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Charles II

Second son and successor of Charles I* (d.1649); king in exile until his restoration in 1660. Since the High Church party had identified the Anglican and Royalist causes, his religious flexibility for political ends was a source of constant concern. In 1650 he became Presbyterian to enlist Scottish support for the recovery of his throne, but soon reverted after defeat by Cromwell at Worcester (1651). It was a largely Presbyterian Parliament that invited him to return, and in the Declaration of Breda (1660) he promised a “liberty to tender consciences.” But the Savoy Conference* and 1662 Act of Uniformity soon showed that the High Church party had no desire for toleration. Subsequent legislation treated Dissenters as a political danger. There followed the Clarendon Code,* the Act Against Conventicles,* and the Five Mile Act.* Charles’s court soon became “the center of corruption and good taste.” Shortage of finance for his extravagant living led him into secret intrigues with his cousin Louis XIV. In the secret treaty of Dover (1670) he promised in return for money to make war on the Protestant Dutch and to promote Roman Catholicism in England. Such was the real background behind the trumped-up “Popish Plot”* of Titus Oates (1678). For similar reasons he had been compelled by Parliament to retract his Declaration of Indulgence* (1672). He quashed, however, the Whig attempt to exclude the Roman Catholic duke of York from the throne. As final token of his political discretion, not till his deathbed did the king make an open avowal of conversion to the Roman Catholic faith which he had long espoused secretly.

See R.S. Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement (1957), passim; and D. Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II (1935).