Seventeenth Century England: Significant Historical and Literary Events

Timeline by Elizabeth Pugh / All information received from: "The Early Seventeenth Century." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2013. 637-66. Print. / AND / Harp, Richard. "Historical Contexts." The Seventeenth-Century Literature Handbook. By Robert C. Evans. London: Continuum, 2010. 43-57. Print.


Death of Elizabeth I


Elizabeth was a strong leader who handled her subjects with grace and care. The period of her reign included a greater struggle between Protestants and Catholics since her father, Henry VIII, previously broke off England's relationship with Rome as head of the church. Elizabeth lived out the repercussions of this action and her death ushered in the entrance of a much less graceful monarch, James I.

Accession of James I


James held to the "Divine Right of Kings;" that the monarch has supreme authority over Parliament and the people, much like God. While he did seek to unify Catholics and Protestants, most famously through his publishing of the "King James" Bible, he failed to handle his subjects with grace and care as Queen Elizabeth I had done.

Gunpowder Plot


This was a Catholic plot against the Protestant government wherein they planned to blow up Parliament (and consequentially King James I and his son). The plot was found out and the planners were executed. This plot stirred more animosity between Catholics and Protestants and fueled the fire toward the Civil War.

Jamestown Established


This was the first English settlement in the New World and therefore the beginning of the eventual English colonies. This event spurred on new ideas and literature from both those in England and the settlers themselves. An example of a settler who contributed to the literary thread of history is Anne Bradstreet, the first published female poet in the English colonies.

King James Publishes "Book of Sports"


King James wrote about and approved Sunday activities, which incited anger in the Puritans, who believed Sundays should be entirely of rest.

Accession of Charles I


The reign of King Charles I saw economic struggle and a long, brutal Civil War. Forcing his subjects under his supreme authority, he dissolved Parliament three times, overtaxed, and was eventually taken into the hands of his own people. Although people were beginning to question the monarch's authority ling before King Charles took the throne, his reign incited a much more collective doubt for the people of England concerning the ultimate source of political power.

Death of James I


King James I, although he believed in the Divine Right of Kings, did not over-exert his power quite like his son, King Charles I, would do after his death. James I, while he could not completely control religious tension, sought to maintain a spirit of peace by keeping England out of the religious wars in Europe.

Petition of Right Signed


Parliament was able to sway the King into signing this petition, which kept him from forcing unlawful taxes. This showed that the power of Parliament was not completely lost, although hanging from a thread.

King Charles Dissolves Parliament


After Charles I had been ruling without Parliament for over a decade, he reassembled them in hopes that they would provide funding for the war with Scotland. When Parliament refused to fund his efforts and instead focused upon the issues of his ruling, King Charles dissolved Parliament. This sparked rebellion against the monarch and led to the joining of forces between Scotland and many Protestant rebel against the King and his army, joining the Scots in their war efforts.

The First Civil War Begins


Scottish forces (at this time under the rule of King Charles) were not satisfied with King Charles' decisions regarding their religious freedoms. Scotland, mostly Presbyterian at this time, did not agree with having bishops in power as overseers. The Scots joined forces with English rebels and began fighting against the King's army. During this time Parliament banned public plays, causing harm to the theater, which was also banned.

John Milton publishes "Areopagitica"


In this work Milton argues for free press and freedom of speech, primarily for those Protestants who have been so brutally attacked for their writings in the late years, such as William Prynne. Milton's argument for free press and uncensored literature opened the door for liberty in the arts and especially in writing.

Archbishop Laud Executed


Archbishop Laud, a staunch and brutal member and protector of the Anglican church, was finally executed after numerous attacks against the Puritans.

The Scots Hand Charles I over to Parliament as Prisoner


Their dislike for his authority in the church caused them to detain the King. This period is marked by confusion and many different religious factions.

The Second Civil War Begins


The Second Civil War begins across England, only this time half of the Roundheads begin siding with the Cavaliers. The debate is again religious, as most of the English rebels are Puritans who do not want Presbyterianism to take over as the Scots wish.

Westminister Confession Passed


Holding a Calvinistic perspective of salvation, the Westminister Confession of faith turned many toward God both in the years just following its passing, all the way to the current day.

Charles I Beheaded


The people's questioning of power comes to a head with the execution of Charles I for treason. This ushers in new ideas for government and although brief, a new political system for England.

Thomas Hobbes publishes "Leviathan"


Writing as a royalist, Hobbes presents absolute government as the only way for a nation and people to unify. He argues that the human nature is evil and unable for self-ruling and freedom.

Oliver Cromwell made Lord Protector


Parliament has primary rule in the government. Oliver Cromwell was seen by many as a champion of religious liberty and freedom.

Death of Cromwell


With the death of Cromwell there came a brief period of reign for his son, Richard as Lord Protector.

Restoration of Charles II


Richard, Cromwell's son, did not have ruling desires or capabilities, and King Charles I's son was placed back into a position of power as the monarch. His power, however, was limited by Parliament much more than before.

The Great Fire


This tragic event left many churches and historic places in ashes, and with them countless books and works of literature. The literature we read (and do not read) today is greatly affected by the Great Fire of 1666.

Test Act


The Test Act of 1673 set a new standard for religious affiliation in England. It stated that only those who were from the Anglican church were able to become involved in government. This did not include, however, the King.

Newton Publishes "Principia Mathematica"


Isaac Newton's publishing of this work, along with other works such as that of Bacon and Galileo, encouraged scientific theory and the beginnings of scientific method and inductive reasoning.

Glorious Revolution


When Charles II died and James II became King, the English Protestants were shocked and disapproving of their new (Catholic) King. Known as "Glorious," this revolution was quietly resolved with no casualties, as James simply fled while his (Protestant) relatives, heir to the throne, came to take his place.

John Locke Publishes Two Treatises of Government


Locke asserts that the natural man has rights and freedoms. This view is in contrast to Thomas Hobbes' in "Leviathan," wherein he argues that the man's natural state is untrustworthy and therefore in need of a strong central government.