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Charles II in United Kingdom

Charles II, 1660-1685, was a king of England.

The experiment in Puritan republicanism had resulted only in convincing the majority of the people that “the government is, and ought to be, by King, Lords, and Commons.” The people merely asked for some assurances against despotism,—and when a throne was thus to be purchased with promises, Charles II was a ready buyer. He swore to observe Magna Carta and the “Petition of Right,” to respect Parliament, not to interfere with its religious policy, nor to levy illegal taxes. Bound by these promises, he was welcomed back to England in 1660 and crowned the following year. The reinstatement of the king was accompanied by a general resumption by bishops and royalist nobles of their offices and lands: things seemed to slip back into the old grooves. Charles II dated his reign not from his actual accession but from his father’s death, and his first Parliament declared invalid all those acts and ordinances passed since 1642 which it did not specifically confirm.

The history of constitutional government under the restored Stuarts is a history of renewed financial and religious disputes. Charles II and his younger brother and heir, Prince James, duke of York, alike adhered to the political faith of their Stuart father and grandfather. Cousins on their mother’s side of Louis XIV of France, in whose court they had been reared, they were more used to the practices of French absolutism than to the peculiar customs of parliamentary government in England. Unlike their father, who had been most upright in private life and most loyal to the Anglican Church, both Charles and James had acquired from their foreign environment at once a taste for vicious living and a strong attachment to the Roman Catholic Church. In these two Stuarts Catholicism was combined with absolutism; and the Englishmen represented in Parliament were therefore brought face to face not only with a revival of the earlier Stuart theory of divine-right monarchy but with a new and far more hateful possibility of the royal establishment of Roman Catholicism in England. Charles II did not publicly confess his conversion to Catholicism until his deathbed, but James became a zealous convert in 1672.

That Charles II was able to round out a reign of twenty-five years and die a natural death as king of England was due not so much to his virtues as to his faults. He was so hypocritical that his real aims were usually successfully concealed. He was so indolent that with some show of right he could blame his ministers and advisers for his own mistakes and misdeeds. He was so selfish that he would make concessions here and there rather than “embark again upon his travels.” In fact, pure selfishness was the basis of his policy in domestic and foreign affairs, but it was always a selfishness veiled in wit, good humor, and captivating affability.

Renewal of Financial Disputes between King and Parliament

At the beginning of the reign of Charles II, the country gentlemen were astute enough to secure the abolition of the surviving feudal rights by which the king might demand certain specified services from them and certain sums of money when an heiress married or a minor inherited an estate. This action, seemingly insignificant, was in reality of the greatest importance, for it indicated the abandonment in England of the feudal theory that land is held by nobles in return for military service, and at the same time it consecrated the newer principle that the land should be owned freely and personally—a principle which has since been fully recognized in the United States and other modern countries as well as in England.

The extinction of feudal prerogatives in the early days of the Stuart Restoration benefited the landlords primarily, but the annual lump sum of £100,000 which Charles II was given in return, was voted by Parliament and was paid by all classes in the form of excise taxes on alcoholic drinks. Customs duties of £4 10_s_. on every tun of wine and 5 per cent ad valorem on other imports, hearth-money (a tax on houses), and profits on the post office contributed to make up the royal revenue of somewhat less than £1,200,000. This was intended to defray the ordinary expenses of court and government but seemed insufficient to Charles, who was not only extravagantly luxurious, but desirous of increasing his power by bribing members of Parliament and by maintaining a standing army. The country squires who had sold their plate for the royalist cause back in the ‘forties and were now suffering from hard times, thought the court was too extravagant; to this feeling was added fear that Charles might hire foreign soldiers to oppress Englishmen. Consequently Parliament grew more parsimonious, and in 1665-1667 claimed a new and important privilege—that of devoting its grants to specific objects and demanding an account of expenditures.

Charles, however, was determined to have money by fair means or foul. A group of London goldsmiths had loaned more than a million and a quarter pounds sterling to the government. In 1672 Charles announced that instead of paying the money back, he would consider it a permanent loan. Two years earlier he had signed the secret treaty of Dover (1670) with Louis XIV, by which Louis promised him an annual subsidy of £200,000 and troops in case of rebellion, while Charles was openly to join the Roman Catholic Church and to aid Louis in his French wars against Spain and Holland.

Legislation against Protestant Dissenters

In his ambition to reëstablish Catholicism in England, Charles underestimated the intense hostility of the bulk of the English squires to any religious innovation. During the first decade of the Restoration, Puritanism had been most feared. Some two thousand clergymen, mostly Presbyterian, had been deprived of their offices by an Act of Uniformity (1662), requiring their assent to the Anglican prayer-book; these dissenting clergymen might not return within five miles of their old churches unless they renounced the “Solemn League and Covenant” and swore loyalty to the king (Five-mile Act, 1665); for repeated attendance at their meetings (conventicles) Dissenters might be condemned to penal servitude in the West Indies against (Conventicle Act, 1664); and the Corporation Act of 1661 excluded Dissenters from town offices.

Sidenote: The Exclusion Bill

Parliament, already somewhat distrustful of Charles’s foreign policy, and fearful of his leanings toward Roman Catholicism, found in the Declaration of Indulgence a serious infraction of parliamentary authority. The royal right to “suspend” laws upon occasion had undoubtedly been exercised before, but Parliament was now strong enough to insist upon the binding force of its enactments and to oblige Charles to withdraw his Indulgence. The fear of Catholicism ever increased; gentlemen who at other times were quite rational gave unhesitating credence to wild tales of a “Popish Plot” (1678). In 1679 an Exclusion Bill was brought forward which would debar Prince James from the throne, because of his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

The “Whigs”

In the excitement over this latest assertion of parliamentary power (in the course of the debate over Exclusion, the parliamentary party won an important concession—the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, which was designed to prevent arbitrary imprisonment) two great factions were formed. The supporters of Exclusion were led by certain great nobles who were jealous of the royal power, and were recruited from merchants and shop-keepers who looked to Parliament to protect their economic interests. Since many of the adherents of this political group were Dissenters, whose dislike of Anglicanism was exceeded only by their hatred of “popery,” the whole party was called by a nickname—”Whig”—which had formerly been applied to rebellious Presbyterians in Scotland.

The “Tories”

Opposed to the Whigs were the “Tories” (Tory, a name applied to “popish” outlaws in Ireland) —squires and country clergymen and all others of an essentially conservative turn of mind. They were anxious to preserve the Church and state alike from Puritans and from “papists,” but most of all to prevent a recurrence of civil war. In the opinion of the Tories, the best and most effective safeguard against quarreling earls and insolent tradesmen was the hereditary monarchy. Better submit to a Roman Catholic sovereign, they said, than invite civil war by disturbing the regular succession. In the contest over the Exclusion Bill, the Tories finally carried the day, for, although the bill was passed by the Commons (1680), it was rejected by the House of Lords.

Temporary Success of the Tories

In the last few years of Charles’s reign the cause of the Whigs was discredited. Rumors got abroad that they were plotting to assassinate the king and it was said that the Whiggish nobles who brought armed retainers to Parliament were planning to use force to establish Charles’s illegitimate son—the duke of Monmouth—on the throne. These and similar accusations hurt the Whigs tremendously, and help explain the violent Tory reaction which enabled Charles to rule without Parliament from 1681 to his death in 1685. As had been feared, upon the death of Charles II, the duke of Monmouth organized a revolt, but this, together with a simultaneous insurrection in Scotland, was easily crushed, and James II was securely seated on the throne.

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  • Article Name: Charles II
  • Author: International
  • Description: Charles II, 1660-1685, was a king of England. The experiment in Puritan republicanism had resulted only in convincing the [...]

This entry was last updated: October 30, 2016

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