1662: Restoration tragedy
Part fourteen in our 20-part series looking at decisive moments of the last 1,000 years in British history explores 1650–1699. Charles II had been on the throne since 1660 and civil war scars were fading. But now, says John Morrill, attempts to restore a national church set the scene for 200 years of political turmoil
The year 1662 was a warm, bright year: the warmest winter and spring of the whole half century and one of the warmest overall – only dwarfed by the scorching summer of 1686.
The scars of civil war, the buildings burned and wrecked by war, were being repaired and replaced. Carpenters and masons were reconverting churches from whitewashed auditoria into sacramental spaces and theatres were being built at an unprecedented rate. Samuel Pepys was able to see a new show most weeks, including The Knight of the Burning Pestle, The French Dancing Master and the first recorded Punch and Judy show. The king was to be seen at many of these plays with his pregnant mistress, a casual insult to the reformation of manners at the heart of Interregnum high-mindedness. A grimmer kind of theatre was enacted at Tyburn where the procession of Regicides dragged there to be half-hanged, eviscerated and cut into pieces was completed. The Restoration made an example of those who took part in Charles I’s trial and execution but passed a wide-ranging indemnity that protected everyone else from prosecution for what they had done over the past 20 years.
But a series of parliamentary acts revealed an on-going neurosis: in late 1661 an Act “against tumultuous petitioning” required all but the humblest petitions to be initiated by JPs and grand juries at quarter sessions; the Licensing Act of 1662 brought in a tougher regime for the control of the press than had existed even before the Revolution – one of its results was effectively to drive newspapers off the streets for most of the next 30 years. Later in 1662, “an Act for the relief of the poor” allowed local officials to forcibly remove all newcomers from a parish if they were “likely to be chargeable” to the poor rate and to return them to their previous place of residence. This was motivated as much by fear of sedition as of vagrancy.
But for the better off, 1662 was a good year. The shops were full of goods, the King’s wife introduced the English to tea and the Great Turk coffee house opened in London. In 1662 what Pepys called “the college of virtuosos” (the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge) was established by Royal Charter, and its meetings were one of the few things to distract the king from pleasures of the chase (human and animal). In 1662, Isaac Newton was in his first year at Cambridge, but Christopher Wren was designing weather-clocks, and Robert Boyle was announcing his discovery about the inverse relationship of volume and pressure in gases. In Derby John Flamsteed, later to be the first Astronomer Royal, made his first ever recording of the partial solar eclipse.
1662 in context
The country was still recovering from Puritanism and revolution, while the restoration of church and king brought its own problemsIn 1662, The peoples of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland were coming to terms with the effects of 20 years of civil war and political and religious violence.
In the course of the 1640s and 1650s, parish churches were purged of all “monuments of idolatry and superstition”, Christmas and Easter were banned, the Prayer Book was proscribed, bishops, church courts and trappings of hierarchy were swept away. A variety of religious sects sprang up with more (Baptist) or less (Quaker) state encouragement. In 1649 Charles I was put on trial and beheaded for treason against his people, and monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished. A godly army set up and then pulled down various constitutional experiments, the most long-lasting of which made the Lord General Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector.
The most contentious of his achievements was the military subjugation of Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland, the Commonwealth governments took almost half the land from Catholics born in Ireland, and gave it to Protestants from England. The population shrank by one third. The proportion of British adult males who died as a result of the fighting was higher than in the First World War.
The revolutionaries made many enemies and few friends. By 1660, there was an overwhelming desire for Restoration – for a return to hereditary monarchy, to bishops and Cranmer’s prayers, to Christmas pies, maypoles, sport on Sunday afternoons. But the revolution cast a long shadow. There were enough supporters of the Puritan way – freedom of conscience, the imposition of strict moral codes, plain dealing, plain dress – for the celebration of old and new freer ways to cause political polarisation. All kinds of enthusiasm were discredited. A new spirit of dispassionate, sceptical inquiry challenged the claims of all churches and churchmen. So Church and King were restored, but had to face their critics.
And the alliance was fatally wounded by the fact that none of the three monarchs in this half-century was a supporter of the Established Church. Charles II hid his private beliefs so deeply behind a protective marshmallow coating (he was all things to all men) that historians are still not sure whether he was a secret Catholic or an early Deist. James II and VII was a Catholic with an extreme case of convertitis, and William III would do whatever was necessary to ensure that English politicians would underwrite his crusade against Louis XIV. And so the central instabilities of the Restoration, so evident in 1662, created crisis after crisis in 1672, 1679, 1688, 1701.
It took Louis XIV of France, threatening to impose popery and arbitrary government on the country, to persuade the political elite to convert the country into a fiscal-military state capable of dominating Europe and claiming a lion’s share of the world’s commerce. That threat was an indirect result of the instabilities of the 1662 settlement, but without those, the trajectory of later 17th-century politics would have been very different.
A peaceful year in Europe
Internationally, 1662 was a quiet year. There was no European war, although the Chinese seized Formosa (Taiwan) from the Dutch. Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess on 3 May, bringing Bombay and Tangier as part of her dowry. To cover some of the costs of setting her up with an appropriate household, Charles sold Dunkirk, occupied by Cromwell’s troops, back to France for £400,000.
In 1660, Charles II had made it clear that he wanted an inclusive settlement. He gave more office, more patronage and more financial rewards to his father’s enemies than to his father’s friends: his friends would not send him on his travels again. He attempted to achieve this breadth in both secular and religious affairs; but he succeeded only in the former. The forces of religious reaction were too strong for him in each of his kingdoms, and in 1662, legislation was passed in each kingdom privileging those who embraced the spirit of the Elizabethan and Jacobean settlements. In England, the Act of Uniformity of 1662 restored a church both Catholic and Reformed, which looked Catholic and sounded Protestant, with a prayer book little changed from that of Elizabeth, with lordly bishops in their medieval palaces.
Membership of this state church was made mandatory, with fines and other minor penalties on those who would not attend; and with heavier penalties on those who tried to worship, even in private, according to their experience and conscience. For the next 200 years, the position in English law was that only communicating members of the Church of England could hold public office, or attend university or an inn of court. Charles had wanted to loosen up the terms of membership of his national church, believing persecution would breed far more sedition, than tolerating separation would. But since he never relished a fight, and since his Parliament and many of his advisers were adamant the Church needed to be true to its pre-war traditions and that tolerance would allow sedition to fester, he gave in.
As a result, more than one in ten of the clergy resigned, and a similar proportion opted out of regular church attendance and into attendance at conventicles – meetings of dissenters for worship. This created a fundamental instability in English political culture: between those who believed that monarchy needed to be underpinned by a hierarchical, narrow, national church; and those who wanted a different kind of national church or no national church at all. In time, these tensions congealed into the two great parties: Tory (strong church equals strong monarchy equals security of life and property); and Whig (religious pluralism as a hallmark of personal liberty as a hallmark of economic and social prosperity).
Expulsion of Scottish clergy
Much the same happened in Scotland. A ruined nobility were more ruthless in reclaiming social power and happy to see the power of the Kirk broken and its ministers humbled, and a settlement made that was both erastian (advocating the doctrine of state supremacy over the Church in ecclesiastical affairs) and episcopalian (governed by bishops). The purge on the uncompromising led in 1662 to the expulsion of one third of the clergy. Such men remained convinced they were instruments of God’s will; this made them more seditious than English dissenters. The more seditious they became, the more brutal the reactions of the Scottish establishment: a dark era of torture, massacre, assassination and fanaticism ensued. In 1689 the Revolution was not to be the peaceful fudge that it was in England, but violent, counter-vindictive, partisan.
In Ireland, too, religion was the crunch issue. There was spasmodic persecution of clergy, but little attempt to compel Catholics to attend Protestant worship, let alone to convert them. But the big problem was land. In England and Scotland, compromises between the purchasers of confiscated land were usually possible (the purchasers of the land surrendering the title but staying on as tenants on low rents), but in Ireland the problem was unmanageable. More than 40 per cent of the land of Ireland had been confiscated and redistributed to those who had bankrolled English armies to put down the Irish rebellion of 1641 and to 30,000 soldiers who had effected the reconquest.
In Ireland, unlike the king’s other kingdoms, in 1662 those confiscations were deemed legal. Charles II promised in 1660 to restore those who had not been directly implicated in the massacres of 1641 and who had supported his Lord Lieutenant against the Parliamentarians. He also promised to compensate those who had to surrender land to that group.
These were unrealisable promises. In 1662, the Irish Act of Settlement set up a Court of Claims to examine all these issues. It was overwhelmed by the volume of work and lack of land to square the circle. It left almost everyone dissatisfied except those with family connection or clout with the Irish administration to get their claims to the head of the queue. The 80 per cent of the population who were Catholic were left with 20 per cent of the land. It left England with a permanent problem of garrisoning Ireland and facing a low-level insurgency of “Tories” and “Rapparees” (brigands). It ensured that the Revolution of 1688 in Ireland was not in the least Glorious. It was another bloodbath.
1662 was a year of deceptive calm. Everywhere there is evidence that in the face of a grieving Puritan minority, the peoples of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland set out to enjoy the pleasures forbidden them for 20 years, and engaged in febrile efforts to silence or intimidate those who might try to start the conflict all over again. Charles II talked of religious liberty but ordered the assassination of his most implacable opponents as they plotted against him in exile. The Puritan minister Adam Martindale gave up his pulpit in Rostherne, Cheshire, and invited his parishioners round of a Sunday evening to criticise the sermons given earlier in the day by his successor. He was one of many. What was not restored at the Restoration was peace of mind.
History facts: 1650–1699Number of inhabitants in England 1650: 5.2m
Inhabitants in England 1700: 4.9m
Number of sick given “royal touch” (cure) by Charles II 1660–85: 51,236
Average age of marriage in England 1650–1700: male 27.7, female 25.9
Tobacco imported into Britain 1675: 2,000 tons
Gin distilled in Britain in 1684-5: 533,000 gallons
Key years: other important events in the second half of the 17th century
1653 – Cromwell as Lord Protector. Cromwell – wearied by the failure of the Rump Parliament to come up with a new constitution, a new religious framework, more social justice – used his troops to disband it (20 April) and established a Nominated Assembly of godly men with a mandate (4 July) to find long-term solutions. It failed completely and in December Cromwell reluctantly agreed to become Lord Protector under a constitution drawn up by General John Lambert.
1657 – Cromwell refuses the crown. Cromwell was put under great parliamentary pressure to become King. Since the Protectorate was not “known to the laws”, he had more discretionary power than many MPs thought wise; and they thought King Oliver would broaden his support among the many who admired monarchy but not the House of Stuart. But his fear that because God had “blasted the family and the name” it meant He did not want any monarch, made him decline.
1660 – The death of Puritanism. After Cromwell’s death in 1658, there was political meltdown and the Army too fell into factions. In February George Monck, the general in charge of Scotland, marched south and ordered free elections. Parliament recalled the king, but even before they did so, Easter was celebrated in thousands of parishes, and maypoles sprang up on village greens, both symbols that the Puritan experiment had failed.
1672 – The Test Acts. Charles went to war with the Dutch in alliance with the French but chickened out of a deal with Louis XIV to declare himself a Catholic. He did however attempt, by prerogative action, to give full rights of religious assembly to both Protestant and Catholic Dissenters. This backfired, however, and Parliament used the power of the purse to force Charles to accept new restrictions on practising Catholics (the Test Acts).
1679 – Failure of Exclusion Bill. Charles II had no legitimate children, and, as he aged, many Protestants feared both his authoritarianism (bribing of MPs, excessive use of discretionary power, closeness to Catholic France) and the prospect that he would be succeeded by his Catholic brother, James. The Whigs tried (but failed in the House of Lords) to break the hold of “divine right theory” by promoting an Exclusion Bill making Parliament the arbiter of the succession.
1685 – Accession of King James. In February Charles was replaced by James II and VII, who easily saw off rebellions in England by Charles’s bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth, and in Scotland by the rabidly Presbyterian Earl of Argyll. Initially James tried to coax the Tory-Anglicans into working with him to give equal rights to his Catholic coreligionists. They defied him.
1688 – Glorious Revolution. By 1688, James was trying to work with Whigs and Dissenters to promote his Catholic cause. The birth of a Catholic heir and the sheer scale of his attack on Anglican privilege provoked a section of the elite to invite William of Orange to invade to protect Protestantism, the succession rights of his wife (James’s daughter Mary) and to bring English arms and cash into the international coalition against Louis XIV.
1689 – William and Mary. After James fled to France, there was vicious civil war in Ireland, political blood-letting in Scotland and a painful set of compromises in England that allowed William and Mary to rule jointly on terms which some at the time (and since) believed to have changed the nature of monarchy and which others denied. The most important change was the 25 years war with France (1688–1713) that transformed the finances and governance of Britain.
1697 – Peace in Europe.The treaty of Ryswick brought a fragile peace to Europe, although everyone knew that a war between rival claimants to the Spanish succession was imminent. In Ireland, Parliament reneged on the promises William’s generals had made to the Catholics and began a process of sectarian measures (the Penal Laws) that enshrined social and religious injustice. It was also the year St Paul’s Cathedral (rebuilt after the Great Fire of London) reopened for business.
More turning points in British historyRead next: 1745: The Jacobite rebellion
Go back: 1638: The Scottish Revolution
John Morrill is professor of British and Irish history at the University of Cambridge
Further reading: The Restoration: A Political and Religious History of England and Wales 1658–1667 by Ronald Hutton (Oxford UP, 1985); The Restoration: England in the 1660s by NH Keeble (Blackwell, 2002); Restoration: Charles II and his Kingdoms by Tim Harris (Penguin, 2004)
This article was first published in the May 2007 issue of BBC History Magazine