Research Stream


Elsa Reuter
The University of Adelaide

Treason, Passion and Power in England, 1660 to 1685

This project examined the political uses and abuses of the passions in the quest for allegiance during the reign of Charles II. It found that emotions were fundamental to the establishment and maintenance of power, and to the development of both individual and national identity during the Restoration period.

Treason, Passion and Power in England, 1660 – 1685

“A Prospect of a Popish Successor” Print by Stephen College, 1681. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

General rejoicing greeted the Restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660; however the twenty-five year reign of the “merry monarch” was to become one characterised by division and dissent. This project analyses the passions of the period, which, although hitherto underexplored by historians, played a key role in Restoration politics. Emotions not only defined individual and national identity, but also framed the bond between subject and sovereign.  

This study illuminated the foundation of this relationship by tracing public expression of the passions in political and print culture surrounding treason trials, from the first decade of the king’s reign to the infamous plots of the Exclusion period. The connection between the king and his people became increasingly fraught as a result of the decreasing popularity of the Stuarts. This was compounded by a changing concept of the English nation, in which the person of the king was seen as distinct from the concept of kingship and the office of the crown.

Seventeenth-century individuals and communities revealed themselves to be more than capable of using emotion to both communicate political desires and to renegotiate the balance of power between the supporters and opponents of the king. Rather than being the antithesis of reason, the passions were central to civic and political behaviour.