Between the accession of James I and the death of Anne, a period of little over a century, great changes in the life of the nation were witnessed.
James I and Charles I had begun by regarding Parliament as a mere royal council, to be summoned and dismissed at will. By the time Anne came to the throne, the various revolutions had placed the sovereign in a much humbler position. The idea of ruling without Parliament was dead. Queen Anne could only choose ministers who had the support of the House of Commons. The great struggle between King and Parliament had come to an end. The two Houses, united, were so strong that Anne only once ventured to refuse assent to a Bill, and since then the so-called "royal veto" on a Bill has never been exercised.
Through the complete control over taxation, finally gained at the Revolution by the Bill of Rights, the House of Commons was the more powerful of the two. But for a long time the House of Lords played a very active part. Peers generally formed a majority in the royal council, which was becoming a real "Cabinet." The wealthier peers, who owned land in a large number of the smaller boroughs, controlled the elections in these towns, and thus had great influence over the House of Commons. The House of Lords used its powers very freely, especially in rejecting Bills from the Commons, and it exerted a strong check on the House of Commons. But if it came to a contest the Commons could win, through their control over taxes.
Not only had Parliament as a whole won its victory, but the two great political parties, Whigs and Tories, had become so well organised that the government could only be carried on by one party at a time. That is to say, the monarch could no longer choose his ministers from both parties. If the Whigs had a majority in the House of Commons, the king or queen must form a Whig government. If the Tories had a majority, then the government must be formed from the Tories. Thus we began to have not only Parliamentary Government, but Party Government.
In the Church also, a change equally great in its effect on the lives, of the people had taken, place. In 1604, every subject of the king could, be compelled, by and imprisonment, to conform to the one national Church. In the middle of the century, the national Church had been overthrown and its services forbidden. With the restoration of monarchy, the national Church was restored, and the Nonconformists were again persecuted. But by the time of Anne such persecution had ceased, and toleration for all Protestants was secured. The laws against Catholics were not repealed. In practice, however, Catholics were seldom disturbed, and although the exercise of their religion was illegal, it was openly carried on.
Personal liberty was much greater than it had ever been before, and, greater than in any other country. The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 secured people against being kept in prison by the orders of the crown. By this act; every prisoner could claim a speedy trial; or be released on bail. Besides that, the judges themselves could no longer be dismissed by the king: only a vote of both Houses of Parliament could remove a judge from his post. There were thus to be no, more judges like Jeffreys, and no more decisions like that on "ship-money."
People could speak their minds more freely. In James I's time, men discussed questions of politics with bated breath. In Anne's time everybody was free to talk about everything. Newspapers, first begun in, the days of the Civil War and the Commonwealth, had become more common and cheaper. In Anne's reign the first daily paper, called the Daily Courant, was established. Coffee-houses were used as clubs, and the interchange of ideas helped to create public opinion.
Even the pulpit had become a popular institution. It was an, age of great preachers. Sermons, especially in London, were listened to as popular lectures are now. Missionary and other societies flourished. Parish libraries began to be formed, and movements for popular education spread to every part of the country.
Wealth was increased by increased trade, both at home and abroad, and by improvements in industry and agriculture. When James I became king there was no trade with America. The first real colony at Jamestown was established in 1607 by the newly formed London Company. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers sailed and founded the New England States. By the time of Queen Anne the American colonies spread from the St. Lawrence southwards along the American seaboard to the River Savannah, and the trade with Britain was of great value. The East India Company, founded in 1600, had gone on for. over a century, increasing its trade. Several islands in the West Indies had been added to the British Dominions, and a foothold had been gained in Africa on the Gold Coast.
Trading companies made expeditions to Russia, Persia, and China, and explorers traversed the South Seas and discovered yet another new continent—Australia. Adventurers and explorers were the necessary pioneers of trade and colonies. The race of Elizabethan "sea-dogs" was succeeded by a race of buccaneers. These were naval adventurers, banded together in free companies and living by plundering foreign ships and towns, chiefly in the West Indies and South America. The distinction between piracy and adventure was not very clear, and our own shipping was in constant danger from pirates.
Nevertheless, foreign trade increased. The imports of all kinds which found their way into the homes of Englishmen, especially of the rich, gradually affected the mode of life of the whole nation. Coffee was introduced about the time of the Long Parliament. Tea came a little later in Charles II's time, and was in general use in Anne's day, except among the poor, for it still cost from thirteen shillings to twenty shillings a pound. Silks, spices, wines, tobacco, Chinese pottery, paper, glassware, calicoes and other cloths, mechanical inventions, works of art, foreign fashions in dress and manners, all helped to change the habits of the rich and to stimulate our own industries.
Foreign refugees were continually coming into the country, particularly the French Huguenots or Protestants, after Louis XIV banished thousands of them in 1685. They much improved the silk manufacture, the linen trade, the manufacture of sail-cloth, tapestry, hats and paper, surgeons' instruments, and glassware. They introduced new kinds of pottery, and discovered new processes which enabled the English potters soon to become famous. Calico-printing, introduced at this time by foreigners, was a new industry entirely.
Thus, both in trade and manufactures, we learned much from the example of other nations, and especially from the Dutch and French. Even the great Bank of England, founded at this time, was an idea borrowed from the Dutch. William Paterson, a Scotsman, brought it forward, and Charles Montagu, William III's Chancellor of the Exchequer, in conjunction with some of the leading London merchants, carried it out. The expenses of the Government in time of war were more than could be met by the ordinary taxes. Money had to be borrowed. Previous to this time, either the Government had to pay extravagant rates of interest, which in the long run came out of the pockets of the taxpayers, or it did not pay at all, and that was both dishonest and ruinous to the traders and merchants who had lent money.
The idea now brought forward was to form a company which was to lend over a million pounds to the Government, Interest at a reasonable rate was to be paid from the taxes called "customs"; and the company was given special privileges to carry on the work of banking. Owing to the support of the Government, the credit of the bank was so secure that people were willing to place their money in it to such an extent that the bank was able to lend more and more to the Government; and these loans to the Government became the famous National Debt.
The importance of all these money schemes is that they show how much richer and more enterprising the people were becoming, and what a much greater part trade was occupying in the national affairs.
Population increased more than in any preceding century, and although not more than one-sixth of the population lived in the towns, it was the towns that grew most rapidly. London kept the lead with about 700,000 people; it was still about seventeen times the size of the next largest town, Bristol. Manchester had grown to about seven thousand, and Liverpool to six thousand. The American trade was bringing prosperity to Liverpool, which began to build its first docks in 1709, and was soon to become the third port in the kingdom. Sheffield and Birmingham were becoming what were then large towns of about five thousand inhabitants.
The roads were still bad, but communication was improving. Hackney coaches had been started in London during the Commonwealth, but it was in Charles II's day that stage coaches became regular means of travel. "Flying" coaches began to run about fifty miles a day of a charge of one shilling for five miles; but these only ran between the large towns in the south, and on the Great North Road. The toll-bar system was then first set up—payments had to be made at the bars or gates—for the improvement of the roads. But it was often necessary to engage guides between one town and another, and a new profession sprang up—that of the highwaymen. The most notorious of these highway robbers, Claude Duval, a good swordsman. and a good shot, made himself a terror to men, whilst to ladies he behaved with the greatest politeness.
By such rascals, traveling all over the country was made dangerous. But inns were generally good and plentiful. It became more and more common for the well-to-do to visit London with their families in the "season," and to go to the newly created watering-places in the summer. Owing to Queen Anne's patronage, and the genius of Beau Nash, who caused the town to be specially adapted for the reception of visitors, Bath became the fashionable resort, for a long time.
The theatres became a regular feature in the larger towns, but London was the first home of the stage. At the Restoration, there were only two theatres open in London, but by Anne's time there were several more, and the first opera was begun. The great musician, Handel, came to England; and by his operas and oratorios, and concerts gave the first great impulse to popular music.
In some ways the age of Anne was like our own times. If we were to go back to James I's time we should find
ourselves strangers to the habits and thoughts of the early days of the Stuarts; but we would be more at home
with the men and women of Anne's time. They lived under a Constitutional Monarchy; party politics played much
the same part that they do now; trade and manufactures were becoming daily of more importance; their
amusements and social life also were to some extent like our own. On the other hand, we are richer; we can
travel more easily; we live more in large towns, and work in factories, instead of in our own homes. The
seventeenth century had done very much to produce Modern England, the England that we live in, and to make us
strangers to the Middle Ages.