Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Cabal

After the downfall of Clarendon, two distinct courses of action were open to Charles II historians have labelled these ‘Cavalier’ and ‘Catholic’.
(a) Cavalier: a recognition that the king’s power base lay in the Church of England; therefore unqualified support for the restored Church and the suppression of nonconformity by the enforcement of the Clarendon Code; a ‘Protestant’ foreign policy.
(b) Catholic: toleration for Catholics and Protestant nonconformists; a French alliance.
Charles’s own inclinations supported (b) but he was hampered by parliamentary opinion. He was a prisoner of his parliaments and increasingly resenting this fact.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that from the late 1660s James and his wife, Anne Hyde, were moving towards conversion to Rome. As Charles had no legitimate heir, this fact was hugely significant.

The Cabal
After the fall of Clarendon, Charles made his own policy. He never again allowed himself to be controlled by a chief minister but shuffled his ministers as if they were part of a pack of cards. However a group of influential men around him were important in policy-making. Five of them have been (exaggeratedly) seen as key and because of their initials the period 1667-1674 has been known as the Cabal.
• Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington from 1672 (Secretary of State); ‘serious and industrious’ he was probably the most influential of the five. For this reason, some historians call this period the ‘Arlington ministry’.
• Thomas, Baron Clifford (Lord Treasurer from 1672)
• George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham, Master of the Horse; ‘a debauched maverick of sparkling conversation and slender abilities’ (Smith, 1998, 225).
• Anthony Ashley Cooper (Lord Chancellor from 1672)
• John Maitland, duke of Lauderdale (Lord High Commissioner from 1669).

It is mistaken to see them as a group that acted together. Apart from a dislike of Clarendon’s legacy, especially the narrow intolerance of the restored Church of England, they had little in common and vied with each other for power.
• Clifford was a secret Catholic, with pro-French sympathies, and Arlington a Catholic sympathizer, with pro-Spanish, pro-Dutch sympathies.
• Ashley and Buckingham were both associated with freethinkers.
• Lauderdale was preoccupied with Scotland.
• Arlington and Buckingham detested each other.
• Buckingham had the king’s favour because they shared the common tragedy of murdered fathers and because he encouraged him to indulge his love of pleasure. He favoured a divorce from Catherine of Braganza, but in this he was opposed by Lady Castlemaine (created duchess of Cleveland, 1670) who believed Catherine was less of a rival than another queen would be. Arlington ‘inherited Clarendon’s role as royal workhorse’.
• Ashley (created earl of Shaftesbury in 1672) had a Cromwellian background and was wary of any extension of the king’s power.
The differences within the Cabal left Charles with plenty of scope to divide and rule.

The Triple Alliance
Immediately after the fall of Clarendon, the conduct of Louis XIV meant that there could be no immediate sign of ‘Catholic’ policies. Anxieties about France focused on the fact that early in 1667 Louis had put in a claim to the Spanish Netherlands by the so-called right of ‘devolution’ which he claimed was vested in his Spanish-born wife. In May 1667 in the first stage of the ‘War of Devolution’, Turenne over-ran the Spanish Netherlands ‘with ominous ease’ and posed a direct threat to the United Provinces. Many Englishmen now believed that Louis, like Philip II of Spain, aimed at universal empire. They had come to recognize the most significant fact of seventeenth-century geopolitics: that France had replaced Spain as the great expansionist European power.

In January 1668 England joined the United Provinces (Holland) and Sweden in a formal anti-French treaty, in which each promised to help the other if attacked, though Charles still hankered after an alliance with France. But the alliance was popular in England, where anti-French sentiment was growing.