Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Fall of Clarendon

A scapegoat had to be found for the Medway disaster and Clarendon was the obvious candidate even though he had opposed the war. There had to be a scapegoat for the disaster. On 14 June Pepys recorded (Diary, viii, p. 269)
'Mr Hater tells me at noon that some rude people have been as he hears, at my Lord Chancellor's, where they have cut down the trees before his house and broke his windows; and a Gibbet either set up before or painted upon his gate, and these words writ - "Three sights to be seen; Dunkirke, Tanger and a barren Queen".
In July Parliament was hastily recalled in order to pay for the army hastily mobilised after this disaster. This session gave Clarendon’s enemies at court the chance to move against him. He was now isolated at court and within Parliament. Lady Castlemaine, his bitter enemy, had declared that she hoped to see his head on a plate.

On 30 August Charles asked for his resignation. Clarendon complied but refused to act on hints that he should leave the country.

On 10 October the seventh session of the Cavalier Parliament met. The mood was one of bitterness and disillusionment. Behind all the fears and resentments ‘was a sense that the core of the government was rotten - an unconcerned king in a corrupt and vicious court’. As a peace offering the king agreed to dismiss his chancellor and he privately pressed for an impeachment. Articles were hastily collected, many of which were hearsay. ‘The promoters of the impeachment showed a cynical disregard for natural justice and the rules of evidence’. Most hoped to profit from his disgrace. But though the Commons wished to commit him to custody, the Lords, strongly influenced his by son-in-law the Duke of York, refused to allow this.
On 30 November Clarendon resolved this increasingly bitter dispute between Lords and Commons. Protesting his innocence, he withdrew from England. The two Houses condemned him to lifelong banishment. He fled to France, initially to Rouen and then to Montpellier. In the summer of 1674 he was given permission to move back to Rouen, to be nearer to England, but he died there on 9 December. His body was returned to England for burial. During his exile he wrote his History of the Great Rebellion. He never knew that he would be the grandfather of two queens.

The first phase of the reign of Charles II was over.