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

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview

13 Collapse of a System, 1678-1679

THE period of Charles's reign which commenced with the Peace of Nijmegen has also been very intensively studied. And from those studies, a fairly consistent portrait has emerged of an 'Exclusion Crisis' which paralysed foreign and domestic policy and threatened a breakdown of government for two years. This, so the traditional tale runs, was first contained and then resolved by a display of extraordinary political skill and courage on the part of Charles himself. 13 In the next two chapters this long-established orthodoxy will be challenged twice over. In the first place, it will be proposed that the position of the monarchy was fundamentally so strong that, only providing that he did not show consistent folly, Charles's control of his realms was never in doubt. In this sense, there was no 'Exclusion Crisis' at all. Some contemporaries did think that the situation was 'critical', but it will be suggested here that they were wrong. Second, it will be argued that Charles was responsible for a string of mistakes amounting in some cases to real idiocy, which created many of the problems which he did face in 1678-81. Their immediate effect was to demolish the system by which he had run England and Scotland since the Treaty of Westminster.

The storm that was about to break approached like tempests in nature, by stealthy degrees and upon a landscape of more than normal calm. Whatever the seriousness of the predicament in which the English government now lay, for the time being Parliament was in recess and the harvest engaging the nation's attention. Charles and his Counsellors spent August and September attempting to tackle two issues. One was to prolong the European war so that they might yet win some glory or profit from it. Agents hurried to the Spanish and German rulers appealing to them not to imitate what Henry Coventry called 'the ugly treaty' between the French and Dutch. All through August thousands of soldiers were still being shipped over to reinforce the English army in the Netherlands. To ward off financial collapse in the short term, Danby farmed out the Hearth Tax collection a year in advance of the expiry of the existing contract. By closing off his future options in this matter he got a lump sum, but this

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Contents xiii
  • Illustrations xiv
  • I - Boyhood 1
  • 2 - The Exiled Prince of Wales 15
  • 3 - A King in Search of a Realm, 1649-1650 34
  • 5 - A King in Search of Quarters, 1651-1656 71
  • 6 - The Pensioner of Spain, 1656-1660 100
  • 7 - The Year of Restoration, 1660-1661 133
  • 8 - The Fight for the Settlements, 1661-1664 166
  • 10 - The Ministry of Arlington, 1688-1672 254
  • 11 - Charles's Second Dutch War, 1672-1674 287
  • 12 - The End of King Louis's War, 1674-1678 320
  • 13 - Collapse of a System, 1678-1679 357
  • 14 - The Quest for Men and Measures, 1679-1681 381
  • 15 - Towards a New Way of Ruling, 1681-1685 404
  • 16 - Conclusion: Monarch in a Masquerade 446
  • References 459
  • Notes 461
  • Index 543
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