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

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview

12 The End of King Louis's War, 1674-1678

THE next four years of Charles's reign are among the best studied, most especially in the publications of Professors Browning and Haley. 1 Their events are well known to scholars, and there are few sources unused which can add substantially to the story. Three different contributions can be made here to a familiar tale. First, this book will of course make its own interpretations of the facts, and add fresh details. Second, it will trace the interpretation of English politics by those of the other realms, as has not fully been done before. And third, it will take up a slightly different perspective upon the whole period. Very often, these years have been seen as an interlude of comparatively peaceful and successful government between two crises, given unity by the leadership of a remarkable minister, Danby. This is quite justifiable. It may, however, be fundamentally more true to regard this time as one in which Britain remained towed in the wake of Louis of France, and to see the period's unity provided by the need to react to the continuing war upon the Continent. From this perspective, the record of government is one of a series of attempts to ward off disaster, culminating in a catastrophe greater than that which had struck it in 1673-4.

Certainly to Charles and his English ministers, the rest of the year 1674 did seem like a blessed relief after the trials of its first two months. There was no project in the King's mind of setting up one adviser over the rest. Rather, it was a matter of settling down with his new team, the men who had survived the war years, Arlington and James, and the men whom those years had brought to power, Latimer, Finch, and Henry Coventry. Until 1679 they formed between them most of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Despite personal dislikes they co-operated as gracefully as any of Charles's teams of advisers before, and generally reached decisions by large majorities. During 1674 they were united in the sentiment that a fresh session of Parliament was best left to another year. Only Henry Coventry opposed this policy, and in September Charles prorogued the Houses until April 1675. He then told the French ambassador that the decision had been a coup de maître, taken by him personally without reference to his advisers

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