On this day in history : 27th February 1678 – The 1st Earl of Shaftesbury is freed from the Tower of London after being held in contempt of Parliament….

NPG 3893; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury after John Greenhill
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury after John Greenhill, oil on canvas, (circa 1672-1673) – Public domain

Anthony Ashley Cooper was born in Dorset in 1621…. The son of a wealthy landowner, he was educated at Oxford University and then Lincoln’s Inn before entering Parliament in 1640….

At the beginning of the Civil War he initially supported King Charles I but had later switched his allegiance to the Parliamentarians…. However, in protest of Cromwell’s dictatorial methods of rule he resigned in 1655….and joined the campaign to restore the Monarchy….

After the restoration, with the crown now being held by Charles II, Cooper was made Chancellor of the Exchequer…. He was created Earl of Shaftesbury by the King in 1672 – and for his continued loyal support was then made Lord Chancellor….

NPG D11961; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury by Edward Lutterell or Luttrell, published by John Smith, after John Greenhill
Shaftesbury as Lord Chancellor by Edward Lutterell or Luttrell, published by John Smith, after John Greenhill, mezzotint, (circa 1672-1673) – Public domain

However, after questioning the role of Charles II’s brother, James, he found himself out of favour with the King and was dismissed from his position…. He had argued that a new parliament should be called, one that would guarantee and protect the Church of England – and exclude Catholics…. Unbeknown to him Charles had secretly become a Catholic…. Shaftesbury began to stir up unrest amongst his own supporters….

Parliament met on the 15th of February 1677…. Shaftesbury and three other Peers introduced a motion declaring that no parliament was legally in existence…. The rest of the House of Commons was outraged and rejected their argument…. It was claimed that the four had committed contempt of Parliament and must apologise immediately…. All four refused and were sent to the Tower of London….

The other three apologised and were soon released – but Shaftesbury still refused…. It took a year before he finally made his apology to the King and Parliament….he was released on the 25th of February 1678….

He was reinstated to a position of power, being made President of the Privy Council…. Using his position of advisory power he urged the King to remarry and produce an heir…. but the King wanted his Catholic brother, James, to succeed him…. Angered by Shaftesbury once more Charles dismissed him again….

King Charles II – Public domain

In July 1681 Shaftesbury was arrested and charged with high treason and returned to the Tower of London…. However, he was to be released in November 1681 after the Grand Jury threw out the charges against him…. Deciding not to take any chances, as he feared re-arrest, Shaftesbury fled to the Netherlands – where he died in 1683…. At his request his body was brought back to Dorset….

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