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The navy, parliament and political crisis in the reign of Charles II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

J. D. Davies
Bedford Modern School


During the 1670s, the navy was the focus of increasingly critical scrutiny from parliament and the political nation. This article considers the causes and nature of this criticism, which had its roots in the perceived dominance of the catholic James, duke of York, in the field of naval appointments, and examines the political context of the various inquiries into the state of religious affection in the fleet. By so doing, the article identifies a dilemma which confronted the crown's opponents in the period 1678–81, namely the conflict between the requirement for a strong navy to oppose France and the risk that, because of York's influence over it, that same navy might in fact be an instrument of French and catholic designs. Finally, the response of the officers and men of the navy to the events of the popish plot, exclusion crisis and ‘tory reaction’ is examined, placing the navy in the mainstream, rather than on the periphery, of the political and religious history of the period.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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1 Grey, A., Debates of the house of commons from the year 1667 to the year 1694 (1763), IV, 182Google Scholar; VII, 112.

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7 Grey, , Debates, 11, 86Google Scholar, and pp. 74–87 passim.

8 Ibid. 11, 90. For these captains see Davies, , Gentlemen, pp. 113–14Google Scholar.

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27 PRO, Adm. 2/1752, p. 138; Adm. 3/277, pt 1, pp. 33, 36, 86, 90.

28 Pepys MS 2855, pp. 300–1.

29 However, one of the suspected officers (Randall MacDonnell) did subsequently become an avowed catholic in James II's reign. For his career, and those of the other suspected Irish officers, see McDonnell, H., ‘Irishmen in the later Stuart navy, 1660–90’, The Irish Sword, XVI (1985), 87104Google Scholar; J. D. Davies, ‘More light on Irishmen in the Stuart navy’, ibid. XVI (1986), 325–7.

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31 Rawlinson MS A.181, fo. 146; Pepys MS 2855, pp. 333–4; National Maritime Museum, POR/B/2, 2 Dec. 1678.

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93 PRO, Adm. 1/3553, P. 213; Adm. 3/278, pt 3, p. 14; Adm. 106/368, fos. 208, 210.

94 Pepys MS 2858, pp. 239, 394–5, 410–11, 478 (quotation from p. 239).

95 PRO, Adm. 106/3540, pt 2, ‘Musters’ folder.

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98 In addition to those cited earlier in this study, see the speeches reported in Grey, , Debates, II, 83, 218Google Scholar; III, 162, 323; IV, 103; HMC, Ormonde MSS., n.s., IV, 399Google Scholar. In print see, inter alia, Gloria Britannica: Or, the boast of the British seas (1689); The seaman's opinion of a standing army in England (1699); ‘An inquiry into the causes of our naval miscarriages in England’ (1707) in The Harleian Miscellany, I (1808).

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100 Davies, ‘Admiralty commission’, passim.