Friday, September 23, 2005

The Restoration: what was it about?

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.

The Character of Charles II
Charles sailed to England on the Naseby (rechristianed The Royal Charles) and landed at Dover - the town celebrated all night. On Tuesday 29 May he entered London.

He had had a very chequered life, ‘the child of diplomatic intrigue, broken promises, and unfulfilled hopes’ (Kishlansky,1992, 222). In 1644 he had been appointed commander of the king’s western forces in the civil war and subsequently fled abroad. In February 1649 he had been proclaimed King of Scots. After his defeat at Worcester he had set up his own court in exile, taking refuge in France, Germany, and Holland.

According to Bishop Burnet: Charles had ‘a strange command of himself … the greatest art of concealing himself of any man alive, so that those about him cannot tell when he is ill or well pleased’. Halifax: ‘he lived with his ministers as he did with his mistresses; he used them but he was not in love with them’ (Quoted Smith, 1998, 204).

His religious beliefs are enigmatic. He seems to have had sympathy with Catholicism and to have favoured a broad and comprehensive Church of England. His ecclesiastical instincts were towards conciliation and acceptance of diversity. His strongest political conviction was his belief in the royal prerogative.

The Royal Family
Charles brought back with him the surviving members of the royal family:
(a) The Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria, who visited England in October and was granted a generous pension of £60,000 to compensate her for the loss of her dowry. She was aged 51 and her political and religious views were unchanged. She paid two further visits to England but was not comfortable there and finally returned to France in 1665. She died in 1669.
(b) Charles's aunt, Elizabeth of Bohemia, returned in 1661 and died in February 1662
(c) Her son Rupert was made a privy councillor. He spent a great deal of time dabbling in scientific experiments and introduced the art of mezzotint printing into England. He died in London in 1682.
James, duke of York, the heir to the throne, was made lord high admiral and warden of the Cinque Ports
Henry duke of Gloucester, Charles I's third son.
Mary princess of Orange, Charles I's eldest daughter, the Princess Royal.
Henrietta Anne, the youngest daughter. In March 1661 she was married to Philippe duc d’Orléans. Her French title was Madame.
In September smallpox killed the duke of Gloucester and at Christmas the princess of Orange died of the same illness.

A Scandal
Shortly after the Restoration, the duke of York confessed to his brother that he was precontracted to Anne Hyde, daughter of Edward Hyde his lord chancellor, whom he had met in 1656 when she was lady-in-waiting to Princess Mary of Orange. He had probably not expected to become a royal duke so quickly. The whole business was deeply embarrassing for Hyde who had known nothing about the liaison. James’s family were outraged, but the marriage was genuine and a second marriage ceremony took place on 3 September 1660. On 22 October 1660 Anne gave birth to a son, though James was not present and did not send his good wishes. (The child died of convulsions when he was seven months old; two daughters, Mary and Anne, were born in 1662 and 1665 respectively.)

For the full story, see Maureen Waller, Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart princesses who stole their father's throne (Sceptre, 2002).

Officers of State
Charles recognised political realities by including constitutional royalists - men such as Hyde who had always argued for a balanced constitution - and former parliamentarians within his (large) privy council. Members included:
(a) Edward Hyde (1609-74) (created earl of Clarendon, 1661)
(b) General Monck (1608-70) (now duke of Albermarle), captain-general of the Forces, lord lieutenant of Ireland
(c) Edward Montagu (1625-72) (now earl of Sandwich), lord chamberlain of the household, Samuel Pepys' cousin and patron
(d) Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-83) (created Lord Ashley; later earl of Shaftesbury), chancellor of the exchequer (1661).
This pattern was repeated in the localities, where ex-Royalists found themselves reluctantly working alongside ex-parliamentarians.

The Court
From the start Charles made the court once more the setting for the rituals of sacred kingship. He immediately restored the ceremony of touching for the king’s evil, and touched 90,000 people for scrofula in the course of his reign. He did not see this as conflicting with his patronage of the Royal Society (founded 1660). (After 1714 British monarchs no longer touched for scrofula, but Louis XVI touched for it after his coronation in 1775, laying hands on 2,400 sufferers.)

In a further effort to underline the antiquity of the Stuart dynasty he re-established Windsor Castle as one of the principal seats of the court, embarking on the first large-scale remodelling of the royal apartments since the reign of Henry VIII. The result was a series of baroque rooms of state that outshone everything in the increasingly dilapidated Whitehall palace. However within two years economies forced Charles to suspend and finally abolish the ancient practice of ‘bouche of court’, the custom of providing dinner daily for the entire court at the king’s expense. This was part of a wider trend: after 1660 the court’s political primacy was challenged by competing centres of political influence and patronage, not least Parliament.