Today’s blog from Dr Andrew Barclay, senior research fellow for our Commons 1640-1660 project, is the second in a three-part series about the parliament that would restore the monarchy in 1660 (part one available here). In this piece he explores the process that led to the accession of Charles II on 8 May 1660…
When the new Parliament met on 25 April 1660 few doubted that it would restore the monarchy. The real question was whether it would try to impose any conditions on Charles II. Lots of people, including quite a few MPs, still hoped that some variation on the deal discussed with Charles I at Newport on the Isle of Wight in 1648 might be possible. The late king had been willing to make concessions on church government and control of the militia. That his more flexible son might agree something similar seemed plausible enough.
Charles II made the first move. The new Parliament had spent its opening days doing nothing much. Then on 1 May the exiled king declared his hand. His emissary was his gentleman of the bedchamber, Sir John Granville. Sir John was, just as importantly, also George Monck’s cousin. Those two advantages, which ensured that he was trusted by both Charles and Monck, had enabled him to arrange the secret agreement between the exiled king and the soldier who was now the most powerful man at Westminster. The message Granville brought with him and which he now presented to the Lords and the Commons had been prepared on Monck’s advice.
Charles was careful not to overplay his hand. The Declaration of Breda, ostensibly issued from that Dutch town on 4 April, left open some crucial details. Its most famous promise, that any religious settlement would allow ‘liberty for tender consciences’, specifically that ‘no man shall be disquieted or called in question for any differences of opinion in matter of religion which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom’, managed to be as vague as it sounded generous. The final decisions on the extent of any pardons to be granted and on how to untangle the problem of the confiscated estates were to be left to Parliament. Only his promise to pay the army was completely unambiguous.
Granville’s presentation of the Declaration to the Commons on 1 May was a moment of pure parliamentary theatre. It was all the more so for being very carefully staged. Granville appeared at the bar of the House and handed over the Declaration. Already treating it as if it was a message for the monarch, MPs stood and removed their hats while it was read. William Morice then moved that they welcome what it said. All present would have known the significance of this; Morice was closely associated with Monck and so was clearly acting as his spokesman. What was then known to almost no one, however, was that he had been the only other person present when Granville had secretly met Monck and that the king had already promised to appoint him as the secretary of state. Morice’s suggestion was accepted. The Commons unanimously and without hesitation agreed that a letter be written to the king to tell him of ‘the great and joyful sense of this House of his gracious offers’. They also voted £50,000 to him.
This is invariably seen as the moment Charles II was restored. In almost every practical sense, it was. The Commons had decisively declared in his favour and they had implicitly done so on the basis of the Declaration of Breda. Reinforcing this was that both Houses immediately agreed that the Declaration should be printed. Hopes of any wider restrictions on the king’s power were now irrelevant. But Charles II was not actually proclaimed until a week later on 8 May. Why the delay?
Organising the public reading of a proclamation could be done quickly and, in the case of a normal accession, that was often done within hours of the late monarch’s death. Of course, this was not a normal accession. There was no privy council, but, although there was a council of state, no one seems to have objected that it was Parliament that now took the initiative. Other details were trickier. Both Houses had to prepare their formal replies. The Commons completed the text of its letter on 2 May but did not decide which MPs would deliver it until 5 May. The Lords did not finalise their reply until 3 May but appointed its messengers at the same time. That these delegations then had to make arrangements to travel over to the Netherlands may have been a further reason for delay and in the end they set out only on 11 May.
However, another factor was probably the decisive reason for the delay. The king had also sent letters containing his Declaration addressed to the army and the navy. These were forwarded by Parliament on 1 May. It however took until 7 May before the Commons received confirmation from the general-at-sea, Edward Montagu, that the Declaration had been read to the fleet. Only then did arrangements begin for the king to be proclaimed. The proclamation was finalised by the two Houses the following day, enabling it to be read in Palace Yard at Westminster, at Temple Bar and at the Royal Exchange. Crucially, the text of the proclamation made it explicit that, as Charles had been king de jure since his father’s death, this was not the beginning of a new reign, an obvious but very convenient fiction.
Andrew Barclay ‘George Monck’s role in the drafting of the Declaration of Breda’, Archives, 35, no. 123 (2010), 63-7
Paul H. Hardacre, ‘The genesis of the Declaration of Breda, 1657-1660’, Journal of Church and State, 15, No. 1 (1973), 65-82
Further biographies of George Monck, Edward Montagu and William Morice are being prepared by the Commons 1640-1660 project.
For more blogs about the mid-seventeenth century see our James I to Restoration page.