Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Charles II: The Restoration

'Charles II of England in Coronation robes'
by John Michael Wright -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons

The clock turned back?

Historians used to argue that the Restoration marked a decisive shift. The events of 1649 had permanently weakened the monarchy and the country was irrevocably on the road that led to a constitutional monarchy; religion was no longer central in political and social life. In support of this argument it can be noted that the Restoration settlement consciously sought to turn the clock back to 1641 rather than 1640. The constitutional reforms of 1641 – the destruction of the prerogative courts, the abolition of the Crown’s feudal revenue and prerogative taxes such as Ship Money – all stayed in place. So Parliament had won?

Or had it? It can also be argued that the reverse was the case. The English could not execute another king! The monarchy was strengthened as a result of the Interregnum, and the king’s prerogative remained largely untouched. In particular, the Militia Acts of 1661 and 1662 stipulated that the king retained ‘sole right of command’ over the militia, though day-to-day control was delegated to the lords lieutenants. This means that the issue which in 1641 and 1642 had tipped the country into civil war had apparently been settled - in favour of the king. It was he, not Parliament, who commanded the nation's armed forces.

In fact the consequences of the English Revolution were mixed. The shock and horror of Charles II’s execution drove some towards support for a strong authoritarian monarchy and religious intolerance. Others were less willing to abandon religious and parliamentary liberties. The Restoration therefore was full of ambiguities and the great constitutional and religious issues of the Civil War remained unsettled.

  1. Where did power ultimately lie: with king or parliament?
  2. How was the Crown to be financed?
  3. How were competing religious groups to be accommodated within the state?
  4. How was the king to govern his composite kingdom of England, Scotland, and Ireland?

The financial settlement

It was essential to constitutional harmony that crown and parliament agreed on a working financial arrangement. But this did not happen. The Convention Parliament calculated that, in compensation for the loss of feudal revenues such as wardship, the crown needed a settled income of £1.2 million per annum (a figure drawn out of a hat?) but it never provided it. In November the Convention decided to grant the Commonwealth liquor excise to Charles for life. The duty was raised on beer, cider, mead and strong waters, and also on coffee, tea and chocolate per liquid gallon, as sold in the coffee houses. It was estimated that this would bring Charles an income of c. £400,000 pa and customs duties a similar sum - but this still left the crown short of money. 

There was no long-term strategy behind the financial settlement. MPs did not understand the complexities of public finances and underestimated the needs of the crown. Charles and his ministers were unwilling to court unpopularity by demanding high taxes, following the unprecedentedly high taxation of the Cromwellian era. The result was that the Crown's ordinary revenue fell short of what the Convention itself had calculated that it needed.

The Cavalier Parliament

On 29 December 1660 the Convention was dissolved, and on 8 May 1661 the Cavalier Parliament met. The elections reflected the growing tide of pro-royalist feeling in the country. One hundred of the new MPs had sat in the Long Parliament and had a legacy of experience that would ensure that they would not be a rubber stamp for royal authority.

However the parliament made no attempt to challenge the king’s right to appoint privy councillors and state officials or fill Church and local government posts. By the Militia Acts of 1661 and 1662 it conceded that the Crown not Parliament controlled the militia - this had been the great area of dispute between Charles I and the Long Parliament.

But Charles still faced the same fundamental problem as his predecessors: lack of financial resources. Nevertheless, the restored monarchy had considerable potential powers and if (a big if?) it could sort out its finances it would be in a very strong position.

The religious settlement

The Parliament had been elected in an atmosphere of royalist reaction and was composed of Anglican Cavaliers bent on revenge. During the winter of 1660-1 Anglican ministers who had been ejected in 1640 returned to their livings under the patronage of Anglican gentry - and these same gentry were elected to Parliament.

Within ten days of its first sitting the Cavalier Parliament restored bishops to the Lords. The Commons voted 228/103 that the Solemn League and Covenant should be burned by the public hangman and that all MPs were to take the sacrament according to the Church of England. In April 1662 Parliament accepted the revised Prayer Book prepared by the restored Convocation.

Between 1661 and 1665 a series of acts were passed, known as the Clarendon Code, after Charles' chief minister.  The most notorious
John Bunyan (1628-99)
Imprisoned under the
Clarendon Code
Public domain
of these, the Act of Uniformity (1662) created what is called the Great Ejection. It restricted all positions in the Church, schools and universities to Anglicans and stated that all teachers and holders of ecclesiastical posts who did not make the necessary oaths and declarations by St Bartholomew’s Day (24 August 1662) were to be ejected. Nearly 1,000 clergy, schoolmasters and university teachers were ejected.

Title page of a selection of farewell
sermons preached by ejected
ministers in 1662

The Clarendon Code was an attempt to impose an Anglican monopoly. Neither the king nor his chief minister wanted it but they were unable to stand against a fiercely royalist parliament. But far from outlawing Dissent, the Code was an acknowledgement of its existence. The Elizabethan vision of a united Protestant Church was no longer a reflection of reality. The Church-Chapel divide was now entrenched in English life. Dissenters were punished, but they were here to stay.
A monument to the Great Ejection
at Eversden, Cambridgeshire

The Declaration of Indulgence

Charles deeply resented his dependence on the Church of England and he wished to broaden his power-base. In 1672, under the royal prerogative, his issued a Declaration of Indulgence, suspending all penal laws against Protestant Dissenters and Roman Catholics. Dissenters could worship in licensed meeting houses and Catholics could worship in private.

The First Test Act

When Parliament met in February 1673 the Commons voted 168/116 that 
‘penal statutes in matters ecclesiastical cannot be suspended but by an act of Parliament’, 
and went on to claim that Charles was ‘very much misinformed’ to believe that he had the power to suspend statutes. All Charles's policy had achieved had been to unite Anglicans and Dissenters against what was perceived to be the common enemy.

On 8 March Charles reluctantly announced the cancellation of the Declaration of Indulgence. A few days later he gave his assent to a Test Act. This excluded all non-Anglicans from public offices by forcing office-holders 

  1. to swear the oaths of supremacy and allegiance, 
  2. to take a declaration repudiating transubstantiation, 
  3. to provide documentary proof that they had recently received communion according to the Church of England.

James, duke of York
the heir to the throne

Public domain
As a result, the king's brother, the duke of York, resigned his position as Lord High Admiral. It was now clear that the heir to the throne was a Catholic. In September the duke took as his second wife, the Italian Catholic princess, Mary of Modena.

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