- London and the Restoration, 1659-1683
The renewed interest among British historians in the complex landscape of ideology and politics following the restoration of monarchical government in 1660 has produced a wide range of detailed revisionist studies over the last two decades, in which longstanding teleological assumptions about the rise of political stability and responsible government have come under increasing scrutiny. Gary De Krey's London and the Restoration is the latest of these comprehensive attempts to recast our understanding of Restoration politics through the meticulous study of contemporary institutions: in this case, the city of London. De Krey understands London's paradoxical status as both a bellwether of national political trends and as a unique entity, with its highly-developed administrative structures, its well-informed and activist population, its far-reaching commercial networks, and, of course, its physical proximity to the centers of royal and parliamentary power in Westminster. He surveys the history of Restoration London through six chronological — and one analytical — chapters, focusing on the consequences of London's internal divisions along confessional, and later party, lines and its external struggles with national authority, particularly the crown.
The thread of De Krey's narrative is suspended from two fundamental national crises, occurring in 1659–60 and 1679–83, in both of which London played a definitive role. Each crisis generated profound institutional change on both civic and national levels, yet, De Krey argues, the basic underlying divisions among Londoners remained constant even as some alliances between contiguous groups along the continuum of opinion shifted according to the conditions of the moment. Throughout the period, confessional differences underlay divergent views of the importance, in religion, of liberty for conscience and, in the secular realm, of consensual notions of political authority. At critical moments, the two realms converged, contributing to what De Krey describes as the "unsettling" of the kingdom: in 1659–60 fears of sectarian violence and the tyranny of the Rump and the army brought about a collapse of the Commonwealth regime and the advent of Charles II; in 1669–70 reformed Protestants successfully reasserted their religious autonomy and corporate political rights in the face of the Cavalier Parliament's narrowly Anglican settlement of 1662–65; in 1679–82 worries about [End Page 952] Catholic plotting and the security of the Protestant succession drove efforts to confront the monarchy, first in Parliament and then in the courts and through the civic magistracy; and in 1682–83 a rising tide of royal absolutism, compounded by increased religious persecution, provoked a split in the ranks of the newly formed Whig party between those committed to legal remedies and those who favored such extralegal methods as insurrection and assassination. In each case, the process of unsettling represented an attempt to break apart a supposedly settled state of affairs that was deemed unacceptable to a substantial proportion of the population. Only in the wake of further crises and a revolution in 1688–89 would the divisive issues of conscience and consent begin to progress toward a resolution.
The essential outlines of this story are not new, but De Krey, in reevaluating the mountains of evidence provided by official documents, newsletters, memoirs, and (particularly after 1679) a flood of printed tracts and squibs, offers up a number of important revelations. The centrality of London to the fall of the Rump in 1659–60 is asserted against traditional interpretations that focus on actions of the parliamentary general George Monck. The failed attempts in 1672–73 to provide either religious toleration through royal indulgence or religious comprehension by means of parliamentary statute are reconsidered in order to clarify the apparently contradictory support of dissenters for the exercise of the royal prerogative and the importance of antipopery to the derailing of these efforts. The significance of party organization and activities to an understanding of the Restoration crisis of the late 1670s and early 1680s is vigorously reasserted in the face of recent scholarly efforts to...