Continuity and Сhanges

Continuity and Changes in Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland

Dec 1, 2020 at History Free Essays

Continuity and Changes in Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1642-1660

On January 30, 1649, Charles Stuart I, the king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, was decapitated in London, and a man in a vizor holding up blood-stained head cried aloud: This is the head of a traitor! (Hume 1778, p.540). There arises a question of how this event should be commented: as a justified punishment of a guilty person, a treason, a milestone of a transformation of absolutism into constitutional monarchy, an episode on the path from despotism to democracy, or an instant of the whole process of self-perfection of mankind.

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Continuity and Changes in History

The answer depends on ones understanding of history, is it a chain of events bringing changes or a process of continuity. Thus, the first step to an answer is to determine what acontinuity and change in history are. Peter Seixas of the University of British Columbia (learning about continuity and change) developed following criteria for differentiation between changes and continuity (constant). Criteria for an important change: substantial effect; relatively permanent; widespread. Criteria for an important constant: no substantial deviation (little or no difference in the way things function); important aspects (the similarities are found in significant aspects of life); widespread (similarities are broadly present across society/time period).

By definition of British Dictionary, the continuity is logical sequence, cohesion, or connection; a continuous or connected whole. By definition of Merriam-Webster, the continuity is uninterrupted connection, succession, or union; uninterrupted duration or continuation especially without essential change.

It is much more difficult to find definition of change. Merriam-Webster sees it only as verb meaning (a) to make different in some particular (synonym alter); (b) to make radically different (synonym transform); or (c) to give a different position, course, or direction to something. proposes following explanation something made different; alteration. Chalmers Johnson (quoted in Ritter 1986 p. 393) interpreted change in terms of dysfunction or deviation from normal states of social stability. Professor Peter Burke admits thatthe second of our pair of concepts, change, is so obviously the historians concern that definition may well appear superfluous (Burke 1986). No more specific is Dr. Gerald W. Schlabach, changes depend on continuity (1996). Quoting once more Peter Burke (1986), historians are professionally concerned with change, and therefore with the absence of change (which is one of the ways of defining continuity).

To illustrate esteemed authors statements, and in order to define concepts of continuity and changes in history, it is essential to analyze, as an example, key events of British History in 1642 1660 period.

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Key Event of British History in the Period 1642 to 1660

The period of English Civil War (16421651) was preceded by the death of king James VI and crowning of Charles I in February 1626 as a king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Charles was fully confident of divine right of kings to govern the country and as David Hume stated,

by a great many... monarchy, simple and unmixed, was conceived to be the government of England; and those popular assemblies were supposed to form only the ornament of the fabric, without being, in any degree, essential to its being and existence. (David 1778, p. 127)

The period preceding Civil war can be described either as changes in demands of Parliament to king and of king to Parliament; a change of Parliaments (between 1625 and 1629, Charles I dissolved parliament 3 times and since 1629, when he dismissed Parliament for more than a decade, the period of Personal Rule started); as ongoing tension between king and parliament over money; or as continuity of peaceful phase of power redistribution from crown that lacked two key instruments of power a standing army and a paid, reliable local bureaucracy and declining aristocracy to rising gentry (Stroud 1999, p.23).

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The period under discussion started with the Parliament being summoned in April 1640 by Charles, who desperately needed money. This meeting of Parliament was characterized by deepening discord between Charles I and Parliament, which in 1642 provoked civil war in England. Next years can be described chronologically as a chain of changes in political, financial, military, religious, and cultural spheres of life in England in 1942-1651, which had its beginning and end date (at least some of them). They include the following events. Creation of new model army by Parliament was induced by alignment of forces in 1640-th. Royalists (Cavaliers) fighting on horsebacks at the beginning of Civil war were more experienced and successful than Parliamentarian and Puritans (Roundheads). The need of creation of a new army that consisted of full-time professionals (rather than part-time militia) and was headed by career soldiers (not sitting on Parliament) was obvious to opponents of the king, who had strong reasons for fear of dissolution. 15 years later, the new king had no less justified reason to disband new army by issuing in 1661 "An Act declaring the sole Right of the Militia to be in King and for the present ordering & disposing the same" (known as Militia Act).

In this case, one sees the striking example of an event that can be interpreted as change (it began in 1645 and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration) or as a stage or failed attempt of continuity of creating a professional army. In a similar manner, such changes in the military structure as creation of Army Council, movement of Levellers, and their Solemn Engagement of the Army were the reflection of ongoing process of self-affirmation of the army showing its growing role as a political power. At the same time, suppression of Levellers and Lord Fairfax resignation of his commission as Lord General are the manifestations of continuity of unity of command reinforcement in army.

The period under investigation is full of events in all spheres of life, and many of them are difficult to classify as political, religious, or military. The same can be said about people. For instance, the figure of Oliver Cromwell can be described as a (a) political leader - champion of the struggle against absolutism, (b) gifted and successful military commander, (c) leader of Puritan revolution, (d) adherent of republic; or (e) power-mad villain and tough usurper. Each of the mentioned definition can be substantiated by known facts. Rising from the middle gentry, being the poorest man in the House of Commons, he played a leading role in bringing Charles I to trial and to execution. Nicknamed "Old Ironsides" (Kitson 2004), captain in 1642, colonel early in 1643, Lieutenant General of the New Model in 1645-1649, Lord General for the campaigns in Ireland in 1649-1650, and Scotland in1650-1651, he defeated the army of Charles II in his last battle at Worcester losing 200 Roundheads but killing 3 000 and capturing 10 000 Royalists.

Nicknamed God's Englishman, Oliver Cromwellbelieved that he and his troops had been chosen by God to perform His will. Being a highly religious man, Cromwell shut many inns and theatres and banned most sports. Several times he refused the Crown, being content with a title of Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, which made him "king in all but name" (Sherwood 1997). Similarly to Charles, Oliver Cromwell dissolved First Protectorate Parliament in 1655 being displeased with its work and proclaimed his son Richard Cromwell to be hereditary Lord protector (the latter, due to the lack of authority, had to resign in less than a year). To summarize the known facts about His Highness Oliver Cromwell, it should be mentioned that his body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey and subjected to the ritual of a posthumous execution.

Relations between king and Parliament were of more consistent character: even in spite of execution of Charles I (change) they should be viewed as a transition (continuity) to parliamentary democracy and repartition of financial control over the government and military. On this path of transition, one can see expected events. They include passage and acceptance of the Petition of Rights as a statement of civil liberties; Charless refusal to accept limited powers; his reestablishment of old laws and taxes without agreement of Parliament; gradual increase of Parliament power and even Humble petition and advise, Parliament constitutional document offering the crown to Cromwell.

There were also abrupt changes such as execution of Charles I; abolition of monarchy and House of Lords; appointment of the Council of State by the Rump Parliament after the execution of King; declaration of Commonwealth of England in 1649; and Richard Cromwells proclamation as a successor to his father. Next chain of events including Rump Parliament forming its own Council of State, refusing to recognize the Protectorate, engineering Richards resignation, reinstating the Commonwealth, and setting up two Committees of Public safety in 1659 were interpreted by John Spurr as a continuity of the country sliding into anarchy (Spurr 2006, p.39). This continuity compelled General Monk to leave Scotland, where he had been practically the ruler, bring his army to London, and understanding jeopardy of situation in the country, to enter negotiations with Charles II. In turn, Charles II had to issue Declaration of Breda with a promise of a general pardon for those who recognize him as a lawful king, which led to Stuart restoration under guarantees for the liberties of Parliament.

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From the point of view of modern historian, all these events (changes) are seen as a continuity of constitutional monarchy formation. The same continuity can be traced in the attempts to balance different interests of three kingdoms in terms of military, political, and spiritual methods. Direct military operations to suppress religious revolts were undertaken in Scotland in 1639 and 1640 (Covenanters defeating Charless I troops in the Bishops' War) and during the third Civil war in 1644-1646, and in Ireland, where pacification of Ireland is known as one of the most atrocious massacre of both soldiers and civilians.

When analyzing violent disputes about civil and ecclesiastical power, with which the nation was agitated (Hume 1778, p.131), it is easy to content oneself with narrating events in chronological order, to be drawn into theological disputes such as Puritan vs. Presbyterian. Another alternative is to analyze all the distinction between Celtic Christianity on the one hand and Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran and Reformed versions of Protestantism on the other. However, the real understanding of all the changes requires their perception in the context of a continuity of reconciliation of different quotients of kingdoms of England (partly Anglican and partly Puritan), Scotland (predominantly Presbyterian), and Ireland (predominantly Catholic).

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It was against a background of Stuarts, "Supreme Governors of the Church of England" struggling against authority of Pope outside of country, puritans inside, while safeguarding their divine right of kings. One more phenomena to keep in mind is imposing episcopal polity as a reflection of centralized organization of the country and the power of King to appoint the Archbishop. King of England, as a supreme governor of the Church of England, could control the bishops and in theory, the faithful and their propensity to pay taxes. As David Hume stated, the enquiries and debates concerning tonnage and poundage went hand in hand with these theological or metaphysical controversies (Hume 1778, p.p.214).


Whatever domain one considers, British history in the period of 1642 - 1660 can be interpreted as a continuity of the development of society and country, or a set of changes conditional by economic and social reasons (considered to be dominant by Karl Marx) or religious ideas (considered to be dominant by Max Weber). All of abovementioned events and phenomena satisfy Peter Seixass criteria and thereafter, they constitute important changes. However, taken as a whole, they can be interpreted as continuity of formation of constitutional monarchy, professional army, and local bureaucracy being against a background of religious tolerance origins.

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