Romans in Britain

Britannia: 2nd - 4th century AD

Hadrian's Wall, established from the 2nd century AD as the frontier of Roman rule in the British Isles, enables England and Wales (as they will later become) to settle down together as Britannia, the most northerly Roman province.

On the whole the Celtic chieftains of Britain adapt willingly to Roman customs and comforts. They learn to live in villas, they speak Latin, they benefit from trading links with the empire (British wheat and wool are much in demand), and they become Roman citizens. The tribal centres develop into thriving Roman towns, around the forum (market place) and basilica (town hall).

Towns of this kind, serving as the capitals of British tribal rulers enjoying Roman support, include Winchester, Dorchester, Cirencester and Canterbury. London develops at the same period, but as a centre of trade at the focal point of the network of Roman roads. Bath, with its hot springs, becomes Britain's first resort.

Different in kind are the essentially Roman headquarters of Chester, Caerleon and York (where Constantine is proclaimed emperor in 306). These are the permanent bases of the Roman legions in Britain. Other modern cities, including Lincoln, Colchester and St Albans, derive from Roman municipalities - founded for new settlers, such as men retiring from the legions.

Roman Britain never achieves the prosperity or sophistication of Roman gaul, and it has the disadvantage of being cut off from the centre whenever Gaul is controlled by rebellious Roman armies or invading barbarians. Even so, Britain has much in common with other provinces of the empire. It has its great villas (a palace at Fishbourne, discovered in 1960, is one of the grandest, with superb mosaic floors). And it has its choice of the empire's rival religions.

By the late 3rd century Mithras and jesus Christ compete for attention. In 314 the winning side, the Christians, are sufficiently well organized to send three bishops from Britain to a Council in gaul.

Britannia in decline: 5th - 6th century AD

The decline of Roman Britain is like the withering of a limb at the extremity of an ailing body. In unsettled times, in the late 4th century, western emperors withdraw legions from Britain for their own local purposes. Once Gaul is in the hands of Barbarian rulers in the 5th century, blocking the route from Rome, no new replacements arrive.

The Roman British find themselves extremely vulnerable. They have defences in the north, but none in the southeast - the direction of Rome, and supposedly secure. It is from this undefended side that danger comes. German tribes moving south and west into Gaul have Britain in their sights.

The main threat is from two tribal groups pressing southwest from the Baltic coast. They are the Angles and the Saxons. The subsequent Anglo-Saxon basis of England, and of the English language, speaks for their success.

The Romanized Celts, deprived of their Roman legions, prove unable to resist these more primitive and ferocious intruders - though their struggle is personified in a legendary hero, King arthur. By the 6th century the Celtic chieftains are confined to mountainous Wales. The fertile plains of England are occupied now by Angles, Saxons and other German tribes from roughly the same area, such as Jutes and Frisians. Their chieftains set about establishing themselves as regional kings.

Anglo-Saxons & Vikings

Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: 5th - 9th century AD

The various Germanic tribal groups invading Britain from the 5th century, and either subduing or Displacing the celtic inhabitants, have their own leaders who fight between themselves for supremacy in this new territory. The first region to re-establish some degree of stability is southeast England, where kingdoms of Kent and Sussex are in existence before the end of the 5th century. Wessex, further west, becomes an identifiable kingdom not much later.

Gradually Anglo-Saxon kingdoms emerge over almost the whole of England. The exception is Cornwall, which like Wales remains a Celtic stronghold. In Anglo-Saxon times the people of Cornwall are known as the West Welsh.

Though frequently fighting among themselves, the Anglo-Saxons accept in principle the idea that one of their kings is the overlord of all the English with the title bretwalda, meaning 'ruler of Britain'. According to Bede, the first such ruler is a king of West Sussex by the name of Aelli. In the late 5th century Aelli is accepted as the bretwalda of all the English south of the Humber. The wealth of such kings, by the 7th century, can be seen in the treasure found at Sutton Hoo.

By the usual processes of warfare, marriage and inheritance, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms gradually coalesce. By the 8th century the number has been reduced to seven - a group known as the Heptarchy (hepta 'seven' and arche 'rule' in Greek).

The Heptarchy includes four relatively small kingdoms round the southeast coast, roughly corresponding to the areas still known by the same names - Sussex (land of the South Saxons), Kent, Essex (the East Saxons) and East Anglia (the East Angles).

The three large kingdoms are great horizontal slices across England - Northumbria in the north, Mercia in the midlands and Wessex in the south. Each of these in turn is the dominant power within England - Northumbria in the 7th century, Mercia in the 8th and Wessex in the 9th century. At the end of this period a unified England at last begins to emerge - under the banner of Wessex, in the time of Alfred the great.

Anglo-Saxon Christianity: 6th - 8th century AD

Although Kent is one of the smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, there is one field in which it retains a certain pre-eminence. The reason is the arrival in597 in Canterbury, the Kentish capital, of a party of monks sent from Rome by Pope Gregory i and led by Augustine (subsequently St Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury). They are well received by Ethelbert, a pagan king of Kent, largely because his wife (daughter of a Merovingian king of the Franks) is already a Christian.

A generation later, in 625, a Kentish princess travels to York to marry a pagan king of Northumbria. Paulinus, another missionary from Rome, accompanies her. He becomes the first archbishop of York.

In Northumbria the Roman Catholics find themselves in conflict with a variation of the faith, brought to these regions by Celtic missionaries from Ireland. The differences are slight and procedural, rather than weighty matters of doctrine. They concern such details as how a monk's head should be shaved for his tonsure, and the correct way of calculating the date of Easter. But underlying these concerns is the more important question of whether the English church should be subordinate to Rome.

The issue is decided at the synod of Whitby in 664. Oswiu, the king of Northumbria, listens to the arguments. He comes down on the side of Rome.

Other Anglo-Saxon kings follow Oswiu's example in their territories. The result is a strengthened English church with an important role in Europe. In the 8th century missionaries such as Willibrord and boniface play a major part in converting the pagans of northern Germany. Alcuin goes from York to establish Charlemagne's palace school in Aachen.

At the same period Offa, the ruler of Mercia, acquires almost the status of a king of England. He makes a trade treaty with Charlemagne, negotiates directly with the pope, and builds the great embankment known by his name which protects central England from the Welsh (see Offa's Dyke and Wales). But these unifying developments are soon under threat - from the Vikings.

Scandinavian incursions: 8th - 9th century AD

The earliest known Viking raid on the coast of Britain is in793, at Lindisfarne. It is the first of many in eastern England and around the coastal areas of Scotland, Ireland and eventually Wales. The wild Norwegians arrive suddenly from the sea, often rowing their longships a considerable way up a river to plunder a monastery or town and then vanish again.

A few decades later other Vikings, from Denmark, begin raiding further south. They appear first in Kent in 835. Over the coming years they attack as far west as Devon and on occasion even succeed in damaging Winchester, Canterbury and London. But the year 865 brings intrusion on a different scale.

Danes in England: from AD 865

Thirty years of Danish raids on the east coast of England precede the arrival, in 865, of a 'Great Army' equipped for conquest rather than quick booty. The Danish invaders now consolidate each year's gains by establishing a secure base from which they can continue a campaign of harassment - which invariably ends with the settled English buying peace from their footloose tormentors.

York is taken in 866 (and becomes, as Yorvik, the Danish capital in England). Nottingham falls in 867, Thetford in 869. By now the kings of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia have made terms with the invaders. Next in line is Wessex.

In 870 the Danes advance into Wessex, capturing Reading where they meet the most determined opposition thus far. During the next year nine battles are fought in this district. In 871, at Ashdown on the Berkshire downs, the English win their first significant victory of the war; a Danish king and nine earls are killed on the field of battle. Even so, it proves impossible to recapture Reading. Wessex, like the other English kingdoms, makes peace with the Danes - who withdraw to winter in London.

But the victory at Ashdown has introduced a figure of significance in English history. The Wessex men are commanded that day by a 23-year-old prince of their ruling family - Alfred, brother of the king of Wessex.

Alfred and the Danes: AD 871-899

In popular tradition the story of England, as opposed to Britain, begins with Alfred. And there is a valid basis for this heroic status. He is the first Anglo-Saxon ruler to be accepted as something akin to a national leader. The English see him as such in those regions resisting Danish domination. With good cause he is the only king of England to be accorded the title 'the Great'.

His authority derives from his successes against the Danes. His kingly virtues can also be seen, with hindsight, in his encouragement of learning. But his central achievement is the quarter-century of struggle which follows his victory over the Danes at Ashdown in 871.

In that same year, 871, Alfred's elder brother dies and he becomes the king of Wessex. One of his first acts is to establish the beginnings of an English fleet. The Danes draw much of their strength from their swift Viking Longships. It makes sense for the Anglo-Saxon islanders to reply in kind. By 875 Alfred can claim a small naval victory which is nevertheless a significant beginning. Going to sea with his new fleet, he holds his own against seven Danish ships and even captures one of them.

On land he has similar successes, defeating Danish armies and forcing them to agree to leave Wessex in peace. But the Danes regularly break their word.

In 878 a surprise Danish attack pushes Alfred west into the Somerset marshes. From a single fort at Athelney he organizes local resistance. This is the lowest ebb of the English cause, the nearest that the Danes come to conquering Wessex and establishing their rule over the whole of England.

Within a few months Alfred is strong enough to move east again and defeat the Danes at Edington in Wiltshire. The conclusion of this campaign is a two-week siege of Guthrum, the Danish king of East Anglia, who is encircled in his encampment. Guthrum secures his freedom by promising (once again) to leave Wessex. More significantly, he also agrees to be baptized a Christian.

The ceremony of baptism takes place on the river Parrett, with Alfred in the role of sponsor of the new convert. Then the two Christian kings go together to Wedmore (the year is still 878), where they spend twelve days in ceremony and feasting and in the agreement of a treaty which finally preserves Wessex from Danish intrusion.

A Danish invasion of Kent in 885 gives Alfred the pretext for expansion eastwards. He drives back the invaders, and in 886 occupies London. This success leads to a new treaty with Guthrum. He and Alfred agree a basis for coexistence between Anglo-Saxons in the south and west and Danes in the north and east of the country - the region which becomes known as Danelaw.

A king of Wessex ruling London has a new degree of authority. Alfred becomes accepted as the overlord of Danes (his daughter is married to the king of Danes), thus virtually uniting the two kingdoms of Wessex and Danes. Together with Mercia they are now safeguarded by a system of local levies (capable of providing an army at short notice) and by a network of walled and garrisoned towns (the boroughs). In this way Alfred leaves in place the framework which makes possible the reconquest of Danelaw in the next generation (after his own death in 899).

Meanwhile the English king concerns himself with restoring the cultural as well as the military well-being of his country.

Alfred and the revival of learning: AD 886-899

Anglo-Saxon England, in the century of Bede and Alcuin, was in the forefront of European learning. Now, 100 years later, the incursions of Danes have brought damage in this field too. Books have been destroyed, knowledge has been lost. Alfred determines to redress the balance by providing his countrymen with translations into English of important Latin texts.

He even does some of the translation himself. An English version of Pope Gregory's Cura Pastoralis ('Pastoral Care'), sent to every bishopric in the kingdom during the 890s, is apparently the king's own. So also, suggesting a studious nature, are texts of On the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius and the Soliloquies of St Augustine.

In his own preface to Pastoral Care Alfred outlines an educational programme for the sons of free men. Those destined for the church must of course learn Latin, but all should be instructed in the reading and writing of English.

This emphasis on the vernacular is new and influential. The work of Bede, available until now only in Latin, is translated into English. And an Anglo-Saxon account of English history is compiled, based on various sources including Bede. Known now as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it survives in seven manuscripts. Each is updated with occasional information after Alfred's reign, in one case up to 1154.

England unified: 10th century AD

After the death of Alfred the Great, in 899, the dominant figures in England are two of his children. Edward the Elder succeeds him as king of Wessex; Ethelfled, married to the king of Mercia and stronger than her husband, is the real power in the Midlands. Together brother and sister win back parts of the Danelaw, until eventually all the rulers in England - including the Danish chieftains of the eastern regions - accept Edward as their overlord.

The situation remains reasonably stable for the next two generations of what is now well established as England's royal family. The five kings between 927 and 975 are three grandsons and two great-grandsons of Alfred the Great. But in 980 the island is brutally disturbed by new Danish raids from overseas.

The king on the throne in 980 is the 12-year-old Ethelred, a great-great-grandson of Alfred. Early historians judge him to have lacked raed ('counsel' in Anglo-Saxon), so he becomes known as Ethelred the Unready. Certainly his counsellors' advice to bribe the marauding Danes proves unwise.

In 991 the English crown begins to buy peace by making the regular payment known as Danegeld. Events soon prove the truth of Kipling's famous couplet on appeasement: 'If once you pay him the Danegeld, You never get rid of the Dane.'

In 1013, as a century and a half earlier In 865, Danish raids suddenly escalate into invasion. Sweyn, king of Denmark, arrives in England with an army which is welcomed in Danelaw and which then rapidly subdues the rest of the country. Ethelred, still the king (his unfortunate reign is a long one), escapes to Normandy. The reason is not only its proximity. His wife Emma is the sister of the duke of Normandy - beginning an important link between England and the Normans.

Danes of various kinds occupy much of the European coast facing Britain - pure Danes in Denmark, Danes transformed into Normans in France. For the next half-century Danes and Normans contend for the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

Anglo-Saxons Normans and Danes: AD 1002-1042

There are complex family links throughout the 11th century between Anglo-saxons, Normans and Danes competing for the English crown.

Ethelred the Unready, the last Anglo-Saxon king in an unbroken line from Alfred the Great, marries in 1002 a Norman princess - Emma, sister of duke Richard II. Ethelred and Emma have a son, Edward, a child with an unmistakable claim to the English crown. But by the time of Ethelred's death, the crown has been lost to the invading Danish king, Sweyn.

Sweyn conquers England in 1013, but dies in Yorkshire the following year. With some difficulty Sweyn's son Canute also subdues the country and is eventually accepted as king of all England in November 1016.

The complex Intertwining of Dane, Norman and Anglo-Saxon begins at this same period, when Canute makes a shrewd marriage. Ethelred the unready has died in 1016. In the following year Canute marries his widow, Emma of Normandy. Her son Edward, Anglo-Saxon heir to the English throne, is now Canute's stepson. This hardly guarantees a loving relationship (even less in medieval dynasties than in an ordinary family), but it slightly reduces the chances of Edward taking up arms in support of his claim to the throne.

The young man (aged about fourteen at the time of his mothers's second marriage) grows up among his cousins in Normandy. The situation is further complicated when Canute and his mother have a son, Hardicanute.

After Canute's reign of eighteen years in England (sixteen of them also as king of Denmark), he is succeeded - not surprisingly - by his own son, Hardicanute, rather than by Edward. But Hardicanute dies young. The crown, finally inherited by Edward in 1042, returns to the Anglo-saxon dynasty. But Edward, saintly by disposition (hence his later name, Edward the Confessor) has taken a vow of chastity. He will be the last of the line of Alfred the Great. The succession, throughout his reign, is a burning issue.

Edward and the family of Godwin: AD 1042-1066

Most of Edward's life, to the age of about forty, has been spent among Normans. Inevitably he brings many of them into his English administration, where they arouse considerable resentment as foreigners. The leader of the opposition party is Godwin, an adventurer favoured by Canute and in the early years of his reign by Edward (who creates him earl of Wessex and Kent, with extensive territories).

In 1051 Godwin and his sons rise against Edward, partly on the issue of his favouring Normans. The family proves too strong for the king. Their power is even greater in the second half of Edward's reign.

Godwin dies in 1053. His son Harold succeeds to his earldoms of Wessex and Kent, becoming the most powerful baron in the land. Three other brothers are now granted large earldoms, including Tostig - who becomes earl of Northumberland. By 1065 Tostig and Harold are bitter enemies, but it is Harold who is close to the king. He is at Edward's deathbed, when the king may be expected to designate his successor.

For much of Edward's reign it has seemed probable that he will be succeeded by his cousin, duke William of Normandy. But as the king lies dying, in 1066, he declares that the crown shall go to Harold, earl of Wessex. The decision provokes the dramatic events of that year, 1066.


A year of high drama: AD 1066

Edward the Confessor dies on January 5. He is buried the next day in his new abbey church at Westminster, which has been consecrated only the previous week. On the same day as the funeral there is a coronation, almost certainly carried out in the abbey. Harold, earl of Wessex, named as his successor by the dying Edward, is now king. His reign will last ten months. And it will include a strange omen - a bright Long-haired star moving through the sky.

The succession of an earl to the English throne is stimulating news to two neighbouring rulers, across the sea.

Harald Hardraade, king of Norway, ponders a renewal of Scandinavian rule in England. More predictably William, duke of Normandy, makes plans to press his claim to the English throne. As a cousin of Edward the Confessor (whose mother Emma was a Norman), William has closer links with the English crown than Harold. And the pope supports his claim.

For these reasons Harold expects an invasion across the Channel. William is known to be constructing a fleet of longships, so Harold keeps an army in readiness on the south coast. But it is disbanded when its supplies run out in the late summer. And in September an unexpected crisis causes the king to hurry north.

Harald Hardraade has joined forces with Harold's disaffected brother, Tostig earl of Northumberland. A fleet of Norwegian longships appears in the Humber in September. The invaders defeat an English army near York. On September 24 they are welcomed into the city, with its long tradition of links with the Vikings as the Danish capital in England.

The following day, after moving north at speed, Harold surprises and defeats the intruding army at Stamford Bridge. Both Harald Hardraade and Tostig are killed in the encounter. But this satisfactory outcome is soon soured by urgent news. Three days after the battle at Stamford Bridge, on September 28, William of Normandy lands a fleet on the south coast, at Pevensey.

The absence of Harold, away in the north, gives William the luxury of an unopposed landing. He even has time to build himself a Makeshift castle before the harassed English king arrives in the south.

The armies meet on a ridge a few miles to the northwest of Hastings. The Normans have the advantage of cavalry and archers. The English, entirely on foot, are armed for long-range combat only with spears and slings. But at close quarters they make devastating use of great two-handed battle axes. These disconcert even the Norman cavalry.

The battle lasts the entire day. In the late afternoon a chance arrow kills Harold (a detail in the Bayeux tapestry is the only evidence for the tradition that it hits him in the eye). The English fight on until nightfall and then disperse. The day is William's. The south of England lies open to him.

The Normans advance on London and meet no opposition until approaching the southern end of London's bridge. William then makes an encircling movement round the city, which yields to him without a siege. On Christmas Day he is crowned in Westminster abbey. The new church has had an eventful first year, with a royal funeral and two coronations.

Norman administration: AD 1086-1135

In the years after 1066, William secures his new kingdom with exemplary thoroughness. This is a military occupation, so the first requirement is to suppress pockets of resistance. This task is effectively achieved throughout England by 1070. At the same time Castles are established from which the nobles of the invading force, serving the king in a network of Feudal obligations, can control the kingdom.

Good administration requires efficient taxation. Detailed information about the country is essential. At a court held by the king in Gloucester, during Christmas 1085, a decision is taken to acquire such information.

During 1086 panels of commissioners travel through the counties of England, noting the details of the royal estates and of lands held in fief by vassals of the crown. The entire kingdom is covered as far north as Lancashire and Yorkshire. The only omissions, for reasons unknown, are England's two greatest cities, London and Winchester (at this period serving as joint capitals).

The material is all collected in time to be presented to the king in summarized form in 1087. Known to its contemporaries as the 'description of England', the document acquires the name Domesday Book - comparing it to the Day of Judgement because in both cases the commissioners' findings are final.

Efficient administration of the country continues under William's two sons, William II and Henry I. It is often harsh, but there is a sense of fair dealing. A charter of liberties, issued on the accession of Henry I in 1100, can even be seen as a precursor of Magna carta a century later. Nevertheless the royal power is steadily extended, particularly through the system pioneered by Henry I of sending the king's judges on circuit round the country to hear cases.

Thus the rapid Norman conquest of England is with equal rapidity made secure. It is celebrated as a fait accompli, probably as early as about 1080, in the magnificent Bayeux tapestry.

But the disastrous accident of the White Ship, in 1120, throws the inheritance into doubt and the country, eventually, into turmoil. It leaves two grandchildren of William the Conqueror as the only contenders for the crown, each of them in some way unsatisfactory. Matilda, the only surviving child of Henry I is in the direct line but is a woman. Her cousin Stephen is male but of a lesser line, being the son of the conqueror's daughter, Adela.

The result, after Henry's death in 1135, is civil war.

Stephen Matilda and Geoffrey Plantagenet: AD 1135-1154

Stephen moves rapidly, after the death of his uncle Henry, to stake his claim to the English throne. He crosses immediately from Normandy to England and within a month has himself crowned in Westminster abbey. Meanwhile his agents get to work in Rome. By the following Easter he is able to proclaim that his consecration as king has been confirmed by the pope.

Support for Matilda in England and Normandy would probably be greater were it not for her marriage, in 1128, to Geoffrey Plantagenet. Anjou, the territory to which Geoffrey is heir, has long been a hostile neighbour to Normandy.

In 1139 the pope confirms his judgement in favour of Stephen, prompting Matilda to invade England. A desultory civil war drags on for many years. It is resolved in 1153 in an agreement by which Stephen retains the throne but his heir is declared to be Matilda's son, Henry.

The succession of the prince in 1154, as Henry ii, begins the Plantagenet dynasty in England. It also, because of the vast territories which Henry inherits and acquires in France, brings into sharp focus an area of disagreement between the ruling families of the two neighbouring kingdoms.

Lands across the Channel

The Norman conquest of England introduces a new situation in northwest Europe. Lands on both sides of the English Channel are from this time under the control of a single dynasty. The kings of England are also the dukes of Normandy.

A Norman-French royal family crowned in Westminster seeks to extend its territories on the French side of the water. At the same time a Frankish-French royal family crowned in Reims strives to assert its authority over the whole geographical region of France. The result is a prolonged struggle, eventually spanning some four centuries, in which the identities of medieval Europe's two strongest kingdoms are gradually shaped.

The struggle is not just one of warfare and battles. It is a complex game of dynastic marriages and interconnecting obligations. William the conqueror, king of England, is technically the king of France's vassal - in his other role as the duke of Normandy.

Even more dramatic is the case of William's great-grandson, Henry ii. Though a vassal of the French king, his lands occupy a region of France which is larger than the royal domain. The French king rules a realm around Paris and Orleans in the north. Henry ii inherits a broad swathe down the entire west of the country.

Henry receives Anjou from his father's family, and Normandy (together with England) through his mother. But his largest holding in continental Europe comes through his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry is her second husband. Her first was the king of France, Louis VII. Were it not for this matrimonial switch, Louis rather than Henry would have secured Eleanor's regions of Aquitaine and Gascony.

In such a manner, in Feudal europe, are territories gained or lost. The major players in this vast board game are the two French dynasties - the Norman French line in England and the Frankish (or Capetian) line in France.

The princes of the two houses marry within the same limited circle, so western Europe becomes an interconnected web of French-speaking cousins - often with good claims to each other's territories. Louis VII and Henry ii set a powerful example, as kings of France and England who marry the same heiress from Aquitaine. But the point can be made almost equally well among their successsors.

The kings who follow Henry ii on the throne of England marry, in this sequence, daughters of the rulers of Navarre, Angouleme, Provence, Castile, France, Hainaut, Bohemia, Navarre, France and Avignon. During the same period kings of France marry daughters of Navarre, Provence, Castile and Hainaut.

In the long run the advantage lies with the French kings. Geography makes the Channel a natural boundary. A gradual trend away from patchwork feudal territories and towards the cohesive nation state means that eventually the proper place for the English must be north and west of this coastal boundary.

The process is a long one, not finally resolved until the end of the Hundred Years' War. The French first make major advances at the expense of the Norman English during the reign of Philip II.

In the long run the advantage lies with the French kings. Geography makes the Channel a natural boundary. A gradual trend away from patchwork feudal territories and towards the cohesive nation state means that eventually the proper place for the English must be north of this boundary.

But the process is a long one, not finally resolved until the end of the Hundred Years' War.


Henry II: AD 1154-1189

When Henry comes to the throne of England in 1154, as a 21-year-old, he is the ruler or the feudal overlord of an uninterrupted swathe of territory stretching from the river Tweed to the Pyrenees.

At the end of the reign, thirty-five years later, Henry's lands in France are still intact but are under considerable pressure. In England, by contrast, the kingdom is transformed. The structure of government is greatly strengthened. And the neighbouring regions of Wales, Scotland and Ireland have all accepted, in varying degrees, the overlordship of the English king.

On Henry's accession England is in a lawless state after the years of Civil war. His first task, in reasserting royal authority, is to bring under control the many Castles which unruly barons have built for themselves without royal licence. The solution is often simple. The Castles are demolished and their occupants executed or disciplined in some less drastic fashion.

In the process of restoring order, Henry improves upon the standards of administration of his Norman predecessors. Around the country the itinerant judges, introduced by his grandfather Henry i, are now on almost permanent circuit and are given stronger powers to maintain the law.

In the centre, at court, the royal administration is strengthened by several significant innovations - among them the development of the exchequer. This is a regular meeting of the nation's finance committee, held round a table with a chequered pattern of squares. The squares are used as an abacus for instant calculations of revenue.

Often chaired by the king himself, and attended by the great officers of state, this committee is a more professional and centralized method of government than the relatively impromptu arrangements of feudal societies. The chancellor of the exchequer is the official entrusted with the seal used on treasury business.

From the start of his reign the 21-year-old king has a close colleague in running the affairs of the kingdom - Thomas Becket, in the office of lord chancellor. Becket (older by fifteen years) becomes Henry's mentor and trusted friend. But their relationship causes the king to make a drastic error.

The power struggle between Church and state is, throughout Europe, one of the great issues of the day. In 1162, when the archbishop of Canterbury dies, Henry conceives what must have seemed a neat solution to this problem. Becket, in his eight years as lord chancellor, has consistently taken a firm line with the church. Henry now arranges for his appointment as the new archbishop.

Archbishop and martyr: AD 1162-1170

Becket accepts with reluctance the office of archbishop of Canterbury, no doubt foreseeing an inevitable clash. If the king anticipates a compliant archbishop, he is soon disabused. At a council in Westminster in 1163 Becket vigorously defends ecclesiastical privileges, rejecting Henry's demand that priests convicted of crimes should be liable to punishment by the lay authorities like any other citizen.

The quarrel escalates, until Becket flees in 1164 to safety in a monastery near Paris. From there he uses his power as archbishop to excommunicate several of his enemies in Henry's entourage.

In June 1170 Henry aggravates the situation by arranging for the archbishop of York to crown his eldest surviving son (also called Henry) in Westminster abbey; the 'Young King' is to rule jointly with his father. Apart from any other inherent irregularity, this unprecedented act (intended to secure the succession) is an affront to the archbishop of Canterbury, whose privilege it is to conduct coronations at Westminster.

Becket, in France, has papal support in suspending the archbishop of York and other bishops who have participated in the ceremony. This drastic action is followed by an apparent reconciliation, which prompts Becket to return to Canterbury in early December.

On his return he refuses to reinstate the suspended bishops. News of this prompts the king's careless and fatal question: is there no one among his followers to avenge him of this 'upstart clerk'?

Four knights (Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, Reginald Fitzurse and Richard le Breton) provide a literal answer. On 29 December 1170 they murder the archbishop in his cathedral. This outrage makes Becket's tomb in Canterbury cathedral one of Europe's main centres of pilgrimage. The martyr is canonized as early as 1173. In 1174 the king does public penance at Becket's shrine.

Politically the murder of Becket loses Henry the wider argument about ecclesiastical control. In the mood following the assassination he has to concede, at any rate in the short term, all the points on which Becket was opposing him.

But in other contexts Henry has notable successes. Within months of the murder, in the autumn of 1171, he travels through Wales and on into Ireland. In each he makes settlements greatly to the English advantage. In 1174 (after vigorously suppressing rebellions both in England and France) Henry also wins the submission of the king of Scotland.

Richard I: AD 1189-1199

By the time of Henry ii's death, in 1189, the 'Young king' has also died (in 1183). Henry's heir is his third son, who succeeds him as Richard I. A skilful and courageous warrior, seen by his contemporaries as the ideal of a chivalrous knight (hence his nickname Coeur de Lion or 'Lionheart'), Richard is disinclined to tackle the everyday problems of his turbulent kingdom. His one ambition is to be a crusader.

He succeeds in this aim, departing for the Holy Land in 1190 as one of the leaders of the Third crusade after the fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem.

Richard severely depletes the royal coffers in England in providing for his expedition to the east. He then imposes a further colossal burden on his kingdom when a ransom of £100,000 is demanded for his release from captivity on the way home (see Richard's journey home). Most of the sum is raised by special taxes. Yet in his reign of ten years this expensive monarch spends only six months in England.

The barons are restless, even without the annoyance of new taxes. Their grievances are the main problem confronting Richard's successor, his brother John.

John: AD 1199-1216

John's reign begins with trouble abroad and at home. Disputes in France (where the French king is his feudal overlord for all his territories) lead to war in which Normandy is Lost to the french in 1204 and Anjou in 1205.

In England the king's authority is compromised for some years by a quarrel with the pope, Innocent III. In a local instance of the wider Investiture controversy, John insists on his own right to select the archbishop of Canterbury and rejects Stephen Langton, the pope's choice. As a result John is excommunicated for four years, from 1209 to 1213. His consolation is the fat fees from bishoprics and abbeys, due to the pope, which he diverts instead into the English exchequer.

In 1213 John resolves his dispute with the pope and accepts Stephen Langton, in return for papal support on other issues. By now the discontent of his feudal vassals is reaching dangerous levels. An apparent plot to murder the king is uncovered in 1212. In May 1215 rebellious barons launch a civil war and the city of London joins the rebels. In June, with Stephen Langton acting as a moderator between the two sides, the king meets his opponents in 'the meadow called Runnymede' beside the Thames near Windsor.

John fixes the royal seal to the document which the barons place before him. It is Magna Carta (Latin for the Great Charter).

Magna Carta: AD 1215-1225

The document containing the barons' demands of the king is an attempt to codify the rights and obligations of Feudal society, and in doing so to define the limits of royal power. Much of it has little relevance to other social structures. But some provisions, probably of relatively little interest to the king or his barons, are such basic statements of the rule of law that they have given Magna Carta its status as a founding document of civil liberty.

Chief among them are two clauses, originally numbered 39 and 40, which state that no free man may be imprisoned or punished without prior judgement by the law of the land; and that justice will not be denied, delayed or sold.

Having accepted the document under duress, John immediately sends a request to the pope (now his ally) to have it annulled. Innocent III obliges in August of this same year, 1215. The result is a renewal of the civil war.

The king's death in 1216, followed by the succession of his 9-year-old son as Henry III, brings a pause during which more moderate council prevails. When Henry comes of age, in 1225, archbishop Stephen Langton persuades him to reissue Magna Carta in a slightly modified form. This becomes the version enshrined in English law. Langton's diplomacy brings to an end one chapter in the struggle between king and barons. But through most of Henry's reign the issue remains a central theme of English politics.

Henry III: AD 1216-1272

Henry III is on the throne for more than half of the most brilliant and prosperous century of the English Middle Ages. The 13th century sees a steady rise in population, a growth of prosperity in the towns, an increase in professional training, particularly in law, and the early development of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

In the early part of the century students find their own lodgings and seek out individual teachers in these two university towns. But the first residential colleges are soon established: Merton sets the pattern in Oxford in 1264, followed by Peterhouse in Cambridge twenty years later.

The increasing sophistication of English society influences the pattern of government. One effect is to intensify the struggle against any arbitrary use of royal authority. Powerful barons discover a taste for high affairs of state, particularly in the early years of Henry's reign.

The accession of the king as a 9-year-old child brings a council of regency - for the first time since the Norman conquest. The feudal magnates who form the young king's council enjoy the experience of direct power. It is a habit, once acquired, which is not lightly given up. In the latter part of the reign, in meetings with the king (occasions already sometimes described as 'parliament'), the barons' demands are often strident.

Parliament: 12th - 14th century AD

The idea of parliament, a place for speaking (from the French parler) begins to evolve from the 12th century in the monarchies of western Europe. It develops from the curia regis, or 'council of the king', the feudal court in which the monarch makes legal judgements and discusses important issues of state with the most powerful bishops and nobles of his kingdom.

A parliament is summoned whenever the king requires it. At a period when a monarch is almost permanently on the move to maintain his authority, a parliament will be held wherever the royal court may happen to be.

Parliaments are called in England in the mid-13th century largely because of the king's weakness in relation to his barons. There is some evidence that as early as about 1238 the barons begin to demand that officials elected by them, and removable only by them, shall be charged with safeguarding the liberties guaranteed in Magna carta.

In a series of parliaments from 1246 Henry negotiates with the barons from a position of increasing weakness. He desperately needs their help to balance his finances. It is finally promised in return for a programme of reform accepted by Henry at a parliament in Oxford in 1258.

The crucial step in the evolution of the curia regis into parliament is the inclusion of citizens representing the wealthy towns of the period. They are the Third estate, added to the two already familiar in royal councils - the nobles and the bishops.

The burghers of the towns become involved because rulers increasingly need their support (almost invariably of a financial kind). Spain provides one of the earliest examples of representatives of the towns being summoned to a king's council. They take part in a parliament in Léon in 1188.

England is often referred to as the 'mother of parliaments' (a phrase coined by John Bright in 1865). It is a valid claim in some senses, such as the length of the unbroken parliamentary tradition in England. And Westminster is the first parliament to assert its independence of the monarch, in the person of Charles i. But the British cannot claim any priority in historical precedence.

Parliaments are held fairly frequently in England from 1246. By that time the Spanish Cortes ('courts') are well established as parliaments in Léon, Castile and Catalonia. In Portugal a Cortes is summoned in 1211, and commoners are included as the Third estate from 1254.

France is the first kingdom to establish parliament on a permanent basis. In the mid-13th century Third estate grants the parlement a chamber in his palace on the Ile de la Cité in Paris, where the councillors gather for sessions four times a year.

But the name of the room, the chambre aux plaids ('pleading chamber'), reflects the fact that this French parliament is restricted to the legal work of the broader curia regis. All the councillors are jurists, trained in law. The Palais de Justice stands today on the same site.

The French parlement acquires an element of political power in the early 14th century, when it is given the task of registering the king's edicts. The ability to withhold or delay registration eventually brings the parlement into direct opposition with Estates general in the 17th century.

In England Louis xiv develops into a vehicle for the political expression of the community's views. In France this function is fulfilled by a different form of occasional assembly - that of the Louis ix.

Provisions of Oxford and the Barons' War: AD 1258-1265

The so-called Provisions of Oxford, accepted by Henry III at a parliament in 1258, represent a severe curtailment of the royal power. The king is to rule according to the advice of a privy council of fifteen. All officers of state must swear to obey king and council jointly. As a gesture of good faith, the king is to deliver tenty-one royal castles into the hands of constables who can only be dismissed from their charge with the consent of the council.

As with his father and Magna carta, Henry rapidly backtracks from his commitment. He applies to the pope to have the provisions annulled, and receives in 1261 a papal bull absolving him from his oath to the barons.

This provokes an uprising led by Simon de Montfort, the king's brother-in-law. It is temporarily calmed by an agreement on all sides to accept the arbitration of the king of France, Louis IX. Louis comes down firmly in support of his fellow monarch, declaring the Provisions of oxford invalid.

Contrary to his undertaking, Simon de Montfort refuses to accept this judgement. He leads the barons in war against the king. In a brilliant engagement at Lewes in 1264, against a larger royal army, he captures both Henry and his heir, the future Edward I.

Simon assumes the government of the kingdom, but rapidly alienates his support among the barons by his autocratic actions. In an attempt to canvass wider support he summons a Parliament in London, in 1265, with representatives from the counties and the towns. Its hint of a democratic future has made this Parliament famous in English history, but it achieves little for Montfort.

His enemies contrive the escape of prince Edward, now aged twenty-six and a formidable soldier. Edward defeats and kills Simon de Montfort at Evesham in August 1265.

Edward I: AD 1272-1307

The final years of Henry III's reign are sufficiently peaceful for Edward, the king's heir, to depart on crusade for the Holy Land. He spends a year in Acre, fighting courageously but to no good effect in defence of the crumbling remnants of the Latin kingdom. He is on his way home, in Sicily, when he hears in 1272 of his father's death.

It is a measure of Edward's confidence in the stability of England, so recently convulsed in the civil war between King and barons, that he spends another two years abroad before returning to Dover in August 1274. He is crowned in Westminster Abbey two weeks later.

Edward's reign of thirty-five years contains several significant moments in English history. The submission of Wales to the English crown is achieved in 1284. The following years see the beginning of prolonged hostilities between England and Scotland. In the harsh saga of European Jewry the year 1290 is a bleak moment, when Edward becomes the first monarch to expel the Jews from his kingdom. Yet that same year prompts the king to a romantic gesture of marital love, rare in the Middle Ages, when he erects the Eleanor crosses in memory of his wife.

In the government of his kingdom, Edward's policies are notable for his canny use of a gradually evolving institution - parliament.

Edward summons parliaments when he feels he needs them, and for whatever reasons the particular moment demands. To some of these assemblies (approximately one in seven, and usually when he has pressing needs for funds) he invites people of lesser rank than the magnates of nobility and church. Knights are summoned from the shires and citizens from the towns.

These men are genuinely representatives of their community. The king insists that they come with full delegated authority so that any agreement made in Parliament (in particular a commitment to provide money) will be honoured by their county or borough. They are the origin of the Commons (or commoners) who eventually become the more powerful of the two houses of Parliament.

For the first Parliament of Edward's reign, in 1275, knights are summoned to Westminster together with 'citizens, burgesses or other honest men from each of the cities' in order to 'discuss together with the magnates the affairs of our kingdom'.

This Parliament passes the first of the many statutes which have caused the reign of Edward I to be seen as a seminal period in the formulation of English law. The Statutes of Westminster of 1275 tackle such important matters as corruption and malpractice among local officials. They also decree that girls shall not be married until they are seven - an important limitation in the ruthless materialism of the medieval marriage market.

The Parliament summoned by Edward in 1295 later comes to seem the most significant of his reign, because it prefigures a future pattern - as its subsequent name, the Model Parliament, implies.

This assembly in Westminster Hall represents the nation in a very real sense. The magnates are present in force (the two archbishops, all the bishops, 67 abbots, 8 earls, 41 barons) but they sit with elected representatives of the parish clergy (2 from each diocese) and of each shire (2 knights), city (2 citizens) and borough (2 burgesses). The underlying purpose is to raise money for the king, but that will be true of many subsequent parliaments. Meanwhile a valid pattern of representation has almost accidentally fallen into place.

Edward I and Wales: AD 1277-1301

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, acknowledged Prince of wales by Henry III in 1267, seems almost to go out of his way to affront Henry's successor, Edward I, after his accession in 1272. He fails to attend the coronation in 1274, declines a summons to do homage, and refuses to discharge a large debt to the English king.

In 1277 Edward moves decisively against his recalcitrant vassal. Three English armies march into Wales, from Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford. Llywelyn and his forces are soon isolated in the mountainous region of Snowdon. By early November lack of food compels them to surrender.

Llywelyn is forced to sign a treaty on November 9 at Conwy. It strips him of nearly all his territories, reducing the principality to the area of Snowdon. Anglesey is allowed him on lease from the king of England, but the rest of Wales is now to be administered by English agents - a role which they fulfil with such brutality that there is a widespread uprising, headed by Llywelyn, in 1282.

Edward reacts as forcefully as before, with another invasion of Wales during which Llywelyn is killed. But this time the English king takes the whole of Wales into his own hands.

By the statute issued at Rhuddlan in 1284 the principality of Wales is transformed into counties, on the English principle, to be governed by officials on behalf of the crown.

In 1301 Edward adds the final symbolic touch to this suppression of Wales. He revives the much cherished title of 'Prince of wales', bestowing it on his heir, the future Edward II. Ironically Wales now has what it has been fighting for. It is a principality, but an English one. The title has remained, through the centuries, the highest honour granted to the eldest son and heir apparent of the English monarch.

The Welsh, predictably, are unhappy with these arrangements (a further uprising in 1294-5 is ruthlessly crushed by Edward's armies). But the king has a powerful answer.

The very year after the death of Llywelyn, Edward begins the construction of the great castles which are still the glory of the northwest coast of Wales. Each is completed within a few years. Like the clench of a stone fist, these fortresses grip the final Welsh refuge - the region of Snowdonia - from Harlech (1283-9) in the south, to Caernarfon (1283-92) and Beaumaris (1295-8) on either side of the Menai Strait, and on to Conwy (1283-8) in the north. Overawed by these strongholds, Wales remains quiet for a century - till the time of Owain glyn dwr.

Edward I and Scotland: AD 1290-1297

Trouble with Scotland flares up shortly after Edward's Suppression of the welsh. Relations between England and Scotland have been calm in recent years. The Scottish nobles even accept Edward as arbitrator between the various claimants to the Scottish throne when it falls vacant in 1290. And his choice of John de Balliol from among the thirteen candidates receives immediate and widespread assent.

But the English king's treatment of the new king of Scots - and of the Scottish nobility in general - soon causes unrest north of the border.

Scottish resentment is expressed, in 1295, in a treaty with France against England. This prompts, in 1296, a swift and brutally effective invasion by Edward. It begins with the massacre of almost the entire male population of Berwick. Seventeen days later Stirling and Edinburgh castles are in English hands. John de Balliol and his court are prisoners, destined for the Tower of London. The sacred Scottish coronation seat, the Stone of scone, travels south at the same time - to a new home (until 1996) in Westminster Abbey. An English government is set up north of the border.

Scotland is humiliated, but only briefly so. The very next year, 1297, a war of independence is launched.

Scotland's Wars of Independence: from AD 1297

The main leader to emerge from the uprisings in Scotland in 1297 is William Wallace. Confronted by an English army outside Stirling, on September 11, he holds back his troops and thus entices the enemy across a narrow bridge over the river Forth. When about half are over the river, Wallace attacks so forcefully that nearly all the English on the northern bank are killed or are drowned in flight.

The prestige of this victory at Stirling Bridge enables Wallace to rule Scotland briefly on behalf of the imprisoned John de balliol. But the situation brings Edward I north in person in 1298.

At Falkirk, in 1298, Edward avenges the humiliation of Stirling bridge. English and Welsh archers inflict devastating casualties on the massed ranks of Scottish spearmen, in an early example of the power of the Longbow (half a century before its more famous deployment at Crécy).

This defeat undermines the authority of Wallace, who vanishes from history until his capture and execution in 1305. But Edward is committed now to holding down the Scots by force of arms - a task more difficult, over a much wider region, than his subjection of Wales. And from 1306 he is confronted by a newly proclaimed Scottish king, in the person of Robert de Bruce.

Edward's last campaign is an expedition north to destroy Bruce, but he never reaches Scotland. He dies of illness, just short of the border near Carlisle, in July 1307. His obsessive desire to subdue Scotland is reflected in the epitaph on his tomb in Westminster Abbey: Edwardus Primus Malleus Scotorum hic est, 'Here lies Edward I, Hammer of the Scots'.

The death of Edward is Bruce's good fortune. Edward II lacks his father's mettle. Bruce's victory over him at Bannockburn in 1314 is a turning point in the relations between England and Scotland. By 1328, in the treaty of Northampton, the English finally recognize Bruce as Robert I of Scotland - abandoning at the same time the English king's claim to be his feudal overlord.

Edward II and Edward III: AD 1307-1377

The unruly mood of England's barons was an unsettling factor in the reigns of John and Henry iii in the 13th century. The same unrest has a more profound effect on the throne in the 14th century. Two kings of England, Edward II and Richard ii, are deposed and very probably murdered.

The central theme of the reign of Edward II is the persistent attempt of the barons to rid the country of the unsuitable young men whom the king selects as his favourites, and to whom he gives positions of power.

The first such favourite is Piers Gaveston, with whom Edward is assumed to have a homosexual relationship. Using the meetings of parliament to press their case, the barons twice succeed in forcing the king to banish Gaveston. Each time the young man is soon recalled, until the barons murder him in 1312.

The next favourite of significance is Hugh le Despenser. The power granted to him and to his family eventually provokes Edward's own queen, Isabella, to action. In alliance with her lover, Roger Mortimer, she marches against the Despensers. They are captured, and with them the king, in 1326. The Despensers are executed. The king is imprisoned.

In January 1327 Edward II is forced by his wife, Isabella, to renounce the throne in favour of their 15-year-old son, Edward III. Before the end of the year Edward II dies, a captive in Berkeley castle, almost certainly murdered. (His death is soon followed by a gory rumour, fuelled by rumours of the king's homosexuality, that the instrument of death is a red-hot skewer plunged up into the instestines.)

For four years Mortimer rules with Isabella in the young king's name, but in 1331 Edward III declares his independence in forceful manner. Mortimer is holding a council in Nottingham. The king makes his way into the castle by a subterranean passage, seizes the usurper and has him executed.

In a long reign, spanning half a century, Edward III contrives to rule without any major confrontation with the barons. The reason is partly a shared cause, the Hundred Years' War, which in its early stages brings a sense of glorious achievement to England's warriors.

But unrest returns when the throne is inherited in 1377 by a 10-year-old child, Edward's grandson Richard ii.

England sophisticated: late 14th century AD

By the time of Richard II the English kingdom can hold its own in learning and the arts. The university of Oxford, which earlier in the century has produced William of Ockham (one of the last great figures of medieval scholasticism), is now buzzing with the radical notions of John Wycliffe. He dies in 1384, but his writings have a profound influence in Europe during the build-up towards the Reformation.

In art and literature there is the same excellence. Richard II commissions some of the best painting of the age, including the Wilton diptych. A member of his court and adminstration is England's first outstanding poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.

Lancaster and York

Richard II and Bolingbroke: AD 1398-1400

The history plays of William Shakespeare concentrate on a span of about ninety years from the end of the reign of Richard II to the seizing of the crown by Henry VII. It is an exceptionally dramatic period, in which rival branches of the English royal house conspire and fight for power.

Every contestant in the struggle is descended from Edward iii, whose poisoned gift to his own lineage is to have four sons - each of whom, except for one, has a thriving line of descendants. The significant exception is the eldest son, Edward the Black Prince. He dies before his father and leaves just one son, Richard II. The young king proves himself a cultured monarch, but not a wise one.

Richard's weak but autocratic rule makes him many enemies among the nobility. The most powerful of them is his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, the son of Richard's uncle and early mentor, John of Gaunt. In 1398 Richard finds a pretext to banish Bolingbroke for ten years. Bolingbroke departs peacefully for Paris, but the following year Richard pushes him too far. When John of Gaunt dies, in 1399, the king confiscates his vast lands and inheritance, and declares that Bolingbroke's banishment is now for life.

After this act of provocation, Richard is unwise enough to depart for a campaign in Ireland. Bolingbroke returns to England, easily raising sufficient support to march unopposed through the country and into Wales.

Richard, returning from Ireland, surrenders to his cousin at Conwy without a battle. In London, on 29 September 1399, he is forced to renounce the crown. On the following day a parliament is held in Westminster Hall. The throne is vacant. Bolingbroke is seated in it by the two archbishops, of Canterbury and York, becoming Henry IV. His accession introduces the Lancastrian line on the English throne, because the title which he inherits from his father is duke of Lancaster.

Richard is imprisoned in a succession of castles. He dies at Pontefract, in February 1400, probably starved to death after the discovery of a conspiracy by some of his supporters.

The Lancastrian kings: AD 1399-1461

However broad his original acclaim in the country, Henry IV is undeniably a usurper. He has displaced the rightful king, and much of his reign is taken up with putting down rebellions - the most threatening of them from his own disaffected supporters (including the fiery Henry Percy, known as Hotspur).

These discontents prompt the last great uprising of Welsh nationalism, led by Owain glyn dwr. The relative weakness of the new king's position also causes parliament to exert itself, with the Commons in particular insisting on proper safeguards when money is to be raised. Even so, the country is calm when Henry dies.

Henry V, succeeding his father in 1413, concerns himself mainly with English claims in France. His campaigns across the channel bring him great prestige. The first, in the autumn of 1415, results in two great successes - the capture of Harfleur (the scene of the famous speech 'Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more' in Shakespeare's Henry V) and the resounding victory at Agincourt.

These years see England's most sustained effort in the Hundred Years' War. Henry's tactic is to take towns and fortresses one by one, planting in them English garrisons. This brings him the great prize of Rouen in 1419, and the treaty of Troyes in 1420.

The treaty of Troyes, extraordinarily advantageous to the English cause, is agreed with only one of the two sides in France's civil war. Under its terms Henry V is to be the acknowledged heir of the French king, Charles VI, to the exclusion of the dauphin. Within two weeks of the treaty Henry marries Catherine, daughter of the king of France.

In 1421 the couple have a son, also christened Henry. Before the infant is a year old, both his father and his maternal grandfather have died. For the second time in the Hundred Years' War a king of England has a valid claim to the Crown of france. The boy is crowned Henry VI of England at Westminster in 1429, and Henry II of France in Paris in 1431.

Henry V's death from fever at the age of thirty-five, while still campaigning in France, is a disaster for the new house of Lancaster. The long minority of his infant son, followed by recurring bouts of some form of mental instability in his adult life, means that Henry VI is never the real ruler of England. In the early part of the reign the great magnates jockeying for power are his Lancastrian uncles. But from 1454 the most powerful man in the land is the king's cousin, Richard duke of York, the leading member of another branch of the royal house.

The Yorkist claim to the throne is almost as good as the Lancastrian. The issue will be fought out in the Wars of the Roses.

Wars of the Roses: AD 1455-1485

England's most intense dynastic war takes its name from the badges worn by the followers of the two sides. The Yorkist branch of the royal family (descended from Edmund Langley, duke of York, the 4th son of Edward iii) has long been known by the sign of the white rose. The Lancastrians (descended from John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, the 2nd son of Edward iii) adopt the red rose as a contrasting symbol during the war between the two sides.

The conflict comes to a head because of the spells of insanity suffered during the 1450s by the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. Both sides of the family want to secure power. They clash at St Albans in 1455 and again at Northampton in 1460. On each occasion the king's army is defeated.

After the battle at Northampton, Henry VI is a captive of the Yorkists. Even though he has a young son of his own, he is forced to acknowledge Richard duke of York as his heir. In the event Richard does not inherit. In further battles between the two sides he is killed (on 30 December 1460) and it is his son who is proclaimed king in 1461 as Edward IV - introducing the Yorkist line on the English throne. Henry VI flees to safety in Scotland.

Further turmoil brings Henry briefly back to the throne for six months (from October 1470), after which he is again captured by Edward IV and is murdered in the Tower of London.

The violence continues after Edward's reign. He is succeeded in April 1483 by his 12-year-old son, Edward V. The regent is the young king's uncle, Richard duke of Gloucester, who soon confines the king and his younger brother, prince Richard, in the Tower of London. Known in English history as the princes in the Tower, and widely assumed to have been murdered on their uncle's command, the boys vanish from sight.

Meanwhile, in June 1483, the duke of Gloucester is proclaimed by a parliament at Westminster as Richard III. But he reigns for only two years before he is killed at Bosworth Field in battle with another claimant, Henry Tudor, who succeeds him as Henry VII.

In this series of violent upheavals, Henry Tudor is the only contestant who is not of royal descent in the male line. His grandfather, Owen Tudor, is a member of the Welsh gentry who prospers greatly in the service of Henry v. But Henry Tudor's mother is of the Lancastrian house, and he himself is betrothed to Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. Any child of theirs on the throne will close the vicious circle, uniting the two houses.

Henry is crowned in October 1485. He marries Elizabeth in January 1486. Their first son, born in September, is named Arthur - as if the Tudors count this legendary British king among their ancestors. And a new badge, the Tudor rose, now blends in harmony the White and red roses of the bitter dispute.

Henry VII and Henry VIII

Pretenders to the throne: AD 1487-1499

Like Henry IV almost a century earlier, Henry VII has usurped the throne - albeit with the support of most of the nobility. Like his predecessor, his reign is troubled by attempts to unseat him. But this time they take an unusual form. They are headed by pretenders, nonentities who are coached by the rebels to impersonate princes who would have a real claim to the throne.

The first pretender is Lambert Simnel, claimed by supporters of the Yorkist dynasty to be the young Edward of Warwick (a nephew of Edward IV and Richard III). In 1487 the Yorkists crown the boy Edward VI in the cathedral in Dublin. They then invade England with an army of German mercenaries.

In a battle at Stoke, in Nottinghamshire, Henry VII defeats the rebels (with some difficulty) and captures Lambert Simnel. Recognizing that the boy is a harmless dupe, the king employs him in the royal kitchens. Simnel lives to the age of about sixty, dying in 1535.

A more serious threat emerges in 1491. Margaret of Burgundy, the sister of Edward IV and Richard III, claims to have rescued her nephew Richard, the younger of the two princes in the Tower. He is in fact a 17-year-old, a certain Perkin Warbeck, but Margaret coaches him to impersonate the prince - so successfully that he is at differing times accepted in that role by the king of France, by the Holy Roman Emperor and by James IV of Scotland.

With friends of this calibre, and a powerful claim to the throne as the supposed son of a crowned king, this pretender is dangerous indeed. But Henry's diplomacy succeeds in diverting foreign support, and fortunately Warbeck's three attempts to invade England are incompetent. He is captured in Hampshire in 1497.

Once again Henry VII at first spares the impostor, until further political developments make his death seem a wise precaution. Warbeck is hanged at Tyburn in 1499.

Building the Tudor inheritance: AD 1485-1509

The caution and commonsense which Henry VII shows in relation to the two pretenders is typical of his reign, both in domestic and foreign affairs. At home, strictly controlled expenditure and efficiently raised revenue soon put the royal finances in a healthy condition unprecedented in the past century or more. In establishing strong central control, the king is helped by a widespread desire to avoid a return to the anarchy of the preceding reigns.

Henry commissions John cabot and his sons in 1497 to cross the Atlantic, in search of new lands and trade routes. In doing so he takes the first step towards English colonial expansion - though nothing comes of these early voyages.

In his relationship with other kingdoms, Henry is equally successful. At the start of his reign the kings of France and Scotland and the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian i, are all opposed to him - partly because they consider him likely to lose his throne. But he achieves treaties of peace and recognition from France in 1492, from Maximilian in 1496 and from Scotland in 1499.

The Scottish treaty is followed by the marriage, in 1503, of the Scottish king James iv and Margaret Tudor, Henry's daughter - an event of great signficance in English and Scottish history, for exactly a century later it brings the Union of the crowns.

An equally significant marriage, and another triumph for Henry's foreign policy, has taken place two years earlier. Among the kingdoms of Europe, Spain is the new power to be reckoned with - fully recovered for Christianity with the capture of Granada, united under the joint rule of Ferdinand and isabella, and certain soon to benefit from the wealth of America.

Henry contrives to link England with this emerging power. In 1501 Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and isabella, arrives in England to marry Henry's eldest son, Arthur. They are both fifteen at their wedding in November. They spend the winter together in Ludlow castle. There, in April, the young husband dies.

Immediately there are plans for the Spanish princess to marry the new heir to the throne, Henry VII's second son - also called Henry. Papal dispensation is secured for the union (the legality of which is recognized as open to interpretation), but shifting political alliances between the European powers cause the king to delay the wedding.

It is almost the only unresolved political issue when Henry VII dies in 1509. He leaves his heir a prosperous and stable kingdom, which Henry VIII inherits without any trace of disturbance or unrest. One of his first acts, within two months of his father's death, is to marry Catherine.

England and Scotland in Europe: 16th century AD

In the greatest rivalry of 16th century Europe - that of Spain and france - the two kingdoms of the British Isles are peripheral players. But there are certain contexts in which they can harm or hinder the main contestants.

England can help Spain by invading across the Channel when France is engaged elsewhere. England can help France by denying Spanish ships an easy passage through the Channel to the Netherlands. And Scotland can help any enemy of England by marching into the northern English counties.

Royal marriages with France and Spain are used by both countries to reinforce these potential alliances. England's Henry VIII is himself already married to the Spanish Catherine of Aragon when, in 1514, he arranges a match for his sister Mary with the French king Louis xii.

Henry VIII's wedding plans for his daughter Mary are equally even-handed. When she is two, a betrothal is agreed between her and the infant son of the king of France, who by now is Francis I. When she is five, there is a new plan; she will instead marry Francis's hated Spanish rival, Charles V. When she is eleven, the prospective bridegroom is once again French - but now it is accepted that it may be either the young dauphin or his father, Francis I.

In the event the unfortunate Mary marries no one until 1554, when she is thirty-eight. By then she is herself queen of England, as Mary i, and her bridegroom is Spanish - the son of Charles V. Meanwhile Scotland's diplomats are busy at the same game. In 1548 the 5-year-old Scottish queen, Mary stuart, is betrothed to the dauphin of France. They marry in 1558.

These matrimonial negotiations are part of the wider diplomacy of England and Scotland in Europe, involving military alliances and sometimes war. The first occasion for war, in 1513, proves a disaster for Scotland.

Holy League and Flodden: AD 1513

In 1513 the European rivals entice both England and Scotland into their conflict. The pope, the emperor and the king of Spain have formed a Holy league against France. The king of Spain, Ferdinand ii, is the father-in-law of Henry VIII. He persuades his son-in-law to support the cause. In June 1513 Henry leads an army across the Channel into France.

Meanwhile the French king has recently agreed a treaty of alliance with Scotland. He now urges James IV, king of Scotland, to respond in kind to this English aggression. In August, within weeks of Henry's departure for France, James crosses the river Tweed to invade northern England.

Both the English and the Scottish kings have initial successes in their summer campaigns, but disaster strikes the Scots in September 1513. At Flodden they meet an English army sent north under the earl of Surrey. Scottish casualties amount to some 10,000 men, subsequently lamented in ballads as the 'flowers of the forest'. Among the dead is the king, James IV. He is succeeded by his one-year-old son, as James V. Scotland enters a profoundly unsettled period.

By contrast Henry returns to England in October, well pleased with his participation in two successful sieges and a victory over the French at Guinegate.

At the time of these adventures the Holy Roman emperor and the French king are Maximilian I and Louis XII. A few years later they are respectively Charles v and francis i.

Both are more powerful players than Henry VIII in Europe's current turmoil. But an alliance with England is nevertheless an asset. In 1520 Henry has the satisfaction of finding each ruler eager for his friendship - Francis I on the Field of Cloth of Gold, Charles V more discreetly in Kent. The result of those negotiations is an alliance with Spain. But soon Henry's urgent wish for a divorce will alienate Charles V - for Henry's queen, Catherine of aragon, is the emperor's aunt.

Royal divorce: AD 1526-1533

A wife in any great dynastic marriage is expected to provide two assets - a diplomatic alliance with her own royal house, and a male heir for her husband's. Of the two the second is by far the more important. It is the one which Catherine of aragon tragically fails to fulfil.

She bears Henry VIII six children, three of them sons. All are either stillborn or die in early infancy except for one girl, Mary, born in 1516. Henry's first response is to use Catherine's other asset, her own powerful dynasty. In 1521 he arranges the betrothal of Mary to Catherine's nephew, the emperor Charles v. He hopes that the Tudor inheritance, under such protection, will survive one female reign.

The plan crumbles in 1525 when Charles v decides there is greater advantage in binding Spain to Portugal; he marries a Portuguese princess. This leaves the Tudor line dangerously exposed. No woman has inherited the English throne since Matilda, who does not provide an encouraging example. Henry's thoughts turn instead to the possibility of divorce.

This can only be achieved by the pope annulling his marriage to Catherine. There is a good recent precedent. In 1498 the king of France, Louis XII, had his first marriage annulled for the nakedly political reason of securing Brittany for France. Henry's lord chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, is optimistic that as much may be achieved for England.

At first his optimism seems justified. The pope, Clement VII, sends Cardinal Campeggio to try the case in England. The argument hinges ostensibly on two rival verses from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 25:5 and Leviticus 20.21). One of them (Leviticus) seems to support Henry's assertion that his marriage to Catherine was from the start against holy writ and therefore invalid.

As ever, a more practical argument decides the case. Since the battle of Pavia in 1525 Catherine's nephew, the emperor Charles v, has been in a position of strength. In 1527 Imperial troops besiege Clement VII in Rome. Whatever the theology, the pope cannot afford to grant Henry his annulment. In 1529 Cardinal Campeggio is recalled.

This reversal brings the end of Wolsey's career; he is stripped of all his offices in 1529 but dies of natural causes, in 1530, before what would have been his certain execution. Henry's own reaction to the setback is forceful. The pope is uncooperative. But does England need the pope? In the turmoil of the Reformation, the question is a natural one to ask.

Henry himself is no reformer - indeed he has been granted the title 'Defender of the Faith' by a previous pope in recognition of his pamphlet written against Luther in 1521 - but there are practical benefits to be had from an anti-papal policy. There is a tempting example in Sweden, where Gustavus i has recently raised vast sums from the seizure of church property.

To add to such reasons of state, Henry by now has a strong personal motive for pushing ahead with the divorce. He has fallen in love with the young Anne Boleyn. The letters surviving from his courtship prove the warmth of his passion.

This marriage, so necessary for the provision of a male heir, will be pleasure as well as duty. To speed it on, Henry initiates the unusual series of events which constitute the English Reformation.

Royal reform: AD 1529-1541

During the five years after Wolsey's fall Henry changes to a new tack in his pursuit of the annulment of his marriage. Instead of trying to persuade the pope of his case, the new strategy is one of forcing his compliance. Many members of parliament are deeply anti-clerical, in response to the overweening behaviour of great prelates such as Wolsey. Henry easily persuades them to pass a series of measures which restrict papal authority in England and prevent church funds from flowing to Rome.

These measures fail to win the annulment from Clement VII. But the pope plays into Henry's hands when he accepts his proposal for the see of Canterbury, which falls vacant in 1532. The name put forward is Thomas Cranmer.

Cranmer has been in the forefront of Henry's campaign for the divorce. Now as archbishop, in May 1533, he declares Henry's marriage to Catherine to be null and void. Of the rival verses, the one from Leviticus has carried the day. At the same time it is announced that Henry and Anne were secretly married in January. There is urgency in all this, for Anne is already four months pregnant.

Over the coming months parliament passes several acts completing the separation from Rome. The most significant is the Act of Supremacy, in 1534, declaring that Henry VIII is head of the church of England.

Within a week of making himself supreme head of the church, in January 1535, Henry commissions his principal secretary, Thomas Cromwell, to make a detailed survey of monasteries, convents and other ecclesiastical property in England and Wales. This is achieved by Cromwell with great efficiency in a massive document Valor Ecclesiasticus ('Church Wealth').

Before the end of 1535 Cromwell's agents are sent out to list evidence of laxity and corruption in the monasteries - not hard to find at the time. In 1536 the process begins of appropriating properties listed in the first survey, on the grounds of abuses discovered in the second.

In this dissolution of the monasteries, the priories and other smaller establishments are closed and appropriated first. Then Cromwell and his master are ready to tackle the great abbeys, with their rich swathes of land. The task is complete by 1541.

Most of the land is sold to private citizens. Valuable funds flow into the royal exchequer, while the new owners find in the abbey buildings a supply of excellent stone for the mansions which now rise beside picturesque ecclesiastical ruins.

Act of Supremacy: AD 1534-1535

The Act of Supremacy demands public consent to the king's newly assumed role as head of the Church of England. Prominent figures in public life are required to swear on oath their acceptance of this new doctrine. A few brave men refuse to do so, among them the bishop of Rochester (John Fisher) and Thomas More.

Thomas More holds a position of particular significance. A scholar of distinction, friend of Erasmus, author of Utopia, he has also been a close friend of Henry VIII and for three years - after the fall of Wolsey - his lord chancellor.

More refuses the oath because it implies denial of the pope's supremacy. Imprisoned from May 1534 in the Tower of London, he is tried in Westminster Hall in July 1535 (ten days after the beheading of John Fisher on the same charge of treason).

Found guilty, and returned to the Tower, More declares on the scaffold that he dies 'the king's good servant, but God's first'. He and Fisher, and a group of Carthusian monks who make the same stand, become England's first Catholic martyrs.

And yet there is no element of religious reform in all this, for Henry retains his Dislike of luther. The king has not so much denied the pope as replaced him. Instead of the Roman Catholic church there is to be an English Catholic church. Doctrine is barely involved.

But this account leaves out Cranmer. He has been by instinct a reformer since 1520, when he was one of a group in Cambridge meeting to discuss the ideas thrown up by Luther's defiance of Rome. Under his guidance the Anglican church, begun as an act of political expediency, gradually finds its own religious identity.

Royal palaces: 16th century AD

In 1538 Henry VIII begins the construction of a country palace near Epsom. Its name reflects conscious competition, in this field as in others, with his fellow monarchs in western Europe - and in particular with the king of France, Francis I. The new palace is called Nonsuch.

Francis I has made spectacular improvements to existing buildings at Fontainebleau and chambord. Henry goes one better with this extravagant new creation, lavishly decorated throughout in Renaissance style by craftsmen who are mainly from Italy. Some of them have worked previously at Fontainebleau.

In this Age of the palace, Henry has a magnificent quartet strung out along the Thames. Built by others, they are all greatly extended by him. Greenwich, dating originally from the early 15th century, is where he was born. It remains his favourite.

In the centre of London Henry uses, from 1529, the palace which he names Whitehall. As York Place, it has previously been the London residence of the archbishop of York. Cardinal Wolsey, absentee holder of this office, has done much to improve this riverside building. It is plainly church property, but when Wolsey falls from favour the king loses no time in moving in.

Further upstream Henry has a palace at Richmond, lavishly rebuilt by his father after a fire in 1499. Beyond that, at Hampton Court, he benefits again from Wolsey's energies as a builder.

The cardinal creates this magnificent residence (where some 280 beds are kept available for strangers) between 1514 and 1521. By 1525 he considers it politic to avoid the king's envy. He makes him a gift of the palace and all its contents. Wolsey is graciously allowed to remain in his house until his disgrace in 1529, after which Henry adds it to his collection.

Wives of Henry VIII: AD 1509-1547

Not many men have six wives. Even fewer execute two. It is not surprising that Henry VIII and his wives have an assured niche in popular history.

The king is married to Catherine of aragon for nearly two and a half decades, then fits five more wives into just fourteen years. His marriage to Anne boleyn, at first passionate, lasts only three years. The king is disappointed that her first child is a girl (the future queen Elizabeth). He is further distressed when she has a late miscarriage, probably of a male child, in January 1536. In May of that year she is suddenly sent to the Tower on charges of adultery.

It is not known whether there is any basis to this accusation, but those accused of being her lovers (including her own brother) are executed on May 17. Anne is beheaded on May 19. On the very next day Henry is betrothed to one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. They marry on May 30. The following year, in October, Jane does at last produce the long-awaited male heir, the future Edward VI. But she herself dies twelve days later.

Henry's next marriage also leads to a death, but not in this case that of the bride.

Thomas Cromwell, by now the king's right-hand man on all matters, persuades his master in 1539 that an alliance with a German house, with Lutheran connections, is a diplomatic necessity - there appears to be a danger of Catholic France and spain, long-term enemies, settling their differences. He proposes marriage with Anne, a princess of Cleves.

Henry is said to dislike Anne on first sight, in 1540, calling her the 'Flanders mare'. He refuses to consummate the marriage, which is easily annulled six months later by a compliant English church and parliament. By then France and spain are back to their squabbles, so the union was not even a diplomatic necessity. Thomas Cromwell pays for this blunder with his head.

Less than three weeks after the annulment of the marriage to Anne of Cleves, and on the very day when Thomas Cromwell is executed, Henry marries one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting - the 19-year-old Catherine Howard. For a year Henry is enchanted with his young bride. Then he discovers that she has had affairs both before and during her marriage. She is beheaded in 1542.

Finally, in 1543, he marries his third Catherine. Already twice widowed herself, and now aged thirty-one, Catherine Parr is an intelligent and cultivated woman who succeeds in uniting the king's family. For the remaining few years of his life his three children, from separate mothers, all live together for the first time in the royal household.

Children of Henry VIII

The English Reformation: AD 1547-1662

Although Henry VIII severs the church of England from Rome in 1533, religious reform does not begin in earnest until after his death in 1547. Indeed in 1539 parliament passes, at the king's behest, an Act of Six Articles outlawing Lutheran notions such as the marriage of clergy, or any interpretation of the Eucharist differing from that of Rome.

But in the six-year reign of Henry's son, Edward VI, two successive regents of the young king (the dukes of Somerset and Northumberland) press ahead with reform in the Calvinist tradition. This is the time when English cathedrals and churches first have their sculptures and stained-glass windows smashed, and their murals defaced.

On the positive side the period produces two versions of the Prayer Book (1549 and 1552) which are largely the work of Thomas Cranmer. Though modified in some respects in later reigns, Cranmer's superb prose provides the basis of the Book of Common Prayer which becomes accepted from 1662 as the order of service of the church of England.

But the English Reformation has to pass through fire before it is tempered into its final form. In her five-year reign Edward's sister, Mary i, forcibly reimposes Roman Catholicism on England. Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake bequeath to the Anglican church two abiding characteristics - a dislike of religious fervour and a hatred of Roman Catholicism.

During the reign of Mary's sister Elizabeth, whose instinct is for reconciliation after the violent swings of the preceding years, the Calvinists in England become a minority widely referred to as Puritans (because they want to purify the church of all taints of Roman Catholicism).

Among various Puritan sects, the Presbyterians are predominant. In the English civil war - which can be seen partly as an extension of the struggles of the Reformation - the Presbyterians are the party of parliament. The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 brings back the mainstream of the Anglican church; and from 1662 the mainstream insists upon conformity, even though to a broadly based central position.

The Act of Uniformity of 1662 obliges clergymen in the church of England to assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles. These central tenets of Anglican belief are based on a version drawn up by Cranmer in 1553 and modified ten years later, in Elizabeth's reign, to try and accomodate Catholics who might be willing to give up Rome (and five of the seven sacraments) and Puritans who might tolerate bishops.

Some 2000 clergy, appointed during the Commonwealth, lose their livings when they reject the Articles in the 1660s. They and their followers become the Nonconformists - a group, much discriminated against, which includes Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers and later Methodists.

Mary I: AD 1553-1558

Mary inherits the English throne in 1553, on the death of her young brother Edward VI. Her reign begins with an attempted coup d'état by her brother's unscrupulous mentor, the duke of Northumberland. The innocent victim of his treason is the 15-year-old Lady Jane Grey. Within ten days of Northumberland's grab for the throne, Mary is safely proclaimed queen. It is possibly the last occasion on which the majority of her subjects are on her side.

Mary is passionately faithful to the memory of her ill-treated mother, Catherine of aragon, and to the Roman Catholic religion. The central theme of her reign is the restoration of England as a Catholic kingdom under the authority of the pope.

Mary's first step in her chosen direction is profoundly unpopular in England. She announces in November 1553 that she will marry her Spanish cousin Philip, son of the emperor Charles V. The news provokes an uprising in Kent in 1554, led by Sir Thomas Wyatt, which is only narrowly defeated in the outskirts of London. The crisis seals the fate of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, altering Mary's previous intention to spare her life.

Parliament accepts Mary's marriage but will not allow Philip to be crowned as her consort. In similar mood it passes legislation for the return of Roman Catholicism, but only with the proviso that no layman will be expected to hand back Church property acquired under Henry VIII.

This very practical response to Mary's zeal demonstrates how difficult it is for her to reverse the English Reformation. Only in the purely religious context can she show real progress. She applies herself with vigour to the task of rooting out heretics.

The arrival of Cardinal Pole as the pope's legate, in November 1554, signals the return of England to the papal fold. The investigation of heresy begins immediately. In February 1555 prominent Protestants begin to be burnt at the stake. John Hooper, the bishop of Gloucester, is among the first. Subsequent martyrs include the bishop of Rochester (Nicholas Ridley) and the archbishop of Canterbury (Thomas Cranmer).

The English Protestant martyrs number fewer than 300 - far less than the victims of sudden massacres elsewhere (such as St Bartholomew's Day in France) or the persistent losses suffered by the Anabaptists. But the steady procession of ordinary men and women to the stake in Mary's reign, alongside a minority of distinguished clerics, leaves an indelible memory in England - and one kept alive by the gory details in John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, an immensely popular work published in several English editions from 1563.

Mary is thirty-eight when she marries Philip, eleven years her junior. She is desperate to give birth to an heir who will displace from the inheritance her Protestant sister Elizabeth.

A few months after her marriage Mary, believing herself to be pregnant, orders thanksgiving services to be held. A similar false pregnancy and disappointment occurs in 1558, in the forty-second and last year of her life.

On her deathbed Mary is no doubt well aware that her dogmatic efforts have been in vain. They earn her the nickname Bloody Mary in English popular history, but they also provide the context for the mood of reconciliation which characterizes her sister's policy. More than anywhere else in Europe, England has experienced a disastrous see-saw of creeds resulting from the contemporary convention of the ruler choosing the kingdom's religion (see the rulers' religions).

Ten calming years: AD 1558-1568

When Elizabeth I comes to the throne, succeeding her sister Mary peacefully in November 1558, England is in need of calm on several fronts. The religious friction of the past two reigns must be resolved, though it will not be made easier by large numbers of Protestant exiles hurrying home from Zürich or Geneva and eager for their turn.

Peace has to be made with France and her ally Scotland, with whom England has been at war since 1557 as a result of Mary loyally supporting her husband, Philip, in yet another French and Spanish conflict. The war has greatly damaged English self-esteem, because early in 1558 the French have taken the opportunity to seize Calais.

Elizabeth makes peace with both France and Scotland, accepting terms for the loss of Calais. But a year later she responds forcefully when there seems a danger of French troops controlling Scotland. An English army, sent to help John Knox and the Protestant rebels, forces a French withdrawal in 1560.

On the religious front the queen attempts to achieve a moderate climate which will neither inflame the Puritan element nor exclude, and possibly drive into rebellion, the Roman Catholics. A new Act of Supremacy is passed in 1559, affirming that like her father she is head of the English church. Even so, Elizabeth avoids an open break with Rome until 1561.

In the economy steps are taken to improve the coinage and to boost trade. Sir Thomas Gresham builds the Royal Exchange (1566-68) as the first meeting place for London's bankers.

In all these activities Elizabeth has an ideal partner, a man who has looked after her own personal affairs since 1550. Now, on her accession in 1558, he becomes her principal secretary; and he holds the informal role of chief minister for the remaining forty years of his life. He is William Cecil, created Baron Burghley in 1571.

Elizabeth and Cecil run the administration, as Henry VIII did, through a small Privy council. But they also follow the example of Henry VIII in making use of parliament to ensure support for their actions, enlisting the power of the commons as a counterweight to that of the nobility.

The nature of Henry VIII's rule guaranteed a compliant parliament. Elizabeth cannot rely in the same way on cooperation. Puritan voices increasingly make themselves heard in the commons, often to her displeasure, and she summons parliament only infrequently (thirteen times in forty-four years). But in times of crisis the queen's personal ability to win the backing of parliament often proves invaluable, as in her famous 'golden speech' to members in 1601.

New perspectives: AD 1568

By the year 1568 it is becoming plain that England's foreign policy is undergoing a major shift. For centuries France has been England's main enemy. During the early 16th century, a period dominated by the rivalry between France and spain, this traditional alignment gives Spain the role of England's natural ally - a state of affairs reflected in the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, and of Mary I to Philip II.

But two circumstances are beginning to alter the situation.

One is the increasing threat to Spanish interests in the Caribbean from English sea captains, who at best infringe Spain's trading monopoly and at worst will rob any Spanish vessel they can overpower. Prominent among them is John Hawkins.

The issue becomes topical in September 1568 when Hawkins, commanding ships carrying merchandise and fifty-seven African slaves, is surprised at Vera Cruz by a Spanish fleet. The Spanish seize all but two of the English ships (one of them belonging to the queen herself), together with most of the sailors and all the merchandise and the slaves.

The queen herself is not above a little piracy of her own. In December of this same year Spanish treasure ships, laden with gold to pay troops in the Netherlands, shelter from a storm in English harbours. Elizabeth keeps the gold in England, even though ostensibly at peace with Spain.

The other reason for a change of policy also derives from an event of 1568. Elizabeth's cousin, Mary queen of scots, arrives in Carlisle, escaping from her Protestant enemies north of the border. She has always maintained that she is the rightful queen of England (Elizabeth being a bastard if her father's divorce from Catherine of aragon was invalid). It suits Catholic Spain to help Mary win Elizabeth's throne.

Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots: AD 1568-1587

The arrival of Mary in the north of England, where the nobility is still largely Roman Catholic, prompts the most dangerous rebellion of Elizabeth's reign. In 1569 the earls of Westmorland and Northumberland, with a force of about 6000 men, enter the city of Durham - where they hear mass in the cathedral and publicly burn the Book of Common Prayer and the English Bible. But their uprising fizzles out when they fail to reach Mary, by this time held as far south as Coventry.

The two earls escape to Scotland. Elizabeth brings swift punishment to followers in their northern territories, where some 800 suspected rebels are hanged.

This is the last attempt at armed uprising in Elizabeth's reign. Subsequent plots envisage the assassination of the queen herself, followed by an invasion of Spanish troops from the Netherlands. Mary, in secret contact with the Spanish authorities, is actively involved in these conspiracies.

The first is coordinated in 1571 by a Florentine banker, Roberto Ridolfi. Mary writes to the Spanish ambassador in London: 'Tell your master that if he will help me I shall be queen of England in three months.' When the plot is discovered, parliament in Westminster demands that Mary be put to death. Elizabeth refuses.

Meanwhile Mary lives in some style. Although a prisoner, moved around England for security's sake, she is treated as a queen, is allowed the management of her own dowry, and is attended by her own court of about thirty people. But this is not the court she dreams of.

The next plot, after a gap of twelve years, follows the arrival in England of the first Jesuit missionaries; they influence Francis Throckmorton, who plays the central organizing role of the conspiracy discovered in 1583. Another member of the secret circle around the Jesuits is Anthony Babington. His name is usually given to the conspiracy of 1586 which seals Mary's fate.

Elizabeth's subtle spymaster, Francis Walsingham, contrives to see letters passed between Mary and Babington in 1586. They strongly imply Mary's connivance in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth (though she denies this), and they prove sufficient to bring her at last to trial and conviction for treason. Even so, it is three months before Elizabeth signs the death warrant.

Mary is beheaded in February 1587 in the great hall of Fotheringay castle, in a scene where her courage and dignity profoundly impress the onlookers. The almost certain heir to Elizabeth's throne is now Mary's son, James VI.

Spain and England: AD 1568-1588

During the years when Philip II plots secretly against Elizabeth, a more public clash of interests is steadily pushing Spain into a position of open hostility. After Elizabeth's appropriation of Spanish gold on its way to the Netherlands in 1568, relations between Spain and England are formally severed for five years. By 1585 Elizabeth is actively supporting the Dutch rebels in the Netherlands. She sends 6000 men to their aid in that year under the earl of Leicester.

Meanwhile English incursions into the rich Spanish territories of Latin America have been escalating since the pioneering efforts of John Hawkins.

The main English voyages of plunder have been carried out by Francis Drake, a relative of Hawkins. Sailing from Plymouth to the Caribbean in May 1572 with just two small ships and seventy-three men, he spends more than a year depriving the Spanish of their precious metals, taking gold and silver from captured ships, from treasure houses on land and even from intercepted mule trains.

During his voyage round the world, in 1577-80, Drake goes one better - surprising the Spanish on the previously safe Pacific coast, where in 1579 he captures a fat, defenceless vessel, the Cacafuego, carrying 26 tons of silver, 80 lb. of gold and 13 chests of money. (The captain of a Spanish ship later provides an interesting glimpse of life on board the Golden Hind.)

So far these adventures have had the quality of piracy. But Drake's departure from Plymouth for the Caribbean in 1585, with a fleet of about thirty ships, looks much more like an expedition of war. He and his men spend several months plundering Spanish settlements, burning houses, sinking ships, destroying whatever they cannot profitably remove.

Coinciding with Elizabeth's despatch of troops to the Netherlands in the same year, this provocation finally persuades Philip that he must invade England. His pious wish to bring his first wife's country back to Roman Catholicism coincides now with the need to protect his territories.

Even so, he has to suffer one more affront. While Philip assembles his fleet in Cadiz in 1587, Drake sails into the crowded harbour and burns or sinks some thirty ships (an impertinence which becomes known in England as 'singeing the king of Spain's beard'). Much of the fleet being assembled consists of Galleys, the standard Spanish warship of the time.

Drake's ability to manoeuvre at Cadiz affects the forthcoming expedition, because it convinces Philip that he must use sailing ships. By May 1588 he has assembled a fleet of galleons.

Spanish Armada: AD 1588

The encounter between the Spanish Armada and the English fleet in the Channel in August 1588 is the first of a new kind of naval battle, and one in which the English tactics suggest the way forward.

The Spanish have been accustomed to fighting at sea with galleys, as at Lepanto only seventeen years previously. A galley imposes a certain pattern on a battle. Guns can only point forward from the bow, where the main weapon, the ram, is also located. Assault consists in rowing straight at the enemy. Once at close quarters the ideal is to sink the enemy ship, with the ram. Next best is to grapple it and swarm aboard for hand-to-hand combat - in a technique going back to the Roman navy and the 'Raven'.

The Armada (or in full Flota Armada Invencible, Armed Invincible Fleet) is the first Spanish war fleet to consist of sailing vessels, but its composition implies the use of galley tactics. The Spanish galleons are heavy; their guns fire large cannon balls, devastating at close quarters but of limited range; and the sailors on board the warships are more than twice outnumbered by soldiers, valueless in a sea battle unless ships come alongside.

The English fleet, consisting of smaller and swifter vessels, is armed with cannon which fire a lighter ball over a greater range. And the ships are almost entirely manned by trained seamen, with only a handful of soldiers.

The English crews, with commanders such as Hawkins and Drake among them, have learnt their trade in piracy against fat Spanish vessels. Now as they manoeuvre around the Armada, bombarding it from a distance, they demonstrate that the armed man-of-war is no longer just a vessel carrying combatants. It is itself the unit with which sea battles are fought.

During the next two centuries ships become bigger, cannon power more equal, and tactics more rigid in the development of the 'line'. But the basic pattern of warfare at sea is now established until the introduction of metal-plated and steam-powered warships in the mid-19th century.

Compared to later grand battles at sea, the fight with the Armada is strung-out and scrappy. The English, under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham, attack off Plymouth on July 31, off Portland Bill on August 2 and off the isle of Wight on August 4. Their light cannon reach the Spanish ships but do little damage. The fleet safely reaches Calais, where the plan is to pick up an army from the Netherlands and to ferry it across the Channel against England. But the army has not arrived.

During the night of August 7 the English send fire ships in among the anchored fleet, causing the Spanish to cut their cables in disarray. The next day the only real engagement takes place, off Gravelines.

The Spanish run out of cannon shot first, whereupon the English sail in close enough to do serious damage. At least three ships are sunk and a great many more severely battered before the English too run out of shot. The Armada escapes into the North Sea. The Spanish commander, the duke of Medina Sidonia, cannot now return through the Channel. He attempts to take his shattered fleet round the north of Scotland and into the Atlantic.

Ships founder or are wrecked on Scottish and Irish coasts. Of the 130 vessels which sailed from Corunna in June, only 67 limp back to Spain. The English, with a very much easier return voyage to their home ports, lose not a single ship.

Religion and war: AD 1570-1603

Elizabeth is by nature a pacifier. Her inclination has been clear in the first ten years of her reign, when the essentially moderate nature of the English Reformation is firmly established in the doctrines of the Anglican church.

But from 1570 such a policy becomes steadily more difficult. In that year the pope excommunicates Elizabeth, dangerously splitting the loyalties of her Roman Catholic subjects. In 1574 the first Catholic missionary priests arrive in England; they have been trained at Douai where William Allen, in the energetic mood of the Catholic reformation, has established a college to train English priests for this purpose.

In 1580 the Jesuits add England to to their fields of endeavour, sending over a small group of missionaries which includes Edmund Campion. In July 1581 Campion is arrested when preaching in Berkshire. He is interrogated, tortured, and accused of having conspired with others in Rome to dethrone the queen.

On being found guilty of treason, Campion puts the issue with admirable clarity: 'If our religion do make us traitors, we are worthy to be condemned; but otherwise we are and have been as good subjects as ever the Queen had.

The dilemma pinpointed by Campion becomes increasingly relevant during the 1580s, with religion and politics ever more tensely interconnected. The main enemy to England as a nation is now Catholic Spain. The main rival to Elizabeth as queen is the Catholic Mary queen of scots.

Even if the missionaries keep to their official brief and restrict their teaching to religion, their excitable converts are often interested in politics. Both Throckmorton and babington, prominent in the two plots against Elizabeth's life in the 1580s, have links with the Jesuits. In such circumstances it is difficult for a nervous government to distinguish between religious and political dissent.

As a result, the relatively mild measures against Roman Catholicism in Elizabeth's first decade are drastically revised in the 1580s. In 1581, the year of Campion's death, the fine for not attending an Anglican service on a Sunday goes up from one shilling a week to a massive £20 a month, nearly a hundred-fold increase.

And now once again, as in Mary's reign, there is a steady stream of Religious martyrs. More than 200 Catholics are executed between 1574 and the end of the reign. Their offence is said to be not heresy but treason - of which a minority are certainly guilty. For the rest the irrelevant charge makes the injustice even greater.

At the same time war is distracting Elizabeth from her purposes and draining her purse. The English defeat of the Armada fails to end the conflict with Spain, which drags on until the queen's death. In the 1580s she sends troops to assist the Protestant cause in both France and the Netherlands. In her final years an uprising by the Catholic chieftains of northern Ireland, with Spanish support, requires expensive intervention.

The only neighbouring region which provides no trouble during this period is Scotland - largely as a result of the Virgin Queen keeping quiet about her plans for the succession.

Virgin Queen: AD 1558-1603

The question of a marriage for the queen is of absorbing interest to her subjects for most of the reign. At different periods great dynastic alliances are discussed, varying with the political situation. A Habsburg archduke is considered in the 1560s when France is the enemy. Two French princes are allowed to hope in the 1570s when Spain is the shared threat.

Elizabeth herself seems disinclined to any foreign match, partly from the memory of her sister's unpopular marriage to Philip II and partly from a wish to preserve her independence. Her affections attach themselves rather more easily to her English subjects, among whom she has a succession of favourites.

The favourite who comes nearest to marriage is her first, the earl of Leicester. Handsome, intelligent and charming, Leicester is the same age as the queen (they meet as teenagers at the court of Edward VI). In the early 1560s enquiries are made of the Spanish ambassador about possible support for such a match. But the plan comes to nothing.

Subsequent favourites are Walter Raleigh in the 1580s, and the earl of Essex in the 1590s. Some twenty-five years younger than the queen, Essex behaves like an over-indulged child, even to the point of mounting in 1601 a petulant and half-hearted rebellion for which he is beheaded. Meanwhile there is one obvious candidate for the succession - James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots.

Charles I and Charles II

James VI and I: AD 1603

Unlike his mother, James is a Protestant. He is also undeniably the next in line of succession to Elizabeth's throne. Elizabeth is the last surviving descendant of Henry VIII, the only adult son of Henry VII. With her death the succession moves to the line of Henry VII's eldest daughter Margaret - married in 1503 to James IV of Scotland.

Margaret's two senior grandchildren are the first cousins Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Darnley, the parents of James VI. His claim is clear. But Elizabeth refuses to acknowledge him as her successor, until finally indicating this intention on her deathbed.

No doubt Elizabeth reasons that an element of uncertainty will keep her Scottish cousin (almost exactly the same age as her last favourite, Essex) on his best behaviour. She is proved right.

James is a skilful politician. During the last two years of Elizabeth's reign he is in secret correspondence with Robert Cecil, by now the queen's chief minister. At the same time James avoids any actions which might alarm the Roman Catholics in England and prompt a rebellion. As a result his succession in 1603 goes as smoothly as if he were Elizabeth's own son, rather than the king of a country where hostility to England has been the norm. James VI of Scotland now gains a new title as James I of England.

Stuart rule in England: AD 1603-1642

Stuart rule in England can be characterized by three main themes, each of them evident early in the reign of James I. One is the relationship with Parliament; here James begins so badly that within a year the commons feel compelled to issue a document, known as the Apology, asserting their rights. Another is the continuing hostility between Christian sects. Again the early omens are unpromising. James profoundly offends the Puritans at Hampton court in 1604, and is nearly blown up by the Catholics in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The third theme is the beginning of the British empire. In this area the new Stuart regime can claim greater success.

Virginia: AD 1607-1644

In 1606 James I supports new English efforts (the first since Raleigh) to establish colonies along the coast of America, north of the Spanish-held territory in Florida. A charter for the southern section is given to a company of London merchants (called the London Company, until its successful colony causes it be known as the Virginia Company). A company based in Plymouth is granted a similar charter for the northern part of this long coastline, which as yet has no European settlers.

The Plymouth Company achieves little (and has no connection with the Pilgrim fathers who establish a new Plymouth in America in 1620). The London Company succeeds in planting the first permanent English settlement overseas - but only after the most appalling difficulties.

In April 1607 three ships sent out by the London Company sail into Chesapeake Bay. They continue up a broad waterway, which they name the James river in honour of their king, and a few weeks later they select an island to settle on. They call their settlement Jamestown. But to the territory itself they give a more romantic name, honouring England's late Virgin queen - Virginia.

More than 100 English settlers attempt to make their home in 1607 on the island of Jamestown. A year later disease, privation, hunger and Attacks by local Indians have reduced their number to less than forty. But the hardship has produced the first notable leader in British colonial history.

John Smith is one of seven men appointed by the London company to serve on the colony's council. His energy, his resourcefulness and his skill in negotiating with the Indians soon establish him as the leader of the community.

Smith soon becomes involved in a famously romantic scene (or so he claims many years later, in a book of 1624). He is captured by Indians and is about to be executed when Pocahontas, the 13-year-old daughter of the tribal chieftain, throws herself between victim and executioner (or so Smith maintains). Smith is initiated into the tribe and returns to Jamestown - where Pocahontas becomes a frequent visitor, often bringing valuable information about the Indians' intentions.

Four more ships reach Jamestown in 1609. The number of settlers is up to 500 when Smith is injured, later that year, and has to sail home to England. During the next winter, in his absence, there is appalling famine - the 500 are reduced to 60. They are joined by another group (survivors of a shipwreck in Bermuda), but only after further reinforcements arrive, in 1610, is it finally decided to persevere with this difficult attempt at colonization.

The town of Williamsburg, first called Middle Plantation, is founded in 1633. By mid-century (in spite of an Indian attack in 1644 which kills 500 colonists) Virginia is at last secure. Ten or more counties, on the English pattern, have their own sheriff, constable and justices.

Stuart colonial expansion: 17th century AD

In the Atlantic the reign of James I includes the founding of Bermuda as a British colony. Soon after his death settlement begins in Barbados - for a while one of England's fastest growing overseas possessions, receiving 18,000 settlers between 1627 and 1642. In America twelve English colonies are in existence by 1688, the end of the reign of James I's grandson, James II.

Colonial achievements eastwards are equally impressive. James I encourages the new East india company in the early years of his reign, and in 1615 sends Thomas roe as England's first ambassador to the Indian emperor. By the end of the century Bombay, madras and calcutta are fortified English trading stations.

Stuarts and religion: AD 1603-1640

Since the reigns of Edward vi and Mary i two separate religious struggles run, like interwoven threads, through English life. One is the attempt, clandestine except in Mary's reign, to restore the country to Rome. The other is a battle for the soul of an English church. This second tussle is between those who want a local but reformed continuation of the Roman tradition (the Anglicans) and others wishing to purify the church of all innovations associated with hierarchical state religion (the Puritans).

Elizabeth, for the peace of the nation, has been content to hold the ring between these factions. The Stuarts are more concerned with having their own way.

Because of the tactful manner in which he has handled similar tensions in Scotland, all parties have high hopes of James I when he ascends the English throne in 1603. A small group of extremist Catholics are rapidly disappointed in him. They fatally damage their own cause when they attempt murder and treason in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 - an event which confirms, for centuries to come, an anti-Catholic obsession in the English national psyche.

The Puritans receive apparent encouragement when James calls a conference at Hampton Court in 1604 to consider the fairly modest programme of reform put forward in their Millenary petition (so called because it is supposedly supported by a thousand clergy).

In the event they too are disappointed. The king dismisses their proposals outright, insisting that the church will be organised his way - which means with bishops. Bishops are essential in a state religion, heading a hierarchy through which the monarch may hope to control the church, but they have no place in a Presbyterian system.

The controversy over bishops becomes a central issue in the first two Stuart reigns, and particularly in that of Charles I - partly because he is a less indolent character than his father, and partly because he has, in William Laud, a vigorously authoritarian archbishop fighting on his behalf.

The matter comes to a head in the aptly named Bishops' Wars of 1639-40. These wars, in turn, lead directly into the English civil war.

The Scottish wars would not necessarily have this result but for another antagonism which the first two Stuart kings seem obsessively determined to foster - in the ever-escalating struggle between themselves and the parliament in Westminster.

Stuarts and parliament: AD 1603-1628

Where his cousin Elizabeth was a pragmatist, it is James I's misfortune to be a theorist - or, more precisely, a man with one overriding theory. That theory, usually described as the Divine Right of Kings, has been expounded in detail by James (an enthusiastic author) in his true law of free monarchies. In this work of 1598 the king explains that since a monarch is ordained by God to rule, every person and institution in the state owes him absolute obedience.

After his accession in 1603 James wastes little time in conveying this message to parliament in Westminster. It is not well received.

James's first parliament, called in 1604, is sufficiently affronted by the king's attitude to respond with a document, known as the Apology, asserting that their powers and privileges are a long-standing right and not something granted by the grace and favour of the monarch.

The pattern for the reign of James and of his equally intransigent son, Charles I, is set in this first clash. Each king continues to repeat his claim to absolute power. Each parliament responds with ever more insistent assertions of its ancient rights. The Protestation of 1621 and the Petition of Right of 1628 build upon the premises stated earlier in the Apology.

The Petition of Right goes further than its predecessors in attempting to protect the citizen from royal tyranny, causing this statute (given royal assent by Charles I in 1628) to be described sometimes as a successor to Magna carta. It denies the right of the monarch to keep a standing army in peacetime or to billet soldiers compulsorily on citizens (a backdoor route to martial law).

The Petition also reasserts, yet again, that no citizen shall be obliged to pay a tax of any kind unless by common consent - meaning on the specific authority of an elected parliament. This issue of taxation is, ultimately, the crux of the matter.

James I and taxation: AD 1603-1625

The balance of advantage between king and parliament derives from two established facts. One favours the king. Only he can summon a parliament, so parliament is powerless without him.

But only parliament can raise the necessary taxes to run the kingdom. This is a traditional right, but it is also a practical reality; the members' local influence in their districts will be an important factor in securing the funds. So in this other sense the king is powerless without parliament.

The Stuart kings attempt to break the impasse by not calling parliament and by finding other ways to raise funds. These include the sale of baronetcies and peerages, the demanding of gifts (payments discreetly known as "benevolences"), and the letting out of trade monopolies. Such measures are not well calculated to please the likely members of the next parliament, fuming in the provinces as they await the unpredictable call to Westminster.

In 1614 James is so short of funds that he calls a parliament, the first in four years. But the members are in no mood to discuss anything other than their own grievances. Not a single bill is passed in two months. The outraged king dissolves what becomes known as the Addled Parliament.

Seven years elapse before James calls another parliament, in 1621. This time the commons find a new way of fighting back. They revive a medieval right by which the commons can impeach a public servant, sending him for trial before the House of Lords. Two purchasers of royal monopolies are the first to be brought to heel by this device. They are followed by a bigger catch - Francis Bacon, the Lord Chancellor, who admits to accepting money from litigants.

The message is clear. Parliament is to be the highest authority in the land. With the beginning of a new reign, in 1625, the point is driven forcefully home in the sensitive area of taxation.

Charles I and taxation: AD 1625-1639

On the accession of a new monarch it has been conventional for parliament to vote the right to tonnage and poundage (the nation's basic tax, levied on the import of goods) for the entire reign. Now, in 1625, the members grant it to Charles I only on an annual basis.

This attempt to force the king to call regular parliaments is unsuccessful. Instead he levies tonnage and poundage illegally, imposes a forced loan upon everyone in the community, and imprisons several of those who refuse to pay. This is the background to the parliament, called by Charles in 1628, which passes the Petition of Right. Winning no concessions, the king dismisses parliament in 1629. He does not call another for eleven years.

During this hiatus of eleven years, from 1629 to 1640 (the longest gap in English parliamentary history), Charles looks for further ingenious ways of raising funds. The most notorious is his extension of ship money. This is a tax which monarchs have traditionally been allowed to levy from coastal districts for their defence in time of war.

Charles demands ship money in 1634 (for the first time merely on the possibility of war), then extends the tax to inland districts in 1635, and issues further claims in 1636. An emergency tax is beginning to seem like a permanent one, but without parliamentary approval.

In 1636 John Hampden initiates a policy of non-payment of ship money which gradually wins support around the country. The king's agents are able to raise only 80% of the sums demanded in 1638, and less than 25% of the target figure in the following year.

By this time the king's needs are increasingly urgent, because now he does have a war on his hands - albeit only an internal one, in his own kingdom of Scotland. It is fought over the sensitive issue of bishops, a topic on which Charles and his archbishop, William Laud, have emphatic views. Scotland, they insist, should have the same hierarchy of archbishop and bishops as England. Scotland's Covenanters disagree.

The Bishops Wars: AD 1639-1640

In 1637 Charles I and Laud try to impose the full liturgy and hierarchy of the Anglican church on Scotland, where James I - in his more tactful early period - has put in place a workable compromise between the presbyterian and episcopal systems. This solution has held good for several decades.

Now the king's demands lead to riots in Edinburgh, in 1638, and the emergence of the Covenanters. It has been a tradition for members of the Church of scotland, when confronted by a crisis, to covenant themselves to a shared cause. They do so now in a National Covenant, first signed in Greyfriars' churchyard in Edinburgh in 1638 and then circulated throughout Scotland.

In 1639 the Covenanters take control in Edinburgh, Stirling and other Scottish towns. The General Assembly of the Church of scotland declares episcopacy abolished north of the border. A truce is agreed with the king later in 1639, but a second Bishops' War breaks out in 1640 when a Covenanters' army marches into England and seizes Newcastle.

The new crisis prompts Charles to summon parliament in London in 1640. But far from being willing to help the king against the Scottish presbyterians, the House of Commons - itself now predominantly presbyterian - presents Charles with Unprecedented demands.

First two years of the Long Parliament: AD 1640-1642

The parliament eventually known as the Long parliament (because in various forms it lasts until 1660) assembles in 1640 in a mood of great vigour. Many of its members have sat in the Short Parliament, summoned by Charles I earlier in 1640 and dismissed after only three weeks when it refuses to grant funds for the War against scotland. They have now lost all patience with the king.

Charles's position is so weak that he accedes to many radical measures. Ship money is outlawed. There are to be parliaments every three years. The court of the Star Chamber is abolished (this ancient court, designed to speed up justice, has been used by Charles to circumvent the safeguards of the law).

Even more significant than his acceptance of these drastic reforms is Charles's inability to prevent the commons impeaching his two closest advisers, the earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud.

Strafford, recently returned from governing Ireland, is accused of treasonable intent in planning to bring an Irish army into England in support of the king. When evidence seems to be lacking, parliament switches to a blunter instrument - a simple bill of attainder condemning Strafford to death. In May 1641, with an excited mob rioting in Whitehall, the king signs his friend's death warrant. Laud, himself by now a prisoner in the Tower, blesses Strafford on his way to the scaffold.

The commons, with the bit between their teeth, prepare in November 1641 a great list of grievances under the title Grand Remonstrance. Its 206 clauses, claiming to describe in detail the sorry state of the kingdom, amount to a detailed criticism of Charles's reign. But recent events have convinced many members that upheaveal has gone far enough. The Grand Remonstrance is passed by only a narrow majority (159 to 148).

This glimpse of a considerable level of support tempts the king into an impetuous and disastrous move. He decides on a pre-emptive strike. He accuses his five leading opponents in the House of Commons of treason. Even more dangerous, he makes a dramatic personal intervention.

A king in the commons: AD 1642

On 3 January 1642 the king's Sergeant-at-Arms arrives at the House of Commons with orders to arrest the five accused members. The House refuses to admit him, arguing that this is a matter of privilege. He takes back the message that the members will return their answer to the king as soon as possible.

On the next day, January 4, Charles arrives in person at the House of Commons, with an escort of some 400 men, to arrest the five members. Leaving his escort outside, Charles enters the chamber alone. He is the first (and only) monarch to cross the bar into the House of Commons. This flagrant breach of privilege is greeted with tense silence from the assembled members.

The king sits in the Speaker's chair and apologizes to the House for violating their privileges, but he goes on to argue that those guilty of treason have no privilege. He then calls on two of the members, Pym and Holles, by name. Receiving no answer, he asks the Speaker if any of the five are present.

The Speaker, William Lenthall, kneels and delivers the most resonant sentence in the annals of the English parliament, asserting with quiet dignity its sovereign independence: 'May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.'

Charles accepts this rebuff with a good line of his own: 'I see all the birds are flown.' He is right. The five members (John Pym, John Hampden, Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holles, William Strode) have been forewarned of the king's intention and have slipped away to a place of refuge in the city of London.

Six days later Charles leaves London for the north of England, where his support is strongest. His wife Henrietta Maria (target of much hostility in the recent unrest, as a foreigner and a Catholic) travels to safety in Holland. In the desperate quest for funds for her husband's cause she takes with her some light but valuable objects which she hopes to pawn - the crown jewels.

Civil War, Commonwealth

Preparations for war: AD 1642

During the early months of 1642 both the king and parliament take steps to organize support, while not yet fully accepting that war is inevitable. In June parliament presents the king with a set of demands (the Nineteen Propositions), which it would be clearly impossible for him to accept. Parliament, it is proposed, shall control the army and the church and shall have the right of approval of new privy councillors and peers, as also of the education and marriage of royal children.

Charles rejects the propositions. They are, he says, the kind of conditions imposed upon a prisoner. In August he formally raises the royal standard at Nottingham, signalling that he is at war with his enemies.

There is support for the king in the north and west of England and in the cathedral cities. Parliamentary strength resides above all, like parliament itself, in London; but there is strong enthusiasm for the parliamentary cause in the ports (and in the navy), together with the more commercially advanced towns of the southeast.

However, the geographical division of a royal northwest and a parliamentary southeast is too broad a generalization. The most striking characteristic of the conflict is the split loyalty which often divides counties, towns, villages and families. The patterns of this war are confusing even to the participants.

Cavaliers and Roundheads: AD 1642-1646

The first engagement between Cavaliers and Roundheads takes place at Edgehill, in October 1642, when an army commanded by Charles I meets a parliamentary force under the third earl of Essex, son of Elizabeth's favourite. The result is inconclusive, as is an advance on London by Charles in the following month. He reaches as far as Turnham Green, only a few miles from Westminster, before being confronted by a large parliamentary army.

The king withdraws without an engagement and retreats to spend the winter at Oxford, where he establishes his court for the remainder of the war.

There are battles in many parts of the country during 1643, none of them much affecting the balance of advantage between the two sides. The main development of the year is a diplomatic one - parliament makes an alliance with the Covenanters, beginning Scotland's somewhat erratic involvement in England's civil war.

The decisive battles of the war follow in the next two years. At Marston Moor, in July 1644, the king's nephew Rupert of the Rhine is heavily defeated by a parliamentary army. At Naseby, in June 1645, the king and Rupert together suffer another major setback.

The commanders on the parliamentary side on both occasions are Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. Together they are responsible for the effectiveness of a force proudly named the New Model Army. England's first professional army, it is established in 1645 and has its first major engagement at Naseby. It proves much more disciplined than the hastily organized groups of local militia which have provided the earlier armies on both sides.

Cromwell and the army later play the central role in England's developing political crisis - but only after the capture of the king brings to an end the first phase of the civil war.

By April 1646 Oxford is surrounded by a parliamentary army. Charles escapes from the city in disguise and surrenders to a Scottish army at Newark. He hopes to make an alliance with Scotland against his English enemies (and later he does so), but on this occasion the Scots keep him for eight months and then hand him over (in January 1647) to English parliamentary commissioners.

By August the king is at Hampton Court, a prisoner of the army and of Cromwell. Cromwell attempts to negotiate with him on a possible consitutional settlement. At the same time Cromwell is desperately trying to restore some unity of purpose to parliament in Westminster.

Cromwell the army and parliament: AD 1645-1648

Oliver Cromwell is in a unique position as both a member of parliament and a general. In 1645 parliament passes the Self-Denying Ordinance, which prevents members of parliament from serving in the army. The purpose is to ensure the professionalism of the New model army, being planned at this same time. But Cromwell's military skill is well known, from earlier engagements. An exception is made.

As a result he is well placed to be the intermediary in a dispute which develops between the army and parliament. The main issue is a struggle between England's puritan sects.

A majority of the members of parliament are Presbyterians (after the royalist members have left London to join the king). Like their colleagues in Scotland, with whom they form the Solemn league and covenant of 1643, they aim to impose their own presbyterian system of church government on the country.

Cromwell, by contrast, is an Independent or Congregationalist - as are a majority in the army and a minority in parliament. Puritans of this kind believe that each local congregation should be free to manage its own religious affairs in its own way. Relations between the two groups in parliament become increasingly bitter.

There is disagreement also about the captive king. Some, including at first Cromwell, feel that a constitutional settlement must still be possible. More radical voices urge that the monarchy and the House of Lords should be abolished.

This issue becomes more urgent when Charles (who in November 1647 escapes from Hampton Court to the Isle of Wight) comes to a secret arrangement with a group of Covenanters in Scotland. Their invasion of England on his behalf in 1648 initiates a second phase of the civil war, with royalist uprisings in many parts of the kingdom. Moving with great speed, Fairfax and Cromwell suppress the unrest between May and August 1648.

Meanwhile the king, in the Isle of Wight, has continued to negotiate a possible settlement with the presbyterian majority in parliament. But Charles's action in triggering the renewal of war, by his secret agreement with the presbyterian Covenanters, has shifted Cromwell into the radical camp.

By December 1648 Cromwell is back in London, where he approves a dramatic coup d'état made possible by the army's control of the capital city. It is known, from the name of the commander of the operation, as Pride's Purge.

Pride's Purge: AD 1648

Early in the morning of the 6th December 1648 three regiments of soldiers arrive to surround the House of Commons. Their commander, Colonel Thomas Pride, stations himself at the entrance to the House. As each member arrives, his name is checked against a list identifying those who are Presbyterians (and still inclined to come to some arrangement with the king) and others, the Independents, who are now determined upon a radical solution.

Some 140 members are denied admission, with any who resist being bundled off to prison. A much reduced house, including Cromwell, now undertakes the legislation which will lead to the trial of the king.

Trial and execution of Charles I: AD 1649

On 2 January 1649 the House of Commons resolves that it is treason for a king to wage war against parliament. At the same time the members pass a bill setting up a High Court to judge Charles Stuart on this charge of treason. The House of Lords rejects the bill, so on January 4 the commons resolve that the House of Commons, assembled in parliament, is the supreme authority in the land and that its enactments have the force of law whether or not approved by king or lords.

The court, consisting of 135 commissioners, assembles for the trial in Westminster Hall on January 20.

Charles refuses to recognize the court and merely reiterates the doctrine of the Divine right of kings. His accusers respond with arguments based upon the sovereignty of parliament. Thus the entire issue of the civil war is restated, with unflinching intransigence on each side, within the narrow confines of this historic hall.

On January 27 the tribunal finds the king guilty of treason. A high scaffold is constructed in Whitehall. Three days later the king steps on to it from one of the large windows of the Banqueting house. His death is a defining moment in English and indeed European history.

In his speech on the scaffold the king raises the question of the will of the people, only to dismiss its relevance: 'Their liberty and freedom consists in having laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not having share in government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them.'

There is no real democracy in the drastic change of regime in 1649, and the resulting republic lasts only eleven years. Yet in a sense the event is an expression of popular will, rejecting arbitrary rule. England is the first kingdom to draw this line so clearly. The restored English monarchy will be different in kind, and the direction is one which other nations subsequently follow.

The Commonwealth: AD 1649-1653

On the very day of the execution of the king, 30 January 1649, parliament declares England to be a 'commonwealth'. A week later it formally abolishes two institutions which in a practical sense have already ceased to exist. The House of Lords is pronounced 'useless and dangerous' on February 6. On the next day the monarchy is declared to be 'unnecessary, burdensome, and dangerous to the liberty, safety, and the public interest of the people of this nation'.

So the slate is wiped clean. But what now to put in place of the old system? On February 14 the commons elect a council of state, to be the executive arm of the government. Cromwell is chosen as its first chairman.

Acknowledged in this appointment as the political leader of the Commonwealth, Cromwell is also parliament's most effective general - a role which takes him away from the centre of things until the end of 1651.

In June 1649 Cromwell is appointed commander-in-chief of a campaign to suppress a royalist uprising in Ireland. He achieves this task, with ruthless brilliance, by the summer of 1650. But now there is trouble in Scotland. The son of the executed king, proclaimed by royalists as Charles II, arrives in Scotland in June from the Netherlands. His somewhat desperate hope is to recover his crown with the help of the Scottish Presbyterians, the Covenanters.

Cromwell is in Scotland before the end of July, but he finds it hard to pin down the Scottish forces (apart from one skilful victory at Dunbar in September). Charles II is crowned king of Scots at Scone on 1 January 1651.

Cromwell is ill with malaria from February to June. When campaigning begins again, Charles II and his army take the initiative by marching into England. Cromwell catches and defeats them in a decisive encounter at Worcester in September 1651 - an event from which Charles II escapes to the continent only after hiding in the famous 'royal oak' at Boscobel and making a long journey in disguise through the west country.

By the end of 1651 Cromwell is back in London. He is still commander-in-chief, but he is also now able to play his part again as a member of parliament. He is not pleased with what he sees.

This parliament is already twelve years old. Known to history as the Rump Parliament, its members are those remaining from the Long parliament of 1640 after the drastic reduction of Pride's Purge in 1648. Many of them, tasting real power, are engaging in flagrant corruption. Sectarian bitterness and intolerance is rife between Presbyterians and other puritan sects.

There is also marked reluctance on the part of the members to stand for re-election. When pressed in 1651, they propose a new parliament in 1654. Cromwell and others in the army observe this state of affairs with mounting exasperation. Cromwell also has doubts about the war against Holland which the council of state undertakes in 1652; it is in the interests of English trade and merchant shipping, but he is uneasy about being at war with Europe's only other Protestant republic (see Anglo-Dutch Wars).

Exasperation turns to sudden action when it transpires, in April 1653, that parliament is planning new legislation to extend its own term beyond 1654. The result is the second dramatic coup d'e/tat in five years.

In the name of God go: AD 1653

On 20 April 1653 Cromwell sits quietly in his usual seat in the House of Commons during the debate on extending the life of the present parliament. At the last moment, when the vote is about to be taken, he rises to address the house. Passionately he denounces the way the early ideals of the Long Parliament have been reduced to corruption and self-interest. He ends with famous words: 'You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!'

When the members protest, Cromwell calls into the chamber a detachment of troops waiting outside. The Speaker is forcibly plucked from his chair. When all the members have been driven outside, the door of the chamber is locked.

That same afternoon Cromwell informs the council of state that its role is at an end. The day's events leave him in charge, as commander-in-chief, with the power of a military dictator. But his ambition is to achieve a new and workable constitution.

He appoints a body of 140 nominees, chosen as 'God-fearing men' (often called the Barebones Parliament, from the name of one of its members - Praise-God Barbon). In his opening address to this assembly, in July 1653, Cromwell declares it to be the supreme power in the nation. But before the end of the year internal conflicts cause this parliament to resign, handing its powers back to Cromwell. He is once again cast in the role of dictator.

Protectorate: AD 1653-1657

In preparation for this expected turn of events, the leaders of the army have prepared a document to legalize Cromwell's position as head of state. Entitled the Instrument of Government, it appoints Cromwell for life as lord protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Executive power is to be his, ruling in conjuction with an appointed council of state.

The drafters of the new constitution are at pains to balance this power with that of an elected parliament, which is to be the highest legislative authority. But they are also aware of the obstruction which parliament can cause. Their solution is an intriguing one.

The Instrument stipulates that parliament must meet every three years (beginning in September 1654), but it adds that the lord protector may dismiss any parliament after five months. Cromwell, the country's ablest leader, is thus given full power - with the proviso that every three years the nation has a window of opportunity to restrain him.

The proposal seems reasonable. The protector's power is to be less absolute than that of Charles I, but his government will be more efficient than the recent efforts by parliament. However the potential for impasse becomes evident as soon as the first parliament convenes in September 1654. Its members do not accept the Instrument of Government.

This setback introduces a further period of wrangling about the two great issues of the day: framing a constitution from scratch after the drastic act of regicide; and religious toleration.

In this context religous toleration differs profoundly from its normal meaning. The debate is the long-standing sectarian one between parliament and the army. Should everyone be Presbyterian? Or may the individual Christian choose to be Congregationalist, Baptist, Quaker or even Unitarian? (Similar freedom for papists or episcopalians is not on anyone's agenda). Cromwell, along with the majority of the army, is on the side of toleration. But of the two, the constitutional question is the more pressing.

It is complicated by clear signs of military government, introduced in 1655 when there are royalist insurrections in various parts of the country (themselves prompted by the disarray in parliament). Cromwell resolves the issue by dividing the country into eleven districts, each commanded by a major general with horse militia at his disposal to quell unrest.

Parliament, even though now largely hand-picked by Cromwell, finds the major generals unacceptable. The wrangles go on, until a powerful faction comes to an astonishing conclusion. Perhaps things were better in the old days. In March 1657 parliament presents Cromwell with a proposal entitled Humble Petition and Advice.

Humble Petition and Advice: AD 1657

The Humble Petition and Advice suggests that the House of Lords should be reinstated as an appointed second chamber, and that Cromwell should become king. After some deliberation he chooses to remain lord protector, but with the right now to select his own successor. He accepts the return of the second chamber, and sets about making his appointments. But once again the reform proves unworkable.

The reason is that the Humble Petition has also safeguarded the integrity of the House of Commons. It is now illegal to exclude properly elected members (as Cromwell and the army have in the past). When parliament assembles in January 1658, radical opponents of Cromwell take their seats. And many of his supporters have been elevated to the Lords.

A more republican House of Commons immediately shows an inclination to reject the Humble Petition proposed by their predecessors, and to insist that the revived House of Lords be again abolished. An exasperated Cromwell dissolves this parliament after two weeks.

With his own power unchallenged, and an undoubted will to legitimize the Commonwealth, it is possible that Cromwell would eventually have been able to establish a viable constitution. The issue remains hypothetical because he dies later in 1658, only seven months after dismissing parliament. He names as his successor, in the office of lord protector, his eldest surviving son, Richard.

Cromwell's England: AD 1653-1658

Cromwell's regime fails to solve the problems of a deeply divided community, but these are probably insoluble in the immediate aftermath of a bitter civil war. There is profound enmity not only between defeated royalists and victorious puritans, but within the puritan camp itself. It seems unlikely that anyone else could have held the ring as successfully as Cromwell, a ruler with an iron will and great personal intregrity.

What is more remarkable is the standing which he achieves for England in a wider European context. This regicide nation might well be treated as a pariah among the monarchies of Europe. Instead the leading kingdoms compete for Cromwell's friendship.

When he becomes lord protector in 1653, he inherits a war launched by parliament Against holland. This is brought to a satisfactory conclusion in 1654, after which both France and spain (at war with each other) seek an alliance with England.

Cromwell sides with France - partly because of the high proportion of France's Protestants, partly following the long tradition of English naval warfare against Spain and her empire. The seizing of Jamaica in 1655 proves an early success. In 1657 Robert Blake destroys a Spanish fleet in a battle off Santa Cruz, in the Canaries. A campaign against the Spanish Netherlands brings the capture of Dunkirk in 1658.

These successes are particularly welcome in the puritan Commonwealth - not only because Spain is the most bigotedly Catholic country (and England's traditional enemy on the religious front since the reign of Elizabeth), but because the Spanish Netherlands are sheltering the otherwise friendless heir to the English throne. Charles II is eking out a miserable existence with a tiny court in Brussels.

But the Commonwealth cannot survive the death of its strong leader in 1658. With the ineffective Richard Cromwell as lord protector, all the old hostilities between parliament and the army are unleashed. Decisive action, to resolve a lingering crisis, is eventually taken by Cromwell's commander-in-chief in Scotland - George Monck.

Restoration, Revolution

Monck and the Restoration: AD 1660

George Monck, a close colleague of Cromwell's since the Scottish campaign of 1650, has spent much of the 1650s in command of the army in Scotland. He decides to intervene in politics in October 1659 when army commanders in London take steps to establish military rule (Richard Cromwell, the lord protector, has gone into voluntary retirement in May).

Monck crosses the border from Coldstream on 1 January 1660 with four regiments of cavalry and six of infantry (one of them later known as the Coldstream Guards). They reach London unopposed on February 3.

Monck's stated intention has been to restore the power and authority of a free parliament. To this end he reunites the Rump Parliament with the members excluded in Pride's Purge in 1648, thus reconstituting the last undeniably legitimate English parliament, the Long parliament, summoned in 1640 and never formally dissolved (being, instead, ejected from the House of Commons by Cromwell in 1653).

When the Long parliament is reassembled, Monck insists that the members vote their own dissolution. This is done on 16 March 1660. A new parliament is then summoned.

During his journey south through England Monck has become aware of widespread disenchantment with puritan rule and a wish for the restoration of the monarchy. He therefore enters negotiations with Charles II in Brussels. Broad terms are agreed. If Charles is restored he will provide, in partnership with parliament, a general amnesty and a just settlement of property disputes resulting from the civil war and the Commonwealth. He will ensure religious toleration. And he will pay the wages owing to the army.

Monck feels that this historic agreement should not be linked with the Spanish Netherlands. So Charles crosses the border into Holland, enabling the document of April 4 to be known as the declaration of Breda.

On its first day, April 25, the new parliament - known as the Convention Parliament - invites Charles to return. He lands at Dover on May 25, and is given a warm welcome by the London crowd four days later.

One of the first bills passed by parliament and given the royal assent is the Act of Indemnity. It pardons all offences committed since 1637. The only exception is the treason of the regicides, the fifty-eight men who signed the death warrant of Charles i. Thirteen of them are caught and executed. The body of Cromwell is exhumed from Westminster Abbey and is hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. His head is stuck on a pole on top of Westminster Hall, where the king was tried. It remains there for twenty-five years.

Anglicans against Presbyterians: AD 1661-1673

Religious conflict, the plague of Europe since the early 16th century, continues to dominate the internal politics of England during the second half of the 17th century. The puritan triumphalism of the Commonwealth is followed by an Anglican backlash after the Restoration.

The restored king, Charles II, has promised "liberty for tender consciences" in his Declaration of breda. There is every indication that he aims to fulfil that promise. But his royalist followers, whose liberty and pockets have suffered alike during the Commonwealth, have no intention of allowing him to do so.

Royalists are the powerful majority in the parliament summoned in 1661 (it becomes known as the Cavalier Parliament). They pass a series of acts during the 1660s which reserve for Anglicans both religious freedom and the pickings of office.

The acts are collectively known as the Clarendon Code, after Charles II's lord chancellor Edward Hyde, the earl of Clarendon. The term is inappropriate in that Clarendon, like Charles, disapproves of the severity of the measures. But, in the prevailing mood, king and chancellor prove powerless to oppose them.

The Corporation Act of 1661 rules that anyone taking office in a town corporation must previously have received the sacrament in an Anglican church. The Act of Uniformity of 1662 expels from their livings all clergy with puritan leanings, by insisting on their acceptance of the Thirty-nine articles (which specifically refer to bishops). Some 2000 clerics surrender their livelihood rather than abandon their presbyterian principles. In doing so, they become the first of Britain's 'nonconformists'.

The Conventicle Act of 1664 limits Christian worship, unless very small numbers are present, to Anglican premises. And the Five-Mile Act of 1665 bans any dissenting cleric from coming within five miles of a church where he has previously ministered.

From 1665 the attention of parliament is distracted by two disasters which strike London in the first decade of the Restoration - the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666 (see Plague and Fire). By 1672, amazingly, the city of London is largely rebuilt. Parliament returns to its theme, irritated at a measure of religious liberty introduced in that year by Charles II as a Declaration of Indulgence. The Test Act of 1673 reiterates that only Anglicans may hold public office or serve in the armed forces or even receive a university education.

By now, for reasons directly connected with the royal family, Roman Catholics are once again as much the target as Presbyterians.

Anglicans against Catholics: AD 1673-1688

Both Charles II and his brother the duke of York are drawn to Roman Catholicism. In the king's case it has to remain a secret leaning, but it is also closely tied up with political plans to recover greater authority over his kingdom. Only a few very close advisers know of the secret treaty of Dover, agreed in 1670 with Louis XIV, which promises French money and troops to assist Charles after he has declared himself a Catholic. The eventuality never arises. Only on his deathbed does Charles II finally revert to the older faith.

His younger brother, acting more from religious conviction, is less inclined to caution - though for several years the king forces him to preserve an Anglican front.

The duke of York is secretly received into the Roman Catholic church in about 1669. At first his brother insists on his continuing to take the Anglican sacrament. He ensures also that the duke's two daughters, Mary and Anne (both still under the age of ten), are brought up as Anglicans. But after the Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 the duke declines the Anglican sacrament. In 1673 he resigns his public offices rather than take the anti-Catholic oath of the Test Act. From 1676 he no longer takes any part in Anglican worship.

It thus becomes public knowledge that the king's brother is a Roman Catholic - a matter of grave concern, because he is also the heir presumptive to Charles II.

Charles has numerous children by his many mistresses. Indeeed his male bastards inaugurate several new dynasties of the higher aristocracy (his sons by Barbara Villiers, Louise de Kéroualle, Nell Gwyn and Catherine Pegge amount to five dukes and an earl). But the king and his queen, Catherine of braganza, are childless.

Given the religious tensions of recent decades, the prospect of the next king being a Roman Catholic is an explosive issue. It is made more so in 1678 by reports of the 'Popish Plot', a supposed Jesuit conspiracy to kill the king and put his brother on the throne.

In the resulting hysteria thirty-five Catholics are accused of treason and are executed before it is discovered that the allegations have been fabricated by Titus Oates, a renegade priest who has initially been feted as a national hero for saving the king's life.

Even though based on fantasy, the crisis of 1678 sets the political agenda for the remainder of the reign. It gives rise to the policy of 'exclusion' - the argument that the duke of York, though undeniably the legitimate heir to the throne, should be excluded from the succession on the grounds of his religion. The debate also gives rise to two great political parties.

Whigs and Tories: from AD 1679

Both sides, in the battle of the political factions in 1679, are eager to find abusive terms for their opponents. Useful examples are available from recent history. Those supporting the duke of York compare the other side to the Whiggamores, a Scottish Gaelic name for presbyterian rebels who marched on royalist Edinburgh during the civil war, in 1648. The implication is of an unruly mob who are wild, foreign, puritanical and possibly regicidal.

The party hostile to the duke responds with the term Tory, an Irish Gaelic word for Irish outlaws who plunder English settlers. The implication is again of someone wild, foreign and unlawful - but this time Roman Catholic as well.

The terms stick, and the issue remains profoundly divisive. But Charles II, passionately committed to securing his brother's rights, contrives to calm the situation. The duke of York succeeds to the throne peacefully, in 1685, as James II (and James VII of Scotland).

The new king shows little interest in compromise. His Tory supporters are royalist rather than pro-Catholic. He soon loses their support by his appointment of Catholics to high positions in the army and in government, and by his welcoming of the first papal nuncio to Britain since the reign of Mary. However a safeguard remains. Next in line of succession are James's two Protestant daughters by his deceased wife, Anne Hyde.

National tension becomes acute during the summer of 1688. In May the king orders the clergy to read from their pulpits a new Declaration of Indulgence, freeing Catholics and puritans from the legal restrictions of the Test Act. The archbishop of Canterbury decides that it is illegal to do so. With six other bishops he petitions the king to withdraw the order. James II consigns the seven to the Tower and charges them with seditious libel.

The next month brings two dramatic developments. On June 10 the king's second wife, Mary of Modena, gives birth to a son. There is now a new heir to the throne, male and Catholic. On June 29 a court defies the king by acquitting the seven bishops.

On the very next day, 30 June 1688, seven English grandees (mainly but not all committed Whigs) write jointly to William III of Orange, husband of James's elder daughter Mary, assuring him of support if he comes to claim the English throne for his wife and himself.

William lands with an army at Torbay in November and marches almost unopposed to London. James II escapes in December to France. In February 1689 parliament, declaring that James has abdicated, offers the crown jointly to William and Mary (as William III and Mary II). This undramatic change of regime is known in English history as the Glorious or Bloodless Revolution. It will not be bloodless in Ireland.

James II in Ireland: AD 1689-1690

With active encouragement from Louis XIV, James ii sails from France in March 1689 with a small army of about 1200 men. They land in Kinsale and march to Dublin, where James is acknowledged king by an enthusiastic gathering of Irish Catholics - eagerly expecting now to recover the lands appropriated over the past century by English Protestants.

In April James moves north to take control of Ulster, where the Protestant settlement is strongest. But he meets very effective passive resistance. The Protestant strongholds of Londonderry and Enniskillen close their gates. Both survive long sieges during the summer of 1689.

In June 1689 an English army arrives in northern Ireland. For the rest of that year there is wary and inconclusive skirmishing, but in 1690 the stakes are increased. Both sides build up their troops and their provisions. In March a contribution for James ii comes from Louis XIV, in the form of 7000 French veterans. In June William iii, the new king of England, at last arrives in person.

On 11 July the rivals confront each other across the river Boyne. William has the larger army (about 35,000 men to 21,000) and he adopts bolder tactics, but his victory in itself is not conclusive since the Irish army survives to fight another day. What proves politically decisive is the immediate flight of James ii back to France.

The Irish Catholics continue to fight for another full year, hoping still to win the two concessions which would answer their grievances - security in possession of their estates and toleration for the Catholic religion.

The terms of the treaty of Limerick, ending the war in October 1691, seem vaguely promising - and like all vague promises in treaties, they are later disregarded by the victors. But one specific option has an immediate effect. There is a clause offering transport to France for anyone in the Irish army. Several thousand seize this opportunity. They and their descendants (collectively known in Ireland as the 'wild geese') provide Irish regiments within the French army throughout the 18th century.

William returns to England in September 1690. Ireland is now secure enough, and James ii sufficiently weakened, for him to turn his attention once again to the continent - to confront his main enemy Louis XIV, on the broader canvas of the War of the Grand Alliance.

For the summer campaign of 1691 William iii is back in action in Flanders, the cockpit separating Holland from France. It is a measure of the interconnection of this European war that the continuing conflict in Ireland, this same summer, is fought between a Dutch general (Godard van Ginkel) on behalf of William iii and a French one (the marquis de Saint-Ruth) for James ii.

Bill of Rights and Act of Settlement: AD 1689-1701

After more than half a century of conflict with the Stuart dynasty, parliament now makes a clear assertion of its rights in relation to the sovereign. William and mary, accepting the crown in February 1689, assent to a Declaration of Right. Its clauses are incorporated later in the year in an act of parliament 'declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and settling the Succession of the Crown'.

The act is not primarily concerned with the individual subject. It asserts the rights of parliament (representing all subjects) in relation to the king. Commonly known as the Bill of Rights, it can be seen as a first step towards modern constitutional monarchies.

The clauses of the bill specifically reflect the abuses perpetrated by recent Stuart kings. Parliament's assent is to be required before a monarch may levy money or raise an army in time of peace; a monarch may never suspend or dispense with any law; elections to parliament are to be freely held, speech within parliament is to be free, parliaments are to be summoned frequently.

This is essentially Protestant legislation. The act states that only Protestants may carry arms for their protection. It also restricts the succession to Protestant descendants of the present royal family.

In 1689 it seems adequate to limit the line of succession to descendants of Mary, followed by those of her sister Anne and then of William (in the case of Mary dying and his marrying again). But by 1701 it appears likely that no heir will survive these three. Mary has died childless in 1694. William shows no sign of remarrying. After fifteen pregnancies, the unfortunate Anne has seen only one child live beyond infancy. He dies, at the age of eleven, in 1700.

Even though Anne herself has not yet succeeded to the throne, the young prince's death makes the question of her successor a matter of urgency.

Obsessed with the fear that the lack of heirs may enable the exiled Stuarts to slip back on to the English throne, parliament passes in 1701 an Act of Settlement. Stating that no Catholic may rule in England, it limits the succession to Anne's only Protestant cousin - Sophia, who is married to the elector of Hanover. She is a granddaughter of James I and daughter of the Winter queen.

The act is at the same time a further assertion of parliament's power over the monarch. For good measure it slips in some new restrictions. Henceforth the sovereign may neither declare war nor leave the kingdom without the consent of parliament.

Anne's years of war: AD 1702-1713

William III dies within a year of the Act of Settlement, to be succeeded in 1702 by his sister-in-law Anne. By then the country is at war with France, over the issue of the Spanish succession. The conflict will last for all but the last year of the new queen's reign. England has great success on European battlefields, under the leadership of the duke of Marlborough, and the eventual peace treaty (of Utrecht in 1713) brings valuable strategic additions to British holdings in the Mediterranean and in America.

The transition from England to Britain in the previous sentence acknowledges the most significant internal event of Anne's reign - the Act of Union, in 1707, between England and Scotland.

Act of Union: AD 1707

Given the centuries of hostility between Scotland and England, with warfare even in the 17th century under a shared Stuart king, the union of the two kingdoms seems to come with surprising suddeness. It has been under discussion for a considerable time, for James VI and I tries to achieve it after inheriting the English throne in 1603. But the idea meets with little favour (although imposed during the Commonwealth) until the early 18th century.

The motivation in 1707 is largely economic for the Scots and political for the English.

Scotland has recently suffered a disastrous failure in setting up a colony in 1698 in Darien, on the isthmus of Panama. By the time the experiment is abandoned, in 1700, it is estimated to have cost £200,000 and some 2000 lives. Tariff-free access to all English markets, both in Britain and in the developing colonies, seems commercially a rather more attractive option.

For England, engaged in lengthy wars with the French (who are sympathetic to the Exiled stuart dynasty), it is attractive to remove the danger of any threat from the country's only land border. The union of the kingdoms creates an island realm.

The Act of Union abolishes the Scottish parliament, giving the Scots instead a proportion of the seats at Westminster (forty-five in the commons, sixteen in the lords). Scotland's legal system, radically different from English common law, is specifically safeguarded.

There is unrest and warfare in Scotland during much of the 18th century because a strong faction, particularly in the Highlands, supports the Jacobite cause (the claim to the throne of the exiled Stuarts). This discontent erupts twice, in the rebellions of 1715 and 1745. But the majority of Scots are content with a new role in a kingdom united under the title Great Britain. A renewal of Scottish nationalism must await the 20th century.

The Act of Union abolishes the Scottish parliament, giving the Scots instead a proportion of the seats at Westminster (forty-five in the commons, sixteen in the lords). Scotland's legal system, radically different from English common law, is specifically safeguarded.

With Scotland and Wales both now governed from Westminster, the history of England becomes - at any rate for the next three centuries - the central thread of the history of Great britain.
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