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Faction in Later Stuart England, 1660-1714

At the start of the reign of Charles II, government was the King's business and factions contested for the monarch's ear. The constitutional changes in later Stuart England added a new, parliamentary dimension to faction. But it did not disappear.

In later Stuart England the activities and machinery of government were, by modern standards, extremely limited. There was some growth in the central government departments and a network of provincial revenue officials was established, but most local government tasks were still carried out by unpaid amateurs – churchwardens, overseers of the poor, JPs. Law and order were maintained by unpaid magistrates and constables. Although this period saw the creation of a standing army, it was usually too small or too preoccupied with war to play a major role in law enforcement, so the authorities had to depend on the civilian militia. The government's limited resources and powers of coercion made it essential to maintain the support and co-operation of its leading subjects. If politics was no longer primarily a matter of the king's relationship with a few magnates, the uneven distribution of wealth and the limited number of people with the education and leisure to participate in politics and government ensured that the ruling elite, the 'political nation', would be restricted to the nobility, the gentry and the leading citizens of the towns.

As politics centred on the crown's relationship with the ruling elite, the court remained a major political arena. The monarch was still responsible for policy-making and appointments to office and had a large (and growing) range of places and other rewards at his disposal. With the crown the fount of profit and power, the ruling elite looked to it for reward and advancement. Competition for favour bred faction, as men joined with others to pursue their ends. They might be bound together by kinship, friendship, shared principles or purely tactical considerations of immediate self-interest. The various factional links could cut across one another, thus creating a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances.

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