The Restoration

Charles II's triumphant entry into London in May 1660 marked the climax in a longer series of frequently tumultuous events in the British capital that accompaned the disintegration of the republican regime and the restoration of monarchy.  These had begun within a few months of the death of Oliver Cromwell in September 1658.  Cromwell had already created a quasi-royal court at Whitehall and Hampton Court and his funeral, modeled after that of James I in 1625, had all the trappings traditionally associated with the internment of deceased monarchs, including an effigy bearing a crown and scepter.  The dead leader's office of Lord Protector passed without incident to his son, Richard, promising the establishment of a new dynasty that would rule as hereditary kings in all but name.  But Richard lacked his father's prestige, especially within the army, and before long he was overthrown by a military coup.  In an attempt to legitimate their action, the army generals then recalled the purged Parliament that had governed England from the eve of the regicide in December 1648 until Cromwell dissolved it in 1653.  But the leading politicians within this assembly quickly began quarreling among themselves, while Quakers and other radical groups agitated for radical reforms like the abolition of tithes, to the horror of more moderate elements within the original parliamentary coalition.

Throughout these events Charles II remained in exile on the continent and old royalists were, for the most part, politically quiescent or ineffectual.  The contest taking place pitted against each other different groups that had aligned themselves with the parliamentary cause and the regimes of the 1650s.  In late 1659 the leader of the more moderate faction within the purged Parliament, Sir Arthur Helerig, called on the support of General George Monck, commander of the army forces occupying Scotland.  Monck was a professional soldier who detested the "fanatics", as he termed Quakers and other extremists.  In the autumn he led his troops south into England.  Attempts by other New Model generals to oppose him militarily soon collapsed and by February 1660 his forces were camped near London.  

Although a decisive defeat for the radicals and other army generals, these events did not yet appear to presage a restoration of monarchy, since Monck remained publicly committed to the continuation of some kind of republican rule.  But the army and its sectarian allies had become widely unpopular, in London no less than elsewhere in England, and royalist sentiment had been building in reaction against the soldiers and republican politicians who had failed to bring political stability, despite years of high taxation and military rule.  It was in this period that the purged Parliament first became known as the Rump, a name apparently coined a royalist pamphleteer but soon taken up by London apprentices and numerous writers, who exploited its scatological connotations to devastating effect.  Rump songs and other ballads ridiculing Parliament were set to familiar tunes like Green Sleeves insulted the legislature in crude terms, while according to Pepys the phrase "kiss my Parliament" became a favorite adolescent insult.  

In addition to expressing anger and contempt for the civilian and military leadership of the Republic, these crude protests supported a demand for a free Parliament, in other words the reversal of Pride's Purge.  On 10 February Monck finally signalled his support for such a policy, touching off a night of celebrations in which the symbolic rumps of cattle, poultry and sheep were roasted over bonfires in what one historian has described as "possibly the greatest expression of popular rejoicing London has ever known". (1)  Within a month it was becoming clear that Parliament would invite Charles II to return.  Although sectarians, some groups among the army and a few committed republicans like James Harrington attempted to resist the royalist tide, most of the nation coalesced in support of a restoration of the old regime.  A new "Convention" Parliament was duly elected in March, with London, like most constituencies, chosing members sympathetic to the King.  The King's return to his capital touched off three days of further celebrations.  Over the next year other public events further emphasized the change in regime.  In October ten members of the regicide court were executed for treason by the grissly ritual of hanging, drawing and quartering.  Cromwell's corpse was also exhumed and hanged, leaving it exposed to abuse by London adolescents.  On the other hand the King's coronation in April 1661 and the formal entry procession through the City and Westminster that followed were events of incredible splendor and decorum, featuring triumphal arches celebrating the defeat of rebellion and a procession of gorgeously dressed courtiers and noblemen.   

The significance of the Restoration was therefore conveyed to Londoners in part through a series of theatrical rituals, some created more or less spontaneously by London crowds, others orchestrated by the royal court and City authorities.  On the surface these expressed the solidarity of the metropolis and its population behind the new monarch. Beneath the surface significant tensions remained.  Although most Londoners welcomed the Restoration some -- including a sectarian religious minority and republican intellectuals like John Milton -- emphatically did not.  This unreconciled minority included writers and publishers who, despite renewed censorship, found ways of expressing their unhappiness in print.   The initial supporters of the Restoration were, moreover, an extremely heterogeneous group that included many former parliamentarians and supporters of godly reform, as well as die hard royalists and dogmatic champions of episcopacy.  It did not take long for these divisions to surface in London politics, especially as perceived moral and political failures of the restored court created new sources of disillusionment.  The rejoicing and apparent solidarity of 1660 soon gave way to renewed conflict. 

1.  Ronald Hutton, The Restoration: A Political and Religious History of England and Wales, 1658-1667 (Oxford, 1985), p. 93.

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