baroqueDetailed background notes to the Stuart period which is one of the most dynamic and interesting in English History.

Summary of events during the 17th Century

  • English Kings and Queens now of Scottish birth, the Tudors were Welsh.
  • The power of Kings is steadily reduced by the strength of Parliament and the Stuart Kings behaving more like Medieval Royalty.
  • Huge British Empire Expansion: Ireland, Scotland, America, India and the Caribbean.
  • The aggressive Muslim Turks finally pushed back from the eastern borders of Europe and are subdued by the English Navy in the Mediterranean.
  • France takes over from Spain as the main European power under Louis 14th.
  • International trade in goods and people trafficking begins to make England rich.
  • Jews are welcomed back to England and the Bank of England is formed
  • The Enlightenment commences supported by science and free thought, both unencumbered by religious prejudices for the first time.
  • Human Rights concepts begin to appear.

Kings and Queens are now of Scottish origins

The Stuart Kings were appalling and were never trusted by Parliament which was generally committed to the Protestant cause when the Kings and their wives often had Catholic leanings. This eventually led to civil war when the country temporally became a republic under the dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell.

Notwithstanding this, as with the Elizabethan period, the 17th century saw the steady growth of England possessions abroad notably in North America, the Caribbean and India driven by traders, entrepreneurs, and religious migrants. This was coupled with a huge growth in the Navy and Army under the dictator Oliver Cromwell and in science with the likes of Newton which was supported by Charles 2nd. By the beginning of the 18th century England dominated Europe both on land and at sea and had recaptured the Mediterranean from the Muslim pirates.

The Stuarts were Scottish, (remember the Tudors were Welsh). The first king James 1st was indeed King James 6th of Scotland. He inherited the throne of England peacefully as organized by Elizabeth 1st as he was also a direct descendent of the first Tudor King, Henry 7th on the female side and also a Protestant. His mother, a Catholic, was Mary Queen of Scots who was executed on Elizabeth’s orders. Elizabeth 1st was a tough act to follow and this dynasty in best remembered for

  • the continuous underlying religious plots by both Catholics and Puritans (extreme Protestants) against the ruling, middle of the road Protestant, the (“Elizabethan”) Church of England;
  • and for two periods of turmoil, Cromwell’s Civil War and William of Orange’s Glorious Revolution.

The Stuart Dynasty in Scotland commenced in 1371 when Marjory, the daughter of Robert the Bruce married the chief Steward of Scotland, Walter Fitzalen and they adopted the name Stewart in recognition. Stewart was later changed to the French spelling Stuart.

From 1406 all the Stuart Kings were called James which in Latin is Jacobus which lead to the alternative description for the later Stuart line as Jacobites.

The year 1600 or thereabouts also saw the commencement of a period in history which lasted until 1750 called the Baroque period which is used to describe the music, art and design during those times.

The concept of Great Britain and the British flag, the Union Jack commenced in the reign of James 1st.

England ’s expansion overseas

The English now made significant moves overseas notably in Ireland, Bermuda and the Caribbean, North America and India.


(A complete history of England’s oldest colony Ireland)

A background to Stuart Ireland 

From Henry 2nd to the reign of Elizabeth 1st.

Ireland is England’s oldest colony and has been ruled in whole or in part by an English monarch for over 800 years. The initial move was made by an Irish regional King, Dermot Mac Murrough who travelled to London and asked Henry 2nd 1154-89 (who then ruled over half of France as well as England and was the most powerful man in Europe) to send a force to Ireland to help with a local royal dispute. Henry sent one of his Barons, Strongbow, who solved the problem but seeing himself able to gain much extra land in Ireland he stayed.

The original Anglo Norman settlers of the 12th century did not take long to convert to an Irish way of life and intermarry. (They became the Anglo Irish). The Kings of England soon found this powerbase of Anglo Normans not willing to act for the king  being almost more Irish than the Irish. English ruled territories which at onetime amounted to two thirds of the country, by the time of Henry 8th English rule had shrunk to only Dublin and the surrounding fertile lands called the Pale.

Henry, even with such a small land mass in Ireland called himself the King of Ireland (actually the Pale probably contained as much as a third of the population) and after the Reformation he set about dismantling the Irish Monasteries as he had in England and likewise nominated himself as head of the Catholic Church in Ireland rather than the Pope. The religious revulsion to this move was even stronger in Ireland than in England and riots occurred across the whole of country. But as with other Irish riots the English armies were always strong enough to easily prevail. As England moved to a Protestant faith under the young king Edward 6th the situation could only get worse.

Elizabeth 1st turned out to be the only English Monarch, up to that time, strong and shrewd enough to conquer the whole of Ireland and she set about giving Irish land to her trusted English favourites if they put down one or more of the many rioting Irish Catholic bands. Their tactics were cruel to the extreme. Sir Walter Raleigh was one who eventually controlled huge areas in South West Ireland and was responsible for introducing the potato from the Americas.

Elizabeth continued the policy of giving land to her Protestant favourites who were not welcome in a staunchly Irish community for whom religion was more important than it was in England and who continuously rebelled and set about killing Protestant English settlers when they were off guard. The situation came to a head in the strong-hold of Gaelic Irish tradition in the north ( Ulster) under Irish strongmen Hugh O’Neil and Red Hugh O’Donnell who were strong enough to make a mockery of Elizabeth’s armies under her favourite the Earl of Essex. In 1601 with Essex in the Tower in disgrace, Elizabeth sent in a new force under a more battle savvy general Lord Mountjoy  who in-spite of Catholic Spanish forces landing in Ireland in support of O’Neil defeated all the Irish could throw at him. Elizabeth had finally broken the heart and sole of Gaelic Ireland and O’Neil and all his key strong men fled to France taking the heart of Irish Gaelic culture with them. This disaster for Irish culture has gone down in history as the “Flight of the Earls” and opened up Ulster for re-population by 1000s of arch right wing fundamentalist Presbyterian Scots in the reign of the new Scottish King of England James 1st

Ireland in Stuart times.  1603-1714

Out of 7 rulers of England during this time there were only two who were decisive and good military leaders and who are hated to this day in Ireland. They are Oliver Cromwell and William of Orange. Both quelled Irish uprisings with superior forces showing no mercy for defeated Irish armies or innocent bystanders mainly because they were Catholic and therefore a hated enemy as were the French and Spanish who both supported Ireland and could use Ireland as a stepping stone to attack the hated Protestants in England. Hate is not too strong a word. In England if you were of the wrong religious colour you could not pray openly and your only solution was to emigrate which religious minorities did in their thousands mainly to populate the eastern seaboard of North America. Some Irish also emigrated but those who chose to stay and remain Catholic eventually lost all rights of land ownership, education, the holding of a public office or even the ownership of a horse, which cumulated  under William of Orange after his victory at the battle of the Boyne with another mass emigration of Irish leaders in the so called Flight of the Wild Geese. The Wild Geese were the last of the regional Irish leaders whose way of life was of the traditional old Ireland which was then (1691) lost for ever.

Bermuda and the Caribbean

Bermuda was initially (1609) only occupied by the English to facilitate a re-vittaling stop on the way to the Caribbean but by 1620 the settlers had commenced a healthy tobacco crop. The CaribbeanIslands which were used by the Spanish silver ships for watering were in Stuart times fought over by French, Dutch, English and separately Scottish settlers because of their climatic potential for growing Tobacco and Sugar. Oliver Cromwell supported settlements in this area. In 1649 a fleet embarked to asses the potential and in 1655 another fleet was sent to capture Hispaniola (now Haiti/Dominican republic) from the Spanish, it failed and they took Jamaica instead. By the end of the Stuart dynasty English Caribbean possessions included: Jamaica, Barbados, Tobago, Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla and British Honduras on the MexicanPeninsula.

North America

In Stuart times the emigration from England to North America’s east coast was extraordinary (over 250.000 people) bearing in mind the perilous sea voyage and the unknown territory. Many travellers were pious religious refugees as the Stuart Kings were not sympathetic to any religion other than their version of the official Protestant Church of England, so the many “nonconformist” could not follow their faith. These religious faithful were directed towards the more northern coast around present day Boston which was called New England. The other main group were adventurers who had been sold the idea that gold was to be found in Virginia. They found no gold but after the majority had died of starvation immigrant John Rolf started experimenting with the local tobacco smoked by the Indians and by 1670 15 million pounds weight of the stuff was being sold annually to the folks back home and their settlement to the west of Chesapeake Bay was secured.


Whereas the English had emigrated to North America wholesale to make a new life they initially only made small coastal settlements in India for the purpose of trade. What they did not know was how lucky they were as India at that time had 30% of the worlds population (175 m out of 600) and accounted for 24% of the world’s wealth (GDP). India was ruled by a Muslim leader and his Mughal Empire stretched from  Kabul in Afghanistan (from whence they had originated) through present day Pakistan and India (then called Hindustan) and the whole of Bangladesh. As apposed to the ever land grabbing Muslim Ottomans on the boarders of Europe the Indian Mughals were a ruling minority amongst the majority Hindu’s who because of their numbers they could not be persecuted. The few hundreds of Christian Europeans traders who included Portuguese, Dutch, French and English were likewise not seen as invaders and were generally treated courteously. During Stuart times the English expanded their trading posts at the expense of the Portuguese and Dutch and merchants in England became rich on the proceeds.

The continuing Muslim threat

During Stuart times Europe was in continuous warfare with the land grabbing Muslim Turks (Ottomans) who, from their headquarters in Istanbul, ruled all of south eastern Europe from Greece to large parts of Hungary plus the Holy Land, Egypt, Syria and Iraq and more than once attacked the fortress city of Austria’s Vienna.

The commencement of Islamic decline

While in Western Europe military tactics and armour were steadily advancing particularly so with the English Navy the Muslim Turks had reached their peak and their Islamic doctrine disallowed such advances as the printing press and frowned on diplomatic contact with the Christians who were to further benefit in Stuart times from the scientific inventions fuelled by the Enlightenment. Christian countries like France, Austria and England on the other hand had diplomats in Istanbul and considered Muslims a decadent  culture particularly because of their many wives (over a 1000 for a Sultan) and their cruel custom of murdering their own sons (of which they might have 100s) Too many sons were to a threat to the Sultan himself.

A Sultan might be distracted by the delights of his harem and ignore his military and country finances. For the first time in the long battle for European territory the Christian West managed to sign boarder agreements with the Turkish Sultan and Hungary was handed back to the Austrians. The Christians were further fortified by the growing power of Russia under Peter the Great (1672-1725) who since the Turks had over  run Istanbul (Constantinople) had been the custodians of the Greek Orthodox Christian Church and hence generally joined Western Europe in land battles against the Turkish Islamists. The period saw the steady improvement in European warfare compared with that of the Muslims and the commencement of the military decline of the once all powerful Muslim Ottoman Empire.

In 1650 after the civil war in England the English, already with a formidable navy, re-entered the Mediterranean and turned it from an Ottoman lake to an English lake.  The English attacked, conquered and set up strategic bases in Tangiers (1662 under Charles 2nd ), Gibraltar(1704 under Queen Anne), then Sardinia(1708) and Minorca in (1708)

During the reign of the last Stuart Monarch Queen Anne the Muslims who had been attacking and encroaching on Christian Europe and the Middle East for over 1000 years found themselves facing stronger, more coordinated and advanced European military. The Turks were no match for either English or French navies in the Mediterranean and the Austrians under their best general for years, Prince Eugene    threw them out of Hungary and much of Serbia which had been the Western border of the Eastern Christendom centred in Constantinople. A new powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire was born and it’s volatile “three religion” border with the Turks sparked the First World War and the Serbian ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the late 20th century.

(The “three religions”: Islam, Greek Orthodox Christianity, Roman Western Christianity.  Unfortunately all three groups distrust the other two even today.)

Human Rights

The concept that individual humans might have rights developed in Stuart times from one of England’s first serious philosophers John Locke (1632-1704). Lock was brave enough to write that all humans were created equal. Clearly up to this point there was an obvious pecking order with the king in the very privileged position at the top of the tree and slaves and women at the bottom with virtually no rights at all. Examples of human rights violations would have been obvious to Locke from English activities both at home and abroad.

  • The English at this time had become the masters of the slave trade from Africa to the new European dominated lands in North, South and central America. Black African slaves bought in West Africa from Black slave traders were shipped like pigs to their new homes in the Americas were many of them soon died or were beaten to death.
  • Also in Stuart times the English had diplomats continuously in Istanbul, the capital of the most powerful Islamic empire in the world, were horrified with the ill treatment of ordinary men and women in the Sultans palaces. The Sultan himself would have a harem of over 1000 wives who were there simply for the sexual pleasures of the Sultan himself. Harem wives lived reasonably well but had no rights. These women had male slaves looking after them but to ensure they were not  having sex with the girls in the Harem, all these male slaves were castrated. (Eunuchs)
  • With so many wives and many idle hours to have sex the Sultan would father many hundreds of sons and daughters. To keep numbers down the Sultan would order the murder of the ones he did not like. Even the Sultans children had no rights. This country, now called Turkey, ruled all the land from Greece to Iraq for over 500 years and with Egypt (which was ruled from Istanbul) was the centre of Islamic culture. (The Ottoman Empire)
  • In England life was still barbaric but had already benefited from the steady erosion of power of the King through the Magna Carta. The Christian Church as in Muslim countries had both positive and negative effects of the rights of man. It was still customary in England to torture convicted criminals (Women and Men) prior to execution to force out a public confession.  This according to the Church assisted in the quick passage to heaven for even the most heinous offender.
  • The Christian Church had many positive messages aiding Human Rights with state laws to enforce some of them: Thou shalt not kill; Thou will honour thy father and mother, that is a father and mother could expect their children to respect them; thou should love thy  neighbour as one’s self. In England one could already expect a trial by a court before being found guilty. In other words a man in innocent until proved guilty. Further a man should not be thrown in jail unless there was evidence of guilt.
  • Women are still treated as second class citizens in Muslim countries and many parts of Africa. In the West, women had better rights even then, thanks mainly to the Romans who ruled a man could have only one wife from even in pre-Christian times which forced men to treat their one and only wife with some respect from that date. (Circa 100 BC)

After this it took three revolutions to finally evolve a universal declaration of human rights

    1. The American War of Independence. (or American Revolution) 1776
    2. The French Revolution
    3. The Second World War and the creation of the United Nations.

The Enlightenment

This period which generally is thought to commence in Stuart times marks a radical shift in human thinking from an unquestioned belief in religious authority to rational debate and scientific enquiry. That is the time when people stopped blindly following the rules laid down by the Church and started to think for themselves. The driving forces were the growth was science and philosophy in Stuart times.

In reality the movement was started earlier by Martin Luther and the Swiss Ulrich Zwingli, the latter who in c. 1520 was bold enough to say that during Catholic Holy Mass the wine did not turn into the blood of Jesus but stayed as wine. Thus starting the mind set of;  don’t believe what you are told (by the church) believe what you see with your own eyes.

In Science experimenters started to observe natural events like apples falling from trees and wondering why they fell to earth and not up to the sun and then try and think of a rational reason for the event. They would then try and quantify their observations.

In 1610 the Italian Galileo Galilei who was a priest, mathematician and keen astronomer was even braver when he demonstrated to the Pope how our Earth was not the stationary centre of the universe but one of many planets orbiting the sun. He was put in jail!  Later in the Stuart period around 1690 Englishman John Lock, one of the first modern day philosophers, claimed all men were born equal. He can claim to be one of the founding fathers of the Enlightenment. Perhaps the most influential though was the English scientist Isaac Newton who can be ranked with Einstein as one of the worlds greatest scientists who between 1668 and 1704 gave the world the first measured concept of gravity, the nature of white light, the first reflecting telescope, the basis of the science of optics and the invention of calculus. All through observation, original thought and mathematics. Lock and Newton were not alone as the group included also, Robert Boyle (mathematical analysis of the effects of heat), Robert Hooke who challenged Newton’s ideas, Henry Winstanley who designed and built the first Eddystone lighthouse and Christopher Wren, scientist and architect who designed and built St Pauls Cathedral. These free thinkers were supported by King Charles 2nd who in 1662 granted a Royal Charter to the Society of London for the promotion of Natural Knowledge. The modern scientific and enlightened world was thus born in LondonEngland.

Baroque art and music

The Catholic Church was very frightened by these developments which resulted in a new style of popular but realistic art which was developed under instructions from the Vatican to be a new powerful medium for influencing ordinary people rather than intellectuals and scientists.

England and France begin the struggle for world domination

France became the dominant country in Europe during this period mainly under the leadership of King Louis 14th 1638-1715 and king from 1643 aged five. His total dominance of Europe was thwarted by the English under the generalship of Marlborough and the queenship of Anne, 1702-14. In North America whereas the English dominated the Atlantic seaboard the French colonised the St Lawrence and Mississippi river basins thus pinning the English down until the middle of the next century (1750) when the English armies conquered the French in Canada. An English speaking North America was from this date assured.

Great people of the time

Louis 14th was King of France from1643-1715 and made France the most powerful country in Europe. He also built one of the most impressive county residences in the world, the Palace of Versailles.

Interestingly the most famous building in India was built around the same time. The Taj Mahal.

Marlborough was one of England’s greatest Generals who was astute enough to beat the superior forces of Louis 14th in a number of key land battles in Europe stopping Louis in his bid to dominate Europe. The First Duke of Marlborough alias John Churchill (1650-1722) was an ancestor of Winston Spenser Churchill one of the most famous men in England of all time and victorious Prime Minister during the Second World War.  

Peter the Great (1672-1725) was ruler of Russia (The Tsar) from 1682-1725. Peter dragged Russia from nothing to be a powerful modern country by visiting Western Europe to study culture and military methods. The English were smart enough to curry favour with Peter who as custodians of the Greek Orthodox Christian faith were generally ready to help the English in their continuous battles with the Muslim Turks.  

Other important people and events

The Great Migration, 20,000 Puritans emigrated to New England North America from European England. 1620-1630

William Penn

Samuel Pepys

Pascal French Mathematician

First Eddystone lighthouse.  

Great Fire of London / Plague

Charles 2nd disallowed all religions other than C of E. Charles granted William Penn land in America to set up a Quaker colony between New York and Maryland it became known as Pennsylvania and Penn’s offering of religious freedom attracted also Jews and Huguenots, Lutherans and Catholics.

John Lock 1632 -1704

Inigo Jones first major English architect. Charles 1st.

Christopher Wren

India the decline of Islamic Mughals, the rise of Hindu Maratha and the British. The Taj Mahal 1653

Ottomans Muslims occupied Hungary attacked Vienna Austria for the second time. (First was 150 years previously)

English ambassadors resident in Istanbul following moves set up by Elizabeth 1st.

Russia Peter the Great

Religious sects active in England: Catholics Anglicans (Episcopalians) Non Conformists/Dissenters (Puritans Quakers)

Age of Reason/Enlightenment driven by:

  • Francis Bacon 1561-1626
  • Rene Descartes 1596-1650 French
  • Thomas Hobbs 1588-1679
  • John Lock 1632-1704
  • George Berkeley 1685-1553 Irish

Stage coach travel linking many towns commence in England but not Scotland. The English Pub was created where the horses were changed and they provided food, drink, bed and prostitutes for the travellers.

Coffee houses start and tea and chocolate drinking reduce the consumption of beer. 

Far East trade/India

From 1500 to 1600 dominated by Portuguese

1600-1700 Dutch then 1700 onwards British.

Surat was the first base established by the East India Co on India’s North West coast. Surat was taken by force from the Portuguese in 1612

Bombay,India was ceded from Portuguese 1661 when Charles 2nd married a Portuguese princess Catharine of Braganza.

Madras was colonized in1639

By 1647 in India the English had, 23 factories, all fortified trading posts and about 90 English employees who became very rich with huge estates in England and more than one wife. English men were rather taken by this Indian Muslim Custom.

English trade from India:

Pepper, Cotton, Silk, Indigo, tea and Salt Peter (Potassium Nitrate for gunpowder and matches). Eventually Opium grown in Bengal to fund the purchase of tea from China.

Major India trade boost under Charles 2nd

1686   Calcutta.

Continuous trade battles between English and Dutch to dominate the Spice trade.

Dutch set up port in Cape Town to re-vittle their ships

Global trade started in earnest. India, Africa, Caribbean, North America London and Bristol. In 2nd part of Century.

Russia expands Westwood towards the boarders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and southwards towards the Black Sea taking land from the Turks (Ottomans)

Human Rights

There was no concept of Human rights anywhere in Europe prior to 1650 in spite of over 1500 years of Christianity preaching “Love thy neighbour like yourself”. But for the next 150 years views were to steadily change.

The Roman Catholic Church still supported public torture as a means of getting truth out of alleged criminals prior to a hanging. Typical was the steady crushing of bones with the blunt end of an axe until the victim confessed. Protestant faiths saw this as barbaric and thus the right of people to die in peace commenced.

People were not ashamed of having sex or defecating (crapping) in public and during meals uneaten food was simply swept onto the floor. There was no private place. Bedrooms were non existent unless you were very rich.

Englishman John Lock (1632-1704) started people thinking about these matter when he wrote that, “All men should be equal and free”

An English Bill of Rights in 1689 strengthened the concept of Human Rights by  further curtailed the absolute power of the King initially stated in 1215 in Magna Carta with the law “no taxation or change in the law with out the consent of Parliament” (William and Mary)