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date: 16 June 2024

Charles IIfree


Charles IIfree

  • Paul Seaward

Charles II (1630–1685)

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1685

Board of Trustees of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

Charles II (1630–1685), king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, was born on 29 May 1630 at St James's Palace, London, where he was baptized on 27 June, the second (but first surviving) son of Charles I (1600–1649) and Henrietta Maria (1609–1669), the daughter of Henri IV of France and Marie de' Medici. In 1631 the countess of Dorset was appointed his governess, and in 1638 his household was officially established under the governorship of William Cavendish, earl of Newcastle. Dr Brian Duppa, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and a protégé of Archbishop Laud, became his tutor.

As the relationship between king and the Long Parliament deteriorated in 1640–41, the care and education of the prince of Wales became an issue of political significance, particularly as his mother was well known for promoting the interests of France and the Roman church in her adopted country: Prince Charles had already been a target for the proselytizing efforts of the papal envoys, who were warned off by the king. In May 1641 he bore a note from the king to the House of Lords pleading for the life of the earl of Strafford. The house was perhaps reminded of the danger that he might fall into the wrong hands: in August, at its request, Newcastle was removed from the governorship on suspicion of his involvement in the army plot, and was replaced by William Seymour, marquess of Hertford. In October parliament requested that the prince should be placed directly under Hertford's care. As the relations between king and parliament soured still further at the beginning of 1642, the king sent the queen to The Hague, and regained custody of the prince, over the protests of the two houses. When, shortly after, the king left for the north, he took his son with him.

The civil wars, 1642–1648

Charles spent most of the war in company with his father, who had 'no resolution more fixed in him, than that the Prince should never be absent from him' (Clarendon, Hist. rebellion, 3.449). For a period the prince's main contribution to the royalist cause was as a means of attracting continental military aid through a marriage alliance: his marriage to the daughter of the prince of Orange had been considered in 1643, and was revived briefly in early 1644 during a visit of Dutch ambassadors to England. Not until 1645 did the prince begin to take on an independent role. In March, shortly after the failure of the peace negotiations at Uxbridge, the king, concerned that 'himself and the Prince were too much to venture in one bottom', resolved to send him into the west country as nominal leader of the royalist forces there. A council was created to advise him, mainly composed of moderate royalists—the duke of Richmond, the earl of Southampton, Lord Culpeper, and Edward Hyde: they also included the earl of Berkshire, who had replaced Hertford as the prince's governor. The prince left Oxford on 4 March, accompanied by Culpeper and Hyde and the generals Lord Capel and Sir Ralph Hopton.

The imposition of a new leadership above the existing royalist commanders in the west country helped to exacerbate some of the personal and structural tensions it had been intended to overcome. The council's relationship with the principal soldiers in the region, Sir Richard Grenville and Sir George Goring, became extremely poor. Although Goring expelled a parliamentarian army under Sir William Waller from the area in March, the royalist forces could make no further progress, and the rout of the king's army at Naseby made ultimate royalist defeat inevitable. The king, facing the possibility of capture, wrote soon after to Prince Charles, charging him 'never to yield to any conditions that are dishonourable, unsafe for your person, or derogatory to regal authority, upon any considerations whatsoever, though it were for the saving of my life' (Clarendon, Hist. rebellion, 4.168). In August the king ordered him to escape to France and the governorship of his mother if he were in danger of falling into the hands of parliament. The king excepted from the queen's remit the prince's religious upbringing, which was to be looked after by the bishop of Salisbury, but the prince's council still regarded a move to his mother's court as a disaster for the royal cause, and resisted the instruction. After the fall of Bristol in September the parliamentarian army advanced quickly into the south-west. As they reached Exeter, the king's commands that the prince leave the country became more and more insistent. Early in the new year the prince reorganized the army in the west, giving command to Lord Hopton and imprisoning Grenville when he refused to serve under him. Even so, by February 1646 he had been forced back into Cornwall, to Truro, and then to Pendennis.

While it appreciated the risk of remaining in England, the council still hoped to avoid the move into France. On 4 March it and Prince Charles sailed to the Isles of Scilly, where they were followed shortly afterwards by Hopton, whose army had now disintegrated. They stayed a little more than a month, until 17 April, soon after the arrival (and providential dispersal in a storm) off the Scillies of a parliamentarian fleet. The prince moved not to France, despite the queen's repeated entreaties and Cardinal Mazarin's offer of military assistance, nor to Ireland, as the king's former secretary of state, Lord Digby, proposed, but to Jersey. In late June, however, as the king surrendered to the Scots, the prince himself overruled Hyde, Hopton, and Berkshire, and agreed to go to France. He was reunited with his mother at St Germain, near Paris, where he settled at the expense of the French court, conducting a gauche and unsuccessful courtship of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, a cousin of Louis XIV.

The king's stubborn resistance to conceding the adoption of presbyterian church government in England closed off any real hope of a peace settlement negotiated by the Scots, who on 30 January 1647 relinquished custody of him to the English parliament. The best prospects for a royalist military revival were dashed when the king's lord lieutenant in Ireland, the marquess of Ormond, threatened with being overwhelmed by the rebel Irish, abandoned the country to parliamentarian forces in June 1647. Yet the increasing tensions between presbyterians and Independents, and parliament and the army, revived the possibility of Scottish intervention. In December commissioners representing the ruling faction in Scotland—that led by the duke of Hamilton—concluded an agreement with the king at Carisbrooke Castle in which they promised military aid in exchange for a temporary imposition of presbyterianism in England. The Scottish parliament ratified the engagement in March 1648, and on 1 May it invited Prince Charles to Scotland to lead an invasion of England.

In May, pro-royalist risings broke out in a number of places in England and Wales, and part of the English fleet defected to the king. At the end of June Prince Charles prepared to join the action in England and moved to The Hague as a guest of the young prince of Orange, who had married his sister, Mary, in 1641. However, his attempts to use the newly royalist fleet to support the risings in East Anglia were frustrated, and he only narrowly avoided an unequal fight with the parliamentarian navy. At The Hague he discussed with the Scots the terms under which he would join their planned invasion: he refused to take the covenant, and demanded to be allowed to worship according to the rite of the Church of England. The Scots would not accept, and the earl of Lauderdale, who was dispatched to tell him so, persuaded him—against the advice of many of the prince's main advisers—at least to drop his insistence on using the rite of the Church of England while in Scotland.

By then, however, the Scottish army, led by Hamilton, had already invaded England. On 17–19 August Cromwell destroyed it at the battle of Preston. Hamilton was captured, and in the brief civil war that ensued in Scotland, the engager party was ousted and proscribed, and the kirk party, under the leadership of the marquess of Argyll, seized power with the help of Cromwell. The invitation to Prince Charles was withdrawn.

Accession and Scotland, 1649–1651

In England events moved rapidly towards the trial of the king and his execution on 30 January 1649. The exiled court was slow to appreciate the full import of what was happening, and Charles I's death came as a bitter shock. Two days after it the Scottish parliament proclaimed Charles II, yet the kirk's outrage at the regicide did not significantly improve its attitude towards him: the Scottish parliament demanded from the new king satisfaction concerning religion, union, and the peace of Scotland, according to the covenants. Charles met commissioners from Scotland on 27 March 1649; their discussions indicated the wide trough of mistrust between them. The king abandoned any hope of an agreement, and authorized James Graham, marquess of Montrose (who had led highly successful campaigns against the covenanters in 1644–6) to prepare an invasion of Scotland. He and his advisers had higher hopes of Ireland: at the end of September 1648 Ormond had returned to Cork and begun the arduous task of putting together an army to regain the country. In January 1649 he secured an agreement with the Catholic confederacy, and proposed that Charles should lead a combined army. The scheme for an alliance with the Irish Catholics helped to alienate the Dutch, contributing to Charles's decision to leave The Hague and return to his mother at St Germain in June. He moved on to Jersey in September, to be ready to join the allies. But Cromwell's army, which arrived in Ireland in August, reversed the advances which had been made by Ormond and the confederacy. Charles's crossing to Ireland was put off indefinitely, and he turned back to the Scots.

The Scottish parliament, at Argyll's motion, offered to reopen negotiations. The suggestion touched deep divisions among royalists, many of whom were strongly opposed to a presbyterian alliance. In January 1650, however, the council resolved that an agreement with Scotland was 'an effectuall meanes to save Irland, recover the King's Right in England and to bring the Murtherers of his Majesty's Father to condigne punishment' (Warner, 1.160). Nevertheless, Charles still refused formally to recognize the legitimacy of the Scottish parliament, and allowed Montrose to continue with his project of an invasion. In mid-March he returned to the United Provinces to discuss the proposed alliance with commissioners from Scotland. In the face of the strong objections of some royalists and of a minority of the Scottish commissioners, by the beginning of May they had come to an agreement. The king promised to call off Montrose's invasion and accept the authority of the Scottish kirk and parliament in return for help in recovering his throne in England. He did not promise to disown Ormond's pact with the Catholic Irish, nor to accept the covenants.

Charles and his advisers were uncertain whether the Scottish parliament would accept these terms. He delayed the dispatch of his letter instructing Montrose to abandon his invasion until its reaction was known. Montrose, however, had not only already landed, but had been routed on 27 April, captured a week later, and hurried to an ignominious execution on 21 May. Charles had dispatched a letter to the Scottish parliament disowning Montrose—but only to be used in circumstances which would not harm the marquess. His messenger, having arrived after Montrose's death, made the best of a bad job, and produced the letter. It did little to mollify the Scots. They dug in their heels and insisted that the king must sign the covenants and disclaim the treaty with the Irish. Charles struggled hard to avoid these conditions; ultimately, though, he buckled and signed grudgingly the day before he landed in Scotland, at Garmouth, on 24 June 1650.

The kirk party's misgivings about its alliance with King Charles were strengthened by the difficulties over the covenants and by the number of courtiers, including engagers and some of the least godly of cavaliers, who accompanied him. Concerned by the king's popularity, it insisted on a damaging purge of the army, demanded the removal of many of his followers, and (in August) required him to sign a new declaration, making clear his commitment to the covenanting cause, his disavowal of Ormond's treaty with the Catholic Irish, and the shame he felt at the faults of his father and the idolatry of his mother. Charles again resisted, but finally signed it at Dunfermline on 16 August.

Cromwell had invaded Scotland at the end of July with an army of 16,000. Initially the Scots had been able to deny the English military success by remaining behind a defensive line around Edinburgh. But Cromwell's spectacular victory at Dunbar on 3 September left Scotland in danger of occupation; it also marked the beginning of the end of the kirk party's ascendancy. Many of its most powerful leaders, including Archibald Johnston of Wariston, put the disaster down to the lack of religious commitment on the part of Charles and his supporters. In late September they put more pressure on the king to dismiss his remaining courtiers. Instead of complying, Charles, driven beyond endurance, laid plans for a coup to take place on 3 October in conjunction with royalists and engagers. ‘The start’ was wrecked by Charles's last-minute indecision; he fled from Perth, but was found by government troops 'lying in a nastie roume … ouer weiried and werey fearfull' (Stevenson, 184). But ignominious as its end had been, it forced the ruling committee of estates to recognize the limits to which they could push the king and to realize that they could not now afford to exclude royalists and engagers from the army. It also precipitated a split within the kirk party between moderates and extremists. Many of the more extreme elements of the party in the south-west, who had assembled an army separate from that of the estates, made a remonstrance on 17 October renouncing support for the king. The remonstrance was condemned by the committee of estates and the commission of the kirk, and the western forces disintegrated after they were defeated at Hamilton by Cromwell on 1 December.

The eclipse of the extremists made it politically feasible to draw the proscribed engagers, and even old royalists, back into the war effort. The parlous position of Scotland, with Cromwell in control of much of the south of the country and awaiting an opportunity to attack north of the Firth of Forth, made it essential. The commission of the kirk accepted the point on 14 December, and despite vehement opposition from ‘protesters’ the process proceeded apace. A sign of Charles's strengthening position was his much postponed coronation on 1 January 1651. Parliament met on 13 March and quickly authorized the appointment of former royalists and engagers to the committee which managed the affairs of the army; by June it had obtained the reluctant acceptance of the commission of the kirk to the repeal of the legislation which excluded royalists and engagers from civil office as well. A new committee of estates was dominated by royalist and engager nobles.

The war had been stalemated while Cromwell had been unable to take the initiative; in July, however, his forces crossed the Firth of Forth, routed a Scottish counter-attack, and came up to Perth, behind the main body of the Scottish army at Stirling. The Scots were now cut off from any hope of recruiting in the north of the country, and their only alternative to awaiting attack from Cromwell at Stirling was to march south and take the war to the English. On 31 July they did so, led by King Charles and a part of the committee of estates with about 12,000 troops. They reached Worcester by 22 August, having been barely opposed. But the hoped-for support from English royalists never came, and they were followed south by Cromwell. A few days after their arrival at Worcester he caught up with them, with a force more than twice as large. In fierce fighting on 3 September the Scottish army was destroyed.

Charles's escape from Worcester would become legendary, not least because of the frequency with which he retold it. For six weeks he remained at large in England, despite a watchful military and the offer of a substantial reward for his capture, protected by the royalist affections of a significant segment of the population, a network of royalist gentry, and his own charm and resourcefulness. In the first week he found refuge with Catholics in Shropshire and Staffordshire, hiding from the army's search in, among other places, the famous oak tree at Boscobel. Then, disguised with difficulty as a servant (the description of him issued—'a tall black man, over two yards high'—indicates how conspicuous he was), he made his way south through Somerset and Dorset and along the coast, narrowly avoiding capture several times. Eventually, six weeks after Worcester, he found a passage from Shoreham to Fécamp on the coast of Normandy.

Exile and Restoration, 1651–1660

Worcester had been a huge set-back to the royalist cause. The Commonwealth now controlled virtually the whole of Scotland and seemed unchallengeable. In Ireland its army had systematically pushed back its opponents; Charles's renunciation in August of Ormond's agreement with the Irish had removed any remaining authority Ormond might have had, and he left the country in December 1650. France, in the grip of its own civil war, the Fronde, was unlikely to offer assistance. In the United Provinces William of Orange had died in November 1650, leaving a widow, an infant son (the future William III), and power in the hands of the republican faction. Spain had sought the alliance of the Commonwealth against France.

Charles settled with his mother in the palace of the Louvre in Paris. Making clear that he now had a very low opinion of presbyterians and presbyterianism, he assembled a group of advisers mainly from among those untainted by association with the Scottish expedition. Sir Edward Hyde became the central figure in the royalist administration; but his influence was tempered by that of the queen mother, and the circle which surrounded her, often known as the ‘Louvre group’. Charles and his court led a wretched existence of poverty and enforced idleness, relying on a pension the queen mother received from the French government and occasional donations from supporters in England. The court was divided by bitter personal animosities and rivalries which contributed to confusion and failures of co-ordination among the network of royalist contacts at home. Charles's own gloom and inattention to business exacerbated the difficulty. His liaisons with women from the small community of English exiles were not yet an embarrassment, although they were to become so later: a son, James, had been born in 1649 as a result of his affair with a woman of obscure origins, Lucy Walter. The affair ended during his time in Paris, and was succeeded by others: with Elizabeth Boyle, to whom a daughter was born in 1651; with Eleanor Byron, Lady Byron; and with Charlotte Pegge, who bore a son in 1657 and a daughter in 1658.

The royalists proved unable to exploit the war between the English and Dutch republics which broke out in 1652: the Dutch states general were too nervous about its impact on domestic politics to make an alliance with the Stuarts. Under the treaty of April 1654 which ended the war they committed themselves not to offer asylum to the king or his supporters. Furthermore, Charles's alliance with France was very insecure. His attempts to mediate between Louis XIV and the frondeurs, led by the duke of Orléans, had won him some credit with the French court and, in May 1652, a promise of a regular allowance once the French royal troops had regained the upper hand. Yet by the autumn of 1652 Mazarin was trying to draw the Commonwealth into an alliance, and in December France gave it formal recognition. Partly in anticipation of an Anglo-French alliance, in July 1654 Charles left Paris and moved to Germany, where the imperial diet at Regensburg in the autumn of 1653 had offered him a generous pension and much goodwill, although the first was poorly paid and the second ineffectual. Charles spent most of the next eighteen months at Cologne, while his attempts to encourage rebellions at home made little progress. A small rising in the highlands of Scotland, led by the earls of Glencairn and Middleton, had been extinguished by early 1655; a rising in England in March 1655 was poorly planned and was easily dealt with.

In 1653 Charles made an approach to Pope Innocent X, offering removal of the legal disabilities against Catholics in order to gain his diplomatic assistance. The offer was rebuffed, with a demand for his conversion. Although there were a number of high-profile conversions within the court, and rumours existed that the king himself had become a Catholic, Charles had accepted that nothing could be more destructive to his cause than identification with Catholicism. When, in October 1654, the queen mother, left behind in Paris, put pressure on Charles's youngest brother, the duke of Gloucester, to convert to Catholicism in the hope that it might attract continental support, he acted quickly to remove him from her control. By doing so, he ruined any chance of help from the papacy.

New possibilities for international help came out of the protectorate's hostility to Spain, and the conclusion between France and England of the treaty of Westminster on 24 October 1655. Although the treaty confirmed that France would not provide a refuge for Charles and most of his supporters, it persuaded Spain to make a clear commitment to the royal cause. In March 1656 Charles held talks in Brussels with King Philip IV's viceroy in the Spanish Netherlands. On 2 April they agreed an offensive and defensive alliance in which Charles promised to restore Jamaica, help to recover Portugal, suspend laws against Catholics, and implement Ormond's 1649 treaty with the Irish, all in return for 6000 troops for the invasion of England.

Charles settled his court at Bruges, within the Spanish Netherlands, and was promised a pension. Yet Spain's willingness to help was severely qualified by its other military aims and preoccupations, and its caution over an irrevocable break in relations with England; English royalists, moreover, were wary of committing themselves to action in support of an invasion. Plans were laid for risings in England in December 1656 and December 1657, but abandoned. Charles formed a number of regiments, which assisted the Spanish to defend Flanders against an Anglo-French invasion. But in June 1658 the Anglo-French army defeated them at the battle of the Dunes; Dunkirk fell a few days afterwards.

Three months later Oliver Cromwell was dead. Royalists expected some rapid improvement in their prospects as a result. Richard Cromwell's peaceful accession disappointed their hopes; but the protectorate no longer appeared so formidable, and at the same time there finally appeared a chance to obtain effective foreign assistance. Negotiations between France and Spain opened in the late autumn of 1659. On 4 June they agreed in principle to a treaty which provided for the marriage of Louis XIV to the infanta; the details were to be settled at a conference to be held at the Franco-Spanish frontier between Mazarin and Don Luis de Haro, the principal minister of Philip IV. Charles had hopes that the conclusion of peace could lead to a conjunction of the two monarchies in support of his own cause. It was possible that Philip IV shared this expectation; and Mazarin certainly saw advantages to France from the return of a legitimate prince to England.

Furthermore, the army coup of April 1659 created a more promising background for military action than had existed for a long time. Bringing together royalist conspirators from a number of different groups—the Sealed Knot (the main channel of communication between the royalist court and conspirators in England), and groups led by Viscount Mordaunt and the earl of Falkland—plans were once again laid for risings in England at the beginning of August, to be co-ordinated with a Spanish attack. The Spanish attack, though, proved elusive: at this stage in its treaty negotiations Spain was not keen to embark on a risky intervention in England without French agreement and co-operation. Although many conspirators pulled out, some of the risings took place as planned; the presbyterian Sir George Booth gained control of Cheshire, and Charles prepared to sail for England. But on 19 August Booth's force was easily dispersed by the army. Just in time the king was prevented from going over the channel.

Instead, Charles continued on to the conference in the Pyrenees in person. He arrived towards its end, on 18 October. His requests for assistance were politely rebuffed: neither Spain nor France was yet prepared to commit itself before there was clearer evidence of the direction of events. The treaty of the Pyrenees was signed on October 28. The conference broke up, and the king returned to Flanders, on the way seeing the queen mother at St Colombe for the first time since their estrangement over her attempt to convert the duke of Gloucester in 1654. He arrived back at Brussels the day after Christmas.

Politics in England in the winter of 1659–60 were extraordinarily difficult to read. Neither the expulsion of the Rump by the army in October nor its reinstatement at the end of December had any obvious benefit for the royalists. Inconclusive attempts to get France or Spain to commit themselves continued, as did efforts to muster support for a domestic revolt. But only by dividing the English army could the regimes whose power it guaranteed be dislodged. The royal court first became aware of a real prospect of Restoration when General Monck ranged himself and his troops with the agitation for a newly elected parliament to replace the Rump. On 21 February Monck forced the readmission to the House of Commons of the members of the Long Parliament who had been secluded in 1648, on instructions that they should provide for new elections and dissolve themselves. In the next few weeks a furious struggle developed in London over the shape of the political and religious polity that was to emerge; on 16 March the Long Parliament dissolved, and the process of electing a new parliament began.

From the beginning of March the traffic between London and Brussels was intense, as the royal court sought to probe Monck's intentions and to establish contact with the presbyterians who dominated the Long Parliament. Not until the very end of March did Monck end the speculation by accepting a personal message from Charles. He asked for guarantees which would secure the assent of the military—an indemnity, payment of arrears, confirmation of purchases of royal and church lands, and religious toleration—but he gave no backing to the attempts of a group of presbyterian grandees to restrict royal powers, and it began to appear possible that the king could achieve a Restoration without having to make significant concessions. At Monck's suggestion the king left Brussels for Dutch territory, freeing himself from the importunities of the Spanish and the French concerning his future policy towards Dunkirk and Portugal. On 4 April he arrived at Breda and published the declaration of Breda, which committed all of Monck's demands to be resolved by the new parliament, 'upon presumption', wrote Hyde:

that they would not exact more from him that he was willing to consent to; since he well knew that, whatever title they assumed or he gave them, they must have another kind of Parliament to confirm all that was done by them, and without which they could not be safe and contented nor his Majesty obliged.

Clarendon, Hist. rebellion, 6.197

The new parliament, the Convention, assembled on 25 April. The presbyterians proposed a set of conditions on which Charles would be restored based on the negotiations which had taken place with Charles I in the late 1640s; to ensure their acceptance they planned to dominate the Commons, through the election of Sir Harbottle Grimston as speaker, and the Lords, by preventing the admission of royalist peers. But Monck's discountenance of the latter scheme was enough to make it fail; and there was no appetite in the Commons for imposing conditions on the king's Restoration. At a suitable moment the king's messenger, Sir John Grenville, delivered the declaration of Breda; on 1 May the Lords declared that government should be by king, Lords, and Commons, and the Commons concurred; and a week later the king was proclaimed by both houses. As Breda became crowded with people from England and Scotland, paying their respects to the king, Charles turned down invitations from Spain and France to embark for England from their territory and accepted one instead from the Dutch states general. On 23 May he sailed for England; and on 29 May he entered London in triumph.

The foundations of the Restoration monarchy, 1660–1665

Charles had few illusions about the depth of the support for the monarchy. Hyde recorded his remark 'that he doubted it had been his own fault that he had been absent so long, for he saw no body that did not protest he had ever wished for his return' (Clarendon, Hist. rebellion, 6.234). His rule possessed greater popular legitimacy than any since the beginning of the civil war; but the support, however enthusiastically demonstrated, was fairly thin. Moreover, there existed active minorities with radical religious and political views that were construed as dangerous threats to the regime; and the civil war had left political, religious, and partisan divisions in each country that would be impossible to resolve to the satisfaction of all parties.

The declaration of Breda had mapped out a strategy for ensuring broad acceptance of the regime that was cautious and highly conciliatory. It stressed Charles's commitment to the law, to England's co-operative traditions of ruling, and to the protestant religion. In the first months after the Restoration Charles made strenuous efforts to ensure the acquiescence of his former adversaries, and particularly of the presbyterians, who appeared to represent a sizeable middle ground between the political and religious radicalism of the Commonwealth army and the solid commitment to the regime of Anglican royalists. His most trusted advisers were drawn mainly from among the more moderate of the latter. His eldest brother, James, duke of York, became lord high admiral; Hyde, now earl of Clarendon, retained his position of lord chancellor and his pre-eminence in royal counsels; the earl of Southampton was made lord treasurer; and Sir Edward Nicholas remained the principal secretary of state. But he was careful to include within his government prominent presbyterian soldiers and members of the Convention: Monck (made duke of Albemarle) was made lord general; Edward Montagu, the earl of Sandwich, was vice-admiral under James; and the earl of Manchester became lord chamberlain. Legislation promoted by the government in the Convention sought—in so far as it was possible—to suppress partisan hostility. Charles pressed the Convention to agree to the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion with a minimum number of exceptions and no attempt was made to overturn all of the sales of royalist land during the interregnum. Such recognition of the concerns of the king's former adversaries was highly unsatisfactory to old royalists, some of whom were embittered by the king's apparent ingratitude.

The issue that had done most to prevent agreement between king and parliament in the late 1640s had been church government; and the disintegration of a national church and the flourishing of sectarianism in the interregnum—particularly in the army—had made the problem of reimposing a national church exceptionally complex. The declaration of Breda had promised a 'liberty to tender consciences', at least in so far as they did not tend to 'disturb the peace of kingdom', and it had said that the king would agree to an act of parliament to confirm it. The domination of the Convention by Anglicans and presbyterians, however, ended the risk that Charles would be asked to approve legislation granting a wide toleration. The king's most influential Anglican royalist advisers were determined to ensure the re-establishment of a national episcopal Church of England, and sought to enlist the support of presbyterians for a moderated episcopacy. Prominent presbyterian divines, though, were suspicious about being co-opted into an Anglican settlement; the result was that the episcopate was almost exclusively recruited from among old Anglican royalists, with Gilbert Sheldon as its effective head, as bishop of London and (from 1663) archbishop of Canterbury. As a struggle developed in the Convention between presbyterian and Anglican factions, the king offered a conference to resolve the arguments. The conference, which took place at Hyde's London residence, Worcester House, failed to arrive at a workable permanent agreement by the time it broke up on 25 October, despite the king's personal intervention on behalf of the presbyterians; its declaration provided only for an interim scheme of moderated episcopacy.

Charles himself did not possess the depth of commitment to the Church of England of his father or some of his advisers: indeed, a number of contemporaries detected negligible signs of religion in him at all: 'both at prayers and at sacrament he, as it were, took care to satisfy people that he was in no sort concerned in that about which he was employed' (Burnet's History, 1.166). He did not share the common hostility to those dissenters—such as the Quakers—with more outlandish theological views, and had no objections in principle to allowing them the free exercise of their religion. Charles's tolerance, though, was the product of his indifference towards the nuances of protestantism, and perhaps of his concern—keenly stimulated by his mother and a knot of English Catholics including the recent convert the earl of Bristol—to secure greater religious freedom for Catholics. He was suspicious of the connections between religious dissent and political dissidence; he shared the view that presbyterianism was incompatible with monarchy; he had suffered enough under its discipline in Scotland to adopt conventional ideas about its hypocrisy; and had told Lauderdale that it was 'not a religion for gentlemen'. Even if the king's affections to the Church of England were not as solidly based as its hierarchy would have liked and were vulnerable to the demands of political expediency, it was clear that the king accepted, for the moment, that Anglicanism represented the most reliable basis for his rule.

By the end of the year the case for making significant concessions to presbyterian opinion came to seem less compelling. The successful demobilization of the army of the Commonwealth, paid for by taxes voted by the Convention and largely accomplished by Christmas 1660 by its commissioners, removed one constraint on the government's religious policy. The growing evidence of the strength of Anglican royalism in the successful restoration of Anglican clergy and the re-establishment of cathedral chapters removed another. On the last day of December Charles dissolved the Convention and called a new parliament. In the elections of March 1661 a parliament was returned—the Cavalier Parliament—which closely reflected royalist opinion. It meant that the government could promote an Anglican religious settlement without difficulty; but it also strengthened those who resisted any compromise with presbyterianism. The king and some of his ministers became nervous about the vigour with which Anglican royalists—many of them closely linked to the government—set about legislating against dissent. The Corporation Act of 1661 was designed to remove dissenters from town governments; and the Act of Uniformity, passed in July 1662, was intended to ensure the ejection from their livings of presbyterian ministers. Worried that its enforcement might trigger serious unrest, the privy council considered its suspension shortly after it came into effect in August. Then, legal arguments and Bishop Sheldon persuaded the king to shelve the idea: but discussions about dispensing with the act in individual cases continued in the autumn, and became linked to further negotiations about liberty of worship for Catholics. These culminated in the publication of a declaration of indulgence on 26 December 1662, followed by an attempt early in the session of 1663 to obtain an act which claimed for the king a power to dispense with all religious legislation. The bill raised a storm at court and in parliament, and it was soon withdrawn; but it had had the unfortunate effect of drawing attention to the old rumours about Charles's own commitment to protestantism. The indulgence was, indeed, partly designed to remove legal disabilities against Catholics, a project considered in 1660–61, but apparently abandoned then because of doubts about the likelihood of parliamentary co-operation: this failure prevented any further discussion on the subject until the late 1660s, in a very different context. It also seems to have discouraged the king's interest in moderating the religious settlement. The discovery of a plot against the government involving presbyterians in the late autumn of 1663 ended it. When legislation against nonconformist conventicles and ministers was promoted in the sessions of 1664 and 1665, the government placed no obstacles in its way.

There is no evidence that Charles or his government returned to England in 1660 with a clear conception of whether, or how, to reconstruct the powers lost by the monarchy since the beginning of the Long Parliament. Charles certainly did not share the attachment of some of his ministers—particularly Clarendon—for the temper of the English constitution: Burnet mentioned the 'observations' he had made of French government, and his conclusion that 'a king who might be checked, or have his ministers called to account by a parliament was but a king in name' (Burnet's History, 1.167); Clarendon complained, more vaguely, of the 'ill principles he had received in France' (Life of … Clarendon, 2.297). But the government's approach to a constitutional settlement was realistic and cautious, too much so for James, who later blamed Clarendon for deliberately obstructing the reconstruction of royal power. Although the government avoided making further concessions to the presbyterian faction in the Convention of additional limitations on royal powers, it left most of the legislation passed in 1640–42, aimed at the instruments of prerogative government in the 1630s, in force. In 1661 the act excluding the bishops from the House of Lords was repealed, and so, in 1664, was the Act for Triennial Parliaments. But other reforms of 1640–42, including the abolition of the prerogative courts, were not overturned.

The government did, though, invest more energy and political capital in practical measures of security. Charles took a strong personal interest in the establishment of an effective permanent military. A few thousand of the more reliable troops, plus the garrison of Dunkirk, had been retained as royal guards from the disbanded Commonwealth army. But a standing army aroused a powerful adverse reaction, and in late 1661 the government dropped an attempt to persuade parliament to provide funding for a larger force. Nevertheless, a core permanent army had been created, whose existence and occasional enlargement to meet domestic or foreign crises or commitments was regarded with much apprehension in England. The greatest effort was put into trying to secure an adequate permanent revenue. The Convention voted Charles an ordinary revenue—including the retention of the excise of the 1640s—intended amply to cover what were estimated to be the ordinary expenses of government. But it underestimated the yield of the taxes it granted. The hearth tax, added to the permanent revenue in 1662 to correct the situation, was also less productive than expected and profoundly unpopular. The government's frequently voiced complaints about the shortfall of the revenue eventually induced scepticism and suspicions about its extravagance and corruption.

Politics and patronage at the court of Charles II

The suspicions were partly justified, for Charles's heavy expenditure on his court and favourites defeated the schemes of retrenchment of successive treasurers and contributed much to the seemingly inexorable rise of the government's deficits. To a country that was unused to the conspicuous expenditure, vicious competition, and promiscuity associated with many courts, it was both fascinating and appalling. Its tone was set by the king himself, whose string of affairs was—to the dismay of the chancellor, the bishops, and even relative outsiders like Samuel Pepys—the subject of common gossip. The longest-lasting of them was with Barbara Villiers [see Palmer, Barbara], who bore him a child every year between 1661 and 1665; the elevation to the peerage of her husband, as earl of Castlemaine, in late 1661, the continuation of the affair after the king's own marriage in May 1662, and the king's determination to make the countess a lady of his wife's bedchamber, each brought the king and his court further into disrepute, as did his infatuation from 1663 with another young woman, Frances Stewart, who maintained his interest by resisting his advances. Charles's favoured companions were those who shared his taste for ridicule and ribald conversation. Facility in such arts was a way of gaining Charles's attention, if not necessarily his favour, and some of the more politically ambitious habitués of his circle, particularly Sir Charles Berkeley (later earl of Falmouth), the earl of Bristol (the former secretary of state to Charles I, Lord Digby), and the duke of Buckingham, used the opportunities their contacts with the king gave them to undermine their rivals.

Clarendon was their natural victim, especially because of his disapproval of their, and King Charles's, conduct. Although his dominance of royal counsels was assured in 1660–61, and appeared to be strengthened by the marriage of his daughter Anne to James, duke of York, in October 1660, from 1662 an associate of the earl of Bristol's, Sir Henry Bennet, established himself as a practical alternative. Bennet took Nicholas's place as secretary of state in October 1662, and was closely involved in the creation of the declaration of indulgence in December. After Clarendon opposed the indulgence bill in 1663 the chancellor's relationship with the king was damaged, and his rivals sought to take advantage. Bristol mounted an impeachment against him in the 1663 parliament: Charles, though, was not yet prepared to abandon him, and it was Bristol himself who was cast into the wilderness as a result. After 1663, however, Clarendon's status as chief minister was no longer certain, and by 1665 Bennet, now earl of Arlington, was at least his equal in influence.

The episode of Clarendon's attempted impeachment in 1663 had shown Charles at his indecisive worst, allowing factional conflict to continue too long while he 'doth mind nothing but pleasures and hates the very sight or thoughts of business' (Pepys, 3.136). The king's extramural activities did, though, extend beyond what the marquess of Halifax would call 'sauntering' and 'raillery' into more respectable activities. His personal interest in scientific matters commonly surprised visitors like the French physician Samuel Sorbière, who would remark on his fine laboratory at Whitehall, and his ability to hold his own in the company of virtuosi. His interest in speculative science, however, was more fashionable than profound, and though he extended his goodwill and granted a charter to the club of scientifically minded gentlemen who formed the Royal Society in 1660, Charles was often sceptical of the value of its activities, and it received far fewer tangible signs of royal encouragement than did its sister organization in France, the Académie des Sciences, from Louis XIV. He was vastly more excited by technology, particularly naval and military technology, which might suggest that it was born mainly out of their strategic use: but all the signs are that these were topics in which Charles maintained a genuine curiosity. 'Above all', wrote Sorbière, 'he has taken pleasure in useful experiments concerning navigation, of which he has a marvellous understanding' (S. Sorbière, Relation d'un Voyage en Angleterre, 1666, 65); and the prim bishop, Gilbert Burnet, thought him 'exact rather more than became a prince' in matters of naval architecture (Burnet's History, 1.167).

Charles's 'mechanical head' was a token of the distance between the style of his own monarchy and those of continental states (Character of Charles II, ed. Brown, 2.499). It was true that he harboured an ambition to emulate the architectural grandeur of Louis XIV's court and the aspirations of his father. During the 1660s the king considered a variety of grandiose building plans: the revival of projects designed for Charles I by Inigo Jones and John Webb to convert Whitehall Palace into a magnificent riverside Escorial were abandoned apparently in favour of another scheme at Greenwich. But unlike Louis XIV's contemporary plans at Paris and Versailles, Charles's building projects were starved of money and failed to progress. (The new palace at Greenwich, intended as a suitable setting for meeting and impressing foreign dignitaries, was left a boarded-up shell after 1670 until its use for housing the wounded after the battle of La Hogue in 1692 served as a prelude to its forming part of the vastly expanded Royal Naval Hospital built on the site.) The court, led by the king, likewise absorbed French fashions in decorative arts and in music. But it was not simply a lack of money, but also a lack of any real passion for the stylistic trappings of the French monarchy, that distinguished the English court. Compared to those of his father, Charles's artistic tastes were underdeveloped; his favoured pursuits rather sporting than cultural. Racing at Newmarket became a biannual routine for the court, exercise in one form or another a constant obsession for the king. Tennis was an aristocratic sport, but walking, fishing, or swimming could scarcely be reconciled with the sort of princely dignity in which Louis excelled. Nor could Charles's own personality; for, as was remarked at the time, his 'affability', his wit, as well as his 'mechanical head', seemed more the attributes of private gentlemen than of kings, and carried with them a danger of 'lessening the Distance fit to be kept to him' (Character of Charles II, ed. Brown, 2.497).

Scotland and Ireland

The Restoration in Scotland followed that in England. The commission which had ruled the country since the Cromwellian conquest was replaced in August 1660 by the committee of estates much as it had existed in 1651. As in England, the principal appointments were of those who had contributed to royalist counsels during the exile: the earl of Middleton, close to Clarendon, was made commissioner to the parliament, and the earl of Glencairn was made lord chancellor; but senior figures in the kirk party were advanced as well, including Lord Rothes, to be lord president, and Lord Crawford, to be lord treasurer. The earl of Lauderdale, the remaining leader of the engagers of 1648, was appointed secretary of state. But the leader of the kirk party and the principal figure in the Scottish government in 1650–51, the marquess of Argyll, was not only deliberately excluded, but arrested and imprisoned, a sacrifice to Charles's own bitter memories of his treatment in Scotland. He was executed in May 1661, one of the few exempted from a general indemnity.

Despite these appointments, and intense lobbying of the king and of Clarendon by the kirk party, the effort to secure a future for presbyterianism in Scotland had to struggle against Charles's prejudice against it. Lauderdale succeeded in moderating some of its effects, pointing out the risks of disorder from the more determined covenanters. But the strength of anti-covenanting opinion in the new Scottish parliament, which met on 1 January 1661, encouraged Middleton to ignore them, and he obtained from parliament on 28 March an act invalidating the work of the covenanting parliaments (the Rescissory Act), and an act conferring powers on the king to replace presbyterian with episcopal church government. Further legislation followed in 1662 to strengthen the position of the Scottish episcopate.

Middleton's success in masterminding religious change in Scotland, as well as in restoring all old features of monarchical government, placed him in a strong position. He sought in late 1662 to capitalize on it to force the removal of his rivals. In September the Scottish parliament passed an act to limit office to those who could denounce the covenants, which was enough to secure the dismissal of the earl of Crawford; a further act designed to place punitive penalties on some of the principal figures of the regimes of the 1640s and 50s was used as a vehicle to attack Lauderdale. The action went well beyond what Charles had approved, and Lauderdale was able to take advantage of the king's annoyance. In May 1663, when Clarendon's influence was weakened in the aftermath of the declaration of indulgence, Charles replaced Middleton with Lord Rothes. Over the next few years Lauderdale was able to establish himself in a commanding position in Scottish politics. He satisfied the opponents of presbytery by maintaining Middleton's religious policy, introducing additional legislation against nonconformity; and he placed himself firmly in the king's favour by extending royal control over the Scots parliament and by having it place in the hands of the crown a power to raise a large, though temporary, army.

In Ireland the Restoration had proceeded largely independently of, and even a little before, that in England. Having secured power at the end of 1659, a group of Cromwellian army officers, Sir Theophilus Jones, Sir Charles Coote, and Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, had opened negotiations with Charles well before Monck had done, and in February 1660 called together a convention in Dublin. It declared for Charles, who was proclaimed on 14 May. Despite its early commitment to his Restoration, Ireland's chief interest for Charles was as a potential source of revenue for his government and his favourites. But it took years for the Irish revenue to become as productive as the English government hoped, and the necessity of maintaining a large permanent garrison in Ireland depleted it further.

The politics of Ireland were dominated by the issues of the religious and land settlements which were the legacy of the Irish rising of 1641. Catholics had high hopes that the return of Charles II would bring them toleration and the recovery of some of the lands lost to the Cromwellian proscription. Their expectations raised anxieties within the protestant population, particularly among the soldiers and adventurers who had been the beneficiaries of the proscription. Charles's first government in Ireland was perhaps designed to give reassurance to protestants: rather than reinstating Ormond, the architect of the treaty with the Catholic Irish of 1649, he appointed Monck to the viceregal position of lord lieutenant, with Lord Robartes, also a presbyterian, to take active control in Dublin as his deputy. The appointment of Robartes proved to be a mistake, and he was replaced by a committee, the lords justices, including Coote and Broghill (who became earl of Orrery). But Ormond's ultimate return to the viceroyalty could only be a matter of time, and the king announced it on 4 November 1661, although he did not arrive in Dublin until July 1662.

The first attempt to map out a settlement of the land question came in a royal declaration of 30 November 1660 which confirmed protestants in possession of land forfeited from Catholic rebels; but it restored land taken in the Cromwellian settlement from the church, from Catholics not implicated in the rebellion, and from protestant royalists—though compensation was to be paid to those so dispossessed. The declaration caused considerable friction in the Irish parliament—in practice limited to protestants—which opened on 8 May 1661, friction that was exacerbated by Charles's promotion of the interests of some Irish Catholic courtiers. The king accepted an Act of Settlement in 1662, which tilted the balance of the settlement towards protestants; but the semi-judicial process set up under the act restored more Catholics than anticipated, and in 1663 the Irish parliament came directly into conflict with the king as it attempted to change the rules laid down in the act to ensure the dispossession of more Irish. The king's regular intervention in individual cases, especially that of the marquess of Antrim, added to protestant discontent. An Explanatory Act of 1665 achieved a compromise acceptable to protestants and the king, but a sense of grievance, particularly against Ormond, remained alive among both individual protestants and the Catholic population.

Catholic resentment was fuelled further by the disappointment of their hopes for religious toleration. The episcopal Church of Ireland was restored after the Restoration with little difficulty; but Ormond had offered in the 1649 treaty the free exercise of the Roman Catholic religion. The Irish parliament now made very clear its opposition to any such offer, but a group of Catholics continued to explore ways of securing a toleration by drawing up a statement—the ‘loyal formulary’ or remonstrance—eschewing allegiance to the pope; however, at a general meeting of the Catholic clergy in 1666 the formulary was rejected. The clergy offered an alternative statement, but it was turned down by Ormond and condemned by Rome. The failure ended any further serious consideration of Catholic toleration in Ireland; and if in practice Catholics were able to exercise their religion relatively easily, they remained vulnerable to bursts of persecution occasioned by political agitation in England.

Charles II and the continent, 1660–1665

Charles's own instincts were to exercise a serious role in European affairs, and the new government was sensitive to unflattering comparisons with the influence which the Commonwealth and protectorate had been able to wield abroad. He took a close interest in the instruments of an energetic foreign policy, in his army, and particularly in the navy he had inherited from his predecessors. Yet the Restoration regime was also a fragile one, and Charles's desire to cut a figure abroad had to be tempered by an appreciation of the costs of international power politics and the threat it could pose to internal security.

Both France and Spain solicited an English alliance. Although the Franco-Spanish War had been formally ended by the treaty of the Pyrenees, the politics of western Europe was still entirely bound up with their continuing rivalry. The Spanish expected some dividends from the support they had given the exiled monarchy in the late 1650s, and in July 1660 Charles formally ended the war with Spain which had been carried on very fitfully since Cromwell's death. But although Spain had its advocates at the English court, it lacked the closeness with the king that family ties gave to France; nor could it overcome Charles's enthusiasm for French society and government. Even so, France's 1654 treaty with Cromwell, and Mazarin's carelessness of royalist interests, had chilled relations between the two courts, and not until the death of the latter in March 1661 did they recover. Shortly afterwards, the queen mother secured the marriage of her youngest daughter, Henriette Anne, to the brother of Louis XIV, the duke of Orléans. The marriage sparked off discussions about a closer relationship between the two countries; and Charles migrated steadily towards the French sphere of influence. The suggestion that Charles should marry the Portuguese infanta, Catherine of Braganza (1638–1705), came from the Portuguese themselves in July 1660, but was backed by France, to whom it offered a means of delivering continued support for the Portuguese in their struggle against Spain. The Spanish fought tooth and nail against the treaty; but French intervention was decisive. Catherine did not arrive in England until May 1662, and a marriage took place at Portsmouth on the 21st. Her dowry was fixed at about £350,000, together with the bases of Tangier and Bombay. In October 1662 the English government's decision to sell Dunkirk to the French for 5 million livres came as a further confirmation of the king's lack of interest in a Spanish alliance and his wish for a close relationship with France. Charles used an informal and affectionate correspondence with his sister Henriette Anne (‘Madame’) to pursue it. Closeness to France had its dangers. The growing power and ambition of Louis XIV caused France and her aggressive policies of commercial expansion and military rearmament to be identified by some as the primary threat to England's interests as early as 1661. The generally unfavourable reaction in England to the sale of Dunkirk was an early sign of the unpopularity of alignment with France.

Charles's other instinct was a visceral distaste for the Dutch republic. Charles's relationship with the republic was founded on the union of his eldest sister, Mary, with Prince William of Orange. Mary had been widowed in November 1650; she died in England in December 1660. Her son, Charles's nephew, Prince William, was now eleven. But the relationship served only to deepen hostilities founded on commercial rivalry and ideological incompatibility. The struggles of the dominant republican faction against the attempts of the Orange dynasty to recover its power in the Netherlands identified it with opposition to monarchy in its English version as well; it was suspected to maintain links with republicans and radicals in England and Scotland. With a growing fear of Dutch economic and military power, the legacy proved too great for an easy relationship, and a resumption of the hostilities of 1652–4 was commonly expected. In April 1662 a defensive alliance was concluded between France and the United Provinces, while Anglo-Dutch negotiations continued to be bogged down in a series of commercial disputes, some of them dating back decades. It provided a spur to the agreement of an interim treaty with the United Provinces in September 1662; but over the next two years the competition between English and Dutch interests in America, south-east Asia, and Africa led to a number of clashes, fuelling the claims and counter-claims in London and at The Hague. There were powerful elements at court (principally the duke of York) who had financial interests in seizing trade from the Dutch. By early 1664 these were openly demanding war and engineering a naval confrontation off the coast of west Africa. Charles himself was relatively cautious about entering into a major conflict, but became swept up in it after, in October 1664, the House of Commons endorsed the belligerence of the court with the massive grant of £2.5 million towards naval preparations.

The first crisis: 1665–1668

Charles issued a declaration of war on 4 March 1665. The first season's campaigning promised the easy victory for which the war's advocates had hoped, in York's spectacular defeat of the Dutch fleet off Lowestoft on 3 June. But there was less profit from it than there might have been: the earl of Sandwich failed to seize the Dutch East Indies fleet in the neutral Danish port of Bergen. The war soon produced a deeply felt economic depression in all three kingdoms, and a serious outbreak of the plague which began to take hold of London in June had a significant impact on the war effort. The reluctant entry of France into the war on 16 January 1666, honouring an obligation under the Franco-Dutch treaty of 1662, made it unlikely that England would be able to defeat the Dutch decisively. The English fleet narrowly avoided disaster at the hands of the Dutch in the Four Days' Battle at the beginning of June, although it claimed modest victories in the St James's day fight (25 July) and in a daring raid on the Dutch coastal town of Ter Schelling. But despite just retaining the upper hand at sea, England was diplomatically isolated: her only ally, the bishop of Munster, reliant on an English subsidy, was forced to make peace in April; Brandenburg and Sweden were browbeaten by France into remaining neutral, and Denmark joined the coalition against England in February. The government was nearly bankrupt; despite the vast parliamentary supply which had been received for the war, by the middle of 1666 it had little money or credit available with which to begin preparations for setting the fleet out for the next year.

The disasters and difficulties of 1665–6 helped to bring about a significant shift in political mood. Support for the war had remained strong in the session of parliament held at Oxford (because of the plague in London) in October 1665, which agreed to a further supply of £1.25 million. But signs of economic strain appeared in the demand for a ban on imports of cattle from Ireland, and thereafter popular dissatisfaction began to grow. The great fire of London, in September 1666, gave Charles a chance to display his personal courage in supervising the rescue efforts. But it was a further blow to the economy, and it contributed to a striking revival of anti-Catholic sentiment. There were violent demonstrations against taxation and by seamen, demanding to be paid. It did not help that the recreations of the king and his court made few concessions to the stress the country was under. The Dutch stimulated unrest within the radical protestant community, which had strong links with the liberal religious communities in the Netherlands. Attempts to suppress flourishing nonconformity in Scotland in the late summer and autumn of 1666 provoked a rebellion in Galloway, although it was defeated in the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh on 28 November.

In the session of the English parliament that opened on 21 September 1666, the government's ability to continue the war was at stake. Concerns about high taxation and its impact on depressed agricultural incomes and an easily kindled suspicion of mismanagement of the funds voted for the war helped to delay the Commons agreeing to supply until the end of January 1667. The court was dogged by disunity and indecision about how to proceed, particularly among the principal influences on government policy: Clarendon, Arlington, the chancellor of the exchequer Lord Ashley, and the rising Sir William Coventry. Led by an increasingly effective group of ‘country’ leaders, the Commons became occupied with trying to identify and root out corruption among government servants. The duke of Buckingham, in a bid to overthrow and replace Charles's principal ministers, set himself up as the figurehead of the opposition in parliament. After parliament was prorogued on 8 February 1667, the king dismissed him from his offices, and ordered his arrest.

Although the government had secured what was in theory an adequate sum for another year's fighting, the money market's capacity to lend had already been exhausted over the last two years: there was no prospect of attracting loans on the basis of the 1667 tax, and therefore there was no possibility of setting out a major fleet for a summer campaign. England was, in effect, undefended from the Dutch. The government pinned its hopes on Louis XIV's impatience to end the war and implement his plans to annex the Spanish Netherlands. In January Charles had requested French help to negotiate peace terms. He and his ministers had overestimated either France's ability or its willingness to impose on the Dutch a settlement favourable to England. With no agreement yet reached in the peace talks at Breda, at the end of May the Dutch fleet put to sea. On 10–13 June it destroyed a major part of the English navy laid up in the Medway.

The greatest humiliation inflicted on the English navy produced panic in the country, despair at court, and then violent recriminations. The government rapidly made concessions at Breda, and it succumbed to pressure to allow parliament to sit. The prosecution of Buckingham was abandoned, but attempts to come to terms with the government's principal critics came to nothing, and any remaining solidarity at court collapsed amid recriminations over the disaster. Rumours that fresh troops raised during the crisis would be used for some sort of military takeover added to the tension. When it received confirmation that agreement on a draft treaty had been reached at Breda, the government decided to cancel the session of parliament for which members were already assembling. It was prorogued on 29 July, though not without giving members of the House of Commons a chance to voice their concerns about the new troops.

In the longer term a meeting of parliament could not be avoided, to clear the debts resulting from the war; it was prorogued to October, and August and September were spent in preparing the ground for it. The principal outcome was the end of the struggle between Clarendon and others that had been going on since 1663. The death and replacement by a Treasury commission of his ally Southampton in May 1667 had been a further blow to his declining influence. On 30 August the king dismissed him, persuaded that Clarendon's departure would remove one of the main targets of popular discontent, and also, it would seem, personally resentful of what he believed to be Clarendon's interference in his continuing efforts to seduce Frances Stewart.

Clarendon's dismissal marked a new phase in English politics and policies. In order to overcome the expected political storm in October, the king openly courted Buckingham, restoring him to the offices from which he had been dismissed in February. But Charles's hope that Buckingham's leadership would enable him to recover politically from the disasters of 1667 was seriously misplaced: Buckingham was more capable of causing disruption in parliament than of exercising a more constructive role; and the hostility between him and the two other main beneficiaries of Clarendon's fall, Arlington and Coventry, only added to the difficulty of managing parliament. An attempt to deal with parliamentary recriminations over the failure of the war by mounting an impeachment of Clarendon was more vigorously opposed than expected, and it was only the king's unremitting enmity towards his former lord chancellor that secured Clarendon's decision to place himself in voluntary exile on 29 November. Although the government obtained a grant of £300,000 from the Commons, it owed little to the efforts of Buckingham or his clients in the Commons. Parliament was prorogued on 9 May as its value to the government entirely disintegrated with a dispute over jurisdiction between the two houses.

Clarendon's allies remained an important element in government and parliament. They included the older chancellor's son-in-law James, duke of York, whose defence of him had strained his relationship with his brother. After six years of marriage Charles still had no legitimate child, and York's position as heir presumptive both gave him an unusual influence within government, and made him a threat to any set of ministers not closely linked to him. Buckingham and his associates—particularly Ashley, now the effective head of the Treasury commission—responded to it by nurturing an alternative reversionary interest in the person of Charles's son with Lucy Walter, James Scott, who had been made duke of Monmouth in 1663. Charles did not endorse the idea that Monmouth should be legitimized (nor the rumour that he had, in fact, been married to Monmouth's mother), although the interest he took in a bill promoted in the 1669–70 session of parliament to enable Lord Roos to divorce his wife was widely taken as indicating a resolution to find some other way of obtaining a legitimate heir.

In the aftermath of the crisis of 1667 the government had made approaches to nonconformists, in the hope of regaining some of its credit and widening its political appeal. The result was a scheme, devised by Lord Keeper Sir Orlando Bridgeman and backed by Buckingham, to moderate the requirements of the Act of Uniformity in the 1667–8 session. It was blocked, though, by Clarendon's friends in the Cavalier Parliament, and instead a struggle was joined over the renewal of the 1664 Conventicle Act. In Scotland, however, the departure of Clarendon had left the advocates of episcopacy more vulnerable. Lauderdale, in collaboration with Lord Tweeddale and Sir Robert Moray, began a process of seeking accommodation with presbyterians: the persecution which had provoked the November 1666 uprising was relaxed, the negotiations with presbyterian ministers resulted in the issuing of an indulgence in July 1669, allowing some ejected nonconformist ministers to return to the ministry.

The main plank of Charles's attempts to rebuild international prestige and overcome domestic humiliation was renewed intervention abroad. France's expansionist ambitions in the Spanish Netherlands offered an opportunity. England and the United Provinces were the most substantial obstacles in its way, and Louis XIV needed to ensure the acquiescence of both. Charles sought to capitalize on this, to obtain the closer union which he had been proposing since 1661. Very soon after the end of the war Ruvigny, the French ambassador, tried to draw Charles into the war against Spain. Having recently repaired his relations with Spain by means of the treaty of Madrid in September 1667 and by assisting in bringing its conflict with Portugal to an end in February 1668, Charles rejected the proposal, although he offered to recognize Louis's conquests in the Netherlands in return for possession of the channel ports of Ostend and Nieuwpoort, and he tried to tempt Louis into an alternative project of a joint offensive against the Dutch. After Louis turned it down, Charles switched camps, and accepted a Dutch initiative to halt the war in the Low Countries by forcing France and Spain to come to terms. He signed the instrument on 13 January 1668; shortly afterwards Sweden also joined in. The triple alliance forced France to peace, at a treaty made at Aix-la-Chapelle on 22 April 1668.

Charles's participation in the alliance was clearly a gesture towards an increasingly anti-French public opinion; he may also have calculated that it could increase the value to Louis of an alliance with him and a break with the Dutch. Indeed, contacts with France and discussions over a treaty continued despite the coldness caused by the triple alliance. Louis aimed to detach England from the confederation and renew his attack on the Spanish Netherlands; he had also become extremely hostile to the Dutch. Yet although Charles welcomed his approaches towards a 'stricter friendship', for much of 1668 the negotiations made little progress. Lack of money, the lack of a clear sense of direction at court, and some jealousies about French ambitions—particularly its extensive naval preparations—limited progress.

All this changed at the beginning of 1669, with an extraordinary mixing of foreign policy and domestic concerns. During 1668 James had laid the foundation for the difficulties of the later part of his brother's reign by deciding to become a Roman Catholic. On 25 January 1669, according to James's not very reliable memoirs, Charles himself announced at an emotional meeting attended by James, the earl of Arlington, Lord Arundell of Wardour (a Catholic at the court of his mother), and Sir Thomas Clifford, a protégé of Arlington, that he, too, intended to make a public profession of the Roman Catholic faith. The meeting decided to seek French help in pursuing this aim, in addition to the offensive alliance against the Dutch republic already under negotiation. Charles had already taken personal control of the discussions with France: in December 1668 he had responded to an approach from his sister by opening a very secret channel of communication to Louis through her. Talks began in earnest in April.

The decision was a bizarre one, for few things could have provoked his subjects more; and it placed in Louis's hands a valuable instrument for blackmailing Charles whenever he chose to use it. So odd and impractical it was that many historians have believed it to have been a complex and subtle piece of statecraft, supposed to lock Louis firmly into an anti-Dutch alliance. John Miller, though, has argued that the conversion was genuine, following that of his ‘mentor’, the French general Turenne (Miller, 162). If Charles's decision was sincere, though, he must quickly have receded from it: certainly there was no sign of serious domestic preparations for the upheavals that could be expected if the commitment was to be carried out; and as secret diplomacy with France continued through 1669 and 1670, Charles's commitment to an early implementation of his religious policy—the 'catholicity' declaration—assumed a diminishing role in the negotiations.

France, popery, and dissent: the Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1669–1673

Instead, Charles's discussions with the French were concentrated on the details of financial support from France, the terms on which naval and military co-operation in a war with the United Provinces would take place, and what territorial gains on the European mainland England could expect to make. The English government's slowness to make preparations for war in the long gap between the prorogation of May 1668 and a new session of parliament in October 1669 made the French sceptical that Charles intended to do any more than to solicit subsidies; but it was probably attributable to the lack of clear direction at court and the awkwardness of the policy in which it was now engaged. Buckingham's failure to produce results from the concessions Charles had made in the session of 1667–8 had considerably reduced his value, and he had been sidelined in the negotiations for the triple alliance and excluded from the discussions about the king's conversion and the secret treaty. Arlington was well established as the king's principal adviser. Yet Buckingham's ability to disrupt parliament made the king wary of alienating him, and he continued to play an influential role within government. His raillery caused the dismissal of Sir William Coventry from the Treasury commission, and in 1669 Charles also removed Ormond from the lord lieutenancy of Ireland, for reasons linked to his long-standing rivalry with Orrery, a client of Buckingham's.

The government was especially paralysed by indecision about parliament. Its financial difficulties were becoming chronic, despite the success of the Treasury commission in reducing expenditure. There was no prospect of finding money for war preparations except through parliament. But the 1667–8 session showed that the government had no effective strategy for managing parliament, and its policies were almost calculated to make it more difficult. The alliance with France went against the grain of popular opinion, and Buckingham's enthusiasm for religious liberty had found no support among the Anglican royalists who dominated the Cavalier Parliament. These were already becoming profoundly concerned by the frequency and openness of nonconformist meetings following the expiry after the end of the 1668 session of the 1664 Conventicle Act.

Buckingham argued for a dissolution and a new parliament in which a new deal might be struck with the supporters of dissent. But Charles clung on to a parliament of whose fundamental loyalty to the monarchy he was at least reasonably assured. He met it again in October 1669, concealing the negotiations with France and asking for money to support the triple alliance. The session degenerated into a struggle for dominance between Buckingham's faction and old royalists, centred around the renewal of the Conventicle Act and attempts on either hand to impeach Ormond and Orrery. Faced with the prospect of a complete failure to obtain money and of a humiliating inability to carry any further his plans for the Dutch war, Charles determined on a shift back towards Anglican royalism. He prorogued parliament on 11 December 1669; before meeting it again, on 18 February 1670, he came to an accommodation with those who regarded themselves as his only genuine friends. In the new session he accepted a Conventicle Act. He was rewarded with taxes worth £400,000 before he brought it to an end, amid great gestures of harmony and bonhomie, in April.

The grant provided the impetus Charles and his government needed to begin serious planning for war against the Dutch. Six weeks later, on 22 May, a treaty embodying the terms arrived at with France was signed during the course of a visit to Dover by Madame, under conditions of great secrecy. England was to provide the bulk of a combined fleet for operations against the Dutch, and a small contingent of soldiers, in return for an annual subsidy. Louis would provide cash and military support against Charles's announcement of his conversion. The war would, supposedly, follow the conversion.

Before Charles could begin the war (and certainly before he converted), something had to be done to avert domestic opposition. Buckingham and others were drawn into the project (omitting the religious part) by the elaborate subterfuge of a second secret treaty, the ‘Traité Simulé’, concluded on 21 December 1670. But nothing was done to prepare public opinion. In a new session of parliament from October 1670 to April 1671 Charles asked for and got a further £800,000 ostensibly to fit out the navy against the threat from France's military build-up. From August 1671, however, the English government's wish to pick a quarrel with the Dutch became quite patent, and it began to prepare for war in earnest. Despite the money given by parliament, the government's heavy exposure to the London money market made it difficult to secure new loans in advance of its collection, and the earmarking of tax income to repayments of loans secured on the exchequer diverted money as it came in. On 5 January 1672 Charles announced to the privy council that he was ordering a stop of all payments out of the exchequer until the end of the year.

The announcement encouraged people to associate the war with arbitrary executive action. It also became linked to the encouragement of Catholicism. Charles's commitment to declare himself a Catholic had almost disappeared altogether with the successful alliance with Anglican royalism of the past two years. The change in the government's religious policy in 1672 was more the result of the dangers of protestant dissent than of the attractions of Rome. The passage of the Conventicle Act in 1670 had renewed efforts to suppress nonconformist worship. Ministers opposed to it—particularly Buckingham and Lord Ashley—urged Charles to suspend it and the other laws against dissent. As war neared, their calls were seconded by the fear that the Dutch might try to encourage English and Scottish nonconformists to distract money and military resources from the war effort. Charles was not keen to drop the understanding with Anglican royalism, and suspected that dissenters might abuse the freedom of worship to be offered them; but he agreed to seek the support, or at least quiescence, of nonconformists, by relaxing the laws against them. The declaration of indulgence, published on 15 March 1672, suspended not just the penal laws against protestant dissenters, but also those against Catholic ones. Protestant nonconformists could meet for worship if they obtained licences; Catholics were to be allowed to worship in private.

Two days after the indulgence Charles declared war on the United Provinces. Any hope of a quick, painless, war, in which English success would result in territorial gains, was soon disappointed. The French army occupied five of the seven provinces; but the English-led combined fleets engaged only indecisively with the Dutch in Solebay at the end of May. Reaction in England to the war was disquieting; and French success meant that Louis would be in a position to dictate terms to the Dutch with little reference to Charles's own war aims. Moreover, the Orangist coup in The Hague in 1672, the removal of the republican leaders, the De Witts, from power, and the appointment of Charles's nephew William of Orange as stadholder created an awkward situation for Charles: the war had to some extent been conceived of as an anti-republican crusade, in favour of the Orangists in the divided republic, but now the Orangists were themselves in power and rejecting peace. Arlington and Buckingham were jointly dispatched to try to persuade William to make peace and to ensure that Louis was still prepared to satisfy Charles's expectations of territorial gains in Europe—essential if the war was to be justified to a doubtful parliament and public. But the summer of 1672 turned out to be the high-water mark of Anglo-French success in the war: Louis could make no further progress into the heartland of the Dutch republic, and the allied fleet was unable to contact the enemy. The Dutch refused to accept terms and the war dragged on into another season.

Parliament had not met since April 1671, and Charles had plainly hoped to avoid a session before the end of the war. With no major victory to set in the balance against the considerable suspicion about the war and the mistrust generated by the king's dishonesty about his plans in the last session, the government could not expect an easy one. After extensive attempts to pre-empt opposition Charles opened a new session on 4 February 1673. The king asked for money for the new year's campaigns, and the government, in the person of the new lord chancellor, Lord Ashley, now earl of Shaftesbury, mounted a vigorous defence of the war. There was less opposition to the war than might have been expected; the indulgence, however, was attacked not only by Anglican royalists, but also by moderates who had identified it as a pro-Catholic measure. Unwilling to jeopardize his chances of obtaining war finance, Charles agreed on 8 March to cancel it, and he assented to the Test Act, restricting office to those who could—as well as take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy—accept a declaration against articles of the Catholic faith and take communion according to the Anglican rite once a year. The concessions won taxes designed to raise £1.18 million. Parliament was adjourned on 29 March.

The grant enabled the fleet to be fitted out for the summer's campaigns. Charles planned to win some territory on the Dutch mainland by means of a seaborne invasion of the Dutch province of Zeeland. An invasion force was assembled near London and prepared for embarkation. But Louis refused to co-operate with the scheme; and the failure of the allied fleet to neutralize the Dutch navy in an action off the Texel on 11 August (generally attributed to the French squadron hanging back from the engagement) led to its abandonment. The prospect of an Anglo-French victory receded as the Dutch stand against Louis's acquisitiveness attracted German allies, and as Spain entered the war in August.

In the late summer and autumn of 1673 the political climate at home worsened considerably. James's decision to resign his offices in June rather than accept the conditions laid down in the Test Act, followed by the resignation of the lord treasurer, Sir Thomas (now Lord) Clifford, compounded fears of the introduction of popery. Negotiations for James to marry (following the death of his first wife in 1671) Princess Mary Beatrice of Modena, a French client state, added the prospect of the foundation of a Catholic dynasty. Dutch propagandists claimed, to great effect, that the war was related to a conspiracy to introduce popery and arbitrary government. The confirmation that Catholicism existed at the highest levels at court exploded the coalition of ministers who had supported a policy of religious indulgence. Shaftesbury, in particular, was associated with a call for James to be prevented from succeeding to the throne; the idea that the duke of Monmouth might be legitimized and inherit the throne gained new life.

Domestic politics were coming to make continuation of the war impossible. Charles was unable to acknowledge the fact, and sought further funds for a third season's campaigning in a new session of parliament on 27 October 1673. The refusal of the House of Commons to consider immediate supply, and its protests against popery, the French alliance, the Modena marriage and the new army led Charles to prorogue it after only nine days. At James's request, he dismissed Shaftesbury. During November and December Charles began discussions on how to extract himself from the war—while continuing to look for ways of maintaining it. A new session of parliament was convened on 7 January 1674 in the hope that the Commons' suspicions could be overcome by an offer to show them the innocuous treaty with the French agreed in 1672 and to allow all money voted to be appropriated to the war. It made no impact. Instead, a series of impeachment proceedings were set in motion against Buckingham, Lauderdale, and Arlington, and in both houses measures were proposed to limit the powers of the crown against James's succession.

Charles was finally forced to accept the impossibility of carrying on, and the Dutch took the opportunity to push England out of the war. In late January, they sent over an offer of peace which made enough concessions for Charles to accept with dignity. After his invitation to the Commons to endorse it was rebuffed, he did so. On 24 February, as soon as the treaty had been ratified by the Dutch, he prorogued parliament.

Danby and recovery from the second Dutch war, 1674–1678

As in 1667 Charles was faced with the problem of rebuilding his political and financial credit after an intervention abroad which had gone disastrously wrong. Financial recovery from the war of 1672–4 was much quicker than from the previous conflict, with the help of a post-war upturn in trade, a number of earlier changes to tax collection arrangements, and the assessment granted by parliament in 1673. Clifford's replacement as lord treasurer, Thomas Osborne, a former client of Buckingham who was elevated to be earl of Danby in June 1674, vigorously renewed the pressure for retrenchment. Even so, Charles's inability to economize meant that the government was unable to eliminate its running deficit.

Political recovery from the events of 1669–74 was much harder to achieve. The prospect of a Roman Catholic successor was taken as an enormous threat to protestantism, and protestants, in England. The court had become closely identified with French and Catholic interests; and nothing symbolized them better than Charles's relationship with a Frenchwoman—Louise Renée de Penancoët de Kéroualle—whose charms in 1671 had overcome those of his principal English mistresses, the countess of Castlemaine (compensated with the title of duchess of Cleveland) and Nell Gwyn. Kéroualle was to become Charles's preferred mistress and the mother of his natural son Charles Lennox: she benefited, to popular resentment, from a stream of lavish gifts, and in August 1673 was made duchess of Portsmouth. If she was his preferred mistress, she was, however, not his only one: in 1673 Charles's last child, a daughter, was born to the actress Mary (Moll) Davis, with whom Charles had been linked since 1668. More serious in the longer term, though, was the damage done by the indulgence to the bedrock of support for the regime—Anglican royalism—without attracting the support of others. The government was acutely conscious of its declining legitimacy and its vulnerability to popular disturbance. The political impasse of 1674 strongly suggested at the least the need to drop the alliance with France and to give adequate assurances of the king's commitment to protestantism.

The development of a new political strategy took some time; but by the end of 1674 most of those associated with the creation of the French alliance and the declaration of indulgence had been removed in one way or another. Clifford and Shaftesbury had gone by the end of 1673, Buckingham was dismissed in the wake of the 1674 session, and Arlington was edged into political insignificance as lord chamberlain. Their departure placed Danby in a position to pursue a plan for political recovery more consistently than any of his predecessors had been able to do since Clarendon. In domestic terms, Charles's reluctance to dispense with the Cavalier Parliament continued to make an appeal to Anglican royalism the most practical option. Following consultations with Bishop Morley of Winchester and other church leaders, by the end of January 1675 the king had agreed to the enforcement of the laws against Catholics and the suppression of conventicles. Danby planned a test bill, to limit office to Anglicans, and made some gestures towards Anglican royalist sentiment, including the reconstruction of St Paul's Cathedral and memorials to Charles I. Even Lauderdale, following the failure of the Scottish indulgence of 1669 (extended in 1672) to integrate dissenters peacefully into the church, and under pressure in the 1673 session of the Scottish parliament from an effective group of opponents led by the duke of Hamilton, felt constrained to associate himself with it. From 1675 the Scottish privy council cracked down on dissent, placing troops across the country to discourage conventicling.

Charles was unlikely, though, to accept straightforwardly the other face of Danby's scheme: a foreign policy based on a break with France. The terms of the secret treaty and the danger of its being revealed tied him closely to the alliance, and he continued to offer moral and political assistance to Louis XIV in the conduct of the European war. Despite this, Charles's offer to mediate a peace was accepted by all the parties by July 1674 (though few of them yet showed much of an inclination to stop fighting), and Danby worked hard to promote a better relationship between Charles and his nephew William of Orange. It was Arlington, though, trying to revive his ailing political fortunes, whose personal visit to the Dutch court in November and December 1674, taking with him an offer of marriage of James's daughter Mary, marked the beginnings of Charles's half-hearted rapprochement with the Dutch.

The domestic strategy was offered to the English parliament in a new session which began on 13 April 1675. As an attempt to forge a new partnership with parliament, it was a failure. The intense animosities among the principal politicians in court and outside it (in particular those of Arlington and Ormond for Danby), the lack of credibility of Danby and Lauderdale as the champions of a staunchly Anglican policy, and the effective opposition of sympathizers with dissent, especially Shaftesbury and Buckingham, all combined to ruin Danby's hope of building a new relationship with parliament. The Test Bill was vigorously opposed in the Lords, and the Commons was distracted by attacks on Danby and Lauderdale, and on British troops serving in France. The session was ended prematurely by a privilege dispute between the two houses inspired by Danby's opponents. Parliament was prorogued on 9 June 1675 until the autumn.

The failure of the session weakened Danby's position. James and Louis XIV, trying to strangle Danby's anti-Catholic and anti-French policies, supported renewed calls for a dissolution. The French ambassador tried to use Charles's latest mistress, another Frenchwoman, Hortense de Mancini, duchesse de Mazarin, to second his arguments—Danby having enlisted the duchess of Portsmouth in his own support. For the moment Charles stuck by Danby, and prepared to give his alliance with the church interest a second chance in a new session of parliament in October. Danby stepped up his efforts to make it work, distributing pensions for a small number of members of parliament and setting up a system to ensure the attendance of sympathetic members. The French ambassador devoted similar efforts to sabotaging it.

Parliament met on 13 October. Despite Danby's efforts and Charles's regular presence at debates in the House of Lords, the session was no more successful than its predecessor. The king's request for supply was met with attacks on the extravagance of the court; and although the Commons agreed to provide £300,000 for strengthening the navy, the privilege dispute of the previous session was revived to prevent further progress on the grant. On 22 November the king prorogued parliament for fifteen months. The long prorogation was a token of his indecision about the future of the Cavalier Parliament. He still rejected the demands for a dissolution; but he showed declining enthusiasm for Danby's strategy, and preferred to lay hold of Louis XIV's offers of a cash subsidy in return for keeping parliament in abeyance. Louis quibbled about the promised payment, but agreed in early 1676 to provide £100,000.

Arguments over the linked questions of whether to dissolve or to meet parliament, whether to stand by the church interest or to try to satisfy dissent, and whether to lean towards France or the anti-French coalition went on throughout the next year. Charles still backed the church interest: the laws against dissent and Catholics were still enforced, although concerns about possible unrest tempered the vigour with which this was done. On the issue of foreign alliances, however, Charles could not be budged. As the impetus drained away from the continental war, a peace conference was established at Nijmegen; in February 1676 Charles showed his imperviousness to Danby's efforts by agreeing, secretly, with Louis XIV that neither king would conclude a treaty without the consent of the other. There is some evidence, however, that the general hostility to France in England, and Louis's refusal to recognize the difficulty in which it placed him, was encouraging an exasperated Charles to turn aside from the French alliance.

Despite the small French subsidy, parliament still represented the only realistic hope for resolving the crown's financial difficulties, particularly in view of the imminent expiry of the additional excise granted in 1671. Danby had worked assiduously to extend and consolidate the work he had done in 1675 in building up a court party in parliament, and Charles therefore allowed parliament to sit on the date to which it had been prorogued, 14 February 1677. Initially, Danby's preparations appeared, at last, to have had their effect in securing a more co-operative atmosphere. They were notably assisted by the decision of Buckingham and Shaftesbury to confront the king with the argument that, under the terms of two fourteenth-century statutes, the failure to meet parliament for more than a year meant that it was ipso facto dissolved. The challenge was too bold for the House of Lords, which swiftly ordered the imprisonment of its proposers. Danby obtained from the Commons a grant of £600,000 for the navy and the renewal of the additional excise.

The improvement in relations between court and parliament was jeopardized by Louis XIV's very successful offensive in Flanders in March 1677, which seized the initiative again in a stagnating continental war. The Spanish and Dutch increased their pressure on Charles to intervene; and the Commons amplified it. Both houses addressed the king on 10 March to save the Spanish Netherlands. Charles maintained his resistance to any moves to lend military assistance to the enemies of France, at least without a clear financial commitment from the Commons; the Commons demanded that he make an alliance with the states general before they would provide money. Faced with this impasse, the king made the Commons adjourn on 28 May, and turned to Louis for help. His ambassador at Paris, Ralph Montagu, acted on the king's instructions (relayed, reluctantly, by Danby) to request a large subsidy, in effect to keep England out of the war. Negotiations proceeded throughout the summer concerning the amount and details of the subsidy.

At the same time, however, Charles was at last coming round to accepting the case for intervention. Frustrated by Louis's unwillingness to moderate his demands at the Nijmegen conference, Charles finally made friendly approaches to William. The prince was invited to England to discuss the negotiations and Anglo-Dutch relations; when he arrived on 9 October, he revived the proposal for his marriage to James's daughter Princess Mary. Charles and James agreed, and the marriage took place on 4 November. It was received very well in England, and very badly in France. Louis stopped the subsidy and rejected out of hand a peace proposal made jointly by Charles and William. Charles allowed himself to be persuaded by Danby and York (now sufficiently worried by his personal unpopularity to make a gesture to protestant opinion) to join the coalition against France, and on 3 December 1677 he signed a treaty with the states general aimed at forcing Louis XIV to agree to the Anglo-Dutch terms. He began to recruit new troops to join the Dutch forces in the Netherlands.

The crisis of 1678–1681

The meeting of parliament was brought forward to 28 January 1678. Charles explained the treaty he had made, and asked for money to support the measures he had already taken in its support. The reaction of the Commons was unpromising, for suspicions of the new regiments outweighed expectations of action against the French: opposition politicians (encouraged by the French ambassador) sowed scepticism about the king's real determination to confront France; even Spain was wary enough about Charles's intentions to deny access to a continental base to the English forces. Nevertheless, the Commons ultimately agreed to provide £1 million. But in February Louis mounted a further offensive, capturing Ypres and Ghent. The anti-French alliance began to crumble. Charles's refusal to declare war immediately—reasonable in view of the need for money to complete preparations, and of the possibility that the other allies would make peace—fostered the doubts about whether he really intended to fight, and, if he did not, what his newly raised troops were really for. Meanwhile, the release of Buckingham and Shaftesbury from their confinement in the Tower restored to parliament the most dangerous of the government's critics.

There seemed little prospect of actually obtaining the money pledged in the Commons, and what little interest Charles had ever had in an anti-French coalition was rapidly dissipating. Although discussions continued with the Dutch, the Spanish, and the emperor about joint operations, Charles renewed his approaches to Louis. At the end of March Danby wrote, on his instructions, to Montagu in Paris, authorizing him to convey to Louis an offer to promote and guarantee terms for a European peace and to prorogue parliament for three years, in return for a subsidy of 6 million livres a year. The suggestion fell on stony ground, and Charles was forced back to another effort to gain the co-operation of his parliament. He was persuaded to lay before the Commons his difficulties in securing co-operation from his continental allies and to seek their advice. It did not work: it seemed only to add to suspicion of the king's motives, and was followed by attacks on Lauderdale and other ministers, and demands for war.

Charles then resolved to abandon the allies entirely; he was infuriated by the Commons' mistrust of his intentions, and extremely concerned that the hostility of the opposition was putting the future of the monarchy at risk. On 17 May he accepted a treaty with France, promising that if the allies did not accept the terms Louis offered within two months, he would prorogue parliament, disband the army, and remain neutral in return for 2 million livres. Charles turned to parliament to obtain money for the demobilization. Eager to lift the threat of military intervention in domestic politics, the Commons were willing to vote more than £600,000 to pay off the costs of the disbandment of all forces raised since 29 September.

Yet when, at the end of June, the Nijmegen talks collapsed over the claims of France's ally, Sweden, Charles made a remarkable volte-face. He suspended the disbandment and transported some of the new troops to the continent. On 15 July he agreed a treaty with the states general under which England and the Dutch republic would declare war on France if Louis XIV did not implement the agreed terms—although he nevertheless prorogued parliament in accordance with the treaty he had concluded with Louis in May. His intervention had its effect; the Dutch and French signed the peace at Nijmegen at the end of July. But otherwise it had been disastrous: it had ruined his relations with Louis, who refused to honour the May treaty by providing the subsidy; in England it confirmed suspicions that Charles was determined to keep his newly levied troops in being; and by using up money for demobilizing them, it had lost whatever remained of his credibility with parliament. He left much of the army in Flanders, both to keep it out of the way of its domestic critics and out of concern that Louis might renew the war before Spain had joined the Dutch in concluding peace.

By the high summer of 1678 Charles's situation, though more serious than in 1667 and 1674, was similar: an absolute necessity for money, with little prospect of securing it except from a parliament which he had so abused that its chances of co-operation were very small. The chances were reduced to nothing in the late summer and autumn by a series of revelations which inflamed the fears of a popish conspiracy. In the middle of August Charles and the privy council first became aware of the allegations of a vast and complex plot on his life masterminded by the Jesuits. The claims, fabricated by Titus Oates and a growing number of collaborators and imitators, were treated with some contempt by Charles, who knew enough about the English Catholic community to recognize the feebleness of the invention. Others gave them greater credence, and the council ordered a series of arrests. Oates's account seemed to be borne out by the discovery that one of those he named, Edward Coleman, York's former secretary, had engaged in some incriminating correspondence with France; and by the murder of the magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, one of the first to examine Oates about his allegations. By the middle of October the allegations had gained wide circulation, and provoked widespread panic.

Parliament reopened on 21 October, with Charles's customary appeal for money, and an explanation for the continued mobilization of the troops. The court's opponents latched onto the Popish Plot, initiating a long-drawn-out investigation in the Commons. The involvement of Coleman in the plot (he was executed in December) renewed concerns about James, and the presentation of a bill to exclude Catholics from parliament was the first salvo in a new campaign against him. In an attempt to pre-empt it, in early November Charles made him withdraw from the privy council and offered, at Danby's suggestion, to accept statutory guarantees—‘limitations’—for the protestant religion in the event of James succeeding to the throne.

Concrete evidence of the government's bad faith came with the exposure of part of Charles's long history of secret negotiations with Louis XIV by Ralph Montagu, the former ambassador in Paris. Montagu, who regarded his political ambitions as thwarted by Danby, had been dismissed from the ambassadorship because of his seduction of the daughter of the duchess of Cleveland (and of the king). He had secured election to the Commons, and before he could be stopped, on 19 December, produced in the house letters from the spring and early summer relating to the proposal that the king would prorogue parliament in return for a subsidy from France. They clearly showed Danby's involvement in the scheme, albeit under protest. On the same day, the Commons voted to impeach Danby. Faced with the threat that further details might come tumbling out, on 30 December 1678 Charles prorogued parliament.

Montagu's revelations had cast Charles's government into a serious crisis, and a lapse into political violence seemed a strong possibility. By the end of January 1679 the king had finally accepted that the Cavalier Parliament could no longer provide a solution to his problems. He agreed to dissolve it and hold elections for a new parliament. The decision required a number of shifts in domestic policy. James was sent away from the court and the country at the end of February. The king borrowed enough money to begin to pay off the troops. He allowed the executions to take place of a number of priests convicted of treason on the evidence of Oates and his confederates. Danby tried to strike a deal with the more moderate of the various elements among the court's opponents—in particular, old presbyterians. The elections, though, ruined what remained of the court's own influence in the Commons, and weakened that of moderates. Shortly after the new parliament opened on 6 March, Danby sought safety by resigning office, with a pardon, an addition to his honours, and a pension. Yet Charles was unable to prevent the beginning of proceedings on Danby's impeachment; hoping to avoid a trial, he instructed Danby to go to ground, while encouraging moves to banish him. Danby, though, confident that the impeachment would fail, persuaded Charles to permit him to surrender himself. He did so on 15 April.

The removal from the scene of Danby and York left a vacuum of power at court and of leadership in parliament. Encouraged by one of Danby's allies, the former ambassador to the states general Sir William Temple, Charles signalled an attempt to come to terms with the court's main opponents. He put the Treasury into commission, headed by the earl of Essex, one of the more moderate of Danby's enemies; and on 21 April he appointed a new privy council with Shaftesbury, as lord president of the council, at its head, and containing a number of figures identified with the opposition. The remodelling of the privy council failed to have the effect desired, partly because there was no evidence that the king felt it should have: he showed little desire to confide in his new counsellors, let alone to make them his sole source of advice. Shaftesbury and his allies were ignored, and Buckingham and Monmouth were left outside altogether. The most influential advisers were the moderate advocates of limitations—Essex, the marquess of Halifax, and the earl of Sunderland—known as the triumvirate; the duchess of Portsmouth lent them powerful support.

The new leadership at court made no difference in parliament. Although the Commons did vote money to complete the disbandment, they soon became wrapped up in dealing with the prosecution of Danby and five Catholic peers accused by Oates of involvement in the plot, in unravelling the misgovernment of the last five years, and in considering measures to ensure the security of protestant England under a Catholic king. On 30 April, on behalf of Charles, Lord Chancellor Finch offered limitations on the powers of a popish successor, an idea that represented the consensus of opinion among the factions making up the new council. He made clear that Charles could not accept the exclusion of James from the succession. But in a debate in the Commons on 11 May it became obvious that a majority, especially of new members, would accept nothing less. Shaftesbury abandoned the consensus in council, and backed the demand for exclusion. On 27 May, before a bill giving effect to the exclusion proposal could be considered in committee, the king prorogued parliament.

The prorogation, again, displayed the absence of any clear strategy to overcome the lack of confidence in Charles or in his successor, or the government's shortage of money. Charles was evidently at a loss about how to deal with the political crisis. His actions—particularly the favour he granted to his son Monmouth—seemed to conflict with his professions of loyalty to James. The belief was widespread that, under sufficient pressure, he would eventually give way to exclusion. York, nervously watching events from Brussels, urged Charles to resist any compromise at all.

The dangers of the current situation were underlined by growing religious unrest in Scotland. Lauderdale had aroused strong opposition in the south of the country with his renewed attempts to suppress dissent in the summer of 1677; he had responded by imposing a militia composed of highlanders, the ‘Highland host’, which had begun its visitation in Ayrshire in January 1678. But an appeal to Charles from Lauderdale's rival Hamilton stopped the occupation, marking a breach in Lauderdale's previously unassailable position in Scotland; and Lauderdale's enemies redoubled their efforts to discredit him. Taking advantage of his embarrassment, dissenting unrest grew to a dangerous level: presbyterians murdered Archbishop Sharp on 3 May 1679; and in June a group took up arms in the south-west, the most covenanting of areas. Charles sent Monmouth to put down the rising, which he did without difficulty at Bothwell Brig on 22 June; but had it been more serious, the government's lack of money meant that its ability to deal with it would have been severely limited. The attempts to crush dissent in Scotland were abandoned, and a new indulgence issued on 4 July.

The prorogation and the defeat of the Scottish rebels did dissipate some of the tension. The remaining troops were disbanded. The acquittal on 18 July of the queen's physician, Sir George Wakeman, saw the first occasion in which Oates's evidence had failed to secure a conviction. Nevertheless, the enhanced prestige of Monmouth following his victory in Scotland increased the risk that he would set himself up as an alternative heir to James; his closeness to Shaftesbury and his bloc in the parliament worried the triumvirate. The latter recommended to Charles that parliament be dissolved. In two meetings in the council in early July the proposal provoked furious disagreement. Charles went ahead with the dissolution, initiating new elections for a parliament to meet in October. The argument ended any pretence of solidarity within the remodelled council, although it lived on for another few months.

What killed it off was Charles's serious illness in late August. It looked briefly as if the crisis of the succession might have arrived sooner than expected. Sunderland, Essex, and Halifax summoned York back from the continent, to pre-empt any possible attempt by Monmouth to seize the throne on the king's death. He arrived in London on 2 September, by which time Charles was over the worst. His return helped to stiffen Charles's resolve to resist the pressure to change the succession. Now Monmouth was dispatched abroad; James had to leave, too, but was allowed to move to Scotland, where he could still exercise some influence. Shaftesbury's objections to York's presence in Scotland resulted in his dismissal from office and the council on 14 October. Charles decided not to allow the new parliament to meet, as planned, in October, largely because of the renewed turbulence caused by the Meal-tub Plot, a botched attempt by a group of Catholics to fix evidence of a planned coup attempt on Shaftesbury and his allies. Parliament was prorogued until January. This decision helped to split the triumvirate: eclipsed by the influence of James, and with their project of a new parliament abandoned, Halifax retired from court and Essex gave up his position as first lord of the Treasury. A new group of ministers coalesced to take over their role. Sunderland remained and was joined in dominance at court by Laurence Hyde, younger son of the first earl of Clarendon and brother-in-law of James, and a new figure, Sidney Godolphin. The three, collectively referred to as the ‘chits’, became closely identified with the interest of the duke of York. Together they formed a more cohesive collection of policy makers than had existed since the fall of Danby.

Charles and his ministers were unable to prevent pressures from piling up for parliament to meet. Monmouth returned, unbidden, from abroad on 27 November, agitated at what he saw as the unfair treatment of James. The enthusiasm with which he was received in London encouraged fears that he might be preparing to seize power. Shaftesbury and a group of his allies backed a petitioning campaign, which began with the presentation to the king on 7 December of a petition signed by sixteen peers, requesting that parliament be allowed to sit at the end of January. The petition was printed, and distributed for mass subscription; religious and political radicals were heavily involved in the organization of signatures. A London petition was presented to the king on 13 January 1680; others were presented from the provinces.

The petitioning campaign's effect was the opposite of what was intended: it left Charles more determined than before not to give in to it. He was outraged, telling the presenter of the Wiltshire petition, 'I admire Gentlemen of your Estates should animate People to Mutiny and Rebellion … you came from a company of late and disaffected people, who would faine sett us in troubles' (Knights, 236). In February he invited James to return from Scotland. The king's recovering confidence began to have an effect on the cohesiveness of the opposition. He explored ways of making a parliament more manageable through negotiations with the more moderate opposition leaders around 'expedients'—projects to limit the powers of James as successor. The aggressive action of Louis XIV to enforce his interpretation of the treaty of Nijmegen and Westphalia on his eastern frontier encouraged Charles and his ministers to try to rebuild an anti-French alliance with which to impress parliament: although, while a defensive treaty was signed with Spain in June 1680, they found little enthusiasm in Europe for provoking Louis.

Conscious that they were losing the initiative, opposition leaders grew more provocative. In March 1680 Shaftesbury produced evidence of a new branch of the Popish Plot in Ireland. Monmouth went on a tour of the west of England, attracting popular support, as his friends openly alleged that he was legitimate and the rightful heir to the throne, forcing the king to issue a public denial that he had married Lucy Walter. At the end of June Shaftesbury created a sensation by indicting James as a popish recusant and the duchess of Portsmouth as a common nuisance before the grand jury of Middlesex. These fresh disturbances made the king prorogue parliament several further times: from April to May, to July (twice), then to August, when he announced that he would allow parliament to sit in October. In the intense negotiations with opposition leaders in advance of the session Sunderland came to the conclusion that James's position was impossible to defend, and, in partnership with Shaftesbury, drew up a scheme for his exclusion in favour of William of Orange. Charles's silence led many to believe that he too was prepared to abandon James, a misapprehension that was fuelled by his decision to send him back to Scotland before the session opened, for his own protection.

Little more than three weeks after the opening of parliament on 21 October, the Commons, ignoring Charles's promise to accept any remedy which 'may consist with the preserving of the Crown in its due and legal course of descent', passed an exclusion bill. It was rejected by the Lords on 15 November, as the king, attending the debate, made his hostility to it obvious. Even so, the firmness of his resolution was widely doubted, particularly as Sunderland was not dismissed, and, while he brought Halifax, one of the most vigorous opponents of exclusion, back into his confidence, negotiations between ministers and leaders of parliamentary factions over the price for the king's assent to the bill continued. Charles repeated his offer to agree to limitations on 15 December, but although the Lords continued to debate variants on the limitation schemes, no alternative proposal which did not involve exclusion was made in the Commons. The Commons voiced ever more radical demands for political reform (particularly of office-holding), and planned to remove legal disabilities from nonconformists. On 4 January 1681 the king's response to a Commons message of 20 December indicated that he remained unprepared to agree to exclusion. Three days later parliament was prorogued (the king ensuring that one bill, for relief of nonconformists, was not presented for his assent). On 18 January he dissolved it, and announced elections for a new parliament to be held at Oxford, to escape the risk of demonstrations in whig-dominated London.

There is no evidence that Charles had a clear idea of where his tactics were leading him, but events were beginning to move in his direction. The increasing stridency of the demands being made in the Commons had the effect of alienating some of the supporters of exclusion. A weak loyalist ‘tory’ reaction had already been visible in 1680, with the presentation of addresses 'abhorring' the petitions demanding that parliament should sit. The elections of early 1681 saw it gaining ground, especially stimulated by the increasing identification of the opposition ‘whigs’ with presbyterianism and nonconformity. Under the leadership of James, Scotland had already seen a return to the repression of dissent in the summer of 1680 after the indulgence of 1679. Furthermore, at the beginning of 1681, Louis XIV finally accepted that the instability in England posed real threats to France, especially if William were to benefit by exclusion. In early January he offered Charles a treaty, including a small subsidy. Backed by this reassurance, Charles could afford to be more confident in his dealings with his court and parliament, and to drop the attempts to attach England to a European anti-French alliance. The supporters of WilliamSunderland, Essex, and Temple—were dismissed from office and council on 24 January. In March Hyde signed an agreement with the French ambassador: France promised not to attack the Spanish Netherlands, and pledged £385,000 over three years; England promised not to offer support for Spain against France.

The new parliament was required as much for technical reasons (the prohibition of imports from France would expire following the first parliament held after 20 March 1681) as because it was expected to resolve the political deadlock. Nevertheless, the king at least went through the motions of offering a solution. When it opened in Oxford on 21 March, he suggested that 'the administration … be put in protestant hands in relation to a successor', and asked courtiers to support an offer of 'expedients' (Knights, 97 n. 120). A proposal that William of Orange would act as regent after Charles's death—the closest to exclusion that Charles had been prepared to go—emanated from the court. It received little support in the Commons. On 28 March, as an Exclusion Bill was being read a first time in the Commons, the king summoned them to dissolve the parliament.

A tory peace, 1681–1685

The failure of the Oxford parliament confirmed Charles in the direction on which he had embarked at the beginning of the year: non-intervention in Europe (backed by the assurances in the March treaty with Louis) and encouragement to the anti-whig and anti-dissenting movement. In a declaration explaining the dissolution published on 8 April, Charles made an explicit appeal to conservative and Anglican opinion, asking for the backing of those 'who cannot but remember that religion, liberty and property were all lost and gone when the monarchy was shaken off'. In the same month he gave titles to Laurence Hyde (as Viscount Rochester) and other Yorkist pro-church figures. Over the next few months the government began to remodel the magistracy and the leadership of the local militia to exclude those who could be identified as whigs. A fierce political struggle developed in the courts and municipal councils, especially in London, as it tried to expose the Popish Plot as a sham and whig leaders as political subversives. Edmund Fitzharris, who had the previous year made allegations about a conspiracy involving James and the queen, was put on trial for treason, and executed on 1 July; Stephen College, who had printed an insulting pamphlet, was tried for treasonable words at Oxford, and executed on 31 August. The government made strenuous attempts to find a way of convicting Shaftesbury of treason, but it failed to find an excuse to try him elsewhere than in London, where the whigs in control of the city would be able to nominate the jury. The government's charges against him were rejected by a whig jury on 24 November.

Charles had not entirely dismissed the idea of holding another parliament. His intention to do so had been announced in the April declaration; and the king's decision in May to draw Halifax back into his counsels diluted the Yorkist, tory complexion of the court with a figure whose principal aim was to bring about a national agreement through a meeting of parliament. Improvements in royal finances, though, offered Charles the possibility of doing without one. Although the existence of a sizeable debt remained a drain on royal finances, the efforts at retrenchment led by Rochester as head of the Treasury commission and the expansion of customs revenue following the removal of the ban on French trade made the need for parliamentary revenue less pressing.

Charles's freedom of movement at home—and freedom from parliaments—depended on his avoidance of involvement on the continent. Louis's continued attempts to annex territory on France's eastern frontiers constantly strained against the treaty terms he had agreed with Charles in March 1681. Louis's troops made effective his claims to a number of disputed areas in 1680–81, and the Spanish ambassador caused Charles severe embarrassment by formally demanding English assistance in April 1681 under the Anglo-Spanish defensive treaty of 1680. Prince William went to London in July and pleaded for Charles to come to terms with the whigs in order to prepare for war. The movement of Louis's troops towards Spanish Luxembourg in October 1681 posed a direct threat to the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch republic. Halifax urged Charles to take action; York (from Scotland) and Rochester argued that action was impossible. Under pressure from Spain and the Dutch, in November he agreed to call a parliament if France used force to violate the treaty of Nijmegen. Over the next few months the closeness with which Louis invested Luxembourg tested that condition to the limit, as Charles tried to mediate informally. Finally, on 12 March 1682 Louis ended the crisis by withdrawing his troops from before the city, and referring the question of his claims to Charles's arbitration. But Spain refused to accept the arbitration and continued to press Charles to confront Louis; Louis made clear his intention to take the city by force if he could not get it by negotiation.

Nevertheless, the possibility of another parliament had receded. Charles allowed York to return to England in March 1682, and he continued the attack on the whigs. The response to the failure to have Shaftesbury committed for trial in November 1681 had been to launch quo warranto proceedings to rescind the City of London's charter in December. As the case ground through the courts, tories tried to gain control of the central offices of the city. In a long-drawn-out struggle in June–September 1682 they finally succeeded in establishing the election of their choices as sheriff and lord mayor, and in June 1683 London's charter was declared forfeit. With London under tory control by the end of 1682, Shaftesbury fled to the Netherlands, no longer confident of his ability to resist legal proceedings. In January 1683 he died there. Monmouth was banished from court in December 1681, but defiantly attracted popularity in a tour of Cheshire in the late summer and early autumn of 1682. With no constitutional means remaining to combat the succession of James, some whig leaders became involved in obscure conspiracies. When information of a plot to assassinate the king and his brother came into government hands in June 1683, Charles seized the opportunity to complete the destruction of the whig leadership. Although the Rye House plot had not proceeded beyond some lukewarm initial discussions, it provided the material for the arrests of Essex and Monmouth, the MPs Lord William Russell and Richard Hampden, and the republican theorist Algernon Sidney. Essex killed himself while held in the Tower; Russell and Sidney were convicted of treason and executed, Russell in July and Sidney in December; there was insufficient evidence to convict Hampden. Monmouth, after a failed attempt at a reconciliation with his father, exiled himself in Holland.

Charles appears to have given up entirely any ambitions of involvement in Europe. The decision to abandon Tangier in the summer of 1683 because it could not, except at huge expense, be defended from the Moors, lost England its last territory within the European theatre. When the international crisis blew up once more, in the summer of 1683, Charles did his best to ignore it. Provoked by Spain's refusal to enter into negotiations over the future of Luxembourg, Louis XIV not only laid siege to the city, but sent an army into the Spanish Netherlands. Spain's declaration of war enabled Charles to rebuff Spanish appeals for help on the basis of the defensive treaty of 1680. Luxembourg surrendered in June 1684, and a Franco-Spanish truce was concluded in August.

A new determination to avoid foreign entanglements perhaps gave Charles the confidence to resume plans abandoned by 1670 of constructing a new palace. Extensive improvements at Windsor Castle in 1675–8 were apparently occasioned by the dropping of the plans for new buildings at Whitehall and Greenwich. In late 1682, though, the king set in train the construction of a palace at Winchester, designed as an autumn residence for the court (and a new focus for the king's racing interests). In contrast to the earlier works, progress was exceptionally rapid, hastened by Charles's impatience, and most of the construction work was finished by 1685 (only for the project to be abandoned almost immediately by his successor and never resumed).

In the last eighteen months of Charles's life his government's alliance with toryism was seen by some to be moving into a new phase, under the growing influence of the duke of York. In May 1684 the Admiralty commission, which had run the navy since James's resignation as lord admiral in 1675, was rescinded, and James resumed his old role in practice if not in title. James was reconciled to Sunderland through the good offices of the duchess of Portsmouth, and he promoted his restoration to favour and to office as secretary of state in January 1683. A new generation of tory ministers, many of them closely associated with James, succeeded to power. In July 1684 Rochester's removal from the Treasury commission to the more dignified position of lord president created a vacancy for one client of James and Sunderland, Sidney Godolphin, to be made first lord of the Treasury, and for another, the earl of Middleton, to replace him as secretary of state. In September a third, the able young lord chief justice Sir George Jeffreys, was brought into the king's secret counsels. Jeffreys was probably responsible for a more systematic effort to obtain central control over municipal government through the revision of borough charters towards the end of 1684 and the beginning of 1685. Similar action was launched against the self-government of the English colonies. In October Ormond was replaced as lord lieutenant of Ireland by Rochester, and two months later arrangements were made to place in the king himself the power to grant commissions in the Irish army, formerly exercised by the viceroy. The suspicion (not entirely borne out) was that James had engineered the change in order to introduce Catholics into the army.

On 2 February 1685 Charles fell unexpectedly, and seriously, ill. The suddenness of the illness helped to fuel rumours that he had been poisoned—by James, by other Catholics, to hasten his brother's accession, or to pre-empt some supposed scheme perhaps to cut him out of the succession altogether. On the 5th Charles was received into the Roman Catholic church in the presence of James by Father John Huddleston, the priest he had met during his escape from Worcester. He died the next morning in Whitehall Palace.

'A disgrace to the history of our country'

Just over a week later, on the 14th, Charles was buried in the King Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey, in a ceremony which some contemporaries—perhaps recalling the pomp of Cromwell's obsequies—regarded as indecorously cheap: 'he did not lie in state: no mournings were given: and the expence of it was not equal to what an ordinary nobleman's funeral will rise to' (Burnet's History, 2.463). An unimpressive interment was appropriate for what his enemies claimed was an inglorious career. Charles's tory alliance of the early 1680s, his hounding of the whig leadership, and the execution of the whig patriots Sidney and Russell poisoned his memory in post-revolution whig thought. The publication in 1775 of papers confirming the existence of the secret treaty of Dover and the later negotiations with Louis XIV was taken to provide evidence to justify the whigs' view of him as 'the most criminal of all English Princes' (J. Dalrymple, Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland, 3 vols., 1790, 1.63). His reign was, according to Charles James Fox in 1808, 'a disgrace to the history of our country' (C. J. Fox, A History of the Early Part of the Reign of James the Second, 1808, 23). Tories, of course, recalling the warm, if late, sunshine of royal favour in the 1680s, retained a much more favourable view of Charles, although even these were forced to acknowledge, and to deprecate, the evidence of his relationship with France. For Hume he had been 'negligent of the interest of the nation, careless of its glory, averse to its religion, jealous of its liberty, lavish of its treasure, sparing only of its blood' (D. Hume, History of England, new edn, 8 vols., 1778, 8.212). Only in the popular monarchist imagination could he be seen without a measure of disapprobation, and then principally for his remarkable escape in 1651, publicly commemorated in Oak Apple day well into the nineteenth century as a symbol of the resilience of royalty, rather than for any concrete achievement.

Yet even whigs like Gilbert Burnet had to admit that Charles 'had in him some vices that were less hurtful, which corrected his more hurtful ones': in particular that he was 'during the active part of his life given up to sloth and lewdness, to such a degree that he hated business, and could not bear the engaging in anything that gave him much trouble, or put him under any constraint' (Burnet's History, 2.468). Charles's dislike of hard work was anatomized in a series of character sketches: by Burnet, by Halifax, by the physician James Welwood, and by one of his courtiers, John Sheffield. Halifax's character of the king, polished up for publication by the Catholic Alexander Pope, judged that his:

yieldingness, whatever foundations it might lay to the disadvantage of posterity, was a specifick to preserve us in Peace for his own Time. If he loved too much to lie upon his own Down-bed of Ease, his subjects had the Pleasure, during his Reign, of lolling and stretching upon theirs.

Character of Charles II, ed. Brown, 2.504

Charles shared the autocratic instincts of his brother James; but not the energy and determination to follow them. Faced with obstacles or complex problems in the way of achieving his ends, Charles would lose interest in his projects.

Exactly how much Charles's projects amounted to remains almost impenetrable. James was to make much of Charles's conversion, publishing two defences of the Roman church which, he claimed, he had found among Charles's papers. They were not composed by Charles, as James alleged: but they did illustrate how strongly Charles had been attracted to the Church of Rome for much of his life, under the influence of his mother and of the powerful anti-presbyterian polemic of his Anglican mentors, and with the depressing image of decaying gentility before him in the 1650s conveyed by the Church of England. Many suspected that he had been reconciled well before the event actually occurred, on his deathbed. That, urged on by James, Charles did for a time seriously, even enthusiastically, entertain the idea of announcing his reconciliation to the Catholic church is perhaps the most reasonable interpretation of the events surrounding the secret treaty of Dover. But he never acted on it; and ultimately it was given up altogether until he was drawing almost his last breath. In a piece of Realpolitik that disgusted Catholic writers just as much as the executions of Sidney and Russell disgusted the whigs, Charles was prepared to sacrifice a number of Catholic priests to the reaction the Popish Plot evoked. Similarly, if Charles had in mind any comprehensive plan to assert royal power over parliament or law, it soon evaporated, perhaps as soon as he met resistance to the recruitment of a standing army on a large scale in 1661. Thereafter, any gains in power the monarchy made were opportunistic and unsystematic. Even if he had not the energy to promote popery or absolutist government, Charles suffered enough from the belief that he wished to do so—a belief that did much to erode the basis of popular legitimacy on which he was restored in 1660.

Charles pursued with much greater consistency—even stubbornness—his aim of aligning England closely with France, perhaps because he felt it more appropriate to a prince to exert himself in the conduct of international relations. What precisely he hoped to gain from it is difficult to say: Charles was not one to make clear and unambiguous statements about his intentions. The project of an alliance with France was an understandable and justifiable one in the early 1660s: it was a continuation of the policy pursued by the protectorate; the alternative offers from Spain were less attractive and more dangerous; and it was a reasonable way of seeking to prevent a Franco-Dutch alliance hostile to England. But the determination with which Charles pursued it suggested that it was based on a more than rational assessment of England's purely foreign policy interests. Whigs often saw it as founded on the desire for the subsidies which Louis distributed widely to client states—subsidies which might help him to escape from the irritations of parliament. But the hegemonic position of France in European culture was a powerful influence and Charles's court was undoubtedly in cultural thrall to that of Louis XIV. Even more than that, though, Charles, it might be surmised, had a desire to attach himself to the most powerful and energetic state in Europe in the expectation of being able to win military, as well as reflected, glory. Cromwell had achieved it in the 1650s against Spain, and Charles perhaps hoped to do the same in 1672. Any such ambition was sunk by the messy end of the war of 1672–4, and Charles's foreign adventurism, if it existed, degenerated into the undignified search for foreign subsidies condemned by the whigs.

Charles's pursuit of the French alliance did him untold political damage, especially when it came to be associated with an envy of French forms of government and an affection for the Roman church. But the damage was converted into a real crisis by the avowed conversion of his brother: Charles was doubly unfortunate in having an heir not much younger than he was, capable of forming a powerful reversionary interest, and possessed of great determination but little subtlety. James's conversion ended the search for a solution to the religious conflicts and the partisan animosities of the civil war. Charles's interest in finding one had in any case been fairly short-lived: only the possibility of using them to overturn the laws against Catholics, and concerns about unrest, had kept it alive after he first burned his fingers over the subject in 1663. Charles may have been unmoved by the Church of England and contemptuous of its bishops; but he was unconvinced enough of the political reliability of dissent. By the end of the reign he had given up the attempt to represent the reuniting of the nation after the civil war and had firmly identified himself with the cavalier interest.

Except that Charles's commitment to anything could not really be relied upon. His ability to say one thing and do another was notorious. Halifax called it dissimulation—or, in the 'vulgar definition', 'downright lying' (Character of Charles II, ed. Brown, 2.490). His mistrust was born of a deep disillusion about human nature. He had, wrote Burnet:

a very ill opinion both of men and women; and did not think there was either sincerity or chastity in the world out of principle, but that some had either the one or the other out of humour or vanity. He thought that nobody served him out of love: and so he was quits with all the world, and loved others as little as he thought they loved him.

Burnet's History, 1.168

It did not encourage loyalty: according to Halifax, he was 'upon pretty even terms with his Ministers, and could as easily bear their being hanged as some of them could his being abused' (Character of Charles II, ed. Brown, 2.490).

What has stuck in the national memory of Charles II, though, is not the calculating tyrant of whig historical polemic, nor the inglorious dependant on France, but a man with a lively interest in science and technology, genuinely expert in naval matters; above all, a king with the common touch and an easy charm, with a fondness for women as irrepressible and irreverent as Nell Gwyn; nicknamed Old Rowley after a favourite stallion, he was a man whose informality and approachability made a startling contrast with the stiffness of continental baroque monarchs. Sir John Reresby portrayed the king at Newmarket in 1682:

the King was soe much pleased in the country, and soe great a lover of the diversions which that place did afford, that he lett himselfe down from Majesty to the very degree of a country gentlemen. He mixed himselfe amongst the crowd, allowed every man to speak to him that pleased, went a-hawkeing in mornings, to cock matches in afternoons (if ther were noe hors races), and to plays in the evenings, acted in a barn and by very ordinary Bartlemew-fair comedians.

Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, ed. A. Browning, 1936, 259


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  • oils, 1630, NPG
  • A. Blooteling, mezzotint, 1632 (after oil painting), NG Ire.
  • A. Van Dyck, group portrait, oils, 1632 (with his family), Royal Collection; repro. in O. Millar, Van Dyck in England (1982)
  • A. Van Dyck, drawing, 1635, BM
  • A. Van Dyck, group portrait, oils, 1635, Galleria Sabauda, Turin
  • A. Van Dyck, group portrait, oils, 1635, Royal Collection; repro. in C. Brown and H. Vlieghe, eds., Van Dyck, 1599–1641 (1999) [exhibition catalogue, Antwerp and London, 15 May–10 Dec 1999]
  • A. Van Dyck, group portrait, oils, 1637, NPG; repro. in O. Millar, Van Dyck in England (1982); copy, Royal Collection
  • studio of A. Van Dyck, oils, 1638, Royal Collection; version, NPG
  • C. Johnson, oils, 1639, NPG
  • A. Van Dyck, oils, 1641, priv. coll.; repro. in O. Millar, Van Dyck in England (1982)
  • W. Dobson, oils, 1644, Scot. NPG
  • W. Dobson, oils, 1644, Royal Collection; repro. in M. Rogers, William Dobson, 1611–1646 (1984) [exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London, 21 Oct 1983–8 Jan 1984]
  • D. des Granges, miniature, 1648, NPG
  • A. Hanneman, oils, 1648, NPG
  • oils, 1648 (after A. Hanneman), Knole, Kent; version, NPG
  • F. Bouttats, line engraving, 1650 (after J. van der Hoecke), BM, NPG
  • C. Visscher, line engraving, 1650 (after G. Honthorst), BM
  • C. Van Dalen, line engraving, 1650–59 (after P. Nason), BM
  • D. des Granges, miniature, 1651, priv. coll.; repro. in Foskett, Samuel Cooper; version, Ham House, London
  • D. des Granges, miniature, 1651, priv. coll.; repro. in Foskett, Samuel Cooper
  • P. van Abeele, silver medal, 1660, Scot. NPG
  • H. Janssens, group portrait, oils, 1660 (The ball at The Hague), Royal Collection
  • D. Loggan, engraving, pubd 1660, NPG
  • S. Luttichuys, oils, 1660, Gov. Art Coll.
  • J. Roettier, silver medal, 1660, BM, Scot. NPG
  • studio of J. M. Wright, oils, 1660–1665, NPG
  • T. Simon, medal, 1661, BM
  • S. Cooper, red and black chalk drawing, 1661–2, Royal Collection; repro. in D. Foskett, Samuel Cooper and his contemporaries (1974) [exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London]
  • J. M. Wright, oils, 1661–1676, Royal Collection; repro. in S. Stevenson and D. Thomson, John Michael Wright: the king's painter (1982) [exhibition catalogue, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 16 July–9 Sept 1982]
  • J. Roettier, silver medal, 1662, Scot. NPG
  • S. Cooper, watercolour miniature, 1665, Goodwood House, West Sussex; repro. in Foskett, Samuel Cooper
  • attrib. J. Huysmans, oils, 1665–1670, Syon, Brentford, Middlesex
  • J. Bushnell, statue, 1667, Old Bailey, London
  • P. Lely?, oils, 1670, NMM
  • H. Gascar, oils, 1670–79, Antony, Cornwall
  • G. Kneller, oils, 1670–79, Saltram, Devon
  • A. Verrio, group portrait, oils, 1674 (The sea triumph of Charles II), Royal Collection
  • P. Lely, oils, 1675, priv. coll.; versions, Goodwood House, West Sussex; Belton House, Lincolnshire; Royal Chelsea Hospital, London; Winchester town hall
  • P. Lely, oils, 1675, Euston Hall, Suffolk
  • chalk drawing, 1675, FM Cam.; repro. in Foskett, Samuel Cooper
  • oils, 1675 (after P. Lely), NPG
  • A. Browne, mezzotint, 1678 (after P. Lely), NG Ire.
  • J. Bushnell, terracotta bust, 1678, FM Cam.
  • R. White, line engraving, 1679 (after G. Kneller), BM
  • A. Blooteling, mezzotints, 1680 (after P. Lely), NG Ire.
  • attrib. T. Hawker, oils, 1680, NPG
  • studio of J. Riley, oils, 1680–1685, NPG
  • studio of A. Verrio, oils, 1680–1685, repro. in E. K. Waterhouse, The dictionary of British 16th and 17th century painters (1988)
  • G. Gibbons, bronze statue, 1682, Royal Chelsea Hospital, London
  • W. Wissing, oils, 1683, Royal Collection
  • G. Kneller, oils, 1685, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool [see illus.]
  • wax funeral effigy, 1685, Westminster Abbey
  • R. Cooper, group portrait, line engraving, pubd 1762 (after A. Van Dyck), NG Ire.
  • G. Bower, silver medal, Scot. NPG
  • A. Browne, group portrait, mezzotint (after A. Van Dyck), NG Ire.
  • S. Cooper, miniature, unfinished sketch, Chiddingstone Castle, Kent, Denys Eyre Bower collection; repro. in Foskett, Samuel Cooper; versions, Mauritius; The Hague
  • S. Cooper?, miniature, Euston Hall, Suffolk
  • N. Dixon, miniature, repro. in J. Murdoch and others, The English miniature (1981)
  • P. Lely, oils, RS; repro. in N. H. Robinson, The Royal Society catalogue of portraits (1980)
  • H. Pelle, bust, V&A
  • P. H. Schut, engraving, NPG
  • J. Smith, mezzotint (after G. Kneller), BM, NPG
  • H. Stone or S. Stone, group portrait, oils (after A. Van Dyck), Scot. NPG
  • Wallerand and Vaillant, mezzotint (after A. Van Dyck), NPG
  • cast statue, NPG
  • engravings, repro. in O. Millar, Sir Peter Lely, 1618–80 (1978) [exhibition catalogue, 15 Carlton House Terrace, London, 17 Nov 1978–18 March 1979]
  • group portrait, oils (The children of Charles I, king of England; after A. Van Dyck), NG Ire.
  • miniature (after S. Cooper), priv. coll.
  • portrait, Royal Collection
  • portrait, Scot. NPG
  • terracotta bust, Royal Collection
  • watercolour on ivory, Scot. NPG
Page of
Government Art Collection
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Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds
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E. Hyde, earl of Clarendon, , 6 vols. (1888); repr. (1958); repr. (1992)
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Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
Page of
Magdalene College, Cambridge
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Leicestershire, Leicester, and Rutland Record Office, Leicester
Page of
National Maritime Museum, London
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British Library, London
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Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
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National Library of Ireland, Dublin
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National Portrait Gallery, London
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Cambridge University Library
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National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
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S. Pepys, ed. R. Latham & W. Matthews, 11 vols. (1970–83); repr. (1995); repr. (2000)
Page of
Camden Society
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Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
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National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh
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Royal Society, London
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G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
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Lambeth Palace London
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British Museum, London
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J. Evelyn, ed. E. S. De Beer, 6 vols. (1955); repr. (2000)
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private collection
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National Gallery of Ireland
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St John's College, Cambridge
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National Register of Archives, private collection