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The 17th Century

17th century history is full of developments. The battle between the Church and the throne over the Divine Right of Kings created a turbulent time for Britain. Religious reforms saw many pilgrims set sail for America and later the American Revolution was the catalyst for American Independence from Britain.

When Elizabeth I died without an heir, James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, thereby uniting England, Scotland and Ireland under one crown.

Some of the key events in England during the 17th century were:

1603 James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England
1604 Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
1620 Pilgrims sailed for New England from Plymouth in the Mayflower
1625 Charles I was crowned king
1629 Charles dissolved Parliament
1642-51 The English Civil War
1649 Commonwealth of England established
1653 Oliver Cromwell was made Lord Protector
1658 Richard Cromwell succeeded his father
1660 Restoration of the Monarchy. Stuarts were returned to the throne through Charles II
1666 Great Fire of London
1685 James II was crowned king
1689 William III and Mary II jointly ascended to the throne
1692 William III massacred the Jacobites at Glencoe

James I was not popular with everyone and a plot to blow up both him and the government was led by Guy Fawkes. The Gunpowder Plot failed and the plotters were tortured and executed.

James I left an incredible legacy. As a patron of the arts he commissioned many fine works including the Building of a beautiful Banqueting House at Whitehall. He also had the bible translated into what is still known as the Authorised King James Version.

Charles I acceded to the throne in 1625. His solution to disagreements with Parliament was to dissolve it, which he did for years at a time. His acts eventually led to the Civil War betweens supporters of Parliament, the Roundheads, and the Royalist Cavaliers. There are many historic battle sites and castles which recall this period of history including Marston Moor, Chepstow Castle and Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire.

After Charles I was executed, his heir Charles went into exile and there followed a period known as the Commonwealth of England from 1649-1653, followed by a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell, the commander of the army.

Oliver Cromwell was succeeded by his son Richard, but his rule was not a success and Charles II was invited to return and rule Great Britain.

Two major crises hit London in quick succession. The London plague in 1665 killed around 70,000 people. It was followed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which started in Pudding Lane and destroyed almost two thirds of the city. The event was recorded by Samuel Pepys and his diary has given historians invaluable information about 17th century London life.

The silver lining to that cloud was the replanning of London under Sir Christopher Wren. Buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral and many churches designed by him can all be enjoyed today. He also designed Aspley House and Emmanuel Chapel at Cambridge.

When Charles II died, his younger brother was crowned King James II in 1685. James tried to return the country to the Roman Catholic faith and his persecution of Protestants led to him being forced to give up the throne just four years later. His daughter Mary and son-in-law William of Orange jointly succeeded him.

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