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81 Oligarchy


crown to manipulate, but given the factions that existed within it, it did not always do this very effectively. Having declined in importance during


the 15th century, the Scottish parliament, like its counterpart in England, was at the centre of politics during the 16th century Reformation—particularly as the Scottish nobility fought for power after they deposed Queen Mary in 1567. But Mary’s son, James VI (1567–1625, later James I of England, 1603–25), reasserted his power, avoiding parliament for 20 years. Parliament would again become a central institution as the Scots Covenanting movement wrested power from Charles I in 1639. From 1640 it would create a constitutional revolution, with its committees taking over executive power from the Scottish privy council. After defeat and occupation by the English army in the 1650s, and the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the Scottish parliament would retreat to a more traditional and much weaker role as the Covenanting constitutional revolution was largely repealed. The heyday of the Scottish parliament


was perhaps in the last few years before its abolition. In the years after the fall of James VII and II from power in 1688 and his forfeiture of the throne in 1689 by the Claim of Right (a similar document to England’s Bill of Rights) Scotland had its own deep political divisions, in some ways mirroring those in England. But parliament was at the centre of a vigorous political debate, a debate which, after 1702, became centred around the issue of a union with England. That the debate remained peaceful, and the outcome broadly accepted (despite Jacobite attempts to overturn it by violence, and some attempts to overturn it by politics) showed that parliament was now recognised as the authoritative place where the nation’s future could be determined.


became any more “democratic”. For a start, the Lords remained highly influential for much of the first half of the 18th century: most of the senior ministers were lords and individual peers exercised disproportionate influence over elections to the Commons. For another, Walpole and his allies, anxious to calm the “rage of party” as well as to entrench their own positions, were keen to limit opportunities to vote as much as possible. Te Septennial Act, passed in 1716, replaced the 1694


Triennial Act and restricted elections to one every seven years. Besides, because the population grew without any accompanying reform of the franchise, the proportion of those able to vote in elections fell. At the beginning of the century, about 23 per cent of all adult males possessed the right to vote; by the end of the century, the figure was under 17 per cent. Walpole’s premiership, sometimes dubbed “the


Robinocracy”, was not without opposition. Many saw it as based on systematic corruption of parliament and dishonesty, symbolised by his own enormous wealth. Standing against him was a coalition looking to George II’s heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales, who was at the centre of a campaign that finally displaced Walpole in 1742. Te prince died in 1751 before he could succeed to the throne. It was his son, George III (1760–1820) who did so, nine years later, determined to continue his father’s work in trying to abolish parties (still often seen as groups of men whose private ambition threatened the public good) and rule as a “patriot king”. He ended the proscription of the Tories, and he pulled Britain out of the Seven Years War (1756–63), in spite of a string of military successes, and to the dismay of many politicians, particularly the towering figure of William Pitt—“Pitt the Elder”—who, though not prime minister, had been both inspiration and strategist of the British war effort. Despite his good intentions, George III, and especially his


prime minister from 1762–63, his former tutor the Earl of Bute, were quickly seen as a threat to the liberty of the people and the integrity of parliament. Te swift removal of several members of the former administration, among them the long-serving Duke of Newcastle, was referred to as the “massacre of the Pelhamite Innocents”. Te king’s anti-party convictions encouraged others,


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