The term ‘party’ for a political group has been around in Britain for centuries. The Tory Party was a political group that was spoken of in the 1680s. The term ‘Tory’ is itself pejorative, derived from the Irish Gaelic-speaking Catholic toraidhe – ‘outlaw’ or ‘brigand’. In the last quarter of the sevententh century the outlaws were those against the attempt being made to put the Duke of York, who was Catholic, on the throne after the death of his older brother Charles II (q.v.).
The outlaws, or Tories, did not mind the term at all. They liked it enough to adopt it and were known (officially) as Tories until the nineteenth century. By the 1830s they were being called Conservatives – a term which has lasted until now, though many journalists and commentators prefer the older, more obscure word ‘Tory’.
To return to the 17th century, the people who opposed the Tories, determined not to have a Catholic monarch on the throne, were called Whigs. This term was also originally pejorative, and appears to have derived from a rather vulgar Scottish expression – ‘Whiggamore’ – usually applied to anyone rebellious. It means ‘horse-thief’.
Here we have the natural basis for nineteenth century politics. The Whigs were very often aristocratic, but liberal-minded in their politics. Naturally they evolved into Liberals. The Tories were just as aristocratic, but reactionary, so they naturally evolved into Conservatives.
James II did, albeit briefly become a Catholic King ofGreat Britain. The Tories preferred passive obedience to open defiance. It was still not wise to oppose a king, as you might be sent home without your head. Tories supported the royal prerogative, closer links between Church and State, and isolationism in foreign policy. Later, under the Hanoverian succession, the Tories were dealt a number of blows from which it was difficult to recover. Both George I and II preferred Whigs. It is interesting for our American readers to learn that in Colonial America Tories was the term used for anyone loyal to the crown of England.
The Whigs had suffered defeat after defeat during the reigns of Charles II, but they joined with the Tories in inviting William of Orange (Protestant) to England to become King in place of Charles’ successor, James II (Catholic). Led by double-dealing celebrities such as the Duke of Marlborough (left), this act of treason worked, one of the few that did. If they hads tried it in the reign of a Catholic queen like Mary I, who was after all a Tudor, they would all have ended in the Tower awaiting execution. After all, Mary chopped off the heads of a couple of teenagers whom their uncle had tried to turn in Queen Jane and consort Guildford Dudley. But James II was (thank God) neither a Tudor nor politically inclined.