Charles II. and the Stuart Restoration (1660-1685)
Charles II. entered London on May 29, 1660, which was his thirtieth birthday. The shouting and joy which greeted him were greater than could be described. He was an abler man than his father, and his wanderings and exile had given him experience of the world. But he was a bad man morally, and he had none of the loyalty to principle which caused Charles I. to uphold the Church of England at all cost. He was as much resolved to rule absolutely as his father, but he was determined, above all things, not to "set out on his travels again." So, when his measures aroused serious opposition, he drew back. For a long time, people did not suspect him of dangerous designs; for his ready wit and pleasant manners disguised his real plans, and he seemed to be wholly given up to leading a gay life.
The court and society took their tone from the King, and a great reaction against Puritanism set in. The theaters, which had been closed by the Long Parliament, were re-opened. With them came back bull-baiting, bear-baiting, cock-fighting, the May-pole dance, and all the other usages, good and bad, which characterized "Merry England." Pleasant vice and profitable corruption prevailed, in place of the Puritans' endless psalm singing, sermons, and prayer.
It was in the time of Charles II., also, that the drinking of coffee, tea, and chocolate came to use in England. The first was introduced from Turkey, the second from China, and the third from Central America. Coffee houses, or places for drinking coffee, became the chief meeting places for fashionable society, where the latest news could always be heard.
Charles was wise enough to let Parliament settle the questions which the restoration raised.
Thirteen persons who had taken part in the trial and execution of Charles I. were put to death, but most of those concerned in the rebellion were pardoned, or were lightly punished.
Charles's second Parliament, which sat from 1661 to 1679, was as "Cavalier" as his heart could wish. It re-established the Church of England, and expelled two thousand Puritan ministers from their pulpits. By later laws, it forbade the dispossessed ministers from earning a living by teaching, or from holding religious assemblies, or from even residing five miles of a town.
From this time there exists, along with the established Episcopal church, a large body of Protestant "Dissenters"—Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and the like—as well as a considerable body of Roman Catholics. One of the chief needs of the time, was to secure, for these Dissenters, religious toleration—that is, the right to worship peaceably, in their own way, without punishment by the state. The foreign policy of Charles was at first chiefly concerned with the "United Provinces," or Dutch republic.
These provinces, situated about the mouth of the river Rhine, had become rich and prosperous states through commerce and industry. While Elizabeth ruled over England, they became Protestant, and threw off the cruel government of Spain. For a time, the greater part of the commerce of Europe was carried on in Dutch vessels. They established a colonial empire which included the Cape of Good Hope, in Africa; Java, Ceylon, and the Moluccas, in the East Indies; and New Amsterdam, in America. The jealousy which their commercial success aroused in England had led Cromwell to pass a Navigation Act, which took from them most of their trade with that country. A war followed (1651-1654); and although the Dutch Admiral, Van Tromp, for a time, sailed "with a broom at his masthead," as a sign of his intention to sweep the English fleet from the sea, he had at last been defeated and slain, and the Dutch had made peace.
Under Charles II., two new wars were fought with the Dutch. In the first of these (1665-1667), Prince Rupert and Admiral Monk won some victories. Then Charles, thinking that peace would be made, laid up his fleet in the harbors of the river Thames, in order that he might save money to spend on his pleasures. But the Dutch got together a new fleet, and sailed up the Thames and burned three of the English ships which lay at anchor. They then blockaded the river for two weeks. Men murmured that such things had not happened in Cromwell's day.
"Everybody," wrote an officer of the navy, "reflects upon Oliver, and commends him, saying what brave things he did, and how he made all the neighboring princes fear him."
The only gain which England made from the Dutch, by this war, was New Amsterdam, which was conquered, and called New York, in honor of Charles's brother, the Duke of York (1664).
Charles's second war with the Dutch came in 1672. He attacked them in alliance with Louis XIV. of France, who was seeking to extend his kingdom at the expense of his neighbors. By a secret treaty, Charles promised Louis that he would declare himself a Catholic whenever the time seemed ripe for it. In return, the French King again and again gave large sums of money to Charles, to make him independent of Parliament. He also promised to send soldiers to his aid, in case rebellion broke out in England.
The war which Charles and Louis waged went badly. On land, the brave Hollanders defended themselves against Louis XIV. by cutting the dykes, which protected their low-lying land against the sea, and flooding the open country. On the sea, the English felt that they were left by the French to do all the fighting. Charles's nephew, William III. of Orange, was now at the had of the Dutch government, with the title of Stadtholder; and the English Parliament soon forced King Charles to conclude a peace. Thenceforth, William III. was free to give all his attention to saving free government and the Protestant religion, in Europe, from the ambitious designs of Louis XIV.
The city of London, under Charles II., suffered two great disasters—from plague, and from fire.
Attacks of the plague were common, owing to bad sanitary conditions and lack of medical knowledge. London streets were narrow and filthy, and the upper stories of the houses projected so that they almost met those of the other side. Sunlight and fresh air were thus shut out; also, the drainage was bad, and the water supply poor. The result was that, in 1665, London suffered an attack of the plague such as it had never experienced since the time of the Black Death, three hundred years before. For a time, more than 6,000 persons a week died from it, and altogether fully 120,000 persons perished in London alone. Houses in which persons lay sick with the disease were marked with red crosses, a foot long, together with the words, "God have mercy upon us!" At night, death carts went around the streets, accompanied by men ringing bells and crying "Bring out your dead!" Shops were shut up, and the streets deserted; for all who could do so fled to the purer air of the country. Thirty, forty, and even a hundred miles from London the people were panic stricken. They shut their doors even against their friends; and if two men passed upon the road, or in the open fields, each kept as far from the other as space would permit. It was not until winter that the sickness declined.
Scarcely had London begun to recover from the plague, when it was swept by a terrible fire. The flames broke out in the early morning of September 2, 1966, and raged four days. The wind was blowing a gale, and the fire did not die out until four-fifths of old London was laid in ashes. Eighty-nine churches, including St. Paul's cathedral, were burned, and more than thirteen hundred houses. Two hundred thousand people were left homeless. In a diary of that time, the writer thus describes the fire at its height:
"We saw the fire grow, and as it grew darker, it appeared more and more; in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, and as far as we could see up the hill of the city, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. We saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this side to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long. It made me weep to see it: the churches, houses, and all on fire, and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruin."
Some good results followed the fire. It put an end to the last ravages of the plague, by burning out the old, filthy, rat-infested quarters; and it cleared the ground for a rebuilding of the city in more modern fashion.
Many persons falsely said that the fire was the work of "Papists" or Roman Catholics, who at the time were both hated and feared by English Protestants. A few years later, Charles made this feeling much worse by taking a step toward carrying out his secret treaty with Louis XIV.
Charles did not dare to declare himself a Catholic, but he did issue a "Declaration of Indulgence." By this, he attempted to suspend all laws passed against Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters alike, and give them religious toleration. The measure was wise in itself, but it was dishonest in its motives, and was contrary to the sentiments of most of his subjects. Moreover, it was very doubtful whether the King alone could suspend laws which had been passed by the King and Parliament together. The result was that a great opposition was aroused in Parliament. Charles was obliged not only to recall his declaration, but also to give his consent to a "test act" by which all Catholics were driven out of political offices.
Not long after this, the jealous hatred of English Protestants for Roman Catholics was fanned to a flame by the discovery of what was alleged to be a "Popish Plot."
A wicked man named Titus Oates swore falsely that Catholics were plotting to murder Charles II. and to restore the Catholic religion by the aid of a French army. Other men came forward, and confirmed his stories, in order that they might share in the rewards which were given to Oates. Unfortunately, a London magistrate, at this time, was found dead in a ditch, thrust through with a sword; and this was believed to be the work of the plotters.
All England then went wild with excitement. Five Jesuit priests were convicted and hanged, after shamefully unfair trials, and one Catholic nobleman was beheaded. Hundreds of others were arrested, and punished in milder ways. To check still further the influence of Catholics, a new "test act" was passed, which shut them out of the House of Lords. A desperate effort was also made to prevent the Duke of York, who had declared himself a Catholic, from succeeding his brother, Charles II., as King; but this was unsuccessful.
For a long time there had been a growing opposition to the government of Charles II., on political grounds. Now, under the influence of the religious struggle, it took the form of a political party, called the "Whigs." The name came from a word used by Scottish teamsters to make their horses go faster. The supporters of the King were given the name of "Tories," from an Irish word meaning outlaws. The Tories generally upheld the established Church of England, believed that the King ruled by "divine right," and taught that it was a sin to resist him under any pretext. The Whigs, on the other hand, favored toleration for Protestant dissenters, and believed that the King was only an officer of the government, subject to the law and to Parliament. This was the beginning of the two great political parties whose rivalries have shaped the government of England from that day to this.
In the last five years of his reign, Charles II. was completely victorious over his opponents. Shaftesbury, the great leader of the Whigs, was exiled and died abroad. Other leading Whigs were arrested and executed, on charges of plotting against the King. Parliament was called to meet at Oxford, where it would be away from the support of the Londoners; and it was so overawed that it passed what measures the King willed. To make the King's control permanent, steps were taken by which Tories were placed in power in most of the towns of England, so that for the future their representatives in the House of Commons might be favorable to the King.
While in the height of his triumph, Charles died, in 1685, of apoplexy. In his last hours he was reconciled to the Catholic church, and died in that faith. He left no legitimate children, and the throne passed to his brother James, Duke of York.
The Whig party seemed hopelessly crushed, and it looked as if James II. would rule his dominions of England, Ireland, and Scotland with less trouble than had any member so far of the Stuart house.