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In this lesson, we will meet the English kings and queens of the Stuart family who reigned from 1603 to 1714. We will also learn about a few of the major historical events that took place during this time.

An Old Scottish Family

The Stuart family had been the ruling dynasty in Scotland since 1371 when a Stuart became King Robert II. The line continued without a gap right down to Mary, Queen of Scots, who was the Catholic rival of Elizabeth I of England. The Protestant Elizabeth held Mary captive for years and finally executed her in 1587.

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Elizabeth, however, died without leaving any heirs, so Mary had her posthumous revenge when her son James became King James I of England at Elizabeth’s death in 1603, thus beginning the tumultuous English reign of the Stuarts that lasted until 1714. In this lesson, we will take a whirlwind tour of the lives and times of the Stuart monarchs.

James I

James I became the king of Scotland when he was only 13 months old. After his Catholic mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, became Elizabeth’s prisoner, James was raised Protestant.

As a descendent of Elizabeth’s grandfather, Henry VII, James was next in line for the English throne when Elizabeth died childless in 1603. During James’ reign, England began colonizing the New World as various groups struck out to found Jamestown and Massachusetts. England was already on its way to becoming an empire.

Charles I

When James died in 1625, his son Charles I assumed the throne. Charles’ reign was marked by the English Civil War as the Puritans and Parliament rose up against the king and his Anglican royalist supporters in 1642. The Puritans and Parliament won the war when Puritan commander Oliver Cromwell led his victorious army into London.

Charles quite literally lost his head; he was executed in 1649. Cromwell assumed the title of Lord Protector, and England became a republic instead of a monarchy. The royal family scrambled to get out of the way and ended up in exile in France for 11 years.

Charles II

Charles II, son of Charles I, technically became king in 1649 when his father died, but he, too, lived as a refugee on the continent and wandered rather aimlessly around Europe after a failed attempt to regain his crown in 1651. When Cromwell died in 1658, however, the English republic collapsed, and pretty soon Parliament started to think that the monarchy wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Charles II returned to England in triumph in 1660. During his reign, England’s overseas colonies grew and prospered, and England tightened its control over colonial trade, ticking off both the colonists and the Dutch traders who dominated the Atlantic trading system.

England went to war with the Netherlands twice during Charles’ reign as the battle for commercial supremacy heightened.

James II

When Charles died without a legitimate heir in 1685, his brother James II took the English throne. James was not a popular king.

He was Catholic, and that made his Protestant subjects uncomfortable at the least and, in the end, rebellious. James didn’t help the situation much when he insisted on favoring his fellow Catholics for high governmental positions even when they were not necessarily the best qualified. After only three years, English Protestants decided that they had reached the limits of their tolerance.They invited James’ Protestant nephew William of Orange, who was also married to James’ daughter Mary, to make a change. William arrived in England to lead an army against the king in 1688.

Many Englishmen rose up to support him, and James panicked. The king grabbed his wife and son (the legitimate heir) and fled to France, essentially abdicating his throne. William and Mary ascended to the monarchy in what soon became known as the Glorious Revolution.

William III and Mary II

The reign of William III and Mary II was a bit different from that of previous kings and queens. In return for their throne, William and Mary had to swear an oath that they would defend Protestantism in England. They also had to agree to some strict limitations on their power.

Parliament was now in charge, and the monarchs agreed to let this governing body control legislation and taxation. They also had to promise not to interfere with the elections or free speech, and they could not raise an army without Parliament’s consent or hold their own courts. This 1689 Bill of Rights guaranteed that Parliament would be permanent and powerful.During William and Mary’s reign, England fought the Nine Years War with France from 1689 to 1697. Catholic France, of course, wanted to put James back on England’s throne and wouldn’t have opposed taking over a few of England’s colonies in the process. The war proved to be financially exhausting and England and France finally negotiated peace with hardly any change in the status quo.


William and Mary died in 1702 and 1694, respectively, without leaving any heirs. The 1701 Act of Settlement had declared that only Protestants could hold the throne in England, so the logical choice fell to Mary’s sister Anne, who assumed her reign in 1702. Once again, France tried to intervene to place Anne’s Catholic brother on England’s throne, as well as to secure the Spanish throne and colonial and commercial supremacy. This war lasted for nearly all of Anne’s reign, not ending until 1713 when England agreed to accept France’s choice for Spain’s monarch in return for maintaining its own choice of succession.When Anne died in 1714, the Stuart family was out of options. Anne’s children had all preceded her in death.

The Stuart descendants still left in France were Catholic and, therefore, not eligible. England had to turn its attention to Germany to find a suitable candidate, and King George I of the House of Hanover assumed the throne. The long Stuart reign had finally ended.

Lesson Summary

The Stuart family assumed the Scottish throne in the 14th century, but did not reign in England until James I acquired the monarchy in 1603 when Elizabeth I died without leaving any heirs. The Stuarts’ reign in England was tumultuous. Charles I was beheaded in 1649 after the Puritans and Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, rose up against the king and his royalists in the English Civil War. Charles II regained the throne in 1660, but his brother James II could not keep it.

James was a Catholic king in a Protestant country, and he was overthrown by William III and Mary II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.William and Mary submitted to some sharp limitations on their power, for the 1689 Bill of Rights guaranteed that Parliament would remain permanent and powerful. When William and Mary died without heirs, Mary’s sister Anne assumed the throne, for she qualified under the 1701 Act of Settlement, which declared that only Protestants could hold the English throne. England battled France about its succession choices during the reigns of both William and Mary, and Anne. The Stuart dynasty finally died out when Anne passed on in 1714 without leaving an heir. King George I of the German House of Hanover ascended to the English throne, and a new era began.

Learning Outcomes

When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Recall the 100 year reign of Stuarts on the English throne
  • Follow the lineage on the English throne
  • Identify the major events of the Stuart reign

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