The seventeenth century saw the institution of monarchy at both its apogee and its nadir. The reign of Elizabeth is often considered its golden age and the republic its antithesis. But less than fifty years separated the two. There must have been individuals among the crowds who gathered to witness the execution of Charles I who had lined the same streets four decades before to watch Queen Elizabeth's funeral procession. The State Papers as a single collection provides a unique picture of national affairs in this century of unprecedented change. As well as the official correspondence and publications of the monarchy, it includes a range of material documenting public reaction to it. As such it is a vital quarry for the study of the monarchy from to 1603 to 1714.
The accession of James I brought about some stark changes to both the concept and reality of kingship in England. Elizabeth I had been sovereign of England and Ireland and ruler of Wales, but only with the accession of the King of Scotland to the English throne were the nations of the British Isles brought together to form a political unit which would remain essentially unchanged until the 20th century. As Elizabeth entered her 69th year, her chief ministers entered into detailed discussions with her heir, James VI of Scotland, about his accession.1 A proclamation was agreed in advance so that only hours after the Queen's death early in the morning of 24 March 1603, the English Privy Council declared James their rightful King.2 The Tudor dynasty had expired and the Stuart King of Scotland had taken the English crown with barely a murmur of opposition.
The accession itself was straightforward enough, but the question of the nature of the union was less so. James wanted full integration between his territories, to create one country out of several and to be the first monarch of the new kingdom of Great Britain. The matter was discussed at length in the two Parliaments and elsewhere, but was met with widespread suspicion.3 James did all he could to conjure up this new nation, calling himself king of Great Britain4 and inventing a new national flag,5 but the idea faltered in the face of almost universal opposition. Instead, like all his successors until 1707, he remained one king ruling several kingdoms.
As the lawyers and politicians argued, the reality of monarchy had already undergone a dramatic change: for the first time since the death of Henry VIII there was now a royal family again. When Queen Anne arrived at Windsor Castle accompanied by her children, she cut a striking contrast to her Virgin predecessor.6 The rites of passage of this large and growing family provided frequent opportunities for public ceremony, occasions as spectacular and splendid as anything the Tudor dynasty had hosted. These ran from the coronation7 itself to the installation of the Prince of Wales8 and marriage of Princess Elizabeth.9 The ceremonies delighted on-lookers while the London economy roared with the conspicuous consumption the new court stoked. As well as the public processions and acts of worship, countless court spectacles were staged. The king regularly dined in public while the queen was an enthusiast for court performances known as 'masques' in which the royal family themselves participated.10 Many scripted by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones, these allegorical narratives were often elegant expositions of the glories and virtues of monarchy.11
At the heart of much of the showmanship of early Stuart monarchy was unshakable self-belief: James I had a strong sense of the nature of kingship, something he expressed in a series of political treatises. In Basilkon Doron ('The King's Gift'), his advice to his son, he exhorted Prince Henry to be grateful to God because 'he made you a little God to sit on his Throne, and rule ouer other men'.12 This notion of 'the divine right of kings' – the belief that monarchs were appointed by and answerable to God alone – was uncontroversial (and the book a best-seller) in 1603. But come the 1640s it would be fundamentally and ferociously challenged.
The sudden and unexpected death of Prince Henry in 161213 meant that it was James's shy second son, and not his precocious and carefully-groomed brother, who succeeded to the throne in 1625. Reserved and formal, the new king set about reforming the court: cracking down on financial abuses, enforcing strict rules of access within the royal apartments and re-establishing the household regulations of a century before14 While Charles shared his father's view of monarchy, he lacked his political instincts. Charles's Scottish coronation was a case in point: as king of two kingdoms Charles I needed two coronations and so in 1633 set out for the land of his birth. The Scots, who maintained their separate political and religious institutions, favoured a low-church form of Protestantism. Charles, on the other hand was a high-church Anglican. Such was his devotion to his own faith, and headstrong determination to bend his subjects to his will, that he ignored the native Scottish coronation tradition and staged an essentially English coronation in Edinburgh – complete with candles, crucifixes and the sort of elaborate bowing and kneeling guaranteed to antagonise the Scots.15 Four years later, the same instinct led the king to try and impose an Anglican Prayer Book on the Scots – a disastrous miscalculation which would bring the King into armed conflict with his own subjects.16 The fury with which Charles greeted the Scots' rejection of the new prayer book stemmed from his belief that it was, essentially, a rejection of his authority as king.
As the kingdoms tumbled into civil war, all sides struggled to make sense of a state of affairs so at odds with all mainstream political theory. Charles insisted on the mores of monarchy despite the mud and mayhem of the civil war: his exiled court in Oxford was palatially lodged in a series of university colleges, ceremonial staff trailed around the battlefields and until his last days his every meal was served by servants on bended knee.17 In the end the trial and execution of Charles I.18 was the work of a tiny group of men - who only achieved their ends by 'purging' parliament in December 1648 - and was regarded with horror by the vast majority of the English population.19 When the Prince of Wales wrote to the Parliamentary high command to plead for his father's life, he argued what most people still fervently believed, that they could not take from the king 'the royal dignity given him by God alone'.20
Regardless, the regicide went ahead, the monarchy was dispensed with and the English republic came into being. The new vehicle of government was the Council of State, who's declared first purpose was to prevent the return of the Stuart dynasty.21 While the institutions of royal government – the privy council, the exchequer and prerogative courts – were disposed of and crown lands and possessions put up for sale, the trappings of monarchy were not so easy to throw off.22 The conventions of international diplomacy required careful ceremony, which in turn necessitated ceremonial officers, buildings and furniture.23 The Council of State decided it needed to retain nearly all the principal royal palaces for its own use and soon raised the value of royal items it wished to retain from £10,000 to £50,000.24 Four years later government by committee ended and Oliver Cromwell was made head of state.25 He resisted suggestions that his title should be 'king', but he was nonetheless to be known as 'His Highness the Lord Protector' and within a week of his ceremonial investiture, preparations were underway for the Cromwell family to occupy the royal apartments at Whitehall.26 While the revolutionaries of 1649 had abolished the office of sovereign, a thousand years of kingship could not so simply be swept away.
In 1660, after two years of chaos, a battered and bruised country greeted the return of the monarchy with profound relief.27 Thanks to this conservative mood, the institution was restored on almost precisely the same terms as before the civil war. When Charles II was crowned on 23 April 1661, the Crown Jewels were new but the words were unchanged and he was recognised as God's appointee.28 As had been the case in 1603, the advent of a new regime heralded a round of ritual events and made available a raft of lucrative court posts which delighted those whose lives they touched.29 Thousands flocked to Whitehall to see their king and were not disappointed. Unlike his father, Charles II had an easy manner and was an enthusiastic performer of public ceremony: he staged countless carefully-managed healing ceremonies, dined in public several times a week and attended services in the chapel royal every Sunday. Charles II had no appetite for reducing the splendour of the monarchy and the pre-civil war ritual calendar was reinstated in its entirely.30 To some amazement he even revived the old practice of providing formal meals for almost the entire royal household (something most European monarchies had long since abandoned) - though the sheer cost would soon force him reduce its scale.31
The years immediately after the Restoration saw the monarchy enjoy an almost unprecedented level of popularity; inevitably this did not last. A series of natural disasters - plague and the Great Fire of London - and the humiliation of the English fleet being burned in harbour by the Dutch, all tainted the regime's reputation, while tales of the king's promiscuity damaged his personal glory.32 The real test for the restored monarchy, however, would come in the late 1670s with the fall-out from the conversion to Catholicism of the King's brother, James - something which, in a fiercely Protestant world, was enough to destabilise the whole regime. Stringent anti-Catholic legislation was soon being introduced in Parliament culminating in a radical attempt to remove James, Duke of York from the succession.33 Determined to prevent what he saw as an assault on the hereditary nature of monarchy itself, the King saw off this challenge with a combination of shady political manoeuvering and steely personal resolve. After the defeat of the Exclusion Bill he dissolved Parliament never to call it again. The years which followed saw a new imperiousness in his style of kingship. Regulations for the royal household were tightened up, musicians started to play rousing music during the royal rising and retiring rituals and incense was burned in the palace chapels.34 The king cracked down ferociously on town corporations, and anyone who was allowed before him to protest was required to remain on his knees throughout the audience.35 While in the early years of the reign the monarchy was unquestionably based in London, Charles II increasingly withdrew from the volatile metropolis: first to Windsor Castle and then to Winchester where he commissioned Christopher Wren to build a magnificent new palace.36 It seems likely he intended to use Winchester as his cousin the King of France used Versailles, as a counterpoint to the politically febrile capital; but just as the lead was being rolled out on the roof, Charles II died.
Charles's defence of his brother's right to the throne him was so successful that James, Duke of York, succeeded painlessly on 6 February 1685. In some respects James II was a modernising monarch. While Charles II had fought against any moves to reduce the size of the royal household, James - anticipating money would be in short supply - undertook a wholesale reform: a staggering 400 of the 1,000 court posts were abolished.37 But this would not be his legacy to the English monarchy. At his coronation on 23 April 1685 the communion service was quietly dispensed with on the flimsy pretext of saving time.38 In reality, the problem here - and throughout the reign - was one of how a Catholic king could rule a Protestant country. James's efforts to enable English Catholics to work and worship freely were viewed with suspicion and then outright hostility by his subjects.39 Catholicism was inextricably linked to royal absolutism in the popular mind, and James lacked the political ability to persuade people that absolute monarchy was not his goal. As the birth of a son in June 1688 raised the spectre of a Catholic dynasty, a group of powerful English made contact with James's son-in-law, William of Orange, offering their support should he invade.40
On 5 November 1688 William of Orange landed a vast fleet in the south-west of England and by Christmas day James II was in France and the kingdom was his.41 Exactly what had happened constitutionally was the subject of much discussion. But the fact remained that what Charles II had fought against in 1679-81 - the notion that subjects could chose their king - had come to pass. James was deemed to have abdicated and Parliament explicitly 'offered' the throne to William and his Stuart wife, Mary.42
The monarchy was different after 1690. A series of pieces of legislation sought to limit its powers - important among which was the Bill of Rights passed in December 1689, while the coronation oath, which remains almost unaltered today, included a new pledge that the sovereign should govern according to statutes in Parliament.43 For the first and only time England had two sovereigns, as to lessen the appearance of a foreign invasion Mary reigned jointly with her husband - though William alone was to exercise executive authority.44 But in other ways the monarchy under William and Mary was very much in the traditional Stuart mould; the household reforms instituted by James II were revoked wholesale and (despite the claims of court preachers) court life resumed much of the traditional calendar of social and ceremonial events, even after Mary's death in 1694.45 In 1698 when Whitehall Palace burned, the long-standing arrangement whereby the royal family and the offices of state occupied the same complex came to an end.46 In architecture as in politics, sovereign and state were no longer indivisible.
With Whitehall gone, William's sister-in-law Queen Anne (1702-1714) lived mainly at St James's Palace, usually assigned to the heir to the throne. Here she brought the habits of a consort to the role of sovereign. Notably 'drawing rooms' were now staged in the sovereign's suite and became the main social-political gathering; it would remain central to royal life for two hundred years. But the royal apartments were no longer unrivalled as the geographical centre of politics, as satellite powerbases sprung up among the new urban palaces in London's west end.
A century after James I's accession the issue of the nature of the union between England and Scotland returned. Come the early 18th century, politicians north and south had their own reasons for favouring a greater degree of integration. After 1688 the English government feared the Scots would chose a Jacobite king, while the Scots found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy from which English cash and trade concessions could rescue them. On 2 January 1707 the Scottish Parliament voted itself out of existence. Though still separate in law and church, the two kingdoms had become one and Great Britain had come into being.
1 SP14/63, f.1, 24 March 1603, 'An account of Queen Elizabeth's nomination of the King of Scots...'
2 SP14/1, f.1, 24 March 1603 'Proclamation by the Lord Mayor of London...'
3 SP14/7, f.83, 18 April? 1604, 'Discourse on the Unions of Kingdoms in name.'; SP14/7, f.99, 18 April 1604, 'Abstract of a speech in the House of Commons, in favour of the union of the two kingdoms'.
4 SP14/73, f. 82, 20 October 1604, Proclamation concerning the King's Majesty's stile of King of Great Britain', &c'
5 SP 14/73, f. 123, 13 April 1606, 'Proclamation declaring what flags South and North Britons shall bear at sea'; SP14/23, no. 2, 7 August 1606, ' Council of Scotland to the King. The masters and shipowners think the flag ordered to be used by the subjects of both kingdoms, derogatory to Scotland'
6 SP14/2, f.93, 4 July 1603 'Dud. Carleton to John Chamberlain. Arrival of the Queen and Princess at Windsor'.
7 SP14/19, f.55, 12 March 1606 'Account by Sir John Fortescue of moneys received for the expenses of the Coronation'
8 SP40/2, f. 178, 25 October 1610 'Warrant to pay to Sir Roger Dallison, 600£. for charges of fire-works used at the creation of the Prince of Wales'
9 SP14/72, f. 50 February 1613, John Finet to Carleton ... Details of the marriage ceremonial, the dresses, order of procession, splendid jewellery, &c'
10 SP14/31, f.56, 5 January 1608. '2. John Chamberlain to Dud. Carleton. The masque at Court goes forward for Twelfth-day; all the holidays, there were plays. The King dined in state yesterday; two services of plate used, one of gold, the other that of the House of Burgundy. Many fresh Scots arrived.'
11 SP14/31, f.59 4, 8 January 1608. John Chamberlain to Dud. Carleton. 'The masque deferred till Sunday. Great show of jewels. One lady furnished with more than 100,000£. worth, but the Lady Arabella exceeds her. Gaming at Court.'
12 SP14/5, f.146, 1603?, 'Fragment in French of the "Basilicon Doron"'
13 SP 14/86 f.264, 5 December 1612, 'Circumstantial account [by Sir Chas. Cornwallis] of the illness and death of Prince Henry, the post-mortem examination and lying in state'.
14 SP16/204, p.122, 20 December 1631, ' Sir Thomas Edmondes to the same. Reports various incidents of household business ... The King has published orders to restrain access to the privy chamber and inward lodgings to persons of quality, and that the Lord Chamberlain shall on Sundays and holidays dine in the great chamber, and the officers of the household in the hall'; SP16/375, f. 1, Undated 1637. '1. Observations by Secretary Coke on the Statutes or Articles of Eltham'; SP16/375, p.5. Orders under the King's hand for the establishment of government in the Court, collected out of the ancient ordinances of the King's House, and commanded to be duly observed.'
15 SP12/237, f. 130b, f.135 6 May 1633. 'Westminster. Warrant for payment of 53l. 8s. to Sir Sampson Darrell, Surveyor of Marine Victuals, for providing a diet of three messes of meat at a meal, and of three dishes to every mess, for the twenty-six Gentlemen of the Chapel for twenty-one days in their voyage in the Dreadnought to Scotland and back.'; SP16/241. no. 23, f.34, 15 June 1633, Bulwick. 23. Sir Thomas Roe to Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia.'
16 SP16/369, f.130, Oct. 8. 1637 'Translation of a Statement, in Italian, of a determination come to by the King, with reference to the troubles in Scotland, in the handwriting of G. R. Weckherlin.'
17 SP16/490, f.13, 20 April 1642, 'Sec. Nicholas to Sir Thomas Rowe ... Upon Saturday the Duke of York, conducted from London by the Marquis Hertford, was welcomed into this city with 800 or 900 horse, and at night with bonfires all the town over. On Monday, the King, having begun the feast of St. George for the last year, together with the Lords of the Garter here present, held a Chapter and elected the young Duke of York into that order.'
18 SP16/517, f. 6-30 January 1649 'Journal of the Proceedings of the High Court of Justice erected by Act of the Commons of England'
19 SP18/1, f.9, 13 February 1649. 'Declaration of the excluded MPs, "We, in discharge of our duty to God, to the King, to our own conscience, and to our bleeding and dying kingdom, solemnly protest that we disclaim and repudiate all their acts and votes, done under the army's power, and against our consent, as treasonable and pernicious to the freeborn people of this realm, which we are bound to disavow and resist, with our purses, arms, lives, to the last drop of our blood."'
20 SP18/1, f.8, 23 January 1649, 'The Prince of Wales to General Fairfax, and to his Council of War', pp. 1-24.
21 CSPD, 1649-50, 13 February 1649 'Act of Parliament constituting … a Council of State for the Commonwealth of England', pp. 1-24.
22 CSPD, 1649-50, 25 May 1649, May 25. 'Order in Parliament that the personal estate of the late King, Queen, and Prince be inventoried, appraised, and sold'
23 SP18/1, f. 134, April 1649, '73. Sir Oliver Fleming, Master of the Ceremonies, to the Council of State. I want instructions in the place the commonwealth is pleased to trust to me. I desire to know what titles I am to give the Commonwealth and Council of State, in conversing with foreign ministers and strangers of quality that come about business.'
24 SP 25/62 f.353, 24 May 1649, 'To report to the House that the Council think Whitehall House, St. James' Park, St. James' House, Somerset House, Hampton Court and the House Park, Theobalds and the Park, Windsor and the Little Park next the house, Greenwich House and Park, and Hyde Park ought to be kept for the public use of the commonwealth, and not sold'; SP 25/75 f.543, 30 August 1654, 'Wm. Thomas, keeper of the late standing wardrobe at Windsor, to deliver to Clement Kinnersley all hangings and other wardrobe stuff contained in his book of charge, and not yet delivered to the contractors for sale of the late King's goods, to furnish the Speaker's room adjoining the Parliament House'.
25 SP18/42, f. 98, 16 December 1653, 'Proclamation by the Council. Whereas the late Parliament dissolving themselves, and resigning their powers and authorities, the government of the commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by a Lord Protector, and successive Parliaments, is now established'.
26 SP 25/75 f.1, 16 December 1653, 'Council to the several high sheriffs. You will herewith receive a proclamation for proclaiming his Highness Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of the commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, which you are to cause to be proclaimed in all the cities, boroughs, and market towns within your jurisdiction.'
27 SP18/221, f.6, 1 May 1660. 'Order passed nem. con. by the House of Commons, that a Committee be appointed to prepare an answer to the King's letter' appending the Declaration of Breda; SP29/1. f. 1, 29 May 1660 '1. Speech of Sir Harbottle Grimston, Bart., Speaker of the House of Commons, to the King, delivered at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, in presence of the members, congratulating his restoration and his conquest by patience over his kingdom'
28 SP29/34, f.146, 23 April 1661 'Narrative of the Solemn Rites and Ceremonies performed upon the day of the Coronation of Our Sovereign Lord King Charles II, happily celebrated upon 23rd day of April, being St George's Day, Anno Domini 1661. Observed and collected by Elias Ashmole, Esq., Windsor Herald'.
29 A large proportion of the documents in CSPD, 1660-1, are the petitions of people trying to secure a court or government position.
30 SP29/57, f.30, 4 July 1662 'Regulations for touching for the King's Evil'
31 SP29/79, f.116, 25 August 1663 'The King to the Board of Greencloth.'
32 SP29/205, f. 4, 13 June 1667, 'J. Carlisle to Williamson. Every hour brings strange reports from Chatham and thereabouts; a seaman brings word that three of our ships are on fire, and that the Dutch have taken the Royal Charles and committed many outrages'
33 SP 29/411 f.1266 'Bill for securing the King and Kingdom against the Growth of Popery.'
34 SP29/411, f. 415, 11 May 1679, 'Declaration by the King in Council, after reciting that the order of July, 1668, touching foreign ministers had been ineffectual or neglected, that the said order be not only renewed but enlarged...'
35 SP29/425, item no. 1112, 18 June 1683, 'William Blathwayt to the Earl of Conway. Yesterday (to-day) there was a Council at Windsor where the Lord Mayor and Aldermen presented their petition and continued on their knees while it was reading, till the King bid them rise...'
36 SP29/422, f.250, 8 March 1683, 'The Earl of Gainsborough to Secretary Jenkins. Informing him of the grant by the grand jury to his Majesty of the hall and ground within Winchester Castle'
37 SP44/164, p. 263, 4 October 1685 'Warrant to George, Lord Dartmouth, Master General of the Ordnance .. the office of master of the tents and toiles is for the future to be under the inspection and regulation of the Ordnance Office.
38 SP31/ 1, f.115, 23 April 1685, 'The Form of the Proceeding to the Coronation of Their Majesties, King James the Second, and Queen Mary.'
39 S.P. 44/337, p. 251, 4 April 1687 'Warrant to George, Lord Jeffreys, Lord Chancellor, to cause the Great Seal to be affixed to the Declaration for Liberty of Conscience and to give order for printing and publishing the same.'
40 SP8/4, f.142, 12 June 1688, 'The King to the Prince of Orange. The Queen was, God be thanked, safely delivered of a son on Sunday morning, a little before ten.'
41 SP8/2, pt. 2, ff. 148–9, 5 November 1688, 'Some rough notes made by the Prince of Orange on landing in England.'
42 SP31/4, f. 289, 13 February 1689, 'The Names of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal who deserted, [not Protested] against the Vote in the House of Peers, the sixth instant, against the word Abducated, and the Throne Vacant' 'A Form of settling the Crown and Succession agreed on in the House of Commons, and by them communicated to the House of Lords for their concurrence, [extracted from the Declaration of Rights].'; [Greenwich Hospital, News Letters, Vol. 3, No. 66, and Greenwich Hospital, News Letter Entry Book 2, p. 281.], 14 February 1689, 'News-letter. The Lords and Commons, ... agreed to a Proclamation for proclaiming William and Mary, King and Queen of England, .. The Lords and Commons having met at Westminster, went thence to Whitehall and, in the Banqueting House, desired them to accept the Crown, as above'
43 SP32/1, f.46, 5 April 1689 'The Form of the prayers and service used in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of the Kings and Queens of England, with an account of the procession from the Palace to the Abbey'
44 SP32/1, no. 1, 16 February 1689, 'Order in Council that in all prayers for the King, to the word "King" be added " and Queen," to the word "Sovereign Lord" be added" and Lady" and that instead of the King's name, "Charles" or "James," there be used the names "William and Mary."'
45 SP32/8, f.152, 16 November 1697, ''R. Yard's news-letter to the same. ... This whole day has been spent in his Majesty's reception and passage through London, attended by the nobility in their coaches, and by the Lord Mayor and Corporation, with the heralds at arms on horseback.'
46 SP32/15. ff. 3–4, 4 January 1698, 'Ja. Vernon to [Sir Joseph Williamson]. I write to your Excellency in a terrible confusion, the greatest part of Whitehall being now in a flame.'
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CITATION: Keay, Anna: "Seventeenth-Century Monarchy." State Papers Online 1603-1714, Cengage Learning EMEA Ltd, 2010