The relationship between Massachusetts Bay and the kings of England was never an easy one. The colony saw its charter as the bulwark of its independence, giving it the right to set its own goals and to govern itself accordingly; the kings saw the charter as a gracious royal concession that granted the colonists permission to occupy a certain part of the New World in conformity with England’s laws and Their Majesties’ will. Thanks to political turmoil and other distractions in the mother country, the struggle went on for six decades before it was decided in favor of the stronger party, and it had a real effect on Lexington’s efforts to establish itself, first as a parish and later as a town.

Chapters in this section...

  • His Majesty Regrets[+]
    In 1634, only five years after he’d granted the Massachusetts Bay charter, King Charles I wanted to take it back. Thoroughly irked to learn that it was out of reach in far-off Boston, he initiated legal proceedings to force its return. But, thanks to the deliberate pace of the English legal system, the king was still waiting when the English civil war began in the 1640s, and he soon had bigger problems to deal with.
  • Another Charles, Another Challenge[+]
    The Puritans who ruled England during the 1650s weren’t interested in canceling the charter, but in 1660 England became a monarchy again. Charles II was an easy-going sort, but he wanted to do as other up-to-date European monarchs were doing, and organize his country’s far-flung possessions into a modern, efficient empire. Massachusetts Bay was an obstacle to this plan, and legal actions aimed at its charter began again.
  • The Last Defense[+]
    As it became clear that the charter would probably not survive the current crisis, a dilemma arose for the colony’s government. Should they yield to the inevitable and hope for the best, or risk everything in a stubborn resistance to change?
  • The Charter Falls[+]
    The case against the charter was finally resolved in favor of the crown, and it was "vacated, canceled, and annihilated." King Charles died unexpectedly only a few months later, but his brother, who succeeded him as James II, set about putting the late king’s reorganization plans into effect. The governor and General Court were no longer authorized to administer and legislate for the colony, and their first replacement was a temporary council headed by a Bostonian president.
  • The Short, Unhappy Life of the Dominion of New England[+]
    At the end of 1686, the new Governor and Captain General of the Dominion of New England arrived to set up a permanent administration. Sir Edmund Andros, a straightforward military type, might have governed a tranquil and well-disposed colony well enough, but that would not have been Massachusetts Bay. By enforcing repressive government policies in an uncompromising, take-no-nonsense manner, the governor managed to alienate virtually every social group in Massachusetts and other parts of New England. But relief was soon to come.
  • Change of Circumstances[+]
    Three years after Governor Andros brought the Dominion of New England, old England rebelled against and deposed his royal master. Boston soon followed suit by clapping its governor in jail and recalling the General Court and their 86-year-old former governor.
  • Negotiating a New Charter[+]
    England’s new king, William of Orange, had been brought up in the Dutch Calvinist tradition, but he was in every sense a modern monarch. He had no intention of allowing Massachusetts to deny political or religious rights to members of the Church of England, which he now headed (jointly with the Archbishop of Canterbury). Nor was he willing to ignore the desire of his colonial officials to bring New England into conformity with an imperial trade policy that would hobble Massachusetts’ most lucrative business. The colony’s representatives tried hard to restore the privileges it had claimed under the old charter, but had little success.
  • Goodbye to the Commonwealth[+]
    In addition to maritime policy, the new charter made changes in the areas of religion, politics, and geography. Puritans no longer held a monopoly on religious and political rights. The colony was subject to a royally appointed governor. The Plymouth colony was merged into the province of Massachusetts Bay (no longer a commonwealth), and new territories were added: Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands; Maine; and Acadia (modern New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). Only the islands were permanent additions, though Maine wasn’t separated until 1820. The negotiators did win some modest concessions that other provinces chartered at the same time didn't have: the General Court was elected, and could elect the governor's council from among its own members, though the governor could veto the Court’s choices, as well as any actions it took. However, only the Court could appropriate money.
  • Two Royal Governors[+]
    The first royal governor, Sir William Phips, was a former Boston shipbuilder who had gotten rich and earned a knighthood by finding a sunken treasure galleon. This didn't prepare him for success in office, however, and he lacked both military and political skills. He was finally undone by the machinations of Joseph Dudley, who thought he should be governor and was prepared to go to any lengths to make that happen. But when Phips died in 1695, King William apparently decided that it would be best for the province to be ruled by a governor who had no native connections. His choice was Lord Bellomont, an Irish Protestant nobleman, who was simultaneously made governor of New York and New Hampshire. He arrived in America only at the end of 1697, aged 61, and lived barely three years longer, spending only 14 months in Boston during that time. The General Court didn't quarrel with him, but during his short term he had little impact on Massachusetts Bay.
  • A Third Governor, and a Legacy[+]
    Joseph Dudley, the native Bostonian who had presided over King James’s first Dominion council, finally succeeded in being appointed governor of Massachusetts by Queen Anne, who had succeeded William. He held office from 1703 to 1715, responsible for both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, though—fortunately for him—he didn’t have to govern New York as well. He had lived in England since being sent there with ex-governor Andros, and had become, in some people’s opinion, more English than the English themselves. (For instance, he had served in parliament, and even joined the Church of England—neither action designed to win good will in Boston.) Dudley also had a few scores to settle. His term was marked by frequent quarrels with the legislative branch—the start of a Massachusetts tradition that continued up to the Revolution.