As the 'new' monarchs came to power, sporting ideas of mercantilism, the began to gain more power. The England monarch began to find new sources of income, which threatened social and economic stability. The nobles and parliament feared how much power the monarch could gain. Among those opposing the monarchs was the Puritans, who strongly opposed the Stuart monarchy and attempted to limit the king’s power. The Parliament, nobility, and gentry similarly attempted limit the king’s power.


Charles II,
King Charles II came to power after his father, Charles I was overthrown and executed. Oliver Cromwell, who had led the campaign against Charles, then took power as a military dictator. He disliked being called a monarch, as that was precisely what he had overthrown, but he still lived as one. He also reduced parliament to a rump despite its participation in the war. When Cromwell died his son ruled for a short time, but it wasn’t long until the nobility realized they needed to bring the monarch back, as the military dictator wasn’t doing its job. Charles I’s son was brought back from exile and crowned king, Charles II (1660-1685).

Charles II’s government was a direct compromise with the nobility and Parliament. They were in the position of power as much, or more, than the monarch. Charles still summoned and dissolved Parliament and made appointments in the bureaucracy as well as signing all laws. But he didn’t courts like the Star Chamber, he couldn’t arrest Parliament members, he couldn’t create seats in the House of Commons, he couldn’t raise money without Parliament’s consent, and he couldn’t suspend laws for certain groups or individuals.

The power had by now mostly gone to the gentry, who were wealthy landowners most often without noble titles. They had been originally used to balance out the power of the nobles, but had eventually grown very powerful. They gained power especially in the English civil war where they gained the right to decide the national policy through Parliament. They sat in the House of Commons. Though it often didn’t influence the government, all legislation had to pass through them and the king and his ministers had to persuade a majority of the Commons to pass the law.

Despite all this Charles was still a strong leader. He had an aggressive foreign policy and never let Parliament sit while he was away. He increased the central governments power, but also realized his limits when he attempted to end the Bill of Rights and create a standing army and Parliament refused.

The nobility and gentry were, of course, not completely united in their power. During Charles II’s reign a group called Whigs emerged. They opposed royal privileges and Catholicism and opposed to James coming to the throne. They preferred commercial interests such as towns and cities. On the other side were the Tories, who wanted independence and power to the crown, favoring the ceremony and traditionalism of Anglicanism. They also preferred large landowners. Because the Whigs were opposed to James--who would eventually succeed Charles despite the Exclusion Crisis that attempted to keep James from power as Charles neared the end of his reign--they had power through most of William’s reign. They supported his war against Louis XIV, lasting from 1689 to 1697, because he was harboring James and those who wanted to restore him to the throne, the Jacobites.

The Whigs and Tories combated fiercely for voters. The voting percentage at this time was as high as it would be until the 1860s. To vote one had to own land worth at least 40 shillings, which, because of inflation, was not much during William’s reign. In one election to Parliament the Tories won because they opposed returning to fight with Louis XIV—the last war had ended in 1697.


The next monarch in line was Charles II’s brother, James. As a Catholic, the gentry feared he would attempt to bring Catholicism to Protestant England, but Charles refused to let the line of succession be changed and James eventually came to the throne as James II. But as soon as he came to power James attempted just what the gentry had feared he would. After James attempted to repeal the Test Act and Parliament refused, James began to appoint Catholics to high positions in court and the army. He issued the Declaration of Indulgence in 1687, which ended religious tests and allowed free worship. James removed anyone from office that opposed this and they were replaced by Catholics. Finally in June of 1688 James imprisoned seven Anglican bishops that didn’t support this declaration.

James was attempting an absolute government, which no ruler had managed since Parliament gained power and even the Tories who were usually loyal to king were wary of James’s policies as these were all challenges to the nobles’, landowners’, church’s, and gentry’s power. The final blow came when James’s wife had a son and Catholic heir to the throne on June 20, 1688. In 1688, seven of the gentry invited William III, the ruler of the United Provinces, to invade. William was the son of Charles II’s sister. His wife, Mary II, was the daughter of James II, thus giving them both some claim to the throne, although most of his claim was through Mary. William III had a very small army, but James doubted the support he would be offered, especially since William was receiving no opposition at all, and fled to France.


William III of Orange,
As it was, William had mainly accepted the throne so England could aid him in his attempts against France and Louis XIV and willingly accepted Parliaments position in the government. A Bill of Rights settled succession to the throne, gave Parliament certain powers, banned Catholics from taking the throne, and gave basic civil rights. The monarch was to be under the law and rule by Parliaments consent, which would meet every three years. An Act of Toleration ended religious persecution, however it only applied to Protestants and previous restrictions on Catholicism still applied. They were not allowed to vote, sit in Parliament, hold a government office, or go to a university. In 1694 a statue stated that Parliament had to have elections every three years. The passing of these laws was known as the Glorious Revolution.

In 1701 the Act of Settlement stated the throne would go to the Protestant House of Hanover in Germany if Queen Anne, who was next in line, had no children. In 1702 William died, his wife had died in 1695, and Anne, James II’s daughter and Mary II’s sister, took the throne. And despite previous opposition, England returned to its war with France in the War of the Spanish Succession. This caused the Whigs to be again in control of the government. This would continue until 1710 when England would tire of war and the Tories took power. The persuaded Queen Anne to make peace with France in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. In 1714 the Tories lost power when they began to negotiate with the Jacobites when Anne died without an heir. As it was, Anne was succeeded by George I (1714-1727), the Elector of Hanover, a German prince, and Anne’s second cousin.


Great Fire of London,

At the same time England was lying its foundations for being a world power. It had the best navy in Europe, had made a decisive victory over France, founding new colonies, and expanding. England and Scotland’s unification in 1701 when James I came to the throne created Great Britain. The Bank of England was established in 1694, which could lend money to government with eight percent interest and raise money from the people. London was fast becoming the financial capital of the world and British merchants were gaining power in maritime trade from East Asia to North America. This helped not only the gentry, but the lower class as well.

Illustration of a Friends Meeting in the 17th century, from Cassell's Illustrated History of England,
Compared to the rest of Europe, save perhaps the Dutch, people in England were better off than anyone else. There was less starvation, and though they were forced to work under and in terrible locations, they were provided with food and shelter. But many small villages were still wrought with poverty, causing many to flee to London where the population was reaching for half a million. This created slums and locations rife with crime. The fire of 1666, which destroyed almost half of the city, had next to no impact as it was all rebuilt. The only change was the plethora of churches.

After such an extended time of inflation, laborers could again live decently. There was a greater demand for art, more men could participate in the government, and there was a greater ability to succeed in the growing economy—in trade, luxury goods, and the bureaucracy. England had some of the best roads in Europe and about 60,000 men were professionals in 1730. Throughout all of this the gentry made enormous gains and most benefits of the laymen was because of laws the gentry passed to enrich itself.


Until a firm police force was established in the mid-1800s, most apprehensions were made by citizens. The responsibility of reporting the crime fell on the victim and all citizens who witnessed it were obligated to catch the criminal. Any citizen hailed to join in the “hue and cry”[1] by officers or heard the cry of “Stop, thief!” or “Murder!” b
'Watch House, Covenant Garden,' c. 1835,
y law had to join in the chase.

Over the 1700s this sense of citizen responsibility disappeared as more men were hired and paid to do the job. Thief-takers became a prominent way to catch criminals. Thief-takers were hired, sometimes by victims and especially later by justices of the peace, to track down criminals. Rewards also began to appear as well as pardons to accomplices that turned in others in the group. Information about rewards and criminals was widely circulated by newspapers. This also led to less citizen involvement, leaving the apprehension of criminals to those more motivated by reward.

Thief-takers became popular in the early 1600s, started by the government because of the high crime rate. The thief-takers began because of the offering of rewards, which were supplemented in the 1700s by victims after the government’s payment. Thief-takers most often negotiated between criminals and victims about returning goods and turned in criminals. However, some of the more corrupt blackmailed criminals or convinced gullible people to commit crimes before turning them in.

Constables—who were expected to apprehend criminals and turn them over to the justice of the peace—night watchmen—who patrolled from 9 pm to sunrise and were obligated to examine anyone suspicious—and the City Marshall and beadles—who patrolled during the day—were expected to keep the peace and catch minor criminals. They weren’t expected to search out criminals or prosecute them.

Originally the watchmen were expected to from citizen’s households, rotating around the neighborhood. Eventually people started hiring deputies to take their place until it came to the point where men could make a living out of it. In 1751 the Watch Acts were passed, which levied a tax on citizens to pay for full time watchmen.

These watchmen were more experienced, but they still lacked respect or efficiency because of their low pay and the little respect for the job at all. The force was also considered corrupt because of its connection with the thief-takers and the underworld.[2]

Works Referenced

Chambers, Mortimer; Grew, Raymond; Herlihy, David; Rabb, Theodore K.; Woloch, Isser. The Western Experience: Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991

Kagan, Donald, Steven Ozment, and Frank M. Turner. The Western Heritge. Ed. Charlyce Jones Owen and Susanna Lesan. 7th ed. 1979. Upper Sadle River: Prenice Hall, 2001. Print.

"Policing in London." Old Bailey Online. N.p., 2008. Web. <>.

1 "Policing in London." Old Bailey Online. N.p., 2008. Web. <>.
2 Ibid, for the section ‘Police Force’