The Petitioners and Abhorrers under Charles II
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
But the Opposition were already divided [after the fall of Lord Danby]. Shaftesbury, bent on the exclusion of James, had determined to fix the succession on the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of the king, who enjoyed high favour with his father and general popularity in the country. The great difficulty in the way was that Charles himself could not be induced to say that Monmouth's mother had actually been his lawful wife.
Another section, headed by Halifax and Sunderland, objected to the Monmouth candidature, and sought rather to impose close restrictions on the royal power if enjoyed by Roman Catholics. The ultimate succession was by their plan retained for the Duke's daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.
The Halifax group had enraged Shaftesbury by supporting the prorogation; they now urged the king to a dissolution, and the king acted on their advice. Fortune had just favoured Charles by giving him a new lease of popularity. He was seized with an illness so severe that his life was despaired of, and the country suddenly realised that there was every prospect that his death would plunge it into civil war over the succession question. Charles, however, recovered.
Whigs and Tories
A new parliament met in October, only to be immediately prorogued to the following January (1680), and then prorogued again. The prorogations broke up the Halifax group. Petitions poured in, demanding that the Houses should be assembled, and were met by counter-resolutions from the king's supporters, whence for a time the two parties were known as the Petitioners and Abhorrers, since the counter-resolutions expressed "abhorrence"' of the petitions. But in the course of the year these nicknames were finally displaced by the appellations of "Whig" and “Tory," the names commonly applied to Scottish Covenanters and Irish brigands.
When the parliament did at last meet in October, an Exclusion Bill was once more passed by the House of Commons, but the debating skill of Halifax procured its defeat in the Lords. The Commons were furious, turned upon Halifax, and threatened to refuse supplies unless their demands were satisfied.
The calculating coolness with which the king faced the crisis cannot but command admiration. The belief was general that his refusal would bring about civil war; but Charles rightly judged that Shaftesbury was not the man to play the part of Pym and Hampden, however furiously he might threaten.
Moreover, in the last resort, the king had what his father had never possessed, and what the Whigs did not possess now, a standing army. There were the household troops in England and a large force in Scotland, besides the troops which held Tangier. He did not give way, but dissolved parliament, and summoned a new one to meet at Oxford in March 1681.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.