The Exclusion Crisis, 1678-81

The Popish Plot

  • In 1678, an Anglican priest named Titus Oates approached the London magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey with a story of a plot organised by the Jesuits and French to murder Charles II and replace him with his Catholic brother, James. 
  • Oates had been educated at a Jesuit school in France, and his story lacked credibility. Shortly afterwards, Godfrey was found dead in a London park and the plot began to be believed.
  • Investigations revealed that one of those accused by Oates, Edward Coleman, had been in correspondence with Catholics in France.
  • As many of the public now believed his story, Oates was able to accuse anyone he liked for the next year and 35 Catholics were killed in the ensuing hysteria.
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The fall of Danby

  • Those who were suspicious of Charles's growing absolutism, such as the Earl of Shaftesbury, were now able to challenge Danby's influence.
  • Impeachment proceeding began against Danby as evidence emerged that he had been accepting French subsidies, and he was sent to the Tower of London where he remained until 1684.
  • Charles dissolved the Cavalier Parliament in 1679 to avoid an escalation of the crisis and new elections produced an anti-Danby majority.
  • Whigs and Tories emerged.
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The Exclusion Bill

  • Bill to exclude James from the throne and replace him with Charles's illegitimate Protestant son, James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth. 
  • This was a step too far for Charles and he attempted to avoid what he saw as an attack on hereditary Divine Right. 
  • He dissolved Parliament in 1679 so the Exclusion Bill could not be read by the Lords.
  • Another Exclusion Bill was presented in 1680 and this was defeated by the Lords, who were under pressure from Charles as a result of his personal appearances at debates.
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Why did Charles survive the Exclusion Crisis?

  • Charles saw the bill as a direct attack on hereditary Divine Right monarchy, he showed a determination and resolve that contrasted with his apathy in many other matters.
  • Charles was able to use his prerogative powers to override Parliament, especially his ability to delay legislation and dissolve Parliament.
  • The longer the crisis continued, the fewer MPs were prepared to commit their wholehearted support to the Whig cause. This was because it seemed that the Catholic threat was subsiding. 
  • The first payment of £100,000 from Louis XIV reached Charles in 1681, he was financially independent and was able to work without the need to consult Parliament.
  • He decreed that Parliament should meet in Oxford instead of Westminister in order to avoid conflict.
  • When the Whigs passed another Exclusion Bill, he was able to dissolve Parliament and arrest Shaftesbury without concerning himself with the financial consequences.
  • Charles purged Whigs from local government.
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