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

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview
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10 The Ministry of Arlington, 1688-1672

Two widely held beliefs have coloured histories of the five years following the fall of Clarendon. 1 One is that they were characterized by a grand governmental strategy, variously interpreted as a design to make England Catholic, or its monarchy absolute, or to tie it to the rising fortunes of France, or to obtain vengeance upon the Dutch. The other is that the government itself was run by five men, Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale, whose initials form the word 'Cabal'. A more recent version of this has been to portray the court as riven between the factions of Arlington and Buckingham, of whom the latter proved far more influential. It will be argued here that none of these views is correct. Instead, it is proposed that government policy remained essentially cautious, defensive, and pragmatic, and that it was dominated by Arlington just as much as Clarendon had presided over the period 1660-2. The quiet, portly minister with the black plaster over his nose attended Parliament, the Privy Council, and the Committee 'for Foreign Affairs' (the 'inner ring' of advisers) more assiduously than any other. To foreign ambassadors, men seeking posts, and others requiring privileges or pardons, Arlington's favour was above all to be courted and his opposition feared. 2 In April 1667 it was already said at court that Clarendon only helped his clients for a price, whereas Arlington strove to lift his into powerful positions where they might do him service. 3 Certainly, in 1668-70 the relatively young and able men attracted by the Secretary of State secured every important foreign embassy and a string of prestigious domestic posts. Yet one aspect of the traditional picture may be emphasized anew: during these years it was Charles himself who was the source of important initiatives, and in the last analysis even Arlington was only his executive agent.

The first fruit of the Secretary of State's new influence was a remarkable diplomatic coup in the New Year of 1668. Like most of Europe's diplomacy during that winter, it centred upon the conquests made by Louis in the Netherlands. Faced with the gigantic French army, the Spaniards had been unable to do anything but sit in their towns waiting to be


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