The Constitution

God Pear


pear shaped

over 1500 Years
of knowing our place

As the United Kingdom is about to have a Royal Wedding and is having the biggest constitutional shakeup since the 1830s (according to the Hansard Society) we thought it would be good for Pear Shaped to examine the Constitution.  After all, we may not believe in the Monarchy any more but we're not so Republican we can't cash in.  Dont forget Mr Damage's kind offer to downgrade all Republican televisions for the Royal Wedding...

...allowing you to ignore all the action in glorious mechanical 25-line narrow screen at up to 12.5 pictures per second for as little as £75.  All sets come with a knob in the centre of the Televisor, to control the speed of the internal spinning disk allowing the viewer to lose synchronisation with the transmission frequency.

Please bear in mind this is not a logical or reasonable analysis of the British Constitution it is only what we can bother to understand and rephrase biasedly ...which is very little.  If you really want to know how we got to where we are now you may wish to read John Strafford's extremely entertaining History of Democracy from which much of this information is blatantly plagerised or better still The Intermediate History of who Murdered who in England in the Middle ages, by W.J.Perry from which the rest of it is Plagerised.  Well, that and wikipedia.  Historical events have been edited for time and clairty and things we didn't want to think about at all have been airbrushed over..

England, of course, first started to become a Kingdom when the Romans left in 410 ...


...shortly after Constantine decide to move the centre of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium as its currency was suffering from what would seem to be rapid inflation and devaluation.   They had attempted to fix this with such things as the Tetrachy (coalition of 4) ...


...but it had already had really bad ideas such as Legalising Christianity and listening to the Pope so by  late 476 when Romulus Augustus (the last "Western Emperor" - the Empire had already split into East and West) was forced to resign ...

Romulus Augustus

...the "Roman" army consisted almost entirely of Germans, gave up, became German and decided to be the Frankish Empire and the Ottoman Empire. 

As a result of this power vacuum the Saxons invaded England and decided to have Kings.  And once you have Kings ...Royal Weddings become very important as society is now feudal and 80% of people work the land and the other 10% kill the other 10% so that they won't have to work the land.  If the King didn't get married or couldn't have kids the Saxons solved this with something called the Witanagemot (Council of the Wise).  In fact the Saxons solved everything with a Witanagemot (except not being replaced by Normans):

Witan Hexateuch

The Witan was like Parliament except without a building or specific location and it only met once a year or so or when the King had no friends left to kill people for him.   Although there might only be a hundred or so people at a Witan there weren't actually that many people anyway...

Population of England
(the sharp did between 1300 and 1400 is known as the black death) the relation of representatives to the people they represented was almost proto-democratic.  Indeed, some historians purport that every freeman (not all men were free) had the right to attend the Witenagemot - which is fine when there aren't that many people and no transport links.

However, although the King was King for life whenever he did die it was technically the Witan that appointed the King from amongst the extended Royal Family.   In reality the position of the King was usually hereditary unless the heir really was mentally thick or unlikable ... as changing the King to someone not directly in line to the position would have required a redistribution of political power that was a bit too much like social mobility but still the King had to get on with his Witan as it was the main Tax raising and legislative body. 

No laws could be passed without the agreement of the Witan.  But whereas these days Parliament creates up to 3000 new criminal offences every 10 years and passes an endless stream of legislation that no one understands until they're arrested laws were fortunately not needed at this rate in the 600s as no one really took the law that seriously because...

The downside of this system was with no fixed legislative procedures or framework the Witan squabbled and achieved little.  Legislative procedures are very important in law making as without them laws that need to get passed dont, laws can be expanded in ways never intended or you end up with lots of little laws that have no cohesive legislative framework.   Unfortunately, legislative reform though important and something that has a direct affect on the power of every individual is not something that it is easy to get worked up about.  It's greatest advocates tend to be the Civil Servants who have to clean up every Parliament's legislative dung and, of course, old men in large chairs.  Here's one

...explaining how the last Labour Government attempted to enact a piece of legislation which would have given it the right to change any other piece of legislation at all on a whim and was only prevented in this by the House of Lords.

The Witan was anyway generally thought to be too nice and thoughtful - particularly during the reign of Saint Edward the Confessor who was too Saintly.  In the middle ages Nation States had not been fully developed.  England wasn't a proper consolidated politically stable state until the 11th century and Germany and Italy weren't properly unified until the late 1800s.  So the done thing was to go to war all the time and the Witan didn't like doing this as they were the ones who had to put up the money and get killed.  The weaker the political power of the King the more he used to talk to his Witan.  As a result the Witan was a bit poo at foreign policy and England got invaded by William the Conquorer.

Harold's Bad Forigen Policy

William didn't have much time for the Witan even after he sacked all the old Barons and replaced them with new Barons.  It was not the done thing to sack Barons you are supposed to wait for them to die but if you have just won a war you can do what you like.   Having invaded it William didn't actually have that much time for England anyway he was often too busy warring with his relatives in France.   So that William could go off fighting and killing more people a new role was created called the Justiciar - later the Chief Justiciar - who was a sort of Prime Minister / Head of the Judiciary.  No one thought PMs worth drawing much in those days as they didn't do enough killing but here's the Tomb of one in Salisbury Cathedral photographed by Mr Ealdgyth who likes photographing old things:

Roger of Salisbury

The creation of the Justiciar and several rearrangements of Baronial power so that everyone swore alliegence directly to William and not indirectly to William centralised power and made the whole monarchy more stable.

It has to be said that Harold's failed Kingship had not been helped by the Pope who had sided with William.  Although many people have a perception that it was Henry VIII who oversaw a sudden break with Rome overnight actually relations between the Papacy and Britain were always very strained.  Indeed both William I, William II and indeed Henry I recognised and unrecognised the Pope on a regular basis as the needs arose.  Although the Roman Empire had been vaguely Christian it was St Augustine who "converted" the mostly pagan aristocray to Christianity and so actually most late Saxon and early Norman governments opted in and out of the Papacy as matter of political expediency. 

In the middle ages of course the Holy See didn't worry as much about its levels of ordinary and extraordinary infallibility or whether or not people were doning condoms...

Not Important

... as this is a modern obsession that it has only been harping on very keenly since about 1968.  In the middle ages it was busy doing real power and was a major international political force.  Before the United Nations, the League of Nations, the European Union, Hitler's 3rd Reich and Otto Von Bismark's 2nd Reich ...there was a vague central European political body called the 1st Reich of which the Pope was a sort of symbolic figurehead.  I dont want to go all Richard Dawkins or Stephen Fry here but it is actually more or less impossible to evaluate medieval history even in the tritest way without mentioning the Papacy....  so I'd like to stress here and now that there are many devout, pious and honourable churchmen, priests and saints in our history.  I'm just not going to tell you about any of them because it wont sell tickets.

Anyway this first Reich came about when Pope Adrian I was threatened by invaders and Charlemagne King of the Franks rushed to Rome to provide assistance. This was a great political success for both which was consolidated when Charlemagne came up with the idea of the "Holy Roman" Empire and persuaded Pope Leo III to crown him Emperor of the Romans (Imperator Romanorum). 


At this point the Pope's job became very important, powerful and sought after causing a massive turnover of popes.  For a while people even listened to the Catholic Church.  We will skip out the Cadaver Trial but suffice to say due to the power of the Papcy between 200 and 1500AD there were over 40 anti-popes.  Most of these had frankly laughable claims to the title.  For example here's Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV sucking up to the Pope having been nasty to him then dumping him again:

Make your own Pope!

The reason for the generation of so many anti-popes was not concern with the theological study of God as a metaphysical entity.  Since the early church was involved not only in the spiritual welfare of the populace but also in supplying many of the services that would now be contracted out to the welfare state and civil service as ,being more literate than the general population), it was granted by many countries revenue raising powers that amounted to a taxation system. 
  In the old days though politicians were lazy and didn't want to organise the administration of government and social services themselves so subcontracted it out to the church - this was known as the Big Society and was mooted by potentates so naive they actually thought that if you stopped priests and monks from breeding they wouldn't accumulate any material wealth. 

Inevitably as these systems ran in tandem to other secular taxation systems both the Church and secular authorities demanded more and more control over Church appointments which was silly.  It would be like the Prime Minister appointing Bishops or advising the Queen how to and Bishops sitting in the House of Lords which couldn't happen today.  When I asked my local highly self-publicising Bishop how anyone in their right mind could support the Estabishment of the English Church in 2011.  “After all, what do you get out of being the establishment of the Church except bad press?” He gamely replied:

So there you have it - responsibility without power.  The fate of the secretary throughout the ages...?
(c) Ariel Dorfman

Much is made, of course, by some secularists of the 28 Bishops in the House of Lords but now hereditary peers have been abolished for becoming too much like normal people they are strangely the only people in the Lords that the PM doesn’t personally appoint since the much vaunted semi-elected second chamber was never machinated….  With the result that whenever they want to show how down with the voters they are PMs will just use this power to shove someone too popular to be elected (like Lord Mandelson or Baroness Warsi) straight into the cabinet.

By the end of the Blair/Brown years the duo had appointed over half the House of Lords so when David Cameron wanted to get his Constitutional legislation through he had to get the Queen to make a load more.  Actually this farce has always been the system.  In fact there are now so many Lords in the Lords that they've been writing to Mr Cameron to ask him not to make any more because with his cronies & Tony's cronies there's simply no seating left.  With Lords reform promised in some form later in the year after the AV referendum there has been a sudden attempt by some Lords to make themselves all seem less random - culminating in the Hansard Society recently inventing a

..where you can now instantly read their many sensible views on everything and decide that they're not an pompous waste of space that's rapidly running out of space.

Anyway back in the middle ages the result of state/church overlap was that if, for example, you wanted to start a war but didn't have anything in the kitty a great way to do it was to raid the Church for cash and/or get the Church to endorse you.  There were a lot of monks doing things like looking after the sick and the poor and translating the Bible and stuff.   In the era of manual transcription this was quite time consuming and resulted in a lot of paperwork.

It's not an accident that Oxford and Cambridge Universities are architecturally like ecclesiastical institutions which were bases of scientific learning as well as theology.  Of course these days in our highly compartmentalised society religion and science have effectively separated which is probably for the best ... and why Richard Dawkins wants to re-unite them to solve ethical questions with the use of "reason" as if there is any relation between the two which there isn't.  Okay he may have a point but it's slightly undermined by the fact that he looks a bit like Professor Moriaty ...

...and dresses like him too ....and by the fact that Oxford and Cambridge managed to cling onto their Postgraduate voted for MPs right up till 1950 because they was cleverer than what we were.

Anyway, Christian Monastic communities were first mass popularised by Saint Anthony of Egypt who was such a celebrity that even the Emperor Constantine wrote him fan letters.  Following Christ's advice to "sell all you have and give to the poor" a bit literally, people like Anthony really did and went off to the desert to become hermits....  Literally living in caves on food supplied by the locals who enjoyed the idea of having an agoraphobic neighbour.  However, ... it didn't all go to plan...

Saint Anthony

Soon "the devil" started to send all kind of weird manifestations to annoy Saint Anthony which were probably hallucinations brought on by lack of food combined with his solitary confinement.
   So to cut a long story short Saint Anthony decided he'd hang out with other hermits and they'd just not talk to each other much.  This made for a much more financially sustainable model as they could work together in joint enterprises and eventually own large areas of real estate and really annoy Henry VIII.  Still Monastic orders are a thing of the past now and have nothing to do with royalty or the constitution so I dont know why I'm bringing this up.  Anyway... both William II and Richard (William I's elder son) "accidentally died by being hit by an arrow while hunting"...  This meant that there was some cynicism when he became King about Henry I's right to rule.  So Henry came up with the next constitutional document a Charter of Liberties.  William I and II had invented a lot of new taxes on wardships, marriages and death that he promised to forego.  Dying and marriage were very expensive in the Middle Ages whereas murderers could generally get off with a fine. Henry's Charter of Liberties relaxed some of these repressive taxation systems and promised he would be nice. 

He wasn't actually particularly nasty or nice but at least he had a bit of paper saying so even if he ignored it.  In this period of time Barons lived in castles.  So you needed to be relatively nice to them as you needed them to defend territory ...which meant you had to allow them to inhabit and build fortifications which they could also use as a defence against you which made removing them time consuming so being too nasty was a bit out of fashion.

Henry also had a lot of problems with the church which was probably rightly a bit worried that if conceded too much power to the state it would be eventually disposed of once it outlived its usefulness ... so during this period it did a lot of insisting about its exclusive rights to dispense justice within its own institutions over the rights of the secular authorities even beyond the point of any logic.  Something it doesn't do any more ...much.  These problems increased enormously in 1099 when Pope Gregory, fed up with states opting in and out of the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire passed a decree in 1099 excommunicating all lay persons who decided they had the right to grant investiture to Bishops.  This created lots of Investiture Crises and there was a big row between Henry and Archbishop Anslem over the King's right to appoint staff.  Henry decided to give up this right when the Pope and Anslem threatened excommunication.  The fundamental political problem however did not go away but lurked under the surface.

The Norman dynasty died out as a result of Henry's son William Adelin's badly managed experiments in seafaring.  This meant that when Henry died the country entered a period known as the Anarchy.  Because it was a bit anarchic.  But not in an Andrew O'Neill hey-lets-all-be-hip-and-slag-off-Winston-Churchill way.  In a lets-kill-everyone way.  Henry's daughter Matilda was next in line but she was usurped by Stephen of Blois.  Confusingly Stephen's wife was also called Matilda. So Matilda and Stephen and Matilda had a lot of fights. 

Contemporary opinion was sharply divided as to whether Stephen was too nasty or nice but these events cemented the idea that female accession was a very bad thing to be avoided at all costs - something the government is now in a hurry to do a U-turn on as it's just realise William and Kate might have children who are girls.  It's okay though the usual excuse for not ever changing the British constitution that "the Commonwealth wont ware it!" has already been given out as the usual excuse for doing nothing about nothing.  Of course in reality the Commonwealth dont give a toss.  The truth is no one wants to battle the House of Lords and use up Parliamentary time to cause this change in legislation and anyway it might raise the wider issue that the whole principle of Monarchy is fundamentally absurd.

Matilda & Stephen

After 19 years of killing people it was negotiated by Stephen and the Matilda who wasn't Stephen's wife that when Stephen died the son of Matilda who wasn't Stephen's wife's child (Henry II) should succeed and everyone was quite pleased.  So strained were relations that Stephen and Henry II negotiated this deal from different sides of the river Thames... 


Henry had the great plan that instead of expanding his territories in France England would invade Ireland.  The Pope thought this was a good idea too particularly when Henry said he would establish papal authority in Ireland.  Although Ireland was a Christian country it wasn't actually Catholic as when the Saxons, Jutes and Angles all agreed to recognise the Pope at the Synod of Whitby in 604 Ireland had not been invited and seemed to manage for at least 400 years without him.  Ireland at the time (about 1160) was in a state of civil unrest so it was an easy conquest but as like many successive Kings and governments Henry soon found that the the problem with Ireland was that it was easy to conquer and hard to govern.  Also as the King had to go back to Ireland in 1170-1 to quell a rebellion that had only taken 10 years to ferment he then found when he came home everyone had been plotting against him.  As everyone argued over the succession war broke out in France as French King Phillip sought to exploit the situation.  This pattern of England's war to control Ireland destabilising England itself and causing civil or continental war happens over and over again.  Fortunately all Irish problems are sorted out these days ...

...but the principle can also be extended to every other country invading another in Europe at this point in history meaning that things were very complicated.

In order to simplify European foreign policy in this era the Catholic Church managed to dream up an interesting new European foreign policy which became known as the Crusades.   Without getting into the thorny area of "who started it" I will concatenate the Crusade into one simple sentence.  It may not have started as not a completely stupid idea or as an aggressive war but it soon turned into a series of protracted wars over 200 years that are so embarrassing for everybody in retrospect that even John Paul II decided it was time to say "sorry" and attempt to draw a line under them and when the Pope admits something was wrong it's pretty bad...

Still no need to worry about that as we dont go into wars without thinking out the end game any more...  Of course as with all wars the Crusades had a lot to do with establishing/protecting trade routes ... and although technically the Christians lost and masses of public money was wasted there were unintended positive social consequences.  For example by making lots of Knights travel around a lot there was some unintended generation of wealth and social mobility for some people.  Also Arab and classical Greek advances including the development of algebra, optics, and refinement of engineering made their way west.  Not to mention gunpowder. 

I have no intention of trying to properly chronicle a conflict that took over 200 years here... all anyone needs to know about the crusades is it gave western Europe gunpowder so there was no longer any need to get on with your Barons like King John had had to.  If you didn't like people you could now just blow them up.  As a result power had to become more centralised.  Instead of besieging castles for years on end or engaging in 100 year wars now if Henry VIII didn't like you he could just come round your house and blow you up.  Funding the crusades was hugely expensive and also meant that the power of the Church to appoint its own officals became more important as it needed them to lean on governments to raise taxes for more crusades. 

Wars are, have been and will always be a very expensive business.  It was the need to fund the 3rd Crusade in 1188 that introduced what became known as the Saladin Tithe or later just the Tithe system whereby everyone gave the Church 10% of their income.  When the crusades ended the Church carried on taking 10% of everything and as a result became immensely wealthy.  Although the state also found this arrangement useful as levying taxation through the Church allowed taxation to take on a cloak of respectability as it was for God and the poor and if Government ran out of money it could pick up the blame too.  This is what is known as the Big Society.  The Big Society is about helping people to come together to improve their own lives. It’s about putting more power in people’s hands – a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities.  The Office for Civil Society, part of the Cabinet Office, works across government departments to translate the Big Society agenda into practical policies, provides support to voluntary and community organisations and is responsible for delivering a number of key Big Society programmes.

...I mean who tythes in 2011?

In order to exert more political control over the church Henry II engaged in a protracted row with Archbishop Thomas a Becket.  As a result of being a relatively saintly soul in his personal life Thomas was a big believer in forgiveness.  So big a believer in forgiveness he refused to hand over known criminals to the secular authorities.  Still this is all the past.  The church protecting criminals from secular justice is something that couldn't happen today

In those days everyone under the jurisdiction of the church was more than just the monks and nuns and priests - almost anyone who did regular work for the church could claim to be under its, rather than the King's, authority.  What Becket and Henry fell out over was the Constitution of Clarendon - which established trial by jury ....


....for everyone by secular authority.  This undermined the Church's traditional freedom to try its own staff.  Although Henry superficially solved this row by "accidentally" inciting a lot of Knights to kill Beckett he also accidentally turned Beckett into a martyr and then he looked an idiot....

The Church was very good at creating cults of martyrdom in this period of history and still is.  Indeed on the basis that if martyrs dont exist it is necessary to invent them the Church later invented white martyrdom which is like ordinary martyrdom except one is satirised rather than disemboweled.  On the plus side by insisting on the implementation of the Constitution of Clarendon Henry II came to be seen as the father of English Common Law.

These arguments continued however, culminating in the bitter dispute between King John and Innocent III over who should be the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1207...  A dispute that not only led to John's excommunication but to the Pope placing an interdict on the kingdom in March 1208 denying everyone access to religious services and John issuing instructions for the confiscation of all church possessions.  In January 1213, when Philip II of France was charged with deposing John from his throne by Pope Innocent John finally gave in.  Resulting in the humiliating position of actually surrendering the entire country to the Pope who then returned it to him as a papal fief


By 1215 his political authority was so weakened he was forced to sign the Magna Carta and by 1216 he was dead through either illness or poison.   Still who cares about Magna Carta today - it was full of stupid and eccentric ideas like Habeus Corpus ...

...which are a constant problem for every Prime Minister and President of the United States whenever someone starts blowing people up and they decide that actually the right to a fair hearing is rather silly and unworkable - being the kind of thing Horace Rumpole would witter on about.

The "system" worked two ways, of course, so if the Church wanted to raid the State for cash or to manipulate national policy it would insist (or it started to rather suddenly around the time of Pope Gregory) on appointing it's own officials to positions of fiscal authority and if it didn't get its way it would accuse the King and his Court of the Sin of Simony - the sale of religious offices.  A sin named after Simon Magus who thinks there isn't enough money in the being-an-apostle gig and in Acts of the Apostles 8:18-24 comes up with the fantastic idea of selling access to the Holy Spirit directly for cash.  The very first pay to pray scheme.

The First Reich

That  not everyone was convinced that the Pope should be so closely involved in politics or liked his policy ideas was evident in the fact that the day Pope Innocent III died he "appeared" to St. Lutgarda in her monastery at Aywieres, in Brabant. "Surprised" to see a specter enveloped in flames, she asked who he was and what he wanted....?


"I am Pope Innocent", he replied.

Is it possible that you, our common Father, should be in such a state?

"It is but too true. I am expiating three faults which might have caused my eternal perdition. Thanks to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I have obtained pardon for them, but I have to make atonement. Alas! it is terrible; and it will last for centuries if you do not come to my assistance. In the name of Mary, who has obtained for me the favor of appealing to you, help me." with these words he disappeared and Lutgarda announced the Pope’s death to her sisters whose demise was communicated to them some weeks later from another source.

After Innocent III the temporal power of the Papacy went into a bit of a decline.

King John didn't have much time for Magna Carter and appealed to Innocent III to have it annulled.  Although the Pope agreed the problems wouldn't go away and were just inherited by Henry III ...


....who had arguably just as hard a time with the barons as John had had.  People started insisting he called something now called Parliament which included some Commoners and he had a lot of problems with his sister's Husband Simon de Montford ....


...who had the eccentric idea that Parliament should keep meeting and was widely regarded as inviting the wrong sort of people.  The Barons got very cross about this and things were eventually settled... the Battle of Evesham after which de Montford was dismembered.  However, this was but a symptom of the continuing problems with the feudal system simply becoming out-dated as a method of deciding who was important and who wasn't.  

The classic feudal system can be described thus : "A lord was in broad terms a noble who held land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the land by the lord, and the land was known as a fief. In exchange for the use of the fief and the protection of the lord, the vassal would provide some sort of service to the lord."  At the top of the feudal pyramid was the King.  The King distributed the land to the Barons and the Barons their minions and so own down the chain of command.  This became much more complicated when for administrative reasons the Kings started to allow people to sell their own land to each other. 

The reign of Edward I was relatively calm apart from some wars with Robert de Bruce in Scotland but Baronial conflict was ignited again in the reign of Edward II ...

...who greatly annoyed the establishment by not being interested in wars with Scotland.  His wife Isabella was particularly annoyed that he seemed to be having a gay affair with Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (c. 1284 – 19 June 1312).  That this was slightly frowned on can be  recognised  by the brutal murder...

Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (c. 1284 � 19 June 1312)

...of Gaveston for disregarding the Ordinances of 1311.  So powerful were the Barons in this period that Edward's coronation oath even contained a promise to maintain the laws that the community "shall have chosen" ("aura eslu").  Although primarilly motivated by Baronial dislike of Gaveston the ordinances had an effect on fiscal reform, specifically and redirected revenues from the king's household to the exchequer.  Edward seemed to get over the death of his favourite quite quickly and had soon hitched up with a new gay lover Hugh Despenser the younger and they attempted to revenge the barons.  This resulted in the Despenser War where Edward's wife Isabella...

...dispensed with him and became regent to her son Edward III with her new bloke Roger Mortimer.  Mortimer was later murdered by Edward III and everyone was happy fighting the hundred years war and trying not to die of the black death.

There was also a huge need for greater social mobility due to the Black Death which resulted in an unintended restructuring of many areas of society and a great deal of population movement due to the death of 30-50% of the population.  The cost of labour rose and surviving labourers could demand higher wages and fewer hours of work.  In response Edward III came up with the Statute of Labourers in an attempt to reduce wages to back to pre-plague levels and restricting the mobility of labour.  Instead of a National Minimum Wage the Kingdom now had a National Maximum Wage.  This was unsustainable particularly after Richard II's experiments with a "graduated" Poll Tax. 
You probably all already know the story of the Peasants Revolt but in case you dont .... it is in lego.  Richard II was not popular with the Barons either and was eventually deposed by Henry IV...

....who very thoughtfully starved him to death.  This caused a bit of an atmosphere of anger and there were three risings against Henry IV : the Epiphany Rising, the Glynwr Rising and the Percy Rebellion. 

However, Henry IV's reign was cut short mostly by his sudden contraction of leprosy.  Due to doing very well in wars against France Henry V had a relatively peaceful reign apart from some problems with the Lollards...

...who didn't take religion seriously enough.

Henry VI brought in a new qualification system for who could vote or not was needed and thus were born the 40 shilling freeholders.  The main qualification from 1430 until 1832 to be able to vote...

...was the ownership of land up to the value of 40 shillings... After the introduction of Universal manhood suffrage (which was not until 1918)  women continued to be the subject of property and savings qualifications until total universal suffrage in 1928.  Plural (due to owning more than one property in more than one constituency) and duel business voting qualifications were finally abolished by the Representation of the People Act 1948.  Business votes have now been completely abolished everywhere except the City of London. 

As it happens that I have an office in the City of London I am in the process of registering the Pear Shaped Comedy Club as a qualifying body in the City of London elections.  Since we can nominate electors based on the size of our workforce and the relationship is exponential to the number of people employed we are in the process of booking as many open spots as possible.  You may think we book lots of opens to save money but actually it is for the free votes in the City of London Ward elections.  However, apart from this one peculiar situation nowhere else in the UK are voting rights reliant on property ownership any more.  Honest

Of course there were many problems with the £2 system, not least of which was inflation.  The biggest single contributor to the expanding of the democratic franchise in the forty shilling era was not any particular political movement or legislation but the devaluing of the currency creating more and more voters.  Basically the worse you were at running the country the more poor people got the vote.  The linking of land to votes which continued in complete disregard to relative polulation shifts for many years may go some way to explaining the British preoccupation with property ownership...

It has to be stated that Henry VI's reign was not a great success as he went a little insane.  This caused him to be toppled from power and the start of the Wars of the Roses.  It is said he was apparently laughing and singing while the Second Battle of St Albans raged in 1461.  He did (or his supporters did) eventually regain power but it was not to last and he died in the  Tower of London thanks to Edward IV feeling he was a bit of a political threat.  Dying in the Tower of London was very much the fate of Kings during this era.

Although Edward IV was a relatively successful King his son suffered from being 12 and being murdered after theologian Ralph Shaa preached a sermon claiming he and his brother were actually bastards.  Following this they came to be seen less and less and their "protector" Richard III became King.  A baronial uprising soon followed that resulted in the Battle of Bosworth field.  Richard III had 8000 men and Henry Tudor only 5000 but a load of people decided to switch sides.  And so the Tudor dynasty came to power and remained in power for a hundred years or so with its memorable catchphrase...

In order to try to bring the Barons back under control Henry VII massively increased the number and accountability of Justices of the Peace ....

...and was also very keen on the Court of the Star Chamber which was made up of Privy Counsellors, as well as common-law judges and dealt almost exclusively in that favourite of Tudor crimes : Treason. 

It was a very powerful political tool which was popular with successive monarchs mainly for its Court sessions which were held in secret, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses.  This effectively came to make Tudor Kings in effect absolute dictators.

By the end of the 15th century people stopped taking the Church as seriously and the tythe system came into question again.  Following the amusing incident of the Western Schism when there were two official popes at the same time as Pope Urban VI was not Mr Popular and the Hussite wars in Germany over the important subject of what form to take communion under that contributed greatly to the popularity of gunpowder hand weapons...  the Papacy as the glue that held the Holy Roman Empire together became unstuck till by 1806 the Reich was a joke and disbanded as it was totally unsticky.  Church officials had long sold indulgences for various level of sin during life be it Simony or not but Sixtus IV (1471-1484) took it a stage further when he came up with the wizard idea of selling indulgences for the dead as well as the living and Leo X turned a few eyebrows too with his rather novel approach to the Papacy best summed up in the one liner "if God has given us the Papacy let us enjoy it".  While the sale of indulgences had created enormous wealth for the Papacy, Leo was famous for spending as much money as he possibly could at any one time.


Indeed he spent so much money so freely that the Papacy was reduced at times pawning palace furniture, table plate, jewels, even statues of the apostles. Several banking firms and many individual creditors were ruined by the death of Leo.  Everything was then turned on its head by the publication of Martin Luther's 95 theses - a huge social and political success due to the advent of the new invention for generating political support and/or sectarian conflict ...

Printing Press

...the printing press.  300,000 copies of the 95 theses were distributed around Europe.  Gutenburg's invention made it impossible to suppress them by book (or people) burning.  The end of the era of manual transcription meant new ideas could be spread incredibly rapidly.  Unlike Hus's botched philosophical rebellion and the Hussite wars a century earlier the theories of the Protestant Reformation did not need to be simplified in shorthands - anyone who could read could be made aware of ideas which had previously only been the province of academics and monks (providing they could read of course which excluded quite a lot of peasants).  When Sir Thomas More said the Church should not be separated from the state Martin Luther responded by printing yet another document that argued philosophically that


and More composed a theological rebuttal "Responsio ad Lutherum" which argued forcefully that


You can see the highly intellectualised atmosphere in which these arguments were conducted.  However, probably the most definitive attack on the Church came in 1529 with the circulation of Simon Fish’s


which blisteringly set out the financial costs of the Church and reads like the financial blueprint for the nationalisation of the Church in England and the dissolution of the monasteries:

1.    The yearly exactions from the people taken by this greedy sort of sturdy idle holy thieves
They have a Tenth part of all produce, wages and profits   
What money pull they in by probates of testaments, privy tithes, men’s offerings to their pilgrimages and at their first masses; by masses and diriges, by mortuaries, hearing of confessions (yet keeping thereof no secrecy), hallowing of churches, by cursing of men and absolving them for money; by extortion &c.; and by the quarterage from every household to each of the Five Orders of begging Friars, which equals

£43,333 6s. 8d. [ = over £500,000 in present value] a year   
400 years ago, of all this they had not a penny   

These locusts own also one Third of the land   
Or in all more than half of the substance of the realm   
Yet they are not in number, one to every hundred men, or one in every four hundred men women and children   

etc etc you get the idea...

Had the Church of England been founded on such witty fiscal arguments it may have had great credibility but unfortunately the Church was established mainly on the argument that Henry VIII should be allowed to marry his mistress and dump his wife of 24 years.  Something quaintly described as "the King's Great matter".

Changing Minds

Of course "I want to marry my mistress and dump my wife of 24 years" is not a great argument for declaring yourself God's chief representative on earth so Henry VIII employed the best theologians in the land to come up with argument that he should be allowed a divorce from his then wife (Katherine of Aargon) because she had been previously married to his brother and they had had sex so the dispensation to allow the marriage in the first place was based on a lie.

Henry's brother Arthur Tudor had been first in line to the thrown.  Because his father Henry VII had sort of picked his crown up off the battlefield at the end of the Battle of Bosworth field there was some dubiousness about his right to the throne ....

Wars of the Roses he arranged for Arthur to be married off to Katherine because their common ancestor John of Gaunt would strengthen the claim to the throne of any mail heir.  Unfortunately Arthur died prematurely at the age of 15 so she was subsequently married off to the will-be Henry VIII .... So Henry VII appealed to the then Pope for a dispensation for Henry (to be the VIII) to marry her on the basis there had been no sexuals between Katherine and Arthur. 

Marrying your dead brother's wife is a technical breach of the affinity laws and used to be only allowed via dispensation from the Church which Henry argued had been fraudulently obtained because Arhur and Katherine had consummated their marriage.   The church used to be very keen on affinity laws which derive from Leviticus.  However, they've kind of forgotten about them today because the only reason anyone would have for reading Leviticus in 2011 is to condemn gay people.  The book of Leviticus is a compendium of Mosaic Law - the Laws handed down to Moses by God - and is taken very seriously by everybody (with the exception of the bits the Peter and Paul junked at the Council of Jerusalem when they decided that cutting off grown men's foreskins was bad box office).  In case you've forgotten any of the affinity laws (which are an extension of the incest laws) here they are again for old time's sake:

Affinity and Incest chart

The concept of incest is very simple to understand.  The concept of affinity was a bit more difficult to understand but linked to the concept of Incest.  It stated that when a man and woman married their relatives became "akin to one another" as though they shared the same bloodline even if they did not.  Although this doesn't seem entirely logical it may have served a function in dissuading people from engaging in arranged marriages which usually involved a degree of incest.  Due to the desire to hang onto as much land and power as possible many European monarchs were related due to political marriages, sometimes resulting in distant cousins (and even first cousins) being married. This was especially true in the Habsburg, Hohenzollern and Bourbon royal houses resulting in madness (George III) and noticeable genetic deformities such as the infamous Habsburg lip...

Hapsberg Jaw

Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor at the time of these events was a notorious sufferer from this condition being unable to chew his food properly as a result.  Charles II, a later King of Spain of Habsburg descent, suffered so badly from the condition that he never ate in public as he found it too humiliating (and everyone else found it too repulsive).  It was a huge stigma.  Even today the condition is still satirised in the form of James William Bottomtooth III and his son (James William Bottomtooth IV) who appear in the animated US sitcom Family Guy as the epitome of inbreeding amongst the European aristocracy.

Depending on the closeness of the relative it is possible (with modern genetics) to calculate the degree of inbreeding as a function of the alleles (pieces of identical genetic material) in common.  So if you fancy any of your relatives here is a graph of how perverted that relationship is scientifically.

Incest graph

Although marriages that breached affinity rules did not automatically involve literal inbreeding the political reality was that the main reason for marrying your sister-in-law is that your marriage is an arranged one designed to conserve political power within the same dynasties which means that it is likely, if not a certainty, that the marriage will be incestuous to some degree ...all be it one or two generations back or sideways.   If such patterns are repeated over and over and over several generations the percentage of total alleles in common can in some cases creep back up to 10% even if the marrying couple's immediate blood relationship would at first glance seem to put them around the 5% alleles mark ...which can lead to some genetic diseases and undesirable jaws.   But don't ask us check with your GP. 

Affinity remained a legal impediment to marriage until the 20th century when the 1907 Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act, the Deceased Brother's Widow's Marriage Act 1921 and the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Relationship Act 1931 changed the law to allow it.  In feudal highly socially and physically immobile societies these prohibitions also sought to create new political alliances and social mobility resulting in greater long term social and political stability.  In 2008 Phil "play the race card" Woolas famously condemned first cousin marriages amongst immigrant communities as a way of insinuating that they don't mix with the general population to his highly marginal constituents ... mind you Mr Woolas and the truth dont exactly mix.   After all in a non feudal, mobile society these issues are no longer as important.  Charles Darwin and his wife were actually cousins for example were Albert Eistein and his wife and also FDR and Mrs FDR. 

As there was a lot of political pressure to ignore the affinity laws and keep power in the hands of a few highly incestuous and mentally and physically deformed royal households and there was money in it...

Julius II

...the church used to allow lots of dispensations as it was a good revenue raising sideline.  Julius II was spending a lot of money getting Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo to do things like paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the latest wars were going badly.  Indeed Julias II was so pissed off at the volume of territory he was losing that at one point he grew a beard in protest.  It was a violation of Cannon Law for Popes to have beards - probably because this would make them look a bit too much like Jesus.  Granting Henry VII the dispensation had been good politics in Julias II's war with the Venetians encouraging Henry VII to join his "Holy League of 1511".

Unable to convince many people of his argument Henry VIII dispatched Thomas Cranmer to Germany to talk the Holy Roman Empire into talking the Pope into sorting out his "great matter".  Cranmer had virtually no success [they were, after all, all Katherine's relatives] but he did notice the near state of civil war in Germany and the protestant reformation.  During a visit to Nuremberg he met the well known theologian and Lutheran Andreas Osiander who not only convinced him of the Lutheran cause but even encouraged him to marry Osiander's wife's niece.  Cranmer soon decided that it would be easier to make Britain protestant than to make the Pope contradict his predecessor...


...and so was born the Church of England.  However, this is not as simple as it sounds.  While Cromwell handled the legislative side of things with relative ease (give or take beheading a few of the King's best friends like Thomas More), Thomas Cranmer was left with the slightly unenviable task of basically starting a whole new religion from nothing and trying to define what it did and didn't believe in and basically trying to figure out, as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, how to do the job of the Pope without the Pope.  For example there was the question of the Eucharist...... Lutheranism couldn't support the idea of transubstantiation without highlighting that they did not have the Pope's "authority" so Luther came up with an alternative - the idea of Consubstantiation that Christians truly receive Christ's "self-same" Body and Blood at Communion--but in "an heavenly and spiritual manner" which was as close a fudge as was politically acceptable.  This became known as the "Real Presence".


A lot of articles were published.  The Ten Articles (1536) which Henry VIII didn't like.  The Six Articles (1539) which under Edward VI's regime were repealed and another Forty-Two Articles were published in (1552) which were finally condensed into Thirty-Nine Articles by Elizabeth I in (1563).  Denial of transubstantiation was made a capital crime and later not denying transubstantiation became a crime. These reforms by Henry VIII and Edward VI were accompanied by a raft of executions for treason and peasant uprisings and executions and peasant uprisings depending on whether the government was more Catholic or Protestant this week than last week.   And then Edward VI died and after 9 days of Lady Jane Grey's puppet government "Bloody" Mary took over - and instead of everyone being hung, drawn and quartered or beheaded for not being CofE, the heresy laws were revived and over 300 people burnt for not being Catholic.   Indeed, it could be said that Mary was so right wing she made Henry VIII look a bit of a wet.  Although Mary's extreme paranoia was probably not without foundation - she was the first female ruler since the anarchy... as women were still regarded as inferior - not least by her own dad who had attempted to exclude her from the line of succession and had, prior to her accession, made her more or less a prisoner on her own estates.  

As Mary was the first female queen of England to rule alone (more or less) she decided to cement her political position by marrying herself off to Phillip II of Spain - the most politically powerful monarch available at the time as Europe was busy exploding with sectarian conflicts.  The Privy Council and Parliament were not happy as, due to women's low status under the law (sine jure uxoris) this would mean that Phillip would automatically become King and usurp Mary's power, so following a rebellion a fudge was agreed so that Phillip could be Mary's King without becoming THE King.  Despite his mandibular prognathism Mary professed a profound physical love for Phillip which, although it may have been genuine, did not seem to be entirely reciprocated.  Phillip did not hang about much having several other nations to run. 

In an attempt to avoid a repeat of the These debacle Mary's government along with many others licenced their printing presses in 1557 - attempting to stem dissent by chartering the Stationers' Company. The right to print was restricted to two universities and to the 21 existing printers in the city of London, which had between them 53 printing presses. The French crown also repressed printing.
   The Pope in an attempt to get a grip on his PR problem and called an ecumenical council - one of the results of which was the infamous "Index Librorum Prohibitorum" ("List of Prohibited Books")  which helped make celebrities of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, André Gide, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal, Hugo Grotius, and Saint Faustina Kowalska.  It was only formally abolished on 14 June 1966 by Pope Paul VI at the end of the Second Vatican Council when Cardinal Ottaviani remarked in an April 1966 interview with L'Osservatore della Domenica that

In the event there was no issue to the marriage of Mary and Phillip and, after several phantom pregnancies, Mary died aged 42 after a reign of just 5 years.  After which Elizabeth acceded and the whole country had to become protestant again.  By now people were getting a bit sick of constantly changing religion...

Reformation gains and losses Elizabeth formed a CofE administration that was vaguely protestant but didn't kill as many people and avoided the marriage problem by constantly being engaged but not tying the knot.   As it was impractical and undesirable to kill absolutely everyone who wouldn't convert a series of taxes was levied on those not conforming to the protestant Church of England version of Christianity ...combined with a sliding scale of punishments escalating to execution only for the highest profile and most persistent offenders.  This policy seemed to go quite well until the increased taxation and discrimination provoked a papal bull issued on 25 February 1570 by Pope Pius V "Regnans in Excelsis" declaring Elizabeth, the "pretended Queen of England" and a heretic and releasing all her subjects from any allegiance to her and excommunicating any that obeyed her orders....

Elizabeth the Papacy moved from not giving the monarch political backing to actively trying to undermine the state.  Missionaries like Edmund Campion were sent on flyering campaigns to tell everyone how nice the Pope was really.  They may have been sincere in their religious views but due to this papal bull machinated by Mary's widow Phillip II and Mary Queen of Scots there was now no line between religion, foreign policy and sedition at all so many many ordinary people ended up being put to death to sate Phillip's political foreign policy ambitions.  Ever since Mary Queen of Scots had had to do a runner to England because of the murder by gunpowder and strangling of her husband in usual circumstances Phillip II of Spain had been conniving plans to replace Elizabeth with the more Catholic Mary.  These included the Ridolfi plot run by international banker Robero di Ridolfi, Francis Throckmorton's plot for an invasion led by Henry I, Duke of Guise ...and eventually the Babington plot that eneded in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots herself.

Despite the continued failure of the papacy to undermine the government and despite Pope Clement VIII's personal protestations that

Pope Clement VIII

when bringing down the government from within didn't work and civil war refused to precipitate, Phillip launched the Spanish Armarda. 

None of these were so much effective conspiracies that would bring down any government just a chance to get your head cut off for the Spanish and the outside chance of eternal salvation.  Following the accession of James I when there was yet another failed coup - probably the most famous of all:


James, of course was the Scottish King too and although his reign unified the UK politically for first time he had the new problem of uniting England and Scotland religiously.  For Protestantism was not just one movement but many and without a Pope to impose doctrinal unity the various branches of Protestantism started to schism and schism again very rapidly...  While the English Reformation had been a relatively top down affair, instituted by the existing establishment ... the protestant reformation in Scotland had been slightly more untidy and more of a bottom up affair led by John Knox...

John Knox

Knox had said very rude things about Mary Queen of Scotts and Mary Tudor and it has to be said was a bit of a misogynist.... but during an exile in Geneva he adopted some interesting ideas about running the church that came to be known as presbyterianism.  Presbyterian polity - the brainchild of John Calvin - was developed as a rejection of governance by hierarchies of single bishops but also differs from the congregationalist polity in which each congregation is independent.  This may sound confusing but it also sounded to James I dangerously like democracy as...

Authority in the presbyterian polity flows both from the top down
and from the bottom up.

Chess Polity

For obvious reasons King James had problems with this political model.  Particularly when the Puritans submitted to him a document called the Millenary Petition which complained that the Church of England was too Catholic.  The Church of England was not happy with these demands so in order to try to conciliate all the political factions James I called a conference at Hampton Court.  The result of this conference was that it was decided that a new translation of the Bible was required.   These arguments were not purely theological - before Universal Suffrage the relationship of the layity to vicars and bishops was very important - it was part of the mechanism for ideas to flow up the chain of command and much "theological debate" was actually criticism of the overall political structure and policy comment thinly cloaked in theology. 

Many early translators of the Bible into English had taken the opportunity to annotate the text with their own critical commentary promoting their own political views next to God's.  These commentaries in the form of a series of marginal notes seriously annoyed James, so the Bishop of London added a qualification that the translators would add no marginal notes. King James cited two passages in the Geneva translation where he found the marginal notes offensive Exodus 1:17, where the Geneva Bible had commended the example of civil disobedience showed by the Hebrew midwives, and also II Chronicles 15:16, where the Geneva Bible had criticized King Asa for not having executed his idolatrous grandmother, Queen Maachah.  More generally it was quite difficult to reconcile the theology of the Divine Right of Kings with Moses's regular entreaties to Pharo to "Let my People Go!".

James took these opinions very personally and took the opportunity to dispose of them by standardising the text.  From now on the Bible would contain only the word of God.  And no literary criticism.  James also gave the translators instructions designed to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology of the Church of England.

However, no matter how well the Bible was translated or how many of his own theological works James published ...


...Parliament unkindly kept drawing attention to the fact that there was a lot of inflation while Royal pay seemed to keep going up much faster than inflation.  James was convinced that:

"Kings arose before any estates or ranks of men, before any parliaments were holden, or laws made, and by them was the land distributed, which at first was wholly theirs. And so it follows of necessity that kings were the authors and makers of the laws, and not the laws of the kings."

After a while a new financial scheme, known as The Great Contract, was machinated whereby Parliament would grant him a lump sum of £600,000 to pay off his debts in return for ten royal concessions, plus an annual grant of £200,000. Though the Commons agreed to the annual grant, the negotiations over the lump sum became so protracted and difficult that James eventually lost patience and dismissed the parliament on 31 December 1610.  Which makes you wonder why Guy Fawkes bothered to try to blow it up at all.  James brought back Parliament in 1614 on 5 April but they still wouldn't give him any more money so he sacked them all again on the 7 June 1614.  So James ruled without any parliament at all until 1621.  By the time he died in 1625 his son Charles I had simplified this theology even further to simply ...

Charles I

... which went down like a lead balloon at Parliament as did his marriage to the Catholic Henrietta Maria of France connived to take place before Parliament had any time to object.  In a secret marriage treaty with Louis XIII of France Charles even agreed to "be nice to Catholics".  For unfortunately while it was easy for average citizens to find wives of the same uniform opinions as had been imposed by the local regime, Royal marriages were still the stuff of international politics and there just weren't enough stable, powerful protestant regimes for Charles to marry into who's women took his personal fancy.

In 1620 protestant King of Bohemia Frederick V was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain and by 1622, despite the aid of English volunteers, had lost his hereditary lands in the Palatinate to the latest Catholic Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II.  This small war soon escalated into a full on European War lasting 30 years known as the 30 years war - so great was the devastation brought about by this war that estimates put the reduction of population in the German states at about 15% to 30%. 

Thirty Years War & Civil War

After getting heavily involved in this war militarily and financially Charles I's reign was one political disaster after another.  Firstly, Parliament favoured naval colonial attacks as these were cheaper than committing ground forces.  Charles set up his own tax raising schemes circumventing Parliament to pay for a more adventurous campaign.  The House of Commons limited its authorisation for royal collection of custom duties.  As the country moved toward near economic meltdown Parliament forced him to agree he couldn't put up taxes without them.  And to add to the humiliation when he started losing his war with Spain, his war was brought to an even more sudden end than expected when the Duke of Buckingham who was supposed to be running it was assassinated.  In January 1629 Charles opened a new parliament only to prorogue it in favour of a Personal rule so unpopular it became known as the Eleven Years Tyranny. 

Charles had found a legal loophole in some old Plantagenet legislation for protecting the coastline called Ship Money and racked it up and up till absolutely everyone hated him. 

Eventually the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland abolished Episcopalian government in 1638, replacing it with Presbyterian government.  Charles sought to put down what he saw as a rebellion against his authority which meant he had to go with the begging bowl to Parliament yet again.  To prevent the king from dissolving it at will, Parliament passed the Triennial Act, to which the Royal Assent was granted in February 1641.  In May 1641, Charles assented to an unprecedented act, which forbade the dissolution of the English Parliament without Parliament's consent.  Ship money, fines in destraint of knighthood and forced loans were declared unlawful, monopolies were cut back severely, and the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished. 

Throughout May, the House of Commons launched several bills attacking bishops and episcopalianism in general, each time defeated in the Lords.  Then just when it seemed like everything that could go wrong had the Irish rebelled and the English Parliament wouldn't help as by this time they did not trust Charles' motivations when he called for funds to put down the rebellion  fearing that forces raised by Charles might later be used against Parliament itself.  

Charles entered the House of Commons with an armed guard on 4 January 1642.  Having displaced the Speaker, William Lenthall from his chair, the king asked him where the MPs had fled. Lenthall famously replied

William Lenthal

Charles abjectly declared 'all my birds have flown'..  Parliament quickly seized London, and on 10 January 1642, Charles was forced to leave the capital, where he began travelling north to raise an army against his own Parliament. 
The English Civil War (on the important subject of the importance of Bishops in the Church of England) was actually two wars.  The first 1642-1646 ended with a decisive military victory for Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army.  The Problem with the Parliament fighting the King of course was that Parliament was a group of individuals with no unified political authority.  While the House of Commons was up for a big scrap the House of Lords was understandably more reticent.  As the Earl of Manchester put it:

Earl of Manchester

So Oliver Cromwell invented the "Self Denying Ordinance" which meant that one could not be a member of Parliament and a military leader .....  This centralised military authority in a few people ... and eventually in one person - Oliver Cromwell.  On the plus side this made the armed forces of Parliament extremely effective.  And on the negative side it made Oliver Cromwell effectively a military dictator.

Chess Oliver Cromwell

Opinion was then divided between whether to disband much of the New Model Army, and restore Charles I in return for a Presbyterian settlement of the Church or to go for a non-compulsory Episcopalian settlement.  Cromwell, who now thought the Presbyterians were as dictatorial as the Episcopalian systems, wrote out a manifesto for his personal idea of a good fudge called the "Heads of Proposals" - the main propositions were:

Royalists had to wait five years before running for or holding an office.

The Book of Common Prayer was allowed to be read but not mandatory, and no penalties should be made for not going to church, or attending other acts of worship.

The sitting Parliament was to set a date for its own termination. Thereafter, biennial Parliaments were to be called (i.e. every two years), which would sit for a minimum of 120 days and maximum of 240 days. Constituencies were to be reorganized.

Episcopacy would be retained in church government, but the power of the bishops would be substantially reduced.

Parliament was to control the appointment of state officials and officers in the army and navy for 10 years.

A new set of political eccentrics then came on the scene via the lower ranks of the army called the Levellers led by John Lilburne,  who had odd ideas of full political equality.  While this was all being procrastinated about at the Putney debates during the autumn of 1647 there emerged a slight issue when it was noticed that nobody had paid the New Model Army for ages and during May 1647, Cromwell was sent to the army's headquarters in Saffron Walden to negotiate with them, but he failed to agree a deal and in June a troop of cavalry under Cornet George Joyce seized the king from Parliament's imprisonment. This sparked the second civil war.

Oliver started reading the Bible again and at some point during the second civil war became enamoured of the doctrine of Providentialism and the belief that God's plan is beyond the control of humans but manifested though a few chosen individuals - mainly himself.  And generally decided he was always right.  In December 1648, those MPs who wished to continue negotiations with the king were prevented from sitting for parliament by a troop of soldiers headed by Colonel Thomas Pride, an episode soon to be known as Pride's Purge.  The remaining body of MPs, known as the Rump, agreed that Charles should be tried on a charge of treason.  And on 30 January 1649 matters came to a


Cromwell couldn't even get on with the Rump Parliament either though.  And very soon it had been paired down to the "Barebones" Parliament.  And finally the Protectorates - i.e. Just Oliver.  And so an idea of bottom up administration turned into one of the most top down regimes in English history.  Having a New Model Army with no Cavaliers to fight any more Cromwell then went off to Ireland to sort out the problems created by the Irish Rebellion of 1641 that had kick started the civil war.  Cromwell's nine month military campaign is estimated to have killed quite a lot of people and in the wake of the Commonwealth's conquest, the public practice of Catholicism was banned and Catholic priests were murdered when captured.   Under the Commonwealth, Catholic landownership dropped from 60% of the total to just 8%.  This created the traditional Irish curse "mallacht Chromail ort" or "the curse of Cromwell upon you".


After pissing off the Irish, Cromwell turned his attention to the performing arts and in 1644 the Globe Theatre was demolished by the Puritans. In 1647 even stricter rules were passed regarding stage plays and theatres. This culminated in 1648 when all playhouses were ordered to be pulled down. All players were to be seized and whipped, and anyone caught attending a play to be fined five shillings.

Puritan Wee

The lack of fun associated with puritanism was heightened further due to the predominance of black and white clothes to symbolise simplicity and purity.  However, the choice of boring colours was partly economic.  The Roman Catholic Church controlled all the best sources of European alum (basically urea) so when King Henry VIII broke with Rome supplies of European alum were cut off.  The only source of alum left for English clothiers came from Flanders, in the Spanish Netherlands.  This was expensive and, like trying to dye clothes with your own urea, generally resulted in an inferior product.  Not that stopped anyone trying.  In it's heyday the British alum dye industry used over 200,000 litres of urine per year.  This meant a regular supply of urine from about a thousand people.  To get more urine, the chemists turned to populous Newcastle, Sunderland, Hull and London, where buckets were placed on street corners for local 'contributions'.  Eventually, they discovered that the urea content in urine from poorer working class districts was higher than urea in urine from wealthier areas, because poorer people drank proportionately less strong drink.  It took more than 70 years for the English to find a satisfactory replacement.

In 1657, the public admission came that Cromwell was now King in all but name came when he was offered the crown by Parliament. Cromwell didn't need a crown though he as there by "God's providence" : “I would not seek to set up that which Providence hath destroyed and laid in the dust, and I would not build Jericho again”.  After he died in 1658, Cromwell was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son, Richard. However, the new Lord Protector, had no power base in either Parliament or the New Model Army and very little interest in either.  He was forced to abdicate in 1659 and the Protectorate was abolished when George Monck, the Governor of Scotland and his army marched into the City of London and forced the Rump Parliament to re-admit members of the Long Parliament excluded in December 1648 during Pride's Purge. 

Parliament then dissolved itself and there was a general election.  The outgoing Parliament designed the electoral qualifications so as to connive a Presbyterian majority.  However, the restrictions against royalist candidates and voters were ignored, and the elections resulted in a House of Commons fairly evenly divided between Royalists and Parliamentarians and between Anglicans and Presbyterians.  Parliament then sent Charles an invite to return which he received on the 8 May 1660 so in July Richard Cromwell left for France, where he lived by a variety of pseudonyms before travelling around European courts which found him amusing for his celebrity and amusing anecdotes such as the story he used to tell of this bit of witty banter with  the prince of Conti who was unaware of his identity :

Conti Banter

The lesson that if you want to totally destroy a monarchy you have to annihilate all the King's offspring was not lost on later revolutionaries in other countries.

Charles I's regime restored the official position of the King as Head of the Church of England.  However, the King no longer claimed divine right.  He did, however, claim £1.2 million from taxes levied through Parliament to run the government.  The worst excesses of the puritan administration (banning all fun) were retracted and Charles "tolerated" what became known as "non conformism" to the Church of England [i.e. any form of Christianity that wasn't Catholicism] via the use legislation designed to repress the non-conformists.

Chares II and the Earl of Clarendon

Together Charles and his right hand man the Earl of Clarendon came up with what became known as the Clarendon Code. This combined four pieces of legislation into a patchwork of non-conformist repression:

Corporation Act (1661) - All municipal officials to take Anglican communion, and formally reject the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. The effect of this act was to exclude nonconformists from public office.

Act of Uniformity, (1662) - Made use of the Book of Common Prayer compulsory in religious service. Over two thousand clergy refused to comply and so were forced to resign their livings (the Great Ejection).

Conventicle Act (1664) - This act forbade conventicles (a meeting for unauthorized worship) of more than 5 people who were not members of the same household. The purpose was to prevent dissenting religious groups from meeting.
Five Mile Act (1665) - Was aimed at Nonconformist ministers, who were forbidden from coming within five miles of incorporated towns or the place of their former livings. They were also forbidden to teach in schools.

Of course since the aristocracy had started throwing everyone off the fields and into towns via the Inclosure Acts ....

...of which there were to be many many more in the next centuries and since the population had more than doubled since 1500 the problems of people meeting up and having their own ideas had got a lot worse and legislation to stop this got more and more impractical.  Also there seemed to be even more new religious ideas than there used to be after the forced attempt to merge presbyterian with the official church was aborted allowing presbyterianism to schism.  Charles attempted to relax religious freedom for Catholics and non conformists with his 1672 Royal Declaration of Indulgence, but Parliament forced him to withdraw it.  For although Charles was in favour of more religious tolerance he had a lot of obstacles to overcome - being the victim himself of one of the strangest conspiracy theories in the history of wild conspiracy theory.  The unrest of the civil war had created a society riven with religious paranoia.  Probably the most famous exploiter of which was Matthew Hopkins self-proclaimed "witchfinder general".  Between 1645 and 1647 Hopkins and his his colleage John Stearne sent to the gallows more people than all the other witchhunters in the 160 years of persecution in England.  Of about 500 executions for witchcraft between 1400 and 1700 Hopkins and Stearn are reconned to be responsible for over 200 (around 40%) all within the space of 18 months.  However, Hopkins was arguably not as mad as... 

Titus Oates

...Titus Oates.  Titus Oates had trained as an Anglican priest and had been the vicar of Bobbing in Kent.  Oates had a fertile imagination and accused a local school teacher in Hastings of sodomy.   sodomy was capitol offense in England from 1533 to 1707 under the 1533 Buggery act.  This resulted in a court case which resulted in Oates being charged with perjury and imprisoned.  Oates escaped to London where he got a job as Chaplin on the ship the Adventurer.  He was soon accused of sodomy himself but got off being hanged because he was a clergyman.  Back in London Oates became friends with Israel Tonge who was obsessed with conspiracy theories about the Catholic Church and particularly the Jesuits.  

Between them Oates and Tonge set up a very healthy publishing business that thrived on the publication of anti-Catholic propaganda.  To further this Oates joined the household of the Catholic Duke of Norfolk as an Anglican chaplain. On Ash Wednesday, 1677 he was received into the Catholic Church.  From there Oates went to the Jesuit house of St Omer in France but he was expelled by Thomas Whitbread because he was too lazy to learn any Latin.  Returning to London with the false claim that he was now a Catholic doctor of Divinity, Oates set out to visit get invited to as many Catholic meetings as possible and met up again with Tonge who was hungry for conspiracy stories to print.  However, all the Catholics Oates seemed to meet were more interested in going to mass and saying the rosary than in interesting things like sedition. This was a bit boring.  So in the tradition of all the greatest journalists Oates and Tonge decided to make stuff up and wrote a large manuscript that accused the Roman Catholic Church of approving an assassination of Charles II by the Jesuits and "named" 199 "conspirators". 

Charles was very into chemistry and had a lab assistant called Christopher Kirkby who was a friend of a friend of Tonge.  Tonge showed the manuscript to Kirby and Kirby told the King.  Charles said it was ridiculous and told Kirkby to present Tonge before Lord Danby.  Tonge then lied to Danby that he had "found" the manuscript but did not know the author.  Danby advised the King to order an investigation. Charles said this was absurd but told Danby to keep the events secret so as not to cause alarm.  Eventually when everyone and their dog at court had read the manuscript an investigation was started.  Inevitably Oates  was sent for by the King and testified on oath that he had been at a Jesuit meeting held at the White Horse Tavern in the Strand, London on April 24, 1678...

Ye Old White Horse in the Strand where actually nothing happened

..the purpose of which was to discuss the assassination of Charles II.

Oates and Tonge were brought before the Privy Council later that month following which Oates made 43 allegations against various members of Catholic religious orders and numerous Catholic nobles.  Some of these people had connections with Jesuits that could be proven even if they were not treasonous so were condemned.   Even minor civil servants like Samuel Pepys were implicated.   With the help of the Earl of Danby the list grew to 81 accusations. Eventually Oates was given a squad of soldiers and he began to round up Jesuits.

In 1678 someone murdered Sir Edmund Godfrey, MP and a strong supporter of Protestantism, and Oates accused five Catholic Lords.  There were hangings and even a set of playing cards (see above).  When on 24 November 1685, Oates claimed the Queen was working with the King's physician to poison him, Charles personally interrogated Oates, caught him out in a number of lies, and ordered his arrest.   However, a couple days later, Parliament forced Oates's release with the threat of constitutional crisis.  By the time the hysteria had subsided at least 15 innocent men executed, the last being Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, on 1 July 1681.

Oates, now living in a state apartment in Whitehall and an annual allowance of £1,200, then claimed assassins intended to shoot the king with silver bullets so the wound would not heal.  Although it was a bit late in the day now for people to start realising that Oates was a total mentalist, on 31 August 1681 he was finaly told to leave his apartments in Whitehall, but remained undeterred and denounced the King, his brother and anyone he regarded as an opponent. He was arrested for sedition, sentenced to a fine of £100,000 and thrown into prison.  When James II acceded to the throne in 1685 he had Oates retried for perjury and sentenced to annual pillory, loss of clerical dress, and imprisonment for life until William and Mary decided he was nice again.

However, this hysteria was not totally without foundation for there were a lot of prominent Catholics - and this was why Charles had such problems dispelling the hysteria.  After all, Charles's wife was a Catholic and so was his brother and he was secretly taking £300,000 a year from the French King on the back of a promise to convert the whole country to Catholicism eventually which was never going to happen and upon the anti-Catholic tide, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, leader of the Whigs demanded that the King's brother, James, should be excluded from the royal succession.  This began the Exclusion Crisis.  The crisis saw the birth of the pro-exclusion Whig and anti-exclusion Tory parties ...who later evolved into David Cameron and Nick Clegg.  Of course modern day politics is still one group of people trying to gain economic, social and financial advantage over the other - we just dress it up in different nonsense these days as sectarian divisions aren't a con anyone believes in any more.  In modern politics new nonsense is required at a rate that even organised religion would find hard to furnish fast enough... but the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are still in the most chronological and literal sense the direct descendant parties of the Whigs and the Torys.  So...

Whigs and Torys

...politics started to become about more than just religion and a system started to fall into place to allow greater levels of dissent without it meaning bloodshed or the dissenters having any power.  But anyway...

During the interregnum James II had been living in France.  And there he had become enamoured of Catholicism.  And it's hardly surprising he had become enamoured of Catholicism.  Louis XIV was a big fan of it too and had more or less merged it with the divine right of Kings to become the most powerful ruler about at the time.  Louis XIII and Louis XIV accomplished a massive centralisation of power.  In fact Louis XIV even said he was the state and that state was him ...and spent a lot of time imagining himself as a massive, luminous ball of plasma held together by gravity.

The Sun King

Of course no one personified this centralisation better than Louis XIII's Cheif Minister the flamboyant and controversial Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu who thanks to Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers is the most regularly portrayed clergyman on film.

Cardinal Richelieu

He is widely regarded as the First Nearest thing any country had to a Prime Minister.  His successor Cardinal Giulio Raimondo Mazarino, due to Louis XIV being 5 on his accession, effectively ran France with Louis' mum from 1638 until 1661.  Although Louis XIV eventually exercised personal rule the groundwork to allow him to do this was very much the handiwork of Richelieu and Mazarino. 

The physical manifestation of Louis XIV's power was of course his massive Palace of Versailles.  Louis had figured out that by making absolutely everyone who was any kind of aristocrat live near it or around it, he could keep an eye and ear on their machinations and make himself more powerful still.  Louis filled it with images of himself and his family as Roman Gods and had lots of fountains made of Roman gods but somehow the Catholic church didn't seem too bothered by this obsession with pagan ideology.  James II converted fully to Catholicism in 1668 or 1669, although his conversion was kept secret until 1676.  As the Exclusion Bill was submitted several times to Parliament, Charles was "forced" to keep dissolving parliament to prevent it being enacted.  From 1680-1885he took a leaf out of Louis XIV's book and ruled alone but this went well as Parliament had made its self very unpopular after the civil war. 

Rye House Plot

While everyone was winding themselves up about the Popish plot a real plot against the King was brewing.  This was the Rye House plot to replace Charles with a Cromwellian republic.  The plan was simple: assassinate King Charles II and James, as they passed by Rye House in Hertfordshire on their way back from Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, to London.  Unfortunately Charles's lodging house in Newmarket accidentally caught fire, so the Charles set out on his journey earlier than expected and missed the plotters.  That there was a plot was not in doubt but the fact that it just happened to implicate most of Charles II's Whig enemies did not go unnoticed.  Still one could counter argue that those that live by the conspiracy theory must die by conspiracy theories.  The Rye House plot created a surge in popularity that gave Charles to chance to invite James back onto the privy council in 1684.  James had withdrawn from all policy-making bodies in the wake of the Exclusion crisis. 

A year later Charles died prematurely and James set out to be a Catholic King.  This did not go well.  After crushing the immediate rebellions James set about pushing Catholic Emancipation legislation through parliament.  However, the non conformists didn't trust him to seek an equal repeal of Charles's repressive laws against them.  James' nightmare was the Test Act which meant that anyone of any position of any importance except himself had to renounce their Catholicism.  Not content with trying to force  Parliament to repeal this he issued the Declaration of Indulgence and ordered Anglican clergymen to read it in their churches.  To try to enable this to happen James made the following interesting comment that sought to equate sectarianism with racism:

James II

As it was felt a bit much for the Head of the Church of England to start telling the Church of England what to do seven Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, submitted a petition requesting the reconsideration of the King's religious policies.  They were arrested and tried for seditious libel.  However pure or cynical James's motives this caused a total breakdown of trust between parliament and the King which was made worse when the charges against the bishops were laughed out of court.  When Queen Mary gave birth to a Catholic son and heir, superseding his Protestant daughters several influential Protestants claimed the child was "supposititious" and had been smuggled into the Queen's bedchamber in a warming pan. 

Several senior Protestant politicians had already entered into negotiations with William, Prince of Orange.  In December when the invasion came James's political authority had virtually dissolved but he was allowed to escape to France to hang out with Louis XIV and start plotting his restoration as William was scared of making him a martyr.  On the plus side he cheered up the Quakers.

Having near zero political support in England  James made an attempt to take over Ireland with the assistance of French troops, in March 1689.  The Irish Parliament backed him but he was ultimately defeated at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690.  William led the army personally which made him even more of a hero.  James fled to France again and became known in Ireland as Séamus an Chaca or 'James the be-shitten'.  This is the military victory the Orange Order "celebrate".  The English Parliament passed a Bill of Rights that denounced James for abusing his power. This is the famous Bill that declared that henceforth, no Catholic would be permitted to ascend to the English throne, nor could any English monarch marry a Catholic.  The Act, which restated and confirmed many provisions of the earlier Declaration of Right established restrictions on the royal prerogative. It provided, amongst other things, that the Sovereign could not:

suspend laws passed by Parliament

levy taxes without parliamentary consent

infringe the right to petition

raise a standing army during peacetime without parliamentary consent

deny the right to bear arms to Protestant subjects

unduly interfere with parliamentary elections

punish members of either House of Parliament for anything said during debates

require excessive bail or inflict cruel and unusual punishments

This settlement is also, of course, the origin of the Civil List under which the Royal Famill gets £30,000,000 a year for MCing a lot of functions.  Unfortunately while the general public seem to enjoy airbrushed celluloid stories about Royalty filled with amusing fictions that the removal of Edward VIII had something to do with his political opinions or that Winston Churchill was in favour of forcing Edward to abdicate whereas in actuality on 5 December 1936, he issued a lengthy statement implying that the Ministry was applying unconstitutional pressure on the King to force him to make a hasty decision, ...and while the general public seem to enjoy the vicarious pleasures of a good Royal funeral or bust up or love match still....  It is a fact that when it comes to the Royal family asking for a pay rise they do tend to a range of emotions from antipathy to the hump.

For this reason, Prince Charles has been lobbying for years for a more opaque system than the current one where the profits of the Crown Estate £6.6 billion property empire go to the Treasury and then parliament votes on how much he and mum should derive from the Civil List.  Like this:

To one one where a percentage of the Crown Estate profits go directly back to the Treasury and Parliament is cut out of the Equation so it is much harder to put the Monarchy under financial scrutiny.  Like this:

The Estate’s income is £211million ... expected to rise to a whopping £450million by 2020.  Prince Charles is also very keen to get himself exempted from the Freedom of Information Act having written lots of letters to everyone at every level of government and indeed every sphere of public life he'd like us not to read because they're silly.  In fact Ian Davidson MP, a former member of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), told The Independent

So if all correspondence between the Palace and the treasury is to be protected from FOI in future who knows what the Palace could get up to?  One sympathises that the Heir to the throne might find this legislation an invasion of personal privacy.  But maybe if he hadn't lobbied every minister in Government in an attempt to pursue his alternative medicine agenda maybe Edzard Ernst,the professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School at Exeter, may not have accused him of promoting "quackery" with some of the products in his Duchy Originals range.

Parliament's new position as now more important and powerful than the King was, of course, cemented by the fact the King was not the person with the most genealogically logical claim to the throne.  William was Charles I's grandson and, in the spirit of international inbreeding so popular with Royalty at the time, had married his first cousin, Mary Stewart (James's Daughter) who technically had the most valid claim to the throne. However, as Mary refused to rule without her husband, Parliament was able to fudge the issue of who had the least logical claim to the throne by making them co-monarchs and allowing William to rule alone after her death.

William and Mary

Unfortunately Mary had no children having suffered a serious miscarriage early in life that left her unable to have any and Queen Anne her cousin, though enduring 18 pregnancies, only produced 5 children who were not stillborn and all those died in infancy except for one who died aged 11. 

The reign of Queen Anne there was a big increase in the influence of ministers and a decrease in the influence of the Crown.  Anne didn't like dissenters so Daniel Defoe wrote a pamphlet called "The Shortest Way with Dissenters" in which he argued anonymously that the solution to this was simple.

He was sentenced to the pillory but unfortunately too many people got the joke so instead of being vilified he became a celebrity.  Daniel having made a lot of money out of promoting religious freedom then went off and invested it all in ethical worthy enterprises - like the newly emerging slave trade.

To square the circle of restoring a bloodline that was going to die out eventually returning them to the point where James II or his son were the geneolgically logical heirs Parliament passed the Act of Settlement 1701 in which it was provided that the Crown would be inherited by a distant relative, Sophia, Electress of Hanover.  So although over fifty Catholics bore closer blood relationships to Anne than Geroge I the crown eventually passed to him because that was the nearest protestant blood relative parliament could find. 

In 1708, Anne became the last British Sovereign to withhold the Royal Assent from a bill.  When the country got into difficulty with the South Sea Bubble George I was more than happy to let his First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Robert Walpole sort out the mess.  Sir Robert didn't like the title Prime Minister as it made him sound a bit too much like Cromwell or Richelieu or like he was more powerful than the King (which he was) so the Prime Ministers went around saying they were first among equals in the Cabinet...

Having become Britain's first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole's main problem was there was nothing in the kitty.  So he adopted a policy of No-Wars-They're-Too-Expensive.  This went very well and Britain stuck to expanding their Empire instead.  Mostly in America.  This led to a lot of competition with France and some colonial wars that were eventually quite expensive.  Eventually George Grenville's administration came up with a fantastic money making scheme known as let's raise more money for the public finances by taxing the Americans. 

George Grenville

The Americans got quite upset about paying ridiculous taxes to Britain in return for zero public services so, as it was now the fashion, they decided that if Britain could have a Revolution so would they. 

And so in 1775 they started the American Revolutionary War.   France, not liking England, set up a major program of aid to the Americans.  At first secretly via a dummy corporation and later openly.  This cost huge sums of money.   And the huge debts from it were one of the reasons that in 1789 Louis XVI's absolute monarchy in France collapsed.

Louis XVI

The church in pre-Revolutionary France was intertwined very very closely with the state - they were almost one - the Catholic Church still took a 10% tythe of everything, owned 10% of the land and was almost an entire branch of the civil service.  France under the Ancien Régime (before the French Revolution) divided society into three estates: the First Estate (clergy 0.5 % of the population), the Second Estate (nobility 1.5 % of the population) and the Third Estate (everyone else) and the King himself (no estate). Like this:

Louis XVI had been gradually losing control of his Parliament and, more importantly, his ministers for ages and inspired by events in Britain and America the Third Estate, now meeting as the Communes ("Commons") decided to cut out the top management and declare its self the National Assembly of the "people".  Louis tried to stop them doing this by closing the Salle des États so they went down the road to a local indoor tennis court and declared him a waste of space in a different space.  Representatives of the clergy soon joined them, as did 47 members of the nobility. 

In order to more fairly distribute the tax burden and/or plug the huge budget deficit the National Assembly abolished the Church's authority to impose it's tithe.  And in an attempt to address the financial crisis, the Assembly declared that the property of the Church was “at the disposal of the nation.” - and basically nationalised the Monasteries as Henry VIII had done in the 1500s. Monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life and a small percentage did eventually marry.  The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed on 12 July 1790, turned the remaining clergy into employees of the state.   However, the state still needed the Church and it's staff to perform some of the functions of running the state that they used to so it established an election system for parish priests and bishops and set a pay rate for the clergy.
Of course this created a direct conflict between the proto-democratic authority of the state and the theological and business promotional authority of the Pope so eventually (as there were very few protestants in France - the result of a small incident called the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre) the National Assembly began to require an oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution from all the members of the clergy.  This led to a schism between those clergy who swore the required oath and accepted the new arrangement and those who remained loyal to the Pope.  24 percent of the clergy nationwide took the oath.

In order to make the Nationalisation go more smoothly during the Reign of Terror a unique social experiment was attempted - the complete, sudden and total de-Christianization of France - including the imprisonment and massacre of priests and destruction of churches and religious images. Of course the trouble with pure atheism is that it's never had a big customer base and had an even smaller one in the 18th century so Maximilien Robespierre came up with the fun idea of inventing his own monotheistic religion - the much ridiculed Cult of the Supreme being. 

The idea of the Cult of the Supreme Being was that there should a belief in the existence of God and in the immortality of the human soul but Christianity would be completely dumped where it didn't fit with Robespierre's political ideas - which was in quite a lot of places.  Robespierre declared that 20 Prairial of Year III (June 8, 1794) would be the first day of national celebration of the Supreme Being, and future republican holidays were to be held on every day of rest (décadi) in the official calendar.  Eventually, Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety were forced to denounce their own campaign as it was simply laughable and the failed Cult of the Supreme Being and its much-derided festivals definitely contributed to the downfall of Robespierre - although the 10s of thousands of decapitated corpses may also have had an effect on public opinion.  With Robespierre's own death at the guillotine on July 28, 1794, the cult lost all official sanction and disappeared from public view.  It was officially banned by Napoleon Bonaparte with his Law on Cults of 18 Germinal which was followed by a Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church that ended the de-Christianization period and lasted until 1905 when the Third Republic completely separated Church and State.

Following the French Revolution having gone so well (or badly) there was in turn a Rebellion in Ireland in 1798 which was part funded by the French Revolutionary government.  There had even been an attempted French invasion of Ireland in 1796 however the Expédition d'Irlande was defeated by the weather.  So to keep the Irish happy...

From the 1790s Roman Catholics gained the right to vote (but not to be voted for)... then the 1800 Acts of Union were passed which created Great Britain.  These acts also resulted in the merger of the English and Scottish Parliaments into the Westminster Parliament.  In order to make this all go more smoothly William Pitt (the Younger) promised Catholic Emancipation but it never seemed to happen so he had to resign when George III said

During this period there were lots of Problems withe the Corn Laws.  Originally intended to protect British trade interests they seemed to make a lot of people unhappy and actually pushed up the UK price of food during a famine.  This made everyone unhappy and there were a lot of protests particularly in the north of England against the forty shilling freehold system. A big rally was organised in Manchester.

60,000 pro-democracy reformers were attacked by armed cavalry resulting in 15 deaths and over 600 injuries - an event that has been described as "Manchester's Tiananmen Square".  Fortunately the Prince Regent (later George III) was on hand to cheer everybody up conveying to the Manchester Yeomanry his fullsome and heartfelt thanks.

Every MP elected after 1807, with one exception, announced in favour of Catholic Emancipation.  However it was blocked by the House of Lords until the Catholic Relief Act of 1829.  The legislation proved a good excuse to actually raise as the minimum property requirement for voters to take account of inflation so the number of £ to vote required rose froma rental value of forty shillings per annum ...

 to £10 per annum.... reducing the total number of voters even further and increasing the number of rotten boroughs.  Even given this George IV still felt that giving Catholics the vote sounded too democratic and threatened not to give royal assent but eventually when the entire cabinet resigned he said

The increased income to vote situation was reversed three years later by The Representation of the People Act 1832.  Lord Grey had a lot of trouble getting this bill through Parliament as the House of Lords continually blocked it so eventually he told the King that unless he made enough new peers to ensure the passage of the bill he would resign.  William IV said ...

... and appointed the Duke of Wellington as Prime Minister.  There were protests, people refused to pay taxes, there was a run on the banks, and £1½ million in gold was withdrawn from the Bank of England. The Duke of Wellington was unable to form a government so resigned and the Act was finally passed.  However, loads of people still didn't have the vote.  And this was born the Chartist movement.  In 1837, six Members of Parliament and six working men, including William Lovett, (from the London Working Men's Association, set up in 1836) formed a committee, which then published the People's Charter in 1838. This stipulated the six main aims of the movement as:

A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.

The secret ballot. - To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.

No property qualification for members of Parliament - thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.

Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.

Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.

Annual parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

Meanwhile in France under King Louis-Philippe's constitutional monarchy which had replaced Napoleon's military dictatorship all the men in France who weren't landowners decided they wanted the right to vote too.  This triggered yet another revolution in France and the 1848 international wave of revolutions that affected France, Germany, Denmark, Schleswig, the Habsburg Empire, Slovakia, Switzerland, Poland, Wallachia, Brazil and Belgium. Feeling he was getting a bit unpopular Karl Marx left France and moved to England where he settled in Dean Street, London and wrote

... with Friedrich Engels.  England was now the hangout for naughty revolutionary thinkers as the repeal in 1828 of the Test and Corporation Acts had legalised atheism and agnosticism as well as non-conformism.  There were even more arguments and someone even came up with the idea of giving women the vote.  However, fortunately Queen Victoria was on hand to say

We could carry on till Universal Sufferage in 1928 but lots of really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really reallyreally really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really reallyreally really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really reallyreally really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really depressing things happened in the 20th century so we are going to draw a veil over it and end here.

We attribute Illustrations in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse us or our use of the work)

Statue de Constantin Ier, Musée du Capitole, Rome photographed by Jean-Christophe Benoist
Much thanks to John Hearfield for the graph of the population of England
Nino Barbieri - Tetrachy
Romulus Augustus from Young Folks' History of Rome, by Charlotte Mary Yonge
Lord Mandelson photo - World Economic Forum Cologny, Switzerland
30 Years War Diagram Wikipedia

All other photos are either of really old stuff that should be out of copyright and have been stolen off Wikipedia

The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that "faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain, and that claims to the contrary represent an assault on the very concept of a public domain" because otherwise James Wales would have to pay from them and if he doesn't why should we?  I mean it's not like we downloaded a load of high res images off the National Gallery website using special hacking software and then made out we're all hard done by because we're out for everything we can get?