The English climate during the neoclassical period was one of false appearances in both political and the public domains. Part of the masquerade involved a monarchy that was publicly sensitive yet privately ambivalent concerning many issues. There was also a nouveau riche middle-class who were more interested in gentrifying themselves with clothing and mannerisms than acknowledging the political conflicts swirling about them.
The history of the monarchy was fuel enough for a great deal of criticism on the part of the neoclassicists, and rightfully so. The hopes of the public were high for a leader who could promise relief from the religious and political struggles that plagued England. It is not surprising that a crowd gathered to cheer Charles II as he landed on the shores of Dover in May of 1660. Many felt that Charles’s coronation in 1661 would signify an end to the civil and political unrest. However, he would prove to be a man of contradictions.
Charles II, at least on the surface, gave England much to hope for. Publicly, he professed a love of parliaments and expressed a hope for an independent Church of England. Privately, however, he often postponed parliaments, pushed for toleration of Catholics, and even converted to Catholicism on his deathbed. Similarly, James, Charles’s brother and successor, initially pledged support of the Anglicans by promising to honor the national church and to end religious uniformity. Soon, however, he would move against Anglican interests. His attempts to convert the nation to Catholicism provoked William of Orange, his Dutch son-in-law, to organize an army. A confrontation occurred in November of 1688, causing James to flee to France.
The reign of King William III saw the restoration of the Church of England but also an England deep in debt from...
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