The Turbulent Careers of the Earls of Danby and Shaftesbury


Portrait of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of...

Portrait of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (1672-73) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby and later 1st Duke of Leeds, and Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, were two of the most significant political figures in post-restoration England. They had radically different political outlooks, but above all else, each craved power and their rivalry in the 1670s left its mark on history. Their efforts to build support led directly to the emergence of the first political parties; a government or Court block of support, was built up by Osborne, and would later be characterised as Tory, while the Whigs grew out of Ashley Cooper’s opposition grouping. Other innovations in the period have also survived to the present day. However, politics was still a risky occupation, and both men spent lengthy periods in the Tower; Osborne for almost 5 years and Ashley Cooper for 18 months in two spells, before he finally fled the country shortly before his death in 1682.

Osborne governed England between 1674 and 1679, not least because of his mastery of the nation’s finances, though he was unable to achieve the same control of foreign policy for which his objectives diverged from those of King Charles II.

Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds (1631-1712)

Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds (1631-1712) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the same period, and for a few years afterwards, Ashley Cooper mounted an effective opposition which eventually overthrew Osborne, and he came close to altering the Royal succession, and establishing himself as the chief power in the land. The careers engrossed much else besides. Ashley Cooper fought on both sides in the Civil War, held important office under Cromwell and then Charles II, and became one of the leading members of the notorious Cabal ministry. Osborne obtained his release from the Tower in 1684, but then risked his career and his head again, by taking a major part in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, before going on to dominate another government, which served King William III between 1690 and 1695.

It is fair to say that history has been kind to neither, and while the book does not gloss over the unattractive aspects of their personalities and careers, it is intended to be a re-appraisal, as well as a narrative account.

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The Turbulent Careers of the Earls of Danby and Shaftesbury

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