly growing  the largest merchant fleet in Europe, trade flowed in and out of the country. Improved agricultural methods met the increasing demands for more and better quality food. Coal mining increased to provide heating fuel and the standards of living for most classes improved. The age of Enlightenment took hold and the professions grew as education improved and Charles was a keen supporter of all arts and sciences. The main enemy was the Dutch and Charles entered into an agreement to join forces with the French over the matter.

The Stuarts and the Catholic problem

Charles issued a Declaration of Indulgence which was meant to alleviate the position of the Catholics and allow them to celebrate Mass in private but in doing so resurrected the fear of Catholicism again in the country. His wife and mistresses were Catholics and many were disturbed by what they imagined was a return to a Catholic country. The Popish Plot against the King unleached a hysterical anti Catholic revolt and the two political factions, the Tories and the Whigs took opposing sides. The Whigs wanted to dictate the succession of the monarch via the Exclusion Act, which would prevent a Catholic from becoming king. King Charles retaliated by dissolving Parliament and did not summon one again, the monarchy had re-surged.

The Stuart King James II

When Charles died his brother, James took the crown. Committed to Catholicism, it would bring about his fall. He placed Catholics in as many important positions as he could, the country had not seen such a display of Catholicism before. The men in the Shires were appalled and James lost the support of the Tories. He had alienated any who might have stood for him.

Stuart Period

Queen Anne by Closterman 1702. Hanging in Hampton Court Palace.

The silent majority sought to remove the King and went to the ruler of the Protestant Netherlands William of Orange, married to King James daughter Mary and asked them to invade the country.

They did so and the Royal family fled. A complicated series of legislation ensued that ruled that James had abdicated and placed William III on the throne with Mary. William of Orange agreed to rule cooperatively with Parliament. A massive change in the role of monarch and state had taken place and the country was split down the middle again.

The French enemy, the Dutch now held the throne of England and the result was the beginning of a lengthy series of wars with France. These wars stood Britain on it's head and as William and Mary gave way to Queen Anne, Parliament was thrown one way and another and yet somehow managed to come through with a clear understanding that Government could not function at the whim of monarch or people that it had to be financed and put on a footing that would best serve the country.

The period of Stuart rule was probably one of the most important periods in forming modern British society. Have you taken a browse at the Georgian Period that follows it?