His arrogant, unilateral manoeuvring had forced the Parliamentarians’ hand, bringing Civil War to his kingdom. The English Parliamentarians’ thought peace could never be forthcoming while the monarch still ruled. The king, imprisoned for treason, met his end with one fell swoop of the axe; England became a republic. The Regicide was complete, authorised by the 59 Commissioners, siring The Commonwealth Of England, and a period known as the Interregnum. The Commonwealth Of England’s motto, ‘Peace is sought through war’, was apt.
Charles Stuart would learn of his father’s death while exiled in the Netherlands. His efforts to gain clemency for his father were in vain. The perennially exiled Charles had fought for his father when he was just a boy, but was quickly secreted out of the country when the Royalists were roundly defeated by Cromwell ’s New Model Army and the Covenanter coalition. Now Charles was a king with no kingdom. Upon Charles I’s death, parliament decreed no king could assume the throne. Exiled, with no title in England, no realm to reign over, it was to Charles II ’s surprise that the Scottish Covenanters should make the first move.
The Covenanters were among the first to form an alliance with the English Parliamentarians when the Wars Of The Three Kingdoms stormed through Britain. King Charles I was hated in Scotland, particularly amongst the rank and file of Presbyterian lowlanders who had been raised on anti-Royalist rhetoric from the mouths of men like John Knox . They wanted a low church, administrated not by bishops but by committee. This was the very antithesis of Charles I’s self-aggrandizing style of religious authority. His audacity in forcing the Book Of Common Prayer upon the Scottish people was the last straw.
But in victory, the English Parliamentarians were not so eager to enter into a power sharing agreement. Fighting the common enemy was one thing, but an English parliament dominated by the Puritans marginalised Scottish interests. The war had gone their way, yet here they were still uncertain of securing the sovereignty of a Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Presbyterian Church. To some, it was a betrayal. Once Charles I put his head on the block, the Kirk Party went to the Netherlands to speak to the exiled heir to the throne.
They certainly weren’t cap in hand. The Kirk Party’s Treaty Of Breda encompassed all of the Covenanters’ demands – it even extended to Charles II taking the oath of the Solemn League And Covenant. The Covenanters could secure the future of Scottish Presbyterianism; an exiled king was offered a throne. Charles II accepted the deal, swore his oath, returned to Scotland and was crowned at Scone in 1651. No sooner had Charles II ceded to the Covenanters’ demands, war was on his mind.
For an intelligent and articulate individual, Charles II made some crummy decisions in his time. Summoning a Scottish army, he invaded England and hoped to rouse Royalist sentiment on the hoof. The folly of which was considerable. His people never joined his cause. Undertakers were still burying the dead from Cromwell's last visit to Scotland, when he laid waste to Dunbar underneath the shadow of the Lammermuir Hills on Scotland’s East coast. A Royalist defeat was a certainty.
Sure enough, at the Battle Of Worcester , Cromwell’s New Model Army routed an army of 16,000 Royalist Scots, killing some 3,000 men and sending Charles II’s oafish war machine into reverse. It was sheer fortune that Charles II escaped. At Boscobel House , he even hid in an oak tree to evade capture. Desperate times called for desperate measures. But with Royalist sympathisers offering him a safe house, he successfully fled to France.
Back in England, the Republic was collapsing at government level. One of the biggest problems was reconciling a country of enemies. The Civil War was a fresh wound on the nation's psyche: power struggles and bitter grievances would see parliament fall apart. The Restoration begun as Puritan rule became more fractious. By 1653 it was ruled by the Protectorate, with Cromwell as Lord Protector of England. England was divided into eleven regions, each under military rule. The New Model Army enforced laws, with Cromwell’s generals entrusted with regional command.
The regime was not only concerned with governing the country’s affairs, it dictated social morality throughout the country. Theatre and drama was banned. So too gambling. The austere excesses of Puritan rule created an undercurrent of bad feeling. Cromwell was all powerful, a monarch in all but title. This supposedly egalitarian form of government was no such thing. Cromwell had over 150 bodyguards. He could call and dismiss parliament as and when the mood took him. But he wouldn’t live for ever.
On 1658, Cromwell died. He was replaced by his son, Richard. But he was no Lord Protector. Oliver Cromwell was a feared firebrand. Richard Cromwell wilted in his shadow. Just like any country after the death of a dictator, England spiralled into a political crisis. The Commonwealth had grown to hate Puritanism, with their fundamentalist code of worship and crusade for personal morality. The exiled Charles II was invited back to England after promising clemency for those responsible for his father’s death, and arrived through the port of Dover on the 25h May 1660 . Four days later, on his 30th birthday, he reached London, and the Restoration was formalised.
King Charles II was crowned on the 23rd April 1661 . His court was a lively affair. He had enemies; republican sentiment did not die with Cromwell. Charles II surrounded himself with Royalists and kept a strict watch on religious affairs. He put to death those directly responsible for the Regicide. He ruled by whimsy. Non-conformists and dissidents faced legal censure. France’s power challenged the country’s standing at a time when the country was bankrupt, Charles II’s lifestyle adding to nation’s debts.
With Cromwell gone and the Puritans on the receiving end of suppression, the king relaxed moral sanctions that Cromwell had enforced upon the country. The theatre was no longer banned. Moreover, woman were allowed to perform. The crude Restoration Comedy, with its carefree abandon, marked an era of uncertainty. An era when the king’s wife bore no son, and his Catholic brother, James , became heir to the throne. With the threat of a papal succession nobility grew nervous. The Restoration was to be the last hurrah for the Stuart Kings.
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