6 February 1685 A.D. Restoration King Charles II Dies
& Converts on Deathbed to Romanism
Charles II (r.1660 -1685)
Although those who had signed Charles I's death warrant were punished
(nine regicides were put to death, and Cromwell's body was exhumed from
Westminster Abbey and buried in a common pit), Charles II pursued a policy of
political tolerance and power-sharing.
In April 1660, fresh elections had been held and a Convention met with
the House of Lords. Parliament invited Charles to return, and he arrived at
Dover on 25 May.
Despite the bitterness left from the Civil Wars and Charles I's
execution, there were few detailed negotiations over the conditions of Charles
II's restoration to the throne.
Under the Declaration of Breda of May 1660, Charles had promised
pardons, arrears of Army pay, confirmation of land purchases during the
Interregnum and 'liberty of tender consciences' in religious matters, but
several issues remained unresolved.
However, the Militia Act of 1661 vested control of the armed forces in
the Crown, and Parliament agreed to an annual revenue of £1,200,000 (a
persistent deficit of £400,000-500,000 remained, leading to difficulties for
Charles in his foreign policy).
The bishops were restored to their seats in the House of Lords, and the
Triennial Act of 1641 was repealed - there was no mechanism for enforcing the
King's obligation to call Parliament at least once every three years.
Under the 1660 Act of Indemnity and Oblivion, only the lands of the
Crown and the Church were automatically resumed; the lands of Royalists and
other dissenters which had been confiscated and/or sold on were left for
private negotiation or litigation.
The early years of Charles's reign saw an appalling plague which hit the
country in 1665 with 70,000 dying in London alone, and the Great Fire of London
in 1666 which destroyed St Paul's amongst other buildings.
Another misfortune was the second Dutch war of 1665 (born of English and
Dutch commercial and colonial rivalry). Although the Dutch settlement of New
Amsterdam was overrun and renamed New York before the war started, by 1666
France and Denmark had allied with the Dutch.
The war was dogged by poor administration culminating in a Dutch attack
on the Thames in 1667; a peace was negotiated later in the year.
In 1667, Charles dismissed his Lord Chancellor, Clarendon - an adviser
from Charles's days of exile (Clarendon's daughter Anne was the first wife of
Charles's brother James and was mother of Queens Mary and Anne).
As a scapegoat for the difficult religious settlement and the Dutch war,
Clarendon had failed to build a 'Court interest' in the Commons. He was succeeded
by a series of ministerial combinations, the first of which was that of
Clifford, Ashley, Buckingham, Arlington and Lauderdale (whose initials formed
the nickname Cabal).
Such combinations (except for Danby's dominance of Parliament from 1673
to 1679) were largely kept in balance by Charles for the rest of his reign.
Charles's foreign policy was a wavering balance of alliances with France
and the Dutch in turn. In 1670, Charles signed the secret treaty of Dover under
which Charles would declare himself a Catholic and England would side with
France against the Dutch.
In return, Charles would receive subsidies from the King of France (thus
enabling Charles some limited room for manoeuvre with Parliament, but leaving
the possibility of public disclosure of the treaty by Louis).
Practical considerations prevented such a public conversion, but Charles
issued a Declaration of Indulgence, using his prerogative powers to suspend the
penal laws against Catholics and Nonconformists. In the face of an Anglican
Parliament's opposition, Charles was eventually forced to withdraw the
Declaration in 1673.
In 1677 Charles married his niece Mary to William of Orange, partly to
restore the balance after his brother's second marriage to the Catholic Mary of
Modena and to re-establish his own Protestant credentials.
This assumed a greater importance as it became clear that Charles's
marriage to Catherine of Braganza would produce no legitimate heirs (although
Charles had a number of mistresses and illegitimate children), and his Roman
Catholic brother James's position as heir apparent raised the prospect of a
Throughout Charles's reign, religious toleration dominated the political
scene. The 1662 Act of Uniformity had imposed the use of the Book of Common
Prayer, and insisted that clergy subscribe to Anglican doctrine (some 1,000
clergy lost their livings).
Anti-Catholicism was widespread; the Test Act of 1673 excluded Roman
Catholics from both Houses of Parliament. Parliament's reaction to the Popish Plot
of 1678 (an allegation by Titus Oates that Jesuit priests were conspiring to
murder the King, and involving the Queen and the Lord Treasurer, Danby) was to
impeach Danby and present a Bill to exclude James (Charles's younger brother
and a Roman Catholic convert) from the succession.
In 1680/81 Charles dissolved three Parliaments which had all tried to
introduce Exclusion Bills on the basis that 'we are not like to have a good
Charles sponsored the founding of the Royal Society in 1660 (still in existence
today) to promote scientific research.
Charles also encouraged a rebuilding programme, particularly in the last
years of his reign, which included extensive rebuilding at Windsor Castle, a
huge but uncompleted new palace at Winchester and the Greenwich Observatory.
Charles was a patron of Christopher Wren in the design and rebuilding of
St Paul's Cathedral, Chelsea Hospital (a refuge for old war veterans) and other
Charles died in 1685, becoming a Roman Catholic on his deathbed.
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