Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview
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3 A King in Search of a Realm, 1649-1650

CHARLES I had died for two principles: that of a monarchy ruling with as little control by subjects as possible, and that of an episcopalian Church directed by such a monarchy. Years before his execution, it had become obvious that his political survival would depend upon his willingness to compromise those beliefs, if only temporarily. His offers in November 1648 represented the furthest that he would go in this regard, and their inadequacy, in the prevailing situation, killed him. The second Charles was therefore placed in a most unpleasant dilemma. His achievement of power in any of his titular kingdoms would depend upon an alliance with a party previously opposed to the royalists. Yet to buy this assistance with major ideological concessions would be a betrayal both of his father and of his natural and accustomed supporters. Two ways out of the problem were possible: to obtain allies upon terms which most royalists felt permissible, or to make promises to gain aid and then to betray them when he had achieved power. In the first two years of his reign, the new King was to attempt each solution in turn.

At his accession, Charles II appointed as his Privy Council those members of his father's who were present in Holland: Brentford, Hopton, Hyde, Culpeper, Cottington, and the Lord Keeper, Sir Richard Lane. The only addition he made was his own secretary, Robert Long, who henceforth fulfilled that service for the Council. Most of these men opposed any significant surrender of wartime royalist principles, but Culpeper had expressed support for compromise, and it was generally believed that the King was vulnerable to influence by people at his court, and his mother's, who held no formal conciliar rank. 1 Nor did his advisers find him very malleable: he had a habit of agreeing emphatically with private criticism of individuals, only to honour their persons and views in public. 2 In this situation the major force behind policy-making was the external pressure of events and the options that they presented.

All Charles's Counsellors agreed that his bargaining position would be strengthened if he were afforded aid by a foreign power. In an age when most European states were monarchies, it was a reasonable expectation


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