A Background Political/Historical Timeline for John Milton & Thomas Hobbes


27 March 1625

James I dies and his son Charles I accedes to the throne

October 1627

English forces are defeated at La Rochelle, France

In a bid to help the French Protestants of La Rochelle, who were besieged by Catholic forces, Charles I sent an English army. It was commanded by his chief minister, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who is eventually forced to evacuate the island amid scenes of chaos and confusion.

23 August 1628

Charles I’s chief minister, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, is assassinated

While conferring with his officers, Buckingham is stabbed by a discontented former soldier. The duke was immensely unpopular and few apart from the king mourned his death.

10 March 1629

Charles I dissolves parliament and begins 11 years of personal rule

Already disillusioned with parliaments (e.g. they rejected his “tonnage” and “poundage” taxes) Charles I was outraged when, on 2 March 1629, members of parliament first held the Speaker of the House down in his chair and then passed three resolutions condemning the king’s financial and religious policies. Eight days later, Charles, claiming he is accountable only to God, dissolves the assembly and embarks on a period of government without parliaments, known as the ‘Personal Rule’.

1634 – 1636 Ship Money

This tax was paid by coastal towns to pay for the upkeep of the Royal Navy. In a bid to raise more money, Charles now imposed the tax on inland towns as well.

23 July 1637

New Scottish prayer book causes a riot in Edinburgh

Keen to secure a greater degree of religious conformity across his three kingdoms, Charles I ordered the introduction of a new prayer book in Scotland. The measure backfired badly when, at St Giles church in Edinburgh, an angry crowd protested against the book, shouting: ‘The Mass is come amongst us!’ – a negative reference to the reintroduction of Catholicism.

28 February 1638

Scots begin to sign the National Covenant to prevent religious ‘innovations’

Determined not to accept the new prayer book which Charles I was trying to impose on them, the Scots had drawn up a ‘National Covenant’ which bound its signatories to resist all religious ‘innovations’. On 28 February 1638, leading Scottish gentlemen began signing the document in Grey Friars Church, Edinburgh. Thousands followed. The General Assembly of the Kirk declared episcopacy (bishops) abolished and Charles prepared to send troops into Scotland to restore order.

13 April 1640

‘Short Parliament’ opens at Westminster

Desperate for money to fight the Scots, Charles I was forced to summon a new parliament – his first after 11 years of personal rule. At first, there seemed a good chance that members of parliament might be prepared to set their resentments of the king’s domestic policies aside and agree to grant him money. Yet such hopes proved illusory, and Charles was forced to dissolve the parliament within a month.

April-May 1640 

The Bishops’ Wars between England and Scotland (the Scots are resisting Charles’s attempts to enforce episcopacy on them) forces Charles to recall Parliament, bringing to an end his Personal Rule. Later known as the ‘Short Parliament’, it is dissolved after just three weeks.

September 1640

Following the disaster of the Short Parliament, Charles is forced to recall Parliament for a second time as only it has the power to raise funds for the ongoing Bishops’ Wars. Known as the Long Parliament, it lasts until 1660, largely because it passes an act forbidding its dissolution without members’ consent.

May 1641

Sir Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, one of Charles I’s allies, is executed for high treason for urging the king to use Irish forces to launch a military coup against Parliament.

October 1641

An uprising by Catholics in Ireland, which results in the deaths of many English and Scottish Protestant settlers, exacerbates the sense of unease already bubbling away in the country.

22 November 1641 Proposed by John Pym, leader of the Long Parliament, a list of grievances against King Charles I known as the Grand Remonstrance is passed by Parliament.

1 December 1641 The Grand Remonstrance is presented to Charles by Parliament.

1641 Milton’s first foray into political writings

Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England (1641), followed by Of Prelatical Episcopacy advocating Puritan and republican sentiments

4 January 1642 

Charles arrives at the Houses of Parliament to arrest Pym and four other rebels. However, realising they have been tipped off and have gone, he laments, “I see the birds have flown.”

June 1642

Members of the House of Lords and House of Commons issue the Nineteen Propositions – the outline of a new constitution – in a bid to reach a settlement with Charles.

22 August 1642 

Charles declares war on Parliament by raising his standard in Nottingham. The country is forced to choose between two camps: Royalists (known as Cavaliers) and Parliamentarians (known as Roundheads).

15 September 1643

Royalists agree a ceasefire with Irish Catholics.

25 September 1643

Parliamentarians form an alliance with the Scots.

February 1645

The New Model Army is established with Oliver Cromwell second in command to Sir Thomas Fairfax.

14 June 1645

Charles’s Royalist forces suffer a humiliating defeat by the New Model Army at the Battle of Naseby.

27 April 1646

A disguised King Charles escapes from Oxford and surrenders himself to Scottish forces at Newark.

17-19 August 1648 

The New Model Army, now headed by Oliver Cromwell defeat a Scottish-Royalist Army at Preston.

30 January 1649

King Charles I is executed at Banqueting House in Whitehall, having been tried for high treason in Westminster Hall.

March 1649

Milton’s political reputation got him appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues by the Council of State

1 January 1651

Charles’s son, Charles II, is crowned King of Scotland at Scone Castle, Perth.

16 December 1653 Oliver Cromwell declares himself Lord Protector.

3 September 1658

Cromwell dies and his son, Richard, becomes Lord Protector. However, the Commonwealth soon collapses and Charles II is asked to return from exile.

29 May 1660

Charles II is restored to the English throne. Milton goes into hiding, a warrant is soon issued for his arrest, and his writings are burnt. Government issues a general pardon, but Milton arrested and imprisoned until some influential friends intervene. Impoverished, Milton spends the rest of his life living quietly in London.


1667 Milton Publishes Paradise Lost

29 March 1673

Test Act excludes Catholics from public office

The Test Act required public office holders to accept communion in the Protestant form and swear an oath of allegiance recognising the monarch as the head of the Church of England. The intention of the act was to exclude Catholics and dissenters from public office. Charles II’s brother James, Duke of York, a Catholic himself, was a victim of the act. He was forced to surrender his public office as lord high admiral as he would not take the oath.

8 November 1674

Milton dies

4 November 1677

Mary Stuart marries William of Orange, Charles I’s grandson

Born in 1662, Mary Stuart was the elder daughter of Charles II’s brother, James, Duke of York, and his first wife Anne Hyde. Although both her parents later converted to Catholicism, Mary herself was brought up as a Protestant. Her marriage in 1677 to the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange, himself the grandson of Charles I, strengthened William’s claim to the English throne.

September 1678

‘Popish Plot’ to murder Charles II is ‘revealed’

Disgraced clergyman Titus Oates claimed he had learned of a Catholic and French conspiracy to kill Charles II, replace him with his Catholic brother James, Duke of York, and transform England into a Catholic-absolutist state. Oates’s ‘revelations’ sparked panic and many innocent people were arrested and tried. The plot was little more than an invention. At the height of the furore a second Test Act was passed requiring members of both houses of parliament to make an anti-Catholic declaration.

6 February 1685

Charles II dies and James II accedes to the throne

Having suffered a stroke, Charles II converted to Catholicism on his death-bed and passed away a few hours later. He was succeeded by his brother, James, whose adherence to the Catholic faith made many of his staunchly Protestant subjects deeply suspicious. Nevertheless, James enjoyed considerable popularity when he first acceded to the throne as James II.

5 July 1685

James II defeats James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, at Sedgemoor, Somerset

Hoping to seize the throne from James II, Charles II’s illegitimate son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, landed at Lyme Regis in Dorset. As he marched eastwards, hundreds flocked to join him. Yet Monmouth’s raw West Country recruits proved no match for James II’s experienced soldiers, and when they fought at Sedgemoor on the Somerset Levels, the rebels were cut to pieces. Monmouth was captured and executed at the Tower of London.

10 June 1688

Birth of James II’s son sparks popular outrage

Following the death of his first wife, James II married Mary of Modena, a Catholic, in 1673. The birth of a son to the royal couple in 1688 provoked popular outrage. Many of James II’s opponents, furious that their Catholic king now had a male heir, denounced the infant as an imposter, and claimed that the baby had been smuggled into the queen’s bedroom in a warming-pan.

5 November 1688

William of Orange lands with an army at Torbay

William of Orange, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, was implored by Protestant conspirators to ‘deliver’ them from the Catholic James II. William, who had a legitimate claim to the throne through his grandfather, Charles I, raised an army in the Netherlands and transported it across the English Channel to Devon. As nobles and officers defected to William, James II lost his nerve and eventually fled abroad, leaving William free to take the crown.

13 February 1689

William and Mary are formally proclaimed king and queen

In the wake of James II’s flight to exile, many felt that William and his wife Mary (James II’s daughter) should be termed ‘regents’, rather than monarchs in their own right, because the former king was still alive. William was not prepared to accept this, and on 6 February 1689 the House of Lords at last conceded the point. The formal declaration of William and Mary as king and queen took place a week later. This became known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’.