Charles II made his triumphant royal entry into London to reclaim his three kingdoms on 29 May 1660. Many who welcomed the Restoration were soon disappointed.
The Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell enjoyed stability since Charles I’s beheading in January 1649. However, Cromwell died on 3 September 1658 after a short period of illness.
Richard succeeded his father as Lord Protector but he was forced to resign eight months later as he was unable to keep the various warring factions, including the army, under control. Leadership in London was weak, wavering and self-interested with no unifying vision of how England should be governed. The nation was quickly dissolving into anarchy, verging on the brink of civil war. General George Monck took the initiative as he marched from Scotland to restore order. He believed Britain would never be at peace until the traditional forms of government were returned, so he wrote to the exiled Charles II in the Netherlands. Many were tired of the dreary years of Puritan rule and return to normality before the horrors of civil war began.
Declaration of Breda
The diarist Samuel Pepys observed men no longer drank the King’s health in secret, but publicly did so in the taverns. Charles addressed a letter, the Declaration of Breda, to the Speaker of the House of Commons on 4 April. He offered his help and asked tactfully how the monarch’s presence might give stability which the nation lacked since Cromwell’s death. His letter also argued in favour of monarchy—the proper rights and power of the king was the guarantor of everybody else’s rights. Without them nothing and no one was safe. Only a Stuart monarchy had the legitimacy to guarantee known laws and a stable line of succession. The Declaration promised no bloody reprisals or revival of the monarchy which existed under Charles I. A pardon was offered to all, except those involved in Charles I’s execution. It promised to uphold the Anglican Church and offered freedom of worship. A new parliament, known as the Convention, was elected on 25 April 1660. On 8 May 1660, both Houses proclaimed Charles as King. Charles and his court quickly made preparations to return home. He left Scheveningen aboard The Royal Charles where he enjoyed smooth sailing and arrived at Dover on 25 May. He was rowed ashore where Monck was the first to welcome him home.
Charles was greeted with joy in the streets as he made his triumphant royal entry into London on 29 May 1660. It was planned to coincide with his 30th birthday. The new king was over six feet tall, with swarthy good-looks and laid back. The diarist John Evelyn wrote, “I stood in the Strand, and beheld it, and blessed God: And all this without one drop of blood, and by that very army, which rebelled against him.” Rejoicing was widespread as people were allowed to have fun again as Christmas and maypoles were brought back and the theatres were reopened. However, not everyone celebrated the King’s return. Edmund Ludlow, who signed Charles I’s death warrant, watched the revels in with increasing disgust and disbelief. Former Cromwellian soldiers also threatened run the King through with their rusty old weapons. Charles II’s rule was back-dated to his father’s execution. Pardons for crimes committed against the Monarchy during the past twenty years were pardoned. Only 33 people were exempt and one-third were executed. The bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, Thomas Pride and John Bradshaw were exhumed and hung at Tyburn for their role in the regicide. Cromwell was beheaded and his head paraded through the streets before stuck on a pike on London Bridge. On St George’s Day, 23 April 1661, Charles was crowned in Westminster Abbey as King of England and Ireland. (He was crowned King of Scotland ten years earlier.)
The traditions were revived, including the five-hour procession from the Tower to Westminster the day before. The ancient robes and regalia, destroyed when the kingship was abolished, were recreated according to the old dimensions and forms. His coronation service used the same text from those of his father and grandfather, followed by a lavish banquet at Westminster Hall. Charles married Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, in 1662 but she was unable to produce a legitimate heir.
The honeymoon period soon ended with a war against the Dutch, a comet appeared in the skies in 1664, a severe plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London which was regarded as God’s judgement on a sinful nation. The Restoration also ushered in a new era of hedonism with Charles’ numerous affairs with his mistresses which produced at least twelve illegitimate children. The Exchequer was drained but Charles indulged his love of luxury and comforts, producing a deficit of £1,300,000. More money was needed to build up Britain’s navy.
Erickson, Carolly, Royal Panoply, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2003
Falkus, Christopher, The Life and Times of Charles II, George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Limited, London, 1972 (Reprinted 1984)
Fraser, Antonia, Charles II: His Life and Times (Abridged, illustrated format), Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1993
Harris, Tim, Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms 1660-1685, Allen Lane (Imprint of Penguin Books), London, 2005
Oliver, Neil, A History of Scotland, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2009
Schama, Simon, A History of Britain: The British Wars 1603-1776, Volume 2, , BBC Worldwide Ltd, London, 2001
Starkey, David, Monarchy: From the Middle Ages To Modernity, BBC Worldwide Ltd, London, 2001
© 2010 Carolyn M Cash
This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 25 March 2010.