“A Pattern for Princes to Live by”: Popery and Elizabethan History During England’s Exclusion Crisis, 1679-1681


University of Toronto


This  article  investigates  the  intersections  of  historical  memory  and political behavior during England’s “Exclusion Crisis” of 1679-1681. In doing so, I bring together theorists of social and historical memory in interpreting the Exclusion Crisis polemic. Between 1679 and 1681, opposition Whigs and Loyalist Tories rehashed sixteenth-century Elizabethan history because it provided potent analogues to the contemporary crisis over the succession. Through an analysis of parliamentary debates and historical writing, I argue that England’s sixteenth-century history was an integral part of the contemporary political debate. The context of Elizabeth’s Treason Act and the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots provided historical parallels that opposition writers used to justify the exclusion of the Duke of York as well as make claims for parliamentary sovereignty in determining the succession. The Elizabethan era provided a wellspring of historical examples that could be culled to refute arguments for monarchial divine- right absolutism. Rather than foreground the role of political theory in structuring attitudes and assumptions about the monarchy and parliament, this article sets out to show that sixteenth-century historical polemic set the terms of contemporary debate and, thus, influenced political outcomes.

Keywords: Exclusion Crisis, historical memory, print culture, political theory, Reformation history, Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, Charles II, Robert Brady