Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Charles II.—How the King Came to His Own Again

After the Lowlands of Scotland had yielded to Cromwell, the Highlands still held out and still fought, but at length the last Highland chief laid down his arms, and Scotland formed part of the Commonwealth, as the government was now called.

Cromwell had abolished Kings, now he abolished the Scottish Parliament. There should be, he said, only one Parliament for the whole kingdom, which should meet at Westminster, and there Scottish and Irish members should come, as well as English.

Cromwell made many wise laws, and under the stern rule of the Lord Protector the country gradually settled down into peace and prosperity. But this did not last long, for in 1658 a.d. Cromwell died. He had been a strong ruler. He had indeed made himself king in everything but name, so that it seemed quite natural to the people to choose his son Richard to succeed him. But Richard Cromwell was a very different man from his father. He was neither strong enough nor clever enough to rule, and after a few months he gave it up, and went away to his house in the country. There he lived quietly until he died many years later.

As soon as Richard Cromwell went away, quarrels began as to who should govern. In England, many of the people were tired of the stern rule of the Puritans, for they made life very dull, calling innocent games and music wicked, and thinking it sinful even to dress in bright colours. They remembered that over the sea there was a king—the King whom the Scots had already crowned—and they began to long for him to come back. The Scots had never forgotten their King. They had been the first to rise against Charles i. ; but they had never wished to kill him, and they had been the last to yield to Cromwell. Under Cromwell they had found no more freedom than under Charles i. , and now they too thought of the King over the water.

Monk, who had ruled Scotland for Cromwell, seeing how things were, began to march to London with his army. He was a stern and silent man. He told no one what he meant to do, but for some time, letters had been passing between him and Charles, who was now living in France.

One day while Parliament was sitting, news was brought that a messenger with a letter from the King was without.

The King!

Not for ten years or more had there been a King.

The messenger was brought in, and the letter was read. It promised that all those who had rebelled should be forgiven; it promised that if they would now receive their King, people should be allowed to believe what they thought to be right. When the letter had been read, the members rose up and shouted, "God save the King." The Commonwealth was at an end.

On the 29th of May 1660 a.d. Charles ii. landed in England. When the news reached Scotland, it was received with frantic joy. People shouted and cheered and danced. Fountains ran with wine, and in Edinburgh alone, thousands of glasses were broken after drinking the health of the King. For it was the fashion, after drinking the health of any great person, to break the glass so that it should never be used for any meaner purpose. And now so often was the King's health drunk, that it was said that the noise of the breaking of glasses in the streets was like the clash of armies.

The coming of Charles ii. was called the Restoration. Now that the King was restored, the Scottish Parliament was also restored. Cromwell's idea that there should be only one Parliament for the whole kingdom, was a good one. But neither the Scots nor the English were ready for it, and as soon as they could, they went back to the old way.

The Scottish Parliament always opened with a great procession. The members met at Holyrood, and rode in state to the Parliament house. This was called the Riding of Parliament. So on New Year's Day 1661 a.d. there was a solemn Riding.

The crown, which had been so bravely kept, was brought from its hiding-place, and with the sceptre and the sword of state, was carried before the procession. The King was not there, but behind the crown rode a soldier called Middleton, whom Charles had sent as Vice Regent, that is, in place of the King.

Then by two and by two came the nobles, riding slowly. They were all clad in splendid robes, and behind them walked gentlemen holding up their trains. Footmen and guards surrounded them, and so, with beat of drum and blare of trumpet, they reached the ancient Parliament house.

Yet for all the solemnity and grandeur of its opening, there never was a more wretched Parliament in Scotland. "It was a mad, roaring time," says a man who lived and wrote in those days. "And no wonder it was so, when the men of affairs were almost always drunk." So it came to be called the "Drunken Parliament."

This Parliament passed an act called the Rescissory Act, by which all the laws and acts passed since 1640 a.d. , nine years before the end of the reign of Charles i. , were recalled. So that by this act, the Covenant, which had become the law of the land, was swept away; the Presbyterian Church and all its courts was disestablished; the freedom of religion, for which the people had fought so hard, was gone.

This was what Charles had set his heart upon. He hated the Presbyterians. He had neither forgotten nor forgiven the dreary life they had made him lead when he came to take the crown ten years before. The Marquis of Argyll, the greatest Presbyterian chieftain in Scotland, had set the crown upon his head. But Charles knew no gratitude, and when the Marquis came to do honour to his King, the King would not receive him, but ordered him to be imprisoned in the Tower, because he had rebelled against Charles i.

Argyll was afterwards sent to Scotland, and there he was executed, as his great enemy Montrose had been. He met his death bravely. "I had the honour to set the crown upon the King's head," he said, "and now he hastens me to a better crown than his own."

The Marquis was executed partly in revenge for the death of Montrose. Yet Charles, when he came to Scotland, had denied that brave friend and follower, and had pretended to be glad that he had been killed. Now, when it suited him, he ordered Argyll's head to be placed over the gate of Edinburgh, to blacken in the sun and wind, as that of Montrose had done.

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