1660 – The year the world changed, war ended and the King returned

[Note: the indented quotes were not read out during the recording]

Time Content
[00.00] On 8th May 1660, to much fanfare, the Restoration of King Charles II was proclaimed in London, and within a couple of weeks, he was back in a capital that he had last seen as a youngster. His journey to this moment had been eventful, to say the least, incorporating exile, military defeat, escape incognito through the English countryside, more exile of an increasingly despondent character, followed by a sudden, dramatic, and almost total reversal of fortunes on the death of Oliver Cromwell.
[00.30] The English weren’t really hankering for an end to the Republic. By the point of Cromwell’s death most had come to terms with it, albeit in many cases fairly reluctantly. In the late 1650s the country was prosperous, enjoying considerable diplomatic prominence, and was seeing some of the old rhythms come back to life as the most severe period of Puritan rule passed. Those normally outside the mainstream: religious minorities and political progressives, were enjoying unprecedented freedom of expression. But what most people really wanted, was not so much this form of government or that, but peace and stability.
[01.13] In 1657, a group of civilians – including several former royalists – had offered Cromwell the crown. It was a way of bringing England back towards its ancient form of government. He had refused – God had shown his view of monarchies, he said – but had accepted the rest of the new civilian constitution, which came from Parliament, not the military. But it couldn’t survive Oliver’s death. His son, Richard, had proved incapable of resisting as the army reasserted itself in politics, and then found itself in conflict with a resurgent republican interest, centred on the old Rump and proponents of the ‘Good Old Cause’. By the end of 1659, England was at a political impasse, and the future lay with a new slogan: the call for a ‘free Parliament’. Not the Parliament of the Protectorate, mind, with all its restrictions and caveats, nor the Rump, with so many missing members – but new elections and a new assembly. It was this call: a free parliament, which dominated in early 1660, rather than the demand for a return to the monarchy. But it was this call which would eventually lead to the Restoration, nonetheless.
[02.27] In early 1660, the key figure was General George Monck. He had gathered forces loyal to him from within the army, and based himself at Coldstream on the Scottish border. In the new year he began a long march south. The opposing faction within the republic’s army, led by John Lambert, simply melted away. While Mock had the cash to pay his troops, Lambert didn’t. By February, Monck had reached London. Still it wasn’t clear what he would do. Soon though, he would have to declare his hand. Eventually, he allowed the old secluded MPs, those who had been kept away at Pride’s Purge back in 1648, to return to Parliament. With Parliament now full of moderates, it promptly called new elections. By this point, everyone knew what this would mean.
[03.18] In the April elections, one of the key questions was whether to invite Charles Stuart to England with or without conditions. Not whether to do it at all, but whether to impose restrictions on the monarchy. Generally, those candidates offering the fewest restrictions did best, so the new ‘Convention Parliament’, which met on 25th April was a profoundly favourable body towards the new king. This was then bolstered a few days later when Charles’s declaration, made at Breda earlier in April, was read. It offered widespread pardons and ‘liberty for tender consciences’. Promptly, Parliament voted that ‘the government is, and ought to be, by King, Lords, and Commons’.
[04.02] London fell to rejoicing, as did much of the rest of the country. In Boston, Lincolnshire, young men took down the arms of the Republic, and had a town officer whip them, then – taking turns – ‘pissed and shitted on them’. Even in Dorchester, long a Puritan stronghold, the town clerk celebrated the deliverance from a ‘world of confusions’ and ‘unheard of governments’.
[04.29] May brought yet more celebration. ‘[A]ll the world’, wrote Samuel Pepys, was ‘in a merry mood because of the King’s coming’. The return of Charles, carried back by Monck’s fleet, was celebrated by maypoles, church bells, and bonfires. From Charles’s landing at Dover on the 25th May, to his entrance to London on the 29th, he was met with cheering crowds. Some 120,000 were supposed to have greeted him at Blackheath. In London, his entourage took seven hours to pass through. The streets became a kaleidoscope of tapestries and flowers; there were fountains flowing with wine. Oliver Cromwell, and his widow Elizabeth, who was still alive, were jovially burned in effigy on a Westminster bonfire.
[05.16] The rejoicing, though, was stained with reprisals. Within a day, the King was forced to issue a proclamation against ‘debauched and profane persons, who, on pretence of regard to the King, revile and threaten others’ (or who simply sat in taverns and tippling houses drinking endless healths). Independent congregations suffered abuse, as did those ministers who’d taken the place of the clergy ejected by the Republic. Quakers were attacked in at least fifteen counties. Others were prosecuted for rash words against the new king: ‘What!’, cried Margaret Dixon of Newcastle on 13th May, so it was alleged, ‘Can they find no other man to bring in than a Scotsman?’ ‘Cromwell ruled better than ever the King will’, said Richard Abbott (according to an indictment against him). Also cynical was Lucy Hutchinson, wife of a Regicide and one of the great memoirists of the age: ‘it is a wonder’, she wrote, ‘to see the mutability of some, and the hypocrisy of others, and the servile flattery of all’.
[06.21] The immediate issue was to form a government, and the initial set up was notable for its inclusion of many former Parliamentarians. The new Privy Council balanced sixteen royalists with four Cromwellians (including Monck) and eight former Parliamentarians. Key government and legal positions, though, went to more impeccably loyal figures: Edward Nicholas was secretary of state, Edward Hyde became Lord Chancellor; the two key law officers of attorney and solicitor general went to royalists, the armed forces to the king’s brother, James, Duke of York. This said again, though, there were elements to Cromwell’s government that Charles found it prudent to keep or replicate: the excise tax, for example, and the permanent commissions for trade and the plantations. The navy, too, though under York’s titular head, was in reality managed by professional committees. The judicial bench, meanwhile, was largely carried over from the previous regime, and – crucially – they continued to sit ‘on good behaviour’ rather than ‘at the royal pleasure’. This was a significant departure from the rule of the king’s father, who had tried to use a pliant judicial bench, appointed only during royal favour, as a bedrock of his absolutism.
[07.35] Charles also immediately tried to rekindle the sacredness of monarchy, by spending two days in June touching sufferers of ‘the king’s evil’, scrofula. But the reality was the Restoration settlement left a monarchy in a very different position to that of the 1630s. It was the political settlement of 1641 that was Restored in England not that of Charles I Personal Rule. There was, for example, no return for things like Ship Money or the court of Star Chamber, and the Triennial Act remained on the books. Whereas before 1640 around 40 per cent of Crown tax revenue came via Parliament, after 1660 about 90 per cent did. There had been a permanent revolution in the nature of state finance.
[09.34] There were certainly former Cavaliers who wished for a more extensive vengeance, and as the monarchy moved on from the fun of Restoration towards the less agreeable demands of actually running the country, there were plenty of loyalists who found the new government deeply unsatisfactory. Particularly galling was the land settlement: old royal lands were reclaimed, as were those belonging to the cathedrals, but many Cavaliers struggled to get their old properties back. This was especially true if they had sold their land to pay taxes and fines to the Republic. To be fair to Charles’s government this was an exceptionally knotty issue. But resentment of the perceived lack of support for those who had stood by the Stuarts saw people quip that the government had brought Indemnity for the king’s enemies but oblivion for his friends.
[10.22] There were other avenues for vengeance though. Former enemies could be denounced for sedition or disloyalty. In December, a rather sketchy plot – allegedly by former army officers to seize the capital – was publicised to maximum effect by the government. Even Monck’s house was searched. Another target was the Quakers, who might be menaced by being forced to take oaths, which Quakers conscientiously objected to, and then imprisoned on refusal. Other members of the old gathered churches were harassed and in some cases – like John Bunyan for example – were arrested and imprisoned. Far from trying to leave the past behind, local authorities had many dissenters arrested by simply claiming their meetings were seditious.
[11.07] A crucial victory for Charles was the disbandment of the army, though this was neither painless nor complete. Taxes were needed, and the regime experimented with a poll tax and a spectacularly unpopular levy on alcoholic drinks. This latter was supposed to be a double win because it would not just be a key element of government funding, but it would also help discourage vice.
[11.29] The new tax narrowly passed Parliament in November. By that autumn, there were signs that the honeymoon was ending for the new regime. For one thing, the royal family was embroiled in an unedifying scandal: in October, Edward Hyde’s daughter Anne was revealed to be heavily pregnant, and named the father as none other than James, Duke of York, and that the pair were secretly married. The stink threatened to overwhelm Hyde himself, so Charles made him a baron to remove him from the censure of the House of Commons. Hyde’s focus was on protecting his own career, rather than his daughter, but Anne had credible witnesses, and despite James’s initial denial, the Duke was soon forced to accept the marriage.
[12.13] January was to prove another turning point. On 29th December the Convention Parliament went its way, having done its main work. New elections would come soon. Before then, though, there was a shocking, if rather forlorn, uprising in London amongst Fifth Monarchists, under Thomas Venner. These were religious radicals who had spent most of the past ten years expecting and hoping for the imminent return of Christ. This time though, they only managed to briefly occupy St Pauls Cathedral, before being violently suppressed by the Coldstream Guards: over a dozen executions followed, and there was the inevitable clampdown on Quakers (who had not, of course, actually led the rising). Within six weeks, over four and a half thousand Quakers had been arrested.
[12.58] Venner’s rising was partly a response to government provocation: that month, the corpses of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw had been dug up and placed on Westminster Hall in various grisly states of decomposition. Venner’s men’s cry was for ‘King Jesus, and the Heads upon the Gates!’ Whatever pieties the king and his ministers were giving off about leaving the past behind, this was a deliberate spit in the face of those who had supported the Republic, which in London especially was a not inconsiderable number of people. So Venner’s rising didn’t come from nowhere. But its failure was inevitable, and more than anything it helped push the Restoration in an even more Cavalier direction.
[13.39] Elections to the new Parliament produced a yet more resoundingly royalist body than the Convention – so much so that this body would come to be known as the ‘Cavalier Parliament’. Still, England retained a settlement roughly akin to that of 1641: ‘We have our King again, and our Laws again,’ Edward Hyde, now Earl of Clarendon, would tell the Lords, before adding, pertinently: ‘and Parliaments again.’ This was a mixed constitution not an absolutist one, although the remnants of Cromwell’s standing army now sat firmly in royal hands and the Militia Ordinance of 1642 was forgotten. This wasn’t to be the world of the ‘fiery spirits’, or even Pym (for he had pushed the Militia Ordinance). But nor was it Wentworth’s world, or even really that of Charles I. More than anything, in constitutional terms at least, it marked the eventual triumph of the old Bedfordian settlement of early 1641.
[14.37] The Cavalier Parliament would be especially famous for one thing in particular, though, and that was the Restoration religious settlement. In this, the conciliatory tone of the previous months – and indeed the instincts of the King and his leading advisors – were thrown out in favour of a much more restricted church. This was the area in which the Restoration regime attempted – and succeeded – to turn the clock back furthest.
[15.03] It had been clear from the outset that religion would need to be settled in some way. At Breda, Charles had promised liberty for ‘tender consciences’, which was normally interpreted as encompassing the vast majority at least of Protestants. Charles himself had broadly tolerationist instincts, and enjoyed outwardly genial interviews with Quakers – allowing them to keep on their hats while they met him and chatting about their faith, while his advisors recoiled in horror.
[15.31] The initial invite to Charles had involved the work of a knot of Presbyterians, even though these promptly found themselves sidelined as the elections to the Convention went against them. Then, through the first months after the Restoration there were moves to create a church in which the Presbyterians would be ‘comprehended’. Edward Hyde was told to draft a treaty that would bring together Episcopalians and Presbyterians, and there were hopes that a more moderate – ‘Primitive’ system of bishops could square the circle. In October 1660, a declaration was made from Hyde’s London residence, Worcester House, which would have allowed Presbyterians to stay within the church.
[16.09] But there was a groundswell of reaction to contend with too. Despite the parlous state of the various cathedrals and bishops’ palaces, which had been used as everything from workhouses to wine shops to inns, stables, gaols, and even a sugar factory, the Restoration brought tangible enthusiasm for the old ways. Bishops were returned to popular acclaim, church courts picked up their duties once more even before they were given Parliamentary sanction. Most telling of all, even though it was widely expected that a new version would soon be produced, around half of parishes bought themselves new Books of Common Prayer. The character of the new religious landscape in 1660 was remarkable. Presbyterianism remained robust, Independency and separatism had blossomed, Quakerism had become established as arguably the most successful peasant radical movement in English history. But traditional Anglicanism had somehow also flourished. Fuelled by traditionalism, nostalgia, and a hankering after those old and merry festivals which had been out of favour during the Republic (and, in truth, had been struggling for a while before then). Fuelled too, by the sheer attractiveness of the Prayer Book and the King James Bible, versus the almost robotic Directory of Worship, Anglicanism had – against all the odds – not just survived the Republic, but found its feet. It even became rather fashionable. One trendy young Oxford don, who had worn a long beard under the previous regime to show distinction and wisdom, now went about his days wearing a surplice. Church music was back in too, in a big way.
[17.47] Parish Anglicanism was one thing, but in early 1661 it gained support from an increasingly bigoted Cavalier party at Westminster, and this would translate into one of the most notorious consequences of the Restoration. Venner’s rising of Fifth Monarchists had been one turning point, causing a backlash against religious radicals. But the key moment was the elections to the new Parliament. One of the first of these was in London, where the Bishop, Gilbert Sheldon (described by one modern historian as more a holy bureaucrat than a holy warrior) was busily picking a fight with the strong Presbyterian party in the City. During the elections crowds came out chanting ‘No bishops! No bishops!’ in an echo of the chanting that had accompanied the breakdown of 1641. The government was furious, and ordered a number of members of the Presbyterian opposition to be arrested.
[18.38] Before Parliament sat, the king finally enjoyed his coronation on St George’s Day, 23rd April 1661. Dignitaries crowded into Westminster Abbey to enjoy the most lavish celebration of monarchy for decades. As with all such occasions, it was a dramatic performance that stressed unity: ‘Nothing keeps up a King more than ceremony and order’, Charles had been told by the old Marquess of Newcastle, although no one left a funnier description than Samuel Pepys. In his diary he described:
[19.10] so great a noise that I could make but little of the musique; and indeed, it was lost to every body. But I had so great a list to piss that I went out a little while before the King had done all his ceremonies, and went round the Abbey to Westminster Hall all the way within rayles, and 10,000 people, with the ground covered with blue cloth; and scaffolds all the way. Into the Hall I got, where it was very fine with hangings and scaffolds one upon another full of brave ladies; and my wife in one little one, on the right hand.
The Cavalier Parliament sat a couple of weeks later, and it had various priorities. One of which was clamping down on political speech and opposition. Calling the king a Catholic was made illegal, and a law was passed to reduce the volume of political petitioning. Now it was against the law to subscribe to a petition asking for a change in law unless it had been approved by a magistrate or a Grand Jury. No more than ten persons could now gather to present a petition. Clearly, the government was pushing hard against the popular politics that had characterised the 1640s especially. All books and presses now had to be registered, printers had to enter into bonds, and all printed books were to be censored by a committee of government ministers and clergy.
[19.59] That summer, the Cavalier Parliament began a decisive project that would change the country forever. It started, perhaps slightly unexpectedly, with local government reform. In the early seventeenth century, a number of towns had become Puritan strongholds, effecting moral reform and paying for lectures from preaching ministers with relatively little – or no – control from the bishops. These shining cities on a hill, these ‘mini-Genevas’ (Bolton, for example, was known as the ‘Geneva of the North’) had been a thorn in the royal side in the 1640s. Indeed, towns more generally had attracted the more robust religious radicals, and remained as bastions of old Presbyterianism. And while Quakerism had begun as a rural movement, especially among the northern peasantry, it had taken hold in towns across the country. More to the point, though, was that whichever way the towns swung politically and religiously, they had a disproportionate position within the electorate. Around 80 per cent of England’s 500 or so MPs represented towns (they were therefore ‘burgesses’ rather than ‘knights of the shire’). If the king was to rule with Parliament, then control of the boroughs was essential. Indeed, there is a deeper point here, and it gets to the heart of how the Restoration regime was going to operate. It existed in a very different landscape to that of, say, Elizabeth I: Parliament would be regular, and the government would have to deal with an active press. It wouldn’t necessarily embrace these things, but it would do its best to do politics in the way that the modern world demanded. With the press this meant producing propaganda – with Parliament it meant having as much control over who was elected as possible. And to do the latter of these, it meant controlling the towns.
[21.44] The Corporation Act of 1661, eventually passed in December, declared that no one could serve any office without having taken communion according to Anglican rites, without having taken the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, without having sworn belief in the doctrine of passive obedience to the monarch, and without having renounced the Covenant of 1643. This was not just an attack on Quakers (who refused all oaths of course), but on Presbyterians and indeed anyone who had supported the Parliamentarian cause. No true Parliamentarian could renounce the Covenant or claim to support passive obedience.
[22.21] The result was a major shift in the personnel of government of towns, an important change in itself, and one which created significant bitterness. But it also meant that control of a massive part of the electorate was more firmly in royal hands. But the Corporation Act also signalled the start of something else.
[22.42] In October 1661, Charles gave up finally on the policy of comprehension within the church. On the 10th of that month, just under a year since the conciliatory Worcester House Declaration, he entrusted the modification of the Book of Common Prayer to Convocation, the formal governing body of the Church of England, and now a bastion of hardline Episcopalianism. Over 600 amendments were made in the course of a month, bringing the Prayer Book in line with the Laudian reforms to the Scottish book of 1637.
[23.13] This was ultimately followed by an Act of Uniformity forced all clergy to abjure the Covenant and accept the new Prayer Book. If they hadn’t done so by St Bartholomew’s Day (24th August 1662) then they would be removed. Eventually no less than ten per cent of the clergy were deprived. In some counties it was as much as a fifth; in London, a third. It was much more than Charles had wished for: in fact, in December 1662 he issued a Declaration of Indulgence, aimed at suspending penalties against nonconformists and Catholics alike. But the agenda was being pushed not by the king, but by a revitalised Episcopalianism in the Church, and a radically Royalist Parliament, so when Charles asked Parliament in February for a ‘dispensing power’ allowing him to protect individuals from the penal laws, it caused a major controversy, and he was forced to back down. Once more the Stuart monarchy was arguing with its Parliament about the limits of the Royal Prerogative, but unlike his father Charles II was fighting for greater religious toleration, rather than more taxes.
[24.18] Parliament also went after those republicans it felt to have escaped too leniently the previous year. Those who had sat in judgement on Charles I without actually signing the death warrant were dispossessed and (if they were still alive) thrown in prison. Sir Henry Vane, meanwhile, was executed on Tower Hill on the anniversary of the Battle of Naseby, 14th June 1662, an unrepentant martyr for his cause. Charles himself had insisted the old republican must die, for he was ‘too dangerous’ for any other fate, and the jury were pressurized by being kept without food or drink. The government even arranged for musicians to play and drown out Vane’s scaffold speech. This time, many Londoners thought Charles had gone too far. John Lambert was also tried, and sentenced to death, but Charles allowed the veteran Yorkshire soldier a reprieve, and he was shuttled back to Guernsey where the regime periodically threatened to shoot him if anyone attempted a rescue.
[25.17] Further acts of religious repression would come soon afterwards, and within a few years of the Restoration the notorious ‘Clarendon Code’ would be in place. In reality it’s a misnomer, for Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, was not the driving force behind in. In fact, both he and the government he worked for – and especially the king who headed it – were not in favour of hammering the dissenters. But this was a post-revolutionary world now: Parliament could set the agenda.
[25.43] The Restoration of 1660 had completed a process that began at the latest in 1653, and arguably even earlier, with the defeat of the Levellers. The explosion of radicalism in 1640 had reached a crescendo around 1650. From then on, led first by Cromwell, but eventually by Charles II, the political class had clawed things back. Government by a single person and parliament had returned in 1653, followed by an Upper House and a traditional civilian constitution in 1657. When the Protectorate collapsed and Republicanism reared its head again, it was the old Cromwellians like Monck who contrived to bring back the Stuarts. In the process, republicans like Sir Henry Vane and Sir Arthur Haselrig were defeated, as were those of a rather different hue like John Lambert. But the fundamental direction of travel, away from radicalism and towards the ‘ancient constitution’ had already been set. The Restoration of 1660 was less of a drastic counter-revolution and more of a culmination of Cromwell’s policy of ‘healing and settling’.
[26.50] But this wouldn’t last, and by 1662, the new regime had embarked on a much less conciliatory path. Late in 1661, a group of former Republican officers had taken to meeting regularly to discuss politics. In the hands of the regime this became the ‘Wildman Plot’, and an excuse to imprison several dissidents without trial. One was the political philosopher James Harrington, who had been a close confidant of Charles I, despite developing thoughtful republican principles. He was treated terribly in the Tower, even to the point that when his allies got a writ of habeas corpus, the government simply had him spirited away to an island off Plymouth before it could be served. Eventually his family managed to find a £5,000 bail bond to get his release in 1662, but by this point one of the greatest thinkers of the age was already losing his mind, and he never recovered. His treatment is a reminder that the ‘merry’ view of the Restoration is at best a partial one.
[27.49] In the following years, fire, plague and scandal would beset the king’s rule, and foreign policy failures would leave many sighing with nostalgia for the days of Oliver Cromwell. Yet it’s only fair to remember that Charles II’s government lasted longer than any of the republican experiments. It did so because it was based in the ancient constitution that so many had supported – albeit in rather different ways – in 1641. It was able to tap into the local support of a prosperous and ultimately conservative rural gentry. And it benefited from a general easing of pressure on society that came with growing prosperity and an end to population growth. But there was unfinished business; despite the Restoration of the monarchy, revolution had left Anglicanism beset with competitors and the ultimate power of Parliament versus the monarchy was still a matter for debate. The spectre of Rebellion, civil war, or even another revolution lingered on. For who knew what lay in the future.