Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Many historians are engaged in a debate over whether party politics emerged in England before 1688. Perhaps the most prominent current conflict is between Jonathan Scott and Tim Harris. Scott believes that, despite ideological foundations, political parties could not exist before 1688 because of their lack of organization. Harris, on the other hand, argues that parties were indeed organized, and this organization revolved primarily around religion. Harris charges historians to examine the political structures of the localities to help resolve the debate. This thesis does just that. It looks at England's second city, York, from 1679-88 and addresses the question of the existence of "parties" by studying the city's politics. In effect, it asks the questions, "what were the dominant ideological stances and organizational structures present?; what motivations drove York's inhabitants into political action?; and what were the causes of the revolution in 1688 in that city?"
To understand the ideological divisions, studies by J. Sears McGee and David Underdown prove very helpful. According to both these historians, religious affiliation largely determined political affiliation before and during the English Civil Wars. Unfortunately, their research does not extend into the period of the Exclusion Crisis, the period J.R. Jones labels as the beginning of party politics. This study applies their theses to the period. Were the Whigs heir to old puritanical beliefs, and were the Tories heir to old Anglican beliefs? In York, this was literally the case.
When James, the Duke of York, threatened to ascend to the throne, Nonconformists reacted by organizing into the Whig party. Their primary goal was the exclusion of a popish lord. In response, the Anglicans organized and formed the Tory party. The Tory party, backed by King Charles II, nearly destroyed the Whigs by revoking their charter. Thus, in 1685, Charles had successfully established absolutist rule in York.
Once James II came to the throne, however, his ambition toward a counterreformation divided his loyal party. The Tories were known for their allegiance to Church and Crown. With the threat of a Catholic revival, they had to decide where their primary allegiance lay. Thus, they divided ideologically into Church Tories and Crown Tories. This division would bring about James's downfall. In fact, 1688 was the result of Church Tories, such as Danby, allying with the Whigs in the fight to defend their Church and Crown from James II.
Nonconformists and Anglicans in York from 1679-88 embraced coherent religious ideologies--the legacy of their predecessors--and organized around them. In many respects, the battle they fought was not new. Indeed, the issues (and often the players) were the same as in the Civil War. Only the context had changed. And the results: political parties and revolution.
McGuffee, Vernon A., "A Fabric Unravelled: The Rise of Party Politics in York, England, 1679-88" (1994). Masters Theses. 2035.