Charles II’s Restoration Agreement was based on a tight control by Parliament – Charles was not to rule through any Divine Right, and Parliament would hold the purse strings. Despite a generous agreement, Parliament frequently gave Charles less funds, keeping him reliant on them. With no real political requirement from him as King, Charles was free to lead the life of a ‘Merry Monarch’- with Parliament running the Country.
During his enforced exile, Charles developed close friendships with many of his young, loyal supporters, such as Buckingham and Rochester, and they benefited from his return as King. The Restoration Court became frivolous, licentious and bawdy. The theatres, which were closed during Cromwell’s time, re-opened and ‘Restoration Plays’ replaced the staid ‘Shakespearian Plays’ from before. These new plays reflected topical issues and often mocked Charles’ Court and Couriers.
While Charles worked towards religious tolerance, his Parliament worked towards greater restrictions. It was illegal to practice mass or keep rosaries or missals. Practising Catholics were driven out of London and punished if they were caught.
Despite fathering numerous bastards, Charles had no legitimate children – Queen Catherine was barren. Charles’ brother, James, was his heir. The revelation of James of York’s conversion and then his marriage to Mary Beatrice, a Catholic – followed by the discovery of Charles’ secret treaty with France, and his agreement to convert in exchange for funds – prompted Shaftesbury and his supporters to set up in opposition to the Crown. At this time, England was engaged in the Anglo-Dutch war – in alliance with France against the Dutch. But, the majority of people were moving away from Catholic France to supporting the Protestant Dutch, and by 1678 a war with France seemed imminent.
Many Protestants believed that the Great Fire of London, which appears by all accounts to have been an unfortunate accident, had been deliberately started by Papists to burn them out. Omens were regarded seriously; with people watchful for signs of impending disaster or good fortune. The Civil War, the Plague and the Great Fire were taken as signs of approaching doom.
It was against this turbulent background that Titus Oates appeared claiming to have uncovered a Papal plot to kill the King and replace him with his Catholic heir, James, Duke of York. Whether or not a Papal plot existed is unclear. It is possible a Protestant plot to replace York with Charles’ eldest bastard son, Monmouth, existed. Old Republicans may also have been plotting to remove Charles. It is also possible that all of these conspiracies were occurring simultaneously.
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