Charles II and the Politics of Survival

Graham Goodlad assesses the political skills that helped Charles II to escape the unenviable fates of his father and brother.

Charles II’s survival as monarch for almost a quarter of a century stands in stark contrast to the political failures of his royal predecessor and successor. His father, Charles I, had been defeated in civil war and executed in front of his own palace in Whitehall. His brother, James II, was driven from the throne after a reign of less than four years in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, dying in exile in France. How are we to account for Charles II’s success in re-establishing the authority of the monarchy after years of political upheaval?

Prospects for Power

In some respects the situation that Charles faced on his return to England in May 1660 was favourable. After two decades of conflict there was a general desire for stable government, which encouraged a sense of goodwill towards the monarchy. The republican alternative had collapsed in a welter of recrimination between civilian politicians and military leaders, following the death of Oliver Cromwell in September 1658. As John Miller has argued, the experience of division encouraged royalists and moderate parliamentarians to unite in a shared dislike of extremism.

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