These volumes are the first to be published by the History of Parliament Trust covering the House of Lords. With their publication, complementing the History’s previously published work on The House of Commons, 1660-1690 (edited by Basil Henning, 1983), and The House of Commons, 1690-1715 (edited by Eveline Cruickshanks, Stuart Handley and David Hayton, 2002), we have a more complete and detailed picture of the personnel and work of Parliament in the late Stuart period than ever before. These volumes will make it possible to explore remarkably closely not only the operation of the political world of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, but also its social, economic and cultural world.
The period is one of the most important in the history of the House of Lords. Over the half century or more after 1660, the Lords were the stage on which some of the critical confrontations in English and British constitutional and political history were played out, and these volumes show how the peers as politicians engaged with and sought to influence the central issues of the day: the constitutional position of the Church of England and the doomed attempt to maintain a confessional state; the implications of the succession to the throne of the Catholic prince James, duke of York, as James II; the coup of Prince William of Orange and his and his wife Mary’s accession as William III and Mary II, and its consequences in changing the theory and practice of the English monarchy; the enormous commitment to almost permanent continental war from 1689 to 1713; the relationship with Scotland, and the Union agreed in 1707; and the question of maintaining a Protestant succession after the death of the last Protestant Stuart heir, Queen Anne. They display a peerage obsessed with their longstanding legislative and judicial powers as a House, and deeply concerned to protect the position of the House of Lords against what they regarded as the encroachment of the Commons. They expose the way in which key families in the period used their political, financial and social power to maintain (or sometimes squander) their position and influence, and how they were active in devising new schemes – successful and unsuccessful – to increase their wealth and ‘interest’. They show the peers influential as local grandees, to whom local society looked for leadership and protection. They demonstrate the determination with which members of an elite intensely conscious of their status defended their honour, privilege and wealth against commoners, against Irish and Scottish peers and against each other. They show, remarkably, a handful of peers (often not the most obvious ones) dedicated to ensuring the effective operation of the House of Lords.
The biographies also of course include the bishops, who were restored to the House of Lords in 1661 after their removal as a result of the act of the Long Parliament passed in early 1642. Collectively, they provide a portrait of an episcopate under pressure from Dissent on the one hand, and from the aspirations of the lower clergy on the other, suffering alternately from political interference and neglect, and made up of men who ranged from the saintly to the scandalous, and who certainly, like the temporal lords, were not above using their positions to further their own interests, and those of their families. And finally, they include the first cohorts of peers returned to the House of Lords through the elections held in Scotland for representatives of the Scottish peerage after the Treaty and Acts of Union provided for the introduction of Scots representatives into both Houses of the Westminster Parliament. The Scots brought to the House a new element, adding a new dimension to the competition of the parties and factions within it.
This is the first of a series of projects which is planned on the House of Lords in the period 1660-1832. Two volumes are planned to cover the rules of membership, the operation, procedures and business of the House of Lords. Further projects will cover 1715-90 and 1790-1832 as time and resources permit.