Shaftesbury was resolved to the contrary. Coleman had confessed, at his trial, that James had known and approved of his correspondence with Père La Chaise. 152 Shaftesbury felt that the accession of James would realize the first stage of the “Popish Plot.” He offered his support to Charles if the King would divorce his barren Queen and marry a Protestant by whom he might have a Protestant son. Charles refused to let Catherine of Braganza repeat the role of Catherine of Aragon. Shaftesbury then turned to the Duke of Monmouth, the King’s bastard, who could not forgive his father for cheating him of the throne by failing to marry his mother. Shaftesbury spread the idea that Charles had really married Lucy Walter, and that the Duke was the legal heir to the throne. Charles countered by a declaration that he had never married anyone but Catherine of Braganza. Finding Shaftesbury irreconcilable, the King dismissed him from the Council (October 13, 1679).
In this succession of crises Charles almost changed his character. He gave up his life of pleasure and ease, sold his stables, devoted himself to administration and politics, and fought his foes with strategic retreats until they overreached themselves into failure. In his final five years he showed such resolution and ability as surprised even his friends. Recovering his confidence, he called for his fourth Parliament.
It met on October 21, 1680. In November the second exclusion bill passed the Commons and was presented to the Lords. Halifax, who had heretofore voted with the Whigs, now veered to the side of the King, and began to earn and flaunt the title of “trimmer.” He detested James and distrusted Catholicism, but he agreed with Charles that the principle of hereditary monarchy should be maintained, and he feared that Shaftesbury was leading England toward another civil war. 153 In a long debate his eloquence and logic persuaded the Lords to reject the bill. The Commons retaliated by refusing funds to the King, and forbidding any merchant or financier to lend him money, and it impeached Halifax, Scroggs, and Viscount Stafford—one of the five Catholic lords imprisoned in the Tower. Stafford was condemned to death on the testimony of Oates, and was beheaded (December 7). The King dismissed the Parliament (January 18, 1681).
Rather than sacrifice his brother to his need for funds, Charles decided to finance the government by becoming again a pensioner of Louis XIV. He consented to look with equanimity upon the aggressive policies of France in return for £ 700,000 154—enough to make him independent of parliamentary subsidies for three years. So sinewed, he summoned his fifth Parliament. To deprive it of support from the mobs and militia of London, he ordered it to meet at Oxford. Both sides came in arms—Charles with numerous guards, the Whig leaders with retainers carrying swords and pistols and flying banners reading “No Popery, No Slavery.” The Commons at once passed the third exclusion bill. Before the measure could reach the Lords, Charles dismissed the Parliament (March 28, 1681).
Many men now expected Shaftesbury to resort to civil war; and public opinion, remembering 1642–60, turned against him and rallied to the King. The Anglican clergy zealously defended the right of Catholic James to the throne. When Shaftesbury tried to reorganize the disbanded Commons into a revolutionary convention, 155 Charles ordered his arrest. A jury acquitted Shaftesbury (November 24); and though he was now so ill that he could barely walk, he joined with the Duke of Monmouth in open revolution.156The King had both of them arrested. Shaftesbury escaped from the Tower, fled to Holland, and died there (January 21, 1683), worn out, but leaving his friend Locke to carry on in philosophy the struggle that had for a time been lost in politics.
Charles pardoned Monmouth, but he could not forgive the London jury that had acquitted Shaftesbury. Becoming extreme in his turn, he resolved to destroy the autonomy of the cities, for it was in these that Whig—even revolutionary—sentiment flourished. He ordered an examination of the city charters that permitted such municipal flouting of the royal will. Legal flaws were found in them; they were declared null; and new charters were issued by which all municipally elected officials were henceforth to be subject to veto or removal by the king (1683). Freedom of speech and press were now subjected to new restraints. A persecution of Dissenters (not of Catholics) was begun, for the Dissenters were mostly Whigs; and in Scotland James personally led the oppression. The triumph of royal prerogative over parliamentary privilege seemed complete, and the achievements of the Great Rebellion were apparently to be sacrificed in a royalist reaction supported by a nation fearful of renewed civil war. Halifax reflected the feeling of the country when he abandoned Shaftesbury and turned his temperate wisdom to serve the King (1682–85) as lord privy seal.
The followers of Shaftesbury made a final attempt. In January, 1683, the Duke of Monmouth, the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Carlisle, William Lord Russell, and Algernon Sidney met at the house of John Hampden (grandson of the Civil War hero), and laid plans to circumvent James and, if necessary, assassinate Charles. Sidney hoped to proceed further and reestablish the English republic. He was the grandson of a brothei of Sir Philip Sidney, the “President of Chivalry.” He fought on the Parliamentary side in the Civil War, and was wounded at Marston Moor. Appointed as one of the commission to try Charles I, he refused to serve, saying that the commission had received no authority from the people to try the King. Finding himself on the Continent at the Restoration, he stayed there, engaged in studies and in plots against Charles II. During the Second Dutch War he urged the Dutch to invade England, and he offered his services to the French government to raise a rebellion in England if it would supply him with 100,000 crowns. 157 Charles allowed him to return to England (1677) to attend the death of his father. Remaining in England, he joined the Country Party. In Discourses Concerning Government (written in 1681 but not published till 1688), he advocated semirepublican principles, anticipated Locke by attacking Filmer’s defense of divine right in kings, and asserted the right of the people to judge and depose their rulers. Apparently both he and Russell accepted money from the French government, which was interested in keeping Charles II busy with domestic troubles. 158
The “Council of Six” decided to capture the King. It was known that in March he would attend the horse races at Newmarket; on his return to London his coach would pass by Rye House, at Hoddesdon, north of the city; a cart of hay was to block the road there; the King, and perhaps his brother, were to be taken, alive or dead. But on March 22 a fire broke out at the racecourse; the races were ended a week sooner than scheduled, and Charles passed safely to London before the conspirators could advance their preparations. On June 12 one of them, fearing exposure and hoping for pardon, betrayed the plot to the government. Carlisle, arrested, confirmed the confession, and was forgiven. Monmouth protested innocence, and though Charles knew that his son was lying, he canceled the order for his arrest. Russell was tried, convicted, and executed (July 21, 1683). Essex killed himself in jail. “He needed not to have despaired of mercy,” said the King, “for I owed him a life”; 159 Essex’ father had died for Charles I. Several minor participants in this “Rye House Plot” were hanged. Sidney was convicted on technically inadequate evidence; he defended himself ably, and met his death like a Roman (December 7). His motto had been Manus haec inimica tyrannis—“This hand is the foe of tyrants”; but he had chosen a double-edged sword. On the scaffold he uttered notable words: “God has left nations unto the liberty of setting up such governments as please themselves.” 160 He refused any religious attendance, saying that he was already at peace with God.
Charles had won, but he was through. He enjoyed, wearily, a new popularity. England had prospered economically under his reign, and now, longing for political quiet, it rallied to a ruler who represented national continuity and order, even if that meant for a time a Catholic king. It forgave Charles his faults as it saw him fading into premature decline. It half agreed with him that a monarchy elective and not hereditary invited periodical turmoil. It respected his loyalty to his brother, even while it mourned the result. It saw James triumphant, again lord high admiral, already pursuing his enemies vengefully. In January, 1685, James brought and won a civil suit against Titus Oates for £ 100,000 damages; Oates, unable to pay this great sum, was imprisoned. “When I am dead and gone,” said Charles sadly, “I know not what my brother will do; I am very much afraid that when he comes to wear the crown he will be obliged to travel again. And yet I will take care to leave my kingdoms to him in peace, wishing he may keep them long so. But this hath all of my fears, little of my hopes, and less of my reason.” 161 When James expostulated with him for driving about London unguarded, he bade him calm his fears: “No one will kill me to make you king.” 162
He should have excepted the doctors. On February 2, 1685, he suffered a convulsion; his face was distorted, his mouth foamed. Dr. King bled him by lancing a vein, with good effect. But attendants summoned eighteen other physicians to diagnose and prescribe. For five tortured days he submitted to their united attack. They tapped his veins, put cupping glasses to his shoulders, cut off his hair to raise blisters on his scalp, and applied to the soles of his feet plasters of pitch and pigeon dung. “To remove the humours from his brain,” says a medical historian, “they blew hellebores up his nostrils and set him sneezing. To make him vomit they poured antimony and sulphate of zinc down his throat. To clear his bowels they gave him strong purgatives and a brisk succession of clysters.” 163
The dying King called for his long-suffering wife, not perceiving that she was already kneeling at the foot of the bed, rubbing his feet. On February 4 some bishops offered him the last rites of the Anglican Church, but he begged them to desist. When his brother asked him did he want a Catholic priest, he answered, “Yes, yes, with all my heart.” 164 Father John Huddleston, who had saved Charles’s life at the battle of Worcester, and whose life Charles had saved in the Popish Terror, was sent for; Charles made profession of the Roman Catholic faith, confessed his sins, pardoned his enemies, asked pardon of all, and received extreme unction and the last sacrament. He asked pardon especially of his wife; but also he bade his brother take care of Louise de Kéroualle and his children, and “let not poor Nelly starve.” 165 He apologized to those around him for taking so unconscionable a time dying. 166
By noon of February 6 the Duke of York was King.