The Return of Charles II, 29 May 1660

In today’s blog Dr Andrew Barclay, senior research fellow in our Commons 1640-1660 project, returns to his exploration of the days leading up to the restoration of Charles II. In this final instalment, we turn to 29 May 1660, as Charles entered London as King for the first time...

Charles II entered London in triumph on 29 May 1660, his 30th birthday. Three weeks earlier Parliament had proclaimed him as King. He had landed at Dover on 25 May and had made stops at Canterbury and Rochester en route to the capital. On 29 May he was greeted at St George’s Fields in Southwark by the lord mayor of London. The huge procession, mostly formed of the army, the London trained bands and the City worthies, crossed London Bridge and then proceeded through London to Whitehall. The parade took seven hours to pass through the City and it was already early evening by the time the king reached Whitehall.

The Landing of Charles II at Dover 1660
Edward Matthew Lord, 1864
Parliamentary Art Collection WOA 2609

This was unquestionably the king’s big day. But Parliament was not overlooked. The royalist view that Parliament had not made Charles king was now, in theory, also the official one. Parliament’s role, however, could hardly be downplayed. It made considerable sense for Charles to play up the fact that, ostensibly at least, he was returning with Parliament’s full support. These events were therefore choreographed to highlight this.

Both Houses had been very busy since inviting the king back. Both had sent delegations to Holland to deliver to him their formal invitations for his return. These parliamentary commissioners did so at The Hague on 16 May. Their colleagues back at Westminster meanwhile made the practical arrangements. Residents in the royal palaces were kicked out and speedy repairs were made to Whitehall. New furnishings were ordered and steps were taken to seize any royal possessions that had been sold off following Charles I’s execution. A new crown (almost certainly the present St Edward’s Crown) was commissioned. The arms of the republic were everywhere replaced with the royal arms and the Scottish standards captured at the battles of Dunbar and Worcester were removed from Westminster Hall. New flags were ordered for the navy.

A start was also made on some of the trickier bits of business. The king had left it to Parliament to decide who would be exempted from any general pardon. Both Houses would spend months arguing over this, but the indemnity bill was introduced in the Commons as early as 9 May. Attempts were made to round up those who had been involved in the late king’s execution and who had not already fled abroad. The land settlement would prove just as controversial. An easy first step was to legislate to abolish feudal tenures, confirming what the Long Parliament had done in 1646. A bill to do this had also already been introduced. In what was surely a pointed reminder to the king, the Commons spent the afternoon of 29 May, exactly when Charles was riding through London, debating a bill to confirm Parliament’s privileges.

The heavy workload at Westminster may actually have dissuaded the two Houses from travelling to Dover to welcome the king. On 22 May the Lords agreed to go as a group, but that plan seems to have been quickly abandoned. That same day the Commons gave leave to George Monck to go, and although he was given permission to take other MPs with him, there was no general rush to join him. Instead, the Lords and the Commons each sent letters of welcome. So there were no formal representatives from either House on the beach at Dover on 25 May. Monck greeted Charles alone – albeit watched by a vast crowd of spectators and with representatives of the town in attendance – and he did so very much as the lord general who had made all this possible.

Charles II Riding to the State Opening of Parliament 1661
Richard Gaywood
Royal Collection Trust RCIN 602659

Parliament waited for the king to come to them. They thus met for the first time only on 29 May. That welcome however formed the climax of that day’s events. There was no doubt that this was the encounter that really mattered. When Charles reached Whitehall, peers and MPs had already assembled in the Banqueting House, the palace’s largest and most splendid ceremonial space. It had, of course, also been the scene of Charles I’s execution. Charles II met the two Houses immediately. The two Speakers, the 2nd earl of Manchester and Sir Harbottle Grimston, each greeted him with speeches hailing his assumption of his royal office and assuring him of Parliament’s loyalty. The MPs present then queued to kiss the king’s hand.

Two days later, the king’s brothers, the dukes of York and Gloucester, took their seats for the first time in the Lords. Finally, on 1 June Charles II attended Parliament and in the traditional manner, from the throne in the Lords’ chamber, he granted the royal assent to the handful of bills the two Houses had ready for him. For better or worse, substantially or just superficially, the ‘old normal’ of rule by king, Lords and Commons had been restored.


Further reading

A. Keay, The Magnificent Monarch: Charles II and the Ceremonies of Power (2008)

J. Uglow, A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration (2009)

Click to read part one and part two of Dr Barclay’s 1660 series. Keep up to date with the research of our Commons 1640-1660 project through the ‘James I to Restoration‘ section of our blog.

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