Historical Debate – Exclusion Controversy 1679
The Seventeenth century was a time of religious turmoil throughout Europe, the Catholic counter reformation was underway in the middle of the century with Austria and Spain attempting to recover Catholicism's losses in the previous century during the thirty years war. Although insulated from the turmoil on the continent Britain did not escape having the wars of the three kingdoms between 1638-45 of which the English Civil War was a part. Although both sides were Protestant Puritans considered Episcopalians to be close to being Catholics and that Charles I was threatening the Protestant religion. Although Charles II regained the throne in 1660 controversies over religion continued. In the Test Act of 1673 everyone in public office, civil or military to take an oath only to the King and a declaration against transubstantiation, something that Catholics could not do. This was "An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants". Protestants were particularly worried that Carles II’s heir was his brother James who was a Catholic, it was feared that this would mean a forced return to Protestantism and England being sold out to France. Charles was willing to compromise, he would support anything in parliament that would secure the Protestant religion against any Catholic King however he would not compromise on the sucession itself.
Good of the Nation
There was general agreement amongst the 150 whig MP's that excluding James would be good for England. 'we have a Statute of the 13th of Queen Elizabeth, "That the Crown may be disposed of, for the good of the Nation,"'[[Mr Vaughan May 11th (all references made to members of the house of commons in debates in parliament just using the members name and the date in 1679 on which the speach was made. Anchitell Grey, Grey's Debates of the House of Commons: volume 7, (1769), http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=266)]] The Whig MP Sacheverell argued that 'The foundation of Government is in the People's hearts, and upon the same foundation the King came in his return[the restoration]'[[quoted in Antonia Fraser, King Charles II, (Phoenix, London, 2002), p.482.]]
This would however assume that it was for the good of the nation to do so there is however an “obligation to obey the Government is as long as it can give me security to protect me, and I ought to defend that Government and Governors; and I will not take away Right, where Right is established.”[[ Sir Henry Capel May 11th]] Therefore the good of the nation is decided by the King as sovereign.
It is impossible that the Protestant Religion should be preserved under a Popish Prince; as inconsistent as light and darkness. The King's Coronation Oath is to maintain Religion, and that is the Protestant Religion. The King's subjects are bound by Law to take the Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance— Rex nunquam moritur.[[ Sir John Knight May 11th]]
Kings deciding the religion of their subjects only takes place when “there was then a general fermentation of Religion, all the World over; and these things go by tides and times. But now is there any such fermentation in the World, as for Princes to change Religion? It is not in the power of the King of France to change the Religion in France, nor of the great Turk in Turkey. I distinguish between "fluctuation" and "ferment." Now people are settled upon their lees in Religion, and that rotation ceases; they are settled upon what they are settled.”[[ Sir Thomas Littleton May 11th]]
Parliament deciding on the Sucession “may be done by Act of Parliament by the authority of fair Precedents... Upon deposing of Rich. II. in 8 Hen. IV, the Crown was settled by Act of Parliament upon the Heirs of Hen. IV”
Then what will you do with a King in Attainder? Hen. VI. was incapacitated to be King, by Act of Parliament, and when Edw. IV. got the Crown, it was not decided by moot cases in Law, but by the sword and blood. Now how little security have we that this Exclusion of the Duke, (the next Heir to the Crown) which we are about, shall not end in a Civil War?[[ Mr Powle. May 11th]]
no need to act yet
Consider, the King is vigorous, in very good health, and but a year or two older than the Duke; the King is not of such an age but that he may have children, and the Duke is not so settled and grafted into the Romish Religion, but that he may return to our Religion again.[[ Mr Secretary Coventry May 11th]]
Parliament will still control the purse strings
And another great disadvantage the Papists will have, should a Popish Prince come to the Crown; there is a Revenue, which, upon the death of the King, sinks into the hands of the people, viz. the Customs; and the Successor must either come to it by Parliament, or acts of violence. If an Act of Parliament be made, for securing a Parliament sitting at the death of the King, and for Officers of State, Bishops, and Judges to be left in Office, I would trust to that. If the Successor should be a Papist, sufficient to the day is the evil thereof. If a Prince would secure himself, he must do it by ways and means acceptable to the people, if he consults his own tranquillity.[[ Mr Powle. May 11th]]
What do you think?