The Restoration Period, 1660-88

By the second half of Charles II's reign England enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, and during the four years prior to 1685, firm and stable government. Yet, the involvement and reputation of England in European politics and diplomacy by the 1680s had fallen into a state that obscured the reputation and respect the Cromwellian era had erected. Like his Stuart forebears, Charles II was impervious to advice regarding foreign affairs that did not correspond with his own agenda. This was possible because both Charles (and James II) was invulnerable to any supervision or control in the making of foreign policy. Charles' foreign policy strengthened Louis XIV's France at a time when the 'old enemy' of the early Tudor era was resurgent, especially in colonial and maritime terms. Further, Dunkirk, a recent conquest of the Protectorate regime, was sold to France in 1662 for reasons of financial expediency.

In 1661 Charles made an alliance with Portugal, whereby he married Catherine of Braganza (1662), received the colonial possessions of Bombay and Tangiers, and extensive trading concessions in the Portuguese empire. In return England provided aid for Portugal's rebellion against Spain.

The Second Dutch War (1665-67) was the result of English commercial and colonial aggression, and stood against Clarendon's (the King's chief minister a the time) wishes. England won the battle of Lowestoft in 1665, lost the Four Days' battle the following year 1666 in the Thames, and then suffered the humiliation of watching the Dutch, embellished with French support, sail into the Medway and set fire to the English fleet. The latter precipitated political crisis in England during which Clarendon was targeted as the scapegoat (and subsequently fell from power and fled into exile) by both courtiers and Parliament. However by the Treaty of Breda (1667) England retained New Amsterdam (renamed New York).

The Francophile tendencies of Charles and a number of the Cabal ministers led to a foreign 'policy' that favoured alliance with France against the Netherlands. This accorded with English economic interests of the mid-seventeenth century but increasingly the international rival was becoming France rather than Spain or the Dutch Republic. Charles' alignment with the French afforded Louis XIV important breathing- space on the Atlantic seaboard of France and in his colonial ambitions. Charles agreed to attack the Netherlands in an articulated Anglo-French campaign that would partition captured territories between the relevant crowns. In 1670 Charles agreed the secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV, the first of a series of treaties between the Restoration monarchy and the French King. The revelation to Parliament caused political stir as the King had kept them secret from all but the closest of his ministers. It was rumoured (albeit false) that the project for a royal palace at Winchester was to allow the King secrecy from Parliament and a more proximal position to meet with French envoys. A particularly contentious detail that had serious political implications was the catholicite clause that Charles would convert to Catholicism. Though Charles did not convert and it is doubtful that in agreeing to it he had any other motive than political expediency, fears about popery were always rampant under the Stuarts and it took little to spark them off. Furthermore, Louis XIV provided Charles with financial subsidies that provoked criticism in England.

Charles II began his reign with distinct advantages for European relations. His exile on the Continent during the Interregnum had provided Charles with important connections in the powerful European courts. Charles II's approach to foreign affairs may have been guided at various times by self-interest, strategic and economic benefits or financial gain, it may demonstrate the King's political agility and dexterity, but there was little if any sense of patriotism, Protestantism or statesmanship in his actions.

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