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The Restoration of Charles II

Many have seen the Restoration of the monarchy, which took place on May 29th 1660, as inevitable. Yet Ivan Roots, defying augury, is impressed by its unexpectedness.

The execution of Charles I, was seen, at least by its perpetrators, as a 'necessary sacrifice'. Not all regicides were ideologically republican, nor did all republicans approve the king's demise. They were more concerned to root out the institution of monarchy than to dispose of its latest incumbent. Some regicides could envisage a replacement monarch - a compliant kinsman of Charles, say - rather than going about setting up a republic. But the circumstances of 1649 - the Rump beset by enemies at home and abroad, including a Prince of Wales, exiled, young, vigorous and likely to enlist foreign aid in coming back, even if it meant wading through blood - made both groups ready for a novel regime, a kingless Commonwealth.

Clearly the Commonwealth began as an expedient, but soon through symbols and rituals it was 'invented' into permanence, as old and neo-royalists in Ireland and Scotland worked to deny the Stuart inheritance to the usurping power. Yet economically, socially and financially, the hard times fed discontents which must, it seemed from the start, climax in a restoration. Veronica Wedgwood, trying to 'tell it like it was in 1549', wrote of 'the long anti-climax of the 1650s', hinting that restoration of monarchy and much else that had gone with it would be unavoidable, if not inevitable. The 1650s, then, were to be a mere interregnum, a hiatus in a story in which monarchy always was and always would be the best policy. Surely the fact that by the spring of 1660 monarchy did come back in the old line and with it parliament in its historic form of King, Lords and Commons, the Church of England and the separation of the kingdoms, all without the catastrophe of another civil war, proved that? What was surprising, perhaps, was that it did not come about earlier. Charles II, assured by everyone he met between his landing in Dover and his arrival in London that they all along had been royalists, pondered aloud on why he had not come over before. But, of course, he knew very well.

The truth is that The Restoration, a restoration, any restoration, was not inevitable. History does not work like that 'well-known'...

...young man who said, Damn!
It is borne in upon me that I am
An engine that moves
In predestinate grooves,
I'm not even a bus, I'm a tram!

History is not a tram, nor a bus - that needs a road - but is, if anything, a tank which lays down its own way. But men and women in the 17th century found that sort of notion hard to accept, even distressing.

A divinity that shapes sour ends

Many, like Oliver Cromwell, saw God or Providence in charge, though significantly in assessing his career we must take into account that his Providence was one that called for co-operation. 'Trust in God,' he said, 'and' - not 'to' - 'keep your powder dry.' Others looked to anagrams, portents and emblems as affecting, if not determining, destinies. Lady Eleanor Davies, made a prophet by an anagram of her maiden name, recognised that Cromwell was heading for greatness through his initials, O.C., encapsulating the Sun and the Moon wrapped up together. Time was when historians brushed that sort of thing into a lunatic fringe of irrationality. But, it has been said, the irrationality of one age may be very much the rationality of another. Intelligent men, no less intelligent than we are today but spending their lives within a different environment and culture, might find it natural and convenient to look to the stars to help to explain and control phenomena and events. Did the stars compel or merely look down? Were they but another manifestation of Cromwell's Providence, commanding the co-operation of recognised practitioners of astrology, a sophisticated art or science which was not quite either, drawing on its own traditional learning, yet ever-renewing? As such it appealed to intellectuals and to men of the world more than it did to old wives and maidens, who had their own simpler means of divination. Astrologers' peculiar skills lay not in just describing and calculating the movements of the stars (planets) but in the convincing interpretation of them.

Most prominent among them in the 1640s and 1650s was William Lilly, articulate, plausible, educated, a true professional, who made himself useful as a 'starry messenger' on affairs of state and society. Among his numerous clients was that most clear-headed of Levellers, Richard Overton, who asked in 1648 if the stars were pointing him towards joining in with the Army agitators. Throughout these hectic years Lilly's prognostications all promised success for Parliament - and he predicted the victory at Naseby, admittedly only on its eve. In 1649 he was directed to support the change from monarchy to 'a free state', and conveniently warned that to lift up a hand against it courted divine retribution. In 1652 he foresaw the expulsion of the Rump but throughout the decade reiterated that there could be no turning back to the Stuarts. At no point before the Restoration did he predict it or, indeed, any restoration. Nor did any other astrologer, as sceptics smartly pointed out. Lilly was quite unembarrassed. Yet looking back he found that 1660 had been foretold by Merlin centuries before and even earlier by some Greek or other. Coming to terms with the new regime, he saw in advance the Great Fire of 1666. Other practitioners marked apt references in scriptures they ought to have searched before.

Poets and politicians too, in felicitating the happy king, observed after the event the influence of the stars. It was recalled that on the day of Charles's birth (29 May 1630), exactly 30 years before his entry into the capital, 'That glorious star', the Pleiades (Charles's Wain), shone miraculously bright at noon, presaging as 'by divine designment' - Providence re-enforcing the stars - that the child would become 'the most mighty monarch in the universe', a claim perhaps a little premature in 1662. But perhaps the seal was set in August 1660 on the role of the heavens by the new Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde, now the earl of Clarendon, who had been as surprised as his sovereign by the abrupt change in their fortunes. Addressing a joint meeting of Lords and Commons, he enjoined them:

Let us not be too ashamed, as if what hath been done amiss proceeded from the humour and the temper and the nature of our nation. The astrologers have made us a fair excuse and I truely hope a true one: All the motions of these last twenty years have been unnatural and have proceeded from the evil of a Malignant Star. And let us not too much despise the influence of the Stars. And the same astrologers assure us that the malignity of the Star is expired, the good genius of this kingdom is become superior and hath mastered that malignity, and our own good old Stars govern us again, and their influence is so strong that with our help they will repair in a year what hath been decaying in twenty. And they shall hath no excuse from the Star who continue this malignity, and own all the ill that is past to be their own by continuing it and improving it for time to come...[Let] the old reproaches of Cavalier and Roundhead and Malignant be committed to the grave.

The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves

We can take it that astrology had really nothing to do with it - though the respect paid to the stars and other forms of divination offers insights into the age and into that abstraction 'the seventeenth-century mind'. The truth about the Restoration is that it was an unexpected, surprising event, dependent not upon the stars, nor upon the royalists at home and abroad, nor the interventions of the international trade union of kings, but was 'the well-ripened fruit of the wise delay' (or whatever else it may have been) of an enigmatic General, responding obliquely to a plethora of advice and exhortations but, above all, to events over which he could have had for a long time only a limited control.

Hindsight takes us back to May 1659. Protector Richard Cromwell had sensibly resigned, recognising that without his father's experience of army and civil politics, he could not carry on. Many had expected a successful royalist rising when Oliver died. It did not happen, nor did it now, when to economic dislocation and heavy taxation were added an inability of the army grandees and, soon, of the Rump too, restored, thrown out and restored again, to bring their miscellaneous Causes into a single practical Good Old Cause. The narrative is a complex one, swift in turns and developments. There is a fundamental truth in Harold Wilson's off-the-cuff aphorism that has become a cliché: 'a week is a long time in politics'.

Obviously interpretation depends upon the emphases historians put upon particular groups, individuals and happenings. The first includes the Commonwealthmen, whose intransigence helped bring the Protectorate down but who were incapable of capitalising on the failures of the army and others. The recall of the Rump was a recognition, too, of the grandees' short-termism and rivalries. Among individuals, John Lambert demonstrated by a series of inept ploys that if, indeed, he had aspired to be Oliver's understudy, he had not learned his lines. The lack of a coherent view by the presbyterians, some of whom were certainly contemplating a possible return of monarchy on comfortable terms (the Newport treaty of 1648), was shown up in sharp relief by the fiasco of Booth's rising in Cheshire (August 1659), intended to be but a part of a more general outbreak. Dryden's post Restoration comment was: 'The attempt was fair; but heaven's prefixed hour had not come'.

In this thickening atmosphere of uncertainty there was really no evidence of a dramatic royalist revival. Clarendon would have to put on record that 'it may be justly said and transmitted to posterity that there were very few men who had a part in these changes and giddy revolutions who had the least purpose or thought to contribute to the king's restoration or who wished well to his interest'. Well into 1660 the public demand, accompanied by the usual bonfires, some of them obviously sponsored, was for a 'free parliament' not for the king to come into his own again. But there must have been some who could see in that demand a ladder up which Charles Stuart might clamber to grasp his frustrated inheritance. Perhaps George Monck was one of these. Perhaps not.

General Monck

Monck, the professional soldier, trained in the wars in Europe before engaging in the civil wars here, first as a royalist, then a parliamentarian, then a Cromwellian, had by 1659 as governor and commander-in-chief in Scotland achieved both a personal and a political ascendancy there. A keen observer himself of affairs in England - he had offered cogent advice to the new Protector Richard - he had kept his troops, officers and men, well out of them. Indeed, politically they were brain-washed - a process facilitated by regular pay, the sinews of military discipline. He was equally on good terms with men of substance in Scotland. So he could be confident as 1659 wore on that if he should choose to intervene in the deteriorating situation south of the border he would leave behind him political quietude and take with him an obedient force. The strength of his position was recognised by Charles, who during 1659 attempted through a variety of contacts, notably John, Viscount Mordaunt and Sir John Grenville, to assure Monck of the king's hopes in him. Nan, Monck's unappetising wife, was not inclined to do much to hide her own royalism. But her husband kept his own counsel. Mordaunt found him 'so darke a man no perspective [could] look through him'. Monck's own shirt, it was said, was never privy to his thoughts.

At length, after contacts with diverse English politicians, among them Anthony Ashley Cooper and the ex-Leveller, John Wildman, plotter and property speculator, the man to whom all eyes were turning crossed the border on 1 January 1660 at Coldstream, whence the Guards, linear descendants of the New Model Army, take their name. Working his way slowly southwards, obviously making for London, the focal point of politics, finance and intelligence, he was met formally and informally by all manner of folk telling what ought to be done, done by him. 'Bring back the king' was only one piece of advice. He listened politely enough. But when he spoke it was to stress his constant desire to live in a free state where soldiers took orders but gave none. Presently his intention was, he said, to preserve, protect and obey the Rump, now restored for the second time. At one point he referred to the impossibility of a return to monarchy, and, again, remarked that 'the old foundations are by God's providence so broken that in the eye of reason they cannot be restored but upon the ruins of the people of these nations'.

On 3 February Monck entered the City, ingratiating himself straightaway with the authorities, but observed warily by the Rump, which provocatively ordered him to reduce the City's defences. He started to obey; then stopped. Privately he was being pushed by Ashley Cooper, supported by Nan, to press for the return to the Commons of the members 'secluded' at Pride's Purge, mainly presbyterians ready to envisage a king again but still on terms. Monck hesitated. But on the 10th he was formally conducted into the House, ostentatiously insisting on standing behind the Speaker, who reported that, while the fact that they were sitting again was 'God's great work', his instrument had been General Monck, whose prudence had dispersed a 'gloomy and black cloud of ruin' to the 'refreshment of the whole nation'. Monck agreed that, of course, he had been no more than an instrument in meeting the people's 'earnest expectation' of a settlement in 'a free parliament', which, significantly, would come from the Rump's formal determination of its own sitting. To that end the secluded members should come back in with a few, very few, conditions, but that 'neither the cavaliers nor the phanatick parties' should have a share in the military power.

He also called for 'the sober interest' to be encouraged in Scotland and in Ireland, where an auld acquaintance, Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, forging what would become the protestant ascendancy there, was working for an effective political and land settlement in advance of what was increasingly seen as a likely return of the King of Ireland. Monck went on to suggest a few names for civil and judicial appointments. The secluded members were called upon to put their names to a swiftly drafted paper promising that they would co-operate in bringing the Long Parliament at last to a dissolution by its own consent. They signed. Little William Prynne was so eager to get back in that he tripped over his sword going up the steps.

The Restoration

Monck went on to summon all army officers in and about the capital to concur with what was going on - though what that was was not very clear - assuring them that no alteration of government was intended. Rather, England should continue as a free state and Commonwealth. The 'Continuator' of Baker's Chronicle, a valuable source, comments that Monck 'knew it was impossible to keep the army in temper any other way'. Before dissolving on 16th March, the augmented Rump arranged for a Convention parliament to be elected on the old franchise and to meet on 25 April. Meantime anyone attempting to disturb the peace, 'either in favour of Charles Stuart or any other pretended authority', was to be secured. When Colonel Robert Overton wrote from York voicing suspicions that the interest of Charles Stuart, though nominally abandoned, 'seemed to shine in the face of public transactions', Monck expressed surprise. There was nothing, he replied, to support 'such apprehensions' and went on to rebuke Overton for actions which could, by 'dividing the army' and by withdrawing obedience to the parliament, involve 'the nation in a new and bloody war'. That charge seems to have been Monck's trump card.

By the time of the Convention elections, briefly disturbed by a last stand by Lambert, out of the Tower and quickly in again, Monck, though outwardly 'as dark as ever', was certainly in touch with Charles. The electors returned a rather mixed assembly in which republicans were few but presbyterians, still hankering after those Newport terms, were prominent. That was not what Monck wanted now, and he was helped to head them off by the return of the House of Lords, in itself symbolic of the ways things were going. 'The Young Lords', who had succeeded during the 1650s, were allowed in to swing things as Monck and his advisers judged they would. Meanwhile Charles Stuart, his prospects of becoming Charles II brightening daily, had on Monck's suggestion gone out of Spanish territory to Breda, whence he would shortly issue the conciliatory Declaration drafted for him (1 May). Already an open manifesto by 'the nobility and gentry that had adhered to the late king, in and about the City', had uttered thanks for 'an unexpected and wonderful means to give these nations a probable hope of being restored to those laws and privileges … transmitted from their ancestors'. This they firmly attributed 'next to Divine Providence' to General Monck, who had had 'the courage to assert the public liberty and the prudence [key word in these transactions] to lead us through the wilderness of confusion … [to avoid] the Red Sea of Blood'. Monck as Moses.

On 1 May the Convention voted that 'the government is and ought to be in King, Lords and Commons'. On the 8th Charles was proclaimed king. On the 25th, brought over on The Naseby, hastily renamed The Royal Sovereign, he landed at Dover. On the 29th, his thirtieth birthday, he was in London, feted royally and giving his thanks, as well he might, to George Monck.

More likely than completing a programme laid down by himself - or perhaps by someone else, which is just about possible, but who could it have been? - Monck, realising and being increasingly told that he (with 'his boys') was the man of the hour, came in his own slow-chapt time to accept that there was no other way than restoration. Then he just got on with it. He did have another bounty on top of what became a military monopoly, luck - luck in the incompetence of the 'the opposition', in the discontents emerging from the economic and fiscal situation, luck too in the readiness of so many of those who had dreamed of a king on the throne again not to come prematurely out of the closet into the cold. When finally the big decision was reached, the bulk of the political nation, even including the soldiery, were ready for it. A 1714 tract on 'the Art of Restoring' concluded that beforehand the bulk of the people had been 'perfectly averse to [The Restoration], for even those few who joined counsels with the Royalists did it because they would rather have any settlement than none, yet by properly working on the affections of every party [Monck] brought them to centre at last in the very thing from which they imagined they were receding'.

Stars, 'good old' or 'malignant', has little to do with it. There is no evidence that Monck was at all interested in them, even though like Cromwell he was inclined to ascribe events to, and even to wait upon, Providence to point out what should be done. But history is often the record of the unexpected and The Restoration is a particularly vivid instance of it. Perhaps there would have been some sort of restoration anyway, but surely it would have come later rather than sooner and might have been of a very different, less appealing, nature. Whatever may be said for or against George Monck, he was victor sane sanguine ('a victor without blood') - and for that relief very many, if not all, must have breathed 'much thanks'.

Further Reading:

  • Godfrey Davies The Restoration of Charles II (1955)
  • A.H.Woolrych 'Historical Introduction' to The Yale Complete Prose Works of John Milton vol.viii (1980)
  • Ronald HuttonThe Restoration (1985)
  • Maurice AshleyGeneral Monck (1977)
  • K.D.Haley The First Earl of Shaftesbury (1968)
  • Frances Dow Cromwellian Scotland (1979)
  • Nicholas Canny Prelude to Restoration in Ireland (1999)
  • Ann Geneva, Astrology and the Seventeenth Century Mind (1995) 

Ivan Roots is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Exeter.

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