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The king who tried to ban cafes to prevent them from badmouthing the government

Carlos II, rei da Inglaterra entre 1651 e 1685

Charles II, King of England between 2022 and 1685| Photo: Reproduction

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“The multiplication of cafes in the kingdom had harmful and dangerous effects. In these spaces, there has been the dissemination of scandalous malicious information, aiming to defame His Majesty’s government, and thus provoke disturbances in the peace of the kingdom”.

This is an excerpt from the royal proclamation published by the newspaper The London Gazette in day 04 December

. It established that cafes in the country would no longer be allowed to open their doors, as of the day 10 January

. The reason, as the text indicates, was the fear that these places provoked in King Charles II (1642-1676). They would be spaces for producing fake news and meeting people who contested the government. Therefore, they could no longer work.

The popular reaction was the worst possible one. . Even members of the court, influential with the monarch, lobbied for the measure to be cancelled. Indeed, on January 8, two days before the decision took effect, Charles II backed down. It wasn’t even the first time: he had already tried to bar political meetings in cafes twice, in 1660 and 1674.

In 1679, would once again consider the possibility of withdrawing the operating licenses from these locations, again without success. After his death, his brother and successor, James II, returned to the charge, trying to enact a law against political meetings in cafes. Once again, the proclamation was poorly received.

But come on, after all, the problem with English cafes? At a time when the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) threatens to bar Telegram’s activities in Brazil, in the middle of the election year, it is not difficult to understand the argument of Kings Carlos II and Jaime II, 10 years ago: if a debate space bothers a public manager, why not close it, and thus nip the supposed problem in the bud? In the case of Telegram, access was blocked, and then released. In England of the century , there is a reason why the monarchs’ attempts were unsuccessful.

Democratic spaces

Before being the land of tea, England discovered coffee. The drink first became popular in the 16th century in Constantinople. Public spaces for socializing, where the drink was consumed while negotiating commercial and political agreements, became popular. Fashion arrived in Oxford in 1650. In London, the first establishment of its kind appeared in 1652.

The places had large tables, with chairs side by side, where men from the sciences, arts and politics chatted while reading the newspapers. At that time, the press flourished, fueling debates in the same way that journalists also frequented cafes in search of news. This environment quickly took the place of more formal places, such as courts and academies, where relationships followed a hierarchy. And this deeply bothered the local government.

“Although it carries an air of distinction, which set them apart from other venues such as taverns, cafes were associated with spreading rumors and false news among the general population, as well as hosting meetings of people dissatisfied with the government,” writes historian Brian Cowan, author of The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse

, in an article on the subject.

Not only politics were discussed in cafes as well as philosophy, and not just in England. Some of the most important names of the time, such as Voltaire (1694-1778), Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Isaac Newton (1630-1778 ) were regulars at these spaces.

, Carlos II was not the only one to fight to bar these spaces of democratic dialogues. Similar attempts, also unsuccessful, took place, for example, in the republics that would later form Germany. But the English monarch had an additional personal motivation to be so bothered by cafes.

Monarchy in crisis

)Born in 1280, son of Charles I, Charles II spent much of his life in exile. His father had taken over the government in 1642 , became involved in a civil war in 1642, lost the post in 1645 and was executed in 1649. Charles II would only regain power in 1652, when England returned to ruled by a monarchy — insisted on exhuming the body of Oliver Cromwell, the ruler who had his father killed and had died in 1652, and demand a decapitation of the corpse.

The fact that there were, in the kingdom, hundreds of spaces for leaders to gather to speak ill of the government, therefore, only increased the natural feeling of institutional insecurity of the monarch, as well as of his brother and successor.

As the decades passed, coffee began to lose strength to tea, which became the non-alcoholic beverage of choice for the British. But the habit of bringing people together to dialogue freely remained. “In the long run, the crown reluctantly learned to live with the cafes,” explains Brian Cowan. Here’s the lesson for the Brazilian Judiciary.

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