The Restored Monarchy

At his accession Charles II had a great opportunity, yet during the vital first few years of his reign squandered it. Charles lacked the necessary concentration and diversified his interests too much to focus on government; nor did he have a great interest in it. Though the King had a great natural ability at 'managing' men, he relied on it perhaps too much and was quick to delegate his duties to his chief minister Clarendon. In this he ignored the advice of his father that he should not delegate too much power to one man, and after undermining Clarendon allowed others to take his place. Nevertheless, Charles interfered with his chief ministers after Clarendon - Danby in the 1670s and Rochester in the 1680s - or favoured a loose coalition of ministers such as the Cabal. Further though Charles relished an opportunity to consolidate and expand the power of the monarchy, he was unlike his successor James II in that it was not a specific intention or goal. He lacked shrewd strategy and it is improbable he ever had a long-term policy. Despite his qualities, Charles II displayed the typical Stuart flaws - he lacked an understanding of finance, lavished money over-spending on the Court and self-embellishment, was a poor orator, and incompetent in dealing with Parliament.

Charles II was restored unequivocally and his reign declared to have begun at the moment of his father's execution in January 1649. The Commonwealth and Protectorate were ignored as illegal and undesirable impositions in the history of England. Those Acts passed by the Long Parliament to which Charles I had given has consent, i.e. up to 1641, were declared legal and all subsequent legislation declared null and void. Crown and Church lands sold off by the republic government were restored, yet Royalists who had been forced to pay fines or repurchase their estates went uncompensated. Parliament assumed the same constitutional position and role in government of the kingdom it had exercised under Elizabeth and James I with the exception of the ambiguous 1641 Triennial Act (which Charles II ignored in 1684 without popular protest).

The Restoration Settlement looked to limit royal power by rebuking the efforts of Charles I and the Long Parliament and Interregnum regimes to increase the power of central government. Charles had hoped to bring a similarly broad settlement to the problem of religion. The King wanted to restore the Anglican Church, but with reforms that would make it acceptable to moderate Puritans. He therefore offered bishoprics to such moderates and issued an interim settlement in the Worcester House Declaration - weakening the power of the bishops and the contentious ceremonial and definitions of the liturgy (i.e. the Book of Common Prayer) were to be optional. Further, Charles wanted to promulgate religious toleration, freedom of religious assembly, to the minority of Puritans and Catholics who for confessional reasons were unwilling to accept the latitudinarian Church Charles sought to erect.

The King fought against the Anglican majority of the Cavalier Parliament for eighteen months only to be defeated by a combination of Anglican recalcitrance in Parliament, a lack of firm commitment among his own counsel, and the behaviour of Richard Baxter and other Puritan leaders. The latter refused senior posts in the Church, demanded toleration and unreasonable reform of the Book of Common Prayer.

Charles finally conceded defeat in his attempt to erect a comprehensive Church settlement and therefore assented to the Act of Uniformity. This legislation restored the Church to its former position and imposed oaths and tests on the clergy to ensure their Anglican allegiance. As a result, around one fifth of the clergy resigned by 1662, and many of these began to set up conventicles outside the established Church.

Charles continued, however, to press for religious toleration for those outside the Anglican fold. His first attempt in 1663 ended in failure. He did however take reassurance of the ironic reversal of allegiances - whereas Puritans had scorned his father Charles I and Arminian Archbishop Laud aligning themselves with Parliament, the Nonconformists of the Restoration era now looked towards the King for protection from the wrath of the Anglican majority in Parliament. Nevertheless, despite Charles' efforts, a comprehensive political settlement stood in contrast to a very narrow and intolerant settlement of the Restoration Church. Yet, though few local government officers were actually Dissenters, many were sympathetic and therefore reluctant to fully impose the legislation of the Cavalier Parliament against them - i.e. 'The Clarendon Code', 1660-64.

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