Amid this human pullulation the struggle of the faiths continued, and the old conflict between king and Parliament was renewed. The Merrie Monarch was saddened to find that the House of Commons, after the honeymoon of its proferred obedience, was jealous of his power, and sparing of its funds. Tender in heart but tough in conscience, Charles turned to the French King for private loans. He promised—and apparently desired—to alleviate the disabilities of the English Catholics, to support the policy of Louis XIV against the Netherlands, and to sell to France the Channel port of Dunkirk, which Cromwell’s soldiers had won. Dunkirk was costly to defend; it was a thorn in the side of France; Charles let it go (1662) for five million francs, which, along with secret Bourbon subsidies, enabled him to ignore for a while the oligarchy of land and money that now ruled Parliament.
The oligarchs, however, thought that the funds of the government should be used to wage another profitable war against the Dutch. The same rivalry in commerce and fisheries that had produced the First Dutch War in 1652 supported the Second Dutch War in 1664. Charles resisted the martial current as long as he could, for he much preferred love. “I never saw so great an appetite for war,” he wrote to his sister, “as is in both this town and country, especially in the Parliament men. I find myself the only man in my kingdom who doth not desire war.” 135
Everything went badly. The English navy, ill-fed, ill-clothed, illmunitioned, fought bravely, but lost as often as it won; and at the height of the war plague and fire left London desolate and England bankrupt. Toward the end of 1666 the Dutch opened negotiations for peace; Charles, glad to come to terms, sent commissioners to Breda. Confident that an agreement was in sight, and seeing himself at the end of his finances, he laid up part of the English fleet in the Medway, and allowed the sailors to take service in merchantmen. In June, 1667, de Ruyter led a Dutch squadron into the Thames and the Medway, and destroyed most of the unmanned ships. That very night, says Pepys, “the King did sup with my Lady Castlemaine at the Duchess of Monmouth’s, and they were all mad in hunting a poor moth.” 136 When the news of the attack reached London every able-bodied man was called to arms. But the Dutch too wanted peace, for the French had invaded Flanders. The Treaty of Breda (July 21, 1667) ended the Second Dutch War on terms unsatisfactory to all.
The position of the King was so weakened by the fiasco and the accumulated misfortunes of London that some Englishmen thought of deposing him. Parliament demanded parliamentary supervision of governmental expenses; Charles yielded, being penniless, and another step was taken toward parliamentary supremacy. Parliament demanded the dismissal of Clarendon for mishandling foreign affairs; Charles was not unwilling to let him go, for his Chancellor had opposed his moves toward religious toleration, and had censured his absorption in mistresses. Not satisfied with Clarendon’s resignation, the Commons drew up a proposal to impeach him for subservience to France. Clarendon took the King’s advice and fled to the Continent. It was a pitiful and cruel end for a long career of service. The old man glorified his exile by writing the finest historical work that English literature had yet produced. He died at Rouen in 1674, aged sixty-five.
Charles appointed five men to replace him (1667): Sir Thomas Clifford, the Earl of Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Ashley (soon to be the first Earl of Shaftesbury), and the Earl of Lauderdale. Their initials made the word cabal, by which the new ministry came to be called. Clifford was an avowed Catholic, Arlington was inclined toward that faith, Buckingham was a rake, Shaftesbury was a tolerant skeptic, Lauderdale was a former Covenanter who with fire and sword forced episcopacy upon his fellow Scots. Charles listened to their conflicting counsels, but more and more followed his own.
His aims were basically two: to renew absolute monarchy, and to elevate Roman Catholicism in England. He looked with hope to being succeeded by his Catholic brother James. He corresponded with the general of the Jesuits in Rome, and gave a secret interview to a papal internuncio who came to London from Brussels. 137 In January, 1669, he told his brother, Clifford, Arlington, and Lord Arundell that he wished to reconcile himself with the Church of Rome, and bring all England back to the old faith. 138 His sister Henrietta never ceased to urge him to boldly announce his conversion.
In May, 1670, Louis XIV sent Henrietta to England, aided by subtle diplomats, to bind Charles to a French and Catholic policy. On June 1, 1670, Clifford, Arundell, and Arlington signed for England the secret Treaty of Dover. The French King agreed to pay Charles £ 150,000 whenever Charles should announce his conversion to Catholicism; if need should arise, Louis would furnish Charles with six thousand soldiers, to be maintained at French expense; Charles, when called upon, was to join France in war against the United Provinces; he was to receive £ 225,000 a year while the war continued; he was to take and keep some Dutch islands; and he was to support the claims of Louis to inherit Spain. 139 To deceive the Parliament and the people of England, Charles sent Buckingham to Paris to draw up a sham treaty, which was signed on December 21, 1670, and was published to the world; it pledged England to war against the Dutch, but made no mention of religion.
Charles took his time—fifteen years—about announcing his conversion. His brother openly proclaimed himself a Catholic in 1671; but even the pro-Catholic Earl of Arlington warned the King that a similar admission might precipitate a revolution. Charles, however, moved toward his goal by issuing (March 15, 1672) his second “Declaration of Indulgence for Tender Consciences,” suspending “all manner of penal laws in matters ecclesiastical, against whatsoever sort of Nonconformists or recusants.” At the same time he released from prison all persons who had been jailed for not conforming to the religious legislation of Parliament. Hundreds of Dissenters, including Bunyan and many Quakers, were freed, and their leaders sent a deputation to thank the King. Presbyterians and Puritans were shocked to find that the new freedom accorded to them was extended also to Catholics and Anabaptists, and Anglicans were horrified by “papists and swarms of sectaries” meeting openly in London. For almost a year England enjoyed or suffered religious toleration.
On March 17, 1672, England opened the Third Dutch War. In this matter King and Parliament were now agreed. The Parliament voted £ 1,250,000 for the war, but this sum was to be doled out to the government in installments that would obviously depend upon the King’s reconciliation with Parliament and its religious legislation. The Commons declared that “penal statutes in matters ecclesiastical cannot be suspended but by Act of Parliament”; and it sent a petition to the King that his Declaration of Indulgence should be withdrawn. Louis XIV, anxious to have England give united support to the war against the Dutch, advised Charles to cancel the Declaration until the war should be successfully concluded. Charles yielded, and on March 8, 1673, the Declaration was annulled.
It is probable that by that time the Protestant leaders had got wind of the secret Treaty of Dover. To contracept any royal conversion, both houses passed, at the end of March, a “Test Act,” by which all holders of civil or military office in England were required to abjure the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, and to take the Sacrament according to the Anglican rite. Clifford fought the bill passionately; after its passage he resigned from the government, retired to his estate, and soon died—by suicide, Evelyn thought. Shaftesbury warmly supported the bill; he was dismissed from the ministry, and made himself the leader of the “Country Party” that opposed, to the verge of revolution, the “Court Party” favoring the King. The Cabal ended (1673); the Earl of Danby became chief minister.
James resigned his offices. The opposition to him had been in some degree mollified by the fact that though his first wife had accepted Catholicism, her children, the future Queens Mary and Anne, were being brought up as Protestants. But now his marriage (September 30, 1673) to a Catholic princess roused virulent condemnation. Mary of Modena was branded as “the Pope’s eldest daughter,” and it was assumed that she would bring up her children as Catholics. Bills were at once introduced into Parliament that all royal children must be reared in the Protestant faith.
The turn of events soured England’s taste for the war against the United Provinces. If England should have a Catholic king he would sooner or later join France and Spain in utterly destroying the Dutch Republic—which now appeared not as a commercial rival but as the bulwark of Protestantism on the Continent. If that should fall, how would English Protestantism stand? Charles willingly commissioned Sir William Temple to conclude a separate peace with the Dutch. On February 9, 1674, the Treaty of Westminster ended the Third Dutch War.