Thursday, December 01, 2005

The end of Charles II's reign

By the end of his reign Charles’s position was extremely strong. His enemies were scattered, the judiciary was siding with the government, and the crown was solvent. Under the influence of the duke of York's brother-in-law, Lawrence Hyde, earl of Rochester, who continued (with more success) Danby’s policies of royal retrenchment, increased revenue from customs, hearth tax and excise the crown’s permanent ordinary revenue soared beyond the £1.2m agreed 1660-1. By 1684-5 it had risen to £1,370,750 and was still increasing. Charles even had money to put aside for his new palace at Winchester. In October 1684 Charles and his brother inspected the troops mustered on Putney Heath – the Crown now had a standing army.

When he defied the Triennial Act and did not summon a new parliament in 1684 there was no outcry. But his achievement was limited. He had not definitively settled any major issue. The political and religious divisions had not gone away. Toryism and Anglicanism seemed triumphant but the Whigs were still there and the Dissenters were refusing to be cowed. It is not surprising that his triumph proved short-lived. The duke of York’s Catholicism was an intractable problem.

Charles died on 5 February 1685, according to some medical experts from chronic granular kidney disease with uraemic convulsions.
‘Thus died K Charles the 2nd, of a vigorous and robust constitution, & in all appearance capable of a longer life. A prince of many Virtues, & many great Imperfections, Debonaire, Easy of accesse, not bloudy or Cruel … An excellent Prince had he not been addicted to Women … Easily & frequently he changed favourites to his great prejudice, &c …’ John Evelyn, Diary, ed Guy de la Bédoyère (Boydell Press, 2004), p. 275.

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