In this lesson we explore the English Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Over a decade after Parliament beheaded King Charles I, it restored his son, Charles II, to the English throne, albeit under a new, limited constitutional monarchy.
The English Restoration
Precarious experiments can often have wildly differing outcomes. They can fulfill your wildest dreams, confirming your hypothesis and making you look like a genius. On the other hand, they can also blow up in your face. Though the English experiment in parliamentary government in the middle of the 17th century did not end with any explosions, it certainly failed.
Its failure led directly to the English Parliament inviting Charles II (the son of Charles I, whom Parliament had tried and executed in 1649) to take the English throne and resume the Stuart Dynasty in 1660, an event which became known as the English Restoration.
Civil War and Interregnum
In order to understand how England's monarchy was restored, we must first learn a little about how it was deposed in the first place. By the early 1640s, England's King Charles I had developed a highly acrimonious relationship with his Parliament and subjects, largely revolving around differences concerning England's religious settlement and Parliament's role in governance.
In January 1642, Charles fled London to raise an army against Parliament. Parliament raised its own, and the two sides fought an intermittent civil war, which lasted until Charles' second capture in 1648. In January 1649, the Rump Parliament - nicknamed this because the Army had purged the existing Parliament of all members sympathetic to the king - put Charles I on trial for treason, found him guilty and executed him at Whitehall Palace.
Following Charles' execution, the Rump Parliament dissolved the monarchy and the House of Lords and declared itself a republic in May 1649. A nearly decade-long rebellion in Ireland was suppressed by the army under Oliver Cromwell, and Puritan reforms began to be enacted, such as in May 1650 when an act passed making adultery an offense punishable by death.
The rule of the Rump Parliament, however, proved ineffective, and in 1653, Oliver Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Rump Parliament, assuming the lifetime position of Lord Protector and becoming King of England in all but name. Life in England under Cromwell was marked by a fervent and puritanical brand of Protestantism, where recreational activities were forbidden on Sundays and even the celebration of holidays were suppressed or banned altogether.
Fall of the Protectorate
After Cromwell's death in September 1658, his son, Richard Cromwell, became Lord Protector, though his lack of support from the army or the people doomed any chance he had of succeeding his father. After only seven months as Lord Protector, Richard Cromwell was forcibly removed from office and the Rump Parliament was reinstalled. The chaos which ensued as the Rump decided what actions to take moving forward in order to govern England were exacerbated as a Royalist uprising propagated in Cheshire, calling for the return of Charles II to the English throne.
Though the uprising was quickly put down, it was clear something had to be done to stabilize England politically. At this point, the general of the English forces in Scotland, George Monck, marched the English army to London. Upon his arrival in February 1660, Monck reintroduced all of the members of Parliament purged in 1648, and the reconstituted Parliament declared itself dissolved and simultaneously called for new elections.
Convention Parliament and Restoration
The new Parliament - nicknamed the Convention Parliament by historians - returned with a majority of its members favoring a reinstitution of the monarchy, and in April 1660, the Convention Parliament passed a resolution in favor of a government by king. Sensing the political climate in England was ripe for his return, Charles II issued the Declaration of Breda from exile in the Dutch Republic in May 1648, declaring that all Englishmen who proclaimed their loyalty to Charles II as king would be pardoned of any crimes against the monarchy committed during the Interregnum.
Similarly, land acquisitions during the same period would be honored, and English subjects would enjoy an unprecedented degree of religious toleration. In response to the Declaration, the Convention Parliament made the adequate preparations for the return of Charles II, and on May 29th, 1660, Charles returned to London to assume the English throne.
Despite the conditions Charles made in the Declaration of Breda, several trials of those instrumental in the killing of the king in 1649 were still held, and nine of the regicides were executed. The English Restoration - the outcome of nearly two decades of civil war and democratic experimentation - is perhaps more remarkable for what it left unaccomplished rather than for what it achieved.
Many of the same issues that originally led to conflict in 1642 still existed: the monarchy still desperately required tax money to govern the country and wage war, feudal dues and tenures that pre-war Parliaments had decried as outdated and abused remained in place and the religious settlement of England remained nebulous, with a people who preferred something resembling Calvinism and a monarch who was a staunch Anglican.
With this said, it is perhaps most important to note that England emerged from this tumultuous period with a strong constitutional monarchy. Never again would Parliament go more than a decade without sitting, as it had immediately prior to war breaking out, and no monarch would again attempt to raise arms against Parliament to force through unpopular taxes or laws. Regardless of many of the unsettled social and economic issues, the constitutional monarchy born from the civil wars and codified by the English Restoration sustained in perpetuity.
When the lesson is complete, you should be able to:
- Recall the causes of Charles I's execution and dissolution of parliament
- Describe what life was like under Oliver Cromwell's rule
- Summarize what led to the English Restoration
- Explain the Restoration's historical significance